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  2. quokka

    Alo Chapter 29

    I thought for a moment then smiled. “Or better still we could send them down to the roadhouse, where they can get accommodation and food, and so they organise transport back to the city” I replied. Tony grinned and nodded his head. “I like that idea better than the first, as it will cost them even more money” Tony said. “Right, we will organise for both families to be transported to a prison colony… I wish, but not really. To the Minilya roadhouse, which is a 45 minute trip south of here, and there you can organise your own accommodation, food and bus transport back to Perth or where ever you come from, just remember, that you are no longer welcome to return to this station, as long as I own it” I said and I walked back to Matt’s Colorado. Tony was driving a Toyota twin cab, so he had 4 seats available, as did I, which left two people without transport, so I called Matt, who was on his way down to Sandy point from 14-mile, having done a patrol of the whole east side of the fire. When we arrived at the junction of the two station gravel roads, Scott, and the other ranger – Brett, were there waiting for us, and the passengers in the station vehicles were transferred to the P&W ranger vehicles, so we could continue on our work, while they drive the two families down to Minilya Roadhouse, who had been notified of their impending arrival. Back at the Machinery shed, I asked Matt to paint up some large signs, “No Entry - The entire North End of Coral Coast Station including all campsites from 14 mile to the Homestead are closed, due to Fire Damage”, meanwhile I had sent Greg back to the north entry to the station, where the gate was closed and locked, and on the way back down the station road, he also closed and locked the gate at the fence and cattle grid. Those who had evacuated south from the fire zone, had elected to remain camping on the airfield, and when not checking on the visitors, Dave, Matt, Greg and I were building a 700-metre long, temporary fence of steel pickets and lots of wire, from the gate at the old visitor centre site, in a south west direction to the fence line that goes west to the original main house. This way it blocks all access to the north west section of the station, and towards the homestead beach, which is off limits to visitors also. After the long weekend finally came to an end, and visitors started their journey home, some visitors elected to stay, as it was now school holidays, and they quickly filled up the vacated camping sites at the south end of the station. After some discussions with the Superintendent of Parks and Wildlife, I had decided to put two projects into action, the first is to build and extended gravel road for a distance of 5 kms, from the Southern caretaker camp, all the way south to Lagoon, making it all 2wd access for most of the south end of the station. The second project is to install a transportable bathroom block and large water tanks to Black Cliff Lagoon, Bulbari and the Lagoon, providing 4 individual shower rooms and 4 individual toilets at each location, with a biodegradable septic system located another 50 metres further away. They would have solar power cells to provided power to the water pressure pump, and some lighting at each site, and to build 4 picnic gazebos at each location, spaced out 50 metres apart on either side of the ablution block. I knew this would create more work for us with cleaning and rubbish collection, but it is a way to be able to have better control on visitor waste management. On the Wednesday evening, I called all staff to a meeting in the late afternoon, an hour before dark, to inform them of the planned projects, and to let them know that Dave, Sue and I were going away for 3 days on business, and while away, Matt would be in charge. The following morning, in two vehicles, we set off south, with Angus, Davis and Alistair travelling with me. We stopped briefly at the roadhouse to get some breakfast to go, before we continued. As requested, we called into the accountant’s office in Carnarvon, where I discussed an idea about what to do with Coral Coast Station, before telling me about another station that is for sale, that is just 90 kilometres East of Carnarvon, on the Carnarvon to Mullewa Road, which is mostly a bitumen road, and that the owners are expecting us. Reluctantly, I agreed to go and have a look at the station. Before leaving Carnarvon, we did some clothes shopping for Davis and Alistair, wo they had a few sets of work clothes, more suited to the outback, including leather boots and wide brim hats each. Once this was done, with Alistair grinning with happiness at his new clothes, we headed East. “Where exactly are we going” Alistair asked me. “We have a station to visit, about 1 ½ hours east of here, and thankfully most of the road is bitumen” I replied. “I am guessing that this business trip is about looking at other cattle stations to work with?” Davis asked. “That is pretty much it, we have three stations to visit, so we will be on the move a fair bit of the time” I replied, and I heard Alistair groan. ”You can always get out and walk back home if you like” Davis said to his son, and I saw Alistair vigorously shake his head, no, which made me smile. As we continued east, I was surprised to see quite a lot of good - sized shrubs and trees, and there was a plentiful supply of grass, which was a good sign. When we reach the spot where the bitumen turns into a gravel road, I slowed down, and for the next twenty kms, we went at a nice steady speed, since I was unfamiliar with the roads. When I saw the large steel tractor wheel, painted white on the side of the road, I slowed right down, and turned onto the station track, and just over 3 ½ kms later, we arrived at Doorawarrah Station, with a shearing shed and yards on our right, as I slowed down, as we approached the main buildings, that are alongside a large river. “Mr Ashburton, I am Doug Walters, welcome to Doorawarrah” a man in his 60’s said as he approached, and he held out his hand to Dave. “Actually, I am Dave Henderson, this is my boss, Lloyd Templeton” Dave said pointing in my direction, “and this is my wife Sue, and Lloyd’s Brother in Law and nephew” Dave said completing the introductions. “Well it’s good to see a young bloke interested in keeping a family run station running, come into the house and we will have a cuppa” Doug said as he shook my hand, then led the way to the main homestead. “As you can see, we have a shearing shed and yards, machinery shed, hay shed, maintenance workshop, the main homestead, another good-sized house and a cottage, all nice and close. That is the Gascoyne River, just there, and we do have floods from time to time, but most of them don’t affect any of the buildings. We have 50 kms of river frontage, with the station being on both sides of the river, with 542,900 acres in area, with the Kennedy Ranges on our north east boundary. I don’t have any rellies, and I am getting too long in the tooth to be working now, so I have decided to retire” Doug said to us. Over the next half an hour, Dave and I asked lots of questions, and this was followed by an hour of driving around parts of the station, on both sides of the river. Doug stated that he would prefer to sell the station to a family, instead of to a big corporation, and I said that I would be making an offer to buy, as soon as I get back to my office in a few days’ time, which made Doug very happy. After the 1 ½ hour drive back to Carnarvon, I confirmed with the accountant, that I wanted to make an offer on Doorawarrah Station, before we had an early lunch, and continued our journey south. An hour later as we were approaching Yaringa Station, I was not happy with what I saw, very similar low vegetation to what is on Coral Coast with little or no trees for shelter, and tot saying a word I kept driving past the front entry to the station. “Dave to Boss, wasn’t that the front gate to Yaringa?” Dave asked over the radio from his car that was following, “Yes, but it looks like the station is in a drought, and the vegetation is quite poor, so I am not going to bother with that one, over” I replied. “Roger that” Dave replied, as we continued South. Nearly two hours later, we arrived at the front entry to Eurardy Station, and we turned down the station access road, and 3 kms down the track, we arrived at the homestead, having passed some sheds and silos about half way along the track. As we stepped out, we were met by middle aged man, who once again went to Dave, to introduce himself, and so Dave introduced me and the rest of us. I was informed that a quarter of the property is Freehold land, which was interesting. We were shown around the homestead compound, that consisted of an enormous homestead, a number of smaller sheds and one huge U-shaped building, which I learnt is the staff quarters, consisting of two wings of accommodation and a large central kitchen, dining room and recreation lounge area, with the building being a bit too big by my reckoning. I was informed that apart from the permanent staff of a cook, a mechanic and three station hands, during seeding and harvest season, there is an additional 6 seasonal workers that are employed, doubling the number of staff members, working on the station, which surprised me a little. After an hour of looking around and gathering information, I thanked the owner, and we climbed into our vehicles, and headed back to the highway. “Dave to Boss, over” Dave said on the radio, as we approached the highway, “Go ahead” I responded, having a good idea what I was about to be asked. “Were to now boss?” Dave asked, and I smiled, “You do realise were we are at the moment, don’t you?” I asked, “Yes about to turn back onto the highway, just about 30 clicks north of… oh. “Are we heading to Chilimony Farm?” Dave responded. “Yes, we are, we are heading home for a good night’s rest, and maybe we could call into the pub for some dinner” I replied, “sounds excellent to me and Sue, as long as you are buying” Dave replied. Since town we only 16 kms from the farm, we went there first, and bought some supplies, before heading to the pub for a good meal, as we were all tired after over 800 kms of driving. When we reached the house, it all looked nice and quiet, which I expected, but when I unlocked the door, and smelt beer and saw rubbish scattered everywhere, I became furious. “Who the hell are you, and why do you have a key to this place” a man shouted as he stormed down the hallway towards us, and I saw Davis and Alistair back away from the door. “I am the property owner, and who the hell are you?” I counter demanded. “We are living here while we are working for Brooks Road Farm” the man replied, “I see, well that will be changing very smartly, you better get packed, because as of tomorrow morning, you will longer be staying here” I said, as I turned and walked out the door, slamming the door behind me. “It looks like we will be staying in town tonight, and I have some serious business to discuss with the farm leasee” I said, and ten minutes later we were back in town and booked into the motel, with Davis and his son sharing a room. I continued to fume about what I had just found, and not hesitating I called the family lawyers, not worrying that it was well after business hours. “After the Barrister had calmed me down enough for him to understand what I was saying, he said he was still at work, and he retrieved the lease documents to the property. “Well, it looks like that I made sure that it is to the benefit to you, as there is a clause that states that if any property is found to be damaged or any changes to the arrangements, that are against the lease agreement, will deem the lease void, and shall be terminated without notice, active immediately, once a letter of termination has been issued and presented” the Barrister said. “What does it say about using the farm accommodation buildings?” I asked, “The cottage it available to the leasee, to accommodate any farm staff, but the main homestead is to remain vacant, and is for the owners use only. The cottage is to be kept in a clean and well-maintained order, with any breakages to be fixed, immediately at the cost of the leasee. All existing fences are to remain as they are, intact and in good order” the Barrister said reading the information over the phone. “Thank you, that is good to know, now can you arrange for a bailiff to deliver a notification of Termination of the lease on the main Chilimony Farm and the Galena Farm too please, oh and while you are at it, you better check my neighbour’s contract too, as he has his farm leased to this lot as well” I said. The next morning, as we gathered in the dining room for breakfast, I told everyone about the telephone conversation I had with the Barrister, and I suggested to Dave and Sue that they check their property as well, and so straight after breakfast, they headed off to their farm next door, where they found an equally poorly kept house and the gardens were in ruins, which they found very disheartening, and reluctantly they went to have a look at the far. Meanwhile, I extended our stay at the motel, and let Davis and Alistair go for a walk around town, taking Angus with them, while I headed to the shire council building, to enquire about what could be done about this dodgy broadacre farmer, who was more interested in producing crops, and less about the buildings that are on the property. After stepping out of the council offices, not happy that nothing could be done, at a council level, I was standing on the side of the highway, thinking of what to do next, when my name was called out. “Are you Mr Lloyd Templeton?” the voice asked, and I saw a police officer, with the rank of sergeant standing next to his vehicle, on the opposite side of the highway. “Yes, I am he” I replied, and after checking for traffic, I crossed the highway. “Mr Templeton, my name is Sergeant Oats, Northampton Police, I have a summons here to deliver to a Mr Angelo De Luca, of De Luca Broadacre Farming” the police officer said to me.
  3. lenhall

    Chapter 32

    I love this.group of characters and you are so creative. A pleasure to read.
  4. Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Hope everyone is well.

    1. Reader1810

      Reader1810

      And the same you, Wayne. :) 

  5. It’s great to see a new chapter of this story! I have questions. 1. Why does Alice have the confessions of two bad guys on her tablet? Wasn’t her mom recording them on pack A/V? Why is she involved? (Side note: Mom is an alpha. She coulda told her daughter to stay the eff home.) 2. If everyone knew SFB was hiding information, why didn’t they just torture him? Every day spent yelling at each other meant more lives lost. And will we find out who got rid of all the reports and evidence? 3. The head of the council is Gene’s DAD?!
  6. I think you're right. It's not my place to rock that particular boat, but it is mine to just do my own thing - which, I've no problem doing.
  7. *sigh*  Word are hard tonight.  

  8. Today
  9. I’d just hung up from talking to Milo when my bedroom door opened and I spun around, half expecting it would be Mr Trust demanding to know where I’d hidden his son. But it wasn’t Mr Trust, and after my phone call, it was someone I wanted to talk to even less than Milo’s father. “Are you alright Nelson?” my mother asked. “Yeah, Mom. I’m okay,” I said, hastily pushing the phone into my pants pocket. I saw my mom’s eyes fall to my hand, then turn back to my face, and I worried about the next question. “He’s gone,” she said. “Who has?” I asked, completely startled. Did she mean Milo? “Milo’s father.” “Oh,” I nodded, even more surprised that Milo’s father would just leave like that. He didn’t seem the type to give up easily. “Yes,” confirmed my mother. There was a pause, and then she smiled tightly and continued. “He left when I started dialing Ray’s number.” My mother paused again, perhaps trying to think of the best way to say whatever it was she was going to say next. “He’s clearly upset…” “Because he’s not getting his way,” I interrupted. My mother didn’t look impressed by my outburst. “I think he does care about Milo,” she said slowly. “He seems worried.” I was going to argue. All Mr Trust cared about was image; he didn’t care one bit about his son. Milo had told me that, and everything I’d seen his father do only illustrated Milo’s statements. But I knew there was no point in getting into an argument with my mother. I decided just to shrug. It seemed that all we did was argue about Mr Trust and how he treated his son, and I was getting tired of it. And anyway, I had plans. Or so I thought. “Do you know where Milo is?” my mother asked. There it was. A direct question. And unlike when his father had asked me ten minutes earlier, now I did know where Milo was. I had to think carefully how I answered. “I haven’t seen Milo since he went on the trip with his father,” I said—which was true—“and I told Mr Trust I didn’t know where Milo is,”—also true. Now I just had to thread the needle. “I don’t…” I paused, trying to put as much angst as possible into the pause that followed those two words. “…want him to run away.” My mother stared at me for a long moment, her face a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, and then she brightened a little. “Alright, you better come up.” “Come up?” “Family meeting. We need to figure out what we do next.” “Uhh…” I said, not sure what to say. I already knew what I was going to do next, and it wasn’t a family meeting. But my mother was determined, and she practically herded me upstairs. The family meeting—which was just my parents and me—accomplished exactly what I thought it would; nothing. Well, maybe we all calmed down a bit after the excitement of Mr Trust’s visit, and his attempted abduction of me. My parents actually discussed whether they should call uncle Ray, and file a complaint. My mother was all for it, while my father thought it would just escalate the tensions, and not accomplish anything. I had no strong opinion. I didn’t think it would do any good, and anyway it didn’t really matter because I was going to go and meet Milo. If I could just get out of this meeting. Eventually my parents decided to leave things as they were, and then they told me I wasn’t to go near Milo’s house. That was okay with me because I knew Milo wasn’t there. The rest of the discussion seemed to involve a lot of my mother and father telling me that it was a ‘difficult situation,’ and telling me how Milo wasn’t making things easier by taking off like this. “Maybe he’s just gone to a movie or something, and couldn’t be bothered telling his dad,” I suggested. My mother raised one eye-brow. “The note he left suggested something more than that,” she said, and I realized that they knew about the note. Clearly Mr Trust had told them a few things. But I didn’t really care; I just needed to get out of there. An early night seemed like a good idea. I’d tell them I was tired and that I was going to bed early, and then I could slip out my window and go find Milo and his boat. The only problem with that plan was that before I could pitch it, my parents started talking about watching a movie together—meaning with me—and they didn’t seem to want to take ‘how about another time?’ for an answer. Hadn’t they just come back from a movie? But when I asked, my mother said that they hadn’t gone to a movie after all. They had ended up just having dinner, and if I was hungry there were some leftovers I could heat up. At this point I got the distinct impression that they suspected I was planning on sneaking out, and they were being entirely intentional in their actions. Maybe it was guilt on my part, but I couldn’t genuinely fake annoyance—or come up with a convincing excuse that got me out of it—so I ended up watching Iron Man, while eating reheated chicken parm. I consoled myself with the thought that it just meant I’d go find Milo later in the evening. Or so I thought. My concern that they were on to me was only confirmed when—just after I acted out a huge yawn and said I was going to bed—Mom asked me for my car keys. “What?!” I asked, shocked. They’d never taken my keys before. My mother stared at me, that one eyebrow slightly raised again. She seemed to be looking at me with that expression a lot lately. “You’re not going out looking for Milo,” she said patiently. “I’m not going to go looking for him!” I responded indignantly, turning to my father for support. Strictly speaking I wasn’t going out to ‘look’ for him; I was going to ‘meet’ him. Dad just appeared uncomfortable, and I could tell he wasn’t going to be on my side. “Then you won’t need your keys,” my mother responded evenly. I tried my most sullen look, but she wasn’t impressed. “You can give me the keys—both sets—or I can ask you again if you know where Milo is, and this time you can give me a direct answer.” I glowered. My mother looked at me with that frustrated/worried look she’d been giving me a lot lately, and then her face softened. “Is he safe where he is?” she asked, her tone much quieter. I was so shocked by the speed with which the conversation had changed that I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Was my mother actually angry with me, or supporting me? Did she want me to help Milo…or not? “Uh…” “Should we be concerned about his safety?” my father asked. He definitely seemed more worried than angry. “Uh…he’s okay,” I said, then I paused. “He’s safe…I think.” “You’re sure?” my mother questioned. “Um, yeah,” I nodded, hoping I wasn’t giving too much away. What if they asked me again where he was? What did I do then? “Tell him…” my mother said, “if he comes here, we’ll do everything we can to help…” “What can you do?…We just agreed there’s not much,” I said bitterly. “We won’t tell his father he’s here,” my mother tried. “You won’t?” I gasped. “Not voluntarily. If Ray turns up asking for him we’d have to turn him over, but I don’t think it’ll come to that.” I wasn’t so sure, but I just nodded again, and then—because I didn’t know what else to do—I reluctantly went and got my keys. My dad was waiting at the top of the stairs when I brought the second set up from my bedroom. I held them out, and he brought his arm up and I dropped the keys in to his out-stretched hand, and I was immediately turning to go back downstairs, but he grabbed my arm gently with his other hand. “Nelson,” he said softly. “What?” I asked, annoyed, as I stood stopped at the top of the stairs, not willing to turn back to face him. “If you’re worried about Milo, I’ll come with you and we can go get him…” “I don’t know where he is…” I lied, still not turning to face him, but my dad was pulling my arm gently and I slowly turned to face him. “Nelson, we don’t want anything to happen to Milo or you. We want you both to be safe.” “He’s safe,” I said, not exactly sure that he was. “Alright,” he said. “If you change your mind, let me know. He can stay with us while he works this out with his father.” “It won’t do any good,” I said, angry at his father, not mine. My dad nodded slowly. “Okay,” he said. “Promise me you’re not going to go out tonight looking for him?” I nodded slowly, still frustrated, and then my dad was pulling me into a hug, which almost surprised me more than this conversation. “Get some rest,” said my dad. “Maybe things will seem better in the morning.” “Okay,” I sighed, and he released me from the hug. “And think about what I said. We can go get him any time if you change your mind.” “Okay.” Dad kissed me on the cheek and then I walked slowly back down to my bedroom. Back in my room I called Milo’s number, and he answered on the first ring. “Hey,” I said. “Hey. Are you here?” he asked hopefully. “No, sorry.” “Oh,” he said slowly, and I could tell he was disappointed. “My folks took my car keys,” I explained. “Really?” “Yeah?” “Fuck.” “Are you…are you safe where you are?” I asked him. “Ah, yeah. Yeah.” “You’re sure?” I persisted. “Yeah. I can lock the hatch, and no one can get in. Not that there’s anyone here. Why?” “Just…want to make sure you’re safe,” I said. “Oh…okay,” Milo replied, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “Listen, my mom and dad said, if you come here, you can stay here and they won’t tell your dad.” I left out the part about having to turn him over if they had to. “That’s…that’s nice of them,” Milo said quietly. “But I can’t…I don’t want to get them involved.” “Okay.” There was a long pause, and I thought I could hear him breathing. “So they know…you know where I am?” he asked. “Yeah, kind of. They know I know, but I haven’t told them where you are, and they didn’t ask.” He sighed. “Okay. Well I’m going to be…” “I’m still coming down,” I interrupted him. “Yeah?” he said, the hopefulness clear in his voice, “Yeah, tomorrow when they give me my keys back. Or I’ll get Caleb to drive me. I’ll be down there. Just wait for me, okay?” “Yeah, I’ll wait. Well, at least for tomorrow.” “I’ll be there tomorrow,” I assured him. “You better,” he said, a soft laugh in his voice, but I could hear the worry too. “I’ll be there.” The next morning I was almost surprised to find my keys on the kitchen table. I’d already planned out what I’d do if my parents didn’t give me the keys back; I’d call Caleb and tell him I needed a ride to ‘school.’ But it seemed I wasn’t going to need to do that. I guess my parents were going to trust me to drive to school. For a moment, I thought about calling Caleb and asking him to come with me, but I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t want to get him into more trouble. Milo and I were making enough trouble as it was. At least it was Friday. The end of one of the most worrying weeks I’d ever had. My mom didn’t say anything about our conversation the night before, or about the keys. She asked me how my classes were going, and I had to spend a minute actually thinking about school work; something that I’d been virtually ignoring. And then, just like a regular school day, I kissed her goodbye and she told me to have a good day. Mom did ask me if I was coming home right after school, and I said ‘sure,’ and I couldn’t help thinking there was an ulterior motive to that question. Maybe I should have felt guilty about lying, but somehow I couldn’t. In truth, I was really confused about what my parents thought I should do. Did they really think I’d bring Milo home? And so I set out for school; via a two hour drive to the marina that Milo had given me directions to. Once I got out of town, most of the trip was highway driving. It was probably the longest trip I’d ever driven on my own, and though it was a pretty simple trip, I was still nervous. The highway part was easy; I just had to drive forever and not miss the exit, and then I needed to make one turn to get to the marina. It was the not-missing-the-exit part that worried me. I didn’t have a map, and if I missed the exit—or the turn—I wasn’t sure what I would do. The only person I could call was Milo, and I didn’t know that he would be much help if I got seriously lost. So I spent most of the time closely reading the road signs and worrying. Fortunately, the exit turned out to be easy to find, and a couple of miles later I saw the turn for the marina; just after the gas station that Milo had told me about in his instructions. It was lightly raining for the last couple of miles, and the soft squeak and thump of the wipers kept distracting me as I tried to keep my eyes peeled for the marina entrance. The marina itself turned out to be impossible to miss—with a large sign and lots of boats visible on trailers—and I was more than elated when I turned into the practically deserted parking lot and parked. I shut off the engine and just sat there for a minute, shaking off the trip. And then I grabbed my jacket and climbed out of the car, pulling the jacket on as I pushed the door closed. All I had to do now was find Milo, which should be easy. It was still winter and many of the boats were out of the water or well sealed up. But there were still dozens of boats tied up to a series of jetties, and even though Milo had given me the name of the boat—Sandpiper—I figured it could take me a while to find him. I pulled out the phone and pressed the recall key, and when he answered I told him I was there. A few seconds later I saw Milo about two hundred yards away, standing on a little boat waving to me. I felt so happy to see him, I almost ran to the boat. “Are you okay?” I asked, coming to a stop on the edge of the dock. Milo was standing on the back end of a small yacht, and as I watched, he carefully stepped onto the dock, and then I was grabbing him into a hug, and he was laughing and obviously as happy to see me as I was to see him. “Yeah, I’m okay now,” he said, and we kissed, and I just wanted to stand there holding him, but he pulled away, smiling. “It’s wet,” he grinned, and I noticed how damp his hair was, and I wondered if he’d been waiting in the rain for me. Before I could ask him, he waved me onto the little yacht. “Come on below,” he said, but I waited for him to go first, and then I followed him onto the back of the boat, and down inside the small cabin. Once we were inside Milo pushed the top hatch cover closed to keep some of the rain out. There was still an opening at the back of the cabin, and he snapped a canvas cover over that opening. It didn’t look very secure and I must have looked surprised. “There’s a wooden sort of door,” he explained, “but it’s more trouble to attach, so I only do it at night.” “Ah,” I nodded. I glanced around. The small yacht must have been about 25 feet long, but the cabin was small and sparsely decorated. There was a bench running along one side of the cabin for sitting or sleeping on. On the other side there was a small table with two small bench seats, and there was another benched area at the front of the boat. All of the benches had thick blue cushions on them, but they didn’t look exactly dreamy-soft. Better than the bare bench, but not much. On the long bench Milo had arranged a sleeping bag, while at the front of the boat there were two bags of what looked like clothes. A paper bag from a supermarket sat on one of the benches next to the table and I could just see the top of a bag of potato chips inside. With the hatch closed we were both hunched over, as there wasn’t much headroom. “It’s not much,” Milo said defensively, but it was actually more than I had expected. I was thinking of something no bigger than a row boat. “Wow, your mother bought you this?” I asked. “It was used,” he pointed out. “Still. Can you sail it?” I asked him. “Not really,” he admitted guiltily. “But it has a small outboard motor, so I can move it around places.” “And you’re planning to live here for the next five months?” I wondered aloud. It was small, and there seemed to be no bathroom, so I wondered what he was using for a bathroom. “Well,” he admitted. “I don’t think I can stay here,” and he waved for me to sit down on the bench with the sleeping bag. I sat down at the end closest to the hatch as he pushed the sleeping bag to the front end of the boat, and then he sat down beside me. It was much more comfortable sitting than crouching. “No?” I asked. “Not at this marina.” “Why not?” I asked, puzzled. “My dad will probably look here at some point. I’m gonna maybe sail around to…” “I thought you can’t sail,” I interrupted. Milo raised an eyebrow and half shrugged. “I’ll use the outboard and I’ll go down to the Keys.” “Milo…” “What?” he said, defensively. “This is…crazy.” “No it’s not,” he said stubbornly. “I’m not going back.” “And if you do this, I won’t get to see you.” Milo looked thoughtful. “You would, if you came with me,” he said shyly. I stared at him shocked. Even though he’d dropped hints before, up until now I’d been panicking that Milo was going to sail away and leave me, and now he was…what? Suggesting I run away to sea with him? I hadn’t brought clothes or anything. Milo obviously saw my hesitation. “I’m not expecting you to,” he added hastily. “Uhh…,” I said, still digesting it all. “I don’t want to loose you,” I said slowly. “I don’t want you to go away.” “I don’t want to loose you either,” he replied, and he reached out his hand and I took it in mine and squeezed it gently. “How do you keep warm?” I asked him. “The sleeping bag is warm enough, and if I go south it’ll be warmer…” “Milo,” I interrupted, still gently holding his hand so he’d know I was worried about him, not upset with him. “What?” “I just…” “Oh shit!” Milo interrupted, dropping my hand and turning around quickly. “What?” I asked, startled. “There’s someone out there!” “Fuck!” I gasped, now noticing the shadow of a figure through one of the small windows on the side of the cabin, and then I felt the boat move and heard the sound of feet on the hull, and we both froze when we heard a familiar voice. “Nelson?” Only it wasn’t the voice of his father, it was my dad calling me. I glanced at Milo, who looked as surprised as I felt, and then I got up and went and slid back the top hatch, while Milo remained sitting on the bench. “Dad?” “Nelson,” said my dad casually, smiling at me as though he’d just come to visit. “Is Milo here?” “Yeah, I’m here Mr. Larmont,” said Milo, getting up to stand beside me. My dad glanced around the boat. “Nice boat Milo. This a 20 footer?” “Twenty-two,” said Milo as he unsnapped the canvas cover and climbed out of the cabin to stand beside my father. I reluctantly followed. “It’s great. Your fathers?” he asked casually, though I couldn’t help thinking he was checking to see if boat theft had been added to our list of crimes. “It’s mine,” said Milo shortly. My father just nodded. “Nice,” he repeated. “How’d you find us?” I asked him. “Followed you,” said Dad, and he actually grinned at that. “You followed me!” “Nelson, we knew…well we strongly suspected that you knew where Milo was…and we were pretty sure that you’d…” and he trailed off, but then he looked at me and smiled. It was like he was proud that they’d managed to trick me. “So you followed me so you could, what? Take Milo back to his dad?!” I demanded. My dad looked at me as though I was being stupid. “No, we followed you because we were worried about you. Worried that you might do something reckless. And we didn’t want anything happening to Milo either.” And then something he said caught my attention. “We?” I asked curiously, glancing around. “Your mother’s in the car,” my dad said calmly. “Mom? Fuck!” I repeated weakly. “I thought it probably best that the both of us didn’t ambush you,” he said, and then he winked at Milo and Milo turned to look at me, and Milo seemed as puzzled as I was. I just shrugged, I had no idea what was going on either. I couldn’t understand why my dad seemed to be acting so casual about it all. I was expecting a lot more anger and annoyance. “I’m not going back to my father’s,” said Milo hotly, turning back to face my father, and crossing his arms defiantly. My dad just looked at him with an odd grin on his face. “No, you’re not,” he said, which seemed to deflate Milo just a little, before my dad added. “You’re coming back to our place, and then we are going to figure out a solution.” “My father won’t listen to you,” Milo insisted, frowning. “Maybe,” said Dad, still smiling at Milo, and then he clapped his hand on Milo’s shoulder briefly. “Don’t give up yet Milo!” Then he took his hand off Milo’s shoulder and reached out and patted me on the shoulder as well. “Now, come on you two, get your stuff. Do you want to ride with me or your mother?” and he gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze and then dropped his hand. “What?” I blurted out. “I’m going to drive your car back, and your mother is driving back ours. Who do you want to go with?” “We’ll drive mine,” I suggested, “and you can follow us.” “Good try,” said my father, smiling. “Come on. You come with me. I’m going to let your mother know we’re heading back. I assume I can trust you two not to do anything silly?” he said looking at us with a more serious expression. We exchanged glances and then both nodded slowly. “Okay,” said my father. “No hurry,” and he climbed off the boat and started walking back towards the parking lot. I turned to face Milo, who looked dejected. “Fuck,” was all he said. “I’m sorry Milo.” He shrugged. “It’s not your fault,” he finally said. “I feel like it’s all my fault,” I said. “If I hadn’t…” “Don’t be stupid!” Milo said, and he grabbed my hand and squeezed it briefly, and then he dropped it and glanced around. “It’ll take a few minutes to pack up my stuff and lock up the boat.” “I’ll help,” I offered. The first half hour of the drive back was awkwardly quiet. My dad didn’t say anything much, and we weren’t exactly in the mood to talk. When we’d got to the parking lot, I saw Mom in my parent’s car, parked a couple of empty spots from mine. My dad was casually leaning against my car. I waved at Mom guiltily, and I was relieved she didn’t get out of the car and come over and tell us how stupid we’d been. I figured that was going to happen later. Dad took the keys that I held out to him and got into the drivers seat, while Milo climbed into the back seat behind my father, and I got into the front passenger’s seat. As we drove, I kept glancing back at Milo, trying to get his attention, but Milo didn’t seem to want to make eye contact with me. He looked miserable—lost in his thoughts—and I didn’t know what to say to make him feel better. I knew he dreaded going back to his father, and—like me—he didn’t believe that my parents could do anything to stop it. I also didn’t know how much trouble I was in with my parents. It seemed like lately I was always screwing things up and not doing what they told me to, but that was the least of my worries. I was now sure that Milo was going to be sent away. We might as well drive him to the airport. “That’s a nice boat Milo,” said my father suddenly. “You sail much?” “No,” Milo admitted, and then after a long pause he continued, “I haven’t really taken it out.” “You haven’t?” Dad asked, surprised. “I only got it last year, and we did take it out once last summer, but my father hated it. I think because he had no clue what to do. We just untied from the dock and used the outboard to go out a little way and then went back. He almost fell in trying to tie it up.” My father laughed when Milo said that, and even Milo grinned a little, though when he’d said it, I don’t think he’d meant it to be funny. “Why’d your father buy the boat?” my dad asked, obviously curious. “He didn’t. My mother did.” “Oh,” said my father. There was a long pause, and then my father added. “Yachts are fun. I sailed a little in college.” “You did?” I asked, surprised. He’d never talked about sailing before, though I guess it wasn’t something that might have come up in everyday conversation. “Nothing big,” my dad explained. “It was a little dinghy really, with a single sail. Fun though, and a good way to learn the basics of sailing. You boys should take some sailing classes.” Milo let his breath out in a puff, which suggested he thought it was highly unlikely we would get the opportunity anytime soon to take sailing classes. Dad must have thought that Milo was worried about the cost, because he added. “It probably isn’t that expensive either.” Milo gave a small smile, but then turned and continued to stare out the window. I kept glancing at him, hoping he’d face me, but he just stared out of the window, and even though I could only see a bit of his profile, he looked miserable. “Where is your mother, Milo?” my dad asked, and when I glanced at Dad, even he appeared embarrassed by what he had asked. “I mean,” he added nervously, “I hadn’t heard your mother mentioned before…” “Oh, she travels a lot. I don’t see her much.” “Ah,” my father nodded. “But she bought you the boat?” “They buy me things because they feel guilty about not spending time with me,” Milo said, his voice bitter, though he was still starring out of the window. He clearly didn’t want to make conversation, but his basic politeness wouldn’t allow him to say so. I could tell that Milo was getting more upset by the questions, and I just wanted my dad to stop talking, but I didn’t know what to say to get him to do so. He was probably just trying to distract Milo, or make him feel comfortable. The only problem was, it was having the opposite effect. “Does your dad have sole custody of you?” my dad asked, a question that seemed to have nothing to do with the boat, and I was about to ask him to stop, but Milo looked around, obviously puzzled. “What?” he asked, glancing at me, and then back at my dad. “I just wondered what the custody arrangement was. Does your father have full legal custody, or is it joint?” Milo was still puzzled by the question, and I wondered if he even knew the difference. I only knew the difference because uncle Ray had talked about it once when there was some court case he had to provide evidence for, and Mom had once talked about how my Dad was now my legal Dad. I hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to it at the time. This happened years after he’d married my Mom and by that time Dad was Dad, and the legal stuff wasn’t of any interest to me. “Ahh…I don’t know,” Milo finally said. “What would it mean if he does, or doesn’t?” I asked. “Well,” said my dad, “if it’s joint legal custody, then Milo’s mom would have a say in things like what school he went to.” I glanced back at Milo, who actually looked curious. “Could you find out?” my dad asked him, still sounding casual. “Ah…I can’t ask my dad,” he said slowly. “You can’t call your mother?” I asked. “I guess…I’m not sure how to reach her. Most of the time she doesn’t get messages for weeks and we only have an emergency number for her,” said Milo, seeming to dismiss the idea. “Her son running away, that probably qualifies as an emergency, don’t you think?” said Dad. I glanced at my dad and he grinned at me. I wondered if he had always intended to ask about Milo’s mother, or whether it was just something that came to him. But now all I was thinking about was what custody arrangement they had, and whether Milo’s mom could stop his father from sending him away. And for the first time that day, I actually felt better. A little hopeful. Maybe there were other solutions. I turned back to Milo, who was looking thoughtful. “But I don’t have the number,” he said slowly. “Who would?” Dad prompted him. “My father. Ah…Juanita.” “Can you call Juanita?” I asked Milo. “Only by calling home, and she never answers so…” “Well, we’ll figure something out,” said my dad casually. “You boys hungry?” he asked—another sudden change of topic—as he pulled off the interstate and turned the car into a Burger King drive through. “Dad?” I asked, puzzled. I’d thought we were in huge trouble, but Dad was being casual and relaxed, and now it looked like he was treating us to lunch. “What?” replied my dad, acting like it was a perfectly natural thing to do, and I guess it was. “You have to eat,” he pointed out as he pulled up to the drive-through window. “What do you want Milo?” And then I realized that it was lunch time, and I was really hungry, and even Milo, who was his usual shy and reluctant self when my father asked him what he wanted, decided to get a shake. My dad ordered for the three of us, getting Milo a burger and fries as well as the shake, and even though Milo pouted when I handed them to him, he inhaled the food. The whole experience was starting to feel surreal, especially as I could see Mom following us through the drive-through in the other car. I think we both felt better after eating, and my dad didn’t ask Milo any more difficult questions after that. We managed to idly chat the rest of the way back. Milo even managed a couple of small grins at me while my dad talked about business, and the problems he had been having getting one of the ovens repaired. My father asked Milo how he’d gotten down to the boat—a question that hadn’t even occurred to me—and Milo revealed that he’d taken a bus part of the way, and hitchhiked the rest. Dad didn’t say anything at the time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Milo got a lecture about that later. Growing up, my mother was always warning Chad and I not to hitchhike, and she’d even had uncle Ray once give us a lecture on the dangers of hitchhiking. By the time we got home I think we’d both calmed down a lot. It was such an odd trip; I think because I kept expecting Dad to tell me that I shouldn’t have gone to see Milo, and to tell Milo that he shouldn’t have taken off like that, but he didn’t. He didn’t even mention it. Back at home things rapidly turned awkward again as we climbed out of the car. Mom pulled up behind my car, and then she got out and came up to us, her face serious. I couldn’t tell if she was worried or if she was just angry. I was expecting some kind of rebuke, but instead all she did was hug me tightly, and then—without a word to me—she turned to Milo. “Come on Milo, you can put your things in the guest room. Nelson, help him bring his stuff in,” and then she and Dad walked into the house together, leaving us standing in the driveway. Milo glanced at me nervously. “They’re just leaving us out here?” he asked sheepishly. I shrugged. “Dad took the keys,” I pointed out. Milo nodded. “You’re staying, right?” I asked him. “I didn’t think I had a choice,” he said. “You have a choice. We’re not making you stay,” I said, even though the ‘we’ was me, and I wasn’t sure my parents felt the same way. Probably they didn’t. Milo rolled his eyes at me—clearly he thought I was talking shit—and slung one of the bags over his shoulder. I reached out and took the other bag from his hand, while he carried his sleeping bag. “Come on,” I said. Entering the house we got the next surprise when we heard my mother’s voice, talking to someone on the phone. “Hello Emily, it’s Pamela…” I glanced at Milo, and it was clear he’d heard the name too, and he looked like he wanted to go hear what was being said, but I gently guided him towards the guest bedroom. After a moment’s hesitation, he reluctantly went where I steered him. “So this is the famous guest bedroom?” said Milo, as we dropped the bags on the floor. “Yep,” I agreed, putting my arms around him and hugging him to me. For a moment he just stood there stiffly, glancing at the open door behind us. I dropped my arms, turned and walked over and gently closed the door, and then I turned around and walked back to Milo; who hadn’t moved a muscle as he stood there watching me. I stepped up to him and gently put my arms around him again, and then it was like he melted into me as he put his own arms around me, and put his head on my shoulder, and sighed. We just stood there holding each other. “Come on,” I finally said, “we better go see what they’re planning.” “I spoke to Emily and she’s going to contact Juanita and let us know,” said my mother. The four of us were sitting in the kitchen, and my father had made us coffee. Milo—as he often seemed to do at my house—was holding his mug and swirling it slowly in his hands, but he seemed to show no interest in actually drinking from it. When my mother finished speaking he looked up from the coffee he’d been studying and sighed. “If my mother’s traveling it could take a while to reach her,” Milo said quietly. “What happens to Milo until then?” I asked my mother. “For the moment he stays here. Hopefully we’ll hear something soon.” I guess I should have been excited about Milo staying at my place, but I knew it wouldn’t last. I was already worried that Milo’s dad would turn up at the door and drag Milo away. “But what happens if we don’t?” I asked plaintively. “I don’t know Nelson. Calm down,” said my mother, and I felt Milo’s hand grabbing mine and squeezing it. But I was upset, and I didn’t like this idea of just sitting around. For all we knew his father could be on the way over right now. “At the moment his father doesn’t think he’s here,” my mother continued. “And no one is planning to tell him.” “What about Emily Hill?” asked Milo. “She won’t tell him Milo,” my mother tried to sooth him, but Milo looked unimpressed. He was never impressed by Emily Hill. “This means Milo has to stay here,” my father cautioned. “He won’t be able to go to school, and you can’t tell your friends he’s here. And if you guys go out…” he trailed off. “No school? Lucky me!” said Milo, softly smiling. “So we just hide him here for the next five months?” I asked. “It’s not going to be like that, hopefully just a few days” said my mother. “I think we all need to be patient and wait while things are sorted out.” I didn’t like the sound of that. But before I could open my mouth to complain some more, my mother added “Why don’t you two go and get some rest? You must be tired.” “I’m not tired,” I said, sounding very much like a cranky five-year old. My mother raised an eyebrow, looking unimpressed. “So you two don’t want to go and make out?” she said flatly. I think Milo’s eyes grew three sizes when my mother said that, and my Dad almost choked on his coffee. “Are we encouraging them?” asked my dad curiously. “Just as long as you keep your pants on,” said my mom to me. Milo had now gone a hot pink color, and I was worried what the next thing out of my mother’s mouth would be. I decided that retreat was the best idea. Also, I’d just been given permission to take my boyfriend to my room and do things with him. I grabbed Milo’s hand and pulled him gently after me down to my bedroom. “So you want to make out huh?” asked Milo, almost giggling, as we entered the room and I pushed the door closed. “With you? Always,” I whispered. “Your mother said we had to keep our pants on,” he pointed out. I leaned over and whispered in his ear “She didn’t say anything about them being up.” “What do you think your mother will say?” I asked Milo. We were lying in bed, holding each other. The sweat on Milo’s forehead had dried, and I could feel the soft hairs of his skin as I ran my hand slowly along his bare arm, and up and over his bare shoulder. I slowly trailed my hand down his chest, as his emerald eyes stared at me intently; doing their best not to glance down and see where my hand was going. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “She doesn’t know I’m gay.” “No?” I asked, gently squeeing his soft penis. “Nope,” he said, giggling a little and pulling back. I reached around and gently slapped his ass before pulling him slowly towards me, his genitals rubbing against mine. “Are you going to tell her?” I sighed. Milo looked unsure, and then I saw small tears forming in his eyes, and thoughts of more sex dissolved from my brain. I just wanted to hold him and make him feel better. “It’s okay,” I said gently, running my hand up to his back. “I don’t know what she’ll think,” he whispered shakily. “She may want to send me away too if she finds out…” “Really?” “I don’t know! I don’t really know her!” “She won’t,” I lied. I had no idea, but I didn’t want him to lose hope. “You know,” I said slowly, “I could call Caleb.” “Call Caleb? Why?” he asked puzzled. “He could come pick you up. Take you back to the boat if you want to try…” I trailed off. I didn’t want him to go, but it was up to him. Milo looked thoughtful, and then he shook his head. “I’m gonna wait and see what my mother says.” “You’re sure?” “Yeah. Your parents are being really nice to me and, well, I don’t want them to get mad at me.” “They won’t get mad at you,” I assured him. He shrugged. “You said it yourself. In five months I can come visit you, so I want to keep on their good side.” I was still not convinced. “And anyway, I’m tired of running,” he said, like some life-time criminal, and then Milo grinned and I realized he was joking. Milo glanced around my room, an odd expression on his face, and then he tuned back to me. “Why do you think your parents are letting us do this?” he asked. “Do what?” I asked, not sure what he meant. They hadn’t let him run away, what did he mean? “Make out in your bedroom,” he clarified. “Oh,” I said, not sure. “I think they probably think we’re….” and I trailed off. I’d been about to say ‘making out,’ but then it occurred to me that they probably assumed we were doing more than that. “Uh…” I began, and then I shrugged. I didn’t know why my parents had sort of turned a blind eye to the possibility that I was having sex with my boyfriend in my bedroom. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have let Chad do this with a girlfriend. Not until he was in college. “I think they know whatever happens, we’re probably not going to see each other for a while,” said Milo quietly. I felt my stomach drop when he said that. “No,” I said. “No, I don’t think that’s going to…” Milo turned and now he was very close to me. “What’s the best that can happen?” he began. “I go live with my mother?” “No…you could…” and then I paused. What was the best—or even an acceptable—solution? It seemed impossible to imagine Milo going back to his father now; if nothing else because it was clear his dad would never allow us to see each other. “Maybe your parents will let us visit each other?” he offered hopefully. I smiled at him, trying to be as positive as possible. “I’m sure they’ll be okay with that,” I said, and I kissed him on the lips, and then I reached down and pulled my white comforter up to cover us both, tucking it around Milo. Milo watched my arm moving and then snuggled close to me. “Cozy?” I asked him, and he smiled and nodded. “You know,” I said, “I could get used to this.” “Yeah?” he grinned. “Yeah. Maybe I’ll hide you under my bed.” “For five months?” he asked skeptically. “It’s just a thought,” I grinned. “I’d like that too…” he said hugging me, and he leaned forward and gently kissed my lips. Then he pulled back slightly and looked into my eyes. “I’m not sorry,” he said. “Sorry about what?” “About coming out. Even about my dad going mental. I’m just glad I got to…” and he pursed his lips. I leaned forward and kissed him. Milo looked at me, a curious expression on his face, and then he seemed to relax, as though he’d made some decision. “I love you,” he said softly. Eventually, Milo and I fell asleep, holding each other. It was around six when Milo gently shook me awake. “Huh?” I grumbled. “Your Dad says that dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” he whispered softly. “Okay,” I said, staring at him groggily. “Did he come down here?” “Yep,” said Milo, and then I realized I should have known the answer to that question. Milo’s neck and face were noticeably redder than his bare chest. He was blushing. We were both under the covers, but it would have been obvious that we didn’t have shirts on, and maybe little else. Somehow we hadn’t even managed to follow the ‘keep your pants on part of your body’ rule, though I was pretty sure my foot was touching some article of clothing scrunched at the bottom of the bed. “He say anything else?” I asked. “Not really,” said Milo. “Not really?” “He sort of raised an eyebrow,” explained Milo, and then he grinned bashfully and I snorted. “We should get up there promptly,” I said. “Hopefully nothing will be said.” And when we went up to dinner, nothing was said. And it was so clearly not said, that it was obvious my father had told my mother that he’d found us naked in bed, sleeping together, and they’d decided not to say anything. For the moment. That was probably going to come back and bite me in the ass later. Dinner was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and peas, which is usually one of my favorites, but my appetite wasn’t great. I blame the two burgers I had for lunch. Milo wasn’t hungry either. He pushed the meatloaf around—much like he did the meal we’d had at Thanksgiving—until my mother told him that unless he ate some of it he wouldn’t get any dessert. Milo actually looked chastened by this, though my mother smiled and reached out and briefly patted his hand to let him know she wasn’t really angry with him. Milo turned to me, and I raised my eyebrows to comfort him, and let him know that she was just kidding him, but he did actually start eating a little. “Did Emily say when she’d call?” I asked, maybe for the third time. My mother looked up from her own plate and sighed. “She said she’d get in touch with Juanita one way or another and get the number,” Mom said, as though explaining it to one of her students. “She know’s we don’t want his father to know. Be patient Nelson.” “And what if she doesn’t?” “Then we’ll figure out something else,” said my father. Milo sighed, and I looked at him and he dropped his eyes, and I realized that he probably wanted me to stop going on about it as much as my parents did. We all went back to our own thoughts. And then the phone rang, and it sounded so loud. It sounded louder than I’d ever heard it before. Maybe it was because we’d been so quiet through the meal. We all froze for a moment. There was a brief silence and then the bell rang a second time, and if anything, it sounded louder. Finally my mother got up and answered it, while we all watched her; wondering who it might be. “Hello?” my mother said. There was a long pause as she listened to whoever it was. My mother listened closely, and then said “Oh yes, just a moment,” her expression remaining neutral, and then she took the phone handset and walked out of the room. I glanced at my dad. “Probably one her student’s parents,” he suggested. I wanted to go and remind Mom to not make it long, as we were expecting a phone call, but I didn’t want her to accuse me of over-reacting. But she seemed to be gone forever, though maybe it was only ten minutes before my mother came back in, holding one hand over the mouth piece of the cordless phone. “Milo?” she called out gently. Milo looked up, surprised. “It’s your mother,” said my mom, holding out the phone towards him. Milo looked shocked. He just sat there for a moment, and then he gathered himself together and slowly stood. “You can take it to the bedroom if you like,” suggested my mother. Milo nodded, but he was still just standing at the table, and then he turned to me. “Will you come with me?” he whispered. “Sure,” I said, getting up quickly and following him to the guest bedroom. Milo was standing in the middle of the bedroom, the phone in one hand, held to his ear, while with his other hand he held on tightly to my hand. I was a step away from him, trying to give him some measure of privacy, even though I could hear every word he said. I just couldn’t hear what was being said to him. “Hi, hi, Mom?” he’d said faintly when he’d first put the phone to his ear. There had been a really long pause, and then he whispered “I’m okay…” and then there was another long pause. “I dunno….not so good.” Another long pause. “Yeah, I just…it’s been really bad…” and there was another long pause. “Mom…what custody…do you have joint custody of me?” another long pause. “I just…Dad hates me…he does…I’m always fighting with him, and he wants to send me away to this school, and there’s no reason. I’m doing fine in school.” There was another long pause. Milo was hunched over and I could see tears rolling down his face. I squeezed his hand, and I knew he felt it, as he held my hand tighter, but he didn’t otherwise acknowledge me. “No, I just…its not fair,” he continued. “I don’t want to go and he’s just…” I could feel Milo shaking and the tears were flowing freely down his face, and he was almost gulping air. “I’m okay…” he said. “I’m okay,” though he sounded nothing like it. At least not to me. I had no idea what this woman on the other end of the phone was saying or thinking. Couldn’t she understand he was upset? “I just…Mom….I’m….Mom I’m….I’m…” and then he finally whispered “gay.” And I thought he was going to completely break down. “He hates me because I’m gay,” he whispered, the words coming out in a rush. I couldn’t take it any more, and I put my other arm around his shoulder and pulled him to me, and he sort of curled down under my chin as he leaned against my chest, still clutching the phone to his ear and softly crying. I ran my free hand up and down his back, trying to comfort him. “Yeah?” I heard him mumble, squeezing my hand quickly, and he suddenly straightened up. He was still in my embrace, but I could see his face, and though it was red and tear streaked, now he looked almost startled. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked—almost demanded—though he seemed much happier. There was another long pause as he stood there, listening intently, and nodding his head every now and again. “Okay…yeah…I know, I know…yeah. Um, okay. Yeah…Bye.” And he hung up, and I stood there, looking at him, feeling horribly confused, but Milo was hugging me now and it was clear he was happy. To be continued...
  10. 19 January 2016 Dear C, How are you doing? I hope you are keeping yourself warm? I saw on TV today that temperatures dropped to 1 degree in London today. I don't know if you are allowed to be going outside yet, but if you do - wrap up warm! I would like to tell you about the dream I had last night. It was extremely surreal, yet it felt very real at the same time. When I woke up in the morning it took me some time to digest the whole thing.I dream that you, me my and your mum were all walking in the park. It was autumn because I remember seeing colorful leaves on the ground. This park was not in London but in my hometown back in Poland. It was the park I used to play as a child, right next to my parents' house. In this dream, my subconscious told me that those events were happening after prison and your cancer. So it was a dream of the future. We all sat down on one of the benches and talked. I wasn't sure if we were back together again, but definitely, we were enjoying each other's company. Our mothers were talking to one another (funny, as my mum speaks no English and yours speaks no Polish). At some point, you stood up and started throwing leaves at me and we were running around like little kids. Then, as we got tired we sat back next to our mothers. Your mum looked at me and said that she was happy you had someone like me in your life. Then you suddenly turned around to your mother and asked her: "Mum, do you know that he is 'that' guy?" She looked at you and then she looked at me and said: "Yes I know". I remember feeling so overwhelmed at that moment in my dream that I think I cried real tears. Then I noticed that some of the leaves that were laying on the ground somehow started to slowly lifting up. First I didn't pay any attention to it, but then I realized that all of them were going up. First slowly then very fast they were disappearing in the air. You and our mothers were completely unaware of this. Then the first big oak next to us crushed and disappeared. I wanted to shout to you if you saw that and I grabbed your hand only to realize that your hand was the only thing that left of you. There was no blood or anything like that, just your hand. Then it disappeared too. I started to see that everything was crushing and flying off in the air. My mum wasn't there anymore, neither was yours. I fell onto the ground as the bench I was sitting on was now gone. Then I heard the laughter in the air. All around me. First I couldn't figure it out who that voice belonged to, but then I realized it was you. You were laughing so loud and so hysterically that I felt like my head would explode. Then I woke up. I couldn't move on my bed. I was staring at the dirt on my wall for some time. I felt nothing and I felt everything. I closed my eyes once hoping I would wake up back home next to you, that all of this is still just a nightmare. Then my alarm clock went off. I got up and brushed my teeth. They bled badly, I think my gums are properly damaged now, could be after all that beating I received in the previous prison. I don't know. I looked at myself in my old mirror here and I asked: "why?"Then I turned on the news and started to pretend that I am going to be ok. Forever yours, Sebastian
  11. centexhairysub

    Chapter 23

    Some people are just willing to kill themselves and others to keep from admitting that they need help. It appears that Sinclair is going to have to deal with one of those more closely than he or anyone else would like.
  12. There’s music, a choir of sorts as though a church or maybe even a funeral procession... there was a door, surrounded by a thick black mist, ominous and foreboding, I was tempted to turn around, but when I turned around, all I saw was darkness, nothing but a pitch black void... This was a dream, no, it was a nightmare, the familiar sense of my skin crawling, the small tingling and stinging of flames licking my skin, searing hot meal wrapped around my wrists, clinging to my skin and burning indents into my flesh. The dream changes and the air is still, heavy and oppressive, footsteps slowly faded in, at first one, then two, then three and then too many more, they were all in sync, all taking steps at the same pace, feet hitting the ground the same weight, the same booming sound, echoing throughout this barren dreamscape, I knew that weight, I knew the person whose footsteps it was, I knew it was “Mom”, that's why these chains were around my wrist, that’s why these hooks were embedded in my skin, that’s why I was being burned, why it was dark, why I couldn’t yell or scream, or ask for help. Perhaps I made a wrong turn on the road of my life, maybe it would’ve been better if I had died with father, or perhaps this was just my life, this was going to be my eternity, suffering under the thumb of my mother, repeating the same events, over and over again. I found myself in an empty room, except it wasn't really empty, not anymore, "You're cutting it close these days, aren't you?" There she was, voice calm yet smirk and smugness within her words evident, I inhaled deeply, as silently as I could before turning around, slowly as not to annoy her, she was leaning against a wall, arms crossed and expression stern. "Now...I told you to take the garbage out of your room this morning before you set off to your lessons... Right?" Involuntarily my body tensed, reflexes ready to attempt to block or dull whatever may come, even though all of it was in vain. This was a memory, a painful one that I was seemingly destined to relive, over and over, daily despite the fact that her “lessons” had only gotten more brutal as I aged. So I resigned myself to my fate, "I was gonna be late..." I said, "...I'm sorry. I'll take it out." I got down on one knee and started picking up the trash with my bare hands, but based on experience this lesson wasn’t finished, not yet, there hadn’t been enough pain, not enough blood, not enough tears. Mother, came up and expressively kicked some of the trash further down the hall, before her boot pressed down atop my hand, her weight slowly pressing my palm down against the dirtied marble floor, I grit my teeth in response, vaguely attempted to hold back any noises that may attempt to escape my lips. Mother didn’t like noise, "Not now. This morning! You were supposed to take it out this morning as I told you to! What do I have to do to get you to listen to me?" She shouted. She lifted her boot from my hand before pressing it down against my ribs a dull ache spreading throughout the area, "Answer my question," My instincts were screaming for me to curl up into a ball and get ready for a beating, but my mind told me to just keep picking up the trash and get it done and over with before she got the chance to inflict any real pain. There were a few times when I could just ignore her long enough to get away without any punishments. I used to hope that I’d be able to do that during these dreams, that I would be able to change the outcome somehow, but usually that only resulted in worse punishments, sometimes images of my Mother being killed, sometimes it’d be burn marks or whips, sometimes starvation on the best days it was only kicks and punches. "I'm sorry," I repeated in my lowest, least threatening voice. "Pathetic, pick this up now and don't make me tell you again." She said. "I am." “What did you say?” "I'm picking it up. I'm sorry." I spoke quietly, she kicked some more stuff further down the hall to instigate me, I knew better than to react. She stepped on one of my fingers on purpose as she walked passed, and mashed it into the carpet, I merely winced, and waited for her to lift her foot, before pulling my finger away. I could handle that. Just...concentrate on the trash, and hide the pain until later. I could do that. She mumbled a few more words and then stepped over it as I tried to get every scrap up from the floor. Then She Walked off into her room, where she was reading, silently in the dark. That wasn't so bad. At least she was walking away from me, it could have been much worse this time. She'll be asleep soon, I’ll have other duties to tend to and I'll be fine. I know I will. "What's taking you so long?" She yelled from her room, I didn't answer. I just tried to hurry up and clean faster. "Do you hear me talking to you?" She repeated, it must have been one of those bad days. She was 'searching'. Looking for me to do or say something, anything, that would give her a reason to beat me until I couldn’t stand. Not that beating me for no reason would hurt her conscience either way. "Yeah. It's... clean." I nodded and I stood up, wrapping the garbage bag up, and getting ready to take it outside as fast as possible. She was standing in the hallway in front of me so as to block my way, but I silently squeezed past him, careful not to make eye contact so as to not look like I was giving her a 'challenge'. Then I felt a harsh smack hit me in the back of my head, the heat from her palm seemingly burning the back of my head. Right, I had forgotten about that bit of magic, hurts to be reminded. "Next time...do it when I tell you." Then She Hit me once again for added effect, and I kept walking, or at least I tried to, Unfortunately, my...Mom could already tell that I was either terrified or angry, and there was no way that she was going to let me go now. Not now. It started with a slap or two...and went on from there. Maybe it was five minutes....maybe it was fifty. I couldn't really tell. But once she began to beat me, holding back the tears wasn't an option anymore. In fact, holding them in would only make the beatings worse. I guess she would see that as me trying to imply that she wouldn't hurt me anymore, and that would only make her work harder at breaking my spirit. There was no fighting back. It was either 'take it', or 'get it even worse'. She was smart to stay away from my face with most of her beatings...most went to my chest or to my back. Occasionally, a shot to my stomach would make my knees buckle, and she would stand me up before I was able to recover. My arms and legs would sometimes be sore for days afterward, and I mean yeah, my instincts were telling me to defend myself because I was being hit, but not with her. With her, I had to let go. My defenses had to come down and I had to just 'survive'. I tried defending myself before, and that intensified her efforts by ten. I tried to run and hide when I was younger, but where was I going to run to? This was home, and he'd get to me eventually. And then she would make it extra harsh for trying to run in the first place. So...the only answer? Survive. Take it and survive, do my best to bare the brunt of it all long enough for him to leave me alone. It hurt, by God it hurt, but I could take it. It's not like I was bleeding too badly. No broken bones or anything. I guess that as long as I could avoid those injuries, then it was just 'pain'. And pain goes away eventually. In an hour or two, I'll be able to stand up straight again, and I'd be fine. She'd hurt me badly, he'd do it just to teach me a lesson and my body would heal right away, too quickly for her tastes so she had to make the next beating more viscous, more brutal. Pushing me hard up against the wall was what I got most, shoves and slaps were common, and so was the occasional burning or something else that probably wasn't legal. They changed every time, and she seemed to be able to put just the right combination of words and pain together, to make a strong enough blade to stab them straight through me. This had become an almost daily ritual at this point, and I was becoming desensitized to the horror of the beatings at this point. I had come to expect them. Through trial and error, I'd become her perfect little soldier and never get caught being a 'pathetic piece of trash' again. Not for that particular screw up, anyway. But there would always be something else. And I'd always be to blame, and I would always get punished for it. Brutally. Some days were better than others, but some days...were much, much worse. Like before, it wasn't so much the physical pain, as it was the abuse that I caused myself, in my own mind. Where I believed every word that she said to me in anger...and I broke my neck trying to be just the opposite. I had to be perfect. Everything that I did, everything that I said, everything that I was...had to be absolutely flawless. And no one would be able to see me or hear from me or anything until I was perfect. Anything less than perfection would mean another beating in my mind, and I couldn't withstand too many more of them. Always afraid that one day I would be bruised or broken in such a way that my brother would have to learn about the terrible life I lived when she wasn't home. I couldn't hurt him, not like this. And if all I had to take was a few strikes and a bunch of bruises...then better me than my brother. When it was over, she pushed me into my bedroom door and down onto the floor. I was still reeling, still aching all over and hoping that should stop for the night. "Clean Up This Room, pretty boy is what you are! Think you're too pretty to do anything around here! Clean up this room and keep it that way!!!" She shouted, then she slammed my door shut and mumbled some more stuff as she walked away. I lay there on the floor for a few minutes, breathing hard but doing my best to make sure that even the slightest of whimpers didn't escape my lips. She'd come back if heard me, I didn't doubt that. So I reached up to grab a pillow off of my bed, my ribs aching from being thrown against a dresser, and I yelled into that pillow. Muffling my silent screams as best as it could. I'd only have a few minutes to stay down on the floor and nurse my 'wounds', then I'd have to start cleaning. God forbid she were to come back and see me still laying there. So I slowly rose to one knee, my stomach hurting with the tight knot that she punched into it, and I crawled around on my knees in my room, cleaning up the few papers and toys that I had scattered around on the floor. My room wasn't that dirty. But it wasn't clean enough for her, and since I was the weak one, the stupid one...that's all that mattered, that's always how its been. I used to imagine that my father was different, that he was nicer but it's not like I could ask him or even see him, he was dead and that was that. These dreams were common, too common, usually, they involved more heat, more flames, more pain but even without the usage of magic, everything still hurt regardless. Occasionally though, there were these images that would flash through my mind, vision of something that looked almost exactly human, save for blood red eyes that seemed to pulse in their sockets, and ashen, cracked and calloused skin, an orange and red glow visible from the cracks of his skin. This thing-whatever it was, was youthful looking, and I would've put him at the same age as me. There was an ease in his expression, it was relaxed though there was something…nasty in the curve of his lip that made me want to take off running. Wearing a suit of black and red, of seemingly charred metal and stones. He, whatever this thing was, it was a far more common sight to see outside of my dreams, a mirage fading in the heat of summer, a reflection in the mirror or water, like an ever constant being watching over me, following me, trailing behind. It never spoke, never gestured, it merely stood still, gaze unwavering and unblinking.
  13. "Ah knew Ah'd find you up here." Kyle drawled as he entered Worthington's bedroom on the fifth floor of Clairville Keep. The drapes were drawn back from the southern facing windows and showed the reddening of the sky as sunset approached. It had been raining off and on all day, and the skies were still partly cloudy. "What are you wearing?" Worthington asked him with a frown as he turned around from his desk area and looked towards the brown-haired young man that had been so frustrating to him of late. Kyle was wearing soft white pants that ended just below his knees and green knee-high socks along with tennis shoes and a white t-shirt with green sleeves. "It's suhpposed to be ah baseball uniform," Kyle drawled. "Ah made the mistake of mentionin' that I didn't have nothin' up here to practice with the last time Ah came up and one of them dwarves of yours heard me. This time I found a bunch of these things in the closet when we got here. Ah tell ya though, Rawlings ain't ever made a uniform this nice before. Sapha told me them dwarves found pictures of me on the Internet from a game last year and made these up for me. Mighty nice of them, I say." "I see." Worthington frowned, turning back to his computer and saving the document he had been working on when Kyle came up. "Is Carl still helping with your pitching practice?" "He is." Kyle laughed. "The guy wants to be a catcher, and he might just be good enough to make the school team, not that there's a lot of competition from what I've seen among the freshmen." "That's good," Worthington said. "Was there a reason you came up here?" "What's wrong with comin' to see ya?" Kyle asked as he crossed the room and took a seat near Worthington, stretching out his legs and crossing them at the ankles in a way that showed off way too much of his lean body to make Worthington comfortable. The guy was infuriating at times. He'd be cold as a fish one moment, and then doing something like this, showing off his toned, athletic body, and sitting in a way that made it all but impossible not to notice the sizeable bulge in his pants. "Kyle, you've barely spoken to me for the last week except for when we're doing our lessons." Worthington retorted as a wave of ire swept through him. "Half the time you treat me like I have the plague and the other half you're my best buddy." "Ah'm sorry about that, ya know?" Kyle said in a questioning tone. "No, I don't know," Worthington growled. "What the hell is going on with you anyway? I threw that birthday party for you last week, and you practically ran out of the room." "Ya surprised me, that's all." Kyle frowned, looking at his feet as he wiggled them a bit. "I thought that was the whole purpose of a ‘surprise party,' you know?" Worthington said with exasperation, unconsciously mimicking the other teen's speech pattern. "It is." Kyle shrugged. "It's just…it was mah first birthday without mah family, and it was kind of a bad time." "I'm sorry." Worthington frowned as he thought that over. "I can see how it would have been a bit much for you in that situation. Maybe I should have thought that through some more." "You did fine." Kyle shrugged. "Ah should have told you how Ah was feeling, and why Ah've been so touchy lately. It hasn't been easy, ya know. The doc you have me seeing has got me convinced. Ah can't blame mah' self for what happened, but I still feel weird." "Have you changed your mind about your magic?" Worthington asked cautiously. "No, you were right about that too," Kyle said with that shy little smile that drove Worthington to the brink of insanity. It was a cocky, but somehow shy at the same time smile with his head tilted slightly down so that his eyes were looking through his eyelashes. "Ah can do more good with it than I can without it in this world. It's this whole moving back and forth between mundane and magical that's got me feeling like this, and you of course." "Me?" Worthington asked with a frown. "You've got me thinkin' about a lot of things that ain't exactly comfortable." Kyle frowned now, and Worthington waited for him to continue. "Like, I grew up all my life goin' to church every Sunday and trying to be a good kid. You know, like the bible says we should be, but now, I just don't know. You, and those women who call themselves Jamie's mothers, y' all should be evil, but now that Ah know y' all, Ah know you're good people, as good as any back home and that's got me confused a right bit. Plus, in all this magic, Ah can't help wondering where God is, and those are some heavy questions to deal with for me." "I wish I could be more help for you there," Worthington said with a frown on his face and was surprised at how much he meant those words. "You're a good guy, Kyle, and I happen to like you a lot." "You're a good friend too, Worthington, no matter what anyone might say," Kyle replied with a very slight blush. "Ah guess I've just been feeling lonely and sorry for mah' self. You know, next week's Thanksgiving and it was always a happy time for me. Your family's been right kind and all, but it will still feel weird not being around my own." "You'd rather spend it with your Aunt and Uncle?" Worthington asked. "God no!" Kyle snorted and then laughed. "Well, like I said, you got me thinking about a lot of things. It'd be nice if we could just go away, maybe, for a few days. What do you think? Just you and me, get up and go somewhere that ain't here, or ain't in Phoenix. Now that summer's over it's a right nice enough place, but I'm feeling the need for a change of scenery, and something besides family dinner and that stuff. Ah know I ain't got a right to ask it, especially since Ah don't have any money of my own, but I was wondering if you'd think something like that would be possible." "Just you and me?" Worthington asked with a frown. He wasn't sure why Kyle was asking for something like that. "What about your girlfriend?" "Dianne?" Kyle frowned. "Why would Ah ask her to go? I was just thinking you and me, two friends you know, going out and having a good time together somewhere." "I'll see what I can manage," Worthington promised. "As for money, I told you already don't worry about a damn thing. If you want to keep track of it all, that's fine. You can pay me back once you're trained and earning money working as a mage. The pay is good, and you'll be able to afford it without a problem, but you don't have to do that. As far as I'm concerned, you're a part of my family now and family helps family." "You'll never know how much I appreciate that," Kyle said with another of those smiles as he stood up. "You're a damn good guy, Worthington, and a good friend." "Thanks for the compliment, Kyle." Worthington smiled. "You know, having you around makes my day better all the time, too. You've taught me a lot of stuff about what it means to be a good friend that I never understood before. As far as I'm concerned, that's been payment enough." "Well, I better get back to mah room and get changed for dinner," Kyle said as he nodded before striding out in that confident walk of his that left Worthington with an aching erection in his pants before the door closed behind Kyle. That outfit was just too tight, and showed off a perfectly formed bubble butt to perfection. No wonder Jamie had been chasing that pitcher last year if they looked that good in uniform. Then again, Kyle looked good no matter what he was wearing. When he turned back to his computer, he was looking up stuff on Google instead of working on the essay assignment that was due on Monday morning. Outside, the sounds of a chopper coming in and landing on the helipad outside the main gates distracted him for a few minutes, but he ignored it after sensing no urgency or alarm and considered the options for a Thanksgiving getaway with Kyle. That entire weekend would be a good time to get away, and he realized the idea was as appealing to him as it seemed to be for Kyle. As much as he loved Jamie's family, and was looking forward to seeing Richie again, holidays like this one left him feeling a little bit of an interloper. They were Jamie's family, and while Worthington was always welcome and knew that, it was also true that the traditions weren't a part of his childhood or his life. It was something borrowed, something he'd gained from them and as much as he'd been bound to Jamie emotionally and mentally, now that they were separated he was finding he wanted to assert his independence more and more. This time there was a knock on his door before it was opened, and he felt the identity of the person outside. Someone who was not permitted up here would find it all but impossible to come this far without triggering an alarm or more active magical defense, so he had already known it had to be one of those ‘trusted' people. They numbered somewhere around fifty now though, so he was glad to be able to know who it was before he signaled for the wards to let the person in the room, and the door swung open. "Michael, it's good to see you again," Worthington said as he stood up and crossed to shake the hand of Michael Lowenthal. The government mage looked healthier than the last time he'd seen the man three weeks ago, and had regained much of the weight he'd lost in the weeks and months following the final fight with Zaroc. "Welcome back." "It's good to see you again too, Worthington." Michael Lowenthal said warmly and surprised Worthington when he drew him into a hug after they shook hands. He'd been extremely attracted to the man before, but now thought of him as a friend first and foremost, and Lowenthal had always rejected his advances, so the hug was a surprise. "Was that you coming in on the chopper?" Worthington asked as he led the government mage further into the room and sat down on a chair near the fireplace. As Lowenthal sat in a chair across from him, he gave a mental tug to a specific ward set in place, signaling that he would like some refreshments brought up. Sapha had made this particular ward, and depending on how he tugged at it would bring different types of refreshment. "Yes, along with the new Director of Mage Operations, as they're now calling the position," Lowenthal said with a slight grimace. "He sent me up here since I'm keyed for access up here, and to smooth over any… problems there might be beforehand." "Why would there be any problems?" Worthington asked with a real frown. "I told the government that I would work with whoever they picked." "It's someone you've met before," Lowenthal said gently as the door opened and a dwarf appeared with a tray set for two. The coffee was good and strong, and Worthington blessed the fact that he could have it again. "Who is it?" He asked when Lowenthal said nothing more after fixing his coffee and taking a couple of sips. "Gerald Norman," Lowenthal said, and Worthington did frown then. "Why him?" Worthington asked as calmly as he could manage. "You're taking that better than I expected," Lowenthal said with a wide grin on his face. "Do you think you know me that well?" Worthington shot back at the man who grinned even more. "Sinclair, we've been in the field together, fought against each other, and together," Lowenthal said seriously. "You spent the weeks before that trying to get into my pants, and you've tried a few times since then, but not as seriously. It's for the same reason I never slept with Collins. When your life depends on someone, it's a lot easier to not mix love or even just sex into the situation. I know you as well as anyone amongst the mages in my Department, and people understand that. That's one of the reasons it is Norman in the lead position, that and the fact that he's had more seniority and experience than any other surviving mage. He was the fifth mage taken into the Department, and the only one of the originals to survive the demon attacks." "I see," Worthington said slowly. "So it had nothing to do with any animosity he might have towards me?" "I never got the impression that you had a grudge against him." Lowenthal's smile was starting to slip from his broad, ruggedly handsome face. "I don't," Worthington confirmed. "Does he bear one though? I pretty much humiliated him that day." "You taught him a valuable lesson about ‘wild' mages." Lowenthal shrugged. "He doesn't bear a grudge, but neither is he a big fan of yours. It is my impression that he intends to trust you only so long as he can keep an eye on you, and then not much. That is exactly what the higher ups in the government want right now. You're still a fairly unknown quantity to them, and only time will fix that." "So they sent you up here to soften the blow?" Worthington asked. "Yes, and to ask you to come down and meet Mr. Norman in his official capacity," Lowenthal said, and now he wasn't smiling at all. "Look, I know you let Collins save me in that fight. Weatherby said you could have easily directed they kill me right off the bat and they would have done it the way they did… well, you know. I could even feel it when you were attacking the shields that I held, that you didn't want to hurt me, and somehow that gave me the strength to fight the controls for just those seconds. I owe you, and that's why they don't trust me as much as they did. I shouldn't tell you this, but Norman's got a plan to force you to spend more time training our mages directly than you are now. Most of the brass is convinced you're holding out on ‘em, and he's been told to light a fire under you." "Thanks for the warning." Worthington smiled at the man. Curse the fucking Light and its demands on him. "You're right, I was trying hard to get into your pants, and you're right about things being different now. Us having sex would complicate things, something neither one of us needs. I would like us to be friends though." "Friends would be good." Lowenthal smiled. "You never know when I'll need to borrow money." "Oh, so it's just my money you wanted after all!" Worthington smiled as he joked, and was pleased at the laughter from the man. "Don't ya know I was just playing hard to get so you wouldn't make me sign a pre-nup?" He joked back. "See, that's why I should never get married to a guy or a woman." Worthington continued the joke, and they laughed at each other for a moment before he turned serious a little bit. "If there's ever anything I can do for you, Lowenthal." "Call me Michael, please." Was the earnest reply. "You were right when you said I was no longer really enlisted, and I'm no longer really military either. Those days are over, and I need to learn to live in the world I'm in now, not the world I was in before." "My name's Worthington, Michael," Worthington said as he stood up and held out his hand. They shook for a moment before Michael nodded and released his hand. "What should I tell Norman?" Michael asked. "Tell him that I will see him in two hours, after the evening meal," Worthington said, and then he smiled. "By the way, I'm eating with family and close friends this evening. You are invited." "Thank you, I accept." Michael smiled in a way that showed he understood the game Worthington was playing and didn't mind being used that way. Gerald Norman would be stewing in his juices when he found out, and Worthington would make sure he found out before dinner. After Michael had left, Worthington went back to the computer and looked up a few more things on his idea for the trip with Kyle before he ended up picking up the phone and calling to talk to someone directly. The fact was he'd never done something like this before, and although he had heard Kyle mentioning wanting to take a trip there before, he wasn't convinced it was exactly the right thing. He spent a long time on the phone and had barely hung up when Brandon stuck his head in the door to tell him everyone was here for dinner. Worthington sighed as he got up, more confident in his belief he had found the right thing for Kyle and him to do but felt surprisingly nervous about the whole thing. The dinner/conference room in their private suite area was full, with Elizabeth and Stacy having made their way up the mountains for the night, and he plastered a smile on his face as he sat down at the head of the table with Jamie already seated at the other end. "You look tired," Stacy said as one of the humans who had been raised in the dwarf halls and was now working on his staff began putting the first course on the table, which was a salad. "It's been a long day, and I still haven't finished that essay for English," Worthington admitted with a sigh, and she laughed. The conversation stayed focus on ‘personal' matters until after the salad was taken away and the second course, a seafood bisque was also finished. "The government has selected a mage to lead their operations," Worthington said as the main course, finely sliced and prepared roasted pork on a base of spicy rice was placed in front of them. He proceeded to tell everyone the news Michael had given him, and since the man himself was seated there, he added a few comments of his own. "The guy's last name is Norman?" Kyle asked with a frown. "Do you think he's related to me?" "No." Michael Lowenthal replied quickly. "Why would you think that?" "My mother's maiden name was Norman," Kyle answered, still frowning. "How did he respond to my reply?" Worthington asked the man to change the subject. He'd have someone looked into the possible issue. "He wasn't happy." Michael smiled slightly. "I was even reminded that I work for him and should not step above my pay grade." "Ouch." Worthington frowned. "Sorry about that." "You do not need to be apologizing for that, Worthington," Michael said sharply, pointing his fork at Worthington as he spoke. "There's been talk among the mages in the government ranks that used to do some other type of work. Curtis Parks for instance. I believe you met him when you encountered Gerald Norman the first time?" "Yes," Worthington confirmed. "He is talking about returning to the FBI instead of continuing work with the DPRR," Michael said with a shrug. "There are a few others that had other careers before the Department snapped them up, and now they're thinking about returning to those careers. Gerald made the mistake of dismissing the idea out of hand, but there's some sympathy among the mundane leadership, and they're starting to look at us in a new light, thanks to some of the things you've told them. They are starting to wonder if it might not be better, in the long run, to have our people less concentrated in one area." "Are you thinking about doing something else, Michael?" Stacy asked. She had taken a few turns training some of the government mages and had gotten to know Lowenthal quite well. "No." Lowenthal smiled as he said that. "I fit in quite well with the Department and the work fits me. I'll be happy staying where I'm at. You need to understand, I might disagree with Gerald on some things, but I believe in the Department, and the fact that there needs to be some oversight of mage activities." "I see," Stacy said with a nod. "But at least you understand why others of us are reticent in this regard." "Yes." He confirmed. "It is not an easy thing to try and balance what we are finding out about each other, but something is going to have to be done. Magic is growing more commonplace, and that means that it won't be hidden forever." "Even the Adepts are beginning to recognize that," Worthington admitted. "I won't say they're happy about things, but they recognize that things are changing and there's little they can do to put this particular genie back in its lamp." "Let's talk about something else," Jamie said with a frown. "No offense, but we talk about this stuff all the time as it is. I'd like to think about normal things once in a while." "I hear you, and the Grassley girl are becoming an item," Elizabeth said with a smile at her son, and Worthington chuckled as Jamie blushed slightly. "Mom!" Jamie protested in a near-whine. "I caught them kissing at school last week," Carl added in a sing-song and then paled as Jamie glared at him while everyone else laughed. "So it is getting serious," Elizabeth said with a smile on her face. "I wouldn't go that far, Liz," Stacy said with a smirk. "He's been as bad as Worthington here about jumping from bed to bed." "I would have you know I haven't been doing much bed jumping lately," Worthington said with a glare at them while Jamie sputtered. "I've been reduced to living vicariously through listening in on Jamie's nocturnal activities. "Don't worry, dear," Stacy said with a bright smile at Worthington. "I'm sure the skin will grow back in time. Rubbing it raw will do that, you know." "Oh my," Kyle said in a gentle drawl as his cheeks burned bright red. "I don't think I've ever heard a discussion like this at the supper table." "Sorry, son," Stacy said with the barest of smiles. Her relationship with Kyle was still strained after their inauspicious first meeting. "We're all just a bunch of heathens at time." "God helps me but Ah've been learning that," Kyle said dropping into a heavier Texas drawl. "Ah don't know what's worse, hearing all this evil talk or getting hard at the dinner table from listening to it." "Oh dear." Elizabeth murmured as the wine Stacy had been sipping spurted out her noise from her astonishment. Everyone stared at Kyle in shock, and he put another piece of meat into his mouth with a satisfied smirk on his face as Elizabeth helped a choking Stacy recover. "You naughty boy!" Stacy chastised him, but now she was grinning at him affectionately instead of with the previous caution. "That was quite rude of you, waiting until I was drinking my wine before using that line." "Mah timing hasn't fallen off yet, at least." Kyle's voice was smug as he grinned at her, and everyone laughed. "I think we better keep an eye on that boy from now on," Elizabeth said with a wide smile on her face. "Hanging around Worthington so much has corrupted him." "Worthington?" Kyle asked and then shook his head. "Naw, it's been hanging around Jamie that's corrupted me." "That's your son," Stacy said with a smirk of satisfaction. "My boy's the decent one, remember." "You mean Richie?" Kyle asked as Stacy lifted her wine glass to her mouth. She nodded before taking a sip. "Worthington, ain't he the one who gave me the list of slutty girls at school I could lose my virginity with?" "Not again." Elizabeth moaned as wine flew across the table from Stacy, and everyone laughed again. Worthington knew Richie had done no such thing, but it was still amusing to see his mother's reaction. Stacy was now glaring at Kyle, who looked particularly smug. He'd learn soon enough that Stacy was more than capable of achieving revenge, and Worthington was looking forward to whatever punishment she would cook up for tonight's little gags. Waiting until after dinner to meet with Gerald Norman had been the right decision to make, because Worthington was still in a good mood, with a smile on his face as he finished changing and walked downstairs to the second-floor office that had been set aside for him. He rarely used this office, in fact, he only used it for meetings like this one, but it was still kept at the ready for him. There was the typical large oak desk, computer, phone and other equipment to make it look like he actually used it as an office. Also, there was a couch and a few armchairs as well as a small bar area. Deciding to take the time to change into a formal three-piece pin-striped suit with a blue tie was the right decision to make. Gerald Norman was dressed similarly and had a surprised look on his face as he looked at Worthington. Norman's suit was of a less expensive cut, but his dark, graying hair was perfectly groomed, and his eyes had a look of wariness to them. "Mr. Norman, thank you for taking the time to drop by and talk," Worthington said, taking the initiative as he crossed the office and shook the man's hand. There was a slight tingle as their shields met, and sparked, and he returned the man's firm grip without showing any emotion on his face. "We meet again, Mr. Sinclair." Gerald Norman said in a cold voice as he released Worthington's hand, unable to gain an advantage there. "We do indeed." Worthington smiled. "Would you like to have a seat? May I get you something to drink?" "No thank you on the drink." Gerald Norman said with a frown as he moved to one of the plush leather armchairs near the couch. Worthington was doing his best to make this as ‘welcoming' as he could, and sat in the armchair to the left of the man, moving the chair, so it faced his at an angle. "Congratulations on your recent promotion," Worthington said as he faced the man with a smile. "I look forward to our working together for many years." "Do you?" Gerald Normal asked. "Mr. Sinclair, after our last encounter, I admit that I find such a statement hard to believe. You have contracted to teach our psionics about fighting demons, and other abilities, but you limit your lessons to a few hours each week, most of those on the weekend." "My firm, Sinclair Protection, has contracted with the government for training of up to twenty mages at a time, with a similar number of mundane soldiers," Worthington replied in a calm voice. "We have specified in our contract to provide twenty hours per week of training for those mages, both individually and as a group and space to practice their magic for at least another twenty hours per week. There was no mention of specific trainers being involved, only that training would happen. As it stands now, the government has not consistently sent twenty mages here for training, and the number of soldiers has fluctuated between ten and forty. As it is, all mages who have been here having averaged at least twenty-six hours of direct training per week, including an average of fourteen hours per week in direct training with myself. That is beyond the minimum levels of our contract, and we are not being paid for the extra work we do with your mages." "Psionics, Sinclair." Gerald Norman's voice was stern, and he frowned as he spoke. "Tomato, tomaato." Worthington shrugged, stretching out the ‘a' sound on the second word. " "Your trainers have refused to show our psionics some of the more powerful spells that they know." Gerald Norman complained next. "There are spells unique to the Dark and the Light paths that are not normally taught to people who do not follow those paths." Worthington shrugged. "You have used Light spells and never been Light, correct?" The man retorted. "You are well informed, Mr. Norman," Worthington said. "I walk the Gray path, which is made up of both Light and Dark magic. As a result, I can work both, although I have never been formally taught Light magic." "Convenient." Norman sneered. "It seems you have a smooth answer for every criticism of your attempts to not fully fulfill your contractual obligations." "It would seem you have either not reviewed the terms of the contract, or have chosen to try and renegotiate it even though it is signed and binding." Worthington countered calmly. "I did not sign the contract." Norman retorted. "Yet it is still binding as it was approved by your direct superior, Ms. Huntington," Worthington said without hesitation. "If you wish to renegotiate the contract, you may contact my staff, and we will discuss the matter. However, you may be assured that we will continue to not only meet the minimum terms of the contract but do all in our power to assist in the fight against demons. My personal involvement in the last engagement was not contractually required, but I went anyway. I am as dedicated as any of you to ending the threat posed by demons." "But you still waste time going to school?" Gerald Norman snorted. "Mr. Norman, hopefully, you will forgive me for remembering this since I took it from your mind during our last encounter, but you yourself are dedicated to the notion that mages must obey the laws of this country, that we cannot use our powers to enable us to ignore our country's laws." Worthington countered the man's attitude with a calmness that wasn't entirely contrived. "It is the law of this country that I must finish my basic high school education, and I am complying with that law. Would you have me use my magic as an excuse to ignore the law, to live above it?" "Cute, use my own beliefs against me." Norman snorted. "Mr. Norman, I am not attempting to do that, but the fact of the matter is that your beliefs in this matter agree with my actions," Worthington said with a slight shrug. "I am merely pointing them out. Now that the wrestling season has ended, I will be available more hours during the week, and on the weekends. Further, next semester I will not be needing to take the afternoon Sports P.E. and will be out of school earlier in the day, freeing up more time. Now, some of that must be used for homework. I have an English essay that I have been working on for two days now that I have not been able to complete yet. It is due tomorrow morning, and I'll be staying up late to finish it before heading down the hill to school in the morning." "Fine, but I expect the number of hours you personally use in instructions to increase." Gerald Norman said sharply. "I also want to discuss living accommodations for my people. I am not happy with them staying here, under your thumb." "Where would you have them stay?" Worthington asked. "The nearest town is thirty minutes away." "No, there's a town right outside this damn castle." Norman countered, and Worthington smiled. "Ah, then you will wish to speak with Governor Lokar," Worthington said. "I believe that there are still homes not yet sold that you can buy, or possibly lease, but those arrangements will have to be discussed with him directly." "Don't you own all this land?" The man asked. "Own it?" Worthington shrugged. "I own it, but I have signed contracts with the dwarves granting them permanent rights to the land, so the houses and other buildings on the land are theirs to sell or lease. From those proceeds, I receive a small income, but the management of the land is theirs." "How convenient for you." Norman sneered. "Mr. Norman, we got off to a bad start on both of our parts." Worthington sighed. "I do not expect you and I to become bosom buddies. Frankly, I might have preferred almost anyone in your position other than you. The fact is though that you do hold your position, and are legitimately in charge of your mages. I have to deal with you, and it is in my best interests to put away as much of the animosity I feel towards you as I possible can, and to do my best to deal with you fairly." "How kind of you." Norman's sneer was worse now, and Worthington wondered if this was hopeless after all. "You may find this hard to believe, but I do admire you," Worthington said. "The government program and its mages have managed a good control over your magical abilities and done something many mages would have thought impossible. You have operated in a dangerous world for years without the history, traditions, and training of centuries of magic that I and other mages possess. What is more, you are dedicated to principles of fairness and equality, both of which are admiral goals. For me, that is enough to put aside past differences and seek to work together with you." "That may be enough for you, but it is not for me." Norman frowned as he stood up and looked down at Worthington. "I would prefer it if we had nothing to do with you and your kind unless you were behind a cell door. However, the leadership has decided otherwise, and for now, at least I must comply with their decisions. I will be watching you though. I know you're not really onboard with us, and when you slip up, I will be there waiting." "Thank you for your honesty and candor," Worthington said as he also stood up and the two men stared at each other before Norman turned on his heels and marched out of the room. For his part, Worthington sighed and mentally added one more problem to the list of those to deal with.
  14. Unfortunately, we put too much power in labels -- a general human failing, that causes way too many problems. 🤔
  15. The enemy draws nigh and I shall slay them all down to the last grub!

    red-wasp.jpg

  16. JCtoGO2

    Chapter 11

    A wonderful well written chapter. I look forward to the future and what will happen with Will and Oskar
  17. Thanks, Mac. It's good advice, and I'll take it to heart. I know I'll write both stories because both inspire me in different ways. Silverwolf - I get to play with these sexual dynamics that I don't necessarily feel confident with in other scenarios. There are no labels, just the acts themselves. The reader can decide who and what they are, and I don't have to. Bluegrass Symphony - I love that story. It feels so good to write, hear the dialogue in my mind, and recall all the things about my home that I love. That's an interesting take - that readers are so invested in my work they try and steer my efforts. That's... weirdly flattering. Thanks for that perspective. Onward. I've got a werewolf to write.
  18. keyisfake

    Chapter 32

    🤗 Thank you for the kind words. Working on the next one just need a little break.
  19. MacGreg

    Howl at the Moon

    It's unfortunate that you have to be subjected to ridicule from readers who obviously admire you as a writer and love your work but are too selfish to appreciate your right to express creativity in the way you choose. Keep doing what inspires you and f*ck those who can't be decent towards you. Perhaps one positive take-away from this experience is that you've developed a faithful readership, and some of those readers feel so passionate about your stories that they can't help but voice their disdain when something doesn't go their way. As the adage goes: you can't please everybody all of the time.
  20. Yesterday
  21. Onim

    Chapter 32

    AWESOME!!!!! Thank you for this one!!
  22. Carlos Hazday

    GMA XVIII

    @Bft I hope some vets have the type of support I've surrounded Brad with. I doubt there's many if any at all. People like CJ are more common. Problem solvers who rush in to fill the gaps left by others. Heroes Have on a macro scale and his interventions on behalf of Brad on a micro one proves the kid's willing to act to back up his words. Individuals like him should be admired and whenever possible elevated to positions of power in business and government.
  23. Dabeagle

    Chapter 1

    I believe that's a question that gets asked, at least rhetorically.
  24. Carlos Hazday

    GMA XVII

    @Nahrung Let me know what you think of the call CJ made after you read the next chapter. I know I can't even come close to what goes through the minds of returning veterans who've lived through what I put Brad through. Many crack, and I wish there was something we could do. Those who surmount their challenges should be cherished as much as those who don't.
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