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  2. Congrats on clearing the mod queue! And this is getting very exciting. Hellfire, huh? Interesting... Also, I loved your descriptions of the museum. Detailed enough to set the scene nicely, but not so much you lose focus on the story. Nicely done!
  3. Big Friends Part One Makarovia truly was doing some things no other country would do. Peter's and my wedding was just one example as the marriage was accepted. Now, we had another situation where a woman was to give birth to a king's child. That was not usual. Kings often had children outside of their marriage. In the past a king sometimes came by after the child was born and what he did spoke volumes. If he even picked up the baby, he was acknowledging that he was the father. I knew of one where a king wanted a son, but his queen kept failing to do so. His mistress did give him a son. That king not only picked the baby up, but said to everyone there, the baby was his son. The child Helga and Olek created would be welcome, too. With modern medicine the birth was not as dangerous like in the past. Helga's previous abortion would cause no problem if it was properly done. There was only a little concern about her being sick but morning sickness was just common with ladies. Very few didn't get sick in the first trimester. Dinner was going to happen in the Mess area again. The mystery of what Henri was serving went away gradually. It was Asian. You could tell that from the wonderful odors. It was also clear if you didn't like seafood or were allergic you would starve to death here. The thing about allergies, you really weren't born with them. Mom or Dad pass on the sensitivities, but the first time you experience anything, you're not allergic. That's a fact. Your body identifies something as abnormal flora or fauna (animal or plant) and causes the adverse reaction. You can love something for years and suddenly react. What Mom and Dad gives you, your body says, “Oh, I heard about that. We need to get rid of it.” That was a very simple explanation of a complex thing. It's still true. People that say they don't like it, in my opinion, are just mentally ill. My opinion! You can agree or disagree, that's your opinion. You have a prefect right to be wrong. Henri served Spring Rolls! Those smaller, tender eggrolls that had a little, light crunch when you ate one. They were time consuming things to make. He had help with Gretchen and Nita. I didn't have to ask if Boris helped. If it's noon, you don't have to go outside to know the sun is up. No. I don't want any long explanations or scenarios on how it could be noon and sun was not up. It will be. The Spring Rolls were...perfect. Steam rose up when you bit into one and while you fanned your mouth to take in more, the delicious taste just surrounded you. I suspected Boris and Henri were Southerners at heart. They knew the real, tasty experience was in the sauce or gravy. Shrimp were in the rolls and they were delicious. They were even better with the individual ramekins of sweet brown sauce or sweet red sauce. The yellow sauce will bring tears to your eyes. It did with me. It was phenomenal, but the tears were due to the sweet, hot and spicy mustard. Henri had made an Asian meal before and once again that little man came out, bowed and rang a gong. That made them Southern Asians? The main course was a lemon and ginger shrimp and scallops. With our agents and their appetites I just hoped there some left in the Mediterranean. The noise level increased and everyone was having a nice time. Then I noticed Rolph looking...a little unhappy. “What's wrong?” I asked him. “You don't seem to be very happy.” He looked startled and shook his head. “No, I'm happy...” I waited and I frowned. “There must be something in Makarovian upbringing that causes all of these pregnant pauses. Say it!” Rolph pointed at Yuri. “I'm sorry, but I heard you talk with King Olek. You said you were moving us as a team to the West.” Remember, the U.S., Canada, England, many countries were “West.”ou Yuri nodded. “That's right. I did.” He looked at me. “The chemistry of this group is exceptional. Don't you agree?” I nodded. “I do.” Rolph shook his head. “I'm gone from my family for weeks at a time,” He said sadly. “It's what I do but you're talking about being gone from the end of August until the end of November. I don't want to be gone that long.” Yuri nodded, “You don't think you can.” “No,” Rolph almost wailed. “Would you leave Boris for three or four months?” Yuri's face had a little humor, but you needed to know him to see it. I did. “That is a problem.” I looked at Yuri. “Yuri.” I said in a quiet mutter. He was like a cat toying with a mouse before killing it. That meant Yuri was secure enough to tease Rolph. He was trying. “The problem is, Eric,” Yuri said to me. “Hearing a conversation like that; you don't get the whole story.” I didn't raise my head, but I looked up at Yuri. “Yuri.” I said gruffly again. “And he didn't hear the whole the entire conversation,” Yuri said to me. “I thought this was a great team.” He looked at Rolph. “I was going to talk to you first, but...” He shrugged. I chuckled. Yuri was enjoying this. “Just tell him, Yuri. You're enjoying the torture too much.” Yuri looked at Rolph. “How would Andreea feel about staying in Boston a while?” Rolph's eyes widened. “Boston!?” Yuri waved at Peter and me. “They have another year at Northeastern.” He shrugged. “The comradery is a benefit. The way all of you get along so well; I suggested we keep you all together. King Olek agreed we should.” “Andreea can come, too?” Rolph asked. Yuri nodded. “Alina and Darla, too.” Rolph's mouth dropped open. “I understand Darla will be in school,” Yuri said. “She finished her Doshkilʹne,” Rolph said. “Alina starts in the Fall.” Yuri nodded again. “How's their English?” He went on quickly. “Our agents are provided housing paid by Makarovia. The same will be done for you.” He shrugged. “Darla can go to an English speaking school or we can provide a connection to Makarovia and attend school that way. You decide.” He looked at his plate and then looked up quickly. “Oh, you need to hold off on the divorce and remarriage a while.” Rolph's mouth was still open. “How does the saying go?” Peter asked me. “Something about things flying in an open mouth.” “Close your mouth, you'll catch flies,” I replied. “Uhm,'' Peter looked at Rolph and jutted his head in my direction. “What he said.” Yuri smiled. “You've got four weeks to decide. Talk with Andreea. Four more weeks we leave for Boston.” You might think we spend too much. We, as in Makarovia. I was Makarovian now so I was part of the “we.” We sort of have to. If Makarovia had remained a nearly forgotten country we would have less security. There was just Yuri that escorted Peter to class and only four guards. Now that Makarovia had a valuable resource we just had to have more security. More guards meant the housing need increased. Carla Bowers, Ms. Nonoise, who rented me an apartment two years ago, was now renting some apartments to our guards in Boston. Makarovia was paying the bill for that. I knew Ms. Bowers didn't rent to people with children. In case you didn't know; children make noise! Even having gotten to know Rolph only a little while I couldn't imagine any child of his wouldn't make noise. The picture of them he showed us showed two very happy children. Expressions were a body language and they spoke of no trauma at all. That still photograph spoke of an effervescence brought on by the love of their parents. As wacky as Rolph's and Andreea's love was; they loved each other and their children. So what if Rolph and Andreea made marriage a game. It worked for them. If I guessed, Olek and our life manager Don Wilson were negotiating a deal. The United States Government wanted something we had. They were helping us get the uranium and defending our borders. They would help getting an apartment or condo. Okay, you just saw my say guards. There are agents and guards. Some guards became agents. I had to learn the difference and there is a big difference. A guard does what he's called. He stands guard. He protects property and fends off attacks from criminals. They were in Boston doing that now. Agents did the same thing, but did it for Peter, me, Olek, Helga, and Mom. The guards did include some female guards. The female agents were assigned to Mom and Helga. Someone had to be able to escort Mom into the Lady's Room. I never doubted Helga could kick ass. Mom probably could, too. Just as I insisted our agent dressed more casually to blend in except when the situation called for the agents needed to be seen. The agents assigned to Mom looked more like Ladies in Waiting, but could kick ass. And again I will tell you; gay. Remember? I have no problem with female guards or agents. Yes, I prefer the company of men even platonically. I loved Mom, Helga, Grandma and some women in Makarovia and Boston, but given a choice; I'll pick males. You never see a boat or ship speed. I take that back. There are boats that can move quickly over water. The fast, long and sleek ones were cigarette boats. First called that during Prohibition and used to get away from pursuit. Australia has one that could travel almost seventy miles an hour. That’s miles per hour, not kilometers. The problems with that were they guzzled fuel to do that. The other problem is the water on the ocean, seas or even lakes didn't always cooperate. Rough water happened. I've seen the boats race and flip over because of it. The water wasn't a smooth road. These boats were made with sleek bottoms. When the boats jumped because of the water, the air going by picked up the boat and it flipped. We parted ways with the Italian Navy Cruiser and entered the waters of Greece. Yuri had his laptop computer was ready. The wires needed were ready and Yuri clipped clamps from the computer to the exposed cables. “And the Pensiero Positivo is born,” Yuri said proudly. Peter smiled. “I got a part of that.” “Positive thinking,” Yuri translated smiling at his cleverness. “This will work?” Earl asked. Yuri gave a shrug. “It should. We'll see when we get to Athens without being stopped or followed.” We had another game night. This time the female crew members joined us. With all people playing we got one of the decks I had hidden to coax the guys out. They had the same backing so none know what anybody had in their hand. Like Spades; you had a partner and made bids. Peter and I weren't allowed to be partners. Boris and Yuri weren't either. They claimed we could read our husbands' minds and gave us an unfair advantage. I was partnered with Yuri and Peter with Boris. The female crew members insisted they be partners. In a bad decision; we let them. They beat all of us badly. Maybe women made better pirates. The Corinth Canal never closed. Modern ships were now bigger than the Canal was wide. I said that before, didn't I? The canal was becoming a tourist attraction now. However, the four mile distance was a lot shorter. I had been amazed, and yes a little nervous at what I considered a tight squeeze in the daytime. I would have been even worse at night. The canal had lights and so did the Duchess; or rather, the Positive Thinking. Maybe we should we say The Positive Thinker? Oh, who cares? The name is just temporary. I also have to say, what Yuri did was nothing short of brilliant. The Automatic Identification System sent the satellites the signal; about a different ship. It still had a registry number, the length and tonnage was just a little different so if we were seen, which we would be, no one suspected enough to investigate more intensely. Pano and Barry were going to be at Big. It wasn't a Monday. Open daily except Monday. Yes, I know you remember that. I'm just reminding everyone. Yuri removed his filament from the AIS. We didn't want to deceive anyone in Greece. We wanted them to keep liking and even loving us. We certainly did love them. I said it many times. “I love Greece!” We got to Pireas as the sun began to rise. I have to guess about that because we were asleep. We got a berth almost where we had been in the last time. It offered us an easier access to land and allowed us to load and unload if necessary. The only things unloaded were us and garbage. Yes, there was garbage. Any sewage got processed and discarded safely and properly. Byproducts had to be discarded too, but not that often. Every tube of toothpaste had to be thrown away from the container the tube came in to the tube itself when empty. Many things that took a few minutes more were recycled. This was a very green yacht. (You know I'm not talking about the color.) Appreciation for the Count and Countess von Bar just grew each day. The future step-uncle in-law Alexi and future step-aunt in-law Maria were environmentally conscience. That made big points with me and brought my respect of them higher. I had to meet them. I knew they'd come to the wedding for Mom and Mario, but who knew when that would be? It was inevitable as Peter and my wedding had been. Was there going to be a Proposal? I didn't think so. He was marrying a citizen of Makarovia but wasn't working for Makarovia, but I know he did. Not really for Makarovia, but for Queen Alla. Offering help in a situation with Peter and I had helped her son. That was to make points with Mom. Not Peter or me and not for Makarovia. He does get a title if he wants. Dad! You know I do this. I made his sister an aunt because she was Mario's sister. He was the connection in all this. We had promised our agents we weren't leaving the Duchess until we went to Big. They had time to do what they wanted to in Athens. Of course, Henri went to see what was left at the open fish market. Boris had gone with him. Henri was talking about going to be late arriving. He hoped enough vendors had enough left when they got there. “When does Henri sleep!?” Peter balked after hearing about the early hour he was going. I shrugged, “He seems well rested when we see him. He must get what he needs.” Again we got up late morning, cleaned up and went to retrieve our coffees. It wasn't surprising to see Boris instead of Henri. It wasn't surprising to see Yuri with Boris. It wasn't surprising to see Boris and Yuri kissing. Comparing how Yuri kissed in front of Peter and me, mostly in front of me. After I found out he and Boris were married; there had been a real turn around for the duty and protocol bound man. Yuri was relaxed and not worried now. They had witnessed Peter and me kiss often. Boris smiled still holding on to Yuri. “Henri's checking on things we got at the market in storage.” He pointed at the galley around him. “He told me what he planned and premade if you got up. It'll be ready in forty-five minutes.” Peter grinned. “Why so long? Henri does it very quickly.” Boris nodded, “This isn't my kitchen.” He said on the border of being testy. “I have to look for things. I don't just know where they are.” I rolled my eyes and turned to Peter. “Remember what grandpa said. That isn't keeping a key group close. Boris will be cooking again for us.” Boris chuckled. “After all this time I know what he's doing.” He let Yuri go. “And I know what you want first.” He turned to begin making the coffees. “Henri never showed us how, or I would do it.” I said. Boris shook his head. “Well, you would be tinkering in his about domain. It's what he's paid to do.” Peter nodded. “He said that.” Yuri grinned. “Job security,” He looked us. “So, what's so special about this Big Bar?” “Pano and Barry,” Peter said simply. “Don't forget Edger,” I reminded. “No one could forget Edger,” Peter assured with a laugh. I added. “Pano is Greek born man that lived quite a few years in Canada and speaks English like a native. Barry is his partner who is Canadian born Greek…” Explaining would time consuming. “You'll see.” We were concerned about the security again and asked Mikell a few days before if arrangements for what we had last time could done again. He made arrangements. The paparazzi had seen the ship we left on. Now that is was back, did that mean we were back? We didn't show ourselves during the day, but people did get on and off, but not us. That didn't mean anything really. Yuri and Boris had gone out on the deck and could be seen. If the paparazzi were smart, which I've never heard them being accused of being smart, they knew we did things to fool them. Such as our vanishing at the restaurant or our coming to Big's. This was Mikell's job and he was trusted. Lunch or whatever was again following the theme. This time it was barbeque shrimp on French bread. It was an open face sandwich with quite a few shrimp and the juices soaking into the bread. Next to Henri and Boris I just heated things up to eat. I did know about styles of cooking. When Henri came to check on us; and he should know we were always in love with what he cooked, I asked him. “Out with it.” I pointed at the plate. “This is not French.” Henri didn't look offended, but a little surprised. “I am French. I made it. What makes you say it isn't French?” “It a bit spicy, which I love,” I pointed at him. “The barbeque had heat and not from the stove or oven. French food isn't spicy at all. There is lots of flavor, but mostly wine, cheese and breads.” Henri nodded. “You're right, but it is French…sort of.” He smiled as I fixed a glare on him. “It was created by a French chef in New Orleans. It's not Cajun...exactly...” “Henri,” Peter growled lowly at him. “Just tell us.” I looked at Peter. “He doesn't need to.” I chuckled. “There is no rule about keeping recipes the same all the time.” Henri nodded. “And they shouldn't be. I hate chefs that insist on the same thing every time.” He waved to outside. “Cultures are blending like people.” I nodded. “There are fusion recipes being created all the time.” Peter nodded. “So, this is...?” “A fusion of Americana and Cajun by way of France.” Henri said simply and shrugged. The threat of the Consortium still overshadowed everything. Again, the Consortium wasn't stupid or foolish. Hopefully the pirate trying to prove valuable to the Consortium wasn't either. Even if she had managed to track us to Athens. Her people could strike, but that would be chaotic. Our agents would fight and she could lose. If we just hid; they win. The military of Greece would hopefully respond. Our allied forces hopefully help us if they weren't already. They were actively trying to find them. As a result, they could be laying low and not drawing attention to themselves in any way. “We can just skip this tonight.” Peter suggested. I looked at Peter. “Do you think we should?” “They'd see they can force us to do...whatever.” “They already did that causing us to change our plans for the honeymoon.” I said. Peter nodded, “But we did go on one.” “We did promise to come back.” I gave a shrug and nod. “I don't want to endanger Pano, Barry or Edger.” “No,” Peter agreed. “We'll make every effort to keep everyone safe. I just think we can't back down.” “Show no weakness,” I smiled and looked at Peter. “Be careful. Someone will put you in a position of leadership.” Peter chuckled. “If we do it together, I'm not as unsure with you with me.” “We'll be together,” I said. “I love you, husband,” Peter said. “I know,” I grinned. “I love you, husband.” Peter kissed me. “I know you do.”
  4. quokka

    DSA Chapter 9

    Serine is a Royal title
  5. Wayne Gray

    The Kiss of Wine

    Thank you. We did have a nice time. And ... our kisses were a highlight, not a trial for the other patrons. 🙂
  6. Okay there's a lot of info in this chapter. I get how Tobyn must be feeling, the pack needs new members, especially new blood. Like someone had said in the comments, surrogacy might be the best if only the wolves have doctors. But now with Keller in the picture, I have hope that he would be able to help. I am a bit confused though. Has Sybil and Keller himself figured out that Tobyn is his earth mate? Because all the signs Sybil mentioned are in progress with how Keller feels. Thank you for the specially long chapter. I really enjoyed Keller and Sybil's talk.
  7. Thorn Wilde

    The Kiss of Wine

    What a sweet and beautiful poem! I'm glad you two had a nice time.
  8. MCVT

    Chapter 5/6

    Doc, to slam or press a hood could make a racket, no? Brake lines, yes, there are other more devious, less obvious ways to cause a leak. Posting last chapter in a moment. Again, I thank you for your comments. I enjoy them. v
  9. Wayne Gray

    The Kiss of Wine

    I will when I can. Last night I could. 🙂 Thanks, rick.
  10. Wayne Gray

    The Kiss of Wine

    Thanks, chris. 🙂
  11. I'm distracted. What was the word of the day again?
  12. Goodie

    Chapter 5

    Awww the cubbie buddies are back together, so sweet. Now if only they'd talked it out sooner, still better late than never. I remember being a cubbie monitor. Had to pick up anything left lying on the floor. If I didn't know which or who's cubbyhole it went into, it went into the "find me" bin. Just about everything went in the 'find me" bin, it was easier. Now J can put his stuff in Brandons' hole again. CB4life
  13. Rupert

    PART 3 - Chapter 14

    Some tough love there.
  14. drpaladin

    Chapter 5/6

    Holmes is one bright and dedicated dog. Depend on Frederick to cover all the angles. It was certainly Jonathan's work, characteristically sloppy in both not latching the hoods and leaving the lines to leak. Good thing he is an amateur at sabotage. I won't share the proper way.
  15. GREEK Guys really earn extra kisses KISSS
  16. Today
  17. There are men everywhere, voices on top of voices, I can barely hear my own thoughts. I put my arm around Tod’s shoulder pulling him closer, “why are you trembling?” I ask him, whispering in his ear. “I’m not,” he claims with a small whine in his voice. “You are too,” I tell him, “it’ll be ok,” I tell him, not sure if I believe that myself. “We got to go now,” a tall and intimidating man says as he picks up a duffel bag. “Why are they all dressed in black?” Tod asks. “Jack and Tod,” Mary says all of a sudden, causing me to jump a little. “Come with me,” she demands as she gets up from the desk and putting the phone down in the cradle. I just stare at her as she approaches us and squats down in front of us, “you poor dears,” she starts, “you must be so scared, but it’s going to all right,” she claims, “let’s get you two out of here,” she says as she takes my hand in hers. Pulling back and holding Tod closer, I say in a timid voice, “I don’t want to go in there,” as I look at the closed door. “It’s ok,” she says trying reassure me, “there is a nice lady on her way over here to take you some place safe,” she claims with a small fake smile. “Why can’t you take me?” I ask, almost crying. “I have to go and,,,,” she starts and then suddenly stops, “I ummm, have to arrest some bad guys,” she says, “it’s too dangerous for you to go,”she informs me. “But I don’t want you to go,” I say as Tod starts to cry, “Shh,” I say to Tod, “be a big boy and don’t cry,” I say trying to control the situation. “Jacks right,” Mary says, “big boys don’t cry,” she informs him, “just come to the back room with me until Mrs Snider gets here,” she tells as she pulls me to my feet. Giving up I allow her to pull me to my feet , but I never let go of Tod’s hand. Slowly I follow behind her until I see the door to the back room and then plant my feet into the carpet and refuse to go any further. “NOOOOOO!” I scream at the top of my lungs, not caring who is staring at me. I drop Tods hand and bolt towards the door. “STOP HIM,” I hear Mary yell, but it doesn’t register with me, all I can think of is if I go into that room, I’ll surely die. Running as fast and hard as I can, I dart between all the men, who have a look of puzzlement on their faces, ignoring everything, I make a mad dash for the door and before anyone can stop me I’m opening the door and running down the street, looking for a place to hide. I hear a yell behind me as I see an alley way and disappear into the shadows. I don’t stop running until I see a space under a building and dive into it scraping my knees in the process. Out of breath I scramble to the left of the hole I just jumped through and hold my breath the best I can and listen as I hear footsteps come running down the alley way. I close my eyes and stay as silent as I can as the footsteps get closer and I start to hear voices. “I saw him come this way,” a man says. “This is a dead end,” the other one says, “you must have been mistaken,” he informs the other man. “That little brat is going to cost us the bust,” the first man claims. “He’s only a kid,” the other man states, “let’s get back before we miss all the action.” “What about the kid?” the first one asks. “We looked for him, is it our fault he disappeared?” The second man asks, “he’s just some stupid run away anyway,” he claims, “he’ll come back when he gets hungers,” he says. Petrified with fear I strain to hear anything else and soon I am rewarded by footsteps getting softer and softer as the men get farther and farther away. Laying perfectly still, I listen as I’ve never listened before, after what seems like forever, I slowly open my eyes and see the under side of a building, I’m laying on dirt and it smells like mold and dirt. I take a chance a look around and my new surroundings moving my arms and legs a little because my legs have fallen asleep. I can’t sit up completely but manage to shift on my side and start to crawl very slowly to the opening I jumped through. Looking out I see it is after dark and I don’t see anyone around. After a few minutes, I carefully poke my head out and breathe fresh air, nothing has ever tasted so good., encouraged, I pull myself all the way out and attempt to sit up, leaning up against the wall I just sit there. “Why did I run like that?” I say in a whisper to myself, “I’m in big trouble now, Mary is going to be really mad at me,” I say as an after thought. Looking all around I see I’m in an alley and since there is only one way out, I start walking that way. “Ouch!” I say under my breath, looking down I see my pants are torn and I am bleeding, sitting back down I peel away the edges of my pant leg and look a the wound. “How did that happen?” I ask myself as I examine it more closely, “I guess I didn’t make a clean get away like I thought,” I say laughing to my self under my breath. Hearing a sound I look up and see a woman staring at and I try to smile as i tense up. “Are you alright young man?” She asks, concerned. “I,, um,, just fell and skinned my knee,” I say in a timid voice. “Well you better get along home and have your mom get that cleaned up before it gets infected,” she states plainly as she turns to leave. “WAIT,” I say quite loudly, “ I mean,errr,,,can you,,, ummm,,, help me up?” I ask putting on my best smile for this lady. Turning back to me she smiles and says, “yes of course dear, you are quite a sight, where do you live?” She asks as she takes my arm and helps me to my feet. “Not far,” I say, grateful for the help. “Well I’m going to take you right to your front door,” she states and I suddenly realize that the only home I know is back there, I freeze. “Umm,,, that’s ok,” I say panicking now, “I feel better now, I’m sure I can make it on my own,” I claim trying to stand on my own. “Nonsense,” she says, “it’s no trouble,” she says as she looks both ways down the street, “now which way is home dear!” She inquires as she looks me in the face. “Umm,,, it’s just over there,” I tell her and pointing back to the red door, “why did I run away like that?” I say in a whisper, before I realize I said it out loud. “What was that young man?” She asks me. “What’s your name!” I ask as a way to change the subject. “Oh, my word,” she says, “where are my manners?” She says blushing, “why I’m Mrs Snider, I would shake your hand,” she says, “but I’m afraid to let you go, you might fall again,” she says with a chuckle in her voice. “I’ll be alright,” I claim as I almost fall, “it only hurts a little bit,” I claim, looking at her with a big smile. “Do I know you?” I ask. “I don’t think so dear,” she says, “now where did you say you lived?” “Ummm,, just over there,” I say pointing it the direction of the red door, the only place I really know. “Well come on then,” she says and puts her arm around my waist. “I can go from here,” I protest. “It’s ok dearie,” she says, “my appointment can wait, I have to take care if you first,” she says as we slowly make our way down the street. “I’m Jack,’ I tell her, “nice to meet you,” I say, trying to remember my manners. “Jack?” She says with her eyebrows raised, “I was just going to meet a boy about your age named Jack and his brother,” she says, “do you have a brother named Tod by the way?” She asks in an excited voice. “No, I don’t have any brothers,” I say sheepishly, “but I know Tod,” I say a bit more brightly, “he’s a really cool kid, but sometimes he can be a pain in the back side,” I admit. “I see,,,” she says trailing off. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, starting to feel nervous. “Well what I mean is,,,what happened? and is Tod ok, is he out here too?”she asks as she starts to look around. “I don’t know,” I stammer, “I got scared and ran off because I thought,,, errr,,,” I stop in mid sentence, not sure why I got so scared. “It’s ok dear,” she says in a soothing voice, “we will get to the bottom of this real soon,” she says with a serious look on her face, “image letting a mere boy run around the streets to get hurt like this, someone is going to answer to me by golly,” she says in a firm voice. “Please don’t blame Mary,” I say apologetically. “Nonsense,” she says, “it’s not your fault,,,” she starts to say, but I interrupt her. “It is too my fault, really it is,” I insist, “I ran,,,” I start to explain, but I am cut off by her words. “I’ll get to the bottom of this, just you wait and see,” she claims, “now let’s get you into the headquarters and see about that leg,” she says as we approach the red door. “I didn’t mean to,,,” I start to say, but stop, not sure what I was going to say and just look up at her with tears starting to firm on my face. “Shhhh,,,” she says in a gentle tone of voice, “no one is going to be in trouble,” she claims, as she opens the door to and empty office. Looking around it looks much like it did before, but without all the people, “where did everybody go?” I ask in wonder. “MARY?” Mrs Snider calls out. “Back here,” comes a familiar voice from the other room. “Well I found a friend on the way over here,” Mrs Snider says, “and I would like to have a word with you if you don’t mind,” she says as she helps into a chair. Mary comes out of the back room with Tod in her arms, as soon as Tod sees me, he squirms out of Mary’s arms and comes running to me. “Where did you go?” he asks, “I thought you left me forever,” he says, “why did you leave me,, you said you would never leave me, I don’t want you to go,,”” he is rambling and I have to put my hand over his mouth to get him to stop asking everything in his mind. “It’s nothing,” I say, “I’m back now, so stop your blubbering,” I say in a playful tone of voice. “I need a first aid kit,” Mrs Snider says as she comes over to me and squats down in front of me to examine my leg, “he gone and really scraped up his knee,” she says with a frown on her face. “There’s one in the filling cabinet,” Mary says as she moves to retrieve it. “Now, young man,” she says directly to me, “let’s have a look at that leg of yours.” Pulling the rip apart and looking inside, “let’s get these pants off,” she says as she helps me stand. Tensing up I do as I’m told, thinking I knew it was just a matter of time, I go thru the motions of removing my pants and then start to remove my underwear, but I am stopped by Mrs Snider. “You can keep your underwear on,” she says and I stop, not sure what is going on. “Oh,,, OK,,” I stammer and just sit down feeling ridiculous, but not sure what is expected of me. Taking the first aid kit from a Mary, Mrs Snider pulls out some gauze and a couple of tubes of something and proceeds to clean the wound. “Owwww,” I complain , “that hurts.” “Now just hold still,” Mrs Snider says as she does too good of a job of ripping my skin off, I see that Tod has taken my hand and is squeezing it very tightly or am I squeezing his tightly, I’m not sure, but it feels right in any case. “What did you think you were doing Jack?” Mary asks, “why did you run off like that and where on earth did you go?”she asks, “we looked all over for you, you gave me quite a scare,” she says in a softer voice. ‘I don’t know, I just got scared,” is all I can think to say, looking down at my hands I say in a timid voice, “I promise not be be bad again, really I promise,” I say pleading to her with my voice. “Don’t you have somewhere to be Mary?” Mrs Snider asks, looking up at her. “Well yes,,,” she starts, but the stops and thinks a second, “they can get along without me I think,” she says, “I think I know two boys who need me more than some silly swat team,” she claims, “besides, all the fun is probably over by now anyway,” she admits. “Well, make yourself useful,” Mrs Snider says, “call the paramedics, this boy need stitches,” she insists, as she continues to rip my knee apart. “I need my knee,” I claim, “please stop, I can’t take it any more, I’ll do anything you say,” I claim thru tears and some crying. “Shhh,,,” she says, “I’m almost done, you’ve been a very brave boy,” she claims. “I don’t want to be a brave boy, I just want you to stop,” I say as I start to struggle to get away. “Hold him Mary,” Mrs Snider says as I almost get away. Arms are wrapped around my chest as Mrs Snider continues to tear my skin from my knee, I afraid to look at what is left of my knee. “There all done,” Mrs Snider says, “now that wasn’t so bad?”she asks. I dare to open my eyes and through tears I see a white bandage wrapped around my knee, “it was too, that bad,” I claim, my sobs subsiding. “I’ll go make the call,” Mary says as she gets up with a grunt, “you are one strong boy Jack,” Mary proclaims as she heads over to the desk and picks up the phone. “Now, will someone please tell me how this happened?” Mrs Snider asks with raised eyebrows. “I,,,, um,,, guess I cut my knee under a house?” I ask more than state the fact. “Ok, that’s a good start, but why were you under a house?” Mrs Snider asks me. “It was the only place to hide.” I say as a matter of fact, I thought that was obvious. “I see,” she says slowly, “and why did you have to hide?” she asks me, now looking intensely in my face. Looking down at my hands I mumble, “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” She says as more of a statement that a question. I just shrug my shoulders. “Well I can see you have real chatter box here,” she says to Mary, “maybe you can tell me what’s going on here?” she says now looking at Mary who is on the phone. Holding up one finger I hear her saying her name and my name over the phone and wonder what she is doing, is she calling the cops?, no that’s silly she is the cops, maybe she’s calling,,, the paramedics, that’s right, that’s what she said, but who are the paramedics?, and what do they want?, this is all so confusing, I’ve never met people like this before. I wonder if I’m in trouble, it doesn’t seem like it, I didn’t even have to take everything off, so I guess I’m ok, I hope. I look around to see that Tod is still holding my hand just looking at me with sadness in his young eyes, it makes me feel good, but in a way I’ve never felt before, I squeeze his hand and try to smile, I don’t know why, but I want him to be ok. Putting down the phone Mary says, “they will be here in a few minutes.” “So spill the beans,” Mrs Snider says, “what happened here and how did Jack end up under a house of all places, I came over as soon as I could,” she says. “I don’t know,” Mary admits, “it all happened so fast, I was just taking the boys into the back room, when all of a sudden Jack screams out NO!!, and ran out the door like the devil himself was after him,” she says blushing a little, “we ran after him, but he is fast and disappeared out of sight,” she says, “we had the operation so, I stayed back to take care of Tod, hating myself for allowing Jack to be out there by himself,” she claims, “I didn’t know what else to do so I just waited, figuring that I could go look for him after you got here, I couldn’t just leave Tod alone.”she admits. “I’m old enough to stay by myself,” ‘Tod claims, “Henry leaves me alone all the time,” he admits. “I see,” Mrs Snider says, ignoring Tod’s comment. “The men should be back any minute,” Mary says, “I think it will be better if we take Jack and Tod to the back room,” she says pointing to the back. My face flares with fear and I squeeze Tod’s hand so tight that he lets out a whimper, I hardly even notice, “I’m ok out here,” I say as my eyes go wide with fear, I knew I was in trouble and this proves it, I think to myself as I try to figure a way out of it. “Jack are you ok?” Mrs Snider asks me with concern, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she claims. “Please don’t make me go in there, there aren’t any windows in there, I’ll be good I promise,” I says as tears and sobs escape me, “I wont ever run away again, I’ll be a good boy,” I claim, “I’ll even do that thing everyone likes, I promise,” I claim as I start to blubber, “I’ll,,,,,m do,,,,,please,,,l no,,,,” I say as the crying takes over,,,, “Shhhhh,” Mrs Snider says as she hugs me in a different way than anyone has ever hugged me, “we don’t have to back there if you don’t want to, l promise,” she says. Looking at Mary, she says, ‘go outside and tell the men to wait out there until the paramedics get her and attend to Jack.” Lifting my chin with her hand gently, she says, “it’s going to be ok, I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I won’t let any one hurt you ever again, can I ask you something Jack?” She says timidity. I just nod my head, unable to say any words. “What happened to you?” She asks slowly. “Nothing,” I manage to say and not being able to look her in the face, but looking at Tod instead. ‘Tod,” she says looking at him, “why don’t you go in the back room, Mary can get you a snack,” “NO,” I scream, “don’t go back there,” I say a little softener and start to cry again. “Ok,, ok,” Mrs Snider says, “Mary please take Tod outside with you and wait for the men,” she says, looking at me, ‘is that alright Jack?”she asks and I just shrug. “Come on Tod, we can watch for the swat team to come back, you can see all their gear and funny hats,” she says when Tod looks unsure, taking his hand she leads him outside and the room gets very quiet as they close the door behind them. Turning to me Mars Snider looks at me with a strange but nice look in her face, “let’s start over,” she says, “I have been told that you have come to live with your uncle Henry, tell me about him,” she says. “He’s not really my uncle,,,” I start to say as the front door opens, making me jump a little. Men in white uniforms come in and carrying black bags rush over to me and start to look me over, “how are you feeling?” One of them asks, followed by lots of other silly questions. They remove the bandage and Mrs Snider is pushed aside as they poke and prod me in every way possible. I’m dazed and stunned and just sit there and I hear them say, “we need to take him in, he’s going to need stitches and that cut cleaned up properly,” the second one says, “where are his parents?” The first one asks, “we will need authorization to care for him.” “I’m his guardian, until his parents can be located,” Mrs Snider states plainly. “Good enough,” the first one says and heads back out the door, “I’ll be right back and disappears out the door. “Now Jack,” the second one says, “we are going to transfer you to the hospital, nothing to worry about,” he claims and my face gets red and scared. “The hospital?” I question, “I don’t want to go,” I claim, “I’ll be fine,” I say trying to avoid going there. “It’s ok,” Mrs Snider says, “I’ll be with you the whole time,” she claims. “Why does everyone keep saying it’s going to be ok?” I ask, “every time someone says it will be ok, it’s never ok,” I say softly. “How did this happen?” the man asks. “He was hiding under a house,”Mrs Snider informs him. “He’ll need a tetanus shot,” the man says. The other man comes back with a gurney and together they lift me onto the bed, Mrs Snider is right there by my side. The belt me down and start to wheel me outside and I see Tod with Mary and a lot of other men milling about as I come out the door, “Tod,” I say as he looks horrified at me, “can he come with us?” I ask. “No, but he can come see you later at the hospital,” Mrs Snider tells me. “Take care of Tod,” I say to a Mary as I’m put into the back of the ambulance and then the doors are closed and Mrs Snider and the man are back there with me, the man is busy taking my blood pressure and temperature and all sorts of things and Mrs Snider is just trying to stay out of the way, she has look in her eyes that hurts my heart, I’m not sure if I should say anything or just be quite while the man works, so I just lay there, wondering what exactly is going on. The next thing I hear is a siren and the ambulance takes off driving down the street, I feel safe and warm, but it’s a strange feeling, like this is the way it’s supposed to feel, but who’s to say? Everything is happening so fast, I can’t keep up, I take one final look at Mrs Snider, who I barely even know before everything goes black. I’m floating in a fog on the edge of a vast ocean. There is no ship or land anywhere, but I’m not afraid. I hear a familiar voice in the vastness if the fog calling to me, but I can’t seem to find where it is coming from. I know that voice, but I can put a name or face to it, it’s a very sweet voice and seems to be saying, “I’ll never stop looking for you.” Strange, I think, it’s not the hateful voices from all my life, it’s a caring voice, almost like I’m wanted, but this is after a dream and anything can happen in a dream,,,,right?,,,
  18. Jahna came out from the kitchen, carrying the main course. The bull we slew had been turned into a flavorsome roast, now resting on a silver platter in her arms. “Out of the way! Why are you standing here like an idiot? Shall the guests die of thirst?” Well, given the amount of wine already consumed, that danger was rather low. I made room for her to pass, which was harder than I thought in the narrow corridor. Both because of the dimensions of the plate and the dimensions of its carrier. Anyways, I did have obligations to meet, so I quickly fetched the next bottle and returned to duty. Entering the large reception room, I was immediately beckoned by an impatient guest. As I was about to fill up his glass, Elisa chimed in again. What was it now? Did I perhaps violate some EU directive about safe sex? “Dr. Marten, I have received a message from base. Dr. Bolzano is requesting a video conference.” I almost dropped the poor man’s glass in his lap, catching it at the last moment. A few drops still made it on to his clothes. He started to complain, but I didn’t listen. I hurried back towards the kitchen, but turned left in the corridor, heading down the stairs to the basement. This would give me a few moments of peace to take the call from Dr. Bolzano. I instructed Elisa to establish the connection. The viewport opened and Lisa’s face greeted me from across time. “Hello Lisa, how are you all?” “Hi Phillip, that’s something I should rather ask you.” “I’m doing good. I really can’t complain too much. I’m still working as a servant, although there has been an interesting turn of events… but I don’t want to bore you with details. How about you tell me whether you’ve made any progress? I hope that’s why you’re calling. Is it?” “It is indeed, Phil.” Her gaze briefly wandered to someone outside my view. “Normally, you wouldn’t have survived such a huge deviation in time. The probability is less than two percent. You should have appeared somewhere in deep space. But, thank god, you are alive! And that’s exactly the point where we focused our research.” Nothing new so far. Although hearing it out loud sent a shiver down my spine. “And we did find something. At the moment of your departure, the sensors picked up a strange carrier wave in the space-time fold. We didn’t notice it at first, because the signature was very weak and shadowed by the emissions of our generators. Here comes the weirdest part, though. That carrier wave has an astonishing resemblance to the traceback ping your TTEK sends for us to determine your exact position. We believe that through interference with that wave, the space-time tunnel was redirected to the wave’s source. In time as well as in space. It’s not a coincidence you’re stranded there. Something, or someone, led you there – whether on purpose or not we can’t tell. However, we were able to trace back the signal’s origin. It was sent from the vicinity of what is the city of Cairo today. There isn’t a settlement there yet, not in your time. The nearest town would be Memphis, twelve miles away.” My mind was spinning. So it wasn’t a coincidence! Was I brought here on purpose, by a foreign intelligence? “That’s incredible, Lisa! Whatever caused that signal, it sure wasn’t the locals here. Perhaps there is merit to the rumors that the pyramids were actually built by aliens? I must get to Memphis, and see what I can find there. Maybe I can shed some light on what happened.” Lisa smirked. “Aliens… Phil, your mind always jumps to the extreme. But whatever it was, Memphis is your best bet to find out more.” I knew where that place was because I’d been there. Cairo, the capital of modern Egypt, was on every traveler’s wish list. After all, it was home to the pyramids of Gizeh, one of the seven wonders of the world. “Is there anything else I should know?” I asked Lisa. “No, that’s all we've got for now. But…” “But what?” I insisted. “As you certainly know, the power of our system isn’t enough to transport you home from such a distant time. Of course, we could extend its capacity – ” She exchanged another glance with someone off-screen. “And we will. As quickly as possible. But, that could take many years.” I swallowed. Clearly, I wouldn’t get back home soon. I knew that before Lisa’s explanation. Still, as long as no one said it out loud, a glimmer of hope had remained. Years, she said… “I know, Lisa. I will get by. I'll just have to make the most of it. The people here seem really nice. And look at it this way, we’ll learn a lot about ancient Egypt. Our knowledge of that era is sketchy, so the historians will be overjoyed.” “Okay, Phillip. Just be careful out there.” I nodded, having forgotten they couldn’t see me. Someone said something to Lisa on the other end. “Oh, and the whole team sends warm regards. And Dr. Carrol told me to relay that you should collect a few pieces of ancient Egyptian clothing. For his collection.” I had a good laugh. Everything would be alright if I could stay in contact with my colleagues and friends at home. “Alright Lisa, I have to go now. Send my love to my family and tell them I’m fine.” “I will. Take care!” After her goodbye, the connection was closed. I started to consider the unexpected news and this new angle on things. Though I had to postpone pondering for now. I had been down here for quite a while. Too many guests would be able to see the bottom of their glasses already. --- It was half an hour before midnight when the last visitors had left – in questionable condition, judging by their unsteady steps. At last, I also got my share of the meal. I was able to secure a good piece of bull from the kitchen, just as the cook herself was about to devour it. Manu had already gone to bed. I was pretty exhausted, too, so I headed to the bedroom as well after I was done in the bathroom. That I could use of course due to my status as my master’s secret lover – as long as his wife didn’t notice. I was about to lie down in the vestibule when Manu called me. “Ameniu, what are you doing down there?” He sneered. “The bed’s much comfier. And there’s even room for two if we snuggle together.” He didn’t need to ask twice. I jumped up from the floor and lied down next to him, making sure to cuddle up to him nice and close. What a wonderful feeling. He kissed me on the mouth. “Rest well, Ameniu. I like you.” Fuck. I longed to tell him that I liked him too. Instead, I had to make do with returning the kiss deeply. It couldn’t go on like this. How, for example, should I explain to him that I needed to travel to Memphis? A hard endeavor even if I had been able to talk to him. A lost one without speech. Whatever. I was too tired now to give it anymore thought. After a while I fell asleep, feeling only the warm comfort of Manu’s body next to mine. I woke up early, when it was still dark in the room. It was 4:37 AM to be exact, as I read in Elisa’s morning report. Although I couldn’t sleep anymore, I stayed in bed so I wouldn’t disturb Manu by getting up. At least he should get some well-deserved sleep. Besides, I had some thinking to do. A pressing issue needed to be tackled. I had to get to Memphis. Not exactly an easy feat, given that engines had not been invented yet and it was over 300 miles from Thebes, where I was now. But there must be a way! And Manu would know it. Didn’t he mention the other day that he’d love to travel? Perhaps I could convince him to make the journey with me? Okay, this wasn’t just one issue, it was a whole clusterfuck of issues. And the key to all of it was to be able to talk to him about it. I didn’t have a choice. I had to give up playing the mute. Making it work shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. I would silently dictate what I wanted to say to Elisa and she’d display the translation. Though I would probably have to practice a little to get the pronunciation right. The much bigger challenge, however, was to explain to Manu why I had lied to him the whole time, pretending to be mute. That, he might be upset about, and I couldn't blame him. I decided to get up regardless. Carefully, I slipped away from the cute Egyptian who was still sleeping soundly. I got out of bed and made my way up to the roof. “Elisa, translate all words I form without speaking them aloud into the local language unless they are directed to you. Then, display the translation to me in phonetic spelling.” Alright. Let’s give this a try. “I need to travel to Memphis” was the first sentence I tried. Promptly, the translation appeared. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize half of the letters, making me realize I didn’t know a damn thing about the phonetic alphabet. So I had to try something different. Of course, I could have learned the phonetic alphabet first, but that would have taken too long. “Instead of the phonetic spelling use the best fitting English letters.” Okay, let’s give it another shot. I repeated the sentence. This time I was familiar with all the letters and able to read back the sentence. Asked about the correctness of my pronunciation Elisa replied: “sixty-seven percent accurate”. Still room for improvement, I guess. --- Eighty-two percent. That was as close as I got after spending the next two hours practicing. Not too bad, if you ask me. I was just trying to beat that score when Elisa interrupted me. “Attention, a person is approaching your position.” As soon as she finished the sentence, Manu appeared from downstairs. “Ah, here you are, Ameniu. I thought I heard something up here.” He threw me a warm smile. “I’ve ordered breakfast for us. My wife usually eats breakfast at her friend’s house, so they can chat about the latest gossip. Come, let’s sit here together.” I tried not to look like a child that was just caught doing something naughty, shrugged my shoulders, and sat down next to him. I couldn’t do it now. No, first I needed to gather my strength through a good meal. Manu had the day already planned out for us, telling me all about it whilst he was chewing away. Besides the usual porridge-like mush, the maid served grapes and dates. “I need to go to court this noon. You’ll come, too, and I’ll show you around. After that, we can take a stroll through the city or along the river. What do you think?” I replied with an erratic nod. He tilted his head sideways and looked at me. “Are you alright, Ameniu? You’ve got that pensive look today.” He sighed. “If only you could talk to me.” That was my cue. Now or never. I swallowed hard, trying not to get the grape I just ate stuck in my throat. I cleared my throat and blushed. Normally when you’re about to discuss a sensitive topic you might say something along the lines of “listen, I need to talk to you about something important…” In this case, however, it didn’t matter what I said. The first word out of my mouth would reveal the secret. “Manu, I’m so sorry to not have told you earlier. I can speak. Not mute.” The words sputtered out of my mouth, ignoring all pronunciation training. My heart was pounding. As soon as I spoke the first word, Manu took a sharp breath. His eyes widened. After my confession, I remained silent. It was his turn to say something. His expression turned from surprise to irritation. He shook his head. “And you’re telling me now? Why not right away!? It would have made everything so much easier.” Well, why didn’t I? In retrospect, it would have been best. But it just was more convenient back then. It spared me from having to answer inconvenient questions. I decided to stick with the truth as much as possible. “We didn’t know each other back then, Manu.” … “I didn’t know yet how you would treat me.” … “Not to mention what happened yesterday between us.” It would take a while for me to get used to this odd way of speaking. “And because I didn’t need to talk, I couldn’t say anything wrong. Later, I indeed wished to be able to talk to you. Yet, it was too late to change course. But now that we…” Embarrassed I looked down at the floor. Then something better came to mind. “I like you a lot, Manu.” I gazed into his eyes seeking a hint of forgiveness. And indeed, his expression softened. Anger faded into a smile. “With your appalling accent, it’s no wonder you didn’t dare speak. I think I forgive you.” Now, he seemed to get more excited by the second. “We can finally talk about so many things! I don’t even know where to start.” I let out a sigh of relief, although I feared the coming surge of questions. “What do you think of Jahna, by the way?” he asked. “My wife brought her over from her parent’s household.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I find her a little bossy.” He laughed, nodding his head in agreement. “Yes, she is. But deep down I think she only means well.” Somehow that reminded me of the assurances of some dog owners that their snarling monster just wanted to play. “And yesterday during the hunt, you know you saved me and all, and I’m very grateful” – he gave me a kiss – “ but bow and arrow weren’t your strengths, were they? Are you not hunting where you are from?” This was exactly the kind of question I had tried to avoid. “Ehm, yes. We do.” He tilted his head, not satisfied with my explanation, or lack thereof. “Well, we do hunt. It just isn’t a sport like it is here. There are hunters whose job it is to hunt and others just buy the meat from them.” That sounded plausible. “I see. Sounds interesting. But also boring.” Deep down I felt bad having to come up with these lies and tales. But there wasn’t another option, was there? The truth would have sounded too far fetched to him. He’d perhaps ostracize me. I also remembered the ATR codex. It prohibited the time traveler from having close contact with locals, so as to have as little influence on their world as possible. Of course, I wasn’t able to adhere to this rule due to my precarious situation. And to be honest, my little shower adventure yesterday broke all rules anyways. Manu’s stream of questions was long from being over, so I tried to slow him down a little. “All that talking is quite draining for me, Manu. Please don’t ask so many questions at once.” I threw him a disarming smile. “Also, I need to discuss something important with you.” He looked at me with anticipation. “I need to travel to Memphis.” Now the cat was out of the bag. He looked puzzled for a moment, only to ask the inevitable question: “Why?” It would have been foolish to tell him my wish without having prepared an answer to this crucial question. Apart from speaking practice, I spent the last two hours coming up with a suitable story. “Remember I told you how I was stranded here with my ship? We dropped one of us off in Memphis. He was to take care of some trade business. On the way back, we were supposed to pick him up again. I need to go there to find him and tell him about the fate of our ship.” That was the best story I could come up with. I sure hoped he would buy it. “Well… wouldn’t it be enough to send a messenger then?” Manu, you're a hard nut to crack, come on take the bait. “That wouldn’t work. A messenger wouldn’t know what the man looks like. And even if he found him, the sailor wouldn’t simply believe a mere messenger.” Manu pondered for a while. Then he nodded, more to himself than to me. “In that case, I’d say start packing already!” He was all smiles. So was I. “To be honest, Ameniu, I always wanted to do a journey like that. The farthest I’ve been from here is the next small town. It’s gonna be great! Just the two of us!” What thrilled me the most, was that not only would he help me make the journey, he’d also come along. Appealing to his desire to travel, which he had admitted earlier, was a good strategy. And it worked. I doubted it would be that great a journey, but for someone who has never left home, it should be an adventure. If he had wanted, he certainly could have found more arguments against it. For instance, I could have written a letter for the messenger to deliver that contained information only I and my fictitious comrade knew. Anyway, I was happy Manu agreed in the end. “I still need to go to court today to close my current case. Then, I will take leave for a couple of weeks. And my wife, well… we’ll tell her it’s a business trip.” A business trip would sound plausible. Memphis was along with Thebes the most important city of Ancient Egypt. It wasn’t far from what is called Cairo and its suburb Gizeh in my time. Manu got up, leaving the last fruits on his plate uneaten. “I’ll be on my way then, Ameniu. So I can set our plans into motion before I have to go to court at noon. I think we’ll travel by ship. That will be the fastest. My father surely knows a shipowner or two, I’ll go ask him.” Manu was really all for it. I wouldn’t have thought that he’d want to leave immediately, but that was all right with me, of course. The longer it took to get there, the lower the chance of finding a trace – of whatever there was to find. --- After Manu left I was wandering around slightly unsettled. He had told me to start packing. However, with my limited knowledge of this time I hadn’t yet accumulated much. The small stack of things contained my undershirt, a bunch of those standard white loincloths, and a map of the country, scavenged from Manu’s study. Not that I needed a map to navigate, but it seemed logical to pack one. Then I ran out of ideas. Elisa, however, had a few things to add to my packing list. First and foremost, she warned me to carry enough drinking water. The Nile’s brackish broth wasn’t potable at all. Even bathing in it was not recommended. She had a few other similar suggestions, but executing them was beyond my purview. I would have to instruct Jahna on those, something which would require revealing my newfound faculty of speech to her – and therefore everyone else in this house. I thought it would be better to keep this between Manu and me. Especially, I thought his wife, Naha, didn’t need to know. So I decided to leave any further preparations for Manu. Also because I didn’t know how fast he’d be able to organize a ship for us. Perhaps it would be a few days. It was already late afternoon and I expected him to return at any minute. As I heard someone coming up the stairs, I turned around in expectation. The person, though, who entered the small living room on the second floor wasn’t Manu. It was Naha. She had apparently just arrived back from the city. She eyed me critically. I hurried to welcome her with the appropriate bow and stepped aside. Yet, she didn’t move, her gaze resting on the stack of clothes. She sneered. “What’s that supposed to be? Are you rearranging Manu’s shelves?” She came a step closer. “And what’s that papyrus… ah, the old map. A valuable heirloom from his grandfather.” Suddenly she stopped short, squinting her eyes. “You didn’t intend to steal it, did you?” I shook my head fiercely. Ignoring my gesture, Naha stepped past me and continued chattily. “Well, I’m going to freshen up in the bathroom now and don’t want to be disturbed.” Apparently, she didn’t really think I was stealing anything. She was just having a dig at me. Don’t you worry, girl, I said to myself. I would be wary of entering a room you are in, voluntarily. I proceeded to move what I’d packed so far from the living room into Manu’s bedroom. No need for her to find out our plans ahead of time. Once again, there were steps coming from downstairs. This time it was Manu. He approached me beaming with joy. “I’m back and I bring good news!” He wanted to embrace me but I didn’t let him. He looked confused for the moment it took me to prepare the sentence: “Your wife is in the bathroom.” “I see. Then we’ll go up and sit on the roof terrace. I’ve already told Jahna to have some food prepared.” No sooner said than done. After we’ve plopped down on the comfy pillows under the shading cloth, Manu started to talk. “I asked my father for advice regarding the ship. He, in turn, talked to his brother, a scribe for the royal merchants. It turns out that as soon as tomorrow morning a merchant fleet will leave for Memphis. And we may join them. They have enough provisions on board. So we just have to bring our own belongings.” That was good news indeed. It surprised me that it worked out that quickly. On the other hand, a lot of shipping traffic between the two most important cities of the country was to be expected. “Didn’t your father ask why you want to visit Memphis?” “Sure he did.” “So? What did you tell him?” Manu smiled, a little embarrassed. “I told him I want to go get some special medicine for my wife.” “Okay. And he just accepted that?” “Yes. I told him it’s a tonic to increase fertility. You know Naha isn’t pregnant yet… What my father doesn’t know, however, is that no tonic in the world could change that.” I thought about that for a moment. “Does that mean you’re infertile?” Blushing even more, Manu’s embarrassment increased. “No, that’s not it. It’s just… I can’t get it up when I’m in bed with her. Seeing her naked turns me off big time.” I burst out laughting. Not so much because about his erection issue, but thanks to Elisa’s translation. It just sounded funny hearing an Ancient Egyptian use modern colloquial like ‘turns me off big time’. Perhaps she translated that a little too allegorical. Manu looked at me, furrowing his brow. “I don’t think that’s funny.” I quickly put on a serious face again, assuring him that I didn’t think it was funny. Sad, rather
  19. unilive

    PART 3 - Chapter 14

    PART 3 – CHAPTER 14 – ROBBIE'S POINT OF VIEW We went on a world tour until Sept, 2016. We toured Europe, Australasia, South and North America. It was amazing. We truly had a blast! But it was a relentless round of gigs. A blur of gigs. To the point that we sometimes weren't sure in what city we were playing. It was over one hundred shows and it generated so much money and involved so many people who were on the road with us. I’d always known, or sensed, that we had it in us to be massive, to crack America and to become one of the next great live acts. In the States, we played in venues such as Madison Square Garden in New York. In Europe, we played mainly stadiums. We headlined Glastonbury and other massive festivals. We played Wembley stadium. We played Croke Park in Dublin - which was the ultimate dream! I still remember as though it was yesterday, staying up all night outside a shop in Dublin to get tickets for U2 concerts in Croke Park in 2005 and now we were playing there! How can you even get your head around that? It happened so fast. Our lives changed in what seemed like a heartbeat and now we were one of the most popular bands in the world. Playing Glastonbury was so special. It was the highlight of U-N-I's life and a career-defining concert. The few minutes before stepping on stage were probably the worst of my life though, but once on stage, I felt so at ease and truly in my element. That'd always happen before gigs. I couldn't quite explain it, but headlining Glastonbury was so nerve-racking. It was a huge milestone in our career. Thankfully, it was a triumph. When tens of thousands of people started to sing along to entire songs, it was such a rush that we were almost lost for words amid the euphoria of the crowd. For me, all I could utter was, "wow, thanks". There were no words to describe the feeling, but it was so special. However special we'd imagined it to be, it was more. I couldn't believe we got to play Glastonbury when we’d turned twenty-five! We had reached our wildest dreams. We had set ourselves what seemed like an unattainable target years ago, having ambition bigger than ourselves and honestly, back then, we were incredibly delusional to think that we could do it! But we had fucking done it! In what I could only describe as an amazing success story. We enjoyed a mammoth commercial success with our first album. The media almost universally hailed our record as a masterpiece. Few bands could dream of reviews like the ones that were written about our work. Not to mention the awards we received at ceremonies, sitting around bands we used to listen to when we were at school. I sometimes couldn't believe this was our lives! Something we used to dream about all the time and it had actually happened. Fate had thrown us a whole bunch of sevens. Sure, back when we were teenagers, we had a masterplan, the five of us, and we would have done anything to develop it. The priority was songwriting, followed by almost daily rehearsals, and then, our first gigs in small pubs and clubs. But we couldn't see much further than that. We just believed we had potential. But with the release of 'Yellow', everything changed and we became the band on the tips of everyone's tongues. There was just something about that song that made us so likeable and popular, but only Mark and I really knew what it was. I knew he had it in him to be a great songwriter. It was all so easy to him. It was fascinating to me to watch him compose. His talent just radiated from him. Damn, even Elton John said 'Yellow' was a song that he wished he had written. All of a sudden, everyone was singing it and buying our album and seven years later, we had become a multi-million selling band and we could play our songs in the biggest arenas and stadiums all over the world. We had tens of thousands of fans who sang frantically to our ever-growing set of classic songs. It was astonishing to us and we obviously were super caught up in how amazingly huge it all was. And that was only the professional side of my life. My private life was just as good, if not better. Being with Mark was also something I used to fantasize about but never thought would happen. He was the boy of my dreams. He seriously was. I had always loved everything about him. I had always shared everything with him. Back when we were kids I remember how well we understood each other, how at ease we were together, how we couldn't spend a day without hanging out together. We were so close growing up that I kind of knew he would notice how I felt about him. I used to secretly wish that he might want to experiment a little and that I could maybe convince him to fool around with me like once or twice, but nothing more. And even that, I didn't think it would happen. So having a relationship with him like the one we were having, no way in hell could I have predicted that. It felt like I had it all. So why did I have to fuck it all up? I had always found coming out something really difficult to do but I had never really struggled with my sexuality. I had never had any confusion in myself, never. I was like twelve when I felt confident that I was gay. But I just couldn't stop myself from fretting about the barracking and prejudice I might suffer, knowing that the homophobia in our public school could be pretty intense, and then there was the homophobia in the world in general. Later, my father would always tell me before we came out publicly, "as long as you feel certain in yourself, because you need to be sure before you start telling people." But I had always been sure … and it felt like I had always been in love too. I actually think the hardest coming out I ever had to do was coming out to Mark. And telling him I loved him. I didn't want to know what his response would be. As long as he didn't know, I could continue to fantasize and hope for something more to happen. I didn't want to hear those words come out of his mouth, "I like you as a friend but I'm straight" or "I love you, but not in that way." I was dreading that. I knew that's what he'd say but I just didn't want to hear it. So I just kept him in the dark because, as I wrote in our song 'Fix You' five years later, "I was too in love to let it show". But then it began. That first kiss! Fireworks, actual fireworks. I just wasn't expecting it. It blew me away. The most amazing love story of my life, the only love story of my life, began with that first kiss. It really would be the only love story of my life. Back then, no matter what'd happen, I already knew for certain he was the love of my life. There wouldn't be another one like him. He was everything to me. My boyfriend, my lover, my soulmate, my partner, my bandmate, my brother, my best friend. We knew each other inside out. I would've done anything for him. I would've done anything to see him happy. That's all I'd ever wanted for him, to see him happy. To know that he was ok, that he was safe, that he wasn't hurting. If he was happy, then I was happy. And despite the harsh childhood he'd had, he was happy. He always stayed positive no matter what, something I found more difficult to do. He always thought I was the stronger one out of the two of us, but I wasn't, he was. He was a lot stronger than me. Because he knew how to protect himself. He had learnt how to deal with sadness and rejection at a very early age and he was stronger because of it. Just like me, he had insecurities and he worried about a lot of things too but at the same time, he was always optimistic and determined and didn't really let anything get to him. No matter the difficulties, he always found a way to overcome them. I think the way he was raised gave him the tools he needed to cope with fame. He didn't give a shit about what people said or thought. As long as we were successful, as long as we had fans and could achieve the goals we had set for ourselves, then all was fine. I loved that about him because he was able to improve my mood when I was feeling down and second-questioning myself. He was always there to make feel me stronger, to bring out the best in me – and he did that just by believing in me and by expecting things of me. He just had this capacity to make me feel special in a way that no one else could, despite the millions of fans. Yeah, I had the career I had always wanted to have and I was with the guy I had always wanted to be with. Life was great, it was all good, right?... Supposedly. When our world tour ended, we had already recorded many demos that hadn't made the cut for our third album which we knew we might use for the fourth one. While on tour we composed a lot. So when it was time to start recording again, we already had many ideas for songs and already knew what kind of album we wanted to make and the direction we wanted to take. It felt pretty easy. We went back home and lived what resembled normal life again. And then we got back into the studio, on and off. We began working with a new well-known producer but we didn't focus on that and only that. We probably should have because we were feeling immense pressure to follow up our first three albums, which were now widely seen by most critics as classics. Instead, we released a couple of songs, promoted them and played them live and the fame stuff got mad again. Literally overnight after we released those songs, everyone was after me again. At first, I thought I had mastered it and that I would be completely fine, but I was lying to myself and it all got too much - again. Despite trying to keep my personal life out of the spotlight as much as possible, I knew it was inevitable that the media wouldn't be accommodating and I began to not enjoy it at all. I had reached such a level of fame that all the media attention I was getting was driving me crazy. It was all so scary and daunting sometimes that I got really upset. I just felt so vulnerable and all I wanted was to get away from the madness of it all. Be with Mark. Focus on writing a new album and not have to deal with the whole promotion again, just to become even more famous than I already was. Because I found it hard to take in everything that had happened. If I sat down and thought about it, it kind of freaked me out, so I just wanted to not think about it and just concentrate on the music. Unlike other bands, we thoroughly enjoyed the recording process and the time spent in the studio creating new material and I wished we had focused on that and only that. Doing promotion and recording at the same time was so tiring. I felt like we didn't have time to do anything properly. Plus, I was having a hard time coping with the vitriol that flew so freely around the music world. I worried a bit too much about the critics, we all did, and it was sometimes clear in our public behaviours that we were a bit tired of it all. I knew I was. Therefore, there were a few rumors of stress, inter-band arguments or possible splits, as if we would maybe implode, crushed by the weight of our own success. Basically, after Mark and I came out, people loved us or people hated us. They seemed to take it personally that we were doing so well. It was hard to deal with and it caused a lot of self-doubt and negative feelings. I was getting bored of constantly being asked the same questions. As if being gay somehow invalidated our right to do rock music or to be a very successful rock band, or to crack America, which was happening without as much brutal hard work as we had been told there'd be, our duets with Bono and Rihanna attracting heavy radio play there. The radio stations just went mad for it and we didn't have to do anything to infiltrate America, which was now also under our spell. We won a couple of grammies and sold out venues without really having to lift a finger. We basically only did promotion there while touring so it wasn't much more work than the promotion in Europe. Anyway, the music world really was an ocean of contradiction and weirdness and in my opinion, we had had no learning curve to really know how to deal with it and to get used to the pace of stuff. It had been a vertical gradient. There wasn't really a big alarm bell in my head telling me that I'd had enough and that I needed to take a break from the band. I knew I needed time to recharge though and really focus on what actually mattered in my life. I knew it was Mark, my friends and my family, but the world was spinning so hard and fast around us. We just didn't have any time to focus on our happiness and on ourselves. We were literally from house to dressing room, from dressing room to stage, from stage to recording studio, from recording studio to TV studios, from TV studios to hotel, from hotel to plane… It was constant and there was no more time to live a normal life. Happiness to me was just about going from our place to do an interview, play a gig, attend a charitable event … it was about spending some time at home with my parents, going on holidays… And then get back home again, hang out and play music with my mates, spend time with Mark, cook some food and watch a movie or something, talk about stuff, go to bed, cuddle, have sex, be a couple, and that was how I pictured happiness. Nothing extremely extravagant or rock n roll. Unfortunately it was either we had lots of time off, like we’d had in the past when we were recording, and we could be happy. Or we worked loads and had no time to concentrate on our relationship. So we just had to wait for things to calm down, but this time, they just didn't. We had like no time, no time at all. It was always, always about being a band, about being Robbie Myers – the performer. I had no time to focus on what was important to me in my life and to just be myself for more than a few hours. I've always seen myself as two different people. There was me, normal me, hang out with my mates, spend most of my free time with my boyfriend … and there was this other me, who had to juggle it all and be a rock star, an entertainer, loved, admired or criticised. It was becoming harder and harder to live this life, and sometimes I just wanted to stay home and not have to deal with it all. And yet, this other side of me wanted to have it all. I kind of had become really competitive and I wanted us to get better and better and better. From my family, I had received a good education and enjoyed a pretty privileged upbringing but I understood the meaning of working hard to achieve your goals. I put pressure on myself to succeed and didn't want to give up, none of us did, no matter how hard it was sometimes. I wanted us to have the best album, to have a great career, to tour stadiums around the world, to be idolized as if I had something to prove. Because of my sexuality mostly. Although I was conscious that I would not continually have this ambition. I was not always going to maintain it and I was already starting to lose my fire. Jordan would always say, "enjoy it all we can during our twenties, and the moment we see it fading, right, time to have kids and settle down!" He was right. It was fun, a lot of fun, but there was a a lot more to life than just having fun and selling millions of records. But at the time, all we could think about was to have the time of our lives, to sell millions of records and to achieve worldwide recognition. And I think we could be proud to say that we had. But that came with a lot of pressure and I knew I was going to go through some tough times. There was no stopping that from happening. Adjusting to success was not as straightforward as it might appear. It wasn't for me anyway. I felt low during the promotion. I’d genuinely had enough. So I think I tried to make myself feel better in the worst way possible. I began to go out more than usual and I really started to let go. I didn't even know why I was doing it. It wasn't like me. But I suppose it was like my other me. I had become that guy full time and if I was honest with myself, I had fun being him, being that person, but I didn't know how to not be him anymore. Mark could tell I was exhausted because of all the pressure I was under but he was as powerless as me to stop it. I had to deal with a lot more shit than the rest of them. They all knew that, but there was not much they could do about it. It was just the way things were. I had the biggest spotlight and I took most of the flak. Mark, too, to a certain extent, because our success inevitably brought about a relentless media interest in our private lives. Honestly, Damon and Dylan didn't feel that famous. They could still put their hats on after a gig and slip back into anonymity. Jordan and Mark could as well if they were going out alone. But I couldn't. I was recognized wherever I went and had a hard time being out in public. The name of the band was associated with my name. Mark would always try to make me feel better about that. After all, that was what we had wanted all along, I couldn't complain about it now. And everything Mark said always made sense. Perfect sense. He was always calm and rational and kind, he was always considerate and I always felt better whenever he tried to put things into perspective. I knew I should have been listening to him more. I always had. But this time, the pressure was too strong. I needed a bit of anonymity as well, to unplug myself from the selfie culture. I was losing my mind and I just needed to get back to normal life. I wasn't enjoying it, it wasn't real life to me. I needed to take a break so bad and I wasn't allowed to take it. I should have found a better way to deal with it, but I didn't. So I figured that if I was gonna have a nervous breakdown, I might as well do it right. The rock n roll way! Consequently, my immediate response was to just go out and embrace the madness. I played hide and seek with the paparazzi and the fans. I went partying a lot with Jordan, sometimes Damon too, or just other friends in the business who were always out. Basically, there was always someone to call up to know where was the hot spot to hit up when we were in London or other big cities. I was very much aware that these people who called themselves my friends didn't give a shit about me and my wellbeing, as long as they were having a good time themselves. They just saw me as a big cash machine. Having money was such a weird thing. It changed people around me, even people I thought wouldn't change. But that was fine, I didn't care that much. I was in the papers a bit too often but had gotten used to that. I often talked to paparazzi a bit buzzed, which was not the best idea, but I was known as a bit of a bad boy anyway and the gossip-hungry tabloids loved that. Despite the fact that we had come out, I would still get the occasional, "Are you gay, really?" I think people thought we just wanted to get attention drawn to the band or something. I guess we didn't fit the gay stereotype. Or "Where's your boyfriend then?" was the other often repeated question. Indeed, Mark started to refuse to go partying with us because it was just constant and there were just other things he wanted to do. He would hang out with Rachel, play music with Dylan or go out and do things that were a bit quieter. He didn't like the fact that Jordan, Damon and I would always drink a bit too much or take soft drugs, sometimes even get high on ecstasy. We were rock stars after all, weren't we? It was all available to us so easily and we were having so much fun. We just wanted to enjoy ourselves while still keeping things under control. Mark had tried E on a couple of occasions, which was enough for him. It had been amazing the first time, especially the heightened appreciation of music. The sex was incredible too. He thought that was like an interesting experience and one of the most pleasurable sensations ever, but he hadn't liked the fact that he'd felt horrible the next day. He felt like he had drained all his dopamine and was worried it'd never come back. Jordan, Damon and I had taken a pill a few more times and I had to admit I didn't like the comedowns either. Mark and Dylan would lecture us, saying that we were already hyped all the time, we didn't need drugs. They'd made us swear that we wouldn't try any harder drugs. We had always said that we didn't want to be that kind of band. I knew I was guilty of partying too much. I knew Mark didn't really want that. I didn't even know why I was going out so much anyway when all he wanted to do was to stay in at the end of the day if we didn't have anything planned as a band. He had never really wanted to be a rockstar. He always said that he loved the music and he agreed that we had the best job in the world but he didn't want to stop living a normal life whenever we could. He didn't want to go out drinking and partying several nights a week. I guess he had seen the asshole who had pretended to be his father for twenty three years do that like practically every night of the week, and he was not going to go down that road. Or let me get down that road for that matter. He knew too well what the consequences were. Jordan on the other hand, just like me, wanted to live it up. He never wanted to stay in. Jordan and I going out partying together was always a bad idea because it would always, and I mean always, end up with us doing something that we shouldn't have been doing. We were twenty seven, we were supposed to be mature enough to know when we were doing something stupid. But I guess we weren't that smart when we were drunk. Then again is anyone? Whenever Mark did go out with us, I was thankful that he was there because I knew he would watch over us. When we went out partying together, he would always have enough before us. He'd stop us before things got too wild. He'd always warn me that I had to be very careful with drinking and going out. I was good at acting very confident but it was not my true personality. It took some effort on my part and drinks or drugs could just take all my insecurities away in an instant, which was awesome of course, I loved that. It made it so much easier to be who people wanted me to be. Although he loved to party as well, Mark would never really go past his limits. I honestly didn't know how he managed to always stay in control of himself. He knew when to stop. I didn't. I would always go a bit too far. I would drink myself stupid and be really sad when I had no reason to be sad, just pondering over the fact that I was this huge star with no more control over my life. I think in a way, I was relying on him to tell me,"that's enough, let's just go home, go back to our room, it's late, time to leave," and I would always agree because I was not stupid, I knew he was right. He was always right anyway. He just wanted us to spend more quality time alone together. I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain this lifestyle for long. I was cracking up. I wasn't even getting proper sleep. I hadn't gone to bed sober in weeks. Real fatigue was setting in and I was starting to suffer from voice exhaustion, which wasn't great considering we had to record an album. I was burnt out. I only felt better when Mark and I were alone, but we almost never were. He'd say something like ‘whose fault is that?’ and he was right. I was avoiding him. I didn't want him to see me sad or weak and I wouldn't admit that I needed help. I wouldn't let him help me. I was supposed to be the stronger one, right? Plus I didn't really think that I needed help. I wasn't crazy, I wasn't an alcoholic. I was just having a good time, but I was losing control. Until then, Mark hadn't really cared that much about my partying. He just devoted more time than I did to working on the album and the tour and we were still able to spend some time alone together during the course of the day. We didn't need to spend every minute of our lives together. But maybe I just didn't want to admit to myself that he'd had enough of me going out all the time. Tom, our manager, would always tell me, "watch yourself," or "don't go out too much," but I wouldn't listen. He couldn't really lock me up either so I was still free to do whatever I pleased. All of those things we had been warned about… when you get into the industry, people say, "Be careful of this, be careful of that," I was doing all of them, shamelessly! Even though I fucking knew I shouldn't be. I just hoped that if I went too far, if I couldn't do all the things that we had to do during the day because I was too hungover or too tired or about to have a nervous breakdown, then maybe everything would stop. I wish I had known how to make things work. How to be happy. How to be more positive. How to enjoy everything we were doing with the band like I used to enjoy it, but I couldn't. I got into a spiral of dark moments. I had too many toxic people around me who were bringing me down. I cared about social media a bit too much and all the shit that people had to say about everything we did, it being positive or negative. I knew I should have been oblivious to stuff and not be susceptible and just concentrate on the people I loved around me, and working on songs, and just doing what we did best, which was to write music about our lives, our feelings and the world around us. I wish I had known what the key to happiness in our industry was. But damn, we were young and it was almost impossible to not go through some tough times. It all started to go wrong when we spent a week in Amsterdam. We were going there to do a bit of promotion and to play a festival. As usual, we were the headlining act and everyone there made us feel like we were super important. We had a fabulous time but things got too wild. Many artists were performing at the festival and staying at the same hotel and a couple of private parties had been organized in a club close to where we were all staying. The party we attented the night of our performance was just phenomenal! Seriously the best party ever but it got really mental and harder drugs entered the picture. There was weed, there was ecstasy, there was GHB, there was crystal meth, there was coke, there was everything, and everybody was high. It was really no big deal to Jordan and me, and even Damon. Damon took an ecstasy pill because, as he'd say, he still cared about staying alive. But Jordan and I were a bit more self-destructive I guess and this time we didn't avoid going past our limits and we did a couple lines of coke. I don't really remember feeling that different except that I was a bit more positive. I felt complete, like I was at the peak of all my potential. I was a bit more talkative and confident, more energetic and overstimulated, with no fear, no anxiety whatsoever. I knew Mark was a bit high too on softer stuff. I remember we had sex at some point during the night and then he left with Dylan because, again, he'd had enough. Jordan, Damon and me wanted to party as long as we could so they just left us together. I honestly didn't think it was a big deal. But this time, for Mark, it was the last straw. He gave me a good lecture. He made a huge deal out of it on the next day and I hadn't really seen it coming. I had crashed in some girl's room with Jordan. Actually the two of us had left the party at dawn. It was already bright daylight when we left. The whole night was a bit of a blur because we had been drinking too. I woke to the sound of my phone buzzing. It was afternoon and Mark had called me several times. "Jeez, finally! Where the hell are you? I've been looking all over for you!" he asked, he sounded worried. "Dunno." I responded and I looked around me, "A hotel room, for sure." I answered, not really sure whose room I was in. "Are you okay? Is Jord with you?" "Yeah, just sleeping." I whispered casually, so he'd know there was no need to worry. There was a moment of silence. "Well wake the fuck up! And come back to our room, like right now!" "Babe, you're screaming." "Yeah, I am. I'm so fucking mad at you!" I sat up and felt dizzy, numb and kind of overwhelmed with negative emotions and he wasn't helping, "Uh, can't it wait until my head stops spinning? I have a furious hangover." "About to get worse!" he said and hung up. Okay, I was in trouble. He wouldn’t normally talk to me with that tone of voice. I tried to fight my drowsiness, but as expected, the comedown was pretty hard and I felt like shit. I was a bit dehydrated, tired and depressed. I remembered thinking to myself, ‘'Ok, that's it, you've tried but you don't want to do that again!'’ It had just been a little high for what appeared to be a bad day of feeling drained and depressed. I reluctantly got out of bed and went to the bathroom. There were some Paracetamol tablets on the countertop, so I had one. I felt too slow and sluggish to have a shower but I forced myself to. The hot water made me feel a lot better but I quickly stepped out again after washing myself. I got dressed and went back into the room. "Everything okay, man?" Jordan asked me. He was lying on the bed next to the one I had slept on. "Fuck, I feel like shit." I answered as I threw myself face down on the bed. "Yeah, me too. I threw up like an hour ago," he moaned. I half-laughed, "It wasn't even that good, was it? Dunno, it was kinda disappointing." "Yeah, not really worth it," he agreed. "It backfired pretty hard on me!" I drifted off again for what seemed like a long time but was probably only just a few minutes. When I woke up again, I felt a bit re-energized. I picked up my phone that I had tossed on the bed earlier and checked my messages again. I looked at Jordan who was still awake. "Where are we?" "In her room," he said, pointing at the girl lying next to him. I chuckled. She seemed to be still sleeping. I looked over at her and although she was lying on her stomach and had her back to us, I immediately recognized her hair. She had partied with us the whole night. She was Lauren from the girl group "Fifth Harmony". "Oh my god!" I chuckled in a whisper. "You fucked her?" He shrugged as he watched her sleep, "I'm not sure, I might have." "What am I doing here?" I exclaimed with a chuckle, "Please tell me you didn't make me do anything with her." He laughed, "I think I'd remember that!" "I can hear you!" she said as she turned around on her back, revealing her naked breast,"Not really sleeping. And no, neither he nor you has shown me his dick," she said, pointing at Jordan and then at me, "Yet,… Not for lack of trying!" Jordan looked at me with a slight smile, raising an eyebrow. "I'm outta here!" I exclaimed as I sat up on the bed. "I gotta go back to my room and get yelled at anyway!" I sighed. "Oh shit!" Jordan let out a deep sigh. "He's gonna kill us, isn't he? I'd come with you, but I really don't want to," he joked. "Oh, don't think you're gonna get away with it either!" He laughed, "Right! I know Dylan's gonna give me shit too." I got off the bed and headed to the door. "Enjoy the lecture," he said to me, as I walked out of the room. "Fuck off!" I answered. "Byyyye!" Lauren said, almost giggling. I smiled back at her as she obviously began to rub Jordan's dick under the covers. At least, one of us was going to get laid. I joined Mark in our room, knowing he'd yell at me. And indeed, he did. He really laid into me. Stuff like, ‘'What the fuck d'you think you were doing last night? You're not gonna do that again. You're not gonna start to fucking do that.' I was starting to feel a bit better but I still felt too numb to respond so I just sat on the bed and let him go on and on until he started to run out of things to say. "Mark, Mark, I'm on your side! Jord and I just wanted to try. Everybody was doing it. We're in Holland, it's the country of drugs!" "So? I don't give a shit where we are. What kind of dumb excuse is that?" he said, getting mad again. "Well, it was convincing when Jordan used it. Look he's the one who suggested it. Be mad at him!" "So what if Jordan wanted to get fucking high on coke? Don't you have any willpower? You could've said no... and stopped him from doing it!" "Yeah, yeah, I should've." He tutted and shook his head, "You were fucking out of control last night." "Why, what'd I do? I don't remember how I ended up in her room, but I swear I didn't fuck that girl from 'Fifth Harmony' with Jordan!" I said with a laugh. "What?" he exclaimed, annoyed that I would find this funny. "Never mind," I answered, now was not the time to make a joke. "You wanted me to do a line too. Then you were all over me, fuck you'd probably have sucked my cock in front of everyone if I'd let you. Why d'you think I sucked your off in the frigging toilet? Maybe you don't remember that either?" "No, I do remember that part." "That's exactly why I didn't want you to do it. You're not in control of yourself. You know how it works. First it's alcohol, then it's weed, then it's E, and now it's coke? Next thing you know you're a fucking drug addict." I rolled my eyes at that, "Don't you think you're overreacting a little." "Am I? Really? I know you. Now, tell me one thing. What do you think you're gonna do next time you go out and someone offers you a line of coke?" I didn't answer and just started lying down on the bed. "Well?" he pressured me to answer. "I don't know!" I exclaimed, getting annoyed that he wasn't letting this go. "I won't do it apparently. Maybe I'll have a shot of heroin instead," I said. "Don't you joke fucking about that. I'm so pissed off at you!" "No kidding!’’ I sighed, "Look, I get your point. I'm not stupid." "Aren't you? 'Cause what you did last night was pretty damn stupid." He glared at me, still not letting it go, and I think he was also trying to win the argument just for the sake of winning it. "Fuck. I hate this. I fucking hate this!" he said and sat down on the edge of the bed, "You know how we have easy access to all sort of drugs. If you start doing them, even once, it's enough to make you wanna do them again. And Jordan too! What were you thinking?" I sat up and moved closer to him. I rested my chin on his shoulder and said, "Babe, everything's fine. We know it was a stupid thing to do. Don't worry," I gently placed my hand beneath his chin and pressed my lips against his cheek, "I'm only addicted to you," I said in a cheesy manner. He turned his head a little more and I placed a kiss on his lips, "Let's just stay in bed until we have to leave tomorrow." He frowned, "Are you still high? I don't wanna lie in bed all day. Fuck you." I let out a sigh, "Jeez, get over it!" I exclaimed and let my body fall onto the bed again, "Why are you making such a big deal?! It was nothing. I was just having a good time." He was silent for a moment. Then he stood up and started venting his frustration again, "Well, that's great! I'm happy for you. Keep doing that then. Enjoy yourself, and fuck up everything we've worked for. Keep doing that. But you might just end up having a good time all by yourself." "Why are you saying that?" I asked, sitting back up, "Don't stay stuff like that. What's that supposed to mean?" "You know very well what it means. It means that if you all that matters to you now is doing what you did last night - over and over again… I'm out!" he said with determination. I remained quiet and studied the expression on his face for a moment, "Don't say that, you don't even mean that." "Watch me!" I understood instantly that it was more than just a lecture and that I'd better take him more seriously. He wasn't letting it go this time. He wasn't just mad at me for doing coke, he was mad for everything else too – especially for letting him carry the pressure of releasing a good enough record on his shoulders. "What are you doing?" I asked unsure, as I watched him put his jacket on. He grabbed his suitcase that was already packed. I couldn't believe I was only noticing this now, he headed to the door, "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm leaving." "Our flight's tomorrow," I said. "Mine's today," he responded dryly. "Are you going home?" I asked, hoping that was where he wanted to go. "No, Rob, I'm not going home. You're not the only one who needs a break. So do I. I've had enough of your bullshit!" "What are you saying?" I asked, a bit perplexed. "I"m saying that you need to get your shit together, and you can't do it with me around. Cause you and Jordan seem to think that you're just having fun, and that there's nothing wrong. But something's fucking wrong and it's time you admitted that. What happened last night is proof of that. You crossed a line you promised you wouldn't cross." "It was…" I started saying, trying to find a way to justify myself, although I knew that whatever I'd say would just make things worse at that point. He was just too exasperated with me. "It was what? No big deal? Just cocaine?" he casually asked. "No, but…" I quietly said. He walked closer to me and looked at me straight in the eye, "You wanna do that, you do it without me! Cause I'm not gonna do it with you," he headed toward the door again. "Where're you going?" I asked before he reached the door. "You don't need to know." I was shocked. No words came out. I was too confused, not ready for this to happen. Was he actually breaking up with me? He wouldn't do that… would he? "Mark, come on, don't do that. Don't leave. I know I went too far last night." I said, trying to make him see that I agreed with him, "But…" But what?" he asked as he turned around again to face me. "It was just this once…" "How do you know that?" he asked, walking closer to me again. "I'm not stupid. I don't wanna get into drugs." "Keep going the way you are and you will. You fucking will! And you'll only realize it once it's too late! You need a fuckin' wake up call because in case you've forgotten again, we've got a fucking record to release!" "I know, come on, don't. I need you," I begged as I reached for his arm. He didn't let me and snapped, "You don't fucking need anyone! And right now, I don't need you either. You're not yourself. And there's nothing I can do to help you ‘cos you won't let me. You don't seem to think that you need any help. Maybe me leaving for a while will knock some sense into you." Fully realizing, finally, that he was breaking up with me, and for how long I had no idea, I did my best to recover from my cocaine hangover. I thought about what I could say or do to make him stay, but there was no point. I knew him. He had made a decision to leave and he was not going back on it. I suddenly felt over emotional and almost wanted to cry. "Don't you dare cry while I'm gone. You have to stop lying to yourself. I'm tired of watching you piss away your life and pretend everything's alright. Everything's not alright. You wouldn't be acting the way you are if it was." He headed out the door and I watched him close it behind him, helpless to stop him from leaving. Once the initial shock had worn off, I came back to my senses. I couldn't let him go. I had to at least try to make him stay. I caught up with him and stopped him from getting into the elevator. He didn't put up a fight, he must have expected it. I begged him not to leave. The cocaine comedown was making me so over emotional that I was about to cry real tears. I could tell it took everything he had not to look at me. I'm sure he knew he'd cave if he saw me cry. "Stay. Please, just stay." I grasped his hand tight, "Whatever you want me to do, just say the words and I will. Just don't leave," I begged. "Where – where d'you wanna go? We have to be in Madrid on Monday!" He was doing his best not to look at me in the eye and I saw him hesitate. I knew he didn't really want to leave. He was just mad because we still had so much work to do as far as the record was concerned. "Mark, I swear to you, it won't happen again. I know we're behind schedule and I have to take things more seriously, I know that. And I will…" He finally looked at me, "Rob, I'd love to believe that, but we both know you're not gonna keep any promises for very long." "I will. I promise you. You're right, I went too far last night. I'm totally with you on that one." "Just last night?" "No… but, I swear, I'm fine. I've got it under control." He sighed and shook his head. "Do you? God! I know you don't wanna admit that you're sick of it! ‘Cos who are we to complain, right? We're living the dream!" he exclaimed. I just looked at him, unable to find something to say. He could see right through me. He knew what was going on in my head, maybe even better than I did. "But you're not enjoying it anymore. And you haven't been enjoying it for a while now. You just struggle with it… You're lying to yourself if you really think that you've got it under control. You don't. You're not yourself and we don't know what to do anymore. ‘Cause you think we're just busting your balls for no reasons. Like everybody's after you. Even I am, right? You can't catch a break, can you? You really think we don't see what you're going through." "It's not ..." I began saying, but couldn't really find something to say to contradict him, we both knew he was right, "I just need some time off I guess. To just have a normal life for a while," I admitted. "Well, you can't have a normal life right now. Whatever we do, you're too famous to have a normal life. What you need is to learn how to deal with it better than you are at the moment. You're not happy right now. You're becoming self-destructive. How are we supposed to finish writing the album and go back on tour if you're feeling like this? You can't do it. It's just gonna get worse. You need to be around people who know how to help you." I tried to reassure him as best as I could but I was indeed lying to myself, "I don't need help, Mark, I'll be fine. I can handle it. I'm not a ticking time bomb. I can do it." "High on drugs?" I asked. "Yeah, you can probably do that. But at what cost? I swear, I don't know what to do to help you enjoy it again without you feeling the need to get high. You know what? I'm too close to you. We all are. The help you need, none of us can give it to you." I didn't want to talk anymore. I hesitantly tried to hug him against me. He didn't fight it this time, he embraced me and I could feel him relax. Maybe he wouldn't leave. "Rob," he sighed as our hands began to grab at each other's backs. I pulled back and pressed my lips against his cheek, "I just need you," I whispered. "No. You only think that you do," he said, his voice cracking, "but I'm not the one who can help you. And frankly, I wouldn't know how." "Yes, you are." I said. "No. I can't let you struggle with this and do nothing." I didn't want to discuss the problems I was facing anymore. I just wanted to feel the same level of intimacy we had always had, afraid that it might not happen again in the near future. I used my hand to bring his mouth closer to mine. I began to kiss him. His lips were so warm to the touch, and he began to use his tongue in response to the way I was kissing him. I could immediately feel that he had given up on thinking. At that moment, I knew he wanted to stay with me and I felt like he was done trying to fight it. Although I prayed that the reason behind his change of behaviour wasn't that he knew it was the last time we'd be together in a while. I knew I was trying to use sex in lieu of talking, but my mind was too numb from the over-thinking. I couldn't get into a deep conversation about my issues at that moment. Moreover, I was so scared of losing him and so sad for hurting him that it was all I could do to show him how bad I needed him. I couldn't bear the thought of him leaving me. "Let's go back inside, alright?" I whispered, hoping he wouldn't tell me to fuck off, "Please," I said with a begging tone. He hesitantly agreed and we slowly walked back into the room; he closed the door. I pushed him gently against it and I kissed him with some urgency, as if I knew we were going to be away from each other soon. My hips pressed up against his. I reached down with my hand and rubbed his penis through the thin fabric of his khakis. "You smell so good," I said, smelling his neck and licking it down toward the hollow of his throat. As we slowly stepped closer and closer to the bed, he pulled back for a second only to pull my t-shirt over my head. I could see his eyes take in every part of my chest and it made me feel a bit more confident that he wouldn't leave. There was still the same fire in his eyes. Then he leaned down and attacked it with his mouth and we fell onto the bed, him on top of me. He pushed my jeans down and rubbed my cock to a full erection through my underwear. Then he pulled them down to my ankles as well and seemed to stare at my hard on for a moment before he devoured it, easily taking it down to its base. "Oh God," I moaned. He worked my cock with his mouth like a seasoned professional. His hands roamed back and forth from my chest to my thighs. I raised myself up a little and started rocking up and down, slowly fucking his face. He was moaning and slurping all over my cock. I watched his hands undo his belt and withdraw his gorgeous penis. Replacing his mouth with his hand for a moment, he looked up at me and I looked down at his beautiful face. I grasped it and pulled him up. He took off his khakis completely, then his t shirt. He pulled it off and tossed it to the edge of the bed before he lay on top of me. The feeling of the full body contact was amazing. He wrapped his arms tight around and underneath me. I held onto him for dear life, wishing I could consume him and he looked into my eyes. They were full of warmth and love, and I knew mine were begging him not to leave me. He raised himself up a little and my hand traveled to his abs, which were hard as rocks and I danced my fingers on them. I felt like I couldn't imagine not being able to feel his body against mine anymore. I loved him so much. I could only see him as perfection. He was gorgeous and I could never get tired of making love to him. Then he pushed his chest against mine again and nuzzled his face into my neck. We began to slowly slide our bodies against each other, dry-humping if you will, enjoying the feel of one another. I quickly let my hand slip to his lower back and run down the crack of his ass. My finger circled his smooth hole, feeling it expand and contract and I pushed it inside him. He whimpered and moaned as I slid it in and out. His hole relaxed and allowed me to push another finger inside. I massaged his hole and he just enjoyed the feeling as he quietly pressed his lips harder against my neck. He kept moaning and I knew what I wanted more than anything at that moment. "Babe, Can I…?" no need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what I was asking him, considering I had my fingers inside him. "Yeah..," he just sighed and raised himself up. My hand left his ass, rubbed his cock and played with his balls, "I want to suck you off first," I moaned. He smiled at me and began sliding toward me, his cock leaving a sticky trail all the way up my body until it tried to find its way into my mouth. "Oh yeah," he moaned, hovering above me as his cock slid along my tongue. "Play with my ass, Rob," he pleaded. I willingly complied and brought my fingers to my mouth to get them wet. I guided his cock back into my mouth before bringing my hand to his hole. I started pressing two fingers inside him while his cock slipped up and down my throat. He was in total ecstasy, his head thrown back, enjoying it on both sides. I was in quite a comfortable position and could probably have kept going for a long time, but his urgency was quickly becoming apparent. "Rob," he asked with great need. "Where's the lube?" "I don't know," I said, trying to guide his cock back into my mouth. He twisted around to look at my cock, hard as a rock against my stomach. Arriving at some sort of a quick decision he flipped around and attacked my cock with his mouth, moaning and licking around it, jacking it with his hand, forcing more and more precum out of it. His ass bounced up and down in front of my face and I continued to play with it as he soaked my pole. After my cock was well lubed with my own precum, he spun back around, straddled me and pressed my cock against his hole. Hearing him giving out a loud grunt, I felt the head of my cock pop into him, and then he began sliding down on it until he was seated on my pelvis. He was as tight as ever, and he began to slowly ride me, quickening his pace more and more. "Oh babe," I cried, my cock responding to his pace. His hands grabbed at my pecs and pinched at my nipples. My right hand wrapped around his cock and jerked him hard. "Oh yeah, oh yeah," he moaned as I started to move my hips up and down and my cock slipped in and out of him fast. It was becoming clear to me that he wanted to fuck one last time, but I didn't want that. I wanted to make love to him and make him stay. I raised myself up and stopped him. I brought my lips to his and wrapped my arms around him. My cock slipped out of his ass and I lay him down gently on his back and just looked into his eyes for a moment. He understood and I smiled as I lay down next to him and hooked a hand under his knee, raising his leg. I gently entered him again, feeling his softness and warmth, my cock sliding across his insides. Then, I pushed my face closer against his neck. I groaned as I pulled my cock out again and started to pump into him, deliciously. I nibbled at his neck and grabbed his cock. "You're so hard," I whispered, I loved the fact that he'd never lose his erection when I fucked him. I raised his leg higher and penetrated him as much as I could, quickening my pace and fucking him a little harder. I rubbed his tight stomach and hard pecs a lot as I thrust inside him and jabbed at his prostate, trying to feel places in him I had never felt. Trying to make new memories. 'He won't leave me,' I tried to convince myself. 'He wouldn't.' We made out as I pushed into him harder. We settled into this position for a while, Mark moaning with each thrust. I watched him, trying to memorize every inch of his body even though I knew it so well. I grasped his cock with my hand, sliding it up and down, causing him to cry out in pleasure and dribble precum all over my hand. Feeling him rock hard in my hand, I instantly felt the urge to have his cock inside me. If this was going to be the last time, I wanted to feel him in me as well. I withdrew from his ass and proceeded to lubricate his pole with my saliva and his pre-cum. Then, I straddled him and lowered my ass onto his cock. I kissed him passionately and held the back of his neck as he pushed himself into me, moving his hips upward. I moaned hard as I felt his cock slide into me. I loved bottoming for him. I loved feeling him cum. We moaned as I began to ride him. My pace started to quicken again and I could feel he was getting close. My cock was still rock hard, my balls drawn tightly against my body. He moaned my name and I felt the familiar urge building inside me, "I'm close." "Me too," he sighed. My hand was moving quickly up and down my shaft, "Babe, look at me," I said. He did and we locked eyes, I knew from the way he looked at me that there was nothing but love and passion in my own, "I love you," I said. He stared at me, "I love you," he said in a whisper as he began sliding his cock in and out of my ass fast again until he pulled out. He jerked himself fast and pumped his load all over himself, causing me to shoot my load over his chest as well. I came hard and I kept moaning as cum continued to drip out of my cock. I moved down his body and wiped him off with a towel that been on the bed before going back up to kiss him. Long after our orgasms had ended, we were still making out. I was holding him a bit tighter than usual, knowing that he might leave again at any second. Eventually I spooned myself against his chest and laced my fingers through his. After a moment, he gently removed his hand and pushed my arm off his chest. He got off the bed and went to the bathroom. When he came out, he picked up his clothes from the floor and started getting dressed again. I shook my head slightly and sighed. I knew he was going to leave and I felt an overwhelming feeling of fear and sadness. "Mark, babe, don't…" I begged him as I sat up on the bed. He didn't answer, I could tell he didn't want to have another heart-to-heart. He was done talking and I knew there was nothing more I could do or say to make him stay this time. He grabbed his suitcase by the door as he said, "There's this place in LA called 'Promises'. I think you need to go there. Tom and Dylan will talk to you about it." My eyebrows furrowed, "You want me to go to rehab?" I asked, somewhat perplexed and immediately a bit on the defensive. "Look, I'm not saying that you're an addict. You don't need rehab exactly. But this place, it'll be good for you. It's just a place where you can get the help you need, learn how to better deal with fame… just rest and focus on yourself for a while. Not on the band, not on me, just on yourself." I stared at him and sighed. "And you know what? I think I need some time to be by myself as well. There's things I need to do, and I need to do them alone." I knew he was talking about going to meet his biological father, who he’d been in contact with, and maybe going back to Dublin to try talking to his mother again, and I felt hurt that he didn't want me with him for that. "Please go to LA," he said insistently. "'Cause I'm not coming back until you do." I watched him open the door and close it behind him. I didn't even move to chase after him this time. I knew he was right and I agreed with what he had said to me earlier but I didn't know where to begin. I felt sick to my stomach, knowing that I was hurting him and I had promised myself that I would never hurt him. I looked around the empty quiet room and suddenly felt alone and overwhelmed with sadness again as I began to feel tears form in my eyes.
  20. MCVT

    Chapter 5/6

    … October 29th, the year I turned twenty-seven, Russel and Fredrick reserved the private room in the restaurant and had a cake brought in, wine – candles, everything. Didn’t need gifts, we had all we wanted and more, except for time. Russel and Fredrick were vacationing more often; Romy and I held our own with the management, stronger through every trip they took. It was a good way to hand over the reins of the business to us, and I saw our mentors readying to retire, satisfied with themselves. By the piano that night, Russel gave me my gift. Keys. “I remembered you talking about that race in Phoenix when you were coming out here. You mentioned a car…” He took me in his arms as we swayed to the piano music and told me to be very careful, it was a small car and could turn over easily. I kissed his neck, enjoyed being held against his broad chest and as soon as I could get away, I grabbed Romy and took him to the parking lot. “Romy! An MG roadster!” Deep blue, shiny, spoked wheels with a red bow tied to the steering wheel. Most handsome car on the roads in my opinion, and we jumped in. The coastal road was beautiful that night, then down by Long Beach. The wind in our faces, swirling our hair around, the night air chilled and we drove straight to Fredrick and Russel’s house late that night. In the dark downstairs, we undressed quickly, sneaked up the stairs and in the big, bed beside them. I grabbed Russel, grinning, “Thanks, that was the best birthday ever. Let’s go swimming.” “Have fun tonight? I deserve a good time as well – but not in the pool.” Yes, by this time, Russel and Fredrick had given me a deep respect and a form of appreciation for older men, and as he pulled me against his chest, I felt him chuckling softly; wondered what he had in mind. With Russel underneath, he pulled me hard against him – he was erect. Hard to breathe, as he pulled me against him harder. Romy lay next to him, kissing his cheek, chuckling. I may have been crying as I tried to maintain control as he rubbed himself against me. Suddenly, he let me go. I sprung up and breathed, starting to laugh. That came to an abrupt halt as a flashbulb went off and Russel guffawed loudly. Fredrick with his flash camera… … The next morning, I was grinning like a mule eating briars as we met for a quick swim before we went home. Russel was grinning as well, singing a song about memories as he kissed my forehead, “That’s one for the scrapbook.” He kept a scrapbook? My birthday party continued. One more celebration tonight, Serafina was cooking manicotti for everyone and making an Italian fruitcake. At home, our little house smelled great. Serafina was up early to get the big dinner started. Toddy and his family would join Russel and Fredrick at our table. The phone rang before I left to get ice cream. It was Mom and Dad, Caroline and my brothers all calling to wish me a happy birthday. We talked for a long time, catching up. Before we hung up, my father told everyone to go on to bed, he wanted to speak with me personally. “Got a little problem, family problem.” He started, then explained that my uncle was ill, heart problems, had a stroke. His brother was home with his family – no longer able to work. “They need Jonathan to come back, do you know where he is? Can you find him?” “Dad, please. He’s nothing but trouble, and wouldn’t do anything but cause problems. Mom told you he was in jail, right?” “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear, his father is not doing well and has come home. We don’t know how long…” “Oh.” That was Jonathan’s father. “Okay, Dad. Call the jail and ask if he can get some kind of a reduced sentence for a family emergency and I’ll get him to the bus station.” Tried to forget about that as Toddy brought Ona and the children, Fredrick and Russel came to party. What a time! Piñata over the patio, lots of yelling and swatting at the brightly-colored ball of treats. Great food, cake and ice cream, drawings from the children and Ona tickets to a new movie, “Wizard of Oz.” Too soon, all the laughter and joking were over. We cleaned up and I wondered what gift Romy had gotten, maybe a scarf and hat for riding in the roadster. Not by a long shot. As evening settled, Romy took a flashlight in one hand, and grabbed my hand, walked me up the side of the canyon and we sat on the boulders, still hot from the sun. The moon rose, full and yellow. Below, in the distance, waves broke along the shore. “What could I possibly buy you? We’ve got everything – we have years ahead of us for gifts.” He reached into his pocket, and brought out the two mounds of gold we’d found in the burned-out car years ago in San Diego. “These brought us luck, you started working at the gas station – remember?” Those times seemed like centuries ago, “Yeah, I remember you said we smelled poor… and we did.” I picked up one of the mounds. “You’re giving these to me?” “I don’t want to lose what we had during those times, so I’m making them into rings to remember where we came from – what we came from. LA is a place that twists peoples’ heads around. If we’re going to keep what we have, we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground – getting too high and mighty makes for a hard fall.” Looking over the hills to the moon, the wide, dark sky with stars just beginning to shine, I saw Orion. “Am I getting too big for my boots? My head getting twisted around?” I’d seen the stars that burned out too quickly around town. “Just making sure we don’t fall into the trap. Fredrick talked to me last night… We need to stay away from trouble, like always, but different kinds of trouble now. The more money we have, the craftier we have to be to keep it. We can always be blackmailed or put into a situation where we can’t get out and the stakes are bigger now.” He kissed me. “I sent a five-hundred-dollar check to San Francisco to man, a lawyer there. They’re organizing, like a union of sorts, but a group to repeal the sodomy laws – ten years to fifteen years on that offense, or anything the cops think outrages public decency... We would be castrated, sterilized and labeled as psychopaths as well as perverts. Time to make a stand – if anyone of us is caught, we all fall, including Toddy and his family and all our workers. We’re carrying a lot of LA on our backs now.” My eyes must have been as big as the moon at that moment as I realized how far we’d come. “You sent a check…” “Yes. Sent five-hundred dollars to San Francisco. We can afford it. If we can get the law repealed, that’s one less trouble we’ll have.” Had to think about that – could it really happen? I’d never been involved with politics, and wasn’t sure but Romy seemed to know how it would happen. “Going make this metal into signet rings, with Russel and Fredrick’s initials on them and our initials on the inside.” Rings were fine, and the initialing was a good idea, but the check to San Francisco… Couldn’t even imagine what living completely open would feel like – living without our personal rule of always standing three feet apart, never touching in public, our covert signals… Romy and I contributed to the effort that was chipping away at the repressive laws with the hope that one day sods wouldn’t have to live in shadows or consider suicide as an answer to their homosexuality or face sterilization and being locked away all their lives. We began sending checks along with others across the state. … If I hadn’t stopped when I saw Toddy and helped him along, we wouldn’t be here. How surprised I was to have found a child in a dress tied to a chair, and had the gumption to ask… We kept holding on with little those years, almost like we were caught in a plan to meet Fredrick and Russel. How we got through our time in San Diego on the streets without a criminal record was baffling. Lots of drinking, and fighting among the poor on the streets. That was the hardest time in my life, though much of my concern was about Romy, him being younger. Peculiar thought – Romy’d kept me on track and shored my hope again and again; the boy was the father to this man many times. “Tonight, is ours.” Romy took my hand and led me down the trail with the flashlight. Before we went inside, “Just happen to have bottle of cabernet and a can of sardines…” Then, he opened my palm and put a nickel, a dime and a penny along with three folded dollar bills. “You were holding out.” He winked. I’d forgotten about the cash my father had given me way back in Guymon. … Sunday morning as the sun rose, the phone rang. It was Dad. “It’s set. Jonathan’s out tomorrow morning. There’s a bus at seven-thirty in the morning, a deputy will meet you at the station and see he gets on the right bus and leaves.” “How do we know he’ll stay on the bus?” “Get him a non-refundable ticket. Can’t sell it and we’ll pray he gets here next week. Give him some cash for food. Wait! Pack him a bag.” Why did I just know that Jonathan wouldn’t take any food? He’d trick someone into buying him dinner. “Okay. I’ll call you when I get back from the station.” Apples, cheese, peanut butter, crackers, thermos full of coffee. I packed it together in an old tool bag, jumped in my roadster before the sun was up and met Jonathan with his uniformed cop at the bus station. They watched me buy the ticket and I handed it to Jonathan. He didn’t say anything. When I offered him the tool bag, he dropped it and spit at me. “I ain’t nobody’s fuckin’ squaw.” I picked it up, and offered it to an elderly man panhandling outside the station grateful I had enough to share. Left Jonathan and the cop waiting for the East Coast Express. Couldn’t get him in my rearview mirror fast enough. At work, I called Dad and told him Jonathan didn’t look like the same guy that left Philly years ago, “Scowl, a few scars and a nasty attitude. You won’t recognize that ungrateful dog…” … Busy checking on the crew at the airport, and said good morning to two clerks working the Hertz desk. A plane had just landed from Seattle, they were busy. Went out onto the tarmac, the tar pot was already smoking and the trucks were filled with gravel. On to the LA’s new Union Station depot to check the rental desk there. Those two clerks shooed me away, too busy. Romy was right – find the right people and pay them what they’re worth. Met with Russel and Romy at the greenhouse. Toddy was with them, heavy in discussions about a warehouse. Russel had bought a plot of land in the San Gabriel Valley years ago in a short sale. The warehouse would hold all the for all the contracts and rentals. It was going to be a huge warehouse with a loading dock and several bays – we were purchasing several larger trucks for plant delivery and transport along the entire coast. Now, we were based in a place called City of Industry, California. … My life was going well, Romy and I were happy with Serafina in our home. Though small, and not decorated with the sophistication of Russel’s house, it felt warm and secure at the end of the days. Serafina was very much a part of our lives, so loving. She filled dinners with stories about her Romy and his siblings. Seems his brother and sister had hard feelings about homosexuals, but they kept it to themselves. Serafina got calls from them often and we got the perfunctory “Hey Romy! Hey Dave!” That next Sunday night Dad called, “Where’s Jonathan?” “The cop put him on the bus. He’s not in Philly?” “The driver said he got off somewhere around Lexington and they had to leave. Thought he might have come back – you know, has a friend in LA.” “Dad, I don’t know if he had any friends. Doubt it. Maybe he met someone in jail. I’ll call around and let you know if I find something. By the way, when are you and Mom coming out?” The conversation ended calmly but my stomach turned. Jonathan was on the lam. Immediately I called the Lexington police and told them. They took my information but didn’t seem too bothered, probably weren’t going to look for him. Called the city jail, they said they’d put a bulletin out for him. I doubted anything would happen so I spoke with Fredrick, just had a funny feeling about Jonathan coming back to LA. There was money here, and though he was a nickel-and-dimer, he could scrape by here easier than other towns. Fredrick simply nodded his head when I explained what happened. “Do you think we need to hire a private dick?” “I don’t know.” We left it there and went on with our busy lives. More work and details came up as we inched along expanding our scope of work and building a warehouse. Life became complex as we expanded business around LA and into the surrounding areas, still under Russel and Fredrick’s guidance. Their guidance was more at arm’s length now as their hair thinned and their voices softened. They were in San Francisco days at a time with old friends and business associates. Now, it took them a full week to recoup when they returned. Romy and I wore our rings, with Fredrick and Russel’s initials on them and it made us the half-family we were, still I didn’t feel like I had a half-life. In most senses we had family and gathered other loving people around us. By now we had over ninety employees in all kinds of positions. Yet there would be a time when we would have to ease a young man, or several into our places the way Fredrick and Russel had done for us. That was too far ahead to worry about and I thought about how the customs would work with us. … In 1933 there was a 6.4 earthquake off the coast of California where oil was being drilled. Since that time, Russel and Fredrick added some safety features to the houses they owned and reinforced the frames of their apartments. LA was tremor-prone. With a greenhouse made with glass panes, we had a crew come in and re-caulk and add struts and netting under the glass-tiled roof. If the big one came, most of LA would suffer and business had to continue; I hung netting to protect the plants from the broken shards of glass. Did that more to protect the workers’ jobs than protecting the plants, our employees were our extended family in their ways. Remember the day of small tremors because it was the same day I got a dog. Fredrick bought Romy me a dog to keep at the house, but the big, lanky lug took to sitting on the passenger seat of the roadster looking to all the world like he belonged there. Distinguished air about him, the Catahoula Leopard Cur was short-haired with a mottled gray and brown coat and a whip-like tail. “Hunting dog,” Fredrick said. “Already trained.” Holmes was friendly and took to me and Romy immediately. My new companion’s name was Sherlock. I called him Holmes – Sherlock was a too much. That night, Serafina fell in love with Holmes. Kibble with marinara sauce? Yep, that’s what he had for dinner, and I took him out and let him loose in the canyon. He was off into the evening sniffing coyotes, securing the canyon. Fredrick called and told me to keep him in the house at night, but if he set up a howl, check for an intruder. We lived away from the city. Only a few neighbors who traveled often. Never a problem out here, in fact, very quiet area. … Holmes wanted to ride to work with me or Romy every morning, Serafina wanted to keep him with her. On the first of every month, she drove Toddy to the different rental properties to pick up the rent and sat in his truck writing the deposit slips. Together they took the deposits to the bank and came home. Made me nervous considering her husband held a similar job, but Serafina liked talking with the tenants and their children, taking notes on repairs for Toddy. Holmes developed a deep affinity for children who smelled like cookies or bologna sandwiches – licking their fingers while they tried to pet him. They made a good team, the three of them taking care of the monthly collections. Well, since Serafina had to care for Mr. Holmes during the days, I talked to the bookkeeper and the tax man and made a decision: Serafina needed a car of her own. “We’ll get you a pickup truck, same as a car. How about a blue one?” “A truck? I want a Peugeot. I learned to drive with a Peugeot – consider a sedan instead?” What could I say? She was Romy’s Mom and a good worker, “Make a deal with you…” On Saturday morning, we went to a dealership and selected a new 402 model with a short chassis, ivory-colored sedan. Snappy, small but big enough to take on another task for us – making donations. Sure, this was for tax deductions, and it was something I wanted to do. In exchange for her new car, she agreed to fill the trunk with four crates of fruit from the big open market and deliver it to Angelus once a week. They were still open and feeding people. Fresh fruit was a luxury for folks on the streets. Serafina could drive like an ace, and soon Mr. Holmes and Serafina went to pick up Maria for trips to the store and to the warehouse. Thick as thieves, they were, with Holmes between them smiling like only a happy dog can smile. … Nearing the end of the month, I heard Serafina call Toddy telling she would pick him up in her new Peugeot. They held a coffee-shop meeting with Toddy’s crew – she left the house early to have breakfast with the maintenance guys. Serafina wore dungarees and work shirt like the crew. Had to chuckle, she was so outgoing and, at times a little bossy, but she usually did that in Italian. End of the month wrap-up, and that month, we had quarterlies to review with the bookkeeper. That kept us at the office till ten that night, then we took the summaries to Russel and Fredrick. Fredrick could simply look them over and nod if he felt they were good. Russel had to nit-pick about expenditures, but Fredrick kept him in check. … Next morning, heard Serafina let Holmes out for his morning romp, then smelled the coffee brewing. Soon, Holmes started howling, running around the house. Had to grab his collar to bring him back in. I hoped we weren’t getting a family of skunks in the canyon. “You taking Holmes with you today to collect?” “Of course. Who’s gonna rob me Holmes in the back growling?” Holmes was sniffing at the door. “Be careful.” Romy came in and hugged his mom, “Gonna go to the open market for fruit today?” “No. Later when Maria can come.” We left earlier than usual, and Holmes ran out of the kitchen beside me. Took almost thirty minutes to get him back in the house. … Walking through the lobby of Union Station, one of the clerks at the Hertz desk snagged me. Said Serafina had called for me, “She says it’s important – call her immediately.” Went behind the desk and got her on the phone while Romy was talking to the clerks, several planes had just landed and the lobby was filling. “Serafina? Aren’t you supposed to be collecting rent with Toddy?” Heard Holmes in the background barking frantically. “I think Holmes has rabies. He won’t come in the house, and won’t let me get in the car. He almost bit me – he’s snarling when I try to touch him. I already called Toddy – Ona’s going with him today.” “Can you call Maria to come stay with you?” “I’m afraid he’ll bite her – Holmes’ gone crazy.” I held the phone out for Romy to hear the barking and his mother yelling for the dog to shut up. “Did you call the police?” “He’ll bite them, too. He’s so mad! He won’t stop jumping around and barking. They might shoot him.” Now that was odd, usually Holmes ran the canyon sniffing for coyotes or whatever had crossed into his territory. But I knew this wasn’t rabies, he had all his shots. “Did you call Russel or Fredrick yet?” “They’re not home.” “Okay, we’ll be there as soon as we can. Stay in the house and keep an eye on Holmes.” I hung up and looked at Romy, “Holmes is upset, won’t let Serafina out of the house.” He brought the old sedan to the front as I made a few notes about the workflow at the Hertz desk, then jumped in the car. Romy was worried about his mom, flooring the car as often as he could, eyes ahead and lips pressed together. Pulled in the long drive to find Holmes barking at us and lunging at the Peugeot, then the roadster. His nails had deeply scratched the finish on both cars, he’d been at this all morning. Poor Holmes’ voice was hoarse. Serafina waved at me through the window, scared to come out. Romy got the hose and let Holmes drink while I looked around. Maybe there was a rattler under the cars, some other varmint – Holmes was too big to get under either vehicle. When Holmes was finished drinking, Romy and I started looking around. I grabbed a rake and stuck the handle under the cars, thinking I would scare the animal out. Nothing. Holmes was at the hood of the roadster barking loudly. What the heck? Barking at the grill? The hood was loose, I opened it, but didn’t see any animal, no snake. Down on the ground with the rake in hand, I got on my stomach for a better view. Nothing, again. Couldn’t see anything but the smooth earth and a few pebbles. Then I smelled it. Fishy smell. Scooted closer and stuck my hand into the dark shade under my MG to a dark spot, and pinched some of the damp earth between my fingers. Scooted back and turned over and sniffed the dirt. “What is it?” Romy asked, holding back Holmes who was lunging and barking – ears flapping when he jumped and wide-eyed, yipping rapidly. “Leak in the brake line.” We knew what the other was thinking. Opened the hood and checked the line closely – there was a nick. I went to the Peugeot, the hood was only sitting on the latch, it had been opened as well, couldn’t check the entire brake fluid line. The carriage was a little higher, but I got on my stomach again and looked underneath. Sure enough, a dark puddle – same faint smell of fish. Brake fluid has an odd smell, slightly fish-like odor, like nothing else on or in a motor. Pinch between my fingers and I smelled it again. Got up and went to Holmes and let him smell my fingers. “Good Holmes, my good boy.” Took us almost thirty minutes and two bowls of ice cream to calm him down and another hour with Serafina. We called the police; they came out and took a report. Romy got in the cars and pumped the brake pedals to show them there was no resistance. Damn strange that both had broken lines at the same time… Any footprints were gone after Holmes’ fury. Holmes was a trained dog, I remembered. “Find him, boy – where is the guy who did this? Go get him!” To my surprise, he ran down the drive, toward the road and then toward the highway. Running behind him, I followed him down the road and to the highway. The trail went cold at the roadside – Holmes kept sniffing, but the scent was gone. Whomever cut the brake lines had come and left in a vehicle. When I got back with a calmer Mr. Holmes, Romy was talking to the police. The police asked if we had any enemies, or someone who would want some kind of revenge. He described how I’d taken Jonathan from the city jail to the bus station to get back to his family on the East Coast yet abandoned his trip around Lexington. They took some notes and looked around the outside of the house, and into the scrub. Found nothing. … That night, we piled in the old Ford and went to visit Fredrick and Russel. Holmes was smiling – really smiling, quite proud of himself. We ate on the patio, and Fredrick listened carefully. “You might need a gun.” Russel said, “Fence your lot.” Mentally I nixed the fence idea, but I’d go along with the gun to keep Romy and Serafina safe. Serafina was not happy about having a gun in the house, even after I assured her I knew how to use one. Fredrick let all the conversation play out and tilted his head to the side, “This is a discussion that shouldn’t be held in polite company.” He smiled at Serafina. Code for something else I suspected. Fredrick drove us into the airport the next day and we rented cars until we could get the Peugeot and MG fixed. I considered all this and saw how Holmes, in his way, protected us. I figured that was Fredrick’s idea behind giving him us in the first place. I made calls to the officers who’d come to the house – needed to know where Jonathan was. No one had seen him. Had a warrant out for his arrest and return to jail. … LA was growing up, and being port city, there were plenty of small haunts and cafés, unusual services from around the world. Fredrick and Russel found a massage parlor with Turkish baths and took us after work one afternoon. Slippery with oil, a man with beefy, strong hands worked my body over until I was limp, relaxed and lazy. Russel lay on a table nearby, I watched for a while as his masseuse thoroughly rubbed, tugged and pulled a big load from him, then my turn came. I just closed my eyes and grinned, quivered and felt embarrassed, in a way. Though the masseuse was a smiling stranger, he was a stranger. I turned back over for lower back massage, erect, humming but reticent. Ancient practice, but somewhat uncomfortable. Was that clear evidence of a half-life or something else? On the way home, Fredrick sat in the back with me, scooted close and asked me if he knew where Jonathan might be if he were in LA. “Don’t know, he said he worked in Angelus at one time, remember.” “Rus – go downtown to McPherson’s mission.” He let me and Fredrick out in front. A few people milled around; the evening service had already ended. A man with a ring of keys was locking the doors, we approached and asked if he had seen a man “Jonathan McCann.” He hadn’t. We walked around a few blocks didn’t see anyone, but I doubted if Jonathan would be sleeping on a flattened cardboard box or blanket in an alley. On the way back to the car, Fredrick said, “Get a new phone number, unlisted. Your address won’t be published in the white pages.” I looked at Fredrick, “If you were going to try to kill someone in LA, where would you hide?” “Not in LA.” He laughed, then, “I’d jump the border.” Tender Loins, End of part 5 of 6
  21. Wolffang


    Elder Kara P.O.V How dare he. I've never been so embarrassed in my life. To think that he could just show up out of the blue and command respect from everyone he interacts with. A few tears may have spirited away the others but I am not as easily fooled. The wind picks up. It howls angrily through the trees. The combination of snow and wind obscures my vision. Albeit having to shield my eyes from the frosty onslaught, I find my home with relative ease. There it stands, a logged creation, windows misted and panes dusted with white powder from the changing weather. It seems as desolate and disheartened as I in this current predicament. I waste no more time, slamming the door behind me, severing the connection between myself and the elements. If only they could see it my way, to look beyond that farce persona that emanates Diana's warmth. If only they could see the monster he really is, to understand what chaos he has caused from the moment he was conceived. Of course it can't be just my fault. I gave the poor girl advice in my inexperienced youth. If only I had a second chance. I would do things differently. Maybe she would have come to me instead of Rosario. Maybe I could have swayed her to not go through with the pregnancy. We could have found a way to stop it even though it goes against our customs. I could have protected her. We wouldn't be in the situation. She wouldn't have lost her life because of him. She used to confide in me then. I slide against the back of the door. "Why couldn't she have come to me." I whisper to myself. "Do you see it." Diana giggles. Her stark black hair bounces as she hastily walks over to a bush. "Where? I don't see anything." groans Rachel. She stamps her feet and crosses her arms, adorning a scowl on her face. "Look closer Silly." Diana laughs as she runs to her sister and pulls her over to the bush. They both crouch down inquisitively. "Hey. What are you guys doing?!?" yells the head alphas' kid as he make his way to them. He catches sight of whatever it is they are looking at." Cool. What is that?" he asks noisily. "Shhh... James your going to scare it." Rachel scolds. "Sorry." he says as he reduces the volume of his voice "What is it?" "It's a butterfly. I think." states Diana. "Are you sure? I've never seen a butterfly that colour before. It looks weird." comments James. "We should take it to elder Kara. She'll know what it is." suggests Rachel. "I will?" I ask as I appear around the tree from which I have been tactfully watching. "Elder Kara !?!" the kids yell excitedly as they turn to face me. I'm suddenly bombarded with little rapturous arms wrapping around me. The movement startles the creature. "Oh no... now we'll never know." exclaims the exasperated Rachel. "It's alright. I did get a somewhat of a good look at it. I don't think Diana was far off. It is a butterfly of sorts. I think it's a pretty close to being one but not really. Encountering one of that colour is symbolic of good future to come. More importantly, shouldn't you all be doing something." "Like what?" ask James. "I dunno. Maybe your training." I playfully ruffle his hair "You girls shouldn't be slacking off either. I'm dissapointed in you." " But Elder, training is so boring. Can't we play for a little bit?" whines James. "Can't we?" chime the girls. "Boring? All of you are training to take on prestigious titles within the village. I hardly think that is boring." I contest. "And as for playing" I look at their hopeful faces... maybe they do deserve a break. " Okay. Fine. As long as you work extra hard tomorrow. Do we have a deal?". They nod their heads. "Okay. Don't make me regret it." They scurry off. Things were so simple then. It would't be until years later that I discovered that the leniency that I had raised the girls with would contribute to our predicament today and the person who caused it all... Alex. "Elder Kara?" calls Diana. At 15 years of age she had become a woman. She had become taller, more statuesque.You could see the features that were distinctive of her blood heritage. "Yes. How can I help my favorite pupil." "How do you know if you are in love with someone?" she asks. "Diana... that's a pretty serious question. Why don't we sit down and talk about it?" "Well. There's this boy that I've been spending a lot of time with. I think I'm developing feeling for him and I think he feels the same." she stutters. "Go on." I encourage. Perhaps she is talking about James. There are rumours amongst the village elite that he is to become the next guardian. Unfortunately only the priest will know for sure. However, this is good news. For a guardian and descendant to fall in love before their mated ritual is a blessing. Little did I know, I was wrong. She asked me what she should do. I told her to follow her heart. I never knew that it lay with the witches son. Shielded by rich foliage and strong protective spell, the witch and her boy lived in a cavernous part of the mountain nearby. Normally, those who practiced the mystique arts would be found in the Forest of Astia. The only crafters who lived outside of the kingdom were part of coverns representing it. It was unusual to have just two of them on their own. There was talk of a great betrayal. I was never one to pry so I let it alone. Besides, they would occasionally come over to help with our sick and wounded when our sister village couldn't. Their medicines and healing abilities were far superior to our own so there was no harm in it. Unfortunately, I had overlooked much. A passing glance, a simple smile. Things too subtle to cause concern changed things so irreparably. I was way too oblivious. The river had begun to flow far before the earth had noticed and somehow I had been suffocated in the trench.
  22. @northie and @wildone That would be me, of course! We wanted the blogs to all have creative blog cover images. I sourced the image from pixabay.
  23. Goodie

    Chapter 4

    Jerry still has feelings for Brandon. He wants to hate him for all the years of hurt but he can't get over the crush. He's angry Brandon went on to have a perfect life while he missed out. However, bottom line is all the angst and frustration is because of the unresolved feelings. Brandon was a bit clueless, it only just dawned on him during that outburst at the table. Guessing Brandon stopped speaking after the incident though he didn't join in teasing J. Did J ever try to talk to Brandon about it or was he not speaking either?
  24. Some of you may notice I tweaked the title to I & C in Premium. That's strictly due to the final published version being on Amazon Kindle Unlimited and they need exclusivity. It's not really the same book, so hopefully, this will appease them.

  25. It’s good seeing Jasper handling everything in stride so far. And his ability to use his experience with Ry’s trauma and notice the ticks in Grace is fantastic.
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