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  1. 14 points
    Go Your Own Way Chapter 4 My parents’ visit went well. We ate at great restaurants, rode the streetcar up St. Charles, visited the WWII museum, had beignets at Cafe DuMonde, the works. We hadn’t seen much of Kelly; between work and the Decadence festivities, he was gone most of the weekend, but he did come over for dinner on Labor Day. My mother had insisted on cooking for her baby boy. Dad and Kelly had recognized fellow film buffs in each other and were in an intense debate about the Ghostbusters remake and whether it was better or worse than Ghostbusters 2. Since I hadn’t even known there was a Ghostbusters 2, I happily volunteered to help Mom with the dishes. She had avoided the topic of Christmas the entire visit, so I wasn’t surprised when she used this opportunity to talk to me alone about it. “I understand if you don’t want to be there for the family dinner on Christmas Day, but at least consider being there for your father’s birthday party. I’m holding on that Friday, the 23th, at the Bayou Macon Country Club. There’s going to be dinner...a band...dancing. There will be a ton of people there. You don’t have to talk to anyone you don’t want to.” She was tactful enough to avoid the names. “Mom….” I started. “Look,” she said, dropping the plate she was holding into the soapy water and drying her hands. “I know you were hurt. I know you did nothing wrong, but ….” She trailed off, wrapping one arm around herself, covering her face with the other hand. “Shit,” she said before straightening her spine and running her hands through her hair. “What happened wasn’t fair. But life isn’t fair. And I want you know Alicia and Craig. They’re great children. And I want them to know their uncle.” “I don’t think I can bear looking at them. I’m sorry if that makes me a bad person, but it’s the truth.” She sighed heavily. “I don’t think it makes you a bad person. I think it makes you human.” She gave me a wry smile and a hug. “I’ll stop the pressure, but think about it, okay? At least the birthday party.” “I’ll think about it. I promise.” We washed for a bit in silence before she spoke again. “Kelly seems very nice.” “He is.” “I think he’s been a good influence. You’ve certainly become a lot more social.” My mother, familiar with my natural reticence, had been shocked by the number of neighbors who I had greeted with an answering “hello” and a wave during our morning walks, and I had attributed my meeting them to Kelly’s efforts to pull me out of my shell. “He’s very attractive,” she continued. “Is he dating anyone?” “In the market for a boytoy, Mom? What would Dad say?” “He would probably point out that even if I were in the market and 40 years younger, I still wouldn’t have the right equipment to attract Kelly.” “Mom!” I said throwing a rag at her. “I do not want to ever hear you discuss your equipment again.’ “Noted,” she said primly. “But back to my question. Is he single? “Yes. He had a bad breakup about 8 months ago, and he’s not over it. It’s a shame. He’s such a great guy. I wish he could find some one.” “Do you?” she said in a strange tone. I turned to look at her quizzically as she spoke again. “Do you really?” Before I could ask her what she meant, Dad and Kelly spilled into the kitchen, now arguing about the Ben-Hur remake and demanding fresh drinks. After Labor Day, things became busier for both Kelly and me. At work, we were entering an important phase of the construction, and Kelly was busy helping his childhood friend Erin plan her wedding. It was a bit awkward for him since she was marrying his ex’s brother. In fact, Erin and Todd had met at a party Kelly and Del had thrown. “It was NOT a setup,” Kelly insisted after I asked him. “I hate setting people up; it never works, and then they both end up hating you. One thing I think you and I will always agree upon is that matchmakers are the worst kind of people.” “Here, here,” I said lifting my beer. We were eating at a neighborhood restaurant, Liuzza’s, that served their beer in iced chalices. I thought the chalice added a certain gravitas to my gesture. “Anyway, they hit it off. I do like Todd. He seems like a nice guy; I hope he’s not secretly an asshole like Del.” He paused, “Though to be fair, Del was kind of openly an asshole, I just thought his asshole exterior hid a heart of gold. Apparently, I was wrong.” She was getting married in 19th century house in the country outside of Shreveport that was now a B&B, and the wedding party was planning to stay there throughout the weekend, since it was an hour’s drive back into the city. Though the wedding wasn’t until November, Kelly had to make several trips to North Louisiana to pick out decorations, meet with the florists, etc. With such a busy fall, I was excited when Halloween and the chance for a break from work rolled around. Dion hosted a Halloween party at the shop, but he insisted that the four of us go to the French Quarter during Halloween weekend itself. “It’s going to be fantastic, darling,” he assured me. “And don’t worry about your costume, I’ll take care of it. “I can put something together.” “Darling,” Dion said, “I’m sure whatever you picked would be…..” he paused meaningfully “...exquisite, but let Momma handle this.” He patted my hand. “Let’s see,” he said, his eyes scanning me. “You wear…..hmmm...a 33 waist and a large shirt?” “Right,” I said. “Impressive.” His eyes closed for a minute as he thought. Then they opened, wide with excitement. “I know the perfect thing. You and Kelly will be a set. You will be adorable!” Chills rolled down my spine…… Kelly walked in. He had been standing at the door listening. “So you’ve decided on my costume, too?” “Of course, darling. You know costumes are kind of my thing.” “True,” said Kelly. “So have you picked your own out yet? Something simple? Like swathing yourself in gold lame and renting a crew of oiled Nubians to carry you down St. Anne on a litter?” “I did think of that,” Dion said. “But renting Nubians is so expensive these days. All I could afford was some skinny white boys, and I decided that would ruin the effect.” Dion had insisted we dress in our costumes at his place. “So much easier that way,” he had purred. “I’ll make some drinks, we can take the same Uber. It’ll be fun. Just like prom.” He had opened the door wearing a costume that was remarkable for containing 30 yards of green fabric while still exposing 95% of his smooth cocoa skin. “What are you?” I asked. “A dryad, darling, but it’s nothing without the headpiece and makeup.” “A dryad?” “A dryad. You know, a wood nymph. And Eric’s going as the lumberjack who’s trying to chop down my tree. And you and Kelly are going to be part of the woodland theme, too.” “Don’t blame me,” Kelly’s voice carried from the kitchen. “I had nothing to do with any of it.” “Hush up, child,” Dion called to Kelly. He turned back to me. “Your costume is in the powder room. I can’t wait to see you in it.” When he had insisted on my getting a spray tan (“You know I think you’re gorgeous, darling, but the costume would look better with just a teensy bit of color, and while you’re at the salon...maybe have them do something about those eyebrows….and don’t skip leg day at the gym”), I thought I had reached the pinnacle of fear. But now with the hour of what I was increasingly sure was my Halloween doom upon me, I realized there was indeed greater levels of dread. With a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, I headed to the powder room. I had worn the hiking boots he had asked of me, so I didn’t think he was going to try to turn me into a wood nymph. Maybe I would be a lumberjack, too? I could live with that. Entering the powder room, I saw a tan shirt on a hanger, with a glimpse of what looked like matching shorts behind. I felt relieved. Not too bad. There was a hat and a sash of some sort that looked familiar on the vanity. It looked like…….some sort of scout uniform. I picked up the sash, noticed the merit badges, and I was relieved I was right. “I get it,” I thought. “Woods….scouts….camping.” I could live with this. Relieved, I stripped to my briefs ( Dion had insisted I wear briefs or nothing….”Absolutely no boxers or boxer briefs,” he had warned). My relief ended when I put on the shirt. I took it off again and looked at the tag. Medium. I knew I had told him Large was the right size. Shrugging, I put it on and started buttoning it. It fit, kind of, but it was extremely tight. I went to fasten a few more buttons and realized half of them had been removed. Fearing the worst, I reached for the shorts and looked at the tag. Yep, they were a size too small as well. Someone banged on the door. “Darling,” Dion called. “Hurry up. I can’t wait to see it on you.” “I can’t wear these shorts. They’re too small.” “Have you tried them yet,” he called through the door. “My god,” I said, examining them. “This must be a 3 inch inseam. My ass will be hanging out.” “That’s why I told you no boxers darling. I didn’t want extra fabric ruining the line.” I struggled to put on and fasten the shorts. “I can hardly zip these. I can’t breathe.” “If you can still breathe, darling, they’re not tight enough. Open up.” I looked in the mirror at my skintight booty shorts and half open top. Even with the hat, sash, and kerchief, I looked like some kind of whore. Not figuratively, literally. I looked an actual male prostitute, and not a particularly expensive one. Luckily, I had been working out regularly so I admitted my body looked pretty good, and the tan definitely helped, but there was no way I could wear this in public. More banging. “Open up, Darling.” “No.” Before I could do anything else, I heard a scratching at the door, and it was flung open. Dion was standing there holding a hair pin. Kelly, in a scout costume that was even more scandalously short and tight than mine was standing behind him laughing. “Darling,” Dion exclaimed. “You look fantastic. A sexy scoutmaster for our woodland theme. And here,” he gestured to Kelly, his draperies fluttering dramatically “is your sexy little cub scout.” “It’s missing buttons.” “Of course it is. If I had left them on, you would have used them, and it would be a shame to hide that nice, hairy chest of yours. Especially with that savage tan.” “The shorts are a size too small.” “They have spandex in them. They’ll stretch.” “I can not wear this in public.” “Of course you can, darling,” Dion said. “Now go to the kitchen and pour yourself some liquid courage while Momma puts her face on.” Five shots of bourbon and an Uber ride later, I found myself in a gay bar in the Quarter. Dion’s full costume (the headpiece was so large the driver had to strap it to the roof) was impressive. Eric was joining us later after he got off work. Dion had shown me pic of Eric’s costume; I didn’t know you could buy sequined plaid. I had to admit my concerns about my costume’s indecency weren’t entirely warranted. Some of the outfits the other guys were wearing made me look like a Mormon missionary. Between the bourbon, the buzz of the Quarter, and the loud music, I was having fun and almost forgot about the acres of bare leg and chest I was sporting until a draft would sweep through. Kelly was at the bar getting another round when Dion grabbed my arm. “It’s time for you to be on official fake boyfriend duty. And make it look good.” I glanced toward Kelly and the bar, but no one seemed to be bothering him. I looked at Dion in confusion. He followed my eyes and said, “Not there.” He darted his eyes to the left. “Turn slowly. See the pirate and the slutty cabin boy?” “Yes.” “The pirate is Del and slutty cabin boy is Brad, the little homewrecker.” “That’s Kelly ex?” “Bingo.” Light dawned. “And you knew he’d be here?” “I knew it was a possibility.” “And does that have something to do with the reason I’m dressed like a man whore? Part of my Official Fake Boyfriend duties?” “Right again. If Del was here with his side piece, I needed to make sure Kelly showed up looking like sex on two legs and had a piece of hot daddy ass with him. If I didn’t do that, what kind of friend would I be? ” “Does Kelly know?” “Not yet. I didn’t want to spoil the night if the asshole didn’t actually come.” Kelly stepped up to the table with our drinks. Right as he set them down he gasped, and I knew he had seen Del and Brad. “Is that….?” he asked. “Yes, darling,” Dion said. “But don’t worry you’re not alone. You have your best friend and your official fake boyfriend here.” Suddenly, he hissed at me, “He’s coming this way.” I didn’t react fast enough for Dion; a foot connected with my shin, and I remembered my duties as fake boyfriend. Grabbing Kelly’s face with both hands, I pulled him into a kiss. It had been long time since I had kissed anyone, but I knew I had never tasted sweeter lips. His mouth had opened in surprise, and overcome by the temptation and the bourbon, I swept my tongue into it. I vaguely felt his arms wrap around my waist as the kiss deepened, and he responded with increasing enthusiasm. I don’t know how much time had passed before I became aware of Dion loudly clearing his throat, and I pulled away from Kelly. Kelly was flushed, and his lips slightly swollen. My own chest was heaving, and I felt hot. “Well, gentlemen,” Dion said, with a smug look on his face. “That was some exhibition y’all put on. Simply scandalous. I can tell you that Captain Del noticed it, and did not seem happy. In fact he took his little whore and left. Mission accomplished.” He raised his glass in a toast, Kelly and I clinked ours to Dion’s, repeating “Mission accomplished.” I tried to focus. I talked, i drank, I laughed. I even danced a bit. But all I could think about was kissing Kelly. I had never kissed a guy before, only girls, and not many of them. But it had never felt like that. Not even with Cathy. Not even when I was head over heels for her. I had never felt so confused before. What the hell? Eric finally joined us, and though we went through the motions, the night seemed off. I know for me, and it seemed Kelly, it never recovered its momentum after spotting Del and Brad. At midnight, Kelly and I left the other two still reveling in the Quarter and headed back to our shared house. As we walked to our separate doors, he turned to me. “Look...if you don’t mind. Can I come over for a bit? I don’t really want to be alone right now.” I wasn’t certain I wanted to be with him right then, but i couldn’t refuse him. Not with that sad look on his face. “Sure.” “Let me get out of this stupid outfit, and I’ll be right over. I just bought some Maker’s Mark. Should I bring it?” Oblivion sounded like a good plan. “Sure.” I followed his lead, and was in pajama pants and a tee by the time he walked in. I was plugging my phone into the stereo, searching through my Pandora list. “Anything in particular you want to listen too?” “Something sad.” “Eva Cassidy channel okay?” “I’m not familiar with her. Will it be sad?” “I can say with complete certainty and fore knowledge that the Eva Cassidy channel will be full of sad songs.” “Good.” We settled into the couch with our bourbons. I was sitting in one corner with my feet up on the ottoman Kelly had picked out instead of a cocktail table. He settled with his legs in front of him and his back leaning against my shoulder. We sat in silence for a bit, listening to the music and thinking. He spoke first. “I’ve never really talked about Del. I hate to because it makes me feel stupid.” I opened my mouth to speak, to tell him he was anything but stupid, but he sensed what I was doing. “Don’t say anything. Just listen.” He started talking again. I knew parts of his story, but I didn’t interrupt. I let him talk. “I met Del during my senior year of school. I was looking for Prince Charming, and I thought he was it. He was a bit older, not a lot...8 years, but he was a doctoral student and he seemed so mature, so settled. Not like the boys I had dated.” “Before Del, Dion and I had big plans. We were going to move to New York together and set the design world on fire, but after I met Del…...I didn’t want to go. I used to…...I don’t know, blame him I didn’t go with Dion, but, if I'm honest, I was scared of going. Scared New York was too much. Scared I’d fail.” He paused and sipped his drink before continuing. “Anyway, after I graduated I stayed in Ruston. Dion never blamed me. Never said…’hey you promised me first,’ he just told me that if Del was what I wanted, I should go for it. I sometimes wonder if I had gone to NYC what would have happened. If Dion would have stayed. If we would have set the world on fire.” “But I didn’t to New York. I stayed in Ruston and got a job at the furniture store. But it was okay. I worked, paid my bills and came home to Del. And when he finished his dissertation, I thought we’d head out in the world then. But Tech offered him a job and he wanted to stay. I don’t blame him. His family was relatively close in Dallas, the money was okay, and he liked being a big fish in a little pond. And I thought we loved each other.” “And then 7 years in, he decided to trade me in for a younger model. I thought it was the 7 year itch, and that was bad enough….” he started crying, and I shifted my arm so that his face was on my chest and my arm was around him. Through his tears he continued, “ And then I found out, it was worse than that. He had never been faithful. Brad was just the last one. He had been fucking around since the beginning. I had never been enough. He didn’t change his mind. I had always been not enough for him.” At this point, Kelly buried his face in my lap and sobbed. I didn’t know what to do so I made shushing noises and smoothed his hair until his sobs slowed. I don’t know exactly why I decided to tell him. I guess misery loves company. Maybe to make him see that everybody has sorrow. “I was a classic nerd growing up. I liked reading biographies of scientists, and I actually liked math homework. I was the kid who got excited about science fair. I was awful at sports, sunburned within 5 minutes, and couldn’t talk to girls without stuttering. My brother was the exact opposite. He didn’t have an awkward phase. He was good looking, athletic, and a gifted musician from the beginning. He wasn’t too good at school, but nobody but parents cared about that. He’s a year younger than me, but I was the one in his shadow. I didn’t really mind, though, cause he was a good brother. We had fun together. When we got to high school, it changed some. He went off to parties and was always too busy with sports or band practice to hang out, but he was always nice to me. I was the big brother, but he was the one I looked up to. I wanted to be like him, but I didn’t have it in me. He took me to parties and tried to help me talk to girls, but they always just wanted to be friends. And they usually wanted to talk to me about how to date my brother. Eventually, I gave up. I decided to focus on school. I decided life would be different in college. I’d start over. I knew he wasn’t planning to go, he was going to try to make it in the music business. Finally I’d be somewhere I wasn’t David Hopper’s brother. So i went to college, but it wasn’t that different. I still didn’t fit in. And then, senior year I met a girl. I guess there is something about senior year. Her name was Cathy. She was a freshman, and she was the first girl who treated me like i was special. The only girl who ever looked at me like the other girls used to look at David. We got engaged pretty quickly, but decided to hold off getting married until she graduated. I got several really good job offers, but I turned them down to take the job in Shreveport so i could be close. So I could drive in every weekend she was free. I lived in a shitty apartment with a roommate and drove the car I got when I was 16 so i could save every cent. I wanted to have a down payment on a house by the time we got married. We got married, we bought the house, and we were happy. But she wanted a baby right away. I did, too. That’s what I wanted: a house, somebody who loved me, and children. But it wasn’t working. Her sister had 3 by the time she was 20, and Cathy had 4 siblings, so she thought I was the problem. And she was right. We met with doctors, and there were options, but they were expensive. I had a good job and she was teaching, but with the mortgage, her student loan debts, and everything, we didn’t have a lot to spare. Plus, we wanted a nest egg when the baby came. That’s when i was offered the job in Iraq. It meant I would be away for most of the next two years, but it paid almost twice what I was making. We decided this was the answer. She didn’t want to live alone, so we’d rent the house in Shreveport, and she would move in with my parents. They loved her; she loved them. Her own were pretty rough, so she adopted mine. Sacrificing two years for everything I wanted; for a family of my own…..it seemed like a bargain. So I took it. I didn’t go through the things the soldiers did, but it was hell. The only thing that got me through was knowing Cathy was waiting. And our dreams. So I made it through, and I made it home. And when I got there, I found out she had fallen in love with someone else.” I realized I was crying. I wasn’t sobbing like Kelly had done, but tears were streaming. I’m not sure when, but Kelly had sat up, and was cradling my head to his chest. “And of course….who was it? Who was the new man. David. Of course, like every other girl, she fell for my brother. And even better, she was pregnant.” “Oh my god,” Kelly said softly, stroking my hair. “Yeah,” I said, pulling away and wiping my tears with the heels of my hands. “So she’s pregnant and wants a divorce. So while I’m away risking my life for us, she’s fucking my brother. My brother who didn’t go to college and never got a real job. Who at almost 30 was still trying to make his band happen. And her reward for betraying me? She gets the baby she wanted, she gets the house I bought, and most of the money I risked my life for. She and David also got my parents in the divorce.” “What do you mean?” Kelly asked. “They were just here.” “I mean….Thanksgiving, Christmas, summer vacation….Mom and Dad want to be with the grandkids, I can’t blame them for that. Cathy and David ended up moving to Monroe so they could be closer to my parents. I couldn’t take that. I can’t sit down at Thanksgiving dinner and eat turkey across the table from the people who ripped my heart out. To see the kids I can never have.” At that point, the tears did turn to sobs. Huge, loud, snotty sobs louder than Kelly’s had been. It’s the first time in 10 years I had let the grief out, and it washed over me. I threw myself at him, and wrapped him arms around his waist as tight as I could as I cried into his chest. I could feel his arms resting around me as he rocked me gently back and forth. We stayed that way for a bit, then Kelly shifted until I moved. He stood up and reached his hand for me. I grabbed his hand and let him pull me to a standing position. Mimicking my actions of earlier, he put his hands on my face and pulled me into a kiss. He pulled back after a bit, and I could feel, more than see, his eyes searching my face in the dim light. He said nothing, but took my hand, and led me to the bedroom. Daylight streaming in woke me. I looked at Kelly sleeping beside me. It had been long time since I had woken up with another person beside. And it had only been one other person, ever…..Cathy. Cathy had been my first and only. With no other basis of comparison, I had thought that what I had felt with her was what other people in relationships felt. That what I felt was love. Making love to her had been pleasant, especially the intimacy I felt, but I could never understand why other people acted like sex was the most important thing ever. I could never understand why people thought my voluntary celibacy was such a big deal. Now I knew. Kelly and I hadn’t progressed much past second base last night, and without talking about it, I knew that the night had been more about friends offering comfort than romance, but…….oh my god…..now I knew what had been missing in my relationship with Cathy, with the handful of other girls I had kissed and taken out. It was like the first time I tasted pizza in Naples and realized that all those I had eaten from chains were nothing but pale imitations. Kissing Kelly, holding him…...it had felt right. So right. I now knew what I had been missing. And now I was petrified. I sat up, trying not to wake him, but I did anyway. He groaned, stretching, his eyes still shut. Eventually, he opened them, and turned to look at me with a shy smile. “Good morning,” he said. I didn’t know what to say. I’d never had a morning after. I couldn’t even get out an answering “good morning.” “I’m sorry about unloading all that on you last night,” was all I could manage. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, the small smile still on his tired face. “Stay there, I’ll make some coffee.” I was still sitting there leaning against the headboard staring into space when he came back with the coffee. I took an appreciative sip. “You know,” he said. “After hearing your story, I can appreciate you wanting to go your own way...but I have an idea. We’re friends, right?....we are still friends?” “Of course. In fact…...you’re my best friend. Probably the best one I ever had,” I answered honestly. Another smile lit his face; this one was almost back to normal wattage. “Then I have a proposal. Why don’t you and I go our own way together for a bit. You don’t have do this alone, you know.” “Do what alone?” My head was foggy from the crying and the lack of sleep and my confusion over my night with Kelly. “Life, you idiot,” he laughed ruefully. “Cause whether you know it or not, you’ve got a posse with you now. I know things are little weird with your parents, but they love you. And now you’ve got me in your corner, and Dion, too, heaven help you. Even Eric. Like it or not, buddy, you’re not alone anymore.”
  2. 11 points
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 18 The next few days were spent getting settled down into living together. Since Jason’s job still had several weeks until it began and Shane’s doctors’ appointments were irregularly scheduled, they didn’t have a certain routine. Some things were set. Jason, more of a morning person than Shane, got up first to get the coffee on and breakfast started. Then he would help Shane get up and dress in a tee and apair of track pants that snapped up the sides or shorts, always black. When teased about his all black wardrobe, Shane had responded, “I hit my Goth phase a little later than normal. Sue me.” Ramon taxied Shane back and forth to his various appointments; Jason used this time to workout, to run his own errands, to tidy up the apartment, or to prep lunch and dinner. He could cook at bit, but Jason had been astounded at the time and effort necessary to produce three nutritious, home cooked meals a day. “No wonder all those 50s housewives needed ‘mama’s little helper.’” But he didn’t begrudge the effort, and he grew to enjoy cooking. And while it took a lot of time, it wasn’t difficult. The dietician at the hospital had mapped out a basic meal plan, which Jason used for lunch and breakfast. For dinner, Viktor had enrolled them in one of those meal subscription plans, and a small cooler of fresh ingredients with cooking instructions arrived promptly each day around noon. There had been no more deep discussions after the talk about Thomas, Prince Charming, and NIkolai, but the awkwardness Jason had feared might result from opening up to each other had not materialized. In fact, over the past few days, his main feeling was one of deja vu; he was reminded of their first, fun days of living together as freshmen. The deja vu was helped by the fact that with every passing day, Shane looked more and more like the boy Jason remembered. The red hair had long since been shaved, and the fuzz that was growing back was dark blond, gleaming gold where the sun struck it. Desperate for fresh air after spending so long in the hospital, they spent lots of time outside, either sitting in the small enclosed yard behind the apartment (shaded by banana trees, it was pleasantly cool even in the heat of the New Orleans summer), or taking long walks around Bayou St. John and the lake at City Park, Jason pushing Shane’s chair. Exposed to the sun, Shane’s skin had begun to take on a bronzed, peachy glow. This morning, after breakfast, Jason had decided to go for a long run to clear his head. Yesterday, in the mail, he had received another information packet about gay conversion therapy, this time from a clinic located near Shreveport. These sorts of things had begun arriving at the same time as Denise’s letters, which had started coming after he had blocked her number on his phone and changed the privacy settings on his social media. He had tried to read the first letter, figuring he owed Denise that much, but after reading the first one, an almost incoherent mix of Biblical quotes, requests that he pray for help, and vitriol against gays in general and Shane in specific, he hadn’t opened another one. Even more upsetting than Denise’s letters was the fact that his mother was on Denise’s side. With Shane’s waking up, it had taken Jason a few days to finally talk to his mother about the breakup; she had been furious. His subsequent phone calls with his mother had been tense; Barbara Reid had made several cutting remarks about her son choosing a “friend” (and the way she had pronounced the word had made him wince) over his fiance and about playing house with said “friend.” She had also started pressuring him to attend church. “Come on, Mom, I haven’t gone to church regularly in years. You know that.” “Maybe that’s part of your problem. Perhaps you should reconsider some of your current life choices; some church might help you make better decisions.” Combined with the conversion pamphlets, he wondered what Denise had told his mother. Did know she was gay? How had Denise figured it out? Had he been that obvious? With the thoughts of Denise so prominent, Jason somehow wasn’t surprised to see the girl’s car parked behind the silver town car when he made the turn down the block to his apartment; it felt like this meeting was inevitable. She was standing by her car when he approached. “I figured they were lying when they said you weren’t home.” “Well, they weren’t. Why didn’t you wait inside?” “Inside? In that den of iniquity with the queers?” “Are you for real? This is the 21st century.” “I’ll tell you what’s for real,” she said passionately, moving toward him and clutching his arm. “Hell is for real, and that’s where the path you are on is leading you. But Jesus is real, too, and he can help you. I can help as well, if you’ll let me.” “Denise,” Jason said, trying to shake her grip off without hurting her. “Denise, stop. Just stop.” “But you loved me,” she said, tears starting to stream down her eyes. “I know you did. You loved me before that…..that....” she removed her hands so she could gesture toward the apartment “.....Sodomite corrupted you. It’s not too late…..there are places that can help you….that can help you fight his influence….that can change you back.” “What are you talking about? “ “That night you left me, I saw it, Jason…..I found the sick, perverted place you had been on your computer....the sites you went to….I know he did that, led you there.” “What……” Jason stammered in confusion, trying to figure out what Denise was talking about. Then he remembered searching for Bywater Bad Bois and going to PornMD. “Denise...it’s not what you think….” then a thought hit him. “Wait….you went through my stuff? Are you actually crazy?” “I have the right to know what my fiance is up to.” “I’m not your fiance anymore.” He turned to go to the apartment. She grabbed him again. “Jason….Please, don’t go in there. Come with me...back to Baton Rouge. We can help you. My preacher, my parents, your mother, Brad…..we’ve been praying for you. With Jesus’s love and your faith, you can be delivered from this sinful lifestyle.: “My mother….you told my mother I was gay? I…...I….just go. Just leave…..leave.” “NO!” she cried, clinging to him. “I won’t abandon you….” and she began loudly intoning the Lord’s prayer as he fought to disengage himself from her without hurting her. Suddenly, the front door opened, and Ramon emerged. Quickly and with little apparent effort, he pried Denise from Jason. She struggled inefficiently in his grasp as he spoke. “You need to leave, ma’am. you can go voluntarily or in a police car. They’re on their way. It’s your choice.” In the distance, they could hear the sounds of a siren. Denise could hear it, too, and she pulled herself from Ramon’s slackened grip. “I’ll go,” she said holding her head high, “but I won’t stop trying...l..I won’t stop praying….I won’t give up on you, Jason.” And with tears in her eyes, she hurried to the car and sped away. “That’s your ex?” Ramon asked. “Yeah,” Jason sighed. “You have lousy taste in women.” Jason shrugged. “Did you really call the police?” “Of course not.” “What are the sirens for?” “Beats the hell out of me.” Ramon turned and walked back into the apartment. Shane, moving slowly after a bad night, had taken so long to get ready for his appointment that he had missed the confrontation. For that Jason was grateful. He had asked Ramon to not say anything to Shane. Jason needn’t have worried on that score. Ramon had listened to his request with clear boredom on his features before replying, “Look, kid, I’m sure this a big deal for you, but I got bigger fish to fry.” After the other two left, Jason decided he might as well get the inevitable over with and call his parents. He dialed his mother’s phone first, but, as was usual these days, his call went straight to voicemail. “The irony,” he thought, remembering his own recent attempts at dodging her calls. Sighing, he dialed his parents’ land line. His dad answered. After greeting his dad, Jason asked if his mother was home. “No, sorry, son. She’s meeting with the preacher. She’s been counseling with him a lot lately….I’ll be honest, Jason, I’m a little worried. Something’s bothering her, but she won’t tell me what.” Jason sighed again. “I think I know what’s wrong. Denise told her I was gay.” There was a pause. “Well, considering how upset she was at the break up, that would explain things. And it explains why she wouldn’t tell me.” “Why?” “Well, Jason, I didn’t want to worry you, but your mom and I have been fighting a lot since your breakup. She got upset that I wasn’t more` upset. She wanted me to go down to New Orleans and force you…..I don’t know how she expected us to “force” a grown man to change his mind….to make up with Denise. And when I told her it was none of her damn business, she flipped her wig. It’s been tense since then.” “Dad, I’m so sorry…..this all my fault.” “Son, this isn’t. I mean, yeah, I wish you never met that girl in the first place at this point, but your mom has never been good at just letting things go and letting people doing their own thing. It’s just that up to now, you’ve gone along with her plans. But trust me, this isn’t the first fight we’ve had about this sort of thing.” There was a long awkward pause. Before Jason could think of what to say next, Ted Reid spoke again. “Well, son, I know it’s really of my business, but I’m kind of curious. Is it true? Are you gay?” Another long pause. “Yes, Dad.” “I see. And is Shane your……special “friend”?” Ted put emphasis on the word, but it wasn’t the dismissive tone of Jason’s mother. “Not like that,” Jason said, not aware of the regret in his voice. “I…...do have feelings for him…...but no, there’s never been anything like that between us.” Jason had experienced many surreal moments in the last weeks, but nothing had felt as surreal as this conversation. “Is this a phase, you think, son?” “No.” “I see. Well, son, I can’t say I understand it, but you’re a grown man, and if this is what you want…….” he trailed off. “You need to be patient with your mother. This is not going to be something easy for her to accept…….Just, give her time.” “What about you? Can you accept it?” “Jason, like I said, I don’t understand it, but it’s not my life, so I don’t have to. I served with some good men in the military who were that way, and I learned to respect them. This is your life to live and you don’t have to apologize to me or anyone about how you choose to do that. You’re a grown ass man, now, and I’m proud of you, for what it’s worth." Jason spent the rest of the morning feeling shattered. It was if the final ties holding his life as he knew it together had snapped and his life had exploded; in the aftermath of that destruction, the landscape was unrecognizable. But as he went through the motions of showering, straightening up, and preparing lunch his mood lightened. The last barrier to living free was gone. His parents knew he was gay….hell, considering Denise’s loose lips, the whole world probably knew….and that meant he no longer had anything to hide. By the time Shane returned from his appointment, Jason was in a happy place. His spirits were high enough to catch Shane’s attention, and after lunch, the blond mentioned it. “You seem like you’re in a good mood. You were down this morning when I left. What happened?” Jason thought for a while before answering. His instinct was to brush it off. He had talked a bit about Denise and their break up, omitting Shane’s role in that, and they had touched on their long ago kiss, and Jason’s jealousy….but….to go deeper….to tell Shane that he was gay…..maybe to express how he really felt…… Jason took a deep breath and stepped off the cliff. “Well…….I just came out to my parents….technically just to my dad, somebody already told my mom I was gay.” “You’re gay?” Shane asked. “I mean….I figured you were bi….or questioning...I mean….you were engaged!” “True, but Denise and I never had sex. She wanted to wait until after marriage, and I…..I….for obvious reasons didn’t push her. And yeah….I…..thought I was just curious and then tried to tell myself I was bi, but….no….I’m gay.” “How did your parents take it?” “Dad is surprisingly cool about it. Mom…...well, she’s not taking it well. I’m a little….not surprised exactly…..I always knew she would be upset, but I didn’t expect her to go all evangelical...she's apparently trying to pray my gay away. Dad says to give her time….I guess he’s right….at any rate I don’t know what else to do.” “Who outed you to your mom?” “Denise.” “How did she know? Did you tell her?” “She found some gay porn on my laptop.” “And then she ratted you out to your mom? I mean, I understand her being upset her fiance is gay, but…..damn, that’s cold. But you seem okay about all this.” “Well….i mean, I wish it hadn’t happened like this, and I am freaked out but…..most of all, I just feel free. I just feel like a huge weight has been lifted. You know what I mean?” Shane grinned. A genuine, honest to God grin unlike any that Jason had seen on his face in years. “Yeah…..I think I know what you mean.” The power of that grin, the excitement of the morning, the rush of freedom…..with emotion running wild through his veins, Jason was gripped with exhilaration, and almost powerless against the urge, he leaned forward and kissed those grinning lips. It was a soft kiss, a brief kiss, reminiscent of the one that they had shared the night Jason had discovered Shane dancing at Le Coq. When Jason pulled back, he looked into Shane’s eyes, searching for something. Exactly what it was, he didn’t know. They were full of emotion: hope….longing….and something else…..fear. “The other night….there was something I wanted to ask you….something I’ve always wondered about. If I hadn’t gone along with you….if I hadn’t pretended not to remember our kiss….if I had been honest and told you that it was the best night of my life…...what would you have done? Would you have been willing to give us a go?” Jason asked in a low, husky voice. “Jason……..” Shane’s words were so low, Jason could barely hear. “Jason, I loved so much back then I could barely stand it. I thought it was friendship, but …...no….it was love, and I wish….I wish I hadn’t run. But I did.” Shane’s hand came up to touch Jason’s face, and Jason grabbed it, turning it so he could kiss Shane’s scarred wrist with tender lips. Shane’s eyes closed, as if in pain. “I love you, Shane,” Jason said. “I know this probably isn’t the right time and place, but I’m tired of pretending. I loved you then, and I love you now. And I know a relationship is the last thing you need right now, but I want you to know how I feel and to know I’ll wait for you….forever if I have to.” Shane’s eyes opened, and the pain in them made Jason’s heart ache. “Jason…….oh….Jason. That guy….the one you knew….the one you’re in love with…..he’s gone. I wish I could go back and be him….but I can’t. I’m used goods, baby.” “I’m not in love with a ghost from the past, and I don’t care what you’ve done,” Jason exclaimed. “There’s nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you.” “That’s easy to say.” Shane pulled back, and maneuvered away from Jason. “When you don’t know the things I’ve done.” He heaved himself up and grabbed his crutch. “Stay there,” he said to Jason, and hobbled to his room. Shane returned after a moment, and he held out something to Jason. It was the thumb drive from the box holding his revolver. Jason took it gingerly, as if it were an evil relic of great power capable of destroying him. “Watch this,” Shane said, “and then tell me if you don’t care about my past.” And then he turned and limped toward his bedroom.
  3. 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!
  4. 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
  5. 8 points
    An English Teen, Circumcised in the USA by Riley Jericho At Rainbow’s End The morning passed slowly. After breakfast, and running out of steam with the pool brochures, nobody seemed to feel like doing much. For the journey to the church, Luke retreated into himself. It wasn't hard when nobody else felt like talking, either. It remained a beautiful sunny morning—the perfect morning some might say. Maybe too perfect to have to say goodbye to a guy who'd been his closest friend since those first weeks after Luke had first stepped into the classroom, when those already there had all looked up to study the new kid, the kid from somewhere near London, England. As they passed along the valley floor on the journey to the church, he could see the church from a distance as they travelled up the wooded highway. Set upon the bluff of a hill. the edifice still commanded a view of the approach nonetheless. They turned at a junction, and Luke spotted the name of the road: Rainbow's End. The van began to climb gently under leaves that were becoming the hues of red and gold of an autumn that had come too quickly. The sunshine splashed across their windscreen in bursts of warm serenity, and, as they drew nearer to their destination, Luke could see glimpses of the white-stoned building through the trees. A final bend and they came out of the trees. Ahead of them, the church stood in confidant majesty. It was a stunning setting, momentarily flawed by the presence of one or two vans from the local media waiting near the entrance to an already well-filled parking lot. At the gateway, a single police cruiser stood guard. Some things never changed and his mum's planning had got them there just at the right time, and with a few minutes to go inside and find a quiet seat near the back. Somewhere out of the way, Luke hoped. Truth be told, he was relying on his parents to steer him through. He planned to follow their lead without having to think about anything meaningful. Otherwise it might bring him too close to the truth. The large parking lot continued to fill as more arrived on their heels. Awkwardly, he climbed out of the van, balancing on his good foot until he could rest on the crutch. He’d chosen to leave the boot at home. He just wasn’t getting on with it and it made his foot ache. Maybe it was fitted wrong, but he was happier just with the crutch. At least for the time being. Getting his balance, he braced himself on his crutch as he stepped forward. He braced himself in his head, too. Being there was both the last thing he wanted to do and the only place he wanted to be that day. He twisted to glance at some of the other arrivals and his shoulder wound throbbed. Perhaps he should have taken some more painkillers. Still, he was glad for the biting discomfort as they slowly made their way towards the open church doors. It kept him from drifting. The real pain, however, started as soon as they stepped into a wide, airy foyer. Some distance away, the tall, inner double doors that led to the main sanctuary were wide open, and he could see now how full the church actually was. His eyes tracked past the backs of both familiar and unfamiliar heads and he had to bite back a cry as, up near the altar at the front of the modern cathedral, two caskets lay side by side. Surrounding them, a number of candles flickered in the warm sunshine that bathed the stage area. He was still staring at them in dismay, and even considering bolting for the door, when familiar voices caught his attention. "Geoff...Lucy," murmured Brigadier Buford. "We so appreciate y'all coming.” Like Luke’s dad, Andrew Buford was dressed in a dark, somber suit. Luke and Simon had no such suits; both had opted for their black school pants with black ties that their mum had bought. Alice Buford was in dark colors, too, but had chosen to add a single red rose to the buttonhole of her formal jacket. Its simple beauty matched hers as she made a beeline for him. He didn't resist the gentle hug from the old lady, though it threatened his equilibrium. "Bless you," she said. "It wouldn't have been right if you weren't here." He was glad he'd seen them yesterday. This day was going to be bad enough without all the guilt and confusion he'd been carrying around up until then. He tried to smile, but it wouldn't come out straight, and he certainly didn’t trust his voice. She seemed to understand as she patted his arm softly. "We have some seats reserved for you down at the front," she murmured. "Now you're here, why don't we just go down, and you can rest your leg." "That's very kind of you, Alice," Lucy said, though Luke’s stomach tightened at the invitation. The front? Sitting where everyone could watch him, was the last place Luke wanted to be. At the same time, he couldn’t reject their kindness. They tarried a few moments as other mourners arrived and passed them by in mute silence, and Luke studied the floor as they waited. "Luke!" The not so quiet, yet unusually tense tone of Todd's voice tore at Luke, and he looked up quickly as Todd strode across the foyer from the open doors of the sanctuary. "Hello, Todd," Geoff said at once. He reached out to Todd and shook the teenager's usual firm grip. His eyes drifted past Todd into the sanctuary. "I see your folks came, too." “Yes, sir." Todd spun to Lucy. "Hello, Mrs. Summers.” Luke looked past Todd as he was briefly being introduced to the Bufords, and he could see the Quince family, too. They, and many others now, were twisting heads; their eyes all seemed to be fixed on him. However, rather than irritate or upset him, Todd's solid presence settled Luke. Todd appeared contained—sad, but still in control of his emotions, and Luke found that helped him focus, too. Todd was there. When it came to something important between them all at school, Todd always knew what to do. Todd finally turned and greeted Luke with an embrace, and gripped him firmly enough that the pain of it in Luke’s shoulder helped push back the weakness that had been gathering in his stomach. "We're all here," Todd murmured, though whom he was referring to was unclear. "I'll see you afterwards." It seemed a plan, and Luke was grateful for it. More people continued to arrive, several that the Bufords seemed to know well, so they continued to tarry a few moments while greetings were exchanged before slowly making their way to the front of the church. It was a slow walk down the richly colored carpet, made slower by his crutch; like a wedding, but with no joy or hope for a future. Luke couldn't bear to look at the caskets and found himself flicking his eyes from side to side instead, studying those he passed as they studied him. Many of those coming together that morning Luke didn't know from Adam—regular attenders perhaps, or maybe friends of the Bufords and their family. A good number, however, Luke did know, and more and more familiar school faces popped out of the congregation as he passed—and not just those from his class, but from other classes at the Academy, and staff members, too. In fact, the more his eyes flicked around, the more Luke realized that the church was flush with Academy guys. We're all here, Todd had said. Luke wondered if Benton had given permission, or whether they'd just bunked. As eyes followed him, it made Luke feel uncomfortable, and he tried to focus on the idea that they weren't there for him. Still, he'd seen the articles, too—his dad had saved the papers and Luke had wanted to read them to know what was being said. 'The boy who’d lived', they'd called him—cheekily it seemed, an idea stolen from Harry Potter. Down the packed rows, heads still turned to search him out. Looking anywhere but straight ahead towards the raised, carpeted platform and its arrangement of simple caskets, the church drew him in with a sense of tradition molded by the twenty-first century. He'd never been a churchgoer, and his only memories of such things were of the odd wedding and a few christenings in fusty old buildings where dilapidated hymn books and dusty, threadbare kneelers filled hard wooden benches. That, and the odd minster or cathedral they'd popped into as tourists, was about it. He'd never really understood it at all, or why Ryan ever went to church, but at least this church felt properly churchy without smelling of mildew. Individual, comfortable-looking modern chairs were set in well-spaced rows facing a raised platform that carried an ornate pulpit dressed in red and gold. Cooling air-con laced with the rich scents of incense and faith had replaced the fusty mildew. Even the hymn books seem to have been updated to a powerful video projector mounted somewhere out of sight behind the screen. Across it played some simple words of welcome. Other than that, there were no greetings or friendly waves from ones he knew as he limped forward. Some faces looked lost and sad, others seemed to be trying to get a measure of him, perhaps hoping they would be worthy of the inside track at some point. On one face, half way down the cream colored carpet, another set of eyes held him briefly until he looked away feeling troubled. He’d known Elliott would be there, and his friend sat quietly with Rose Carter. It didn't help that those eyes hadn't been condemning or even just plain pissed off at his behavior—Luke still felt bad. It had to remain a problem for another day as they reached the front. Thankfully they left the very front row for the Bufords, and, following their parents, he and Simon slipped into the reserved row right behind Andrew and Alice. Luke took the end seat so that he could stretch his leg. Mrs. Buford and her husband weren't alone. Amongst several he didn't know sat Mel Piper. She turned and gave Luke a friendly smile. It didn't surprise him that she was there, and he tried to smile back, though it came out as a grimace. Along with a Bible on the neat shelf mounted onto the back of the chair in front of him was a short order of service. He reached for it and fingered the simple, delicate paper in his hands. 'A Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving'. Thanksgiving? Tracing the journey of the service, he wondered how he was going to bear it. Father Kenny was his name—at least according to the service sheet—the man who would be leading the memorial service. At some unseen sign, it began. Father Michael Kenny. Luke studied the traditionally dressed priest as he entered from one side, stepped up to the platform, and faced them. Eschewing the prominent elevation of the main pulpit for a small lectern and a tie pin mic, he introduced himself. The first part of the service was formal—a hymn, readings, prayers, yet it was endowed with a rich heritage and flowed with a tender beauty. However, it wasn't until Father Kenny began to speak, that Luke found his control slipping. Kenny wasn't what he expected. He didn't come across as one who dealt in the coinage of sin and guilt, or got his kicks wagging his finger in recrimination. Neither was he a Mr. Bean! As the priest began to speak, Luke found himself being drawn in. Not by rhetoric or by a slick, pre-prepared sermon, but by the honest words of an old man who was as touched as any of them that difficult day. Kenny finished reading a passage and then slipped off his reading glasses as he closed his Bible. He leaned on the lectern apparently gathering his thoughts. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose," he began, repeating the words of the passage he'd just read. He paused as he considered the words before stepping away from behind the podium. "You know, it's times like this when I need the most help in understanding what that means." He came forward to the edge of the stage, free of notes, speaking with a soft conviction. There were probably none who were listening who didn’t feel he was speaking directly to them. “‘A time to live and a time to die’ the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, and maybe some might take that as a prescription for indifference, as if the untimely loss of a loved one means little in the end—an unfortunate incident driven purely by some unknown almighty agenda.” The eyes of what had first appeared to be some doddering old vicar flashed with anger. “Me?" he continued, his tone matching his words. "I’m angry. And if you’re angry too, then so you should be. In fact you should be furious that something important was stolen from us, because, in that sense, there’s nothing good about the reason any of us are here. You don’t believe that, and neither do I—and in my heart, I don’t think God demands that we convince ourselves that the loss of two beautiful people is all for some greater good.” Luke was taken aback, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t sitting on the edge of his seat as the old man let loose. Kenny paused, and his tone and demeanor mellowed. “Yet the very opposite is also true," he continued as his eyes flicked to the place where two coffins lay. "We are here to celebrate the very best of the lives of Helena and Ryan Alexis; to remember them for the good things in their lives and for the joy they brought us, and yes, to grieve too. And it's in those very things that we can still find peace, and we can be glad knowing that, in that very grief, we share something of immense value." He went on to talk about Helena Alexis for a few minutes, and he seemed to know a lot more about her than Luke would ever have guessed. One thing was missing through it all, however...any references to Captain Ethan Alexis. Luke had been relieved that there were only two caskets as he’d walked down the aisle, unsure about how he’d feel if the body of that murderer had been laid alongside the family he’d destroyed. The idea that the bastard should be allowed anywhere near Ryan, even in death, was abhorrent! But that was not to happen. Maybe his own family were conducting their own funeral somewhere and trying to find good things to say? Luke really didn’t care. “Ryan was a remarkable young man who, over the many years I knew him, always seemed to be able to surprise me and never gave up, whatever challenges he faced.” The mention of Ryan's name caught Luke's attention, and he saw the face of the old priest light up in a different way as Kenny recalled his own personal friendship with Ryan. Kenny chuckled. “He attended here at St Barnabus quite regularly...I think it was mainly to make sure I didn’t fall asleep in the middle of a sermon.” That got a soft chuckle from those listening. “But he helped keep this old man on his toes, and if he didn’t agree with something I'd said, he would often tell me! “I remember meeting Ryan a few months ago in the most unexpected of places, down at Hartsfield Airport. It was one of the first days of May. I was heading to Dallas and, talking about falling asleep at the wrong time, he had apparently dropped off on the Marta, and then got off at the end of the line!” Luke froze. The conversation he'd had with Ryan returned as if it was yesterday. It was the week Ry had been hung at school, and it sounded like Kenny was describing the day that Ryan had disappeared, unable to face anyone. ‘I ended up at the airport’’, was all Ry had been willing to say about that day. Luke wondered if the others had made the connection too, but he was too transfixed on the old man to start looking around. Kenny continued. “To be honest, I got the feeling that that young man was at the end of the line in more ways than one as we talked, and, at the same time, it wasn't the easiest of days for me, either. I was about to step into a situation where the world of some close friends was crumbling as they watched their very sick little girl deteriorate, despite the doctors best efforts.” Kenny grimaced, but then turned it around and smiled. “When I told him about it as we talked, Ryan said to me—and I quote—‘So maybe all there is to say is that crap things can happen to good people?’ There were a few widened eyes and Kenny chuckled. “I know, I know...and I did tell Ryan that there’s a Papal Memo somewhere that suggests I'm not allowed to say 'crap' in the middle a sermon!” Luke couldn’t help a smile coming to his face. Trust Ryan to get away cussing at a priest. Along from him, he could hear a small snort of humor from his mum. “But the lad had got it right. Sometimes there is no answer…no reason to fall back on. Sometimes there’s nobody left to blame except maybe God, because He’s an easy target. “During that same afternoon, I asked him what I should say to the young couple who were close to losing their daughter.” The priest looked sad and Luke wondered if that little girl was also gone now. “This is what he told me after he’d thought about it for a few moments. He said, ‘When you see them later...I don’t think you actually need to tell them anything. It’s just words. Just being there for them is enough.’” The priest opened his arms to encircle those listening now into his message. “And at times like this, where there are no easy answers, sometimes just being here…together…is enough. Because at those times when we feel like giving up in the face of discouragement and insurmountable odds, we know we have friends around us to lean on. And maybe we find the courage to face even God with our tough questions and our hurting hearts in the same honest and direct way as my friend Ryan did? In his words, sometimes just being here...sharing our grief together...is enough.” Father Kenny paused and waited. Maybe he was unsure where to go next, but Luke doubted it. Perhaps he just believed that space and time to reflect were just as important—maybe more so—than just listening to him. Around the sanctuary, silence held sway as mourners wrestled with their thoughts, with nobody in any hurry to interrupt the grief of others as one or two tears began to quietly fall. Luke felt so overwhelmed by emotions that tore at his badly-healed wounds, he began to tremble, his face twisting in the beginnings of a grief that he was petrified he wouldn't be able to control. "It's time to say goodbye," Kenny began again after a minute. His tone was gentle and inviting. "We maybe do that in different ways, just as we grieve in ways that are profoundly us." He gestured to the front row and smiled with compassion. "Brigadier and Mrs. Buford, parents and grandparents to Helena and Ryan, preferred not to speak, but rather to express their thoughts and memories in a different way—through images of a daughter and grandson who were cherished through thick and thin. "As this beautiful montage of their lives spreads across the screen, I want to invite you—if it's what you want to do—to come close," he gestured to the caskets, "and say your own goodbyes. There's no hurry, and you can take as long as you need. And if there's something in the quietness of your own heart that you want to say, then don't leave with it unsaid." Kenny withdrew to the side of the wide platform—still there, but it wasn't just his space anymore, and gentle music began to play. Soft and haunting, it filled the sanctuary from unseen speakers, a piece Luke had never heard before, but one he would never forget, either. And with the poignant staves, pictures began to melt across the screen, coming and going within the slow rhythms of the music. Those watching became captured by the quality of the images, and touched by the expressions of a family life—pictures at first of a young Helena Alexis, a daughter with the untapped potential of a whole life stretched out before her. Luke could see that, even back then, Alice Buford was capturing the heart of her family, and it was even more heart-rending to realize what all the hopes and dreams reflected in the young, bright-eyed girl, standing next to what could only be her brother, had come to. The slides continued to unfold, yet as she got older there was pain there too, yet the honesty of the story-tellers left that in place for all to see. Part-way through the presentation, Luke noticed the old Brigadier speak quietly to his wife, and the two stood and made their way onto the platform, carrying themselves with the kind of grace and dignity he'd come to expect, but nonetheless seemed completely impossible in the circumstances. Perhaps it was right. Nobody else had yet moved an inch closer to the simple caskets, but perhaps others were waiting, as it was right that the old couple should go first. Luke watched them traverse the stage. It was a journey he didn't think he could face, and he hoped they wouldn't think bad of him. He was torn; not wanting to miss any of the pictures, but drawn, too, by the very poignant scene being played out as the couple spent a few personal moments over each of their kin. Alice withdrew the red rose from her tunic and laid it down on her daughter's casket, and then she leaned over and kissed the simple wooden frames that held their daughter and their grandson. They came and sat back down and he could see the raw pain in both of them as they took their seats. Leaning together, they bowed their heads and submitted to the demands of their grief and quietly began to weep. His own tears began to slip down his face for them. It wasn't fair; wrong that two lovely old people should have to carry so much loss, and he tried to use his anger to force away his other emotions. After them, Mel moved. Her eyes flicked in his direction in invitation, but he couldn't find it in himself to stand. She seemed to understand, and, alone, she stepped up onto the platform. She didn't stay long, touching Ryan's casket with gentle reverence. She stepped back, and it was then that, above and behind the stage area, the flow of images began to touch on Ryan. * * * Extract from Luke's notes: In my sixteen years, I'd never been to a funeral. Maybe that's normal? Maybe you only start going the round of services like that when you're older and you start the process of losing people who are important to you—until it's finally your turn and it's too late to find out if anyone came or said anything to give your memory meaning and worth. I didn't really go to church either, and maybe all funeral services were like this, maybe not, but it really seemed the right place to be just then. The priest—Michael Kenny—wasn't at all what I expected, and he spoke about stuff in a way I'd never heard before. He was right, I was needing answers...or at least I was wanting to know that there was nothing wrong in my questions! I've never been to a funeral since, though it's been seven years now, but I don't think anything will ever come even close. Mel... Mel was there by herself and I regret that. I know she wanted me to go with her, but...right them, I...I just couldn't. She stood a few moments alone on the platform next to Ryan, and even then I couldn't get my head—or my feelings—past the idea that Ry was still a real thing lying there. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I thought he would suddenly come back to life or something stupid like that, but in a way, he was still there; as much a part of the service as any of us. In front of where, Simon, Mum and Dad and I, the Bufords sat up straight again. To me, they were what people who are really together were meant to be like. As the slides changed to focus more on their grandson, they lifted their heads to watch, though still leaned together for support. I guess they already knew the pictures, and you could tell it was Alice who'd taken most of them, but they still smiled. How they managed to be sad and glad all at the same time, I've no idea. Perhaps it takes a lifetime to learn? The music shifted too, and became a more modern tribute through Faith Hill and the song from the Pearl Harbor movie, 'There You'll Be'. It was a magnificent choice and you could feel everyone being stirred by the rich, meaningful words as a young, cheeky faced Ryan made his debut in the frame. Every picture was a winner, sometimes just him, sometimes with his mum or grandad. Again, nothing of his father was allowed to taint the memories. Laughter, absurdity, good times. A four-year-old bouncing on a trampoline, a six-year-old with what had to be his first day in First Grade, proudly wearing his new Academy Uniform. An eight-year-old hefting a tennis racquet that was way too big for him, already carrying that familiar determined expression as he got ready to serve. Unbelievably precious to those of us that missed him. I wish I could write the words down of that song here in full, but I can’t. Instead, please take a moment to listen to what I listened to that day. Let it sink into you as it did me. There You'll Be - Faith Hill * * * As the song and pictures reached out, a few more stood and slipped up onto the platform. Luke didn't know any of them, and none remained long. Out of the corner of his eye he could see his mum look briefly past Simon, passing an unspoken message: she would go with him if that's what he wanted. I'll be glad 'cause I was blessed to get to have you in my life. The song’s moving words touched Luke, and he fought with his emotions. Could he not just go up—visit a friend one last time and tell him that? Then the music changed again. * * * Extract from Luke's notes: Even now, seven years later, I can't keep from choking up when I listen to Eva Cassidy singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' Elli tells me it's okay, but it's one of those things that still has the power to bring everything back. I guess I walk with a limp—and I don't mean my foot. That healed fully within a few months. My shoulder too, though it took a lot of physio to get all the movement back without it aching like fire! Elli and I have talked about this a lot. When something catastrophic happens, you don't just 'get over it' in the way that many people think you should. It never truly leaves you. Not really. It walks with you through life, and sometimes—especially at times you feel your lowest—you limp with the residual ache of it. Yet even then, remembering is still good. Remember, even when it means walking with a limp. Can I ask something of you? If you’ve been journeying with me with this story, and you want to understand how I feel and what I’d like to leave you with, please stop a moment and listen to the song. Just get alone, turn up the volume and close your eyes. Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Eva Cassidy * * * The first few bars of the haunting Eva Cassidy rendition of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' caressed a different picture of the Buford's grandson. Luke didn't doubt for one minute that it was deliberate and he also knew that the Eva Cassidy album had been his gift to Ryan...and Andrew and Alice knew that. The picture on the screen could even have been taken quite recently. It was an older Ryan, but also one who was a little more worn, or perhaps just deeply thoughtful, not even realizing his mood was being captured. The image stayed there for long, long moments, filling the sanctuary with its sadness. Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. How could a song from some silly movie suddenly mean so much? Along with it, the image of Ryan was so close for Luke, so immediate. It could have been any of a hundred moments of all his memories of his friend, and they came crashing into his memory and broke him. He began to sob. Further images followed swiftly, as if striving to get to the end of the story before time ran out—some of just Ryan, others of him and his mum. Some had other people in them that Luke knew. There were several with Mel as well as a nice one of Ry with Mase and Jacko that Luke guessed had been taken at the Nike camp. Luke shook with emotion, unable to tear his streaming eyes from the screen, and cried as, time and time again, his own face joined Ryan's, pulled from the numerous times he'd been at Ryan's over the years when the Bufords had been visiting. They were the face of real friendship, pausing once again on the one Alice had taken that Sunday afternoon over mint julips. Someday I'll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me. Along the row, Luke's mum finally let go a muted sob. Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me. It had become more than an invitation; now it was a plea, and Luke knew he had to respond, to go up there and stand next to Ryan and say what was in his head, whatever the cost. But then the song came to an end and the slides with it, resting on one final shot of a happy mother and son, cleverly photoshopped together from other pictures. His moment was gone, and Luke hung his head in worn disappointment as it looked as though the flow of those wanting to pass by the caskets had trickled to nothing. Then, there was a movement to his right across the other side of the church. Alone against a background of quiet meditation, Jacko Jackson stumbled past neat rows of chairs to the front of the church, his face steaming with silent grief. It was painful to watch, as the young tennis player climbed heavily onto the raised area and went to stand by the casket. Still, it gave Luke fresh hope that he wasn't going to leave with things unsaid, and he determined in his heart to totter up as soon as Jacko moved away. Wanting to give Jacko space, Luke waited, only seeing his back as the younger guy bowed over a friend—a guy, Luke knew, who had his own very personal connection with Ryan, a guy who Ry had reached out to in the most difficult of times. But the moment extended longer and longer and Jacko's stooped form began to visibly shake. Nobody seemed to be there for him as he bore the crushing weight of loss alone. Luke struggled awkwardly to his feet, balancing his weight across to his crutch. Maybe Simon had just been waiting for him all this time, but he quickly stood, too. But it wasn't Simon that took him by surprise as they began to shuffle toward the steps, but the heavy, dependable presence of Todd coming alongside. "I've got ya," Todd murmured, lending a helping hand as they navigated the stepped edge of the platform. With him, was Mason. Shuffling closer, Luke could only manage to lay a comforting hand on Jacko's shoulder, though Simon snaked his arm around the shaking waist, and the lad didn't resist. All linked together, it was how it should be—the six of them as it had been so many times in the past, for one last time, with Ryan now sleeping and at peace. Not trying to curb his tears, Luke closed his eyes and opened himself up to say what he needed to, though none could hear except him and Ryan. Maybe the others were doing the same. ‘Hey there, Ry… I think you already know how so totally crap I feel for the times I let you down, and I hope you know now how much I’m really going to miss you.' It helped to think that Ry, close enough that he could reach out to touch the smooth wood, was just resting—like he did when he hogged the bed in Luke's room. 'We didn’t get much time together—at least not in the way that I know you would have wanted—but like you, in my own way I was drawn to you from those first few weeks when we started goofing-off on the tennis court. I hated coming from the UK at first, but I want you to know that I still wouldn’t have missed a day of the last five years. 'There’s so much stuff I’m gonna miss, and I hate it that I'm never going to just come over to see you. I’m going to miss you coming over to our place, too, and hogging the bed. I’m gonna miss shooting baskets with you. I’m even gonna miss enjoying how crap you were at golf! 'We’re thinking about getting a pool...I just wish you’d been here to see it, too. I’m sure you’d like it.’ There was so much going around in Luke's head, there just didn't seem enough time to say it, yet while he tried to arrange his thoughts, around about him there was a growing presence of others as the sounds of movement and quiet grief rose. He opened his eyes, somehow unsurprised to find more were joining them on the platform. Guys from school. Alone or in groups of two or three they began to flock around, and he understood now what Todd had meant when he said ’we’re all here’. There were no hysterics, though there were few who weren’t visibly moved. Not everybody could get close, but it didn’t matter. It was just important to be there—all of them—and Luke felt better for it. ‘Like Todd said, we’re all here.' He closed his eyes again as tears continued to blink past his lids and down his cheeks. 'You'd like it.' There was more to say. 'Your grandparents have been amazing with me. They told me that they knew about you, and I know you found it tough living with being gay all these years. I still think you could have told me, but even though you’re gone, I want you to know that I’ll do everything I can to keep you safe so nobody will have any reason to have a go at you. I know it’s what you’d want. Jacko's here too. I'll make sure he's okay. He got to the painful truth at last. ‘I don’t know what else to say other than I wish you were still here and I feel just so fucking lonely and lost now. When you told me to run that day, you saved my life, and now I just don’t know if I can make it without you, or do all the stuff we said we’d always do without out you around anymore.’ The painful truth was that Ry was gone. More than a friend, he was his irreplaceable rock, leaving Luke frozen with despair. It was Todd who had the final say. “We’re gonna miss you, bud," he said softly. There were murmurs of agreement as he found and voiced the right words for them, but even his usually strong voice was too choked to manage more. As if the declaration had released them, they slowly began to leave the stage, spreading once more back to their seats. As Luke reached the floor, he whispered to Jacko, "Come and sit with us." He’d meant it when he’d told Ry he'd look out for the kid and it made him feel better that he was actually able to do something positive as Jacko nodded, looking grateful. Back at their row, Simon slid in first and Jacko went into the middle as their mum and dad pushed over a seat. Nobody else went up to the platform, and perhaps that was how it should be, Luke mused. Eventually, Michael Kenny stood. “I…” he began, then swallowed, visibly moved. “In all my years serving as a priest, I’ve never been part of a memorial service that has been so rich in love. “To those young men—and in fact all who have come up here to show their respect and speak those last personal words—will you let me pray for you and with you?” He went on to offer a prayer that was off the cuff, yet full of honesty and truth. “You know,” he said, once he had finished. “I remember seeing the Wizard of Oz the very first time when I was a boy.” It seemed that the service wasn’t yet concluded and Luke was glad that they didn’t have to leave quite yet, and that maybe Kenny had something to say that would make sense of the song that had so touched Luke’s heart. “In fact, if I tell you that I was five when I first saw it, and that it came out in 1939, some of you bright sparks will be able to guess how old I am—but if you say one hundred and three, then I might pout a bit!” The gathering chuckled at the light relief, and next to Luke, Simon immediately whispered, seventy-four. Luke smirked—some things never changed! “We all know about tornadoes round here," Kenny continued. "And I can tell you I went home that night totally petrified! I had an awful dream that I was going to get swept up and dumped somewhere in Kansas! Kansas of all places!” That did get a laugh and helped draw a line under the previous grief-filled minutes. “The truth is—” Kenny coughed into his hand, muttering a number as he grinned "—years later, I’m afraid to tell you that storms are inevitable.” He left his podium and came forward again, becoming serious once more. "And the most difficult storms are not just because of physical suffering, but caused by deeper hurts like the loss of a loved one or by broken relationships. And in the middle of those storms, reactions are natural. You might feel confused or angry, guilty, or even fearful for the future.” Keep talking... "We will miss our friends, but I truly believe they're the ones in a better place right now. So let's not remember them just with sorrow and sadness. I'm sure that's the last thing they would want. For sure, there's a right time to be sad and to mourn for their loss, but they are worth so much more than that, don’t you think? The legacy of their lives pleads that we remember them with joy, too. "Like the scarecrow and the tin man, we can use our minds and our hearts to make a choice: and we can choose not to remember our friends for their weaknesses and failures—and don't we all have plenty of those ourselves—but instead choose to remember Helena and Ryan for the beauty and the friendship they brought us, for the good and fun times, when smiles creased our faces and laughter filled the air. "And then, like the lion who once feared everything, we too can lift our heads high and find courage, and we can walk again with lighter steps, finding support from those still on the journey with us." Next to him, Luke felt Jacko take a deep, shuddering, yet cleansing breath, helped by the profoundly touching words. The service drew to a close without any further singing, but with another simple prayer. There was no internment planned, for which Luke was relieved. He didn't think he could face watching a coffin being lowered into the ground. He found out later that both caskets would be transferred to the small town in North Carolina where the Bufords lived, to be buried in the family plot of a quiet, peaceful, tree-shaded churchyard. Ryan and his mum would be buried next to Helena's younger brother, Luke’s dad told him—a boy who had died from cancer when the Buford’s children were young. In time, Andrew and Alice would lie alongside the three of them; a hurting family at peace at last. The congregation waited in patient silence until, in front of Luke, the Bufords came to their feet. Carrying themselves again in quiet dignity, the couple, followed by Mel, made their way down the central aisle and out again into the remains of the warm morning. It seemed like it was over as others began to leave, too, and Luke and his family stood and gathered what few things they had. Luke slipped the order of service into his pocket, and then maneuvered himself out into the aisle. Around him he watched others do the same. There was an aroma of peace in the place. Rather than the kind of hurried pushing found at the movie theatre at the end of the film as people jockeyed to get out, Luke sensed something different here. Everyone took a moment and stopped to looked each other in the eye. There were nods and smiles—a recognition that the service had changed them all, bringing out better, nicer people. As Luke made to leave, Lucy touched his arm. "You go on," she murmured. "I..I just need a few moments." She turned to the stage and, without hesitating, Geoff followed her as they stepped up onto the platform, hardly noticed by those turning towards the door. The two of them went to stand over the kid who, Luke knew, they—especially his mum—had counted as their third son. His dad had his arm around her and she was weeping softly. Already fragile, he began to fill up again. Turning away, he took Simon and Jacko with him as he made his way towards the doors, leaving his mum and dad to their own farewell. No parent should have to bury their child, even if Ry was only on loan. Todd was waiting in the foyer. "Wow…that was amazing!" Todd breathed softly as, like others, they began to talk once they passed the threshold. Luke didn't get chance to reply before other voices were clamoring for attention. "Luke!" "Hi Kier. Matt." He greeted them and many more gladly, and it was easier than he’d thought it was going to be. Definitely a lot easier than waiting until he finally got back to school. They moved outside into the warm, late-morning air. With the service over, some headed straight for the parking lot, but many tarried, not yet ready to leave. He was quickly surrounded by his friends. “How are you?" was the question on all their lips. “So, so,” he admitted as they pressed around him looking for answers. "I think I'll be back soon," he said answering one of the many questions they put to him. To the other ones, the ones relating to Ryan, he merely said, "Maybe I can talk about it all later. Just not now. Not today." "Take as long as you need, bud." Todd was back on track again, riding shotgun on Luke. "You're not missing anything exciting. Get properly mended, and we'll see you when you're ready." “Thanks, guys. I guess I’m just thankful to still be here.” It was a sobering thought, and they gradually withdrew. Soon, only Todd remained. ‘Well, we’d better be getting back, I guess.” Todd looked at his watch and grunted. He shouted over to his brother who was sitting on the grass with Simon, Jacko, Gabe and a few other of his brother’s friends. “Mase!” Mason looked up and Todd tapped his watch. “Five minutes.” No longer surrounded by people and their pressing questions, Luke looked around himself at last. He couldn’t see the Bufords or Mel, and he wondered if they’d left. His mum and dad hadn’t yet appeared as far as he could see, and his eyes flicked to the doorway of the church, wondering where they were. However, they weren’t the ones who appeared through the entrance just then; it was Rose Carter. Elliott. Elliott, however, wasn’t with her. Rose still made an immediate beeline for Luke as Todd drifted off. He watched her approach. Dressed somberly, she still looked classy. “Oh…Luke…” Her musical tone was filled with honest concern and she didn’t hesitate to gently wrap him in her arms. Her generous tactile warmth didn’t surprise him. She was easy to hug, and he let it wash over him before disengaging. “Such a beautiful service.” She brushed the side of his cheek with light fingers and searched his face, though he wasn’t sure what she was looking for. Briefly, one corner of his mind toyed with the realization that she knew a lot more about him than most. From what Elliott had said, she would already know that Luke was gay. She would also know that there was something between him and her eldest son. Was it wrong to like two people at once? “How are you?” she asked. “Are you okay?” “A bit bruised,” he admitted. He put the questions aside. He had no answers and for now it didn’t matter. “But yes, I’m okay. I saw Elliott earlier…in the service. Has he already left?” She shook her head. “No, we drove here together. I think he went for a walk. The service was hard on him—it brought back some…difficult…memories.” “Miguel?” It wasn’t hard to guess, though her eyes widened a little at his reply. “He told you about Miguel?” She might know that he was gay, but Luke could tell that this was news to her. “Just a bit. It must have been tough.” Damn right it would have been! Just then, Luke spotted his mum and dad as they came out of the church. Both of them looked drawn. “Hello, Rose.” There was nothing antagonistic in Geoff’s tone and Luke was relieved as he clasped Rose Carter into a warm embrace. Lucy was still dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “I was just telling Luke,” Rose said. “Such a beautiful service. You will miss that young man, I can see.” Lucy nodded. “It was so nice of you to come,” she said and her eyes flicked around. “Did Elliott already leave?” “Rose was saying he just went for a walk, mum,” Luke explained. “Just to clear his head a bit.” He wanted to go home. His shoulder hurt and his eyes felt dry and achy. He could do with sleeping for a week, but he knew Elliott deserved better. Gathering himself, he asked, “We’re not in any hurry are we? I should probably just see Elliott before we go, and I think I could do with a bit of time alone, too.” His dad seemed relaxed. “No, we’re in no hurry, sunshine. Not today. Take all the time you need.” “Mrs. Carter—if Elliott comes back, can you tell him I went that way?” Luke pointed to a path that went around the side of the church. He’d seen enough of the setting as they’d driven along the valley floor to know where the path would lead. It would be a pretty spot to spend a few minutes alone to think. Leaning on his crutch as he passed along the pathway, the scent of autumn flowers followed him, and to his left, a beautifully-tended cemetery full of well-spaced memorial stones covered the undulating ground. He kept going until he broke out past the church building, and then further until he reached the bluff that looked out over the valley. The church had chosen well; it watched over those in the valley below, a beacon of hope for those who had time and belief enough to lift their eyes. Benches and soft grass were left for those coming to the vantage point, and he settled cross-legged onto the ground and studied the landscape. The sun stroked the hillside and he knew that, somewhere in the far distance, their home waited. It wasn’t long before another body settled softly onto the ground next to him. A hand touched Luke’s—a brief graze to let him know Elliott was there. They didn’t speak much, and there was no need for it, but it was good to have the company. Luke closed his eyes and let the birdsong and soft breeze envelop him. ~\~\~\~\~\~\~~ I won't say much here, as it's not quite the end. There are still people to thank who have given me so much help the last couple of years of writing, but there's also—hopefully—one more chapter yet to come. If you cried over this last chapter, I did too...many times in its writing. It was hard to say my own goodbyes to Ryan. I don't know how long it will be before it’s ready to publish, but stick with me for one last chapter. And then...? Really, I don't know yet. Time will tell. All I can say is thank you for being part of the journey with me. In the meantime, listen again to Faith Hill and especially to Eva Cassidy as my...almost...last words. There You'll Be - Faith Hill Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Eva Cassidy Riley
  6. 7 points
    Jerry's POV “I still can’t believe your cock is so big,” Dave said as he came up from the thing after giving me the third blow-job of our relationship. It was different this time as if he had a lot more experience than he first let on. I could have sworn he took my cock deep into his throat, nearly brushing his nose into my pubes. “Good Norwegian genes,” I said. “Where is the professor and that new boy?” “They went into Rochester to get Erik a new clarinet and some clothes. They’ll be back sometime this afternoon. I expected you earlier this morning; where were you?” “Oh, there was a meeting down at the Union. It seems the Provost is doing away with Warnton Pride, the LGBTQ support group, and with Professor Johnson leaving some students are going to have a rally Monday afternoon. I guess they’re going to try and have some TV crews in from Rochester and Syracuse come in and cover it.” “Geoff was worried his leaving was going to cause a media circus and I guess he was right. I don’t have any good feelings about this, though. It could backfire on them.” “No, I guess the Provost is really homophobic and has been trying for years to get rid of Warnton Pride. From what they were saying at the meeting I guess he wants to start a religious studies program and bring evangelical professors to teach it. To me that sounds like he wants to turn this college into a religion school. Can you imagine having to take religion courses just to graduate?” “Surely the board of trustees aren’t going to allow this to happen. It will change everything Warnton stands for. Enough of this kind of talk; let’s kiss some more.” “Yeah, Jerry, that’s the attitude; besides, you owe me a cum.” “Yeah, I guess I do.” “How’s it going to be? Wanna try out that box of condoms you bought for me?” “Sure, I guess.” Well, I wasn’t sure. Geoff had told me that letting someone fuck you had to be something you were really willing to give. Submitting to the dominance of another man. Did I want that so early in my relationship with Dave? Yes, he did sort of suck me a few minutes ago and it felt really good, but I don’t think I wanted cum in my mouth anymore. Did I want it in my ass, even if it would be contained in a condom? And, this was going to be my first time, meaning Dave would be taking my virginity. Did I want that, now, with him doing that to me? Dave rolled on top of me and locked his mouth onto mine. We’d only known each other since Monday and hadn’t done anything except kiss and doing something called frotting, but we seemed to be getting pretty good at doing this. His tongue was begging permission to battle with mine and I allowed him entry. I could feel the anxiousness in his erection and knew he wanted to put it inside me, whether I was willing to have it in my mouth or ass seemed to be my choice; or, was it? He went away from my mouth and I didn’t know what was going to happen until he began licking and nipping my left nipple. I never knew a man could experience sexual stimulation from those little nubbins of flesh and I didn’t want him to stop, but he did. He continued his journey down my body, a journey he’d made earlier when he went that way to blow me. Only this time he passed by my cock and began to suck on my balls. I knew where this was going. We’d already talked about it when Geoff had given me that book on gay sex and I shared it with Dave. He pushed my legs up exposing my hole, so it had come to this. Whether I wanted it or not, he intended to fuck me. I suspected if I stopped him I would either have to blow him or give him up to some other boy on campus. I liked Dave and wanted him, but as Geoff said, giving yourself in this way was a big step in life. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly. “Hand me the lube and the box of condoms,” Dave said. I did as he asked and shut my eyes the inevitable assault to come. He began putting lube into me, but seemed to be in a hurry. I looked down at him and watched as he slid a condom down over his hardness. The only thing to do now was to concentrate on relaxing and hoping he would wait if only for a moment to allow me to get used to his presence inside me. He wasn’t that long, maybe seven inches, but appeared to have some breadth to him. I felt him there ready for entry. I concentrated on relaxing and he slowly slid in. It hurt as much as I expected, yet not as much as Geoff said it might. Maybe I was just meant to be fucked. Maybe that was to be my thing. Dave adjusted his position so that he was over me with my legs spread open. It didn’t take him long to get into a steady rhythm of thrusts and withdrawals. I reached up to touch his face, but he told me not to do that, so I just lay there and let him take me. He was banging me fairly hard and then he did something unexpected. He pulled out, took off the condom, and went right back inside. I wanted to say something, but didn’t. And, then, his rhythm changed again to short thrusts as deep into me as he could get. His body shivered as the orgasm overwhelmed him and he deposited his load deep inside me. I was no longer a virgin. I had a boy’s cum in my ass. I had submitted to his dominance and I had allowed all of this to occur. I would forever look back on my first time with regret that I hadn’t even tried to get off, too. I had been so wrapped up in what Dave was doing to me that I neglected my own chance at pleasure. He pulled out and went into the bathroom. I remained lying there feeling sorry for myself and my lack of restraint. I carefully got off the bed and went into the bathroom. Dave was drying his softening dick and looked over at me as I sat on the toilet to let his seed drain out. “You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked. “No, what?” “I took your virginity and came in your ass. It’s mine now. You can’t give it to anyone else. You will forever know that I was your first. I’ve got to get back to the dorm. See you around, my dear fuckee.” “Dave, wait!” But, he was gone. Suddenly, I had the feeling I had been used and began to wonder if I was truly his first as he had claimed. What if he had just given me HIV? I was going to have to talk to Geoff. For one thing I knew I was never going to see Dave again, unless he came to the dinner tomorrow night and even then I might not talk to him. I took a shower and then put on some old jeans and a torn Detroit Lions t-shirt. I didn’t bother about putting on shoes. * * * * Even though my ass hurt, I was sitting at my desk working on some calculus problems—they had given us a test on the first day to see where we were as far as studying algebra and determined I was further along than whatever I might learn in college algebra so I was transferred into a calculus class—when I heard Geoff’s car pull into the drive way. I opened my window and called out to see if they needed any help with the bags and, of course, Geoff told me to come down. As I went down the stairs, I was surprised at how sore my ass felt, further reinforcing my belief that I wasn’t Dave’s first fuck. I opened the back door and Erik came in with a small case that I assumed had a clarinet in it and a couple bags from Macy’s. At the door to the screened porch, Geoff stood waiting for me with his hands full of bags from other stores. “Anymore?” I asked. “Yes, and shut up the car when you’re done,” Geoff said. “Where’s Dave, I figured he would come down with you.” “You and I need to talk about Dave later.” “Trouble in paradise?” “It’s no paradise anymore.” “Something serious happen?” “Very.” “What?” “Can you get HIV from being fucked only once?” “I suppose that’s possible. Didn’t he use a condom?” “At first, yes, but he took it off before he came. For all that he said about being a virgin, I think he’s fucked guys before. I know it’s just a feeling, but the way he was acting before and after gave me that impression.” “Shit! Okay, get the bags from my car and I’ll be back. I’ll drive you down to the pharmacy to see if they carry HIV testing kits or I can get you an appointment with my doctor. What do you prefer?” “I’ll go to see your doctor. I do have student insurance, so I might as well use it.” “You might want to save it if you get a positive test from a home kit and then go get a retest at the doctor’s.” “Oh, okay, I’ll get the bags, but I’ll need to put some shoes on.” “Well, let’s get this show on the road.” The pharmacy did have HIV test kits and the pharmacists gave me one that was the most reliable. Then she admonished me for having unprotected sex and asked if the girl was local or from the college. When I hesitated for only a few seconds, she smiled and just nodded as if she knew it hadn’t been a girl and I hadn’t been the top. I knew I blushed. Then she said I should wait for at least two to four weeks before testing myself and if it was positive, to go to a health professional to get a more accurate test done. Now I was worried. While Geoff drove back to the house I could tell there was something on his mind. To be honest, there was something on my mind, too. Dave taking off the condom was a dirty trick and the thought of it kept bugging me. I wanted to go to the dorm and punch him in the face, but I also didn’t want to see him ever again. I knew if I was HIV positive I would definitely never see him again and I might just go to the dorm and punch him in more places than just his face. “I bought you something,” Geoff said. “Oh, what?” “Preparation H.” “What do I need that for? I don’t have hemorrhoids.” “No, but you’ve been fucked and I’m sure your hole feels a bit used. This will help. When we get home, I want you to take a hot bath and then put the H inside you. It’ll help heal the chafing. If you don’t mind me asking, did you fuck him?” “No, he blew me and come to think, now, he might have done a pretty good job of it, too. Almost like he’d done it before. At first I thought he might have trouble like the first time he did it because I have such a big cock, but he didn’t seem to have any problems with my size this time. I think he actually swallowed my cock a few times.” “Yep, the boy’s experienced. Dave’s no virgin if he knows how to swallow a thick, nine-inch cock. Shit! Stupid fucker—no pun intended—fooled both of us. If he shows up tomorrow for dinner, I’m showing him the door. I don’t want him over at my house ever again.” “That’s fine with me. How was your shopping trip with Erik?” “Nice, the owner of the music shop told us to keep away from Mr. Alexander. I guess the guy’s a pederast, but no one has been able to prove it.” “A peder-what?” “Pederast, a man who has homosexual desires toward pubescent or adolescent boys.” “Oh, why didn’t you say pedophile, I would’ve understood that.” “A pedophile preys on pre-pubescent children, little kids.” “You like young men and might have had sex with me if you weren’t under probation, so does that make you a pederast?” “I usually prefer older boys, closer to twenty. You are kind of on the borderline, so I suppose that makes me somewhat of a pederast, but I’m definitely not interested in having sex with Erik or any boy his age. I suppose you could say I’m more interested in boys who have a more adult-like appearance. So, let’s just say, for argument’s sake, I’m attracted to young adult men, like yourself.” “Okay, I’ll accept that. So, tonight when we go to bed, will you fuck me if I ask nicely?” “No, I’m your boss.” “But, you’ve had sex with your houseboys before, right?” “I was younger then and stupid. I’m sure I took advantage of quite a few young men in my time. I’m older now and I don’t know why you would want to have sex with an old man when you could have someone younger like Gerry.” “Oh, yeah, Gerry. He’s nice; he’s coming over later this evening. We’re going to shoot some hoops out in the sports court. Is that okay with you?” “You need to mow the lawn sometime this weekend, too. It’s getting too long. I don’t want to have to remind you to do your jobs around the house. And, I think the basketball hoops need nets. We might be able to order them online. Will you need a net for the tennis court?” “No, I don’t play.” “Well, here we are. Go on upstairs and have your bath and medicate your ass.” When I got up to my room I saw there was a text from Dave on my phone. I opened it and read: Loved your ass. Can’t wait to dump another load in your love hole. I thought about that and then sent back: Fuck off shit face. You can take your STD depositor and hit it with a hammer. Wasn’t quite what I wanted to say, but I hoped it would get my point across. I took off my clothes and went into the bathroom. I heard Erik playing his clarinet and went to his door. After knocking, I waited a moment, heard the music stop, and then the door opened a bit. He stuck his head in. “Yes?” he asked. His eyes immediately tracked down to my cock. “Oh, jeez, you’re huge!” “I’m going to have a soak, so if you think you’re going to need to use the toilet either do it now or use the lav in the hall.” “Oh, uh, sure, uh, okay, I can, uh, do that. Would you like me to, uh, wash your back?” “Erik, you’re drooling. Wipe your mouth.” “Oh, sure, uh, yeah, could I …” “No, Erik, you’re too young.” “Oh, come on, can’t I just touch it, please. I’ve never seen a cock that big.” Before I could react his hand was around my cock and began to slowly stroke it. In no time it was growing thicker and longer; and, then, he knelt in front of me and put his mouth over the head. “Erik, stop,” I whispered. “Uh, uh,” he mumbled. “Erik, please,” I whispered. I put my hands on his head and pulled my cock from his mouth. He looked up at me and I saw a tear well up from his left eye and trickled down his cheek. I knelt and pulled him into a tight hug. He was so small in my arms as he began to weep. “Hush, it will be okay. I don’t know what the age of consent is in New York, but it was sixteen in Michigan and you’re only fourteen. I could get in a lot of trouble doing anything with you.” “I’ll find out what the law is in New York,” he said and he pulled away from me. There were streaks of tears on his face. “I know that in Maine a fourteen-year-old can have sex with an eighteen-year-old; and, now that I’ve seen what you’ve got I want to get to know you better.” “Well, Erik, I’ve had a rather traumatic experience today and I’d rather not talk about having sex with you.” “What if I find out we can?” “We still can’t. I might have been exposed to HIV or some other STD.” “What? Was it that Dave guy?” “Yeah.” “Did he fuck you without a condom? Did you tell him to use one, but he didn’t? What happened?” “He used a condom, but took it off before he came.” “Why didn’t you stop him?” “I don’t know.” “When he comes over here tomorrow for dinner, I going to hit him.” “No you’re not because Geoff isn’t going to let him in the house. Now, if you don’t mind I’m going to have my bath.” “Are you sure you don’t want me to wash your back?” “Yes, I’m sure.” “Can I kiss you?” “Not now, maybe later.” “Can I sleep with you?” “I sleep with Geoff, but the bed is big enough for the three of us.” “I don’t want to be beside him.” “Then sleep beside me.” “I’ll think about it, okay?” “However you want to do it, but I sleep in Geoff’s bed. Now, can I go have my bath?” “Okay! Go have you bath.” * * * * We were probably halfway through dinner when the front doorbell rang. Erik practically jumped out of his chair and ran into the house. In less than a minute he returned with Gerry following him. Gerry had brought his b-ball. “Gerry, nice to see you, hungry?” Geoff said. “Erik, go get Gerry a plate and a glass. He can have some of our chicken stir-fry.” “No, sir, thank you anyway, but I’ve already had supper,” Gerry said. “Well, okay, Erik just get him a glass and he can have some ice tea,” Geoff said. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just have water.” “Erik …” “I know, get him a glass of spring water from the refrigerator,” Erik said. “Sheesh, I thought you were supposed to be my foster parent not my boss.” “I think the keyword there is parent,” Geoff said. He chuckled and Erik gave him the evil eye before going into the kitchen. “I was telling Jerry that I don’t think there are any nets on the basketball hoops. If that’s the case, I hope it won’t mess up your game.” “Actually, Geoff, when I was mowing the lawn, I checked and there are nets, but they’re a little old,” I said. “Here’s your water,” Erik said as he held a glass beside Gerry. “Thanks, kid,” Gerry said. “I’m not kid, I’m Erik, so get that through your jock filled mind.” “Erik, that’s no way to speak to guests in this house,” Geoff said. “But, I’m not a little kid anymore. I can’t help it if I’m small. For your information, Gerry, I’m fourteen and expect to be treated as something more than a twelve-year-old.” “Erik, you’re so dear, you look twelve. You know, uh, Professor Johnson, my oldest brother had a hormone deficiency when he was growing up and looked twelve when he was fourteen. Maybe, Erik has the same problem.” “Hmm, that’s interesting,” Geoff said. “Oh, and Gerry, since I am no longer a professor, why don’t you just call me Geoff, like Jerry and Erik, mostly do.” “Oh, no, sir, I can’t do that, my parents would disown me if they found out I was being personable with an elder. Is it okay if I call you Mr. Johnson?” “Sure, no problem, whatever is most comfortable for you. There’s one more serving of stir-fry; Jerry, Erik, Gerry?” “I’ll eat it,” Erik said. “A growing boy needs lots of protein. Isn’t that right, Gerry?” The front doorbell rang, interrupting the conversation. Since Erik was busy finishing the stir-fry, Geoff and I looked at each other. Frankly, I was kind of afraid to go answer it because of who it might be. Then it rang again. “I think I know who that is,” Geoff said as he stood up. “I’ll be back unless the police arrest me for killing the asshole.” “What was that all about?” Gerry asked. “Jerry got fucked by a dickhead who took off his condom halfway through,” Erik said between mouthfuls. “Now, Jerry had to go buy an HIV test kit and watch his ass for STDs if that’s at all possible. That’s what you get for trusting college dickheads.” “He wasn’t a dickhead when I first met him,” I said. “Man, that’s totally wrong,” Gerry said. “You want me and my friends go beat him to a pulp?” “And, get yourselves up on hate crime charges?” I asked. “It won’t be a hate crime if we’re all gay.” “What? How many gay friends do you have at that high school?” Erik asked. “Have I died and gone to gay Valhalla?” “Well, let’s see, there’s Anson, Rich, Dave, Simon, Mark, and Curtis. They’re seniors and either play football, lacrosse, or basketball. The juniors are Bill, Steve, Mons’ brother Manny, Del, and Nibs. I know of at least three sophomores and two freshmen, but I don’t know their names. There are a few others, but my crowd doesn’t run in their circle.” “What are they spraying on the apples around here?” I asked. “Good question, but most people wonder if there is something in the water,” Gerry said. “Of course, there’s also the gays at the college, plus the lesbians, a few bisexuals, and, well, there is Patty, she’s having a pretty rough time of it. Physically she’s a guy, but she identifies as being female and pretty much looks like a girl. Her parents got a court order forcing the school to allow her to wear girl’s clothing and style her hair as a girl. She’s never had to take PE and uses the handicapped restrooms because they won’t let her use the girls’ restrooms.” “Is she a senior?” Erik asked. “No, Patty’s a junior; she was kept back a year in elementary because the school wouldn’t let her be a girl. It took her parents a year to get the court order on the school district. There’s a lot of meatheads on the football team and religious wackos that go to this weird Christian cult thing east of here that keep hassling her. We try to protect her, but we can’t be with her all the time. I’m afraid something’s going to happen to her.” “Well, that takes care of that person,” Geoff said as he walked out the backdoor. He returned to his seat and poured some more ice tea in his glass. “He actually threatened me with a lawsuit claiming alienation of affection, which you can’t do in New York, but I didn’t tell him that. I hope he does go to his uncle, who he said was a big time lawyer in Manhattan just to see if my big time lawyer in Manhattan is any better. So, what’s up?” “There’s a transgender boy at the high school who looks and dresses like a girl,” Erik said. “Next week I’m going to see if I can meet her.” “Why would you do that?” Gerry asked. “You’re only going to be a freshman; nobody talks to freshmen.” “Does anybody talk to Patty; does anybody sit with her at lunch?” Erik asked. “If you do, you’ll be marked by those who hate her and you might find yourself on the wrong end of a fist,” Gerry said. “Nobody is going to try that on me more than once,” Erik said. “And, why is that?” Geoff asked. “Yeah, Erik, you’re a bit little to be taking on a football player,” I said. “I took jujutsu and can take down any bully.” “That’s good, but just be careful, you can get in just as much trouble by being caught fighting,” Geoff said. “I don’t want to have to come down to the school and find out you’ve been hauled off by the county sheriff.” “It’s not fighting; it’s letting the aggressor’s momentum defeat his attempt to attack. Generally, I don’t even have to hit the other person, but can and will if necessary to protect myself from injury.” “Well, what do you know, our little kiddio is a toughie,” Gerry said. “Erik, I see a great future for you in Warnton. First you want to become Patty’s friend and now you think you can take down the bullies. What else do you have up your sleeve?” “I’m not your little kiddio; it was a stupid R&B song by a singer who could sing better songs than that thing.” “What do you mean?” Gerry asked. “‘Kiddio’ was a song by Brook Benton in 1960,” Geoff said. “Oh, sorry Erik, but you’re so cute,” Gerry said. “Well, thank you, I appreciate that.” “Oh, oh, now I am in trouble,” Gerry said. “Jerry, are you about finished?” “Geoff, may I be excused?” I asked. Usually, I would help Geoff or Erik to clear the table and clean up the kitchen. “Sure, go ahead, I think me and Erik can take care of the kitchen tonight. Make sure you use plenty of bug spray; the mosquitos will be coming out as the sun goes down.” I went over to the small table by the backdoor and picked up the bug spray. Outside, I sprayed my arms, legs, neck, and face and offered the can to Gerry. He sprayed himself and I took the can back into the screened porch. Erik was just putting the last mouthful of stir-fry in his mouth and I ruffled his hair. “Little kiddio, that’s so cute,” I teased. “I’ll get you,” he said as he swung at me. “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Geoff said. “It’s not polite.” “But …” “Uh, uh, no talking until you swallow.” I went out and Gerry walked with me out to the sport court. First thing I wanted to check on was the posts for the tennis net. Interestingly, they were set in the asphalt in concrete footings and when I jiggled one it was loose, so I pulled it out. Gerry went over and did the same thing with the other one. “What do we do with them?” he asked. “Lay it down next to the fence and then it will be out of our way.” “Short court or full?” “Well, it’s not really a full court, but it should do. It’s your ball, you go first.” We played until the sun was well on its way to dropping below the horizon. We walked back to the house and went in through the screened porch door, which I locked behind me. After walking into the kitchen, I locked the backdoor. “Want any water?” I asked. “Sure, thanks.” We slowly drank our water and I felt a lot calmer than I had since Dave left after fucking me. I could see having Gerry as a friend in the weeks and months ahead and possibly moving that friendship into something of more permanence if he was of the same mind. Gerry drank the last of his water and put the glass in the sink. “Well, I guess I better be going,” he said. “Thanks for coming over. Come anytime you want. You know, we are having dinner here tomorrow night and there’s going to be quite a few people. I know there’s an empty chair if you want it.” “What time?” “Five, I’ll need help getting things ready, so if you come earlier that’s okay, too.” “I’ll send you a text if it’s okay with my parents.” “Great.” I walked him to the front door and out onto the front porch. We were standing close. He took my chin in his hand and our lips softly met in a see-you-later kind of kiss. For all the ravenous kissing Dave gave me, this was pleasantly unexpected. I touched his cheek and didn’t want him to go. “Bye,” he said and then he turned and walked away. * * * * “Nice sleep shorts, Erik,” I said when I walked into the study. He was curled up in his wingchair busy with his novel. “Thanks.” “We had to go to three stores before we found them,” Geoff said. “He didn’t want to have to get little kid pajamas, which is what would’ve been his only choice if we hadn’t found those.” “And, thank you for putting up with me,” Erik said. “I know I was being rather difficult considering what you spent on the clarinet.” “How much did you spend?” I asked, curious. “Just over fifteen hundred, but I guess it’s pretty good,” Geoff said. “Right, Erik?” “Oh, yeah, are you sure you’re going to be able to take me down to see that lady in Rochester about the late audition for the youth symphony?” “I don’t see any problem with it. It really isn’t that far. What the hell was that?” There had been crashing sound from down the hall and we all ran toward the living room and front door. From what I could see, someone had thrown a firebomb through the living room window that faced the front of the house. “The fire extinguisher is in the kitchen,” Geoff said. “I’ll call the fire department.” Erik ran to the kitchen and I went outside to see if there was a hose I could use to douse the flames on the front of the house. There was one, but whatever fuel had been used in the bomb had gotten down onto the hose, turning it into a glowing mass of flaming plastic. I ran back into the house. Geoff was attempting to put out the flames on the floor, but the drapes were fully involved. “Is there another fire extinguisher?” I asked. “Out on the back porch.” Erik was standing there as if not knowing what to do. “Go outside,” I said. “But …” “Go outside!” I ran out to the back porch and found the fire extinguisher. There were sirens in the distance, but they were getting closer. I picked up the fire extinguisher and ran back to the living room. Geoff was losing the battle. I stepped in and began to attack the fire around the broken bottle, but the fire was getting up into the ceiling and it was too high for me to get at. Suddenly, there were three firemen in the living room and one pulled me back. I went outside with Geoff. Another truck showed up and brought up a hose to attack the outside of the house. All three of us stood there in shock and then slowly made our way across the lawn to let the firefighters full access to the house. “My beautiful home,” Geoff moaned. “Why?” “I know why; it was that Dave guy, that’s who,” Erik said. “You can’t say that; we have no proof,” Geoff said. “He threatened you; didn’t he?” I asked. “That’s proof enough for me.” “There could be others; after all, I’m gay and there are those in this town who are obviously homophobic,” Geoff said. “You mean, like the Provost?” I asked. “Don’t be silly, he wouldn’t do this,” Geoff said. “One of his friends might,” I said. “Dave was saying that he has been trying to do away with Warnton Pride. With you leaving and him trying to do away with Warnton Pride, maybe one of his wacko religious buddies decided to get rid of you, too.” “I can’t imagine him doing such a thing,” Geoff said. “Excuse me, are you the homeowner?” a firefighter asked. “Oh, yes, what can I do for you?” “We saw the broken bottle and have called the sheriff and state police, since this is obviously arson. You won’t be able to stay here tonight, so you need to make arrangements. Will you need assistance in that regard?” “What about my house? What if they come back? I have these two boys I’m responsible for.” “Sir, please try not to be upset.” “But, I’ve lived here in Warnton for forty years, I’ve never had any problems like this. Why now?” “Sir, is there something going on we should know about?” “He’s gay, all three of us are gay,” I said. “I did have an incident with a student from the college I thought was a friend, but when he came back this evening Geoff told him to go away and he threatened Geoff.” “Are you saying this might be a hate crime?” “No, but there are things happening on campus that might have a bearing on what happened,” I said. “I see; well, we’ll be leaving a truck here tonight in case there are any hot spots and I’m sure the sheriff’s department will have a car in the neighborhood, too.” “Mr. Johnson, could I speak to you?” someone down on the sidewalk said. “If you’ll excuse me,” Geoff said. He went over to talk to that person, who might have been a neighbor. “Is there someone who can escort me and Erik upstairs so we can get some clothes on and pack a bag if we can’t stay the night?” I asked. “Oh, sure, good idea,” the firefighter said. He turned to another firefighter who seemed to be between tasks. “Harry, take these two in the house so they can go up to their rooms.” In the end, that man Geoff had been speaking with was his next door neighbor and he had three beds in two rooms that we could use for as long as we were going to need them. We left Geoff to talk to the police and went with the neighbor to his house. As it turned out, he was the pastor of the local Unitarian church and come to find out Erik intended on attending that church once he got settled in the house, so he and the pastor had a long conversation about all things Christian and how it didn’t matter that Erik was gay. He asked me if I was a believer and I told him about my experience with crazy Lutherans at home. For what it was worth, he told me I would be welcome, too. Finally, Geoff came in and after a cup of herbal tea we all went to bed.
  7. 6 points
    “I love that restaurant,” Zeke folded his arms behind his head as he walked, looking up at the clear night sky, “they always do such lovely little starters. Don’t you think?” “Yeah,” Emmett smiled falsely. ‘Little’ had been the operative word in that sentence, because the food had been fancy and tiny, more like splashes on a plate costing far too much than actual food. To compound the problem he had been due to have another proper sized meal, but had forgone it in order to maintain his sculpted appearance in front of Zeke. His stomach was only not growling violently because Emmett had snuck most of an extra bread basket on the way to the bathroom and filled himself full of carbohydrates. He’d feel awful in the morning, but it was worth it when Zeke snuck under his arm and ran fingers across his chest over his shirt. The young man purred gently in happiness. Despite the miniscule portion sizes, Emmett couldn’t describe the dinner as anything other than lovely. Like a real date, they had talked about everything that passed through their heads. Zeke asked about his job, how it was they actually measured the movements of animal populations and why it needed doing. They talked about the weather and the imminent change in seasons; Emmett waxed lyrical about the love of ice and Zeke had looked at him strangely, but admitted to making snow angels in the park when no one was watching. Emmett asked Zeke what it was he did, why he had been transferred in and out of town, and discovered that his date was a bio-scientist with a first class degree in horticulture and was a senior executive of the company who managed the plants in malls and high-end office buildings all over Ontario. They had flirted over delicate ravioli and quail with truffle sauce and played footsie under the table. Every time a waiter had walked by they had needed to stifle giggles, and both of them had spent a lot of time blushing. It had been a perfect first date, and to Emmett, it was wonderfully topped off by the knowledge that there would be no chaste midnight kiss on the doorstep and trudging home, because as they neared Zeke’s building, the other man already had his hands in Emmett’s pockets. They kissed in the privacy of the elevator, being bold for the eight seconds it took to get them to Zeke’s apartment and hurriedly straightening their clothes as they stepped out into the long hallway. Zeke grinned and swivelled his hips while he got the key in the lock, and Emmett was on him the moment they got through the door. He kicked it shut behind them as he pushed Zeke up against the wall, holding both his wrists in one large hand. His date writhed and moaned in anticipation as Emmett ran a palm down his front and pressed against the thickening shape of his erection through the thin material of his suit slacks. “Mmm…” Emmett kissed the young man, open mouthed and hard, keeping Zeke pinned with his own body as he felt him up, “I missed you.” “I can tell,” Zeke panted, “oh!” he exclaimed as Emmett’s fingers slipped past his clothes and squeezed his arse. “Bedroom?” Emmett grinned salaciously. “I think we’ll just stay here,” he ground his hips against his lover, kneading his behind with strong fingers. “I love the way you moan.” Zeke responded by blushing hard and practically dissolving against him. He got Emmett’s fly open, his thick cock springing to attention, and Emmet had to let go of the slender young man to roll a condom from his pocket over himself. Ten seconds later Zeke was only wearing his trousers and boxers on one leg, his shirt half open and pulled askew, and he cried out in a mix of pain and pleasure as Emmett thrust into him. The polar bear sunk into his lover up to the hilt and wrapped Zeke’s legs around his hips, his own erection trapped between them, and groaned as Zeke pulled him in for another oxygen-depriving kiss. Zeke was clinging onto him as much as he could, Emmett bracing them against the wall as he began to fuck his partner with animalistic abandon. “Oh god… Emmett!” Zeke’s fingernails dug into his shoulder and the back of his neck, their foreheads touching as the pair of them sweated, half-dressed and desperately turned on. His blue eyes shone in pleasure and desire, and Emmett kissed him hard enough to clack their teeth together, tongues duelling for the upper hand. Emmett won and Zeke purred and moaned against him, his whole body vibrating with lust, turning the air around them pink and hot. Emmett tugged Zeke’s shirt open, buttons skittering away across the floor like terrified mice, bent to press his tongue over one pink nipple and sucked the hard bud into his mouth as Zeke practically screamed. He rammed into his partner, loving the smooth, hot, soft but tight grip of the young man’s body, and snarled as Zeke tightened around him, staining Emmett’s shirt front with his come. Emmett pulled them away from the wall, took ten steps to the sofa where he laid Zeke over the padded armrest without removing himself from the sheath of the other man’s body and fucked him until he roared in orgasmic ecstasy. “God, I’ll never get bored of that,” Zeke ran his fingers through the short buzz of Emmett’s pale hair and the polar bear kissed him in a slow satisfied sort of manner. “You’re gonna be all sleepy now, aren’t you big man?” “Nah, ‘m good,” Emmett lied, pulling himself up and out of his partner with a lewd wet noise, “can I use your shower?” “Go ahead,” Zeke sat up, but grabbed Emmett’s hand as he turned away, “can I get a kiss?” Emmett grinned happily, scooped the slender man up in his arms and kissed him hard. “How about you just come with me?” Zeke’s shower wasn’t really big enough for two full grown men one of whom masqueraded as a bear a lot of the time, but they made it work, switching places to duck in and out of the streaming water. After Zeke scrubbed himself down he gave Emmett a quick peck and exited the steamy little box. Left alone, Emmett sagged against the tile wall and dozed happily as he washed himself. Dinner might not have been great as far as the food went, but this was turning into the best first date he’d had in years. There was nothing about Zeke that drove him crazy with lust per se, but fucking him was such fun Emmett didn’t wanna stop. He had to get himself a second date. He wrapped a towel around his hips and inspected the fingernail welts in the back of his neck in the steamed up mirror. There were downsides to dating a man with a manicure after all. Emmett yawned hugely and padded out into the living room. “Sofa!” Zeke called, and Emmett sank gratefully onto the hastily tidied couch. His and Zeke clothes were piled up on an arm chair, and the television was on standby. He frowned. “Here,” Zeke knocked his knuckles with a chilled brown glass bottle, “I hope it’s not awful, I don’t drink beer.” Zeke settled into Emmett’s lap and snuggled in between his thighs, sipping from a martini glass as he turned on the television. Emmett sipped his beer and wrapped an arm around Zeke’s narrow waist. “What are we watching?” “I missed a project runaway episode,” Zeke craned to look up at him. “You don’t mind, right?” “Nah,” Emmett smirked, pulling Zeke against his torso with a little thud, “I’m good.” Emmett had never even heard of project runway, not as anything more than ‘a thing on TV’, and twenty minutes of bitchy-ness, cat-fights, glitter, sequins, and starving women bemoaning their fat thighs later, he wished he had remained in blissful ignorance. Zeke seemed completely enthralled, so once Emmett had finished his beer he simply snuggled more firmly into the corner of the sofa, got comfortable, and allowed his mind to wander while he dozed. He should probably ask Zeke to be his boyfriend, though with the way they were both acting around each other, the point seemed moot. Emmett didn’t love him, though Zeke seemed like a nice enough guy, and talking together made him happy; but that would come in time. Or it wouldn’t. Emmett didn’t hold with his little brother’s belief that he had a true soul mate somewhere out there. After all, their father had never found the one person on the planet whose scent drove him crazy – it certainly hadn’t been Emmett’s mother. He’d been six, holding little Logan’s chubby toddler hand with his father cuddling baby Tilda in his arms as they watched his mother leaving. She’d taken the ice road to Kashechewan, intent on getting on a plane and getting away from the ‘freezing cold wilderness.’ When Emmett had asked why she’d left them his father had replied: “She didn’t want to live with a bunch of bears, son.” From then on, Emmett’s mother hadn’t been a part of his life. There had been the odd phone call, a visit around his sixteenth birthday, another when he graduated from the university, but if Emmett was honest he hadn’t really missed her. Because the day his mother left, was the day the bears arrived. They had always been there: his father, his grandfather living three doors down, but now most nights his grandparents would come over: his grandmother would tell them legends while he and his brother were snuggled up in the snow white fur of their family. He played with his father out on the thick ice where no one would see them, watched his grandfather fish and ate salmon raw and warm from the frozen waters of the Bay. Emmett’s child mind had decided it was a good trade. Napping on the sofa with Zeke in his arms was an alright sort of trade for watching awful television; but having lazy sex on the bed afterwards, Zeke on-top and straddling his crotch was way better. Emmett didn’t think he’s slept so well in years. * “So, what caused these geese to stay at their rest stop on the east coast while their flock-mates took off east and headed to England?” “Elevated T-four?” one of the under grad students raised his hand as he spoke, and his classmates frowned at him. “They hadn’t put on enough muscle mass,” a girl pitched in, “if they were the birds who trailed in their V-formation-” “But the lead bird does the most work,” a third interrupted. “And gains the most muscle,” the girl continued. “The trailing birds wouldn’t build up the same amount of breast muscle.” Emmett grinned, he loved it when the students bounced off each other to work out their theories. “They would need a longer rest before they continued onwards.” “But if the flock rotated the lead bird then they’d all build up good muscle, wouldn’t they?” “Ever stop to think they might just decide to stay there?” another gestured across the migration map, “the rest of the flock ended up in Northern Europe. Not all the geese make it that far.” “Well done.” The class of a dozen undergrads looked at Emmett expectantly as he began to give out data packs. “Assignment time: you all have the tracker data from a dozen different Canada geese. Your task is to analyse your data and draw conclusions about the birds, their health and breeding success from the information you have. I expect maps.” “You always want maps.” “Maps are pretty, and they help you to visualise things much better,” Emmett tapped the desk, “I expect maps. First drafts by Friday please.” There was a general sort of soft groaning. Even though Emmett was fairly certain his students enjoyed their assignments, there was always annoyance when deadlines were handed out. Emmett waved generally at the students to dismiss them and glanced at his phone. It had buzzed during the last part of his lecture, and Emmett grinned happily as he read Zeke’s name. “Emmett?” “Hmm?” Emmett didn’t look up for a moment, distracted by the rising excitement that flooded through him from head to crotch. “A bunch of us are going for a drink after study period,” one of his students smiled hopefully, “you wanna come?” “Thanks, but no. I have a lecture to prep for,” Emmett smiled, his students weren’t much younger than himself, most falling somewhere in the eighteen to twenty-four age gap, along with a few strays who were older than himself. “Have fun.” He did have a lecture, a large one for a group of mixed first-years just started out the in bio-sciences. Because of the courses they had chosen, all of them would, at some point, be required to do cold-weather field work, and while conditions in the winter were not arctic, a lot of the students had travelled to them from much warmer climes where all one needed to survive the winter was a thick coat and decent boots. A night out on the ice in Georgian Bay, or three days in the wilderness in Killarney Park, was a completely different matter. But that didn’t mean, as he pulled up the slideshow and turned on the projector in order to display the items and equipment the students would need for their first expedition in two months’ time, that there wasn’t a free moment to text with Zeke. Zeke: I’m filling in budget reports, and I’m bored, and thinking of you. Are you thinking of me? Emmett felt his dick twitch as he read the words. He’d be teaching with a semi if he wasn’t careful. Emmett: It’s hard to think of anything else now. You want to come over to mine tonight? Zeke’s reply was immediate. Zeke: Only if you buy wine. I’ll get take out. Emmett grinned. It was about time he broke in his new bed properly. It was a very comfortable mattress, especially now that he had fitted it out with nice navy-blue cotton sheets and a thick goose-down comforter. The idea of having Zeke in his house made him happy. He texted his address to his lover along with a row of kisses the width of the screen. The students began to file in for their lecture, and Emmett folded his arms over his immense chest to watch the group of skinny humans who he would have to teach to survive in the wild and cold. Emmett was very good at surviving in the wild, and he was exceptionally good at drilling the respect of the ice into the students without scaring them beyond all functionality. But he always started off the same way. “Do as I say, not as I do,” he paused to let their attention and rustling stop, “I grew up here.” A silent click displayed a picture of Moosonee on the projection screen, Emmett’s little town locked into a hard winter. “I have lived with snow and ice all of my life. Most of you have not. You do as I say, even if it seems unnecessary, and I will keep you with all your fingers and toes intact.” It had been the same way his father had started out his training, leaving Emmett’s younger siblings with their grandparents. They had driven along track roads together, out into the hard icy wilderness, and Emmett had wanted to copy his father, discard his thick boots and snow-proof furs and suck down the frozen air. His father had hugged him tight, told him to stay in his clothes, and had stood in the chill air, the snow clinging to white pale chest hair, and breathed as though he relished the frozen coldness all around them. Then he changed. Emmett always thought it magic when he was a child. Though he knew from his grandfather and their many shifter friends that it was a clearly genetic miracle, as simple and complex as having green eyes or blond hair, he still thought there was magic in the change. His father had become a polar bear, bundled Emmett up in his giant arms and together they had romped through the forest. Until you’d travelled on the back of a bear, you hadn’t really travelled in the snowy wilderness. Emmett took his students through the list of things they would need. The university provided the tents and rented snowshoes from the park for them to use on their first mandatory trip, but everything else they would need themselves. Emmett covered everything with them, from the better sort of socks and thermal under-layers, to outer coats and gloves. He talked about not falling prey to anything that was too cheap to actually be functional or too bulky and thick to stop them from overheating. Several sneered at the mention of fur lined hoods, and Emmett told them such things were optional, but those with a collar of coyote or fox fur around their faces would fare better than those without. He talked about their bird-watching equipment, the necessity of good binoculars and a note pad, how to protect their digital cameras from the cold: the fact that they would need sunglasses to protect them from snow blindness and headaches. They spent a long time covering snacks, water bottles – which were worn on the inside of clothing, the importance of good hydration, communication and organisation. It was nowhere near as cold in Killarney Park as it was at home, and certainly not as cold as the arctic itself, but frostbite could still set in over a few hours and it only took an open jacket and a bad wind to give students hypothermia. Emmett watched as his students shuffled out with their notebooks and laptops, full of questions and plans for shopping trips, and then remembered he had to go on a shopping expedition of his own to somewhere he never went: the wine section. It took him twenty minutes of standing and staring blankly at the bottles before he picked two in the whitish-yellow colour, each with a different animal on the label, paid and headed back to the house. He’d only just gotten them in the fridge and started to get changed, pulling a thin worn-soft jumper over his bare chest before the doorbell went. Standing in the kitchen stirring his green tea in a rather meditative manner, Huan-Yu looked up with a frown. “Visitors for you?” “Just one!” Emmett grinned hugely at his housemate and skidded in socked feet to the door. Zeke beamed at him, and held up two bags of take-out that smelt distinctly Indian. “Hey!” “Well aren’t you full of beans?” Zeke stood on tiptoes to kiss him, “fun lecture?” “Yeah, I scared the little ones. Be expedition season soon.” He turned to Huan-Yu, “Zeke, this is Huan-Yu. This is Zeke.” “Ah, ‘the boyfriend’,” the panda arched an eyebrow, “you two have fun with your food. ‘Night Emmett.” “Goodnight…” Emmett turned to Zeke with a slightly guilty expression, “he lives here too. I mean, it’s his house.” But Zeke was smiling widely. “You called me your boyfriend?” “Umm…” The next moment Zeke was hugging him hard around the neck, his pulse racing against Emmett’s skin. “It’s awesome. C’mon, take-out and wine.” Emmett got the glasses and found Zeke setting up the food on the glass coffee table. He’d bought a few dishes, but Emmett knew he could polish off the lot in ten minutes and still want to eat it all again. He’d had a half sized dinner the previous evening, which had given him enough energy to keep going for the day, but as he poured the wine, took his own beer and settled on the sofa, Emmett was suddenly self-conscious of the thin layer of fat spread over his well-ridged abdomen. He flicked the television on, the channel automatically set now to the sports update, and Zeke took a delicate bite of his chicken korma and sighed. “Can we watch something else?” “You don’t like ice hockey?” “It’s so barbaric, someone always ends up bleeding.” “Yeah,” Emmett grinned to himself and destroyed half a garlic naan bread. Usually players ended up injured and bleeding when they tried to tackle his brother. Ryley was a great hockey player, an excellent polar bear, and a decent young man who liked to do well. Emmett had always told his little brother that there was nothing wrong with being proud of himself and his skills. After all, if you’re not going to be proud of yourself, how can you expect anyone else to be? “Can I switch?” “Yeah, sure,” Emmett did not recognise what happened to the television, but suddenly there were wedding dresses and a hugely camp man called Randy on the flat screen. Emmett knew better than to say anything, but sat and ate his dinner and kissed the back of Zeke’s neck when his boyfriend snuggled into his lap. He could trade good television for a boyfriend, it wasn’t that bad: he would just catch up another day. “You said it was expedition time? What does that mean?” “We take all the first year students out to collect data in Killarney Park in November. They watch the birds and count them, and learn how to survive in the snow,” Emmett hugged him tight, “I got space in my tent, you wanna come with?” “You wait to take them after it snows?” Zeke sounded horrified, “why not just throw them out into the wilderness to be eaten by bears…” “So…” “I don’t sleep in tents,” Zeke turned and kissed him, “you’ll have to go it alone big guy.” Emmett was disappointed, but he wasn’t surprised. He ate his fill of the take-out, which was everything Zeke didn’t eat, and drank his beer. He always liked the Killarney Park trip. There were a hundred types of breeding and nesting birds in the park, lots of owls and hawks in the winter, deer tracks and wolves. The trip always afforded him a late night or early morning to wander off, change into his fur and sit out in the wilderness under the stars and watch The Great Spirits dance across the sky. When Emmett had made the decision to move south, missing his view of the northern lights had been one of his and his father’s biggest worries. They came most nights, but Emmett knew he could never live anywhere they didn’t dance in the sky. Getting out into the wild in his fur in the snow was an excellent bonus to camping out in Killarney Park. If Zeke had wanted to come with him… Emmett tried to think of it as a blessing in disguise. “So, where’s this enormous bed you’ve been telling me about?” Emmett showed Zeke upstairs and the young man went for a shower, frowning slightly at the fact that Emmett didn’t have an in-suite. Emmett cleared up, threw away the take out containers and put the living room back the way it should have been before he headed upstairs. Zeke was kneeling on the edge of his bed, poking around in his bedside cabinet. “Who’s the kid?” He sat on Emmett’s pillow, holding a photograph of Emmett with Rye, taken at Christmas. “My little brother,” Emmett took the picture from him, smiled at his brother and hid the image away again. “For someone who just had a shower, you’re wearing a lot of clothes.” “Only you would consider underwear to be too many clothes,” Zeke was grinning, holding a square foil packet between two fingers, “get on over here.” Emmett glanced between the condom, Zeke, and the thick headboard of his new bed. Ten minutes later, he had his boyfriend gripping the same headboard with white knuckles, biting his lip trying to stifle the scream, as Emmett ploughed into him. Zeke’s arse was smooth and pale and delightfully pert, and Emmett figured he could cope with bad television on date nights if Zeke was going to put out doggy-style. * Emmett had loved and adored Ryley from the moment his little brother had been born. Nothing the baby could do would make him unhappy; no amount of crying would annoy him. Emmett’s step-mom had been so incredibly surprised that her eldest step-child had been keen to learn to wash the baby, dress him, and change his diapers. Apart from going to school and spending time on the ice with his father and grandfather, Emmett rarely spent a moment away from his baby brother. His father said he was a late bloomer, and he and Logan got their fur within six months of each other despite being born three years apart. Rye had been four, totally unafraid and completely in love with his brother. As soon as Emmett had learnt to control his changes, he’s spent as much ‘bear time’ as he could with his little brother. They played together, rolled around on the thick rugs in the front room, dashed about in the snow. Rye had once built a wall of snow around his bear shaped brother and when Emmett changed back, they had played in the polar bear shaped igloo until it got dark. By the time Ryley was seven their father allowed the two of them to go on longer trips, out onto the ice and into the woods, as long as Rye promised to stay bundled up. It had surprised Emmett to find that, even when he was human, he didn’t feel the cold like he had before he’d got his fur. They had walked, hand in hand with Ryley wrapped up in layers of snow-suit and Emmett wandering along in boot and jeans, bare chested in the snow, along the edge of the Hudson Bay; far out of sight of anyone else. Emmett had changed into his fur, they’d played and rolled around until Rye had swung up onto his back and kicked his little heels, completely ineffectually, and cried: “Onward!” Emmett had run with him across the ice, big paws skidding slightly on the smooth surface. They had both shouted and cried in joy and pleasure. That night they had watched The Great Spirits dance across the sky, and Ryley told the legend of them in his small child voice, learnt by rote and said in the same words his grandmother used. He had been told the story like a bedtime fairy tale from the moment he was born, and though Emmett knew the tale backwards, he liked to listen to Ryley tell it. It became their ritual: as Rye got older and taller and his voice got deeper, and Emmett got bigger in his polar shape, they continued to take trips together out into the wilderness and onto the ice so that Rye could lie on his brother’s thick fur and tell stories. He would start out the same, talk about their ancestors dancing in the northern lights, but as they lay together in the cold Ryley would tell his brother about school, about his friends, his homework, how he felt about his parents, how he so desperately wanted to be a bear too. Emmett told him it would come soon enough. As soon as Rye was old enough to be trusted with an ice saw, Emmett took him fishing. “Fishing is boring!” Rye stamped his feet on the ice, forcing blood flow back into his toes. Emmett took his own discarded over boots and handed them to his brother. “Put those on, you shouldn’t be cold yet,” he frowned, “you gotta dress better Rye. You haven’t got your fur yet.” “When am I gonna get it?” “Could be any day: Logan got his when he was thirteen,” Emmett gestured to the pair of saws lying on the ice. “And you only think ice fishing is boring because you’ve only seen humans do it. Get sawing.” They cut a roughly circular hole in the ice about four feet across, and Emmet cut up the section and stacked the pieces to make a nice seat for Ryley. He spread his fur coat over the ice block, and then discarded the rest of his clothes. It was cold, but Emmett felt a familiar prickling up his spine and the back of his skull in the chill which made him excited. This was what he was born for. The polar bear looked across at his brother and snorted a cloud into the cold air. “Hurmpt.” “What now?” Emmett snuffled at his brother, knocked him over onto the ice and dove into the nearly frozen waters. Humans went ice fishing by virtue of cutting a small hole in the ice and sitting on a crate with a string on a stick. Polar bears went ice fishing in a rather different manner. Two minutes later, Emmett’s head appeared from the dark water and he dropped a thick meaty salmon at his brother’s feet. Then he vanished again. That first trip they caught enough salmon for a week, a month later Emmett caught a harp seal and taught his little brother how to gut it. They ate the kidneys still-warm from the body and sliced bloody strips off the liver that stained Emmett’s fur and made him pink. After that, Emmett and Rye’s private hunting trips became just as much a part of their little ritual as Rye telling stories about The Great Spirits while lying in Emmett’s fur. The city was nice, but Emmett hated to admit how much he missed home.
  8. 6 points
    Have to thank you all again and Adi especially for the review and featuring Napowrimo. Was such a surprise!
  9. 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.
  10. 4 points
    I don’t think I ever heard of a word that describes what I’m feeling right now. It feels like I betrayed myself. I feel confused. I feel like a mess. Betraying yourself feels dirty, you know? When you don’t plan to do something, but you still do it, you feel like you are messing with your soul. I didn’t want to kiss him, he is my step brother for god’s sake! I ran away after the kiss. I left the boy confused. I won’t ever be able to fix this. I can’t speak to him anymore, not without explaining what happened. It was great, though. Is that weird? He is my step brother, though I’m not supposed to know that yet. He doesn’t know it, that’s for sure. It’s not like we share the same blood, my father isn’t his real father. I’m using the boy to get to my father, but I won’t ever kiss him to achieve that. I won’t act as if I love someone when I don’t. I’ve been there. It hurts. No, I liked kissing him. Does that mean I like him? I liked kissing Sam, but I don’t like her in that way, I’m sure of it. Why oh why am I this confusing. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if I was just on my own. That’s why I’m going to leave everyone behind. A few more days at school, and some of those I'll skip. Then the party at Brian’s. After that I’ll leave everyone behind. It’s dark outside already. I wonder where Codey is. Is he thinking about me as well? I’m lying on my bed staring at the ceiling. What would death be like? I've thought about it a lot. I fear the uncertainty of dying, because if I didn’t fear it, I probably would’ve done it already. That’s a painful thought, but it's the truth, unfortunately. If I wrote this down, the story of my life, I imagine no one would like reading it. I’m not a character people could love, I don’t even love myself. I’m living from moment to moment, one step at a time, just so I can forget this confusing feeling. I am trying to understand myself, but I can’t. Lately I’ve thought about dying more often. I fear that if I don’t run away, there will be a certain point in my life at which I will choose to die, and I don’t want that. That’s why I want to escape. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm this confusing just to give myself a reason to be sad. It feels less depressing when you’re sad for a reason, you know? That’s why I keep thinking about Yuri, why I keep opening his picture on my computer. I am sad. I will always be sad, but when I’m looking at that picture, at least I have a reason to be sad. It feels human to be sad with a reason. I’m going to leave next week. I’ll take my bike and ride away, and never come back. I don’t want to hurt the people around me, so I'll leave. Of course this will hurt too, my mother will be devastated when she finds out. My brother won’t mind, he will act hurt of course, but in the end it only means he will get even more attention from my mother, so he benefits as well. I can’t go without leaving something for my mother. A note, my version of a suicide note. Getting out of bed I slowly walk to my computer. I open Word and start writing. “I always wanted to make a journey. I don’t mind where I’ll be going or when I’ll be going, but I want to leave. This is my goodbye, meant for my mother. I don’t blame you, you were the greatest mom ever. I don’t blame Tyde either, he was a difficult one, but he had his reasons. No, I solely blame myself. I’m a failed human being and that’s why I’m leaving.” How will my mother react when she sees it? I can almost see her crying. I can’t do this. Not now. I need to talk to someone. Can I go to Sam? No, I’ve been there a lot lately. I can’t get any closer to her, I’ll hurt her when I leave. I open my email and click on Seth’s name. “Hey AR, I haven’t heard from you lately. I always try to keep in touch with my most faithful readers, that’s why I decided to email you. I don’t like talking through emails, so I wondered if you maybe wanted to add me through Skype? Don’t worry, I don’t want to speak to you personally, just chatting is okay. It’s just a better way to talk, you know? AB” After sending it my telephone starts ringing. I answer it. “Hey Matt,” I hear a soft voice. “Codey!” I didn’t expect him. Why, you ask? I don’t know, I just didn’t expect him even though it would be perfectly normal to expect it. That doesn’t make sense, right? “You ran away…” “I know, I’m sorry. I was a bit confused, I didn’t mean to.” “I’m sorry too, Matt. It’s all my fault. You're straight, I know that, I only confused you. You probably don’t want to see me anymore, and I understand. I need to ask you something though, before you stop talking to me,” he rambles. “Codey.” “I need to talk to you one more time, can we do that? Then you can start ignoring me like everyone else does.” “Codey.” “I know what you want to say, Matt. I’m sorry, okay? I’m not a queer boy that starts kissing everyone that talks to him.” “I liked it.” “My dad heard about… wait. What?” “I liked it, Codey,” I whisper. Silence. “Codey?” I hear a sniff. “Are you playing with me? You liked it?” he cries. “I liked it. I’m just a bit confused. I didn’t want to like it and I’m not sure why I did.” “Are you gay?” “Yes, Codey, I am… Now tell me, what about your step dad?” Another silence. “Uhh. My mom kinda told him what I said about you. I told him it was a lie, but he wants to talk to you about it. So uhm… yeah.” “Oh,” is all I manage to say. Shit. “What about next week?” There will be no next week. “Why next week?” Lies. Lies are everywhere. I need to keep lying to avoid any problems. I need to lie so no one finds out about the void that’s inside me. A popup appears on my screen. An email from Seth! “Uhh. I kinda want to get rid of the confusion first. I want to get to know you and I want to work out what I'm feeling.” “Oh, I understand... I guess. Do you want to meet again soon? Without my dad, I mean.” “I’d really like to, Codey.” Why do I say his name out loud so much? Do I like the sound of it that much? “Did you tell anyone about today?” “No.” “Can you keep it that way? I don’t want things to get any more confusing.” “Of course, Matt… Uhh, can I see you tonight? My dad isn’t home, so uhh…” “I’ll be there at 8, okay?” “Great,” is his response, and with that we end the conversation. I need to find out about my dad really fast. Deadlines are approaching. This Sunday will be occupied by the party, so that leaves only tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday to find out about him, to talk to Seth, to write my goodbye note and to write the last blog entry. It’s going to be a busy week. I open the email. “Hey AB, I’ll add you right away! AR.” I open my skype and see he already added me. Cuteboy99 is his alias… fitting, I think with a smile but immediately wipe it off my face, as if I’m afraid someone could see it. If there were someone watching me now, there would be more things to worry about other than the smile on my face. “Hey,” I type. It takes a while before I get a response. “Is this really you?” “It’s me, the real AB, haha.” “I can’t believe it, I’m such a fan of your blog!” “Thanks man, I appreciate it.” He doesn’t respond. “I’m a fan of your emails too,” I say. “Ah, thanks.” Silence. “So, why did you want to add me on skype?” The nice part about online chats is that you can think before you say anything. Of course that’s something you do in real life as well, but not as long as online. People won’t expect a fast answer, because they can never know if you’re just postponing the response or if your connection is bad. I like chats. Maybe that’s why I like writing my blog posts, I can take the time I want – even though I write them pretty fast, I want to write what’s on my mind and don’t want to spend much time revising it – and I won’t get corrected. Of course I get emails often from people disagreeing with me. I read them, I try to understand it and most of the time I reply to them. I tell them they did exactly what I wanted; created a discussion. I don’t write to get agreed with, I explain, I write to make you think. It worked, so thank you! Normally I don’t agree with them, there is a reason I post a certain idea online, mostly that’s because I totally agree with myself. When someone disagrees, but doesn’t really try to convince me, I just read it, reply to it, and get on with my life. Not that there’s much to that – my life.“I wanted to get to know you better,” I hesitantly reply. “That’s a good thing, I guess? I’m flattered,” he sends back. Okay, self-reflection time! What’s going on here? What exactly am I doing? Why didn’t I start this introspection when I decided to email the guy? What was I thinking. It was a good question, why the hell would I want to chat anonymously with a person I know in real life – a person I never payed attention to, even if I could have. I ignored him for years when he was sitting very close to me, why would I want to get to know him now? And even if I wanted to, what happened to the always-tell-a-lie me? Why would I tell him something I didn’t even know myself before I said it out loud. Wow, this is getting confusing. You know what is a fun thought? I think I’m very confusing, compared to others around me. But… can I really compare myself to other people? Think about it before you respond. Of course, I do look like the people around me, in a certain way I’m the same species. Or am I? This is a really weird thing to think about. The only person I know like I know myself… is me. And I can’t compare myself to me in order to know for sure whether I’m like the people around me. Can you follow? I think about this principle a lot – I’m not sure if I’ve written it down before though – how do you know you really exist? The only reference material you have, is you. Descartes, a famous French philosopher thought about this, I recall from my random internet searches. He said something like: “Considering that the very thoughts we have while awake may also occur while we sleep without any of them being at the that time true, I resolved to pretend that all the things that had ever entered my mind were no more true than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately I noticed that while I was trying thus to think everything false, it was necessary that I, who was thinking this, was something. And observing that this truth ‘I am thinking, therefore I exist’ was so firm and sure that all the most extravagant suppositions of the sceptics were incapable of shaking it, I decided that I could accept it without scruple as the principle of the philosophy I was seeking.” Okay, I know this description doesn’t really do what it is supposed to do, namely describing things. Let me give an example instead; what if everyone around you is a robot. A really advanced robot, that’s for sure, because you didn’t find out before you read this. So, how can you really find out about it. In other words, maybe I’m supposed to be confusing. Maybe that isn’t as weird as I think. I’m myself and that’s all I can be sure of. I’m certain of the way I am and with that thought, almost everything I do or screw up, is just my influence on MY surroundings. Because that’s the only thing I can experience, my surrounding. The world around me IS exactly how I see it, how I want to experience it, because the only observation I can make of the world, is my own. I bet this didn’t explain at all what I wanted to explain, I almost don’t understand it myself. It did something though, it explained how exhausting my brain can be. “So tell me, who are you?” I send. “Am I supposed to tell you about me even though I don’t know about you?” I smile again. “I thought you emailed me that you felt as if you knew me? So isn’t it my turn to feel the same about you?” “Hmm, I guess you’re right. But, can you at least tell me how old you are?” What should I tell him. Would the truth bring him closer to the truth? Wow, that question makes no sense, but in some way it does. Could the truth about me bring him closer to discovering who I am, I mean. I don’t think it does, there are loads of people around my age, right? So I respond in the dumbest way possible to tell him my age. “I’m around the same age as you.” “How do you know my age?” Another great thing about online chats: they can’t see your face so lying is way easier! “I just guessed. I’m 17 years old. What about you?” “I expected you to be way older. You seem so wise.” “Haha, thank you,” is my reply. “So, how old are you?” “17 as well.” For almost a minute none of us sends a message. “So, what do you want to know about me?” That’s something I haven’t really thought about, but apparently I didn’t need to, because I send a reply before I could even think about it. “Why did you start reading my blog posts?” “Uhh, that’s kinda personal, I guess.” Is his response. “Ah, come on, tell me?” “Okay, you don’t know me, so I guess I can tell you. I’m at a catholic school,” he starts. I already know that, I think, tell me something I want to hear. And unknowingly I already know what comes next: another complication in my life. “And I really believe in God.” Silence again. “But, I’m gay.” “Why didn’t you want to tell me?” I reply. I don’t mind him being gay. I don’t mind! I already knew, didn’t I? But it doesn’t matter, right? Of course, I always thought he was cute, but I kissed Codey, doesn’t that bind me to him. No, I’m going to leave it all behind! That’s the plan! And hey, if someone you think of as cute happens to be gay as well, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just chance. It's just coincidence he's gay, so what? Or maybe it isn’t really a coincidence, maybe I get attracted to men who I think are gay, that’s logical, right? I don’t believe in a “meant to be” or a “match made in heaven”. I DON’T BELIEVE IN IT! It’s nice though… No! It isn’t nice. Why would it be nice? It doesn’t change a thing, I’m still going to abandon everyone I know. Even in some kind of fantasy where he’d like me… Wait, what am I doing. I need to get out of this spiral of thoughts, or “thinking feedback” as I normally call it. This is getting out of hand. Relax, Matt… uhm Adam… Relax. “Oh shit. I’ve got to go now,” I quickly write, followed by one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. “I’m sorry Seth. See you soon!”
  11. 3 points
  12. 3 points
    Little did I know that the day this little fucker came into my life it would be fucking changed forever. Don't get me wrong, I may never say it or be the one to show PDA's but I love the little fuck. He knows I love him too. That being said, I can't say we are in a relationship but then we are more than fuck buddies too. When we have sex it's unbelievable and constant. Between him and the occasion pick-up at the bar my sex life is on twenty-four hours, seven days a week. I can't say no to him though, and to be honest I don't want to either. He is one hot piece of ass. Liam Carter Evans is a hottie with blonde hair, grey eyes, slim, with a nice tight bubble butt that most women want to have. His face is beautiful, but still holds soft masculine features. The thing though that catches your attention most is his mouth, more so when he smiles. It just lights up the room. Yeah me, Gavin Cox is saying this lovey dopey crap. I won't admit it though, and will call anyone a liar that says I did. The first time I took him to the Midtown Diner in the gayborhood. Which in Philadelphia is pretty much anything east of Broad Street in center City, Diana, whom most consider the Gayborhood Mother took one look at him and automatically adopted him. Pretty much what all my 'friends' did. Liam had that effect on people. As much as I wanted to deny it, he had an effect on me too. I hated it to. Me, I was what most would call a rich spoiled brat. Personally I don't see it. I just didn't give a fuck, unless it's bent over. I was just lucky enough to be born into Old Philly money. When I say old I mean old. What started out as a shipbuilding industry along the Delaware in the mid 1750's turned into shipping in and out of the colonies, soon became a huge store, then hotels and soon spiraled outwards. Cox Hotels and transportation, though, became the main source of money. Shipbuilding was a thing of the past. I got to admit, it's nice to go any major city around the world and not have to worry about there being no room in the inn. Still, it was a lonely existence growing up. So yeah in one way I was lucky. My parents had three kids. I was the youngest. I was born twenty years after my sister, Reagan, who was born five years after my brother, James William Cox V. The old man of course was the fourth. Mother, now she is more interested in her charities, clubs and society. By society I mean the Highest of high society. To say my family was snobby would be like saying a hurricane is a little storm. Now being my mother was forty-five when I was born and my father was ten years older. They were both very busy with their lives, and I was pretty much an interruption in it, and they let it be known. My siblings did too. So I was pretty much left to the servants to raise. Now, being raised by the servants had an advantage, they really couldn't punish me. Dear old Mother was busy with her clubs and charities, and my father was busy with his business dealings and the revolving door of mistresses. Mother knew about them, and as long as he didn't flaunt them she didn't care. I think she was relieved that he went elsewhere for sex. I can't blame him for that either. Mother was colder than dry ice. I figured out when I was twelve I was gay and started fucking the boys as soon I hit seventh grade. I was smart about it, though, I never fucked without a condom. It wasn't that hard to get partners either. I wanted a boy, I got the boy most of the time. By the time I hit sixteen I was a regular fixture in the Gay clubs. When my parents found out, they were of course ashamed that they had a fag for son. I guess it wouldn't be so bad if I didn't flaunt it around them and their friends. Needless to say I would be poor as fuck today if it wasn’t for my Great Uncle, who also happens to be a fag, didn't die when I was seventeen and left me his portion of the family business, which was the controlling part of it. He also left me the old family house on Washington Square. So at eighteen I said fuck you and moved into the house and then did the unthinkable, I bought property on thirteenth street and opened a gay club. Amazing how easy it is when you can show a little green around the courts. Thank you, Philadelphia, for being a city of full of greedy Politian’s. I have been called an asshole, prick, heartless and so much more, none of which were would be considered a redeeming quality but do I care? Fuck no, am I any of those things? Probably but it never stopped me from getting laid. I set my eyes on a hottie with a hot ass or nice package, he's mine. Was it because I was hot? I'd like to think so. Am I slut? Fuck yea I am, but I am a picky slut. I have a certain standard I keep when picking some dick and or ass for the night. He has to be hot, hung and I’ll make him horny. I don't care about if he gets confused counting to three or not it’s not like I want to have a conversation. I want to suck, fuck and get my rocks off as much as possible and as much as possible, I mean twenty-four seven if I could but I settle for six out of seven days. That's all changed now, I just have to let Liam know. He wanted a relationship, I resisted, I was happy with the things the way they were. It wasn't until he was gone for a few months that I realized I already was in a relationship and in love, I was just too blindly stubborn and scared to admit it to myself, and to him. So yeah, I love the little fucking bitch, he’s my kyria agori, my lady boy. Liam Here I am back stage getting ready to go on, I wasn't nervous, I was full of confidence. I worked hard to be in the finals, I worked damn fucking hard. I won four changes and never been on the bottom. Even though there's only three of us left and both of them having been at the bottom, I am not shoe in, they are both seasoned, and established performers. I thought back to a round when I won a video call home on a challenge. Several of us went into the lounge. I had told them all about Gavin, ok I embellished slightly about how affectionate he is. Though I know I didn't lie when I said he loved me, even though he never said it, that, and the fact I have been living with him for the past two years not counting the three-month break. He took me in after my parents kicked me out of the house, and got me emancipated so they can't do or say shit about it. yeah he acts like a heartless, selfish prick but is really one of the most giving people in the Philadelphia Gay Community I know, they just don't know it. He likes to be considered and asshole, maybe he is in way, but not the asshole everyone thinks he is I sat down and flipped the laptop on and connected to skype, I waited while it rang. He knew I was going to call about this time if I won the call home, I also knew there was a big chance he wasn't home. He answered on the second ring. The guys around me all OMG'ed at what they saw. I was grinning from ear to ear, whether on purpose, or not, he appeared on screen damp and wearing nothing but a towel. The queens around me loved it and so did I who wouldn't, Gavin is a living wet dream. I looked over him for a second, brown hair that's almost black, greyish eyes, and a strong handsome face. His body, though, was a work of art smooth and muscular with a thin trail of dark hair going down from his belly button disappearing under than towel. His six pack abs looked hard, as did his pecs and biceps. I knew through that, his muscular chest even though it was hard, it was the best pillow I ever had. He was the perfect specimen of a perfect masculine man without being muscle bound. "Hey Sunshine, sorry, just got out of the shower." Gavin grinned into the camera. "I don't mind. I think you still have too much on." I said joking. I heard few agreements from the three guys that were there. "I can fix that." he said, and dropped the towel. I wasn't surprised he did it, I was expecting it. Gavin is one of those guys that doesn't have an ounce of modesty in him. It doesn't matter if he knows you or not he strips and struts around as if he is fully dressed. I giggled as I heard the gasps and oh babies, I was thinking that very thing, I loved his body. I never got tired of looking at him naked, sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night and just stare at him, memorizing every muscle, and sound he made. "Damn Gavin now I miss you even more now." I sighed. He sat down his crotch now out of sight. "Oh I see you're not alone." He knew I wasn't alone, Gavin doesn't miss anything. He is fully aware of what he is doing and I love him all the more for it, I just know not to say the “L” word to him. "Yeah, I talk so much about you, I don’t think they believed you existed." I said. "Still not sure you’re really his lover honey." said the bitch from behind me. "They just thought I was some old sugar daddy huh?" Gavin said in his silky, deep voice that that sent men to the restroom to wank, totally ignoring the bitch. Gavin didn't give the dicked twat a chance to reply. "I miss my Sunshine in the morning staring at me while he thinks I am asleep." "You know about that?" I was a bit surprised, but then I knew I shouldn't be, he always seems to know. Another reason to love him. The other two queens left us alone to talk privately. Okay my “girlfriend” Crystal had to drag the Empress out by the arm but that didn’t matter as long as I was alone to talk with Gavin. "I don't miss much. So how are things going? Been on the chopping block yet?" "Nope, so far so good." "Great, keep it up. I am proud of you." 'Thanks, that means everything to me." I felt myself start tearing up. "Gavin I miss you so much. I hope" I felt the tears running down my face. "I miss you too Sunshine. I love you. Do you love me?" he smiled uncertainly. It was the first time I remember seeing him uncertain about anything, I was taken back by that and those were three words I never thought I’d hear him say. He is the anti-relationship guy, the one that believed fags can’t really fall in love. Mr. It’s All Physical and Sex. " I’ve always loved you, from the moment I say you, I was just afraid you’d turn me away if I ever told you or let you see it.” “I’ve been aware of that for a long time Liam. I just couldn’t, no that’s not right I wouldn’t admit to myself that I loved you too.” The lights flashed the fifteen second warning that our time was almost up. “I love you Gavin but I have to go. Bye." "Bye beautiful." I was still in a fog while the three of us were directed towards the stage me moving without even thinking about it. When I heard Crystal Clears, Empress and Kyria Agori announced, that I came to my senses. Everything came in slow motion, I moved out onto stage. I was in a dream until I made my way down the run way. I saw Gavin sitting there his eyes never left me, I smiled and I saw him winked. I was going to be okay, win or lose I was going to be okay because the real prize was sitting right out there watching me. Again I smiled as thought about the moments and all the events that led up to this very moment. It passed before my eyes in a flash or instant of time, though those past three years where vivid and I relived every minute of them in those few seconds.
  13. 3 points
    Chapter 34 My stomach had twisted into knots after seeing my father—Mr. Benjamin. My belly fluttered as I rubbed my sore elbow. He still brought back all my old fears, and yet I'd been able to confront him. Without completely breaking down, I had actually been able to stand up to him—hell, I'd even hit him—before Tareth had swept in like a damn wildfire bent on total destruction. His attitude when he'd first realized it was me had nearly gutted me. But, it was his total disregard for me as his son that had buoyed my courage to finally have my say, to demand if he knew what Barrett's 'service contract' truly entailed. I was surprised he wanted to try to talk as we were leaving. Well, no, that's not exactly true. That he called me son, surprised me. It must have nearly ravaged his throat to get the word out; I wonder if it left a sour taste in his mouth. Him wanting to talk, to make amends, could only mean he wanted something from me—namely to get back into Ash and Tareth's good graces. I knew, I knew, that's why he wanted to speak with me. Yet, the little boy cowering inside me still responded to his plea. He wanted to hope, to believe, there could be some reconciliation between us. The man I'd become knew that wasn't going to happen. That's why I'd just said farewell to him as Mr. Benjamin. Because the man I was now knew he'd never have a father. "Kye?" Ash's voice snapped me from my thoughts. "Are you all right?" I had already started nodding automatically as we paused in front of the doors to the Tranquil Tide. My nod turned into a shake. "I—no... I don't really know." He chuffed. "That's perfectly understandable. You need time to think. It was rather... fraught with emotion in there. Just keep in mind you can talk to me, no matter what. As well as your brother." "Yes," Tareth added. "I know it wasn't easy for you, to see him again, and for him to treat you like that. Just know, it's not you. It's him and his greed that made him that way." I nodded as we came to the door of the Tranquil Tide. Tareth hesitated on the threshold. "I'll just be taking my leave now, my lord," Tareth said, taking a step back. Ash frowned back at him. "Where are you heading?" "Um, I need to find supper and head back to the wagon. I left my bedroll—" "Nonsense. You will eat with us, and I have rented out the rest of the rooms here. You will take one," Ash stated simply. My brother gaped at him, although I wasn't surprised at all. I'd already seen how much Ash already treated us more as family, but Tareth was still slightly nervous around the Sterling brothers. Ash smiled at him. "Reth, you are more than just one of my stable masters now. You are Kye's brother. He is now my family, which means you are too. And you are staying with us here and having supper with us as well." Tareth's nerves eased slightly as he grinned. "Yes, sir. I'd enjoy that, sir." "Good, now let's eat." Liam led the way into the ground floor tavern area of the Tranquil Tide. He found a table in the back corner, away from the main crowd; yet even so, several of the men called greetings out to us. I settled in a corner chair next to Tareth and Ash after draping my cloak over the back. I held my tender elbow gingerly as everyone else moved around me to sit, keeping it from getting bumped. I was sure it was going to be bruised from its impact with my father's jaw. The four of us had barely sat down before the innkeeper himself came over to greet us. "My lords." He bowed as he offered a warm welcome. "It is an honor to have you stay with us. I hope you find your rooms acceptable—" "I am sure they will be perfect, Mr. Hue," Ash offered the obviously nervous man a wide smile. Mr. Hue wrung his hands. "We just weren't expecting your lordships to stay here as you usually stay at the Rose. It's much more suitable for men of your, uh, station." I swallowed down the laughter that wanted to bubble out. It almost sounded as if the poor man were trying to talk Ash into leaving, just because he was afraid his rooms wouldn't be opulent enough for a viscount. Ash held up a hand, and Liam chuckled. "Mr. Hue, please don't trouble yourself on our behalf. While, yes, we have previously stayed at the Elite Rose because my stable master's father owns it, the man has recently fallen in our esteem and we have withdrawn our patronage from Mr. Benjamin. The Tranquil Tide has always been good to any of my men who wished a room when others were unavailable at the Rose, and I respect their opinions." The man's thin face beamed. "Ah, very well, sir. You are very welcome anytime you wish, of course. We, uh, we are simply used to, uh, more humble guests." "That's quite all right, Mr. Hue. We need nothing more than a good meal and a bed to rest our heads on." I admired how Ash set the man at ease. "I'll be right back with some wine, and Layla will bring you my wife's special meat pie." "I am sure it will be delicious," Ash continued to compliment as the man backed away, bowing profusely. The man disappeared. He was barely gone when a huge man thumped up to the table. My eyes widened at his long beard and disheveled appearance, yet it was mostly the way he plopped himself down at the table as if he owned it that surprised me. I darted wary looks at the others, wondering what they would say to the intruder, but Ash only nodded at him, while Liam clasped his forearm in greeting. Tareth said nothing; he didn't seem surprised at the man's arrival either. "Captain, good to see you. Glad you could join us," Liam stated. Oh. The captain. This must be the captain of the cargo ship. He did have a rather weathered and suntanned face under the scruff. "Aye, good to see ye, my lords." He greeted Ash and Liam with hearty hand clasps. He gave Tareth a curt nod, obviously recognizing him, before his eyes fell on me. "And who might you be? Ain't never seen ye with the viscount before." My mouth opened, but nothing came out. The captain bellowed a laugh. "A right quiet one, I see. And rather pretty too." Ash bristled and I ducked my head. "Captain, this is my consort," Ash cut in, sensing my unease in the abrasive man's presence. "Kye has never been to Trienza before." "Consort? Ye've finally found some 'un good enough for ye, eh?" "More like I hope I am good enough for him," Ash chuckled, eliciting laughter from the rest of the table. I felt my neck heat up—good enough for him? Several wine bottles were delivered to the table, and Liam set about pouring as the captain's demeanor settled into a more serious tone. "Me men will be ready when ye arrive tonight," he said conspiratorially, as I silently watched. "Good," Ash said, taking a long sip of the wine. "I jus' hope the weather holds. Looks like rain is set to blow up southeasterly, I reckon." "Yes, let us pray the Gods are merciful and hold the rain 'til morning. Liam, did you take care of the Rusty Anchor?" The steward nodded. "Yes, I gave them a hefty sum to open their casks on your tab. Word has already spread about your generous gift. I suspect most of the dockside will be empty within the hour. I've also spoken with the sheriff, so he knows our plans." "Perfect. We'll meet an hour past moonrise." Tareth shifted in his seat, obviously unsure if he was allowed to speak. Ash lifted his brow in query. "Um, I was just wondering when you'd like me to head back to the wagons? I had intended to stay there, so I'd already be in place—" Liam waved a dismissing hand. "The wagons are already taken care of. Marcus and the others have that well in hand. If you don't mind, I'd rather you stayed here, with Kye so I can accompany Lord Ashton at the docks." I frowned when Ash shot at glare at his steward. "We already discussed this. I don't want Kye left alone." I quirked an eyebrow at him. What did he think was going to happen to me? If anyone was in danger, it was him. He was the one who stormed through Barrett's home that night, disrupting the marquis's plans. "Yes, I know, which is why I'm leaving Reth the task of watching him. He'll be secure in the inn, you'll be out in the open," Liam argued. In the open? Oh, Gods. I sucked in a breath. Liam was right; it would be the perfect time for Barrett to attack, if the marquis found out what they were doing. "Yes. Yes, you should go with Ash," I rushed out, speaking for the first time at the table. "Tareth can stay with me. Ash needs you with him." I need you with him, I wanted to add. The man was an excellent marksman, and I wanted him there to protect Ash. Liam grinned at me, nodding his approval. "See?" "Ahh, ye lad does speak!" the captain guffawed. "Fine," Ash finally ground out. "Aye, right well then." The captain slapped the table, jostling our drinks as he stood. His voice was louder now, as he made a show of leaving. "I'll be seein' ye after ye wagons arrive in the morn." "Right so, captain," Ash said emphatically, raising his glass in a small toast. "Fare thee well until the morrow." "Aye, ye as well, me lord." I carefully kept my head down, peering into my glass so I didn't betray their little charade meant to distract any listeners. Our dinner arrived shortly after the captain left. Talk after that was light and easy, and I found myself forgetting my father's harsh words. As we all eventually headed up the stairs, I winced as Liam bumped my elbow when he passed me in the narrow hall to his own room. They all turned to me with a frown. "Why are you holding your arm like that?" Ash demanded. "I hit it, that's all. It's just a little sore." "Hit it on what?" Ash was already pulling up my sleeve to take a look at my arm. I looked up, catching Tareth eyeing me with a questioning grin. I think he knew what I'd hit it on. "Uh, my father's chin?" The moment of stunned silence was broken by a staccato of laughter from Liam, who patted me on the back. Tareth and Ash were laughing as well. "I knew something had happened!" Tareth slapped his leg. "Damn, Kye." Liam choked out brokenly amid his chortles. "I hadn't meant to. He'd just—I was so angry—" I kept breaking off my thoughts. "I just—reacted." "He deserved more than just a hit in the jaw," Ash assured me. "I would have liked to landed my own jab." "I almost did myself," Tareth admitted. "I'm glad you smacked him one." "I suspect you got in a much bigger strike, Ash," Liam mused. "To his purse." "Aye," Tareth agreed. "That will hurt him the most. If he's smart, he'll close up, take what he has, and go settle elsewhere." Liam looked at the keys Mr. Hue had handed him before coming up. He held up a key with a blue ribbon on it. "Mr. Hue said you have the blue one. I have the white, and Tareth, this is yours." He held out a key marked with a red ribbon. I looked up to see that each the doors were painted with small boats, each matching the color of the key. Ash opened our door, while Tareth opened the one across the hall. Liam disappeared into the room next to Tareth's as we said our good nights. Ash closed the door behind us as I peered around the small room. It was cozy, with a comfortable, if small, looking bed. Several vases of wildflowers dotted the room. A wash stand and desk stood in the corner, and I noticed our trunk resting next to a small wardrobe. I crouched next to it, flipping open the lid to find it empty. I looked up at Ash, questioningly, and he just grinned as he yanked his shirttails from his trousers. "I believe Mr. Hue had one of his housemaids unpack it, even though I told him it was unnecessary since we weren't staying long. I fear I have unduly agitated the poor man." "He's just worried about upsetting you, you being such a powerful man and all," I threw back over my shoulder. "Well, I've told him several times he can stop." I rolled my eyes. I knew exactly how Mr. Hue felt—trying to please a noble, yet not knowing exactly how to do it, constantly worried about messing up and getting punished. Well, Mr. Hue might not get punished exactly, but he still worried about the repercussions if he didn't please the viscount. "He's not going to stop." I turned to the wardrobe to hunt for my nightshirt. I finally found it in one of the drawers and turned back to Ash. "He needs to—" Oh. Ash was already shirtless, standing at the washbasin running a damp cloth over those sinful muscles to wipe away the dust and sweat of the day. After rubbing his chest, he attempted to reach over his shoulder to his back. "Let me." I was behind him in an instant. Taking the cloth, I rinsed it in the cool water before sliding it over his shoulder blades and down the hard planes of his back. droplets of water ran down that golden skin, sliding along the taunt ridges of muscle to his waistband. "I... I think I... might be getting... uh, your trousers a little wet." I let my finger follow one water trail to where it disappeared beneath the fabric at the hollow of his back. "Hmm, maybe I should take them off. So they don't get too wet," Ash suggested huskily as he fumbled with the buttons. "I—I think that is—is a good idea." I stayed behind him, out of his vision, as I watched him unfasten his trousers. I waited almost breathlessly for them to slide away. I'd seen him naked before, mostly only in glimpses as he climbed in or out of our bed. I'd always felt a little shy watching him, as if I wasn't allowed to. Of course, this was just... just helping him wash, right? He needed help, right? I swallowed thickly as the black fabric encasing those thick thighs slid away, revealing his most delectable ass. I watched muscles in his thighs twitch under my scrutiny, causing his firm round cheeks to tighten. "W-would you like me to—to continue w-washing your back?" Ash braced his hands on the washstand as if he were struggling to stay upright. "Please." I walked to the bowl and dipped the cloth. Ash lifted his head to meet my eyes; his were heavy-lidded, smoldering, his fingers nearly white where they clutched the stand. As I wrung out the rag, I cut my eyes lower, a tiny smile tipping the corner of my mouth at the sight of his hard erection. I caused that, I grinned to myself. I had him practically quivering with need, as he'd done to me before. I slowly dragged the cloth down his spine, ghosting over each firm globe, and down the back of each thigh. I swiped slowly back up the outside to the tantalizing v at his hipbone before sweeping across to the other hip and down the outside of the other leg. When I reached the bottom, I circled his heel and made my way up the inside of his thigh. A small moan escaped Ash's lips as I slid slipped down his crease to gently fondle—I mean, clean—his heavy sacs. I rose, dropping the rag back in the bowl to rinse it once more. "You look a little tired, sir," I teased, walking around to face him, "perhaps you need help with the rest?" "Mirde, dulcine enferni, pleci," Ash muttered under his breath. I loved when he slipped into that exotic Tenjenyo language. I hated when Barrett used it, as it was always degrading. He used it to curse at me. But not Ash. When Ash spoke it, it was mesmerizing, because no matter what he said, he was calling me his sweet love. "Aye, yes, please." I grabbed up the cloth, not bothering to wring it out much, and pressed it to his chest. Water ran out in scintillating paths down his ribs, through the dark trail leading to his groin. The water curled around the base before dripping over his balls. I followed the rivulets as they snaked down his thigh, dropping to my knees in front of him. I saw one hand drifting to grab his cock, ready to stroke himself to finish. He was so on edge he was shaking. I batted away his hand, playfully. "I'm not finished. You said you needed help, didn't you?" He groaned loudly. "Kyyyye, please." I leaned forward, engulfing him whole, and he nearly collapsed. "Fuck! You're going to kill me!" I grinned around his cock, humming my amusement at his torture. He was at my mercy, my control. It was so... exciting, so heady, taking control of our lovemaking like this. Ash had been very careful, very slow and cautious about making sure I was ready, that I was comfortable with any intimacy between us. He'd always been in careful control. But now I was. And I knew then exactly what I wanted, what I needed, to erase the last of Barrett's defilement and replace it with love and passion. When I released Ash from the warmth of my mouth, he groaned a protest. He immediately reached to finish, probably thinking I didn't want take him so far that I'd have to swallow. I pushed his hand away and stood. I shoved gently at his chest. His eyes widened as I backed him to the bed. His dark eyes glittered, apparently intrigued by my little show of force, as he watched me slowly undress. This was harder than I expected, and my hands started to shake. I still hated the way my body looked, thin and scarred as it was. I ducked my head slightly, allowing me to hide a little behind my golden strands from that heated gaze. "My beautiful stubborn amari," Ash whispered, knowing exactly what to say to temper my doubts. With a fortifying breath, I peeked up at him, half my face hidden in a curtain of gold, and I smirked. "Gods, Kye..." Ash groaned, and my own body perked up even more. I had my shirt off, and shoved the oversized pants off my narrow hips without even undoing the belt. Ash was beckoning me to join him. "Come. Come up here and come with me." I sly smile crept across my lips. "Not exactly what I had in mind." Ash frowned as I crawled up on the bed, stopping between his thighs to admire his cock, slick with my saliva and the precum leaking from the slit. I gave one last lick over his balls and up his throbbing erection before I crawled over his chest. He had flopped on his back and was reaching up to pull me down with him, but I grabbed his forearms and pressed them to the side. Ash's brows arched briefly with an amused smile. Holding his arms down, I tentatively kissed down his chest. I'd never been in control like this and it was both scary and thrilling. I reached behind me, stroking him as I spread his natural slick with my thumb. He groaned again, his eyes fluttering shut. He even started to lift his arms as if he were dying to grab me yet stopped, letting me continue to press him into the mattress. I abruptly realized he could easily have flipped me over, dominated my body, taking away any sense of control, of choice. Ash was most certainly strong enough, more confident, and sure of himself to take what he wanted, when he wanted it. But he hadn't. He never had. A surge of emotion, raw and unhindered, rushed through me as I stared down at the man under me. He had given over all control to me. And he'd been doing it all along, even when he seemed to be dominating me, when I needed him to be in control, to possess me. I hadn't realized it, but I was actually in charge even then. I could stop him with just one word. I could have him on his knees with a simple look. He let me own him, just as he owned me. I was the one with the power. Ash had handed it over to me long ago, and I was just now realizing it. Gods, I loved this man! I swooped forward, claiming a heated kiss, devouring him, before sitting back and lifting up. Ash was panting heavily, still shocked by my display of dominance. His eyes were closed, his mouth open in ecstasy. So he didn't realize what I was planning until I lowered myself over his thick hardness. There was only a slight burn as I pressed down, his slick was easing the way. Ash bolted up when he realized what I was doing, trying to grab at my waist, my shoulders, anything to halt my progression. "Kye! No! I don't want to hurt you. We have no—" I pushed back on his arms. It was a bit more of a fight this time, as he was obviously worried about causing me pain. Yet, he allowed me to press him back. "No. I want this. I need to claim you. To finish making you mine." Ash flopped back, his chest heaving with the effort to maintain control. "I'm already yours, amari." I knew he could easily have stopped me, made me bend to his will with his massive body and strength. Yet, he didn't. He continued to lay still under me, even though his body was now tense with the effort not to move, not to thrust. I sat back slightly, letting the slight burn ease me open. I could feel the throbbing of his cock, pumping more precum, pulsing with anticipation, as I slowly lowered myself down. There was a bit of discomfort at the thickness and fullness. As I adjusted and slowly rocked my hips, I felt something I'd never experienced before after being penetrated. Pleasure. Oh Gods! My head dropped back as I rocked my hips, Ash's hard cock brushed up against something inside me, causing a jolt of euphoria, of bliss, so strong I almost exploded. Oh fucking hell. I had to feel that again. And again. And again. Yes! I was so focused on myself, finding my own intoxicating rapture, that when I finally looked down at Ash I could tell by the grimace on his face that he was fighting back his own orgasm. For me. His hands were fisted in the sheets, and he kept his hips as still as possible. His minute rocking told me how much he was fighting to take control. Gods, he looked fucking incredible. "Ash..." I breathed, and he looked up at me immediately. "Please... please... take..." He surged up, grasping my arms with a nearly feral look in his eyes. "Are you sure, dulchine? Because I need you so badly right now." I nodded, because I was done being in control. I just wanted him to take over, so I didn't need to think. And immediately Ash flipped us over, so I was on my back and he was thrusting gently into me. Oh, damn! That new angle hit that spot... oh! Fuck. I was ready to burst, but I was determined to let Ash find his pleasure first. That had been my plan when I'd started this whole seduction. Sweat dripped down Ash's tense face. He looked to be in even more pain when I looked up at him. Was I hurting him? Gods, the pleasure he was giving me couldn't be hurting him, could it? "Ash...?" I lifted my hand to his cheek, cupping it. "Gods, Kye, I don't think I can hold back much longer. Can I come?" He... he was asking me? Oh, Gods, he was still giving me control over him. And I was torturing both of us. I grabbed my own leaking hardness. "Yes! Yes, Ash, please! Come with me." The guttural shout that ripped from his chest as I felt his hot seed bathe my insides had me falling over the edge of my own orgasm within three more strokes. The hot splatters of my own release decorated my chest and belly, as well as Ash's when he collapsed on top of me. I barely felt him roll away and climb off the bed, my body was boneless, a liquid puddle in the middle of the bed. I jumped slightly at the cool rag on my belly as Ash carefully cleaned up our mess both on my chest and between my thighs. The cloth ended up on the floor as Ash climbed back in bed next to me, curling in around my outstretched body. "Thank you," he whispered in my ear before softly kissing the spot right behind it and down the side of my neck. "Thank me? For what? I should be thanking you." I twisted slightly to look over my shoulder at him. "For giving me such a wonderful gift," he murmured between kisses. "Gift?" "The gift of yourself. I know you've been struggling, fighting Barrett's influence over you is hard, yet you've been so strong, willing to fight." I bit my lip. I wasn't sure how true that was. Yes, I was fighting to find myself after Barrett had broken me, but I didn't think I would ever really feel strong. "You've given me a gift too." He nuzzled sleepily against my neck. "Hmmm, what's that?" "Control." I felt him pause before he resumed scattering small kisses on my shoulder. "Control?" "Yes, I've never had any control over my own life. And you gave me control over yours, over us." Ash tugged me closer, which I didn't think was possible. "Oh, teh dulchine, have you not noticed?" "What?" I frowned. "You have controlled me ever since you dropped of exhaustion in my study. You own me. I'm yours." I smiled into the pillow. "And I'm yours." I felt his breaths slowly even out against my shoulder. I knew he'd have to rise in the next few hours. He had work to do, and I knew I would always have to share him with his duties as a viscount. But at least I had him for now.
  14. 3 points
    Julie stepped into the gym and immediately frowned. Ross was the only person present, and he had too much weight on the bar to be safe. His inclined-bench-press technique was good, but if he lost control she knew he could seriously injure himself. She quickly slipped into the spotter position and prepared to assist if needed. She gauged his level of fatigue and made a decision. “Four more, and then you stop. Breathe through them and push through the pain. I’ve got the bar if you can’t do it.” “I don’t need help!” Ross said through gritted teeth. That raised warning bells for Julie. She’d seen the symptoms before and knew there was trouble. “Tough shit. I’m here, and you’ll do what I say. Now, four more!” Once Ross had finished his set, Julie took the bar from his hands and placed it on the rack. Ross sat up and glared at her. “I was fine!” “You’re here because we’re allowing you to be here. If you piss me off, your access will be revoked, and you can kiss goodbye to any chance of playing for the Leopards if you don’t make it into the AFL.” Ross crumbled before her eyes. “Please…I just want to work out.” Julie sat down on the closest bench. “Roscoe, I recognise the signs of someone who’s pushing weights because they’re avoiding something.” She smiled and waved a hand to indicate the empty room. “We’re alone if you want to talk. If it’s the draft, you don’t have much more time before you find out what’s going to happen. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself just before you start with an AFL club.” Ross didn’t meet her eyes. “I don’t think I’ll be drafted. Wu and Lauren seem to think the same. They’ve cancelled their Schoolie’s week trip so they can be here for me.” “You don’t think that’s so they can celebrate with you?” Ross shook his head. “They changed their mind after Richmond told me they didn’t think I was good enough. I’m not getting drafted.” Julie made a guess. “You don’t think you’ll be drafted…or you don’t want to be drafted?” Ross’s head snapped up. “Wh…what? Of course I want to be drafted!” “But you’re scared of the consequences.” Julie cocked her head. “I believe you’ve also been approached by Brisbane, but you’ve just started a relationship. If you head north, you lose your partner. Is that it?” Ross grimaced. “It’s complicated.” “Life often is, more so for you. But sometimes talking it out can make a difference.” “No team is going to want someone who needs help.” Julie frowned at the negative tone. “Bullshit!” She kept her amusement hidden, as Ross’s expression showed his shock. “A team is built on helping each other. On and off the field. If you haven’t learnt that about the Leopards, you’re singularly unobservant, and I don’t believe that.” She narrowed her eyes. “There’s more going on than just pre-draft nerves. What is it, Roscoe? Boyfriend problems?” When Ross stiffened, Julie wished she could take back those last two words. She had been trying to avoid explicitly stating she knew he’s gay. She almost let out a sigh of relief when Ross’s shoulders slumped and he nodded his head. “He’s scared I’m going to leave him. I’m scared I’m going to leave him, too. We’ve been talking a lot about it for the last week, and it’s putting a real strain on our relationship.” “I can appreciate that. Sorry, but I don’t have any words of wisdom for you, Roscoe. You’re just going to have to wait. At least you know it’s not going to be for much longer.” “I know, but I hate it. I just want it over and done with. It’s like my life’s on hold until I find out.” Julie chuckled. “Yeah, I know what that’s like. I had the same problem when I first applied for a job here with the Leopards. I had to wait while they made a decision, and I couldn’t do anything until I knew.” She smiled at the young man. “But overworking yourself isn’t the answer. By all means, keep exercising, but do it in a controlled way.” She hardened her expression. “And if I ever catch you trying to lift too much weight without a spotter again, I’ll kick your arse all the way to the other end of the oval and then back again. Got it?” Ross grimaced and then nodded. “Sorry.” Julie cocked her head. “The break for our guys is over next week, and we start pre-season training on Wednesday. There’s also an optional training session on Monday, mainly for those who have been missing those Saturday sessions you’ve been attending. After that, we’ll be training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. Would you like to join in, even if it’s only for a couple of sessions? That will give you a controlled environment to let go of some of that nervous energy.” “Sure!” Ross smiled as he started to relax. “That would be great. Anything to keep my mind off next Thursday night.” “I thought you might like the idea.” Julie gave Ross a stern stare. “And in case you’re wondering, this does not mean that you will have a position here if you’re not drafted. I still need to see you putting in the effort required before I’ll consider you.” Ross grimaced. “I understand.” He looked away. “This last year of school has been extremely stressful for me, and I allowed that to affect my on-field performance. Brisbane and Richmond have both told me the same thing: that I have to show a willingness to put in the work required.” Julie stood up and slapped him on the shoulder. “You can do it, Roscoe. I’ve got faith in you. You just need to have faith in yourself.” * * * Peter looked up at the tap on his shoulder. “Free for a coffee?” Lee asked. “Sure!” Peter pushed away the keyboard and rose to his feet. He stretched for a moment to relieve the tension from being hunched over his desk for too long. “Let’s go.” A few minutes later, they were seated in the café with their coffees. Peter grinned across the table. “What’s the grapevine got for me today?” Lee chuckled. “Actually, today is the day you contribute to the gossip mill.” He leant forward. “How did your meeting with Luke go yesterday?” Peter hesitated before responding. It had taken almost a week for Luke Beveridge—the new head coach for the Western Bulldogs—to call him in for a private meeting. While some of the content of their discussion could be shared with Lee, there were portions that Peter was sure Luke wouldn’t want to become public knowledge. “Overall, pretty good. He’s happy to have me here, which is one worry off my back. I had one person tell me to expect to be sacked.” Lee snorted. “Tell me who, and I’ll see whether I can return the favour.” “No need for that.” Peter smiled. “I think he was just trying to warn me of the possibility, not threaten me.” “If you say so.” Lee took a sip of his coffee, his eyes never leaving Peter. “What did you and Luke talk about?” “My job, naturally. There’ll be a few changes from what Brendan had told me to do, but overall it’s the same basic plan of attack.” Peter chuckled. “He did give me some homework. I’ve got a set of DVDs he wants me to watch over the weekend with an emphasis on particular sequences of play.” Lee nodded. “He’s done that with most of the coaches. We’re going to have a new battle plan for the games, but I think most of the emphasis will be on attack, not defence. Your part won’t change that much.” “That’s what he told me.” Peter cocked his head. “What else is he planning that he didn’t tell me?” Lee laughed. “Not a lot. He’s only been here a week, and while he’s hit the ground running, there’s still a lot of catching up to do. As I understand it, his priority is on next week’s draft. He’s spent a lot of time with Jason discussing the prospects.” He narrowed his eyes. “I believe there are some Leopards on that list. Did he talk to you about them?” “He did. He was asking about our defenders and who I would recommend.” Peter grinned. “I said either Paul or Todd would do a great job if picked, and that I really wouldn’t want to separate them.” Lee frowned. “Aren’t both of them fairly old?” “Twenty-three.” Peter shrugged. “Just coming into their prime as football players, though they’ll stand out if they went in the main draft. Luke didn’t say, but I think he’s looking at them for the rookie draft.” “What about the Leopards in line for the main draft? Who did you and Luke discuss?” Peter lied through his teeth. “We talked about Ollie, Charlie, and Deon. Deon’s out, now that we’ve got Tom Boyd, but Ollie and Charlie are still possibilities.” Lee nodded slowly. “Any idea on when they might go?” “We didn’t discuss that. I think Luke just wanted to get a feel for what they’re like, since he hasn’t had a chance to meet any of them.” Peter chuckled. “With all the prospects in the draft, there’s no way he’s going to be able to see more than a handful before next Thursday. He’s having to trust Jason’s judgement on who we’ll take.” Peter carefully kept quiet about the main person he and Luke had discussed. Ty’s name was being kept from all the potential draftee lists accessible within the club. Only Peter, Jason, and now Luke knew that he was a prospect. That had made Luke uncomfortable, which was why over half of their meeting had been taken up with Peter trying to sell Ty to the Western Bulldogs head coach. * * * Neil was having dinner with Liam’s family. With Paul working Friday and Saturday night and Oliver spending most of his time with Helena, having dinners with the Bellweathers had become the norm. “Do you boys have any plans for next week?” Bruce asked. “Nothing special, Dad.” “Apart from Thursday night, when we’ll be in Lilydale to watch the draft,” Neil said. “The football club has arranged to show it in the clubroom, and I think most of the team is going to be there.” “In that case, I have a proposal to make.” Bruce grinned as both Neil and Liam looked at him warily. “I’ve been speaking to Sam and Marcus, and since it looks like you two have done as much house hunting as you can do online, why don’t you go up to Sydney for a few days to inspect some of the places you’ve found? Marcus said you can stay with them.” He nodded towards Neil. “They’ve got your room ready for you, so you can check that out while you’re there.” Liam frowned. “When would we go? It’ll take me a couple of days to drive up and another two to drive back. That only really leaves us a couple of days, if we’re going to be back by Thursday and still be in a fit state to enjoy the night. And if I take the car, what will Mum use to get around?” He pulled a face. “I know we have to go there at some stage, but wouldn’t it be better to wait until there’s nothing else going on so we can have more time to find somewhere for me to live next year?” “We know, but Marcus has finished up on a major project and wants to take a few days off next week. He’s offering to drive you around to check out places, as well as give you some local advice about the sorts of neighbourhoods you’ll be looking at.” Bruce smiled. “As for the driving, your mum and I thought we’d pay for a couple of airfares. I checked online, and I can get cheap tickets that leave on Sunday and come back midday on Thursday. How does that sound?” Neil and Liam exchanged wide-eyed looks. When Liam raised an eyebrow, Neil nodded. “That sounds great, Dad. Neil and I will need to get a few things organised, but thanks!” Neil noticed Liam’s mother turning away and raising a hand to her face. “Are you okay, Beth?” She sniffled. “Yes. It’s just that it’s beginning to sink in that Liam’s growing up and is about to leave home. I had originally thought he’d be staying home for a few more years while he went to uni or got a job, but all of a sudden…” She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “Hey, people leave home at my age all the time,” Liam said. “In fact, leaving home to go to university is the norm in the US.” “It’s not the norm here.” Bruce smiled at Liam as he reached over to take his wife’s hand. “But just because it’s not the norm, that doesn’t mean it’s not right. For you two, this is the right thing to do. We’ll miss you, but hopefully you’ll be able to come home a few times each year.” “We’ll do our best.” Liam smiled at Neil. “But we’re not making any plans too far ahead. Going to Sydney is going to be a big change for both of us. There’s going to be a lot for us to learn.” * * * Warwick was nervous as he rang the doorbell. While they had been talking on the phone each night, this would be the first time since the previous Sunday that he and Ross would be face to face. The disaster on Saturday night still haunted their relationship. Ross seemed willing to move on, but Warwick couldn’t forgive himself that quickly. He didn’t know if Ross knew he had lied about not thinking about Kevin, but that was a lie he intended to take to his grave. In his own mind, Warwick justified lying to Ross because he hadn’t been thinking of Kevin in the way that Ross would’ve assumed. Warwick had feelings for Ross, but he also still had some feelings for Kevin. The former were stronger than the latter, but at a completely inopportune time he had wondered whether Kevin was enjoying Daphne’s company as much as he had been enjoying Ross’s. That had led to the slip of the tongue that had derailed the evening. Warwick still didn’t know if his subconscious had tried to sabotage their relationship. Instead, he was trying to move on, to rebuild what he had with Ross while simultaneously praying that Ross would remain in Melbourne. “Warwick!” Ross smiled as he opened the door. “Come in.” “It’s good to see you again.” Warwick tried to smile back, but he suspected his nervousness was showing. Warwick tried to examine Ross’s expression as surreptitiously as possible. There seemed no reservations that he could detect, which brought a small amount of relief. Warwick knew, though, that Ross was capable of hiding at least some of his feelings, if needed. It was a skill that every closeted young man developed if he wanted to stay in the shadows. As soon as the front door was closed, Ross moved up and brought his lips to Warwick’s. Warwick was initially tense but quickly relaxed into the kiss. He tentatively wrapped his arms around Ross and was rewarded by Ross doing the same. They remained that way, enjoying the moment, until he felt Ross start to move away. Ross grabbed his hand. “Dinner’s about to start. Mum was just waiting for you to get here.” The smile on Warwick’s face relaxed into something more natural as Ross led him to where the kitchen table had been set. Ross’s mother was busy pulling something out of the oven, but she paused long enough to grin at him. “Have a seat, Warwick. Dinner will be ready in a couple of minutes.” “Thanks, Mrs. Munroe. Whatever it is, it smells fantastic!” She chuckled as she carried a large ceramic dish in a pair of oven mitts. “It’s a chicken casserole, one of Ross’s favourites. Now sit down and start serving yourself while I get the other dishes.” Instead of following her instructions, Warwick glanced at the third guy in the room. Andrew was watching him, though it wasn’t with the snarl he remembered from the week before. Before Warwick could say anything, Andrew stepped forward and stuck out his hand. “Hi, Warwick. I’m sorry about last time. I was rude and out of line. Can we hit the reboot button?” Warwick was cautious, but when he flicked a glance towards Ross, Ross smiled and nodded slightly. Warwick didn’t smile, but he shook Andrew’s hand. “That sounds fine to me.” The initial chill between Warwick and Andrew slowly thawed as dinner progressed. Ross didn’t push them to interact, but he gave both of them ample opportunities to do so. “How are things at home?” Ross asked Andrew during the main course. “Okay, I guess. Mum’s fine, but Dad…” Andrew made a face. “He can only discuss things for a short time before he either changes the subject or leaves the room.” “At least he’s talking about it.” Warwick grimaced. “For one of my friends, his father won’t even go that far. The subject is still taboo at home two years after he came out.” “Do you think things will get better?” Ross asked. “I hope so.” Andrew shrugged. “Who knows? At least he’s largely stopped making abusive comments about faggots.” “Gays,” Warwick said firmly. “Get used to saying it, Andrew, because a lot of people will take offense at the F-word.” He smiled and continued in a gentler tone. “And I think it’ll be good for you to say it, too. I’m guessing you still use that word in your mind.” Andrew blinked. “How…?” “I’ve seen it before.” Warwick screwed up his face as he stared at his dinner. “Guys—and girls—who have only ever heard abuse from their parents. They’ve heard it so much that they start to believe it. Self-hatred can be dangerous…” Warwick’s eyes became unfocused as he recalled one particular event from his past. He was only brought back to the present when he felt a hand on his arm. He glanced across in surprise to see Ross looking concerned. “You zoned out,” Ross said. “Sorry. I was just remembering someone I knew from a couple of years ago. He…” Warwick closed his eyes. “He…tried to kill himself.” Ross’s mother gasped. “Is he okay?” Warwick gave her a weak smile. “The last I heard he was happy and in a relationship, but that was over twelve months ago, so I don’t know. He moved interstate, and we eventually lost touch.” He sighed as he contemplated the food in front of him. “At least he’s a long way from his parents.” Ross stared at Andrew. He opened his mouth, but closed it without saying anything. Andrew smiled. “I’m not that bad. Dad used to get me down a lot, but he’s only said a couple of negative things all week. He’s also gone out of his way to tell me that I’ll always be his son. He’s not going to wash his hands of me.” He sighed and looked away. “I’m not going to be the son he wanted, but I’m still his son.” “Enough of that!” Ross’s mother’s scowled. “Ross isn’t the child I wanted either, but I still love him, and I wouldn’t want him to change.” “I’m not what you wanted?” Ross seemed stunned. “You’ve never said anything to me before. What have I done wrong?” She chuckled. “Absolutely nothing, but when you were born I wanted a baby called Rachel. I already had a son; I wanted a daughter, too.” She grinned across the table at Ross. “But somehow, I don’t think you’d look good in a dress.” “Mum!” The laughter from the others at the table broke the tension. By unspoken agreement, the conversation moved onto other less emotive topics. It was as Ross’s mother brought out a shop-bought cheesecake for dessert that the subject that had been at the back of Warwick’s mind all evening was raised. “Warwick, Ross tells me most things.” Ivy Munroe gave her son a sardonic smile. “I used to think he told me everything, but I found out recently there can be exceptions. Anyway, he’s told me both of you are concerned about what will happen if he’s drafted to Brisbane.” Warwick grimaced. “Yeah…” He caught Ross’s eyes. “I’m hoping he’ll stay here, but if he doesn’t, I’ve done some investigation. I’ve googled the list of radio stations in the Brisbane area.” Ross’s eyes widened. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ve started sending them my resume, asking if they have any vacancies for a sound technician.” Warwick gave Ross a half smile. “It’s a long shot, but if they do, I might be able to move to Brisbane, too.” “You’re doing that for me?” Ross smiled. “If you can get a job up there, that would be a great weight off my mind.” Warwick reached over and gave Ross’s hand a squeeze. The impulse to investigate options in Brisbane had come as a surprise to Warwick. He had never contemplated doing the same for Kevin, and he took that to mean that his feelings for Kevin were never as strong as the feelings he now had for Ross. In hindsight, he knew he never had a chance for a long-term relationship with Kevin. His AFL-playing friend had made it clear he preferred girls, and while Warwick had ignored that at the time, deep down he’d realised it wasn’t going to work out for the two of them. “What about the TV stations?” Andrew asked. “They’ll need sound technicians, too.” “I thought I’d start with radio.” Warwick shrugged. “It’s what I know best.” Andrew’s brow wrinkled as he brought out his phone. “I want to check something.” He started typing. “When did you decide to do this?” Mrs. Munroe asked. “I thought about it yesterday, and today I decided to do something about it.” Warwick gnawed at his lower lip as he stared at Ross. “Nothing will happen fast, so even if I get an offer, I won’t be able to move for several weeks, but if there’s a chance of getting a job near you, I’ll be there. I promise.” Ross leant over and gave Warwick a quick kiss. “Thank you. You have no idea how much this helps. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ve tried.” “There’s also another option,” Andrew said as he put away his phone. “The Brisbane Lions have their own media division that includes producing videos. You could apply for a position with them, too.” “They wouldn’t offer him a job just because he’s my boyfriend.” Ross made a face. “They can’t afford to employ the partners of all their players.” “They may make an exception for the AFL’s first openly gay player.” Ross’s mother smiled at him. “There’s no harm in asking.” Ross shuddered. “I don’t want to be someone special. I just want to be a footballer.” Andrew shrugged. “It’s only an idea.” He gave Warwick a half-smile. “I’m hoping things will work out for the two of you. Roscoe deserves someone who will give him the support he’ll need.” Warwick stared back for a moment and then smiled. He reached out and took Ross’s hand. “Thanks. I hope it all works out, too.” * * * Alastair McCrae stopped reviewing his notes and put away his iPad when he spotted Kevin and a tall, young woman approaching. They had agreed to meet for a Saturday lunch before Alastair headed to the airport to fly home to Melbourne. Alastair had been in Sydney for several days, meeting with both Sydney-based AFL clubs regarding players he managed who were about to start the last year of their current contracts. Kevin was one of those players, though in his case the discussions were only preliminary. “Alastair, this is Daphne.” Kevin’s smile at his girlfriend told Alastair that this girl was not just a passing fancy. “I wanted you to meet her.” Alastair shook Daphne’s hand and then frowned at Kevin as he sat down opposite them at the small café table. “While I can see how much she means to you, is this the matter you said you had to discuss face to face?” “Not directly, though it’s related. You didn’t fly up here just to see me, did you?” Kevin frowned. “I said it could wait until the next time you were in Sydney and had some time free.” “No, I had a few meetings I needed to attend. I’m flying back this afternoon, but I have a couple of hours.” Alastair cocked his head. “I hope that’s going to be enough time.” “That should be plenty, though I don’t know how much follow-up is going to be required.” Kevin made a face. “I thought this time I should let you know of a potential issue before it makes the news.” Alastair cringed as a multitude of scenarios ran through his mind. “What have you done?” Kevin chuckled. “Relax. It’s not that bad.” Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the waiter who took their lunch orders. Once he was gone, Kevin glanced around to make sure they couldn’t be overheard. “Alastair, I trust you. After that incident at the start of the year, I trust you a lot. It took me awhile to convince Daphne, but she’s agreed that you should be told.” Alastair stared at Daphne and made a guess. “You’re pregnant?” Kevin grinned as he took Daphne’s hand. “No. That’s not going to be an issue for us.” His amusement faded. “I don’t know how to talk about this, so I’ll jump straight in, and I hope you both forgive me for being blunt. Daphne is not her original name. The name on her birth certificate is David.” Alastair’s eyes widened. “Does that mean…?” Kevin nodded. “Daphne’s transgender. If the news gets out...” He shrugged. “I thought you should know so you can be prepared.” “Thanks.” Alastair’s tone was a mixture of sarcasm and shock. “I’ll say now that this shouldn’t affect your football career, but you never know.” “What do you mean?” Daphne asked. Alastair hesitated. “I don’t know if it’s rude to ask, but how far along are you? You know, with changing to become a female.” “I’ve been on hormones for three years now. I haven’t had any gender alignment surgery yet.” She glanced at Kevin. “I’m not sure if I will. That’s something to decide in the future.” Kevin smiled and then gave her a quick kiss. “It won’t bother me if you never do. As far as I’m concerned, you’re fine just the way you are.” Alastair narrowed his eyes as he considered the consequences. “How many people know?” Kevin shrugged. “On my side, only two people: the guy who introduced us and his boyfriend. Neither will say anything.” He grinned. “And that reminds me, there’s something else I need to talk to you about.” Alastair rolled his eyes. “One thing at a time please, Kevin.” He smiled. “Let’s get this one out of the way first.” He raised an eyebrow at Daphne. “Who knows on your side?” Daphne grimaced. “That’s the problem. Besides my family and friends, there are also some ex-friends and everyone who was in school with me when I first started coming to classes as a girl.” “A lot of people, in other words.” Alastair settled back in his chair. “Are they ex-friends because you’re transgender?” Daphne nodded and dropped her head. Kevin immediately let go of her hand and pulled her in for a one-arm hug. “I don’t usually tell people because I don’t think they need to know, but some find out anyway…and don’t handle it well.” Kevin gave Daphne another squeeze of reassurance and then looked across the table. “That’s it in a nutshell. Nothing may happen since I’m not exactly high profile, but the more I play, the more chance I’ll get noticed. Since I want Daphne with me at club social events, sooner or later someone will work it out.” It was Kevin’s turn to narrow his eyes. “I’m not going to try to hide her away or keep our relationship a secret. I’m proud of Daphne and the fact that we’re dating. That part’s not negotiable.” Alastair held up both hands in surrender. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.” He smiled at the young couple. “I hope things work out for the two of you. I won’t lie; this is going to cause complications, but you already know that.” He pinched his lips while he thought. “I need to ponder this some more. There’s no need to rush, so let’s take our time and work out what we do. The first decision will be whether to let anyone in the club know. I’ll think on that overnight, and I’ll give you a call tomorrow with my thoughts. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide, but I’ll offer my advice.” “Thanks, Alastair.” Kevin’s relief was audible. “Now, you said you had another issue for me.” Alastair’s lips curled up. “I hope it’s not as curly as the last one.” “Maybe.” Kevin grinned. “You know how I mentioned the only two people I know who know about Daphne are the friend who introduced us and his boyfriend?” “Yeah…” “Well, the boyfriend is in the draft. He doesn’t have an agent yet, so I was wondering if you were interested.” Alastair’s jaw dropped. He recovered quickly as he focused all his attention on Kevin. “Is the fact that he doesn’t have an agent because he hasn’t picked one, or because he hasn’t been approached?” “He hasn’t been approached.” “So, he’s a long shot. Not one of the big names.” Alastair stared across the table as a name jumped into his mind. “Is it Jim Henderson?” Kevin chuckled. “Nice guess, but no.” Alastair started tapping the tabletop as he thought. “I’m certainly interested in representing him, but I won’t be able to do much to help his draft prospects this late in the year. If I’d known about this earlier, there are some people I could’ve spoken to, but not now.” “What do you mean?” “A gay player would be media dynamite. The opportunities for the club, both positive and negative, are explosive. There are some clubs that will handle it better than others. As long as he’s a decent player with potential, I could’ve worked it so those clubs would treat him being gay as a positive factor in their recruitment strategy.” Alastair frowned. “He’s obviously not out at the moment. Does he have any plans on coming out in the near future?” Kevin nodded. “Probably soon after the draft. Jim Henderson has told him he should have an agent coordinate with the club for how to do that.” “How many people already know?” “Too many. That’s why he’s thinking of coming out. He doesn’t want it hanging over his head.” Kevin grimaced. “He’s already had one person try to blackmail him. He’d prefer to be out than to go through that again.” “Blackmail?” Alastair scowled. “Some people are sick.” He cocked his head. “Are you going to give me his name?” “Not without his permission. I’ll call him when we finish here and ask him if I can tell you. I think he’ll say yes, but I don’t want to jump the gun on this one. He’s already anxious enough about the draft and the prospect of moving interstate and away from his boyfriend. He doesn’t need the added stress of being told that I’ve outed him to someone he doesn’t know.” Alastair nodded. “Okay, thanks. I’ll look forward to hearing from you soon. You can also give him my number, and he can call me directly if he prefers.” He grinned. “Any more surprises?” Kevin laughed. “Not today.” * * * “Welcome back, brat, Karen!” Deon rose from the couch that he had been sharing with Clarissa. “Do you need a hand with anything?” “Since you’re offering, I’ve got a ton of washing that needs to be done.” Ty grinned to show he wasn’t serious and grabbed Deon in a bear hug. “It’s good to see you again. You, too, Clarissa.” Ty stepped back and cocked his head at his teammate. “Have any more AFL teams contacted you in the last week?” Deon shrugged. “I’ve had a couple of courtesy calls, just asking how I was doing, but nothing serious. How was the trip?” “Bloody fantastic!” Ty slipped an arm across Karen’s shoulders. “It was great, just being the two of us.” He glanced around. “Is Dad home?” “No, he’s out with Tony.” Deon smirked. “Did you see much of Aireys Inlet or was the weather so bad you had to stay in your hotel room the whole week?” Karen chuckled. “The weather was great. It bucketed down the day we arrived, but the only other day it rained was Thursday, and that was at the end of a stinking hot day.” She grinned up at Ty. “We did see a lot of our hotel room, but we went out a reasonable amount, too.” Ty shrugged. “I don’t know about the weather being great—most days weren’t that warm—but it was certainly pleasant. We did all the usual touristy things and even went swimming once. Karen wussed out the other days. She said it was too cold outside.” “It was too cold.” Karen rolled her eyes and gave Clarissa a wry smile. “That didn’t stop Ty from going for a swim most days. He said it’s a good recovery exercise.” “He’s right,” Deon said. “The bayside AFL teams are often in the water early on a Monday morning after a match, even in the middle of winter.” He raised an eyebrow. “I’m more interested in what sort of activities he was getting up to that he needed to recover from.” “None of your bloody business.” Ty grinned. “Anything interesting happen while we were away?” “Not a lot.” Deon smiled at Clarissa before looking back at Ty and Karen. “Neil and Liam are off to Sydney for a few days to do some house hunting. Clarissa suggested that we tag along. I wouldn’t mind seeing Dad and Marcus again, but we’re not sure if we can afford the trip.” “Won’t you be staying with Sam and Marcus? That’ll mean you’re only paying for the airfare.” Deon shook his head. “We need to find somewhere else. Neil and Liam will be there, and the apartment isn’t big enough to cope with six people. It’ll struggle with four.” “Especially since I’ll need a room to myself. I’m not sharing a bedroom with a bunch of guys.” Clarissa chuckled at Deon’s expression. “You know I’m waiting. Nothing’s going to happen until we know if we’ve got a future together, so grow up and stop pouting.” “I agree with her.” Ty grinned. “Pouting makes you look like a baby.” “Brat!” Deon glared for a couple of seconds and then laughed. “Okay, I’ll grow up.” He sighed as he turned to his girlfriend. “Sorry, but I just don’t see how we can afford two hotel rooms. If we can’t share, I don’t think it’s going to happen.” Clarissa chuckled. “One room would be okay as long as it had two beds. But remember, I have minimum standards. A backpackers’ hostel isn’t going to be good enough.” Ty cocked his head as an idea occurred to him. “Why don’t you ring Kevin and ask him if he can put you two up or if he knows someone who can?” Deon blinked. “Why didn’t I think of that myself?” He grinned. “I’ll do that now.” * * * Alastair was almost home when his phone rang. “McCrae Sports Management, Alastair McCrae speaking.” There was a pause before the caller responded. “Er…hi. Kevin Scanlan suggested I call you. He said you were interested in representing me.” Alastair’s attention snapped to the conversation, retaining only enough concentration on his driving to ensure he didn’t have an accident. “If you’re the guy that Kevin mentioned at lunchtime, yes, I am.” “That’s me. I don’t know how likely I am to be drafted, but if I am, I’m going to need help almost immediately.” A smile appeared on Alastair’s lips. He could hear the tension in the young man’s voice and suspected that was the reason for the obvious oversight. “If you tell me who you are and which team you played for, I can give you my opinion on your draft prospects.” “Oh, sorry. Ross Munroe. I played for Eastern Ranges. I was at the state combine with Deon Bradshaw.” “The name rings a bell, but I don’t remember you. I’m driving at the moment, but as soon as I get home I’ll look up my notes.” Alastair grinned. “AFL rules require me to inform your club before I contact you, but since you contacted me and the season’s over anyway, I think I can ignore that for now. Just don’t tell anyone.” He received a nervous chuckle in response. “Now, Ross, which clubs have spoken to you? That will help give me a feel for how things may turn out.” “Before the combine, I had three clubs talk to me more than once: West Coast Eagles, Richmond, and Brisbane. Since my exams, I’ve met with representatives from Richmond and Brisbane. The guy from Brisbane spent a fair amount of time on how the relocation will work if they draft me, but both clubs made it clear that they’ve got a lot of other people ahead of me on their list.” “They all say that. Very few clubs will make a commitment beforehand.” Alastair put his indicator on and turned left. He was driving largely on automatic while his mind evaluated Ross’s situation. “The Richmond president, Peggy O’Neal, was in the anti-homophobia video that the AFL Players’ Association produced earlier in the year. If they draft you, I think you can be confident that she’ll get you any help you need. Unfortunately, with less than a week to go, it’s too late for me to have a quiet word with her. She’s in administration and not involved in the draft process, but I may’ve been able to get her to influence things if there was a line-ball decision to be made.” “What do you want me to do?” Ross asked. “For now, nothing. I’ll do some preparation so once we know who drafts you, we can hit the ground running.” “And if I don’t get drafted?” Alastair hesitated. He’d been in the position more than once of having to console one of his players who missed out on making it to the AFL. He knew he had to be careful to avoid playing with Ross’s emotions. “Then we look at other options. You’ll still be available for the draft next year, and that gives us twelve months to make the clubs take another look at you. Don’t forget that the TAC Cup teams can play a small number of nineteen-year-olds. I’ll need to take a look at who’s likely to be playing for Eastern Ranges, but there’s a chance we may be able to get you into the TAC Cup again next year and give you another chance to show what you’re capable of. No promises, because while I know the people to speak to, I don’t know how much competition there’ll be for the limited number of nineteen-year-old spots.” “I’ve been speaking to the Lilydale Leopards about playing in the VFL next year if I’m not in the AFL. Julie’s not promising anything, either. She says I need to show that I’m willing to put in the effort required.” “That’s going to be true regardless of what we do. I may need to speak to the Leopards to see if it’s possible for you to play for them and in the TAC Cup, but we’ve got time to work out the details.” “So, if I miss out this year, I’m still a chance for next year?” Alastair grimaced as he knew he needed to temper Ross’s hopes. “It’ll be harder next year, but if you’re capable of doing work and are willing to do what it takes to show that to the clubs, then yes, you may get a second chance.” He chuckled. “Does this mean you’re willing to sign with me?” “Definitely! What do I need to do?” “We’ll do this by the book. When I get home, I’ll send an email to Eastern Ranges to let them know that I’ll be contacting you. Are you going to be free sometime tomorrow to meet up?” “Sure!” Alastair and Ross organised a time and place. By the time they had sorted out the details, Alastair was pulling into his driveway. He thanked Ross and then ended the call. Twenty minutes later, he was staring blankly at the signed football jumper memorabilia opposite his home-office desk while mentally reviewing the options. His notes from the TAC Cup games he had watched indicated that while Ross showed potential, he hadn’t shown that he was going to live up to that potential. Alastair’s gut feeling from his notes was that Ross would miss out on the draft, though that was tempered by the fact that two clubs had contacted him after his exams were over. In Alastair’s mind, the key to Ross’s future if he wasn’t drafted was whether Ross used that disappointment to step away or to step up. If Ross wanted to play AFL football, he would need to demonstrate the desire and for that determination to be shown on the football field during the next season. Alastair would do what he could to give Ross the opportunities, but it was up to Ross to take them. * * * Kevin licked his lips as he savoured the rich gravy. “I haven’t had a lamb roast for a long time. This is wonderful!” Daphne’s mother smiled. “Thank you, Kevin. We try to have a roast every one or two weeks if we can. You’re free to join us, if you like.” “If I can, though I’m going to have to watch what I eat the rest of the time if I do. I’m not supposed to eat this much, but I couldn’t help myself. A roast is one of my favourite meals.” Kevin grimaced. “Unfortunately, I’m not always available on weekends.” He gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “The weekends are workdays for me.” Mr. Silverton laughed. “And you’ll probably be interstate a lot of the time, too.” “Not so much at the moment, but yes. If I can break into the senior team, I’ll be away a lot more often.” “Is that going to make things difficult for you and Daphne?” Roderick asked as he reached across the table to serve himself some more roast potatoes. “It shouldn’t.” Kevin gave Daphne an apologetic smile. “It’ll mean we can’t go out regularly on weekends, but if I’m travelling, it’s usually only for two or three days.” He turned to address Daphne’s brother who was sitting opposite him. “We usually travel the day before a game. Coming back, it could be the same day or the next, depending on what time the game is scheduled to finish and where it’s at.” He grinned. “At the moment, because I’m generally playing in the seconds and not the senior team, most of my travel is between here and Queensland, and that’s not every week. If I play regularly with the seniors, I’ll be doing a lot more travel, but I’ll also be making a lot more money and Daphne could possibly come with me on some of those trips.” “Subject to schoolwork.” Daphne smiled. “But that would be nice. Speaking of school, a couple of Kevin’s friends from Melbourne are moving to Sydney. They’ve applied to go to the same university as me.” Angelina’s attention snapped to Daphne. “Football players?” Kevin chuckled. “One is, but not professionally. And they’re more friends of a friend, though I’ve met them both.” “And they’re a couple, so don’t get your hopes up, sis,” Daphne told Angelina. She grinned. “And even if they weren’t, you won’t stand a chance.” “Why not?” Angelina mock-glared across the table at Daphne. “I’m better looking than you, and you got yourself a hunk. Why can’t I?” “Because you’re the wrong gender. They’re a gay couple.” Daphne laughed when Angelina pouted. “Don’t worry, sis. You’ll find someone. Just be patient.” “Why are they coming here for university?” Daphne’s father asked. Kevin took Daphne’s sideways glance as a signal that it was his turn to answer. “Neil had problems with his parents when he came out. He’s been offered a place to stay up here while he goes to uni, and his boyfriend is following him. In fact, they’re flying up tomorrow to do some house hunting.” Roderick frowned. “Back up. If Neil’s been offered a place to stay, why are they house hunting?” “Neil and Liam won’t be living together. Neil’s going to stay with Deon’s dad, and Liam’s looking for a place nearby.” Daphne smiled. “I hope they get into Sydney uni. They’re a nice couple.” “We’re going to go out for dinner with them on Monday night,” Kevin said. “I’m hoping Deon and Clarissa will be able to make it, too, but the Wembleys weren’t keen on them staying with us when I suggested it.” “Who are Deon and Clarissa?” “Deon’s the mate of mine that I used to play football with back in Melbourne.” Kevin grinned. “I’m also hoping that by this time next week, he’ll be an AFL player. There’s been a lot of interest in him from various clubs, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll be drafted Thursday night.” He made a face. “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be with the Swans. I think he’ll be gone before the Swans get a chance.” “Clarissa’s his girlfriend,” Daphne added. She bit her lower lip as she stared at her parents. “Is there any chance Clarissa and Deon could stay here for a few days? Deon wants to see his dad again before the draft, and Clarissa wants to help Liam find a place for next year.” “I don’t know…” Daphne’s father frowned at her and then gave his wife a questioning look. “Why isn’t Deon staying with his dad?” Kevin knew this question would come up. “Overbooked. Deon’s dad had already offered to house Liam and Neil, so there was no space for Deon and Clarissa.” “Clarissa could stay in Angelina’s old room, and Deon could stay in Rod’s,” Daphne said before her mother could speak. “Please? It’ll only be for a few days, and we’ve got the spare rooms. Deon has to head back on Wednesday.” “Why are you so eager?” Daphne’s mother asked. Daphne took Kevin’s hand. “I could say it’s because Deon is one of Kevin’s best friends, but it’s because I’m being selfish.” When everyone around the table expressed surprise, Daphne sighed. “Next year, I’ll be going to university…and sooner or later, I’m going to see someone I knew from school last year. When that happens, I want trusted friends nearby. Clarissa is good friends with both Neil and Liam, and I like them, too. When they find out the truth, I don’t think they’ll freak out. I’m hoping that if someone yells abuse, they’ll stand up for me. That’s why I’d like them to make Sydney uni their first preference for where they’d like to go. If I spend a few days getting to know Clarissa better, she might put in a good word for me.” Kevin hadn’t realised how insecure Daphne was about going to university. In all their previous chats, she had been eager to start her degree. He leant over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Our training grounds aren’t that far from the university. If you ever need me, just call. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He smiled. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to have lunches together, too. As for Neil and Liam, we can talk to them on Monday night. I think they’ll do it if we ask. From what they said at the party where you met them, Sydney uni is already one of the places they’re interested in.” It was another ten minutes of questioning and discussion before Daphne’s parents agreed to host Clarissa and Deon for a few days. Kevin immediately sent a text to Deon to let him know of the offer. Thirty minutes later, he had a positive reply. Kevin had training commitments with the Sydney Swans, but he mentally reorganised his schedule so he and Daphne could spend as much time as possible over the next few days with Clarissa, Deon, Liam, and Neil. He wanted to do that for Deon, anyway, but Daphne’s needs made it even more important.
  15. 3 points
  16. 2 points

    From the album Stuff

    Four new kitties... 'Penguin' on the right
  17. 2 points
    Suddenly all the pressure around his neck was gone, and so was the weight of Cody’s body on his. As Marshall coughed and gasped for breath, he dimly heard Cody’s angry roar. Marshall rolled onto his knees. As he waited for his dizziness to pass, he took in the scene before him. Cody was staggering toward Dustin, who’d backed up against the far wall. He held one of the laundry room chairs in his hand, raised in a threatening manner. He must have hit Cody with it. Blood flowed from Cody’s head, down his face. Dustin had hit him hard enough to hurt but not enough to knock him out, damn the luck. “You fucking little prick!” Cody screamed. He lunged toward Dustin, reaching for him, as Marshall gained his feet. “Get away from him!” Marshall yelled. He hurled himself at Cody’s back. His unexpected attack drove the already-injured man to his knees. Marshall may not have ever played football, but he could tackle well enough. That was something he’d learned from Lee, during the course of some of their rougher games. Cody bellowed as he thrashed about, trying to shake Marshall off, but Marshall clung tightly. An expected elbow jab to his midsection followed by a quick punch weakened his grasp, and he found himself flat on the floor, facing Cody’s fist. He braced himself for the blow, but it never came. Suddenly Cody’s arm was arrested in mid-swing. Marshall looked past Cody, to find that Lee had arrived, thank God. Lee wasted no time in pulling Cody off Marshall “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Lee grabbed Cody and slung him to the other side of the room where he fell against the washers in the wall and slid to the floor. Ignoring him, Lee turned back to Marshall, concern in his eyes. “Are you all right?” He helped Marshall off the floor, grabbed the closest chair and helped him to sit. “Am now,” Marshall said breathily. His throat hurt where Cody had been choking him. He reached blindly for Lee, and Lee wrapped his arms around him and held him tight. Wait, was Dustin okay? Marshall reluctantly drew back, even as Lee asked, “What’s going on here? I waited, but when you didn’t show up after my text, I got worried and decided to come down and see what was going on.” Marshall followed his gaze as it fell on Dustin who was sitting quietly on the floor, keeping his distance from them as well as Cody. “Has he done something?” Marshall knew who Lee meant. “No, he didn’t. This wasn’t his fault,” Marshall quickly replied. “That guy’s the one they’ve been looking for, the one who beat up that passenger. He threatened both Dustin and me and then he attacked us. Dustin was just trying to help me. He’s not with this guy.” A small crowd had begun to gather in the hallway, drawn by the noise, no doubt. A single figure pushed through the rest, into the laundry room. Marshall was glad to see Denver. Denver scanned the room, as if attempting to make sense of what he saw. “It’s not his fault,” Marshall spoke up. “Dustin tried to help, honest. It was all that guy’s fault.” Denver seemed relieved as he hurried to Dustin’s side and helped him up. “Are you guys okay?” Marshall saw Roger had turned up too, with Kenny just behind him, looking like they’d just rolled out of bed. “We need to get security down here,” Lee said, “and we need to get Marshall and Dustin looked at in the infirmary.” Marshall started to protest that he didn’t need to be seen by anyone, he was fine, but one look from Lee and he realized he was wasting his breath. He gave up and nodded his surrender instead. “Security’s coming,” one of the onlookers said. “Someone should be here any minute.” Moments later, a man wearing the uniform of the cruise line made his way through the throng and stepped into the room.
  18. 2 points
  19. 2 points
    Ebentown in Eden, one of the two inhabited moons of Planet Halan II in the Rivulak System Covenant Year 329 TWENTY TWO DAYS BEFORE THE ARREST He was not gonna fool anyone, ever since Espinosa had kissed him in the forehead, Semyon had been avoiding him at all costs. So, as soon as he’d finished his chores, he ran through the corridors of The Persephone, and went inside his quarters. He pulled the lever and locked himself inside, still feeling how his heart threatened to burst his chest open. As soon as he closed his eyes, he could picture Espinosa’s torso with water droplets running down, he could feel Espinosa’s lips on his forehead, he could feel the man’s smell of sweat and perfume impregnating his nose. And he breathed deeply. He felt afraid, he felt so afraid at was he was feeling. It was not physical, he was sure of that, it was something beyond his understanding. What? He didn’t really want to know. He was still trying to remember when had been the last time he’d felt something like that, but he couldn’t really recall it. One thing was sure: he had never felt that tingling inside himself with Rharthza Melaree. Truth was he had really enjoyed the doctor in bed, for he was a great lover. But now, as he found himself thinking of Espinosa, he realized that what he was feeling had nothing to do with sexual attraction, it was something much deeper that transcended the physical. As he dropped on the bed, he also realized he was breathing heavily, as if he was physically exert, which he wasn’t. He couldn’t think at all. For just a brief moment he wished he was back at Nabï Yünus so he could talk to Ira, his best friend since basic school. Ira had been Semyon’s best friend and confident since they’d started basic school, upon their seventh nameday. It had been Ira, with his lovely bright smile and his freckled face, who had been Semyon’s accomplice when he’d first started exploring his own sexuality, and though they’d never been lovers, they had shared so many things, that Semyon thought their bond was unbreakable. ‘Ira,’ he thought as he lay in bed with eyes closed, ‘how I wish you were here right now, so I could tell you how I’m feeling.’ Suddenly, he realized, he was missing his life back in Nabï Yünus, when everything was so much simpler. When he could come and go into the pubs with his illegal ID and get laid without concerning himself with falling in love. That had been exactly how he’d met Rharthza in the first place. Back then having sex was just a matter of fun. Then, Ira and himself would sit down in either of their houses and tell each other about their beddings and laugh at this or that regarding each other’s lovers and one-night stands. Everything was indeed much simpler. He was still thinking about his past life, which seemed so distant even when he’d been on board the Persephone for only days, when there was a knocking on his door. His heart raced, hoping like hell it wouldn’t be Espinosa, for he wouldn’t really know what to say. “Yes?” he asked, trying to keep his voice as steady as he could. “Semyon?” the voice on the other side said, “It’s me, Espinosa. Can I please see you for a moment? Please?” When he did not answer, Espinosa asked again, “Please?” His heart racing inside his chest, Semyon Zalicker stood from the bed and tried to compose himself as much as possible. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, exhaled, and walked all the way to the door. He took another deep breath and opened, trying to appear as cool as possible. “Heh,” he said, “come in, please.” Espinosa walked inside Semyon’s quarters and smiled a half smile. “Mind if I seat?” he asked and Semyon agreed with a nod of his head, but he chose to remain standing, leaning over the small desk on the left wall of his quarters. “Look,” Espinosa said, “I just wanted to apologize if I made you uncomfortable back there ….” “Espinosa ….” “Wait,” the man said, “Let me finish.” “Okay.” “I was saying, I’m really, really sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It's none of my business whether you’re homsey or not. And I think I made you even more uncomfortable by kissing you on the forehead. I didn’t really mean to embarrass you or anything, I just ….” “T’s okay,” Semyon said, now feeling absolutely ridiculous at having left Espinosa’s quarters the way he had, “I just … I don’t know what I was thinking or why I reacted the way I did. I’ve never been confronted in such a way, y’know? I just … I just didn’t know what to say or do.” “I can imagine so. You know what’s funny?” “What?” “I know I have no memory whatsoever, prior to my finding myself running from the Covenant Police forces in Launchhole U IV, prior to meeting you. However, I do feel this thing when you’re around … I honestly don’t know whether I was homsey too before somebody wiped my mind clean, but I guess I was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t really have felt what I felt when I kissed your forehead.” “Espinosa, wait,” Semyon said as he looked at the troubled man sitting on his own bed, “I think things are just movin’ way too fast for any of us to think smoothly. I do not want you to try and please me just because I helped you escape and brought you here.” “Semyon ...” “No, wait. Now you let me finish,” Semyon said, “What I did was out of the goodness inside me, I guess. And it would be seriously wrong for me to try and get some kind of retribution because of that. That’s not what I want from you.” Espinosa stood up from the bed and walked all the way to the desk where Semyon was leaning against, and he stood next to him. “It’s not like that, Semyon,” he whispered, “Do you remember that night on the brig when you brought me dinner?” “I do.” “I then hugged you so intensely I found myself trying to wonder why I had done so. And I very clearly remember smiling as I replayed the moment once and again and again in my mind, especially because I remembered your reaction, and the obvious reaction of your body.” “Espinosa ….” “I really want to hug you now, too,” he said, passing his arm around Semyon’s shoulders, “and I’d really love it if you’d let me.” Semyon Zalicker shifted his position so that he could be face to face with Espinosa. He looked at the man in the eye, his torso only covered by a half wet cotton undershirt, his wavy black hair still falling partially wet over his forehead and cheeks. Espinosa looked at Semyon, still surprised at what he was feeling inside his chest, for he was not even sure why he was feeling that way. The only thing he knew, right there, was that he felt it again; that incredible urge to hold Semyon next to his body, to look him in the eye and kiss him. “I think this is a really big mistake,” Semyon said as Espinosa got closer, pulling the lad’s body against his own, “and I wouldn’t want us to regret having made such a ….” But he could not finish the phrase, for Espinosa had already caught his lips with his own. All of a sudden, Semyon found himself feeling the intoxicating scent of Espinosa’s breath within himself, the proximity of the man against his body awakening the most amazing of sensations. He knew it was definitely not only sexual, but something else, something that crept inside his body, through his mouth, and found its way all through his stomach to land placidly and tenderly over his manhood. “Espinosa ….” he murmured. “Shhh ….” the man responded, and enveloped his mouth once again with his passionate kiss. He thought he might come to regret it, but as Espinosa continued to kiss him, Semyon also realized he didn’t care at all. If they were to screw up, so be it. At least this time they both knew what they were doing. And Espinosa did not strike him as a man of Melaree’s type. *************** Swift was back in his quarters half an hour before dinner was served. He was glad, for he had been trying to find the time to communicate with his family back on The Crone. He was really looking forward to talking with his mother, with Chatduk and with his younger half brother, Rayall, and catch up on what had happened with each of them on the past month or so. He opened the terminal on his desk and tapped the icon for Subcom, their communication purveyor. An artificial digital intelligence spoke. “Welcome to Subcom. Please select stationary or mobile communication.” Swift selected mobile and then a small window opened for him to type the destination. He typed The Crone’s Subcom code and waited. “Your communication code is valid. Please, slide your plastic credit. We remind you that only Covenant Currency is allowed.” Swift placed his plastic in an opening and waited. “Communication is ready. Enjoy your call. Thanks for choosing Subcom.” The first image to appear before his eyes was that of his mother sitting in the loft of The Chrone, Rayall sitting on her lap. “Hey!” he shouted. “Hey, Swifty!” Rayall shouted on the other end of the call. “Hey, buddy! Mom! How are you guys doing?” “Fine, Swift!” his mother replied, “we weren’t expecting to hear from you so soon!” “I know!” he said, “but The Persephone had a problem with a plasma injector and we had to stop our trip to get a new one. So you see, I was free to call before scheduled.” “And we’re glad you did.” “Captain Bristow was planning on us leaving immediately, but we’ve been detained, because we haven’t been able to get a hand on that injector.” “But is everything alright?” his mother asked with an expression of worry all over her face. “It is, mom. The place is a bit unstable, but we’re fine too. Chadtuk?” “He was detained at the engine room, but nothing major.” “I was hoping I could talk to him tonight, you know, taking advantage of the call.” “I’ll tell him you send your love darling. How about you? How are you doing?” “I’m fine, mom. Getting busy with the books and stuff, and really enjoying the comes and goes.” “And your heart, darling?” his mother asked. “I’m fine, mom.” “Swift.” “I swear I’m fine, mom, really!” “I was talking to Chadtuk about that surgery, you know? We agreed that cutting a bit here and there ….” “Mom, no.” Swift said, “Don’t misunderstand me, but I don’t want you to be depriving yourselves of things on my behalf. My saving are coming along and ….” “Swift, darling,” his mother said in her most motherly tone, “please, tell me at least you’ll consider it. Chadtuk and I ….” “I’ll think about it mom … thanks anyway.” “Hey, Swifty!” his brother interrupted the moment, “when are you coming home on vacation?” “Soon, champ!” Swift said feeling thankful for the respite, “I’m planning thanksgiving maybe.” “Good!” Rayall said, “I really miss u around here.” “I miss you too, little devil. Mom, I gotta go for now.” “I know. Please take care of yourself. And keep in touch.” “Yes, mom,” he said, “love you all.” He tapped the screen and the subcom computer talked again. ‘Thank you for using subcom.’ He moved away from his seat and tried and relax. He hated discussing his heart condition with his family and he hated the fact that his mother worried about it since he could remember. His conditioned had only grown worse since he’d left The Chrone, but he was saving and he was sure he would very soon had completed the fee for the heart transplant he had to undergo. Truth was he had been delaying the inevitable, but artificial hearts were pretty easy to come by if you had the right kind of credits, and most of his savings were getting close to the sum he needed to pay for the surgery and be done with it once and for all. It was not yet a matter of life and death, but he would have to do it sooner or later. He was thinking of taking a nap, but as soon as he was standing from the chair, the terminal came back to life. “Thank you for using subcom,” a new different digital intelligence said, “You have an incoming paid call from Launchhole U IV.” “Connect,” Swift said. A second later, the image of Barry, the red haired Megobari appeared on the screen. “Hey, gorgeous!” Barry said. “Barry!” Swift said with a bit too much enthusiasm, “I wasn't expecting you to call.” “Am I being untimely?” the red haired asked and showed his gentle smile. “Not at all!” Swift replied, “I mean, it's so nice of you to call and all.” Barry smiled as he leaned back against the armchair in which he was resting. He had a vaporous red gown on completely opened, and Swift could see his white soft chest. “I've taken a couple of days off and thought of giving you a call, see how you're doing.” “That's very sweet of you, Barry. You didn't have to, really.” “I know,” the red haired said and grinned, “I know I didn't have to, but I wanted to. Just thought I might check on you.” Swift beamed and looked down for a second while he recovered his composure. “Thanks, Barry,” he managed. “Hey,” Barry said, “I was just wondering when you'll be back at Launchhole U IV.” “I'm not sure,” the little man said, “Things are never sure when you work for Captain Bristow.” “She tough?” “You have no idea!” Swift replied, “but she's also the most caring person in the world.” “Well,” Barry said as he smiled once again, “at least I'm assured you're looked after.” “I am,” Swift said and blushed once more. “Well, gorgeous, I'm gonna go now. Hope I'll get to see you next time you're around.” “You can count on it!” Swift said, “Bye now!” “Bye, handsome!” Barry said and blew a kiss at the screen before his image faded into black and the AI voice thanked Swift for using subcom. The handsome little man jumped down from the chair and went outside his room so he could give the books one more check before he conferred with Captain Bristow. This time, however, the grin on his face would not go away. *************** “I still can’t believe it!” said Merrilyn Stewart as she cooked the day’s meal and talked to Athsari, “Something should be done about it!” Athsari Rodriguez looked back at Merri, who was now hovering over the pot spicing up the stew she was working on. “I totally empathize, Merri, but honest to God, I don’t really think we could do much about it. The system, unfortunately, is the system.” “That’s such a horrible thing to say! No wonder the people on this moon are revolving!” She remained silent and decided there was no point in arguing. After all, Athsari was right, there was no way for Athsari to empathize with that boy the way Merrilyn could. Broken memories of her childhood came to her as she prepared dinner. She had tried really hard to forget, but to date, the horrible flashbacks of her abusive stepfather came back and again to haunt her. After years of enduring verbal and physical violence for no reason, she had finally been able to leave her hometown with the assistance of a distant cousin. She had never told anyone about it, but she’d tried hard to put it behind her. “Merr?” Athsari asked, breaking her train of thought, “Are you alright?” “Oh! I’m fine!” She said. “Anyway, you haven’t told me anything about your thing with Arthur!” Athsari moved on the stool from where she faced Merrilyn, who came and went through the kitchen as she chopped, boiled and tried from one pot to the other. “There’s not much to say, really,” the pilot said, “we had a lovely evening at the garden and then went to bed together. I don’t thing you could call that my thing with Arthur.” “You’ve said as much!” Merrilyn replied, “but that smile in your face tells me there’s so much more to tell! C’mon, don’t be so greedy! Do give me the details, you bad friend!” “What is it that you want me to say?” Athsari answered managing to look as offended as anyone could look. “Well,” Merrilyn said stopping in front of her and chopping some root that had something of a carrot in it, but green in color, “you could start by telling me how he is in bed … I mean ….” The Persephone shuddered as a boom interrupted Merrilyn’s sentence and spilled the stew all over the kitchen floor. “What the hell was that?” Athsari asked as a new boom made the ship shudder again. She moved to the ICD and tapped the button to the bridge. Hadzaana’s voice came through the device. “Bridge here.” “Hadz, this is Athsari. What just happened?” “A couple of explosions outside,” Hadzaana said, “locals rioting, apparently.” Ahtsari looked at Merrilyn and then answered, “I’m on my way to the bridge.” “Good,” the first hand said, “In the meantime, I’m seeing that everyone is accounted for. Missdon out.” Athsari walked through the ship’s mess hall. “Sorry to leave you with all this mess all over your floor!” “T’s okay,” Merrilyn said from the kitchen, “I’ll fix it, go see if everyone’s all right.” Athsari walked from the mess hall to the bridge of the Persephone, and when she came in, she found both the Captain and First Hand at their posts. They were talking in short sentences as they counted the people inside the ship. “So,” Auriel Bristow said, “the only people unaccounted for are Jay, Semyon and … that’s that?” “Apparently so,” Hadz answered from her chair. Bristow exhaled as she located every member of her crew in the ships grid. “Wait,” Hadzaana said, “I have Arthur and Sasha Ahmose missing as well.” Auriel Bristow stood from her chair and looked at her friend and first officer as she walked towards the exit. “Assemble the crew in the mess hall, now! We need to locate whoever we’re still missing!” “Aye, aye, Captain.” “Athsari,” Auriel continued, “get the Persephone ready for takeoff, just in case. I think a revolution might just have been born in this moon. And we’re now caught in its midst.” “Yes, Captain,” Athsari said, and started on her way to the engine room. She couldn’t help but think about Arthur not being on board and felt a pang of worry in her stomach, but she kept on moving. With Jay unaccounted for, it fell under her to start the engines before she could bring the Persephone ready for takeoff. As Auriel left the bridge, Rharthza Melaree came her way. “Cap’n?” “Rhar,” she said, “am I ever glad to see you. We’re assembling in the mess hall for an emergency meeting. Please see that your infirmary is ready for whatever contingency might come our way.” “Is it that bad?” “Well,” she said, “We’ve two crew members and two passengers unaccounted for. And with the explosions outside, I’m not sure they’ll be entirely fine. So, I’d say it’s bad enough.” She kept on towards the mess hall, followed closely by her Medical Officer. She looked worried, and Rharthza knew then it had to be really bad for her to look worried; she was human alright, but not few times had he thought she was made of steel. Seeing her like that, not only did he confirm her being human, but also the possibility of something real bad coming their way. *************** When the first explosion went off, Jay Aodhagán had been unfortunately close to the plaza where the bomb had been detonated. It had all happened so fast that Semyon Zalicker had not even had to a chance to understand what was happening. Now, as a strong ringing in his right ear blocked every sound, he looked around desperately trying to find Jay in the horrible chaos of people running to and fro. He saw him not many meters away, face downwards and obviously unconscious. Semyon tried his best not to panic, as he ran back to where Jay lay. “Jay,” he said in the midst of chaos, and not sure he could be heard, for he couldn’t hear himself, “Jay, can you hear me?” The young engineer remained quiet. ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ He couldn’t really think of what to do, so he started dragging Jay through the street when the second bomb detonated. He suddenly felt a buzzing in his left ear, and realized something was oozing from it, but he didn’t stop to consider checking it, he knew his priority was to get Jay out of the place which was now bursting with local enforcers. As he dragged Jay through the street, he became aware of the screaming and noticed a woman standing over the broken body of a man. He also saw an old man carrying a limp little girl whose forehead was all covered in blood. There was a very young kid trying to bring his mother about, but it seemed the woman had already passed away. Everything was covered in a cloud of dust and he could not see very clearly, but the screaming and crying of people came from all places. He kept on dragging Jay and turned around a corner, where there seemed to be less movement, and noticed a half hidden cave not ten steps ahead. He dragged Jay all the way to the cave, and he sat down to recover. He then called Jay again by his name, but he wouldn’t reply. He tried calling him again and shook him, but the result was the same. He approached his face and noticed he was still breathing. ‘Thank God,’ he thought as he checked Jay’s neck for a pulse, ‘Thank God he’s alive.’ He then noticed Jay’s shirt was stained in blood. He almost instantly knew it couldn’ be good, but still ripped the shirt to assess the damage. He then saw a piece of shrapnel stuck in Jay’s abs. ‘This isn’t good, this isn’t good! What am I gonna do?’ With what little medical knowledge he had, he decided not to remove the fragment and covered the wound with the ripped shirt, trying to apply as much pressure so as to stop the bleeding. The next thing he had to do, he knew, was to try and locate the Persephone, but he felt completely disoriented by the explosions, the screaming and the chaos all around him. ‘Hang in there, Jay,’ he thought, ‘please hang in there!’
  20. 2 points
    The week dragged slowly on highlighted only by a few texts and emails. On Saturday I was up early and his washed briefs were laid on a pillow before I set out for the city centre. This time I was confident he’d be there, which he was, standing in exactly the same position as the previous week. Today there were no shorts but instead a pair of skinny grey jeans that clung to his legs. Some guys can wear skinny jeans and look a mess in my view, but these had a sculpted effect. He even had enough of an arse to fill them well so they didn’t just hang loosely away from his body at the rear. This week he had a black t-shirt with something that looked like an exploding hedgehog design on the front. I walked up to him. “Are you Julian?” I asked. “No, I’m not. I waiting for somebody called Lance. Do you know him?” was his immediate reply. We both started to laugh before embracing each other and starting our first kiss for a week. We didn’t care about who might see us or what they might think, but I did half hear a couple of people tutting as they passed. Looking back now I think that was the moment I began to believe that we really could have a future together. Even if we didn’t become partners or lovers or whatever word you want to use, I was sure we were going to be good friends. It was a good couple of minutes before we disengaged. I asked him if he wanted to come back to the flat now, but he said there was a market on today where he often went as it was a chance to buy clothes cheap, so that was where we headed. He found himself a couple of striped t-shirts – stripes seemed to be his thing and I picked up a couple with designs that I could kid myself were almost Viking, plus a plain light grey hoodie. While he was looking at items on the stalls I noticed that today his hands and fingers were different. “No nail varnish today?” I asked. “Nah. I told you last week I wasn’t a cross dresser. I just nicked some of my sister’s as the nails sorta went with the outfit. Only put it on just before I left home and made sure I’d got the remover handy to take it off when I got back. Didn’t want Len going off at me.” I was glad to hear that even though it just confirmed what I already thought. Although he’d done a good job of tossing me off last Saturday watching my prick being handled by fingers the nails of which were varnished, had been a weird experience and not one I was over keen to repeat. Although we didn’t buy much we spent quite a while walking round and I was surprised it was gone midday by the time we’d finished. I asked Julian if he was hungry and when he said he was I asked him where he’d like to eat. He said he knew a vegetarian place that was pretty good, but was I happy to go there. I said it would be fine with me, but I’d probably let him choose what we ate. He led me to this little place down a side street not far from the centre of the city. It seemed fairly popular but wasn’t doing a roaring trade so we were able to sit at a table where we weren’t going to be overheard. We looked at the menu and both decided to have some stuffed breaded mushrooms to start, but as I wasn’t that familiar with vegetarian dishes I suggested Julian should order for both of us. The mushrooms were very tasty but quite garlicky, so it was probably a good thing we both had them. I can’t remember now what the main course was called but it was a combo of lentils with cranberries, nuts, potatoes and carrots which had been baked in a gravy that tasted better than a lot of meat gravies I’d had. It was definitely something I’d want to have again and I felt sure we’d be back to this place soon. We chatted while we were waiting for the food and between courses. I asked him if he’d brought back my briefs and he told me they were in his shoulder bag and that he’d washed them yesterday. “So, what did you do with them before yesterday?” He gave me a soft chuckle and a nice smile before answering. “When I got ready for bed on Saturday night I thought about wearing them, but it dawned on me just in time that if I did that they wouldn’t smell of you afterwards. So I laid them on my pillow and went to sleep thinking it was you that I was snuggled up to.” As he was telling me this he’d reached a hand under the table and rubbed my thigh – we were sitting next to each other so that was quite easy. “And after Saturday night?” “The same, but by Wednesday your smell had rather faded.” He leaned in close and whispered in my ear, “So I wanked myself off onto them and then I wore them on Thursday night.” By the look on his face I was sure he was telling me the truth. “What experiences did mine have?” he asked. “I’m afraid yours got my cum on them on Saturday night.” “Only on Saturday?” he asked with a grin. “Yes. I needed that one, but I’ve managed to restrain myself since.” “Saving plenty for today are you?” “Yes. Us oldies can’t produce as much as you youngsters!” He really laughed at that and this time his hand went to my crotch. “From what I saw last Saturday, Lance you sure aren’t an oldie.” We then started talking about more general things as we really still didn’t know that much about each other. I told him that I was surprised his name was Julian as it wasn’t a common one, asking if it was his real name. “Yep, it’s really mine. Up until a year or so after I was born it seems my Mum was a staunch Catholic – she’s well over that now – but for some reason she decided that I had to be christened after a Pope. Guess I was lucky she picked Julian as there are worse possibilities.” “Let’s see. For a start you could have been called Pius or Benedict or even Innocent. Now that would have suited you – you’re a real smoothie underneath!” Once again he ran his hand up my inner leg and rested it on my crotch. “I’m not such a smoothie as you – yet.” I thought I knew what he meant. “Does that mean you’ve decided you want to be shaved?” “I’m still thinking about it, but I very probably will let you do me Lance.” I was tempted to pick up on the word ‘do’ but decided to let it go and changed the subject instead. “Julian, how come you’ve chosen to go to Catering College? I’m sure you’re bright enough to have gone to uni.” He thought for a couple of minutes before he answered. “You’ve seen where I live Lance – in the middle of a Council estate. I bet you didn’t live on one of those.” I started to say something, but he carried on, “No, it’s not just that. I went to a comprehensive that hasn’t got much of a reputation. One of the easiest ways to survive in a school like that is by not being particularly bright. Try to be intelligent and clever and you’ll soon get picked on by the gangs and the bullies. Believe me, I saw it happen. Add in the fact that I wasn’t particularly good at sports and my name was Julian and I could easily have become a target. It was quite easy to get away with being fairly dim. There were only a couple of teachers who seemed to care very much.” “I did have a few problems when I started to go emo, but there were a couple of other boys in my set who were the same as well as some girls, so we more or less got away with it – even when I decided to go in for catering in my final year.” “Anyway, we’ve talked about my name, yours isn’t exactly normal either, although I think it’s appropriate from what I saw last Saturday!” “Oh, mine is due to the family curse.” He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “I’m told that it has been a family tradition for the eldest son to be christened Lancelot, which is my father’s name. I’m lucky as he bucked the trend and incurred his own father’s displeasure by insisting that I was only christened Lance. I’m quite happy with that as it’s unusual and even though I could have abbreviated Lancelot to Lance for daily use I’d still have been forced to write it on official papers.” “Guess we’re both sort of lucky then.” “Yep, and talking of luck I reckon it’s time to pay the bill and I’m wondering how we’re going to spend the afternoon.” “Well, we could go down by the river, or we could go to the cinema.” suggested Julian. “Or we could go back to my flat.” “I think that sounds like a much better idea.” I got the bill and settled up refusing to let him contribute, but he insisted on leaving the tip. We walked back to the centre, got on a bus and in about fifteen minutes were in my flat. Julian headed for the bathroom and I went into the bedroom where I took off my Converse and took some small change and my wallet out of my jeans pockets. I hadn’t really expected him to join me there, but the door opened and he came in. He’d dropped his little shoulder bag somewhere and had my briefs in his hand. He grinned when he saw where I had left his. “Last week would have been really tough if I hadn’t had these to keep me company. I missed you.” With that he wrapped his arms around me and stretched up on tip toes for a kiss that lasted longer than the one on the walkway earlier. I was so engrossed in this that I didn’t notice immediately that his hands were lifting up my t-shirt and starting to roam around my chest and back. It was a good feeling as Julian’s hands like the rest of his body were smooth. He began to push the t-shirt up towards my armpits and I grabbed hold of it and pulled it over my head. Now he pushed his fingers down inside my jeans and briefs and the feel of his hands on my bare cheeks stirred my prick into even greater life. His hands pushed me tightly to him and we ground together for a moment before he pulled back slightly, removed his hands from my rear and instead unbuckled my belt. That done he undid the top button and pulled the zip thus allowing his hand easy access to my black boxer briefs. As his hand rubbed over and round my prick and balls I could feel myself beginning to leak. Both his hands then turned to pushing down my jeans and once they had slipped down to knee level, he dropped to his knees. My prick was straining to be free from its confinement but Julian seemed in no hurry to liberate it. Today it appeared that he wanted to be in charge of things. I looked down at him, he looked up at me. He put the index finger of his right hand in his mouth and sucked it before wiping it on the leg of my briefs. He proceeded to kiss all over the front of them paying particular attention to where certain items lay. I could do no more than ruffle his hair, rest my hands on his shoulders and try to contain myself. He was undoubtedly being a tease as he started to lower my briefs agonisingly slowly before eventually the head of my prick appeared above the waistband. It was immediately greeted with kisses and licks. I was getting desperate when he suddenly pulled the briefs down and my prick sprang out at full extension. “Oh, Lance – I’ve been thinking all week of how I was going to do this. How I could make it good for you.” As far as I was concerned his time hadn’t been wasted. For me foreplay and the pleasure it gave was a highly important part of any sexual relationship. From what he’d told me last week Julian had virtually no experience of sex, but based on today so far he was going to make me very happy. It probably sounded trite but I could think of nothing to say other than, “Your time’s not been wasted.” He caressed and gently squeezed my balls while at the same time kissing and licking the length of my prick until he guided it with his hand into his mouth. He bobbed up and down on it and continued to roll my balls in his hand. It was not long before I knew that I was about to come and tried to remove my prick from his mouth, but he moved his hand onto it and held it in place so that I came in his mouth. I felt him struggling to deal with my load and eventually I managed to withdraw but leaving cum around his mouth and chin. I moved my hands from on top of his shoulder to underneath, pulled him to his feet and then embraced him closely in order to be able to lick off what I had deposited. “Now it is time for you to give me some pleasure.” I said. A look of puzzlement crossed his face. “Didn’t I just do that for you?” “I’ll explain to you later,” I replied. He still looked puzzled, but I took his thoughts elsewhere as I moved my hands down to his rear and pulled him close while also trying to feel if there was anything underneath those skinny jeans. I decided to wait to find out and instead turned my attention to removing his t-shirt, which with his assistance, was soon accomplished. Now, after another session for our tongues I was able to work my way down his chest, paying special attention to his delightful little nipples. His jeans fitted so tightly that I couldn’t get my hands inside the waistband to explore so I simply undid his belt and unzipped the fly. They didn’t drop of their own accord so it was now my turn to drop to my knees and inch them down. Underneath he was wearing a pair of Diesel boxer briefs with a rainbow stripe pattern which were showing obvious signs of his arousal. The briefs followed his jeans and that permitted me to go to work and suck him. I felt him go rigid and was prepared as he came. Once he had done so I pulled away and stood up. I’d managed not to swallow his entire load and was able to share some with him in another kissing session. We then finished undressing and settled down on the bed. Today he wasn’t wearing the knee length socks but the ones he had on were striped – Julian evidently had a thing about stripes! We lay on our backs and I cuddled him to me with my right arm round his shoulder and his head lying on my chest. After a few minutes he said, “You were going to explain.” I wasn’t sure if I knew exactly how to put into words what I meant. I was also a bit worried that he might not understand and could even get upset, but I’d raised the subject so I had little choice really. I took a deep breath before starting. “You told me last week that your only experience was a couple of blow jobs with a friend – right?” “Yes.” I remembered he’d given me the impression the friend was more experienced. “And did he bring you off first?” “Yes.” “And you enjoyed it?” “Yes, of course. It was – well, I could hardly stop from shooting as soon as he started the first time.” “But what about when you did him?” There was a pause while he thought back. “I guess I didn’t much like it, but I knew I had to.” “You may find this hard to believe Julian, but I enjoyed bringing you off almost as much as I did having you blow me. If you like your partner you want to make them happy and foreplay is about pleasuring.” “Partner?” he said looking up at me with a little grin. “You know what I mean.” I retorted. We lay there is silence for a while. Suddenly he moved my arm and rolled onto his side. “Cuddle me partner – please.” We spooned together and I know I nodded off and suspect he did too. When I came to it was to the feel of Julian’s fingers stroking around my shaved crotch before playing with my foreskin. He was kneeling on the bed sideways to me and when he saw me stir he looked up. “I think next weekend I’m going to let you shave me. It feels good to touch instead of all that hair and it’s a lot nicer for doing this…” He lent over and started kissing my prick which naturally was delighted with the attention. I had an idea. “Stay there – sort of, but put your legs on each side of my chest so your arse is towards me.” He moved as I’d asked and as I expected it meant that his arse was just in front of my face. Once again I was very tempted by what I could see and by the thought of what I couldn’t quite glimpse, but I managed to distract myself and instead took hold of his prick and guided it into my mouth. As he felt my lips and tongue round it Julian stopped what he was doing and let out a gasp followed by an audible moan before he returned to what he’d been doing. It seemed to me as I sucked him that his prick was longer than before – still quite manageable, but surely not possible. A squeeze on his balls confirmed there was still juice to come. I felt sure it wouldn’t be long before that happened so restricted myself to gentle sucking while enjoying the sensations he was giving me and trying not to be too long before I came. Once I felt myself tensing I resumed giving serious attention to Julian’s prick. I couldn’t quite manage total coordination as I came first, but I was swallowing him for the second time that afternoon, just a few second later. We both lay there for a while each with our own thoughts until I decided to break the mood by tickling his feet and toes. In next to no time he was thrashing about on the bed, laughing and trying to get away from me. We ended up having a wrestling bout which itself ended with another kissing session. By the end of this I was both sweaty and I suspected smelly. “I’m going to have a shower. Sadly my shower isn’t big enough for two to tango, so I’ll go first and when I’m done you can follow me if you wish while I see if I can rustle up something to eat. All this activity has given me an appetite.” I looked back at him as I left the bedroom. He had his head on the pillow where I’d left his briefs. His hair was mussed up but he had a big smile on his face and his eyes were sparkling. His prick still seemed semi erect and the little devil was playing with it….. I had my shower, came back and told him it was free and that I’d left a clean towel out for him before I went off to the kitchen. My cooking skills were very limited, even more so for vegetarian cuisine, so all I’d got was a quiche and some salads plus a garlic baguette. I figured more garlic wasn’t going to go any harm and thinking back I didn’t even remember tasting or smelling it earlier. I was about to get the baguette out of the oven when I felt a pair of arms go round my waist. “That was pleasure receiving and giving all at the same time. I sort of understand now what you meant earlier – partner.” I turned round; he was now wearing the black briefs he’d left with me last Saturday and nothing else. I’d slipped on a pair of old football shorts that I’d got into the habit of wearing in the flat when slumming around. The sight of his slim body in just those turned me on yet again and he could see my prick bulge and extend outwards underneath the shorts. He grinned, “Sorry, but it’s a bit of a struggle to get those jeans on so I thought I’d not bother just now. Maybe I should’ve.” “Maybe you should’ve indeed, but I think I can just about manage.” We sat and ate and talked some more about various things. When we’d finished I thought of asking Julian if he wanted to stay the night, but decided not to. We ended up listening to a couple of cds before Julian announced that he thought it was time he should go home while there were still plenty of buses around. We both went and got dressed and he handed me his Diesel boxer briefs in exchange for the black ones I’d had on earlier. We agreed that like last week we’d keep in touch by text and email, but he said he had something that he needed to do next Saturday morning so would it be alright if he came direct to the flat and would hope to arrive about midday. That wasn’t a problem to me. We engaged in a long kissing session before leaving the flat which got both of us pretty aroused once more. But we managed to contain ourselves and I walked hand in hand with him to the bus stop. A brief kiss as the bus arrived and then he was gone. It was only seven days until I’d see him again I told myself as I walked back to the flat. Once again it felt empty, but now there seemed to be a smell of him there – or was it just garlic? I texted him the same message as last week and received the same reply. This week though I was confident I would see him again. I also found I managed to get through the week without using his briefs as a wank aid. Indeed somehow I was able not to have one at all managing to convince myself whenever I got the inclination that Julian was more deserving than his briefs. Saturday was another day of good weather and I was pleasantly surprised when the doorbell of the flat rang about fifteen minutes before noon. “I like that t-shirt” I said to Julian as I saw him on the step once the door was opened. It was black but with a big heart printed at the front in the centre in which was the rainbow colours in bands. Below the t-shirt were once again his tight fitting skinny grey jeans and the black hi top Converse. “Yeah, I only had a half day at College on Market Day and I found this on one of the stalls. It was pretty cheap so I reckon it’s a second.” “Which stall was that? I wouldn’t mind getting one myself.” He told me where it was located as we walked through into the living room and I made a mental note to go down there next Wednesday. I went to sit down when Julian asked if he could use the bathroom. I told him there was no need to ask and sat down to wait. It seemed to be ages before he returned and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was feeling ill, but then the door opened and Julian stood there dressed in just his knee high rainbow striped socks. His manhood was semi-aroused and his left hand was playing with his balls. It was a beautiful and arousing sight and I felt myself responding He had a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye as he said, “Lance, will you fuck me……please?” I was momentarily taken aback by such a direct approach, but I quickly recovered. “No, Julian, I won’t fuck you but I can’t wait to come inside you and make love to you.” His face which had dropped when he heard the first word had changed back to a smile by the time the sentence had finished. “That was the word I wanted to use Lance, but I wasn’t sure you felt that way.” He walked toward me, we hugged and kissed until he pulled away and finding my left hand with his right, led me to the bedroom. When we got there I told him that I wished I’d known he was going to want to make love as had he done so I’d have made an effort to make the room look nicer. It wasn’t a total mess but I could have lit some scented candles and given it a bit of ambience. In the couple of minutes since he’d made his wishes clear though I’d had time to think of how I was going to do this. “I’m going to get undressed and you are going to kneel on the edge of the bed.” “I want to keep these socks on.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Weren’t they the clincher when you first saw me?” I could only laugh as indeed they were, although there were also several other things about him that had stood out almost as much. I told him it would be fine as they wouldn’t get in the way and then quickly stripped off; having done so I walked over to my bedside table and took out a condom out of the drawer. Julian saw what I had in my hand and asked, “Do you need that? Have you got anything?” I knew I hadn’t as I’d been tested after my last relationship broke up a few months back and since then I hadn’t had any sort of sex with anyone other than Julian. “No, I don’t. I’m clean and I’ll show you the document to prove it, but even so….” “Well, you know I’m clean as I’ve never done it before now. But I don’t want to feel a rubber inside me – I want to feel you.” Had he looked closely at my face after saying those words I reckon Julian would have spotted a little tear form in the corner of my eye. He was proving to be someone very special. I thought back to my first time. It had been well over a couple of years now; I was sixteen then and still at boarding school. I thought I’d fallen in love with one of the prefects and was overjoyed when he started to take an interest in me – an interest that culminated one Sunday afternoon in being invited to his room where matters rapidly developed to the extent that I agreed to let him have sex with me. And that was exactly what it was – sex. I’m sure he enjoyed it, but for me it was a very painful experience and one from which it took me several days to recover physically and much longer mentally. He showed virtually no regard for my feelings and with minimal lubrication I hobbled away from his room afterwards. It was only about a year later that someone else managed to persuade me to let them show me that there was a very different way to make love to another person. I thought we were destined to be together forever, but he contrived to get himself killed in a motorbike accident. At the moment Julian was just sitting on the edge of the bed. I sat down next to him. “If you’re sure, then we’ll do it, but first I just want to say a few things to you. You may have read about this, but for the first time this can be a painful experience for you. I think though that I can help avoid it being so, but if at any time you start to feel pain, tell me to stop and I will. Now get on all fours with your arse almost on the edge of the bed. ” I’d taken a tube of KY Jelly from the drawer when I’d gone for the condom and I placed it beside him - that would though be used later. This was Julian’s first time. Your first time always lives in your memory and I wanted to ensure it lived in his for all the right reasons. When he’d got into position I knelt down on the floor behind him. I spread his cheeks a little and brought my face close. He smelt of a mixture of soap and that distinctive male scent and I was pleased that he had thought to have a good wash when he was in the bathroom. Having got in the right position I let fall some saliva. He jerked and made a little noise as it landed on target; he hadn’t been expecting to feel anything wet. Then I brought my tongue into action to get the whole area around his hole nicely wet. I was glad Julian had virtually no hair in his crack which helped. By now he was beginning to let out little sounds which I took to be of pleasure. After a few minutes of rimming I put some more saliva onto my index finger and began to stroke it along the edge of his hole. The noises he was making became a little louder as I did so. I deemed the time was right to insert my finger and naturally his defences tightened as I tried to do so. I reverted to stroking before trying again and this time I gained access. My finger went in up to about the knuckle and I was able to move it around without causing him to indicate any distress. I moved it in and out a few times and the only sounds were definitely of pleasure, so I tried inserting a second finger. As before there was initial resistance but on the second attempt both were allowed and also allowed to explore deeper. I felt the time had arrived to take things further. “Julian, I think you’ll enjoy this more if you now lie on your back, raise your legs and hold them at about the back of your knees. You might find the position a bit uncomfortable, but if you can do it we can look at each other. Everything okay so far – no pain?” He told me it was fine and adopted the new posture. I applied a good covering of KY jelly to my prick and also spread some round his hole. Now came what was hopefully going to be a journey of delight for both of us. My prick was very hard and putting the KY on had caused the release of pre-cum. I was thus optimistic things would go well as I brought my prick into his crack and slid it back and forth a few times. Julian was looking intently at me and I put my hand over his upturned legs to feel his prick. As I’d hoped it was hard and also leaking. “If you want to play with yourself or even jerk yourself off, that’s fine. I could do it for you, but I want to concentrate here.” He smiled and he moved his right hand from under his leg so he could play with himself. His anus was still pretty tightly closed as I gently pressed the head of my prick against it. I pushed a little against it, then drew back and proceeded to repeat the process several times. It was logical his body would resist this intrusion, but we had plenty of time as long as he was comfortable in this position. After several gentle pushes I sensed the muscle relax and begin to accept my prick. There was a little moan as I first gained entry, so I stopped but hearing nothing else I pushed a little harder, pulled back again and then pushed a little harder still, but very slowly. I also started to tell him it would be alright and that the painful part would soon be over. It had got to the point where I couldn’t tell if the noises Julian was making were of pain or pleasure. Suddenly he managed to relax his muscle and I popped right inside – the hard part was now over and the pleasure could begin. I maintained a slow but regular pattern of pushing in, staying and then pulling almost out. Once I misjudged the pull back and flopped totally out, but I easily and quickly managed to guide my prick back inside. I looked down at Julian, his eyes were closed at that moment, but there was a smile and an expression of pleasure on his face while his right hand was stroking his prick quite rapidly. I told him to slow down as I didn’t want him to come too soon. He eased off and I went back to moving deeper inside him. All at once there was an exclamation and his body jerked and jerked again – I had made contact with his prostate. This time when I looked his eyes were wide open as was his mouth. Now he began to move in rhythm with my thrusts which I had made stronger. Our pace increased and I could feel my balls slapping against his arse as I pushed in. Julian was now almost yelling with pleasure and excitement and I wasn’t holding back with the noise either. Finally I came to a juddering climax; Julian wasn’t quite there but continued to work his prick for another twenty seconds until his cum shot from him landing in a stream across his stomach and chest. While we had been joined he’d found he could keep his legs in place without using either of his hands, so now I was able to withdraw my prick and push his legs down onto the bed enabling me to drop gently onto his cum covered upper body. We joined in a long kiss and then rolled onto our sides facing each other, our arms round each other. It took a while before either of us felt able to speak and Julian was the first. “Fuckin’, fuckin’ hell, Lance. That was fuckin’ amazing! I’ve never felt anything like that and didn’t imagine it could be so wonderful. Feeling you come inside me was just out of this world.” A couple of tears rolled down his cheeks which I wiped away. “Did it hurt much?” “Nah, only a little to start. You were so gentle and I wanted you inside me so much I wouldn’t have minded if it had hurt.” “Well, I think you’ll probably be a bit sore later and maybe tomorrow too, but that should be all – although from what I shot I reckon you’ll have my cum dripping out of you for almost as long.” “That’s good.” He said and laughed. “I want to keep you with me. And I’m so glad we met. I had a good feeling about you from the start.” “Me too. Let’s have a cuddle.” He turned away from me and we cuddled up spoon fashion and both lay there with our thoughts. I was starting to wonder if I might just be beginning to fall in love with Julian. Surely though it was too quick for that, but I couldn’t recall ever feeling quite the same about anyone else with whom I’d got involved. We must have dozed as I came to feeling a little damp where the lower part of my stomach had been nestled into Julian’s rear. He had indeed been dripping as I’d forecast! I’d probably moved and woken him as he now rolled over to face me. He looked as happy as I’d ever seen him and his eyes sparkled. “Lance, can I stay the night?” I’d been thinking about suggesting it but scared to do so. I was only too glad those words had come from him. “Of course you can, but I think I’ll need to change these sheets first. And what are you going to tell you Mum?” “Yeah, perhaps I should’ve put my briefs back on. I will when we get up – whenever that might be.” He pulled me to him and we engaged in another kissing session. I could feel him getting hard once again as his prick rubbed against my skin and knew that my own was doing the same thing to him. “I’ll tell her I’m going to a party. It happens sometimes. Anyway she won’t care much – she and Len are going down the pub tonight so I expect they’ll come back smashed.” The more I heard the worse his home life sounded, but somehow it seemed not to get him down. Eventually we got up, got dressed and I persuaded him to come to a nearby Chinese that ran a buffet. We had a decent meal washed down by a couple of lagers and returned home as it was getting dark. I’d changed the sheets before we went out, so suggested to him that we had a quick shower and then turn in. The shower was quick, the petting session when we got into bed wasn’t and inevitably it led to the sheets getting stained, but only a little as he was now getting much better at swallowing. When I woke on Sunday morning Julian was still asleep. I managed to ease out of bed without waking him and went for a shower. He was just stirring as I returned so I told him I was going to fix some breakfast, offering him eggs, mushrooms and vegetarian sausages which he deemed acceptable. I scooped up our briefs and t-shirts from yesterday telling him I was going to put those through the washing machine along with some other similar items I had taken from the laundry basket. I also told him that if he looked in my wardrobe he’d find there a selection of t-shirts and briefs and while none would fit him perfectly he was welcome to take what he wanted until the washing was dry. With that I donned briefs, t-shirt and socks and headed to the kitchen to prepare the food. I strongly suspected he could make a better job of cooking the breakfast than me, but it was my flat. I also recalled I had some hash browns in the freezer so they also went into the oven to cook. I’d heard him go into and subsequently come out of the bathroom so expected the completion of my cooking efforts would match fairly well with his arrival. I heard a noise behind me and knowing it was him turned round with a big smile on my face only to be confronted by a very surprising sight. There stood Julian clad only in his knee high striped socks. That though was only part of the surprise – the rest was accounted for by what he was holding in his right hand. My heart flipped when I saw it. I had completely forgotten it was on the shelf in the wardrobe when I told him to look in there to find himself a t-shirt and briefs. Was this discovery going to bring about the abrupt end of our developing relationship? I certainly thought so at first when I saw the expression on his face which seemed to me to be one of almost anger, but then it started to soften and a little smile began to play around his lips as he placed his left hand on his hip and moved into a rather suggestive stance. “So what exactly is this and how come you have it? Are you a pervert after all? It was hardly surprising he might think that, but somehow his tone didn’t indicate he really thought it to be the case. I stuttered and spluttered, unsure exactly what to say or how to explain. “Look, Julian I’ve just cooked the breakfast. Let’s not waste it or let it go cold. I’ll explain everything to you when we’ve finished.” He slashed the strands of the martinet down onto the table before laying the handle down so that it lay between us. “Okay. It does smell good and I do feel hungry. But I’m going to be very interested to hear your story.” We sat down and ate. When we’d finished I went to get up and clear the plates away. “No, Lance – they can wait; I can’t.” He still seemed very concerned. I hoped my explanation would satisfy him. “Alright, I know it looks weird but the first thing to say is that it isn’t mine.” “You’re not going to try and convince me it was here when you moved in are you?” “Just hear me out Julian. It’s a bit of a long story but I’ll try to keep it short. Last year I hooked up with a French student, Pierre, who had come over to the uni. We got on alright and I suggested he move in here. A couple of weeks after he’d moved in he produced this thing from his case. I’d never seen one before but he told me it was a martinet and it was what French fathers use to discipline their kids. He said his father had used it on him when he wasn’t performing well at school and he’d brought it with him hoping he could find someone who’d use it on him if he wasn’t doing well at uni. He asked if I was willing. I wasn’t really, but we were getting on alright in other ways so I eventually agreed.” “So you used to whip him with this?” “Only on a few occasions – and of course I never knew if it was because he was slacking on his course or if he just liked it.” “Did he ever use it on you?” “I had to let him at the start so he could show me how to use it. You can whip someone with it so it hardly hurts or anything up to really cutting their skin. I didn’t mind it too much at the light stage, but I soon told him to stop once he started hitting harder. Most times he got me to use it at a strength that left little marks over the skin of his arse which he said made sitting down uncomfortable for the next day or so.” While I’d been talking he’d picked the martinet up from the table and was casually running the thongs through his fingers but his mind seemed to be elsewhere. “What happened to Pierre?” “He found the course too difficult and quit before the end of the year. I thought he’d taken all his stuff with him when he went, but I found this in the bottom of a drawer. Put it up there in the wardrobe and forgot about it. Honestly, that’s the truth.” Julian looked straight at me. “Lance, I believe you. The way you came into me yesterday wasn’t something anyone into BDSM would do. You were making sure you didn’t hurt me when you could just have rammed your prick straight in and let me take the pain.” I began to relax. It seemed that my stupidity or laziness, whichever, wasn’t going to cost me. I was about to say something when Julian continued, “Seeing this took me back a good few years. Guess I was about eleven or twelve and I was watching a film on telly. It was about life in the Navy around the time of Nelson and there was this bit where the Captain announced that this little kid who was about my age, but was a Midshipboy or something like that.” “Midshipman” I corrected him. “Yeah, Midshipman, that’s right, was going to have to feel the Bosun’s pussy.” I couldn’t help laughing. “Yeah, I laughed too. I guess I’d just started to learn those dirty words and wondered what sort of punishment feeling his pussy could possibly be. Anyway this little blond haired kid was made to lay over one of the ship’s cannons so his bum stuck up. He was wearing tight white trousers, britches I think they called them and you could see he had nothing on underneath. Then the boatswain came into shot carrying a little bag from which he drew out this little whip thing that looked very much like this.” Once again I noticed he was drawing the thongs through his fingers. “And then he gave the little kid about a dozen lashes, but apart from a couple of tears the kid didn’t really cry.” “It was probably faked on the TV.” I said. “I guess it was, but I kept thinking about it that night when I went to bed and for the first time when I rubbed my prick some white stuff came out the end.” He was grinning now at the memory. “I haven’t thought about it for years, but now I’ve got the chance to find out for myself what it feels like.” I couldn’t believe what he’d just said and sat there momentarily stunned. “You are joking me Julian, aren’t you?” “No, I’m not. It’s never something I’d have gone looking for, but it’s here, you’re here and I have to try it. I know you won’t really whip me with it, but if you did it like you did to Pierre I could go home later and still feel you’re with me.” I protested and argued but Julian was insistent to the extent that he almost appeared to be going into a sulk, so eventually he persuaded me. We agreed that I would use it on him just before he went home which he said would be about 3pm. That left a good few hours in which to enjoy ourselves. Perhaps surprisingly we didn’t go back to bed, but instead went down to the river and took out a rowing boat for an hour. After that we laid on the grass in the sunshine, t-shirts off, happy to be next to each other. A wrap and a coke each in a restaurant for lunch and then we headed back to my place. Once there we still had an hour in hand before he left. Naturally we spent that on the bed enjoying our final sixty nine of the weekend. When we’d recovered from that Julian went to the bathroom emerging again wearing just those knee length striped socks. “I’m going to have to get another pair of these as you like them so much.” That was said with a nod in the direction of my cock which despite our recent activities was starting to rise once more. “Or is it the thought of whipping my arse that is doing it?” To be honest I wasn’t sure and decided not to answer. While Pierre and I had had a sexual relationship his martinet had not featured in it. I couldn’t really believe that I was going to enjoy whipping Julian and I definitely didn’t want to hurt him, but there was something about the way he was approaching this which was making it enjoyable – and after all it was only going to be this once that I’d have him at my mercy like this. “How and where do you want me?” “If you kneel on the edge of the bed like yesterday that should do fine.” Julian climbed on the bed and I picked up the martinet from where it was lying on the duvet and moved behind and slightly to the left of him. I laid the thongs of the martinet on his back and slowly drew them down it. He shivered at the touch. Next I drew them across his buttocks, into his cleft and down the tops of his thighs. By this time I was pretty hard. I could see his balls dangling down and made a mental note not to strike anywhere near them and it was at that point that I saw his right hand go to his own cock and start to stroke it. The time for action had arrived and I drew back the martinet a few inches and snapped it down on his arse. He let out a little yelp – more of surprise than pain I reckoned as no sound followed the next stroke. I was not landing the blows hard and was intending to give him about twenty or so strokes which I thought would give him a little bit of discomfort for a few hours afterwards. I stopped when I reached that number and was amazed when I heard him say, “Do it again, Lance…….please?” I delivered a further twenty strokes and then stopped. I could see red marks now across his arse caused by the little knots in the thongs of the martinet in addition to lines where the thongs themselves had landed. “That’s enough, Julian. I’m going to stop before it gets to the point where you resent me.” I dropped the martinet back on the bed. Julian climbed off it, turned towards me and threw his arms round me – much to my surprise. As he’d turned toward me I had glanced down at his cock which had gone limp, but as we rubbed together it came rapidly back to life. “Thanks, Lance. What with that and the briefs you’ve been wearing today I’m going to be reminded off you for a few days I reckon.” We separated and he started to dress, first of all taking off the long socks and replacing them with the ones he’d worn yesterday. I did notice a little grimace as he sat down on the bed to do so. He donned the same t-shirt as he’d worn yesterday and then pulled on his grey skinny jeans, without first putting on his briefs. He saw my questioning glance as he struggled to pull them up over his thighs. “Reckon I’ll feel more if I go commando.” He said with a grin. I couldn’t disagree. Once we were both dressed the only thing left was the long goodbye kissing session, before I walked with him to the bus stop. We’d agreed he would come direct to the flat again at noon next Saturday. At least though this time there were only five days before that arrived.
  21. 2 points
    "Left Without Words 6" It was that tightness in the center of my chest that kept me from speaking. Not one intelligent word could fight its way to the surface. And yet, the bubbly joy inside refused to be kept silent for a long enough period for things to become awkward. If nothing else, I wanted to keep Deme talking for the simple gift of hearing him speak. The fact that he spoke any words in my direction at all was a blessing, and I cherished every euphoric moment of it. And yet...I was too scared to say anything. Everything was so perfect...I was afraid to be greedy and push it into an uncomfortable level of total 'lose', you know? He was just...stunning. My roaming eyes couldn't find a single flaw in his angelic presentation to the world. Not one. It's almost enough to make you feel inferior as a human being, being in his presence. It would be one thing if he was extremely gorgeous, but he was dull, or bland, or maybe even an asshole. But he's none of those things. He's just as intriguing and engaging on the inside as he is on the outside. It's almost like he had no clue how breathtaking he was in every possible way. As if he were clueless when it came to the effect he had on everybody within eyesight. How is that possible? HOW??? Yeah, it was an honor to have him want to just sit here in the shade in the park and talk to me. And with a few bashful peeks at one another and a few involuntary giggles...it seemed that we were involved in a conversation without words. One that excited me to the point of raising goosebumps on my skin. Wow. To think...the highly erotic nature of the moment came from nothing but sunshine, fresh air, a smile, and an extended silence. What a wondrous experience it is to fall for someone so special. “I like this.” Deme said, finally shattering the hush that fell over us. “The park?” I asked. “Yes. It is quiet here. Back home, the parks close to my house are so crowded. Not that I don't like to be around other people, but there...the only time I get to be alone with my thoughts is when I am trapped in my bedroom.” He said. “Sometimes, I like to enjoy a bit of isolation...without actually being isolated.” “I think I can understand that.” I said. “Home for me is my mom and my sister, and sometimes it gets to be a little bit 'crowded' there too. Just with the two of them. It's like...girls united, you know? I don't think my mom has any idea what makes me tick. Hehehe!” “Yes! You understand.” Deme smiled. “Well, not 'girls united', but I often feel as though the people around me do not get it. I try to explain, but...it makes them more confused, I think.” His accent was so elegant sometimes. It gave me the shivers to hear it. “Nobody said it was easy being different.” I said. I'm not even sure where the statement came from. Maybe it was me speaking from my heart instead of my head, like he said. Deme replied, “I do not think I'm different. I believe we are all the same, just in different ways.” He thought about it for a second, then he giggled to himself. “Wait...perhaps I did not say that correctly. That does not make sense.” But I said, “Actually, it kinda does make sense. In this really exquisite way. I think I get what you mean.” He looked at me sideways with a smirk. “You pretend.” “No! No pretend! Hehehe! It's like...we all want the same basic stuff out of life...but the motivations are different, you know? We just...need to figure out how to all reach the ultimate level of 'happy' in life before it's all over. And that means different things to different people. I guess on some plane of existence we're all alike in that respect. The devil is in the details, I suppose.” I wasn't looking at Deme when I said it, but the pause to follow it made me look up to see if he was still paying attention. The look in his eyes was indescribable. It was open, unrestricted, infatuation. He stared right into my eyes and...I can't lie...it made me nervous. This frightening novelty was something that I had never experienced before. Between those queasy wiggles in my stomach, my shortness of breath, and the unintentional signal from my brain to start the 'instant erection' process...my body went completely haywire. Even when I forced m eyes back down on the blanket we were sitting on, my heart throbbed with a passion that threatened to cramp up the excited muscle and strike me dead right there on the spot. Again, I was speechless. Ok, genius...you started flirting and you've gotten his attention...so NOW what? Did I even have a plan in place after that? Would I even have the courage to go through with it if I did? Lucky, twice in a row, Deme made the first move to progress our interaction a bit further. He shook off his current daze and said, “Hey, you want to see something really cool?” As if I wasn't too busy swooning with love to say no. “Sure...” Deme reached over and took a hold of my hand. That alone was enough to send an electric shock up my arm and into my spine where it quickly spread to the rest of my body with this festive vibration that caused me to nervously giggle out loud. That's when I saw Deme leaning over to the side to lay down on the blanket. Still trembling with boyish enthusiasm...I let him guide me down to lay beside him. Hehehe...we were ummm...we were close. Like, our shoulders were almost touching...but not quite. Still, I could feel a hint of his body heat from the close proximity. He was on his back and inspired me to mimic him as he looked up at the branches of the tree we were sitting under. He asked, “Can you see it?” I'm like, “See what?” He said, “When I was little...I used to go to the large pond at the end of town, and look at the way the sunlight used to shimmer on the ripples of the water. I always thought it was so beautiful.” Deme sighed happily, and then added, “But other times...when I lay under a tree on a warm day, such as this one...I can almost see the same. Do you understand?” He asked. “Sunlight? On water?” “Yes. If you look at the leaves and the many branches...and the sun shining through them as the wind blows...it is almost 'same'.” Deme smiled, dreamily looking up at the branches above. “Just like ripples in the water. You see?” I looked up and...after a moment of trying to see things from his perspective...I think I saw what he was talking about. It's like...the wind would blow...and the leaves would shake, the branches would bend slightly, and the sunlight would almost 'sparkle' as our shade was permeated by the rays of daylight. You could even hear the leaves shaking up there. It was...so beautiful. How did I go my whole life without ever noticing something like this before? “Whoah...I think...I think I see it.” I said. “You do, yes? Is pretty awesome, right?” Deme grinned, his accent tingling in my ear long after the sentence was spoken. I smiled so wide that it hurt. Deme and I just laid there, side by side...looking up at the leaves as they swayed back and forth, and I felt as though I had been given a peek at a whole new world that I never knew existed before. A part of my brain tried to tell me that it was just a dumb old tree...but something about witnessing its beauty with Deme by my side made it so much more. Deme was speaking in this really soft voice when he said, “I used to lay under a tree like this one...and I would see the leaves and the wind and the sun rays...and I would pretend that I was flying above the water. Looking down upon it, and appreciating the pond for everything that it was without so much as casting a shadow upon it. I know this sounds strange, but...it always made me feel as though I could see the unseen. That I could appreciate the world in a manner that many could not. It always brought me peace.” Then he turned his head to look at me, and he said, “It is what I feel, sometimes, when I look at you, Shane. Like...I can 'appreciate' you. In a way that no one else can. I guess that makes me feel special inside.” “I think it makes me feel special too.” I said, but I kept my eyes focused up to the leaves. I'd melt into a complete mess if I had to look into those shiny brown eyes of his. Besides, I was trembling so badly that I'm surprised I was able to control the convulsions long enough to say anything at all. There was this intense 'pull' being forced on me that was almost too strong for me to resist. Only fear kept me from surrendering to the urge. A fear that was gradually fading away as I got to know him on a more intimate level. What will I do if it disappears completely? Will I ruin it all by losing my self control? Will I kiss him and get rejected? And if so...will it have been worth it? Just for that one taste of his lips? Silence was the answer. For both of us. We stared up at the leaves, who seemed to lightly applaud for us as a gentle breeze passed through them. I didn't say anything, but Deme appeared to be ok with us just being quiet for a few minutes. There's always this weird need to feel like you have to 'entertain' the people around you every second that you're together or else you start worrying whether or not you're being a lame waste of time. But I didn't feel that with Deme. I felt like...he was entertained just by having me there. Isolation without being isolated, except we were...together. Yikes. Now I'm the one who's not making any sense. It was then that I felt Deme shuffle, ever so slightly, beside me. He felt a bit closer, somehow. It made me smile, but I kept my eyes focused on the sky. And then...a touch. So subtle...so innocent...that I had to ask myself if it was just a random mistake or if he did it on purpose. The way I talk about it, you'd think that he just brazenly rolled over and grabbed my crotch or something. But he didn't. That's not the kind of touch that I'm talking about. His...his pinky finger touched my pinky finger. Gently. SO gently. With both of us laying on our backs, our arms down at our sides...it might have just been an accident. Right? At least, that's what I was thinking until a minute later. I hadn't really reacted or pulled away from him after the first touch of our fingers. I think Deme took that as a sign to maybe try again. And this time...he was a little more bold in letting me know that he was actually trying to get a reaction out of me. Not in a blatantly sexual way or anything. He just...he stretched his finger out to tap and lightly rub my own in a way that let me know that he wanted me to notice this time. Believe me...I noticed. It was a major step for me...HUGE step for me...but I used my pinky finger to reach out as well. I can remember feeling as though I had this big clog of solid ice cubes in my lungs...but when his pinky finger and mine started to rub up against one another...the thrill of it nearly caused me to stop breathing entirely. Awww, I didn't know what I was doing! But it felt right. All of it felt like...the core magic of life itself. I just didn't want it to end. It scared me, but I think I liked that. Does that make me a freak? I don't know. Does it really matter? Our pinky fingers curled up and locked around one another. Deme and I turned our heads to look at each other briefly. Just long enough for us to share a flirtatious grin before we looked up at the sky again. However, Deme was bold enough to move his hand over enough to grab my hand completely. I had trouble emotionally processing everything that I was feeling at that moment, but the stifled giggles came bursting out of me anyway. “This is ok, yes?” Deme asked me. Full of warm fuzzies and infatuated tingles, I said, “Yeah. This is totally ok.” “Good. For me as well.” He said. Then, with a sigh, he said, “This feels cool.” My heart was bouncing around like an energetic bag of sugar nitro puppies in my chest, but I tried to contain my awe and excitement as best as I could. I felt him give my hand a firm squeeze, his thumb lightly rubbing itself back and forth against my skin. And when I finally got the courage, I did the same to him. His palm was so soft. So warm. I wish I had the guts to do more, but...for what it's worth, I don't think I've been more aroused in my entire life. Just from holding his hand in mine. Flesh pressed against flesh. A companionship and a, hopefully, mutual attraction...shared under the unapologetic canopy of joyful tree leaves in the park, and the subtle glory of a sunlit afternoon. Who knew that something so amazing could be achieved so effortlessly when you had the right person in your life to inspire that beauty within you. Heh...God, I'm turning into such a sucker for love. More silence. The kind of silence that you could only really appreciate when your heart and soul did all the talking for you. Deme's fingers were so long, and so thin. When our innocent hand holding turned into something more intimate...our fingers laced themselves together, interlocking with an affectionate embrace. It was his touch that suddenly put my brain on 'boner alert'. It was growing faster than I could come up with unsexy thoughts to interrupt its journey towards rising to full mast! I didn't want him to see it. I don't think I was advanced enough yet to just let some random boy see me in my most aroused, most vulnerable, state. Give me a break! I'm a teenager! I know that Deme was the hottest boy on Earth, but I've never ever been in a position where me having an erection in front of somebody else was considered 'ok'! Up to this point in my life, getting a boner was something to get laughed at when the teacher called you up to do your book report in front of the entire class. I wasn't quite used to the concept of just having a big old bulge of obscene boy sword sticking straight up in my pants for another boy to see! I guess I'm still a little shy about being...you know...a sensual being, or whatever. Although, I must say...Deme is quickly elevating me to a higher ground when it comes to this 'sexy' stuff. I didn't want to let go. Sure, my temperature had risen to the point where the fever burned the back of my eyelids, and my lungs felt as though they were being squeezed by a hungry boa constrictor, and I had to keep concentrating on staying still for fear that I'd float away into the clouds and never find my way back down again...but still...I didn't want to let go. Deme's thumb was now making slow circles on the back of my hand. I got a chill from the fear of such an experimental touch, but made the decision to mimic his movements. I just kept staring up at those rustling leaves, the sound of my own breathing combined with throbbing pulse of my own heartbeat flooding my ears to the point where I could almost hear nothing else. I fearfully turned my head...just an inch...and tried to catch sight of Deme's beauty in my peripheral. He had the most content smile on his face. As if everything was right with the world. Who knows? Maybe it was. Unable to resist any longer, I turned my head further to the side to see the sweetest blush in Deme's cheeks. This time, the movement caught his eye, and he turned to look back at me. Our smiles widened simultaneously. Soon turning into a short flutter of giggles, and he squeezed my hand firmly. With his free hand, he ran his fingers through his dark brown locks to lift them off of his forehead in the cutest way. But he propped himself up on one elbow, they all came cascading back down to rest over his hypnotic eyes again. Then...just above a whisper...he said, “...My good friend, Shane.” Much to my surprise, he actually raised my hand up to his perfect lips...lightly kissing me on the back of my knuckles. It was too much for my chaotic emotions to handle. It only took a second of eye contact before I was almost fully erect and ready to blow. I didn't know how to angle myself in such a way that would allow me to roll over onto my stomach and still hold his hand, but...just on the off chance that Deme was merely being 'fun' and openly displaying a fond attachment to me and not...you know...what I really WISH it was... ...I thought it better to not have this big boner obscenity pointed directly at his face. Regretfully...I let go. However, what surprised me most is that Deme rolled over onto his stomach right after I did. Wait...did he do that for the same reason or is he just...hold on... “Today was very special to me, Shane. Thank you.” He grinned. “Uh huh...” I said softly in response. We returned to silence. The whole world seemed to be moving in slow motion. As if a thick, muddy, substance had been tossed into the very gears of time itself. I had the urge to laugh from nervousness, but I fought it. We were searching each other's eyes. Examining our mutual gaze. What we were looking for, I'm not quite sure...but it was there. I could feel it. He could feel it too. I saw a little flash of pink as Deme gently moistened his lips with his tongue. I involuntarily did the same. Am I read for this? If so, I'd better do it before my heart gives out. It can't keep spasming like this for much longer. What are we waiting for? Am I waiting for him or is he waiting for me? What do I DO??? It was at that moment that we heard some kids ride by the park making...I don't know...'kid noises', I suppose. I had completely forgotten that we were totally out here in a public place! In my own neighborhood, for that matter! When you've got Deme to talk to, you kind of forget everything else. Common sense included. It broke the moment for me, and I tried to cover up my embarrassment as quickly as possible. As if my blush hadn't already betrayed my overworked heart. “Hehehe, I'm sorry. Was that weird? Did I get weird on you? Probably weird right?” “No.” He smirked. “Not for me.” Ok, this is getting to be MUCH more than I expected! He was so serious when he said it! I was almost instantly sucked back in again when he spoke up and said, “Do you want to come over for a bit? Father is still fixing the house but...maybe we can continue this with no more noise.” I began shaking almost immediately from the invite, but I was already nodding my head and saying, “Cool. Ok.” before I had the chance to chicken out of it. “Let's go.” “Yes. Let's go.” He beamed. God, I hope I'm able to ride my bike in this...ummm...'condition'.
  22. 2 points
    Toby looked in the mirror one more time, Silas really did know what he was talking about when it came to clothes. He once more contemplated his upcoming lunch with Tara. Why had he agreed to it? She was an exotic beauty with dark skin and even darker hair and her eyes seemed as if they could look right into his soul. And that was all great…But, she was a Mistress. How was he supposed to deal with her? How was he supposed to act around her? His thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing. “I’ll get it,” Silas called. Shit! Toby thought. He ran out the door, hurtled down the stairs and knew he wasn’t going to be in time when he heard the front door opening. “Mistress Tara, what a wonderful surprise.” Silas’ voice sounded so innocent to the untrained ear. Luckily Tara didn’t have one of those ears. “Silas, do you want me to report you to Oliver?” Toby chuckled as he descended the last few steps and then stopped, frozen by the sight in front of him. Tara stood there, her hands on her hips, glaring at Silas. But, that wasn’t what had caught Toby’s attention. She was wearing a teal green dress that fitted her like a second skin. It had thin straps over her shoulders and fell all the way to her ankles. The split up the side reached tantalizingly close to the top of her thigh. She towered over Silas in matching green high heeled sandals. Oh God, he was underdressed, he needed to go back— Toby's thoughts were scattered by an unexpected voice calling out. “Report what to me?” Oliver came through the door and Silas rounded on Toby. “What’s he doing here?” Toby looked between Tara, Oliver and Silas. “Why do you think I would know? Why don’t you ask him?” Silas turned his glare on Oliver who held up his hands in surrender. “We thought it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to be in the house alone. And since I happen to know Daniel is with Carlos, well, it seems I have bodyguard duty today.” Silas didn’t seem to be having any of that. “Bodyguard? You mean babysitter. I don’t need a babysitter. I’m in my own house and the security system is crazy. No one can get in or out without something going off somewhere.” “That’s beside the point,” Oliver said scowling at Silas. “We think it would be better if—” “You think? Well, no one asked me. What about what I think? What if I—” “Shut up,” Toby demanded. “Si, I would feel better if you had company this afternoon. Please.” The please seem to do the trick and Silas agreed to allow Oliver to sit in the living room and stay out of his way. Toby was grateful for small blessings and dragged a laughing Tara out the door. Silas Silas glared at Oliver as the front door clicked shut behind his brother and his date. “So, what do you have planned?” Oliver asked. “DVDs, popcorn and soda.” Silas bit the words out and groaned as Oliver seemed to perk up. “Great, so what are we watching?” Silas grinned to himself then pasted on his most innocent expression. “I was thinking of Westside Story, or maybe Fiddler on the Roof.” He almost lost it at the look of horror on Oliver's face. Those movies—although good to watch—were also over two hours long each. Westside Story even had an interval, on a DVD. “That sounds great,” Oliver said in a strained voice, and Silas lost it. He doubled over in laughter and had to hold his sides. He let out a yelp when Oliver clapped a firm hand on the back of his neck. “Think you’re funny, do you, boy?” Silas spun out of Oliver's grip and ran for the kitchen, laughing all the way. Oliver caught him as he entered the kitchen, lifted him up and pinned him to the wall inside the doorway. “You’ve been bad, boy. I think you need to be punished.” Silas’ mind shut down. How many times had he heard almost those exact words, only said in a much deeper, angrier tone? Silas instantly started to struggle. He needed to get away. He hadn’t been bad. He couldn’t take another punishment. Oliver Oliver tightened his grip on Silas and tried to get his boy’s attention. “Silas! Silas, open your eyes. You need to calm down or you’re going to hurt yourself.” “No. No. No,” Silas cried as he shook his head back and forth. “I haven’t been bad. I didn’t do it. Please Master, no more punishments. I’ll do better…” Fuck! What had he done? Oliver held Silas tight to him and moved into the living room. Sitting on the couch he continued to hold and soothe Silas. He’d been present for a few of Carlos’ panic attacks and he knew there was nothing he could really do except keep talking and stop Silas from hurting himself. He’d either come out of it or exhaust himself. It took over half an hour but Silas finally went limp in his arms. As his boy’s breathing evened out Oliver sung a soft lullaby his mother had used to comfort him when he was younger. When Silas was asleep Oliver turned on himself and called himself all sorts of names. He really needed to start thinking about what he did and said. That was the second panic attack his boy had had. He wasn’t naïve enough to think it would be the last, but he did think he could use his own common sense to try and minimalize the chances of setting one off. He settled back more comfortably and waited for his boy to wake up so he could apologize.
  23. 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.
  24. 2 points
  25. 1 point

    From the album Stuff

    Me at 48
  26. 1 point
    How in the world did I miss this announcement!!!! I know I missed getting on a few days lately, but really, to miss this! So sorry I'm late, good thing for the weekly updates! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!
  27. 1 point
    The Beta Chapter 1- Discoveries Xak was sitting on the edge of the couch in the man he and his friends called Pawpaw, aka Alpha Richard’s, office; his knees bouncing up and down, giving off an unmistakable air of extreme nervousness. His auburn hair was slightly messed up from him running his hand through it every few minutes and his hazel eyes looked worried and almost scared. His average sized body, 5’09”/150, was almost dwarfed by that of the blonde haired, blue eyes man next to him. Chris lounged confidentially, his arm draped along the back of the couch behind Xak’s shoulders. He was trying to ease his best friend back into the couch to get him to relax a little bit. Seated behind a huge wooden desk looking like an older version of Chris, only slightly taller, Richard was in his oversized chair, his face completely unreadable. Xak couldn’t tell if he was happy, angry, sad, or whatever, the man literally had the best damn poker face ever seen. Across from Richard, Xena, who as a child was obsessed with the show Xena: Warrior Princess and now ironically looked like Lucy Lawless standing at 5’10” weighing about 150 pounds with black hair and green eyes, appeared as if she were casually relaxing, just hanging out with her brother Xak and their best friends. However, if anyone present were to closely follow her eyes, they would notice the constant darting motions they did around the room as she tracked every move everybody made, ensuring she knew the exact location of every person present. Leaning against the wall opposite Xak and Chris, Gary, Chris’ cousin but couldn’t tell by looking, wore a kind of knowing smirk that seemed to say, you guys are some deep shit now. Gary was just about the opposite of Chris in appearance, where Chris had blonde hair, Gary’s was mousy brown, Chris had electric blue eyes compared to Gary’s that were so dark brown, they appeared black at times. Their fathers had been identical twins; Chris favoring them. Xak’s dad told them once that Gary looked like the male version of his mother; Mike had been friends with the twins, so naturally knew Gary’s mother. At the moment though, they were all waiting for Mike to arrive. Since he was Richard’s Beta, he had been working on negotiations with the Beta of a pack from north of Dallas, some sort of treaty. He wouldn’t tell anyone initially what the terms of the treaty were, he would simply say that he wanted to make sure every detail was ironed out before letting them know but that it would greatly benefit their pack if everything worked out. Then, two days earlier, Mike came to the group of young adults and said that they needed to leave in two days and go to Denton. There they were going to meet Xena’s new husband who he expected her to stay with since he was going to be the next Alpha, as well as Chris’ new wife, who they would be returning with. He left before anyone could make an argument against him. The group was dumbfounded. This was not going to be a fun meeting for Mike, he was about to be thoroughly pissed the fuck off. His world, as he knew it, was about to collapse and Xak was already playing out every possible reaction scenario possible. Xak often joked, in all seriousness, that he tended to over analyze the fact that he over analyzed everything. His brain was constantly going. A never ending stream of thoughts played in his head, even while sleeping. The older he got, the harder it became for him to function. Richard finally noticed, Xak was always calm and focused when Chris was near. Remove Chris from the equation, and Xak would either clam-up and eventually shut-down staring blankly into space or throw the mother of all temper-tantrums, even going as far as falling on the floor literally kicking and screaming. Return Chris, and it was as if nothing had happened. During these separations, Chris would go into a blind rage and start kicking and hitting anything he could get close to, or he would sit in the corner and rock back and forth, eventually banging his head against the wall. So Chris focused Xak while Xak calmed Chris. Richard figured that neither was going to be very successful if the other wasn’t there to help. When Chris was supposed to start school, Richard was faced with either holding Chris back a year until Xak could join him, homeschooling, or somehow getting Xak in school one year early. Richard met with the school’s principal and somehow convinced that man to allow Xak to take a placement exam to see if he was ready for school. Thank the gods, Xak passed with flying colors, and would have been able to begin school as a second grader. It was enough for Richard and Mike to get Xak into the same kindergarten class as Chris. About this time, Richard notice one other little snafu. Gary’s borderline obsession and intense jealousy towards Xak and Chris. In Gary’s thinking, it should be him with Chris all the time, because they were practically twins since Pawpaw was raising them and their birthdays were so close together. So what if Chris spent just as much time at Mike’s as he did at home, Pawpaw was still his legal guardian and that made Chris his brother, not Xak’s. That was the argument presented to a broken-hearted Richard from his crying four-year-old grandson one night. Interestingly enough, it was Xena that helped talk Gary down and soothed the young boy simply telling him, “Chris and Xak need each other, just like I need you to be my best friend.” Gary and Xena were pretty much inseparable after that, but never as close as Chris and Xak. Richard thought Xena might have an idea about Chris and Xak’s real meaning to each other, even if she didn’t fully understand it. Mike, however, never seemed to catch on to what was happening or refused to accept it. He noticed these behaviors, but could never admit to himself nor anyone else what they possibly meant. He was a small-town Texas boy and of the firm mindset that there was no fucking way two men could be fated for each other. It just wasn’t natural. After hearing this, for the first time, Richard regretted not telling Mike the whole truth about his relationship with Nicolas. Maybe if Richard had been honest when Mike was younger, and the twins and Sarah were still alive to help influence their friend, they could have convinced Mike that two men could in fact love each other and be true mates. Now, with lies built upon lies, Richard thought it was too late, he would just have to protect the pups when the time came and Mike discovered the truth that was in right in front of his face. He hoped it wouldn’t turn out too bad, but he had this feeling that when Mike found out, blood would be shed. So, over the years, Richard watch the four young pups grow and mature, individually and as a group. When Xak as eleven and Chris was twelve, something changed in both of them. The way they interacted with the other became more physical and mental. They also started hanging out with Xena and Gary less and less, spending hour upon hour with just the two of them exploring the woods and the areas around the pack lands. They had already spent enough time together that their scents were indistinguishable from the other. Richard was thankful for that fact and thought he would be even more thankful in the future if what he suspected ended up being fact. He knew then he had to protect their secret as much as he protected his own. Richard was jarred from his thoughts, when he heard a knock on the office door, and Trystan, his twenty-five-year-old secretary stuck in her head and announced to no one in particular, “Umm, Beta Mike is here.” The tension in the room elevated. “Thank you, Trystan, please send him on back here,” Richard smiled. Mike entered the office and looked at what was before him and asked, “What the fuck is going here? Why are the four of y’all here and not on your way up to Denton? Xena had a husband to meet and Chris has a wife to pick up. I have spent too many fucking months negotiating this treaty with that pack for y’all to fuck it up now. It would give us an advantage against Nicolas, Justin, and Toby. Y’all need to get the fuck out of here and be on your way.” His anger was palpable. He turned to Richard looking for support and said, “Aren’t you going to tell them to get going? I thought you wanted the help the Denton pack can provide.” Surprisingly, Richard responded, “They’re not going anywhere Mike. If you had told me what you were planning, I would have told you not to waste your time. Please have seat so we can discuss this.” “Richard,” Mike answered tensely but still took a seat in the offered chair next to Xena, “there is no discussion to be had. The Denton pack is expecting them tonight, so they need to be there tonight. Otherwise, not only do I look like a complete and total ass, it will reflect on your reputation, which is far from shiny, as well as Chris’ future reputation once he takes over as Alpha. Xena is gaining a powerful husband, I’m happy for her, this will be a good match. Chris’ future wife is young, only nineteen as well, which gives them many years to breed some pups. None of them have to get married immediately, it’s in the treaty that they have up to three years for that to happen, that gives everybody a chance to get know each other. Xak needs to be there to meet their future Beta, so he knows who he’ll be dealing with since he is going to be Chris’ Beta.” Gary had been asking Chris since they were sixteen years old if he could be the Beta. Chris would deflect the questions by saying that he had no clue who was going to be what in the pack once he took over, they had plenty of time to consider all possibilities and make a decision later. Well, that was the answer Xak told him to tell when Chris asked what he was supposed to do. That answer actually answered the question for Chris and he decided that Xak was a better choice than Gary to fill that position, he didn’t want to hurt Gary’s feelings, he loved his cousin so, he hadn’t told Gary yet. Gary’s smirk fell and he said, “But, I was supposed to be your Beta. I’m your fucking brother practically, what the fuck is he to you? There’s no blood relation. You owe it to me as your blood. Pawpaw, please tell him.” Chris’ casual façade faded away as he stood and he crossed the room in an instant, pinning Gary against the wall by his neck, choking him, and said, “My brother? What the fucking hell? You’re my cousin, and just because Pawpaw adopted us and raised us, that doesn’t entitle you to a goddamned thing. Mike raised me just as much as Pawpaw did. No offense Pawpaw. So does that make Xak just as much of a brother as you? As far as what Xak is to me? He’s my mate.” The look on Gary’s face was beyond satisfaction. Even though he was being held against the wall and being choked, the smile that came on his face was one of triumph, almost like he had just got the only thing in the world that would’ve made him happy. Chris thought to himself, “The fucker knew, he goaded me into admitting this in front of Mike. How the fuck did he figure this out?" Before he could voice these questions, Chris heard a roar from Mike, followed by a cry from Xak. Mike’s clothing flew from his body and where a human had been standing a few seconds earlier, a silver/gray wolf crouched, snarling at Xak. Richard stood so fast, his chair flew into to wall behind him. He said in his most commanding tone of voice, infused with his will, “Mike, shift back immediately and calm down so that we can all discuss this, your Alpha commands it.” Under normal circumstances, a naked Mike would be standing in the middle of the office with his head slightly bowed in submission and guilt. However, these circumstances were far from normal. So, the wolf still was snarling at Xak with saliva dripping from the long canines, looking ready to pounce. Richard took a breath and with a little more willpower added and a firmer tone, he tried again. “Michael Shannon Johnson, you WILL shift back now and you WILL calmly sit and discuss this, your Alpha commands it.” Disobeying a direct Alpha Command takes extreme willpower and is considered a direct challenge again the Alpha. The Alpha can accep the challenge, kick the offender out of the pack, or if there in an enforcer nearby, do nothing and allow them to take care of the situation. Before anyone could say another word, Chris moved to protectively stand in front of Xak. At that moment, as Mike began his leap to attack his son, a black wolf clamped her powerful jaws on the neck of her father’s wolf forcing him to the ground. Richard said, “Submit now.” Still, Mike struggled to get up. Richard flicked his eyes to the black wolf and slightly nodded to her. She snapped her head back and with a sickening crack his neck broke and his throat was ripped away from his body. Mike fell to the floor dead. Chris turned to Xak and sat next to him. He grabbed his mate and held onto him as tight as he could. He allowed his smaller framed auburn-headed boyfriend to cry his hazel eyes out till they were dry. During this time, Xena shifted back, went to the sink to clean her face, and changed into the clothes stashed in her backpack for just such an occasion. She went through the motions almost automatically, like she was in shock. Richard came over to her, pulled her into a hug and said, “You did what you had to do as an enforcer. You had your orders from your Alpha, this is not your fault. All fault lies on him and me, you only did as you were instructed like a great enforcer always does.” After hearing that, Xak looked up and said, “Pawpaw’s right, it is my fault.” He pulled away from Chris and ran out the door. Chris looked up at the horror struck face of his grandfather and asked, “How could you say that? He had nothing to do with this.” Richard cut him off saying, “Do you really think I was talking about him? I was referring to Mike when I told her to place the blame somewhere. I would never do anything or say anything to intentionally hurt any of y’all. The four of y’all are my world. Now, why would he think I would accuse him? Why does he think this is his fault?” Xena, coming out of her trance, responded in her normal sarcastic tone, “Oh, because you know Pawpaw, you do kind of have a reputation for being a major douchebag and asshole, sir. But, I think there is a story as to why he blames himself. I think I know what it is too, but it’s not my place to speculate.” “Chris, send him a message through your mental link telling him to come back now, I wasn’t blaming him when I said that, tell him I was trying to console Xena, she had just killed her own father, I knew she was going to be upset if I didn’t do something immediately. I would never intentionally hurt him, so please come back to the office,” Richard begged. Chris had an almost believable surprised/questioning look and asked in his most confident tone, “What do you mean mental link? Why would I have a link with Xak? Only mated couples have that link.” Richard looked at him and said, “Cut the bullshit boy and get your mate back here NOW. Please.” He then picked up his office phone and called for someone to come remove Mike’s body, which they quickly did. To say Chris was surprised that his grandfather knew he and Xak were mates would be an understatement. Xena didn’t seem surprised by either the fact that Xak was his mate nor that Richard knew. Gary had lost his smile, he was upset that things had gotten this out of hand. He knew what he was doing when he got Chris to admit the truth in front of Mike. He had expected Mike to get upset, yes, but he didn’t think it would go that far. He never intended for Mike to die. He thought he was doing everyone a favor, giving the group the chance to stay together. He had accepted that Xak would be the Beta two years ago when they were seventeen and Xak was sixteen. It was the day he saw Chris and Xak in the woods having sex. He had been shot-down by Chris once again, and was upset, so he decided that he needed to go for a run. He was in his wolf form, running through the woods when he caught the scent of Chris and Xak. He decided to follow them and finally confront Chris and demand an answer once and for all. He shifted back to human and approached the clearing quietly. He saw Xak on his hands knees naked, his head thrown back with his eyes closed. Behind him, on his knees, Chris was thrusting his cock in and out of Xak’s ass. Chris had to be at least eight and half inches long and not quite as thick as a Coke can, but almost there. Xak was moaning, the look on his was one of total bliss. He was begging Chris to fuck him harder and faster. Chris grabbed Xak by his hair and pulled his head back and kissed him hard. Speaking of hard, Gary was. He felt bad for watching his cousin fuck his friend, both of whom he considered more like brother’s than anything since they were raised together, but he couldn’t look away. He grabbed his own six and half inch cock, which he had always been happy with but now compared to what Chris was working with looked more like a Lil’ Smokey Sausage than his kielbasa, and stroked it. He couldn’t help himself. He watched as Chris slammed into Xak’s nice bubble butt, eliciting a moan with evert thrust. He watched as Chris pulled out of Xak and turned him over onto his back and slide right back in. He said, “I’m fucking close and I know you are too. I want to see your face when you cum.” Next thing Gary knew he was silently shooting his own load on the ground while Chris grabbed Xak’s six and half inch tool and began stroking him. It didn’t take long for Xak to yell out and shoot his load, covering his stomach and some shooting high enough to land on Chris’ chest. As Xak was shooting, Gary guessed his ass clamped down on Chris’ cock, because suddenly he stopped the in-and-out motion, slid in to the hilt and let out a moan that could probably be heard back at the pack village. As quietly as he could, Gary back-stepped into the woods and shifted immediately and ran. He thought he heard Xak ask Chris if he had heard anything and Chris respond with a ‘huh?’ When Gary got back to the pack village, he had to talk to someone. Xena found him and saw the look on his face, which was shock mixed with some guilt and sadness. She asked him if everything was okay, and he responded, “Yeah, I just figured out that I will never be the Beta.” Xena shocked Gary by stating, “Oh, so you know that Chris and Xak are ‘Chris and Xak’?” He looked at her and said, “Yeah, I just saw them fucking in the woods, and umm, nevermind. How long have you known?” “Since they were too young to know that the penis was for anything other than pissing, I’ve always known, I just didn’t know exactly what I knew till later. Now, I don’t need to worry about you telling our dad, do I?” she asked. Gary said, “No, I don’t want anyone to get in trouble or upset.” She pulled him into a hug and said, “If dad ever found out that they were mates, I promise somebody would end up dead. I’m sorry you won’t be the Beta, but you’re still my best friend and I love you no matter what.” She then licked his face to which he responded, “EWWW, isn’t it enough that I had to see what I saw? That image will haunt me forever; I don’t need your germs on me too.” She laughed and said, “Aww, worried I might make you straight? Even though I think you liked it a little.” “How how how how did you know?” he stammered out. “Takes one to know one. But I’ll take either or, I’m not picky.” “Me neither, not really,” he bashfully responded. Then looked up at her with a sheepish smile and asked, “Do you want to go out somewhere sometime? Like a date or something?” She looked him straight in the eye and said, “I love you Gary, but I promise you that if we were to ever go out or anything, our friendship would be destroyed. I love you too much to lose what we have now, please don’t be too upset with me.” He shrugged and said, “I’m not, I could never be upset with my bestie. Besides, you’re not really my type, I have taste you know.” She showed him he was number one with a hand gesture and said, “Fuck off, you couldn’t handle what I’m packing. If I fucked you with my strap on, you’d be walking funny for a week, I bet it’s bigger than what Chris probably has. I wouldn’t know though; I haven’t seen it.” He mumbled, “Fucking kielbasa.” That sent both of them into hysterics, and Gary realized at that moment that Xena truly was his best friend, and he couldn’t lose her ever. Chris also gained the private nickname of kielbasa, though they never called him that to his face. Back in the office, Chris closed his and reopened them immediately when the office door flew open and Xak walked back into the room. Xak’s eyes immediately found Chris’ and found love and support there. Next, he met those of his sister and saw the concern and need to protect that was always present with Xena. Then they met the gaze of his, umm well, Gary was an enigma to him. There were times when he felt like Gary was almost like his brother but then, out of nowhere, he would go out of his way to ignore Xak, they could go months without saying more than five words to each other. However, Xak knew that he would do just about anything for Gary, the same he would for Xena and Chris, but he wondered if Gary would return the favor. Right now what he saw in Gary’s eyes, broke his heart. They were full of regret, shame, and guilt making Xak wonder what would make him feel that way. Finally, he turned towards his Alpha and said, “Please, Alpha Richard, sir, don’t be mad at Chris. I have no claim to” He was cut off by Richard’s hand covering his mouth. Richard looked into the young man’s eyes and said, “Whatever you do, please DO NOT finish that statement. If you love Chris, do not finish what you were about to say. And what is with that ‘Alpha Richard’ bullshit? I thought I was still your Pawpaw.” Blinding tears filled the young man’s eyes and Xak simply nodded and Richard dropped his hand. He then continued, “I think it’s past time for the five of us to talk. There are some things y’all need to know, things I need to confess. But first, I want to know why you reacted like that, you should have known I was not referring to you when I said that.” Xak looked at Chris questioningly, and the other shrugged his shoulders and said, “You can tell them if you want, but you know I think what you’re about to say is total and complete bullshit, but do what you want.” “In that case,” Xak started, taking a deep breath and continued, “Chris and I used to play a game, one of our favorites, we called it ‘Your Alpha Commands It.’ Basically, he would tell me to do something, pretending he was the Alpha. In the beginning, it was innocent enough. ‘Clean my room, your Alpha Commands it.’ ‘Do my homework, your Alpha Commands it.’ Just stupid shit like that, not really harming anyone. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but no, he never pretended to give me a command to do anything physical to him nor him to me. One day when I was about eleven and a half, just entering puberty compared to Chris was twelve and then some already well on his way through that journey, and I had questions. I was too embarrassed to ask my dad, so I went to him. I asked him if his dick ever got hard, and what he would do about it. Actually, my exact words were, ‘Does your thingy get hard sometimes and do you ever rub on it when it does?’ He turned a shade of red that I had never seen him wear before and certainly haven’t seen it since. “He actually stuttered when he said, ‘Umm ye ye yeah, wh wh why do you wanna know?’ The confident, borderline cocky personality the world sees today was definitely not there. The person I saw in front of me then was so vulnerable and scared, I almost laughed. “I told him ‘I don’t know, I was just curious, I mean I know what’s going on in my body, I’ve read about it, but it’s still scary. The books say that it’s normal for guys to get hard and that it’s also normal to masturbate, but I wanted to know for sure, make sure I’m not the only one doing it, and that I’m doing it correctly’ “He said, ‘Ye yeah, I touch it sometimes when it gets hard…well, actually every chance I get to touch it I do, it feels really good.’ His confidence was returning, the stuttering stopped, and he smirked when he continued, ‘Want me to show you how to do it? I can help you out, and you can help me out.’ “I was the one that got nervous then. I asked, ‘Are we allowed to do stuff like that? I didn’t think two boys were supposed to do stuff like that. Isn’t that gay? My dad says being gay is wrong.’ We all know how vocal dad could be sometimes about someone being gay. “Chris said, ‘Actually, I asked Pawpaw about what your dad was saying, and Pawpaw told me to ignore what Uncle Mike was saying and not to believe him, but not to say anything out loud against him.’ Finally, after a few minutes, it didn’t really take much convincing on his part, I gave in and we pulled our pants down and he showed me how he did it, he would play with mine and I would play with his. All we would do is just touch. This went on daily for a while. Then about six months later, just before my birthday, Chris asked me if he could put his mouth on mine. I figured, why not? We had already done this much, might as well do more, besides it felt really good for him to touch me and I enjoyed touching him. So, we started sucking each other off. After he came in my mouth and me in his, he looked at me and said, ‘Wow, that was amazing, I want you to be my mate for life.’ “I said, ‘I can’t be your mate, two guys can’t be mates you know what my dad says. Playing around is fine, but if we were mates, everybody would know and my dad would kill me.’ “He said, “Remember what I told you Pawpaw said? He said not to believe your dad. I think Pawpaw’s right.’ Then, with that confident borderline cocky smirk that annoys the shit out of me to this day because I can’t resist it, he said, ‘Besides, your Alpha Commands it.’ “There had been this feeling since he came in my mouth, it was kind of like an itch over my whole body. Not annoying, just weird. After he said your Alpha Commands it, it turned into this heat that made me think my insides were on fire. I looked at him and noticed his pupils were dilated, telling me he felt it too. I was on the verge of tears when I asked, ‘What was that? What did you do? Why did you say that?’ I was freaking out, my brain going into overdrive. I started thinking, wondering, if Chris was next in line to be Alpha, maybe it was never really a game. Or maybe since I knew he was going to be my Alpha one day, what if me accepting that fact gave him the power of an Alpha over me? I had never said no to one of his commands when we were playing. What if we never realized it wasn’t just a game. If I had challenged him once, would that have caused him to have to fight me? I wondered if I refused now, would that be considered a challenge? Chris was already bigger and stronger than I was, I had no hopes of winning a challenge. I felt trapped, but at the same time I knew that I loved him. I had always loved him but never that intensely. What Chris next though, I think sealed the deal for me.” “Fucking bullshit,” Chris muttered from next to Xak, only to receive a glare from everyone. “Meanwhile, back at the ranch, before I was rudely interrupted. Chris responded by saying, ‘You will be my mate, your Alpha Commands it.’ I was too scared to lose my best friend, that I just nodded and submitted, accepting that what I felt was real, but only because he made it that way. Over the next couple of years, we stuck to only oral and touching. The afternoon of my first shift was the first time we had sex, which only completed the bonding I think because later that night, when I heard Chris’ voice in my head, ‘Can you hear me? I’ve been waiting forever for this part.’ I nearly jumped out of my skin. That’s why I was so skittish right after my shift. Chris also told me that this was proof we were true mates. Of course, I reminded him that the link is there for imprinted mates as well. He then said at least it proves your dad is wrong and two guys can be mates. I have thought about this many, many times and the only conclusion I come to is that the reason we are mates is because I submitted to his will and accepted that he wanted me to love him, and I did. Because of me, my dad is dead now. He might have been a closed minded homophobe sometimes, but he raised Xena and me and practically Chris and Gary sometimes, with your help, he did the best he could.” Tears were rolling down Xak’s face as he buried his head into Chris’ side. Chris looked around the room and said, “I know that Xak is my true mate. I think I’ve always known. He refuses to believe me on this issue. I know he thinks he only loves me because I willed him to. The only time we fight about anything is when we start talking about this. He says he loves me and I believe him because I can see it in his eyes. He says he won’t go against my command to be his mate; he doesn’t want to challenge me; he says he knows he could never win against me physically, so why tempt fate and even try. I try telling him that I’m not the Alpha yet, and I wasn’t then, so that ‘command’ didn’t mean a thing. He’ll trump that by asking if I really want to find out if that’s true or not, because if I do, it could possibly end with him challenging me and then where would that leave us? His arguments are somewhat logical, I guess. I know that I could never bring myself to hurt him in anyway. All I want to do is love him and take care of him. When I tell him that, he says he can take care of himself and that he knows he loves me but thinks it’s only because his brain makes him believe it so that he doesn’t end up challenging me.” Richard had tears in his eyes when he said, “I am so sorry, this is all my fault. I should have been honest with Mike from the beginning when he became Beta. Actually, I should have been honest before that. I could have prevented all of this.” Chris looked at his grandfather and asked, “What are you talking about Pawpaw? How is this your fault, when Gary is the one blame?” He turned to Gary and asked, “How did you know? How long have you known?” Every eye in the room shifted to Gary. He sighed and said, “I didn’t think it would go this far. I only wanted the four of us to stay together. I knew when I said that earlier that I wasn’t going to be your Beta, I’ve known that for two years. I found you and Xak in the woods one evening, y’all were in the clearing having sex. When I came back to village, Xena, well you know how she is, she can tell when anything is wrong with any of us, asked if everything was okay. All I told her was that it was obvious beyond a doubt that I wouldn’t be your Beta. She asked if I had figured it out, and I told her. She already knew, and since that day, she and I have been going out of our ways to make sure Uncle Mike never caught on to you two. I’m so sorry I provoked you into admitting that Xak’s your mate. Please forgive me. I would be lost in jealousy and anger without Xena, and Xak would never survive without you. I did it to keep us together.” Richard went to hug his grandson and said, “This isn’t your fault either. I need you to listen to what I have to say, then I will beg your forgiveness. And hopefully, Xena and Xak won’t blame you anymore once I’m finished telling y’all.” He glanced at the brother and sister and continued, “I can tell that you’re blaming him, don’t please. This is my fault, even I thought Mike would submit if I commanded him to. I never realized how deeply sated his hatred was.” With that said, Richard recounted his story for the foursome while he stared at the wall, never making eye contact with any of them. He told them about lying to Nicolas for years, the vampire on the boat in Sabine Pass, the fate of his old pack and family, building a new pack and convincing them that vampires were their enemies, that he did love Margaret and that she knew she was second in his heart to Nicolas, that Mike only knew that Nicolas was his best friend and nothing more, and finally that he figured out the truth about Chris and Xak when they were very young. Neither Chris nor Xak remembered anything about being forced away from each other. Chris couldn’t imagine himself ever getting violent and hitting anything and everything around him, or sitting in a corner banging his head against the wall. He could imagine Xak being so caught up in his thoughts that he would go into his own head and blank out, he could also imagine that temper-tantrum since he had been the recipient of a few of Xak’s irritable moods. Contrarily, Xak thought he would never get so lost in thought that he would blankly stare into space nor that he would throw that bad of a temper-tantrum, but he had had to calm Chris down quite a few times over the years when his anger would control his emotions. Hours later, tear streaks staining his face, he turned back to the group and said, “So, you see, because of my lies and my obsession with the man I’ve loved nearly my entire life, this is all on me. Can y’all ever forgive me?” Xak took all this information in. With the knowledge that Chris had had an effect on him and that he had affected Chris so positively when they were young, his brain once again went into overdrive. Though he never said it directly and always let Chris know that he really did love him, he had been blaming Chris for the past seven years for something that came naturally to them. They had never been away from each other for more than a couple of hours since before he could remember, so there was no data for him to analyze and compare to know what effect they had on each other. There was never a need to even consider that testing that because he always knew that if Chris wasn’t with him at a certain moment he would be soon. Maybe, since his brain knew that he would be seeing Chris soon, it wouldn’t allow him to become lost in his own thoughts. Did Chris ever get violent when he wasn’t around? Sure, there were times Chris would seem kind of on edge by the time they saw each other, but Xak would smile at him and he would instantly get that goddamned shit-eating smirk that was completely irresistible to Xak and act like nothing in world could bother him. Finally, Xak spoke, “So, you knew the truth about Chris and me and never told us? Why? Why did you lie to my dad too? You want forgiveness? HA! I have blamed Chris for seven fucking years for the fact that I have had to lie to father every damn day. SEVEN FUCKING YEARS! I could have loved him without the doubt in the back of my head. That annoying little voice that was always there saying to me ‘You know you only love him because you have to and you’re too weak to challenge him.’ Do you know how hard that has been?” He was surprising himself with what he was saying. Here he was berating the man he has called Pawpaw his entire life. He regarded the man as his grandfather. And to top it all off, he was also his Alpha. He knew he shouldn’t be disrespecting his Alpha, let alone the man he considered family, this way but he couldn’t stop. Seven years of doubting his love for Chris, seven years of lying to his friends (even if they did know the truth), seven years of hiding who he really was from his father, seven years of feeling like a coward because he couldn’t imagine surviving a life without Chris all came down on the man that stood nearly a foot taller than him. By the end of Xak’s tirade, Richard was in his chair with his head in his hands and Xak was reduced to tears kneeling on the floor gasping for air through his sobs. Xena couldn’t stand seeing her brother like this, but before she could go to console him, Chris was there and picked him up and carried him over to the couch where he sat and held his mate in his lap, stroking the smaller man’s head and back. Xena looked at Richard and though she didn’t feel any anger towards him, she thought he deserved to feel the pain he was experiencing for a little while longer. She next took notice of her best friend, Gary. She wanted to blame him, she had to admit, even if just a little; however, one look at his grief-stricken face, and she forgave him. She crossed the room to him and brought him into a hug and said to him, “I don’t blame you, so stop blaming yourself.” She continued in whisper just loud enough for Gary alone to hear, “Besides, Kielbasa and Xak are going to need us right now.” This elicited a small chuckle out of Gary, which given the situation was not very appropriate, that he quickly turned into a cough. Xena then thought, Richard was right, the blame does indeed go on him, and maybe to some extent her father, but mostly him. She knew she would forgive him, she knew they would, there was more love there than anything else. It may take Chris and Xak a little longer to get there, but she knew Gary and herself were already on that road. Finally, Chris got Xak calmed down enough to stop sobbing. He looked at his mate and Xak gasped and asked, “What did I just do?” Chris laughed a little and responded, “You just gave Pawpaw a good dose of something he probably deserved. I might be mad at him but I can’t hate him, he’s my grandfather and I will always love him. Might not respect him that much right now, but who knows what I’ll feel like tomorrow. As far as forgiveness goes, he thought he was doing the right thing, but he hurt you, so until you’re ready to forgive him I can’t. As long as you hurt because of what he did, I can’t forgive him. But, I want you to know that I don’t hold any negative feelings about you blaming me, I understood then why you blamed me, and I understand now, besides you’re really cute when you’re mad at me for making you believe that you love me.” He then kissed Xak on the tip of his nose. He knew said all of it loud enough for Richard and the others to hear, he needed them to hear that. He knew that what he was saying to Xak was exactly what he, as well as the other in the room, needed to hear in order to begin forgiving Richard. He reminded Xak and everybody else at the beginning of his response who exactly Richard really was to the group, their Pawpaw first before anything else. He also pointed out that love trumps anger and hate. Then he reminded them that respect isn’t need to love somebody and can be earned again. Then he planted the seed that even though he might be ready to forgive Richard for what happened, as Xak’s mate, he couldn’t truly do that until Xak did. Xak looked into Chris’ electric blue eyes and saw that he was telling the truth. He loved his grandfather, but couldn’t forgive him for hurting Xak until Xak was ready to forgive him. Then he thought about how much love and protection and guidance the man has shown all of them over the years. Richard might have lied to everyone and hurt more than a few people, but he thought he was doing the right thing. After hearing what all Nicolas had done, he admitted that Nicolas needed to be stopped. Every effort Richard made, though, had been unsuccessful. Then he thought about his dad. He really didn’t believe that even had told Mike the whole truth everything would’ve been fine. He knew how deep his father’s unlike for anything different than him went. He might have loved his father, but he just realized that he never really liked the man very much. So, with a sigh, he stood up, crossed the room to Xena and Gary and pulled them into a hug. Next, he did the thing that ten minutes earlier he thought impossible. He went to Richard’s chair, lifted the man’s head out his hands, looked at the tear-stained face and sat in his lap and said, “I might not like you very much right now Pawpaw, but I still love you. When I realized that what you hid from us had caused me to blame Chris for anything, I got upset. I’m not sorry for what I said to you, you needed to hear that, but I think I can forgive you for unintentionally hurting Chris, Xena, Gary, and me, and hopefully they can to.” He emphasized unintentionally to remind them that their Pawpaw wouldn’t hurt them on purpose. They all came over to the desk and everyone joined in the group hug, the healing process of forgiveness began. Richard looked down at Xak and asked, “Are you ready to be my new Beta?” Surprisingly, what nobody had noticed the whole time since Mike’s body had been removed, was that the office door was slightly open. Another thing nobody noticed was the person standing at the door, listening to everything that happened. That person then quietly left the building through the front door, like she always did. As soon as Trystan was out of the building, she pulled out the burner cell phone some guy named Justin had given her night before last when he knocked on her parent’s door while she and her son Jacob were there on a visit. Before she was handed the phone, Justin, if that was even his real name, had forced his way into the house and quicker than she thought at all possible, had killed her parents. Jacob, her five-old-son who in about ten years she knew would have his first shift into a panther, was thankfully asleep and didn’t see it happen. Jacob’s father, Dean, was long dead, even before Jacob was born, killed in Afghanistan when a road-side bomb detonated. He was on his last tour and she had gotten pregnant during his last leave. She never got a chance to let him know Jacob was coming. When she told his parents, who lived outside of Rusk in some weird village thing that the whole town thought was a commune, they called a man named Richard over. He proceeded to tell her all about things that go bump in the night. She thought they were all crazy until he stripped naked and right in front of her eyes, became a wolf. She might have said a few expletives and might have been in shock, but eventually asked if her soon to be born son would be a wolf. Dean’s’ mother chuckled and said, “Oh no hun, he’ll be a panther like his daddy was.” Trystan dialed the only number that was programmed into the phone. It rang five times, then a calm cool voice answered, “Hello Trystan, dear, what do you have to tell me about my Richard? Tell me and I’ll let you speak to Jacob for two minutes.” Trystan, in tears, said, “Mike, his Beta is dead. His grandson Chris’ mate Xak is taking over the position. He told his grandsons and their friends some long story about how you and him used to be lovers.” She continued for about five minutes and finally asked, “What do I need to do to get Jacob back, Justin told me you wouldn’t hurt him.” Nicolas replied, “I promise you, no harm will come to little Jacob as long as you keep giving me information about Richard. I want to know his every move. I want to know everything, and you’re the perfect person. Work with me, you’ll have Jacob back soon. Stop working with or tell anything to anybody and well, let me just say, vampires that turned before the age of fifteen or so rarely make it long in the world of night, they’re so unpredictable. Plus, I’ve only ever tried to turn a shifter once, but that was after his first shift. Let’s just say, somethings should never be attempted. That was a walking nightmare. Now, like I promised, you have two minutes.” Next thing she heard was, “Mommy, when am I coming home?”
  28. 1 point
    The Presidential luncheon went well. Everyone was friendly, and I came out thinking they’re all overplaying me. I’m just a Marine who did my job, despite all the really nice shit they all said about me. I mentioned it to the President between the Luncheon and the awards ceremony. He just smiled and said, “Sargent, it’s been my honor to present this Medal to a few recipients during my term. Every one of them felt exactly the way you do—that they’re nothing special, that they’ve just been doing their jobs. And that much is true—they were just doing their jobs. But, they did so much more, went so far beyond what was expected, and did it without thinking about the consequences to themselves. You fit that profile. So think about it, and just accept our gratitude, will ya? ” A big smile and a slap on my back makes the point that he considers me worth of it. Maybe there is more I need to think through. I did get to see Clayton and our group for a few minutes between the ceremonies, too. They’d obviously been moved; both Clayton and Bubba looked like they’d been crying, and Joe, Rex, and Barry all had solemn looks on their faces. “How ya holding up, Ryan?” Bubba’s serious, but smiling. “I’m ok, just a lot to sink in. Did you see the political firepower in there? Half of Washington was there.” “Yeah, we had the chair of the Federal Reserve at our table, along with the Secretary of Commerce. It was interesting hearing them talk about the economy,” Bulldog chimed in, his business interests obvious. “It sounds like business will be good for the bar in the next few months ahead.” He’s grinning as he says it, and we all laugh, knowing he’s going to have fun at The Bar, regardless of the economy. “And we even had the FBI there, so we’ll have no more crime while we’re out drinkin’.” Bulldog outright laughs, the nasty night of the robbery behind him. “Yeah, about that, Clayton, I ….” Bubba starts to speak when security interrupts to take me to the Medal presentation. Guess I’ll learn what he was about to say later. The actual presentation ceremony was far more formal than the luncheon—should have expected that I guess. The Secretary of the Navy read the formal nomination he’d done for my consideration of the Medal, and then introduced several members of my old platoon who were there on the floor. Got to see ‘em after the presentation and before the insane round of press interviews. Great to catch up with ‘em and we’re gonna get together for drinks, maybe tonight if the press stuff finishes early enough. The President spoke again, his comments more brief, very formal as Commander in Chief. Still more complimentary than I expect, but at least I’m not blushing like I did earlier during the luncheon. Gotta thank the President for that. The presentation ceremony was far shorter than I expected—maybe I can get out of this uniform sooner than I thought; at least we’ll get the press stuff done more quickly, maybe. Maria appears after ceremony. She’s set up a conference room off to one side, got it stocked with snacks, water, soft drinks. “Look, just relax. You’re gonna feel like you’re saying the same thing over and over—and in a lot of ways, you are, because the questions are all going to be alike. Just be honest, answer openly, you’re gonna do fine.” She was right; the questions were all alike. Basic stuff, like where I’m from, what it was like growing up in Nebraska, how long I’d served in the Corps, that sort of thing. Then there were the expected common questions: “What was it like that day?” (“I don’t remember—it only popped up in occasional dreams.”) “How’s the medical treatment you’ve been getting and the recovery going; are you going to get new legs?” (Guess that’s because of the scandal about how badly many vets were treated in their health care. “My care has been good; guess that’s because of the immediacy of my injuries, and where I got the immediate treatment in Germany and here in the states. I’ve got a couple of medical issues I’m still working through, but I’m moving forward to getting new legs—I hope soon. I’m ready to get out of this damn chair.”) Probably most frustrating was that virtually all of the media wanted to focus on my being gay. “What was it like serving under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’? (“I’m there to do a job, it’s never been about who I sleep with.”) “How did other gay service members handle all of it?” (“I guess they did ok, they’re either still in service doing their job, or they’re out in society living normal lives.”) “Were you openly gay when you were in service?” (“I never hid who I am, I think everyone knew, it wasn’t an issue, never made it one. Always a few bigots around, they’re gonna find reasons to like or dislike someone, so that’s on them.”) A couple of the news outlets asked about my relationship with Clayton. (“I’m lucky, I found a great guy, we’re very happy together, and live a low-key quiet life—at least up until now.”) Several of ‘em asked if they could at least meet Clayton, either on-air or as part of the interview, but I turned ‘em down. Clayton had made his feelings clear, and I’m honoring that. Clayton smiled every time I said “no”; he’d been off to one side during most of the interviews, listening as though he’d never heard any of my responses before. Finally, the last interview of the day came up. It was with NBC, with Willie Geist. Good guy; the friendly jock next door, laid-back, kinda an “everyman” interviewer—I’d seen him on interviews, and he’d ask the kind of questions I wanted to know … down to earth, practical stuff. We were just about to get started when he stopped before the cameras and lights got rolling. “You look like you could use a break, maybe a change in scenery. How about we go outside and do this interview?” We headed outside the White House, going over toward the mall, with the Washington monument in the distance reflecting the late afternoon’s setting sun. I get out of the wheelchair, sitting on one of the benches by the reflecting pool. It’s nice to get out of the chair; Willie is sitting opposite me, arm casually thrown over the back of the bench; the camera men have set up their cameras to get me in one camera, Willie in the other. Clayton in sitting on a nearby bench, having met Willie on the walk out, and Willie proactively commented that he’d respect our privacy as a couple, but he wouldn’t fight it “if Clayton dives in during part of the interview.” He’s totally cool, and has us relaxed. No wonder he’s the host of that Sunday morning newsmagazine. It’s not hard-hitting news, but its shit that’s damn interesting. Kinda like a 60 Minutes but focused more on people, art, music, architecture—people and stuff you’d love to know more about but the networks never really give the airtime to inform ya, they just tease ya with the info. We start talking, and it’s a friendly give-and-take between Willie and me. The conversation is easy, and before I know it, we’ve been chatting for an hour and a half. Willie says that’ll do it, and we chat for another couple of minutes. “So what are your plans while you’re here?” I tell him I’m meeting buddies from my unit for beers, then dinner with Clayton and my friends. Friday and the remainder of the weekend is clear since I’ve finished up all the press stuff today. “Maybe tour the Smithsonian, do the tourist stuff since I’ve never gotten to explore D.C.” “Good for you. But, I’ve got a couple of propositions for ya. First, can I join you and your unit guys for beers? If they’re willing, I’d love to get a couple of lines from ‘em about you—but that’s only if they’re willing to do it. Secondly, I’m really enjoying getting to know you, and think our viewers would love to get to know you like this, too—so will you consider coming with me, and being my co-host on the Today show in New York tomorrow morning? I’m covering for Matt Lauer, so it’s going to be hard news for the first half-hour, but I’d like to have you there for the second half-hour or more. Is that something you’d consider?” Look over at Clayton, he just shrugs his shoulders, indicating it’s my call. “Sure, Willie … you’re welcome to come out tonight with us, whether or not the guys talk with ya is up to them. As for joining ya on the show tomorrow morning, well … yeah, I guess that’ll work, just need to figure out how to get there.” Look at Clayton again and he’s still ok with all of this. “I’m going back on the train later tonight. You can either go up with me, and we’ll put ya in a hotel, or come up early tomorrow morning. You and Clayton talk about it, and let me know. Right now, I need to make a few phone calls.” Willie breaks away to chat with his camera men, then is on the phone. “Clayton, are you really ok with all of this? I mean, it is last minute, and I really don’t know what you’d planned for the rest of the trip. And working out more travel accommodations is a pain in the ass …. “ “I’m fine with it if you are. Let’s check with the guys, see what they want to do. One option might be to spend the night here, and either take the train or an early flight up tomorrow morning.” After talking with them by phone, the guys thought it’d be fun to see how a morning TV show is made and they were all for the trip up. Clayton checked on his iPhone, and found a train with a schedule that would let us get to the studio in time for the show. Found Willie, told him we’d be there and made a deal that he’d provide a vehicle to pick us up and get us to the studio. “Agreed.” Willie was happy. Joined my buddies from the platoon that night for beers, and got caught up. The guys were initially wary about Willie and his crew, but the guy’s natural charm got ‘em, perhaps along with a couple of rounds of beers he bought, and I found out later they gave him some really nice quotes about me he used in his piece. Willie left the bar, I finished my visit with my old Marine buddies, and we headed off to dinner and an early evening before tomorrow’s adventure. Me? On TV? What the fuck was I thinking when I agreed to this? The next morning arrived far too early, but we all made it up, got to the train station, and headed to New York City. True to his word, Willie had a couple of cars and drivers for us, and we raced to the station, getting there in time for the opening credits of the show. I was herded to makeup; the guys wait for me in the “green room”, which is well-stocked with coffee, sweet rolls, juices, and fruit. Willie was doing the closing before going to the local news break at the end of the first half hour. “Coming up, in our next half hour, I’m pleased to introduce to you a remarkable man. I met him yesterday when he was award the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for bravery in military service. You’ll get to see excerpts from an interview I did with Marine Sargent Ryan Gregory, and he’ll be my guest co-anchor in the next half-hour—so stick around.” Had just enough time to grab a mug of coffee and roll up to the half-circle anchor desk when the show started back up. “Welcome back to the second half hour of the Today show. I’m Willie Geist, and I’m here with Natalie Morales, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker, and our special guest co-anchor, Ryan Gregory, who you’ll meet in a moment. But first, the news. Natalie, catch us up on it all, please.” Natalie highlights the news leads in her solid professional style, finishes, moves the attention to Al who gives a brief summary of the nation’s weather forecast, then he breaks away for a local weather update. We’re back in 60 seconds, and Willie speaks again. “I was fortunate to meet Marine Sargent Ryan Gregory after the awards ceremony for his receipt of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military service. You’ll be able to see the full interview on my Sunday morning show, but here are a few excerpts from my interview with him …. “ * * * * Ryan looks great in his Marine dress uniform, and the interview Willie did with him yesterday afternoon shows him relaxed and confident. Barry, Dave, Rex, Joe, and I are seated on sofas in the “green room”, chugging coffee, still waking up. Ryan’s hair is picking up the reddish background of the sunset, making him look more of a redhead than usual. Damn, my other half is hot. Willie covers a little background on Ryan, and his military service, then reviews the actions in Fallujah that earned Ryan his medal. “… And you had no memory of any of that day? It must have been pretty traumatic.” “No active memory at all, Willie. I’d had some dreams early on after my release from the hospital, made me wonder if I was having some form of PTSD. But I talked with the docs, they assured me that loss of memory after severe injuries was normal, and it’d all come back at some point. I really didn’t start getting more and more of the dreams until I met and started dating my other half—and at that point the dreams picked up. Later, when I learned I’d been nominated for the Medal of Honor, and read about the events of the day, well, that was when all the dreams came together and I knew they were real.” “I’ve been fortunate enough to have met your ‘other half’ as you call him. A lot of the news outlets have made a big deal out of the fact you’re gay, and I heard your explanation on all of that. Would you mind repeating that for us, and then tell us about your ‘other half’?” Willie smiles as he says it, and there’s the distinct impression that he’s giving Ryan the opportunity to vent about having to deal with all the gay questions from the other reporters. “Easy enough. Yeah, I’m gay, always have been, always knew ‘where my bread was buttered’, never felt any guilt about it. Sure I hid it through high school like so many non-straight guys do about their sexuality, but figure that was what I needed to learn about me. When I got in the Corps, I was there to do a job. Who I slept with didn’t matter—and it shouldn’t. The bonds of brotherhood I got have been what have kept me going; in fact, my best friend is a Marine brother.” I look at Dave, and he’s swallowing hard at the lump in his throat and has a look that combines both pride in Ryan and a love for the man that is totally heartwarming. “As far as my other half, he’s a phenomenal man: strong, intelligent, incredibly attractive, a witty sense of humor, very private. It sounds funny to refer to someone as your other half, like maybe you’re missing out on being a whole person. And that’s not the case. It’s more like he brings out the best part of me, the part most of us keep buried in the grind of daily life. It’s kinda like our shorthand to show how much the other brings to the relationship. “He’s my rock. I really believe he’s the one who made me comfortable enough to dream of that day outside of Fallujah, who got me ready to deal with that reality, if only at a subconscious level. If I can bring even ten percent to him of what he gives to me, well … I’ll be a lucky man.” Willie is open-mouthed, shaking his head at the intensity of the feeling Ryan’s expressed. Where was I when he said this yesterday? Damn, could I love this man any more? “Uh, yeah, I think we’ve got a keeper here.” Rex is being a smartass, but it lightens the situation so that I’m not gonna be a romantic fool in a puddle in the green room. “Willie, lemme make a point here. You’re straight, married, right? Got kids, right?” “Yes.” Willie looks a little surprised with the question, unsure of where Ryan’s going with this. “And does your being straight and married interfere with you doing your job? Of asking the probing questions, researching your stories, getting to the truth of things?” “Not at all.” “And does it make you feel like you might be less qualified for your job to even have that question asked? Isn’t it more than a little insulting to your basic character to get hit with that?” “Well . . . yeah, it is, I guess. Hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective, since you’re the first person to ever ask it …. “ “Well, it’s kinda the same way when other news outlets have made a big deal out of someone being gay and asking how it affects them on the job. There’s a part of me that wonders about that kind of logic—and another part of me that’s insulted you’d even have to ask about it as an issue. I’m here to do a job. In fact, that’s part of what’s kinda throws me about receiving this medal; I was just doing a job, just like the men and women of the Marines and other service arms do day in, day out. There’s really nothing special about me.” There’s a drumbeat of a pause before Ryan continues, “… and that’s why I’m grateful you didn’t ask about me being gay, so that way I didn’t get insulted before we got started.” Ryan grins, Willie wipes his brow in mock relief. “I’m glad about that.” They both start laughing after Willie says it, and the video ends and it’s like they’re two buddies chatting over drinks. "We're back live," Willie says as he turns to look at Ryan.“So tell me about your life today.” “Guess my life is just like everyone else’s, I get up, go workout at the gym, go to work, do some special therapy to get ready for my new legs ….” “And I understand you sell cars?” “Well, yes, I sell Cadillacs, but I also do the customer technology training and support. Cars have gotten so complex, and high-end cars like Cadillac are loaded with thoughtful features and hardware and custom software—but it can all be a little overwhelming to learn and personalize. Unlike most car dealers, we go in and help you make the most out of your new vehicle. I do technology training classes, I provide one-on-one problem resolution, and Cadillac backs it up with 24/7 personalized support by phone and internet. We don’t just throw you in a vehicle and say, “Good luck”. I get to help make customers’ driving better. It’s fun.” “Sounds like you really enjoy it, and you’re good at it. My producers checked, and you’ve been salesman of the month for the last 4 months.” “Well, yeah, I do enjoy it. And I’ve been lucky to have some great customers.” Ryan is proud of his accomplishments, but a little embarrassed by this small bit of notoriety. “And you’re getting ready for new legs?” “Yup, I do physical therapy a couple of times a week above my gym workouts. I’ve got some medical issues that I’m hoping will get resolved in the next couple or three months—but then after that, I’ll get my new permanent legs. I’ve already gotten to use some demo legs over a weekend, and I can’t wait for the real thing.” “It sounds like it’s all really come together for you. You’ve got a job you love, a solid relationship, and the future looking good with new legs. Plus the resolution of your dreams and recognition of your war service. Just one more thing before we go to our local affiliates; our driver overheard one of your buddies kidding you about being here, something along the lines of, ‘When you finish your careers as a war hero, car salesman, and crime fighter, maybe there’s a career for you in TV!’ What’s that all about—are you a crime-fighter, too?” Willie’s grinning as he says it, thinking he’s getting on the inside of a joke. Uh-oh. The cat’s about to be out of the bag. For the first time, Ryan shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He looks down at the desk for a moment, takes a breath, then looks up, cheeks red, and speaks. “Well, uh … A group of us were all at a bar that one of our good friends owns—he’s here on this trip with me--when a guy tried to rob it. He roughed him up pretty badly, and was about to pull my other half out and force him at gunpoint to drive him away. Another one of our friends, who’s also here on this trip with me, and I worked together, and I hit the robber with my wheelchair and … uh … I … uh … (he looks down at his crotch) incapacitated him and my buddy punched his lights out. At that point, the police arrived, and it was all over. So, no, I don’t know that I’d say I’ve had a crime-fighting career.” At this point, Willie starts to chuckle; he’s made the connection between the look Ryan gave to his crotch and the word “incapacitated”. “Wait a minute … you hit the robber with your wheelchair in the groin?” The frat boy humor isn’t lost on Ryan and he’s got a big grin plastered on his face. “Well … yeah. Then my buddy slugged him and he went down, and it was over.” Willie’s openly laughing now. “Well, that sounds like a pretty good start of a crime-fighting career. Good for you!” Then turning to face the camera, Willie ends the segment by saying, “We’re proud to have a car salesman, a crime fighter, and the latest Medal of Honor winner, Sargent Ryan Gregory, here as a special co-host this half hour. Stick around for our next half hour after your local news and weather—maybe we can convince Ryan to stay with us a little longer. Ryan, thank you for your service to our country. We’ll be back in just a few moments.”
  29. 1 point
    Chapter 22 – In Which We Have Breeders for Dinner The curving lines of Preston’s back emerged as he propped himself up on his elbows and the sheets slid down to his hips. “So, you only get a few days after Christmas before you have to be back,” I said. “Uh huh, they want us back on the 28th.” His arms folded down and he rested his chin on them. “Can’t trust a bunch of college kids to not miss a flight.” He still wore the afterglow from earlier and that silly green bow tie with nerdy glasses on them. He’d said it was unusual to buy a bow for your own Christmas present when he tied it on. I hadn’t meant for him to actually wear it, which probably made it no different than the bracelet he’d given me. “And then, you’ll fly back on New Year’s.” “Oh my, you’ve memorized my itinerary,” he purred. “Admit it—you’re going to miss me.” I traced my fingertips up his arms and over his shoulders. “Somewhat,” I said. His full mouth drew into an artful pout. I ignored it, and instead followed the valley his muscled back formed at his spine to where it terminated at the two dimples above his butt. His hips arched up as my fingers traced lower, skimming over his back and peeling the sheets off his ass. “You won’t last a week before you’re desperate to hear the sound of my voice,” he said, aforementioned voice low and breathy. “I’ll manage,” I shrugged, listening to him starting to pant as I traced circles over the twin mounds. “What about you?” “I’ll be absolutely inconsolable,” he sighed dramatically. “Guess we’ll have to make do without,” I said. My fingertips slipped between his cheeks to tease his tight little hole with each pass. Preston lifted his hips against my hand. “Or make excuses,” he gasped. I grunted in agreement and closed the distance between us, taking his mouth as I slid a fingertip past in outer-ring, and found him still wet from our last session. He arched his back, inviting further intrusion, and sucked my tongue into his warm mouth. I invaded him—fingers and mouth prepping my little present for another taking. Whimpers and sighs filled the room, growing in volume against my lips. I broke away from him to roll on a condom and watched him quiver with need while I slicked lube over my cock. He’d still not moved from his position, only stretching out his arms to lie fully on his stomach, and I decided I wanted to take him just like that. I slid the towel and a pillow under his hip before I stretched my body out on top of his, settling most of my weight on my elbows and knees, while leaving enough to press him into the mattress. My cock nudged between his pert cheeks, and I rained kisses along his neck and shoulders as I ground my hips into his. Jameson had always told me that I was too weird for most guys to find attractive, that the only thing going for me was my cock. I could definitely get a guy on my dick if he knew what I was packing, but good luck if I wanted more. I’d resigned myself to monkhood after he left since I knew that no one would be interested in me. Then along came Preston. Technically, Cory came first, but he was drunk, so that didn’t count. Preston was beautiful—masculine, but still beautiful. I had no idea what he was even doing with me. Perhaps my ex was right, and it was my dick, or my ability to use it. Or maybe I was convenient. All I knew was that I couldn’t get enough of his back. I shifted my weight to my left and freed my right hand to wander over his skin—skimming over from flank to hip. “Goddamn, Indie,” he panted. “Just fuck me.” I suppose I could question my luck, or I could enjoy it while it lasted. I reached between us and nudged my head down. He hissed as it popped into him, whether in pain or pleasure, I wasn’t sure, but he didn’t ask me to stop. If anything, his writhing hips urged me to press deeper. I worked my hips in slow, shallow thrusts, listening to him moan and babble beneath me. More. Please. God. Oh. Fuck. These words, over and over, whined out, as if every one of my thrusts forced another string of syllables from him. His back arched higher, almost painfully, until my hips smacked into those perfect globes when I bore down into him. I slammed into him faster, sweat creating a frictionless glide between our bodies, bringing his voice up to a wail that he quickly moved to bury in a pillow. Pillow-muffled cries mingled with my harsh breaths. In all this, my left hand found his and, fingers interlacing, made another point of contact between us. My climax neared, spurred on by his eager movements under me, and I shifted so that I could reach under him with my free hand. I wrapped my fingers around his cock and used the force of my hips to fuck him into my hand. I varied angles until I fell upon one that produced an endless stream of oh fuck. Arrhythmic pulses along his inner walls, swelling twitches against my fingers, his fingers gripping mine, the wild abandon with which he flexed his hips pointed the way to his orgasm. I gave myself over, mindlessly fucking the wailing man as I brought him off. A few more thrusts, and I followed, breathless and sweaty. We tangled up together after we’d cleaned up. Strange that I’d always found it hard to sleep comfortably with a man I’d been in love with for years, but had no issues sharing a bed with a casual partner I’d known for a couple months, at best. It felt right, as if Preston had been made for touch and warmth. He only stayed over a few nights a week, but for some reason, those were the best nights of sleep ever. I pulled Preston close, tucking his body against my chest and wrapping my arm over his stomach. He grabbed my hand, snuggled it to his chest, and, with a contented sigh, fell asleep. For someone who’d gone without physical intimacy for nearly two years, you’d think I would be better prepared to handle less than two weeks without a certain pretty boy warming my bed. ~*~*~*~ Efrain and Cory’s teammates, three men of substantial size, stood in the doorway. I’d invited my new friend JJ myself, but the other two, who reintroduced themselves as “Whit-uh-Denholm” and “Bak-erm-Paul”, were recent additions who were actually quite welcome in my home because, unlike Laurel and Mike’s friends, they actually brought decent beer. I could even forgive the fact that they were nearly half an hour early. Efrain had several things going on in ovens and pans, but dinner wouldn’t be ready for a while, and the rest of us were still setting up. “Indie, my man.” JJ, bigass blond teddy bear, held up his fist to pound. I pounded the offered fist and stepped aside to allow them entry. I was even nice enough to relieve them of their six-packs so they could get out of their coats and shoes. “Long time, no—” “INDIE!” The guests froze in various stages of entry and removal of outerwear as Efrain bellowed from the kitchen. “COME RECLAIM YOUR FUCK TOY BEFORE I PUNT IT!” Preston’s puppy yips and Cory’s kitty meows flowed in the wake of his roaring, and the guys exchanged puzzled looks. JJ just shrugged and continued kicking off his shoes. “But you aren’t on any special teams,” Cory said. “I FUCKIN’ MEAN IT, INDIE! RIGHT OVER THE—God, your nose is fucking cold.” “Oh, you’re right, he does smell good,” I heard Preston snickering. I caught Laurel, Mike, and Gio silently laughing their asses off in the living room, where Laurel had been directing us to put the various pieces of furniture we’d collected from the rest of the house. “RIGHT OVER THE GODDAMN COUCHES! Would you fucking stop that?” This was met with more laughing yips and meows. Another song from Cory’s chimera of a playlist started up—fuckin’ Closet Freak by CeeLo Green. Fitting, almost as if he’d planned it. “ALREADY GOT MY OWN TRYIN’ TO DRILL A HOLE IN MY LEG—” A sharp slap, followed by Cory’s incensed squawk. “Quit trying to put your hand in my pants.” “Yeah, Cory. No handjobs in the food prep area.” “I wasn’t…” “You were!” Denholm shot his teammates a puzzled look. “They wouldn’t really…” I shook my head at the formidable brunette, but didn’t clarify that, as far as I knew, I’d been the only one fucking around in the kitchen. “I DON’T NEED YOUR—why the fuck are you licking me?” “Never complained about it before.” “Does he taste as good as he smells?” “No! Do not li—” “Quick! Grab his hands!” Preston’s maniacal giggles filtered out over the sounds of a minor scuffle. Sounded like Wolfie was being subdued by two very determined bottoms, both of whom had been trained to take down guys bigger than him. “INDIE!” I pinched the bridge of my nose and started forward, aiming to rescue Efrain if only to shut him the fuck up, but half a dozen hands shot out to yank me back. The trio in the living room also made similar gestures that I was to stay right where I was. “Are they always like this?” Paul whispered. “Loud and obnoxious?” I whispered back. They nodded in understanding. “Seriously, why do you have to lick me, too? I’M SERIOUS, INDIE! OUT THE BACK FUCKIN’ DOOR—” “He said back door,” Cory tittered. “INTO THE YARD—” “Oh,” Preston cooed. “In the good ol’ outdoors.” “RIGHT OVER THE FENCE! What the fuck! Now you’re biting me?” Preston said something indecipherably muffled by what I assumed to be a mouthful of Efrain. “THE NEIGHBORS ARE GONNA CALL ANIMAL CONTROL ON HIM!” Paul’s lip quivered in poorly suppress laughter. “THEY’LL PUT HIM DOWN IF HE’S BITING PEOPLE!” “Chill, vato.” “Yeah, chill, vato.” Or, at least, that’s what I thought Preston had said. From the muffled speech, he still hadn’t stopped biting Efrain. “God, Ima kill Laurel for teaching you about mojitos.” I noticed Laurel giggling in mad glee. “But, you like me when I’m drunk.” Denholm’s eyebrow lifted. “I’m still cutting you off—fuck, just how long are you going to bite me?” He sighed heavily. “INDIE!” Preston’s muffled giggles filtered out of the kitchen. “I’M ABOUT TWO SECONDS FROM CALLING THE DOG CATCHER!” Cory’s chuckles followed. “Give me that fucking glass.” “But, vato…” Cory mewled over the thunk of a glass slamming on the counter. “Dry humping me ain’t gonna get you—would you get off my fucking arm? Swear to fucking God—INDIE!” I sighed and moved toward the kitchen, hoping to shut my roommate up, and the new arrivals followed. The tableau that awaited us was all the overheard conversation had promised and then some. “Well, ain’t that cute,” JJ snickered and I heard a click from my other side, as if someone had snatched a photo. Three sets of eyes tracked to our location, frozen in differing expressions of “caught in the act”, all while CeeLo’s backup singers called out “Freak!” in the background. Cory had himself wrapped around Efrain, subtly restraining him, with his lips stuck in the middle of pressing little kisses to Efrain’s neck. My pretty little bedmate stood on Efrain’s other side, both arms holding Efrain’s arm captive while he gnawed on the bicep. For his part, Efrain played the “unwilling victim” part well, but was having a hard time hiding that he enjoyed Cory’s affections. His displeasure at Preston’s attentions probably helped. I’d spent so much time the last couple days trolling Efrain with videos and pics of yorkies and cats play-fighting that it overlapped with my mental image of our respective toys. Preston’s body language had excited puppy written all over it, complete with a wildly wagging tail, but his eyes and the grinning edges of his bite looked downright vulpine. Cory, on the other hand, appeared to be doing the human equivalent of rubbing himself against Efrain’s legs. My imagination supplied a contently curled phantom tail and a trill of pleased kitten purrs. Both men appeared to be impeding progress on the spread of ingredients Efrain had been prepping, and he looked severely displeased by this. Cory lifted his head and greeted their friends because Wolfie still seemed too outraged for words at the moment. “Sup,” Cory said, seemingly unaffected by being caught. Efrain used the distraction to extricate himself from their clutches. He stabbed a finger at Preston and tersely mouthed, “Get him.” Paul snorted. “Oh em gee, guys, the breeders now out-number us,” Preston said. “Guess we gotta butch up.” He then pulled his face into an exaggerated tight-lipped scowl, made all the more hilarious by how closely it resembled Efrain’s expression. JJ and his friends chuckled, which made Efrain scowl harder. “Oh, relax,” Preston said, and lightly slapped his arm. “Have a drink.” He then turned to the football players who’d followed me in. “We made mojitos. What some?” I used that as my cue to stick their beers in the fridge, and offer them some we’d already chilled. “They’re really tasty,” Cory said, pulling back to face us. “I’ve already had two.” “And now I’m cutting you off,” Efrain said, frankly. “Like hell you are.” The phantom tail twitched in annoyance behind him. “Watch me.” “Gar-uhm-Rain’s bitchfits aside,” Denholm said. “For one, I ain’t no goddamn precipitation, so quit putting my name in your mouth like it’s a fucking weather report—” “It’s pronounced kinda like Ryan, but, you know, with, like, an e sound,” Cory offered. Somehow, I was sure his boyfriend would be dealing with Whit-uh-Denholm and Bak-erm-Paul calling him Gar-uhm-Ryan in the near future. “—And two, I am not having a fuckin’ bitchfit.” “Whatever you say,” Denholm laughed, and pulled up a barstool at the island. “I was just going to say it smells awesome in here.” “Yeah, you’ve been holding out on us, Wolfie,” JJ added. “And you never told us what we were eating,” Paul said. He and JJ joined their teammates at the counter with their beers. I figured I might as well grab a seat and look like I was doing something before Laurel put me back on furniture duty. “I didn’t tell you because you weren’t invited,” Efrain shot back. “I needed a wingman,” JJ said. “Berta’s bringing her friend, Luz. Apparently, Kitten invited her.” Cory gave an innocent shrug. “Still doesn’t explain him,” Efrain said, pointing at Denholm. “I wanted to come,” Denholm said, as if that was supposed to settle the argument. “So what’s cooking?” “We’re having Cuban,” I told them. Efrain heaved a dramatic and beleaguered sigh. “Mojo roast pork, saffron rice with pigeon peas and chorizo, roast yucca...” he listed. As he spoke, Cory’s hand crept closer to his confiscated mojito. “...Fried plantains, chimichurri sauce to go on whatever.” Efrain’s hand shot out and delivered a sharp smack to Cory’s creeping hand. “There’s salad, too, although I doubt anyone will eat it.” Cory’s eyes widened in shock, before narrowing. I decided to add some phantom cat ears, folded back, ‘cause why the fuck not. “Wow,” JJ said, which I think had more to do with the smack than the menu. Paul and Denholm seemed too shocked to comment themselves. Instead, we watched as Cory’s arm slowly extended behind an oblivious Efrain. “Oh, and Laurel made mojito cupcakes,” Efrain added. “She just finished frosting them a little while ago,” I said. “We helped,” Preston said. I was pretty sure, however, that “ourselves to the alcohol” should have followed as I distinctly recall the three of them spooning as much of the rum-laden mojito syrup into each other’s mouths as they did over the cupcakes. And that was in addition to doing shots of the rum as Laurel baked. “You got in the way,” Efrain growled before turning to me. “Now, if you want din—” He jumped, his eyes widening slightly, with a small squeakish hiccup. Cory had struck, pinching the ass cheek on his opposite side. Preston threw up his hands as Efrain rounded on him. “I did nothing!” Cory capitalized on the distraction to grab his mojito and move to the bar stools on the other side of the island before he took a sip. “Mission Accomplished.” Denholm nearly choked, and Paul cocked his head, as if confused. “Thanks, Preston.” “My pleasure.” Efrain glared at Cory. “Yo no te golpeo lo suficiente.” “No, you don’t,” Cory told him with a grin. “But, we could fix that later.” Efrain’s eyes narrowed, but he eventually sighed and went back to his tasks, moving between the prep top, stove, and ovens, while casually sipping a beer, as if planning and preparing a meal for eighteen during finals week was a normal occurrence. This, of course, seemed pretty likely, if even half of the stories he’d told me about working for his mother were true. “At least eat something other than those nasty ass bloodworms.” “Bloodworms?” Paul asked. I pointed to the strange concoction inhabiting a plastic container on the island. “Fuck, Ri-uh-Adrian was eating these the other day,” JJ said. He pulled the container to him and Cory handed him a short bamboo skewer. “No idea what he puts in it, aside from gummy worms, but it tastes so goddamn good.” “Just lucas and chamoy,” Cory shrugged. “Chili-lime salt and a sauce made from pickled plum brine,” I clarified. While I wasn’t exactly a fan of the bloodworms, I’d been discovering other uses for my new favorite condiments. Cory and I had demolished a bottle of each on fresh fruit cups alone. “Good to know,” JJ said and speared a worm. Denholm and Paul grabbed their own skewers to try out Cory’s Mexican candy monstrosity. However, when Cory went to get some for himself, Efrain paused in the middle of tossing yucca with olive oil and spices to bark at him. “Real food, acho. I’m not dealing with your drunk ass all night.” “But, it’ll be awhile before dinner’s ready,” Cory complained. “Oh, I know!” Preston said and went to the freezer. He pulled out the plastic freezer bag of the apple cinnamon pancakes left over from last Sunday and tossed one into each of the four toaster slots. “Are those what I think they are?” Paul asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Preston said. The toaster popped up, and he pulled out one to hand over to Cory, and another for himself. Both men bit into their respective snack, and Cory made a contented noise around his mouthful of pancake. Preston came to stand between my knees and lean back against my chest. He held up his pancake so I could take a bite. “Hm, not bad.” “I told you they’d freeze well,” he told me. I put my head over Preston’s shoulder for another bite as a series of inarticulate and insulted words fell out of Paul in rapid succession before he finally settled on, “That’s not fair!” “Hey,” Denholm shrugged, “they put out.” “Yup. Blow ‘Rain, get pancakes,” JJ added. “Paul’s not getting anywhere near my junk!” Efrain glared at Preston and Cory, who didn’t have the decency to look ashamed of their baiting. “What?” Preston said, nibbling on his treat. “It’s not my fault he can’t do simple subtraction.” “Four-slot toaster, bro,” Cory said and pointed to where two other pancakes sat for the taking. “Shit yeah!” Paul scrambled off his stool and sped to the toaster, nabbing both remaining pancakes. He was nice enough to pass one to JJ, who split it with Denholm. While the other two munched on their halves, Paul held his pancake in his mouth, pulled a thuggish face, and snapped a selfie. I’d later find out that #pancaketimemuthafucka had been tweeted along with the pic. “Should send Mart-uh-Greg this. Fucker messin’ with me about getting pancakes.” “You know,” JJ said, ignoring Paul’s bitch/pancake selfie fest. “I’m just gunna say this: y’all listen to some weird shit.” I nodded in agreement. While I’d enjoyed some of the songs Cory’d put in that playlist (like a metal cover of “Let it go” that actually made the damn song palatable), some of them had me scratching my head. Cory was a bit of a sponge with music, absorbing sounds from everything he encountered. He had music his brothers listened to in their teens, and music he danced to with his friends. Even some of the EDM and hip hop that Efrain favored, and the indie(ish) music that Preston liked. My music ended up in there somehow, as well as Gio’s. But, like a sponge, some of his music stank. “I still wasn’t convinced that y’all swing that way,” Paul said over Yelle’s Ba$$in, a French electropop tune about shaking one’s ass to get a guy’s attention. “I mean, none’y’all have limp wrists or talk with a lisp—” “I did lisp for the first few weeks I had braces,” Cory laughed. “And there was that one time I fell off my skateboard and sprained my wrist,” I said. “You don’t walk funny, either...” Paul continued. “I guess he’s never seen Cory after Wolfie’s had his way with him,” Preston whispered to me. “...But, damn, Cory,” Paul said, “your music is gay as fuck.” “My nuts are about shrivel up and fall off just listening to it,” Denholm said. “Hey, just because your masculinity is weak enough to be threatened by something as silly as music,” Cory said, “doesn’t mean mine is, too.” Preston giggled. “You should see some of the Japanese bands he listens to,” Efrain said. “It’s like someone put an entire boy band in goth drag and gave them instruments.” “To be fair,” I said, “most of them know how to use those instruments.” “But, still,” Efrain said. “Some of those guys could pass for women. It’s...unsettling.” “What the…” JJ suddenly said. He pointed to Efrain’s screen, where the playlist switched to the next song, providing the straight football bros with a new distraction. It was one of those plaintive slow songs about the loneliness of being with a lover who wants more than the other can give. But, that was hardly the interesting part. The singer, dressed in simple flesh-toned bra and panties, sang in her airy whistle-high voice, all while contorted in the strangest poses in some kind of elaborate Japanese rope bondage that utilized her own hair. “Is she…?” Denholm said in confusion. “I found her while looking for stuff from Pendulum,” Cory said. “Other than the name, it was odd to find trip hop mixed in with drum and bass, but she’s awesome.” “And her music videos are weird as fuck,” Preston added. “There’s one where it’s just some big black guy shoving his fingers in her mouth.” Efrain smirked. “Speaking of her mouth,” Paul remarked. “Damn, those are some DSLs.” JJ and Denholm grunted in agreement. And then, the three of them sat, pancake in one hand and beer in the other, both mostly forgotten, transfixed by a chick in her underwear suspended in a half-split by hair shibari. ~*~*~*~ The way Lacey and her boyfriend acted put me in mind of a skittish animal being coaxed into an unfamiliar and frightening situation. It didn’t not help matters that my best friend’s boyfriend had demanded that they either be here on time or starve. I don’t give a fuck if he gets a speeding ticket—I am not reheating this roast. And, why the fuck does he have a fuckin’ sports car if he doesn’t have the balls to speed? Tell him to man the fuck up and get here. Of course, Efrain had been loud enough to be heard over the phone. And, of course, Clint’s “fuckin’ sports car” was new enough that they had Bluetooth calls enabled. So, of course, Efrain’s message went directly to the intended recipient. Lacey and Clint were fifteen minutes late, but still considerably early by party standards. They did manage to arrive just as Efrain and Cory were putting the last dishes into the serving dishes that Consumer Whore Claire had so graciously donated to chez Indie, and had plenty of time to settle into the group. Laurel sent me to grab drinks for them, which was probably the only reason I’d been let back into the kitchen after Efrain had kicked Indie and me out of it (okay, so his pissy mood may have had more to do with Indie trolling him with kitten vs. puppy videos, and me being, well, me). Clint entered the house willingly enough, but seemed to have issues with moving farther that the foyer. Chef Boyardiva yelling at him to grow a pair may not have helped matters. Or that he’d very helpfully cued up “Man Up” from The Book of Mormon in time for their entry. “Wait,” Indie said, “is that Olaf singing about ‘manning up all over himself’?” “Not helping,” Laurel said. “Come on, Clint,” Lacey said in her creaky vocal fry and patted the seat next to her. “Everyone’s in the living room.” “Come in,” Mike said. “It not like we’re going to bite.” “Don’t know about that, man,” Clint said. “Last time I was here, the blond one threw the Puerto Rican one against the wall and started dry humping him.” Cory’s outrage was audible even over his friends’ laughter. “I did not!” “You so did,” Meggie giggled from the couch. “Almost knocked poor Wolfie out.” “Y’all might wanna turn the volume up,” Lacey mimicked, her fry mixing with his Texas drawl. “I get pretty loud.” Laurel and Meggie had joined her mid-mimic, then all three fell into mad giggles. Poor Cory turned red. “And this guy,” Indie, seated in the recliner we’d been sharing, pointed at Clint, “looked like he’d just witnessed all the world’s most unspeakable atrocities rolled into one horrible moment.” “Dude, he lives in a frat house,” Meggie’s boyfriend, Drew, said. “I’m sure he’s seen worse than two guys making out.” “Bro, not cool,” Clint groused. He was still baulking by the time I returned, so I waved the beer past his nose and whistled. “Come on, boy, you can do it,” I said, as if talking to a potty training puppy and not some rich kid frat bro. He glowered at me. “What? Is it the whole entering-a-pit-of-gay-vipers thing? You know, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” I walked over to hand Lacey a glass of wine. “Besides, it’s not like you’re outnumbered. The other breeders will keep you safe.” I pointed at the seat next to her. “Now, sit.” Clint begrudgingly took a seat, and I handed him the beer, but it seemed the puppy play wasn’t over as Lacey started ruffling his hair. “Who’s a good boy?” she cooed. “You’re a good boy!” “I like her,” I told Indie as I settled in the chair with him. “You would,” he sighed. “So, when did it happen?” Berta asked. “When did what happen?” Lacey said. “Kitten mauling Wolfie in front of a live audience,” Luz said, who’d made herself comfortable in Paul Baker’s lap as soon as she’d walked in. Bitch was bold. Just sat down and said, “A little birdie told me you’re the wingman.” She’d then demanded that he distract her so her friend could get laid, a situation that Paul seemed more than happy to comply with. I’d called her out on being a slut, and she was all like, “Says the guy riding the Asswrecker.” I had decided then that if I suddenly turned straight, I’d marry that damn skank. Of course, when I told her that, she said that if she suddenly turned desperate, she’d marry me, too. Seriously. Fucking marriage material right there. “Sometime in October,” Mike answered. “Oh yeah, that night we got Cory drunk,” JJ said. “We were tryin’ to get him thoroughly shit-faced,” Paul said. “But, ‘Rain had to ruin our fun and take him home.” “You almost had them throwing down in Lith-fuck-Mitch’s hallway.” “Cory can be a handful when he’s drunk,” I said. “Like you’re any better,” Berta said. “Remember when he and Preston decided to hook Marina up with Delia Reid?” Luz laughed. “Oh my God,” Berta laughed. “That.” “Do I want to know?” JJ asked. “From what I hear,” Gio said, “Cory started a four-way make out for ‘research purposes’.” “When the rest of GSA found out about that, some of them insisted they get a smooch in on him, too,” I said. “I think he kissed half the people at that party before we had to leave.” I paused. “Come to think of it, he was drunk for that, too.” “You called him LipService for days,” Gio said. “Our boy does seem to lose all sense of shame when he’s drunk,” Berta said. “That…is not entirely inaccurate,” Efrain said, grinning as he and Cory walked in. “That is completely inaccurate!” Cory argued. Efrain ducked the pot holder Cory tossed at his head and patted his cheek before calling us to dinner. Cory’s eyes narrowed at his retreating boyfriend’s back. “You could cut him off until he behaves,” Lacey suggested to him as we made up our plates. “Do it to Clint all the time.” “Only when she can’t think of a decent comeback,” Laurel whispered to me. “I could,” Cory said. “You could,” Efrain said. “But, a couple beers on an empty stomach, and I’d have to pry you off with a crowbar.” I cut in over Cory’s retort. “As entertaining as this little show is, I understand Drew has something else planned.” “Oh, yes, gimme a moment.” Drew set aside his plate and began connecting his laptop to the TV. “What is it?” Laurel asked. “He’s been kinda secretive about it,” Meggie said. “Anytime I asked, he’d just say you’ll see and start giggling.” Indie grinned, seemed he was in on the secret, too. “Twilight.” Everyone turned to him in surprise. “He’s got the entire Twilight saga.” “You can’t be serious,” Paul said. “Completely serious,” JJ said—apparently the three of them had colluded on this little venture. “So, guys, are you ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’?” Drew chuckled. “I dunno, man,” Indie said. “Haven’t quite decided who I’m rooting for, either,” JJ added. “I know, right? Such a hard choice,” Drew said. “I think it’s a little like chicks who cheer for their boyfriend’s favorite teams because they don’t know shit about sports,” JJ mused. “Good point,” Indie said and turned to me. “Hey, Preston, are we ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’?” “’Team Real Man’,” I said. The other guys chuckled, more at the sounds of female outrage than the comment itself. “This better not be one of those parodies,” Lacey said. “Not at all,” Indie answered as Drew pulled some DVDs out of his bag. He’d brought all five movies, and flashed the discs at us, just to prove that he hadn’t switch out the DVDs as a prank. Gio’s eyebrow climbed up his forehead. “You’re really going to make us watch Twilight?” Drew, Indie, and JJ smiled, the only people with penises in the whole room who were excited about watching the chosen movie, and I got a strange feeling about the whole thing. Indie and Drew fiddled with the remotes and HDMI cables until his desktop appeared on the screen. “Oh my God,” Meggie groaned. “I should have known.” “What?” Drew said, all innocence-made-flesh. She pointed at an open window on the screen. “What the hell is Rifftrax?” I said. “You’ll find out soon enough,” Indie told me. It took a little bit to get the timing on the DVD and the Rifftrax track just right. And when he did… “This is ruining the movie,” Lacey whined after less than five minutes. The movie commentary was loud enough that you could just barely hear the dialogue over (which by itself had vastly improved the quality of the film). She huffed about turning the damn thing off, but she had been out-voted by every guy in the room, and even some of the girls got into the fun. “That look is from the ‘guy-you-alert-the-flight-attendant-about’ collection,” Cory laughed. Lacey continued to complain until she finally got into it enough to propose the Line game. Anytime the actors stared at each other for no apparent reason and one of the Rifftrax guys said “line”, we'd take a shot. This soon expanded to include other repeated phrases, like “Whoa! Two dogs doing it!” and “I’m Harpo”. We did double shots whenever they said “L-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-ladies”. I wasn’t pleased that Efrain and Indie made Cory and me take sips of our drinks instead of shots, but we were still decently buzzed by the middle of the second movie. I was glad, however, for the liquid courage that helped Efrain and Cory get comfortable. They’d been a little stiff when their teammates showed up, and seemed a little awkward just sitting next to each other on their side of the couch. But, at some point after we’d eaten dinner and had demolished Laurel’s cupcakes, Cory hugged his knees up to his chest, and a little while after that, Efrain hooked his arm around said legs, which gradually fell over into his lap. By the time Drew started up New Moon, Cory had curled himself around Efrain with his chin resting on his shoulder, and Efrain had his fingers under Cory’s pants leg idly stroking his ankles. When he thought no one was looking, Cory kissed Efrain’s shoulder, and Efrain returned the favor against Cory’s temple. Of course, none of this went unnoticed, least of all by their teammates. I caught Denholm discretely tapping Paul’s shoulder and jerking his head over at Wolfie and Kitten. Paul’s eyebrows lifted at the sight, but then he got JJ’s attention. A discreet picture was shot, most likely to be distributed to the rest of their little group. “I still don’t see why chicks like this so much,” Gio said, as the credits rolled. “Bella and Edward are boring as fuck.” “Can’t believe they dated,” Laurel said, slight note of disgust in her voice. “He could do so much better,” Lacey responded. She was killing me with that vocal fry. “He’s now married to that one chick,” I said. “DSL hairbondage, or whatever her name is.” Paul giggled when he realized who I was talking about. “FKA twigs,” Cory corrected. “FKA whogivesafuck,” I said. Their football bros got who I’d meant. Besides, I think we all liked my version much better. “Please tell me you have more of them,” Denholm said to Drew. I think a few had been planning to eat then head out, but became too captivated by the movie marathon to leave. Cheers went up when Drew pulled out three more DVDs in answer. “We cool for one more?” He directed the question to the room, but waited for Indie’s affirmative to continue, it being his living room and all. I caught Luz whispering in Paul’s ear before he spoke up. “I think I’m going to call it a night,” he said, and then oh-so-casually added, “Berta, would you be cool giving JJ a ride home?” As soon as she nodded, Paul and Luz were off the couch and out the door. “Man,” I said. “That wasn’t obvious at all.” “I wonder how long it will take them to figure out that Cory set them up,” JJ mused. “That was a set-up?” Denholm said. “Yup, he called me up the other night and said ‘Tell Paul you need a wingman, and make sure he drives.’” “Luz said that if I was going to score booty for Marina and Berta, I needed to get her laid, too,” Cory stated. The innocent shrug and matter-of-fact tone simply highlighted that this hadn’t been a simple favor for a gal pal. “Oh my god, Cory.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “What?” “You shady, shady bitch.” “She gave me a shopping list, which had Paul, Mitch, and Adrian right up at the top,” Cory protested. “I just happened to pick Paul.” “You used that poor, misguided ho-bag to take out your rival!” “I did no such thing!” “That is disgustingly adorable,” Denholm muttered. “Holy fuck,” Efrain laughed. “Did ‘Butthurt Baker’ really pose that much of a threat?” “I wonder if they’re still doing the ‘line’ bit in this one,” Cory said, attempting to change the subject rather than try maintaining his innocence. Efrain reached over and affectionately mussed his hair. “What?” God, Efrain’s pancakes were good, but they weren’t that good. His roast, on the other hand. I’d shank a man for that roast. Of course, I knew to keep this on the down-low. Who knows what guy Cory would hook me up with to get my ass out of the way if he thought I was a threat. ~*~*~*~ Efrain’s fingers brushed along my jaw, back to thread into my hair. The small lamp on the nightstand provided enough ambient light to make his hazel eyes gleam. He pulled me to him, to his lips, tongue sweeping my bottom lip, sliding into my mouth. I melted into his body, my hands at his hips, and gave into the urge to rub myself all over him. The length of his gorgeous cock strained against his black boxer briefs. I wasn’t able to see it, but I could still feel it press into my own straining member. The jury was still out on whether the two layers of cotton between us heightened my arousal, or merely impeded my satisfaction. “You really are like a cat sometimes.” He caught my bottom lip between his teeth and gave it a delicious tug. I nearly purred when he pulled my head to the side and trailed little licks and nips along my neck. He hadn’t bothered to shave at all this week, and the sensation of stubble rubbing on my skin was a reminder of his attentions. A bite landed at just the right spot along the juncture between my neck and shoulder, sending shivers up and down my spine. My knees buckled, and I figured I’d fare better on them. I slid down his body, working my tongue over any bit he’d let me at. Along the collarbone, between just barely furred pecs, around the nipples, over his ripped lats—down I went, hooking my fingers over his waistband and taking his boxer briefs with me. His dick snapped back up and nearly slapped his stomach once freed. His ripped as fuck abs, obscenely defined Adonis belt, and tidy little happy trail all pointed to that one magical spot, but I took my time getting there. He growled impatiently, flexing his fingers in my hair and trying to move my head where he wanted it, but I was still stronger than him and able to proceed how I wanted. If he was going to call me gatito, I might as well give him a little kitty tongue bath. I rubbed my cheek against his thigh, watching his dick twitch practically in time with the background music. I looked up long enough to make sure he was watching before I stuck out the tip of my tongue and stole a little taste of his balls. Efrain growled my name, a note of warning in his voice. As much as he liked to tease, he hated to be teased. Any more of my nonsense and I was going to get it later. So, I lapped at his nuts a few more times, and got a shuddering breath on each pass. I really wanted to get it later. Efrain tightened his grip and pulled my head back. He smiled. Granted, it was that I’m making a list sort of smile, but a smile nonetheless. With our eyes locked, I licked up the underside of his cock, from the root up, and wrapped my lips around his head. “Fuck,” he moaned while my tongue ran circles around his cock. The corners of my mouth pulled up in the closest approximation of a smile I could get at while still working my lips and tongue further along his shaft. “Goddamn, I love watching you suck my dick.” He had loosened his fingers in my hair, and simply palmed the back of my head. His eyes darkened, panting breaths parted his lips, as his hips rocked his dick closer to the back of my throat with each thrust. Pre-cum mixed with the taste of his skin, and I moaned. I wrapped my fingers around his base, but he pulled back before I could milk out another drop. “I was having fun with that,” I protested. “You still have to pay for the fun you had earlier,” he said, pulling me to my feet and backing me toward our bed. “I fully intend to take it out on your ass.” My underwear hit the floor, and my back hit the mattress. Only a few moments had been spared to shove some pillows under my hips. His tongue took over my mouth once more, while his fingers made their way down, gripping and stroking my cock, opening my ass, effectively cutting off the chit chat. I wasn’t quite sure how I went from playfully looking up at him while tonguing his “meatstick” to writhing in a whimpering mess of please-fuck-me, but it wasn’t like I had the presence of mind to think of anything beyond getting my legs around him. Efrain’s fingers thrust deeper, taking every last secret he’d mastered in our time together and lording it over me. Our heated kisses saved me the embarrassment of the incoherent begging I’d be doing if my mouth hadn’t been otherwise occupied. Plaintive whimpers became my only means of communicating my needs. I needed his cock in my ass. I needed his hands all over my body. I needed more—deeper, harder, faster. I needed him, but not even thrusting my hips was getting the point across. Either he didn’t understand or was ignoring me, which made me even more desperate. I whined louder as he drove me on, and I didn’t need to open my eyes to know he was smiling. Efrain broke the kiss and whispered in my ear, “Think you can be quiet, gatito?” I nodded. “Good boy,” he said and positioned his cockhead against me. His hips moved just enough to put pressure on my hole until his head popped in. “Oh God,” I moaned. “Quiet,” he said, “or I’ll have to stop.” “Bullshit,” I said. It drove him wild when I got loud; why would he want me to be silent? He lifted his head and cocked his eyebrow. His hips shifted back and his dick slipped out. I whined at the loss. Efrain’s lips were once more at my ear. “Hush, gatito.” He pressed forward again, pushing his head past my inner ring, and my back arched off the bed. I clamped my mouth shut and let him move deeper. For whatever reason, listening to him alternate between shushing me, whispering “good boy”, and moaning about my tight ass made it more difficult to keep silent. My fingers dug into his arms as I shook from the effort. By the time he bottomed out, I was panting hard. It was strange—before Efrain, I seldom did more than grunt and occasionally moan. Now, only concentrated effort kept me from waking up our roommates. Amazing how quickly he’d retrained my body. Efrain’s hips circled, and I gasped every time he ground against my rim. The whispers continued at my ear—hushing me and backing off when I moaned, and praising me and building up when I whimpered—developing into a torturous positive feedback loop as the combined effect of his circling hips and tantalizing murmurs drove me further. The more he talked, the more I quivered from the effort required to not vocalize—which led to more talking, and more quivering. “’Rain, please,” I panted. “I need…” I trailed off in a moan, unable to even finish—the sensations having amplified to the point that it was all I could do to wrap my legs around him. This was almost as bad as holding back an orgasm. “Don’t want to keep quiet for me?” he asked. I shook my head. “Can’t.” “You can’t?” A wicked grin crossed his face. “Then, I guess this would be a bad idea,” he said, and before I could react, pulled back his hips and thrust into me hard and fast, clapping his hand over my mouth just as I cried out. He pulled back and thrust into me again, this time hitting the fuck out of my prostate and my back came up off the bed. “Oh shit!” I cried out into his hand, my body so keyed up that I had no control over pitch or volume, both of which went high and wild as he repeatedly hammered my ass. He’d joked about not beating me enough, and seemed to be correcting the situation by pounding me into submission via my prostate while all I could do was lay back and take it. “Oh fuck!” My nuts hugged up tight at the base of my dick; I was on the verge of cumming, but couldn’t quite get the friction I needed. I tried arching my back to grind into his stomach, yet even that wasn’t enough. However, when I reached between our bodies to grab my dick, he slapped my hand away. “You’ll cum when I say you can,” Efrain said, slowing back to that maddening circling that left me twitching under him. “Lo entiendes, gatito?” “I understand,” I panted. His mouth slanted over mine, and his tongue forcefully dug into my mouth. I whimpered under the onslaught until he pulled back. “Hands above your head,” he said, and I complied. “Good, now keep them there.” He sat back on his heels and moved in long, rolling thrusts. Every muscle in his body engaged in those strokes, from his hard thighs, to his abdomen and chest, and into the defined arms hooked under my legs. I stared at the rippling play of his lats and six-pack. One of the more lucid parts of my brain wished for the mirrors Preston had told me about. He’d included an almost play-by-play of his and Indie’s adventures in the bathtub, and those mirrors sounded like the only way I’d be able to watch ‘Rain’s spine, and the full array of his back muscles, articulate under his smooth olive skin. And, God help me, I wanted to know what his ass looked like as he fucked mine. “Hey!” Efrain snapped. He grabbed my dick and slapped it against my stomach a couple times. I groaned; he’d pulled me closer to the edge between his thrusts and those slaps, but not quite enough to push me over. My fists clenched, driving my nails into my palms. “Eyes up here.” He found his stride, a pace that could keep us both on the cusp of cumming, right there on the brink, then let his hands roam. He pinched my nipples, manhandled my sack, slapped my dick on my abs some more. When Efrain grew bored with watching me quiver and whimper from those attentions, he shoved my thighs to my chest and as far apart as they’d spread, then braced himself on them and drilled into me from another angle. The toe-curling grind against my prostate increased, right along with my need to get loud. I broke his order to keep my heads above my head long enough to grab a throw pillow and shove it in my mouth. “Oh, so that’s the spot?” He sped up, and I let loose. I bit down on the throw pillow and cried out for all that I was worth. “Goddamn,” he moaned, and his rhythm intensified. I needed to cum so bad my dick hurt, and him pounding me harder and faster made it worse. I met his gaze and did my best to plead with my eyes. “Fuck, man.” A shiver slid up his spine, and I soon felt his fist around my cock. “Holy fuck!” A few rough jerks of his hand, and I came hard enough to send cum flying at my face. I was too caught up in my orgasm to notice that he’d stopped fucking me until his grip on my sensitive dick tightened and his finger dug into the back of my thigh hard enough to bruise. “Oh my fucking God.” His hips ground into me, and his whole body shook. “Fuck!” His dick swelled inside of me and, with a low growl, his climax hit us both. He cursed and I whined as we rode it out, his hips working until we were both able to stop shaking. “Damn, that was intense,” I said. “Yeah,” he said with a small laugh. “Trying to edge you wasn’t the best idea.” ~*~*~*~ I looked down at the head resting on my chest, the body flung across mine, the leg hooked over my leg. I’d rode his ass until he couldn’t see straight, then rode his dick until I couldn’t, and despite doing most of the work myself, he was the one who got worn out. I ran my fingers through Cory’s sandy blond hair and listened to his deep, even breathing. At some point in the night, he’d roll off of me, or I’d roll out from under him, and we’d take up on our respective sides of the bed, only to return to this position the following morning as we woke up. To think that I’d be here, holding someone I cared about, when only a few months ago the mere suggestion of cuddling would send me running. Don’t bring them home. Don’t spend the night. And then, Cory happened, and things just changed without me realizing it. My fingers trailed over his neck and shoulders, eliciting a sleepy purr. His hand twitched slightly on my chest when I stroked over his arm with my other hand. My eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that I could make out the basic shapes around us; my mind filled in the rest of the details in our bedroom. Our computers sitting on the desk, his brightly striped Mexican blanket at the foot of the bed, his Stetson hanging on the bedpost, the wood tray in which he laid out his accessories. I looked at the shapes now dotting the wall. I’d never bothered with pictures or posters in the time I’d lived with Indie, but Cory changed that, too. He’d brought pictures of his family and friends back in Texas, and had added to the collection since he’d been in Virginia. Some sat on the various furniture surfaces, and some hung on the walls. Preston made him put the posters in frames because he felt it looked less “tawdry”. I couldn’t care less either way. Instead, my eyes tracked to Cory’s Christmas presents. Apparently, we’d both lied about “no presents”. He fucking loved his tokidoki Tigers, and I was quite pleased with myself that he loved them more than the Chucks with the Pusheens on them. (Take that, you pizza-eating fuck!) He put them on as soon as he opened the box, and made me put on mine. Then, he started doing cute shit, and I was fucking lost. Which was the sole reason I got all weird and fuckin’ melty when he gave me my presents. The bracelet was fucking cool—these dark-brown braided leather cords that wrapped around my wrist set with a long flat band of jet carved with stylized wolves. Indie had snagged my arm the other day to give it a once over, but he and Mike agreed that it was inspired by Native American designs and thus wasn’t cultural appropriation. Not that I gave a fuck. All that mattered was that I could make Cory do cute shit when I wore it. I liked it. He liked that I liked it. I liked that he liked that I… Fuck. Thinking about his good boy grin and those goddamn dimples made my dick too hard and my head too stupid to function, and trying to refocus on his other gifts just made it worse. The dark shapes that I could just barely make out on the walls and whatnot. In the beginning, they were all his pictures, but now I had some of my own mixed in. He’d gotten ahold of them somehow (I think my mom was involved), so there was now a small framed picture of Juaquin, Zoe, and me wearing parts of our father’s Navy uniform, next to the one with Connor Jr., Cameron, Caiden, and him in a field of bluebells that matched their eyes. Pictures of me and my friends joined his. He’d even ordered a print of a picture of us with the Brain Trust that had appeared in the newspaper ages ago. Preston had helpfully informed me that Cory had the newspaper clipping up in his room before we’d even started seeing each other. But, the best part was the pictures of just me and him. Selfies we’d taken over the last few months, the one I’d shown the guys when we came out to them, this picture of the two of us asleep on the couch that Preston had most likely snagged. Cory said that since we couldn’t really post the real “us” out there, he wanted us to be real here. We’d put everything here, on these walls, since we weren’t able to show them on our Facebook walls. I thought about those pictures, and thought about the man asleep on my chest. I kissed the top of his head and enjoyed the feel of him snuggling closer under the covers. I had all these plans for myself and my life, none of which included relationships or coming out to my friends and family. And then, Cory happened and my plans went out the window. I still wasn’t quite sure where this put me, but I think I could be okay with that.
  30. 1 point
    Chapter 21 – Gagging For It Indie refused to acknowledge the stack of bills Laurel slapped into his hand. “Why do I have to go?” he asked. “You were supposed to bring alcohol, not send me to buy it two nights before.” “You always get the good stuff.” She shrugged. “We thought it would be better if we just collected the money we would have spent and had you pick out something worth drinking.” Laurel’s “we” referred to her two best girlfriends, Meggie and Lacey, and their boyfriends, Drew and Clint (the one Efrain and I had traumatized). Efrain, Gio, and I were joining Thursday’s party because we live here (and Laurel wanted Efrain to cook). Indie invited his squeak toy (as ‘Rain had taken to calling him) because Preston would have invited himself anyways, and Gio had a date, too. JJ and Berta were also coming, oddly by Indie’s invite and not ours. “No, you were too lazy to make a booze run before crashing my place.” “Look at it this way,” Mike said. “We would have cleared out your stash instead of drinking the shit we brought over.” “Just imagine a dozen people descending upon your alcohol like a swarm of boozy locusts, leaving you stuck with a fridge full of crappy beer and boxed wine.” I was glad that Keenan lived halfway across the country. I barely handled him and Preston pulling the best-friend double-team on me over Skype; I couldn’t imagine them both working me over in person. “What did you do with all that shit anyway?” Mike asked. Indie pointed over at Efrain and me. “I made them take it to one of their football party-whatevers.” “Thanks, by the way,” Efrain said from his position at the stove. “Most of it ended up puked out all over Matt Carey’s floor.” “It’s my understanding,” Preston said, “that his couch still smells like vomit.” “You see? There is a use for your shitty booze,” Indie said, and shoved the cash back at her. “I know you’re all about poetic justice and everything,” Laurel said, shoving the money at him once more. “But, you’re still going on that booze run.” “I’m not going by myself.” “Fine, take Mike,” she said. “But, I…” Mike started. Laurel turned on him. “But, sweetie, Efrain is busy making dinner, plus we have to menu plan. And, Cory is all tuckered out from moving his old roommates into their new digs, Gio is out with his lady friend, and Preston promised to help me with dessert.” Her tone was honeyed, but you just knew that any refusals would lead to a night on the couch. “My car or yours?” Mike asked Indie. “Thought I’d never get him out of here,” Laurel huffed as soon as they walked out the front door. “What are you up to?” Efrain asked. “My usual antics and shenanigans.” She waited until Mike and Indie had driven off before pulling out three books she’d secreted over in a satchel, then crooked her finger at Preston and beckoned him over. “You, sir, have earned a reward.” “Have I, now?” He walked to Laurel and her stack of what seemed to be yearbooks. The smallest was from a school called Townsend, and the other two were from Bishop. I assumed those were the middle and high schools she and Indie had attended. Laurel cracked open the Townsend yearbook, flipped to a marked page, and pointed. Preston peered at the page. “No,” he gasped. “That's him?” “Absolutely,” Laurel giggled. “I fucking knew he was a blonde!” Preston said. “Cute little shorty.” “I don’t know why you’re calling him shorty,” she snorted. “He was already taller than you are now!” “Whatever.” Preston waved his hand. “But this certainly throws my ugly duckling complex theory out the window.” “He was a pretty baby, too,” Laurel said and shrugged. “I still have no idea why he thinks he’s so unattractive.” Curiosity won out, and I came around to look, and Efrain followed, wiping his hands on a dish towel. Laurel’s finger still pointed to the picture of a cute teen with chocolate brown eyes and a fauxhawk of dark ash blonde hair. Three sets of earrings marched up his earlobes. I thought I knew who that was supposed to be, but looked at the list of names just to be sure. The guy was smiling, not the smile you involuntarily give when the photographer tells you to, but an actual smile—like the kid had something to be happy about. Seemed impossible to be the same guy, but sure enough… “Indiana?” Efrain asked. “No wonder he never gave me a key for the mailbox.” “It gets better,” Laurel said before moving to another marked page, a two-page spread for the boys’ and girls’ track and cross-country teams. “That’s how we met,” she said, pointing out Indie and herself in their respective team pictures. “We both did cross-country in the fall, and track in the spring. I ran the 100m, 400m and relay, and Indie did the 1600m, hurdles, and long-jump.” “That’s fucking adorable,” I said and pointed to a candid shot of Indie carrying Laurel on his back. He’d had his first eyebrow and lip piercings done by then, and his hair seemed to be a different color. Her face still held traces of baby fat and girlhood, but strongly hinted at the woman who’d eventually be sharing yearbooks with us a decade later. “I know, right?” she said. “He got a lot of shit because I was still technically an elementary school kid when we started hanging out during summer training.” Preston and I gave her a confused look, so Laurel flipped over to an unmarked page and pointed herself out among the sixth graders. To the side of her picture, a school friend had written Indiana Norman and the Cradle of Doom. “The fact that I had a huge fucking crush on him probably made the whole ‘cradle robber’ matter worse.” “You had a crush on Indiana?” Efrain laughed. She paged back to his school photo and quirked her eyebrow. “Tell me you wouldn’t try to hit that back then.” Efrain, Preston, and I examined the picture, then looked back at each other. As my boyfriend was in the room, I didn’t think it prudent to mention that my thirteen-year-old-self would have crushed on the attractive teen just as hard as my eighteen-year-old-self had crushed on the hot grad student. We shrugged, getting as close as we were willing to admit that little Indiana had been a little cutie. “Y’all probably hadn’t even hit puberty back then,” she said, and I thought about it. I would have been eight. I still would’ve drooled. “Bitch, you just barely hit puberty yourself.” Preston flipped back to the cross-country and track photos. He pointed to her chest. “Just how much of that is Kleenex and how much is you?” Laurel laughed. “None and none. Wore a padded bra for ages!” She flipped to the last marked page in the small yearbook. “BFFs”, superimposed on an infinity symbol, squatted in the center of the page. Surrounding it were photos of best friend pairs, mostly two boys or two girls. There were some trios, too. Each student had been allowed to sign his or her name as part of the caption. Laurel pointed to hers and Indie’s photo, the only boy-girl pair. They’d drawn fancy moustaches on their index fingers and were holding them under each other’s nose. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Indie act goofy,” I said. “He wasn’t afraid of being a dork or doing something out of the norm,” she said. “If people were going to talk about him, he’d give them something to talk about. Kept them from talking about the things he got tired of hearing.” She closed the Townsend yearbook and grabbed the first of the ones from Bishop, which had only one marked page. “His junior year. I was still at Townsend his first two years.” She opened the book and pointed to his picture. This time, his hair fell over his face in the emo-est of emo asymmetrical fringes. “What color?” I asked. “Bubblegum pink, I think,” Laurel said. “He had a flaming red Mohawk the first day of his freshman year.” I looked back at his photo. His face had matured since middle school, the cutie growing more handsome over those last two years. He’d done the second lip piercing, as well as his fourth set of earrings and the first on his forward helix, the top part of his outer ear. Something else was different this time, but I couldn’t place it. “Okay, let’s get his track pictures,” Preston said. Efrain laughed. “You just want to see him in his little shorts again.” Preston shrugged; as it was too cold to run in anything but pants, he’d yet to see his fuck buddy in the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination shorts he wore in the summer. Laurel had assured him that the sight was worth the wait, but I think we all wanted to see the teen version of our leggy roommate in his running shorts. “There aren’t any,” she said, her mouth drawing into a tense line. “He quit in the middle of track season freshman year. Said he wasn’t good enough to compete in high school. I can't tell you if that was his idea, or Jameson’s.” Laurel looked like she wanted to say more, but just sighed and rolled her eyes and grabbed the last book, so she could show off his senior picture. Graduating seniors got full-color pictures, so once again we saw young Indiana in bright hues. The suit and tie they made him wear contrasted with his alt-scene vibe, but he worked it better than some of the other graduating seniors. Last year’s hairstyle had been allowed to grow out, softening the edges around his face. Laurel identified his hair color, a kind of seafoam green, as Manic Panic’s Mermaid. Only a few more piercings had been added, including the tongue bar according to Laurel. Like his classmates, his name was printed under his photo, rather than listed to the side, along with his nickname – Indiana J. Norman, “Indie”. Unlike them, however, there were no school activities or personal quotes listed. The something that I couldn’t quite place about his last picture was here, too. I was still trying to figure it out, but Laurel pulled back the book and flipped to the last marked page. When she settled the book on a series of Homecoming pictures, Preston bristled. It was easy to pick out Indie’s distinctive looks among the photos of teens in their suits and dresses; he’d shot up to his full-height by senior year, and no one wore as much body jewelry as he did. In this picture, he and Laurel stood in formal wear with coordinating wrist corsages and boutonnieres. For such a perpetual slouch, the almost model-like proportions of his body sure did look nice in suit. And Laurel’s gamine frame, sheathed in a simple satin number, cut an elegant figure. The couple next to them was a sharp contrast. The girl’s frilly confection of a dress gave the appearance of a middle schooler who’d snuck in. The boy’s sloppy mop of curls and loosened tie made him look like a schlub in comparison to Indie. They hugged up on each other to the point of dry humping, as if making up for the respectable, yet companionable, distance between the best friends. The other boy in the picture seemed to account for Preston's negative reaction. “That’s fucking Jameson, isn’t it?” Efrain said. He looked again. “He looks like that guy messing with you that one night.” “Yup,” she said. “Michael Jameson.” I picked up the first Bishop yearbook and flipped through the juniors to find the shithead’s picture, but she shook her head and pointed me to the sophomores. “He flunked freshman year,” she cackled. “One of those gifted kids that flew through everything and didn’t know how to handle things when they got challenging. Just barely made it out of high school.” “You said they’d been together since freshman year,” Efrain said, pointing back to the group photo. “Why is he hanging on this girl?” “Oh yeah, Haiden Coleman,” she said. “Indie used to call her ‘Hoyden’ behind her back. They hated each other.” “Jameson’s beard?” Preston asked. “That’s what he told Indie,” she said. “And he believed him for two fucking years, even after I told him that Jameson tried to feel me up. Twice.” She pointed at Haiden’s stomach. “She was two months preggo when this was taken. Her parents talked her into having it ‘taken care of’ over Christmas break.” “That shit’s cold,” I said. “The only reason I knew any of it was because she was convinced that we were friends.” Laurel rolled her eyes. “She and Jameson split after graduation because her parents bribed her with a brand new car if she went to school out of state. Put a second mortgage on their house to get her away from that piece of shit.” “So, wait,” Preston said. “Did Indie know about them?” “After I told him about Jameson knocking up Haiden,” she said. “But, they still stayed together for over eight years, and it was Jameson that left.” “When he knocked up that other chick?” Preston asked. “Yeah, the one that refused to have it ‘taken care of’,” Laurel said. “Indie mentioned that toad’s habit of shoving his dick in anything that walked and impregnating it,” Preston said. “The fuckwad had the balls to tell Indie that he missed him.” “Missed Indie paying for everything, more like,” Laurel growled. “But, I so fucking love this picture. Pissed Jameson off that someone snagged a picture of him with Indie.” “Even though there were two people between them?” Preston asked. “He was so in the closet, and Indie so wasn’t,” she said. “You know he came out in the boys’ locker room during second period on the first day at high school?” She chuckled at our shocked expressions. “But, yeah, Jameson didn’t want there to be photographic evidence of their relationship in case someone got the idea that he was into the D. Pitched a massive fucking fit when yearbooks came out.” Her smile turned downright evil. “Worth every damn penny.” “For the yearbook?” Efrain asked. “For bribing the yearbook staff,” she answered. “Sold more ads than anyone on staff, I wasn’t even in journalism!” “So, what am I being rewarded for?” Preston said, once her evil giggles had subsided. Laurel pulled out her phone and swiped through a few screens before turning it around for him to see. One of the pictures Preston had taken of him and Indie was on her screen. “I tagged him in all of them on Facebook. You have no idea how thrilled his mother is!” Preston cocked his head to the side. “I just took some pictures,” he said, his confusion evident. Laurel pinched his cheek. “What’s so big about taking pics of friends?” “Everything,” she said. I pulled out my phone and opened Facebook. Lately, more of the pics in Preston's feed featured Indie. I tapped on one of the more recent ones and tilted the screen toward Efrain. “Damn.” “That's what I said," Preston giggled. It had been a surprise seeing Indie suited up. Preston even got some shots of him presenting his research with Professor Collins and Mike, looking more confident than he'd been in the lectures I'd attended over the summer. And then it hit me. I turned back to Indie’s school photos. He wasn’t smiling, I realized. Somewhere between eighth and eleventh grade, Indie stopped smiling in photos, his face becoming a cold, expressionless mask instead. I flipped back through Preston’s pictures, noting the change. Indie hadn’t returned to the grinning thirteen-year-old goofball, but cracks were starting to show in his mask. The Iceman had begun to thaw. No wonder Laurel was happy. “He hasn’t been the easiest person to be around,” she said. “I know it’s impossible to undo everything that shitstain did, but you’ve all helped bring back the guy I remember. I thought you deserved to know a little about who Indie was before…” She nabbed Preston in a hug and gave him a big, dramatic kiss on the cheek. Laurel busied herself with gathering her yearbooks and slipping them back into her satchel, breaking our little moment. A bottle of rum materialized from her satchel, along with cake mix and frosting. “Alright, boys. Who wants to help me booze up some cupcakes?” ~*~*~*~ “You’re insane,” I said. “You know that, right?” Indie shrugged. “Perhaps.” “You’re really going to do it.” “Indeed,” he replied. “But, it’s fucking…” I gestured at the sign above the store’s entrance and just barely choked out the rest of the sentence, “Spencer’s.” “And you’re coming in with me.” I shuddered. As if we hadn’t learned our lesson last Christmas, Indie and I had left our holiday shopping to the last damn minute, and thus found ourselves trapped in a fucking mall. I’d plowed through most of my list last week, but I still had a few things left. More importantly, I still had to get my sister something. I’d been trying to figure out what to do because I’d never hear the end of it if I got her a damn gift card like I did last year. Zoe had been hard to buy for ever since she hit puberty. Shit had been easy when all Juaquin and I had to do was get her something pink and frilly. Now, we had to put in actual effort, as if buying a Barbie doll wasn’t effort enough for a teenaged male. But, for the first time in four years, I had a decent idea. You see, Cory and Rice… erm… Adrian had been going on about these fucking charm bracelets that women in Texas lost their shit over. Adrian had said it was like a gift for yourself as much as the chick. “Dude, you fuckin’ buy her the damn bracelet, then buy the fuck out of the charms any time you have to give her something. Hell, they’ll make a damn wishlist, so you don’t even have to think about what you’re buying.” Cory agreed. “And, if you fill up the bracelet, you buy another one and fill that shit up, too.” Apparently, Elaine Card owned enough charm bracelets to cover her arms, from wrist to elbow, on both sides. “And, if you run out of charms, you buy a different brand and buy the fuck out of those.” I had made the mistake, however, of saying that I should buy one for Zoe, as that led to a lot of, “Who’s Zoe?” I was still kicking myself for not telling Cory to keep my baby sister a secret because he’d not only fucking told the guys about her, but had showed the Brain Trust the fucking pictures that they’d taken with his phone over Thanksgiving. I’d realized too late that he’d never had a sister, of any degree of attractiveness, and had never had to deal with his friends going on about how hot she was (having to listen to his female friends and not-straight guy friends gush about his hot as fuck brothers doesn’t count). Then he just had to tell them that Zoe looked just like Mom, which required photographic evidence. Which he had. When the fuck did he take a selfie with my mom? So, now I had been saddled with yet another social group that wouldn’t shut the fuck up about Jailbait Zoe and Lena the MILF. And add insult to injury, Cory was all like Fun Fact: ‘Rain looks just like his dad, and Lithgow… I mean, Mitch (going to first-name basis with the Brain Trust was a stupid idea, no matter what Baker… fucking hell… Paul thinks) had to stir the pot by asking if Cory thought Dad was hot and thought it was the most hilarious thing ever when Cory said, “Sorry, vato, but Bon’s kind of a DILF.” Which required photographic evidence. Which he had. When the fuck did he take a selfie with my dad? So, yeah, charm bracelet for my jailbait sister… The thought of never having to put actual effort into gift-giving for years, maybe even decades, appealed to me. Even Indie had acknowledged the genius of my plan and decided to come along. Misery loves company and all that shit, but really, I think he just wanted to take the easy way out with Laurel’s Christmas present. And since Cory and Preston were tied up tonight with end-of-semester GSA business, we figured we might as well deal with it while they were busy before mall conditions worsened. Cory had already helped me pick out a bracelet and a few charms to get Zoe started the night before, so shopping wasn’t going to be that hard. I doubted I would be the first, or last, man to walk up to the jewelry counter at Macy’s and throw down a shopping list. Indie, however, didn’t even know where to begin. I doubted he would be the first, or last, man to fall victim to a Macy’s sales clerk. While Indie took his sweetass time, I turned around and leaned back against the counter. Macy’s saw fit to group their female vices on the main floor. We had to walk through the cosmetics and perfume department, and a good deal of the women’s clothing sections, to get back to jewelry. And I ended up looking out over the shoe department when I turned around. Fucking dozens of displays—heels, flats, boots, those stupid ugly as fuck Uggs. But then tucked in a corner, were the men’s shoe displays. My Sperry’s were looking a little rough, but I knew I could get them cheaper at the base exchange back home. However, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look while I was there and was scanning the department for the display when bright colors and patterns drew my eye. I tapped Indie’s shoulder. “Hey, man, I’ll be over there,” I told him, and he nodded, the saleslady still yacking him up as I made my way over to what looked like an array of vintage ASICS trainers, despite the Onitsuka Tiger label. There were a couple styles, with different color combinations, but the prints were what really caught my attention. Just as I’d never heard of Tigers, I had no idea what tokidoki was, even though a quick search on my phone revealed that both companies had been around for awhile. The tokidoki Tiger prints featured little cartoon tigers in different outfits—from kimonos and business suits to street clothes and athletic wear. It all screamed CORY. Loud enough that I didn’t hear the salesclerk sneak up until he was right on top of me. “Can I help you?” “Yeah, sure,” I said. I picked up the electric blue trainers with brightly colored tigers on the side panels, and the black trainers with silver tigers in business suits and fedoras. “Do you have these in 11 and a half?” By the time Indie strode over and plopped down in the seat next to me, the salesperson had come and gone, and I was in the middle of trying them on. “For Kitten?” He pointed down at my feet, where I had a blue shoe on one foot, and a black on the other. They were in two different styles, too, but both fit well enough—plenty of room to fit his wider foot and lower arches. When I told Indie, he laughed at me for knowing how Cory’s shoes fit. “Dude, you are so lost.” I waved my hand dismissively and looked back down at the shoes. “Not sure which ones to get,” I mused. “Por qué no los dos?” he said, almost as if he were trying to rush me. “Because both would be excessive.” “The black ones seem more your style than his anyway,” he said. “We agreed to not get each other anything…” I started. “You lied, big deal,” he argued, very let’s-get-this-moving. “They’re on sale—get both and trade.” I gave into his logic. I think this was what Juaquin had been going on about when he talked about racking up “honey points” with Jennifer in case he fucked up somewhere down the line. A couple pairs of shoes, on sale, just in case I put my foot in my mouth. Could work. Indie pointedly looked down at his watch, like he hadn’t been the one hemming and hawing over the jewelry counter and taking for-fuckin’-ever to shop. I made the split-second decision to buy the damn shoes, both pairs, and was once again thankful that my parents still thought I was young enough to continue to giving me money for my Christmas shopping. But, in retaliation for the impromptu shoe purchase, Indie dragged me all over looking for something for Laurel’s parents. Now he was insisting on piling on further torments. Seriously, fucking Spencer’s. I’d rather have the collective verbal pollution that was the mall Santa que pumped into my ears in a five second burst than walk into the damn place. The store was bad enough, but after Thanksgiving transformed itself into an even lower circle of hell than any level Dante could ever imagine—one that traded fire and brimstone for blacklight and patchouli. Those stupid enough to enter soon became trapped in a hellscape of smoke machine blasts, neon posters, poseur stoner culture, and terrible music. And, my roommate wanted to drag my ass into the thick of it. I looked back at the window, where he’d pointed earlier. A cream colored t-shirt, featuring a grayscale image of Val Kilmer in a flight suit with Iceman in Top Gun lettering underneath, sat with other movie-themed crap. “I need that shirt,” he insisted. He said it would be a quick in-and-out since he was only picking up the one shirt, and I bought it long enough for Indie to find the shirt in his size. It wasn’t until we went to get in line that I realized the extent of my stupidity—the damn checkout line filled the back half of the store as it snaked through the aisles. Indie, however, argued that he really did need this fucking shirt, and that it shouldn’t take that long to make it through the line. However, within five minutes of waiting, Indie found something else he had to have. I was handed the stupid fucking shirt that he needed and asked to hold his spot while he checked out something on the far wall. After the line had shuffled forward a few feet (How the fuck do you only have one clerk at the register? Did they all just go on smoke break en fucking masse?), he returned with two small boxes containing strips of patterned cloth—one in sage with taped-up nerd glass, and one in navy blue polka-dotted with tiny yorkies. “Bow ties? Didn’t realize you were into fashion statements.” I deadpanned. “Or have you and the squeak toy had progressed to the gift-giving stage?” “It’s just what we do,” he said. “He gives me shit, I give him shit, and whatever.” “Since when?” “That’s how it’s always been.” He gave me a funny look. “Cory didn't tell you about that?” “Nope, I just assumed you became a thing because he maddogged you.” Indie shook his head. “After that whole blow-up, he'd been sneaking into my office and leaving hate gifts on my desk.” My eyebrow lifted, and he filled me in. “Fucking fake snow? You're shittin’ me!” I laughed. “No lie. A metric fuckton,” he said. “Preston was even thoughtful enough to include a little toy snowplow and a brick maker.” “And you had no idea it was him?” “None.” “So, why keep this up?” I said, pointing to the ties. Indie shrugged. “It's not like we're going out of our way to do it. Just ‘I saw this and thought you'd get a kick out of it.’ That kind of shit.” Could he really be that oblivious? It didn't seem like he was being dishonest, almost like he truly had no fucking clue about what was really going on. God, all those times he razzed my ass about Cory and motherfucker was just as blind as he claimed I was. The potential for roommate torture grew exponentially the more he ran his mouth. “The fuck you leering about?” “Nothin’,” I said, knowing I lacked the kind of wholesome good boy face to pull off the innocent look as well as Cory could. I think I made a decent go of it, regardless. Indie rolled his eyes and moved on with both ties still in hand. Holy fucking hell, I was going to have fun with this. “How was he even getting in? Pick the locks?” “Apparently, the woman who cleans my building thinks they hung the stars by Preston and Cory.” “Oh, you pissed off the attack twink and the cleaning lady,” I said. He sobered. “Mrs. Gail cornered me the other day and patted me on the face and said Listen here, Frosted Nuts, be good to my boys or I’ll make your life hell.” I snorted and then laughed outright when he hissed, “She used my full name.” “Indiana?” His eyes narrowed. “Laurel told you?” I nodded, and he sighed. “Goddammit.” “Though, not what the J was for,” I said. “Thank fucking God,” he said. “Don’t know how, but Mrs. Gail knew my middle name. Scared the piss outta me.” “Man, it would be hilarious if your middle name was Jones or something,” I mused. “Like, I know that's your mom's…” I trailed off when I noticed Indie’s face paling. “No way!” I gasped. “Well, fuck,” he muttered. “It is, isn't it?” He grunted. “It really is…” “Don’t say it.” “Indiana Jones Norman!” Indie folded his arms over his chest and glared at me. “Where's your bullwhip?” I snickered. “Very fucking funny, asshole,” he muttered. “You should get one; I’m sure your squeak toy would love it.” Indie tried to glare at me again, but got distracted by something over my shoulder. He reached over and pulled small package off a rack. “I’m sure your chew toy would love this,” he smirked and slapped the package into my chest. I fumbled the box, and almost wished I'd left it on the floor instead of stooping to pick it up. The checkout line’s slow as fuck crawl through the store had dropped us at the adult novelty section—a symbol of everything that was wrong with this store. I had spent enough time as a teenager giggling over this section to know what was behind me. Just as there was a wall of pot leaf crap, there was a wall for plastic penises. For some reason, no bachelorette party ensemble was complete without penises. But why stop at the tiara decorated with hot pink marabou and topped off with a plastic penis? Penis ice tray, penis cake pan, penis pasta, penis cookies, penis pens. Of course, this was all available with titties on ‘em. Then they had the “for couples” shit. Fucking lover’s coupons and edible underwear (God, if my sexlife tanked so badly that I needed fucking naughty dice to get out of the vanilla range, I hoped someone would be nice enough to drag me out back and put a few bullets in me). This was the place to be when I was a little shit ‘cause this little rack was where my friends and I had our first exposure to sex toys. It was the coolest place ever when we were high school freshmen and were clueless and desperate virgins. Yeah, I knew what was behind me; I didn't need to look back. I looked down at the white and pink box in my hands. Now, that was a terrible idea. “A fucking ball gag? I think you need this more than I do.” I dropped the package onto his stack of ties. “Half the neighborhood hears him squealing about how big your fucking donkey dick is.” Indie rolled his eyes. “Hell, even you'd benefit.” I rolled my eyes up in an exaggerated “O” face and moaned, “Fuck, baby, don't stop.” “Piss off,” he laughed, putting the ball gag back on the rack. “At least I can form coherent words. All you can do is growl, grunt, and cuss.” “You've been listening at the door?” “No, that's your weird as fuck fetish.” He paused. “One of them, at least.” He narrowed his eyes. “Freak.” “Hey, I wasn’t the one laid out on the weight bench with a twink on my dick.” “Ah, you heard about that, then.” “Heard? Dude, try saw. Callin’ me a damn freak and you had the fucking door wide open.” “Well, you were giving Cory a hand job under my dining room table.” “We won’t even discuss what you two were doing on the dining room table.” “You had him on the washing machine.” “And, you had Preston on my kitchen counters. I hope you disinfected them.” “Like you were supposed to clean all the couch cushions.” “Which I did. If they’re dirty, it’s yours and the cheerleader’s mess.” “I prefer to keep my messy activities to non-porous surfaces.” “Was that why you were playing Naughty Professor: Home Office Edition?” “At least I’m not running up the water bill trying to stage some kinda locker room shower fantasy.” “So you putting Squeak Toy in the bathtub was your attempt at a bathhouse scene?” Indie paused, as if thinking through an idea. “Yeah, you’re totally right. You two are getting enough mileage out of jizz rags.” He started scanning the racks behind me. “Maybe they have a muzzle Cory can strap on you.” “On second thought,” I said, grabbing the ball gag he’d handed me earlier and slapping it back into his hands. “I think this is yours.” “Nope, it’s yours,” Indie said. He picked up the package and pointed out the label. “See, it has his name on it.” For some reason, the box was printed in English on one side, and Spanish on the other, so while Indie pointed to Kitten Ball Gag, I saw Gatita Mordaza de Bola. “Oh look.” I picked up a gag dog toy someone had abandoned and gave it a sarcastic squeeze. “For when you miss your fuck toy over the break.” “I wonder if Cory got him to make that noise,” he said innocently. “You know, they totally fucked around before we got to them. In fact, I remember watching them make out this one time. Fuckers were all over each other.” God help me, but I growled. I guess I was okay with Preston and Cory being a thing at one point, but I sure as fuck didn’t like being reminded of it. “I sometimes wonder what it woulda looked like. Maybe…” He pulled out his phone and started thumbing and typing. “Ah, here—a dramatic reenactment.” Indie turned the screen to me, showing a video he’d pulled up of a fluffy tabby kitten wrestling with a yorkie puppy. The little kitten had puffed itself out was doing that stiff-legged hop thing, while the puppy darted in and out, taunting the cat. “Kinda ruins twink porn, huh?” he said over the sounds of outraged yips and meows. Soft, cute little things that couldn’t do any damage to something half their size, but not even the sense God gave a dishrag between them to keep them from trying. Yeah, that about summed it up. The kitten let out a particularly fierce meow when the yorkie puppy bit its tail. Indie laughed. “Oh, he’s angry. I bet Chew Toy makes that sound when you bite him.” “You and your dick-wanking water jets can suck my left nut, tub boy!” ~*~*~*~ I should have known I was in trouble when Efrain claimed to be doing research. No undergrad had any business “doing research” three days before the end of the semester, and only the most depraved did so while listening to chillstep and stroking a growing hard-on through thin cotton lounge pants. As I had no sense of self-preservation as far as my boyfriend was concerned, I didn’t think fast enough to hightail it out of there. I was in more trouble that I could handle. I’m talking deep shit, here. The kind of wood Efrain was popping spoke to how thorough his research had gone. I imagine very few college students got erections over their studies. Even fewer still issued orders for their boyfriend to strip down and get in their lap. Others would consider it well outside acceptable methodology to shove three fingers in said boyfriend’s mouth and ask, “How does a ball gag sound?” Which was how I found myself straddling Efrain’s rippling thighs in nothing but my trunks as he showed me different sex toys and walked me through various scenarios featuring assorted toys in increasingly complex and absurd combinations. The longer I listened, the more I realized the danger to both my ass and my sanity. The one he was currently whispering in my ear had me strapped to the bathroom door with over-the-door wrist and ankle restraints, and involved a blindfold, a ball gag, two cock rings, and a rather evil-looking stainless steel butt plug. And included his lubed-up fingers in my ass, for demonstration purposes. Since both of his hands were occupied, I had to take over navigating through product specs and zooming in on images. He’d already made me add the ball gag, a roll of sex tape, and these weird plunger things called “lube shooters” (that he promised would be my new favorite thing in the world) to the shopping cart. I swallowed hard around the three fingers still rammed in my mouth, holding my tongue down, even though I’d long since given up on not drooling. The shivers running up and down my spine had nothing to do with the cold air on my bare skin, and everything to do with the low voice weaving lurid images in my ear. The pad of Efrain’s thumb caressed my jaw. “…imagine how the nubs at the base would feel here,” he murmured as he angled his knuckles over my prostate, causing my vision to tunnel until he reminded me to breathe. I was pretty sure my whimpers and shivers would be enough to show him that I already had a good picture of what he was selling, but he still felt compelled to keep attacking. His fingers worked in and out of my hole, knuckles tapping into the tight little knot of nerves inside, and my eyes rolled up. “Focus, Cory,” he growled. His grip tightened between the fingers pressing inside my mouth and the thumb on my jaw as he roughly jerked my head. “Fuck. Here I am trying to share about how much I want to worship your ass, and you can’t even concentrate.” He made me go to the next tab, where another toy awaited my consideration. The black silicon vibrator looked much friendlier than the ten-inch wand of stainless steel on the previous tab, until he pointed out the e-stim mode that would hit my prostate with mild electric shocks. “Perhaps that would get your attention.” I whined. He laughed. The rich timbre rumbled against my ear and I had to tighten my grip on his shoulders before my jerking hips could buck me off his lap. “You want it,” Efrain whispered, the slight hitches in his breathing the only acknowledgement of my thigh grinding against his erection. “Admit it.” I would have agreed had I not been too distracted by the six total fingers stuffed in my ass and mouth. “You know, I think the whole idea is starting to grow on me,” he said, his lips nibbling from my earlobe down my neck. “Having you bound and gagged, while I work your ass over, and the only thing you can do is whine and tremble. I bet I could make you so desperate for my cock that you cry.” I moaned. “How does that sound? Hm? Want me to make you beg for my dick?” I nodded. “What was that?” I pulled his hand out of my mouth. “Yes.” “Yes?” “Do it.” “Do what?” “Please, ‘Rain.” “Say it, Cory.” His half-lidded green-gold eyes and wolfish grin made me tremble and whimper harder. “Tell me what you want.” I took a deep breath and met his gaze. “Make me cry.” “Good boy,” he said before slamming his mouth down over mine and shoving his tongue past my lips. He pulled back long enough to give me specific instructions on how he wanted me on the bed—on my knees in the middle, with both hands on the headboard—and sent me off with a sharp slap on the ass. I dropped my trunks and crawled onto the bed, but he still hadn’t moved. Only after I complied with his sharp “eyes forward,” did I hear the slight sounds of him getting up and moving about the room—quiet footfalls and susurrations of fabric that only served to make me more anxious. I held myself still, even when I felt the tell-tale dip of the mattress as he crawled up behind me, but yelped as his tongue lapped at the small of my back. Lips, teeth, tongue, rough stubble, panting breaths climbed my vertebrae like rungs on a ladder, and fingertips skimmed my flank, until his chest and stomach pressed into my back. Smooth, hot skin, with a nice dusting of body hair and the smell of his cologne. I earned myself another slap on the ass when I flexed my hips back against the hard length nestled between my ass cheeks and leaking pre-cum all over the small of my back. Out the corner of my eye, I caught him unwinding a folded strip of black cloth from his hand—one of the bandanas he wore under his helmet during games. My hands gripped the headboard until my knuckles turned white, but I couldn’t still my trembling. The bandana looped over my head, and I let it slide between my teeth. Efrain knotted the gag and ensured that it wasn’t too tight. “Acho,” he murmured, his voice softened with concern. “‘Tap out’ if it’s too much.” I nodded. We had joked about safe words being like a tap out in wrestling, a discussion that had quickly devolved into me giggling about making him wear a luchador mask, but that had eventually become our signal nonetheless. So far, I hadn’t needed to stop him, but I felt safer in his hands knowing that he would. His hand moved from the knot at the back of my head and threaded through my hair. The gag effectively muffled my moans as his momentary tenderness faded and his fingers tightened on my head. The slight tug arched my neck. Efrain bit the sweet spot between my neck and shoulder and sucked hard, leaving the first in a series of love bites that I would have to explain to my mother over the holiday. He released me and his body left mine long enough to slick himself up before he was back to rubbing his cock on me. I whimpered at every pass his slippery head made over my hole, wedging there but never taking purchase, leaving me breathless by the time he finally nudged my knees closer together and planted his foot on the bed. Efrain positioned himself at my entrance and slowly pressed forward. Pressure built gradually until his cockhead popped into me and he began working himself in. My voice got higher and tighter as he thrust deeper, my moans coming out as high pitched wails muffled by spit-soaked cloth by the time his groin rested against my ass. “Ready to cry?” My “Yes, please!” didn’t quite make it past the gag, but he understood me well enough. Efrain’s arms wrapped around my waist and his hips pulled back. He played with my ass, moving in and out in shallow thrusts, until I wordlessly begged for more. I panted and moaned to the point of hyperventilating, but that only seemed to encourage him to tease me. My frustration mounted as he pushed me so far into a state whining incoherence that all I could do was take everything that he was generous enough to give me. “Ronroneas para mí, gatito.” I barely heard him over the wet, slapping slurps of his dick fucking in and out of my ass and my own screams, but the quiet murmur still lit my body up. Purr for me, kitten. I felt him lean back slightly, his hands at my shoulder and hip to steady himself. His hips rolled smoothly into me, and I snuck a look behind to find him watching where our bodies joined. “Holy fuck, your ass is thick,” he moaned. “God, and tight.” A couple sharp slaps landed one cheek. “Fuckin’ hot.” Efrain leaned back over me, resting his chest against my back and wrapping his arms around me. Suddenly, his control snapped and his hips surged forward, plunging his full length deep into me, then pulling back and plowing forward again. His rhythm built, driving me crazy, and I screamed into the cloth as he filled me over and over. Efrain’s fingers wrapped around my cock and pumped hard. I locked my arms against the headboard and arched my hips back to meet his thrusts. An ache gripped my lower body, drawing up my nuts and tightening my ass on his cock as my climax rose. “Goddamn, gatito,” he growled. “You’re gonna make me cum.” I thrust back into him faster, and felt his hips and hand match me. His cum flooded me, mere seconds before I exploded across the bedding. Efrain’s softening dick slipped from my body and I allowed him to guide me down to the bed. He pulled me close, as we lay there, too tired to worry about avoiding the wet spots. I loosened the knot behind my head, and removed my gag. His kisses brought me down from my high enough that I could finally wonder about my new pet name. I wasn’t even sure if he’d been aware of it, but I definitely liked that he got chattier when he had me gagged. “So, gatito, vato?” “It slipped,” he said defensively. “But, I liked it.” “Whatever.” “I can purr some more for you,” I said, snuggling up to his neck and making little purr sounds. “Knock yourself out, acho.” “Ah, so we’re back to that?” “Gatito, mi gatito,” he sighed dramatically. “Happy now?” “Si, mi lobo,” I purred. “Good, now go to sleep.” “Cualquier cosa por mi lobo.” “Really?” he sighed. “Would mi lobito be better?” “That’s actually worse.” “Mi papi lobo?” “No. Just, no.” “Mi gran lobo malo?” “It’s not too late for me to turn into that guy that kicks you out of bed as soon as he busts his nut in your ass.” He’d growled and slapped my bottom, but still cuddled me closer. “I’d just sit at the door and mewl the song of my people until you let me back in,” I told him. Efrain only grinned and repeated his command that I go to sleep. As we snuggled in post-orgasmic bliss, I wondered if mi lobo understood how much trouble he’d just gotten himself into. ~*~*~*~
  31. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 12 Remembering the horror of that long ago day, Jason shuddered and took a sip of his beer. He felt moisture gathering in his eyes, and he scrunched them tightly together, willing the tears not to come. Eventually, he felt able to look at Paul, into those blue-green eyes that were so like Shane’s. Jason had been afraid that anger was going to be what he saw in them, and he was prepared for that. Maybe even welcomed it as penance. But sadness was what he saw. “Well,” Paul drawled, breaking the silence. “Ain’t that some shit.” “That was some shit,” Jason agreed. “So, what happened after the big scene? Shane would never talk about it.” “I freaked out, Jason said, looking back down at his beer and picking at the label. “I knew I had fucked up big time, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I just wanted to get away. I couldn’t face Shane or Thomas, and I half figured campus police would be after me. I had a friend from engineering who lived off campus not that far, so I went to his place.’ Jason fought back more tears before continuing. “I spent the night on his sofa. I just told him I had a fight with my roommate and needed a place to crash. I couldn’t sleep, and first thing next morning, I went to find Shane to ….I don’t know…. Apologize I guess, even though I knew that ‘I’m sorry’ wouldn’t fix anything.” Now, the tears finally came. Jason couldn’t check them, so he closed his eyes and left them come. “When I got back to the dorm, I saw the ambulance leaving….but I really didn’t think anything about it…..I just wanted to see Shane. I made it upstairs, but when I got to our floor, I saw Billy at the end of the hall with some Tech police…..” Jason broke down in sobs. He felt Paul’s hand on his shoulder trying to comfort him, and it helped. Jason managed to calm down enough to continue, though he couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes. “That’s when I found out Shane had slit his wrists. Thomas heard them talking to me; he must have been waiting by his door…” Eyes still closed, Jason relived that moment. Thomas’s door opening, and the other boy launching himself at Jason, oblivious to campus security and Billy. “You fucking, asshole” Thomas had screamed, “you ruined everything….everything!” He had punched frantically at Jason before the cops had pulled him off and dragged him back into his room. Jason, numb with guilt and sadness, hadn’t tried to defend himself, accepting the blows as his due. Billy had led Jason back to the R.A. apartment and had administered first aid, including stopping the bleeding from Jason’s split lip. Billy had sighed deeply as he dabbed ointment on Jason’s battered face. Jason had tried to wave his ministrations aside. “I’m fine. How is Shane? Where are they taking him? I need to see him.” “Well, you can’t. At least not right now.” Billy had taken pity on Jason. “He should be fine. I went to check on him, and I must have found him right after he did it. They have to hold him in the hospital for a few days...suicide watch….but the paramedics had stopped the bleeding by the time they left.” Jason had tried to stand. “I need to see him...to say I’m sorry.” Billy had forced him back down. “And I am telling you that you can’t right now. For one thing, you’re not family so the hospital won’t let you in to see him. And more importantly for the time being,” Billy had said, “Thomas’s dad is waiting for you in the President’s office. I’m supposed to call security to escort you over as soon you showed up. I tried to call you to warn you, but no answer.” “I forgot my phone in my room yesterday,” Jason had said. “The Senator is here? He wants to see me in Dr. LeBlanc’s office? Shit.” “They’re trying to keep everything hush hush, but Jesus, Jason,” Billy had said in some exasperation, “you assaulted Senator McAlpin’s son in public after calling him a ‘faggot.’ What did you think would happen?” Billy had shaken his head. “I wasn’t thinking,” Jason had said. “Obviously,” Billy had replied. “So what happened when you talked to the Senator?” Paul asked. “He must have left town before I got there. I know the university called Shane’s dad,” here Paul’s eyes darkened in anger and disgust curled his lip, “but the son of a bitch told them that he no longer had a son, that Shane was over 18 and no longer his problem. That little douchebag Charlie had called to warn his uncle that his son was a pervert. “Oh God,” Jason murmured putting his face in his hands. “That was all my fault.” “Not really,” Paul said. “Sure you acted like a right asshole, but Shane’s dad was always a sanctimonious jackass. Especially after he married that holy roller wife of his. They would have found some reason to disown Shane. A bit later down the road maybe, but eventually.” “I know the university offered Shane some sort of deal. Taking his current grades as his final ones for the quarter so he wouldn’t have to make up final exams. They also said he could skip next quarter and start again in the spring without impacting his scholarship. But to get the deal he had to sign some paperwork absolving the university of any blame and agreeing to never speak of the incident again. If they found out he talked about it, they could pull the plug. But it all happened before the hospital tracked me down, and I could make it over. He was so upset about everything, I never pushed him to find out exactly what happened.” “That’s pretty much what they told me when I made it to the President’s office,” Jason said. “The thing about taking my current grades and starting break early and not ever talking about what they kept calling ‘the incident.’ I was so scared.” Jason continued, “but it didn’t take long to figure out that all they wanted to do was make sure the whole thing went away. The only thing the Senator cared about was whether or not I had proof that his son was gay. I told them that I saw texts and emails, and had smashed Shane’s phone. But he kept grilling me about whether or not there was anything else.” Jason paused for a moment, remembering how upset McAlpin had been. “I think somebody searched our room. By the time I went to pack, it had been cleaned up, and there was some disarray from the EMTs, but stuff inside my drawers was messed up….like somebody had been looking through them.” “But,” Jason said, lost in thought, “I was so upset, I can’t be certain it happened or I was imagining things. Anyway, after McAlpin was satisfied I wasn’t going to try to blackmail his son, they let me leave. By then dad was there. It hadn’t occurred to me that they would call him.” Jason’s father had been so cold. He had walked in near silence with Jason back to the dorm and to Jason’s room. Jason had been so worried that there would be blood everywhere, he had hardly been able to think of anything else, not even his father’s reaction. Mercifully, by the time they reached it, the room had already been cleaned; the floor mopped and Shane’s mattress removed. Only after they had entered the room did Ted Reid say anything related to the incident. He had turned to Jason. “Son, they told me that you showed up at the student union, called Thomas and Shane ‘faggots’, and hit Thomas. Is that what happened?” Jason had hung his head in shame. “Yes” “You look a bit banged up, boy. What happened?” “When I came back to the dorm this morning, Thomas jumped me.” “Can’t say that I blame him,” Ted had said, his words like icicles. “Did Shane ever try anything with you? Did he or Thomas ever try to force you to do something you didn’t want to do? Did they ever do something to make you uncomfortable? Did you walk in on them fucking in your room or something like that?” Jason had gulped out a “No.”’ His father had stared at him, eyes boring into Jason’s until Jason had lowered his gaze. “So, let me get this straight…..two boys who were your friends, two boys who never did you any harm as far as I can tell….and let me know if I’m wrong about that…..two boys who minded their own business…….and you decided to out them to the school, making sure that as many people as possible can hear you do that? And you decided to hit one of them….and I’m betting you cold cocked him like a coward? Is that right?” “Yes, sir,” Jason had croaked, his heart that he had thought broken fragmented into even smaller pieces. “And because you had to stick your nose into shit that didn’t concern you, your best friend slit his wrists?” “Yes, sir,” this time came in a whisper. “Look at me, son,” Ted had said. “Look at me, I said.” Raising his eyes to meet his father’s had taken more effort than anything Jason had ever done. “Jason, I know we’ve never seen exactly eye to eye, but I guess that’s not unusual for fathers and sons. But until now I’ve always been proud to call you my son, even if I never told you that enough. But today, for the first time, I am ashamed of you. I am ashamed to be your father.” Ted had turned from his son and walked to the door. “I’ll leave you to pack,” he said without turning. “Your mother has heard an abridged version of what happened. I expect you home by 3 pm.” And with that, Ted Reid had walked out of his son’s dorm room.. Paul’s voice broke through Jason’s reverie. “What happened to Thomas?” Jason sighed. He had to think about another person’s life he had helped fuck up. “The Senator pulled him out of Tech, and he eventually ended up going to some hard core evangelical based college somewhere in Oklahoma.” “That must have sucked,” Paul said. “It’s worse than you think. Thomas didn’t start back to school until the summer." “What was he doing?” “Supposedly he spent the rest of the school year in one of those ex-gay conversion camps.” “Jesus,” Paul exclaimed. “That’s awful.” "Did you ever talk to Shane about this before the other night? I mean I know you can to the hospital and he didn't want to see you...." Paul trailed off. "I tried to. But his number was changed, and when I tried calling his dad's place, every time I asked for him, they hung up. I sent him some letters to your address.....they all came back unopened. And when he came back to school....every time I went near him he freaked out." Jason closed his eyes against the pain of the memories. "I don't blame him," Jason continued. "Anyway, I realized I was just causing him more anquish, so I decided to hold back and wait until he was ready. And then he just....disappeared." Jason looked up at Paul. "I know he moved here with Corey Crowder. Do you know what happened?" Paul became guarded. "What happened to Shane after he moved to New Orleans is his own business. It's not my story to tell." He stood up and walked to the large window, silently staring out and sipping his beer. Jason sat in silence, drained. He had not let himself think about how badly he had wronged Shane and Thomas in years. Even after running into Shane that fateful night….Jason had managed to avoid thinking about exactly how much damage he had caused. Finally Jason broke the silence. “Do you think Shane knows how I felt about him? How I still feel? Paul rose and went to the fridge for another beer, opening it and returning to the seating area without replying. Only after he sat and pulled a long swallow out of the bottle did he answer. “I think so. I know even right after it happened when he was in the hospital…..I know he was upset, but I never got the sense he hated you.” “When this is all over…..if….when he’s well, do you…...do you think I have a chance?” Paul looked at Jason, sadness in his eyes. “Jason, Shane is going through an ordeal...and he hasn’t had time to recover from the last shit storm he went through. I can’t speak for him, but I doubt his romantic life is going to be his biggest priority.” “I know,” Jason felt stupid for continuing, but he wanted hope, just a sliver to hold on to. “I don't mean now. I mean one day, when this all behind him. One day, do you think there’s any chance for us?” The sadness in Paul’s eyes deepened. “Jason, even if Shane comes out of this fine, even if he wants to make a go of it with you….what then? He’s not going back into the closet, and I know he won’t be willing to be somebody’s dirty little secret.” “But….” Jason protested. Before Jason could speak further, Paul continued, “Are you really ready to offer him a real relationship? Are you out to anyone? A friend? Your parents?” Paul paused and stared directly into Jason’s eyes, “Your fiancee?” Jason gasped as Paul’s arrow found it’s target. “Look, Jason, even with everything that went down, I still think you’re a decent kid. And I think you’d be a great friend for Shane, and he’s gonna need friends. But if you think that what Shane needs right now is to be chased by a lovestruck closet case…..” Paul shook his head. He spoke again, “I know you were young and stupid and didn’t mean to hurt Shane. But you did. You have a second chance, a second chance to do the right thing. This time, don’t be a selfish asshole. Before you try to start anything, you need to handle your shit. Understand? Shane doesn't need any more mind fucks.” “I understand,” Jason said in a low tone. There was a long silence before Paul spoke again. “I know you’ve been here everyday, and I can tell you’re exhausted. I got this watch. Why don’t you go get some rest?” Paul said. “Okay,” Jason said and gathered his things. He wanted to protest, but he just felt so,so tired. Defeated. At the door, he paused and looked at Paul. “Bye, Paul. I’ll see you later.” He gave one last look at Shane and left the room. Jason ran into Nurse Nix in the lobby as he waited for the elevator. “You’re leaving so soon?” she asked surprised. “I think Paul wanted to be alone with his cousin for a bit.” “Oh, I see.” She looked at Jason more closely. “Is everything alright? You look upset.” He forced a smile. “I’m fine. Not all trips down memory lane are fun, you know?” Nurse Nix gave him a sympathetic smile. “Don’t I, though. See you tomorrow? Usual time?” “Yes. Bye,” Jason said as the elevator doors opened and his stepped inside. After Nurse Nix had continued down the hallway, the concierge, Patrick, removed his cell phone and rapidly swiped through it until he found a certain contact number. “Hello,” a deep voice answered. “This is Patrick, from the hospital,” Patrick said in a low tone, looking around to make sure no one was near. “You wanted me to let you know if anything unusual happened. Well, Mr. O’Neal’s cousin...Paul, I think….showed up today, and Mr. Reid just left, and he’s not coming back today. He, Mr. Reid, I mean, seemed very upset about something.” “Do you know what happened?” “I couldn’t hear anything. Certainly no yelling or any disturbance. I do know there’s no change in Mr. O’Neal’s condition.” “Still….it’s quite interesting,” said the voice on the other end. “I know it’s not much, but you said to let you know if anything out of the ordinary occurred…” Patrick trailed off. “Thank you. I appreciate your thoroughness.” The line went blank. Patrick took an involuntary look around as he slipped his phone back into his pocket. He felt bad about spying on Mr. Reid who seemed like such a nice young man, but Patrick did have a mortgage and private school to pay for. C’est la vie, he thought and settled back behind his desk. After reaching the lobby, Jason had texted Ramon about his change of plans. Ramon had instantly offered to pick him up and deliver him home, but Jason had refused. His half-empty apartment held no charm for him, especially with his emotions in such turmoil. It was no haven, and had few things to distract him. Instead, Jason called a cab and headed to the French Quarter. He spent the day walking the streets until he couldn’t walk anymore. Then he would find a cafe or bar and sit sipping coffee or soda, watching the crowds with unseeing eyes. After recovering, he would continue his aimless rambling. Eventually, toward evening, he made his way to the Moon Walk, and sat on a bench looking out on to the Mississippi. He found no peace. Every subject that swirled into his mind created more questions: what was Shane involved in, would Shane recover, was Jason fooling himself that he had felt a spark with Shane when they had kissed on Burgundy Street, what would happen with Denise and his parents? Finally, hours after he left the hospital, he hailed a cab to go home. After arriving at his apartment and paying the driver, he noticed something unusual. Light was streaming from his windows. Jason frowned, staring at his front door from the sidewalk; he rarely forgot to turn off lights when he left. For a moment, he was afraid. He pulled out his phone, and his finger hovered over Ramon’s number. Then, he noticed the car parked in front of his house. It was Denise. What the….? he thought. As he stood there in surprise, wondering where she was, the door to his apartment opened, and Denise stepped out onto his porch. “There you are,” she said to Jason in exasperation. “I’ve made dinner. I think it’s time we talked.”
  32. 1 point
    The guys broke camp early in the morning to head back to the cabin. They agreed it would probably be safer since Dean swore he had seen a pair of glowing blue eyes in the bushes when he went to relieve himself. They had gone to see if he was only seeing things, but there were signs of a wolf being there. A very large one with a print bigger than Dean had ever seen. "Okay, that ain't normal," Dean had said. "No, it's not. Break camp, we're heading back to the cabin. I'm going to inform the authorities. Let them handle it. Actually, Dyl, you do that. You can visit Kao after you get to the station and show them the tracks." "Sure thing, Dad." Back in the cabin, Pat set about cooking a simple breakfast. Dylan had gone off immediately, using one of the campground's SUV's to head up the road to the ranger station. "That way you can go visit Kao." "Thanks, little dude." Dean was glad Dylan had thought to do that. They were just finishing up breakfast when a call came to Jon's cell. "Jonathan Davenport," he answered. "Yes. Good, I'm glad he was a help. Even better. Okay, fax the details over to the main line, I'll look them over when I get there. Perfect. You, too, Ranger." Jon hung up with a smile. "Dylan has volunteered to help track the wolf. The big little dude is one of the best trackers for being so young. Travis taught him a lot over the years." "Yeah. I remember hunting with Mr. Andrews. He's scary good at tracking. Colton's good, too, from what little I have seen." Jon nodded. "Colton is the best tracker I know. Better than Travis. He might not always get the signs right, that takes the years he doesn't have, but he always gets his mark." "Cool. So, I'm going to go see Kao. Make sure he's doing okay. Any word if they found his family yet?" "Not that I have heard. Might check with the doctor. I'm sure he'll let you know since it was you who saved the young man." "Wow, he must be young if you're calling him that." Dean chuckled. "He's twenty-four. Young enough." Older than he looks, Dean thought. "I'll be back in a bit." Snagging Dylan's keys, he got directions and hopped in the truck. The hospital was more of a clinic, but it had three beds for such occasions. Kao was resting, reading a magazine, when Dean poked his head in. "Kao?" "Oh! Dean, hey. I'd give you the biggest hug ever for pulling my skinny ass out of the fire, but the doc says stay in bed until my brother comes to get me." Dean nodded and pulled up a chair. "I must have really seemed out of it to you, huh?" "Just a bit, but I'm glad you're okay. Relatively speaking." Kao laughed. It was a joyous sound. So free. "Yeah. Bone sticking out is not a good thing. I'm really grateful for you not listening to me when I said I would be fine." The duo chatted it up for a long time. Kao was from Oregon, his ancestry from Vietnam, and he had been going to BYU Idaho. As a linguistics major, he studied Vietnamese, French, German, and Mandarin. Those alone took up most of his time. Taking the chance during a break, he had gone camping. Then the wolf attacked. "You really, really saved me a lot of pain." "It wasn't a hard choice to make, dude. You needed help, and I was there to give it." Kao briefly took Dean's hand and gave it a bit of a squeeze. "Did...you get this before you helped me?" Kao asked as he turned Dean's hand over to show the small scrape. "Huh. I guess. Might have been when I slid down the hill to get to you. Didn't even know it was there." Dean poked at it. It didn't even hurt. "Since you're here, the doc could probably clean it up. They got some damn painful...Kai." Kao's face paled and got a scared look in his eyes. "There you are. I have been worried sick since I got the call." An older man came storming in. Dean took one look at the perfectly groomed hair, the ramrod straight posture, the cold look in his eyes, and knew this was not someone he would ever like. He looked like some pissed off Vulcan. Kao's reaction was one Dean had seen before. The young man was afraid of his brother. "I'm fine. Dean, this is my brother Kai. Kai, this is Dean, the guy who saved my life." "Nice to meet you," said Dean, sticking out his hand as he stood. Kai looked him over, sniffed in disdain, and then dismissed him. "You should not have run off like that," he scolded as he turned back to Kao. It's like that, thought Dean. "Do you know how this will look to the school? To the family?" "I was feeling...overwhelmed. I needed a small break and school was out for the week." Kao, who up to this point seemed a lively person, seemed very small. He looked like he wanted to sink into the bed and vanish. "That is no excuse." "I think it is time for me to go." Dean stood. "I am glad to see you're alright, Kao. College is rough, so try not to stress too much." Kao smiled briefly at Dean. Kai, on the other hand, was not so nice. "Yes, it is time for you to leave. Your words of encouragement are not needed." "You know what, I don't like you. Your attitude sucks, you seem like the biggest douche this side of the border, and you never once wanted to know if your brother was going to be fine. Honestly, if he didn't vouch for you as family, I would ask the doctor to bar you from this room based on the fact that you're the biggest dumbfuck I have ever met." "Dean, really it's fine," Kao tried to get in. "Quite the opinionated one. I am sure your limited mind could not comprehend the words I could use to describe how little you matter to me. Since I am family, I can and will bar you from seeing Kao. Ever again. Is that clear?" "He is his own man, and only if he wishes will I stay away." Dean was far larger than Kai, but the smaller man did not seem all that intimidated. "He does wish. I..." Kai seemed to think he spoke for Kao. "I hope we're not intruding," came Jon's voice. Dean looked over to see the guys were standing there. Dylan was staring daggers though Kai. Pat was calm, but Dean knew that it was a ruse. Jon...Dean had never seen that particular expression of distaste on his bro's face. Jon cared very little about Kai. "I am sorry if my quarrel with this man here has given offense. I shall try to moderate my volume." Kai was suddenly all respect and proper manners. "Thank you. How are you, Kao?" Jon asked, walking to stand between Kai and Kao with his back to Kai. It was such an obvious sign of dismissal that Dean almost laughed. "I am fine, sir. Thank you for getting me here so quickly." "It was my honor and duty. I am, other than Dean's best bud, the owner of the campground. I just spoke to the doctor, and he said that you must stay here one more night until they have a specialist come take a look at you. It's for insurance purposes, you understand." This last part he said to Kai. "Yes. Quite." Kai did not like it one bit, but there was little he could say if the doctor would not release his brother. Jon turned back. "So you rest. You remember Dylan. He's my son, the assistant manager of the campgrounds, and he would like to talk to you about your experience." "I know what it's like to be hunted. Wolves killed my parents." Kao looked so shocked. "Then Dad comes in, saves me from them and from the system. So, if you want to talk about it, I'll be here. Dean's got my truck, so he'll have to stay too." Dylan gave a side glance at Kai, who was not thrilled about this. Not at all. "Have you lodgings while you're here, Mr. Saechao? If not, we can give you a cabin free of charge." "That would be very gracious of you." Put like that, he could not refuse. "Good. Dads, could you arrange it?" When Dylan mentioned that Jon and Pat were his dads, Kai's face hardened and spasmed before it was a mask of composure again. "Sure. Cabin 6 is vacant and could be made ready in the time it takes to drive over. If you will come with me, Mr. Saechao, we'll get you settled in. Then you can come back at see your brother." Jon's gaze held such strength that Kai just nodded and followed meekly. When they were gone, Dean sat and sighed. "You know, I really don't like your brother." "He's under a lot of pressure. Has a business to run, putting me through college, oldest male in the family." "And you're scared of him." Dean shook his head. "It's not my place to butt in." "You're right, I am. He...well..." "He hates the fact that you're gay and wants to find a way to cure you." Dylan said it very bluntly. "Which is also why he enrolled you in BYU. To pray the gay away, so to speak. " Kao looked away but nodded. "Fuck him. Dean, can you give me a few minutes to talk to Kao?" "Sure. I'll get the doc to check out a scrape I got." "Perfect." Dean got up and left. The clinic was small enough that he could overhear portions of the talk, but it made no sense. Talking about Alphas and Enforcers, which Dean knew were part of Dylan's love for Lycans. Still, Dylan made it very clear that he was not impressed with Kai in the slightest. He didn't trust him to care for Kao while he healed. "Earth to Dean," said the doc. "Sorry. I'm just worried about Kao. His family doesn't seem like the best place for him. I know I don't have any say, but I wish I could help somehow. Hell, I'm heading back to California in a few days. Probably won't see Kao ever again." The thought was not pleasant. He wanted to make sure the guy wasn't going into some shitty situation, but he could do nothing. "Unfortunately, there is little that can be done. It's his choice." Dean nodded. * * * Kao was cleared to head back to Oregon, which Kai was all too happy to make happen as soon as possible. Still didn't stop Dean from seeing him off at the clinic door. "If it gets to be too much, here is my card. Gimme a call, Kao. We live a thousand miles apart, but I can at least tell you dirty jokes the Mormons wouldn't want you to hear." Kao chuckled weakly as he looked at the card. "Thank you again." He pulled the taller man into a hug. Dean returned it, getting a nose full of long black hair that smelled of wind and waves. It reminded him of home. "Dude, do you use shampoo that smells like the coast? Smells good if you do." Kao laughed out a bit. "No. Yours smells like the ocean, too. You are a real surfer, aren't you?" "When I'm not in the office." Dean pulled back with a smile. "Take care, Kao." The young man nodded and got into the car that would take them to the airport. When the car was gone, Dean saw something that made him worry. On what would have been the driver's side where Kai had been, was Dean's crumpled up card. Jon saw it too, but he just shook his head. "You tried, bro. That is all we can do." "Yeah. God, that kid is going home to one fucked up situation. That bothers me the most." More than his own problems with Victoria, which was saying something. "C'mon, dude, let's get packed up and head home. They still haven't found that wolf." All the ride back and for the rest of the trip, Dean could think of nothing else other than Kao. Nothing any of them could do would keep him occupied enough to keep his mind off him. It was such a fucked up situation, and Dean hated that he couldn't help. Once they did get back to the property, Dean sighed and seemed to put it from his mind. "Jon! You're back early." Zeke came bounding over with the biggest grin. "Mom and Dad showed up. Hope you don't mind." Jon grinned and gave Zeke a big hug. "Of course not. They're always welcome here. Especially if your mom brought one of her famous pies." "She brought six." Zeke laughed at the delight in Jon's eyes. "Dean, you have to meet my folks." He noticed there was something off. He also saw that Dean was trying not to think about it. "You can tell me to stuff it, but if you wanna talk, I'm around." Despite everything, Dean smiled. "Maybe later, Zeke." That seemed to be the right answer, because the smile Zeke had was glowing. The huge young man went bounding back to his boyfriend and two extremely tall people. "Shit, he wasn't kidding." Zeke's mom was taller than Jon! "Dean, come meet my parents." He wandered over to feel absolutely dwarfed by both. "Mom, Dad, this is Dean, Jon's best bud. Dean, these are Jessup and Brigit Whitebear, my source of massive awesomeness." "You raised such a modest and humble kid," Dean joked as he shook Jessup's massive paw of a hand. "If he gets too mouthy, tell him to stuff it." Jessup just grinned at his own words. "I'll remember that. I'm going to put my things in the cabin, then I'll be right back out." Brigit spoke up, her voice like every mother in the world. "It was so nice to meet you, Dean, but we won't be here for long. We're just dropping off some clothes and things for Zeke. Since he moved out here to be with Quint, he seems to forget he left all of his things back home." "Like you didn't do the same thing when Dad came through town and swept you off your feet. Grandma said you didn't come home for two years." Zeke's grin was insufferable. Dean just shook his head and went to the cabin he was using. Meeting the Whitebears was a nice distraction, and he knew he shouldn't dwell on Kao, but he was worried about him. To have to go back to a place where he couldn't be himself at all. Honestly, BYU was a good school, and he could learn quite a bit there, but he seemed to be making the best out of a shitty deal. It was some fucked up shit he had to go through because his brother didn't like him being gay. Dean threw his bag on the bed and wished he had a punching bag. Without much thought, Dean changed into a pair of gym shorts over a jockstrap and went looking for Jon. Jon saw him, what he was wearing, and nodded. "One second, Dean, and I'll be ready. Excuse me," said Jon to the others as he jogged back to his cabin and came out moments later dressed in similar clothing. Without another word, Dean ran at Jon and kicked for his head. Jon blocked it and returned a punch. Patrick and Dylan just nodded and made sure no one got in their way. "What's going on?" Zeke asked. "Dean needs to get out some aggression," was all Pat said on the matter. Those who went on the trip understood; they had known him for years and knew that Dean was a man of passion. Those who had just met him could see something had made the man really upset. He wasn't holding back at all, and Jon was able to keep from getting hit easily. Dean was no slouch at martial arts, they could see, but he seemed unfocused. After a matter of minutes, Dean stepped back and held up his hands. He was breathing hard and doubled over with his hand on his knees for a moment. "I am really out of shape if you held me off that easily," he panted out. "We're not young men anymore, Dean, but I do keep in better shape. One day I may tell you how." Jon winked at his best bud as they pulled together for a hug. "He will be fine, Dean," Jon whispered. Dean nodded and wiped sweat from his brow. "Yeah. You've been practicing." "Yeah. Dylan got into MMA a few years back, if you recall. Been keeping me on my toes." Dylan grinned when Dean looked his way. "Smile it up, little dude. I'm guessing Colton gives you a fat lip every now and then." That got a laugh. "Actually, every time. He's deadly fast." "Ugh," Dean exclaimed in disgust, "I need a shower." "Dinner is in twenty," Dylan said as he headed off to the kitchen to start it. * * * Dean's vacation came to an end all too soon. While he was able to put Victoria out of his mind in his worry for Kao, Dean knew that as soon as he boarded the plane he would start to think about her again. He did think about her, and he thought hard. He knew he loved her more than any other woman, and he had to respect her lack of desire for marriage. He did. It hurt, but he loved her enough to wait. Still, as much stress as he was heading back to, he still thought of Kao. He wished the best for the young man, but Dean had to be realistic. He had his own life to deal with and couldn't divert the energy to deal with him. At least that is what Dean was telling himself. Landing back in California, Dean was met at the gate by Victoria. She smiled when she saw him. "How is everything?" "The guys are fine." He had told her Jon called and told him to come up. "We went camping and fishing. I saw this mondo massive wolf print. Way bigger than any I've ever heard of." She didn't believe him, which was obvious by the look on her face. "Probably a hoax. Maybe the boys messing with you." Dean laughed right alongside of her. "Dean, I want to apologize for the other night. I..." "Victoria, I had been ready to propose." She shut up, wide-eyed. "I love you more than any other woman I have met, and I wanted to make it something more, but you're not ready. I get that. So I will wait until you are." "Really? Dean, are you really willing to wait until I'm forty?" She teased him. "I'm willing to wait until I'm forty," he teased right back. "So a few weeks, huh?" She cuddled under his arm. "Har har. Funny girl." He let her get away with the usual joke. She was twenty-five, almost ten years his junior. "You don't seem too upset with me saying no," she said as they walked from the terminals toward the parking. "Oh I was, still am to be honest, but getting away, and having time to think, really helped. The guys didn't expect me to talk about it, although Jon knew I was upset. I hate that power of his." Dean stopped and looked around the parking area. Something seemed off. Like there was something he was missing. It was like a tickle in his nose and a tingle along his spine. "What is it?" Victoria asked. "Just got the creeps all of a sudden." They went to their cars, went out to a late dinner, and then adjourned to Victoria's house. "I'm glad you got that time to think. I don't want to hurt you, Dean." He pulled her in for a kiss, basking in her scent. The smell of lilac, her shampoo and conditioner, was familiar, but something under it was not. It smelled wrong. Smelled off. Smelled sour. Must be dinner, he thought. "I will be fine. I'm a big boy, I can handle a little setback." He kissed her finger tips. "Sleep sweet, babe." "You, too," she said back and went inside. Dean went to his car and had just opened the door when that feeling returned. Something was wrong again. It felt like he was being watched. It was the same feeling he got in the parking structure at the airport. Dean shook it off and got in his car, locking the door. Driving off, he checked the rear view mirror almost all the way home to make sure no one was following him. Nothing. Unless they were extremely good at tailing undetected, he wasn't being followed. Still felt like it. "Must be my imagination," he said aloud to himself as he went into his house. Leaving his dirty laundry for tomorrow, Dean hopped in the shower to let the worries go down the drain. * * * Over the next two weeks, Dean would feel that presence at the oddest times. Outside was the most common, and if it were more crowded, he would feel it more keenly. He also felt something like it as he used the restroom at work, but that feeling was not...hostile. It was passive, like feeling the heat from a fire rather than sticking your hand in the flames. It was there in the lunch room at the office, the parking garage, the super market...everywhere. Yet only when he was alone did it ever feel hostile. It was starting to get on Dean's nerves. Especially when he went to the gym after work. He would be jogging and would feel like it was right behind him. Dean would look back, but of course, nothing was there. No one seemed to be paying any attention to him. Hell, he knew all the people with memberships at the gym, and none of them had ever given him this feeling. It reached a really bad level when he looked up from unlocking his car and could see a pair of glowing blue eyes in the brush. The same glowing blue eyes of the wolf. There was no mistaking those eyes. "Shit!" Dean jumped in his car and slammed the door, looking up to see the eyes were gone. His heart was pounding in his chest and threatened to jump out of it. "Get a grip, Dean, you're just tired and stressed." And wondering what was happening to Kao. His cell rang. Dean jumped and stifled a scream. It was a number he didn't know. "Hello," he said as he answered the call through the car's Bluetooth. "Is this Dean?" He knew that voice. "Kao! How are you?" He had called. Dean's heart leaped for joy. "I'm okay. You...sound happy to hear from me." "Dude, ou don't know how glad I am. I've been worried about you. I saw the card crumpled up. Figured I'd never hear from you." "Yeah, well," he said sounding a bit embarrassed, "my brother forgets I have an eidetic memory. Memorized it when I looked at your number." "Way awesome. So how are things in the world of linguistics?" "Boring, to be honest, but then I'm mostly fluent in Vietnamese already." They talked all the way back to Dean's house, and Dean kept talking even as he went in the house. Even with that feeling right there in his front yard. "Dean...you sound tense." "Dude, I've been having this feeling of someone watching me. Just before you called I swear I saw the eyes of the wolf." Kao's gasp was almost inaudible. "Really? That would be very unlikely. I mean, how could that wolf know where you are? Unless it's like...super wolf or something." Dean chuckled. "With as big as it was...Speaking of, how's the leg?" "Great, for having been broken that bad. The doc here says the itching is a good thing. Tell that to my leg. Feels like jock itch and athlete's foot." "Dude, been there. No fun." He was glad to hear Kao laugh. It was such a free sound. So full of life. "Yeah. Listen, I have to go. Got some studying to do. I hope I can talk to you later." "Most definitely, dude. I get off work at five Monday through Friday. I have this Thursday through the weekend off completely. Company has filing days." "Cool. I'll talk to you later, Dean. Bye." "Bye." Dean hung up, feeling a lot better now. Kao was okay. He didn't sound too bad. At least he was healing and had school to keep him occupied. It was the best way to end the evening. Other thing had started to crop up during those weeks. His working out was breaking personal records. Bench went up forty pounds, he finished his three mile jog five minutes faster than his personal best, squats increased by almost a hundred pounds! His reflexes and responses were gettig better, too. In fact, Dean never felt better in his life. Victoria commented on his physique. "I'd swear you were getting even more muscles. New work-outs?" "No, just feeling super good. Is it showing that much?" "Uh, yeah. Like, you're looking like Captain America from the back." That was something Dean could get to like hearing. Having a body like Chris Evans was not a bad thing at all. It was the first day of filing for work. Dean woke up feeling itchy. He didn't want to be indoors at all, so he went out to go swimming in the ocean. Out there in the water, Dean felt more at home. He would swim out and then body surf back in. It was such a wonderful feeling being out there, almost like flying. Dean wished Kao was there to share the beautiful day with him. Dean got a lot of appreciative looks from many people as he jogged out of the water to his towel, but he only got one cat call. It made him roll his eyes because it came from an old pal of his. "Troy, you're just doing that to get into my shorts again." "Damn right." Troy was one of the few of the "old guard" that still lived around here. Troy, Jon, and Dean used to go out clubbing and scoring the hottest chicks around. Troy was tiny compared to Jon and Dean, being a scant five feet four inches tall compared to their above six feet, but he pulled them. Men too, as Troy was openly bisexual. He was the only guy Dean had ever let go down on him. Damn good head, but it only happened once. Felt too strange to come from a guy. "You're looking indecently hotter than usual." "Been working out extra hard, I guess. Beating all my old records." "Nice. So where is the lucky lady you're dicking down these days?" "Victoria? Working." Troy looked a bit shocked. "Wait...still with her?" "Yup. When she is ready to settle down, I'm ready to make it forever." Dean's grin was almost dreamy. "Whoa. Playboy is settling down? I am impressed. Think she would go for a threesome?" Troy's bouncing eyebrows were so perfect for the lecherous tone of voice. "Actually, I don't know." Dean was scratching at his arms. "You okay?" "I think the new fabric softener makes me itch. I'll have to change back. Good thing I didn't wash my shorts in it." Both agreed that would have been a bad thing. Dean was lazing around the house that evening, watching Netflix. Nothing really was jumping out at him as wanting to be watched, so he shut it off and wandered out to the deck. It was a perfect night, save for the extreme itching he was getting. The full moon was just peeking over the hills to the east as the sun was almost gone beneath the watery horizon. Dean felt something painful in his gut, and he looked down at what should be his guts falling out. The pain wracked his body, and he stumbled back into the house, knocking over a vase as he fell to the floor. His entire body was on fire from pain. It was so bad his eyes were squeezed shut even as tears flowed. It felt like his body was being torn apart, but the absolute worst part was his back near his shoulder blades. The sensation was like having your balls kicked and then ripped out through the shoulders. Then Dean passed out...
  33. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 10 Jason relaxed back into the deck chair, savoring the cool breeze coming off the lake. He had enjoyed his day at the lake: swimming, using the jet ski, hanging out with his friends from senior year, and eating burgers fresh from the grill. It had been the great end to the summer that Alicia, his hostess, had promised. Now, however, as twilight fell, he was getting the urge to leave. It was a good hour and half drive back to his family’s farm, some of it through narrow twisting lanes, and he didn’t want to attempt it when too tired. Besides, the rest of the crew was, by this point, increasingly rowdy and well on their way to being drunk. ‘It’s no fun being the only sober person in a house full of drunk people,' Jason thought as he sipped his second and final beer of the day. In the past, though he wasn’t a big drinker, he would have been at least tipsy by this point, planning to crash in the boys' bunk room on the second floor of the lake house. But things had changed; Jason had come to lay the blame for the debacle with Shane at the end of Spring Quarter solely at the feet of a certain Mr. Jack Daniels, and Jason had vowed to never get out of control on booze again. It had been a difficult vow to keep on some of his social outings, including this one, but for Jason, the feeling of being in control was much more important than the pleasant buzz from cheap beer or whiskey. Besides, today he had a particular reason to make sure he remained firmly in charge of his actions: Thomas McAlpin was at the party, and Thomas McAlpin made him nervous.. Jason’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t like Thomas. Quite the reverse; they weren’t close friends, but Jason had spent some time hanging out with Thomas during his final year at Springfield High. Though Thomas was a year younger, they were both on the football team. And Thomas was something of a local celebrity; hanging out with him was a boost to anyone’s popularity. Besides, he had a sweet ride and plenty of spending money. Thomas was the son of a Senator, a staunch conservative, who was also quite wealthy from long standing family interests in timber, a huge farm, and natural gas deposits. Since his rise from state legislator to national office, Senator McAlpin and his significantly younger second wife spent most of their time in Washington when they weren’t on the campaign fundraising circuit. Thomas was occasionally called upon to perform his duty as perfect son during important events, campaign commercials, and photo ops, but the Senator felt it read better to his constituents for his son to go to public school and live in the district rather than be labeled a spoiled rich kid attending an exclusive boarding school. Senator McAlpin had hired some distant relatives, a couple in their fifties who had no children of their own to look after Thomas and manage the house and grounds. Thomas, naturally charismatic and charming, soon had “Cousin” Betty Jane and “Cousin” Cotton eating out of the palm of his hands. Their lax supervision, combined with his incredibly generous allowance and the fancy sports car he had received for his 16th birthday, meant that Thomas managed to have quite a bit of fun, even if he was stuck in rural north Louisiana. As long as he didn’t get into any real trouble or make the mistake of attracting his dad’s attention, his caretakers cheerfully overlooked his missing of curfews and throwing of frequent parties. As long as his grades remained decent, and his father received word that Thomas was regularly attending church services on Sunday morning and evening, he considered his son was performing his duty. "After all,” Betty Jane and Cotton agreed, “with the way his parents treat him, he’s practically an orphan. He deserves to have a little fun.” Most of the citizens of Springfield agreed. In many ways, Thomas was a poor little rich boy, and though he occasionally ran wild, there didn’t seem to be any real harm in him. He may have been spoiled, but he had a ready smile for everybody and could talk to anyone easily. And he had no problem in sharing his generous allowance with others. In addition, he had a real talent for sports, especially football. Many people were able to overlook the faults of a boy who could score touchdowns. And his father, though respected in the area for his conservative values, wasn’t well liked, so everybody looked the other way when they spotted Thomas getting someone to buy him beer at the liquor store or ignored the rumors that he would sleep with anything on two legs. Besides, most people really thought the last rumor was exaggerated. It was verifiable, as far as verifying something like that could be done, that Thomas had fooled around with something like three quarters of the cheer leading squad. But surely, the rumor that Thomas wouldn’t let a little something like his partner having a dick stop him from having fun was taking things too far. The rumor that Thomas was bi….most people didn’t really buy that. Even after someone bluntly asked him during a drunken game of Truth or Dare: “Are you bi?” “No,” Thomas said proudly, his dark brown eyes twinkling and his grin showing gleaming white against his deep tan. “I’m pansexual….or maybe omnisexual…like Deadpool. I need to Google the difference so I can decide the right term.” That response had, as Thomas had planned, brought a chorus of laughs. Of course, some of the other guys laughing knew that the answer was actually true. Though none would have dared breath a word of it. If Thomas had fooled around with most of the girls on the cheer leading team, he had also played around with a few of the guys on the football team. One of them was Jason. It had only happened a couple of times, and it hadn’t been anything serious. A bit of fumbling in the locker room when the two had been the last players there. A bit of horsing around while drinking beer and star gazing deep in the pastures behind Thomas’s house. Jason had enjoyed it, but Thomas pressed for more, and Jason wasn’t prepared for that. Helping a buddy out with a little jacking off was one thing, but a blow job? That was just too gay. But still, Jason remembered how good Thomas had felt, his lean hard muscles pressed against his own, Thomas’s rough hands so different from the feel of a girl’s... At any rate, their last encounter had been a long time ago, and Jason hadn’t seen Thomas since graduation last spring. Thomas, who himself had graduated this past May, had spent the summer touring Europe with some youth group. Thomas and Jason spoke briefly at the party earlier in the day; Thomas, in his first social appearance in months, had rounds to make and couldn’t talk long. Jason, however, recognized the look of lust in Thomas’s eye when the younger male appraised him. “Wow,” Thomas said in his easy drawl. “You’ve been working out, dude. You look great.” And he put his hand on Thomas’s bicep; just for a moment, but long enough that Jason felt a surge of warmth from the touch, a surge that seemed to connect straight to his groin. He stepped back. “Well,” Jason said. “Not much else to do around here. I’m going to get a Coke.” He hurried away from Thomas, flushed. ‘No more,’ Jason told himself, ‘I’m not doing this again.’ Jason made sure to avoid Thomas the rest of the day, but he would occasionally notice the dark haired boy gazing at him, the same lust in his eyes. Thomas made sure only Jason noticed the looks in his direction. Thomas was too discreet to risk being caught staring by others. He didn’t mind rumors; rumors, even the most salacious kind, can enhance a reputation. Actually being caught ogling another guy; however, that was a horse of a different color. That was social suicide, not mention what would happen if his father found out. Thomas shuddered at that that thought. So, with effort, Thomas controlled himself. But ‘damn,’ he thought to himself when Jason took off his shirt before jumping in the lake, 'that boy looks good. I need to get him alone.’ Now, at twilight, Thomas finally got his opportunity to get Jason alone. He, like Jason, hadn’t been drinking much in order to be as alert as possible, unwilling to miss an opportunity for a little fun by being too buzzed to seize his chance. Thomas believed in seizing chances. “Carpe Diem, mutherfuckers!” was his motto. So when the older chestnut haired boy snagged a beer from an ice chest and headed alone away from the increasingly raucous crowd on the deck to the boat house farther down the shore, Thomas noticed and followed. From earlier visits, Jason knew that off the loft of the boathouse was a balcony, sheltered and out of view of the main house, that had a great view of the lake. He was growing tired and ready to leave, but wanted a brief bit of quiet to savor the lake, enjoy his second beer, and indulge in some quiet thinking before his drive. With a sigh of contentment, Jason eased back into one the chairs on the small balcony and watched the sun slip below the trees just visible on the far side of the lake. There were no other houses nearby, so no signs of civilization spoiled the vista. ‘This is the life,’ thought Jason sipping his beer, lost in thought of the coming fall semester. Jason was so wrapped up in those thoughts that he failed to notice the door opening to his retreat or even hear the soft fall of Thomas’s feet as the black haired boy walked toward him. At Thomas’s soft whisper of greeting, Jason started, spilling most of his beer. “Sorry,” Thomas giggled at Jason’s shocked, wide eyed expression. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you, I swear.” “Damn, you scared me,” Jason replied, ineffectively wiping at the spilled beer on his shirt with a hand. “Sorry,” Thomas repeated, dropping into the chair next to Jason’s. “It’s no big deal. I was still kind of wet from swimming, and I have a dry t-shirt in the car.” Jason, without thinking, pulled the shirt over his head. He didn’t mind the spill, but he didn’t want to wear something reeking of a beer. When Thomas saw Jason’s naked torso emerging, he involuntarily gasped at the taut, tanned muscles. Hearing the noise and guessing the reason for it, Jason tensed and became wary. “You know,” Jason said, “I should probably get going.” “You’re not crashing here tonight?” asked Thomas, disappointed. “No, I have to work early tomorrow,” Jason said, standing. Thomas stood, too, and before the other boy could move around the chairs, stepped closer to Jason. Thomas pressed his hands to Jason’s hard, muscular chest. “Surely you can stay a little longer,” Thomas whispered. He could feel Jason trembling. Thomas slowly reached one hand lower, toward Jason’s groin. Suddenly, Thomas felt Jason’s hand in an iron grip around his wrist, stopping him from achieving his goal. Jason stepped back, still holding Thomas’s wrist. “Look,” Jason said, “I’m not doing that any more.” “Come on,” Thomas whispered in his deep, soft voice. He didn’t try to pull his arm from Jason’s grip. He stepped back toward Jason, closing the gap between them once more. “You know you liked it. And just think, I’m going to be at Tech this fall, too. We can keep the fun going.” “No,” said Jason firmly, dropping Thomas’s wrist, so he could put both hands on the younger boy’s chest and push him back. “That’s all done.” “Fine,” said Thomas with a pout, flopping back into the deck chair. “Seems a waste though.” Thomas looked so disappointed, that Jason, oddly flattered by the attempted seduction, paused on his way to the door. After all, Thomas was a lot of fun to hang around when he wasn’t being a horndog. Jason walked back over the other chair and sat down. “Look,” Jason said, “I’m done with that, but there’s no reason we can’t still be friends, right?” “Friends with benefits?” Thomas asked hopefully. “No,” Jason laughed at his persistence, “at least not those kinds of benefits.” “Okay,” Thomas said, admitting defeat. ‘Still’, he thought, looking at the other guy, ‘I bet once we get to college I can convince him otherwise.’ They chatted for a bit, Jason answering Thomas's questions about university life. Discussing the dorms and life with roommates, Shane was mentioned. Thomas remembered seeing pictures of him on Jason's Facebook. “What about your cute blond friend? The one you room with. Think he might want a new friend? With benefits?” Thomas was joking, so he was unprepared for the anger that flashed across Jason’s face, visible even in the fading light. “You want to be friends with me, fine. We can be friends. But stay the fuck away from Shane.” Jason snarled. As he spoke, he rose and left, slamming the door behind him. Thomas sat there with a stunned look on his face. ‘What the hell just happened…..oh my god,’ he thought, a smile curving over his face. ‘Jason’s jealous of little blondie. Hmmmmmmm this fall ought to be fun,’ he thought. Thomas pulled out his phone, and quickly located Shane's own Facebook account through Jason's. Shane hadn't posted much this summer, but a quick scan of his photo albums was enough to reassure Thomas that Shane was indeed as cute as he remembered. Furthermore, his posts indicated he was almost certainly a fine, upstanding, young gentleman. And Thomas loved nothing more than corrupting a good little boy, especially one as cute as this. 'Yes, indeed,' Thomas thought as he settled back into his chair and watched the final rays of the dying sun, thinking of himself, Shane, and Jason in various pleasing configurations. 'This fall is going to be something else.'
  34. 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.'
  35. 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.
  36. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 4 Jason sat across from Mr. Pamchenko, who had now donned sunglasses and was looking out of one the side windows. The man was wearing a dark grey suit that Jason, even with his limited knowledge of style and fashion could recognize as custom. There is no way an off the rack suit, no matter how expensive or how carefully altered could fit that lean, broad shouldered physique quite so perfectly. The finely woven suit fabric gleamed slightly in the soft light that filtered through the tinted windows. Jason tried to gauge the other man’s age. At least early 40s, maybe a bit more. Pamchenko’s tanned skin was smooth except for lines around those remarkable lines, but something….maybe it was the silver wings at his temples, maybe just the air of having seen it all hinted that he was older than that. But one thing was certain about Pamchenko; he was unspeaking. As the limo sped smoothly through the New Orleans traffic, Jason felt his own tensions rising as he sat in the silent car. In less than 24 hours, his dull, safe, carefully crafted life had turned into pure melodrama. As much as Jason was happy that he had encountered Shane again, as happy as he was to know that his actions had been forgiven, Jason wished he had never left his home last night, never gone to the damned bar in the first place. He felt guilty about that thought--without Jason’s card in Shane’s pocket, identification would have taken much longer, possibly negatively affecting Shane’s recovery. But still, Jason thought, I wish this was all happening without me. He fidgeted in his seat as the other man sat silently, patiently waiting for their unknown destination. Jason tried to wait him out, to also sit coolly silent, but he finally broke. “Where are we going?” Jason said in a voice that, to his disgust, wavered slightly. The elegant head turned to face Jason. “To Diabolique.” At Jason’s blank look, Pamchenko continued. “It’s one of my restaurants. It doesn’t open for several more hours, so we can talk privately there. In addition, I am in need of nourishment.” With that explanation, Pamchenko turned back to staring out of the window, clearly done with discussion. Jason, now even more uneasy, sighed, settled back into his plush pearl grey leather seat, and worried about the messages undoubtedly blowing up the phone he had left back in his Toyota. After less than a week in his new city, Jason didn’t really know his way around, but as the limo slid smoothly into an exit leading away from the interstate and into a cluster of high rises, he knew they were entering the central business district, also known as the warehouse district for the number of a old warehouses that had been converted into condos, businesses, bars, and restaurants. The limo stopped in front of of these converted warehouses, this one made of ancient, crumbling red brick. Before Jason could move, the driver, a large, very muscular man in a black suit tailored almost as impeccably as the one worn by Mr. Pamchenko, had lept from his seat and was opening the door for his passengers to exit. Pamchenko motioned for Jason to leave first, and the younger man crawled awkwardly out. Once Pamchenko had also exited, the driver moved to the massive black stained door ahead and held it open. Again, the older man motioned for Jason to precede him and murmured a “Thank you, Ramon” as he himself passed his driver. Jason paused inside the dimly light entrance. The walls were of the same ancient brick as the outside, though here they had patches of paint clinging; a large, dark, ornately carved chest sat to the left, topped by an enormous mirror in an elaborate gold leaf frame. The mirror was obviously antique, with the glass itself being watery and pitted. It dimly reflected the mass of white orchids in the large Oriental bowl in front of it as well as the life-size portrait on the opposite wall. Jason noticed the portrait’s reflection and started. No...it couldn't be….he thought. Jason turned to examine it. A full length portrait, almost life size---large enough, with the frame, to take up almost the whole wall. It was a man with dark hair and beard in a long red dressing gown. The scarlet silk of the robe gleamed against the dark background, and the figure was certainly Mephistophelian enough to fit the decor of a restaurant named Diabolique, but that wasn’t what had arrested Jason’s attention. “Is that….” Jason paused, “a John Singer Sargent?” His mind reeled. He knew little of art, but he knew a work by that well known artist would have an astronomical price tag. “Very good,” Pamchenko purred in a surprised voice. “A distressingly few number of patrons have recognized the artist.” “I….I….remember him from Art Appreciation,” Jason stammered, stunned. He looked at Pamchenko again. Who was this guy? An elegant woman walked toward them, the skirt of her black silk dress flowing around her. “Mr. Pamchenko,” she said, smiling and making sure to include Jason in that smile. “We’ve prepared a table for you in the back.” She turned and walked through a quietly elegant dining room toward a narrow hallway that passed to the right of the enormous paneled bar. In a small niche at the end of the passageway, a table sat topped with snowy linen. Though capable of seating more, only two chairs were placed at it. She pulled a seat out for Jason, who sat meekly as she placed a large napkin on his lap. What the fuck was all this? he thought, barely noticing as Pamchenko, now also seated, quietly conferred with the woman in black. Ramon did not join them, but stood back a distance in the hallway. As Jason waited for whatever would happen next, he examined the room in which he sat. The ceiling, covered in patinated gold leaf was a groined vault, and an antique gilded lantern hung from the apex. The plaster walls were covered in a beautiful, highly detailed mural, painted in Venetian style (again Jason thanked his guardian angel that he had paid attention in Art Appreciation and listened to Shane’s endless dorm room discussions about art and artists), depicting masked revellers in 18th century costume frollicing in celebration. Closer examination revealed that the setting was not Venice, but the French Quarter, and that a disturbingly large percentage of the masks seemed to sprout horns and display demonic visages. Pamchenko noticed Jason’s gaze. “Shane painted the mural,” he said, his accent somehow more pronounced when he spoke Shane’s name. “Shane did that? Wow. I mean, I knew he had talent….but I had no idea.” Jason continued to examine the painted figures, now when even more interest. “Sadly, I don’t think even Shane is aware of just how talented he is.” Jason was startled at the warmth in this cold man’s voice as he spoke of the injured man, and he turned his gaze to look at Pamchenko. Before Jason could speak, the woman had returned with a rolling cart. It contained an ice bucket with a bottle of wine, a bottle of mineral water, a decanter of amber liquid, a platter of assorted meats, cheeses, and fruit, a basket of bread, and the necessary dishes etc. In an extraordinarily short span of time, she had efficiently transferred everything to the table and left. “Before we begin,” Pamchenko said, “I need something to quench my thirst.” He reached for the decanter, pouring some of the amber liquid into a cut crystal tumblr. “And you? Bourbon?” Pamchenko motioned with the decanter he still held, “Or would you prefer wine or water?” Jason usually stuck to beer, but not only was he too embarrassed to ask for something so plebian in such a luxurious setting, he felt the need for something stronger. He had the feeling this was going to be, despite the beauty of the environment and the polite manners of his host, an unpleasant experience. “Bourbon,” he said. Jason picked up the heavy crystal tumbler and took a tentative sip of the liquor; unexpectedly its smooth heat warmed and fortified him. Pamchenko motioned toward the platter of food. “Please, help yourself,” he said. Jason wasn’t hungry, but he took a few pieces of cheese. When he tasted it was as delicious as he expected, but it took effort to force himself to continue to chew and swallow. However, he had the distinct feeling that refusing to partake would offend his host, and Jason found himself very reluctant to do that. After Pamchenko himself ate a few morsels, he motioned for Ramon to come into the room. “Now that we’ve refreshed ourselves, Mr. Reid, I think it’s time to talk.” Pamchenko paused before continuing. “This is what I know. I know that Shane left Le Coq at 2:00 am. I know he spoke to you briefly before heading toward Esplanade Ave. and, presumably, his apartment. I know that at approximately 5:20 am he was thrown out of a van onto City Park Avenue.” Pamchenko ignored the gasp that Jason uttered at hearing about the van for the first time. “During those missing hours he was raped and beaten. I want to know by whom and why.” “What….” Jason sputtered, trying to process this new information. Jesus, just when the situation seemed as horrible as it could possibly be, it became even more awful. Jason put down his tumbler and buried his face in his hands for a moment. He raised his head and stared at Pamchenko “What are you saying? They raped him and then threw him out of a van like a dog they didn’t want?” “Yes,” Pamchenko said softly in a terrible voice. Jason shivered at the expression in those ice blue eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Jason still couldn’t quite comprehend it all. “How could they? How could they do that to Shane?” Sorrow and impotent rage thickened his voice. “Whoever did this…they need to be found…...they need to pay for this…. I want them to suffer. they need to ....” He dashed at the tears welling in his eyes as he trailed off, overwhelmed. “Mr. Reid,” Pamchenko’s voice was cold steel. “You need not concern yourself with that. I can assure you that I will find who did this, and I can further assure you that those responsible will pay. They will suffer; they will suffer very much indeed.” Pamchenko smiled slightly. It was horrifying. Jason shuddered at that smile and the tone those words were spoken in, and a small part of him, a very small part, felt pity for the unknown assailants. “But for now,” Pamchenko continued, “Mr. Reid, I need to know if you can shed anymore light upon the events of last evening.” And with the ice blue eyes searching the hazel ones across the table, Pamchenko began his interrogation of Jason. In later years, Jason was never able to think of the following hours without a sense of dread. The fear that clutched his heart and turned his bowels watery as that frightening creature of ebony and ice asked him question after question about last night, about his movements, about what he had witnessed,. And all the time Pamchenko’s blue eyes were searching Jason’s own eyes, searching Jason’s face, searching Jason’s very being for any deviation in his story, for any slip up, for any hint that he could somehow be involved in Shane’s abduction. And if Jason’s attention slipped from Pamchenko even for a second, it was only to focus on the large form of Ramon blocking the only exit from the space. After an eternity, though, Pamchenko seemed satisfied of Jason’s innocence. Jason sat slumped and shivering, sipping his whiskey, watching Pamchenko talking in low tones to Ramon, who nodded and left the room. As he left, the large man closed the portieres that turned the alcove into an entirely private room. “More?” Pamchenko asked Jason, indicating the decanter of bourbon. Jason hesitated, but nodded in the affirmative, hoping the liquor would help calm him. “Thank you,” Pamchenko continued, “for your cooperation. Shane is…” here the man hesitated, “....very special to me, and while I doubted you were involved, I wanted to assure myself of that. I am always very suspicious of coincidence.” Jason sat silently, still terrified, watching the man across the table like a mouse watching a cat. “So now that business is taken care of,” Pamchenko said, pouring himself a second glass of bourbon, “I have one more question. What are your intentions toward Shane?” “What….what…” Jason stared, even more confused. “What do you mean my intentions?” “Well, I know your name, Jason Elliot Reid of 3865 Lafreniere Ave. I know that you graduated with a 3.3 average from Louisiana Tech University this spring and accepted a job at Turner Construction Corp. that begins in 12 weeks. I know that even though you apparently frequent gay bars, you have a fiancee, a Miss Denise Patterson, who is working on her Master's degree in Elementary Education at LSU.” Jason stared dumbfounded, his drink forgotten, as the other man recited these facts. “I know that you first met Shane your sophomore year of high school when your parents Theodore and Barbara Reid moved to Holly Grove, Louisiana. I know that you and Shane roomed together your freshman year of college. I know that Shane tried to commit suicide after you publicly outed him.” The pale eyes bored into Jason. “But what I don’t know, yet, is why after 4 years you are now trying to return to Shane’s life. I don’t know why after 4 years, you had this sudden urge to apologize. I don’t know why, after 4 years of ignoring Shane’s existence, you are so anxious to visit him in the hospital.” Again, Pamchenko smiled that horrifying smile. “But you will tell me why, won’t you?”
  37. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 2 After Shane left, Jason stood there for a bit, shell shocked. The kiss had been brief, just the merest press of Shane’s lips to Jason, yet his world had been shaken. He had kissed Shane once before, but had forced himself to forget how perfect it had felt. He couldn't do that again. This time he knew he wouldn't be able to repress his feelings for the other man. Jason knew that if he had even the slightest chance of making Shane some part of his life, on what ever terms Shane agreed to, he would have to take it. And Jason knew that it would mean the end to the status quo, to the carefully and painfully built facade he had created over many years. He also knew that there was no way to carry on the same as before, especially with Denise. Jason turned back toward the bar, deciding on one more drink. There was no way he could sleep, and his empty, box littered apartment held no charms for him. He ordered another beer from the same bartender who asked if he had managed to talk to Shane. Jason, not wanting to talk about their conversation, answered brusquely in the affirmative, quickly paid his tab, and took his beer to a quiet corner to mull over the problem of Denise. He knew he didn’t love her, but he had managed to avoid thinking about that, focusing on the positives. They were good together on paper, he knew. She was the sister of his best friend, Brad, a fellow engineering student. They had become roommates after Shane had left the dorm, and Brad had gradually penetrated the shell Jason built around himself after the disastrous end to his friendship with Shane. Jason had never returned to being the carefree guy he had been before, but Brad had been able to occasionally coax him out of their room or the library for some fun. Brad had taken Jason home with him for a summer weekend, where he had met Denise, who was home from the out of state college she attended. She was blond and pretty and uncomplicated, and had clearly taken a fancy to him. Before Jason really knew it, he was spending lots of weekends at home with Brad, taking Denise on double dates with Brad and his high school sweetheart who still lived in their hometown. Jason liked her well enough, and it just seemed the easiest thing to go along with it. The last thing he wanted was complications; life had gotten too complicated once before, ending in disaster, and he wanted to avoid that again. Besides, their dating made so many people happy---Brad, Denise, Jason’s parents, everybody it seemed. And if he weren’t so happy, what did it really matter? So they continued date. And one day, Jason realized that everyone, including Denise was expecting a proposal. He knew he wanted a normal life, a wife and kids and a good job...the whole cliched American Dream. Why not her? His parents were thrilled with her; Denise was a good, wholesome girl, an education major. She was quite religious, raised by strict parents, and Jason was secretly relieved that she insisted on saving sex for after marriage. It just made things easier. Besides, it all seemed so far away, since she wanted to wait until after she completed her education, including a Masters’ degree, before getting married. He hadn’t cheated on her; Jason took his engagement seriously, and except for the two trips to the gay bars, he hadn’t done anything with a guy since a bit of fooling around his senior year of high school. He had slept with a few girls in high school and had dated a bit in his first year or so of college, but it had never been particularly fulfilling. So in the past few years, he had chosen celibacy except for the occasional make out sessions with Denise, and she insisted on a “no hands below the waist” rule. Sometimes he worried about his sexual performance after marriage, but always managed to put those thoughts away, reminding himself that it was still a long way away. But now, thinking of Shane's kiss, he couldn’t put them away. Because that quick kiss had sent shivers down his spine. That quick kiss had made him realize what he had been missing, what he had never had with Denise, with any girl, with anyone else but Shane. That quick kiss made him want more. It made him want Shane, but Jason, being honest with himself for once, wasn’t sure if he was willing to pay the price of pursuing a relationship with Shane (assuming, and Jason realized it was a very big assumption, Shane was willing to agree to try). Still restless after the beer, and unwilling to go home even though it was very, very late, almost 3am, Jason realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He had been too nervous about his trip to Le Coq (stupid name for a bar, he thought) to eat dinner, and he hoped that putting some food in his stomach might help him. He Googled late night restaurants, and settled on a diner on Bourbon, the Clover Grill. At the time of the morning, the place was almost empty. An endless cup of hot coffee and a burger did help his mood a bit, but even after hours in the brightly diner, sipping on coffee and listening to the increasingly random jukebox selections, Jason was still confused about everything. What he wanted, what he was willing to risk, what he was willing to do. Around 6am, about the time exhaustion was starting to set in and he was planning to call a cab to take him home, Jason’s phone rang. It was a local number, but one he didn’t recognize. It must be Shane he thought, a bit surprised. Jason had been hoping to hear from his former friend, but certainly not this soon. He hesitated before answering, uncertain, confused thoughts twirling through his mind, but in the end, Jason couldn’t risk Shane’s feeling rejected if he didn’t get an answer. “Hello,” he said, uncertainly. “Is this Jason Reid?” an unfamiliar female voice asked. “Yes. Who’s this?” “I’m with the Lakeside Hospital. A patient with no I.D. has been brought in, but we found a card with your name and number in his pocket. Is there any chance you might be able to identify him?” A sick feeling rolled through Jason, and the bottom dropped out his stomach. It was with great difficulty that he managed to not throw up. “Oh my God,” he said. “Does he have red hair and a beard? And a big tattoo on his right arm?” The woman on the other end paused, and Jason heard a sound like rustling paper. “Please be a mistake,” he kept whispering to himself, “Please be a mistake….” “Yes,” she said. “That matches the description of the patient.” “I’ll be right there. What’s the address?” Jason paid his bill, cursing the time it took to run his card, but while the server was finishing the transaction, the short order cook was calling a cab for Jason. In what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes, Jason was on his way to the hospital. Awful thoughts were running through his head; he had been so stunned that he hadn’t asked why Shane was taken to the hospital, or even if he was still alive. Worst case scenarios kept running through his mind, and he gritted his teeth at every red light and stop sign. When they finally made it to the hospital entrance, Jason threw a wad of cash at the driver with barely a glance and ran inside. Once inside, he found admittance and the woman who had called. “Is he okay? The guy you brought in. Is he okay?” he yelled. “Sir, calm down. I know you’re upset, but you need to calm down.” With every ounce of effort he possessed, Jason willed himself to breathe deeply and focus. “I’m sorry. Is he okay?” he said. “Are you a family member?” she asked. “No. I’m……” he paused, “a friend.” “I’m really sorry,” her face reflected that she was speaking the truth, “I can’t discuss his case with you since you’re not related. But…” she quickly added seeing Jason’s fallen face, “but he is still alive. He’s in ICU. He's in a coma. He….” here she lowered her voice, and looked around as if to make sure no one could hear her, “was attacked...beaten. They think he will make it.” “Jesus.” Jason lowered his face to his hands. “Sir,” the gentle voice came again. “I want to help him. I need you to give me his name and information please.” Jason looked up. “Of course. Sorry. His name is Shane. Shane O’Neal. With an “ea”” he added. “Next of kin?” “His mother died when he was in high school. His grandmother, too.” The woman looked up, with a questioning look. “Car accident,” Jason said. “His other grandparents died before he was born. No siblings, and I think his parents were only children too. I don’t remember him mentioning any aunts or uncles. He had a couple of older cousins. Third cousins I think.” “That’s a shame,” she said. “Father? Is he still alive?” "Ummm…..I actually don’t know. He has to be in his late sixties. He was in his 40s when Shane was born. Last I knew of him was 4 years ago. He had a farm up in North Louisiana. Carroll Parish. I think his first name was Joseph. I know he remarried.” “Well, at least we have something to go on. We’ll try to contact Mr. O’Neal or his wife.” “Birth date?” “November 29…” he thought for a moment, “1991.” The questions continued, and he answered as many as he could, which was a distressingly small amount. Just as he was finishing, two men walked over to him. One was in his early 30s, about 6 feet tall, not fat, but with a bit of a belly. He was cleanly shaven with dark hair in a neat, conservative cut. His partner was older, Hispanic, approximately the same size, but with longer, shaggy black hair and a goatee. “Mr. Reid?” the Latino asked. “Yes.” “I’m Detective Rodriguez and this is Detective Venturi. Are you finished here? We need to ask you some questions.” Jason looked at the admissions nurse, who indicated they were done. Feeling surreal, as if he had wandered into an episode of Law and Order, Jason followed the two detectives into a small room. “We understand that you are the name on the card found in the victim’s pocket. Is that right?” asked Venturi. “Yes.” “Do you know how he got your card?” Venturi continued, as Rodriguez made notes. “I gave it to him.” “What is the victim’s name?” “Shane O’Neal. With an “ea” not “ei”.” “Thanks. Do you know his address?” “No.” “How do you know the victim?” It was starting to annoy Jason that they kept calling Shane “the victim.” “Shane,” he emphasized the name, “and I were friends in high school and roomed together in college for a while.” “When was the last time you saw him?” “Tonight.” The detectives exchanged looks. “What time?” Rodriquez interjected. “I first saw him around midnight, then I actually talked to him after his shift around 2am. Look,” Jason interrupted. “What happened to him. The nurse just told me he got beaten. What happened? How bad is it?” “Hey kid, I know you’re upset,” Venturi said while Rodriguez gave him a dark look. “But what we’re trying to do is find out what did happen. I can tell you,” he continued as Rodriguez turned his glare to his partner, “he was beat up, and really bad. He’s still unconscious, which is why we’re talking to you instead of him. So, to get back to it,” Venturi paused and looked at the notebook in his partner’s hand. You said something about a shift. You saw him at work, then? Where?” Jason, paused, squirming. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to these two about a gay bar. After a moment, while the detectives looked at him expectantly he sighed, and said. “He was dancing at Le Coq. That’s where I saw him. After he finished, I talked to him for maybe 5 minutes right outside. Then he walked off down the street. Toward Esplanade.” “Le Coq? On Burgundy, right?” Jason nodded. “Anyone see this conversation?” Venturi continued. “There was doorman taking covers. I’m pretty sure he saw us. Anyway, after Shane left I went back in and ordered another beer.” :”Would the bartender remember you?” Shit, Jason realized in horror. They think I’m a fucking suspect. Jesus Christ, could this get any worse? “I think so. We talked for a bit.” “How did you pay?” “Credit card. Wait a minute,” Jason dug in his pants, pulling out the receipt. He handed it to Venturi, who examined it carefully before passing it to Rodriguez who also examined it, and made some careful notations. “I recommend you kept hold of that,” Rodriguez said, passing it back to Jason. “Is that what you were wearing when you saw the victim at Le Coq?” “Yes.” “Do you think the bartender will remember it?” Jason looked down. He was wearing a button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and khaki cargo shorts. Hardly a memorable outfit. He shrugged in answer. “Before tonight, when was the last time you saw the victim?” Venturi asked. “Shane,” Jason said. “His name is Shane.” Again, an exchanged look and a notation. “Before tonight, when was the last time you saw Shane?” Venturi, repeated the question emphasizing the name. “4 years ago.” Jason caught a look of surprise from Venturi. “We had a…..” he paused and thought carefully before finishing “falling out at the end of fall quarter our sophomore year. Shane ended up dropping out that spring and just left. I didn’t know how to reach him.” “Did you go to Le Coq to find him?” Rodriguez asked. “NO!” Jason said, far too loud. He collected himself and continued. “No, like I said, I haven’t seen him in four years. I didn’t even know he lived in New Orleans. I just moved here a few days ago. Last night, I just decided to go out. I don’t really know why I went to Le Coq, I just ended up there. I was really surprised to see him.” Rodriguez gave him a little smirk as if to let Jason know that the Detective knew exactly why people like Jason went to that particular bar. Jason tried to ignore him. “When did you leave Le Coq?” "About 3.” “Where did you go after?” “I was hungry, so I went to Clover Grill.” “ How long did you stay there?” “I was actually there when the hospital called me.” Again, the detectives exchanged looks. Venturi spoke. “You stayed there for almost three hours? Why?” “I had a lot of my mind. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, and I didn’t want to go home.” “Do you think the staff will remember you?” “Yeah. Of course. They calmed me down. I was freaking out when the call came about Shane. The cook even called the cab for me.” “Do you have a receipt?” This time Jason, didn’t answer, just automatically dug for the receipt. Again it was examined, and Rodriguez made notations. “You took a cab here? Do you remember which company?” Venturi asked. “United, I think. The guy at Clover will know. He told me it’s the one he uses.” “Can I see your hands,” Rodriguez asked. Jason shot him a puzzled look, but stretched his hands out toward the detective, who carefully examined them, turning them over, before making more notes. “Look, kid,” Rodriguez, said, finally closing his notebook and looking at Venturi, who nodded at his partner, “We’ll have to check this all out, but there ain’t a snowball’s chance in hell you’re our perp. Whoever it was beat that kid,” apparently anyone under 30 qualified as a kid, Jason thought, “worked him over pretty bad. Ain’t no way he didn’t get blood on himself and came away without bruising his own knuckles pretty bad. Still,” here he dug in a pocket and produced a card, “keep in touch, especially if you decide to head out of town. Or if you remember anything that you think might help.” They got up to leave. With the relief of knowing he wasn’t a suspect, Jason relaxed. Suddenly, something occurred to him. “Wait,” he said. The pair of older men stopped and turned, looking at him with surprise. “I don’t know if this means anything or not, but something did happen a little weird at the bar.” Rodriguez retrieved the notebook, flipped it open and said, “Shoot.” “Well, when Shane was leaving the floor to change, some guy grabbed him. I was too far away to hear what he said, but whatever it was, it pissed off Shane. He hit the guy, then one of the bouncers hustled him out.” “Probably nothing,” Venturi said, “but still…..What did the guy look like?” “I didn’t get a good look at him. I only saw him from behind. He was taller than Shane by a couple of inches…..I remember him leaning down to whisper in his ear.” Jason closed his eyes trying to concentrate. “He was white. About average weight. Not too big, not skinny. He had a cap on, but he had brown hair…..sorry that’s all I remember.” “Do you remember which bouncer?” “Bald. Big black beard. Lots of tattoos. Kind of scary looking.” The detectives looked at each other. “Barry,” they both said at the same time and laughed. They saw Jason’s surprise, and Rodriguez explained, “In this line of work, you eventually learn all the bouncers. That’s where a lot of the good info is. Anyway, kid, sorry about your friend.” He looked Jason in the eye, and Venturi put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I promise you we will do our best to find the creep who did this.” After they left, Jason found the admittance nurse and tried to find out more about Shane. “I really don’t know anything,” she said. “Look,” she paused and pulled up a schedule on her computer. “ICU visiting hours start tomorrow at 1. My friend Laurie is working then. I’ll let her know to look for you. Maybe she can tell you something.” Jason started to protest, but she stopped him. “Look, honey, quite frankly you look like shit. There is nothing more you can do for your friend right now. Go home, get some sleep, and come back at one. That’s an order.” Recognizing the wisdom, in her words, Jason left. A quick Google search later, he was in a cab headed toward his apartment. It was almost 8am. Reaching home, he took a quick shower, remembering to turn on his alarm clock and to turn off his phone before falling into bed to catch a few hours of sleep. At 12:00, the alarm blared, startling him. He ruefully remembered how hard it had been to train himself to wake to one after having gotten used to Shane’s shaking him awake every morning. Thinking of Shane brought back the memory of all that had happened, and he was in a somber mood as he made coffee and a sandwich before heading back to the hospital. When he reached the car, he remembered he had turned his phone off earlier, and wasn’t surprised to see a flurry of texts and missed calls from Denise. She usually called him a couple of times a day and didn’t like it when he was out of pocket. He thought about ignoring her, but realized that would only make it worse when she finally got in touch with her. Oh God, he thought as he dialed her, if this is bad, how bad is breaking up with her going to be? She answered immediately. “I’ve been trying to get you all morning. Where were you? Why was your phone off?” “I turned it off to get some sleep. I was up all night and had to go the hospital first thing this afternoon.” “Hospital? Oh my goodness, are you alright? Do I need to come down? Oh my goodness.” Jesus he thought, Jason, you really are stupid. Why did you mention the hospital? He said, “Calm down it wasn’t me. One of my friends got attacked in the French Quarter, and he had my card in his pocket. He’s….,” Jason swallowed hard thinking about Shane, “he was unconscious and didn’t have I.D., so the hospital called me.” “You had me so worried. I’m sorry about your friend, but thank goodness it wasn’t you.” They spoke for a minute about various things, but before Jason could get of the phone, she said, “What friend was it? I didn’t think you knew anybody in New Orleans.” Briefly, Jason thought about lying, but he was tired of lying, and too tired, period, to come up with a story on the spur of the moment. “It was Shane. My roommate before Brad. I happened to run into him the French Quarter.” “Shane?” Denise said, “The gay guy? Well, in that case I can’t say I’m surprised he got beaten up. You know those people and their lifestyle. I’m surprised he’s still alive; I assumed he had already gotten AIDS. At any rate he’s not your concern.” Jason was stunned. He knew Denise and her family were deeply religious and conservative, and he quite frankly knew they held a dim view of gays. He had certainly avoided the topics of gay rights and same sex marriage around them, but he was still taken aback by her vitriol. “Denise,” he said, trying to keep his tone even, “whether or not Shane is gay, he was, and is, a friend, and deserves some compassion.” “I didn’t make the rules,” she said, “God did. ‘The wages of sin are death.’” He snapped. “Do you even hear yourself? My friend,” he emphasized the word friend. “is in a fucking coma after being fucking beaten, almost to death. And you can’t find any compassion for him? And you call yourself a Christian. Are you fucking kidding me?” “You do not talk to me that way. Do you understand me?” she screamed. “It’s not my fault some queer’s choices caught up to him. I will not allow that kind of….” Jason cut her off. “Go fuck yourself,” he said, hitting the end button. Almost immediately the phone rang, but he quickly turned it off and flung it into the passenger seat.
  38. 1 point
    Sunday, 1 September 2013 - continued “I got it, Uncle Tommy.” CJ picked up the phone so the injured cop wouldn’t have to stretch for it. “Hello? Detective Kennedy’s room.” CJ scrunched up his face as he listened to the caller. “This is CJ, I’m the Detective’s nephew. Who’s calling?” The boy’s face lit up in surprise hearing the response to his question. “No shit? Dude! He’s really gonna flip! Hang on.” CJ held the handset out to the injured cop, “Uncle Tom, it’s your son Bradley, for you.” “Bradley? Oh God. Oh Jesus. I… I…” Tom Kennedy’s gaze rapidly shifted between CJ’s face and the phone the boy held. His fingers curled around the edge of the white sheet covering the lower half of his body. His breathing became ragged. The length of each breath decreased as the frequency increased. Tears began running down his face. He was still connected to machinery above his head, by leads attached to his chest―one of them started to chime. CJ noticed a squiggly line on the monitor begin to move faster. The peaks it drew rose and a new beeping sound came from somewhere around it. Caleb, the nurse on duty, ran in the room. “His heart rate’s gone through the roof. What happened, CJ?” “He got a call from his son. They haven’t spoken in years. When I told him who it was, he started getting agitated.” CJ was scared, his fear seeping through in his voice. He hoped his uncle wasn’t having a heart attack. “It’s okay, buddy. He’s having an anxiety attack. Let me calm him down and get his blood pressure under control. He’ll be okay in a few minutes. Go sit on the other bed and talk to his son.” “Hello,” said CJ once again into the phone. “Dad? Dad? What’s going on?” “Hey, Bradley, this is still CJ. Your dad got kinda emotional when he heard it was you calling.” “Is he okay? He’s not having a heart attack, is he?” “Nah, the nurse came in and says your dad is having an anxiety attack, he should be fine in a bit.” “Shit! I got scared when I heard those strange noises. So, who are you again? Are you the one who trashed my grandparents and that idiot priest?” “Ouch! Not sure I’d say I trashed them, but I might have made a couple of comments they didn’t like. Sorry about that, the priest pissed me off and I just went a little nutso. He made a comment―” “Don’t apologize, man. Father Enger is a douche. Grandpa Frank can be a pain in the ass when he doesn’t get his way. Grandma just goes along with anything the two of them say, or she prays. You still haven’t answered my question, who are you?” “Oh, sorry. My parents are real close friends with your dad, we came to visit him but the rents went down to the cafeteria to get something to eat. Uncle Tommy was real happy about talking to your mom yesterday. He was all excited thinking you were gonna call him, but he wasn’t expecting it today. Weren’t you and your brother somewhere with friends?” “Yeah, but the weather turned nasty so we all came back. So my mother told us dad got married this summer? I guess I have a step-father? Geez that sounds weird. Do you know this guy? What’s he like?” “Dude, of course I know Uncle JP. He’s a great guy. He’s from Australia and has this great accent. The wedding was a double one. My two dads got married at the same time―I was the best man for all four.” “Wait, your two dads?” “Ummm, yeah, I’ve got two fathers also.” “You live with them?” “Yup, moved up here from Miami in May. I wasn’t getting along with my mom and her husband.” CJ thought now wasn’t the time to go into a long explanation about why he ended up living in Washington. “Hey, I understand you and I are the same age.” “Really? You’re fifteen? I turn sixteen in October. What about you?” “Shit! You’re older than me. My birthday’s in December. So you gonna come visit your dad?” “Well, I gotta talk to him first, you know? But I hope it works out. Mom said we could. Maybe we’ll get to meet if I do?” “Oh shit yeah, we’ll definitely meet. We need to keep in touch. What are you on?“ “Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You?” “Facebook, Instagram, and Kik. But I’m warning you right now I’m not one of those guys who has to post everything on line and respond to every single post I see.” “Oh, you don’t suffer from Facebook diarrhea?” “Ha! Yeah, I know some guys from my old school who had to post anything and everything, and had to comment on most of what anyone else put up. They looked like idiots with their names plastered all over the place. Anyway, you need to sign up, and Kik me sometime. Wanna trade info?” CJ watched as Caleb fussed over Bradley’s dad while he talked to the boy in Boston. He heard a request over the public address system, for Doctor Calhoun to call an extension. The nurse left the room, saying he’d be right back. His uncle visibly relaxed after Caleb returned and injected something into the intravenous line. “Hey man, looks like your dad’s doing okay now. Let me give him the phone and you can talk to him. Hope we get to meet soon, Kik me.” A smiling CJ handed the phone to the cop, kissed him on the forehead, and walked out of the room in search of his dads. He found them and JP in the waiting room, holding his bottle of water and the coffee and doughnuts they had gone for. He explained what had happened and suggested to his fathers it was time to go home. ● ● ● “I can’t wait for this weekend to be over, just one more day to go.” Brett finished drying himself off with the large grey towel while watching his partner brush his teeth. After returning home, the two men had spent time with CJ reviewing the plans for visiting Australia in late December. “I know, right. Who would have thought we’d be complaining about having three days off work in a row.” Cleaning up the kitchen after they’d eaten dinner, CJ said he was spending the rest of the evening with a book. He wanted to finish reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer before the end of the weekend. He explained it was the first book on a long reading list for his English class. “And we still have the meeting in Arlington to deal with tomorrow!” Walking over to his own sink in front of the mirrored wall, he affectionately patted his husband’s furry butt cheeks. “Watch it, Jarhead. You start playing with my butt, next thing you know I’ll have a large inflammation to deal with. I don’t want us going back to the hospital to have it taken care of.” César came up behind Brett, wrapped his arms around the man’s waist, nuzzled his neck, and pressed a growing part of his anatomy against the marine. “No need to go to the hospital, babe. Let’s get in bed; I’ll make your swelling go down.” Monday, 2 September 2013 “He’s kidding, right?” Chatri looked at César when he asked the question, disbelief etched on his face. He and César stood behind Brett and CJ respectively, keeping an eye on them, as they both did barbell presses on the incline bench. “I’m afraid he isn’t. We had a somewhat exciting weekend you could say.” “Helen told me about Detective Kennedy being shot. We went to visit him yesterday morning at the hospital. I’m surprised neither he nor Mr. Smith said anything about CJ being arrested.” “Watch it, Chatri! Don’t go spreading rumors around. I wasn’t arrested. I was mistakenly detained and taken into custody, but never processed.” CJ had finished his set, lifted his olive Harley-Davison t-shirt to wipe the sweat off his face, and switched places with his father. “Same difference, you were in handcuffs in the back of a police car. Anything else interesting happen to you this weekend, or was that enough of a thrill?” Chatri spoke as he and Brett also switched places. “I wish that had been all. The other nasty thing was the big accident Friday on the three-nine-five. A friend of ours, his wife, and their kids were in it. He and the little ones are going to be okay. His wife didn’t make it.” Brett spoke as he took position behind the medical student’s head, slightly bent his knees, and placed his hands underneath the bar. “Oh crap! That sucks. I’m sorry, guys. Geez, CJ, your summer started off with major drama, and it’s ending the same way. Got anything exciting planned for the fall?” “Yeah, I plan on going to school, studying, working out, and doing a little traveling. I’m declaring my life a drama-free zone from now on.” “Yeah right, let me know how that works out for you.” Chatri shut up as he started his set. ● ● ● “I apologize for not being more forthcoming in my e-mail or during our telephone conversation. I didn’t want any records of what I planned to discuss with you.” CJ and his fathers sat in a conference room at the Arlington Police Department Headquarters. Chief Jacobs had offered them coffee or sodas; all three had declined. CJ was certain his dads were just as eager as he was to find out what the man wanted to talk to them about. “Well, Chief, here we are now. How about you tell us what’s on your mind.” Brett’s impatience was etched on his face. “Right. After you left on Friday I met with the two officers involved in the incident which brought your son here. I explained to them CJ was most definitely a minor and there wasn’t any indication he was gay at all. I mentioned his parents were though: one a Marine, the other a business executive. Then I shared my opinion the entire incident was manufactured by them just to put another notch on their arrest record.” Brett leaned forward in his chair, his face and demeanor stern. “I’m not sure I see what relevance our sexual orientation has in this matter, Chief.” The tone of voice was one most adults would use to chastise a child. “Bear with me, Captain. I also mentioned who swiftly called on behalf of your son. You have some powerful friends, CJ.” The police officer settled his gaze on the boy and spoke directly to him. “I’m not sure how you feel about publicity. I mentioned to the two men your case would, in all likelihood, attract plenty of it if the media got hold of the details. They wouldn’t be seen in a very good light. Lawsuits against them and the department were a possibility, and there was a very good chance they’d lose their jobs. I would not be supporting them in any way.” “Cut to the chase, Chief.” César’s irritation, growing to match Brett’s, brought a smile to CJ’s face. He failed in his attempt to hide it by looking at his feet. “They’ve both agreed to resign immediately. They won’t seek assistance from their union, and I won’t initiate disciplinary action. I also won’t provide any sort of recommendation should they seek employment with another department.” “So they lose their job, the whole thing disappears, and there’s no publicity?” CJ jumped back into the conversation before either one of his dads had a chance to say a word. “That’s about it.” “Okay, that works for me. But I want copies of their letter of resignation.” “Gentlemen? You have a decisive young man as a son. However, he is a minor; I’d like your opinion on this.” “I think Brett and I will support our son. You have our word we won’t take any action against the individuals or the department. And we won’t seek any publicity on the matter.” ● ● ● The twins were once again visiting their father when CJ and his dads stopped in for a visit in the afternoon. The teen was smothered in hugs by the two, then dragged to the corner of the room where they’d been sprawled out on the floor, while their grandfather sat on a chair reading to them. The man gratefully handed the book over to CJ when the boy suggested Angelo take a break. He’d take over the reading duties for a while. “Doc promised I could get out of here this afternoon. They’re doing some paperwork to release me. We’re going to spend the night at the house in Falls Church. We’ll pack suitcases for me and the kids, and plan on being on the road to New Jersey early in the morning. We should be back in Hammonton around lunchtime.” “How long do you expect to stay in Jersey?” “I’m not sure, César. The funeral will be Saturday. I’ll figure out what I’m doing afterwards.” “Whatever you decide, you let us know if we can help in some way. And as soon as the details of the funeral service are set, call us. We’ll be there.” ● ● ● “CJ! My main man and miracle worker. I’ll probably embarrass you again, but, son, I’ll never be able to repay you for the gift you’ve given me.” Potus was sitting up on his bed, animatedly talking to a couple of visiting uniformed officers. Seeing his friends walk in, he broke into a huge smile. “Hi, Uncle Tommy.” The boy smiled, nodded at the officers as they said their goodbyes, and went to hug the injured cop. “Guys, I spent over two hours talking to my sons yesterday. I’m so happy, I’m ready to get up and dance.” The Detective’s tone of voice was a pretty good indicator of his high spirits. “That’s great news, Tommy!” Brett had followed his son to the cop’s bedside, grasping his arm and leaning in for a hug. “Bet your ass, Jarhead. Listen to this: my father recounted their encounter with CJ to the family when they returned to Boston. Knowing how he works, he must have tried to make me, and your son, look as bad as possible. It backfired on him. My ex-wife wasn’t buying into his indignation at the disrespect shown by a kid obviously corrupted by a bunch of perverted homosexualists.” Tom made his already deep voice even more so, making CJ chuckle. “Damn! You got your father right. That’s what he sounded like.” “Yeah, figured he’d still be the same. Anyway, his tirade led to my wife e-mailing me as you know, calling me, and to my sons doing the same once their mother told them what had happened. You guys already know she encouraged them to get in touch with me. Talk about a gigantic change in attitude.” “Betcha that’s not gonna go well with your father when he finds out.” César spoke as he backed away from the hospital bed after repeating the greeting his son and his husband had previously done. “Who gives a shit how he feels? I stayed away from the kids ‘cause I thought it was the best thing for them. Their mother coming around means they won’t have to deal with a nasty fight between her and me. My old man I’ll take on with no regrets. I told the boys if their grandfather gave them shit, to let me know. I’ll put the old ass in his place if I have to.” Tuesday, 3 September 2013 CJ read the message and smiled. ――bruh, waitin 4 u @ walls―― “Text messages this early? Which one of our friends is making you smile already?” “None, Dad. It’s from Harley, a guy at school. Met him the first day when Papa dropped me off. He started talking to me about the motorcycle; we ended up hanging together during the week.” ――u on da bike or bus?―― “How come you didn’t say anything about meeting this kid? Is he your age?” César had offered to drop his son off at school, he had a meeting nearby. He had turned onto M Street when CJ’s phone had begun to chime. ――neither, SUV―― “Didn’t think it was a big deal, Dad. We’re in the same homeroom and also have English together. Nice guy.” ――?????―― “That’s good. Glad you’re already meeting people. Remember you’re always welcome to invite them home to visit. Brett and I would love to meet your friends.” CJ was still chuckling over Harley’s question marks reply when he realized his friend and his father were both doing the same thing. “Stop being nosey, Dad. Harley’s just a kid I met. Remember, you said it yourself: helicopter parents aren’t cool. Anyway, have a good one, I’ll see you tonight. Oh and I’ll fix dinner, we ate out too much this weekend.” ● ● ● “CJ!” Harley’s loud greeting made more than one of the students streaming into WALLS turn their head. “Bruh! That ain’t an SUV, that’s a freakin’ Escalade. Sweet truck! Bet your dad gets some looks when he pulls up to the Pentagon’s parking lot in that monster. Although his bike’s just as―” “HARLEY!” CJ was on the verge of laughing his ass off, shouting made his friend stop talking and moving. Even more students turned around to look at them. ”Down, boy. You really gotta lay off the Monsters first thing in the morning. The SUV is my other dad’s car. This one’s the accountant, not the Marine.” “You got two dads? Wow! Really? So freakin’ cool, bruh! How come you didn’t tell me that last week? How was the trip this weekend?” Harley’s mouth was off and running again; without more than a passing reference to CJ having two fathers. “Does the accountant dad also ride? A Harley? You wouldn’t believe all that went on in town! A cop was shot, there was a big pileup on the three-nine―” “Stop, Harley. You gotta give me a chance to answer.” CJ suspected he was going to be interrupting Harley frequently if he was to get a word in edgewise during their conversations. “Yes, this dad also rides, a twenty-ten Road King. If you like the SUV, wait until you see Papa Brett’s pickup. You’ll have to come over one day after school, maybe on a Friday? I can prolly talk the dads into taking us out for a ride the next day if you wanna spend the night.” “Dope!” “Anyway, we didn’t go on the motorcycle trip. The cop that guy shot was my uncle, Tom Kennedy. A friend of the family, his wife, and their kids were in that accident. The wife died. I spent most of the weekend going back and forth to the hospital.” ● ● ● Harley was relatively subdued the rest of the day. At lunchtime, a few girls had joined them at their table as soon as they sat down. There was little time for the friends to talk, what with the females monopolizing the conversation, trying to outdo each other in their efforts to gain CJ’s attention. When he checked his phone there were two eerily similar text messages from his dads: Chief of Police Benton called, the two idiots had resigned, and copies of their resignation were in the mail. Case closed as far as CJ was concerned. On his way home after school, CJ made a stop at Papyrus, on the corner of N Street and Wisconsin Avenue, in the heart of Georgetown. At the high-end stationery shop, he bought a box of quality cards and then headed home to write thank you notes. In short order, he took care of messages to King, the managing partner at Holland and Knight, Colonel Edwards, Mr. Velasco at Senator Rubio’s office, and to the senator himself. Afterwards, he called each of the individuals to verbally express his gratitude and make them aware of the resignation of the two officers. Hand written thank you notes were not the norm, especially for fifteen-year-old boys; his grandmother, Abuela Abelló, had insisted he do so from an early age. By now it was second nature. When both his dads arrived home, he was well on the way to finishing his homework, and had already prepped the evening’s meal. Life was back to normal. ● ● ● “Hey babe, you’re not going to believe what happened to me today. I didn’t mention it during dinner ‘cause we’ve had enough BS this past weekend already. Didn’t want CJ to get any more riled up.” César was in bed already, waiting for Brett to join him. The TV was on but he had muted the volume. “Should I be scared?” “Nah. Maybe? So I stopped at the bank before coming home to get our passports out of the safety deposit box―CJ’s is still valid. Remember Jamal? The assistant branch manager Chip introduced us to? He’s acting manager now. When he saw me, he asked for a few minutes of my time so I went to his office with him.” “Prolly trying to make sure we don’t pull our business from the bank. What with Chip gone, you know?” “That’s what I thought. But get this: he propositioned me!” “He what? He propositioned you? I’ll kill the motherfucker!” “Relax, Captain, you haven't even heard the best part! He told me Chip always bragged about how close he was to us, and implied he fucked around with us on a regular basis. Jamal wanted to make sure we knew he was willing to do anything to keep two of the bank’s best customers happy—anything at all!” “Motherfuckers! Both Chip and Jamal are now on my shoot on sight list! What the fuck is wrong with these people? What’d you tell him?” “I praised him for his interest in maintaining good client relations. It was so damn hard not to laugh when I said it…” “I bet. Fucker should be glad it was you he approached instead of me.” “Next time you get to talk to him. Anyway, I thanked him for his offer while licking my lips and staring at his crotch―I swear the man had a snake running down the leg of his pants.” “Asshole!” “Okay. After I was done having fun with him, I looked him in the eyes, suggested Chip may have slept with half the town―but never with us. Told him Chip was no longer in our circle of friends. I followed up by letting him know if he ever so much as whispered such a proposition to either one of us, we would make sure he was transferred to a branch in the middle of Bumfuck, West Virginia.” “Good… was it honestly as long as a snake?” “Asshole!” Wednesday, 4 September 2013 When he arrived at Walls on Wednesday morning, CJ encountered several tables with students around them near the entrance to the school. Harley was there, waiting for him, and ready to explain. Student organizations and sport teams would set up during lunch and after classes, handing out information about their activities and answering questions. Involvement in extra-curricular activities was strongly encouraged by the school’s administration. After approaching some of the sport teams’ members in the morning and again during his lunch break, CJ decided he might be interested in trying out for the baseball team. The games were all in the spring, and tryouts wouldn’t take place until next year. He decided to concentrate on his martial arts training during the fall and winter. Following his encounter with the biker at the beginning of summer, and his dads frequent admonitions concerning overconfidence, he wanted to maintain and improve his skills. He also spent some time talking to his Algebra teacher, Mr. Thornton, who was trying to start a rugby club at the school. CJ promised to come to an organizational meeting in two weeks. He knew it was wrong, but the thought of Jae Thornton wearing tiny rugby shorts had something to do with his interest. In the afternoon, he stopped at the Student Government Association table, spoke to the officers there, and placed his name on the list of those interested in running for one of the class representative spots reserved for new students. Elections for those would be held in mid-September. His last stop of the day was at the Gay Straight Alliance display, where a dark haired guy with a broad, pale face, sat next to an attractive girl with long brown hair. They introduced themselves as Danek Nowak and Autumn Dingell, club co-chairs. The organization held several social events throughout the year and worked with the school administration on programs geared towards increasing understanding and acceptance of sexual minorities. Their first meeting of the school year was set for the following week after classes ended. CJ signed up and promised to be there. Harley, who had stuck by his side the entire afternoon, also signed up. Thursday, 5 September 2013 Celebration of the Feast of Trumpets―Rosh Hashanah―began on Wednesday at sunset. Thursday, some students and faculty members took time off school to celebrate the Jewish New Year. CJ’s History instructor was one of those absent on Thursday. The second period class had a substitute teacher who’d didn’t have the opportunity to introduce herself before an announcement was heard over the loudspeaker in the classroom’s ceiling: “CJ Abelló, please report to the Principal’s office. CJ Abelló to the principal’s office, please.” “Uuuhhh, someone’s in trouble.” The comment by one of the students made all the others in the room laugh. CJ stood up smiling, grabbed his book bag, and walked towards the front of the room. “Mr. Abelló, I presume?” asked the substitute, shaking her head as if in resignation to the antics of a rowdy group “Yes, ma’am.” CJ wondered what Mrs. Edwards wanted with him. ● ● ● “I understand you had an interesting weekend, CJ.” Martha Edwards had motioned for the boy to take a seat by her desk as soon as she saw him standing in her office’s doorway. “That’s definitely an understatement, ma’am. Not a very pleasant weekend at all. I’ve had enough excitement to last me for a long while.” “Ray told me about your detention by the Arlington Police Department officers. And we heard about Detective Kennedy’s shooting during the evening news on the TV. I’m pleased both events seem to have been resolved in a satisfactory manner.” “Yes, ma’am. Uncle Tom is recovering well and should be home sometime today. The two cops who hassled me have resigned from the police force. But we also had another bad thing happen this weekend. The wife of a friend of my parents died in the big accident on the Interstate on Friday. We’re going to her funeral on Saturday.” “I’m so sorry, CJ. That’s a horrible thing to happen on top of everything else your family had to deal with.” “Thank you, ma’am. At least her kids survived and her husband just had some bruises and a broken leg.” “I called you in to make sure you were doing well and to maybe discuss the StandUp Foundation presentation you previously mentioned to me.” “Oh good. Are you going to ask Ben to do it for us?” “I already have, and he’s already agreed. We’ve worked out the details, but you get to play a part in this. I wanted to make you aware of what we have planned. We agreed to a school-wide event on…” ● ● ● “Hey, babe, just thought of something. Do you wanna invite Ben to stay with us when he comes into town?” Brett was in bed reading while César was next to him, on his laptop paying bills. “I don’t think so. You heard what CJ said, he’s bringing someone with him to participate in the program at Walls.” “Yeah, forgot about that. Guess it would be rude to invite Ben and leave the other guy at a hotel. Maybe we should do some remodeling in the basement. We could give CJ his own space down there? That way we’d have two guest rooms again.” “Something to think about. Hell, we could turn the two bedrooms on the second floor into three and have even more room. I think I’ll e-mail my brother and see if he has any ideas. How ‘bout you put the book away and scoot over here, Jarhead. I’m done paying bills and I think I deserve a reward from you.” “Did you have anything in mind, you horndog?” “I’m certain something will come up.” Saturday, 7 September 2013 At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, a group of ten men stood in front of the Georgetown townhouse, all of them at some point stretched their arms above their heads and yawned, while waiting for their bus to arrive. César and Brett had chartered a luxury motor coach to transport them to Hammonton, New Jersey. They thought of renting a limo for the two of them and CJ, but decided to go with something large enough for the gang to travel together. The cost wasn’t all that much more. They were all dressed comfortably in t-shirts, shorts or sweatpants, and wore sneakers or flip-flops. Each carried a garment bag in one hand, a pair of dress shoes in the other. Instead of the usual rows of bench seats, the bus had comfortable leather upholstered chairs and couches, a small kitchen area, and a good sized restroom. The early departure would allow them to arrive with plenty of time to spare for the 10:30 church service. “Does anyone want anything to eat now, or should I put it all away for later?” Danno had insisted on providing food for the group, there would be no need to stop at a restaurant during the three-plus hour drive. “What did you bring, Uncle Danno?” While the majority of the adults were already snuggling into their selected spot, ready to fall asleep again, CJ was—as usual—ready to eat something. “Not entirely sure what the guys at the restaurant packed, buddy. Look through it and help yourself, I know for sure there’s bagels and muffins. The cooler I know has juices, milk and water.” “Kay, I’ll grab a muffin and some milk. Leave it there. I’ll make sure it’s stored once I’m done.” ● ● ● Just outside town, the driver stopped for a few minutes so the men could use the restroom and change clothes without the constant swaying of the bus. Traffic headed to the shore on this late summer weekend was relatively light and they had made good time. At the small church they all sat together near the back. It had been full of relatives and family friends, and the procession to the cemetery had been long. As the casket was lowered into the ground, Adriano stood up from his wheel chair with the help of his older brother. The silence of the hallowed grounds was broken by the sobs of many of those in attendance, and by Adriano’s softly spoken words. “Our time together was much too short, I didn’t say I love you nearly enough. But I did, and I always will. I promise to look after our children, make sure they never forget you, and I’ll rejoice in them for the both of us. Life will go on, time will pass, but I’ll never be whole again. I’ll always know you’re missing.
  39. 1 point
    Saturday, 31 August 2013 - continued “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing bad, CJ. Trust me, it’s all good. Tom’s kinda emotional right now, mates. Just wanted to warn you. He had a friendly e-mail from his ex-wife. She mentioned Tom’s parents returned to Boston early this morning, and quickly organized a family meeting. They complained about not being allowed to visit their son, who they thought was dying, by some snot-nosed little fag. She said if a teenager was able to stand up to Frank Kennedy, maybe it was time she and her sons did the same. She asked Tom to e-mail her when he was up to talking on the phone. He did so immediately. He’s waiting for a call from her, countin’ on a miracle.” “STOP TALKING ABOUT ME, I CAN HEAR YOU…” Tom Kennedy’s booming voice startled CJ, his dads, and JP. “Bloody hell, I thought he’d dozed off. Come on, mates, let’s get in there and talk about him in front of him.” JP led them inside the room with a big smile on his face; his husband screaming at them was a good sign. The cop must be feeling better. “Hi, Uncle Tom. You doing okay?” The detective spread his arms out, motioning for CJ to come to him. “I will be as soon as you get your skinny ass over here and give me a hug.” “Skinny ass? Hell if that boy’s skinny. You should see how much our grocery bill has risen since―ouch! What you spank my butt for?” Brett asked, surprised by his husband’s move. “Stop bitching about the food bill, Jarhead.” César’s reply was accompanied by another slap to the marine’s ass. “You eat just as much as the kid does.” “If the two of you can’t afford to feed him, send him over to us. JP and I would be happy to have him.” “Hello… can we stop talking about me as if I wasn’t here? Why do y’all keep doing this with me?” “Listen, CJ. I wanted to tell you if you’re a snot-nosed little fag, like my father called you, I sincerely hope my kids turn out to be the same. I am so proud of you, I don’t really have the words to express it.” There was a tenderness in the detective’s voice which spoke of a deep affection for the boy; moistness was noticeable in his eyes. “I’ve seen you deal with rejection by part of your family, and bounce back stronger and more determined to be your own man. You’ve adapted to a new environment, and become an integral part of a group of older men who all respect you.” CJ fidgeted, he seemed unable to focus his gaze on anyone or anything. His fathers sat smiling, nodding their heads in assent. Clearly, they were glad someone other than them was acknowledging the type of man their son was turning out to be. “You came to the aid of a stranger, a young man being picked on. You tried to reason with the bully, and ended up having to defend yourself when he attacked you. In the process of trashing that asshole, you showed everyone being gay doesn’t give anyone the right to walk all over us. That many of us are able, and willing, to defend ourselves. You’ve impressed politicians, military officers, and world famous athletes. I heard how you stood up for me last night.” “But I did nothing, Uncle Tom.” The boy was blushing, gazing at his hand being held by the detective, still avoiding looking at anyone. “Bullshit! I was told in great detail how you stood up for me in a respectful way, until once again you were threatened. And then, without violence, you beat down a self-righteous Catholic priest. And if that wasn’t enough, you put a couple of old, bigoted idiots, who don’t know the first thing about love or respect for others, in their place.” The injured man held CJ’s hand in his own a little tighter; the gentle squeezing motions visible to all in the room. “You did the right thing not allowing my parents near me. Them leaving after finding out I wasn’t going to die, is proof they had no real concern for me. I am so glad you’ve come into our lives. I look forward to having you as my friend for many years to come. I love you, son.” Sunday, 1 September 2013 “You did good, CJ. Dontcha worry, Bubba, I ain’t going to embarrass your ass again. But sheeet, I ain’t never seen Tommy John get so fucking emotional. When I walked back in the room it was like… I don’t know what the hell it was! ” After a light breakfast at home, and a short two mile jog with his dads, CJ sat next to Dr. Matt Calhoun at Farmers Fisher Bakers, on the Georgetown Waterfront. The teen and his two dads, having no plans for the day other than visiting their friends at the hospital, had called Doc and asked him to join them for brunch. They’d walked to the restaurant, stopping by Doc’s place on the way, to pick him up. “Thanks, Uncle Matt, but can we please talk about something else?” The late summer day didn’t carry with it the oppressive heat and humidity which had plagued the previous three months. Walking around didn’t leave one sweaty and sticky. Autumn was on the way and CJ looked forward to seeing the leaves change color. It would be the first time experiencing a real change in seasons since he had returned to the United States from Germany. “I have an idea for a different conversation topic.” Brett nudged CJ in the ribs, getting his son’s attention. “Let’s tell Doc about our lunchtime chat yesterday. You know, about you getting a tattoo, and about being distracted by your spotter at the gym.” The four men were sitting outdoors, enjoying the weather, with a great view of the Potomac River flowing on the other side of the concrete dock. They were all dressed alike: deck shoes or sneakers, shorts and polo shirts for the adults, a t-shirt for CJ. This one was dark teal; ‘carhartt’ was written across the chest in white, followed by the company logo in light orange. “Shut up, Papa. Don’t you dare!” “I swear, Doc, I think my fifteen-year-old son is more mature than my husband the Marine Corps Captain!” César shook his head; a look of resigned suffering accompanied the gesture. “I’ll let that one pass for now, CJ. But I want details later on. How’s this for a different conversation? Hell if I ain’t had a call from Cristina Pereira yesterday night.” “Chip’s daughter? You shitting me!” Brett had been fooling around with CJ, poking each other, giggling, acting as if they were little kids. At Doc’s comment his head snapped up, surprise on his face. “I sure as hell ain’t, Jarhead.” It was César, not CJ this time, who brought the conversation around to the meal. “You guys wanna get some food before we hear about the call? And I’m ready for an adult beverage.” “Yeah, Dad, let’s go get food. I’m starving.” From having previously eaten at the restaurant, CJ knew their brunch layout was great―one of the best he’d experienced in DC. Reading up on the place, he’d learned it was owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union. It used lots of fresh seasonal ingredients, and the sustainability practices had earned it a certification as a green restaurant. Plus, he thought it looked real cool. Doc and César loaded their plates with grilled vegetables, scrambled egg whites, and yogurt topped with granola. Brett went for the pork tacos, the guacamole, and the sushi being passed around by servers. CJ piled up two plates: breakfast jambalaya, ham, bacon, french toast, cheesy grits, and before he was done eating, he’d also accepted Eggs Benedict from the traveling trays. “So, the girl tells me Chip called her and her brother this last Friday, and asked them to join him for lunch on Saturday. Neither was aware of the break-up, or that their father had accepted a transfer to a PNC branch in Tampa.” “WHAT? He left Washington without saying a word to anyone?” César asked, staring at Doc. CJ and Brett were both too busy eating. “Y’all ain’t even heard the best part yet. While eating, his son asked why we’d broken up, and Chip admitted to cheating on me. Seems Chipper didn’t cozy up to that very well. According to his sister: he stood up, loudly told his dad he was an asshole, walked to the curb, and jumped in a cab headed home. What’s up with all these teenagers being so self-righteous? Here I thought they had no maturity, their brains having been fried extra crispy by silly reality TV shows and video games.” “Hey, watch it, Uncle Matt. How old is this Chipper guy anyway?” CJ had to swallow a large piece of his french toast, washing it down with a sip from his glass of milk, before being able to speak. “Same as you, Bubba. And I was just messing with you ‘bout the fried brains. Cristina is a bit older. She’s eighteen and about to start her freshman year at NYU. She asked me to let her know next time I went up to the city. Said both she and her brother wanted to see me and spend some time with me.” “Damn, Doc, I don’t know what to say. Maybe the kids turned out okay in spite of any defective paternal genetic material which may have been passed to them at conception.” César looked at CJ and winked at him before finishing his comment. “It happens, you know? Look at CJ, he takes after my side of the family. Sounds as if they want to maintain some sort of relationship with you.” “Wait a minute here, Dad. Did you just brag about yourself? And did you just call Chip a… a jerk? Using all kinds of fancy words? You can’t talk in code around me anymore, old man.” CJ decided to say jerk instead of asshole. There was a young girl at the table next to theirs, paying close attention to everything he did and said. “Also, didn’t Uncle Tommy tell me he had a son my age? And now I find out Chip does too? Damn, I’d love to meet those two guys. Just imagine how much fun y’all would have with the three of us around you all the time!” “May the force be with us. Unfortunately, none of us have ever met Potus’ kids―they live in Boston. There may be a better chance to meet Chipper. It sounds like he likes Doc here better than he does his own father.” Brett pushed his plate slightly away from him, folded his napkin and placed it on the table, before leaning back in his chair, contentment written on his face. “Guys, let’s plan a trip up soon.” César was aware CJ had not traveled much outside Florida; he was interested in showing his son other parts of the country. “The four of us can head up for a weekend, I know there’s plenty of room at the apartment. We can catch a show, do a little shopping, and maybe sightsee some too. That was good food. I don’t know where you put it all, Brett. CJ we already know has a hollow leg.” “What have I told you about your lame jokes, Dad? Anyway, I’ve never been to New York. I’d love to go. And I’ve never seen this apartment you guys have been talking about all summer long.” CJ was excited about the possibility of traveling up to the big city. “Columbus Day weekend I’ll be in Chicago visiting the family, so we can’t go then. And Thanksgiving we’ll be in Miami. How about Veterans Day? Christmas? Maybe January? I haven't seen snow in a while either.” “That could be a fun time, let’s talk about it later. And I’d love to see Sean again if it’s ok with you, Doc. I ended up liking the man.” “That’d be fine with me, Emperor. He and I still need to talk, I may head up on my own for a couple of days in the next few weeks.” Feeling lazy after their meal, the guys hailed a taxi for the ride over to George Washington University Hospital. ● ● ● They popped into the Tomassi room, surprising Adriano and the twins. The kids immediately swarmed over CJ, insisting on showing him their drawings. Doc checked Adrian’s monitor readouts, did a quick exam, and promised he’d be going home the next day. The twins had returned to their house with their grandparents the previous evening. They were back at the hospital soon after finishing breakfast; they wanted to be with their dad. The death of their mother had not yet entirely registered in their young minds. Adriano explained to them that God wanted their mommy to do some special work, so she’d gone up to heaven to help him. Part of her new job would be to watch over the three of them, since she would no longer be living at their house. Quiet sobs were soon followed by desolate crying, with plenty of tears also being shed by the father. The children repeated over and over they didn’t want their mommy to go away. After tiring themselves out, they dozed off in their father’s bed. Adriano prayed the explanation would hold for a bit. He knew it wouldn’t be long, before they had to discuss their mother’s absence again. “Hey, Mom, would you and Dad please take the twins for a little walk? I’d like ten minutes alone with these guys.” “Come on, kids, let’s go check out the rest of the floor while our dads have a grown-up talk.” CJ picked up Emmanuel, ready to step outside with the little ones. “Please stay, CJ. You should be part of this conversation. You kids be good for Nana and Popo, okay?” “’Kay, Daddy.” Both kids said, as each held onto a grandparent while leaving the room. “Guys, Danno came by last night, and we spent some time discussing my future. I know my parents will try to convince me otherwise, but I’d like to stay in DC, if possible. I’ll continue to receive my salary for the next thirty days. Short term disability insurance will kick in and take care of most of our needs. I have plenty of savings to cover any shortage, so we’ll be fine.” “Sounds like you’ll be okay, Adriano.” “I think so, Brett. There’ll eventually be auto and life insurance payouts from the accidents, which should provide a good amount of money, most of which I plan to put aside for the kids’ future. When King was here yesterday, he told me the trucking company will most likely jump through hoops to keep me from suing. Their insurance company will probably offer me some sort of settlement, since their driver was clearly at fault. I asked him to represent me when that comes up. I don’t wanna deal with those people.” “That’s a smart move on your part. I’ve had clients in situations similar to yours, the other side often tries to get you to sign off on something right away, while your mind is on other things. King can be your attorney and handle the legal side. I’d be happy to serve as your accountant. If you need any financial advice you let me know.” “I’ll definitely need help handling the money; you’ll be hearing from me. Financially, we’ll be comfortable, if not better off than before. But the money won’t make the pain go away. I’m bottling up a lot of emotions right now because of the kids. I know I’ll have to deal with the loss, sooner or later, but it’ll have to wait. The twins are my priority now more than ever.” “You have family and a group of friends who’ll stand by you, and offer a hand whenever you need help. All you have to do is ask. Brett, CJ, and I will be expecting you to do so.” “That’s true, with people like you and Brett around, I think I can get through this. I want to express my gratitude to the three of you for your generous offer. The boss passed along your message. I’m not really sure I know how to thank you.” “You just did, wouldn’t you say so, Jarhead?” “Yup. Just remember: we have the resources, we consider you family, if anything comes up, even if it’s on a temporary basis, you give us a call.” ● ● ● “Good afternoon, Detective. How are you feeling today?” The cheerful greeting was uttered by Doc as he strolled into Tom Kennedy’s hospital room, closely followed by César, Brett, and CJ. “And a good afternoon to you too, Dr. Calhoun. What’s up with the formality, Doc? New bedside manner? You gonna start being nice to your patients now? Hey, guys.” A light and airy tone with an undercurrent of happiness in the cop’s voice, was quite a change from the sluggish, sometimes slurred speech heard the previous day. “Fuck you, copper. My bedside manner’s just fine. How the heck are you, Bubba?” Doc pulled a pair of glasses from the pocket of his white lab coat, and looked at the clear bag hanging by his friend’s bedside, connected to his arm by a fine plastic tube. “Feeling great, Doc. Fit as a fiddle. That’s for a man with a giant bruise on the chest, and a plugged hole in the leg.” “Any headaches, or pain?” “Nope, neither. But from what I understand that bag you were just looking at has been carrying some happy juice.” “Yeah, that it has. But each time the bag has been changed, the amount of painkiller has been reduced. Right now it’s just enough to take the edge off, and it’ll be completely gone by tonight. If you’re pain free in the morning, and you remain that way for twenty-four hours, you get to go home on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. There’s no sign of infection in the area of the wound, that’s always a concern after surgery. But you have to be honest, Bubba. If you get even the slightest headache you have to let the nurse know.” “Sir, yes sir. I promise.” “Good, then I’ll leave these three ruffians here and go check up on a couple more patients. Guys, y’all have a nice visit, I’ll come back when I get done. Thanks for a great meal!” “We’ll make sure he stays out of trouble, Doc!” “Yeah right, Jarhead.” “Damn, it’s good to see you guys and not be all drugged up. Park your asses down, we’ve got lots to tell. Wanna start it off, JP?” The detective’s husband had reclaimed his spot on the bed’s edge he had vacated when the visitors arrived. “What’s up, Uncle JP?” CJ sat at the foot of the cop’s bed while his dads took the two chairs in the room. “Did you guys watch the news on TV this morning?” JP absently ran his hand around the spot where the bullet had entered his mate’s thigh as he spoke. “Nah. We went for a run this morning, then the rents and I met Uncle Matt for brunch, before coming to the hospital.” “The ABC station came on earlier with one of those breaking news crawlers under the image. It kept repeating ‘Suspected shooter of Detective Thomas Kennedy has been found dead’.” That made all three visitors sit up and pay attention. “They eventually broke in with a live report. When the news anchor was shown on the screen, there was a picture behind him of a good looking, African-American guy with a tattoo of a tear drop below his left eye.” “What’s the tattoo mean? asked CJ. “Tom told me it’s a well-known gang symbol, mate. Most of the time it means the person with it has killed someone.” “Shit! What else did they say?” “According to the reporter, the description given by eyewitnesses to the shooting matched the man found. He said at the time they only had a gang related name for the guy, Indio. The teardrop tattoo, reinforced the likelihood of gang affiliation.” JP lowered his voice slightly, as if he was sharing a secret. “The man was found a few blocks away from where Tom was gunned down, behind a dumpster. He’d been shot several times in the chest.” “Any ideas on who shot him?” Typical of a fifteen-year-old boy, once he’d known his uncle would be okay, CJ’s fascination with guns, shootings, cops, and criminals bubbled to the surface. “Nothing so far. We know a few reporters have called the hospital trying to speak with Tom. All have been told he’s unavailable. Some asked to speak with the officer’s husband. They were told I wasn’t available either.” “So that’s the first piece of good news we have. The motherfucker who shot me is gone. No need for drawn out court shenanigans and lots of taxpayer money wasted. My thanks to whomever took him out.” “Probably one of your brothers-in-blue, Uncle Tommy.” “Hush, CJ. No need to start any rumors. And you need to stop watching so much Law and Order on TV. Here’s the next piece of good news: my ex-wife called after you guys left yesterday. We had a very long and pleasant chat.” The man’s facial expression changed along with the topic of conversation; it appeared softer, more relaxed as he left behind the subject of his shooter. “Damn good news, Potus. This could be the opening you’ve always hoped for.” “That it is, César. My kids weren’t at the family meeting my father called when he returned to Boston. They’d left early on Friday to spend the weekend at the Vineyard with friends. So they weren’t exposed to the vitriol my dad―and most likely my brothers―spouted, about the events down here. The ex promised to give them as honest a recounting as possible, mentioning what happened to me, what my parents and the priest wanted to do, and how CJ stopped them. She said it would be up to them, but if they wanted to call me when they returned to the city, she wouldn’t object.” Tom finished as tears had started dripping down his face, he quickly dissolved into sobs. JP handed his husband the small box of tissues supplied by the hospital, while the three visitors remained silent. “That… is… sick!” CJ had to break the emotionally charged moment. He wasn’t one to deal well with extended melodrama. “We were just talking about this at lunch when Uncle Matt told us Chip’s daughter had called him and he mentioned there’s also a son. Turns out that kid, your son, and I are the same age. Wouldn’t it be great if we all got to hang out together? That would be freaking insane!” “Bite your tongue, CJ. I just turned thirty, I’m too young to start getting gray hairs.” Brett ran his hand over the short blond stubble on his head. Freshly cut into his usual high-and-tight, noticing any gray there would have been next to impossible. “So far all I’ve heard is good stuff, Potus.” César and the cop had been friends for a long time, he was happy the man was getting some good breaks. “You’ll be going home soon, the asswipe who shot you is out of the picture, and the wall your father erected between you and your sons has a crack in it.” “Yeah, and that crack’s there thanks to your son. Listen, guys, JP and I have a proposal for the three of you. Wanna tell them, honey?” “What’s up?” Brett asked with curiosity in his voice. “Mates, like most cop’s spouses, I always carry the fear something bad will happen when Tommy leaves home in the morning. This weekend it happened, and we got lucky it wasn’t worse. Once his thinking got clearer yesterday, we started talking about trying not to put things off in the future, ‘cause we never know what may happen when he straps that gun on every day.” “Hey, I could just as well get hit by a bus on my way to school.” CJ chimed in. “That’s true, mate. The shooting just made us more aware we shouldn’t put things off unless there’s a good reason. Like there’s no good reason we shouldn’t spend Christmas in Australia. Tommy’s never been to Oz, he met mum and dad once when they came to visit, and he met Spencer this summer. The rest of my family, and it’s a big one, have never seen his ugly mug in person.” “Watch it, buster!” “So… we’re going to spend two weeks in New South Wales at the end of the year. We’d like to have the three of you come with us. You guys are as much a part of our family as any of the people down there.” “YES! Fucking A. That sounds awesome. I wanna go surfing when we’re down there. Can we go to Manly Beach? The place has to be full of hot guys.” The exuberance of youth made them all chuckle. CJ had clearly shown where his interest lay: sports and men. “Down, surfer boy. Don’t you think Papa and I have a say in this matter?” “But, Daaad…” “But dad nothing. You think you can take the time off, Jarhead? “I’m sure the Colonel will give me leave whenever I ask for it. What about you?” “Even though it’s a busy time for me, it shouldn’t be a problem. I haven't taken much time off all year and my billable hours are very high.” “Great! Well what are we waiting for? Let’s start planning! It’ll be sooo cool to spend New Year’s Eve in Australia.” The fifteen-year-old teenager made an appearance once again. The rapid fire comments conveying the excitement he felt. “Oh shit, I need a passport, don’t I? I wonder if mine’s still good.” “Get me some valid passports, I’ll take care of the visas once I go back to the embassy next week. Find out if you guys can take the time off and we’ll figure out the exact days after you do.” Rising from his spot on the bed, JP ran a hand over Tom’s head, smoothing out his husband’s short hair. “I’m starving, mates. Anyone want something from the cafeteria? I’m going to get me a sandwich.” “Take Brett and César with you, honey. I want to chat with CJ for a few minutes in private. Oh, and bring me a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee, please? “Fucking stereotypes always have some truth to them.” Brett’s quip made them all smile. “Shut up, Jarhead. Anything for you, CJ? “Just a bottle of water?” “Be back in a bit if we can keep my husband―the big, bad marine―out of trouble.” “Asshole!” replied Brett to César. “Matilda, let’s waltz out of here.” JP rolled his eyes at Brett’s reference to the well-known Aussie tune. “Have I told you how much I love your dads, CJ?” Detective Kennedy asked the question as he patted the spot on the side of the bed his husband had been sitting on, inviting CJ to move there. “After your confrontation with my parents, I felt you needed to hear more about my background so you could completely understand why I’m estranged from them.” “You know I was born in Boston, dad was a cop and very strict with all us children. Mom took care of the house and her men, cooked, and helped keep us on top of our schoolwork. Any free time she had, she spent in church. In high school, I was an average student but I was a great football player, made All-State my senior year. Even back then, I was more interested in my teammates than in the cheerleaders, but I knew I had to keep those feelings to myself. I dated some but never for long.” “I think things have changed a lot since then, Uncle Tommy. Today you could probably do whatever you wanted. Especially if you were so big other guys couldn’t pick on you.” “Maybe so, but I’d still have to deal with the family. And being big didn’t guarantee I’d be safe, if a group of guys got together and tried to hurt me. You better remember that part.” “I know, just had that conversation again with the ‘rents this weekend.” “Anyway, I graduated with no idea of what I wanted to do, so I enlisted in the Army. Four years surrounded by men, in an environment with testosterone constantly in the air, wasn’t a picnic. I kept to myself, did my job, and survived. Returning to Boston, I started seeing a girl I’d dated before leaving. I was picking up odd jobs here and there, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. Two years later I got married to her, and right afterwards entered the Police Academy. Ten months later, Bradley was born. He’s the same age as you, will turn sixteen next month. Paddy came along when his brother was a two-year-old toddler.” “I hope I get to meet them sometime…” “I hope so too, CJ. Anyway, I was still fighting my attraction to men. The following years saw me slip into depression. I could no longer—” The ringing telephone interrupted Tom Kennedy mid-sentence. “I got it, Uncle Tommy.” CJ picked up the phone so the injured cop wouldn’t have to stretch for it. “Hello? Detective Kennedy’s room.” CJ scrunched up his face as he listened to the caller. “This is CJ, I’m the detective’s nephew. Who’s calling?” The boy’s face lit up in surprise hearing the response to his question. “No shit? Dude! He’s really gonna flip! Hang on.” CJ held the handset out to the injured cop, “Uncle Tom, it’s your son Bradley… for you.”
  40. 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.
  41. 1 point
    “What do you think of the Flyer, guys?” “This is sick, Vasili! Fucking vampire didn’t spare expenses when he outfitted this baby. I have as much access here as I do back in Halifax, this is incredible.” “Figures you’d go gaga over the tech, Neo. What about you, Genni? Any comments?” “Nothing new to add, Vasili; remember I’ve been on it before.” “That’s right, you were part of the team who designed and supervised our enhancements.” “We didn’t do much, boss. Improved radar and communications equipment, some safety improvements and a modified cargo area so we could fit the missile launcher plus any other weapons we might need. But this is Fer’s virgin flight; what do you think babe?” “Like what’s there not to like about a loaded Gulfstream G650? This is what makes us pilots have wet dreams. I’m pissed I didn’t get to fly it, boss. Why do we have a crew of wolves? There are plenty of us dolphins who can handle this puppy.” “The Full Moon Flyer is legally owned by the tribe, Fer. Sharing the plane and the boat is based on a handshake between Chief Mahigan and me. To cover our part of the expenses we charter the plane, pay for its use and also pay the tribe for personnel to operate it. You couldn’t fly and also take part in the operation anyway.” “When are we getting the details of the operation and why am I part of it? Is the Chief Medical Officer of the tribe truly needed?” “You might be, Epo. We have no idea of what condition any kids we rescue will be in; I want you around to look at them. Plus you can use the exercise of the operation. Your wife was telling me you’re getting chubby.” “Fuck you, boss.” “No thanks. Anyway, we’re stopping in the Netherlands to pick up the dragons, then flying to Poland while they continue to Finland on their own. After the initial raids, we’ll fly to Denmark while the Flyer will continue on to Iceland. After the last part of the mission is completed, we’ll fly from Reykjavik home to Nova Scotia.” “Fine, but I want a chance to fly the plane at some point.” “Just talk to the wolves once we get home, Fer. They want as many wolves and dolphins as possible qualified to fly it. Neo, you and your dragon boy were in charge of planning; let’s hear what else you have for us.” “My digging confirmed there are two factions involved. They have split most of Europe amongst themselves and are frequently at odds with each other. The two principals are ex-KGB friends of Putin. One lives in London and the other one in Geneva.” “Are we going after them?” “The dragons will handle that, Fer. They insisted they had the right to do so. Their home cities are where most of their financial resources are located. I think they have some money back in Russia but I didn’t want to hack into the banks there for fear of raising a red flag.” “Are you planning on diverting those funds the way you did with the blood suckers accounts?” “I’m gonna try, Genni, but it’s not our primary objective. We’re hoping phase one of our operation will cause enough confusion it’ll raise the level of animosity between the factions. The goal is to start a family feud which leads to them taking out as many of each other’s troops as possible. The second part of our plans will go into effect then. I’ve also set up some routines to move most of their money out of their accounts but there’s no way of knowing how much will be there at the time. ● ● ● “I’m ready, guys.” Chama’s voice in my ear startled me. It was the middle of the night, the streets in this commercial district of Helsinki were deathly quiet, and I had the comm unit’s volume set too high. That was the signal Litrik and I were waiting for. “Draak, Chama and I will shift now and take care of the guards; you’ll have about fifteen minutes from the time you see the flames.” The three of us were about to raid the Russian mafia’s headquarters in the Finnish capital. Once the alarms went off or the authorities were notified of a fire we calculated a quarter of an hour before the first responders arrived. In that time I had to complete my assignment and disappear from the area. “That’s a go, let’s fuck ‘em up.” My fellow dragons needed a few minutes to strip, remove their communication equipment and store it in the specially designed bag which would be secured to their leg. It would remain there through the shift from human and back. It’s not fun to shift, fly somewhere, shift back and find yourself naked with no clothing around. A bright flare up in the rear of the empty building next to our target started the countdown. The warehouse the Russians used housed their prostitution operations, we had no idea how many children were inside, and therefore couldn’t set the place itself on fire. No way were we taking the risk of directly harming innocents already victimized by the ruthless mobsters. The flapping of wings drew my sight upwards and I caught a glimpse of a man sized flying being circling the targeted building and spouting flames every few meters. Chama was sticking to the smallest possible size as a dragon to facilitate maneuvering between the structures; he was burning out all the security cameras we had detected. A side door opened up and two men ran out carrying what appeared to be AKM automatic rifles. Litrik was waiting for them and he spouted a hot enough flame to burn them alive. Their agonized death scream was short lived but strident and jarring; it hopefully served to induce fear to the remaining guard inside. Our intelligence gathering indicated there were three guards left inside after their operations closed down each night. I could hear sirens in the distance; five minutes had elapsed since the initial flames. My eyes were fixed on the window above the main door on the second floor. It opened and the barrel of a gun appeared slowly followed by a head. Chama was perched on the edge of the roof waiting. The guard didn’t stand a chance, the flame was so intense his face melted away in seconds. The skin vaporized and the muscles broke down until the bone structure was exposed. My turn, if we were wrong about there being three guards I could be in trouble. I ran up the three steps to the front door, attached the ribbon of explosive putty around the lock, pressed the electronic timer attached to the detonator and ran back to my previous spot behind a truck parked on the street. The explosion was not very loud but the bright flash and the rising smoke meant I could kick the door in. Stepping into a small reception area I dropped the package I was carrying on top of the desk in the room. A similar one was being delivered to the apartment of a reporter within the hour. Both contained an assortment of documents summarizing the business carried on within the premises, the names of local members of the organization and that of its head. I listed details about his life in England and any connection to Putin we’d been able to dig up. Two of my cousins where in London, ready to execute the man if he tried to flee. If he stayed put his life would be spared for a few more days. I had less than five minutes to get upstairs where we suspected their business offices were. Slamming my shoulder into the door marked PORTAAT I ran into the stairwell and headed upstairs taking the steps two at a time. Jackpot! Two doors leading from the landing, one marked TOIMISTO and the other one AULA. I kicked in the one for the office and was happy to see blood and charred remains by the window facing the street in front. Stripping while searching the desk with a top off the line Apple computer on it, I started to shove my clothes into my rucksack. Forcing the desk drawers open I got lucky. A small clear container, labeled in Cyrillic, held a handful of memory sticks which went into my bag. I could hear the sirens getting closer. Approaching the window the flashing lights of the responding authorities could be seen approaching the entrance to the industrial park. No time to check on the children, I had to believe they would be rescued by the fire and police officers. I clambered out the window, perched on the ledge and began my transformation. My cranium elongated, my eyes shifted to each side of my head, my nose disappeared; two breathing holes remained above my mouth now filled with razor sharp teeth. As my entire body was quickly covered in armor like scales, my hands and feet turned into claws, a third set of limbs grew out of either side of my abdomen and a set of wings grew out of my back. The membrane between the bones dried and the wings rested on either side of my body, ready to propel me into the air. A thick tail, covered in hardened spikes, extruded from my body. It would serve as a stabilizing limb and also as a weapon in battle. My external appearance was not the sole change; existing internal structures reconfigured themselves and new ones developed. Stomach gases bubbled and were stored in one of the new specialized organs, ready to serve as fuel for my flames. A gestation chamber grew within me with a birthing channel extending to what used to be my belly button. As dragons we could supply either sperm or egg. When one of us became pregnant, we returned to our human shape as a female and remained that way until after birth. The newborn could then end up with two moms, two dads, or one of each; they would both still be the biological parents. The transformation complete I used my hind legs to push off the ledge. I spread my wings, and with a motion bred into my kind, used the membrane covered limbs to propel me above the building’s roofline, disappearing into the night. I would fly towards the Baltic Sea, heading to Klaipeda, Lithuania. Tomorrow night the dolphins would raid a location in Gdansk, Poland before joining us. Once together, a decision would be made concerning further raids. ● ● ● “Hey, Neo…” “Draak! Give me a minute and I’ll be finished here, handsome.” “We’re about to take off and the pilots want us strapped in. Can I sit with you? “I’d like that. I’d also like to spend some time alone with you at some point.” “You did promise me a ride on your yacht and I intend on holding you to that promise, Neo.” “Hell, yeah. I hope you realize I’m interested in more than cruising around on a boat. Maybe a little exploration of your body? I’m bi but I think for you I could forget about women entirely.” “I’m flattered. Being blunt, I’d love to get naked with you but we need to talk about a few things beforehand. Including the fact my lifespan is at least ten times yours. Now, about our current operation…” “The initial raid in Helsinki sent a lot of Russians scurrying. My people back in Halifax were able to trace calls from the people we had already identified which led to more members of the groups we targeted. The evidence left behind for the authorities and leaked to the media pointed to the rival faction as responsible. The guy in Geneva, whose organization ran the Finnish operation, ordered a hit on his counterpart in London that same day.” “Good, I guess our plan worked. I hope they were successful.” “They were. The Brits are reposting the explosion in an exclusive London residential area was the result of a gas leak; it was a hell of a bomb which leveled the house and killed the head guy. Combined with the raid in Gdansk, the underworld is abuzz with rumors about the feud and the ruthlessness of the man in Geneva. He’s still alive.” “Not for long, Litrik will authorize his execution as soon as I report this to him. The ship?” “Has developed mechanical problems and has docked in Malmo, Sweden to disembark all passengers and non-essential crew―read non-Russian―who will be provided alternate transportation to their destinations. The company publicly announced the remaining personnel will steer the ship towards Amsterdam where repairs will be made.” “The fuckers played right into our hands, didn’t they?” “Yup. Halifax intercepted messages indicating the ship was to be sanitized so no evidence of the illicit operations remained. Part three of our operation is a go.” ● ● ● “Neo?” “Hang on, Vasili. A couple more commands and I’ll pack the phone away.” The Full Moon Flyer had landed at Thisted Airport, in northeastern Denmark to refuel in the early afternoon. The five of us and the three dragons had slipped out of the plane and traveled the eight kilometers to the coast line where we now stood. The sun was dipping below the horizon and with twilight came the start of our mission’s final phase. “Done.” “Litrik, once we reach deep water, we’ll surface to take breaths every one to two minutes. Your augmented eyesight will allow you to follow us even in darkness.” “Will do, Vasili. Be careful, my friend.” “Definitely. I’ll breach in front of the boat when we’re in position; it’ll be your signal to light the fuckers up. Let’s go guys. Neo, take the lead.” “Sure, boss.” We planned on swimming out to the ship as dolphins, surround it and follow for a short while. It was a common sight for dolphins to swim around vessels. Our shifting was a two stage process as we became mermen before reaching our final shape. The five of us stripped, packed our clothes into a custom built bag which Epo, our medical guy, secured around his waist with his first aid kit. It wasn’t much as we had all worn shorts and t-shirts, our flip-flops we left behind hoping someone would find them and be able to use them. Stepping into the water our instincts took over. Fingers and toes became webbed while our nails became retractable claws. Our ability to spread our lower limbs diminished as they came close to fusing together. The configuration helps propels us through the water at higher speeds. Genitals shrank into the body while the end of our penises bent into a hook―a convenient way of remaining connected during intercourse while still swimming. Any hair on our body disappeared and our skin became somewhat rubbery; it bulged over our spine as the precursor of a dorsal fin formed. A blowhole opened up on the back of our hairless heads. Our face morphed into something between a human and a dolphin: our nose elongated, our eyes spread apart, our ears shrank as new auditory openings appeared below our seeing orbs. Internal organs rearranged with our trachea and esophagus becoming completely separate tracts preventing water from reaching our lungs when we open our mouths underwater. The blowhole is the only opening into our lungs. As mermen we could function at sea and on land. “Let’s dive, brothers.” Any conversation while in our mermen shape was carried on mostly with sound waves and very few actual words. At Vasili’s command we plunged head first into the waters of Vigsø Bugt and began the second phase of our transformation. The changes to our facial features became more pronounced until all semblance of humanity disappeared. Arms morphed into flippers, our bodies elongated and our lower limbs shrank, morphing into flukes. Although our lung size remained the same, the capacity to absorb and store oxygen increased. We could easily hold our breath for up to seven minutes and dive deeper than humans. Genni was in charge of this phase of the operation; he took the lead with Fer at his side. Both former military men saw duty in Afghanistan and were no strangers to clandestine operations. They took the lead as we swam in a course designed to intercept the Tsar of the Seas―traveling close to the Danish coast on its way to Amsterdam. Epo was beside me with Vasili at the rear until we sighted the vessel. Our enforcers slowed down and took position at the stern of the ship while the three of us forged ahead swimming beside the ship. We played at the bow attracting some attention from a handful of the men on board. Our estimates put the remaining contingent somewhere around a dozen men operating the boat plus however many of those involved in the illicit activities were still around. Surprising the sailors watching us, Vasili breached with enough strength to reach the bulwarks before falling back to the water and immediately submerging below the bilge. The boss’ acrobatic performance was swiftly followed by a slowdown of the ferry boat as the propeller stopped turning. Winged shapes appeared in the dark visible as dark blotches against the moonless starry night; our dragons were making their move. Two of them placed themselves amidships on either side while the third flew lazy figure eights above the forecastle intent on attracting the attention of as many crew members as possible. The dragon we knew to be Chama momentarily distracted the crew. For a moment they forgot about their ship slowing down, and in that instant they sealed their fate. With blinding speed the dragon flew away from the ship before rapidly turning back and heading directly towards the bridge. As he flew over the bow his maw opened and a searing tongue of flame spurted out, setting several men afire and charring the paint on the deck before tilting his body upwards and barely avoiding a collision as he soared back into the night. Vasili surfaced at the ship’s stern, joining Genni and Fer, while Epo and I took up position slightly ahead of them on either side of the boat. We were ready to join the battle as soon as Litrik and Draak cleared the way for us. And hell if they didn’t do just that as I thought of it. Both dragons flew alongside the ship, flaming the deck and in the process turning fleeing Ruskies into crispy nuggets. The nauseating stench of burning flesh permeated the air reaching us as we breached, reaching as high as Vasili previously had. The five of us had aimed ourselves towards the ship as we jumped out of the water and began our reverse transformation. By the time we reached the apex of our climb we once again had arms and legs and landed on the deck bending our knees to absorb the force of the impact. There was charred wood everywhere but surprisingly no visible flames, retardant coatings prevented the ship from catching fire. Close up, the stench of burnt flesh and sulphur was almost overwhelming; I had to fight not to retch on the spot. As a large dragon continued to attract the attention of whatever crew remained alive, the sound of small arms fire joined the cacophony of blaring alarms and men shouting in a language I assumed was Russian. I had been assured the armor-like scales covering the creatures’ bodies made the possibility on a bullet causing them injury a remote possibility. It would have to be a lucky shot hitting one of the few exposed areas of flesh. The other two dragons had turned back after raking the sides of the ship with their flames and hovered over the rear deck as we completed our shift in midair and landed on the ship. I’m certain they watched our transformation with as much interest as we now watched them transform into Litrik and Draak. They had landed on the deck right after we had. “Everybody okay?” asked Litrik as small puffs of smoke emerged from his mouth with each breath. We all replied in the affirmative before splitting into two groups, each one moving towards the bridge on either side of the ship. A dragon and an enforcer in each group, Vasili following on the starboard side while Epo took the port side. I remained behind, completed my shift to human and removed my phone from the waterproof bag I had stored it in before we left land. While tapping away on the screen, sending commands through the satellite link, I watched as each group approached the ship’s control center. The dragons kept watch ready to shift again in an instant if needed as Genni and Fer slammed open the bridge doors, briefly stepped inside and each brought out a twitching, bleeding human speared on their claws. Looking at the uniforms they wore I noted the ship was now without a captain or a first officer. The commands I’d entered on my phone had silenced the sirens and all we could now hear was the waves slapping against the sides of the boat. No shouting, no screaming and no firearms being discharged could be heard. I saw Chama reduce his size, land on the ship and transform into a human once again. We had secured the ship’s topside but who knew what waited for us inside. ● ● ● “That was fun! Can we do it again, Daddy Genni?” “Shut up, Fer. Be a good boy and sit down, let’s hear what Neo has to say.” “Fine but all that excitement has me horned up, you’re gonna be walking funny by the time I get done with you.” “Children, please! Epo’s straight and not used to hearing you gay boys talk about sex.” “Just ‘cause you’re bi doesn’t mean you can start dissing us, Neo. So fuck you!” “In your dreams, Fer. In your dreams.” “Time for me to put on my Alpha hat. All of you shut the fuck up and can the comedy routine; Epo you go first. Tell me about the children, I was too damn busy with other things and unable to keep track of what you were doing.” “In time, the kids will all be physically fine. All nine found aboard were malnourished and suffering aftereffects from the drugs they had been fed. Most of them were bruised; some had burn marks, open sores, and fresh lacerations from being whipped. One girl will need reconstructive surgery to her vagina and two boys will require similar procedures to their rectums. None of those three were in need of emergency surgery.” “Fucking animals, wish we could have taken our time and tortured them, I would have enjoyed hearing them scream in pain.” Fer was the most affected by seeing the kids we found on the ship. “No you wouldn’t have, Fer. We’ll all suffer enough with the memories of what we’ve seen, there’s no need for further horrors. Vasili, during our time at sea en route to Iceland I kept them all sedated while providing nourishment through intravenous lines. I also provided enough antibiotics to kill almost any bug they may have been infected with. All rapid HIV tests were negative.” “That was all the stuff in the duffel bag the dragons dropped off? “It was, Genni. I packed what I thought might be needed to treat between twelve and fifteen patients before we left Halifax. So again, physically they will recover; emotionally―” “Not worth venturing guesses about, Epo. I promised Litrik we would work with the dragons to provide whatever they need. What do you have for us, Genni?” “I’m confident our involvement will not be discovered by the humans, Vasili. When you breached in front of the ship, as a signal to the dragons, Chama activated the transmitter incorporated into the harness he wore. Neo and his people designed it to use low power signals to disable the ship’s engines by incapacitating their computers. The transmitter also jammed all communications from the boat. Due to the short range of all frequencies involved, I suspect they were not detectable.” “Fer, what’s the current status of the Tsar of the Seas?” “Still docked in Reykjavik, under quarantine by order of the Icelandic Coast Guard. By flying back in time to ensure being on duty when we broadcast our mayday before abandoning the ship, Litrik ended up being in charge of boarding it and supervising its inspection. The kids are all in temporary foster homes while the Icelandic government attempts to determine if any have family they can be returned to. Two of the older boys have said they ran away from orphanages in Russia.” “Are we ready for our closing act, Neo? “Yes, Alpha. As soon as you give me the word our friends in the media will receive information packages detailing the ship’s ownership, its operations, and pictures of what we found inside. The children’s faces have been completely removed. I expect the Russian government will be very embarrassed and hundreds of offers will be made to adopt the children without families.” “And the money?” “I was able to divert enough funds to cover all costs of our mission and establish a five-million Euro trust for each rescued child. The existence of the trusts will not be revealed until the kids are reunited with their families or adopted. An “anonymous donor” has funded them and Bank Suisse has no idea who the money came from―everything was done electronically.” “Anything left over, Neo?” “Meh, a little change I’ve split evenly between us and the dragons, Vasili.” “Wanna put a figure to our share of the little change, smartass?” “Enough we could buy one of these little jets for ourselves if we wanted to, Boss.”
  42. 1 point
    “Góðan daginn.” “Good morning to you also, Uncle Litrik.” “Draak? It’s good to hear your voice, nephew. It’s been a while since we’ve talked; emails are nice but hearing a voice is so much better. How are you adjusting to your new assignment at Brunssum?” “It’s going well, Uncle. The Joint Force Command is going to be a great opportunity to learn, and meet some people who I’ll deal with for a long time. After my tour ends, and I return to the Dutch Air Force, the experience will help me advance in the ranks.” “I’m surprised you’d call me in the middle of the day on a Monday. To what do I owe the honor?” “Not very good news, I’m afraid. Over the weekend I read a confidential NATO report which affects out family. It’s not classified, but it’s also not meant for the general public. Two weeks ago, the body of a young boy was found floating in a canal in Amsterdam. He had been strangled to death, and there was evidence of physical abuse, including traces of semen in his rectum. Analysis of the DNA determined it was from at least half a dozen men.” “That’s horrible! How can anyone derive any sort of satisfaction from abusing a child? I’m quite aware it takes place but still, hearing about it causes me to question how civilized humans really are. I hope the culprits are found, and punished. You said this affects our family?” “Yes, I did. The child has not been identified, but I recognized the family’s birthmark in the boy’s photographs included in the file. The small claw was clearly visible on his left shoulder. I’m certain it’s the body of my Estonian cousin who disappeared two years ago.” “Motherfuckers! You tell me everything you know, we’re going to find the people who did this to the boy. When we do, I’ll personally rip them to shreds, and enjoy listening to them scream, as I watch them slowly bleed to death. Do the authorities have any leads?” “Yes they do, Uncle; but it’s all being kept quiet for now. NATO and INTERPOL became involved when evidence surfaced of a large criminal group being involved. There are signs the culprits have ties to the Russian government, and a connection to Putin is being looked into.” “It never ceases to amaze me how such a great nation as Russia, can produce so many bullies and thugs. Can you email me a copy of the file? Or would you get in trouble for doing so? I want to think about what we can do.” “I already sent it to your private email address; I used the family’s encoding protocol. Once you review it, and come up with a plan, let me know how I can help avenge the death of my young cousin. I feel the same way you do concerning the people responsible for his death.” ● ● ● The file Draak sent me was one of the most nauseating things I’ve ever been exposed to. The photographs showed a rail thin boy with longish blonde hair, and bruises all over his body. The narrative accompanying the images made my stomach lurch and my eyes fill with tears. I had met the boy a few months before his disappearance; I recalled bright eyes and a loud laugh, as he ran around his parents’ apartment in Tallinn. Our tightly knit but widely dispersed family had looked for the boy incessantly when he went missing during a family holiday in Saint Petersburg. No traces of him were ever found, until now. The angry red marks along his back, buttocks and legs spoke of repeated lashings; the cigar burns over his genitals spoke of sadistic monsters who I would be happy to burn alive. I chose to push the images of the broken body as far down in my consciousness as possible and concentrated on memories of the once happy child. A child without his dragon powers since he had not yet reached puberty. Sixty-five million years ago an extinction level event destroyed most life on planet Earth. Out of the holocaust a few species arose, evolved, and thrived―mine amongst them. We became exceptional in many ways but were limited in our reproductive capabilities. That which made us powerful: strong bodies, the ability to shift between forms, flight capability and the power to generate flames at will also restricted our mating. Blinded by lust we often injured ourselves or our partners in the throes of passion. Each dragonet born was treasured by us all. As dragons, we enjoyed exceptional longevity but our numbers were not large. The two remaining branches of our kind, one in Asia and one in Europe, kept a low profile and functioned as humans as much as possible. In difficult times, however, we did not shy away from a fight and used our powers to gain any possible advantage. The history of our race, and the mystery surrounding the body found in the Netherlands, occupied my thoughts as I soared over the North Atlantic on my way from Reykjavik to Halifax, Nova Scotia. My call to the chief executive officer of Trident Enterprises had gained me a meeting with the man. Vasilikós Delfíni Allásso̱n agreed to meet with me after I revealed my awareness of his recent encounter with Vlad Tepes. A very surprised but calm man invited me to lunch and offered to send his jet for me; I accepted the meal but refused the plane. I needed to be alone with my thoughts for a while and the nearly thirty-five hundred kilometers between our homes would provide me close to eight hours of solitude. ● ● ● “Mr. Allásso̱n, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Your agreeing to see me on such short notice is truly appreciated.” “It’s good to meet you, Captain Dreki; please call me Vasili. I must admit your call intrigued me and alarmed me; your knowledge of my people’s nature came as a surprise. Your request for assistance could not be ignored after reviewing the information you forwarded. My sincere condolences on the death of your nephew. His disappearance, abuse and murder are not something I’ll easily forget.” “Thank you, Vasili; my family appreciates your willingness to listen to us and we hope you will agree to assist us. And please, Captain Litrik Dreki is an officer in the Icelandic Coast Guard. I’m not here in that capacity. I’m here as a private citizen and ask you call me Litrik as my friends do.” “You’re a man full of surprises, Litrik; your awareness of the incident involving Vermillion Industries and Prince Tepes[1] was quite a shock. My associates and I felt we camouflaged the true nature of the incident from discovery by outsiders―we failed to account for the possibility of Dragons being around. Your revelations led to quite a bit of research by my pod’s chief analyst; he found plenty of references to your kind in ancient records before the sinking of Atlantis but not many since that time.” “We chose anonymity a long time ago, Vasili; it’s the way in which we avoid the dangers of being a magical creature in a world dominated by humans. Man’s fear of what it doesn’t understand has resulted in annihilation one too many times. Long ago we decided not to interfere with humans and to instead concentrate on the wellbeing of our families. Today, we find ourselves unable to stand aside and permit the atrocities visited upon one of our own to be repeated on anyone else. This time we must take action and we need help.” “I understand, Litrik. After looking through those documents you sent, as Alpha for the pod, I decided we would provide assistance as you’ve requested. I did consult my inner circle, something I do whenever there’s potential danger to any of us. All the members agreed with my decision. Our Delta, Genni Thallassio and his husband and fellow enforcer, Fer Thallassio, insisted on volunteering for the mission. They want to start a family and the thought one of their children could suffer how your nephew did enraged them.” “Thank you again, my friend. We will forever be in your debt.” “Here’s what I’d like to do, Captain; I understand you must return to Iceland shortly but my people are ready to start working. I’d like to put my head geek in charge of developing the plans for retaliating against these murderers―his work is what enabled us to defeat the vampire. He’ll be calling your man at NATO, gather any additional information on the suspects and in all likelihood, initiate internet surveillance. “I’ll meet with him during the process but I’d like him and your nephew to develop our plan of action. Go home, you and I will talk soon; I expect we’ll be seeing each other again in a few days somewhere in Europe.” ● ● ● That felt right; I’m now certain asking Vasili, and his people, for help was the proper move. I could tell how affected he was by our boy’s torture and murder. Based on what I’ve heard of him and on what I saw during our meeting the man must have a strong moral compass guiding his actions. There was abhorrence for the events I presented evident in his demeanor and no hesitation when he promised to provide assistance. During his encounter with the vampire, I believe his actions were initially motivated by a desire to protect his business partners in the Bay of Fundy tidal power project. His close work with the werewolves of the Full Moon pack during the crisis showcased his ability to cooperate with others to achieve a common objective. The resolution to the conflict was elegant. Although Prince Vlad escaped, the financial resources of the bloodsucker were severely compromised and he will think twice before attempting any further incursions into eastern Canada. The business partners are no longer in danger and the wolf pack and dolphin pod reaped unexpected monetary benefits. His comments on how the new found wealth was being employed to benefit all the wolves and dolphins spoke highly of him. The Alphas could have appropriated the lion share of the money but chose instead to use it for the good of the many. And hell, the jet and the yacht were nice toys to end up with also. When Poseidon agreed to save the pack of werewolves living on Atlantis before it sank into the ocean, he created an incredible group of beings. The capacity to shift between human, merman and dolphin forms gave them the ability to function on land and sea, effectively making them much more effective than they had been in their wolf form. They’re army, navy and marine force; my Dragons will serve as the air force in this operation. Vasili’s not aware of the sense of loyalty my people have but he’ll eventually find out. His agreement to assist us has made him and his people new friends for life. Regardless of the outcome, his willingness to step up and help will make my people view him as a hero. It was good to meet his Chief Technology Officer also. I was extremely impressed with Neo; the young man displayed an exceptional grasp of his area of expertise. During the conference call with Draak I felt as if they were speaking an alien language. Those two connected so rapidly I think they’ll hit it off when they meet in person. I should let my nephew know his new acquaintance is bisexual; my Dutch relative will need a drool-proof cover on his keyboard when he sees what the Canadian looks like during their planned Skype session. ● ● ● “There we go, Draak; I love my big screen monitor and the clear picture it gives me. It’s good to put a face to the emails we’ve been trading―nice smile buddy.” “Same here, Neo; my uncle was right you’re one big fucker. He said you played American football at uni?” “Yeah, I went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and played for the Engineers all four years I was there. Hey, after meeting your uncle Litrik and seeing how every bit of visible skin on him was covered with such colorful tattoos, I was expecting you to be showing some ink.” “I’m too young for that. My people decorate their body one piece at a time and considering how long we live it takes a few of hundred years before we reach the level my uncle has.” “A few hundred years? Wow! How old is he? And how old are you?” “Uncle Litrik is over five hundred years old, I’m sixty-two.” “Fuck, I hope I look as good as you do when I reach your age. Not likely though, our life span is around ninety years. Our ability to heal when we shift between forms helps us remain healthy but many of us die in accidents. The sea is a dangerous lover. Anyway, were you able to access the NATO information I asked for?” “Yes I did and I’ll be sending it over in a bit. None of it is classified but I’m glad you didn’t try to hack into the system. I’m certain you’d have been able to get in but sooner or later they would have tracked you down. This way there’s no risk of you being discovered.” “Great, Draak, how about giving me a quick summary?” “We’re facing a decentralized organization in the Russian Mafia. They operate in almost every country in Europe and each operation is independent. They cooperate in several areas including the sex trades; kiddie porn is a component in that segment of their business. Children are initially used in the production of films and webcasts of live sex acts―both ventures generate millions in revenue each month. After the novelty of a child wears off, they are moved into prostitution; those who survive are sold into slavery. This is in addition to those who are sold into servitude from the outset. NATO suspects Vladimir Putin and his thugs at the Kremlin benefit from all the illegal activities financially and in turn provide a degree of protection to the criminals.” “I’ll have to pay attention to the interconnections when I review the files you’re sending me. So there’s no evidence of one overall leader?” “No there doesn’t seem to be one. The different groups have been known to disagree and become confrontational at times.” “That’s a good thing to know; it could be just the opening we need to deal with these assholes.” “I’ll send the files over as soon as we disconnect, Neo. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions and I hope you and I get to hang out when you come over to Europe.” “Me too, Draak. I’ll probably be over in a few days. Have a good night and a great weekend, handsome.” [1] Tidal Power
  43. 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.”
  44. 1 point
    …he turned into a fucking merman! An honest to goodness merman, MERDE!’ ● ● ● “Hello?” “Vasili, it’s Mahi, I have some bad news.” “Huh?” “Come on. Vasili, wake up. This is serious.” “Hang on, give me a minute. For crying out loud, Mahi, you know what time it is?” “Yes, I do. It’s almost five in the morning and you need to get your ass up. We have a problem.” “Okay, okay, I’m up. It’s almost time for my morning swim anyway. What’s going on?” “The body of one of the guys you sent over washed up on the beach just minutes ago. He was shot several times but he also had two puncture wounds on the neck.” “Oh fuck. Where is he now? “We moved him into one of the coolers at the fish-house. Two of my guys cleaned him up and wrapped him in canvas until you tell us what to do.” “Okay, good. Give me half an hour and I’ll call you back. I’ll be heading over with a few of our guys once we can get organized.” ● ● ● “Hey, men; Prota will join us in a minute, he had to take a phone call. What do you have for us, Sesi?” “Not a lot yet, Vasili. Sorry about your man―we’ll get the fuckers involved in this. Our guys who cleaned him and discovered the two puncture wounds on the side of his neck also, noticed a smaller hole on his back with a tiny needle imbedded in it; we think a tranquilizer dart was used to knock him out before he was transported aboard the yacht. In spite of the obvious bite by a vampire, the kid was not drained of blood; combined with the gunshot wounds I’m pretty sure he began to shift when first bitten.” “Fuck! That means the blood suckers are most likely aware of our existence now. Néo, any images from the drone? Any new communications from the yacht?” “No images, boss. Our man must have been brought on board while the drone was back at our place getting fresh batteries. Our chief enforcer, Genni, has already arranged for us to have two more drones by this afternoon so we will not have lapses in coverage again. We monitored one call from this guy Tepes to someone in New Orleans. He ordered additional muscle and sent the plane down to pick them up after sunset tonight. The wolves are handling that angle of the operation.” “Mahi?” “I’ll let Mel handle this since he made the arrangements. You’re up kid.” “Okay, Néo was able to track the location called in New Orleans and it’s a large building in the French Quarter of the city. We think it’s one of their safe houses. I contacted my counterpart in the Bayou Pack and requested assistance. I explained the situation, without mentioning you guys can shift into mermen or dolphins, and he agreed to help. “Their safe house has been placed under surveillance and if the wolves smell any vampires, they have orders to kill them. Wolves are also on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport to await the arrival of the Vermillion jet, establish surveillance and prevent anyone from boarding after sunset.” “Sorry about the phone call guys, but I’m glad I took it.” “What’s up Próta? “That was the owner of Acoustic Solutions; his daughter was approached by two guys as she left a movie theatre last night. She was told to inform her father he should decide what he valued most, his company or his family.” “Shit! I guess they’re ready to make a move now.” “I think so, Mahi. But I have an idea on how to deal with these assholes. Can we take a break so I can discuss this with Sesi?” ● ● ● “Beta Próta and Beta Sesi reporting for duty, sirs!” “Get over yourselves, assholes. But thanks for trying to lighten the mood, what did the two of you come up with?” “Próta and I made some calls and put some wheels in motion. Since our two companies are the main participants in the joint venture we arranged for a conference call with the owners of our four partners to make them aware of a potential danger to all of us. We talked about the threats and then let them know the consortium was arranging for security details for them and their immediate families. “We asked our Deltas to coordinate the arrangements and insisted a couple of wolves be included in the evening teams. In case vampires appear we know wolves can kill them but we have no knowledge of what mermen could do to them. Próta, wanna take part two? “Sure, Sesi. We asked the owner of Acoustic to call the solicitor in Québec and let him know he was ready to accept their offer but wanted to have the deal finalized over the weekend. He let the lawyer know their offer of one hundred million Euros was acceptable and to make sure the funds were ready for transfer first thing Monday morning. The little shit sounded so happy I thought he would crawl through the phone and kiss our guy. He promised to contact his client and arrange for a transfer of funds to his trust account and asked for an hour to finalize a proposed contract which he would then email. We’re waiting for it any minute now.” “Néo, I’m sure your little wiretap has revealed some information, correct?” “Right you are, Vasili. The solicitor placed a call to the yacht and then an email was sent from the boat to a bank in Marseilles. The transcript of the call and the text of the message are being emailed to you as we speak. I think we need another break until we have the proposed contract and a response from Marseilles.” ● ● ● “So, he called and agreed to sell, at last good news. Maybe I won’t have to return to Marseilles with nothing to show for my efforts. I’m glad the conversation our friends had with his daughter helped him realize our offer was a most generous one. Have you sent him the proposed contract?” “Yes, Prince Tepes. I expect a call from him sometime later today. I may have to fly to Halifax sometime this weekend if we’re to have a closing on Monday morning.” “The company jet will be at your disposal when it returns from New Orleans. Our friends arriving on it have their orders and know where to go―you need not concern yourself with their actions, they’re here as insurance.” “Yes, sir... about the money?” “I’ve just authorized the transfer of one hundred million Euros to your trust account.” “What have you found out about that abomination we encountered last night?” “Nothing so far, your highness. I contacted individuals in the top twenty population centers in North America and not one of them has ever heard of mermen shifters. Maybe it was a mutant wolf?” “You’ve been watching too many Marvel movies but maybe you’re right. I hope so for all our sakes.” ● ● ● “Yes! We’ve got the motherfuckers! By the end of tonight your pack, Mahi and our pod, Vasili should have a lot of money in a Cayman Islands bank account and two new toys to play with.” “Damn, Sesi, I’ve never seen you this excited or smiling so broadly. Let’s hear it. You have our undivided attention.” “Thanks, Vasili, most of the credit goes to your guys. Próta came up with the idea and Néo is playing a big part in operation Blood Bath.” “Oh no, you didn’t! Please tell me you didn’t just say our plan has a corny name as if this was some sort of graphic novel adventure.” “Sorry, Mahi, but Néo came up with the name and we thought it was funny enough to use. Anyway, the money from Vermillion is now sitting in the solicitor’s trust account and when we give the word Néo will make it disappear. The funds will jump all over the place until an account in the Cayman Islands receives a large transfer.” “How far are we straying from the law, Néo?” “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies, boss. When the solicitor disappears and leaves behind a note on his computer about how tired he was of working for blood sucking French capitalists and how he had decided to take an early retirement and move out of Canada… well, you get the picture. Someone associated with Vermillion back in France will try to find him but they’ll have no luck. Mel, wanna take over?” “Sure thing. Néo forgot to tell you guys the Vermillion corporate jet received instructions to return to Québec since there would be no passenger pickup in New Orleans. Upon landing they’ll be met by three wolves, the pilots will be sent home and two of our flyboys will bring the plane to Halifax. All necessary paperwork will be electronically filed to show the transfer of the jet to Shiftmates Corporation; a new entity jointly owned by both our companies. Another group of wolves will meet our solicitor friend as he leaves his office tonight. I won’t bother with details but the world will be better off with one less lawyer on it. Genni, your turn.” “My report is brief since I have to run out of here soon. Once the wolves have handled both those matters, Néo will take care of the money, the solicitor’s note, the ownership transfer for the jet and the ownership transfer to the same company of one luxury yacht currently anchored in the Bay of Fundy. Before sunset a group of my guys will shift into dolphins, swim to the boat, then shift into mermen and board our new vessel. We’ll catch the vampires while they’re unable to function, dispose of them and of any of their human accomplices.” “You guys are shitting us, we end up with lots of money, a corporate jet and a luxury yacht?” “You got it, boss. Once we’re done we’ll will get you and Mahi on a Zodiac and out to the Atlantis. Oh yeah, we took the liberty of naming our new canoe.” ● ● ● “Are we ready, men?” “Yes we are, Vasili. You and Mahi just kick back, relax and get ready to light up the victory cigars when Operation Blood Bath is over. Próta, Néo and I will take care of everything. We decided having everyone around the table in the sound proof conference room was best so we turned the place into mission control.” “Vasili, I think our boys have been smoking the funny seaweed again. Operation Blood Bath? Mission Control? What the fuck? When do we get started, Néo?” “First step is the solicitor, Mahi. But our teams should start checking in any…” “Mission control, this is building security. We’re waiting for the package to arrive.” “That’s Mel, guys; he’s in charge of snatching the lawyer. Our surveillance has his routine down pat and we almost know when he farts after lunch.” “Mission control here, we copy building security.” “This is airport security, mission control. We’re in position. Toy delivery expected momentarily.” “The guys taking control of the plane will wait until we give them the signal to step in. They’ll take care of the pilots and then head to Halifax after refueling.” “Mission control this is beach patrol, we’re ready for our swim.” “Genni is leading the boarding party himself, we think he…” “Excuse me, Monsieur?” “Oui?” “We have a message for you from Vermillion.” “Who the hell are you? How do you know that name? I’m calling security.” “Oh, I don’t think so, Monsieur…” “Ooops, mission control this is building security. We sort of damaged the package so we’re going to place it in the trunk of our car and take it with us.” “Was that growling I heard?” “Yes it was, Vasili, one of the boys must have gotten excited, shifted, and ripped a throat out. Néo, that’s a go for you.” “On it Sesi. Just give me a minute and… okay money has started the trip to the Cayman Islands. Time to upload a note explaining the disappearance of a slime-ball and to file ownership transfer papers on a small private jet. Money is ours, guys. Let’s get us a plane. Airport Security, you have a green light.” “Got it, two pilots and a ground operations director coming right up.” “Gentlemen, if we could have a minute.” “Sorry guys, this is private property you’re not allowed in the building.” “I think we are since your boss was kind enough to give us the plane as an early Christmas present.” “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m calling…” “Damn, I can’t believe all three tripped and broke their necks when they fell! Mission Control, we’re loading up the garbage and taxiing to our hangar. Give us an hour to refuel and change the numbers on the plane and we’ll be on our way to Halifax.” “Roger that airport security. You have all the necessary documents in case you need them. I’ve already filed a flight plan on your behalf. Be safe, flyboys. Now comes the dangerous part; beach patrol this is mission control, you’re cleared for a swim in the bay.” “Acknowledge that mission control, keep an eye on the TV and we’ll report as soon as possible. Vaaaaampiiiiires… come out and plaaaaay…” “Bathroom break everyone, we have a little time before they’re ready to board. We have all three drones in place so we can follow the action.” ● ● ● “Here we go men; that’s a hell of a lot of dolphins surrounding the yacht, how many did you send out?” “Only a dozen, Mahi; those are mostly wild ones. Genni must have invited them to swim.” “Great cover, Vasili. Wow! Nice breach!” “Take a look at the infrared camera guys, you can see our men shifting again right underneath the keel. There they go, they’re boarding now. Infrared reveals two individuals inside, no idea how many vampires since they don’t give off heat. “Now it could get dicey boss, if those two goons pull out guns our guys… oh shit, one of our guys is down. He’s probably shot… oh, there go the assholes trying to back out of the cabin and headed right towards our guys waiting outside. Yeah! Men overboard it seems; probably those two decided to go for a swim in order to cool down. I wonder if they’re alive or not. Sesi wanted at least one of them alive so we could interrogate him.” “Right now I’d be happy knowing all the vampires are gone, Néo. Someone to use enhanced interrogation techniques on would just be a bonus. What was that? Quick! Move the drone! Track that column of smoke rising through the cabin’s roof.” “Shit, can’t do it guys; it’s moving too fast.” “Mission control this is the crew of the Atlantis. We have zero casualties, one flesh wound and two drenched rats. One blood sucker seems to have evaporated. How about we send the tender out and you guys can come and check out our new toy?”
  45. 1 point
    The man crouched low to the damp earth and touched the small indentation. The track was fresh, only minutes old. He rose and continued down the path that was invisible to those less observant. His bare feet made no noise as he stealthily walked forward, trailing his hands along the occasional broken piece of vegetation marking his quarry’s path. He heard a twig snap and stopped, listening intently. After a brief period of silence, he slowly crept forward to a small stand of shrubs and peered through them. He held his spear close, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. He held his breath as he spied the small deer he’d been tracking for hours. The little animal was at a bad angle; if he threw his spear now, he would surely miss. He waited with the patience of a skilled hunter as the creature grazed in the small clearing. The animal turned toward him, providing the perfect opportunity for the hunter to strike. The spear sailed noiselessly through the air and found its mark unerringly. The little deer staggered forward and collapsed. The man was upon the deer in seconds, eviscerating it with a sharpened stone and eating the warm liver and kidneys before other predators could scent the kill and drive him off. The deer was lean, but there was enough meat to last for days. He proceeded to expertly butcher the animal, then stopped abruptly. The ambient noise of the forest had changed. He continued with his task, on even higher alert now, cutting the meat as quickly as he could and placing it on a worn skin. The man jumped up and raised his spear as the bushes directly across the small clearing rustled and parted, allowing another man to enter the tight space. The man was smaller than the hunter and very thin. His right leg dragged behind him, and he looked at the hunter with a mixture of fear and desperation. He was dressed in thin skins, not the thick fur that the temperature demanded, and shivered as he stood in place, hands outstretched in a supplicating manner. The hunter frowned and motioned with his spear as if to throw it; however he retained his grip. The other man tried to duck away, but his lame leg gave out, and he fell with a pained grunt. The hunter decided the smaller man posed no threat and resumed butchering the deer. He could pick the bones if the predators didn’t get him first. A breeze blew through the clearing, causing the smaller man to shiver violently. The hunter’s eyes widened in fear—an emotion he seldom felt—and he backed away from his kill, grabbing his spear. The scent evoked memories of heat and lust and searing pain. He involuntarily raised his hand to the rough, scarred skin on the left side of his face as the unmistakable scent filled his consciousness. Mate! It had been many autumns since the hunter last encountered that smell. He lived with the tribe then. When the other young men hit puberty, they quickly found unbound females and mated with them with abandon. The dark-haired young hunter would watch in fascination as the male’s engorged members slid in and out of the young females. One of the females tried to get him to do the same thing to her, but his body didn’t react the same way as the other males. She quickly grew bored and frustrated with him, leaving to find someone who could satisfy her urges. The tribe’s elders were not pleased with the young man, as soon he was the only unmated male in a tribe with an overabundance of females. He was an excellent hunter, though, and useful to the tribe in other ways, so they allowed him to remain. During the following dry season, the group of hunters had travelled far for a kill. It was worth it, as the meat from the mammoth would last the tribe for weeks. The young hunter had been instrumental in the hunt and delivered the killing blow. The hunters were jubilant and offered him the heart of the beast, which he happily consumed. After the butchering was completed, the group moved to a clearing in the woods to spend the night before heading home. The dark-haired youth grinned cockily as he approached a nearby spring to quench his thirst and bathe. He stopped dead as an unfamiliar scent washed over him, causing a physical reaction he had not previously experienced. The source of the scent was crouched at the edge of the spring, drinking the cool, refreshing water. Even though they had no spoken language, and therefore no word for what he was feeling, the message was clear. Mate! Acting purely on instinct, the young hunter strode over to the man by the pool, his erection leading the way. He knelt next to the man and reached for his dick with one hand as his other caressed the man’s ass, his finger briefly flitting over the most intimate of places. The other man’s eyes widened in shock, and he grabbed a stone, smashing it against the dark-haired hunter’s head. He fell to the ground, unconscious. The young hunter awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. He sat up groggily and felt the blood that crusted his face from the gaping head wound. He crawled to the spring and drank deeply before plunging his head into the cool water, cleaning away the dried blood. He stood up, and after a brief moment of dizziness, managed to make his way to the clearing where the hunters spent the night. There was no trace of them. The young man knew the way home, however, and two days later he arrived at the cluster of caves during the middle of the great feast celebrating the hunters’ return. Silence descended upon the tribe as the young man entered the celebratory circle. The man from the spring grew white upon the sight of the dark-haired youth he was sure he’d killed. Through gestures he indicated to the tribe the events that happened at the spring. When the young hunter didn’t deny them, the tribe leader picked up a branch and set it in the fire. He gestured for the young man to come close. The naïve youth realized too late what the leader had in mind, and his screams echoed throughout the forest as the hot brand seared the side of his face. He ran into the forest and never attempted to return. The hunter turned and ran away from the crippled man in the clearing, heading toward the cave he’d lived in since spring. He entered the small cave cautiously, then lowered his spear when he determined it was clear. He lay down on a pile of furs, burrowing deeply. Sleep eluded him. The scent of the crippled man remained strong and provoked a physical response he hadn’t experienced since that fateful night at the spring. He touched his erection and gasped at the sensations that coursed through his body. He wrapped his hand around it, and the movement caused him to cry out in ecstasy as white fluid spurted all over his hairy chest. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, remembering the other man’s scent and the sensations he’d just experienced. Hours later he sat bolt upright, grabbing his spear. His attention was drawn to the mouth of the cave as he heard a slow scraping sound steadily approaching. He raised the weapon, preparing to throw it when the strong scent hit his nostrils, causing him to pause and then lower it. The man from the clearing hobbled closer, hands outstretched. He set something down on the ground, backed away, sat, and waited. The hunter approached warily. He flicked open the skin with the tip of his spear, finding the meat he’d left behind when he fled the other man’s presence. The scent of the other man overwhelmed the hunter. His body physically responded, but he also felt other emotions he couldn’t make sense of. A low growl drew their attention to the mouth of the cave. A small tiger prowled toward them, drawn by the scent of the meat and the crippled human who would be easy prey. The tiger leapt toward the smaller man. The hunter threw his spear. Through a combination of skill and blind luck, the spear entered through the tiger’s eye, felling it immediately. The hunter was instantly upon it, twisting its thick neck with a sickening crunch. His first thought was of the smaller man cowering on the ground. He knelt by the man’s side and gently touched his shoulder. The fear in the man’s eyes evoked a response foreign to the dark-haired hunter. He would’ve given his life to protect the man with the intoxicating scent. The smaller man let out a soft cry and embraced the larger hunter, burrowing his face into the man’s furry chest. The hunter realized they could no longer stay there. The scent of the slain tiger would attract more predators. He retrieved his sharpened stone and butchered as much meat as he could carry, adding it to the skin containing the venison. He walked over to his pile of furs and handed them to the shivering smaller man, who donned them gratefully. The hunter held out his hand and helped the crippled man to his feet. He bent down and gestured for the other man to get on his back. The hunter’s burdens were heavy, but his heart was light, as he carried his mate, their supplies, and his weapons out of the cave in search of new shelter for them both.
  46. 1 point
    Chapter Sixteen: The Bargain With no distinction between night and day Lanyon had no idea of how long he sat in his cell. It did not matter. All he could think of was the danger Avery was in. Why were they separated? Was he being kept in another cell? He doubted it. Avery was too rare a prize to waste in the brig. He was ruminating on just that when another prisoner was shoved in his cell. “Avery!” The figure remained where he fell. When he reached him he saw it was not Avery but Talon. “Not you again.” “Please… please don’t hurt me.” His eyes were bloodshot and crusted with dried tears. All over him were deep black bruises. He had clearly been tortured. “Naw… you’re not worth the effort.” Stepping away He found himself dragging Talon along. The kid was clinging to him like a suckered squid. “Hey get off me.” “Don’t leave me. I can’t be alone. I can’t.” Lanyon didn’t know why, but he began to suspect that Talon’s injuries had been self inflicted. “Talon, where’s Puggles?” “They took him from me… Please, please don’t leave me alone.” Poor kid. He has had never known a moment left by himself. “I guess I can keep you company for a bit.” Practically dragged to the floor he did what he could to comfort the lad. It took a while but when he was sure Lanyon would not run off he calmed down enough to sleep. “If you weren’t such a brat I might come to like you.” Lanyon combed the knots out of Talon’s hair while he slept. When the cell doors opened again it was Avery who entered. “Ave!” Bolting to his feet Lanyon practically tackled his friend. “What the hell is going on? Are you alright? Let me take a look. If they’ve dared hurt you I’ll…” “I’m fine Lan… As fine as I can be.” “What do you mean?” “Wait.” Avery went over to where Talon was cowering in a corner. Reaching into a pocket he handed him a blue vial. “Here.” Talon consumed its contents in a single gulp. Whatever it contained took effect quickly. The bruises faded and his skin gained back a little of its color. Talon’s trembling muscles relaxed to stillness. “Puggles?” “You will see him soon.” “What did you just give him?” “They call it Blue. I don’t have a clue to what it really is or how it works. Talon mentioned it once but until now I’ve never seen its effects.” Talon chuckled, a wide grin on his face. Lanyon took note of it. “Seems to do more than heal. Probably addictive.” “Yeah… better for us to avoid it completely.” “Have they offered you any?” “Not yet though I don’t know why. From what I understand it’s part of their daily diet.” “I…” Seeing Avery again and safe left Lanyon mute. That did not mean he could not share his sense of relief. He pinned Avery against the nearest wall. He peeled away their clothes. Like a starved man reaching for bread his hand grabbed at Avery’s flesh. If Avery wanted to protest his mouth over his lips silenced him. Just as he reached for Ave’s belt, Avery switched their positions just in time to take the full force of a stun bolt. “Ave!” Avery collapsed into Lan’s arms. He looked for the shooter but he caught only the tail end of the fleeing guard’s cloak. “Why Ave, why?” Carefully he lowered his friend on a cot. The spot where the bolt hit was red but flesh appeared undamaged. “Don’t leave me,” Ave whispered. “Leave you? Not in this life.” Catching a movement in the shadow out of the corner of his eyes. He twisted about to find the slaughtered head of the guard rolling at the foot of the cot. The thrower stood three feet behind him. He was covered head to foot in black armor. Even his face was covered. In both hands he wielded a staff with tipped with two foot blades on either end with a just as long grip in the center. Talon, seeing the head and the staff’s wielder screamed. “Silence!” The man commanded in deeply accented English. Avery pulled Lanyon closer. “Don’t leave me.” “Never,” he whispered back. The man with the staff commanded Lanyon to move away from Avery. “Stand aside Centarii.” “No… you stand aside.” “You dare defy me?” “Where Ave is concerned yes. “The masked man pressed a sword tip against Lanyon’s chest. Even when it cut into his flesh he didn’t budge. When it became clear that he would not back down, the mask man threw the weapon against the opposite wall and screamed in defeat. Tossing his mask aside he went to his knees. “Please Ave, I’ll give you whatever you want. Don’t let this fool stand between us.” Lanyon turned back to face Avery. “What is this?” “The price of your life.” Avery sat up and turned his attention to the Segundo. “He is a part of me. To harm him is to harm us.” “Then I will spare his life.” “No! You will do more than that. He is to remain with me. Remain with us. If you want me to accept you then you must accept him.” Everett clenched his jaw but nodded. Avery wasn’t done with his list of demands. “You will give Puggles back to Talon.” “I will give both to you but I will not give them back to each other.” Avery knew better than to demand more. “If you do these things and find my father I will stay with you until a way home is found.” “And after?” “You will have to decide what matters to you more: me or the Maze.” “You would take me back to your world?” “Only you and no other. I will not let you deliver the horrors of your world to Earth.” “You are asking too much. How can I give up all I have strived for?” “The decision is yours. If ruling the Maze is more important to you than me you must swear you will let us go.” “By the Personas you deal a hard bargain but it is fair. If I value my throne more than I will come to value you than I have no right to keep you.” Everett took Avery’s hands in his. “Will you give me your hand?” “I… I do.” “You have made me the happiest man in the Maze. We’ll have a ceremony at once. I’ll see to everything. The towering Segundo headed out of the cell. “You will not regret this.” Lanyon kept his silence until he was sure Everett was gone. “You might not but I do. What are you think Ave? What about Karl? What about us?” “It is the only way we can survive. Without his protection we will find ourselves the lab rats of the Personas. He is also the only one who can help us find my dad.” “Do you love him? Can you?” “He is a Walker.” Aaron said as if that explained everything. On returning to the Fisher Estate Karl focused his full attention on reading through the companies files on Lordon and Walker Industries. What he found didn’t bode well for him, Ave, or the Dozens. Cal was proving quite skilled in diverting the attention of his father’s old friends in the company. Robert was putty in his hands and willing became one of the Dozens. Soon Robert, also a lawyer would replace his father as Fisher Industries chief legal consol. The same steps were being taken to replace the board with men loyal to Cal. Only when the time was right would Karl take full control. Karl was buried in a stack of files dealing with recent nano research when he felt a pair of hands massage his neck. “Mmmm that feels nice.” “I’m glad.” Cal whispered. “I think you’re due a break.” Reaching around he pulled his husband into his lap. “You might be right. There is so much I need to learn.” “Why not delegate? We have plenty of experts on the payroll.” “When I think of egg heads… hot and sexy doesn’t come in mind.” “They don’t have to be among the Dozen.” “I don’t think I can trust someone who isn’t.” “There are always the Symbiotes.” “I do not think I could stomach doing that to another man.” “Just a suggestion.” As Cal walked away he left of trail of clothes behind him. Greatly tempted to follow Karl turned his gaze on the picture he kept on the desk. It should him and Ave shirtless and in each other’s arms. For Ave it had been an innocent act. For Karl it had always meant much more. Each time he felt his determination weaken he gazed at the photo to remind himself what the true prize was. His commitment to Ave was share by the original Double Dozen but not the newer ones. They only desired tender affections of the originals. That would cause problems one day but not before he had Ave back. “You summoned me master.” Captain Ryan Gains was one of the few of the newer Dozens that he trusted as much as one of the original Dozen. It took a while for him to discover the reason why. But thanks to contacts within the Pentagon he learned that the Captain’s father had been part of the mission that Thad Labatt had led to find Ave’s dad. “Come over here.” Karl slapped his empty lap. The redhead’s lips form a wide grin. “More than happy to.” Karl dropped his pants to his knees, freeing his erect cock. After he gave the captain a good ride they retreated to a spy-proof conference room. “What more have you learned about your father’s mission?” “Not much. Unlike Winters and Labatt, he never came back. According to the debriefing Colonel Labatt made on their return he had been among the men who ended up trapped in the Maze when the Relic gateway had been destroyed. “Who destroyed it and why?” “Your father and Avery’s led a revolt at Walker’s secret base. They intentionally led Walker into the Maze then destroyed the Relic and trap him there.” “Why not kill him?” “I do not know but they must have had a good reason.” “From what I’ve read on Lordon’s records of the Eye Ave’s dad and Travis were both born in the Maze but influenced by polar opposite gateways, the Eye and the Relic. That might be the source of the bond between them. They might not have killed Travis because Ave’ dad wouldn’t let it happen but I’m only guessing.” “Makes sense given your bond to Ave. Most of the Dozen are decedents of those born under the influence of the Relic. Beside’s Ave you’re the only one who’s father was influenced by the Eye who is a member of the original Double Dozens.” “True. We need to know more however.” “Is that the mission you have for me?” “Part of it. It is as you said. I am the only one other original other than Ave who was born under the influence of the Eye. You might not be an original but so where you. Where were you born by the way?” “I assumed it was before my father went on that mission but I can’t say for sure.” “I am however. You were one of those Ave’s father brought back with him. That is why I trust you more than the new Dozens . You were not only influenced by the Eye but by Ave’s dad as well. That is why I am sending you into the Maze. To find Ave and if possible our dads, yours included.” “I am honored by your trust in me. Will I be going alone?” “You can take whoever you want with you. The only condition I have is that they were made a part of the Dozens by no one other than you or me.” Ryan clearly like the idea of that. “That actually sounds fun.” “Consider it a going away party.” “What of Cal?” The Captain was all business again. “He has his uses but there is something about him I do not trust. There’s a streak of jealousy in him I’m uncomfortable with. I will have to deal with it eventually but not before Ave returns.” “If there is a member of the Dozens you cannot trust then that person should be eliminated.” “Are you offering to do the deed?” “If you so order it.” “I might have to but not now. I will have the originals keep a closer eye on him. I am fond of him but Ave comes first.” “You and me both.” He gave Karl a salute. Karl replied with a kiss and a grope. Julian would have put more of his people around the Fisher Estate but that would have drawn too much attention. They were not all that needed given he had the perfect spy he could depend on. It had not been hard to convince Fisher’s chief consul the need to take steps to remove Labatt and his friends as a threat to Cal and the company. Breaking Cal fully from his conditioning was impossible without killing him. Weakening it was possible. It involved the use of emotional altering drugs delivered by nanos. Having Glenn’s son put the drug in his food was easy enough. Even though Rob had quickly been converted afterwards the drug needed only be delivered once. Slowly but surely the drug would weaken his connection to the others. His growing isolation would lead to paranoia. His paranoia would lead to his betraying the Dozens. His betrayal would bring the Dozens back under Julian’s control. Julian’s people were already feeding his fears with stories of Karl’s undying love for Avery. Karl’s own obsession of getting the Winters back only served to aid Julian. When the time was right he would push Cal over the edge. It would be a blood bath. Karl would survive… Cal would not dare harm him. But before the smoke cleared the gestalt Karl had carefully built would be in ruins. He and the survivors could then be dealt with without a fuss. There was only one flaw to the plan. If Karl were to find Avery before Julian could use Cal then no matter how many killed the gestalt would be unbreakable. If only the Board had not forbidden he not harm the two. “Damn you Amanda. You risk ruining everything we’ve work for.”
  47. 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.
  48. 1 point
    I had no way to tell how long I had been out or where we were when I woke up. My mouth tasted awful, a bitter metallic flavor coated my tongue and my head was pounding. My hands were completely encased in cotton and seemed to be fastened together behind my back. My wings ached where I was laying on them and the cuts on my face throbbed. I tried to stay still to hear something from our captors that might give me some idea of where we were but I grunted when we went around a corner and my weight shifted painfully, alerting them to the fact I was awake. The man who had taunted Natham leaned over the seat I was dumped on and smirked at me. “Well, well, look who’s awake.” His eyes were dead and cold and I shivered as I met his slit pupil gaze. Snake. He was one of the Snake clan. I remained silent as I silently promised him his death. He hissed at me and I sneered. Let him underestimate me based on my size. My retribution would be all the sweeter. “Not long now, baby bird. We’ll soon have you exactly where we want you and your clan and your land will be ours. I saw your mother once with your father. She’s a delectable little tidbit. Do you think she’d sing for me while I use her before passing her to our human accomplices?” I could not remain silent. “You stay away from my mother!” I fought against my bonds but I couldn't move them an inch, my struggles earning me only pain in my wrists from the metal cutting into my skin. He gave that little hissing laugh, as if he could feel the pain and relished it. I wanted nothing more than to kill the bastard. His head moved away from my line of sight and I could hear small sounds in the backseat where Natham had been. I thumped my head back against the seat, feeling tears burn in my eyes. The men who had killed my father and tortured my mate were torturing him again and I could do nothing to stop it. I strained against my bonds, not caring when I felt hot fluid begin to drip down my wrists. I was so lost in my hate and self-recrimination that I didn’t even feel the sting of another shot before I was sucked back into unconsciousness by the drug’s insidious pull. *** This time when I woke up we were no longer moving and my arms were no longer bound together behind my back. Instead I was hanging from the ceiling, suspended by thick, cold metal bands that dug into my wrists. My shoulders and elbows screamed in protest from holding all my weight while my feet hung several inches above the floor and my wing tips just brushed the cold concrete floor. I couldn’t move my wings at all; someone had bound them to my body and I was unable to break the restraint. I struggled wildly and finally had to stop from the pain in my already cut wrists. I rested, panting and slumping as far as my bonds allowed me. I heard the sound of footsteps approaching and I brought my head up to glare at one of my captors entering the room. Captive or not, I was the leader of my clan and all the clans in my territory. I would not cower or show weakness! A tall man was coming toward me with a lazy stroll, his eyes gleaming covetously at me, as if he had a new toy and all the time in the world to play with it. He was a cat and I caught the musky scent that accompanied a leopard. His skin was a golden yellow and his eyes were pitch black, reflecting the light like shiny black onyx. Finger long teeth glistened in the harsh fluorescent light when he sneered at me. “The son is not nearly as impressive as the father.” He spoke to someone behind me. It wasn’t until then that I realized I wasn’t alone; realized that my struggles and failure to free myself had been witnessed. The thought made me burn in anger and my fingers curved in the urge to rake my talons down the smug faces of my captors. The man who moved around from behind me was the cat Carthera had originally grabbed me from the mall. He moved toward the other man aggressively but his manner held a hint of subservience. I could tell this new cat, the leopard, was important. The door he had come in was left open and I debated struggling again in an attempt to get free and reach it. It was unlikely I would be able to break the thick metal so trying to escape right then was futile. I decided to conserve my strength and listen to discover whatever I could. As long as they didn’t kill me first I might find out more about these ferals and their operation to take over my territory. With the door open I could hear strange sounds coming from the hall but I was distracted from them when the cat who had grabbed Natham and me from the mall started speaking. “It was simple. The plan went off perfectly,” he said smugly. “Now, I expect to be paid.” “Of course the plan was perfect; it was mine!” the leopard hissed. “If your mercenaries hadn’t failed at the warehouse in the first place none of this would have been necessary. Now I have to finesse the situation to prevent the other clans from banding together even with their leader missing. Your incompetence has made my job that much harder. You will be compensated when his clan gives up their rights to their territory and hands over their accounts, not one second before. Your job is not over yet; there are still the Falcons to be considered. They are fearful opponents!” “I fear nothing!” the mercenary scoffed. “The warriors with Keserem were no trouble.” “You had the advantage in numbers and the police had secured them before they knew anything was up. Don’t get cocky!” the leopard snarled at him. “The Falcon clan has held supremacy over the other clans because they are both smart and ferocious in battle. You would be wise to remember that they may be small but they are not weak.” The man eyed me and the cuts on my face from his claws. “Their leader is,” he said cockily. “A youngling not fully matured? Yeah, big challenge,” The leopard scoffed. “He is not important of himself, other than a good way to torture my wayward son and to get control of his clan. If those Falcons hadn’t raided the center and stolen Natham they both would have died by now and I would have been able to take over the clans days ago.” I was confused; this leopard was Natham’s father? How was that possible when they were different clans? I blanched at the thought of the thought of dying but he was right. As badly starved as Natham was when the Falcons found him, the continued abuse on his body would have killed him in another day or two. Carthera are strong and we heal quickly but that comes at a price. Our bodies need a lot of fuel and most clans are very social and tactile. Sensory deprivation coupled with physical abuse, along with starvation would have killed Natham if my men hadn't found him and brought him to the eyrie. If Natham hadn’t been rescued, I would have died along with my mate, though we never exchanged a blood bond in person. The clans would have fallen into disarray and my father’s territory would have been easy pickings. This Carthera was cowardly, using abuse and torture on someone he claimed as family in order to gain power. I was furious that my father died at his dishonorable hand by trickery and a shriek of fury I could not hold back was smothered by the foul gag they must have shoved in my mouth the last time I was unconscious. The sound was still audible and made them turn their attention to me. “Oh, don’t like that idea do you, little bird?” The leopard and the other cat laughed maliciously. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to worry about that much longer.” I expected them to beat me or continue gloat over my bound body but they didn’t. The leopard stroked his claws across the exposed flesh of my stomach, creating four shallow cuts that welled up with blood. He licked one claw daintily, tasting me. “Hmm, delicious. I always enjoyed a young tender morsel for dinner.” He cleaned his other claws, lapping delicately at them with his rough pink tongue as he savored my blood while watching me. I could feel my eyes open wide and my breath came faster as panic began to set in. I did not want to be eaten! The other cat Carthera watched avidly, his nose practically quivering as he took in the scent of my blood and the stink of my fear and anger. The pink tip of his tongue came out and he quickly licked his lips was he watched the small cuts drip blood that ran in trails to soak into the waistband of my pants. His eyes gleamed and he practically quivered in want as I shuddered. My nose was not as good as other Carthera species but I didn’t need to smell his scent to know that he lusted after me. The bulge in his pants was more than enough. Sick, sadistic bastard. “We’ll be back, little bird. Don’t worry, we won’t leave you all alone here; not for long anyway.” With an evil smirk the leopard stalked from the room, snapping orders to someone as he entered the hall. The mercenary cat was still staring at me as he backed out of the room, pulling the door shut at the last moment. The way his eyes had lingered over where my pants hung on my hips had me worried. Though I was pretty sure being raped would really hurt more than being eaten I didn’t want to experience either. The light in the room shut off and I was plunged into darkness. I could no longer hear any sounds with the thick door closed. I was alone in a cold dark room and hanging painfully from the ceiling. The metal manacles were digging into my wrists and I could feel small trickles of blood running down my arms from my raw wrists as I struggled repeatedly to break loose. I worked at the foul material held in my mouth by a strip of tape, trying to dislodge it or at least compress it so that my jaw wasn’t quite as stretched. I slumped in my bonds, sucking in air through my nose, trying not to lose control over my panic and fear. A small square of light came in a small hole in the door, the only ‘window’ the room had. The dark was so reminiscent of my dreams that it was almost impossible to fight down the panic that urged me to scream. I knew if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop. I couldn’t afford that type of weakness. I focused on the small square of light as if my life depended on it; certainly my sanity did. I wasn’t sure how long I would be kept there or what Natham’s father would do to me but I could imagine all too well. Hours must have passed as I hung there. I dozed off once and jerked when I woke up, fiery pain from the shackles rubbing my raw wrists made me groan into the soaked fabric gag still stuffing my mouth. I could not believe I fell asleep when I was facing certain torture and death. I tried to keep my eyes open and focused on that small light but the demands of my body for sleep were simply too much. Soon my chin hung to my chest and I slipped into my dreams. *** If one’s waking world is nightmarish it only stands to reason that your dreams should be pleasant and full of hope to give you an escape. But that is a child’s view of things. Bad things don’t just happen to bad people and you aren’t going to receive something ‘good’ just because you feel you deserve it. So of course when I could no longer fight my body’s need for sleep I slipped not into pleasant dreams of my family and better times, but into my familiar nightmare. This time it was not all dark; it was more vivid and real, almost as if it were happening to me in person. I could see rough stones and feel the cold of a slab beneath my body. I strained to move but I was trapped, unable to twitch even a finger. A line of pain, sharp and hot, lanced across my back to join other stripes already burning from my shoulders to my knees. I shuddered and realized that I was being whipped, the skin flayed from the back of my body by someone with the precision of a long time torturer. This time words came also, hissing insults and threats, spiteful gloating and hatred spewing from the person whipping me. He grabbed me by my long braid and jerked my head up to spit in my face. It was in that moment I fully realized what this was, what my nightmares had always been. I was within Natham; feeling what he felt as if we shared one body. The fear and pain that had made me scream as a child had always been his, but the reality was so much worse than I had imagined. I hated the fact that he had known a life like this. I was sad for him and furious at the torture my mate had been forced to endure for years. I would not allow this to continue. We were mates, we were supposed to be bonded, no matter what the strange circumstances that had begun our bond. I willed strength into Natham through the dream. I tried to share with him my courage and fortitude. I sent him love and the promise of retribution. I was filled with an icy resolve. I would make these men pay and pay dearly for harming those I loved. I could faintly sense his surprise and then a surge of love came back at me. It held the taint of resignation and a sense of absolute despair that shocked and scared me. I tried to send reassurance but I could feel the spark that made Natham into who he was slowly fading. He had been recovering nicely the last few days but his tormentors had done too good a job on his mind as well as his body. He was on the brink of the death of his soul. I struggled to send him a sense of hope that I barely could feel myself.
  49. 1 point
    "You called for me, Velaku?" Mishtar was a strong warrior, his form slim like all bird Carthera but with long, lean muscles cording his body and magnificent black and brown wings held proudly behind him. He was the epitome of our warriors, a Carthera most worthy of respect. He had risen through the ranks quickly after he mated and became the leader for the Falcons at just twenty six, younger than any before him. I had always looked up to him as the Falcon I wanted to be. Today, he was dressed in black jeans and a special leather jerkin that left his wings free to move behind him. He was armed; the attack on my father had the clans on high alert. His chest was crossed by blades and throwing stars to use from his preferred place to attack; flying above his enemies to rain down death from the skies. "My father was murdered by a lynx Carthera working with humans," I said bitterly, my rage burning brighter just from saying the words. I fought to control my anger, digging my new talons into my legs in an attempt to pull me away from the urge to enter hunting mode and kill everyone in my way until my father’s murderers lay dead before me. Mishtar eyed my wings twitching behind me. The snowy white wings arched behind my head and the feathers made a ruffling noise as I fought to keep them folded. “Are these local humans?” Mishtar asked fiercely. “Do you know who betrayed your father? Was it one of the local Lynx clan?” “I’m not sure.” The humans that lived nearby were our allies; we worked with them to improve the life of the Carthera in their society, not against them. In the past we had to hide who we were and live on the fringes in game preserves or hidden eyries. That had all changed in the last generation. Humans and Carthera in our region had found a way to make peace. The thought that some of the men that my father had met with, that he had helped and been helped by in return, were traitors was enough made me sick. That a member of the local Lynx clan would go against my father, the leader of all Carthera in our region, would be even more unthinkable. We were not animals, but we obeyed a hierarchy that was as instinctual as our animal brethren. In nature, a falcon would not defeat a lynx but the benefit of a human brain mixed with the advantage our wings gave us in battle made the Falcon Clan the deadliest of our kind. We could not deny all aspects of our nature even as we became more civilized. Fights for power, position, or for land had always been our way, but things were slowly changing. Obviously someone was trying to stage a coup of some sort to overthrow my father's leadership of the local Carthera clans. There had been signs of something big happening that my father had hid from the Council, the clan leaders that made up his advisors. I knew more than my mother supposed, my father having begun my instruction some time before his death. I thought I was prepared for whatever we faced but I never expected my father to die. I hadn't known about the overwhelming surge of hormones that would hit me when my wings came out though. I had no way of knowing if every newly transformed Falcon felt this way, and I was too afraid to ask. Carthera transform when they mate, during a complex ceremony held in front of the clan. My transformation occurred with no warning, no mating. I was a freak and what if this rage was a sign to others that I was unfit for leadership? I couldn’t let my father’s plans fail. It was hard; I could barely stop the killing rage from overtaking me from moment to moment. I struggled with myself to keep it out of my voice, but I would not fail my father or our people. I would keep it together. I would save my people no matter what the cost was to me personally. "I need you and your wing squad to find them. It won't be easy, this happened far from here, on the outskirts of our territory near south eastern Oregon. Find out who killed my father and bring them to me if you can. I will be satisfied with their deaths but I need much more information than I have. Someone is behind all this, directing the troubles that have been cropping up all over our land. My father told me this before he left. “That . . . that was why he was traveling, trying to find out who was behind the attacks when he was killed!” My voice rose in volume as I stood up, pounding my fist on the desk in front of me. “I want answers. I want retribution. I want their deaths!" I had to stop and calm myself. I was breathing hard as I closed my eyes and bowed my head, fighting the urge to dig my talons into the beautifully carved desk that my father had sat at for so many years but would never sit at again. I heard the sound of a fist striking a strong chest. I looked up, opening my eyes to see Mishtar bowed before me, honoring me even though he was a seasoned warrior and leader of the Falcons and I was nothing but an untrained boy. “Your father trained me himself; I will not let his memory down. I swear the Falcons will not rest until we have the answers you seek.” His face was hard as he swore his oath, a deadly promise. I knew he would avenge my father as I couldn’t even as I struggled with my desire to be the one who led the attack against our enemies. I stared into his eyes, at the promise burning so fiercely, then returned his salute. I watched silently as he walked away. He needed no more orders than I gave him. Mishtar would track down all the intel available and then plan his next moves without any need of more orders for me. I sank down in the chair and thought of all the decisions my father made in this room, all the times he sent men off on dangerous missions. It was hard to trust that Mishtar would know the best way to handle the investigation, but I had to let him do it his own way. My father had ruled over the many groups of Carthera that owed him allegiance and lived in the territory he claimed and protected. He always told me to issues as few orders as possible; the more you told a person what to do and how to do it the more you would have to. I held those treasured bits of advice already shared but knew I had lost the bulk of my father's wisdom with his death. My sorrow swelled and I stood up abruptly, unable to sit at his place any longer. I sought out my mother. The remainder of my evening was spent with her, sharing our memories of my father and tears to lessened the sadness of his passing. The next day would be the formal death ceremony for our clan; all those who lived in our eyrie would attend. There was no reason to delay the ceremony, even though we didn’t have his body, but I wanted to hold off on an enclave of the Carthera leaders to give formal announcement of death. I couldn’t tell them what I didn’t know until I had heard back from Mishtar. So many questions were still unanswered. Full of anger and pain, I didn’t sleep at all that night. *** The fledglings that I had known all my life held back from me at the ceremony. I was no longer one of them, though not much bigger in form yet. My wings seemed larger by comparison to my slim and sleek body than the other youth I stood among. Their unusual coloring, the stark white and red, stood out among the wings of the men of our tribe, most of which were rich browns, yellows, and blacks like our bird cousins. I stood on the edge of the cliff where I had mourned my father alone just two days before and watched the flight of the women of our tribe as they looped and danced in the air celebrating the life that my father lived. The men provided the beat with their feet before launching into the air, swirling and diving among the lighter colors of the women. The youth and younglings kept stomping and joined in with a low chant. Above it all rose the keening call of my mother as she sang the ululating death song of our tribe. She held the final note until all the dancers had set down, her body still hovering above the ground with her head thrown back to the sky. Wings settled as the last note echoed into a deep silence as she finally ended the song to honor my father. She slowly drifted to the ground, crumpling to her knees. I knelt next to her and wrapped her in my arms as her tears silently flowed down her cheeks. One by one the people of our tribe came and touched us, soothing gestures of love and comfort, reminding us we weren't alone, that our nest mate was gone but we remained firmly in the land of the living. We were still connected to our clan. When the last person left, we still sat together rocking with our eyes closed. It was some time later before my mother's tears finally slowed and came to a shuddery halt. I hugged her as tight as I could and she hugged me back in an equally fierce grip before finally before sitting up and wiping her eyes. "Let's go home, Velaku." Keeping our arms around each other, we slowly walked to our house on the center ledge. We spent the day speaking softly of my father again, remembering the love and protection he had shared so freely. I went to bed and fell into a deep slumber, exhausted from lack of sleep and the catharsis of the ceremony. I woke up whimpering in terror. My dream had returned. I didn’t scream this time though; my fear was too great for that. I had been in locked in a pitch black darkness, feeling my body twist and change, and then an agonizing pain in my back and sides. My hands shook and I whimpered as I moved. I hurt even now. What was happening to me? *** The next day gave me an odd feeling of dichotomy. People returned to the normal routine their jobs and their lives even though mine felt like it was destroyed. The fledglings were gathered on the grassy lawn for their Jintue lesson before it was time to leave for class. We had integrated into the public school system some years before I entered grade school and quickly found that our smaller size often made bullies think they could prey on us. But we were Carthera and not weak. From almost the first moment we could walk we were taught Jintue. It was a fighting style specifically suited to our smaller, lighter bodies. We moved fast, attacking and blurring away before returning to hit the next weak point until our larger prey was down. Other Carthera came close to our speed but none truly matched it. Coupled with our wings and talons after we matured, we were a force like no other. The humans quickly came to know this and their children began to respect our fledglings and the bullying mostly stopped. But still we trained. At the same time that the fledglings learned ground maneuvers, the youths trained at flying and weapons under the tutelage of several retired members of the Falcons. They called out instructions and orders to the pairs learning to fly together in loud voices. This was where the Jintue lessons became the basis of the true fighting style of our clans. The youths learned to dive through the air to strike and then dart away; their body, wings, and weapons a harmonious blend that brought death to those who tried to strike or stand against it. Each youth trained with their mate, learned to fight with them, and how to protect each other. It was to this area of the training field I made my way that strange morning, sent away by the fledgling instructor. "Velaku!” An older man with grizzled hair and pale brown wings approached me slowly. Dorvan was a very old friend of my father’s. I trusted him like I trust no other in our clan. "You are here to train?" "Yes. I am . . . uncomfortable in my new form and find myself quickly changing." My pants had been tight this morning and a bit short. My jerkin had no longer closed over my chest and stomach. My muscles were much more defined, if still small. The changes brought about by my transformation were rapidly maturing my body and mind but the effects were not instant. I tugged on my leather jerkin again. "I need to learn to use these too," I said as I pointed at my wings. I didn't know if I should be excited or scared. "I've just the partner for you, Ningaven's mate is ill today. You can partner with her." Ningaven was a friend, though a few years older than me. She had found her mate a few months before. I nodded my agreement as I fit on my wrist and ankle sheaths. They held only dull practice blades since the first thing every youth had to learn was how to fly without falling on their butt. I thought I was prepared for that, but Ningaven and Dorvan taught me differently. Ningaven's high ringing laugh pealed out of her mouth when I first tried to take off. I forgot to close my eyes and the dirt kicked up by my wings blinded me. I scowled and tried again, remembering to close my eyes until I got a set of eye covers. My wings swept down, once, twice, and I lifted into the air. I thought I was secure so I tried to turn around to give her a smug look. My right wing didn't beat properly and I ended up almost on my side in the air. I panicked and my wings fluttered wildly before I crashed back onto the ground to land in a twisted heap. I groaned, ignoring her giggles as I flopped over onto my stomach and gave my tender wings a shake. "Laugh it up, Ningaven." "Oh, I will," she managed to squeeze out in between fits of laughter. She smiled at me. "Don't worry, Tallsin and I both tumbled the first time we tried to fly too." Ningaven managed to stop laughing finally, but her eyes still twinkled in amusement as she grinned at me. "We made the same mistake. You can't hover that low to the ground unless you have a lot more momentum built up. Up higher you have the air currents to glide on; they help keep you from getting too tired or falling straight down when you lose the beat. “C'mon, I'll show you!" She took a few steps away from me, stretching out her wings. I stood up and watched her take off. I could see the muscles in her lean legs flex and bunch before she gave a leap and shot into the air rising upward by powerful thrusts of her gray and black wings. She rose quickly before swooping back down toward me. "What are you waiting for, come on! Fly!" I bent my knees and shoved hard against the earth, leaving its support for the freedom of the skies. This time I kept going until I felt the warm winds buffet me. I was grinning from the excitement of my first real flight. Every fledgling dreamed of the day he found his mate and got his wings. I loved the feeling of flying but felt the lack of a mate as I took a few moments to look at the pairs around me before Ningaven called over to me. "Open up your wings a bit more and catch this updraft." She soared away and I beat my wings up and down, stretching them wide to catch the thrust of a warm updraft send me shooting after her. I quickly caught up to her before she swooped away again, whooping and laughing. I mimicked her movements, my body twisting and dipping along the constantly shifting winds, reaching out and snagging a handful of her jerkin before I darted away. We played tag in the air and I quickly learned how to shift my wings and body to maneuver through the skies. In the air there was a freedom of body that I had never really been able to come close to imagining my daydreaming of mating and transformation. "Alright you two, time to stop playing around. Let's put him through the beginning exercises, Ningaven," Dorvan bellowed from the ground. We stopped our game and hovered obediently about thirty feet up in the air. I was breathing hard but quickly recovered. "Do you remember the first balance exercise from Jintue?" Ningaven asked. "Of course." I held out my hands, palms flat and facing her. Ningaven put her hands against mine and then gave a great beat of her wings to shove against me. I instantly lost contact with her hands, unable to flow backward gracefully with her forward movement. It took a moment of beating my wings quickly to regain control. "Huh, that's a lot harder up here,” I said with a frown. "Try again!" Dorvan called. When the same thing happened he yelled up at us, "Again, again!" until I began to learn to adjust my wings and flow backwards with the force Ningaven exerted without letting our hands lose contact. Soon I was pressing back against her in return, following her as she gave gracefully before coming to a stop, with our hands still resting palm to palm. "Good! Balance is the key when fighting in the air. You can't do the throws and body jabs that you learned for combat on the ground but there is much else to learn," Dorvan said in a pleased voice. He continued to put us through the basic workout I had seen the youths do each day long past the normal time, keeping us working until the sun rose high in the sky. I wasn't going to school where my transformation and hormones would be a dangerous mixed with the humans. Ningaven stayed to train with me, her mate unable to escort her to college. Carthera males were very protective of our females. By the time we were permitted to land I was trembling and panting with exhaustion. I didn't feel too bad about my condition though; Ningaven looked a little worse for the wear too. "Go, eat some lunch and rest. I am sure Tallsin is wondering when you are going to show up, Ningaven. Velaku, come back this afternoon at three; I will be available then for the private instruction you requested." "Bye, Velaku." Ningaven waved at me over her shoulder. She was already walking away to find Tallsin. Newly mated couples did not spend much time apart. “Thanks Ningaven!” I waved back to her and then turned to the exacting instructor who had pushed me so hard all morning. "Thank you Dorvan, I just feel that I need to learn as much as I can as fast as I can." Dorvan clasped me on the shoulder. "I understand. Your father would be very proud of you, I am. Remember, three o'clock. You won’t like what happens if you are late." I nodded, somber at the mention of my father. I would avenge him, no matter how much work I had to do. I had no mate and the Carthera council would not convene for another two months unless I called an emergency session. Nothing else mattered but training and finding his killers.
  50. 1 point
    I lay in my bed, shivering under the covers. I couldn't make a noise, couldn't stop the darkness when it came to smother me. I lay gasping over and over trying to get enough air in my lungs to release a scream. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, but I could feel. The fear, sharp and acrid, was punctuated by a flash of blinding pain. I managed to sit up and scream when then, trembling violently as I huddled against the wall in the darkness. My father rushed into my room and flicked on the light beside my bed. "Velaku, are you okay? What is it, what happened?" I wrapped my arms around his waist and cried into his warm skin. His wings folded around me, brushing gently down my back in sharp contrast to the pain I had felt in my dream. Here was comfort and peace, a warm haven to take away the fear and misery that I dreamed about every few nights. He always came to comfort me; every time I cried out he woke me and held me until I calmed. He asked about the nightmare, but I couldn't speak of what happened to me in the dreams. This time had been the worst one, never before had they been so real. I had felt actual physical sensation and pain rather than just the sense of foreboding and overwhelming fear in the darkness. "Velaku, look at me." My father pulled my chin up to stare into my wet eyes. "This dream holds power over you as long as you allow it. It cannot harm you if you do not let it. Whatever happens it isn’t happening to you, not really. It’s not real." "I know it's not real," I whispered, unable to speak louder with my throat so raw from the violent screaming and tears that clogged it. I continued to tremble and had to fight to speak at all. “I don't know how to stop the fear. I don't understand why it keeps coming, I don’t want to dream like this but it won’t go away." "In time, you will learn why you bear this burden I am sure. The why of things in life are rarely so easily answered. But for right now you have me. I will be here whenever you fear your dreams and together we will try to find a way to beat them. Remember, my wings will always shelter you in times of trouble." I nodded and trembled a little as I rested my small head against his chest. He held me and rocked me for a time before he laid me back down, pulling up the powder blue sheets and my cloud coverlet and kissed my forehead. That was all the reassurance my child mind needed. But still the dreams continued. It wasn’t for several years after that night that my father went to work one day and never returned. My teenage mind didn't grasp the import of the whispers and fearful looks that went on for days. I knew something was wrong when I asked my mother each day where my father was but I had such confidence in his promise that he would always be there for me I accepted her feeble reassurances and shrugged off the vague worry I felt deep inside. Then one night I had another nightmare. It started off with the same lack of sensation but the fear and the pain were more intense than ever. A sense of heat and blood, the taste and smell filled my senses. I felt almost as if I was experiencing the dream in truth. I was somehow aware of my body lying in my bed yet I was unable to wake up. I could feel things, things that felt like they were shifting inside of me. I tried desperately to wake up, used all the will I possessed to stop the dream. I finally lunged upright and gasped before an agonized scream tore from my throat. My mother rushed into my room, the bright light from the living room dazzling my eyes from where I huddled against the wall. When she sat next to me crooning I saw the tears falling down her cheeks. "Where is he, Mother? Where is he?" I needed my father; I needed his wings and his promise of safety. She pulled my head back with both her hands to look into my eyes, the cobalt blue eyes I got from my father. "We got a phone call tonight from the police. They found your father but he was hurt by some bad people. He can't come home to us sweetheart, he was just hurt too bad. But now he's up in the currents soaring the sky forever while he waits for us to join him. He will always watch over you but he can't come back home again." I didn’t understand, not at first. She kept stroking my face as tears slipped down hers to drip on her blouse. I shook my head and frowned as I mouthed her words silently as I tried to make sense of them. I shrieked over and over when it finally sank in that my father would never return to earth, never fold his wings around me and tell me it would all be okay. I tore out of my mother's arms and ran from the house. The cliff was so close and I fell to my knees at the very edge, keening my sorrow and fierce hatred of those who had taken my father from me. I wanted to leap off and join him in the skies though I had no wings; I wanted to hunt those responsible down and rend them to pieces with my blunt, talonless fingers and stop them from ever hurting anyone else. Mostly I wanted the comfort of a father now forever beyond my reach. I could hear my mother singing my hatchling song to try and calm me, but my pain was too much to respond to her as I keened my grief, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around my body. Hours later I slumped unconscious at the rim of the ledge, one arm reaching out to the air currents that slipped up the cliff face to caress my hand as I mourned the loss of my father. A sharp pain took me; all of a sudden I was back in the darkness of my dreams. This time I could hear a voice, one that hissed up and down in my mind, a strange chanting wail that pulled at something inside me just like it had earlier. Trapped, my body pinned down in the dream, all I could feel was a burning in my back and hands, a flash of sharp white hot pain that both woke me instantly and stunned me as motionless as I had been held in the dream. I heard a tearing sound and felt my shirt split up the back to hang loosely from my arms. At the end of each finger was a long talon that was curved sharp and deadly. I buried them in the ground, trying to hold on to my sanity. This couldn’t be happening. I tried to stand up, to find my mother. I felt it as wings unfurled from the buds on my back, like a muscle stretching beyond its limit, bowing my body in pain and tearing a new scream from my throat. There was an echo in my mind but I was too focused on the pain to understand that it wasn't coming from me. My mother came running from out of the house toward me but she stopped and stared in shock, one hand over her mouth. I panted, on my knees again with my head resting on my arms on the hard ground as the pain slowly subsided. Hearing my mother gasp, I opened my eyes and saw a great shadow on the ground around me. I looked up into the snowy white that surrounded me. It was my wings, torn from my back years before they should. Not only that, but they were a blinding white with a snow red drop on the tip of each feather. The shock of seeing them was too much on top of everything else and I fainted. I didn’t hear my mother call for help and I didn’t see the stares of the Falcons who came at her call. I roused slightly and twitched as they moved me to my room and laid me down carefully on the bed to wait for the doctor. My mind had decided that my body had enough shocks and it was protecting me. I fell into a deep sleep that held no dreams. It was some time later when I woke up in my bed alone. The sheets were cool under my hot face as I lay there, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. That was when I heard them, the quiet whispers from the hall. I closed my eyes quickly when my door cracked open. "See, Dr. Pannar, his wings, years early. And the colors!" My mother's voice was almost hysterical. "You say they just burst from his back? What was he doing?" "I told him about Keserem. He was keening on the cliffs, all alone. He wouldn’t let me comfort him." My mother paused and let out a quiet sob that she quickly muffled. "I was so sorry to hear about that Elalera. The loss of your mate is a great sorrow." The doctor’s voice was laced with sadness. Carthera mated for life and to lose what amounted to one’s heart and soul often meant quick death for the surviving mate who couldn’t handle the loss. "But what I need to know is exactly what Velaku doing when his wings came out." I was listening intently, keeping my eyes closed. I had never seen another flier with wings at my age and the shock I had seen in my mother’s eyes and heard in her voice stayed with me. I desperately needed to find out why I was different; the need was as great as my sorrow for my father. I didn’t want to be even more different. "He had fallen asleep at the edge of the ledge. He pushed me away to grieve on his own. He was always closest to his father so I wanted to give him some space. Life is hard for a Carthera boy his age and a mother is not what he truly needs now. I could hear him mumbling in his sleep from the hall but when he screamed I ran to him. His eyes were wild and he didn't seem to really see me. All of a sudden his wings split the back of his shirt and unfurled around him. I was so shocked I couldn't move. Then he passed out." My mother sounded scared and confused, and I longed to comfort her. She was wrong. I did need her, I loved her, but what I wanted was my father. She was right in that; but I wanted to know just then the most was what was so wrong with me. I kept up my act, trying to breathe normally though I doubted with the dim light that they could see my back under the folds of my wings. "I've never seen the wings burst on their own without a ceremony, have you?" she asked. "No. Something very strange is going on here. The wings of a fledgling have to be coaxed out after they meet their mate and blood bond. The pair is always together as they are sung out by their families." The doctor sounded as confused as my mother. "I know. I just don't understand how this happened; it’s not possible. Do you think they could have been brought on by what happened to Keserem?" "I don't know, I just don't. Do you know more of what really happened?" My mother let out a soft sob and pulled away from the doctor; he went to her and they spoke so quietly I couldn’t hear them. I heard the creak of my door shutting and almost shredded my pillow in frustration with my new talons. I knew now why my mother was so shocked over my wings coming out but I needed to hear more about my father too. I slid out of bed and tiptoed over to my door, cracking it open as slowly as I could. I strained to hear the voices in the den. "The police said . . . human hunters with lynx Carthera . . . hit his wing and hunted . . . tore him apart. “It was murder.” I could only hear parts of what she said but it was enough to unleash the fury boiling inside that my wings had made me forget. I shrieked and my wings burst open and spread behind me as I threw my head backward and announced my fury from the swollen cords of my throat. I heard an answering call in my mind but again was so distraught that I didn't think about what it meant. "Velaku!" Dr. Pannar pulled open my door and stared at me in shock. The light fell on my wings and the red drops seemed to throb as my wings rose and fell with each harsh breath. "Your eyes, oh Gods, your eyes." He seemed frightened, stepping backward until he slammed into the wall. "Velaku, you need to listen to me. You must calm down, you must master this rage." I tried to listen to my mother, tried to obey, but it was so hard. I felt the pain of my father's murder burning in my veins as I opened hands now tipped by lethal talons. I was in full hunter mode and my anger surged and burned my veins as if it was acid burning me from the inside. My eyes glowed red as if the fires of righteous wrath burned from them. The image I saw in the mirror shocked me but not enough to loosen the hold the rage had on me. "My son, please, please, stop this." My stare snapped from the doctor standing in my way to my mother trilling my hatchling song, trying to bring calmness and peace to my soul. It lessened the killing rage, but I was still unable to talk, my thoughts only of the revenge I was sworn to visit upon my father’s killers. "Your father would not want this, for you to follow him into death. You must not do this; you are not ready. You must calm yourself.” She stood in the doorway, one hand held up as if that could stop me if I tried to escape. My voice was distorted, harsh with the urge to shriek my fury until all knew that I was on the hunt. My voice was a harsh croak. "My father would not want his killers free to savage more people or clan!" She shook her head. "That is not your call yet. You are still a youngling, no matter how early your wings and talons come. You must wait, bide your time. I will not stand in your way after you reach your maturity and find your mate. If you must act now then call the Falcons. Put them on the hunt." She took a step toward me, hand still out. “You can still act in honor.” I stood rooted to the floor, her calm words bringing sense if not peace to my mind. I resented it even as I knew she was right; I did not even know how to use my wings and claws yet. I shuddered as I pushed down the fiery fury until it was a hard icy ball lodged deep inside. My core was now bathed in the ice of a grim purpose. "My father's people belong to me, the clan belongs to me," I said proudly, furling my wings to lay flat against my back. "Bring me Mishtar. The Falcons will hunt this day!"
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