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  1. 59 points
    The Captain’s quarters also became his war room. I had nowhere to retreat to be alone, and the stress of it was wearing on me. I went from being alone and desperately wishing for the touch, sound, and scent of other beings to freedom that was bearable only because of my small quarters, to the bliss of sharing a room with Captain for a short time. Now, as I tried to find some small way to handle the crowd by curling into the corner of the room so two walls surrounded me and my back was safely covered, Captain, Deke, Aparoe—who still clutched a cloth to their eyes at times but had a fierce expression on their face—and the others of his bridge crew met in our room to discuss all the revelations. “I’m sorry, Kohen,” Captain said. “We’d have more room, but I had my office outfitted as a brig.” “They’re alive?” Aparoe’s mouth dropped open. “After they betrayed us all like that?” “No.” Deke shook his head. “My teams and I took out the cells and agents on the ship before the shuttles were released down to Mackinack. My cousin”—his nose wrinkled in disgust, and I thought he would spit on the floor—“is our current guest. He knows far more than those underlings, and he’s a far better bargaining chip, should we need him.” “Did SaARALA get a message off?” Captain asked. “Warn anyone of our meeting rendezvous with Freska?” A small alien with purple stripes and several eye stalks burbled, waving stubby hands. “No, the comms have not fired off any interstellar transmissions.” Captain narrowed his eyes. “What about in-system messages?” I drew in a breath. What if they knew we were coming? If they were already there, nets with EM fields just waiting to burn out our engines and trap us before we could jump to the meeting coordinates. “Nothing we could see.” Relief swamped me, and I sagged. The wall caught and held me, and I leaned my head back. A small caress behind my ear startled me. I jerked his head up, glancing around wildly. Nothing. No one had touched me; they were all still seated and discussing the raid. It was the synthgar. Captain had transferred it to me once we’d reached our new quarters. The tiny creature had a firm grip but was so light I barely felt him once he’d locked into place behind my ear. It was like wearing a locator, but this one occasionally moved. And it was warm, like a smooth, flexible ring that warmed me mentally as well as physically. I lost the thread of the conversation as I focused on that tiny ember of heat. Was it what was between me and Captain? The link between us brought me a sense of comfort and security. I’d never remembered feeling before meeting him. He brought me warmth I basked in “Kohen?” Captain stood over me. Our tiny quarters were empty for the first time since we’d gotten on the shuttle. “I’m sorry. What did I miss?” Did I need to go to work somewhere? Do something? “A bunch of planning for torturing more information out Elliard. Bastard’s holding out. I’m going to take down this conspiracy that’s furthering the Brox Consortium’s goals to subjugate species by any means possible in order to grab power. Central Command is made up by representatives from each planet, but they all retain autonomous control within galactic regulations. Brox would replace all that with a single rule, a single voice that drowns out all others. And that voice is corrupt. I plan to silence it for good for once.” Captain crouched. “But even taking down a vast conspiracy can’t be all work.” Captain crouched. “Enjoying our new friend?” “He’s so warm.” The synthgar had moved from my ear to my neck, and I sat with one hand cupped over him. “I thought you’d like that.” Captain smiled. “Warmth. Heat.” “It’s what I felt when we first met. The heat from your arm. It hurt to touch you, but you were so warm, so soft.” Captain frowned. “I hate hurting you, but pain… it’s part of bonding. Both for this,” he cupped my hand hovering over the synthgar, “and being bonded. It’s a risk, because if we separate too long we could be harmed.” “So you can’t get rid of me? Drop me off with those other rescued beings somewhere safe?” “I stopped trying that a while back. You won’t be left behind.” Captain’s fingers caressed mine. “I don’t think I could handle it anyway. Not being close to you is torture.” His voice dropped to a husky whisper. “We have a few hours before we’re needed. Are you ready?” Was I? I locked gazes with Captain, seeing all he felt and how it matched his words in his open eyes. “Yes,” I whispered, my breath instantly gone as my skin tightened. A miniscule quiver took up residence in my spine, turning it to jelly. “I need help up.” Pulling me to my feet, Captain made a face at the small bunk. “Not the bed I’ve chosen to bond in.” “We’ll be close. Close is good.” I wasted no time stripping. “Naked and close is better.” My shaft was firm and throbbing, pearls of fluid beading at the tip. Captain licked his lips, and I groaned. “Naked. You. Now.” His uniform went flying, and Captain yanked down the covers on the bunk. He slid onto the mattress leaving barely enough room for me. Good thing all I wanted to do was blanket his body. Somehow, somewhere, he found slick and brought it to my entrance. I gasped, arched, and whined. He breeched me, and I was so focused on that I never felt the warmth at my throat turn into a burning strike. Not until the synthgar climbed onto Captain’s neck and pierced his neck with that wickedly sharp tail, pumping in his unique poison.
  2. 57 points
    “Oh.” I let out my breath on a long exhale. That I could see. Every single particle of my being was energy and, as I moved, the energy ebbed and flowed all around me to mix with Captain’s energy. He was cool blue and green, pale gold and a thin ribbon of shiny black that blended with the purple, orange, and shining white of my aura. That shiny black linked us, and I realized it was the synthgar’s venom as it throbbed with our matched heartbeats. Captain shuddered in my arms and his body thrust into mine. The combined sensory input of the feeling of his hard shaft inside me so warm and firm, and his arms wrapped around me, his breath bathing my face so that all I could scent was him, and the sight of our very selves mingled on an intimate level down to our very souls… I lost control. “Kohen.” He stilled, touching my face. “You’re mine.” My throat burned, and I couldn’t answer when I opened my mouth. I flipped us, kneeling with my legs spread on either side of him, taking over the rhythm and claiming him with my body instead. Captain’s hands blazed on my hips and ass, spreading my cheeks, pulling me up and down on top of him while he stared intently at me. I lost all sense, and his words as he babbled were no better than gibberish, yet I knew he needed me to move faster, harder. I needed it too. “Everett….” I put my hands on the wall behind the head of the bed and used the leverage to push down harder and faster. Sweat dripped down my face, and my chest burned as I gasped for air. But I couldn’t stop. We were so close. “Need you.” “Uh-huh.” He took ahold of my shaft, skimming his palm up and down with my movement, then planted his feet on the bunk and pushed up as I came down, slamming our bodies together. The collision was like a supernova. The resulting explosion obliterated all my senses. The sight of our auras blending, the scent of his body and my come, the sound of his shouts twinned with mine… it was all a backdrop to the absolute pleasure wringing every drop from my balls as my body turned itself inside out. When I came to, I was slumped on Captain’s chest, our breaths still synced as we struggled to do more than pant frantically. My vision slowly cleared as I blinked, but that sense of connection to Captain was even stronger. I lifted my head. “My…” I coughed, my throat hoarse. “Uh. I can’t talk. God. Will it always be like that?” I asked. “No, I don’t think so.” He trailed his fingers up my sweaty back. “But we could try.” He grinned when I rolled my eyes. “For science.” “Right. Science.” The synthgar was curled back around his ear. I hadn’t felt the sting, but I’d felt the way the venom had expanded my perceptions. The surge of adrenaline and release of chemicals as I came had done things I’d never felt before, and I’d taken drugs and had a lot of drugs used on me. “We should clean up just in case.” I groaned as I pulled away. We were a sticky, salty, sweaty, mess. My legs quivered as I backed off the bunk. “Wow.” I was more tired than I thought. “Sonic cleaner is over there.” Cptain pushed a button and a port came out from the wall exposing the head. “Only one at a time.” I hurried through the wash, detesting the way the waves cleaned my body; I never actually felt clean. Captain was sitting up on the bunk watching me as I bent, swayed, and straightened. “Your turn.” We traded places, and he brushed my body. “What about the synthgar?” I asked. “He’ll be fine.” Captain reached up and tenderly stroked the tiny creature. “He’s now linked to us, and anything we can handle, he can too. Captain was finished with his sonic rinse and heading back to our bunk when mandatory quarters alarms and warnings sounded through the vid system and audio. “Copy, Captain?” The vid screen alarm cut out in our quarters. “Go ahead.” Captain shoved his legs into his uniform. “We’re encountering a debris field where there should nothing. We’re not sure… what if it’s Freska’s ship?” “Unlikely,” said Captain. “This is just another safety protocol.” He reached up and tapped on the handheld vid I clutched. “There. Use this.” It was the second part of the message we’d received. It appeared to be a nonsense section, like the words had been scrambled or missing, but when they were overlaid on the map, the curves and dots of the letters overlaid the debris and the straight lines indicated safe paths. “Wow. She’s amazing.” I couldn’t believe she found a way to lay a debris field so elaborately some would think it was a natural phenomenon. A planet lay beyond the field. “Is that where we’re meeting her?” I asked. “That’s it.” “Why don’t we go around?” I asked. “Why risk going inside the debris field?” “Time is a luxury we don’t have. And there’s other dangers that make this the safest path, as long as you have the key.” Captain keyed the map file to the navigators. Captain finished fastening his uniform. He took a deep breath. “Time to put Elliard and Frijul together and see what shakes out of the bastards when the other is used against them.” “You’re going to let Deke do that, right?” I still didn’t want him questioning his own cousin. “We’ll see. I also need to find out what caused Freska’s delay. I don’t like whatever sent her to our secondary meeting location. Frujil couldn’t have found out she was coming, so someone else was on her trail.”
  3. 55 points
    It’s true what they say—you should be careful what you wish for. I should’ve been more specific when I complained life was too boring and I’d do anything for a little excitement or drama. Other people’s drama, not mine! Damn. I’d only wanted to sit back and point my finger at all of the sorry bitches who needed to throw shit around on Jerry Springer. You know, someone and their brother who were both supposed to be the biological fathers of the same twins, or some shit like that. It wasn’t supposed to be my drama. I was only supposed to watch and sip a cock(tail) at the expense of others. Instead, my hypothetical phone was blowing up while the producers of every smut daytime talk show host was trying to book me for their latest exclusive. I had all of the drama and intrigue—a washed up, gay college baseball star that dated a sexy beast who was part homophobe asshole. Insert drama at the bar, a colorful break up, water thrown onto face, an epic storm out, ugly crying, a drunken night when he showed up at my house, a threesome with twins, his showing up at work with my boss, his dancing to kid’s music and making my heart flutter, my patients saying embarrassing things to him, his begging to talk, and then stolen glances and lingering eye contact at practice the next day. I took my phone out and scrolled through my video album until I found the video I’d taken of him dancing. Damn if he didn’t look adorable trying to dance to a song he’d probably never heard before. I laughed to myself as I once again watched him get every-single-move wrong, even after little Greg and tiny Beth tried to show him the simple steps. I’d made the dance for small kids with cancer so it wasn’t exactly complex, but you would’ve never known it by watching Shane. The video was mostly of his back, but there were a few times the camera caught a glimpse of his profile and the genuine happiness on his face was as clear as a bell. If being adorable with my favorite little ones wasn’t enough, there was the fact he’d dressed in something other than Walmart athletic apparel. Not regular clothes, either but business clothes. He’d worn the jeans that’d caused me to drop to my knees and blow him before he’d had a chance to buy them, and a green blazer that complimented his chestnut hair and tanned skin. With frustration, I tossed my phone across the bed and reminded myself that Shane was the fucking devil and I didn’t dance with the devil, no matter how good he looks in business professional attire or how precious it was when he was interacting with my kids. He was still the devil. I sighed, reached across my bed, and grabbed the phone I’d just thrown. I had a habit of dramatically tossing it when I became frustrated, but in reality, there was no way I was going to be separated from it. I’d glanced at the time and noted Allé was due to arrive any minute. I needed brunch with Allé like I needed air to breath or my phone in my hand. It’d been five days since the breakup and so much had happened since. I desperately needed to decompress or I was going to breakout from all of the stress. Plus, he owed me food after leaving me with Nick and Nelly. The fucking shyster. After I heard a car pull up, I grabbed my phone and a light jacket before going downstairs. The downfall to brunch was waiting all morning to eat. I was starved and I couldn’t wait another minute to stuff my face. I heard, and felt, my phone go off just as the doorbell rang. Allé. Curious to see what couldn’t have waited ten more seconds, I opened the door for Allé with one hand while I tried, and failed, to gracefully swipe my phone to reveal the text he’d sent me. “What’s so urgent you had to text me two seconds before—” my brows furrowed as I read the text. [Allé] See you tonight at practice and don’t be a bitch about this. “Don’t be a bitch? Are you drunk?” Confused by his words, I looked to Allé for answers. Was he drunk, high, or just plain crazy? It wasn’t only my words that faltered, my whole body did—when I was met with a set of very familiar brown eyes nervously staring at me. My chest, my breathing, my heart rate—hell, I thought the blood flowing through my veins had stuttered as I stood there, gawking in silence, until I finally collected myself enough to speak. “What are you doing here?” “Brunch?” He smiled awkwardly. I shook my head. “No. I’m going with Allé.” Shane's eyes narrowed, apologetically, as if reminding me that I’d forgotten something important. My brow was arched with amusement as I realized I’d been set up, again. “You watch a lot of crime shows, yeah? Do you think you could successfully cover up a murder and dump the body? Or maybe you’d take the fall for me since, you know, you owe me.” There might’ve been a legitimate way to kill Allé without serving jail time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind being someone's bitch, but I preferred it to be on a consensual basis and I didn’t think that would’ve happened while wearing an orange jumpsuit, which made me think of the last time I wore the infamous jumpsuit/romper... I was pulled out my mental “rabbit hole” by the deep rumble of Shane’s soft laugh. “Would you settle for something less intense? Like letting me dump your kitchen trash instead of a body?” His smile was annoyingly warm and charming—I hated it. “That’s not exactly what I’m looking for.” I half-teased. After I realized we’d started to tease one another, and not wanting to cave-in, I straightened my posture and regained a more serious tone. “What are you doing here?” “I’m here to have brunch with you and to talk.” I was starving and I had zero desire to wait at a restaurant plus, I knew he had a strong aversion to fast food so I figured it’d be the quickest way to shake him. “Fine. We’re planning to go to McDonald’s, though.” His shoulders sunk, slightly, with disappointment as he lifted a pastry box from a matching paper bag. “Oh. I guess I’ll have to eat all three dozen of these mini quiches from The Endless Brunch.” It wasn’t your generic pink box, instead, it was beautifully littered with flowers of every color. It was a perfect fit to the chaos of color and elegance that graced the most memorable meal I’d ever had. The mention of those perfectly delicious mini quiches had my stomach yearning for a taste and, as much as it pained me to admit it, there was no way McDonald’s gut bomb sandwiches would, or could, compare or satisfy me since I had the real deal in front of me. After he opened the box, a wave of savory goodness breached my senses and rendered me completely at his mercy. As I opened the door a little wider, to let the little quiches into my home while never taking my eyes off of them, I sighed. “Well, since you already have them…” Shane walked passed me, making sure I caught a good whiff of his evil bribery before placing the box on the table, walking to the kitchen and opening my cupboards. I immediately grabbed one and took a bite. It was like a drug—the moment it’d hit my mouth, every problem disappeared and my body went limp as every muscle relaxed. I was torn between either slowly savoring every bite and edging myself toward a paradise of bliss, or stuffing my face and giving myself the instant gratification I’d desired. Food porn. I chuckled at the connection and popped a second one into my mouth as I’d decided on a happy medium—somewhere between slow erotic food porn and the back-of-the-club anonymous take-all-you-can-get-and-run food porn. Shane smiled as he teasingly waved a small salad plate in the air. “I guess you won’t be needing this.” He placed one plate in front of him and the other off to the side—I had no need for mine since the mini bites of goodness weren’t going anywhere except into my mouth. As I held the box of quiche-filled treasure tightly to my chest, I saw Shane’s lip curl into a stupid, sexy smirk. “So, can I have one?” His brow cocked as he watched me eat my fourth…or was it my fifth, quiche. “I’m sorry, where are my manners?” I mumbled with a mouth full of food. I grabbed one, lonely quiche and tossed it his way. He caught it, effortlessly, which wasn’t surprising since he was only sitting a few feet away and was a relatively decent catcher, although I wouldn’t ever tell him that. He held the quiche at eye level and looked at me like I was crazy. I decided to ignore the cute and playful way he’d tried to interact and get to the point. “You said you wanted to talk. You can’t talk with a mouthful of these, so you get one.” I smiled and tossed another bite into my mouth, which only made him keep smiling. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to completely ignore him. I didn’t hate making him smile, I didn’t hate having him in my house, I didn’t hate eating with him, and I didn’t hate looking at him. I did, however, hate the fact things seemed so easy between us—as they’d been before everything went south. I’d wanted him to give me a good explanation, one that’d wash away everything that’d happened, yet, at the same time, I was nervous to hear what he had to say. Time seemed to crawl and the air thickened as I waited for him to say something…anything. He reached into the box and pulled out a handful of quiches before setting them on his plate. “I’ve been thinking about this moment, non-stop, for days and now that I’m here, I don’t know what to say.” I started counting with my fingers. “You could start with why you freaked out and left my house, why you stopped talking to me, why you brought a date to the bar, and why you talked shit about me. Or better yet, why you dated me if you found me so repulsive, which brings me to the real question I’ve asked twice already—why are you here? You made it clear, to everyone, the real reason we were together, so I don’t know what you feel there is to talk about?” I was surprised to find my tone wasn’t rude or hostile—I guess genuine curiosity is a powerful suppressant. Shane’s eyes shot up with surprise and any nervousness, he might’ve had, vanished with my questions and his brown eyes were almost frantic. “A date? What are you talking about? Aside from you, I haven’t been on a date in years and, even then, I’d hardly call what I did, dating.” “Friday night, remember? You came in, after the game, laughing and flirting with the brunette twink.” “You mean, you?” he asked, seriously. I couldn’t believe his response. Me? Hell, no! “Are you serious?” I hated being referred to as a twink when directly related to the slob he’d brought to the bar. We were not the same person. “We barely talked and what was said between us would never be classified as laughing or flirting! Maybe murderous, or even uncomfortable tension for those around us, but not laughing or flirting. No, I’m talking about—what’s his name, David?” I knew his name was Davis, but for the sake of pride I’d never admit that. “Davis? Pardon my language but, fuck no! I can barely stand to be around the guy let alone flirt with him or laugh at anything he says.” “Then why did you bring him?” “Because I didn’t have much of a choice. He works for the hospital and I had to meet with him before we met up to deal with the big contract. He basically invited himself and made it impossible to say no and believe me, I tried…hard! “As for everything else that happened that night, I’m sorry and I doubt there’s any conversation we could have today that would suffice, but the short version is—I have no balls. It’s the same reason I didn’t stand up to my dad during the reunion. “I always feel as though I’m trying to prove myself and I was still trying to impress Davis for the job, which is no longer an issue. A little too late, I know. “I already explained the communication error, but if you need to hear it again, then I’ll say it as many times as I need to in order for you to understand. Nothing I said had anything to do with you. It was a long running commentary about my dad and the stupid things he says. There’s lots of them, by the way. “If you hang around long enough, I’m sure you’ll hear them all. Also, for the record, you do have a tight ass, which I feel strongly about, and under no circumstances do I find you repulsive, not even a little. Lastly, and probably most importantly, you are exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for.” By the time he’d finished his little speech, he sat tall and confidently on his chair and there was no doubt he believed every word he’d said, but I wasn’t sure I had. He appeared authentic, I just wasn’t sure I could trust him, even though I wanted to. Regardless, one thing still bothered me. “Okay, then please explain the morning you ran out with your tail between your legs.” He knew what I was referring to. I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back against my chair while his tall, confident stance regressed and his eyes softened ever so slightly. “Well, it isn’t something I easily talk about, but I should’ve been honest with you right away. Everything happened so fast and, before I knew it, I felt it was too late and I didn’t know how to backtrack, which made everything worse. The more I think about it, the more stupid it all seems. It’s possible that, over the years, I’ve overblown the situation in my head.” Shane glanced down at the quiche he was nervously turning into crumbs before setting it on his plate and wiping the crumbs from his fingers. He put one hand on his lap as he ran the other through his thick, auburn hair before continuing. “It’s so stupid. It was after a big finals party during my freshman year. I’d gotten crazy wasted and, at the end of the night, I went home with a guy. Honestly, the whole night is kind of a blur, but I vaguely remember having sex before passing out. I was still drunk when I woke with excruciating pain. It took a second to get my bearings and that’s when I realized the guy was fucking me, or trying to, I dunno. We fought for a second before I overpowered him and kicked him out. “I know it sounds lame and maybe it really is a terrible excuse, but that’s why I freaked out when I woke up. Granted, what you were doing was a lot more enjoyable than what he did, and didn’t cause me day’s worth of pain and discomfort, but still…” I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. More than that, I couldn’t believe the ease with which he’d told me. I felt like scum for what I’d done. I should’ve known. I’m a nurse. I have training on this stuff. I know the statistics and I just ignored it. I couldn’t stop feeling terrible about it. I leaned forward and buried my face in the palms of my hands. “I’m such an asshole! I can’t believe I did that to you after you were raped.” “What?” I uncovered my eyes to find Shane staring at me as if I’d told him I preferred sex with chicks. “I was not raped!” His voice left no room for argument. Unsure if I was understanding the situation correctly, I slowly asked, “So. It was consensual?” “No, of course not. I was passed out, but I was bigger than him and I stopped it as soon as I realized what was happening.” I slide my hand toward in a gesture of comfort. “Shane. That’s most definitely rape. You were passed out when he forced himself on you and, by the sound of your recovery time, not very gingerly, either.” “It wasn’t rape! It was a bad experience.” His face was set in a hard line that matched the tone of his voice. I didn’t know who he was trying to convince, me or himself, but I wasn’t buying it. Everything he’d told me was textbook rape. Although I worked mainly in Pediatric Oncology, I’d worked many rotations in the emergency room and had dealt with more than a few rape cases and it was common knowledge that men tended to have a harder time admitting. Of course, I understood it. Being raped felt similar to admitting that you’re too weak—that you can’t defend yourself—which is never easy for a man. Then there was the real fear that other guys will make fun of you because of it. ‘Are you saying you didn’t want to have sex?!’ The whole rape double standard was fucked up and Shane was a classic example. The nurse in me wanted to lay the facts on the table and talk some sense into him, but I had nothing in my favor. Our relationship, to whatever degree it was, wasn’t at a healthy enough place for that kind of conversation. As hard as it was, I had to let the topic go—for the time being. “Okay. I’m still sorry for what I did. If I’d known—” “I know. Trust me, it’s not a big deal. I just wanted to explain. Honestly, it was only a momentary overreaction.” The more he tried to downplay what had happened, the more I wanted to take him into my arms and console him. I hated the fact he’d waved the situation off as if it was no big deal because it was a big fucking deal! I wanted to wrap my fingers around his neck and squeeze the stupidity from his pea-sized brain, but instead, I took a deep breath to regain my composure, pulled back my own emotions, and allowed him to deal with things the way he wanted. “Regardless, I’m glad you told me. It clears up a lot for me now that I understand the bigger picture, so thank you,” I smiled, warmly. Shane’s broad shoulders visibly relaxed after my acceptance. I could only imagine the burden he’d been carrying around (for years) and how good it must’ve felt to let it go. His eyes filled with something resembling hope and anticipation as I also noticed him puff up more than usual. It was almost as if he was trying to make himself bigger and assert his manliness, which made sense after his enlightening revelation. If the atmosphere hadn’t been so tense after his rape bomb, I would’ve smiled at his big, manly stature that didn’t match his nervous, hopeful expression. “I don’t want to make assumptions, but does this mean we’re okay?” “Yeah, of course we’re okay.” How could we not be? He’d admitted to being raped and I wasn’t about to tell him to fuck off, not that I’d wanted to anyway. His eyes narrowed for a moment as he took my words in then he spoke, slowly, and his voice was full of hesitancy. “Okay—I guess what I really want to know is, where does this leave us?” “I guess it leaves us where we were, minus the anger and silence. So, friends?” At that, he leaned back with one arm draped over the back of the chair while his other hand softly drummed on the table. “Honestly, I want to be friends with you about as badly as you want me to dump your kitchen trash. To quote you earlier, it’s not what I’m looking for.” “Come on, Shane, what did you expect?” I wasn’t rude, but I wasn’t exactly cotton candy, either. “Evidently, a miracle.” His voice was neutral as he rose from his chair and brushed the crumbs onto his plate. He grabbed the rest of the garbage and dirty dishes from the table before making his way to the kitchen to dispose of the mess. Once setting everything in the sink he walked to the door. “That’s not fair,” I said as I followed him to the door. After he was outside, he turned and faced me. His face was the poster for “too cool for school” and the idea he’d felt the need to pretend as though he was unaffected by anything and everything drove me nuts. “You’re right, it’s not fair and I’m sorry. I know I’m not good enough for you, you make it obvious every time you point out my mistakes, but I’ve never liked anyone the way I like you. I’ve never tried with anyone the way I have with you. It’s not easy being repeatedly rejected. It wasn’t easy coming here and sharing everything with you—to tell you something that not even Aaron knows—just to be shot down. I tried. I took chances with you that I’ve never taken with anyone else, but in the end, it’s not enough and that’s okay. In the end, I know I did everything I could, but I don’t want to be friends. It’s humiliating enough to be shut down, I don’t need a constant reminder.” He fidgeted with his keys then slightly raised them and waved farewell as he stepped backward, toward his truck and smiled, except it was empty. “I guess, I’ll see you around.” I leaned against the door frame as he walked away and felt incredibly guilty that he’d gone through all of that, he hadn’t processed it, and I’d taken advantage of him. He’d come and poured his heart out to me only to be rejected, again. I felt guilty about: having always given him a hard time, I’d probably taken the anger from my past and projected it onto him, and the fact my pride wouldn’t allow me to do anything about it. If that wasn’t enough, I felt pretty shitty about having sex with the twins. We might’ve been broke up, but it was clearly over a misunderstanding. He’d even tried to talk to me about it at the bar and again after the reunion, only to be blown off. To make it worse, if at all possible, my first and probably only three way, would forever be tainted with guilt and regret. *** *** *** *** He wasn’t joking when he’d said he’d see me around—he was everywhere. At the salon getting his haircut (something he knew I didn’t want him to do), the ballpark (obviously), the gym, and the park. I would’ve suspected he was following me, but half of the time, he was there before I arrived. At first, it was awkward, but he was friendly enough and, although he didn’t go out of his way to talk to me, he didn’t completely ignore me, either. Cordial would’ve been the best way to describe our relationship. I couldn’t complain since it was basically what I’d wanted. Regardless, it didn’t stop me from secretly pouting like a whiny bitch or doing stupid things to get his attention like intentionally dressing for him or discreetly flaunting my body at the ballpark when I knew he’d be watching. I was confused. I wanted him, but I wanted him to want me more, and I didn’t want him to give up. I wanted a big, grand gesture, but I also didn’t want to cave-in. Obviously, I was acting like a fourteen-year-old girl would and I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Professor of the Arts. *** *** *** *** It’d been two weeks since brunch and it was the practice before we were to play our third game against Shane’s team. We were in the middle of a heatwave. DAKS’ team was sweaty and exhausted from the scorching temperatures, and they decided to end practice a few minutes early while my team was in no rush to start. As usual, we ended up in a group; talking about nothing and everything. “It’s so fucking hot today,” I groaned. I took my shades off then pealed my shirt over my head before wiping the excess moisture from my face and neck. I could’ve left my shirt on, but it was hot and Shane was there. I tried to mimic every hot babe from every soda seduction commercial Pepsi had ever produced. By the time I looked up from dabbing my neck and chest with my shirt and moaning from the excessive heat, I had almost every pair of eyes glued to me, including Shane’s. Between my faithful visits to the gym and the time I’d spent sun worshiping, I knew I had a body worth ogling. I wasn’t overly buff like a gym rat, but I wasn’t skinny or scrawny, either. All one hundred sixty-five pounds of me was a perfect blend of soft lines that hid hard muscle. I didn’t have a ripped six pack, but my stomach was tight, toned, and completely on display as I rolled the high waist of my baseball pants down until it was sitting on my pubic bone—any lower and I would’ve easily revealed what was at the end of my “happy trail.” There was nothing but silence as I held my water bottle to the side of my face and slowly slid it down my neck and chest. “Aren’t you guys dying?” I asked the group of speechless, gawking men. Drew smacked his lips while his eyes pursued my body. I smirked at his trance-like state, which rendered him totally oblivious to anyone else. Shane must’ve seen me watching Drew because the next thing I knew, he elbowed Drew and knocked him out of his daze. “Yep, dying,” Drew mumbled as he wiped his lips. I glanced at Shane, who was now doing a really great job of trying to avoid me. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment because I’d gotten his attention. I’d been working hard over the last two weeks and I wasn’t entirely convinced I was successful, until then. I tossed my shirt onto the ground next to my baseball gear and lifted my water bottle to my lips. Once I’d quenched my thirst and gotten as much attention as possible, I put the bottle down and broke the silence that had overwhelmed the group since the start of my ballpark striptease. “Are you guys ready to get your asses kicked…again?” My question was for the DAKS who laughed in return. “After you guys lost to Riley’s Restoration?” Aaron scoffed. “Riley’s Restoration! No way! We’ve got this in the bag!” In an effort to defend our honor, Sammy shouted back, “Give me a break! Half of our team was gone and Eddy had a broken arm!” “Whatever. It was Riley’s! They haven’t won a single game…ever! Except against you guys!” Aaron laughed It was true, the only game we’d lost all season, up to that point, was to the last ranking team. It’d made their week and they’d made it their mission to make sure everyone knew they’d won. We didn’t mind, though, because they were great guys and super fun to play against. “Whatever. Don’t let your heads inflate too much, it makes the burst of failure that much worse,” Nelly mocked. “Do you care to make a wager?” Drew asked. Nelly stepped up to Drew, albeit several inches too short. “Name it.” “If we win, we all go to that gay bar, Rafen’s.” We looked at each other with confusion because it didn’t sound like much of a loss. Hell, we’d probably end up there anyway! Before we had a chance to agree, Drew was shaking his head and waving his finger in the air as if telling us no. “Let me finish because you get too excited. We go to Rafen’s, but…we get to dress you however we please!” We looked at each other again, but that time we silently agreed on our half of the wager. Nelly agreed. “Okay, but if we win, we dress you and we all go to your favorite straight bar.” Everybody nodded in agreement as it was obvious everyone was confident their team would win. “Dibs on the twins!” Drew shouted. “Same,” Nick and Nelly shouted the same thing while pointing at Drew, indicating they were going to dress him, which were equal parts of terrifying and intriguing. “No fair!” Aaron whined. “Fine, I get Sammy and Oliver.” Aaron had clearly wanted a two-for-one deal. As they looked at each other, I saw ideas twirling through their minds. Aaron’s “Steve Irwin” costume had been a topic of many conversations so I knew they were going to try to top it. Allé and Kurt smiled at each other and silently paired off because they’d become friends, something to do with the fact they were both the quiet and mature ones of the groups. That left Shane and me, which left me feeling all sorts of nervous, yet excited. Shane, on the other hand, looked completely indifferent and wildly underwhelmed by the pairing. The chatter was full of excitement as threats were thrown back and forth before we finally had to start practice. After saying our goodbyes, but before actually parting ways, I gently pulled on Shane’s arm. He glanced at the spot where my hand was touching his arm and then looked at me with confusion. “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything…too crazy.” I meant it. I wanted him to know he could trust me and I wouldn’t cross any lines by making him overly uncomfortable. I still felt bad about what had happened to him in college and what I’d done to magnify it—under no circumstances did I want to make it worse. “You can do whatever you want,” he smirked. “Yeah?” I was more than a little surprised that he’d be cool with the possibility of me having unrestricted access to his wardrobe before going to his favorite watering hole. He shrugged his shoulders and started taking a few casual steps backward. “Sure, but you’ll have to win first. I’m not too worried, since you lost to Riley’s and all.” “Asshole,” I laughed at his stupid, cocky smile. He pointed at me. “You on the other hand, should be terrified.” Before I had a chance to respond, he’d already turned around and was walking to his car. During the last two weeks, I’d been very intentional about not checking him out because I didn’t want to violate him. But…that butt in those baseball pants… I couldn’t peel my eyes away as I watched his muscular legs carry his gorgeously, thick ass away from me. It wasn’t only the old grey baseball pants that did all of the right things for his body, it was the thread-bare T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, too. I’d never understood why freckles had such a bad rep because Shane’s ginger freckles were sexy as fuck! I loved the fact he wasn’t a gym buff, yet, you knew he was as strong as a safe. I’m not a super small dude, but I loved having his body wrapped around mine as much as I loved wrapping my body around his. I’d needed to stop thinking about Shane and focus on—well, anything else. I shook the thoughts from my head and walked toward practice and away from my affinity of a certain auburn hunk who’d been dominating my thoughts for way too long. I’d made my choice and as hard as it was, I knew it was for the best. *** *** *** *** “We need to pull it together. All I’m seeing is error after stupid error. It’s not complex stuff we’re missing people! Earl, you missed a fucking baby grounder that turned their hit into a triple. Sammy, you threw the ball to third when there wasn’t even anybody running to it! This is our last inning and if they make even one run…it’s over!” My words were hollow. I was ready to hightail it off of the field and straight to my car so I could blast the ice cold AC. It was the hottest day in recent history, well above triple digits—and there wasn’t a breeze to be found. Everyone in the huddle had red faces, those who dared to wear shirts were soaking wet from sweat, and eyes were full of defeat. It was obvious that a long work week, paired with the excessive heat, was killing our desire to win. “Seriously, I couldn’t give two fucks if we lose this game. I only want to sit in front of my crappy AC unit, with an ice cold beer, before I die of heat stroke. I don’t work outside, as most of these guys do, so I can’t hack it,” Randy mumbled. The rest of the group nodded and whined with agreement. I couldn’t blame them because I felt the same way. For a moment, I thought about the DAKS and the bet we’d made. They’d gloat, which would be understandable, then Shane would probably make me wear something super slutty to the bar. Honestly, I would’ve probably worn something super slutty anyway simply because I wanted to. Shane lacked imagination and experience in the gay-club culture, even the stretch of his wildest imagination would’ve been conservative compared to what other guys wear to the clubs. I breathed a breath of relief because I knew I was relatively safe from any lifelong embarrassment. “Well, if we’re all agree, then let’s go out there and lose to these landscaping bastards whose energy feeds off of the sun’s harmful rays.” I reached forward and, eager to finish this game, everyone followed suit. “Fuck this shit on three. One, two, three.” “Fuck this shit!” We grabbed our mitts and ran to the field so we could play the last inning of the scorch trials. We lost. I’d pitched the last inning because no one wanted to do anything, and I didn’t try very hard, either. They made several runs, we called it a game. They looked as exhausted as we were. It wasn’t until we’d lost that the team started to hustle—to the dugout so they could gather their things and go home. As Aaron walked toward me with his equipment bag thrown over his shoulder, he cried. “Leave it to you to find a way to lose and make it so we can’t enjoy it! I demand a rematch!” The rest of his posse weren’t far behind him but they didn’t appear to be as willing to move quite as fast in the blistering heat. “What are you moaning about? You won, we lost, end of story.” “You guys weren’t even trying. It was like you were pitching for T-Ball. No one moved unless the ball was coming directly to them. We didn’t win, you guys lost the will to play.” Aaron dropped his bag in front of me and a few moments later Drew, Kurt joined him. Shane hung back, which was slightly irritating. “Regardless, you guys get to dress us up like sluts and take us dancing so quit your bitching.” I playfully pushed his shoulder and was rewarded with a dazzling smile from, not only Aaron, but pretty-boy Drew, too. Shane appeared to be amused, but mostly, he stood there looking bored. Drew rubbed his hands together, like Dennis the Menace would, as his smile widened and his eyes danced with endless possibility. “I spent a few hours on Google and found some very good ideas for the twins. It’s going to be epic!” “I’d love to have a look see at your search history. Ten bucks says you weren’t only looking for gay club attire,” I teased. Aaron and Kurt roared with laughter as they cupped their mouths and watched their best friend blush ever so slightly at being called out. “Whatever. We’ll see who has the last laugh when Shane gets through with you,” he smirked as if he knew something no one else did, but I shrugged because I knew it was a bluff. “I’m not worried. There’s nothing Shane can dress me in that I haven’t worn clubbing before. If anything, the guys at the club will be shocked at how conservative I look. They’ll probably think I’ve gone straight or something.” I looked at Shane in hopes I could give him a teasing look or a cocky smirk and prompt some sort of repartee from him, but I was sadly disappointed. He acknowledged that he’d heard me by shrugging his shoulders, but he still hadn’t looked at me. As it turned out, everything around him was far more interesting than me. I wasn’t stupid. I’d turned him down and, because of that, I couldn’t possibly have expected him to keep trying. After all, I’d made myself crystal clear.
  4. 53 points
    “HEY, BOSS!” Rex Marlowe glanced over his shoulder toward the sound of his friend’s voice. Shouting over the auto-tuned vocals of the latest pop starlet’s techno-grunge remix, Eli repeated his call and motioned him over with a wave. He looked around the bar, wondering why Eli was calling him. There wasn’t a line at the door, so there wouldn’t be any reason for his bouncer to need him. It was Saturday night, and the Buckle was busy as hell. He didn’t have time to be fooling around. Rex set the tray of empty glasses on the end of the bar. He made sure the bartender saw him, then pushed his way through the over-crowded floor and headed to the front door. “What’s up?” He subconsciously tugged at the front of his shirt. “What are you doing, man?” Rex had no idea what Eli was going on about. He was doing what he normally did when he was at the bar—making sure everything was running smoothly. “What the hell are you talking about?” “You spend all day at your restaurant, then you spend all night at the Buckle, busting your ass. Don’t you ever relax, take some time off?” “I can’t take time off. I got work to do.” “Yeah, and your work is full of hot guys. Get some!” Eli motioned his arm across the packed bar. “I’m trying to run a business.” “Okay, look. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but your head is clearly up your ass. You see that group of guys over there?” Rex followed the motion of Eli’s head. Four young men stood around one of the high-top tables, drinking, heads bouncing to the beat of the sound system’s booming bass. By their body language, two of the men were clearly together. The couple, and one of the others, were the typical type that frequented the Buckle, and Rex thought he recognized them. Dressed in dirty jeans, and tank tops that showed off muscles and body ink, they fit right in tonight. The Buckle tended to cater to the rougher denim-and-leather crowd. They came in to drink, dance, and meet men. And more than a few of them took advantage of the dark back room for a quick, anonymous hook-up. The other man at the table stuck out like a sore thumb. Standing stiff and uncomfortable, he shifted from foot to foot as he sipped at what was likely a rum and Coke. Rex looked the skinny boy up and down. Make that a Diet Coke. He was dressed in jeans, but he wore a pink polo-style shirt. With glasses and short brown hair, he looked like he’d be much more comfortable sitting behind a computer desk than at a grungy bar table. The boy glanced over Rex’s way, and when he saw that Rex and Eli were watching, he gave a bashful smile. Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a finger, he quickly looked away. Rex reluctantly turned back to Eli. “What about ‘em?” “Really?” Eli’s brows shot up. He looked at Rex like he was stupid. “The little nerdy one can’t keep his eyes off you.” “What? No.” Rex looked back at the ‘little nerdy one’. Once more, he looked Rex’s way, then quickly turned when he saw he was being watched. He was pretty damn cute. Rex wouldn’t pigeon-hole him into the ‘twink’ category because he was probably too old… late twenties, maybe. That would still make him several years younger than Rex’s thirty-five years. “He’s been watching me?” “You seriously need to step up your game.” “Well, we don’t all look like you.” Eli was a bona fide muscle bear. With bulging pecs and arm muscles, the tight-as-hell, obnoxious Sorry Ladies, I Like Dick T-shirt he wore was about to bust at the seams. He’d been dating a new guy for several months. Things were pretty hot and heavy between him and the librarian. They’d even moved in together. Hell, with more and more states legalizing marriage equality, Eli had been talking about rings. Yeah, his friend had it bad. Rex tried not to be jealous. Rex was a big man. Back in his college football days, he had a nice muscular body. But the years—too many to think about—hadn’t been particularly good. Running his two businesses—including a high-end restaurant—meant he didn’t eat as well as he should. He certainly didn’t have time to exercise. Rex tugged at the bottom of his shirt, hoping his love handles and belly weren’t showing too bad. Eli sighed and shook his head back and forth. “Dude, you own this place. Get a clue and look around. Some of these guys really dig big ol’ bears like you, but you’re too busy running around like a chicken to notice.” Rex didn’t want to admit his friend was right. He’d thrown himself into his businesses, and maybe his personal life had suffered in the process. He ran his hands over his thick beard, trying to remember the last time he’d gotten laid. Rex glanced back at the table. The little man was just his type, small and lithe, someone he could easily manhandle. Of course, it had been so long since he’d been with a man, maybe he didn’t have a type anymore. Rex caught the boy looking again. How many times was that now in just a few minutes? How had he not noticed this entire time? Eli was right. His game was awful. He stood with his buddies, but didn’t seem to be paying attention to the conversation. Rex watched him pull his bottom lip into his mouth. When it slid free, it was nice and wet. All kinds of nasty thoughts went through Rex’s mind. The things he would love to do with that lip. Fuck yeah. Now that he’d unleashed his libido, his sex drive kicked into overdrive. As the little guy turned away, he brought his glass up to his lips and gulped down the last of his drink. Perfect timing. Rex had a bear chaser to catch. HAYDEN LOOKED around the dimly lit bar. It wasn’t his cup of tea. The bar, that is. He did like the guys here, though. He liked big, tough guys, and this place was packed with them. Lots of leather. Lots of denim. Lots of skin. This was his older brother’s normal hangout. Harlan was turning thirty, and this was where he wanted to be, so Hayden came, along with two of Harlan’s buddies, Frank and Don, but they were all caught up in each other. A man walked by, and Hayden couldn’t help but sneak a look. The man had pulled off his shirt and tucked it into the back of his leather pants. Built big, the man had hair all over his chest. Not bad. But the guy Hayden couldn’t stop staring at was the big bear who was working the bar. He was so hot. He had black hair and blue eyes, a combination that Hayden always found sexy. His beard was full, but trimmed neatly. Hayden loved a man with facial hair, especially if he took care of it. The guy had a bit of a belly, but Hayden didn’t care. Big dudes like that were perfect for cuddling. They kept you warm at night. Not that he had a chance with the guy. The bear didn’t even know he existed. Story of his life. That didn’t stop Hayden from looking, though. Nothing wrong with looking. He was half-listening to Harlan talk about replacing his motorcycle’s exhaust system. That was when he saw him coming, his eyes drilling right into Hayden’s. Carrying a tray of drinks, the burly man made his way to the table. As he approached, the conversation died down. “On the house.” He set the tray on the middle of the table. Harlan picked up one of the bottles. “Thanks, man. How’d you know it was my birthday?” He tipped the neck toward the man in a toast before downing a healthy swallow. “The bartender told me.” He turned to Hayden. “I’m Rex. Rex Marlowe.” “Hi.” It came out in a squeak. He cleared his throat and started over. “Hi. I’m Hayden.” Harlan tapped Hayden on the arm. “We’re gonna mingle.” Though Harlan was talking to him, his eyes were cruising someone in the crowd. “What?” Hayden panicked, his eyes darting between Rex and Harlan. Where were they going? Why were they leaving him alone with Rex? Harlan looked at Rex with a twinkle in his eyes. “Watch my little brother for me?” Rex dipped his chin. “Sure.” Hayden couldn’t meet Rex’s eyes. He picked up the glass from the tray and took a sip. It was a rum and Diet Coke, his normal order. “How’d you know what I was drinking?” “Just a guess.” Rex picked up a glass filled with an amber whiskey or something—no ice—and took a sip. Head down, Hayden lifted his eyes and looked at Rex through his bangs. “You don’t really have to keep an eye on me.” Rex moved closer. “I don’t mind. Not at all.” He was close enough Hayden could smell his cologne. Dang, he smelled good. “Is this your first time here?” Hayden nodded. “Yeah. So, you work here?” “I own the place.” “Oh. It’s nice.” Hayden took another sip of his drink. Rex laughed. “You don’t have to lie. It’s a bit seedy, I know. It’s not really your style, huh?” Hayden shrugged. “My brother Harlan comes here a lot.” “I thought I recognized him.” “He told me to stay away from the back room.” Hayden cut his eyes toward the door. “That’s probably a good idea.” A red light above illuminated the doorframe, covered by a black curtain. Once inside, Hayden figured you wouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. A man exited, pushing the curtain aside. He checked his zipper and adjusted himself before walking toward the bar. Then Harlan pulled some man into the room. Hayden licked his lips, then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Both actions were nervous habits he couldn’t break no matter how hard he tried. He was nervous, but this was an opportunity he couldn’t waste. If he did, he’d regret it forever. He lifted his eyes and met Rex’s. Leaning forward, he asked quietly, “What do people do in there?” Rex stared down at Hayden. His voice dropped in both pitch and volume. “You want me to show you?” REX’S FINGERS lifted Hayden’s chin. The young man’s skin was soft and smooth, cool to the touch. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Hayden’s. Hayden let out a soft moan into Rex’s mouth as he leaned forward into the kiss. It started out sweet and gentle, but quickly escalated into a deep, passionate kiss. When Hayden opened his mouth, Rex did not pass up the invitation. His tongue surged forward to explore, stroking against Hayden’s tongue. He tasted good, slightly of rum, but fresh and clean. Rex moved forward, pushing Hayden back a step, pinning him against the wall. The little man was about half a foot shorter than him, and close to a hundred pounds lighter. Rex’s bigger body surrounded him. Perfect. Hayden’s hands slid up to Rex’s side, resting on his love handles. For a split second, Rex felt self-conscious about his weight, but then Hayden moaned and pressed his hips forward. There was no denying the fact the little man was aroused. Fueled by Hayden’s arousal, Rex covered him with his body. Shifting his knees, he pushed up and ground his pelvis into Hayden, letting the little man know how hard he made him. He wasn’t sure how long they made out, but he finally had to pull away to come up for air. Hayden looked absolutely debauched. Glasses tipped off-kilter. Lips parted, wet and swollen. Eyes unfocused. Suddenly feeling possessive, Rex looked around. No one seemed to be paying them any attention, but still, he did not want anyone to see Hayden like this. “Hey.” Hayden’s brother walked up with his latest conquest. “We’re gonna head out. Can you catch a ride?” Hayden blinked and turned away from Rex. “Yeah.” “Cool.” After Harlan left with his new conquest, Hayden went silent. Rex wanted to growl in frustration. His brother had ruined the moment, and now Hayden had gone shy again. Hayden’s eyes widened as he frantically patted his pockets. “Crap! My phone and wallet are in Harlan’s truck.” He looked around the bar, searching. “I need to find Frank and Don.” “Your brother’s two friends? I’m pretty sure I saw them leave already.” Hayden frowned. “Well, crap. I don’t have a way to get home.” The corner of Rex’s mouth turned up. “Uh oh. It looks like you’re stuck here for the night.” “Uh….” “I’m just teasing. I have a phone in my office. I could probably be persuaded to let you use it….” Hayden licked his lips and looked up at Rex, his eyes finally focusing. “Okay.” Rex took Hayden by the hand. His gaze drifted toward the back room. The idea of making a quick pit stop was appealing, but that was out of the question. No fucking way. First off, he didn’t want anyone else copping an inadvertent feel of Hayden. Secondly, he wanted to be able to see Hayden when he made the little man come. Finally, someone like Hayden was too good to be treated like some anonymous fuck. He led Hayden back to his personal office. Once inside, Rex locked the door. He turned back to Hayden and a wolfish grin spread across his face. “Now. Where were we?” HAYDEN’S HANDS shook as he reached for Rex’s belt buckle. Sure, he’d given men blowjobs before, but something about Rex made him nervous. Not to mention the fact they were in a fairly public place. Well, they were in his office, but the door was locked, so they wouldn’t be disturbed here. It wasn’t like he was really going to give Rex a blowjob to use the phone. That was just the two of them playing. But Hayden knew coming back here was only a pretense for what they really wanted. He’d worry about finding a way home later. As he unbuckled the man’s belt, Hayden couldn’t help but notice the bulge in his pants. It was enormous. Pointed down toward his left pant leg, it looked really uncomfortable confined in those jeans. Hayden gripped it over the top of the fabric and gave it a good squeeze. Rex let out a groan and a curse, and pulled Hayden’s hand away. “You’re gonna make me come too fast. It’s been a while, and I want this to last.” Hayden rested his hands on Rex’s barrel chest as he made contact with the man’s beautiful blue eyes. “Whatever you want.” “Whatever I want?” Rex raised an eyebrow. “That’s a dangerous thing to say to a domineering man like me.” “Whatever you want,” Hayden repeated, his voice shaking with desire. Rex surged forward, pushing Hayden back until he bumped into the desk. His mouth covered Hayden’s and Rex kissed him until he was lightheaded. Meaty hands slipped between their bodies and found Hayden’s belt. Before he knew it, his jeans were pooled around his ankles. Hayden moaned when his dick sprang free of his briefs. “Well, damn,” Rex said with a whistle. “Didn’t expect to see this on a little guy like you.” Naturally, Hayden had measured it. He was a man, after all. His dick wasn’t really that much bigger than average. It just looked it because he wasn’t very tall. As Rex dropped to a squat in front of him, Hayden held his breath. The guys he hooked up with wanted to be serviced. They didn’t tend to care about reciprocating—or even if Hayden got off at all. Surely a man like Rex wasn’t going to— “Oh God!” Hayden cried out as Rex swallowed his dick all the way down to the root. Hayden grabbed onto the edge of the desk to keep from sliding to the floor. As Rex pulled up, he applied a hard suction. Just as the crown was about to pop free, his tongue swirled around, flicking back and forth across the head. Up and down Rex moved. Every pull, every flick of his tongue brought Hayden closer and closer to the brink. Just as he was about to lose it, Rex pulled back. “Please,” Hayden begged as he thrust his hips forward, poking Rex’s bottom lip with the tip of his erection. “So needy.” The big man snickered as his tongue flicked back and forth along the underside of Hayden’s engorged shaft. “All in good time.” After placing a kiss on the tip, Rex slid his tongue back down to his tight sac. That skilled tongue lapped across Hayden’s nuts. They were already starting to pull close, and they pulled up even tighter as Rex gave them his undivided attention. Rex closed his mouth around one ball, humming as he licked it, sending vibrations throughout Hayden’s body. He moved back and forth between them before pulling away. He blew across the wet skin, and Hayden’s head fell back as a groan escaped his lips. He rocked his hips, needing more contact. Just a little friction and he’d come all over the place. He was desperate to come, wanting—needing—the big bear to make him orgasm. Rex pushed his nose underneath Hayden’s balls and inhaled deeply. A growl ripped from the man’s throat as he practically pushed his head between Hayden’s legs. “Oh God!” That knowing tongue lapped at Hayden’s taint. His beard burned Hayden’s thighs, sending tingles throughout his body. God, he wanted Rex. He wanted this bear to take him, take what he wanted. And Hayden would give it to him. When the pad of Rex’s thumb pressed against Hayden’s hole, it was just too much. With a gasp, Hayden erupted. His cock jerked, sending a stream of cum through the air, splattering across Rex’s forehead and into the man’s hair. Hayden gripped the man’s head in his hands as his body went tight. His feet scrabbled for purchase on the floor. REX’S HANDS grabbed onto Hayden’s hips, holding him in place as his mouth covered Hayden’s pulsing dick. He sucked and bobbed, drawing the rest of the cum from Hayden’s balls. Fuck, that was hot. His new boy had the prettiest dick Rex had ever seen. And it tasted far better than it looked. Hayden’s body trembled as Rex flicked his tongue across the head of his cock one last time, getting that very last drop. One last swallow and it was gone. “I can’t believe…” Hayden managed between pants, “…you did that. You’re really good at that.” With a grunt, Rex pushed up to his feet. Next time they’d have to give his knees a rest and do it in a bed. Yeah, he was already planning a next time. “Well, I’ve always said a good top knows how to please his boy.” Rex leaned down and pressed a light kiss to Hayden’s lips, letting them linger as he whispered, “You wanna be my boy?” Hayden nodded, his pretty brown eyes staring into Rex’s. His answer came out in a flash of breath. “Yes.” Rex held Hayden’s face in his hands as he ravished him. Hayden could probably still taste his cum on Rex’s tongue, which only made him more aggressive. When he ended the kiss, he didn’t stop. He kissed a trail along Hayden’s jaw to his ear, then down his neck. “Your whiskers feel so good,” Hayden whispered as he let his head fall back, giving Rex unrestricted access to the sensitive skin. As Rex nibbled and sucked, Hayden’s hands worked to unbutton his shirt. The cool touch of his fingers sent a shudder down Rex’s spine. Hayden slid under Rex’s tank top, his fingers caressing and raking through the hair covering Rex’s body. “You’re so hairy. I knew you would be.” “You like that fur?” Rex whispered. He rubbed his bearded chin across Hayden’s outer ear, producing a whole-body shudder from his lover. “Yeah, you like a real man, don’t you, boy?” “Yes.” The word came out inside a moan. Hayden’s hands reached for Rex’s pants. With renewed effort, he unbuttoned the jeans and unzipped them. “I wanna suck you now.” He dropped to his knees and looked up to meet Rex’s eyes. Jesus. How could he resist such a pretty offer? Hayden yanked Rex’s jeans down his meaty thighs. His cock created a sizable bulge in his tight boxer briefs. At the head, a wet spot the size of a half-dollar had already formed in the grey cotton. Nuzzling his nose against Rex’s underwear, Hayden drew in a deep breath. Rex knew he smelled sweaty, maybe a little musky from working all night, but the boy seemed to be getting off on it. Then he began pressing open-mouthed kisses along the taut fabric. “Fuck.” Hayden’s fingers slipped below the waistband of Rex’s briefs. Slowly, he pulled them down, exposing the furry base of his cock, inch by inch, until the head came free of the elastic material. The girthy shaft sprang up free, hitting Hayden on the end of his nose, leaving behind a dewy drop of pre-cum. “Oh God, you’re so big. So thick.” His fist slid back and forth, covering and uncovering the head. “Uncut. I like.” He pulled the skin forward as far as it would go. That pink tongue of his darted out, the tip flicking around the edge of Rex’s foreskin. Then he pressed his tongue inside, swirling it around the head. Once he was done playing with the foreskin’s opening, he began tracing the shaft’s veins with the tip of his tongue. Rex struggled to keep his eyes open. He didn’t want to miss a single moment of this. Keeping a tight hold on the base of his cock, Hayden slid his mouth down the shaft. Applying a gentle suction, he began a slow series of movements. Up and down he went, turning his head back and forth, using his tongue. His mouth was like heaven. Hot. Wet. Amazing. Rex cradled the back of Hayden’s neck, encouraging him without forcing him down. Hayden looked up, locking eyes with Rex. Rex loved it when the guy sucking him off made eye contact. It got him so fucking hot. He took Hayden’s glasses and set them aside, needing to see those pretty caramel-brown eyes. As he gave Rex the blowjob of a lifetime, never once did Hayden break eye contact. Hayden kept one hand firmly wrapped around the base of his cock. He didn’t use any hand action. It was all suction—mouth and tongue. His free hand slid under Rex’s tank top to explore his hairy chest and belly. It had been a while since another man had gotten him off. He should have been embarrassed by his lack of control, but he just couldn’t hold back. His boy was just too good. Rex moved his hand to the top of Hayden’s head. With a rush of breath, he warned the boy before it was too late, “You’re about to eat it.” Hayden didn’t pull back; he doubled his efforts. With a loud curse, Rex thrust his hips forward, sending his throbbing cock deeper into that wet heat. And then he came. WHEN THE first burst of hot fluid filled his mouth, Hayden moaned. The underside of Rex’s cock pulsed, and another stream splattered against the roof of his mouth, forcing Hayden to swallow. With each throb, Rex grunted. Hayden let the delicious cum pool in his mouth before he drank it down. Bracing himself on Rex’s thick thighs, Hayden pushed to his feet. Standing in front of Rex, he suddenly felt shy. He knew it didn’t make a lot of sense, considering what they’d just done together, but this was the point where he was always unsure. Would Rex button up his pants and kick him out now that he’d come? Should he give Rex his phone number? Should he ask for Rex’s number? He wiped the wetness from his chin with the back of his hand. Hayden could still taste the bitter saltiness of Rex’s cum in his mouth. He didn’t usually swallow, but with Rex he really wanted to. More than anything, he wanted to make Rex feel as good as he’d made him. Since he wasn’t wearing his glasses, things were out of focus. Squinting, he saw Rex standing there, with his pants still around his boots. His hard-on had deflated some. It hung there, all wet and heavy. A last drop of liquid oozed out of the tip, and began a long drip to the floor. The expression on the man’s face was pure satisfaction: flushed cheeks, open mouth, droopy eyes. For a burly lumberjack-looking guy, he was kind of cute in the after-glow of satisfaction. “So, this is your office, huh?” Hayden cringed and rolled his eyes. What a stupid question. Rex lifted his head. “What? Yeah. My office.” “You bring guys back here a lot?” Once again, Hayden cringed. Why couldn’t he just be quiet? Rex met his gaze and held it. He put a hand on Hayden’s shoulder. “No. You’re the first.” Hayden sighed dreamily. “You have beautiful eyes.” “So do you.” Rex shuffled forward, pushing Hayden back until his butt hit the wooden desk. He grabbed Hayden by the waist, lifted him up, and then dropped him down on the desktop. Rex leaned down and pulled Hayden’s jeans free off his right leg. The sneaker dropped to the floor with a clunk. He repeated the action with the left foot. Situating himself between Hayden’s thighs, Rex wrapped his arms around Hayden’s body. Hayden liked the extra body contact. He brought his legs up and rubbed his inner thighs against Rex’s strong trunk-like legs. The dark hair on Rex’s legs tickled. This was right where a man like Rex belonged—between his legs. “I’d like to get to know you better.” “Me too.” Hayden swallowed, then licked his lips. Stop being so shy and just ask for what you want for once. If you want this man then get him. “Do you have a condom?” “That’s not exactly what I meant.” “Oh, so you’re not interested?” Rex immediately responded. “Oh, no, I didn’t say that.” He pressed his hips forward, and Hayden felt the head of his cock push underneath his balls, into his taint. Hayden laughed softly. “I’ve never done it on a desk before. Are you gonna get all passionate, and throw these papers and stuff onto the floor?” Rex laughed. “No. I’d only have to pick them up later.” When their laughter died down, Rex began to stroke Hayden’s body. Large, rough hands touched him everywhere. The man was fascinated with his nipples. After flicking and pinching them until they were so sensitive Hayden could barely stand it, he brought his mouth down to lick and suck each one in turn. Everywhere Rex’s hands touched made him feel hot. Every nerve on his skin was on fire. He was starting to sweat. His pulse raced as his dick rose to complete erection. Hayden tugged at Rex’s collar. “Take your shirt off.” When he hesitated, Hayden pushed the shirt down his arms, and yanked it until he was free. “You’re so sexy. Let me see that big furry bear body of yours.” Rex pulled his tank top off and dropped it to the floor. My God. The man was a beast, the kind of guy Hayden had dreamed of ever since he was a teen. Seeing his high school football coach naked in the locker room fueled years of nighttime fantasies. And here Rex was—the embodiment of all that he’d dreamed about. His generous erection stood proudly, pointing toward Hayden. The skin had retracted, exposing the dusky head, already wet with pre-cum. Hayden’s cock throbbed against his belly. Hayden knew it wouldn’t be long before it started to drip. “Jesus,” Rex muttered. “You make me feel like a god when you look at me like that.” Hayden wrapped his arms around Rex’s neck and pulled the man down for a kiss. As they made out, Rex pushed a hand behind Hayden. A thick finger slipped into the crack of his ass and tapped at his hole. “Oh God. Yes….” “Just a second.” Rex bent down, pulled his boots off, then tossed his jeans to the side. Hayden got a glimpse of his backside as Rex moved around to the other side of his desk. His gorgeous ass was nice and firm, covered in a dusting of dark hair. He also had a sexy ‘ass beard’—as Hayden called that patch of fur just above the crack of a man’s ass. Rex pulled open one of the desk drawers. Rifling through the mess, he finally found what he was looking for—a condom and a single-use packet of lube. He held them up to Hayden, proudly showing them off as though they were a national treasure. “Wait. Let me move these.” He picked up Hayden’s glasses, folded them, and then set them out of the way by the computer monitor. The simple, thoughtful gesture made Hayden want the man even more. REX WAS mesmerized by Hayden’s face as the smaller man wrapped his fist around Rex’s cock. It was a total turn-on to watch him. Hayden looked at Rex’s cock like it was a natural wonder of the world. Hell, he looked at Rex’s body like he was some kind of god. It was damn good for a man’s ego, especially since he hadn’t been feeling all that great about his body lately. Maybe he was being overly critical of himself. After all, if a man as cute as Hayden was attracted to him, maybe he still had it going on. His cock felt good in Hayden’s hand, but it would feel even better inside his ass. Knowing Hayden probably wasn’t used to taking a man as big as Rex, he realized he was going to have to work to get him ready. Yeah, he would take his time with Hayden. Before the night was over, Hayden would beg for it. “Turn over, baby,” Rex growled softly as he pulled Hayden from the desk and turned him around. “Spread your legs and bend over.” Hayden let out a small whimper as he did what he was told. Rex’s mouth watered at the display in front of him. “Fuck, that’s nice.” Rex rubbed his hands up and down Hayden’s firm ass cheeks. His splayed hands were big enough to cover each of the perfectly sized globes. When he spread those cheeks, he got his first glimpse of Hayden’s entrance. He leaned in, pressing a kiss to each cheek. The smell of soap and musk made Rex’s cock throb. The perfect cinnamon-colored pucker called out to Rex, and he just had to taste it. A long swipe up the crack of Hayden’s ass, that one taste, was not enough. Shoving his face in, Rex began to feast. “Oh my God!” Hayden clung to the desk as he pressed his ass back against Rex. Rex used not only his tongue, but his entire face. His mouth, nose, even his beard. He slowly swirled his tongue around the puckered entrance, then alternated with quick flicks. An occasional nip with his teeth on the inside of a cheek kept things interesting. When he pressed his pointed tongue into the middle of his target, Hayden started to babble incoherently. Rex managed to open the lube packet and coated his fingers. He teased the ring of muscle with a slippery digit before sinking it into the tight heat of Hayden’s body. Gently, he pumped the finger in and out until he felt the sphincter loosen. He pulled it free, only to immediately replace it with two. Turning and scissoring his fingers, he pressed kisses to Hayden’s cheeks as he took his time stretching him. Curling his fingers, Rex searched the velvety soft walls, looking for the gland just on the other side. When he found the spongy mass, he applied pressure and stroked his fingers across it. Hayden drew in a breath, then let it out in a rush. “Rex.” Goosebumps erupted across Hayden’s flesh and a visible shudder ran down his body. The corner of Rex’s mouth turned up. He loved how responsive Hayden was, and he loved hearing him call his name. Before Rex was through, Hayden was going to be screaming his name. He replaced the pair of fingers with a trio. Making sure he started out slowly, he ramped up the speed and pressure until Hayden’s body took his fingers with ease. As he worked his boy’s hole, Rex tilted his head down and lapped at Hayden’s hanging balls. The entire time, Hayden whimpered and begged. “Please.” Rex pushed to his feet. After tearing the condom wrapper with his teeth, he spit out the foil corner. He pulled his foreskin back, then rolled the latex down the length of his shaft until there was no more to unroll. Using the lube, he slicked the shaft up, applying a liberal dollop to the sheathed head. “Ready, baby?” he asked as he tapped the head against Hayden’s ass. Before Hayden could respond, the stretched hole puckered then relaxed, answering Rex’s question for him. “Please, Rex,” Hayden whispered. “I need it so bad.” “And I’m gonna give it to you.” Rex lined his cock up and pressed forward, breaching the muscle. Hayden clamped down on him so tightly Rex thought he might actually snap his dick in half. “Fuck,” he groaned as he doubled over. Resisting the urge to thrust in as far as he could, Rex leaned over Hayden’s back, pressing bearded kisses across his shoulder and the back of his neck. When the pressure of Hayden’s sphincter subsided, Rex surged forward, sinking half of his length into Hayden’s body. Had anyone ever been as hot, as tight as Hayden? Hayden had said he needed it, but Rex needed it just as bad—from Hayden. He pulled back until the head nearly popped free, then pushed back inside, a bit deeper this time. He repeated the maneuver until he was completely buried inside his new lover and his balls rested against Hayden’s. Rex’s dark, untrimmed bush was in stark contrast against the creamy white flesh of Hayden’s perfect ass. Ever so slowly, he pulled back, watching his thick shaft emerge from Hayden’s body. Gripping Hayden’s waist in his hands, Rex held him tight, making sure he didn’t get away. He began to pump. Slow at first, using long, deep strokes. He bent his knees, changing the angle of his thrusts, searching for Hayden’s hidden hot spot. When Hayden sobbed in pleasure, he knew he’d found it. “So good,” Hayden whimpered. “You’re the best ever. Oh God.” Rex alternated his rhythm, changing to short, quick thrusts. Then back to long strokes. He tried to peg Hayden’s gland often. He could feel the pressure building as he got closer and closer, but he didn’t want to come yet. WHEN REX pulled free of his body, Hayden wanted to cry, but before he could register his disappointment, Rex turned him around. He lifted him up and set his butt on the edge of the desk. Hayden leaned back and spread his legs wide. He moved his hands to Rex’s sides, resting on his love handles, and urged Rex forward with a tug. Rex didn’t disappoint. He thrust his hips, burying his cock inside Hayden’s tight heat. Hayden cried out as the head of Rex’s cock hit his prostate, then slid across it. From this position, facing Rex, Hayden was free to touch his man wherever he wanted. He loved the fur-covered body, how thick his chest was, even the slight roundness of his belly. And that huge cock was doing things to him no man had ever done before. Rex leaned down closer to Hayden, his hands on either side of Hayden’s head, holding up his weight. He began driving into Hayden’s body with a purpose. Open-mouthed, the big man stared down at Hayden, piercing his soul with those gorgeous blue eyes. Hayden reached up and stroked his fingers through Rex’s beard, loving the way the whiskers prickled. When he neared his mouth, Rex turned his head slightly to press a kiss to Hayden’s fingertips. Hayden wrapped his arms under Rex’s, and around his shoulders. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Rex. No man had ever made a connection with him like this. The feeling of the man’s hairy belly against his cock was almost enough to make him come, but he needed a little more friction. “I’m close,” Hayden whispered. Rex reached between their bodies, and wrapped his hand around Hayden’s cock. Hayden cried out, rocking his hips up into Rex’s fist, then pushing back against his driving cock. “Rex!” Hayden screamed as he came. Rex’s hand squeezed and stroked, drawing out every drop of juice he had stored up, not stopping even when Hayden couldn’t possibly produce any more. “Hayden, baby.” Rex froze, buried completely inside Hayden’s ass. His body jerked once, twice, then went rigid. Hayden held on tight to his man, watching the mixture of pleasure and pained expressions on his face as he came. He could feel the girth of Rex’s cock stretching him, throbbing as it pulsed semen into the condom barrier. They stayed like that for what seemed like forever. When they finally came down from their highs, and got their breathing under control, Rex pulled back. Hayden immediately missed him. He loved the feeling of Rex’s weight on top of him. While gripping the base of his cock, Rex slid out of Hayden’s body. He yanked the condom off and tied the end. Hayden snagged a tissue from the box on the desk and handed it to him. Rex wadded up the semen-filled latex in the paper, and tossed it into the garbage can beside the desk. “Wow.” Hayden grinned. “Yeah.” Rex dipped his head down and pressed a gentle kiss to Hayden’s lips. Hayden was acutely aware of how quiet Rex was as they dressed. He hadn’t been lying when he said Rex was the best. It was as if Rex cared more about Hayden getting off than he did himself. And Hayden had got off. Two mind-blowing orgasms the man had given him. But it was over now. “I had a good time tonight,” Hayden offered before he left. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “Me too. Look—” Hayden overlapped Rex. “Listen—” “You first,” Rex said. “No. You go.” Rex pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, and fished out a business card. He reached over to his desk and grabbed a pen, scribbling something on the back of the card. “This is the business card for my restaurant.” Hayden took the offered card. He recognized the name of the restaurant. He’d been there once, when his boss took the team out for a celebration dinner. It was a nice place, the complete opposite of the Buckle. He didn’t realize the man owned both places. “Maybe stop by sometime. Lunch is on me.” That drew a smile from Hayden. “I’d like that.” “After a fuck like that, I at least owe you a meal. Wait.” Rex winced. “That didn’t come out like I wanted it to.” He stepped forward and took Hayden’s hand. He exhaled a long breath. “I like you. I want to get to know you. I would be honored if you’d join me for lunch.” Hayden’s heart leapt in his throat as he stared into Rex’s blue eyes. He could see the sincerity in them. “I’m not busy tomorrow.” “Perfect. You’ve got my number on the back of the card.” “It’s a date.” Rex leaned down and pressed a soft, sweet kiss to Hayden’s lips. “Until tomorrow.” “Yeah.” With a smile on his face, Hayden unlocked the door. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Hayden stopped and turned back. “What?” “You needed to use the phone.” “Oh, right.” “Wait. Let me take you home. I’ll just need to let Eli know I’m leaving on the way out. Hopefully he won’t burn the place down. Ready to go?” Rex held out his hand, and Hayden took it.
  5. 53 points
    Chapter 14 La Famiglia = Absolute Loyalty “What do you think? Is it good?” Milan asked Rory on their third lunch period. Marie had made the crostata without much begging. She packed two servings in Milan’s lunchbox. Including a note with a smiley face for Rory for making the request. Now, Milan watched Rory eat his share with the first smile of the day. “It’s good,” Rory said, when he finished the first slice. “Your Marie is a really great cook.” “I’ll tell her you said so,” Milan said, leaning his elbows on the table, his gaze searching Rory’s features. Rory was always in a good mood when they met. Some days, Milan thought he saw those cerulean eyes shine gold, but it was probably a play of light. Either way, he had never seen sadness in Rory’s eyes until today. Not that they had met very many times, Milan frowned. They had only met four times, counting the day before school started. Four times was hardly enough to call himself an expert on Rory Morgan. Still— “Is everything okay?” Milan asked. Milan was glad they were sitting at their own table today. He had thought it best as he didn’t have enough crostata to share with everyone. Rory’s mood seemed down too, so sitting here was perfect. Rory sipped water from the plastic cup he had gotten at the lunch line, his gaze shifting to the windows and the snow falling outside. “Did something happen yesterday?” Milan asked, closing his lunchbox and pushing it aside. “I mean, you can tell if you want-want to, but if you— “I fought with Chris yesterday,” Rory said, not looking at him. He clenched his jaw, clearly not happy. “A really bad fight. We have never fought that way before. I’m not sure what to do.” Milan took in a deep breath when Rory turned to look at him and he read pain in blue eyes. “I’m sorry you fought with your brother,” Milan said, reaching out to take Rory’s right hand. His cool fingers delighting in the warmth of Rory’s, especially when Rory placed his other hand over his. “Is it something you can talk about with me?” Milan asked. Rory took in a deep breath, then shook his head. “Family stuff.” Milan nodded understanding that was private. He couldn’t remember fighting with Ayu, but if he did, he would also hesitate sharing it with a stranger. “Can I say something?” Milan asked, meeting Rory’s gaze. “Sure, Milan.” “You say you’re not sure what to do,” Milan said, squeezing Rory’s hand tight. “I think you already do, you’re just not ready yet. La famiglia, is not something you can walk away from. Il sangue non e acqua, blood is not water.” Rory smiled. “Blood is thicker than water, is how we say it.” “I like my way,” Milan said, happy to see Rory smile again. Rory chuckled and ate the rest of his crostata at record speed. He washed it down with water and let out a short belch. “That was really good. What do I do to get it every day?” “I might need to learn how to make crostata at this rate,” Milan mused. “Marie might tire from making it all the time.” “I’ll find her the pie recipe and then she’ll have no choice,” Rory said with a wink. “You should have seen your face that day when she asked if you had it,” Milan laughed. “I thought you were going to choke on your juice.” “I’ve never baked in my life,” Rory admitted, his gaze on Milan’s fingers. He traced each one, his thumb exploring the lines on Milan’s palm. It felt like Rory was memorizing his hand. Milan felt each gentle swipe of Rory’s thumb on his palm. He didn’t want it to stop. He wondered what Rory would think if he told him that. “If I wanted to drop you off at home after school, do you think your Mom would be okay with that?” Rory asked, not looking up from Milan’s palm. “I mean it would save her time from her job. It would also free Ayu from driving here from his classes.” Milan took in a deep breath. “I’ll have to ask her,” Milan said. “You sound skeptical.” Milan chuckled. “As I know you’ve noticed, my family is a bit protective. Mamma and Ayu have worked hard to have time to pick me up. I can barely get them to let me drive in the driveway. It’s frustrating and endearing at the same time.” “La famiglia,” Rory said. Milan smiled and nodded. “Si. We’ll need to convince them that your idea is good.” Rory sighed, also agreeing with a nod. “Alright, I’m in for the long haul. I don’t mind working at it.” Milan was once again amazed by Rory’s ability to heal him of his past. Christina was the only friend he had ever truly made in his life. She ended up being Ayu’s girlfriend, but there were times Milan caught her staring at him with pity in her eyes. Now, to have Rory who didn’t bat an eyelash at sitting with him at lunch, or working at gaining Ilaria’s trust. Milan worried about this feeling of being spoiled. He felt wide open, already giving Rory more than he could get back. His heart slammed against his chest at the realization, and he hoped for the first time that this was not wrong. He couldn’t bear it if he was wrong about Rory. It might destroy him. **** Rory drove home after Ayu picked up Milan from school. When he got to the pack house, he parked his car and got out only to stop when he saw his father standing at the door, waiting for him. “Don’t bother coming in,” Connor said, when he started to head over. “Chris, come out here.” Rory clenched his hands into fists, his gaze on Chris who had recovered from his injuries. They hadn’t talked since their fight. Each of them opting to have dinner separate from the family. Rory had spent most of his night in the attic going through records. This morning when he got downstairs, Chris had already gone to school. “Follow me,” Connor said, leading the way into the forest. Chris and Rory followed the Alpha knowing they could not opt out when Connor got that determined look in his eye. Rory kept his gaze on anything but Chris as they both walked side by side following Connor through the forest. It took a few minutes before Rory realized Connor was leading them to the Sacred Caves. The Sacred Caves in Portento stood in the thickest part of the forest, about a fifteen minute walk from the pack house. There was a minor lake a click away from the caves, a river flowed from that lake, passing close to the cave entrance, strong and wild, its waters drifting through Portento into smaller outlets, creating a network through the town. Legend was that the Sacred Caves were the first point of sanctuary for the Morgan Clan. Hundreds of years ago, running from hunters who had near ended all the werewolves in the territory, a Morgan Alpha led a small group of survivors into the complex network of caves in Portento. Afraid his mate would die giving birth, the Alpha had no choice but to settle the small group of werewolves in the caves. His only option then was to find a way to protect his family from the coming threat. The human hunters were ruthless and relentless. Killing anyone suspected of having wolf’s blood. The Alpha’s family was in dire need of relief from the insane swirl of religious belief and ostracism. And so, together with his beta and third, the Alpha fortified the entrance into the caves, hoping even though he didn’t survive his family would. The Alpha then got on his knees and prayed to the goddess for sanctuary. A place of their own, a place they would never have to worry for their lives. He prayed for a day and a half, until the sounds of the approaching enemy filled his head, and he was filled with desperation. The Goddess appeared before the Alpha just as the enemy found them. The Alpha bowed to her in gratitude that she had listened. ‘I’ve heard your plea, Son of Morgan. If I offer your family sanctuary,’ the Goddess said. ‘You must promise something in return.’ ‘Anything you ask, Goddess.’ ‘The three of you, spill blood on this ground,’ the Goddess advised. With no hesitation, Alpha swiped his sharp blade over his palm, spilling blood at the entrance of the cave. His Beta followed suit, and then the Third. Their blood mixed on the ground, and they all looked up to the goddess for guidance. “The Morgan bloodline shall protect this land, your Beta your guide, your Third your guardian. This land shall be sanctuary. Your families may then live.” The Alpha thanked the goddess for her kindness as a wave spread out in a harsh force, enveloping thick forest and pushing the enemy to the boundary. “What will the goddess want in return?” the Alpha asked, when all was silent once again. “Your promise to protect all who seek refuge in this sanctuary,” the Goddess said. “You shall know them when you see them. Turning your back on them shall bring misfortune, be careful and see my chosen children.” From that day on, the Sacred Caves became that ancient Alpha’s home, and as the times changed, the families moved out of the caves and developed the rest of the town. Rory had heard that story told since birth: by his parents, his extended families, the old grannies who liked to gossip in town and Grandma Asta. The Sacred Caves were now treated as burial grounds, and a spiritual place. Important ceremonies were held here, like naming ceremonies, weddings, coming off-age ceremonies. “Keep up,” Connor shouted when Rory paused halfway into the cave to stare at old carvings on the wall. Rory sighed. He should add reprimanding sessions to the list of things that happened in these caves. As expected, Connor led them straight to the deepest cave, lighted by candles maintained by the welfare team. The burial cave was the most sacred of the many caves found here. The carvings on old wood fitted on different spots on the ground each had precious names of loved ones. Connor led them straight to the Morgan line and stopped before Johanna, Leona and Derrick’s markers. “Pay your respects to them,” Connor said, his tone harsh, his face hidden in the shadows cast by candle light. Rory moved to stand next to Chris, and they both got down on their right knees, bowing their heads. Rory’s gaze remained on his mother’s marker. Her name carved on an oak plaque: ‘Johanna, Moon and Mother’. “You disrespected the family yesterday,” Connor said, leaving them kneeling. “Clearly, you’ve learned nothing I have taught you. Chris, Rory, aren’t you family?” When none of them answered, Connor growled. “I expect answers.” “Yes, we are family,” Chris said, unable to withstand the Alpha’s direct order. “Rory,” Connor prompted. “We are family,” Rory said. “Will you tell me what you were fighting about yesterday?” Connor asked, once again, the order hard to ignore for Chris. Rory was beginning to build a tolerance to Connor’s orders. He no longer felt compelled to answer. “Rory has found his mate,” Chris said, with a wince. “He is human.” “So he is,” Connor agreed, shocking Chris. “You knew?” Chris looked up at Connor. “I’m the Alpha, little goes unnoticed,” Connor said, his gaze heavy on Rory. “We can’t let this happen,” Chris said, kneeling and sitting back on his haunches. “No one is going to accept a human among us. Please—” “You can’t change your mate, Chris,” Connor said, crouching before Chris, placing his hands on Chris’s shoulders. “I know you wish it so, but it is impossible. The goddess gives you your mate. You cannot walk away.” Chris stared at Connor, then shook his head. “You’ve lived without your mate.” Connor squeezed Chris’s shoulders. “There is not a day I’ve not wished that I was lying next to Johanna.” Connor stated, and Rory felt his heart dip at the profound grief in Connor’s voice. “Do you know what has kept me going?” Connor knocked Chris’s head with his a finger when no answer came. “Knowing I have you two to look out for. Rory, your mother would never forgive me if I left you. And Chris, your mother would not forgive me either. So, I endure each day. I tell you this now because the ache, the longing, the missing does not go away. Johanna was my partner in every sense. I would not wish to see Rory live in such sadness without his mate. Or you, Chris.” “But—,” Chris started, then stopped, biting his lip hard. Tears filled his eyes and Rory shifted to look at him, trying to understand why Chris would even suggest this for him. “Humans killed them,” Chris said, pointing to his parents’ markers, his voice rough with pain. “Took them without second thought, shooting them like wild animals in the forest, and robbing them their belongings. It didn’t even matter they were wolves or not. How can we ignore that kind of cruelty?” “Chris!” Rory said, shocked that he had never realized Chris hated humans so much. “Milan and his family have been kind each time I met them. You’ve seen Ayu, he’s not mean. I doubt they own a shotgun—” “That’s not the point,” Chris argued. “Their ugliness could be hiding inside. According to Lechter, humans would have us all in laboratories studying us like guinea pigs. This is our place. Ours to call home. Why must we let them intrude?” “Then, what will you have me do?” Rory asked, at a loss. “I already love him so much. He is so fragile, and warm. He’s never hurt anyone. Why can’t you think of giving him a chance for me?” “Rory,” Chris said, looking at him. “Milan is not like the humans you know, or have read about, or like those stories Lechter describes. Can’t you try and get to know him a little bit before you judge him?” Rory shook his head, and met his father’s gaze. Connor winked at him as he patted Chris’s shoulder and got up, giving them space. Rory took it as Connor giving him a chance to win Chris over to his side. “Chris, my dad and I, we also lost mom that day,” Rory said. “It hasn’t been easy for either of us. Like dad misses her, I miss mom everyday too. I have all these memories of her, and I wish I could have her back, but I can’t. And that hurts more than I can describe.” Rory sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Weeks ago, I was unsure about humans, as much as you are now. Then, I saw Milan, and everything changed inside. I can’t describe it, Chris. That moment, when everything shifted, and he became…my world. I can’t do anything now without thinking about him. It’s going to be hard enough telling him I’m a werewolf. Then, it’s going to take everything I have to get everyone else to accept him. I need you, Chris. I need my family to help me through this. Please, I’m begging you now, give him a chance.” Chris closed his eyes then, his jaw clenching as he knelt on the ground, unmoving. For a minute, tears tracked down his cheeks and then he quickly swiped them away with his right fist. “I promised my parents I would not ever give humans a second thought,” Chris said, his voice low. “Doesn’t that mean you’re closing out the world?” Connor asked. “Just because Portento remains sanctuary to all within its borders does not mean we don’t interact with humans outside there, Chris. Look at Kutler, and the company he runs. Topher and Maryanne will soon have to go learning how to run it soon. There are good humans, the same way you know there are bad wolves. You can’t judge everyone for one horrendous action.” Chris sighed and shook his head. “Even if I accept Milan,” Chris said, looking up at Connor. “Doesn’t mean everyone else will.” “You’re right,” Connor agreed. “The important thing here, Chris, is that Rory is your brother. You’re a Morgan. You’re part of the family. When you find your mate, Rory will embrace him or her with an open heart. Rory has found his, what’s the right thing to do?” Chris dropped his face into his hands with a groan. “I’m sorry, Rory.” Rory crawled to Chris’s side and wrapped his right arm around Chris. “It’s alright. I understand.” “I know I’ve been a bastard about this.” Chris murmured. “You have to understand….Mom and Dad—” “I know,” Rory squeezed Chris’s shoulders, never forgetting their shared grief. It wasn’t easy coming back from losing a parent, or both for Chris. The pain did not disappear, it did not end, simply dulled with time. “You don’t have to explain.” Connor patted both their heads, brushing their hair back, until they both looked up at him. “I might have a loophole we can exploit,” Connor said, looking at Rory. “You said Milan is ill. Can you discover what he is sick with?” “Yeah, sure,” Rory nodded. “What loophole?” “The Morgan Lore,” Connor smiled. “The goddess’s only request in payment for sanctuary. I’ll visit Grandma Asta and see what she can tell me.” Rory smiled wide, feeling free for the first time in days. Chris chuckled and cuffed his neck, rubbing the top of his head with his fists. “Look at you beaming,” Chris mused when Connor started to turn away. “I guess I have to get used to this silly grin on you.” Rory laughed. They started to get up only to have Connor grab their shoulders and push them down. “Who said you could get up?” Connor asked, using his Alpha voice. “Stay kneeling for another hour and reflect on your actions. I’ll know if you don’t. Punishment for fighting like wild dogs.” Rory winced as his knees hit the ground. “We’re going to miss a patrol shift,” Chris said with a sigh, when Connor left. “Next time you punch me, I’m running the other direction.” “As if,” Chris snorted. “Your wolf lives for aggression. Alpha.” Rory looked at Chris, surprised. He couldn’t remember a time Chris had called him by his title. They were simply brothers. Had always been. Chris could not challenge Rory for the title as his wolf did not have Alpha traits. However, Rory had never once tried to apply dominance in their relationship. Until their fight yesterday. “I’m sorry we fought,” Rory said, apologetic, somewhat sad because it felt as though he had lost something with their fight. “I’m sorry for acting like a jerk about your mate.” “You’re not a jerk,” Rory said, shifting his knees on the ground to get comfortable. “No?” “Nope, you’re an asshole.” Chris scoffed. “That’s very original, Rory.” “A constipated asshole,” Rory countered. “Those are going to get colorful, aren’t they?” Chris asked, getting comfortable too. “Yep, you’re an idiotic, constipated asshole,” Rory continued. “I’ll be sure to tell Milan how childish you can be,” Chris said, folding his arms against his chest. “He won’t judge me. Annoying, jerk, asshole,” Rory continued. “That one doesn’t flow,” Chris said, his tone encouraging. **** Rory’s knees ached by the time one of the smaller wolves working in the pack kitchen came to get them. His name was Jet, and he was an omega. Chris accepted the bottle of water Jet gave him, chugging its contents without pause. Rory drank his slower, following Jet and Chris out of the caves. “What’s for dinner, Jet?” Rory asked, when his stomach growled as they stepped out of the caves into the fading light. “June called Linda for groceries so some of the ladies from welfare are busy making chicken fajitas and meatloaf for dinner. It’s a complete cookout in there,” Jet said. “Alpha, I heard you’ll be running shifts with security later. Will you have time to train with some of us after?” “Yeah, sure,” Rory agreed, stretching his arms above his head. A workout would leave him refreshed after the last two days. A foreign scent drifted into his nostrils, and he stilled, grabbing Jet’s shoulder, to stop him. Chris, noting his stance, shifted, placing Jet between them as they both scanned the area. ‘I smell a lone wolf,’ Rory said, using his private link with Chris, not wanting to alarm Jet. ‘Can you get Jet to the pack house?’ ‘I’m not leaving you,’ Chris refused, directing his next words to the common link. “Jet, there is an intruder. Run straight to the pack house. Don’t stop until you find June. Ok?” “Yes.” Rory removed his t-shirt, and changed into his wolf, racing into the woods just as Jet started running to the pack house. The lone wolf had black fur, perfect for surveillance in the dark. His scent left Rory feeling sick, it was too sweet, almost like decay. Rory kept up with the lone wolf easy enough, aware that the black wolf was tracking Jet, trying to catch up to him as he seemed weaker. Rory moved parallel to the black wolf, placing himself between Jet and the lone wolf. Chris coming up behind. For a minute, they stayed in a full sprint, then the lone wolf veered right in an abrupt move, changing direction from the pack house. Jet entered the open lawn, giving Rory and Chris the freedom to chase after the black wolf without worry. ****
  6. 50 points
    I set the bag of alcohol and mixers on the table, along with some beer for the heteros. It’d been a very long week, as far as work was concerned. I’d worked over sixty hours, thanks to others taking vacation time or calling in for this reason or that. I was exhausted, but there was no time for that. It was time to square up on our deal and I had all weekend off to recover from my exhaustion. Somehow, it’d been decided the DONNAS and the DAKS would convene at my house to prepare for the big night out. I had the most club clothes, so it made sense. I’d texted my friends throughout the day and they decided they’d all bring a few extra items so DAKS had a wide variety to choose from. I was actually looking forward to the night out since things had been tense between us all after things blew up between Shane and me. We were riding this weird vortex where we all pretending like things were fine, but in reality, it wasn’t. Having mended things with Shane had alleviated a lot of the hurt I felt from their lack support, but not completely. I was hoping after spending the evening together we could all move forward. The DONNAS had shown up early, as was standard protocol anytime strangers decided to descend upon our normal prep assembly. We needed a few extra minutes to prepare for the guests. The twins were in my closet and tossing out potential clothing items while the rest of us sorted through the additional items everyone had brought from their homes. Sammy held up two pair of daisy duke shorts—one lime green and one hot pink—that were basically glorified underwear. “Twenty bucks says Drew has the twins wear these.” “Do you really think Drew is going have them wear that much? We’re talking about a straight boi who’s dying for a gay experience—he picked the twins for Pete’s sake. I’ll see your twenty and raise you another twenty that they end up wearing nothing more than…” I dug through the pile of skimpy clothes until I lifted out a set of string bikini bottoms for men, “These.” I looked at the twins, who clearly thought the whole conversation was funny. “All I’m saying is…be prepared. Drew’s low key trying to dip his toe and wet his penis with an XY chromosome.” “You’re full of shit,” Olie narrowed his eyes as he tried to figure out if I was bluffing. “Not at all. In fact, I just cleaned myself out before you got here. One never knows what tonight might bring and I want to be prepared,” I winked as the group collectively rolled their eyes but laughed nonetheless. “But in all seriousness, Drew’s been in my business for months. I’m one hundred percent positive he would’ve fucked me already if I’d given him the chance, but I haven’t, so now he’s moving on to the twins.” “I don’t believe you.” I shrugged. “Fine, just watch.” That’s when the doorbell sounded and everyone froze. We stared at each other for a moment then simultaneously rushed downstairs like a pack of dogs after a laser light. I swung the door open to find four, smiling, good looking men standing there. “Welcome! Grab yourself a pre-party drink and then we’ll get started,” I greeted as I opened the door wider and waved them in. Allé and Olie were in the kitchen starting on our signature drinks. The DAKS stepped into the house one by one and when it was Drew’s turn, he leaned forward, kissed my cheek, and gave me a half-hug. I looked around to make sure my unbelieving friends had witnessed it—they had. The twins led the guests to the kitchen and, like a gracious host, I trailed behind. At first, it was a little awkward because no one actually knew what to do, but after Allé and Olie made a few drinks, and I started the home tour, things mellowed and everyone appeared to be more at ease. Shane had been quiet since arriving. He only made eye contact with me when he entered, along with casual greeting, but after that it was a ‘speak when spoken to’ situation. I’m embarrassed by how many times I looked at him in hopes he was looking at me, only to find him looking elsewhere. He was being super respectful about my space and it was slightly irritating. And while everyone chatted and walked around my home, he hung back, in the shadows. When we finely made it to my room, which looked like a hurricane passed through with clothes strewn everywhere, a wide-eyed and shocked Shane looked around my room in shock. “What happened in here?” “We’re sorting through clothes you all might find helpful,” Nick offered, tossing the donation pile off to the side. We had a fun time while showing off some of the clothes we’d collected over the years. I didn’t think the guys were quite prepared for our inventory. As we held things up and showed them off, Aaron, Kurt, and Drew would grab the occasional articles they’d found amusing, just in case they’d decide to include them in their ensemble. Shane, on the other hand, although finding the whole thing funny, didn’t appear to be interested in what we had to offer. “Who wore those?” Shane asked. Nelly looked inquisitively at the black, spandex boy shorts he was holding up, then looked at me. “Wasn’t this you?” I nodded. He looked at Shane while answering. “That’s what I thought. It was Donovan.” Shane’s eyes were wide with shock and disapproval. “You wore...just that...in public?” “Of course not. I also had black combat boots and a black beret,” I smiled brightly. “That sounds hot.” Drew’s comment wasn’t lost on the rest of the group as knowing eyes darted around the room. “It was! If I remember correctly, Donovan was approached about being the star of an orgy that night. Did you ever take them up on that?” Allé teased. “Hell, no. I might dress slutty, but I’m a gentleman,” I laughed. Nelly gave me a knowing look of disbelief. “Mmm, hmm.” My face lit up like a Christmas tree—so much for being discreet. In an effort to end the conversation that might lead to the exposure of things best left in the dark, I ripped the spandex from Nelly’s hands, tossed them toward the bathroom. “Anyway, what are we going to wear tonight? I shaved in all of the right places so, you know, I’m ready for anything,” I smiled, brightly while wiggling my eye brows. There was something exciting about the anticipation—knowing Shane was going to dress me in a way that I was sure he thought would be hot, then I’d get to spend all night making sure he was watching me. I was curious about his taste and what he’d considered “hot club attire.” We’d never made it that far in our relationship. The bar was low since he obviously thought the romper was hot. Aaron and Drew laughed as they rummaged through a few things until they each held an armful of clothes. Drew appeared excited to dress the twins in matching, spandex singlets that covered only the essentials. I raised my brow and laughed as my friends took turns looking at me. Everything Drew had said or did had proved my point, and no one was happier about it than the twins. Honestly, I hoped something would happen that might put my incident with the twins out of the potential spotlight. I didn’t want that topic brought up…ever. After the twins had happily strutted their spandex-clad bodies around the room, Aaron started to get tired of waiting his turn so he dismissed Drew and the twins while tossing clothes to both Olie and Sammy, who happily grabbed them as if they were their first presents of Christmas morning. “Okay, okay! Next!” They were laughing, excitedly, as they raced each other to the bathroom. We could easily hear them laughing as they got ready together. After a few minutes the door burst open as they exploded out of the bathroom. \With their hands on their hips, they walked the invisible catwalk that the twins had previously dominated. Sammy wore faux leather pants and a dark-green, cut-off sweatshirt with a wide, boat neck that hung off of his shoulder—it was actually quite flattering for his chubby frame. Olie wore daisy duke shorts with a neon, fishnet tank top. Neither of their outfits were shocking, not for us anyway, but I was sure Aaron thought it was totally freaking them out. As far as I was concerned, they were suitably dressed for a Mormon-inspired gay club, if there was such a thing. While we sat around, Drew and Aaron were preening like peacocks as we complemented and praised them for their choices of outfits. Allé and I were still wearing our normal clothes. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I was getting more and more anxious as the seconds passed. My curiosity was piqued because Shane seemed so uninterested in the clothes we had presented, I wanted to find out what Shane had planned for me. Secretly, I’d also hoped it’d break the awkward ice wall that’d been between us. “What about us? I didn’t see anybody grab anything. Did you not see anything that struck a fancy?” Allé finally spoke. As Kurt grabbed two, brown, paper bags from the hall. “We went shopping and brought the stuff with us.” He handed one to Shane and tossed the other one to Allé. “There you go!” I watched as Allé rummaged through the bag and laughed. “I’m going to change in the bathroom. BRB!” He tossed us a peace sign as he closed the door behind him. He came back out a few minutes later wearing bleach-washed cut offs, which belonged in the 70’s, and a soft-pink sweater with a giant, white cat on the front. To top it off, he wore a headband with cat ears on it. Allé strutted out of the bathroom and down the invisible cat walk, (which was oddly suiting, considering his outfit) where he turned a few times before sashaying back. “Meow!” I purred, raking my “claws” through the air. Leave it to Kurt to do the unexpected. Everyone else had dressed outrageously, but Allé was dressed as a seventy-year-old woman in a thirty-five-year-old man’s body. We spent the next few minutes ribbing his outfit, although it was weirdly fitting and we all secretly loved it. It was so terribly awesome and I had no doubt he’d be the center of attention all night. When everyone had had their fill, Allé asked Shane about my outfit, to which Shane pushed himself off of the back wall and handed me the last brown bag. I was excited to see what I was going to get, knowing that Allé’s outfit was legit, and Shane was shopping with Kurt. I was actually a little jealous and thought, maybe, I’d get the same thing but with a dog. I loved dogs. I pulled the bag open and furrowed my brow when I saw the items. I continued to dig until my brain had fully processed what I was looking at. “Go change. Everything you need is in there,” Shane assured me. Although, he wasn’t all that assuring as my face filled with horror. “I have to wear it...all?” Shane nodded. As I walked to the bathroom, everyone’s curious eyes were on me. I closed the door behind me, dumped the contents of the bag onto the floor, lifted each piece into the full light of day for inspection. I wanted to cry. “No!” I whined and pleaded loud enough for everyone to hear. “This is such fucking bullshit! I’ll take you up on that rematch!” I shouted through the closed door. Still obviously upset that I’d denied a rematch when he wanted one, Aaron shouted, “Too bad! Now get dressed!” I laid the clothes out and slowly got dressed. When I was done, I looked into the mirror and cringed. Hideous! There was nothing remotely sexy or amusing about my outfit. There were a few quick knocks before Shane’s voice came barreling through the door. “Everything, Donovan!” His voice was pointed and I wondered how he knew I didn’t have it all on? I grabbed the accessories he’d been so kind to pack then collected myself with a deep, calming breath before opening the door. Everyone was totally silent as they took in the sight before them then, as if on cue, they erupted with laughter. “Cat-walk! Cat-walk!” They demanded, in unison. I stiffly walked to the other side of the room, turned quickly, and walked back. If they’d wanted a good show, they were sorely disappointed. By the time I was done, they were laughing even harder. “Where’d you get this stuff?” I asked a smug looking Shane. He’d rounded up an ugly, plaid, short-sleeved, button shirt; pleated khaki shorts that were way too long; striped diabetic looking socks that covered my calves; beige Rockport walking shoes; thick, non-prescription glasses that were gawdy and ugly; and a stupid pocket protector with three pens. “My grandpa,” Shane proudly smiled at my misery. “Thomas?” I was surprised his grandpa had gone for it. I’d thought we were friends! He nodded. “I should’ve burned his clothes when I had the chance,” I murmured to myself. Everyone laughed harder. “I look like a forever virgin and I think these are actual diabetic socks,” I moved my leg side to side as I looked at them in detail. “You’re not getting laid tonight!” Aaron laughed at me and gave a thumbs up to Shane. *** *** *** *** We’d been at the club for less than an hour before we’d decided to hit the dance floor. Without fail, every time one of them looked at me, they’d start laughing. It was not the kind of attention I enjoyed. “Stop laughing.” “I can’t. It doesn’t matter how sexy you try to dance, you look so…ridiculous.” Nick had barely finished his sentence before he keeled over, laughing. I pushed my ill-fitting glasses back into position, which I had to do every thirty seconds. I rolled my eyes and glanced over to Shane, who was sitting at a table with Kurt and Allé. He happened to glance my way and playfully waved his fingers as I glared at him. He looked so smug and happy about his handy work, which I found adorable and annoying…mostly annoying. With all honesty, I didn’t mind the situation. I didn’t love my outfit, but I’d enjoyed the constant joy on Shane’s face. So much so, I was starting to actually enjoy the outfit. I think the conversation, along with everything Shane had shared, finally had time to sink in because the anger and contemptment I’d felt toward him was almost completely gone. Instead, I found myself missing him while craving his laugh and his happiness. “That’s...nice,” the sarcasm rolled off my tongue like molasses as I walked away from their teasing. I heard them pleading for me to go back, but I flipped the bird over my shoulder as I sauntered away. By the sound of the laughter in my wake, I doubted my confident departure had overshadowed the hilarity of my costume. I found an empty barstool and cursed under my breath that I had to pull up my sagging grandpa shorts before taking a seat. They were several sizes too big and the belt didn't help all that much. The bartender had to do a double take and did a terrible job of hiding his laughter once he’d finished looking at me up and down. Of course, it was at that moment my stupid glasses decided to slip down my nose, again, which forced me to push them back up, again. The barkeep stifled his laugh as best he could, but in the end, he offered me my drink for free—perks of being on the receiving end of pity, I suppose. I was halfway through my drink when a cute blonde approached me. I’d seen him around the club scene before and we’d flirted a few times but that was it. I believed his name was Jax or Max? He stood so close he brushed against my body as he casually leaned against the bar and winked. “Hey.” “Hey, yourself,” I lifted my drink to my lips and let my tongue flirtatiously play with the straw. “This isn’t exactly a look I would’ve pegged you for, but damn if you don’t pull it off.” For a moment, I completely forgot I looked like someone who’d spent their entire life inside a dusty library with a collection of vintage shadow boxes filled with neat rows of dead bugs. I pulled the glasses off and looked at them before laughing. “Actually—” Before I had a chance to explain the situation and the reason for my fashion faux pas, strong fingers squeezed my shoulders. “You better put your glasses back on. The last time you took them off, you had a serve pout of vertigo and puked all over the floor. We don’t want that to happen again, do we?” Shane picked up my glasses from the bar and slid them back onto my face. If that wasn’t enough, he pressed the bridge of the glasses with his finger until they were firmly against my face. When I didn’t fight him, he patted my shoulder as a reward for compliance. Bastard. “I’m Shane,” he stuck his hand out to the man. “Dax.” Ah, yes, Dax. The name flooded back, but a little too late as I assumed I’d probably never share another conversation with him after this little episode unfolded. “Nice to meet you. Careful with this one,” Shane slightly shook my shoulders. “He’s a special one.” I didn’t know for sure, but I had the feeling that being “special” wasn’t a good thing and I was almost positive Shane had winked at the guy before he walked away. Dax was staring at me while trying to place something. Finally, his eyes lit up with recognition, he shook his finger at me, and smiled. “I know why you seem familiar!” I held back the urge to look annoyed. ‘Yeah, because we’ve flirted half a dozen times, you idiot!’ I thought to myself. “A while back, you were here with him,” he pointed at Shane. I furrowed my brows as I tried to recall what he was talking about, then it hit me—he was talking about the first time we’d ever gone out with DAKS. The first time I was with Shane. “Not exactly. I was here with a group of friends that included him, but I wasn’t with him.” I thought to myself, ‘Until later that night.’ He waved me off, “That’s beside the point. I remember you looked really good that night. I was talking to my buddies about you when your friend interrupted our conversation. He told us all about how you were transitioning from Georgia to Gordy.” My mouth dropped open as my brain tried to understand his words. Georgia...huh...what? Transitioning? “I have to say, you’ve done a great job. I’m glad he said something, though. If he hadn’t, I never would’ve known until—” he looked at me, knowingly. “He also handed one of my buddies a condom and told him to use it. He said you were on day one of antibiotics for an STD, maybe the clap or something? I don’t remember,” he shrugged and gave me a sympathetic smile. “Anyhow, if you’re interested, I’d like to take you shopping. We could pick out some new outfits for you that’ll turn heads. No offense, but what you have going on tonight doesn’t do you justice and, if the way you looked in the club the last time is any indication, you have serious potential.” My mind continued to reel from the new information. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh at the image of Shane wandering around the bar and spreading the most ridiculous lies about me or be mad at him for sabotaging my night out. Both, but first, I was going to find a way to make him pay. “Well?” Dax looked at me as he waited for my response. “Do you want to go shopping sometime? Maybe celebrate your transition with some killer new clothes? You look amazing, but it hurts to see you not reaching your potential.” “Um…” He grabbed a napkin and asked the barkeep for a pen. “Why don’t we do this? I’m going to give you my number. If you want to take me up on a shopping trip, then text me. If not, no sweat,” he scribbled his information down then held it out to me. Though not completely sure of what had just happened, I plucked the napkin from his fingers and looked at it. “You should call. It’ll be fun,” he said before walking away. I looked at the napkin in disbelief, then turned around hoping Shane had watched the whole thing unfold. In my mind, I hoped he was jealous, worried...or something. Both because deep down I wanted him to feel those things toward me, and also, I wanted to pay him back for spreading lies about me. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t paying attention. He was, however, laughing with Aaron and an unknown character. I decided to order one more drink while I thought my way through a plan to get back at Shane. Evidently, watching a hot blonde approach me had changed the barkeep’s feelings of pity because he wasn’t as generous the second time around and I had to buy my own drink. My ego had taken a huge hit. I’d never had to buy my own drinks before, never. I glanced down at my outfit and knew I’d better get used to it, no one was going to buy me drinks dressed the way I was. My mind quickly returned to Shane and the fact he’d put so much effort into making sure no one took me home that first time at the club. Handing out condoms because I had an STD! Gender transformation! He’d really covered his bases. If I would’ve found out that information at any point before the prior week, I probably would’ve lost my shit. I knew, for a fact, I’d have made a bigger scene than I did the night I dumped him, but where I was (or I should say, we were) I thought it was kind of cute. I was confident he hadn’t done it to be malicious, he’d only wanted me for himself. The more I thought about it, it was kind of romantic. Not in the Nicholas Sparks romantic romance sense, more of a quirky RomCom situation. Nicholas Sparks would’ve never had his sexy lead sit alone in a bar wearing diabetic socks and Dwight Schrute glasses. I glanced at Shane again, only to find him still engrossed in conversation and therefore, not noticing me. For months, he’d always been watching me, allowing his eyes to linger longer than they needed. Ever since brunch, there’d been a drastic decline of lingering gazes, which was probably the reason I became so excited every time I caught him watching, laughing at, or teasing me about my outfit (all three times it had happened). I grabbed my drink and decided to make my way back to the table. I didn’t realize how intently I was watching Shane as laugh with Aaron and the mystery guest until Shane, who suddenly appeared to be rushed and anxious, spoke in a secretive manner only meant for his two friends. I was curious about what was going on when suddenly, Shane pulled the UNSUB toward the dance floor. Aaron laughed as he waved them off and, after watching them for a moment, returned to the table. I on the other hand, stood there feeling disappointed. Shane wasn’t mine. I’d let him go and now he was dragging another man to the dance floor. I knew firsthand what would happen after dancing with Shane. The thought of what had happened between us ever happening between him and someone else was a. unexpected punch to the gut. I felt clammy and nauseous as I brought my drink to my lips and noticed my hand was shaking. I stretched my fingers and gently shook my limbs in an unsuccessful attempt to control myself. For some reason, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Shane and the UNSUB. They were dancing, nothing like the way Shane and I’d danced, which was a relief, but they were smiling and laughing. It was clear they were having fun together and it was a bit unnerving. Although we’d shared moments like that—quite a few of them when we were happy—most of the time we’d known each other has been less than cheerful. The default setting in me blamed Shane because he’d been a jerk from the beginning, so it was his fault. I watched Shane dance happily. There was a carefree nature about him that was rare. I’d only seen it once or twice during our short romance and I doubted many had had the pleasure of witnessing it. I was jealous and angry because someone else was the reason for it when it should’ve been me. It was at that moment, when I was watching Shane and wanting to blame him for my pain and everything that had gone wrong, that I’d experienced a brutal blow to everything I’d ever known as true. It was a terrible, unflattering montage of my life. Clips and glimpses from my childhood to present life revealed parts of me I’d never wanted to acknowledge (for obvious reasons). As much as I’d wanted to, I couldn’t blame him for the demise of us, I could only blame him for the slow start. It was me, I was the saboteur. I had a gift for making mountains out of a molehills and manipulating any situation so I was the victim. I usually dumped my partner before he could grow a pair and stand up to me. In my mind, I was a victim while in the relationship and I was justified when it finally ended. I was the epitome of a terrible person and I had done the thing I always did, to Shane. I should’ve forgiven him when he brought brunch, but in the deep dark recesses of my subconscious, if I’d forgiven him, then I would’ve lost the upper hand. I noticed the glasses slipping down my nose around the same time I noticed my shorts were falling uncomfortably low. For the first time in a long time, I considered myself the biggest loser. Not because of what I was wearing, but because of how I was feeling. I turned away from Shane because my newly found self-revelation had made watching him too hard. I wanted to go home and wallow in self-pity over the things I’d royally screwed up during my life. Over Shane. I pushed my glasses up, hitched my pants to a more comfortable position, and pushed my way through the bar. I was nearly to the door when I was grabbed by both arms and carried backward; my feet dragging helplessly as Drew and Aaron laughed and talked amongst themselves. “Bitch be crazy if he thinks he’s leaving.” “A bet is a bet and you can’t leave until your keeper says it’s okay and I doubt Shane said you can leave.” They deposited me on one of the empty chairs then grabbed the others for themselves. I sat at the table and quietly observed my friends as they interacted with each other until Shane finally returned. His smile was brighter than ever as he sat on the seat furthest away from me, not that there weren’t closer ones available. Everyone seemed excited by his return, I couldn’t remember him ever having such an animated welcome. “So? How’d it go?” Aaron’s question wasn’t meant for everyone to hear and I doubted anyone did since they were back to whatever they’d been doing prior to Shane arriving, but I heard it. Shane smiled. “Perfect. I couldn’t have picked a better one. He’s super into it and, although he’s a little wild, he had me laughing the whole time.” They smiled at each other as Aaron gripped his shoulder and shook him in a congratulatory manner. Aaron asked him something, which I couldn’t hear, and Shane responded by enthusiastically nodding before replying. Aaron was pleased enough by the response to discreetly pump his pull his fist in victory, almost elbowing poor Nick, who sat on the other side of him. I felt the full blow, metaphorically, in the middle of my gut. I wasn’t sure what was going on but I didn’t like it, and I didn’t feel like sitting there; pretending like nothing was bothering me. “Refill?” I offered weakly, when no one responded, I quietly slipped out of my chair. I felt like Eeyore as I sluggishly made my way to the bar. Poor Donovan. I looked and felt like a loser. I had to buy my own drinks, everyone at the table was in their own little group, and no one seemed to be inclined to talk to me. Not one guy hit on me all evening. I looked like a loser and most of them probably thought I was a Trans slut with STD’s. I stood at the bar and, as I’d expected, no one approached me…not even the barkeep. I stared across the room, while waiting, and saw the UNSUB blatantly flirting with another guy. I was fixated on them as they kept touching each other until the UNSUB pulled the other guy super close and kissed him…big time! They were still kissing when the barkeep, clearly annoyed because I wasn’t ready for him, finally got my attention. I quickly ordered my drink then went back to watching UNSUB 1 and UNSUB 2 play grab ass with each other. I was angry at UNSUB 1 for doing that to Shane, who was clearly happy about whatever was starting between the two of them. Who was I trying to kid—I was fucking happy. I paid for my drink and practically skipped back to the table. The smile was quickly wiped from my face when I noticed we had a yet another guest at our table. It just wasn’t my night. I had a feeling there wasn’t any chance I was going to get ahead. At least no one else was over enthusiastic about Davis joining in on our fun, especially not Shane. I took the last free seat, which happened to be next to him. “Donovan. It’s nice to see you again,” Davis lied through his teeth. He wasn’t happy to see me. “You, too,” I lied my ass of in return. An Eeyore moment—of course I’d get to spend the rest of my evening next to Davis, of-fucking-course. I looked around, in an effort to find someone else's conversation to join, but there was none. I was stuck in the desert alone—death by Davis. “I saw Shane dancing with someone,” he offered, as if this was brand new information. “Why? Didn’t you know he’s a decent dancer?” I said, a little edge in my voice. He laughed. “Not at all, I actually imagine he dances quite well, among other things (he quietly mumbled the last words). I was just surprised it wasn’t you is all. Every day, he’s too busy to meet with me because he has plans with you. I’ve never understood the appeal, myself, especially after you dumped him the way you did, but (he stirred his drink as his word trailed off) whatever…” What was that fool talking about? I hadn’t done anything with Shane for weeks. Plans with him every day? I looked at Shane, only to find him and his friends staring at me with slightly panicked faces. “Then I saw dressed like that you (his eyes raked up and down my body with disgust) so it’s no wonder your boyfriend was finding other meat.” Boyfriend? I looked at Shane again and, once again, he and his friends looked worried. Aaron’s eyes were especially wide as he gently shook his head no. Warning me? I decided not to comment on the boyfriend issue since I didn’t hate the word. I ran my hands down my chest, smoothing the fabric of my ridiculous outfit, and shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Shane picked it out.” I managed a smug smile. His feelings for Shane were obvious and it brought me pleasure to prove him wrong, even if it wasn’t. He quickly turned his head toward Shane and gasped as he pointed at him. “You dressed your boyfriend (he pointed at me) like that (he waved his hand up and down my body)!” There was that word again—boyfriend. Then it dawned on me, and I smiled at the realization, that Shane had probably told him we were still dating as an excuse to keep him away. I could work with that. They still looked worried and now I knew why. They didn’t want me to ruin his little ploy. I shot them a wink to let them know I was on board. They didn’t seem calmed by it, if anything, their agitation increased. I figured I needed to voice my support to let them know I wasn’t going to spoil anything. “He’s a jealous boyfriend so he dressed me like this to keep other guys away.” Davis didn’t look convinced so I got up and walked around the table and planted myself on Shane’s lap. I wrapped my arm around his neck and kissed his cheek. “What are you doing?” His voice was tense. I smiled brightly at him. “Saving you from Davis. What does it look like?” The evening had been pretty shitty, but things appeared to be turning in my favor. I was going to be Shane’s faux boyfriend, prove to him that he still wanted me, and by the end of the night, he was going to be eating out of my hand, again. “I’d prefer you didn’t.” He turned his attention to the group and announced, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Actually, we’re not dating anymore—” He was ruining everything by announcing our split, so in a panic, I excitedly interrupted him. “We’re engaged!” Shane’s body went rigid and I watched everyone try to hold a straight face as they watched the drama play out. In a rash attempt to stop him from setting the record straight, I might’ve made it worse. “Donovan—” He started, but I quickly cut him off. “We weren’t planning on announcing it, yet, but I guess this is as good of a time as any, since all of our friends are here!” I pleaded for help from my friends, who looked as if they’d rather watch me drown myself. Oliver finally took pity and started to clap until, finally, the others finally joined in. I didn’t miss the glare Shane had sent his friends, who unapologetically smiled at the show. “Oh, that’s wonderful news,” Davis lied through his teeth. Since they were on a roll, their clapping turned to over-the-top congratulations and tips for planning the wedding. Aaron even tried to convince Shane and me that we could probably find a place to do it that night or stop by the courthouse on Monday and do a quickie. I looked at Shane and smiled, innocently. “We talked about eloping, but we want our families there. Isn’t that right, baby cakes?” I wanted to tell him he could put his arms around me, his hands were hanging limply at his side, but I didn’t know how to do it discreetly, so I grabbed his hands and wrapped them around my waist as I burrowed deeper into his lap. “Stop,” Shane spoke softly into my ear. “Relax, pookie.” I kissed the top of his head and squeezed him tight. Davis looked as though he wanted to murder me, which made me smile even brighter. I was enjoying the closeness when Nelly grabbed my attention from the other end of the table and waved me over. “I’ll be right back, stud muffin. Don’t miss me too much.” I affectionately rubbed my nose against his before making my way to Nelly. “What are you doing?” Nelly laughed as I got closer. “Davis thought we were boyfriends. I think Shane told him that as an excuse to keep him away, so I’m playing along,” I smiled. I was so proud of myself. “No, you’re going to fuck everything up—” I had no chance to ask what I could possibly fuck up because we were cut off by a booming presence. “Hey, babe, sorry I took so long.” The UNSUB, who’d completely forgotten about, was hugging Shane from behind as he kissed his cheek. Shane laughed uncomfortably as he patted the man’s arms before pointing for him to sit on a vacant chair. Drew, Aaron, and Kurt’s eyes were wide, like they were watching a magic show and couldn’t wait to see what was about to happen. My friends looked at me with pity, except Nelly, who was shaking his head with an “I told you so” look on his face. “Wait, who’s this?” Davis asked. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Jordan, Shane’s boyfriend.” Shane’s boyfriend? My heart sank. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. “I thought you were engaged to Donovan?” Shane remained silent as the UNSUB furrowed his brows for a moment before piecing it all together. “Oh, they were, but not anymore. That’s old news.” He was met with zero resistance as he took Shane’s hand into his. I was hurt and angry because Shane had a boyfriend and everyone had failed to mention it. Mostly, I was embarrassed and humiliated because I’d pretended to be his boyfriend/fiancé, only to have it blow up in my face. I looked, and felt, like a bigger loser than I did earlier. Regardless, I’d seen that guy sucking face with another guy not thirty minutes earlier and I wasn’t about to go down without a fight. “If you guys are dating, then why did I see you suck face with another guy when I was getting my drink less than thirty minutes ago?” I spit as I crossed my arms and smirked in victory. Checkmate. Both the UNSUB and Shane looked panicked, but the UNSUB recovered quicker. “There are lots of people making out tonight. I think you’re confusing me with somebody else. We’ve never met, how would you know if it was me?” “Because I watched you dancing with Shane, earlier!” I blurted out, pushing the falling glasses up. I couldn’t believe the guy was lying about being a cheating asshole. He looked at me with sympathy and nodded. “It must be hard to see your ex move on.” “He’s lying! I know what I saw!” I looked at Shane and gritted my teeth. “Donovan, stop,” he pleaded as he put his arm around the back of the UNSUB’s chair. I was angry. I couldn’t believe Shane didn’t believe me. I looked at the rest of the group, but it was obvious they had no intentions of helping so I stormed off. I was going to prove to Shane that his boyfriend was a liar and a cheater if it was the last thing I did. I wasn’t perfect, but I’d neither lied nor cheated. I held my pants up with one hand as I searched the bar until I found the guy I’d seen UNSUB (Jordan) kissing and practically ran to him. “Are you here with Jordan?” I asked while huffing from my frantic search. He looked me over and smiled at my clothes, but I didn’t have time for that shit—I needed answers. “Yeah, I know, I look like the old guy from UP. Now, answer my question.” “Yeah, he’s my boyfriend. What about it?” I couldn’t have gotten a better reply. I let out a loud sigh of relief and pulled his arm. “Come with me.” I wanted everyone to see my evidence so I shoved him in front of me as soon as we got to the table. I smiled at the group and then moved to, and glared at, Jordan. I gestured the man, whose name I hadn’t asked, toward the table. “Please point to your boyfriend.” He only stood there, not saying or do anything. I nudged him. “Come on, tell them what you told me, earlier.” Frustrated because he wasn’t doing his job, I looked at him in annoyance. He mouthed sorry as he stared apologetically at Jordan. “Uh…I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. This wasn’t part of the deal,” he sputtered after a moment of awkward silence. “What’s going on here?” I asked. Shane dropped his head into his hands while Jordan cringed. Aaron gripped Shane’s shoulder, for support, while the rest of the crew tried to hold back their amusement. Something was off, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. “You guys can leave,” Shane finally said. “I’m sorry. I tried!” Jordan laughed as he got up and walked toward his boyfriend before they left together. The table was quiet as I tried to figure out what the hell had happened. Everyone seemed to be clued in, except Davis and me, which was terrible because I didn’t want to be as clueless as him. “So, you’re not engaged to Donovan?” Davis asked Shane. “No.” “And you’re not dating that other guy?” “No.” “Then what the hell is going on?” I was wondering the same thing. “Honestly, I have no fucking idea,” Shane laughed. Davis shook his head. “This is too weird. I’m out of here.” He grabbed his drink and left without so much as a backward glance or a goodbye—not that I cared. I was glad to see him leave and I didn’t want him to look at me after I’d just made a fool of myself. As soon as he was out of earshot, the table erupted into laughter. “Oh, my God! That was epic!” “I wish we had that on video!” “The look on Donovan’s face!” “The look on Shane’s face!” “The look on Davis’ face!” “No! The best was when Donovan tried to storm off while trying to keep his clothes on! I died!” “Classic! But not as classic as Shane’s face when Donovan sat on his lap.” “Or when Jordan showed up. I thought he was going to pass out.” “Are you guys forgetting the best part? We’re engaged!” The recap went on and on until, finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was confused and felt like shit, so sitting around while all of my friends laughed at my expense, wasn’t something I could do any longer. I stood and decided to go somewhere else. I’d been sitting at the bar, alone and drinking water, when Shane sat next to me. He didn’t say anything nor could I look at him. “I was only trying to help,” I offered after the silence had become unbearable. “Oh, is that what you call that?” He laughed. I glanced over and saw him smile at his beer. Happy to see him happy, I smiled down at my water, which caused my glasses to slide down my nose, again, so I took them off and twirled them the counter with my finger. I chuckled. “How was I supposed to know you recruited someone else?” I shook my head. “I made a total fool of myself.” “There’s no way you could’ve known. Mostly, there was no reason for you to know because I didn’t ask for your help. And when I tried to set the record straight, you cut me off. He’s my boss, Donovan. He got me the biggest contract of my career and now, I look like a total fool. We’re supposed to work together for at least four years. How am I supposed to look at him again?” He didn’t sound angry, but he wasn’t happy, either. I, on the other hand, felt attacked and when I feel attacked, I lash out. “Well, sor-ry! I didn’t ask you to tell everyone I was a Tran with STD’s, but you did anyway!” There was a moment of silence before Shane stood, abruptly pushing the stool back. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him, so I didn’t. “You’re right, I fucked up. What am I at anyway, Donovan? You’re the one who likes to keep count. Seven strikes? Eight, maybe? Does it matter anymore? It might as well be seven hundred. Doesn’t matter what I do, it’s wrong.” By the time I’d mustered the courage to look at him, he was back at the table with our friends. I felt like such a shitty person because he was right, I did keep track. I’d always made sure he knew how far behind he was, but actually, I was the one in last place. I crossed my arms on the bar and laid my head on them in defeat. I felt as though I dug myself a hole that was too deep and too wide to come back from.
  7. 47 points
    Chapter 13 Portento is Sanctuary: It Calls those in Need. Rory lay on his bed staring at the ceiling, his brain unable to shut down. It was late, he had driven in from Grandma Asta’s at eleven o’clock. Shifting to the right, he took up his cell phone and swiped his thumb over the screen. He couldn’t help smiling at the message from Milan. ‘Hope you got home okay. ‘Night, Rory.’ He had replied over an hour ago, but couldn’t help staring at the message wondering if Milan was asleep. It was a few minutes to midnight. He hoped Milan was asleep by now. Turning off his phone, Rory sat up, his thoughts filling with Grandma Asta’s warning. Like she kept his secrets, she was never wrong about her warnings. Beware of the shadow, Rory frowned. Could be someone following him? Or a shadow coming ahead, like foreboding shadow…Rory shook his head, pushing fingers through his hair. That aside, how was it possible to be the only wolf in Portento to have a human mate? Surely, there had to be others before him. Getting out of bed, Rory pulled on a t-shirt, adjusted the waistband on his boxers and sauntered to his bedroom door. Dim lights illuminated the corridor, and as he stepped out, he was careful to close his bedroom door. Since he could not sleep, this was the perfect time to explore the archives in the attic, unnoticed. Christopher’s bedroom was next to his on his left, after that was Matt’s room, then the stairwell. Rory paused to look to the end of the corridor on his right at Topher and Maryanne’s room. Their door was closed too, not that he wanted to investigate. Walking to the stairwell, Rory started up the stairs to the attic, only to pause when he heard his father’s rough voice from the end of the left corridor. There was a small sitting area between his father’s suite and the Vadisi suite. The Alpha and his Beta were having a night cap. His father sounded as though he had drunk more than a few. “We should postpone the boys’ ascension ceremony,” Connor said, his tone sounded conversational, but Rory picked up on the hard edge. “I know Rory’s turned eighteen, but wouldn’t it be better to name them when they have all found their mates?” “I’m surprised Rory hasn’t found his yet,” Kutler said. “Topher and Maryanne found each other in the gatherings we have. Matt is late too, but I'm sure he'll find him or her soon. As for Rory, the alpha needs a mate to help him hold the pack together.” “That’s very traditional thinking, Kutler,” Connor said, with a scoff. “I’ve not had my mate for eight years. The pack continues just fine.” “I’m not saying that the pack is suffering,” Kutler soothed. “But, you had Johanna when you were taking the reins from your father. She made it easier for you. The pack was secure and strong through your transition. I want that for Rory too. So, would she.” “I don’t want to talk about her,” Connor hissed. “Don’t hold traditions over Rory’s head, Kutler. It is bad enough we have to deal with Lechter and his campaign against the humans. The future is already going to be hard enough for the boys. We don’t need to make it harder pushing ancient rules on them. This pack needs change.” “Easier said than done,” Kutler said, with a heavy sigh. Rory gripped the banister tight, glad to hear his father advocating change. Not wanting to intrude on a private conversation, he continued up the stairs, careful to remain undetected. The attic took up the whole roof, and served as a private family library. It housed all the pack records from year to year, century to century. Funny thing was that no one in the family really came up here other than to store more records when the shelves downstairs got too full. Rory closed the attic door and hurried to the lineage shelf in the back. He needed to find if there was a record of another wolf mated to a human in Portento, especially in his lineage. However many centuries he had to go back, he needed to know how the pack had handled such a rare event. Rory stayed in the attic reading through old records until he fell asleep sitting at one of the tables, old record books open around him. He woke up with a start at six in the morning when he heard a car start in the front yard. Rubbing his eyes, Rory let out a yawn and grabbed up the books on the table returning them to their place. He had found one record dated two decades ago of a human mated to a wolf. The wolf was not a Morgan so he had been kicked out of town with his human mate. Rory hated to imagine how that must have felt. It wasn't easy leaving Portento. He left the attic with a heavy sigh and raced back to his bedroom determined to reach school before Milan. Whatever their fate, he wanted to spend every second he could with his mate. Grandma Asta’s gift opened a new world for Rory. Thanks to the bracelet he no longer felt an insane urge to tear heads off when Jack, Adam and Josh stood too close to Milan. In fact, it felt good to know that Milan was making friends. After dinner the night before, Rory felt as though he understood Milan a little. It was good to see Milan smile when Jack talked to him. During lunch period, instead of sitting alone at the table at the corner, Rory led Milan to sit with Jack and his friends. Through lunch, Rory watched Milan laugh at Jack’s jokes, join in the conversation when Jack's friends asked Milan questions. Milan sat beside Rory, and often leaned into him when he was put on the spot. The unconscious movement, unnoticed by Milan, felt like immense progress to Rory. Rory's favorite time of their second day in school was Milan’s last period. They spent Milan’s last period in the library this time as Milan wasn’t tired enough to need sleep. Milan did his homework, while Rory read a novel from the shelves called ‘The Legend of Asena’. Periodically stealing glances at Milan when he was sure Milan was too busy to notice. Milan had kept his mask on through the day, only removing it at lunch. Rory was glad to see Milan felt comfortable enough to pull it down when they were alone together in the library. When the bell rang, signaling the end of the day, Rory helped Milan gather his books as Milan wore his jacket. “I wish I could come over this evening,” Rory said, walking with Milan to the front doors. “You can, you know,” Milan offered, adjusting the weight of his book bag on his shoulder. Rory stopped him by the doors, turning him so that he could zip up Milan’s heavy jacket. Milan looked up at him, brown eyes filled with an emotion Rory could not describe. Rory narrowed his gaze when he saw a frown flirt across Milan’s forehead. He remembered Ayu and Ilaria’s worry that Milan would get bullied, or not be able to make friends and felt his heart ache. Rory placed his hands on Milan’s shoulders, and smiled, holding Milan’s gaze. “Remember I told you about my big brother, Chris?” The frown disappeared and Milan nodded. “Yeah?” “I’m meeting him this afternoon. It was a promise we made earlier, so I can’t break it. Otherwise, I’d love to come over your house and discover if Marie has more of that crostata.” Milan smiled then and Rory’s heartbeat skipped at the sight of it. “If you want, I can ask Marie to make some and pack it for lunch tomorrow.” “I’d love that,” Rory said, opening the front door, he ushered Milan into the cool afternoon. The weather wasn’t too bad: the sun on the snow was beautiful but the air remained chilly. Rory was glad to see the black Audi he knew belonged to the Takedas already waiting at the curb. He walked Milan to the front passenger side, opening the door, he waited for Milan to slide in, before he peeked in to see Ilaria. “Afternoon, Dr. Ilaria,” he greeted her with a wave. “Rory. How is your afternoon?” “Great,” Rory answered. “Are you coming over later?” Ilaria asked. “I have to meet my big brother,” Rory said. “I’ll come over tomorrow though.” “Oh, alright,” Ilaria smiled at him, and Rory turned to Milan. “See you, Milan.” “Say hi to your brother,” Milan said. Rory nodded and closed Milan’s door. He stepped back and watched the Audi drive off already wishing he could see Milan again. A short honk brought his attention to a green jeep parked behind him. Rory grinned when he saw Matt, Topher and Chris watching him. “What?” Rory asked, when he slid into the backseat next to Chris. Chris would not stop staring. “Don’t ‘what’ me,” Chris folded his hands against his chest, resting his back against his door to look at Rory. “What was that just now?” “Where?” Rory asked. “You, being all nice to the humans,” Chris scoffed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use that gentle tone with anyone. Not even, Grandma Asta. Spill now.” Rory looked at Matt and Topher who were studying the road ahead quite hard. He chuckled and turned to Chris. “I’m making friends, Chris,” Rory said. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing the same with Ayu Takeda?” Chris narrowed his gaze at him, before he shrugged and shook his head. “Don’t remind me. I’m having a hell of a time with him. He’s always on the phone when it’s time for lunch. It’s hard to get a word in when he’s talking Italian nonstop on his phone.” “To whom?” Rory asked. “Someone named Tina,” Chris sighed. “The most I’ve managed is waving my hand at him. He gave me this look like I was the enemy.” “You are the enemy,” Rory pointed out. Topher drove away from the main town, turning right before they got to the road that led to the pack house. He drove deeper into the forest, coming to a stop at a familiar clearing. Anyone passing by the clearing would think the wood house built in the middle of the clearing a shack, but they had all grown up hanging out here. Topher parked the jeep in a careless stop before he and Matt jumped out, closing the doors as they ran to the shack. At the entrance into the small house, Rory saw Maryanne jump into Topher’s arms, Matt went around them entering the shack with a short laugh when the lovers started making out. Left in the silence of the jeep, Rory stared at his boots until Chris squeezed his left shoulder. Rory glanced at his big brother. “Do you remember my mom?” Rory asked. “Of course, Rory. The same way you remember my mom.” “Since I found about Milan and his family moving here, she’s all I can think about,” Rory said, shaking his head. “I remember she didn’t mind humans, said we had a lot to learn from them.” Rory looked out the window, his gaze on Matt and Topher who were now sitting on benches set outside the shack. Rory’s gaze took in the wild nature surrounding them: tall trees, snow on the ground and the cool air. His thoughts filled with one of the last memories he had of his mother. He remembered her driving in to town with Aunt Leona, and taking him along on their day out in the town. It was mid-summer, days before they both died. Chris had gone camping with Uncle Derrick, Leona’s mate. Johanna and Leona bought Rory a banana split at a little café in town ran by one of the original families. Then sat talking while he destroyed his banana split. They laughed, and made jokes, danced to music from the jukebox. It was the best memory Rory had of his mother. He remembered every detail about that day. How happy she had looked. “Rory?” “I need your help,” Rory said, his jaw set. “Please help me keep Milan’s family in this town.” “Why?” Rory closed his eyes, his hands curling into fists. “I—” Rory started, then stopped, swallowing hard. “Humans murdered my parents and your mom,” Chris said, not waiting for Rory to finish. “Left them for dead in the middle of a road like roadkill. Have you forgotten that?” Rory shook his head. How could he? “I won’t ever forget it.” “If you remember, then you should give me a solid explanation. Our story is not unique. Almost half the pack in this town has had a run-in with tragedy tied to humans. Some stories are more horrific than ours, and it pains me to say it, because ours is not so great. Portento is sanctuary to all that are other, not for humans.” “Yes, I know that. Sanctuary to all who seek relief. It calls those who are in need of protection to find solace from their suffering,” Rory recited his mother’s words. Remembering them as though she had told him an hour ago. “I know Portento’s purpose, Chris. I respect it but, I also feel as though Milan is here seeking sanctuary too.” “Milan, Milan,” Chris said, “Matt and Topher are also going on about this Milan. 'Chris, don't hurt Milan's big bro.' 'Chris, be genuine with Milan's brother.' Who the hell is he to you?” “My mate,” Rory answered, meeting Chris’s gaze, his heart plain for his big brother to see. “He is mine, Chris, and I need your help to protect him.” Chris hissed then got out of the jeep, hands on his head. Rory hurried after him, only to stop when Chris turned to face him, his eyes glinting yellow. “Don’t ask this of me,” Chris said, his tone heavy with sadness. “I can’t do it.” “You don’t know him—” “Neither do you!” Chris cut in, his canines extending, fur rippling up his arms, clearly upset. “How long have you known about this?” Rory took in a deep breath knowing this was going to hurt. He and Chris had promised never to keep secrets from each other. “The day you raced Dolon,” Rory answered. “Shit,” Chris growled, walking back to grab Rory’s t-shirt collar. “What am I to you?” “You’re my brother,” Rory answered, meeting angry yellow eyes. “You have to know this was really hard for me to process. I needed time—time to get used to all of it. I’m still working on it even now. It’s really difficult for me to stay away from him—” “It will be impossible for you to keep him, Rory,” Chris said, his tone harsh. “Snap out of it. No wolf in this pack has mated a human.” “I checked the records last night. There was one before me,” Rory insisted. “The council took care of that. The pair was chased out of the territory within hours of mating. You’re Alpha to-be, this will not fly with the council. Find a nice girl, do it with her, then marry her.” “I don’t deserve that, Chris.” “Why not? I do it all the time, except for the last part.” “I’m not you,” Rory said, pushing Chris back, anger flooding him. “Fucking around like I’ll never find my mate. It would be worse knowing he is so close and I’m hurting him that way.” “Then you’re an idiot,” Chris said, letting go of Rory’s t-shirt. “You’ll both end up dead if Lechter has anything to do with it.” “Does that mean you won’t help me?” Rory asked, hurt by the thought of being on opposite sides with Chris. He couldn't abandon Milan, and with each day that passed, it looked like he needed Chris to get through this. Knowing that, it hurt even more to imagine Chris hurting Milan in anyway. “Guess I know why Lara left you. You’re a coward.” Chris lashed out, punching Rory’s jaw hard. Pain exploded in Rory’s mouth, and all the anxiety and frustration Rory had kept hidden rose to the surface. When Chris came at him again, he retaliated, pushing Chris back with force. In seconds, Rory shifted into his wolf, and was rolling over snow, mud and dried leaves doing his best to incapacitate Chris’s grey wolf. **** “Which one of you will tell me why you were fighting?” Kutler demanded, thirty minutes later. It had taken both Matt and Topher to stop their fight. Unfortunately for them, the noise from their intense fight had attracted the security team's notice and soon everyone in the huge pack house had come out to see. Rory now stood in his tattered jeans, his feet in borrowed muddy sneakers, blood sliding down his left arm from a deep cut on his bicep. His right eye swollen shut, and one of his ribs had turned a deep purple. Chris stood beside him, supported by Topher and Matt. His left thigh had a deep gouge, and deep scratches crisscrossed his abdomen. His eyes were both swollen, and there was a deep cut on his lip. He kept his head down not daring look at Kutler. “The future Alpha fighting his own brother,” Kutler scoffed. “What kind of picture are you painting for the young ones? Is this the type of leadership I expect from you?” Rory shook his head, his hands in tight fists. He kept his gaze down too, not daring meet Kutler’s gaze. When they didn’t answer, or try to explain the fight, Kutler let out a heavy sigh. “Matt? Topher? What do you two have to say about this?” “Nothing, Sir,” Matt said. “I have no idea, Sir,” Topher answered. “Closing ranks,” Kutler said, nodding. “That’s admirable, but it has earned all four of you time at the security office. June will set shifts for you. I expect you to carry out town patrols without fail. You miss one and two shifts are added to your schedule.” Rory wanted to curse his rotten luck, but refrained from making a comment. Any complaint would earn them more time and he didn’t need to bring more trouble to Matt and Topher. This was already bad enough. Town patrol meant their free time was over. “Rory, Chris,” Kutler said, bringing his attention back. “Yes, Sir,” Rory said, echoed by Chris whose voice was laced with pain. “I never want to see you brothers fighting to this extent. Whatever it is that has you both so hotheaded: Work. It. Out!” Kutler ordered, before he waved the pack’s nurse over from their curious audience. Rory let out a sigh as Matt helped Topher carry Chris into the house, heading into the basement where the pack’s medical equipment was set up. He followed them at a slower pace, feeling like shit over the whole incident. ****
  8. 44 points
    Simon froze, he couldn’t have heard right. He went to pull away, but Kitryn held on to the back of his head and made him still again. “No, please, don’t move just, feed and listen.” Simon settled down and tried to relax as Kitryn kept talking, his soft breath brushing Simon’s ear. “I know you don’t understand, but I promise I will try to explain. As O’Connor said, different shifters recognize their mates in different ways. “My breed recognizes our mates by scent. Your scent was all over that cave in the mountains. My cat was tired and in pain when he picked up your scent and he headed for what he felt was safety. “When I shifted and realized you didn’t know what I was, I knew I couldn’t tell you about being mates until you understood about at least paranormals in general, if not shifters in particular. “By the time we met up with Meg things were going to hell. We were being chased by men who may have been after one or all of us. Then we met the bears and we found out about the seers. Then Carl brought up mates and O’Connor arrived. I knew I needed to tell you before they did, or you worked out for yourself.” Simon’s remained still, feeding slowly and trying to soak up and sort out what Kitryn had said. So they were mates! What exactly did that mean? Did that mean Kitryn was attracted to him? Simon thought Kitryn was the best looking man he’d ever seen. But he was young, inexperienced, and a new Vampire to boot. He was a virgin when he escaped the Cult. Then he’d been homeless. Lastly, he’d been turned into a vampire. His total experience was some quick blowjobs in dark alleys when he really got desperate for money. Needless to say, he had been the blow-er, not the blow-ee. Once he’d been turned he was scared of hurting someone. What did he do now? What should he say? It seemed Kitryn wasn’t finished though. “You don’t have to say anything right now. All I ask is please don’t push me away. Let me care for you, feed you, and teach you. If you decide you can only offer friendship, then I will try and accept that and not push for more. “However, if you can see yourself in a relationship with me then I want you to give me a chance to prove myself a worthy mate. I would use everything I know how to do to make you happy and to keep you that way.” The last part of what Kitryn said and the lost tone of his voice was what broke through Simon's stillness. Removing his fangs and gently licking across the bite to aid healing, Simon thought carefully about what he should say. “I am attracted to you. As a shifter, I’m sure you can smell that. But, I must tell you I have never been in the relationship. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Kitryn stroked a hand softly down Simon’s back. “That’s the joy of being mates, we get to learn together. All you have to do is say yes.” Simon pushed up to look directly into Kitryn’s eyes, they shone with sincerity and Simon felt his heart melting. “Yes.”
  9. 44 points
    I thought I must be awake, but something wasn't right. It felt like it was still the middle of the night because my bedside light was on and I was feeling cold. It had been late when we'd gone to bed after the Midnight Service, so I was probably going to be a little short on sleep, but I'd hoped to get a few hours in before getting up to see what Christmas Day would bring. It dawned on me that I wasn't lying on my side with Troy spooned into me as he virtually always was. That might explain why I felt cold but not why I was on my back. I opened my eyes properly and saw Troy kneeling over my chest and wearing a pointed red Christmas cap, trimmed with white. “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, Adam,” he said. I giggled. “You're mad,Troy. It's the middle of the friggin' night what are you doing up?” “Hey, that's gonna cost you, but I am up 'cos I wanna give you your first present.” My mind was slowly beginning to function. “But mom said the other day presents aren't exchanged until after breakfast.” “This isn't an exchange and I don't think my folks would wanna see it.” He raised himself up a little so I could see his dick. But for once I couldn't see his foreskin as his dick was covered. He manoeuvred it closer to my face and I saw it was in a condom on which was printed 'Merry Christmas, Adam.' “Where the fuck did you get that?” I exclaimed. “That's two tings you're gonna get later. Never mind where I got it, aren't you gonna unwrap it?” “You bet I am!” Not only did I unwrap my present, but I gave it a good wash to make sure it was totally clean, during which it gave me a little snack. I had no idea where he'd got it from, but what a way to start Christmas Day! We had a little snuggle after that, but neither of us felt like going back to sleep. I guess I felt like little kids do on Christmas Day – for sure I'd never felt like this before. I already knew Christmas with Troy and his folks was going to be different to any I'd ever had and waking up in bed with him was just one indication of how my life had changed. “What time is it?” Troy asked after a while. I rolled over to look at the little clock on my nightstand. “Just after seven.” “Shall we get up?” Oh boy, today was definitely going to be different it seemed. Troy never wanted to get up – at least in terms of getting out of bed. “Your mom's never gonna believe it if we do.” He laughed. “It'll be almost like when I was a little kid and would go charging into their bedroom carrying my Christmas stocking. I used to jump on the bed and wake them up and we'd open my presents from Santa Claus.” He sighed at the recollection and I felt a pang for something I'd never experienced. “I expect they're already up anyway. Plus, sooner we have breakfast the sooner we can have our presents. Come on lazy one – move!” He pushed me and I pushed him back and we continued like that for a couple of minutes giggling as we did. In the end I rolled to the edge of the bed and put my feet on the ground to stand up before taking a couple of step towards the bathroom. I slept on the side of the bed nearest there so Troy had to walk round from his side. I pushed the bathroom door open and happened, as I did so, to glance at the door of the bedroom and saw my pa's belt hanging there. We'd placed it there after my ma had sent it to me following his death a couple of months ago. I stopped in the entrance and as he came up behind me I bent over to present my butt to him. “I've gotta pay two 'tings' for swearing earlier.” “Its Christmas Day, Adam. I was gonna let you off.” “Do it Troy. I just saw that belt on the back of the door and realized what would have happened if I'd used those words last Christmas.” Somehow Troy sensed what I wanted and the two tings he delivered were rather harder than those we normally gave each other. “Better now?” he said as I stood up. “It will be after you've kissed it.” He knelt down and did just that and I got hard as a result. His hand came round from behind and gently stroked my dick. “Let's get in the shower and do something about that,” he said. So we did. Christmas Day just kept getting better. -------- When we got downstairs his parents were already in the kitchen. We exchanged Christmas greetings and I gave mom a kiss while Mr C pulled me into a hug. Troy and I had some juice and a little cereal while mom prepared scrambled eggs and bacon. “What time's Gran coming over?” Troy asked. Mom rolled her eyes at me before answering, “You've always been impatient Troy – you even arrived a couple of days early!” That comment made both me and his father laugh. “She said she'd be here by nine at the latest, and Gran always does what she says.” I looked at the clock, it showed just after half past eight, so she wouldn't be long it seemed. We sat and talked for a bit and in a little while she appeared through the back door. Everyone stood up and went to give her a kiss and a hug. She started to take off her coat, stopped and turned to Troy, “Troy, your present is in the trunk of my car, but it's a bit heavy for me to lift. Would you be a dear and help me get it out. Here's the keys.” She handed Troy the keys and led the way back outside. Mom and Mr C made to follow and mom signalled for me to come too. I was puzzled, but followed close behind them. “Gran, you've got a new car!” I heard Troy exclaim, a second or two before I could see the front of a red Kia Rio on the drive. Troy walked round to the rear and opened the trunk. His head appeared round the side of the car almost immediately. “Gran, there's nothing here.” “That's because you haven't put anything in it yet,” said Mr C. Now I'd seen Troy look shocked before, but nothing like this as he started to take in what his father had said. “Are....you.....serious?” He managed to ask. His father nodded; Troy let out a huge yell of excitement and came racing back up the drive to hug his parents and Gran. When he'd calmed down a little Gran told him that he should only be thanking his parents for the car, all she'd done was drive it here. The earlier talk of her needing to withdraw money to give him so he could buy one, had been just talk to spin out the time until Christmas, as this had been long planned by his parents. Troy was absolutely over the moon. He kept touching the car as if to ensue it was actually there and he hadn't imagined it. Mind you, I could understand him being thrilled because I was excited and it wasn't my car, but I knew how much he'd been looking forward to being able to get one and thus be no longer reliant on his folks to take him anywhere. “Troy, it's not new,” his father said, “ It's about three years old, but it hasn't done much mileage and is in good condition.” “Dad, I don't care if it's not new. I love it and I love you both. Can I take it out for a test drive?” “I think it might be best if you left that until later this morning when the adrenalin has stopped pumping.” Mom said. “You're right.” he admitted with a little smile. “I am on a high and I just don't know how to thank you.” Mom put her arm round him and hugged him to her, saying in a whisper that I probably wasn't meant to hear, “You thank us every day, just by being our wonderful son.” I was close to crying myself on hearing her say that – something my ma would never have said to me in a million years. “I think we should go inside Troy. There are other presents for other people you know!” “I know, Dad – but I'm so excited.” Troy walked over to me. “Adam, you know that as soon as you can drive, this car is no longer mine, but ours.” Oh boy, now I did feel a tear in the corner of my eye. To conceal it I pulled Troy into a hug. We went inside and into the kitchen. I think everyone needed a short break after that excitement. I'd had no idea Troy was going to be given a car and was amazed at how well it had been pulled off without him realizing what was actually happening. Everyone got a drink and we then went into the family room where the Christmas tree was all lit up and with presents lying underneath. Once everyone else had sat down Mom picked up a box and handed it to me saying “Merry Christmas, Adam,” as she did. I unwrapped it and couldn't believe my eyes when I found a box containing an ipad Pro! That did it for me. I burst into tears and rushed from the room going back upstairs and into the room that had been my bedroom when I'd first arrived. I was so overcome with emotion that these people, whom I'd hardly known until a few months ago, could treat me so generously. I lay face down on the bed, sobbing quietly, when I felt two people squat down on the bed, either side of me. “Adam, we're sorry. We didn't mean to upset you, today of all days,” Mom said, stroking my hair as she did. “Nah, he's only upset 'cos he didn't get a car too.” Troy added from my other side. It was just the comment I needed to hear. I rolled over to look at him with a big smile on my face. “You are so dead for that comment, Troy Connelly.” I grabbed him and pulled him down onto the bed where we started wrestling. Mom quickly got up to get out of our way as we rolled to and fro. After a minute or so we stopped wrestling and started kissing which continued for some time. When that stopped I pulled away from him and looked up at mom who was stood smiling down at us. “I'm sorry, mom. I didn't mean to be so rude, but.......” “Adam, don't apologize. From things you've said I've got an idea what your Christmases were like growing up and you simply weren't prepared for this. We love you and we just wanted to show that.” I got off the bed and we had a slightly teary hug, before I went into the bathroom to wash my face and try and make myself presentable again. After that the rest of the presents were almost anti-climaxes. Troy's parents and Gran all seemed happy with what I gave them and Troy was pleased with the game I'd bought for him. For me he'd bought a shirt that was a bit thicker than the norm and would be good for going to school next semester when the weather was likely to be cold. There was also one extra little surprise for the pair of us. Mom handed us both identical little parcels and said we had to unwrap them at the same time. We did as instructed to reveal each contained a pair of patterned boxer briefs. Mine had Christmas trees and baubles while Troy's had reindeer, sleighs and Santa Claus. I think she might well have got the idea to buy these when she saw Chris and Paul on our bed the other Sunday! Whatever, we were told we had to go upstairs, put them on and then come back to model them. It seemed like a fair price to pay considering what else we'd been given but when we got into his bedroom and started to undress I had an idea. “Have you got any long t-shirts?” “A couple I think. Why?” “Long enough to cover up these boxers?” He grinned. “That's evil, Adam and I love it. We could do a little dance and a slow reveal. Get our own back. Yeah!” And that was what we did. Our dancing was pretty poor, but the audience thought it was hilarious. -------- I won't say the rest of Christmas Day passed in a blur, but I suppose it was fairly normal compared to how it started. Later in the morning we did go out in Troy's car for him to give it a little test drive. The roads were very quiet and we were out for the best part of an hour. When we came back we called Paul and Chris to find out how their Christmas Day's were going. It was a bit embarrassing when they asked what presents we'd received, but they would soon find out about the car when we next saw them so there was no point in not mentioning it. They both seemed very happy about it, and as Paul commented, it would mean we could get together a lot easier in future. We also made a call to Troy's adopted brother, Tom, who was spending Christmas with his girl friend at her parents. We both got the feeling Tom wasn't too happy because they weren't being allowed to share the same room. We then enjoyed a wonderful Christmas dinner that mom and gran had prepared with only a very little assistance from me. We started with baked Camembert, something I'd never tasted before, but would definitely eat again, followed by a delicious baked ham with several types of vegetables. To finish, after a suitable pause, there was a trifle that gran had made. She informed us that she had been sent the recipe by a lady in England with whom she'd been corresponding for many years, and had decided to try it. Apparently it is a traditional English pudding. All I'll say is that it didn't last long when Troy and I set to work on it! After we'd cleared the table it was decided that we should get some exercise and go for a walk. We drove down to the park and strolled round there for a while, before returning home. The rest of the day was spent watching TV and films as well as playing various board games. During the evening both of us were allowed to try a glass of egg nog, which was another new experience for me, but I didn't find it as good as the other things I'd tried for the first time that day. Come ten o'clock both Troy and I were ready for bed. We hadn't done much physically, but we both felt worn out. Once we'd got in the bedroom he took a small gift wrapped parcel from the drawer of his nightstand and handed it to me. “What's this?” I asked. “Nothing much, but I couldn't put it under the tree with the rest of the presents.” I looked at him and there was a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. If it couldn't go under the tree that meant it was something of a certain nature. I quickly unwrapped it to reveal a bottle of scented massage oil. Suddenly I felt a lot less tired than I had a few minutes earlier. “I'm gonna get some towels, lay them on the bed and then you are going to stand there while I slowly strip you.” I felt myself respond as Troy went to the wardrobe on the top shelf of which we kept some old towels for such purposes. He spread a couple on the bed and them came to stand in front of me. “I may have got a car for Christmas, Adam, but having you here is all the present I need. I can't imagine there is anyone better in the whole world to share my life with.” Having finished that little speech he pulled me into a hug and a kiss, while I found myself, not for the first time that day, shedding a few tears. A lot of people didn't get to see the real caring, loving, Troy that was often hidden underneath the bright and bubbly persona he normally showed to the world. He started by slowly unbuttoning my shirt before pushing it back over my shoulders so it slid to the ground behind me, after which my t-shirt was slowly raised over my head. We'd stopped along the way for a few kisses but now he was able to run his fingers over my chest and back. He got me to sit on the edge of the bed so he could remove my socks before setting to work on the grey skinnies I was wearing. These needed my co-operation before he was able to peel them down my legs and over my feet. Now I was asked to stand up again and Troy could run his hands over my baubles and trees! I'd been hard long before we'd reached this point, now I was starting to leak a little. After another pause for kissing, Troy quickly stripped down to his own boxers and Santa Claus was introduced to some baubles while reindeer played among the trees – well at least I think that's what they were doing! At last my boxers were inched down to slowly reveal initially the head of my dick, welcomed by kisses from Troy, and eventually they were down enough to expose my full hardness. Troy had me lie face down on the bed and went to work with the massage oil on my back, butt and the backs of my legs It was both sensuous and relaxing. After a while he had me turn over so he could work on my chest, stomach and the front of my legs. In the end there was only one item left to massage and Troy gave it his very best attention. Christmas Day had indeed been very special. I wondered if it could ever be matched; for sure it was going to live for a very long time in my memory. ---------- The next morning I could cross another day off my chart, but it wasn't far off midday when I did so. After all that had happened yesterday we needed a lie in to recharge our batteries! I did say to Troy that I felt we'd been neglecting Carlos of late and he agreed, suggesting that we could pick him up after lunch and go bowling if he was free. I called him and he was, so we arranged to call round about two o'clock. We didn't tell him beforehand that Troy now had a car so he wondered whose was the red Kia that pulled up outside his house. I just hoped we didn't embarrass him as I knew there would be no car for him when he turned sixteen, but he seemed his normal self while we played three games. I felt no ill effects down below and on the way home afterwards said we should see if Chris and Paul could come over soon for a game – the only bowling alley in town being on our side. As it happened Chris' mom had caught some sort of bug so didn't need the car the next day. That meant he could have it, as long as he agreed to do the shopping before coming over. So we had another session at the bowling alley that afternoon and followed that by going for a pizza. The final chapter of the 'Zombie' story had appeared that morning so it was a major item of discussion between us while we ate. We were all in agreement it had been a really good story with a totally unexpected ending, and the good thing had been that all the kids had survived. Only the zombie got his, and that was rather sad I thought as in the end I almost felt sorry for him. Chris and Paul wanted us to come over to them soon. It ought to have been easy to fix a date now Troy had his own car - I think they were both a bit jealous when they actually saw it in the parking area when we went out to go home after the game. But they weren't available the coming weekend and the one after that was my birthday on the Saturday, so it was a bit difficult to make forward plans for then. In the end we agreed we'd pencil it in for the Sunday after my birthday. As Paul said when I spoke to him, hopefully I'd have recovered from the celebrations by then. He had an expression on his face when he said that which I couldn't quite work out. I couldn't remember letting anything slip about what we had planned, but perhaps Troy had, or maybe he could read us too well. We both though wanted to go over and visit with them if only to find out whether or nor Chris was serious about their house rules. Soon it was New Year's Eve. We sat up with Troy's folks to see in the New Year, but both of us only drank coke. When we eventually went upstairs we celebrated it in our own way with our first sixty nine of the year! Now I could literally count off the days to my birthday on my fingers. New Year's Day we were late getting up but after brunch we went for a run in the park. Now Troy had a car we no longer had to worry about being attacked on the way home, although I didn't think there were any likely attackers left now. After getting home and showering following the run, Troy took the car out for a drive to the wooded area we'd visited before. While we were walking Troy suggested that it might be a nice idea to come out here at night in the summer so we could look at the stars. My Troy was turning into quite a romantic! But, I had to agree that it would be good to do. School was back now and we were both very pleased to see Mr Edgars return at the start of the semester. His return seemed to close the book on that incident when ex detective Diamond had stormed the school looking for me. His trial was due to start in a couple of weeks, but Mr C felt sure he'd strike a plea bargain rather than come to court. On the Saturday before my birthday we'd been down to the mall as usual and, amazingly, managed not to buy very much. Troy dropped me off at the store and we had our usual kiss and cuddle before he drove off. I was working on the checkout that afternoon. The store was busy and at one point I looked up and saw ma was in my queue. I didn't take any real notice as I knew she shopped there so it wasn't surprising to see her there and, anyway, I was busy putting items over the scanner, taking money and giving change – although most people these days used cards. Before I knew it I looked up and she was standing in front of me. I was about to start passing her items through when she spoke in a very loud voice which I'm sure could be heard for some distance. “Don't you touch my goods, you faggot boy! Get your manager! The store shouldn't be employing queers like you. Who knows where your hands have been. It's disgusting - god fearing people shouldn't be served by people like you. It's your fault that your father was killed.” I was staggered. I'd never expected her to attack me like this, in public. She must have seen I was working this checkout, so it was intentional. In the past I'd always tried to avoid public attention, but nowadays there was a different Adam. “Pa got himself killed because he came up with a plan so he could whup me and my boyfriend that went wrong. And that was after his beatings had forced me to run away from home. Beatings you did nothing to stop, maybe even encouraged. I grew up not fearing god, but fearing my pa and his belt!” She reeled back and a look of shock was on her face. “We were trying to keep you on the right path – the straight and narrow path that leads to heaven, Adam. Everything we did was for your own good.” I let out a deep sigh. “Perhaps you believed that, but your god isn't mine.” By now the manager had arrived on the scene. “Is everything alright, Ma'am? Adam?” “This lady doesn't want me to serve her, Mr Mason, so can you find someone else to man this checkout and I'll take my break?” “Sure, Adam you do that. Ma'am on behalf of the store I regret any inconvenience caused. We'll not charge you for your purchases today.” That did it! I just stormed off to the staff room and called Troy asking him to come and pick me up. He was there in a short while and couldn't believe it when I told him what had happened. Guess I don't have a Saturday job now after walking out like that, but I think I can find one somewhere else. At least I hope so, or my finances will be rather stretched, but there usually seem to be vacancies for servers. Of course when we got home I had to explain to his parents why I was back so early. Once they'd heard what happened though they agreed with what I'd done and mom said she'd never shop there again. --------- Troy had talked to me while we were lying in bed on the morning of New Year's Day. He'd surprised me by asking if I did still intend to have him make love to me on my birthday. “Of course! It's what we've both wanted to happen for months now. Don't you?” I replied, asking the question with an evident degree of worry in my voice. Was Troy having doubts I wondered to myself. “Of course I do, Adam.” He rolled over to hug and kiss me. “I've never wanted anything so much, but.......” “But, what?” There was a delay before he answered. “I'm worried I'm gonna hurt you.” At least I was now reassured about the reason for his question. “What I've read says it probably will the first time, but I don't mind if it does. I wanna feel you inside me. Anyway, how much did it hurt when I made love to you? He looked at me and gave me a hug before replying. “It did hurt, Adam. Perhaps more than I was expecting.” I went to say something, but he shushed me before continuing. “It would have been worth ten times more pain for the pleasure it gave me. But I'd sorta prepared myself before that night and I wanna do that for you.” I wasn't sure what he meant. “But you didn't have 'Dickie' then and I've told you I don't want him in me before you.” “Nope, this won't be 'Dickie',s it'll just be me. Get on your knees and I'll show you.” As soon as he said that I had a very good idea of what was going to happen. Every night from them on Troy rimmed me before inserting a finger into my hole. Within the week I was able to take two fingers deep enough to tickle my prostate and without any real discomfort. Troy's dick wasn't that huge in either length or circumference, so although it was bigger than two of his fingers, hopefully it wouldn't cause a problem for me. The days seemed to pass very slowly though; I knew I was getting impatient and having Troy fingering me every night didn't help much! I'd been told by mom that they were going to take me out for a meal to celebrate my birthday and she asked me where I'd like to go. There was only one choice as far as I was concerned, the Italian restaurant where we'd gone to celebrate Troy's sixteenth. She'd booked a table for the four of us for the Saturday night. Finally Friday arrived and the last day on my calendar could be crossed off. Earlier in the week mom had told me they'd been invited to Marvin's for dinner that night. She said they wouldn't be late back, but had left us some money to have a pizza delivered. I guess Troy and I could have gone out to eat now he was driving, but we rarely seemed to bother going out during the week what with school work to do and the weather not being that good. We did get a pizza and after we'd ordered I got busy making a salad from what I could find in the fridge. Troy's had little interest in making food – in fact his only one was eating it - and he disappeared while I was busy. Guess I must have done a reasonable job as the salad quickly disappeared along with the pizza. By the time we'd finished eating and watching a horror movie on a DVD in the Family Room it was almost half past eleven. Troy's cell rang and when he answered it was his mom to tell him that because they'd both been drinking they didn't think it wise to drive back so would spend the night at Marvin's and drive back in the morning. We thus decided to go to bed. I happened to be leading as we walked upstairs and as we approached our bedroom I though I could hear some noise, which was odd. When I opened the door I stopped dead in amazement. There was some classical music playing on the sound system and the room was candlelit. I now knew what my boyfriend had been doing while I was preparing salad! “Oh, Troy, it's beautiful...so romantic,” I breathed, “but my birthday's not until tomorrow.” He nestled into me from behind, wrapping his arms round my chest and nuzzling my neck. “Your birthday is in about twenty five minutes from now.” I giggled. “Why do you think my folks haven't come home tonight?” I spun round in amazement. “You mean this was all planned – and they know?” “Yep. Mom thought them being in the house for our first time might make us feel awkward, so she came up with this little plan.” “Troy, I love your mom almost as much as I love you. Nobody else would...” “I know, she's special and I'm, no we're, very, very lucky to have her as our mom. Now, take 'Annie' and go and get yourself properly clean. By the time you've done that it will be almost midnight.” I needed no second invitation, so quickly stripped off and headed for the bathroom. When I returned about twenty minutes later it was to find Troy wearing only the blue silk boxer briefs I'd bought him. The sight of him in those had me fully at attention. We hugged and kissed and I let my hands slowly trace down his back until I came to the waistband. My fingers went inside to I could feel the smooth skin of his butt. Tonight might be about me, but I wanted to be inside Troy again, soon. Together we pushed his briefs down. He sat on the edge of the bed so I could remove them. He was hard, the head of his dick fully exposed and glistening with pre-cum. He had me kneel on the bed and rimmed me. I could feel the wetness and he eased a finger into me before stopping and crawling across the bed to pick up a tube of lubricant. “Troy, I wanna be on my back, not like this. I wanna see you.” “And I wanna see you, Adam – so move,” he said with a little laugh. I moved to lie on my back and raised my legs up but keeping them apart. Troy knelt behind me and spread a generous quantity of lube both on his dick and in my hole. I watched as he moved into position and felt his dick nudge against my entrance. “Stop me if this hurts, Adam.” “I want you so much, Troy. Don't stop whatever I say.” He pressed; I grimaced. He pressed again;I grimaced again. He looked at me with a look of worry on his face. “Please.” I whispered. He pressed again – and he was in. He paused, we looked at each other and smiled. “More.” I whispered and he obliged. Suddenly he was in and the pain was gone. I looked up at him and could see the love in his eyes that I was sure must be reflected in mine. At last we were united. I knew that from now on we'd be together for ever and that no matter what life threw at us, we would emerge.....Unbeaten. +++++ THE END ++++++
  10. 40 points
    “Hey Jamie,” Ben mumbled out, half asleep… finally. He looked cute all sleepy with his head resting on my shoulder. I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I think Ben was super excited about traveling overseas for the first time or “abroad” as he put it. He struggled to just chill out on the flight. He did finally get some sleep for a little bit - thank god. Going abroad, such a British way of speaking. Some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth at times, he’s a surprise and a half. Ben … well I too … hardly slept a wink on the first half of the flight - wasn’t until I got us both a few JD’s and coke under his belt that he got all sleepy, drifting off against my shoulder. Cattle class isn’t the most comfortable at the best of times, all crammed into our seats like sardines on a plane, although it was nice to drift in and out of consciousness with Ben curled up against me. Finally, in what only seemed moments since I’d closed my eyes, the lights in the cabin came back up. Slowly everyone started to wake up and move around. Gently I shook Ben’s shoulder. “Good morning sunshine! Did you enjoy your nap?” Ben’s face had that sleepy cuteness going on. “Oh hey, Jamie. How long did I sleep for? Are we almost there…?” Ben had that little kid that’s just woken up - you know that all dopey, not quite focused on what’s happening around - look. “Yeah, you’ve been out for about three hours.” The look of shock on Ben’s face was hilarious. “Hey Tex,” I smiled cheekily at him, leaning in closer. “When we land, let’s head to the club lounge. We can use the showers there to freshen up a little, okay? Just in case you’re wondering I wasn’t planning on having my shower alone…” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively … “that’s for sure.” “What - are we going to-get-it-on in every country we visit?” Ben’s face warped into a smile. I flashed a devilish smile at him. “That was my plan.” The hustle and bustle of the cabin and other passengers snapped us back to the here and now. We had both unfortunately slept through the last meal’s service. Our stomachs were growling at each other. “Shoot Jamie, I really need to eat something. By the sounds of it, I’m not alone,” Ben reached over and patted my very empty and noisy stomach. “Yeah, let’s get off the aircraft and find some food, hey, then showers.” Getting off the aircraft and thru customs wasn’t too hard. As we walked up to the passport control counter, one of the officers smiled and waved me over. “Come on Ben, let’s go here,” pointing to the… well hot is the only way I could describe the guy. Ben followed along - his head was swivelling around taking in the surroundings to the tune of our stomachs still growling. “God, I need food Jamie!!” ..o0o.. I politely smiled and handed my passport over the counter, “Guten Morgen – Good Morning”, the hottie behind the counter smiled and looked between Ben and me. “Guten Morgen beabsichtigen Sie, sehr lange in DeutschLand zu bleiben, Herr Spence?- Good morning do you intend to stay in Germany very long, Mr Spence?” The hot guy continued to look at my passport. “Wir, mein Freund und ich. Sind nur für den einen Tag hier, dann weiter nach Frankreich. (We, my friend and I, are only here for the one day, then on to France.) I pointed between Ben and me. It was clear to anyone watching that Ben didn’t speak German at all. He had the whole deer in the headlights look happening, plus that and my failure to mention that I spoke German had him a little freaked out. “Jamie,” Ben placed his hand on my shoulder, “is everything okay?” A look of concern was slowly crossing Ben’s face. “When did you learn German? You never mentioned it before.” I turned slightly sideways to face Ben. “I learned German at high school. I did a couple of languages. Sorry I never even thought to mention it. It’s all okay. ‘Lukas’ here is just asking how long are we staying, just normal stuff.” Relief washed over his face. As ‘Rudolph’ I read his Id tag, smiled a little. Leaning closer to the screen between us, “spricht Ihr Freund Deutsch, Herr Spence? - does your friend speak German, Mr Spence? “Nein, aber ich kann für ihn übersetzen, wenn du mich auch brauchst- No but I can translate for him if you need me too. I saw a glint, almost wink in Rudolphs’ eyes for a second, “Sie sehen sehr müde aus, vielleicht kann ich Ihnen einen Platz vorschlagen, um sich auszuruhen und ein Bier zu bekommen? - You look very tired. Maybe I can suggest a place for you to get some rest and beer? “Meine Schicht endet in einer Stunde, du könntest deinen Freund in einem Hotel ablegen und mich an einer Bar treffen, die ich kenne. Bock Haben? - My shift ends in one hour, you could drop your friend at a hotel and meet me at a bar I know, if you want?” I could feel my face flush a little. I tried to keep a straight face. “Das ist sehr nett, aber Nein, das ist meine... Das ist meine Freund. That is very kind but no, this is my... This is my boyfriend.” Rudolph smiled, “Can I have your passport please,” looking at Ben speaking perfect English. Ben and I looked at each other in shock, as he handed his passport over as well. “You are staying for one day only, Mr Rush?” “Ah yes,” Ben’s voice was a little unsteady. After a few keystrokes, Lukas handed us both back our passports, “Enjoy your time in Germany, goodbye.” And with that we were through. My mind was spinning a little. What just happened? He was hitting on me, cheeky bugger. “I can’t believe how much nicer the border-customs staff were to you, Jamie.” A look of surprise was still on Ben’s face. “It was like when they saw your Australian Passport, they couldn’t do enough to help us, which is great, I guess.” Ben’s eye narrowed a little. “I’m kind of feeling a little out of my depth here now. Plus, when you started talking to that tall blonde border guy – Rudoph right? - it seemed like he was almost flirting with you or something?” "It's because they think we're a country of guys on the beach, cooking shrimps on the BBQ, ha-ha.” Ben just rolled his eyes and smiled. “It’s because you’re all so, outdoorsy… sexy." "Well my, thank you, Ben, so kind. And yeah you were right, he, Lukas, was trying to flirt. He asked me out for a drink when he finished his shift.” Ben’s face flushed for a second. But I told him that you were my boyfriend, he backed off. Anyways, there is no way I’d do something like that to you, Ben… ever…okay?" Ben smiled and shook his head. Taking the opportunity, I slapped him on the ass and ran off towards the club lounges where the change rooms were. I could see that Ben was trying not to show his inner emotions, but I think I saw a little flash of ‘green eyed jealousy’ come over him for a second, I decided to play it down, as it was harmless enough, and I meant it. I wouldn’t do that too him ever. ‘I think-well I know - the whole Sam thing-what happened in LA - taught me a huge lesson. Plus, I really like Ben, not that I didn’t like Sam-I did. Just the connection to Ben is, stronger…different. As we slipped into one of the private bathrooms, which I think were designed for one person, but anyways, I was given one of those thousand-watt smiles. “So what did you want to do in here again Jamie?” ..o0o.. "Oh god, Jamie, that was a fantastic idea. I feel so much better after that shower and food." “You forgetting something Ben?” “Yeah okay, the sex was red hot too.” “Come on Ben, we’ve got twenty-two hours left here, let’s get out and see the place. What do you want to see first?” “Maybe some sexy German guys in those shorts and suspenders?” an eat-shit grin spread across his face. “Let’s find a traditional clothes store and I’ll buy you a Christmas present you can wear for me.” “Yeah right, and you can kiss my ass - I’d look like an idiot.” I smirked at Ben as we walked through the terminal building. “Your ass would look fantastic in those shorts! Come on Jamie, please.” Ben whined. “Maybe… we'll see. First, let’s get our asses to the ticket booth and get these transport cards sorted." After buying our ‘Frankfurt cards’ we hopped on the train directly to the Städel Museum. The only way to describe this place is ‘amazing’ - everything from paintings and modern art from 1300’s to today. From there, it was a short walk wandering through the city and along the river. “My god, Jamie! This place is so beautiful! You’d think that Germany would be all clinical and plain, you know because the Germans are so efficient and procedural, right?” “Yeah, I know, but there is so much to them and their country. You should see Berlin and Munich - just beautiful. It wasn’t what I expected. The only way to describe those cities is, beautiful!! I’ve never seen so many beautiful parks, gardens and old buildings.” Walking along the riverside was just amazing - the warm sun on us, people just going about their business, with laughter and occasional music from parties along the water - it was just the perfect day, really. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried. We came to a stop at a little bakery, desperate for some food again. After talking to the staff inside in my least rusty German, I think the girl behind the counter took pity on us because we seemed to come out with a pile of food that I don't remember fumbling my way thru ordering - but what the hell? We sat down on a garden bench across the roadway from the bakery, enjoying the warm sunshine and proceeded to munch our way through our selection of local treats. The only sounds were from Ben: “Goddamn! Delicious! I wouldn’t have believed it, Jamie, if I hadn't seen it for myself. This has totally changed my opinion of Germany.” “Wait till we get to the beer halls and the gingerbread houses…” Ben looked at me like I was mad, "The what you say… Gingerbread houses?" "Well okay, they're not actually gingerbread houses you can eat, they just look like it." Ben laughed, stood holding his hand out for me to follow. We walked off, Ben still shaking his head at my description. He was looking around like his head was on a swivel pole - it was like this the first time I came to Germany. As we continued our around-a-city-in-a-day journey, we wandered around the city centre and made our way to the Eschenheimer Turm, the old part of the city. It’s one of the last parts of the old medieval defences of the city that remain past the 1800’s. Ben’s description and mine too was starting to sound like a broken record - “wow, just amazing.” Walking up behind Ben, wrapping my hand around his waist and pulling him back a little towards me, gently I placed a kiss on his neck and paused for a moment, taking in the surroundings and Ben too - one of those deep memories you’ll hold onto forever no matter what the future holds for us. Just in front of us, a group of locals walked past and offered to take a picture of us with the old ramparts behind us. “Vielen Dank, dass es sehr nett ist, ja bitte,” yes thank you, that is very kind. I think that is what I said, quickly offering my phone and they clicked away so I must have been somewhere right, ha-ha. During the conversation, I was able to kick off, using my high school German ( wow - Frau Jorgen would have been proud of me. See Frau, I was listening… sometimes.) We got chatting to the two couples that stopped, Peter and Mia, and Michael – Mitt for short - and his girlfriend, Lina, were keen to show us around the city. Thankfully they spoke fluent English so I didn’t have to try out my German too much and leave Ben out of the conversation. “Jamie, du sprichst Deutsch gut, (Jamie, you speak German well),” Mitt smiled as I tried to work out what he said. When I smiled after decoding it, he burst out laughing. “You have to speak more German today. While you’re here, it will help you get better. You are doing very well, considering you have not used it for a long time, no?” “Years, Mitt, years.” “It got a good working out at the airport this morning though, Jamie?” I felt my face light with a little bit of embarrassment. At least Ben was cool with the flirty stuff from Lukas - it could have gone so badly, but a lot to be said in just owning it, the flirting, from the get go. Anyway, it’s not like I didn’t tell Lukas that I was with Ben - I thought I made it pretty clear from the start. Couldn’t help but laugh at Mitt’s encouragement though. These four are really nice, damn, and we just met them randomly. How’s that happen? “Jamie, you sound really good, like a local,” Ben smiled. “Take Mitt up on his offer while we’re here. You sound cute but weird-as Jamie." I wasn't quite sure how to take that and gave Ben a curious smile. "I mean you lose your Australian accent completely when you speak German.” Peter and the rest of them nodded along with Ben. Apparently, it was so weird to hear my Aussie accent come back when I spoke English that it seemed even stronger when switching between German and English. Well, duh… After ragging on me about English v German, we all headed off for some late lunch - well, a really late lunch as it was 5 pm local time now. So, I guess it’s more an early dinner or something. Whatever, I need food. The feast we had at the bakery had filled us up more than I thought. Normally, I would have been dying of hunger by now without food. As we walked along, everyone was talking over each other almost. The girls were teaching Ben some basic phrases in German - I caught a few phrases they were teaching him - they sounded sexy too, something about riding me like a stallion, which caused me to turn my head and smile a very suggestive smile at him. It worked too - Ben’s face lit up like the sky on July 4th. The four Germans were amazed that I was from Australia and Ben the US and wanted to know how we met up, you know, being from opposite sides of the planet. Reasonable, I guess. "It's a long story, guys - totally by accident.” I smiled at Ben for a second. “But if we find beer and food, I’d tell you the whole thing. Okay, I’m starved!” Ben chimed in. “It’s a story and a half, but I need some food too.” ..o0o.. “Okay,” Mitt grabbed Lina’s hand “Kommen Sie auf – Let’s go (Come on let's go).” We headed off, wandering down the backstreets that looked like they were out of a storybook: the old section of the city we were in was all cobblestone roads and narrow little sidewalks with pretty flowers outside some shops. Others had ultra-modern décor going on, but it all worked well. Mitt and Lina promised that the place we were looking for was just around the corner and they were right. The street opened out to a small courtyard with all these really cool and pretty shops. I’d mentioned to Peter that I wanted to get something as a surprise for Ben. Thankfully Ben didn’t speak a word of German, so Peter and Mia told me where the shop was that I needed. “Hey, Texas!”- Peter had given Ben a nickname because of his southern drawl, plus he overheard me call Ben ‘Tex” a couple of times, I think. “You can come with Mia and me. We will show you the shops. Leave the Kangaroo here.” They all burst into laughter. “Kangaroo… really!” I couldn’t help but laugh - it was funny. Funny also that Peter had noticed Ben’s southern accent. It had softened a little from what you would normally hear from Texans, apparently. When I listened to him chatting to Mia, it was true it had since we first met in Austin - a lot really. Guess my Australianises was having a subtle effect on him. Smiling, I let out a little laugh and turned to Mitt. “I hardly noticed Ben’s accent now when he speaks - guess I’d become accustomed to it.” I shrugged my shoulders. Mitt smiled. “It’s quite interesting to listen to the two of you talking. Your Australian accent isn’t as strong as you know, the crocodile man – Steve Erwin. But it’s very strong, more English sounding, whereas your boyfriend is very American.” I went to correct Mitt, as Ben wasn’t really my boyfriend - well we hadn’t done the whole, exclusive thing talk. I stopped. “What’s up, Kangaroo?” Mitt pulled me out of my head - obviously my deep thoughts were giving me away. “I was going to say that Ben wasn’t, isn’t-my boyfriend. We haven’t really said it to each other, you know.” "Well, if he's not and you're traveling around Europe together, walking along holding hands, kissing alongside the river, what do you Australians call it?” “Smartass.” Mitt looked at me strangely. “Ist das nicht eine wütende Art, jemanden anzurufen?” (Is that not an angry way of calling someone?) “Oh yeah, sorry I meant that you were being… cheeky, rude but funny too.” Germans - always straight to the point no bull-shitting around. “Yeah, good point I guess. He is my boyfriend." Hmmm, Texan boyfriend with a sexy accent and … Goddamn! When Ben returned I did notice it. Yes, it made me go all weak at the knees. Peter and Mia grabbed Ben and whisked him off while Mitt, Lina and I headed off to the other stores. After trying on a few different sets of ‘lederhosen,’ finally, I settled for one set. Lina said it looked good on me and was trying to get Mitt to get one too, but no dice. Thankfully, I had my trusty backpack to stash my purchase in so Ben was none the wiser. After finishing up and Lina trying in vain to get Mitt to buy one as well, luckily for Mitt, we met up with Ben and Mia a few moments later. “How’d you go, Jamie? Did you find anything for your niece and nephews?” “Nah, it wasn’t what I was looking for really - most of the stuff in the stores was more super tourist stuff. I was looking for something authentic, you know,” I responded, smiling away and trying to sell that I’d lucked out as we all started to head towards the town square, which was only a hundred feet away from the Römerberg. Mia jumped in. “You should see the beautiful things Ben bought. His family will be very happy, I think." "Thanks, Mia. I couldn’t have don’t it without y’all helping out. I had no idea what the sales staff were saying to me, none.” Ben smiled, a little embarrassed looking. The six of us came to a stop. Both Ben and I looked on amazed. “Wow, the place looks just like gingerbread houses crammed into one another. This is amazing, Jamie! I thought you were crazy when you told me we were going to the Gingerbread house… right? I’m speechless… it’s so beautiful! It looks like a fairy tale picture, something we read in books as kids.” Ben’s face was filled with wonderment. “Thanks, Jamie, for bringing me along with you,” he said, grabbing me into a hug. Then he paused for a second, staring straight into my eyes, like he could almost see my soul. “Thank you.” I was searching his face. It was…he looked so happy. “My pleasure, Tex.” I leaned in laying a gentle kiss on his lips. An older lady walked over a few moments later and told us that we looked a beautiful couple. I thanked her and we both gave her a hug. I was just about to thank her again when Peter nodded, and jumped in, using more local slang to convert my textbook-schoolboy German. When he explained to her that I was from Australia and Ben from the US-Texas, she was amazed, so sweet. To be honest, I hadn’t really used any German since Oktoberfest a few years back with Gav and the boys. Then it was ‘Prost’ and more beer. So since high-school finished - it had been a long time. Surprisingly, I’d remembered a lot more than I thought. Our attention turned back to the old fountain in the centre square. It dated back to 1400 something, the perfect backdrop to get a selfie with our newly found German friends, a nice pic to remember the day with. Then it was time to get our late lunch with a few beers, pretzel and apfelwein (like cider but way better) underway, so we headed over to the gingerbread houses and got into it, Mitt lead the way. After a couple of apfelweins, I excused myself for a moment to go to the bathroom, trying to be as ninja-like as possible, taking my backpack with me. Quietly ducking into an empty bathroom stall I started to strip off, changing into my Lederhosen to surprise Ben. I quickly folded my clothes up and put them back into the backpack, stepping out from the stall and checking myself out in the mirror. “Damn, Jamie, you look good if I don’t say so myself!” I remarked, throwing my backpack over my shoulder and heading out. I almost crashed straight into Mitt. "I've told the guys on stage that you're coming out as a surprise for your boyfriend." Again, these guys with ‘boyfriend’ – “They’re going to play some music and stuff to make it fun. Just go with it, ok Jamie?” I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. “Mitt, Ben is going to either love this or die of embarrassment or kill me.” We both laughed. “Come on. Time for you to maybe-die, Kangaroo.” Taking a deep breath, I followed Mitt out and as soon as he appeared the guys onstage started to play some umpa-pa-umpa-pa music. Without looking around the room much, I made a beeline for Ben. “Jamie, what the…” was all he managed to get out. The look on his face when he turned around with only a few yards between us was priceless, somewhere between shock and surprise. Then his smile lit up the room. Ben stood up and turned towards me, “My god, you’re crazy… when did you get this?” Waving his hands up and down in front of me as I walked up almost against him now, he said “But damn you look good in it!” The smile on Ben’s face said it all, that, plus the mix of applause and banging of steins on the tables - obviously, the locals liked it too. I couldn’t help myself. Ben looked so cute, I leaned in and kissed him. The guys on stage started calling out, which broke us apart. “Hey you, no kissing your boyfriend yet. You have to come here,” said the older guy with the microphone pointed to a random spot on the stage. I turned and looked at our new friends for salvation. They were too busy swiping their hands at me telling me to go. “Okay-okay, jeez guys.” Reluctantly, I turned and walked away to the stage, not quick enough though. Ben managed to lay a slap on my ass as I walked off. I didn't know what to do. I turned back and looked him up and down, mouthing "What the fuck," whilst grinning. Ben just wiggled his eyebrows at me and shooed me away. Turned out not to be the only ass slap I got on my way to the stage- seems Ben started off a trend. Laughing to myself, after a few more slaps and offers of Snapp’s, I finally did take one person up-on for courage andarrived at the stage. The guy with the microphone - Hans - was laughing as much as the crowd. “I think I’m the lamb to the slaughter here. “What the hell did Mitt and the guys set me up for?” I mouthed under my breath. Okay, let’s dust off my German. How bad could it go, right? “Guten Tag, mein name ist Jamie.” (Hi, my name is Jamie.) “Guten Tag Jamie, ich bin Hans.” (Good afternoon Jamie. I am Hans.) “Wo sind Sie und Ihr Freund von Jamie?” (Where are you and your boyfriend from, Jamie?) I smiled at that, it sounded… okay? Normal? For someone to call Ben my boyfriend, I was warming up to it. “Australien und Amerika – Texas.” (Australia and America – Texas.) Hans gave me a strange look for a moment. I was trying to think if I’d said anything wrong. I panicked, “Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut - kann ich bitte Englisch sprechen?” (My German is not too good - can I please speak English, Hans?) “Yes, please, Jamie,” Hans Smiled. “You did very well though.” “Danke, Hans.” (Thank you, Hans.) “Okay, Jamie from Australia. Why are you wearing Lederhosen?” I could feel my face turn bright red. "My…"I stumbled for a moment - just go with it, I guess - it's going to be too hard to explain that he's not my boyfriend yet. I don't think, or is he? Oh, fuck! Who knows? I don’t… “…boyfriend, the Texan over there.” I pointed straight at Ben. “He wanted me to buy this as a present and see me in it.” I stopped for a second and smiled an embarrassed smile. “Um-so I thought why not here.” I waved my hand around as if I was showing the place off to a salesman. “It’s such an authentic setting, don’t you think, Hans?” A huge smile came over Han’s face while he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “Yes, Jamie, this is fantastic. Okay so,” Hans stopped for a moment, leaning in close to my ear away from the microphone, quietly asking me, “What’s your boyfriend’s nam once more?” “Ben, Ben Rush from Texas, USA.” I couldn’t help it, I was grinning like a sixteen-year-old lovestruck kid. Hans pulled back a little and smiled such a kind and warm smile. It made me forget that I was in a foreign country, in a food hall in front of total strangers. I felt so comfortable and home. Weird. “So, Ben from Texas, USA,” Hans bellowed out, “please come up here on stage with Jamie from Australia.” I looked over at Ben. He looked like he was going to die with embarrassment. Peter, Mia, Mitt and Lina grabbed him and almost marched a very reluctant Ben halfway through the crowd to the stage. They were going nuts. The locals seemed to enjoy it when people get pulled up onstage or have the total shit embarrassed out of them. It was fun after the initial embarrassment wore off though. Finally, Ben came up on stage. He grabbed my hand and held on to me for mutual security, I think, with a very deer-in-the -look on his face. I get it now - he pretty much didn't understand what everyone was saying as the crowd was now speaking more German than English for some reason. "It's all good, Ben," I said, looking at his poor scared face. "They're saying mostly that we look good together, or they want to bring us home, because we're cute." That seemed to make him relax, well except for one dickhead that yelled out, "Du kommst mit mir nach Hause, wenn du einen echten Mann willst!” (You come home with me if you want a real man.) My eyes went straight to the loudmouth. Ben picked up on whatever had been said pissed me off big time. I was about to put my best German cursing to use when Hans jumped in. “He is going home with a real man. Why would he go home with you?” The place burst into laughter. Hans decided the next ten minutes of our lives was going to be memorable, to say the least. He had us playing trumpets and doing bad yodelling, although Ben wasn't too bad. He's got a nice singing voice. The one loud mouth was soon forgotten. Another of Ben’s many talents - he can sing! A few times I’ve heard him sing around the place has been nice – me, I sent a few people deaf. Finally, the entertainment ended, Hans succeeded in getting the rest of our party up on stage ringing cowbells in tune while the female singer on stage started signing a local German folk song. The whole place joined in with loads of cheering at the end. It was a great way to end the day. As we were about to get off stage, Hans grabbed my arm. "Jamie and Ben, for being such good company, please enjoy this on me," he waved his hand and a few waiters walked out with a few plates of food and a round of beers. We both Iooked at the piles of food. “My god -we won’t have to eat again for a week, Jamie!” We all thanked Hans and headed back to the table. Ben and I even got a few cheeky looks from a couple of guys in the crowd on the way back to our table. After stuffing ourselves stupid, it was time for us to go before we said our goodbyes. We did the whole Facebook friend thing. Our four new German friends said they were thinking of coming to Australia next year, so I offered to be their local guide if they were in my part of Australia, even offering to put them up for a bit. From what I remember of the building plans Adam showed me, my new townhouse had some space, and I’m sure Adam could pull a rabbit out of a hat if we needed, an empty place here or there. What are best friend property developers for, right? A quick goodbye to Hans and we left our new friends at the food hall. I wanted to get to the ‘Main Tower Observation deck’ before we left. The view of the city at night time was supposed to be just ‘amazing…’ that word again! And My god it was. ..o0o.. Ben was standing in front of me, looking out at the beautiful city of Frankfurt below. I’d wrapped my arms around his waist and was just quietly taking it all in. “What a day,” and yes, I was still wearing my lederhosen. Apparently, Ben wasn’t going to let me change till we were in the club lounge at the airport. “Oh my god, Jamie. Frankfurt has been fantastic, more than I could possibly have imagined. I can’t wait till we touch down in Nice! I can’t believe that I’m going to France.” I pulled Ben a little closer. “You’re going to love it. The Cote d’azure is just amazing. I think if I had my choice of places to live, it would be in the top three.” Ben smiled a little unsure. “What are the other two?” “Well, I love Australia. It’s such an amazing place, plus its home, right? Although I feel pretty attached to Texas lately.” “Really” Ben blushed. “Yeah, Lucas has moved down there now,” I smiled trying to keep a straight face, but it didn’t work. We both burst out laughing. “Hmmm, that’s good to know. I like your cousin and he’s cute too!” Ben shot me an eat-shit grin. “Lucas and I don’t share.” “That’s too bad,” Ben replied without giving anything away. I guess if I’m going to have the whole exclusive talk. Now seems like a good time. “Hey, Ben,” I leaned in and placed my chin on his shoulder, pulling him into me a little, "I’m not sure how to say this, so I’m just gonna blurt it out, okay?” Ben craned his head around a little so he could see my face a little. “I'd like us to become exclusive, if that's still a thing you ask." I wasn’t sure if I was being a total dick or what, never been that unsure of myself. Ben wriggled around, now facing me. “Yes, it is, Jamie. I’d like that, a lot.” I pulled Ben into a little-secluded spot to the side, as we'd been surrounded by kids - they were almost as entertaining as the city lights. It was like having my niece and nephew around us, but I wanted Ben to myself. Quietly, I wrapped my warms around his waist, pulling him in closer. We seemed to just stare into each other’s eyes for ages till I proceeded to almost kiss the lips of his face, only stopping when the chimes rang letting us know the place was closing soon. We'd lost track of time totally. “Shit, look at the time! We’ve got 45 minutes to be back at the airport.” I was a little panicked, but didn’t need to be - the Uber ride was less than ten minutes to the airport. We headed through baggage check and the security gates, into the club lounge with twenty minutes to spare, so had a couple of drinks, then headed down to our hour-and-a-half flight to Nice. After getting seated and ready for take-off, I noticed the flight was only three-quarters full, so planned to ask the cabin staff if we could move to an empty row. Before I had a chance, the guy next to me asked, so Ben and I enjoyed a flight spread across three seats. “Jamie?” “Yeah?” I looked at Ben who had that freshly fucked look about him although we’d only made out for an hour. “Thanks for a fantastic day. I loved every moment of it.” A cheeky smile wrapped his face. “Particularly when you were going to sort the guy out in the food hall. That was cute, my fireman.” I went a little red in the face, well a lot really. I leaned in and kissed Ben. “Licked it! You’re mine!”
  11. 40 points
    I got a home after three days of poring through and over every report the three packs could produce. Emails, texts, Facebook posts. Anything that would show where and when the people disappeared. GPS on phones helped some, but only for those who had newer ones. All the trails led up to Canada and then disappeared. Strains of "Blame Canada" from South Park ran through my head, which of course was not at all appropriate or adult. Much like the show itself, come to think of it. I wanted to just fall into bed and cuddle my husband as we sank into oblivion. It would have been so lovely, so perfect. It would have been the best way to end such a shitty few days. Which is why it didn't happen. It was a few minutes before four in the morning. Pat had the pilots radio ahead, and my favorite future daughter-in-law had thoughtfully aired out the house, put down clean towels and fresh sheets, and left a copy of a fax from Salt Lake. Patrick smiled softly, kissed my cheek, and went to put our things away while I handled business. I read over the non-hostility treaty Dean and Kao had agreed upon. I was looking it over, seeing where Dean's hand had stirred the pot. Mutual defense pact, cross-training of pack members who wanted special training, free travel through lands. I was smiling, proud of my future betas. I pulled my phone from my hip and dialed Dean. "Dude, it's 4 am. The hell do you want?" came Dean's voice. I had woken them up. I had zero sympathy. I hadn't interrupted sexy times, so he could just suck it up. "I'm just getting home after forty-one hours awake, so waaah." I kept my tone playful, but I know they could hear how tired I was. I could do twenty-four hours without much problem. Nearly double that was really pushing it. "I want to tell you I am so proud of the two of you. The SLCP treaty is perfect. Who added the exchange program?" "Dean did, blame him," said Kao through a yawn. Since I could tell Dean had put me on speaker, I could hear the rustling of Kao snuggling. I shook my head. How strange that Dean and I, both confirmed hetero, had both mated men. I loved my mate, but damn if I wasn't fond of Kao. Little smartass, he knew when to put it aside for work. "It's awesome," I said honestly. This was one reason I had decided on Dean and Kao as my betas. They could act autonomously and didn't require someone to hold their hands when I was away. It was a perfect choice because they had both proven to have creative and open minds, a willingness and desire to help, and the drive to carry out even the worst shit tasks. "Then I thought of it," teased Kao, making both Dean and me chuckle. "Any changes while we're still here?" His voice came a bit muffled, so I knew he was mumbling into Dean's side or armpit. I didn't want to know what else it could be; hot man sex with anyone other than my mate was nothing I wanted to dwell on. "Nope. Anything else will be handled as needed. You guys get an hour or more sleep, then get on the road. I miss ya." God, I missed my buds. I needed them here to keep me sane. All this shit with the Council was going to end in blood, either because of war or me just going postal and start killing. I would probably start with the shithead manager at a store I owned in Big Sky. He was skimming profits from the employee payroll, and I had caught him right before I had to deal with the rogue bullshit. I would start with him, probably disemboweling him in front of the other employees. Discourage other bullshit...no, not really, but I could fantasize. "Gotcha. Now go to bed. Beta's orders," said Dean. I heard his grin as the dick just hung up. "Pat, I have an asshole for a beta," I said with a laugh. "Which one?" he asked from the bathroom as he put away the toiletries. "Yes," I replied, "but mostly the big one." Pat came in, completely naked. I had to admire his body for the billionth time. Muscular, furry blonde hairs on his chest, ample package bobbing as he sauntered over. Such grace and effortless movement. He got up on his toes and kissed my lips lovingly. "True, but he's our asshole. Come on, it's bedtime. Beta's orders." "Gladly." My husband stripped me, led me by both hands, and we tumbled into bed for some needed cuddles. We were out in minutes. We were up again at eight in the morning. Not enough sleep, but I didn't plan on doing much of anything today. Pop was still here, and he could handle anything that required executive action. The only reason we were awake was we smelled bacon. It pulled our noses out of bed, and the rest of us naturally followed. Dylan and Heather were cooking breakfast. Pat and I did our morning routine and then just sat at the table in the kitchen in sarongs. I watched as my son and his love moved around the kitchen as a perfect unit. They didn't say much as they fried up bacon, made pancakes, freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, eggs, and potatoes. They moved to the same beat. It was so awesome to see my son had found the perfect woman for him. Now, I just wondered if she was ready for Dylan to drop the bomb on her. Even knowing her for a decade, I didn't know if she could handle Dylan and the boys. I smiled up at Heather as she came over with a heaping plate and a kiss to the top of my head. She was the best office assistant/cook/housekeeper/daughter-in-law ever. She did so much for the camp, and she pretty much looked at us as family anyway. Pat had been a big brother to her, so that made me something of a big brother, too. I had a quasi-dad thing too. I mean, she was marrying and mating my son, so I'd be Papa Jon...mmm, pizza. With bacon. "You sure know how to wake us up right, Heather. Teach the Little Dude. He usually just stomps around until we get up to Gibbs smack him." I had been watching way too many reruns of NCIS, but Special Agent Jethro Gibbs knew how to handle annoyances. Pat loved the show, too...or rather we both loved Abby. McGee was worthy of a cuddle, too. "I have been teaching him. He used to just barge in, right?" Her grin was so perfect as she and Dylan dished up and joined us. "I get no love," was Dylan's lame retort. "I could call your grandma and have her come out here." My mom, who lived in Australia, loved Dylan more than she loved me, which is not surprising. He's a sweetheart compared to when Pop adopted me and his ex-wife became my grandma. She had no clue how to deal with a smartass kid, but she found that after a few years of casual annoyance, she loved me. Then she and I would conspire, and I would be sent home hyped up on sugar and caffeine when we both knew Pop would not be singing in the Sydney Opera that night. "I don't think I could handle cheek pinching right now," Dylan grumbled. Pinching cheeks was Mom's way of showing love and for getting even whenever someone was mouthy. Dylan found out Mom considered pretty much any snark was being mouthy, so his cheeks had been totally red after the first weekend with her. We laughed at him. After doing the dishes, Pat and I went about our days. He had his own businesses to check on, mostly temp staffing agencies and other office assistant placement firms, and I had mine. I also had to finish filling out the paperwork for Dean's and Kao's pack membership and elevation to the ranks of Beta. Thankfully, Travis had filled out his own as he would be stepping down as my beta in a small ceremony. Which reminded me that I had to notify the pack that their new betas were coming and they should attend the welcoming feast if they were able. Last minute plans were so much fun. Once again, I was proud of my pack. By noon I had received the RSVP list from the entire pack, which came in via email from a polling site Dyl had set up for things like this. Since Homestead covered all of Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and into Saskatchewan, Canada, it was a must that word be sent efficiently. Eight hundred people would be attending, which meant I had to get food for them. "Heather?" I called out from my office. "Food and drinks ordered, Jon. With enough for nine hundred," she called back. "You're awesome. How much do I pay you? You deserve a raise." "I work pro bono." I could hear her grin. I knew what she made as my assistant. A nice hefty sixty grand a year salary. Plus bonuses. "Double that, with my compliments," I shot back, getting a chuckle. "Honestly, I couldn't run this pack without you. I'm super proud you've stuck with us for so long." I could smell her pleased embarrassment. When I had taken Homestead, I'd been disappointed Heather and her mom Betty hadn't come with us. Betty had been a friend, but she had stayed with the East Coast Pack. When Heather turned eighteen, she immediately petitioned to join my pack. I hadn't known she and Dylan had kept in contact, or that they had been "dating" since they were both sixteen. Skype was great for that. Since I didn't have to worry about the food, I was looking into the more legal aspects. Transferring over command could be very simple when it concerned betas. Nothing too strenuous, just a formal acknowledgment of the exchange. I knew Dean wasn't one for ceremony, but I knew that Kao was. Laid back beach bum meets very traditional upbringing. How the hell did I swing this one? Answer: I didn't. I picked up the phone and dialed my father-in-law. "Yes, Jon?" was his opener. "Travis, can you come up with a simple yet traditional ceremony to transfer your beta status? I have no clue how to swing it for two very different people." Travis harrumphed. He instantly saw why it would be hard for me since I wasn't one for much ceremony either. You had a problem? Call me or just drop by, and we can chat. You got a grievance with me? Talk with me about it instead of letting it fester. You have ideas? Let's hear 'em. "I'll come up with something. Expect an email for your approval." "You know I'm totally not sorry to make you do this." His harrumph turned into a snort. "I know. It's one reason why you were originally brought to HQ." I remembered my transfer to HQ in Salem, Mass. from southern California. Sand and babes in bikinis to snow and babes in parkas. Was it worth it? Yes. Did I think so at the time? Fuck no. Not until I was there a week and met my OA. I ended up liking him so much I married him. "You liked that I didn't have remorse for delegating a task I couldn't do?" "No. The fact that you never were one to stand in awe of power. Did you know 'problems with authority' was always in your reviews?" "It doesn't shock me." What can I say? I didn't like when people had authority and tossed it around like they were better than everyone else. It didn't mean you were innately better, it meant you had to be better to set a good example for those under your supervision and to be strong enough to take care of them if needed. Probably one of the biggest reasons I could never stand Angus McLeod, the alpha of the ECP. "Thanks, Travis. You just freed me up for a late morning quickie." A faux exasperated sigh exploded through the phone. "Just shut the windows this time." "Okay. We'll just bang on the back porch." I hung up to get the last word, grinning. Travis had always approved of me and his son being together, so I didn't have to worry about offending him with our relationship. I did go home to get that quickie, but it got postponed for a few minutes. I had to stop laughing because Travis had called Pat with a message. "He said to tell your husband, and I quote, 'if you do, I'm getting the hose,' end quote." With me being home and getting naked, he knew what would result in the hose. We did it in the jacuzzi. He still turned the hose on us. Bastard got the last word anyway. I was back in the office checking on the new house. I knew Dean needed water near him, and Kao looked to be the same. Pat had hired a contracting company to build a three bed, two bath house on twenty acres with a view of Canyon Ferry Lake. With them coming in two days, it needed to be done and not smell like paint. "The paint's dry, and the house's aired," the firm's architect said. "The movers will be here later today and some members of the pack are helping unload and organize what they can." Always good to have an architect in the pack, I thought. "Thanks, Matt." * * * "The chickens are in the yard. I repeat the chickens are in the yard." This came over the camp's radio from one of the state police we had in our ranks. Another handy person to have around. He had been watching the highway for my buds while doing his normal duties, and thankfully Dean hadn't whizzed past him at normal California speeds. It meant we had about an hour until they got here, and I knew it would take the entire time to get the last minute touches set up. Heather was giving orders, and even I was jumping when she said frog. She knew what she was doing, she had planned the entire welcoming party, which again got her a raise in her pro bono salary. I didn't have to lift a finger, and when I tried, she nearly bit it off. "Jon, I love you, but leave this to me. You have bigger things to worry about than this." "Which is why I want to help. I need the distraction." I wasn't pleading to put aside a possible war. Never! She was tapping her foot, her arms crossed her nice bosom. "Bring the plates out," she said and then went back to efficiently giving orders. I gave her cheek a smooch when I went past, which got me swatted on my shoulder. All was ready pretty much the moment we could hear the engine of Dean's car as he was slowly coming into camp. We barely got ourselves arranged with me, Pat, and Dyl in one clump, and Pop, Travis, and Heather in another. It looked planned. It looked official. It didn't look like we ran around like the Three Stooges and stopped in what might work out okay. Travis stepped one pace forward, a token meeting and defense before anyone could talk to the alpha. Dean met him and said, "Travis Andrews, Acting Beta for the Homestead Pack, you are hereby relieved of your duties as Beta. Homestead thanks you for your years of service and guidance as you move on to take your place among the Council of Lycans for the northern packs of the USA." I knew Dean had to say it because he was the elder of the two betas, even though Kao was technically my beta. I still hated all the titles, the posturing, the ceremony. I just wanted them to tell me if I was doing okay or if I was doing a shit job. Not too much to ask, right? "It has been an honor and privilege to serve, Beta Whitmore-Saechao. You are to carry on in my place alongside your mate. To guide and advise the Alpha, to lead the pack in his stead, and to mediate disputes between members of this and other packs should you be called upon. Do you, Kao Whitmore-Saechao, and you, Dean Whitmore-Saechao, take up this mantle of authority?" Was it me, or was there a slight catch in Travis's voice? "We do," they said together. Travis turned to me with the biggest smile on his face and a tear in his eye. "Alpha, I stand down as your Beta in the full knowledge that these two men will serve you as well or better than I. Do you accept my resignation and their promotion?" "I do accept." My part was easy. At least the words. To avoid everyone seeing my own tears, I pulled my father-in-law into my arms. He felt like my husband, only a foot taller, and there was a familiar scent. I would hate to see him go. I loved and respected Travis, but his wisdom and strength were needed elsewhere. "We will all miss you, Travis. You will always have a home with us. Now go give those stuffy council asshats a good shakeup." Travis laughed and stepped back. I stepped forward. "Homestead pack, your Betas have come home to roost." A collective cheer went up as the mates were embraced and welcomed. "Now, let's eat. Thanks to Heather, and all her hard work, we can give you more than oatmeal and water." Dean came over for a big hug, and I finally didn't feel like I had to hold back for fear of killing him by squeezing too hard. "Dude, why the big turn out? We're nothing special." "Bro, it's not every day a pack gets a new beta pair. It's also a bit of a send-off for Travis. You, c'mere," I said and pulled Kao into a hug. "Welcome officially to the family. Your crazy suits ours, so you'll fit right in." Kao gives good hugs. "Alright, break it up," said Pat coming over, "or add me to the cuddle puddle." So we pulled him in, all three of us putting him in the middle. His grin was huge as we pet him, and I nuzzled his ear. "Someone stopped off at the Lone Wolf. I smell Whitebear Meatloaf Surprise." "Guilty," Kao said. "We had it for lunch." A bit of a receiving line was formed so the betas could meet their new pack. Mind you, it would have taken too long for them to meet everyone, but those who came from farthest away were in line. Everyone else was local and could just drop by. Dean got a ton of hugs from the few people he'd met before, but I was surprised by the number of bows Kao got. More than half he met gave him a formal welcome. I wonder if that was how it was going to be. Dean would be the informal one, Kao would be the formal one. If the pack treated them that way, they would act that way, and the pack would be all the worse for it. Kao could be just as relaxed as Dean, maybe even more so. Dean could be downright rigid if he was so inclined. I decided to nip it in the bud. "Hey, Feathers," I said, using his unofficial nickname, "Go start some music and grab a dance partner. Dean, scoot." There were twin curious glances, but they got what I wanted a split second later. "Yes, Alpha," Kao said with the cheekiest grin and went over to the sound system for something lively...I hoped. "Irreverent little turd," I called after him. "It's why you hired me. That, and I'm banging your best bud." Even I had to laugh at Dean's total-body blush. Even his toes turned red. The best part was when he put on Cotton-Eye Joe and grabbed my Pop as his dance partner. The smallest guy here chose the biggest and started to do a quick two-step. If he started at any point to slap leather, I'd lose my shit. Pop didn't even bat an eyelash. He had to stoop, but he was laughing along with Kao. Guess the time the bullies from Sawtooth Pack messed with Kao brought Pop and Kao together. Good. It was perfect that Kao had gotten close to Pop. They would be working together whenever I had things that demanded my attention. I was only slightly surprised when Dean grabbed Heather's hand and led her out. Only slightly, because Dean was still straight. Dylan growled a bit, but he was far more amused than worried his uncle was trying to poach his fiancee. In the middle of the dance, the couples switched partners often, which was even better: watching Pop and Dean trying to decide who would lead. God, I loved my family. Too bad this was about the last time we had any fun. * * * "Jon, we have a problem," said Gene over the phone. It was week two of the investigation, and he'd made sure to check in often. "When some people say problem, I roll my eyes. When you say it, I say prayers. Hit me," I was in my office looking over local reports of more attacks and more losses. The situation was getting worse quickly, like the rogues were pushing faster to get their goals accomplished before someone stopped them. "Some of our trackers have gone missing. All of them within fifty miles of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada." That was just north of our border. Could our expansion have triggered this entire thing? Were we getting too close for comfort to some rogue installation? It wouldn't be much of a stretch. Canada was far less populated than the US, so rogues could hide out there far easier, and being close enough to the US border made evading either country's police a snap. "Can you find out the cause? Without getting caught?" There was a pause. Not good. "I'll do what I can, Jon." Those were the last words I ever spoke to Gene.
  12. 40 points
    I woke up on my sixteenth birthday with Daniel’s warm body in my arms. His back was snuggled up to my front, and from this vantage point it would be so easy, so effortless, to kiss the back of his neck, or his earlobe. Then I realised that we were holding hands. His hand was small in mine, his skin warm and soft, and I couldn’t help but gently squeeze it. That seemed to wake him, and I quickly disentangled my fingers from his, but otherwise stayed still. ‘Morning,’ I said as he emitted a sleepy yawn. ‘Mm . . . Good morning . . .’ Daniel turned over on his back, and I shifted a bit, propping myself up on my elbow to give him room, but I left my other arm draped across his chest. It felt good to hold him. He didn’t seem to mind. ‘You sleep okay?’ I asked. Daniel seemed to consider for a moment. ‘You know what?’ he said finally. ‘I actually did. I slept really well.’ I grinned, feeling almost smug. He felt safe with me. I loved that. ‘That’s good,’ I told him, and he returned my smile. ‘I should go check on Mum,’ he said and sat up. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. I would have liked to keep him in my arms just a few minutes longer. Then again, if I had, there was no telling what I’d do. Like kiss him. That would have been bad. On the off chance that he was into me, anything that happened had to happen at his pace and on his initiative. And assuming he wasn’t interested, the more likely scenario, I didn’t want to scare him off or give him a reason not to trust me. He got out of bed and pulled his clothes on. I reached for my trousers and pulled my phone out of my pocket. While he went to check on his mother, I scrolled through twenty or so birthday greetings on Facebook. I also had a text from my sister, and one from my parents as well, who promised to call me that evening. Daniel reappeared a moment later. ‘Do you want breakfast? Coffee?’ I put down my mobile and reached for my t-shirt. ‘Breakfast, yes please. Not much of a coffee drinker, though.’ ‘I think we have some tea.’ I smiled. ‘Tea would be nice. If it’s no trouble.’ He returned again soon after with two bowls of cereal, a cup of tea for me (milk and sugar; he must have remembered, which made me inexplicably happy) and coffee for himself. He sat next to me on the bed. ‘Didn’t know you were a coffee drinker,’ I said, taking a sip of my tea and setting it down on the nightstand. He shrugged. ‘Only sometimes. I mean, I’m not normally a breakfast person, but I was in a breakfast-y mood today.’ He indicated his bowl of cereal. ‘You’re full of surprises.’ I smiled. My phone buzzed on the bed between us, and Daniel glanced down, seeing the Facebook notification about new birthday greetings flash across the screen. His expression froze, and he looked up at me. ‘I thought your birthday was tomorrow,’ he said in a small voice. ‘The actual day is today,’ I replied with a shrug. ‘It wasn’t a good day for a party, so I’m celebrating tomorrow.’ ‘But . . .’ He turned his eyes away, looking suddenly ashamed. ‘You let me . . . You should have better than this on your birthday. I’ve hijacked your birthday breakfast . . .’ He looked so sad and regretful that I couldn’t even laugh. I put my cereal bowl on the nightstand as well and put my arm around his shoulder. ‘You didn’t hijack anything,’ I told him. ‘I chose to come here. I’m happy to be here. There are plenty worse ways to wake up on your birthday than next to a friend.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘Don’t be sorry! I told you, I want to be here!’ It was hard not to get frustrated with him, especially when I was this close and wanted more than anything to kiss him. ‘Danny,’ I said softly, ‘listen. There’s no way I’d rather spend my birthday than with a friend who needs me. Okay?’ He met my gaze at last, and finally he seemed to believe me. He nodded. ‘Okay.’ Then, after a deep breath, he said, ‘Happy birthday, Michael,’ and smiled. I smiled back. ‘Thanks, Danny.’ * * * We walked to school together again. It felt good, walking next to him, talking about everything and nothing, and I found myself wishing that we were neighbours or something, so we could do this every day. Unfortunately, Daniel lived in the opposite direction from me from school. It seemed that people had not forgotten about the previous day, and Daniel was met with sniggers and catcalls. I could see how much it distressed him. He raised his shoulders and cast his wide-eyed hazel gaze to the ground. I wanted to punch every single one of them, but it wouldn’t do him much good, or me. So instead I devised a plan. I couldn’t be seen walking him to every class, not if what he said was true and the person who had been hurting him wanted him to distance himself from me. So instead I texted Julie. They had nearly all their lessons together. That day, Julie barely left his side, and when she couldn’t be there, I was. I reasoned that whomever it was couldn’t blame Daniel for me not letting myself be pushed away entirely. At the end of the day, I was sorely tempted to go home with him and spend another night sleeping next to him, but Liz would be upset if I didn’t come home on my birthday, and there was so much that needed to be done for tomorrow. I still texted him, though. Will you be all right by yourself tonight? I don’t like leaving you alone. The moment I’d sent it I felt embarrassed. It sounded kind of stalker-ish, didn’t it? But his reply came almost at once. I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow! * * * ‘Happy birthday, bear!’ Liz hugged me tightly the moment I got in the door. ‘Sixteen years old! But you’ll always be my—’ ‘I’ll always be your little bear. I know.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Thanks.’ ‘In honour of you being one step closer to legally being allowed to drink, I am making us a tasty steak dinner tonight! Oh, and I got you this.’ She held up a tall, narrow gift bag. I took it from her and opened it, to find a bottle of Spanish red wine. ‘A contribution for tomorrow,’ said Liz with a grin. ‘Oh, and there’s another present for you in the living room, from Mum and Dad.’ I walked into the room in question to find a large rectangular parcel wrapped in brightly coloured paper on the coffee table. There was a card on top, and I started by reading it. Dear Michael, Happy Birthday! We’re so sorry that we can’t be with you today, but we hope this gift will somewhat make up for our absence. When we get home again we will celebrate properly, but in the meantime we hope you have a wonderful day, and a wonderful party! We love you so much and we are so proud of you! Love, Mum and Dad I pulled the wrapping off the gift to reveal a keyboard. Eighty-eight keys, over a hundred instruments, built in speakers and MIDI output. ‘Holy shit!’ I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I hadn’t taken piano lessons in years, but I had wanted to get back to playing, and I wanted to be able to compose. Behind me, Liz laughed softly. ‘I take it you like it, then?’ I shook my head. ‘Are you kidding? I love it! This is perfect!’ ‘Good. I already put the stand up in your room.’ I turned around and hugged her, because even though the keyboard was from Mum and Dad, I knew she’d had a hand in it. ‘Best birthday present ever.’ I set up the keyboard between my drum kit and my computer. I had just turned it on when my phone rang. ‘Happy Birthday, Michael!’ said Mum’s voice. The connection wasn’t great, but I could hear Dad echo her in the background. They must have me on speaker. ‘Thanks!’ I said. ‘And thank you so much for the present! It’s perfect!’ ‘Thought you might like it!’ said Mum, and I could hear the smile in her voice. ‘Have you had a nice day, love?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said, truthfully. ‘I stayed over at a friend’s place last night.’ ‘On a school night?’ ‘He needed me,’ I said simply. ‘That’s my boy,’ said Dad’s voice. ‘Always looking out for his friends!’ ‘What friend was this?’ asked Mum. ‘A new friend. His name’s Daniel. He’s in year ten. Liz has met him,’ I added. Dad chuckled. ‘Don’t worry, son, we trust you to pick your friends.’ Again, I considered it. I considered telling them, coming out. I was running out of excuses not to. At this point, I felt as certain as I was likely to get of my sexuality. I had feelings for Daniel. I had kissed Jasper. If I wasn’t gay, my mind, heart and body were doing a really good job of faking it. Still, it felt weird doing it over the phone, while my parents were a continent away. We talked for a little while longer, about school and my friends and who was coming to my party tomorrow. (‘A few friends,’ I said, instead of the more honest, ‘My entire year plus a few more.’) Then we said goodbye, and I sat down at my brand new keyboard. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still remembered Bach’s Prelude No. 1. * * * The following day, Liz and I got everything ready for the party. We decorated the living room, and Liz baked me a cake that wasn’t quite as good as what our mother might have made, but nevertheless looked amazing. An hour before the party was due to start the doorbell rang and I found Amy at my doorstep. She looked good, her hair tied back into a large, curly bun to show off large gold hoop earrings. She wore a short, blue dress and tasteful heels with gold buckles. In true Amy fashion, she did not wait for me to invite her in, but kissed me on the cheek and stepped inside, depositing her coat on a hanger by the door. Without preamble she said, ‘We need to talk about Daniel.’ I blinked. ‘Okay?’ ‘He’s coming tonight, yeah?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘And you are aware that some of your other guests see him as being on the bottom rung of the social ladder?’ I crossed my arms. ‘I can protect him.’ It was almost as if she deflated. She took my hand gently and walked me into the living room, where she sat us down on the couch. ‘That’s what we need to talk about,’ she said softly, and her demeanour was so un-Amy-like that I found myself wondering who this was and what she’d done with my friend. ‘Now, please don’t take this the wrong way, and don’t get upset with me for prying, but . . . Michael, are you gay?’ For a moment I sat motionless, completely at a loss for how to respond. I’d had a feeling that maybe my friends suspected. That wasn’t surprising in and of itself. But I really hadn’t expected her to come out and straight up ask me like that. ‘It’s fine if you are,’ Amy went on. ‘Obviously. You don’t need my approval. Just saying, I honestly don’t care. I mean, yes, I had a thing for you at one point, but that’s water under the bridge, so please don’t think that I’m being petty or anything. I know it’s not really my business, it’s just that . . .’ She took a breath. ‘I see how close you and Daniel are getting. And I thought maybe you had feelings for him, and given how he acts I think he might have feelings for you too. I just want you to know what you’re doing, because . . .’ She looked me straight in the eye. ‘You like helping people. You like fixing them. I want you to think about what will happen once you fix Daniel.’ I licked my lips. This was a lot to take in. Amy was possibly the last person I had suspected of being capable of this degree of insight, and I found it slightly unnerving, on top of how much everything she had said had struck home. Finally, I nodded. ‘I . . . I think I am. Gay. And, yeah, I have . . . I like Daniel.’ She nodded. ‘Okay. That’s a start. But, Michael, do you like him, or do you like that he needs you?’ ‘Of course I like him!’ I said quickly, and I heard the defensiveness in my voice. ‘Yeah, sure, at first I just wanted to help him, but I really do like him.’ ‘Okay,’ said Amy. ‘Good. Because you can’t just abandon him when his life gets better. That’s not fair. He deserves better than that. Whatever happens between you two, friends, boyfriends, whatever, he’s gonna keep needing, like, support and love and all that jazz. You know?’ I smiled. ‘I know. I’m surprised at you, Amy. I didn’t know you gave a shit.’ She opened her clutch purse (also blue with a gold buckle) and pulled out a tube of hot pink lipgloss and a pocket mirror. ‘Well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me,’ she said nonchalantly, applying the lipgloss. ‘Beneath this fabulous exterior beats the heart of a true humanitarian.’ She smacked her lips and met my gaze again. ‘And don’t you forget it.’
  13. 39 points
    Three days later, Drew walked into a shit-storm. He heard the yelling before he even reached the front steps. His heart fluttered as he fitted his key into the lock and opened the door. The sound increased exponentially. As he crossed he hall, Aria screamed in the room above and he took the stairs in three bounds. The sight that met his eyes might have been comical in other circumstances. Alicia was on her knees, trying to hold together the shattered remains of the television. Amara was pacing back and forth in front of the window muttering curses, and Aria was grinding what was left of his phone into the wooden floor with the heel of his boot. “What the hell’s going on?” Everyone froze and for one, blissful moment, all was silent, then Aria flew across the room, throwing himself into Drew’s arms and held on tight, rambling incoherently between angry sobs. What was surprising was that moments later, Amara was also clinging to him ranting just as incoherently, only without the sobbing. “Hey,” Drew said, trying to pry the boys loose. “Whoa. Hang on there. What the heck? Aria, you’re going to push me down the stairs. Amara? What the hell is going on? Alicia?” Alicia threw up her hands helplessly. “Alright. Okay. Come on. To the sofa. Then you’re both going to calm down and tell me what the hell’s going on.” “It…it’s mother,” Aria hiccupped as he followed Drew across the room holding his hand. “Fucking bitch,” Amara snapped. “If I ever see her again, I’ll spit in her face.” “What’s she done now?” Drew had no idea what to expect. With Julianna Graice, it could have been anything. “She cancelled the party,” Amara spat, throwing himself dramatically onto the sofa next to Drew, while Aria took his usual position, curled like a kitten under Drew’s arm. “She did what?” “She didn’t exactly cancel it, boys,” Alicia started, only to be silenced by one of the intense, dual twin stares. “Okay, she “rearranged” it. She cancelled all the plans we made. We spent hours and hours choosing everything – the venue, the music, the colour scheme.” “That was me,” Aria said. “Of course.” Drew smiled but Aria didn’t return a hint of one. “We worked so hard.” “We’ve been planning for months.” “Years.” “We’ve been talking about it for years.” “It was us.” “It was all about us.” “It’s supposed to be all about us.” “It’s our birthday.” “She spoiled it on purpose.” “Because of what Aria did.” “Because she hates us now.” The last line was said in unison and it was spooky as hell. “What exactly happened?” Drew asked Alicia, shushing the boys. “Julianna called this morning to say she’d cancelled all the arrangements for the party and made her own. She said that she was concerned because of the last threat, that the arrangements have been compromised and it would be better for everyone if everything was changed up last minute with no chance of anyone else getting a hold on what happening until it was too late.” “She has a point,” Drew said. Both boys started talking at once. Drew held up his hand and finally managed to silence them. “Hear me out. I’m not denying she went about it in the shittiest way ever, and I’m not denying it was hurtful not to talk to you about it first, but she does have a point. Someone knew way too much about the party and it’s quite possible they were planning to do something there. This way, no one will know, or if they find out it will be too late to plan anything.” “But it was our party,” Amara said at the same time as Aria said. “It won’t be our party anymore.” “Of course it will be your party. It’ll just be a surprise party now.” “Are you kidding? With Maman organizing, it will be her party, not ours. It will have nothing to do with us. There will be lace and bows and…pink,” Amara spat. “Well, that wouldn’t be so bad,” Aria said, then winced under his brother’s glare, “but she’ll have her favourite music and her favourite food. We spent ages finding the right musicians.” Drew knew all about that. He’d been hearing about Jazz Kittens, an old-style jazz quartet, made up, from what Drew could see, of four female anime characters with funky electrical instruments, for days, and he knew Amara was excited about having one of his favourite bands playing later in the evening. Would that still be happening. “Can’t you at least contact the musicians and make sure they’re still playing. She can’t stop you doing that, surely.” “She’s specifically forbidden it, and we can’t anyway because we don’t know where it is,” Aria wailed. Drew’s mind raced. There wasn’t much he could do to help. It wasn’t as if he’d have a chance of persuading Mrs Graice to change her mind, and she’d made it impossible for the boys to rearrange in time for their birthday. Drew sat up straighter, an idea occurring to him. “I’ve had an idea,” he said. “Hear me out before you say anything.” The boys nodded, curious, and Aria sniffed. “When I was a kid, my sister was going out with a horrible girl, who just happened to be a chef.” “A girl? Your sister’s gay?” Aria sat up straighter, his curiosity getting the better of him. “All three of us are,” Drew said, with a grin. “She calls us her gaybies.” “Aw, that’s cute,” Aria said with a coy smile. Amara snorted. “I’m sorry. Drew, but we are so going to call you Gayby from now on.” “No we’re not,” Aria said and smacked his brother on the arm. Amara sniggered. Drew knew for sure he was going to be called Gaybe, at least for a while. “Anyway,” he said, glad that at least the boys seemed to have cheered up a little. “One year my sister and the evil girlfriend were visiting for Mother’s Day and offered to make my mother her favourite meal.” “What has this got to do with our birthday,” Amara demanded. Aria shushed him. “We’re not supposed to speak until the end.” Amara rolled his eyes but he didn’t say anything else, allowing Drew to continue. “My mother chose a meal that we’ve been making in our family for generations. I remember my grandmother making it, then my mother, and my sister had at least seen it done many times. Anyway, the made the pie, then wandered off, leaving it covered in the kitchen to wait for dinner time before putting it in the over, so we’d have it hot.” Drew smiled fondly as he remembered the kitchen in their terraced house, the smell of cooking that always filled it – baking if his mother was cooking, meat if his father was in there: rich roasts and stew. God he missed his father. Pulling himself back to the story, he continued. “My mother went out to take a look, and it was a disaster. Whether deliberately or genuinely trying to improve on the recipe, the evil chef had made the pie unrecognisable and my mother hated it. Mam, being Mam, just quietly made another pie to the recipe she loved, but when my sister came down to put the pie in the over and found out what Mam had done, she went mental. She ranted that she’d been in the kitchen all afternoon and had been working hard and Mam was ungrateful, but she’d missed an important point. The same point, I think, that your mother missed.” “What?” Both boys looked interested, but clueless Drew smiled. “The whole point of the meal was making my mother happy. Not the work, or the time, or the ingredients. If it didn’t make my mother happy, the gift was worthless.” The boys thought about it for a moment. “Okay,” Aria said, slowly. “I get what you mean, that because Maman didn’t make the party for us or with us it’s worthless, but what are we supposed to do about it.” “Make another pie,” Amara said, a slow smile spreading over his face.” “What—Oh.” Aria smiled, but it faded all too soon. “But we won’t have time to organize it by next week, and if we set it up for after it won’t be for our birthday.” “It doesn’t have to be on your birthday to be for your birthday, and you’ll be eighteen by then so you can control everything, including the guest list. It can be exclusively for your friends if you want. I presume the official party won’t be.” Aria made a face. “No, Maman invited more than half.” Amara’s grin was feral. “We won’t have to invite her. Can you imagine how angry she’ll be when she reads about it or sees it on the news. It will be the best party of the century, and she won’t be there.” “It will put her pathetic party to shame.” Aria threw his arms around Drew’s neck and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Drew, you’re a genius.” “You sure are, Gayby. Remind me to send a thank you card to your sister. No, better than that, we’ll invite them.” Before Drew could get a word in, the boys started to talk about the new party, so fast, Drew couldn’t follow, then they scampered off upstairs. Drew let out a sigh of relief. “Well, well,” Alicia said after the boys had gone. “Seems like you’re not just a pretty face after all.” “Seems so,” Drew said smiling. “Where did you get so wise and understanding?” “Well, I don’t think I’m that, but growing up in a house full of older woman sure made me resourceful.” “Well, you handled that like a pro. I have to admit,” she said as she set aside the clearly unrepairable television. “I was unsure about you when you first came, but you’re not what I expected at all.” “What did you expect?” Drew asked, curious. “Perhaps my expectations are skewed by the spectacular failures of the past, but the ex-army we’ve had, especially with your background haven’t been the most sympathetic with the boys.” “Hmm, I’d say you’ve just been unlucky. Generally black ops are chosen for their intelligence and resourcefulness and they don’t take meatheads or idiots. Either someone’s lying, or you were just damn unlucky.” Or maybe, just maybe, they were sabotaged, but why? Alicia shrugged. “I don’t much care,” she said. “The main thing is that now we have you, and I hope you’re not going anywhere for a long, long time because, aside from the outside drama, this house is as calm and peaceful as it’s ever been. Who knows, maybe the twins are growing up at long last.” Drew narrowed his eyes as he regarded Alicia and she huffed. “Don’t look at me like that. I know what you’re thinking.” She got to her feet and dusted herself down. “I know full well that not all of the boys’ behaviour was a result of immaturity or being spoiled brats, especially over the last year or so. The fact is, Julianna Graice pays my wages and there’s only so much I can do. The situation is as it is and although I’ve pushed the boat as far as I can, I have to follow orders or never doubt for a moment I’d be dismissed, even after all this time. Think about it, Mr Chance, if I left just who would there be in this house who’d lift a finger to help those boys, even as much as I have. Yeah, I’m a poor ally, but I’m all they’ve got.” “Not anymore,” Drew said softly, meeting her gaze. She pursed her lips but didn’t say any more before she stomped across the floor and down the stairs. Drew glanced at the television, wondering if he should be doing anything about it. Ah, screw it. He was already doing more than he’d signed up for. He wandered over to the book case, chose a book, then sat on the sofa and read. He’d come early so he could use the gym, but he wasn’t in the mood anymore. He’d not got to the end of the first chapter before Ben breezed up the stairs and flopped onto the sofa, lifting his legs to cross his ankles on the coffee table. “You shouldn’t do that. The boys don’t like it.” Ben shrugged, crossing his arms behind his head and popping his back. “The boys are not here. I hear they’re not too happy. Do you think they’ll still be up for this afternoon? I hope so, I was looking forward to it.” “You were looking forward to it? What’s that got to do with it? It isn’t about you.” “Oh lighten up,” Ben snapped. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you cosying up to both of them. Don’t tell me you’re not enjoying fringe benefits.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Drew asked, icicles dripping from each word. “Christ, Drew, how naïve do you think I am? They’re all over you like a rash.” Drew surged to his feet and towered over Ben who seemed unperturbed. “How many times do I have to tell you. There is, was and never will be anything between me and those boys apart from friendship. But of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that.” Ben narrowed his eyes. “What are you getting at?” “I know something’s going on between you and Amara. I don’t know what it is, but I promise you I’m going to find out.” Ben sneered. “Good luck with that.” Dismissing Drew, Ben relaxed back into the sofa and closed his eyes. “Shouldn’t you be babysitting?” Although he was practically vibrating with anger, Drew knew better than to push things any further, so he stormed up to his room and grabbed the spare workout clothes he kept there. In five minutes he was hammering the gym equipment. He was still working the treadmill half an hour later when voices on the main stairs alerted him that the boys were on their way up. He continued his workout, assuming they were coming to use the gym. He couldn’t see them, as the treadmill was at the back of the gym, in front of the large dormer window. At almost any time of day, it let in a cascade of natural light that made the wood glow. Its twin would be welcoming the boys at the other end of the room. Drew was slightly curious when music started up, but he finished his allotted time before switching off the machine and padding across the floor, his gym shoes making no sound on the polished wood. He froze when he saw what the twins were doing. Ben had told Drew the boys danced as if they were two halves of the same person, but Drew hadn’t really appreciated what he’d meant. He did now. Twisting, bending, spinning, leaping, the twins were grace and beauty incarnate. Fluid as milk, they flowed from one move to the next, barely touching the poles. They spun impossibly high and leaped from pole to pole without missing a beat and always they were perfectly in tune. Drew watched spellbound, afraid to make himself known in case it caused them to miss step and fall. Aria and Amara ended their routine as they’d started and performed it – as one. They landed lightly to the dying notes of music and held their pose for a moment before falling into each other’s arms, laughing and breathless. Drew clapped, and Aria spun with a little scream. He pressed his hand across his mouth and sagged against Amara. “Oh Drew, you scared me,” Aria scolded. “I didn’t hear you come in.” “I was already here,” Drew said, his eyes on Amara. There had been times during the performance that Drew almost felt the dance was for him. It was personal somehow. He’d thought it impossible, a conclusion that was confirmed by Aria’s response. But Amara… Amara wasn’t startled. He didn’t seem surprised. He simple smiled his slow, sexy smile that made Drew glad he was wearing loose trousers. “Did you see us?” Aria asked, excitement replacing shock. “Did you see it all? Were we wonderful?” Drew dragged his eyes away from Amara and grinned at Aria. “Not all, but most. You’re both very talented.” “We’re talented at a lot of things,” Amara drawled glancing coyly at Drew from under his lashes. Drew laughed. “I’m sure you are. Hadn’t you best be getting ready for the party?” Amara scowled. “I’ve had enough of parties for one day. I don’t want to go.” “Then don’t go,” Drew said, with a shrug. “We can hang here if you want, or go clubbing, or I could go and leave you in peace.” Aria sighed. “I’d like that,” he said. “Oh, not you going to leave us in peace. I’d like to go out, just the three of us. We could go to The Roof. Please Mara, can we?” Amara scowled. “I wish we could, but Mother…” “Who cares about Mother? She’s been so shitty, she can’t expect us to be nice to her now.” Amara stared at him. “When did you stop caring about what Mother thinks?” Aria ducked his head, his cheeks flushing. “Well, I do care, but I’m angry. Just for today I want to do something to piss her off.” Amara grinned and hugged his brother, then frowned. “I really need to go to the party for exposure and publicity. Tell you what, I’ll call Alexei and see what he says. Go shower and I’ll meet you downstairs in half an hour.” “But…” “I’ll see you downstairs and we’ll figure something out.” Amara kissed Aria on the cheek, then skipped away, leaving Drew to stare after him and Aria to follow, slowly. He glanced back over his shoulder. “Have you ever pole danced, Drew?” Drew snorted. “Me? Never. My mother used to say I have all the grace of a cat in jackboots with every leg going in a different direction.” Aria smiled. “I don’t believe that. You have to be stealthy to do what you used to do. You have to be fit and smart and good at all kinds of things that need balance and grace. All you really need to dance on the pole is strong legs and good balance.” “Well, my legs are not as strong as they used to be. Maybe I can work up to it, although I think I’m too big.” “A lot of men who pole dance look like you.” Drew felt naked as Aria scanned him thoughtfully. “You’re not that big, not like my last bodyguard who was kind of scary big. Most men who pole dance do routines that are more like gymnastics than dance and focus on strength rather than anything else. Really, I think you’d be great. I could teach you.” Aria looked like an excited puppy and Drew hated to shoot him down. There was no way on earth or in heaven he would ever pole dance, but he didn’t want to pull Aria down after everything he’d been through that day. “Maybe. One day.” Aria beamed and bounced down the stairs. Drew went back to his room and took a long shower. He took time styling his hair in the style Aria had taught him, then dressed in the clothes they’d picked out for the party. He was pretty sure that if they were going to the club instead, his charcoal grey suit, with teal silk shirt would do just as well for that. If they were staying home, he could always change. Looking in the mirror, he had to acknowledge that he was looking good, possibly better than he ever had. It might have been the products Aria was making him use, the change of hairstyle, or maybe it was something about the eyes. They were a touch less shadowed than before, a little more crinkled at the edges, more like they’d been before he left home. With a last glance, he patted his hair, caught himself doing it and laughed, then headed out the door and down to the living room. The boys weren’t there, but as he reached the bottom of the stairs, Ben emerged from the kitchen. To be fair, he looked damn good in a black, collarless suit and burgundy brocade shirt. His hair was artfully ruffled, and he looked stylish and elegant. Drew started to feel underdressed but reminded himself, he wasn’t here to win a fashion parade, but to protect Aria, nothing more. “My, my,” Ben drawled. “Don’t we scrub up nice?” Drew grunted and sat down. The remains of the television had been removed and another sat in its place. If Drew didn’t know better, he might have thought the old one had been repaired but it would have taken more than a few hours to put that back together even assuming it was possible. He picked up the remote and flicked through the channels. He scrolled through the films on Netflix, familiar by now with the boys’ tastes in movies. “Don’t make yourself too comfortable, once the little princes arrive it will be a whirlwind. Crazy how two such little things can make such a big fuss.” “Whatever you say.” Drew smiled inwardly, feeling slightly malicious. “The boys are tired, they’re thinking of having a night in, so I’m checking out something to watch? Do you have any preferences?” “Oh hell no,” Ben said, scowling. “I’ve been looking forward to this. I’ve got a lot riding on tonight.” “It’s not your party. Ben. It’s a job, remember.” “Every job has its perks, Drew boy, and this is mine.” He started across the floor. “Where are you going?” “Just to have a little chat with Amara, see if I can help him make up his mind what he wants to do.” “I don’t think that would be a very good idea.” Ben spun and tilted his head, raising a perfectly shaped brow. “Excuse me?” Drew got to his feet. He was roughly the same height as Ben, but the other man seemed shorter. He had that fluid grace of an accomplished martial artist, bouncing lightly on his toes when he walked, with his legs slightly bent. It made for smooth movement, but generally gave Drew a slight height advantage, which he capitalized on, be drawing himself up. He strode slowly across the floor until he was about a foot away. He spoke slowly for emphasis. “Aria and Amara are perfectly capable of making the decision all by themselves, and I think they should be allowed to do just that, especially after what happened.” “What the fuck do you care?” Ben seemed genuinely surprised which made Drew’s inner schoolteacher cross her arms and shake her head. “I’ve told you before often enough. I’m here to do a job, and that’s protecting Aria. I will do that no matter what I have to protect him against, even you.” “Me? What are you on about?” There was a slight shifty squint in Ben’s eyes that made Drew’s heart kick up a notch. “I know there’s something going on between you and Amara. Somehow, you’ve got Amara running scared and that is not a good idea.” Ben smirked. “Don’t know what you’re talking about, mate. Me an’ Mara, we got something good going on. We understand each other. I know when to look the other way…and so does he.” “I don’t believe you. Amara looks scared to death half the time when you are around, and I pick up signals. I’m damn good at it. If I hadn’t been I wouldn’t have made it this far.” “You’re seeing things. We’re good mates, sure, but I have no idea what’s got you over-thinking the situation. Chill and take a step back. It would be good for your health.” Drew laughed. “Don’t even think about trying to intimidate me. I’m not a seventeen-year-old child and I’ve eaten men bigger than you for breakfast.” “I’d like to see you try,” Ben snarked, his mask slipping. Drew didn’t want to go toe to toe with him. It worried him to think the boys would have to suffer the fallout because Drew certainly wouldn’t. He knew exactly how to handle people like Ben, but unfortunately, he also knew that Ben was petty enough to take everything out on the boys and they didn’t deserve that. “Do you really want to get into this here? Now? Why don’t we just sit down, relax, and see what the boys want to do when they come down?” Ben glared at him for a moment, then shrugged and spun on the balls of his feet, to stalk lightly back past Drew and into the kitchen. Drew heard cupboards slamming and dishes rattled but he didn’t care. He didn’t bother to go look, even when something smashed. In fact, he was rather amused.
  14. 37 points
    **** JORDAN *** My eyes fling open, my body swings forward. My heart is racing, sweat running down my forehead. What the fuck was that? I look around but he's not here. He was never here. It felt so real. I could feel Noah’s fingers on my face, his hands on my back, his breath on my shoulder. His lips close to mine ... Fuck! It was a dream. Only a dream. Oh man. I flop back down onto my bed landing with a thud. My heart is still racing; I can feel blood rushing through my veins. I lie frozen, staring up at the ceiling; the silence shattered by my heavy breathing. It's only then that I realize my dick is as hard as a rock. It feels more like a steel rod poking through my shorts. It's completely erect, standing at attention, ready to break free of its confinement. I don't think I've ever felt this hard. It kind of hurts. I try to ignore it and close my eyes. But as my lids close and darkness ensues around me the image of Noah's face close to mine comes back in my head. It hits me sharply. I open my eyes again, as I struggle to breathe. My lungs expand, but it feels as if not enough oxygen is going inside of me. It was only a dream dude, only a dream. It doesn't mean anything I try to tell myself. Dreams are just weird random thoughts in your head. They have no bearing on the real world. I'm horny, it’s been a while since I’ve had sex, or jacked off for that matter. So clearly sex is on my mind. Noah was on my mind because of yesterday, and our conversation about sexuality. So, I just put the two thoughts together and that's why I was thinking about sex and Noah. It was just a jumble of thoughts in my head. It means nothing. Just go back to bed ... But I just continue to stare at the ceiling. Sleep is nowhere to be found. *** NOAH *** If I ignore it all maybe it will go away. I keep telling myself that, but it doesn't work. I've been avoiding Sebastian for the past two days. He messaged again, but I didn't respond. I want to know what he meant when he said I would understand, but at the same time I also don't want to know what he meant. Knowing may confirm my fear that he knows the truth about me. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. But ignorance is also torture. Truth be told, part of me wants him to know I'm also gay. If he knew I would have someone to talk to, someone who would understand. All day yesterday I thought about telling Jenn. She is my best friend after all. There really is no one who knows me like her, but I'm not sure I can talk to her about all of this. Would she understand? Would she judge me? I value her friendship so much, it's not something I want to lose. But I always tell her everything ... As I consider my options, I notice Jordan hop into the room. Ah, Jordan. Every time I see his face my heart skips a beat. I know what is happening, but I won't admit it to myself. I can't. I need to understand we will only ever just be friends. And that is okay, honestly (or at least I tell myself that). He’s been a great friend and I would hate to lose his company. When he looks up he notices me and stops. He just looks at me, so I wave. I don't know what else to do. He seems to be thinking about something, contemplating a serious thought. He then smiles and continues to hop towards the back. “Hey,” he says throwing down his bag on the desk next to mine. “Hey. What were you thinking about so seriously just now?” I ask out of curiosity. “Ah, nothing really.” “Did you finish this week's book?” I ask him. “Yeah.” “What did you think?” “It was good.” I try to talk to Jordan but all I get is short sentences. He is awfully quiet today. When class starts he focuses on the lecture and actually takes notes. Usually he writes a few things down, but never is he this focused. I try to even point out our friend the brat, but all Jordan does is smile and turn around. This is really out of character for him. Perhaps he just isn't in the joking mood today. I drop my attempts and focus on the lecture. When class is done Jordan takes off immediately. He shoves everything into his bag, gets up, says goodbye, and off he goes. Usually we walk out together. I guess not today. *** JORDAN *** I tried to forget. I really, really tried. But I couldn’t. The dream lingered in my mind all day. It didn't help seeing Noah in English class either. I know he was trying to engage with me, but I couldn't. Every time I looked at his face, his lips, I was reminded of how close we were, at least in my dream. And how I enjoyed the closeness. I had to get away from him. As soon as I got home, I gave up and jerked off. I thought getting off would clear my mind. Nope. Exhausted, I fell asleep. And who do I see again in my dreams? Noah. I know what will help. I need to get laid. That’s it. It’s been way too long since I’ve had sex. I download Tinder. I've never tried the app before, but have heard you can find a quick hookup. Being in a college dorm, there is no shortage of girls nearby. But none of them catch my attention. I keep swiping and swiping. Eventually I decide I have to actually like a girl, or this won’t work. Alright, Pamela. She looks pretty. But do I really like her? No. Ugh. Okay. Amber. She’s okay. I guess I have to start somewhere. Eventually, after I start to like some profiles, I get a few matches. I start chatting with this one girl, who I must say is cute. I’m a bit too forthcoming. I’m flirtatious and very obvious where I want this to go. I also use my injury to get sympathy, as Caleb suggested, and it seems to work! But she doesn’t seem to want to get together right away. So, I start talking to another girl. Later that night, much to my surprise, one girl invites me over. I don't wait for her to change her mind. I quickly grab my crutches and take off. I decide to splurge and take a cab. I'm at her place in no time. “Well, that was quick,” she says opening the door. I shouldn't be surprised when I see her, but I am. Does she look like the girl in her picture? Sort of. But not really. Doesn't matter. I hop inside. We talk for a bit. Her name is Natalie. She also goes to the same university. Her roommate is out of town for the weekend (good for us). She offers me a beer and I drink it way too quickly. We talk about nothing in particular. Perhaps it’s the alcohol or maybe just the adrenaline but I am overly flirtatious now. She responds in kind. I ‘accidentally’ brush my knee past hers. It maker her smile. She gets me another beer. As the liquor dries up, we move closer. I take my chance. I lean in and kiss her. She doesn’t cringe. I take that as a sign to move forward. I place my hand on her back, bringing her closer. I move my head, kissing down her neck. She moans softly in my ear. “Don’t stop, Jordan,” she says as she runs her hand through my hair. “I won’t, Noah.” Fuck. She pushes me away. “My name's Natalie.” Shit. “Of course, that's what I said.” “No you didn't. You said Noah. Great I'm making out with a fucking fag.” “I'm not gay!” “Whatever. Get the fuck out of my house!” As quickly as I can I grab my crutches and hop outside of her house. That was a disaster. Clearly, I need to try something else. I whip out my phone and call John. I need more alcohol. And I know just the place. ——— I came here last year with John and Caleb. It was a great night. It should be an easy way to forget about Noah and those stupid dreams. I meet John at a strip club. The place is packed on this Friday night with guys. The room is dimly lit in soft red lighting. My eyes drift towards the centre of the room. In the middle is a stage encircled by numerous poles. Several girls in various degrees of clothing are dancing. A number of men, all horned up and drunk, are howling at the front of the room, telling the girls to reveal everything. John and I grab a drink and find a seat. When it finishes I grab another. Then another. I honestly have no idea how many I’ve had so far. “Pace yourself man,” John says to me. “I'm fine,” I say. “You don't seem fine,” he responds. “I'm just horny. Being single sucks.” “I hear you man.” The entire time I keep my eyes on the stage. A blonde girl is wrapped around the pole, sliding down its long shaft. I’m transfixed by her movements. With the music blaring, and the alcohol kicking in, I feel lost in a trance. “Hi there,” a scantily clad tall brunette says standing beside me. “You're really good friend here bought you a lap dance. Do you want to come join me?” I look at John who is grinning. “You deserve it. Have a little fun.” I don’t need to be told twice. I follow her as she makes her way to the side of the room. She guides me to a chair and pushes me down. “Relax. I won’t hurt you, sailor.” ——— I'm not sure what I remember next, but I'm somewhere dark. Foreign hands are roaming all over my body. They find the edge of my shirt and yank it over my head. The cool air rushes up against my skin, creating goose bumps along my arms. The hands are back on me now, flat on my chest as I am pushed down onto something soft. I land flat on my back and bounce up slightly before settling into the sheets. I can feel someone crawling on top of me, their hands are on my shoulders, knees on the bed beside me, pinning me down. They bring their face down to my chest and begin to kiss my skin. They make their way from my neck down to my right nipple. Their lips brush over it, teasing me. The excitement and cool air have already made them erect. Their other hand starts to works its way down my torso. Slowly with a finger creating a line down my mid-section. Their mouth follows their hand. They kiss me softly, gently on each spot, stopping a moment to taste my skin. They lean back and press against my dick, which is fighting against my jeans to escape. I moan softly. The pressure starts to build within me. Each movement, each stroke, sends me closer to the edge. My breathing gets heavier. I arch my back as the pressure builds inside of me. I can't hold on any longer. I let go. My body shakes as streams of cum shoot into my jeans. I tremble as my orgasm subsides. I can feel his hands still on me. Even though I haven't seen his face I know it's him. It has to be him. I open my eyes to catch a glimpse of Noah. But it's not him. John? *** NOAH *** I don’t think I’ve ever debated this much whether or not to make a phone call. Part of feels like I shouldn’t call Sebastian. Deep down I know this is a bad idea. But I need to know. I need to know what he meant when he said I would understand. I’m scared he might know the truth. But that also excites me too. He would understand. He would be someone I could talk to about my feelings. Maybe we could help each other. I could use a friend. The way Jordan acted today in class … it feels as if he may have grown tired of me already. Perhaps he has. I wouldn’t blame him if he did. So, that leaves Sebastian. I should call him. At the very least I could be sympathetic. He also could be struggling with his sexuality. I know how isolating it can feel. Even if I don’t tell him about myself, I can at least be a friend. Maybe that is all he is looking for. Why he chose me, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out today. I start to doubt my decision to call as the phone rings. Before I can hang up he answers. “Hey, Noah!” “Hi, Sebastian.” “It's good to hear your voice,” he says. “Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner.” “It's all good, I know life can be busy.” We make small talk for a while. I don’t know exactly how to bring up our previous conversation. “I'm glad you'll be coming tomorrow,” Sebastian says to me. “Yeah, my friend Jenn convinced me to go. She wants to come too.” “Bring her along. The more the merrier,” he replies. “You know why she wants to come, right?” “She likes a good party?” he asks. “She wants to hook up with you.” He laughs. “If I swung that way I would be flattered.” “Right.” I don't know to respond! “Besides I have my eye on someone else these days.” “I’m sure he’s a lucky guy. About that … I wanted to apologize.” “Why? You have nothing to be sorry about.” “You told me something huge and I barely said anything in return. I can’t imagine that was easy. I should have been more supportive.” He laughs. “You were fine and were very supportive. It wasn’t really fair of me to come out to you. I’m sure you’re probably thinking we’re barely friends, yet I told you a big secret.” “The thought crossed my mind. You said you thought I would understand …” I’m getting nervous. “I did. You seem like someone who is open-minded.” “I'd like to think I am,” I say. Was that it? That can't be it. “Most of my friends are on the volleyball team, or are on other athletic teams. I have good friends, don’t get me wrong, but we all hang out together. So, if I tell one, there is a possibility everyone will find out. So, I thought I would branch out. Then I met you. Granted, it was only a short time ago, but I feel like we have a good connection. I feel like I can trust you. You’re someone I want to get closer to. So, I told you. I hope I wasn’t wrong.” I can breathe. He doesn’t suspect anything. And I was getting worked up over nothing. I’m such an idiot! “Of course you can trust me. I would never betray you, or anyone. Your sexuality is your domain. It’s not for me to talk to others about. I don’t know how I can be of help, but if I can, do let me know.” “Thank you, Noah. Well, in terms of helping …” he trails off. “Sorry, give me a second.” “Of course.” I can hear voices in the background. “Sorry, Noah. I have to run. But I would love to continue this conversation later. Do you want to meet up tonight?” “I can’t, sorry. I'm going to be out tonight.” “No worries. I'll see you tomorrow then.” “Sure. Bye, Sebastian.” “Bye, Noah.” Alright, that went well. He doesn’t suspect anything. I’m still not sure if I should tell him about myself. I think I will see how all of this goes over the next few days. Maybe once we get to know each other a bit better I'll tell him. Maybe. *** JORDAN *** “Hold up man, it's just me, John.” I look around. I'm in my room, lying on my bed. “What happened?” I can barely get the words out. My head is pounding. “Dude, you got really wasted at the strip club so I brought you back to your place.” That’s when I notice I’m shirtless. I can also feel the wetness in my pants. I am so grateful there is a blanket covering what I assume is a giant wet spot in my jeans. “Where’s my shirt?” I ask looking around. “You puked all over yourself. I rinsed it in the sink as best I could and hung it up to dry. You’re going to want to throw it in the wash before it permanently stinks.” It was a dream. Another dream. Noah wasn’t here. “Thank you so much, man.” “You owe me,” he says. “You were mumbling a lot. You kept saying something, a name maybe, Nora perhaps. I couldn’t tell because you were slurring a lot. Anyway, get some sleep. I’ll call you in the morning.” Another dream. My head is spinning. All of it felt so real. Too real. ——— I wake up the next day with a massive hangover. I can barely open my eyes. My head is pounding. I didn’t even drink that much last night. Or at least I don’t think I did. Most of last night is a bit of a blur. I know I went to a strip club, but the rest is fuzzy. All of it except for that dream. I can’t remember what I ate last night, what I wore, how I got home. Nothing. Yet I can remember details of that dream vividly. They’re images I try to shake out of my head without much luck. Every time I blink they are there. I guess it felt so real because some of it was real. John did help me take off my shirt. He did guide me to my bed. But the rest of it … the hands on my body. It felt real. Even though I didn’t see a face I knew it was him. It felt like Noah. And it felt good. Really good. Fuck! What the hell is wrong with me? I need to think about something else. I pick up my phone. I have a message from my best friend, Aiden. He lives half way around the world in Australia. I’ve known him since elementary school. “Happy birthday, Freak!” he writes. “Hope you have a good day. We should catch up soon!” I haven’t spoken to Aiden in a long time. The vast number of time zones doesn’t help. I’m about to respond when my phone rings. It's my mom. “Hi, Mom.” “Happy birthday, Jordan!” “Thank you.” “You didn't think I would forget, did you?” she asks. “No, of course not.” “Is something wrong? You sound horrible.” “Nothing, just a little headache.” “Staying up late and partying, are we?” “No. School's been really busy.” “Just because I'm older doesn't mean I don't know anything. I was in school once. I know how it goes. But your voice sounds down. Is everything okay?” “Yeah. I just miss home I guess. I was actually thinking of coming home over the long weekend.” “You can come back whenever you want. This is your home. I would love to see you.” “I would love to see you too.” I actually do really miss my mom! Growing up it was only me and my mom, so we are close. We would always have cake together on my birthday. It's just not the same without her. It would be nice to go home. It might help clear my head. After I hang up, I continue to scroll through my phone. I have a ton of messages on Facebook from various people wishing me a happy birthday. But I soon realize the messages are only from people back home. No one from university has messaged me. Weird. *** NOAH *** I hate everything I own. Seriously. I hate everything. I can’t decide what to wear! Either it is too formal, or too casual. Usually Jenn holds us up. She takes forever getting ready! Tonight though I’m the slow one. She arrived at my place promptly at seven; a first for her. I was ready, but then I figured what I was wearing was too casual, so I changed. Then I felt it was too formal. So, I changed again. I just can’t decide what to wear! “For the love of God just pick something!” Jenn yells. She is sitting on my bed as I go through my closet. “Perfection takes time,” I respond digging through my wardrobe. “You're such a girl!” “Not all of us wish to look like a slob,” I say with my back to her. “Whatever. What did you end up buying Jordan for his birthday?” she asks. I really had to think about what to get him. I wanted it to be a great gift. I’m not a bad gift giver, or at least that is what I think, but I couldn’t decide what would be the best thing to get Jordan. Jenn just got him a graphic tee. I wanted something a bit more personal. And then I remembered something he told me from his childhood. “I got him a book,” I say. “Of course you did. You’re such a nerd.” “Whatever. I think he will like it.” “No one wants a book for their birthday,” she says. “You get me a book for my birthday and I am going to throw it in your face.” “Obviously I wouldn’t get you a book for your birthday. One needs to know how to read first, no?” “Ha ha. Focus on picking something to wear! The rate you're going, we will get there tomorrow night.” She’s right. Ugh. I hate everything I own. *** JORDAN *** I spend the day being lazy. I honestly feel like crap. I have no desire or energy to do anything or to go anywhere. I spend most of the day watching random shows on Netflix. In the evening I get a call from John. Shit I forgot! He wants to go out tonight. “You ready?” John asks. “About that, John. I think I’m going to skip tonight. My head can’t handle another night of drinking.” “Not a chance, bud. You don’t have to drink. But we are going out. I’ve already made plans and gotten tickets to this comedy show.” “John —” I try to protest but he cuts me off. “You’re coming with me and that’s final. Wear something decent, no sweatpants. I don’t go out with bums.” “Fine. But I’m only going out for an hour. I want to be home early tonight.” “Okay, grandpa. I’ll be there soon. Be ready!” Every fibre within me is screaming not to go. But what can I do? I promised John. Besides, I've barely eaten anything all day so I could use some food. I’m barely out of bed by the time John calls again. He’s waiting outside. “Which comedy club are we going to?” I ask when we are on the road. “Oh, a new one I found. But I’m an idiot. I forgot the tickets at home. I’m just going to quickly swing by and grab them,” John says. “Sure.” It doesn’t take long to get to his place. “Why don’t you come up with me?” he asks getting out of the car. “You go in, I'll wait in the car.” “It might take me a few minutes, just come inside.” “Why will it take you a few minutes?” I ask. “I forgot to print them. Just come,” he says. “I’ll wait here,” I respond. “Fine. The truth? My stomach is a bit upset … so I need to, you know. It might take me a few minutes.” “Man, I didn’t need to know that!” I say. “Well, you didn’t trust me! Let’s go.” John lives with Caleb and another guy in their program. John once asked if I wanted to move in with them as well, but at the time I couldn’t afford it. I think I'm never going to leave my stupid small dorm room. “Come on in,” John says opening the door. “Make yourself comfortable.” “SURPRISE!” Holy shit. All of a sudden people start popping out of various places. I notice a bunch of my teammates and some of my school friends. “You had no idea, did you?” John asks. “No. I honestly didn't,” I reply. A number of people come up to wish me a happy birthday. I just continue to nod in their direction. I guess this is why no one from university messaged me. They're all here. “Happy birthday!” I turn around to see Jenn. I’m a bit surprised to see her. What is Jenn doing here? “Happy birthday, Jordan.” And then I see Noah. The moment I see his face all of those dreams come rushing back. So too do all of those emotions. Fuck! Don’t get hard here, I tell myself. “Thank you! Thank you both for coming!” “I hope it's okay I tagged along with Noah,” Jenn says. “Of course! You’re more than welcome! Excuse me for a second,” I say. I need to get away from Noah. Just for a bit or I might just get a hard on. *** NOAH *** I might just be going crazy but it feels like Jordan is avoiding us. I know he has a lot of friends here, and many people are talking to him, but he seems off. Every time Jenn or I are close by he moves. And it's not just that he moves, he announces why he is moving, like he needs to justify his exit. He either goes to get a drink, or food, or talk to someone. It is probably all in my head. With so many people, the apartment is a bit stuffy. I tell Jenn I’m going to step onto the balcony for a bit. She is fine on her own. I think she's already made like five new friends. Part of me hates her. The cool air feels good against my skin. I feel like I can breathe again. But I’m not alone for long. Sebastian joins me outside. “Beer?” he asks handing me a can. “Thanks,” I say taking it from him. “Having fun?” “Yeah, I am. Thanks for the invite.” “You’re a good friend. Jordan doesn’t realize how lucky he is,” Sebastian says moving closer. “I’m just an average guy, nothing special,” I say. “You’re not average, Noah. You clearly care … and I don’t think it’s fair to you.” I’m totally confused. “What is not fair to me?” “I don’t think I should say anything.” “If there is something to say then you should.” “Fine,” he says. “I say this as a friend, Noah. I clearly trust you, having told you my deepest secret. And the only reason I'm telling you this is because I don’t want you to get hurt.” “Okay …” “I was talking to Jordan the other day and you came up. I was just asking about your friendship and he said you guys weren’t really friends. You were just his English partner.” What? That can’t be right. After all I’ve done for him. No. Then again he has been acting strange the past few days. No. I’m not great at being social, but it feels like we’re friends. “Maybe he didn’t mean it in a negative way,” I say. “More like saying it as a fact.” “That is what I thought too, but then he continued. He mentioned how you had started to become really clingy. He said he didn’t say anything because you guys had to work together. He said he thinks you’re weird.” Sebastian’s words feel like a punch in the stomach. Clingy? How have I been clingy? I knew I was trying too hard. He also thinks I’m weird. I’ve always known I don’t fit in. The word hits me straight in the heart. “Oh … I didn’t know he felt that way.” “I’m sorry, Noah.” “Don’t be. Anyway, it’s getting late. I should go.” *** JORDAN *** I never realized Jenn was such an interesting character. I knew she was hilarious from our first meeting, but there is so much more to her. We have a lot in common, and she is really hot. I saw her standing by herself. I couldn’t see Noah. I waved her over and we began to talk. I know she is Noah’s friend but I couldn’t help myself being a bit flirtatious. If I’m not wrong, she is too. About ten minutes into our conversation we are interrupted by Noah. “Sorry, Jordan. Jenn, can I talk to you for a second?” “Sure,” she says. The two move to the side. I spend the next couple of minutes talking to some of my other friends. A number of my volleyball teammates tell me how they can’t wait for me to be back. I tell them neither can I! I just have a few more days to go until my appointment. I’m hoping this brace comes off and I can go back to using both of my feet. As I talk to my friends I look over at Jenn and Noah. The two are in some sort of heated debate. I wonder what's going on. A few minutes later Jenn gets up and heads my way. “Hey, Noah and I are going to take off. It was nice talking to you. I hope you enjoy the rest of your birthday,” she says. “You can’t leave yet,” I say. “It's not even midnight! The night is still young.” “Both Noah and I have an early morning. Plus, Noah is tired.” “I’ll talk to him.” I make my way to Noah. “Dude! What’s going on? Jenn says you want to leave?” “Sorry, Jordan, I’m a bit tired.” “No you’re not. You're staying and so is Jenn. It's my birthday and I get to be unreasonable.” “But Jordan —” I cut him off. “You can say whatever you want. You’re not leaving yet.” He sighs. “Fine. We’ll stay for a bit longer.” I try to engage Noah in conversation but he doesn’t say much. He mainly just sits there quietly staring at the floor. I don’t know what's gotten into him. He's acting like he was that other day, the day I found him at the library. Jenn makes up for his silence. She sure knows how to talk. At some point Noah excuses himself. He says he is going to go grab a drink. He doesn’t return. So, I continue talking to Jenn. I honestly am having a great time. She is so easy to talk to. As it approaches midnight many people start to leave. There is another party tonight. Jenn and I are invited as well, but we both decline. I can’t do another party. “I should get going as well,” Jenn says. “Where did Noah go?” “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in a while. Maybe he left?” Jenn tries calling him. No answer. “I doubt he would leave without me.” But there is no sign of him. “We were going to walk home together. That jerk.” “I'll walk you home,” I offer. “That's nice of you, but you can barely walk! I should be okay.” “I’d be happy to,” I say. I really would. “Sure. I’m just going to grab my jacket. I left it in one of the rooms.” “I’ll grab it, no worries.” Might as well act like a gentleman. Talking with Jenn has helped a lot. I haven’t thought about Noah and that dream all night. Crap. Now I’m thinking about Noah and that dream again! “It’s a light pink coloured jacket,” Jenn tells me. “Be back in a second.” Okay, now which room did she say her coat was in? All of the doors are closed. I try John’s room first. Nope. I try Caleb’s room next. I try to open it, but it seems jammed, like something is blocking it. I push on it and it swings open. I look up and stop dead in my tracks. What the fuck? Were Sebastian and Noah …?
  15. 35 points
    “What are you looking at?” said Tyrone. My eyes were on the television behind him. I picked up the remote control to fumble with the volume. There was a reporter outside the front of the hospital, and she was about to interview Bob! ‘I should’ve known he wouldn’t be able to keep his trap shut’. There was no depth to which my colleague wouldn’t sink, and nothing he wouldn’t do to make a bit of extra dosh. I wondered if my boss was watching as I glared nervously at the small screen at the end of the bed. “It’s your fat friend,” said Tyrone. “This should be hilarious.” He flashed me a mischievous smile and pushed back his golden locks before making himself comfortable on the arm of the chair. It was a stupid presumption to make. Bob was never funny when it came to making money. Neither would he allow friendship or loyalty to get in the way of personal gain. Tyrone was unlikely to be laughing once Bob had finished. I barred my face with my hands and peeked through my fingers preparing myself for the worst. The reporter introduced him as a contractor who had been working in the house at the time of the incident, and my workmate smiled into the camera. I was sure he was laughing at me. “Can you tell us what happened last night?” “There was an unfortunate accident involving a colleague of mine.” “Eyewitnesses describe seeing a naked man jumping from a first-floor window, was this your colleague?” Bob looked hesitant as if he was trying to remember what happened. I was infuriated, he wasn’t even there at the time. “He didn’t jump, he fell. It was an accident,” said Bob, who was looking a little out of his comfort zone. I could see why. The interview had attracted a small but vociferous posse of young girl fans who had gathered behind him, pulling faces and waving at the camera. He was clearly rattled by their presence as the reporter pressed him for some answers. Tyrone was enjoying every second of it, laughing and turning to me excitedly as if expecting me to join him. “What was he doing on the window ledge?” asked the reporter. “I can’t say for certain. You’ll ave to ask him. Maybe he got lost.” “He was outside the first-floor window.” “Yes, I know that.” “What was he doing out there?” “Probably checking the drainpipes. It’s an important part of the job.” “At four o’clock in the morning?” The interview was interrupted when one of the girls reached over and took Bob’s hat. As he spun around, another girl slapped his balding head. “Oi, stop it, you lot. Give me my fucking hat back.” The girls were laughing, but the reporter wasn’t amused. She told them to back off, and one of the news crew stepped to try to calm them down. “Why wasn’t he wearing any clothes?” asked the reporter. Her question was met by a chorus of whistles and laughter from the girls who were getting the better of the crew. “I dunno, it was bleeding hot in there.” “He was naked!” “Who told you that?” “There are photographs.” I dropped my head in shame as Bob floundered to explain something he knew nothing about. “Oh, well, he hasn’t been all that well lately. He must’ve just lost it. I don’t think he knew wot he was doing. We were under a lot of pressure to get this fucking job done, you see. It wasn’t easy. We were at it since early that morning, almost twenty-hours without a break. Am I allowed to swear?” “No!” “Oops, you might wanna beep a few bits out before showing it on the news then.” Bob was more at home lying about work than he was about my exploits and he looked to gaining confidence. “Where was Tyrone when all this was going on?” “He was with me,” said Bob. “He had nothing to do with the accident. I don’t think he even knew Andy was there. We were aving a chat downstairs. He ain’t a bad kid. Nothing like wot you lot say.” “Are you his manager?” asked one of the girls. “No,” he mused. I suppose you could say I’m more of a confidant. A close friend.” Tyrone roared with laughter as I allowed my hands to slide down my face and stared in disbelief at Bob’s performance. “He’s such a dick.” “No, he’s not,” said Tyrone. “He’s a comic genius, I love him.” He loved Bob because he was getting him off the hook, although I couldn’t understand why. He hated Tyrone and had the perfect opportunity to pay him back for his petulance. “Can you get me his autograph,” asked one of the girls. “Me too,” added another. “And a photograph.” “Can you give him a message?” “Can we meet him?” “Have you got any tickets?” “I can probably arrange all of that if you give me my fucking hat back.” The girls were surprisingly taken in by Bob’s pathetic lies. He got his hat back and I could see him scheming as he turned the table on them. “Is that it?” he asked the reporter. “No. The police told us they were called to the house to investigate a possible threat against the singer. What can you tell us about that?” “I don’t know anything about it. He was with me all the time. It must have been a hoax. You lot should get your facts straight before reporting shit like that.” He turned to the girls for back up, and they all agreed with him, sneering at the camera and poking their tongues at the reporter. “Tyrone was seen entering the hospital earlier, is he visiting your colleague?” “I dunno.” “I thought you said you were his confidant?” “I shouldn’t imagine he was visiting Andy. He doesn’t even know him. I think the press should leave him alone. Shouldn’t they girls?” I knew it. Bob had them eating from his hand like he was some kind of guru. They jeered the reporter while Bob gave her a smug grin. Then he silenced them with a wave of his hand. Tyrone was jumping around the room laughing like a little kid. He looked like he was going to wet himself. “See, nothing to worry about. You shouldn’t doubt your friend. Bob’s obviously a man of great wisdom.” I picked up the remote and muted the volume. “He’s deceitful and underhanded. And he’s been paid.” “Maybe.” “Mrs Dewsbury?” “She may have had something to do with it.” “How much?” “More than the News of the World.” My mouth dropped open, but it made sense. ‘The greedy little fucker’. “No one's gonna believe him.” “Who cares. That’s the official story. It’s up to you if you want to say anything different, but if I were you, I’d stick with this version. Let’s face it, no one’s gonna believe what really happened. I don’t even believe it myself, and I was there. But what your buddy said is at least somewhat credible. I think.” “He told them I was crazy. I’m not having that.” “Andy, you threw yourself naked into a wet bush in front of a crowd of girls and paparazzi. Does that sound sane to you?” “It was your fault, and you kissed me.” My memory was a little blurred, but I could definitely remember that part. Then I covered my mouth as I recalled what else he did to me. Tyrone rolled his eyes. “Fine, tell them everything, I’m sure all your friends would like to know you're gay.” “You little wanker!” I tried to grab his arm, but he skipped out of reach. “You really should come out of the closet, Andy. I mean, how old are you now? Twenty-one? “How do you know all this?” Then I sighed. “Bob. You asked him if I was gay?” “We talk a lot. He’s my confidant, didn’t you know? I’m thinking of hiring him, to keep me amused.” “What about the police, you're not going to be able to bribe them?” “Who cares, there was no crime, so nothing happened. The press will make up some sordid story, but they’ll do that anyway. Chill out, Andy. You could be a celebrity if you play your cards right.” “You can shove it up your arse. You did all this on purpose, didn’t you? It’s a publicity stunt to keep you in the news before the Brit Awards.” It sounded good, but my theory was full of holes. I couldn’t imagine him going to those kinds of extremes for a bit of publicity which he didn’t really need, and then trying to cover it up. I was confused. I wasn’t sure what the truth was anymore. Nothing made sense. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” he said. “You're only famous for a short time. Unless you're me, of course.” “You're a fucking idiot! I wouldn’t want to be you.” Tyrone looked hurt, although I couldn’t understand why. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable observation to me. I doubted if I was the first person to point it out to him. “I tried to help you, and this is how you thank me,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered.” “You didn’t do it to help me. You did it to help yourself. It was all your fault anyway. You're crazy. A total lunatic. You made a fool of me. Used me as part of some weird game, because you were bored. I nearly killed myself because of you.” I rested my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes hoping it would all go away, like a bad dream. Maybe he would take the hint and leave me alone to wallow in self-pity. ‘What happened to Jazz’? I needed her there. Everything had gone so badly wrong. Sleep was a welcome distraction and aided by the painkillers, I started to doze. Tyrone must have gone; driven away by my remarks. He wasn’t used to people talking to him like that. Telling him the truth. ‘At least he allowed me the last word’. For some reason that was important to me. He may have ruined my life, but he didn’t have the last say. - Sunday 5pm - “You're not going die on me are you?” I was surprised to hear his voice but not disappointed. When I opened my eyes, he was right in front of my face, staring at me with a soppy grin and big wide eyes. He was too close for comfort but I could hardly back away. “Don’t look so scared, I’m not gonna bite you.” “What?” “Well, not again anyway. I got you some coffee and a doughnut. You’ve been asleep for over an hour.” I eyed him suspiciously as I tried to sit upright but the pain in my back worsened. As I screwed up my face and swore under my breath, Tyrone jumped to my assistance, placing his arm around me and lowering me until I was comfortable again. “Thanks.” He looked pleased with himself and pointed at the coffee and doughnut. “I would have preferred tea,” I moaned. “And I don’t like doughnuts.” It was going to take a lot more than that to win me over. If that was what he was trying to do. I wondered if he was going to ask me to sign some kind of statement absolving him and the record company of any guilt. Maybe he was going to offer me a tidy sum to keep my mouth shut. It seemed likely. They paid Bob, and he didn’t know anything. I was bound to get a few quid for my troubles. Compensation for losing my job at least. I was sure I wouldn’t have one come Monday morning. “I went to a lot of trouble to get that. There was a bit of a scene in the cafeteria.” I spit my coffee back into the cup as I tried not to laugh. I knew Tyrone’s idea of a bit of a scene would likely be chaos in most people’s eyes. “What happened?” “Oh, there was a reporter there from the News of the World.” “A short fat guy?” “That’s him. Anyway, he started chasing me. He had a photographer with him. My security guy was chasing them, and the hospital security were chasing, well, they were chasing everyone. It didn’t end well.” He pulled a face, and I giggled, imagining a Benny Hill style chase around the cafeteria. He made it sound like it was nothing out of the ordinary and to him it probably wasn’t. ‘Is his life really this chaotic? Is this normal for him’? I couldn’t imagine having to live like that. All the money and fame in the world wouldn’t have been enough to make me want to swap places with him. I suddenly felt a little guilty for not wanting his doughnut. “Why didn’t you ask Mrs Dewsbury to get the coffees for you?” “She’s not here. I already told her to go back to the house. She wouldn’t understand anyway; she doesn’t get that I need a life sometimes.” I wanted to tell him that this wasn’t most people’s idea of a life but what he said bugged me. He made it sound like he wanted to be there. Almost as if he was doing it through choice rather than out of pity or merely trying to keep the lid on his extraordinary antics from the night before. I could have thought of a million places I would rather be than sitting in a hospital talking to a loser like me. I figured he was waiting until the crowd outside dispersed before he left and he seemed to confirm this with regular glances out the window followed by a frustrated frown. “You might need to disguise yourself as a porter or something and go out the back.” “Maybe,” he said. “I’ve done it before.” “Really?” “Oh yeah, for sure. I’ve been a police officer, a construction worker.” “A red Indian?” He looked confused. “No, why would I disguise myself as a red Indian?” “It doesn’t matter. They were before your time.” “Whatever. You should be more concerned about your own disguise.” “It’s not me who they want,” I said smugly, but he just laughed. “You wanna bet. You're a star. They’re gonna be all over you, and the fans too. I think they’re gonna like you Andy.” He licked his lips provocatively and blew me a kiss before walking over to the window to answer his phone. I had to believe this was all part of some kind of charm offensive designed to keep me sweet. If so, he was obviously overestimating me. He didn’t need to try to win me over. I was happy to accept cash. “I don’t wanna go back to the house. I’ll call you when I’m ready.” It sounded like Tyrone was talking to Mrs Dewsbury. I tried not to listen as his phone call became increasingly heated. “Tell them not to worry about me, I’m okay.” I was pretending to watch the television, flicking through the channels as Tyrone stomped around the room, muttering to himself. Then he kicked the chair, and I laughed. “What’s so funny," he demanded. “I think that Mrs Dewsbury brings out the worst in you.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “When she’s not here, you become almost human. But after two minutes of talking to her, you revert into your bratty pop star mode.” “You're wrong.” “Prove it!” His face turned deep red as he struggled to contain his anger and come up with a credible response. Eventually, he collapsed in the armchair and threw his leather jacket on the floor. “Don’t laugh at me.” “I’m not laughing.” “Yes, you are. You're making fun of me.” “Everyone’s making fun of you, Tyrone. They’re all laughing at you.” He balled his fists and looked like he wanted to attack me. He had done it before and I still had the tooth marks to prove it. “You're lying,” he said. “People like me.” “Only because they don’t know you.” I braced myself for another verbal onslaught, but it failed to materialise. Perhaps I was right after all about Mrs Dewsbury. He seemed to consider my response for a moment. “You really don’t like me, do you?” ‘Duh, you think’? “Whatever gives you that impression?” My tone was blunt and sarcastic and a hefty blow to his inflated ego. He looked hurt. Much more than I expected. Too much to be credible. ‘Like I really matter to him’. There was a standoff as we both tried to ignore one another. I turned the volume up on the television and pretended to be a gardening enthusiast while Tyrone leafed through a magazine. It was maybe five minutes before he broke the silence. “I don’t care what you think anyway.” “Are you still here, I thought you had gone back to Hollywood?” "Oh look,” he said. “There’s a picture of me in Hello magazine. Don’t see any pictures of you here. Maybe in plumber’s weekly.” He laughed but it was fake, and my eyes didn’t leave the television. “I wouldn’t want my picture in Hello magazine. I’m not like you.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “You love people looking at you. Posing for the cameras. I bet you spend half your life looking in the mirror. You’ve probably got pictures of yourself all over your house.” He didn’t answer, and I sneered at him. “I knew it. You have, haven’t you?” My accusation was watered down with a faint smile as I goaded him. “Well?” “A couple,” he admitted. “But they were important events in my life. When I got my first number one and stuff.” “You’ve got the gold discs on the wall too, haven’t you?” “Platinum.” “Oh, sorry. Platinum. How many?” “Four.” “Piss off. You’ve not had that many hits.” It was a mistake. He went on to name each one, its chart position and how many weeks it stayed there. I yawned and tried my best to look bored. “I get it. You don’t like my music. It doesn’t bother me.” “Yes, it does.” I couldn’t resist giggling at his spoilt brat antics. “Why would I be concerned about what you think. You mean nothing to me. You're just a plumber. I don’t care what you think.” My eyes followed him as began pacing the small room again. He was full of nervous energy as he looked out the window with a troubled expression. “How am I gonna get out of here?” I shook my head, unconcerned by another of his self-inflicted problems. “You could jump.” “Very funny.” “It worked for me.” “Well, you're an idiot.” “And you're a wally.” I laughed as he narrowed his eyes at me. “A wally? What’s a wally? What the fuck does that mean?” “It means you're a plonker. An asshole.” “Don’t call me an asshole.” “You're an asshole.” “I said don’t call me that.” “Asshole!” “Fuck you!” “Yeah, you wanted to.” I gave him a smug smile, raised my eyebrows, and folded my arms, confident I scored some good points. He confirmed it by frowning at me as he circled the bed as if he were about to attack. “You think I’m interested in you, don’t you? I’m not attracted to you. Not even a little bit. I was toying with you last night. It was a game. You're really not my type. Oh my God, I can’t believe you thought I was serious.” He walked away laughing to himself as I struggled to keep the hurt from my face. What he said shouldn’t have bothered me. I knew he was just striking out to defend himself. He didn’t want to appear vulnerable, or for me to think I had some kind of hold over him. As much as I tried to brush off his remarks though, they hurt much more than they should have done and I couldn’t stop him from seeing it. “I didn’t think anything,” I mumbled. There was a long silence as I returned to the gardening show. “So are you gonna sulk now? Because I told you I wasn’t attracted to you. Are you upset?” “Of course I’m not upset. Do you think it bothers me? I don’t give a shit if you like me or not!” “Wow, you are upset.” He looked surprised. “Have you got a crush on me?” I looked around me for something I could throw at him or hurt him with. I was shaking with anger, but as I tried to get up, I felt a sharp pain in the small of my back and dropped down on the pillows. “Why don’t you leave me alone. I don’t know why you came here in the first place.” “I told you. I like you, and I wanted to make sure you were okay. Do you think I was lying when I said that?” “You lied about everything else.” We were interrupted by his phone. He glanced at the display and walked to the window in a huff. I wondered when my parents were going to get here. ‘What will they say? What do I tell them’? When he finished his call, I reminded him that he still owed me a new phone. “You’ll get more than just a new phone out of this, you know.” “What do you mean?” “Compensation. The record company will make you an offer to compensate for your injury and whatever you lost. Time off work, your phone—your dignity.” He laughed, but I was tight-lipped. “It was a joke, Andy. I do like you really. Just not in the way you thought. You make me laugh though, and that’s the truth.” “Whatever.” “And you're honest, you say what you mean. Not what I want you to say.” “You're a dick!” He smiled, and for some reason, I did too. “Mrs Dewsbury never calls me a dick.” “She probably doesn’t know what a dick is.” He thought that was quite funny. “I think you may be right. She saw yours though last night. I noticed her looking at it.” My memory was still quite cloudy, and I didn’t particularly want to recall the sordid details of what had been a rather unpleasant experience. “Maybe you two can hook up when you're better.” He held up his hands when I scowled at him. “Maybe not then.” “She’s not my type,” I said with a wry smile, and he came over to stand next to the bed. “How about that.” “How about what?” “We were both smiling at the same time, without being horrible to each other. That must be the first time since we met.” “And the last,” I said, but a glance at his goofy face made it difficult to remain angry. He was impossible to ignore. “Well, I should be going.” He glanced at his watch, and I nodded. “I have no idea how I’m gonna get out of here.” Another glance out of the window had him shaking his head, and I thought he might want to stay. I wanted him to, but I didn’t know why and I didn’t want him to know, so I kept quiet. “Thanks for visiting.” “I hope you feel better. Is there anything you want me to do for you before I go? Do you want me to sign anything for you? I know you don't want a CD because you hate my music.” I nodded and smiled. “Send me something.” “Okay, give me your address.” He pulled out his phone and typed my address into it, before taking my picture. “What are you doing?” “Don’t panic, I’m just taking your picture. I’ll put it on the wall next to the platinum discs. No hard feelings then, Andy. We’re friends, right?” “Oh, sure we are. Next time I’m in LA, I’ll stop by, and we can catch up on old times. Maybe you can invite Witney over for coffee.” “You could come to my house, I wouldn’t mind.” “I was being sarcastic.” “I know you were. But if you were ever in town at the same time as me, you could come over. I hardly ever go out anywhere in LA.” I smiled and accepted his offer even though I knew it would never happen. He would forget all about me by tomorrow. “I hope you get your awards.” “Really?” “No. I just thought I’d say that.” “Thanks.” “Don’t mention it. I won’t even be watching.” “And I was gonna thank you in my acceptance speech.” “Don’t bother.” His phone interrupted our little exchange, so I watched TV as I heard him making arrangements with his security people. I might have guessed. They were going to get him out in the back of an ambulance. “I have to go. The press will leave you alone after a while. Just tell them—whatever you want. I suppose.” “Don’t worry, I won't tell them what really happened. They would never believe me.” There was a knock on the door and Tyrone was gone. It was a relief to be alone. He was hard work. Relaxing in his company was impossible. In a few hours, he had very nearly driven me to suicide, and I couldn’t figure out how. No one had ever had such an overwhelming effect on me before or caused me so many problems in such a short space of time. I hated him but at the same time, now he was gone I kind of missed him too. His reasons for visiting me in the hospital were unclear. Whether he was genuinely sorry about what happened or if he merely wanted to be sure I wouldn’t blow his cover to the media. Maybe I was cynical, but Tyrone seemed to have so many sides to his personality it was difficult to know which one was really him. I decided for the sake of my own sanity to believe he came because he felt terrible for what he did. After all, he could have sent Mrs Dewsbury with a chequebook if he just wanted to buy my silence. It worked okay with Bob. Everyone has their price, and I was no different. Tyrone may have been impressed with my honesty towards him, but he still knew I could be bought like everyone else. It would be stupid of me not to accept a generous sum as compensation, and my mind was already thinking of how I would spend the money. - Sunday 7pm - My mother wasn’t convinced by my elaborate story which followed along the same lines as Bob’s. She couldn’t understand how I could possibly fall out of a closed window and she had a point. My dad was more accepting; he would believe anything that didn’t rock the boat. I could tell he didn’t want to be there, he was missing Songs of Praise and spent most of his time looking out of the window. “We couldn’t park,” he said. “Took us ages.” “The press?” “Yes. It’s crazy out there. I’ve never seen so many people.” My mum was prone to exaggeration, but this time I believed her. “We had trouble getting in here. Didn’t we Eric?” My dad mumbled incoherently and yawned. He was only the driver really. He wasn’t interested in my life. My mum was more interested in the gossip. “So this pop star. They said on the news that someone tried to attack him. It wasn’t you, was it?” “That’s nonsense, Mum. He just came to visit me.” My dad raised his eyebrows, but mum was impressed. “That was nice of him. What’s he like?” “He’s unusual.” My dad rolled his eyes. I always suspected he knew about me but didn’t say anything, probably because he didn’t want to upset my mum. Anything for an easy life, I don’t think he wanted to rock the boat. “Have you been watching the news?” she asked, and I nodded. “You created quite a stir, but I don’t know what all the fuss was about.” “I wouldn’t believe anything you see on the news, Mum. They make things up, you know.” “They’re obsessed with these bloody pop stars,” said my dad. “Load of poofs.” I swallowed hard and looked away from his stare. “He’s quite popular at the moment, Dad.” “So I’ve heard.” “They said on the radio that someone jumped out of his window. We didn’t know it was you.” My mum sounded concerned. “They said it was his boyfriend.” She laughed, as my dad glared at me. He looked as though he wanted to say something but stopped himself at the last moment. It was a familiar mannerism which he had perfected over time. “Like I said, Mum, you can’t believe everything you hear. Oh, any chance you could bring me some clothes in from home. I lost mine. It’s a long story.” My dad nodded. “Of course you did, Son.” Then he looked at his watch. He wanted to go. It was getting late, and I was starting to feel tired. “You should get some rest dear.” I agreed with my mum, suddenly the chances of that happening were zero. I could hear her shrill voice from the other end of the corridor accompanied by the heavy clack, clack, of her thigh length leather boots. “Andy! Where the fuck are you?” My dad shook his head in despair, and I covered my face with the sheet as the door flew open. “Hello Jazz.” “I missed church because of you.”
  16. 35 points
    *** NOAH *** You don’t need to look at a calendar to know it is the end of September. It's a great time of year. The weather is perfect, roughly in the mid-teens. It's not too chilly and not too warm. The leaves are changing colours; a mosaic of red, orange and brown. Slowly they're detaching from their branches, free-falling to the ground. After months of attachment they must now let go. They drift in the wind, withering away, their beauty fading. Change is in the air. But change is difficult; we vehemently fight it and embrace nostalgia. Yet it seems only natural. With time the landscape changes, and so too shall we. I thought I had changed. I ran from my past. But you can only escape life for so long before it catches up with you. After years of running mine finally has. “But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone, especially Jordan. This is something really personal,” Sebastian says as he leans in closer. “Of course not.” A thousand thoughts run through my head. What possibly could Sebastian be hiding and why out of all people does he want to tell me? “All my life people have assumed to know who I am. They’ve placed my life in this neat little box. And I’ve followed along. But somewhere along the way I realized I’m not who everything thinks I am. I’m different. I like and want different things.” I honestly have no idea what Sebastian is trying to tell me. I just nod and listen. “And one of the things that I realized is that I don’t like girls,” he continues. Say what now? Is he …? “I actually like guys.” A million thoughts flood my head at once. That statement hits way too close to home. It takes me a second to realize I’ve stopped breathing. My mouth is open, yet I haven’t responded. I don’t know how to respond. I take a deep breath. “I had no idea that you’re …” “Gay?” he says finishing my sentence. “Yeah.” “I am. I hope that’s not a problem.” “Of course not!” I say looking at him. “I would never … whoever you want to be with … whatever makes you happy ... I’m not one to judge.” Why can’t I complete a sentence? I swallow hard. “Thank you for telling me. I won’t tell a soul.” “Thanks. As you can imagine being in sports and being gay isn’t exactly easy.” “I can’t imagine it is.” “You’re probably wondering why I decided to tell you.” YES! I scream in my head. Why would he tell me? He can’t possibly know … “Yeah, I’m a bit curious.” He looks directly at me. “Something inside of me feels like you’ll understand ... that you know how I feel.” My eyes go wide. Shit. He knows. But how could he know? He can’t know. I haven’t told anyone. My heart is going to stop. Maybe it already has. It's really hot in here all of a sudden. I'm sweating more than I ever have. My breath quickens. I can feel his eyes looking into my soul. It's like he is peering inside of me, discovering my deepest and darkest secrets. “Hey, Noah …” Jenn’s voice almost makes me jump out of my chair. I had no idea she was here. I’m not sure if her arrival is the best timing in the world or the worst. But I’m kind of glad Jenn is here. I can now end this dangerous conversation with Sebastian. Though part of me wants to respond to him, to set the record straight, or well, set it a certain way. “Hey, Jenn.” She looks over at Sebastian, who is sitting awfully close to me. She doesn’t wait for me to offer an introduction. “Hi, I’m Jenn. You are?” she asks Sebastian. “Sorry, I’m Sebastian.” “He plays volleyball with Jordan,” I add. “He’s the team captain.” “Oh, cool,” she says sitting down oblivious to what is going on. “Anyways, I have to get to class,” Sebastian says getting up. “I’m glad I ran into you because I actually wanted to let you know that Jordan’s birthday is this Saturday and we’re throwing him a surprise party. Let me know if you can make it. Here,” he grabs a paper and pen from his bag and jots down a number, “that’s my cell number. If you don’t mind giving me a call and letting me know what your plan is, that would be great.” “Sure,” I say to him. “I’ll let you know. Have a good day.” I eagerly want him to leave before Jenn opens her mouth. He starts to turn but then stops. No! Don’t stop. He turns back around. “I think I mentioned it was a surprise party. Jordan has no idea. So, if you can keep everything I said here a secret that would be great.” He puts a lot of emphasis on the word ‘everything’. I figure he isn’t talking about the party but what he said before Jenn arrived. “Of course,” I say with a nod. “Okay, take care. If you could let me know soon that would be great.” With that he's gone. My heart is still beating harder than I can ever remember. Okay, just try to relax, you don't want Jenn asking questions. But I can’t relax. Sebastian just told me he is gay. He outed himself to me. And then said I would understand. There is no way he knows. How could he? I’ve kept this secret hidden from everyone. “Earth to Noah,” I see Jenn waiving her hand in my face. “Yeah?” “I was talking to you,” she says. I had no idea. “Sorry, just lost in a thought.” “Clearly I need to go to these volleyball games with you,” she says to me. “Why?” I have no idea what she is talking about. I can’t stop thinking about Sebastian. “Cause clearly all the hot guys are into volleyball! Did you see him? Holy shit! It looks like he walked straight off of a runway!” I need to change the topic. “We should do some work,” I say to her. “Work can wait. So, are you going to the party then?” “Jenn, I need to get some work done.” I really don't want to talk about anything right now. I don’t want to think about anything. I just want to get away from here. But Jenn might suspect something is wrong, so here I am, stuck. “You're not going, are you?” she asks. “I don't know.” I really don't. I would love to be there for Jordan. But then Sebastian will be there, and all of this is just too close for comfort. What if I say something or do something stupid? I don’t think I should go, but I want to. “Well, you should go and take me with you. I wouldn't mind meeting that guy again.” Now I can't help but smile. Oh, she could meet him all she'd like, but it won't do her any good. If only she knew she has no chances with Sebastian. I would never have guessed he's gay. College jock, well built, as masculine as they get, team captain, and friends with everyone. I know it is stereotypical, but you sometimes have this mental image of gay guys being a bit more feminine. But he is just your ordinary, average guy, which I know is true for most gay guys. But still it completely caught me off guard. “I probably won't go. I have a lot of work to do. Exams are just around the corner and —” “Noah cage that inner nerd for one night and just have some fun. School can wait. How many parties have you been to this semester?” “One, maybe two …” “Exactly, live a little!” “Jennifer …” “Don't think by using my full name I’m going to take you more seriously!” “Fine, I’ll go!” I can always change my mind later. Though I should go for Jordan. “Text Sebastian.” “I’ll do it later,” I say. “I know you, you’re not going to text him. I want to see you text him in front of me.” “Fine,” I say picking up my phone. Jenn can be so stubborn at times. I know I shouldn’t do this, but part of me wants to. “Done. You happy?” “Always,” she says with a smile. "You'll thank me for this later.” I have a feeling that's not going to be the case. *** JORDAN *** I sound like such a nerd. If I told anyone this they probably would never believe it was coming from me. I would get the cliché remark: ‘Who are you and what have you done with Jordan?’ But I don't know what to say. I’m actually looking forward to my English class today. I know, weird isn't it? I've never hated school but I'm not one to look forward to a class either. But when I woke up today I was happy it was Wednesday. I swear those pain killers I took for my foot are still messing with my head. When I woke up I had a mission. A pretty ambitious one too - to clean up my room. I haven't cleaned my room in a week (ok fine, two weeks). It looks like a tornado swept through here, turned around, and went through my room again. I start to pick up some clothes off the floor, but not even five minutes in I want to give up. That’s when, lucky for me, John calls to see if I want to grab some lunch. Of course, being a good friend, I say yes. How could I say no? So off I go to get some food. I’ll clean up later. Key word, later. John is already there when I arrive. “Took you long enough!” he says when I sit down. “It still takes me a bit of time to hop everywhere,” I say in my defence. “How much longer do you have to wear that thing?” he asks. “I have an appointment with my doctor next week so we'll see what happens.” As we eat we talk about a bunch of things, school, sports, random stuff. He tells me about the new girl he is seeing. He asks if I’ve hooked up with any girls since my breakup, any rebounds. I tell him no. I’m actually okay to take it easy for a while, wait until my foot heals and then go back out into the world. “So, hey, we should hang out this Saturday,” John says to me. “What do you have in mind?” I ask. “I don't know yet. Something fun.” “Sounds good. Just nothing crazy. I still have this foot to look after.” “Damn, I was thinking of skydiving. That changes everything. Obviously dude! I’m not that dumb. I’ll think of something. I’ll text you later. For now though, I have to get to class. I’ll see you later.” “Alright, take care man.” I sit around the coffee shop for a while. I don't want to get up and return to the horrors of my room. I don't have English class with Noah until two in the afternoon so I have a bit more time. Shit I forgot! I was supposed to ask Noah for his English notes from last week. I wasn't really paying attention in class seeing how I had much, much more important things to do, as in bug Noah. I should call him and remind him. As I talk to Noah I notice Sebastian enter the coffee shop. I wave him over. He comes and sits down. I signal I’ll only be a moment. “Oh man, Jordan I forgot them at home,” Noah says to me over the phone. “I'm on my way to the library right now so I will have to get them for you later.” “Man, you're such a nerd. You're going to the library this early!” I say. “Nerds are cool. I know you're jealous.” “Yeah buddy, really jealous.” “Anyways, I'm meeting Jenn there to get some work done. I like going now because it's usually quiet. The eighth floor is empty so I can concentrate.” “I didn't know that about the eighth floor. Next time I’m there I’ll check it out.” “Next time? You mean the first time you come?” Noah says. “Ha ha, very funny.” “Today in class you better pay attention! What do I look like some sort of personal note writing down .... taker .... person?” “I can honestly say I don't think you're a note writing down taker person, whatever that is.” “You know what I mean. I'll see you in English class.” “Alright man, I'll see you later,” I say shutting the phone. “Sorry," I say turning to Sebastian. “No problem. Who were you talking to?” “Oh, it was just Noah. I need to get some notes from him.” “Ah, your clumsy friend,” Sebastian says. “That he is. He's Noah, what can I say.” “You’ve been hanging out with him a lot these days. I sense a bromance.” “Nah, Noah is a cool guy, but we’re just English partners. No bromance.” I hate that word, bromance. “Alright, sorry dude, I can't stick around. I just need to get some coffee and run.” “Okay, I'll see you around.” “Later dude.” With that he is off, leaving me alone once again. Damn it! I guess this means I have to go back and clean up my room. Yay … *** NOAH *** Life is funny. Cruel sometimes. There was a time in my life when I fought hard to change things. To avoid the reality around me. I tried so hard. At least for a while I thought I succeeded. But here I am years later in a similar, yet different situation. I left everything behind when I came here, thinking this would be a fresh start. I made new friends, got a girlfriend and yet all of that seems irrelevant now. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, when I started to notice guys in a different way. It started sometime in high school. Some of my friends started dating girls, but that just didn’t interest me. I just didn’t see the allure of being with a girl. I always found girls to be friends, nothing more. Instead, I started to realize I was paying more attention to the guys around me. Even when I would secretly watch porn on my home computer (when I was a kid we shared a desktop so it wasn’t easy) I realized I would pay less attention to the girl and more the guy. I found his body aroused me. But I didn’t feel the same way when I saw the girl. I didn’t think much of it at first, but those feelings grew stronger. When I would masturbate I would think about the guy. I would remember him clearly. I couldn’t tell you anything about the girl. Then in my final year of high school I met Aaron and everything changed. I was in love, or well, I thought I was in love. He was this guy in my math class. I couldn’t get him out of my head. We ran in different circles and so never hung out. He was nice and would talk to me in class from time to time, but I generally would say little. I was too nervous. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, looking at him. He had a girlfriend so I knew he didn’t feel the same way. But that didn’t stop me. As the months progressed I started watching more and more gay porn exclusively. Fueled by my desire for Aaron, I would jack off multiple times a day. I realized then that I was gay. There was no denying it. I had tried to tell myself before it was a phase, that I was just curious. But I knew I was fooling myself. I was more than just curious, I was aroused. The thought scared me. I knew I couldn’t come out. My super religious parents would freak out. So, I stayed away from Aaron. I told myself I had to focus on school instead. For the most part it worked. The semester ended and there were only a few months left in school. But everything changed on a cold March day ... I was sitting in the library when I noticed Aaron and some of his friends sit down at the table next to me. Even though I had made a resolution not to stare at Aaron, I couldn’t help myself. It had been so long since I had seen him, and he now had this new haircut, and looked flawless. I was in love all over again. Every so often I would glance up discreetly. Or I thought I was being discreet. I wasn’t. I wouldn’t say the area I grew up in was homophobic, but it wasn't the most accepting either. I didn’t know a single gay person, so I didn’t know what other people thought. I soon found out. I heard Aaron laugh, this sweet, sweet laugh, and I looked up. I know I was looking for too long. I caught the eye of one of his friends. He was staring at me with this anger in his eyes. I knew then I was screwed. I quickly grabbed by things and left. As I made my way through the door Aaron's friend caught up to me. He grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me around. “I don't know what you think you were doing, you little fag, but keep your eyes to yourself. Your kind aren't welcome here,” he said. I brushed off his hand and angrily responded. “I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I'm not a fag.” “I saw you staring at my friend, more like ogling him. I could have outed you back there, so count yourself lucky. You know what we do with fags like you here, don't you?” “Fuck off,” I said turning around and quickly walking away. The next day I dreaded going to school. I was convinced Aaron’s friend told his group, and that they told other people. I managed to convince my mom I was sick, but the day after she forced me to go to school. I’m not sure if I was just being paranoid, but I felt like everyone was shooting me glances. My friends didn’t mention anything. If they had heard they would have asked. A few days later during lunch I saw Aaron enter the cafeteria. I’m convinced he gave me a dirty look. I was convinced he knew. And so I became more and more paranoid. I was convinced people were talking about me behind my back. If people knew or didn’t, I’m not really sure. All of the drama though made me resolute I couldn't be gay. I knew I had to work to make myself like girls. I also realized I could never really get away from everything if I stayed in town. Many of the same people would be joining me at the local university. I needed to leave. I needed a fresh start. I really had to work hard to convince my parents to let me fly half way across the country to attend a different university. They were surprised and disappointed. But I knew I had to go. So, after graduation I left the school behind, never looking back. *** JORDAN *** This has never happened before. I'm the first person to arrive at my English class. I knew it wouldn't take me half an hour to walk here, but I wanted to give myself extra time because of my foot. Okay fine. I didn't want to clean my room so I left early! I hope someone else comes soon. It's so weird being here all by myself. Slowly the room starts to fill up. I keep looking at the door expecting Noah to arrive, but he doesn't. It’s strange because usually he is here before me. I glance at the clock, just a minute to go, but still no sign of him. Better hurry up buddy. The prof walks over and closes the door. “Okay everyone let’s get started …” Weird. Noah said he would be in class when I talked to him earlier. I text him asking him where he is, but he doesn’t respond. Throughout the lecture I keep looking at the door and my phone, but there is no sign of him. Skipping class really doesn’t seem like something he does. Perhaps something happened? What the hell? The person sitting next to me jabs me with his elbow. It seems like the professor was speaking to me. “Sorry sir?” “So, last week you're chatting and laughing and this week daydreaming? Am I that boring?” “No, sorry sir,” I say. Someone sure doesn't like me. Alright I have to pay attention. But this isn't like Noah. I text him again. No response. When class is out I give Noah a call. No response. I know there is no reason for me to be worried, Noah is a grown man. But he did say he was coming to class, and now he has just disappeared. Instead of heading home I head to the library. I know it is a long shot, but maybe he is still there and lost track of time? I make my way to the eighth floor. The area is empty and there is no sign of him. I hop around the floor. Then I see him. He is just sitting in a chair, staring off into the distance. He looks so deep in concentration, like his body is here but his mind is far away. “Noah,” I call out to him. No response. Weird. I hop a bit closer and put my hand on his shoulder. “Noah.” Holy shit. The moment my hand touches his shoulder his body jerks violently. He practically jumps out of his chair. “Jordan! You scared me,” he says breathing heavily. “Sorry man, it's only me. I called you several times but you seemed to be deep in concentration.” “Yeah …” he says looking off into the distance again, like he is trying to remember what he was thinking about. “Why didn't you come to class today?” No response. “Noah?” “Yeah?” he says looking at me. “How come you weren't in class today?” “Class? What are you talking about we still have time ... oh shit!” he says looking at his watch. “It's 4:30 already!” “Yeah man. You missed class.” “Fuck!” Okay, clearly something is wrong. Noah never swears. “Is everything okay?" He is acting really strange, even for him. He turns to me with a smile. “I'm fine. I just lost track of time, that’s all.” “Are you sure? You don’t seem okay.” I don’t believe him. “I’m fine, trust me.” “If there is anything bothering you, you know you can tell me, right?” “I know. But, don't worry everything is okay. Listen I have to go. I will catch up with you later,” he says getting up. “I’ll walk out with you. Oh, are we still on for tomorrow?” “Tomorrow?” he asks confused. “Yeah, to finalize our presentation topic.” “Right. Yeah, sure.” “Where should we meet?” I ask. He really is off his game. “How about you come over to my place around two in the afternoon. Does that work for you?” “It does. You sure you’re okay, buddy?” He still seems really off. He smiles again. “Trust me I'm fine. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Bye.” He takes off before I can even say bye. I don't believe him. Something isn't right. I would hope by now he would trust me. I’ve confided in him when I needed help. I was hoping now I could return the favour. But whatever is bothering him, clearly he doesn’t want to talk about it. I guess I just have to respect his decision and give him some space. *** NOAH *** It's been a long day. All I want to do is eat something unhealthy and fried, take a nice long hot shower and go to bed. I just want this day to be over. I toss all of my stuff onto my bed, strip off my clothes and walk into the shower. Food can wait. The warm water running down my body feels so nice. This is at least one sanctuary I have, the shower, where no one can disturb me. It allows me to be alone with my thoughts. I remember leaving my parents, my hometown, and moving to the big city. At first I was scared being on my own, but soon I realized I enjoyed living in a large urban setting. Being at a new school allowed me to start fresh, reinvent myself; though I barely changed. I also found that in university people were more mature than those in high school. It also helped I met and became friends with Jenn basically right from the first day. She has been my rock. Forgetting about guys though, proved to be much more difficult. The city offered up a lot of eye candy. I argued dating a girl would make life easier. Enter Stacey. I knew it wasn’t going to work after our second date. But I held on. It's not that I didn't like Stacey, at first I did, but I found my heart wasn't in the right place. Though, I knew that if I let go of Stacey I would have to admit that I’m gay. I wasn’t ready for that. And so I stuck to her, clinging on to her as though my life depended on it. Finally, in my second year she broke things off. She just couldn't stand me any longer I guess. I was left in limbo. I figured I would throw myself into school work. I wouldn’t date anyone. I wouldn’t focus on guys or girls, but only myself. That plan was also a failure. I couldn’t turn off my inner desires. Everywhere I looked there was a guy I wanted to be with. I fought through it during my second year. But this year I haven’t been able to. At the start of the year I felt utterly alone. That is what was keeping me up every night. Then I met Jordan. I knew getting close to him would be a mistake. But I convinced myself I wouldn’t fall for him, I wouldn’t get my heart broken. I told myself he would only be a friend. That worked for probably a week. By week two I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Thinking about the way he makes me feel when he says my name. I wanted more. I still want more. I want him. Just thinking of Jordan arouses me. I stroke myself as I remember the way he smiles, the way his eyes light up when he laughs. I don’t last long. Within seconds I feel myself get close. Fuck! I’ve really messed this up. I need to get him out of my head. He will only ever be a friend. This won’t end the way I want it to. It never does. I step out of the shower, dry off, put on my pyjamas, and head into my room. I’m not that hungry anymore. All I want to do is crawl into bed, throw my blanket over my head and pretend like this day didn’t happen. I start to throw my stuff off of my bed when I notice my phone. I have a few random messages from Jenn. I also have a bunch of messages from Jordan. Some are from before asking where I am and why I didn’t come to class. One is recent. It’s some stupid joke he found on the internet and sent my way. It makes me smile. Oh, Jordan. I also have a message from Sebastian. He writes he’s glad I’ll be there on Saturday. I should message him. I should ask him what he meant when he said he knew I would understand. I need to know if he knows. I stare at my phone. I don’t have the courage to face him. Not yet. I put the phone down on the side table and throw my blanket over my head. I’ll deal with the world tomorrow. *** JORDAN *** I wanted to call Noah last night. I wanted to check on him. I was worried. Something just isn’t right with that guy. But he made it clear earlier he didn’t want to talk about whatever was bothering him. I figured if he was ready he would call me. I must have checked my phone at least a dozen times to see if I had any missed calls. Nothing. I know I have no right to be, but I’m a bit disappointed. I know we’ve only known each other for three weeks, and that isn’t that much time, but I feel like we've become good friends. Or maybe that is only the way I see it. Maybe he still thinks of us as casual friends. The funny thing is, I don’t know why this bothers me. If this was John or Caleb, I wouldn’t have cared this much. This just feels different. Well, if there is something on Noah’s mind he can tell me today. I am on my way to his apartment right now to talk about our book presentation. “Hey, Jordan,” Noah says opening the door with a big smile on his face. “Hi, Noah.” Someone is in a much better mood today. “Come on in. Welcome to my small little place. It's not much, but it’s home.” “This place is much better than the small torture chamber, also known as my dorm room, that I live in.” “You can drop your stuff on the couch. Do you want anything to drink or eat?” he says while heading into the kitchen. “I'm good. Don't go all out for me.” Well, so far he seems like the regular Noah I know. I notice his cellphone vibrate. He has a message. His phone is sitting right in front of me. I don’t mean to look at it but I see the message. It reads: “Just wanted to check in after our conversation yesterday. I hope we can finish talking soon. If not, I’ll see you Saturday.” Why is Sebastian sending Noah a message? They're not even friends. What conversation did they have yesterday, and when? Is Noah upset because of Sebastian? Or, did Noah reach out to him after? Is Sebastian behind Noah acting weird? Why will he see him on Saturday? I have so many questions. “Why would I go all out for you?” Noah asks coming back into the living room. “If it was someone special I would consider it. But for you ... nah.” Well, so far things seem like they're back to normal. After he places food on the table he picks up his phone. He looks at the message, and then places his phone upside down on the table. “So, what did I miss in class yesterday?” “Uh, nothing much really. Class was really boring. The prof went on and on about something ... modernism or something like that. I wasn't really paying attention,” I say. “Well, I hope your lecture notes are a little less vague.” “Uh, yeah I kind of didn't write anything down. Usually you take notes and I just copy it later.” “Since when? You've done that once and I have no intention of making that a routine.” “But the plan works so well!” I protest. “I bet it does,” he snickers back at me. “Well, buddy someone should have been in class then to take their own notes!” “Yeah, yeah. Okay, so our presentation. Any idea on a topic?” “Well, we have a number of options. We talked about the social issues facing Clarissa ... Septimus and his mental problems ... and what else was there …” “Helps when you take notes,” he says with a cocky grin. “Whatever tree killer,” I say with a scornful look. “And Clarissa's sexuality.” “Do you have any preferences?” “Well, actually I thought it was interesting about Clarissa's sexuality.” “How so?” Noah asks. “Well, Clarissa describes her kiss with Sally as the happiest day in her life. She clearly has strong feelings for her and yet she ends up marrying Richard.” “Which of course is a marriage of convenience.” “Exactly and Clarissa figures that out by the end of the novel. I think if she could have, she would have been with Sally. But it’s interesting that Clarissa never sees her feelings towards Sally as homosexual. In fact, she considers what would have happened if she had married someone else entirely, Peter. So, she does seem to like guys,” I say. “Perhaps, but what does she say ... here let me look at my notes ... see how handy the are! Um, she says she feels about women as men feel. Well, it sounds like she's a lesbian to me,” Noah adds. “Maybe she's bisexual? Which I guess would make sense if she ended up marrying Richard and contemplated marrying Peter.” “But even that could be a farce. She could have made up an affection for him because she wanted to feel 'normal'. If she forced herself to like a guy enough then perhaps it would be true in her head. It’s like, yeah I like girls, but I like guys too so that makes it okay. I don't know .... maybe I'm over analyzing things,” Noah says. “No, I think it's all part of Woolf's story and the conflict she is trying to create, which is why it is a good topic!” “You know, the funny thing is Sally becomes a perfect housewife with five sons. She turns out to be straight in the end.” “Yeah, that is interesting,” I say. “Maybe for Sally being with Clarissa was her just living life and not meaning it. She was experimenting, just trying to new things. Or perhaps she learns that conformity to society is the only way to be happy,” Noah says with a serious, yet sullen look on his face. It sounds more like he is talking about something else than about Sally. I want to ask him if everything is okay, but I have a feeling he will just brush me off again. Though, clearly he has no problem talking to Sebastian. “Clearly a lot to talk about,” I say. “There is,” Noah says returning to his earlier, happier mood. I can't help myself. I have to ask. “I know I've said this so many times before and you assured me you're okay, but dude, you don't seem alright. It really seems like something is bugging you.” “It's nothing I can't handle myself. Trust me, I'm fine. But thank you.” I don't believe him, but if he says so. *** ??? *** His hand slowly caresses my face; the cold skin on his finger tracing an outline from my temple to my cheek. His finger glides along my dry lips. He places his thumb under my chin and nudges my face up. His luminous eyes stare into me. I glance at him, but quickly lower my gaze. I can hear my heart beating. My mouth is dry. I want to say something but I can't. I'm bound in a spell cast upon me by his presence. A mischievous smile creeps across his face. He takes his other hand and slips it inside my shirt, holding onto my waist. His hand on my bare flesh sends shockwaves through my body. I can feel his veins pulsating against my skin. My legs begin to tremble and I feel the weight of the world bring me down. But I'm still standing. He holds on to me, pulling me closer to him. He brings his other hand to my hip and begins to massage my back. He slowly lowers his head down my neck to my shoulders, gently kissing my skin. His warm breath sends a shiver down my spine. I grab on to his waist to steady myself. Perhaps I grab on too strong because his body jerks even closer to mine. Our bodies are pressed together now; our legs intertwined. I can smell his flesh. He lifts his head and looks at me with the same smile spread across his face. He brings his face back to my ear and whispers, “I've wanted this for so long.” I try to say something, but I can't. I'm paralyzed. Locked within his grip; caged by his aura. All I can do is nod. I open my mouth but no words escape. He brings his face closer to mine. I can feel the heat emitting from his body seeping into my soul. He lowers his mouth closer to mine. He leans in closer. My body aches with anticipation ...
  17. 35 points
    *** JORDAN *** One hop. Two hop. Three hop … It’s been a week and a half but I finally feel like I’m kind of, sort of, maybe getting used to these damn crutches! I’m not all that fast; a turtle could probably beat me in a race. But I’m not as slow as I was before. Though, it still takes me longer to get to places than it normally would. Right now I’m making my way to my English class. I can’t wait to see Noah. In theory, I should thank him for being a good friend, for coming to yesterday’s game, and for drinks last night. But I have a bone to pick with him. “Hey,” I say as I hop up to the back row. “Hi,” he says with a big yawn. “Tired?” “Yeah. I got home late, woke up early. This is why I don’t go out on a school night!” “Whatever old man. And about last night, I’m totally pissed at you.” He looks surprised. “Why? What did I do?” “Oh, you know what you did,” I say. I know I’m being over dramatic. I’m not actually angry. “Ah, I was a nice person. I came to your game to cheer on the team. Then I went to a bar, even though it was a school night. Wow, I truly am an awful person,” he says sarcastically. “You ditched me.” “I didn’t ditch you!” “I was looking for you and you were gone!” “I went to get a drink and ended up talking to Sebastian for a while. Besides, you were with your teammates. I didn’t want to bother you.” “You could have at least told me you were leaving.” “I texted you!” “Not cool man. You should have said goodbye. I was looking for you!” He sighs. “Fine. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I should have told you I was leaving.” That’s when I smile. “Thank you.” He shakes his head. “You’re not really angry, are you?” He’s pretty perceptive. “No, not really,” I say with a laugh. “Then what was that all about!” he says arching his eyebrows. “Just felt like it.” “You really are an odd duck. I hope someone has told you that before.” “My mom once maybe said something —” Noah cuts me off. “Class is starting. Concentrate!” He starts taking notes. Okay, today I’m going to concentrate. Pay attention, Jordan. Listen to the prof. I only manage a few minutes before my mind starts to drift. I lean closer to Noah. “Yo, look at money bags over there,” I say, “he’s picking his nose!” Noah looks up and makes a face, says “gross” and then goes back to taking notes. Clearly that didn’t work. I have to try something else. I like being goofy around Noah. Something about him just puts me at ease. I lean in again. “Honestly, could his clothes BE any tighter? How does he even move?” I know fitted clothes are in fashion, but this guy has taken that trend to a different level. Noah turns to me. “Says the guy wearing rather tight pants.” “These are not skinny jeans!” I insist. They’re not. I have to wear a looser pair because of my foot. Not to say I don’t own skinnier jeans … Noah looks back at me and raises an eyebrow. “Sure, buddy.” “Okay fine, they’re fitted, but they aren’t THAT tight. Besides, not like your jeans are any looser.” He looks up. “I’m glad you’ve been checking out my legs. And for the record, these are a slim fit. It's just you and your friend over there wearing tight pants.” “Whatever, you’d kill for these legs,” I say. And then he starts to chuckle a bit too loudly. Everyone stops and stares at him. “Something funny we’re all missing?” the professor asks Noah. “No, sir. I’m very sorry,” he responds. “What was that?” I ask when the prof resumes his lecture. “Shut up,” he says to me rather quietly and in a serious voice. “I want to know what was so funny?” “Fine. You said I’d kill for your legs. Sure, chicken legs, I’ll pass,” he says with a smile. “I do not have chicken legs!” I protest. “And now who is checking out legs, hypocrite.” “Is there something the two of you would like to share with the rest of the class?” the professor asks me. Crap. “Ah, no …” Noah saves me. “We were just talking about the book and what you said about the core message. While survival is a big part of the novel, I feel the central theme is also a critique on human nature.” “Interesting, continue,” the prof says. “Well, if you look at the main character and what he does to survive …” Noah says to the class. I have no idea what he is talking about, or what book he is even referring to for that matter. I really should pay attention. He goes on to say a lot of things that sound really smart, and I’m sure they are. When Noah is done the pretentious know-it-all nose-picker puts his hand up. “Don’t you think that’s a really simplistic view of the book? I think if you look deeper …” What a prick, I think to myself. If you want to make a point, then make a point, but don’t try to act like you’re smarter than everyone else. “Would you care to respond to that?” the professor asks Noah. Noah sits there silently for a second, his eyes glued to the paper in front of him. When he looks up he pauses before speaking. “I think there can be multiple interpretations, there is no one right answer. But what I took away from the book was …” One by one Noah knocks down every argument made by the brat. The difference is Noah doesn’t gloat, but rather calmly states his view. “If eyes could kill,” I whisper to Noah. “Then I’d be dead,” he responds. The pretentious kid is staring at Noah with these extremely intense eyes. He looks pissed. “You totally out-nerded him,” I say. Out-nerded. I like that phrase. “No I didn’t.” “That was a total mic drop moment.” “Sorry, guys,” the brat says out loud. “Do you mind not talking in class? Some of us are trying to concentrate.” Everyone stops and looks at us again. “I’m sorry, we won’t say anything,” I respond. What an ass. For the rest of the class Noah keeps his eyes focused on his notebook as he jots down notes. When class ends he quickly packs his bags. He usually waits for me, but he darts out of the class. From the corner of my eye I see know-it-all. He has this stupid smirk on his face. I don’t say anything. I notice Noah is waiting for me outside. We both walk in silence until Noah stops and turns to me. He has a very serious expression on his face. Crap. Maybe I went too far ... *** NOAH *** I stare at him trying to keep my composure. I want Jordan to think I’m pissed. It's working. He’s worried. I can see it in his eyes. But I can’t hold this expression for long. I start to smile. I try to cover my mouth with my hands but that doesn’t help. I start to laugh. “Oh God, what an ass!” I say. “Who does that!?” “I know! You were fucking awesome though. You really knocked him down a couple of pegs. He was so pissed. It was great!” “I know it shouldn't have, but it felt great! Something about him just bugs me.” “I know what you mean. He’s a know-it-all,” Jordan says. “I hope I don’t come across like that.” “No, not even close. You come across smart, not demeaning.” “And what is up with you tight pants? Do you not pay attention in any of your classes?” “For one, my pants aren’t THAT tight, and secondly I pay attention … sometimes.” “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” I say. “Feed me?” he says trying to act all innocent. “All you get is a fiber bar.” “Ha, ha. No, seriously. I actually owe you dinner.” “No you don’t.” “Seriously, I owe you for all of your help. If you’re free now we can grab a bite.” “You don’t owe me anything. And I’m not, sorry man. I’m actually going to grab some food with Jenn, then we’re going to a pub. Jenn’s friend is part of a band and they’re playing tonight.” “Oh, sounds fun. Another time then.” He looks disappointed. I know I want to keep my two social groups separate, but I feel bad. “You’re more than welcome to join us,” I say. “I don’t want to impose,” he says. “You’re not imposing. Jenn won’t mind at all … she actually wants to meet you.” “Really?” “Yeah. Naturally, I’ve told her horrible things about you, and she’s curious.” “That makes sense. You sure about tonight?” he asks. Am I sure? No. But whatever. “Positive. I’ll text you the details once I firm them up with Jenn.” “Absolutely. See you later.” ——— I know I’m getting close to dangerous territory. But I can’t help myself. When I’m with him nothing else matters. I haven’t felt this connection with another person since I met Jenn a few years ago. But with Jordan it’s different. He makes me feel different. Being with him, seeing him, brings up emotions I’ve tried for years to ignore or suppress. Even though I know I should keep my distance, I can’t. I want to be near him. Okay, think Noah. He’s a friend. Only a friend. You’ll get past all of the other feelings. Don’t screw this up. I can’t get distracted, especially tonight. Tonight, Jordan meets Jenn. I’m an idiot for bringing the two together, but it was bound to happen. Jenn was ecstatic when I told her Jordan would be joining us tonight. I warned her though, no being weird, or in her case extra weird. She is weird by default. I hammer that point again when we meet for dinner. “Seriously, Jenn, best behaviour tonight,” I say to her. “I get it, Noah. I won’t say anything, you can trust me.” I shake my head. “Yeah, I’m totally screwed.” “You really like this guy, don’t you?” What? What is she trying to say? “No, not like, no. He’s just, you know, a friend, classmate.” “I’ve never seen you this nervous,” she says with a smile. “I’m not nervous.” I’m fucking nervous (and I don’t swear!). I’m sweating buckets. “Relax, dude.” “I am relaxed!” I’m so not relaxed. God, why did I ever agree to this? “I’m going to run to the washroom, be right back,” Jenn says getting up. Quiet. I like it when it is quiet. I can think. I take out my phone to see if Jordan has sent a message. He’s running late, but there is no message. Instead I see a friend request. It's from Sebastian. My finger hovers over his name. Something about him gives me a weird feeling. He’s a nice guy, friendly … but there is just something about him. Still, I hit the accept button. As I put my phone away I see Jordan walk in. I wave him over. He hops to the table as Jenn gets back. “You made it,” I say to Jordan. “Sorry, I’m late. It still takes me forever getting anywhere,” he says. “No worries. Jordan this is Jennifer, and Jennifer this is Jordan,” I say. “Nice to meet you, Jennifer” he says shaking her hand. “Likewise. Call me Jenn. I’ve heard a few things about you,” she says. “I hope at least some of those were good,” Jordan responds. “Oh, no, they were awful, absolutely awful. Shockingly disturbing,” she says. “Sounds about right,” he says with a smile. “I’m afraid though Noah hasn’t said much about you.” Jenn turns to me with an angry look. “Is that so? Huh. Seeing how I’m the centre of his life, I find that surprising.” “There’s not much to say,” I reply to Jordan. “I’m sure that’s not true,” he says. “Jenn and I are both studying history. She is as crazy as she appears, and that is really all you need to know,” I say. “There has to be more,” Jordan says. “No, that about sums it up well,” Jenn adds laughing. “So, what about you? Noah says you’re a volleyball player, studying life sciences and you want to go to med school. That’s pretty much all he has told me, despite my repeated attempts to interfere in his life.” “That’s all correct. Noah can be a quiet guy at times,” Jordan says, “it’s hard to get information out of him. But I think he’s starting to open up.” “It takes him time,” Jenn responds, “but yeah, took me weeks to learn everything about him, including the good embarrassing stories.” “Ooh, I like embarrassing stories,” Jordan says. Oh God. I give Jenn a stern look. “Maybe we’ll save those for later,” she says. “I was told in order for me to come tonight I had to be on my best behaviour. No being crazy or weird or embarrassing Mr. Sensitive over here.” I hate her. I really do. I start to blush. “I never said that!” “Yes you did!” I did, but I can’t admit that in front of Jordan. “Not in those words,” I say in my defence. “You’ll notice quickly, there is not much love lost between us,” Jenn says. “I love bugging him.” “I can see that,” Jordan says. “And I know, it is kind of fun. I do the same in English class. The prof got annoyed with him for laughing in class today. You should have seen his face. I didn’t know humans can go that red.” “Kind of like the shade of red he is now?” Jenn says pointing to my flush face. “Yeah, like that!” “I wasn’t red, and I’m not red now!” My protest lands on deaf ears. “I’ve never seen you laugh in class before,” Jenn says smacking my arm. “Because you’re boring,” I say to her. “I’m the joy of our life,” she says. “Pain of my life, more like it,” I respond. The rest of dinner goes by just the same. Jenn and Jordan laugh, mainly at my expense. Overall though Jenn behaves herself. She doesn’t say anything super embarrassing. Jordan is his usual care-free, goofy self. After dinner we move to the club. As we walk, I notice I have some missed messages from Sebastian. He just says hi and asks how I’m doing. I respond back to him that I’m well and put my phone away. There is something about him that I can’t put my finger on just yet. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually. *** JORDAN *** I can see why they’re together. They truly are the perfect couple. They complement each other so nicely. Both are sarcastic with the same sense of humour. They complete each other's sentences. They share similar hobbies. They are cute together. I’m glad they have each other. Though, I’m surprised Noah never mentioned he has a girlfriend. It’s weird because he truly had started to open up and share more with me. He mentioned his previous girlfriend. I wonder why he wouldn’t tell me about Jenn? I thought maybe it was a new relationship, but they’ve known each other for a long time. I’m sure he has his reasons. “So, how long have you two been dating?” I ask. I’ve been dying to know. Jenn and Noah look at one another, then burst out in laughter. “That’s a good one,” Jenn says. “What’s so funny?” I’m totally confused. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Noah, but we’re not dating. We’d kill each other,” she says. “Probably within the first hour,” Noah adds. “Really? But you two seem so good together. I thought …” I’m totally surprised. Truth be told I am also a bit relieved. I have no idea why. “Jenn is my best friend. I love her, she is awesome, but that’s all.” “We would be awesome together,” she says. “But that wouldn’t be fair to all the other couples in the world.” “I love your sense of modesty,” I say to her. “Thank you. It is one of my better-known qualities,” she says. “But yeah, I’m single, so if any of your hot volleyball friends are looking …” I laugh. “I’ll keep that in mind. So now that I’ve put my foot in my mouth, I think it is only fair I get to hear an embarrassing Noah story.” “How is that fair?” he protests. “I didn’t tell you to put your foot in your mouth.” “True, but I don’t think that matters. Jenn, your thoughts?” “I agree, I think you’ve earned one,” she says. “I’ll start with something that isn’t too bad. Did you hear about the time Noah went to a birthday party?” “No,” I say. “So, yeah. He was invited to a party when he was a kid at this place that does these types of events. His mom drops him off and off he goes. He doesn’t recognize anyone at this party, yet he stays. When his mom picks him up he tells her he had a great time. The next day the birthday boy’s mom calls Noah’s mom and asks why he didn’t show up. Naturally, his mom is confused and says he was there the entire time. The boy’s mom says he was not. Confused, she asks Noah. That’s when Noah says he didn’t actually recognize any of the children. Turns out he went into the wrong room and just stayed there. He may be a nerd now, but clearly he wasn’t always this smart.” “That’s awesome,” I say laughing. “In my defence, I was five years old,” Noah says. “And my mom probably should have dropped me off in the room, and not outside the room. I blame her. That was totally her fault.” “You know what, I’ll give you that.” I haven’t laughed this much in a while. Tonight with Jenn and Noah was fantastic. Both of them are hilarious. It was a nice and relaxed evening. Good food, good music, good company. I couldn’t have asked for more. Plus, now I know who the mystery girl is. Turns out she is not Noah’s girlfriend. That makes me happy. I don’t know why. *** NOAH *** I would love to say I woke up fresh and ready to face the world today, but I didn't. Those restless and sleepless nights are back again with full force. For the past few nights all I do is look u and stare at the ceiling. I should be happy. School is going well, things with Jenn are great, I’ve made some new friends. Yet I’m not happy. I know why. I’m suppressing part of who I am. For a while it was easy. I locked all that up and closed the door. But Jordan pried those doors open. Now I don’t know what to do. Since dinner last Wednesday with Jordan and Jenn, I’ve met Jordan several more times. Of course, we had class again on Friday. That time Jordan behaved. Perhaps behaved is a strong word. Did he try to distract me? Yes. Did it work? Some what. I was a bit more resolved not to get distracted, though I really did have to force myself not to laugh a few times. The pretentious kid came back with a vengeance and really wanted to get into a war of words with me again, but I didn’t fall for his trap. I silently took notes. By the end of class the brat looked smug. He probably thinks he won, and I was backing down. The truth is I honestly don’t care to engage with him. He can think what he wants. I desperately wanted to hang out with Jordan over the weekend, but I also didn’t want to come across as desperate so I didn’t say anything. I was hoping he would but he had plans. I also had plans with Jenn, but I would have ditched her in a heartbeat. He did call again on Sunday. I was thrilled to see his name on my phone, yet the timing wasn’t super great. I was in the middle of, you know, taking care of myself. So I stopped. It took me a while to go soft. Hearing his voice didn’t help … The reason Jordan called on Sunday was to invite me to his second volleyball game. Again, he would be sitting on the sidelines and asked if I would join him. I agreed to go. I wanted to spend time with him. Then the conversation went off in another direction. Usually Jordan is silly, our conversations are light-hearted, but this one was serious. We ended up talking for close to two hours about the news, politics, and world affairs. I was surprised at how much he knew; he doesn’t come across as someone who keeps up with the news. But he clearly does, and he clearly reads a lot and listens to a bunch of podcasts. It was fascinating to see another side of Jordan, a more mature side, if you will. I love our goofy conversations, but I have to say, the politics one is probably one of my favourites. The next time I saw Jordan was at his volleyball game last night, on Tuesday. The team won, which was great. Everyone was thrilled, including Sebastian. I’ve been talking to him more as well. He messaged me on Facebook last week and we’ve been exchanging messages ever since. He is a nice guy, funny, smart, but there is something off about him. Jordan did mention he is super competitive, and that part is clear. But there is something else. I’m always a bit cautious when I talk to him. Now, since I wasted so much time last week socializing, I’m now behind on my work. I’m actually sitting in the library waiting for Jenn. We had class this morning together. We both have a two-hour break before our next class, in my case English, so we decided to study. She had to run home to grab a book. I decided to come find a spot for us to sit. I’m on the eight floor near the back. This place is always empty. I like it here. There is no one around, it is quiet, and you can get your work done easily. “Hey, Noah.” I know that voice. What is he doing here? I look up and turn to see Sebastian. As always, he is beaming with confidence. Standing there erect and tall before me, wearing dark faded jeans, a snug t-shirt which shows off his defined muscles, his bag flung over his left shoulder, sunglasses perched on his slick hair, and a smile that showcases teeth that seem too white to be real. Honestly, he looks like he just walked straight out of a magazine. “Hey, Sebastian.” “How are you?” he asks. “I’m okay, you?” Where in the world did he come from? “I’m well. Do you mind if I sit down?” Honestly, I’d prefer it if he left. I always fear I’m going to make an ass of myself in front of him. But I can’t be rude. “Of course, please.” I’m hoping he sits across from me, but nope. He pulls the chair adjacent to me and sits down a bit too close. Our knees are almost touching. I try to nudge my seat back but it's no use. The legs barely move on the carpet. Stupid cheap chairs and cheap carpet. “So, did you enjoy the game last night?” he asks. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Congratulations on the win.” “Thanks. See I told you we were a better team.” “I never doubted you,” I say. “How come you didn’t join us for drinks last night? We had a lot to celebrate.” Sebastian already asked me that last night. He messaged me when I didn’t show up with Jordan. “As I said last night, I have a lot of work to get through, and I’m really behind. Sorry. I promise, next time I’ll be there.” “I’ll hold you to that,” he says. “You shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there more. I can tell you’re shy, but you’re a good guy. You’re funny, smart. People enjoy your company.” I smile. “Thank you, Sebastian. That’s very kind of you to say. You’re a good guy, as well.” The last part I add to be nice. “I think we could be good friends, we have a lot in common,” he says. Really? I don’t feel like we have much in common at all. We’re different in many ways. But sometimes that’s a good thing, I suppose. Saying all of that would be rude, so instead I just nod. “Of course.” “Do you mind if I tell you a secret?” he says leaning in closer to me. There is no reason to lean, there is no one here. “It’s something very few people know.” This is getting a bit too weird. We’re not that close of friends. “Sure.” “But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone, especially Jordan. This is something really personal.” “Of course not.” I am beyond intrigued.
  18. 34 points
    (Ten Years Ago) A packed school bus parked in the driveway in front of the David Mansion, a large wooden cottage on the outskirts of the Yellow Woods. As soon as the door opened and several teachers and supervisors came out, all of the children rushed out, swarming the open green field in front of the cottage. The chatter and excitement filled the air - everyone was looking forward to their summer camp. After the last year’s camp was a big success, both the kids and their teachers were keen to repeat the experience, but this time at a new location. The group consisted of around thirty kids, most of whom were thirteen years old. They all attended the same school at the nearby town of Port Alvin - a medium-sized town that used to be a famous international port. Over the course of the last century, as the trading routes got redirected to bigger cities, Port Alvin lost its trading significance. However, it still retained its charm that large metropolises lacked, which made it a desirable tourist destination. The Yellow Woods was a rather large forest located about ten miles north of the town, named after the abundance of aspen trees and their distinct yellow and golden leaves in the autumn. More importantly, the forest was this year’s location for the school summer camp. Judging by the excitement on the first day, it promised to be another successful one. Rushing along with his two best friends, Alex got out of the bus and joined the rest of his schoolmates outside. Although the teachers were trying to get everyone’s attention and bring some order into the group, the kids were too busy talking amongst each other and looking around, wondering what kinds of activities they’ll be doing for the next seven days. “I bet we’re gonna go hiking. Maybe even climb all the way up there,” Richie said, pointing to one of the highest hills in the vicinity. He was always adventurous and full of energy, as if he overdosed on sugar - which wasn’t far from the truth on many days. “Maybe we’ll see some bears!” Niall exclaimed. “Do you think there’s bears and wolves here?” “I hope not,” Alex blurted out, wondering if his friend was insane. Why would he want to see bears and risk getting mauled? Seeing them on TV or in a zoo was one thing, but in person - no thanks! “Why, are you scared?” Niall teased. He loved animals, perhaps a bit too much. Unfortunately, he was naive and failed to realize that most wild animals would not make for a good pet. He’d probably even welcome the opportunity to hug a python. Luckily, he’s never had such a chance so far. “Um, no. But if there are bears and wolves, teachers probably wouldn’t let us run around and explore,” Alex said, hoping it was a good save. The last thing I want is for my best friends to think I’m a coward. Ok, scratch that - the last thing I want is for them to find out I’m gay, Alex thought, but that was a secret he managed to keep hidden from everyone so far. After all, he only realized it recently, but he was still too scared to tell others. If anyone asks, I like girls, he thought. Even though I like boys… And there are some really cute boys in our school! Most of the guys on the soccer team, and also some of the nerdy guys I see in the library almost every day, Alex thought, daydreaming about his crushes. Too bad I’m too scared to make a move. Alex knew there were a few out gay boys in his school, but they were several years older, so they probably felt braver. Who knows, maybe that would be me in a few years - when I grow up a bit, I’ll come out and won’t have to hide anymore. I just have to wait... One of the camp instructors was telling them to go inside the cottage and leave their stuff, explaining the activities they’d be doing that day and when the lunch and dinner time were. Lost in his thoughts, Alex didn’t hear a word of it, only noticing something was going on when the kids suddenly started leaving. “Hello, Earth to Alex!” Niall called out, waving a hand in front of Alex’s face. “Are you with us?” “Huh, what?” Alex snapped out of it, noticing Niall’s fingers almost poking him in the face. “Come on, we gotta move! Richie already went to pick us a room, we wanna stay together, right?” “Yeah, sure!” Alex nodded, running along Niall toward the cottage. Rushing past all the other kids, the two friends were inside in no time, trying to find where their third friend had gone. The ground floor of the David Mansion had a large lobby, with a lounge to the right and a kitchen and dining area to the left. A hallway in the back led to several bedrooms. There were also two flights of wooden stairs leading to the upper floor, which contained most of the bedrooms and bathrooms. As Niall and Alex scanned their surroundings, they saw Richie up on the railings, waving at them. “Come on, guys, we’re here!” “Coming!” Niall shouted, grabbing Alex by the hand. By the time they got up and barged into their room, Richie was already sitting at the top bunk bed, with his travel bag next to him. “Sorry, guys, should’ve been faster,” Richie said happily, pleased that he got dibs on the top bed. There were two bunk beds in the room, but the other top one was occupied by Charlie - a boy from Switzerland who moved to their school at the start of last year. Alex thought he was nice, although he didn’t speak much. Maybe he was shy, or maybe he was just self-conscious about his slight accent. While Niall was ready to pout and complain about the beds, Alex didn’t mind it. In fact, he preferred the bottom bed and was the only person he knew who wasn’t obsessed with sleeping up top. He happily placed his bag on the bed below Richie’s, while Niall had to settle for sleeping below Charlie. It took the boys a few minutes to unpack, and by that time, all the drama about the sleeping arrangements was forgotten and the boys were excited to go out and have fun. Niall made sure his phone was fully charged so he could snap pictures of whatever animal he would find. Alex saw him tapping away on the screen and started chuckling. He knew what Niall was doing - deleting old pictures and music just to make sure he had enough memory. As Niall looked up to see what was so funny, Alex plopped down on the bed next to him and looked at his phone. “Think you got enough memory? Will thirty gigs be enough?” “Yeah, yeah, keep teasing! I’m gonna take horrible pics of you and post them on Facebook.” “Ok, I’ll be good!” Alex promised, drawing a big grin out of his friend. “So, guys, are you going down to have lunch?” Charlie asked. “Is that now?” Richie asked, jumping down from his bed. “Yeah, the teacher said to be down in… well, we’ve got five minutes,” Charlie replied, looking at the time on his phone. “Sure, let’s go. I’m starving,” Alex said. He usually wasn’t big on food, but being out in nature somehow always increased his appetite. He also hated eating alone, so having lunch with a bunch of his friends was an exciting prospect. Let’s just hope the food is better than in school cafeteria, he thought. The tasteless meat loaf and stale mac and cheese they served was something he wouldn’t even feed his dog. Unsurprisingly, the lunch at the David Mansion easily surpassed the sad excuse for food at Alex’s school and he happily ate a bit of everything that was offered. About an hour after lunch, all the kids, teachers and camp instructors were gearing up to go hiking. There were several hiking trails nearby, and it was decided they would be taking one of the easier ones, at least on the first day. It wasn’t long before everyone was back outside, ready to start. Alex was in full hiking mode, with his favorite Spiderman backpack on his back. He wore it to school every day and today was no exception. The blue and red backpack complemented his blue shirt and grey shorts. Although he wasn’t much for fashion, he just loved the color blue. Whatever outfit he wore had to have at least one item in that color. It looked good on him, and it was a great match for his jet black hair. Niall and Richie stood beside him, checking their phones, when one of the camp instructors came and called for their attention. “Alright, everyone, we’re ready to start. We’re taking the easiest trail, up to the east hill. It should take us about an hour in each direction. I want everyone to pair up and go in an orderly line, sticking to your pair at all times. Ok?” Everyone murmured their agreement and quickly found a pair. As Alex hopefully turned to his friends, he saw that Richie and Niall had already decided they would go together. Just great, Alex thought. Betrayed by my own best friends! Who am I gonna find now? “Sorry, man,” Niall shrugged, with an apologetic look on his face. “No worries,” Alex smiled. He wasn’t really angry at his friends. After all, it wasn’t their fault they were told to go in twos instead of threes. Looking through the crowd, he tried to find Charlie and see if he wanted to go with him, but his eyes fell upon someone else. A boy he’d never seen before, skinny and pale, with curly blond hair and light freckles on his face. He stood alone, clutching his water bottle and awkwardly looking around. He’s not from our school. At least I don’t think he is, Alex thought. Without a moment of hesitation, he approached the new boy and put on his best smile. “Hey, I’m Alex!” “Uh, hi… I’m Jeremy,” the boy said, making a crooked smile that Alex found endearing. “Nice to meet you, Jeremy,” Alex replied, offering a hand, which Jeremy reluctantly shook. “Do you have a pair?” “Um, no.” “Cool, me neither! We could go together!” “OK!” the boy said, his face lighting up. “So, are you new to our school? I don’t remember seeing you around.” “Uh, no, I don’t go to your school. My dad owns this cottage, so I kinda tagged along,” Jeremy said, shrugging. “I thought I’d stay and help dad, but he said I should go with the other kids.” “Cool! You must come here often, then?” “Not really. We live about four hours away and only come occasionally, when dad has tour groups like this. Sometimes he comes alone, though, and sometimes mom and sis come as well.” “You have a sister? Me too!” Alex replied, excited to hear about all the other things they might have in common, and thrilled that he has made a new friend. “Hey, come and meet my friends,” he said, dragging Jeremy over to where Richie and Niall stood. “Guys, this is Jeremy. This is Richie and Niall,” Alex said, pointing to each of the boys as he introduced them. “Nice to meet you,” the two friends said, shaking hands and welcoming the new boy. “Ok, boys and girls, does everyone have a pair?” one of the teachers asked. When everyone yelled “Yes!” in unison, the teacher instructed them to form a line so they could start. With Richie and Niall in front of them, Alex and Jeremy stood next to each other, smiling nervously as they tried not to stare at each other. As soon as everyone started moving, Alex seemed to have forgotten all about being nervous and lightly nudged Jeremy with his elbow, making him chuckle. “So, how old are you?” Alex asked. He never had problems making friends and was glad the new guy agreed to go together with him. “Thirteen. You?” “Same! So if you went to our school, maybe we’d be together in class.” “Yeah, I guess. At least you’ve got Richie and Niall,” Jeremy replied, his voice trailing off. “I’m sure you have a best friend at your school, right?” “Um, I did…” “Oh, what happened?” Alex asked out of curiosity as much as concern. “Uh, can we talk about something else?” Jeremy replied. Alex could see he made him uncomfortable and he cursed himself for putting a foot in his mouth. He was so pumped to have made a new friend and the last thing he wanted was to scare him off. “Sorry, no problem! People tell me I talk too much,” Alex chuckled. “My sister doesn’t even want to watch movies with me anymore because I talk all the way through. Or sing, depending on what we’re watching.” “Really, you can sing?” Jeremy asked with a laugh. “No,” Alex grinned, shaking his head. “But that doesn’t stop me.” “My little sis is the same. When we watch something, it has to be complete silence. Even if it’s something like Tangled, which she’s seen a hundred times and knows all the words to.” “Tell me about it! Now I watch everything on my computer, and I let her have the TV in the living room,” Alex nodded and saw Jeremy making his signature crooked smile again. That was enough to make Alex start to blush, butterflies going crazy in his belly. Too bad he doesn’t go to our school, he’d be a great fourth member of our team, he thought, imagining himself hanging out with Jeremy every day after school. We could ride bikes together, play video games on my Xbox and PS, or play soccer with Niall and Richie. As if he knew what his new friend was thinking, Jeremy asked: “So, do you play any video games?” “Yes,” Alex grinned. That was one of his favorite topics, something he could talk about for hours without getting bored. “I love Zelda…” “Me too! Link is awesome,” Jeremy blurted out. “Yeah, he is! I also love Minecraft and Plants vs Zombies.” “Cool, I play Minecraft sometimes. Have you tried Subnautica?” “No, what’s it about?” “It’s this cool open-world survival game. You go around exploring the ocean, collecting stuff, driving submarines… I love it,” Jeremy said, his face lighting up in excitement. “Sounds like a lot of fun, I’ll check it out!” The rest of the hike up the hill, the two boys who didn’t even know each other half an hour ago chatted happily as if they’ve been friends for years. Once they reached their target and climbed all the way up to the hill, they sat down on the grass to have a snack. Everyone started unzipping their backpacks or bags, pulling out sandwiches, pretzels or whatever other snacks they brought. Alex was sitting next to Jeremy, happy to share his snacks with his new friend. He wasn’t sure why, but the simple pastries with sesame his mom packed for him had never tasted so delicious. Even Jeremy seemed to agree, asking for seconds. Alex smiled and realized he was truly enjoying himself. He knew the trip would be good, but he didn’t know it’d be THIS good. “So, did you watch the new Spider-Man?” he asked, lying down on his jacket he used as a blanket. He looked up at the sky and watched the clouds, when Jeremy suddenly dropped down and lay beside him. Alex was glad the boy was feeling more relaxed than when they first met. “Yeah, I did, it was awesome! I see you’re a big fan,” Jeremy replied, pointing at Alex’s backpack. “Yeah, he’s my favorite superhero.” “Cool. Mine is Aquaman, I think he’s really unique.” “Wow, Aquaman and Subnautica. You have a thing for water, huh?” “I guess,” Jeremy chuckled. “It’s a cool world down there, so different than here on land.” “Yeah, it is. It can get scary, though. I don’t like diving,” Alex admitted. “I haven’t tried it yet, maybe when I’m older.” “So would you like to be a swimmer or a lifeguard or something when you grow up?” Jeremy laughed, which surprised Alex. He wondered if he asked a stupid question. “Sorry, it’s just that it’s so different from what I want to be.” “What?” “If I tell you, promise not to laugh?” “I promise,” Alex said. “Scout’s honor.” “Ok. I wanna be a chef, have my own restaurant.” “Well that’s not funny, why would I laugh? I think that’s awesome!” Alex nodded, happy that his friend decided to confide in him. “Yeah? I wanna learn how to cook and bake and everything,” Jeremy said. He loved watching cooking shows on TV and seeing how professional chefs prepare and arrange their meals, making works of art out of them. It seemed so fun and he was sure he wanted to learn how to do it and be the best! “Well you should!” Alex confirmed, smiling. It was simple from where he stood - if he wanted to do something, why shouldn’t he? It wasn’t long before the two boys were joined by Richie and Niall, and the four decided to go and explore. After spending some more time walking around the area and taking photos, everyone headed back to the cottage just in time for dinner. ~~ It was their fourth day at the summer camp and as the sun slowly set, making way for the night, most of the kids gathered around in a large clearing behind the cottage. A large campfire was being prepared, and while some kids wanted to help, others were still trying to take advantage of the last rays of sun and play. Richie and Niall were in that second group, throwing a frisbee back and forth. It was bright yellow, so it was clearly visible even under the faint evening light. Alex and Jeremy were in the third group of kids who just sat around on logs that were placed around the campfire to be used as benches. During these four days, Alex had spent as much time with Jeremy as he did with his two best friends. They didn’t mind it though, which Alex was glad to see. He would’ve hated it if Richie and Niall didn’t get along with Jeremy, but that didn’t seem to be the case. “So, you never told me what you wanna be when you grow up?” Jeremy asked, suddenly remembering their conversation from their first day at the camp. The question caught Alex unprepared and got him thinking. He wasn’t even sure. Not that he didn’t think about it, he just didn’t know. Like, how am I supposed to decide so early? I’m only thirteen! I like playing soccer, video games, riding bikes… But do I want to do that for a living? I have absolutely no clue! “Hmmm, I don’t even know,” he chuckled. “Maybe a soccer player? Or something to do with computers?” “You’d be a great soccer player!” Jeremy nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah?” Alex smiled. “Yeah, I’ve seen you play these days. I mean, I don’t know much about soccer, but you seem really good at it.” “Thanks,” Alex giggled, feeling he was about to blush. Why am I suddenly blushing all the time lately? Maybe it’s a medical condition, he thought. So weird... Tired from their frisbee throwing, Richie and Niall came over to join them and Alex scooted over closer to Jeremy in order to make room for his two other friends. One of the camp instructors had just started the campfire, creating a nice atmosphere for everyone. As they ate their roasted marshmallows, the four boys chatted, making plans for tomorrow. Even though Alex was looking forward to all the games and activities they had lined up, he couldn’t help the sadness he felt somewhere deep inside. He knew they only had a few more days left, after which they would go back home, and Jeremy would return to his hometown. Why couldn’t he come back with us and go to our school? It sucks that he’s so far away. I’m going to miss him a lot, Alex thought. I wonder if he’ll miss me when he goes back home. “Hey, are you with us?” a friendly voice and a hand on his shoulder interrupted Alex from his thoughts. He turned and saw Jeremy with an amused look in his blue eyes. “Oh, yeah, I was just thinking about something. What were you guys saying?” “I asked what your favorite Ninja Turtle was?” Jeremy smiled, taking a bite of his marshmallow. “Oh.. That would have to be Michelangelo,” Alex nodded. “He is super fun and I love all of his catchphrases!” “Same here,” Richie nodded and fistbumped Alex. “But Leo has the best color - blue,” Alex quickly added. “Mine’s Donatello. He knows how to make all those gadgets,” Niall said. “What about yours?” “Umm, mine’s Raphael, he’s such a smartass,” Jeremy said. “Always has a comeback for everything.” “Yeah, that’s true. April is hot, though,” Richie added, making everyone laugh. “Well, she is!” By the time the night had fully set in, everyone was in their tents, ready to spend the night outside. It was a warm summer night, with just a bit of a breeze to keep it from being too hot. The kids were once again divided into pairs, with each pair having their own tent. Niall and Richie shared one tent, while Alex and Jeremy happily decided to share another. Each in their sleeping bag, the boys were still too excited from all the happenings during the day to be able to fall asleep so fast. “How are you liking it here so far?” Jeremy asked, keeping his voice down to a whisper. “It’s awesome, I love it,” Alex replied. “What about you?” “Same here. I’m glad I came.” “Me too.” Everything went quiet as Alex thought about whether to say what was on his mind or not. In the end, he decided to go for it. “I’m gonna miss you,” he whispered even more quietly. “I’ll miss you too,” Jeremy replied, making Alex smile. He was so happy to hear that, yet sad at the same time. “We can still chat on Facebook, right?” “Of course, man,” Alex nodded. He didn’t want to lose Jeremy as a friend, and if texting was all they could do to keep in touch, then that’s what they would do. He couldn’t sleep at all. Minutes were passing and all he could hear was the crickets outside and Jeremy’s slow and steady breathing inside. He was already asleep, but Alex still stared at the tent above his head, thinking… Eventually, sleep came to him slowly, and without even realizing it, he was out for the night. ~~ After their lunch on the seventh day, everyone was ready to go back home. Not that they didn’t have a good time, but being in nature for seven straight days was a bit too much for kids accustomed to a more urban environment. Even Alex was itching to get back to the comfort of his big room, with his computer and consoles. He had said goodbye to Jeremy just before lunch, once again promising to keep in touch. Going up to his room with Richie and Niall, he packed his stuff and waited with his friends in the hall. Teachers came around to remind everyone to double check their rooms to make sure they didn’t forget anything. Of course, some of the kids promptly ran back, remembering they had left their phones, shirts and other stuff. Finally, after everyone was ready, the teachers led them outside and into the bus. Taking a window seat, Alex looked outside in the direction of the big cottage, trying to see if there was any sign of Jeremy. He knew Jeremy would be inside, helping his dad get everything in order, but he still hoped to see him again, at least take a glance at him while he was taking out the trash or something. Moments later, a big grin spread across his face as he saw the curly-haired boy running outside. Their eyes locked and Jeremy waved at him vigorously, with the familiar crooked smile on his freckled face. Alex immediately waved back, his eyes never leaving the boy. The engine revved and the bus started moving, but the boys never stopped staring at each other, until the vehicle drove off into the distance, taking the kids back home.
  19. 34 points
    My mother and Lord Hunterscroft were staying at the Dolder, another very nice Zurich hotel. Our security guys escorted us up to their floor and then discretely withdrew a few paces down the hall. I took a deep breath and knocked on their door. Derrick’s hand on the small of my back was giving me comfort. The door was opened by a slim, elegant—obviously wealthy—woman whom I didn’t recognize. With a quick glance I took in her perfectly coiffed, silver-blond hair, tasteful makeup, the double strand of pearls at her neck, a tailored, belted cream-colored suit, light pink manicured nails and elegant matching pumps. We’d clearly knocked on the wrong door. I started to stammer an apology. The stranger’s lips curled into a smile. “Gabriel?” she said. “Mother?....” I was so stunned that I stood there with my mouth agape. This was definitely not the mousy woman I remembered. Nobody moved for a few uncomfortable beats. “Come in, come in,” she said, breaking the tension. We entered the suite and Derrick stood at my side, his hand still on my back. I felt the pressure of his touch increase and that brought me out of my stupor. Mother had stepped back a couple of paces, gesturing to enter into the suite’s sitting room. Not quite sure what I was feeling at that moment—at least it wasn’t anger—I was relieved that she didn’t gush some sort of sentimental nonsense. I was particularly grateful that she didn’t initiate a hug. “Mother, this is my husband, Derrick. Derrick, this is my mother Claudia Nichol.” “And soon to be Claudia Grey,” said the man approaching in a cultured English accent. “Gabriel, Derrick, allow me to present my fiancé, Alistair Grey, Lord Hunterscroft. He heartily shook our hands and declared it was a pleasure to meet us. “And thank you for coming,” he continued. “It means a lot to us. And please call me Alistair.” The man’s manners were impeccable, I’d give him that. We returned the courtesies and were ushered into the sitting room. Fortunately, Lord Hunterscroft—Alistair—had the knack of putting everyone at ease, as did Derrick. We were soon seated, non-alcoholic drinks in hand, making pleasant small talk. The only one of us who looked uneasy was my mother. She was steeling herself to make a statement, and I could guess what the topic was. I knew from my studies that recovering alcoholics, as part of their recovery process—step nine—are encouraged to make amends (not to be confused with apologies) to those who’ve been harmed by their behaviour. For instance, if $20 was borrowed and never paid back, paying the money back would be the ‘amend.’ But in my mother’s case, she simply couldn’t ‘give back’ the hurt she’d caused. I wondered what she’d do. There was a lull in the conversation; Alistair reached out to take Mother’s hand. “As you boys probably know,” she began, “Part of a recovering alcoholic’s process is to make amends to those we’ve harmed. So, yes, Gabriel, I know I harmed you, very grievously. Alistair, unfortunately, has also harmed his children, more benign neglect, than my purposeful behavior, but nonetheless... “To this end, Alistair and I are going to support a public service organization that assists homeless youths, particularly gay homeless youths...” Yeah, right, I thought cynically, Throw a bit of money at the cause and assuage your conscience. Bah! “...in a hands-on way. We’re already working with a youth homeless shelter in Edinburg, and we both intend to be regular volunteers.” Warming to the topic, and becoming very animated, my mother continued, “Also, and this is something we’re very excited about, we’re thinking of establishing a youth camp for gay at-risk adolescents. One that will provide opportunities for self-discovery, direction and, hopefully, engender self-confidence. Youths will have an opportunity to try their hand at a number of things: flying, cooking, singing, musical instruments, first aid, sport, horses, writing—whatever the child wishes to try. It’s not intended a one-size-fits-all approach.” She looked at Alistair, turning the discussion to him. “I’ve got a property in Scotland that would be ideally suited for such a venture. There’s plenty of room, and there’s already a small airstrip.” He paused to let that sink in. They both looked at us expectantly in the ensuing silence. Derrick and I are no strangers to philanthropic efforts, and far be it from us to discourage one. And I must admit, my heart was beginning to thaw. On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out why they were almost overdoing the whole ‘amend’ process. So I expressed, diplomatically, exactly those thoughts. Mother replied, “Of course you are absolutely correct, Gabriel. I should have explained that from the initial idea of volunteering at a shelter grew a more ambitious scheme, one that would give meaning to my life. I need something I can get my teeth into....” That was a concept I could relate to, given that I was applying my medical skills in a similar manner. A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. Lunch had arrived. At the small, square dining table I sat on my mother’s left, with Derrick across from me and Alistair on my left. Alistair adroitly distracted Derrick with questions about the G650. That left Mother and I free to have our own conversation. She said, “Tell me about your boys.” A topic near and dear to me, of course. She paid close attention, genuinely interested in what I had to say. She laughed heartily at my dramatic telling of the roof climbing incident. She reached over and put her hand on mine. “Oh Gabriel, I’m so happy for you...that everything has worked out so well. “I’m s-sorry...I failed....” she said, tears leaking from her eyes, her remorse genuine. I felt tears welling up in my own eyes. “Mom....why? How...?” Sniffing, she said, “I was weak. Your father was, um, demanding. I turned to Ativan and alcohol to give me strength, and well, you know, that really only made me weaker.” “You couldn’t fight him,” I stated. “No. I tried...at first. Then it was just easier, less conflict, to go along with him. Then the drugs and alcohol numbed me. He blamed me...about you. Said I mollycoddled you. Hah! If only! “When you left to go live with the Foroughis—such good people—I was so relieved; happy that you’d ‘escaped.’ And I left you alone. You didn’t need my emotional baggage dragging you down. And you succeeded brilliantly. Ironic, isn’t it, that my greatest accomplishment as a mother was to stay out of your life and let you go? “And, here I am, thanks to you, sitting in a swanky hotel in Zurich. Sober. Marrying a wonderful man tomorrow.” She paused and drew in a deep breath which she let out slowly. “Listen to me, I’m getting maudlin, and I swore I wouldn’t....” “I’m glad he’s dead,” I said. She snorted a laugh. “So am I. Isn’t that awful?” “No, not awful. But let’s be grateful that you, James and I have ‘overcome,’ as the gospel song says.” “Yes, I am grateful, very much so.” She lifted her water glass, got Derrick and Alistair’s attention, and said, “A toast. To a glorious future!” We all clinked glasses echoing her sentiments. My phone buzzed with an incoming text from Robert. Time to get back to our hotel. The boys were arriving back from their ski outing in a few minutes. “Things ended on a good note,” observed Derrick in the car. “Yes, a very good note,” I replied. “Thanks...for everything....” “You’re welcome, my love.” The boys arrived home from their skiing trip, not long after we got back to the hotel, chattering like magpies about how much fun they’d had. It was the first time Alfy had experienced snow—and a snowball fight—and he was thrilled. They both begged to be taken skiing again. “We went soooo fast down the hill! Can we go again? Please!” There wouldn’t be time on this trip, but maybe in the future... Red-cheeked and tired, full from the hamburgers they’d had on the way home, and after a hot bath, they were more than ready for a nap. They’d just dropped off to sleep when James and Monique arrived. Of course they wanted to see Dane, so their first glimpse of him was as a sleeping angel. They both declared him the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen. Derrick and I agreed, that yes, when he was sleeping, he was an angel. James had a goofy grin that didn’t seem to leave his face; I suspected he had news, so I told him to spill. “Well, there are two Doctor Nichols in the family now,” he declared with pride. “Your thesis was approved!” “Yes! And my presentation!” “I’m so proud of him!” declared Monique. “We’re all proud of him!” I seconded. I’d wondered why Robert had an iced bottle of Champagne awaiting their arrival. There was a knock at the door and a waiter entered with a tray of canapés. Robert had thought of everything. At dinner that evening, in one of the hotel’s private dining rooms, we met Alistair’s son and daughter and their families. Both were married, with spouses in attendance. One couple had two children and one had three, but it was hard to keep track of who was who with our kids thrown in the mix as well. They all got along—noisily! The get-together was lively. Mom’s younger sister, Zena, was there as well. I hadn’t seen her since I was a small child and had no real recollection of her. She seemed nice enough, if a little lost in the crowd—she was perhaps shy. Her husband and two boys (my cousins) hadn’t accompanied her. I wondered why and gently probed her on the subject. As it turned out the two boys, both in college, were studying for final exams and her husband couldn’t get time off work. He ran a gardening/lawn care business and spring was his busy season. I was probably badgering the poor woman, but being a doctor I was used to getting away with asking personal questions. Knowing I was a doctor, she told me that her oldest son wanted to become a doctor, but that competition for medical school was fierce. He’d applied to the University of Manitoba, but even with honor grade marks wasn’t guaranteed entrance. When Derrick joined the conversation she told us the younger son wanted to become a pilot, but.... The ‘but’ spoke volumes. My immediate guess was that this family was going to be financially challenged to provide the education their boys (both, according to their mother, excellent students) aspired to. Well, I’d already asked enough personal questions, I wasn’t about to ask for their annual tax returns as well. But as you know, Derrick and I have our ‘ways’ of finding things out, and I was definitely going to have the family checked out. I wasn’t going to leave them swinging in the wind if we could help. But one thing I knew (from personal experience) was that we just couldn’t disturb their whole social ‘ecosystem’ by simply writing a big check. Most people, after all, had their pride. That night I had another of my recurring dreams—the ones that usually turn bad with me thinking I’d flunked out of medical school and let everybody down. Well, this time, I was writing an anatomy exam and instead of putting gibberish on the paper I was answering the questions correctly! Then it switched to my graduation ceremony and the Deacons were heartily congratulating me. I woke up, smiling, feeling on top of the world. I wrapped my arms around Derrick and hugged him tight. “Everything, okay?” he asked. “Couldn’t be better,” I said feeling that a huge burden had finally be lifted from my soul. The wedding the next day was a low-key affair. The same private room we’d dined in the evening before had been transformed into a wedding chapel with chairs, and a lovely arbour at the front. There were vases of flowers filling the room, and just walking in one could feel the ‘emotion’ in the well staged setting. The actual ceremony was short and sweet. Aunt Zena stood up with Mother, and Alistair’s son with him. Afterwards there was an informal buffet lunch. Alistair’s son welcomed our mother to his family with a small speech and toast about how happy they were that their dad had found love again. James, being the oldest in our family made a similar toast. And as I raised my glass of sparkling water I caught Mom’s eye and gave her a special smile, which she returned. The flight home was uneventful. Derrick was mulling over the idea of expanding his airline business and was weighing the pros and cons. I could tell the cons were winning, but Derrick hadn’t quite realized that yet, and I thought I’d let him come to it in his own time. I just hoped his crew wasn’t too disappointed. Derrick would feel terrible about that. Dane and Alfy talked non-stop about their skiing adventure. We got through the entire flight without an altercation. Our arrival home went extraordinarily smoothly thanks to Robert. Jordan and Kelly, and the dogs, met us at the airport and there were huge hugs all round. Then, effortlessly, we were driven home where everything—right down to a nutritious snack—awaited our arrival. When we crawled into bed that night it was on to gloriously soft, high thread count, cotton sheets. Robert had somehow arranged all this from Europe. As Dane settled back to school and Derrick and I got on with our ‘professional’ lives. Robert kept track of everything from running the household to work and social schedules. I hadn’t realized just how stressed and tense Derrick and I had become. We hadn’t really thought about how many details we had to deal with day-to-day. With Robert running things our cares and worries, for the most part dropped away; we hadn’t felt this relaxed in years. Mom and Dad Deacon were spending less and less time in Hawaii. The last few years had seen them pursuing Buddhism in an academic way. At Orcas Island the emphasis had moved away from hosting ‘retreats’ to hosting ‘conferences’ where Buddhist academics and religious leaders would pour over ancient text and debate vigorously. They were having the time of their lives, but it meant we saw them less and less. Finally, on one of their rare, brief visits to Hawaii they approached us and gingerly broached the subject of their Hawaiian residency. It was clear they didn’t want to hurt our feelings by telling us they were effectively moving back to Orcas Island, but they wanted us to know that, if we wanted, their little ‘villa’ on our property could be adapted for our use as our personal space, or a guest cottage, or whatever we’d like. The heavy use of conditionals in their spiel was indicative of just how sensitive to our feelings they were, especially since their change of habitat coincided with Dane’s arrival. But our feelings weren’t hurt. Their increasing absences had started long before Dane’s arrival, and we were able to offer them our support and encouragement in their quest. We decided to use the space as a guest cottage hoping to encourage friends to visit. Robert said he’d handle the project, and after a fairly brief discussion of our needs and wants he had an army of workers on the property updating the cottage. Robert managed to pull off just what we wanted with a sleek, updated look with some Asian highlights honoring the villa’s original Buddhist theme. Meanwhile, Robert had arranged a series of barbeques and dinner parties for our Hawaiian friends and extended family. It had been an age since we’d gotten together with the Foroughis and we had a delightful, relaxed evening with them. Dane’s school “best friend,” Tyler, and his parents came for an afternoon swim and meal. They were a warm, fun loving family, and we hoped to see more of them. We’d noticed that the relationship between Alfy and Dane was changing. Their relationship had become less ‘clingy’, and both had developed their own school friends. They were still close, but more in a brotherly way. Jordan, Kelly, Derrick and I all agreed it was a healthy development and testament to the boys’ growing self confidence. Derrick finally decided, unequivocally, not to expand his aviation business. It was no surprise to me when he said that he never bought the plane as a commercial venture but as a personal hobby. He admitted he hated letting strangers use the plane. Arlyss, his head pilot, who had ‘ambitions,’ was disappointed. She gave notice almost immediately saying that she and her family had decided to move back to the mainland to be closer to family. (We heard later that she was already considering an offer from a major airline with opportunity for swift advancement.) The other three crew members supported Derrick’s point of view. In fact, they welcomed it, saying that they, too, had never been comfortable working with strangers in the plane. And as it turned out, now that we were settling into a comfortable routine, and had Robert to take a lot of the worry off our shoulders, we were keeping the plane quite busy. Sam Kozitsky called and asked for a meeting with us about ‘security matters.’ He was working more and more as a consultant to the Deacons and had become the de-facto security liaison with Derrick and me. I suggested he bring his husband, Nick, with him for a getaway in our newly renovated guest quarters. Nick phoned to discuss plans; then I asked about their friends, Jerome and Rob, and suggested that they come also. Sam would come a day early for the security briefing, then the others would join us the next day. So the jet was dispatched, first to pick up Sam for our meeting... His news wasn’t good. I should explain that with the Deacon’s increasing wealth (the family’s net worth had almost doubled since I had first met Derrick) their security operation had become very sophisticated. It was no longer just military-like men and women shadowing us and escorting us in SUV’s. There were numerous intelligence analysts working behind the scenes evaluating reams of data—the operation was becoming a mini CIA. Between terrorist organizations and organized crime the ‘threat’ to the family had reached alarming proportions. Bottom line was that our security protocols were being updated. Most changes—like the behind-the-scenes analysis—we wouldn’t notice, but our ability to engage in spontaneous activities was more restricted. Our first concern, of course, was for Cass and Dane, but Sam assured us that with the new procedures the increased danger was ‘mitigated.’ We certainly hoped so! We had no time to dwell on Sam’s news, because we were focussed on our guests’ arrival the next day. And I was further distracted that night by Derrick’s ardor in bed. In fact, he thoroughly distracted me twice. I enthusiastically returned the favor. I was feeling very mellow the next morning. Euphoric even. That is, until Robert started giving me trouble. “Go!” I hissed pointing to the street. “But...” “No buts! Go! Now!” “The hors d’oeuvres...” “Robert, if you told me once, you’ve told me six times. I know how to heat the hors d’oeuvres.” “The towels....” “We have a mountain of towels! Enough to last for a month! Quit stalling.” “The barbeque...” “Sam’s in charge of the barbeque. He’s an ex navy seal for chrissakes! He can handle grilling a few steaks.” I saw Robert take a deep breath preparing for another volley. I decided to counterattack. “Do you have your bathing suit and towel?” I demanded. “Yes, but...” “Sunscreen?” “Yes,” he admitted. He knew better than to sass me about that. “Condoms and lube?” “What?... Really, Dr. Nichol, I don’t think it’s going to be that kind of party.” “Better safe than sorry, Robert. I’ve put a few condoms and some packs of lube in the glove box of the car. Just in case you get lucky.” Robert was going to spend the day with Winston (our flight attendant) and Jimmy (his partner). There were other friends joining them, including a sort of, maybe, blind date for Robert. The group was having a big Hawaiian style picnic on the beach near Makaha. We were thrilled that Robert was finally getting out to have a bit of fun with friends. Robert on the other hand was reluctant. He just needed a bit of gentle encouragement. “Go!” I repeated He finally shuffled off to the garage, his whole demeanor telegraphing that he was leaving under duress. Robert had barely driven off in my Bentley when the SUV motorcade bringing our very animated guests arrived.
  20. 31 points
    Mason zipped up his light jacket as he left the hotel lobby and stepped outside. “Is it always this cold in Melbourne?” “Not usually in January.” Clarissa glanced up at the overcast sky. “But that’s Melbourne for you. Don’t rely on the weather being consistent, because you’ll always be disappointed.” She smiled. “At least it’s not raining like it was yesterday.” “Yeah, but Saturday back in Sydney was nice and hot. Here…” Mason gave a mock shiver. It wasn’t as bad as he made out, but he had been expecting the temperature to be warmer during the Australian summer. “Hey, Sydney’s not that warm today, either, so don’t pick on Melbourne!” Clarissa tilted her head towards the road that separated the hotel from the Carlton Football Club’s training complex. “Time to experience the joys of riding trams.” Mason frowned as what he considered to be a light-rail vehicle travelled along the tracks that ran down the middle of the road. “Why are they an experience?” Clarissa shrugged. “Because they don’t have them in Sydney?” She glanced in both directions before pointing to the left. “That tram stop looks closer.” “If you say so.” Mason estimated it was less than 100 yards to the stop that Clarissa indicated, though it was probably about the same distance to the tram stop he could see in the opposite direction. “What time are we meeting up with everyone?” “Deon told me that they need to be at the courthouse before three, so sometime around then.” “You’re not seeing him before then?” Mason glanced at her as they strolled towards their destination and caught her momentary scowl. “No. He’s gone to Hawthorn to train. He’s busy all morning.” Clarissa’s tone indicated she wasn’t happy about something. “Why isn’t he training over there?” Mason asked as he waved a hand to the training complex on the other side of the road. “Because Hawthorn offered to let him train at their facilities. He can’t just train with any club he wants, like Carlton. Remember, he plays for a rival club; it’s going to be weird for him using someone else’s gym—and just as weird for the other team.” “You mean he’s training with a rival club…with their permission?” Clarissa frowned and then chuckled. “When it’s said like that, yeah, it sounds a little weird.” That triggered another chain of thought in Mason’s mind. “Do these clubs get lots of media attention?” She frowned up at him. “Yeah, they do. Why?” “How are people going to react when it’s reported that he’s training with Hawthorn? Will they think he’s changing teams?” Clarissa slowed as she thought about what he said. “I’ve got no idea. I don’t think this has happened before. Trading players happens at the end of the season, not before the start. I don’t know what people will think if he’s seen.” * * * Kevin was passing through the lounge room of his host family’s Sydney home when he spotted the headline running along the bottom of the television screen. “What’s that about an AFL player?” he asked as he sat down next to his host mother. “I don’t know. They said it’s coming up next,” Mrs. Wembley said. The two waited through a set of advertisements before the morning show came back on air. Kevin was half-expecting them to go to another topic while continuing to tease the viewers with the headline being shown about an AFL player being involved in a child-sex-abuse trial. He was therefore surprised when they immediately switched to a reporter standing outside AFL House in Melbourne. TV REPORTER: In breaking news, an AFL player will be testifying this week in the trial of Fredrick Rollingford at the County Court of Victoria. Rollingford has been charged with several counts of sexual assault involving children dating back over fifteen years during the time when he was a junior-football coach in the outer-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The police allege that at least eight boys were molested by Rollingford over a period of ten years. The AFL Commission and the AFL Players’ Association released a joint statement earlier today saying that a current AFL player is one of Rollingford’s alleged victims and asked for his privacy—and that of the other people involved—to be respected. The morning show continued with details of the charges but offered no speculation as to which player or AFL team was involved. The co-hosts of the morning show offered their sympathy to the player in question and their support for the request for privacy. “Do you know anything about this, Kevin?” Mrs. Wembley asked. “It’s not going to be someone from our club, is it?” “I wouldn’t think so. I haven’t heard about any players not being at training this week…” Kevin’s voice faded. Deon had told him that GWS had given him permission to head back to Melbourne to deal with some personal business. Kevin hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but now the matter had a completely different significance. “Kevin? Are you okay?” Kevin brought his attention back to his host mother. “Yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking of the poor guy in the middle of this. He must be going through hell at the moment.” “I know.” She sighed and shook her head. “I wonder who it is.” “It’s really none of our business, and we shouldn’t speculate.” Kevin rose and smiled down at Mrs. Wembley. “I need to get ready and go. I’ll see you tonight after training.” He waved and left the room before she could respond. He didn’t want to discuss the subject with her any longer. Instead, he pulled out his phone and sent Deon a quick text, saying he’d seen the news report about the trial. Kevin left it at that. If Deon wanted to say something, that would be up to Deon. * * * In Melbourne, Ben glanced around the locker room at the assembled players. More than half the team was present, and everyone knew the only reason the others weren’t there was because of work or personal commitments. Julie Crowman, the Leopards head coach, whistled loudly to silence the crowd. “Okay, everyone, thanks for coming in. We all know that we’re here to support Dave, but I want to reiterate that no one—I repeat, no one—is to talk about the trial to anyone who isn’t a Leopard or a former Leopard. The AFL is doing their best to keep Dave’s name out of the press, and I don’t want any of you guys to leak the news.” She scowled. “This isn’t something to play games with or joke about. This is serious. Dave’s overcome some major challenges to get to where he is now; we don’t want to add any new ones by saying something we shouldn’t.” Roger McDowell, the team captain, frowned. “Isn’t the fact that we’re all going to be there going to give away the fact that it’s one of the Leopards who is now in the AFL?” “It may, but we have to take that risk.” Julie nodded towards Charlie. “Dave’s told us he wants us around, and that’s what we’ll do.” She gave her players a hard stare before shrugging. “And being there isn’t conclusive proof of anything, anyway. We know there are other victims of that bastard, and it could be one of you guys that we’re there for.” Roger nodded slowly. “If we need to, we could say that I’m there to testify.” He screwed up his face. “After all, Rollingford was one of my coaches when I was a junior footballer. It could’ve been me…” Julie silenced the buzz of discussion that arose from Roger’s offer. “Enough! As I said before, don’t say anything. If we have to say something in the future, we can think about using some misdirection, as Roger suggested, but no one is to do that without both my and Roger’s explicit permission. Understood?” When she received vague murmurs of agreement, she scowled and repeated in a firmer tone. “Understood?” This time the response was more emphatic. Ben stayed quiet through the rest of the meeting, as it dealt mainly with the logistics of getting everyone into the city. Most were taking the train, but a few were driving. Ben was one of the train travellers. His initial thought had been to use that time to ring Mitchell and have the conversation he didn’t want to have, but as he glanced around the locker room, he realised there would be too many other people in the train carriage for him to hold what should be a private conversation. He would have to find another time and place before he could speak to Mitchell. * * * “Thanks, Deon.” Dave’s voice was barely audible as the two wandered towards the change room. “No problem.” Deon smiled but knew better than to touch Dave to emphasise his support. “You’ve got a good gym setup here, but ours in Sydney is better.” He made that comment more from the viewpoint of club loyalty than facts. Deon knew it would be difficult to point to anything that was better at one versus the other. Dave’s lips twitched but didn’t quite make it into a smile. “You can tell yourself that, but don’t expect me to believe it.” The two had just finished a two-hour session in the Hawthorn Football Club’s gym. A number of the other Hawthorn players had been present—as were the ubiquitous trainers—but apart from a few nods of acknowledgement, the two had been largely left alone. Deon quickly realised that the players and trainers knew why he was there, but they weren’t going to say anything. During the training session, Deon and Dave had avoided talking about the upcoming events of the afternoon but instead kept their conversations to matters of football and exercise programs. Deon needed to keep his program going—he was surprised when he arrived to find that the trainers had a copy of his personalised program from GWS—and the mundane task of training seemed beneficial to Dave. To help Deon blend in, he had been given a Hawthorn training top to wear. Deon had been initially reluctant to wear it, but he had been convinced by one of the Hawthorn officials that if he didn’t, he would attract the attention of anyone passing the gym. Wearing his own club’s training top would be worse, but even in casual gym clothes, he would stand out. Wearing the same training top as Dave wore meant he had a chance of avoiding notice from anyone who wasn’t already informed about his presence. Just before they entered the change room, Dave stopped. “Charlie will be here soon, and then the three of us will go out for lunch. After that…” He grimaced. Deon didn’t need him to continue. After lunch would mean heading for the courthouse for the trial. Dave turned and started to move away. “I’ll meet you out front in twenty minutes,” he called back over his shoulder. “See you soon!” Deon sighed as he headed in to get changed and have a shower. It was apparent that Dave was still not mentally strong enough to use the communal showers. Deon took out his frustration at the situation by slapping the door of the locker he had been given before sitting down to get undressed. He had only managed to take off his shirt when he was interrupted by his phone. He contemplated ignoring it until after his shower, but he decided he had better see if it was something to do with that afternoon’s trial. After reaching into his bag, he tensed at the name being displayed. “Alastair!” Deon mentally crossed his fingers that the call from his agent was a social call. “What the fuck is going on? Social media is blowing up with the news that you’ve been seen training with the Hawks.” Deon winced. Alastair McCrae was usually calm and level-headed. The person swearing on the other end of the phone call was an Alastair he hadn’t encountered before. “I thought it was being kept quiet. How did the news leak?” “Some visitor spotted you in the gym and took a photo. It was posted online within seconds.” Alastair continued in a slightly less aggressive tone. “And why were you wearing a Hawthorn top? Your club is going to go absolutely nuts! What the fuck are you doing in Melbourne, anyway? You should be in Sydney getting ready for the pre-season.” “The club gave me the week off, and they know I’m training at Hawthorn. I’ve got their permission.” He didn’t respond to the issue of wearing Hawthorn’s brown-and-gold colours. He wasn’t sure how he could explain that without going into things he didn’t want to discuss. There was silence for a moment. “What’s going on, Deon? I can’t do my job if you don’t keep me informed about things like this.” Deon was relieved that Alastair sounded a lot calmer. “The Hawks management spoke to the Giants management and asked if I could come down here to Melbourne for the week. It was all agreed at the top level but kept quiet.” “Why was it kept quiet?” Deon grimaced. “I can’t say. Sorry, Alastair. It’s a private matter.” There was a loud sigh, and Deon had the impression Alastair was ready to pull his hair out in frustration. “Deon, this affects not only your football but also your public image. I need to know what’s going on. I’m in Melbourne this week, so can you join me for lunch today? My shout, and I’ll make sure it’s a place where we can hold a confidential conversation.” “Can I get back to you on that? I’m supposed to be meeting a couple of other people for lunch, and I may not be able to get out of it.” “How long are you going to be in Melbourne and training with the Hawks?” “Possibly all week, though I’m hoping I can fly back earlier.” “Okay, let me know if you can make lunch today. Otherwise, we need to find a time to meet up—and the earlier the better.” “I’ll do that, Alastair.” Deon made a quick decision. He had planned to surprise Clarissa with a dinner for two, but that may have to wait. “If I can’t do lunch, would you be able to meet me tonight?” “That’ll be fine. Call me once you know when you’re free.” After hanging up, Deon noticed that he had eight missed calls—three of them from Alastair, four from teammates, and one unknown number—and twenty-two text messages. He glanced through the messages and decided the only one he needed to respond to immediately was the text from one of his co-captains. He sent back a reply, directing Phil to speak to the person who had authorised his trip, and then put his phone away. Most of the messages had been along the same lines as Alastair’s opening comment. Deon knew he would have to explain things to his teammates, but he was hoping that he wouldn’t have to get into details. There was one text message, though, that puzzled him: why had Kevin mentioned the trial and then said nothing else? * * * “Kev, wait up!” Kevin stopped and glanced over his shoulder. One of his teammates was jogging up to him. “G’day, Nick. Is something wrong?” “Not really, but you’re mates with Deon Bradshaw. Do you know why he’s in Melbourne, training with the Hawks?” Kevin blinked. “He’s doing what?” “It’s everywhere: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat… The Internet’s having a meltdown. Deon’s been spotted working out in Hawthorn’s gym. Here, have a look.” Kevin took Nick’s phone and stared at the image of Deon doing squats while a Hawthorn trainer supervised. “Why is he there?” Nick snorted. “I was hoping you’d know. It’s the current big mystery. Well, apart from who’ll be testifying at that trial…” Nick frowned. “You don’t suppose the two are linked, do you?” Kevin held up both hands. “Don’t ask me! I don’t know anything about it.” “Well, if you find out anything, can you let me know?” “Sure.” Kevin pasted on a grin to hide his unease. “But don’t expect much. It’s probably all perfectly simple and uninteresting.” “Yeah, right.” Nick rolled his eyes. “A GWS player goes to Melbourne to train with Hawthorn. All simple and uninteresting. Happens every day.” A few minutes later, after Nick had left, Kevin pulled out his own phone and stared at it. There was something going on, and he suspected Nick was right: it was all connected to the trial. He wanted to ask Deon directly, but if his suspicions were correct, Deon wouldn’t want to be bothered. Kevin started to put his phone away without making a call when he changed his mind. He quickly selected a different name from his contact list, glanced around to make sure there was no one nearby, and then made a call. “Clarissa, do you know what’s going on with Deon at the moment?” * * * Alastair shook hands with Dave and Charlie before taking a seat. “Thanks for inviting me.” He glanced to his side. “Deon said you guys would explain things. He’s not telling me anything, and at the moment, his football career looks like it’s going to end up in the sewer. I need to know if we’re going to have any chance of saving it.” Deon winced. “The club knows what’s going on. It’s not going to affect things there.” “Wrong!” Alastair glared at him. “While the club may be fine, I know for a fact that your teammates aren’t. You’re not my only client with GWS, and the other guys are ready to have you hung, drawn and quartered. And that’s mild compared to what the GWS supporters will want to do to you. We need to get this under control—and fast.” Dave dropped his head. “This is all my fault.” Deon and Charlie were simultaneous with their protestations. “No way!” “It’s not your fault!” Alastair held up a hand. “Guys, settle down. Can someone—one person, please—tell me what’s going on?” Deon and Charlie both looked at Dave. Dave flinched. “Charlie, can you tell him? Please? I’m going to have to go through it all this afternoon, but I don’t want to do it now.” “Okay, Dave.” Charlie glanced around the small restaurant where they’ve come for lunch and lowered his voice. “You know about the trial this afternoon, don’t you? It’s been on all the media.” “You mean…?” Alastair nodded towards Dave while keeping his focus on Charlie. “Yes. Dave’s testifying. Deon’s come down from Sydney to support him. Hawthorn asked the Giants if they’d release him for the week, and they agreed.” “Okay, I understand now.” Alastair pursed his lips as he thought. “It’s still a shitty situation but not as bad as it initially looked.” He frowned at Dave. “Who’s your management agent?” Dave shrugged. “I don’t have one. I wasn’t planning on signing with anyone until after the trial.” He grimaced. “I don’t want to make big decisions until that’s finished.” “Alright, that’s one less person to get involved.” Alastair stared at the three football players for a moment. “Where to from here? As I said at the start, the GWS supporters and Deon’s teammates are ready to crucify him.” He glared at Deon. “Whatever made you think that wearing a Hawthorn training top would be a good idea? The rest we can spin as you supporting Dave, but that one is going to be tough to explain.” “You need to keep Dave’s name out of it.” Deon narrowed his eyes. “I’ll live with whatever else happens, but there’s to be no mention of Dave. That’s not negotiable.” Alastair held up both hands. “Hey, take it easy. That’s fine, and I agree. But we also need to keep you safe, too.” Deon gave him a half smile. “Phil and Callen,” he said, referring to his two co-captains, “have told me they’re going to try to placate my teammates. I’m going to cop it from the guys when I get back, but that’s okay. I’ll deal with that when I return.” Deon had been relieved when Phil had called him back after speaking to management. Deon was concerned that his co-captains now knew about Dave, but both had said they’d keep Dave’s name out of any conversation. “That’s a start, but the supporter base isn’t going to be as easy to handle.” Alastair pulled out his phone. “I’m going to cancel all my meetings for the rest of the day while we work out what to do.” He gave Dave a soft smile. “With your permission, I’ll see what I can do for you, too. To do that, I’ll need to speak to some people at Hawthorn, but a coordinated approach is going to work best for everyone.” He frowned and cocked his head. “Who else is involved in this? What about Ty, Jim, and Paul?” Charlie was the one who responded. “Most of the Leopards—past and present—will be at the courthouse. The brat’s been organising the AFL contingent, so we’re going to have representatives from four AFL teams there: Jim and Ty from Carlton, Deon from GWS, Dave from Hawthorn, and Peter and Paul from the Bulldogs. That will hopefully help dilute any speculation as to who is testifying.” “Peter?” Alastair asked. “Our former head coach. He took up an assistant-coaching position with the Bulldogs last year.” Alastair sighed. “Jim’s going to be recognised as soon as he shows up, and Deon’s already hitting the social-media trending topics. Even though it’s going to be a massive headache for those two, I think I can safely say that Dave’s not going to be in the spotlight, at least initially. But now, I need to worry about Jim, too. Who knows what people will make of him being at the trial?” Further discussion was interrupted by Deon’s phone going off. When he saw who it was from, he winced. “Sorry, guys, but I have to take this.” Deon knew he couldn’t afford to antagonise his girlfriend. “Hi, Clarissa.” “After finding out last night that other people knew about what was going on but you didn’t tell me, I wasn’t going to speak to you before the trial, but something’s cropped up. Kevin’s just called me. It seems like other people are making the same connection that I made when I first found out: you being in Melbourne and the trial. He told me that one of his teammates asked why you were training with Hawthorn and did it have anything to do with the trial. Kevin wanted to make sure you knew, but he didn’t want to bother you, just in case.” Clarissa’s initially hard tone had disappeared by the time she finished speaking. Deon had the impression she was worried for him. “What did you tell him?” “That it was all true.” Clarissa dropped the sarcastic tone. “Nothing, of course. I told him I needed to speak to you.” There was a short pause. “I understand now why you couldn’t say anything. Kevin deserves to know, but I couldn’t be the one to tell him. I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.” “Thanks, but you don’t need to apologise. I’d probably have done the same in your shoes. I’m with Dave, Charlie, and Alastair at the moment. I’ll just let them know what you told me.” After quickly filling in the others, Deon returned his attention to his phone. “Where are you? We’ve just sat down for lunch. If you happen to be near Hawthorn, you can join us for lunch.” Clarissa snorted. “We’re in the city. Mason wanted to go to the most expensive place to eat in the area, so I took him to McDonalds. We’re just finishing.” Deon could hear Mason in the background calling out that Clarissa had good taste in restaurants. His amusement at the comment was short-lived. “I’ve got to go, but I’ll call you as soon as we finish here. I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and three—Alastair’s concerned that we’ve got a potential disaster on our hands—but I’ll keep you informed.” After exchanging a couple more pleasantries, Deon sighed and hung up. “You’re right about this being a potential disaster,” Alastair said, “but I think I know how to turn it around. I’ll need both GWS and Hawthorn to play ball, though. The question is: will they?” “The Hawks said they’ll do whatever it takes to help me,” Dave said. “And my club’s been willing to help, too.” Deon gnawed at his lower lip. “What did you have in mind?” Alastair made a face. “I need GWS to make a public statement—and soon—thanking Hawthorn for allowing you to use their facilities while you’re in Melbourne for personal reasons. They could use Twitter for that announcement. That should settle things down with your teammates and will help with a lot of the supporters. It’ll also show everyone that you’re not doing this behind your club’s back. I’ll also need Hawthorn to reply with an apology for making you wear one of their training tops, but they were trying to protect your privacy. That’ll hopefully give everyone a reason for that act of idiocy that doesn’t reflect too badly on you.” Charlie frowned. “What if people ask questions about the personal reasons Deon’s in Melbourne for?” “That’s the bit I’m still working on.” Alastair sighed. “Unfortunately, no matter what we say, people will connect it to the trial. Based on what Clarissa passed on, some people are already doing so.” Deon made a snap decision. “Then don’t say anything. Let them speculate, and if that means the attention’s on me, so be it. That will help Dave, and I can’t see how it’ll hurt.” “Believe me, Deon, it’ll hurt. I don’t know how, but these things always come back and bite you.” Alastair shook his head. “I’d advise against it, but I don’t have any other ideas at the moment. If you’re happy to stay quiet on the reasons you’re here, that’s what we’ll do.” * * * Roger McDowell put his phone away, put his fingers to his mouth, and then gave a short, sharp whistle to attract the attention of his teammates. “Listen up!” He caught Todd’s eye and tilted his head towards the other passengers on the train. After a moment of confusion, Todd nodded, smiled, and moved to block anyone from approaching the assembled players. The Leopards were occupying one end of a carriage, which Roger hoped would limit any chance of being overheard. “Guys, when we get there, I want everyone to make an effort to greet Deon and show him our support.” “Deon?” Oliver frowned, then glanced around before continuing in a lowered voice. “Not Dave?” “Well, both, but make Deon’s obvious. His name is already being put forward as the AFL player who’s testifying, so we’re all going to play along. Deon’s volunteered. No one says anything to confirm or deny it, but we want any onlookers to think we’re there for Deon.” “Why would anyone think it’s Deon?” “Because he’s flown down from Sydney to attend the hearing.” Roger grimaced. “And he’s been spotted training with the Hawks, so he was already making news. People have started putting his presence in Melbourne together with this morning’s announcement, so we’re going to use that to misdirect everyone’s attention.” “GWS has just sent out a tweet,” Ben said, looking up from his phone. “They’re thanking the Hawks for letting Deon train at their facilities while he’s in Melbourne for ‘personal reasons’.” Roger nodded. “The Hawks should be replying soon. At least that’s what I was told. Deon’s going to take the spotlight for Dave. We’re going to do anything and everything we can to make sure he doesn’t get burnt by doing so. Agreed?” The affirmation from the gathered players was immediate and loud. * * * “Fuck!” Mason glared indiscriminately at the oblivious shoppers in the Melbourne Central shopping mall. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Clarissa raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn’t react. “What’s got you so upset?” “I’m useless. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think of something to help, but I can’t.” Mason scowled. “What’s the point in having money if I can’t use it?” “Mason…” Mason ignored her warning growl. “No, Clarissa. I know you don’t want me spending money, but that’s on frivolous things. What’s happening today is important. I don’t want to stand by and do nothing.” He sighed, looked down at her, and made a face. “Please? Tell me what I can do to help.” Clarissa stared back for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay.” She glanced around and then pointed. “Let’s grab some coffees, sit down and work out our options.” Once they were settled, Clarissa started. “Firstly, I don’t think there’s anything you can buy or hire that will make a difference. So, let’s take that off the table.” She gave him a sardonic stare. “If there had been something, you’d have already done it. Right?” Mason didn’t want to agree, but he knew she had a point. “I was hoping you’d come up with an idea. The amount doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not excessive.” She rolled her eyes. “You and I have very different ideas on what’s excessive.” She took a sip of her latte. “You don’t know Dave, so there’s not much you can do there, either, but you know Deon. Deon’s already at the centre of a shit storm, so even if the major media companies play ball, social media is going to be full of him going into the courthouse. As you know, Deon is going to try to keep the focus off Dave, so we need to protect him and Dave.” Mason thought for a moment. “When the trial starts, is it going to be open or closed to the public?” “My understanding is that it’ll be closed, at least for Dave’s testimony.” Clarissa cocked her head. “Why?” “Because if Deon isn’t allowed in, that’ll blow up any pretence of him being the one testifying.” “Wouldn’t they have already thought of that?” “Not necessarily, since I believe the idea of Deon taking centre stage was only decided today. They may not have thought of all the consequences.” She pulled out her phone and started to send a text. “I’ll ask Deon.” After a couple of text messages back and forth, her phone rang. “G’day, Charlie. Deon says you’ve got some answers for me.” She listened for a while, and then nodded. “Okay, thanks. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that they’ll do that.” After putting her phone away, Clarissa smiled at Mason. “Charlie wanted to know how you figured there’d be an issue.” Mason snorted. “The ‘rents are both lawyers, remember? I may not be interested in becoming a lawyer myself, but I’ve picked up some stuff along the way.” He narrowed his eyes. “Did he have an answer for you?” She nodded. “Dave’s allowed to take in someone for support when he testifies. That’s going to be Charlie, but he’s going to ask his lawyer if Deon can also go in with him. That way, anyone watching won’t know which one of them it is.” “I haven’t met Charlie, have I?” “I doubt it.” She frowned. “Deon said something once about Dave injuring Charlie at training, and they’ve been best mates ever since. That was before I met them or Stacey, Charlie’s girlfriend.” Clarissa peered past him and smiled as she stood and waved. “Speaking of girlfriends…” Mason twisted in his chair and then rose to greet the vaguely familiar-looking young woman approaching. It took him a few seconds to remember her from the housewarming party. “Karen!” “That’s me. It’s nice to see you again, Mason.” “Same here. Since you’re here, though, there’s something I need to try.” Mason took a deep breath. “Gudday, Karen!” Clarissa laughed. “Closer, Mason, but not quite there. The G needs to be shorter.” She smiled at Karen. “We’re trying to teach him how to say ‘G’day’.” Karen chuckled as the three of them sat back down. “I thought that wasn’t too bad, myself.” The smile faded. “Ty sent me a text saying Deon’s going to be on the hot seat today. Do you know why?” Mason listened as Clarissa explained the latest news. Once Karen was brought up to date, he leant forward. “So, what can we do to help?” Clarissa sighed before giving Mason a wry smile. “Karen, Mason has a tendency to try to solve problems with money, but he’s stuck on how that’s going to help here. I’ve told him money isn’t going to make a difference.” “Hey! I don’t solve problems with money. I just don’t have a problem with spending the ‘rents money to help my friends.” “Regardless, money isn’t going to help us at the moment.” Clarissa fixed him with a steely gaze. “Just be a friend. Most people today—apart from his Leopard teammates—will be looking for something from Deon. He could do with being around another person who doesn’t have an agenda.” Mason’s brow wrinkled. “Would hiring a bodyguard help?” “Mason!” Karen chuckled. “Mason, you haven’t seen the size of some of the guys who play for the Leopards. Deon’s not going to need a bodyguard to keep people away.” She smiled. “As Clarissa said, just be a friend.” Mason wasn’t sure he could add anything there, but he stayed quiet. He didn’t see any other option. * * * By the time Mason, Clarissa, and Karen arrived at County Court of Victoria, there was already a throng of people present. There were also reporters and television crews nearby, though none of them appeared to be actively filming or questioning people. After Karen—assisted by Neil who had flown in that morning—had introduced Mason to the assembled Leopards, Mason sidled over to the one Leopard player he knew: Ben. “Is this the entire team?” Ben flicked Mason a tentative smile before looking away. “Most of them. A few couldn’t get time off work.” “Work? But you’re all football players.” “Yeah, but only part-time. We all have jobs, too. It’s only at the AFL level that the players are full-time.” “Like Deon.” Mason looked around. “He’s not here yet?” “No, and given the number of other people hanging around, he’s going to be swamped when he arrives. I keep hearing his name being mentioned.” Mason lowered his voice and put his mouth near Ben’s ear. “What about Dave’s name?” Ben shook his head. “Nothing.” “That’s good.” “Yeah.” Ben glanced over at the idle television cameras. “I hope it lasts.” Mason grimaced but didn’t say anything. He’d been told that the media wouldn’t report the name of the AFL player testifying, but after years of being the son of a politician, he didn’t trust journalists. “I heard you’re going nightclubbing on Thursday night.” Ben flicked Mason another tentative smile. “I hope you have fun.” “I hope so, too.” Mason grinned. “It’ll be the first time I’ve visited a nightclub legally.” He paused. “You could come too, if you want, but I’ve been told it’s a gay nightclub.” “Yeah, I know. Ross has already asked me to go.” Ben glanced around nervously before lowering his voice. “I’ve been there a couple of times already. That’s where I met Mitchell.” Mason held in a grimace. “Boyfriend?” “Sort of.” Ben made a face. “I’m not really sure what we are at the moment. It’s only been a few weeks.” Mason forced a smile onto his face. “Well, I hope it works out for you two.” While he found the Australian football player sexy, Mason wasn’t going to mess up Ben’s relationship for a short-term fling. It would be up to Ben to make the first move. * * * “He’s here!” The words swept through the crowd as Deon was the first to exit the car. Several bystanders had their phones out, recording what was going on, while the Leopards tried to use their bulk and numbers to keep people away. Mason joined in next to Ben. He wasn’t the tallest or broadest one, but he helped. As Karen had indicated, there were enough Leopards with bulk and muscle to provide a human barricade for Deon as he made his way into the crowd. While Deon’s former teammates made a point of greeting him, often with a hug or a soft jab to the arm, Mason watched the crowd. He was surprised to see the journalists and television crews take note of Deon’s arrival, but neither group otherwise reacted. In particular, the television crews watched without getting their cameras ready. Those weren’t the actions of any of the journalists Mason had observed when on the campaign trail with his mother. A nudge brought his attention to the person standing next to him. “Go say hello to Deon,” Clarissa said. “Then, I’ll introduce you to Charlie.” She looked past him and grimaced. “I’ll let Charlie decide whether you should say hi to Dave. He’s not looking too good.” Mason eyed the two guys who were standing off to the side with Neil. Given what he knew, it didn’t take much effort to work out which was which. As Clarissa had said, Dave appeared pale, and most of Charlie’s attention was on his friend. A steady stream of Leopards moved over to say something to the two, but there were none of the physical signs of support that they had been giving Deon. “Shit!” Mason glanced down to see Clarissa scowling at her phone. “What’s wrong?” “Another complication. Deon’s dad just texted me, asking me why Deon is here at the County Court. He must be watching a live stream from someone present.” Mason sighed. Things were getting complicated. * * * Deon checked the time on his phone, ignoring the multitude of text messages and missed calls being reported since he’d set it to silent mode. They were at the courthouse by three, as they had been told, but it was already well after four. “What’s going on in there?” Dave didn’t react. It was as if he didn’t hear what Deon had said. Charlie shrugged. “Who knows? They did say that there was a possibility we may not be called in today, but we had to be here just in case.” Deon’s response was interrupted as one of the doors opened, and the solicitor helping the prosecution slipped out. “Sorry, but we’re not going to get to your testimony today. You’ll need to be back here a bit after nine tomorrow.” “Is there any way we can use a different exit?” Charlie asked. “There’s still a crowd out front, and I don’t think it’ll be a good idea to go out that way.” “Sure. Give me a few minutes and I’ll get it organised. Is your car parked next door?” “I believe so. I’ll have to check with the driver.” “Okay, we can slip you out the back, and you can enter the carpark from the side rather than the main road.” While the solicitor moved away, Charlie pulled out his phone and rang the driver the Hawthorn Football Club had assigned to them, organising where to meet the car. “If it’s okay with you, I’ll text Roger and the others to let them know what’s going on,” Deon said. Charlie glanced at Dave and then nodded. It was another twenty minutes before they were able to slip out unnoticed. Once in the car, Charlie directed the driver to Princes Hill. “Princes Hill?” Dave asked, speaking his first words since they’d left the courthouse. “The brat’s putting us up for a couple of hours while things die down. He said he’ll take us home after dinner.” Deon flinched. His plans on taking Clarissa out for a surprise dinner were no longer viable. If he went out in public, he was likely to be swamped. * * * “It’s good to see you again, Neil, even if it’s in such tragic circumstances.” Mrs. Bellweather held open the front door to allow Neil to enter. “Liam told us you were coming down for a day or two, but he didn’t tell us why, so it was a shock when I saw a picture of you at the courthouse this afternoon.” Neil gave Liam’s mother a weak smile. “Sorry, but we’ve been trying to keep things quiet. We knew it was going to be a big deal, but we’ve been trying to not spread the news more than necessary.” “But Liam could’ve told us when he asked if you could stay here for one or two nights.” Neil flinched. “Liam doesn’t know the details. I haven’t told him.” Mrs. Bellweather frowned. “I thought you two told each other everything?” “We do, but this wasn’t about me. He knows that I had a good reason to fly back here, but he knew I couldn’t say why. He understands.” “But if he doesn’t know, then who is the ‘we’ you’ve been talking about?” “The Leopards.” Neil ran a nervous hand through his hair. “We know that what’s going on is causing pain to everyone Rollingford abused, but we don’t need to make that pain more public than it needs to be. That’s why we’re trying to keep things low-key.” She contemplated him for a few seconds and then smiled. “I’m guessing you don’t want to say anything more, so come in and make yourself at home. Noel’s in his bedroom on his computer, and Bruce should be home from work soon. Dinner will be in an hour or so, if you want to freshen up.” “Thanks, Mrs. Bellweather.” Neil picked up his backpack and looked around, uncertain as to where he should go. She chuckled. “You’re staying in Liam’s old room. I think you know the way there.” Neil blushed at the playful tone. Liam’s bedroom was familiar territory. Once in private, he called Liam to let him know where he was and fill him in on his day. They were both hoping he would be able to fly back to Sydney at the end of the next day, but that would depend on how the trial progressed. * * * Clarissa smiled across the table. “This is really nice. I didn’t expect to be going out, especially with everything that’s been going on today.” Deon chuckled. “I didn’t expect to be going out, either, but the brat overheard me mentioning that I wanted to take you somewhere nice, and before I knew it, he was on the phone organising this.” They were interrupted by one of the staff members. “Welcome to Ignition Bar and Grill. I’ll be your waiter tonight, and don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re not bothered.” He winked. “Paul?” Clarissa stared up at the tall Western Bulldogs football player. “What are you doing here?” Paul Crowman grinned. “I used to work here before I got drafted. The brat got hold of me a couple of hours ago, and I called in some favours. Carol, the owner, said I could work tonight as a one-off special just for you guys. Everyone knows to keep their distance and to keep the other guests away, too. I’ll be the only one annoying you, so relax and enjoy your night.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes at Deon. “Did you know about this?” Deon shrugged. “The brat said he’d make sure we’d have a quiet night out. He didn’t tell me how he’d do it, though when he told me where to go, I had my suspicions. I didn’t expect Paul to be working, though.” Paul clicked his fingers. “Oh, and while I remember, I’ve been told the Hawthorn Football Club is picking up the tab, so spend up big.” Paul grinned down at them. “So, what would you like to drink while you review the menu?” After placing their drink orders, Deon and Clarissa spent a few minutes deciding on their meals. When Paul returned, they gave him the rest of their order and then settled back into their chairs. “What did you think about the news reports?” Clarissa asked. “It was good that no names were mentioned, but I had the impression the reporters’ comments were scripted. The way each station avoided any details was just too obvious.” “I noticed that, too. How long do you think the TV stations will do what they’re told? I could tell that at least one of the reporters really wanted to name names, but they’d been told they weren’t allowed to.” “Who knows?” Deon sighed. “I think that will last until a name is confirmed officially. There’s a lot of speculation at various fan sites, but so far, no one has confirmed anything.” Clarissa snorted. “Most of the sites I saw have you as the one testifying. No one is going to confirm that at all.” “Yeah, but I saw a couple of posts saying they thought it was Dave.” Deon grimaced. “As long as only a few are saying it, we need to continue the way we’re going.” “What did you tell your teammates?” Clarissa smiled. “Enough of them tried to contact you that you had to have said something.” “I told them that I didn’t want to talk about it and asked if they could give me some privacy until I returned.” Deon gave her a wry half-smile. “What else could I say? I need to come up with something for when I go back, but I can’t give them the truth.” “Lying will make things worse when the truth comes out.” Clarissa dropped her gaze. “And it will come out, eventually. There are too many people who know.” She looked up, a worried expression on her face. “In fact, I wouldn’t put it past the defence lawyer to leak Dave’s name deliberately. He’ll probably want to stress Dave out since you’ve said Dave’s mental-health condition is well-known.” “Well-known within the AFL. I don’t know if anyone outside of the football community would know that much.” Deon pulled out his phone. “But I’ll send a text to Charlie, just in case. He’ll know what to do.” “And what about you? Alastair’s told you to turn down all media interview requests and to keep as low a profile as you can until the football season starts, but what will you do if people ask you about what happened?” “I’ll tell them what I told my teammates: I don’t want to talk about it.” He sighed. “What else can I do? As you said, lying will just make things worse.” * * * That night, Australian time, a new article appeared on a UK tabloid website: Aussie Footballer in Sex Trial Australian Rules football player Deon Bradshaw has been identified as one of the victims of accused child rapist Fredrick Rollingford. Newly recruited into the Australian Football League by the Greater Western Sydney Football Club, Bradshaw, 19, will be testifying this week about the abuse he received as a junior football player. More to come…
  21. 31 points
    Marlena's memoirs were a Godsend. She had documented her case as well as the case of the other two Telepathic canines that she interacted with. The Beta-Alpha couple were a male-male relationship and it was so tumultuous that the Telepathic Beta never let his Alpha know that he could read his thoughts and they never reached a solid union. The other Omega-Alpha couple was a male Omega with a female Alpha. Theirs was the opposite kind of relationship where there was open trust between them both. Shortly after their first full mating, the two of them were able to read one another's thoughts without any trouble. Marlena's relationship, however, was uneven at first. Though she cared greatly for her Rottweiler Alpha, it wasn't until a year later that they were able to read one another's thoughts. For her, it was difficult to fully trust her Alpha enough to allow him into her mind just as he allowed her into his…at least, in the beginning. I knew how she felt. The only true, unconditional, trust I had for anyone was for my mother. Morgan came a close second. Lexus was a tentative third. It wasn't that I didn't want to trust Lex with my life and with everything that I was…it was that I found it hard to fully trust anyone. Due to my looks, other canines either wanted to befriend me with shallow intentions or use me for their own entertainment. Some canines were jealous of the attention I received…the attention I never asked for. The sound of an incoming text drew me out of my thoughts. My Lexus 7:30PM Finally finished helping out my dad. My parents want to meet you. You already told them about us? I haven't even told my mom yet! Yeah, they were wondering why I kept silencing my phone after 5:30. They call you every day? I only talk to my mom once or twice a week. Is she really busy? No, but she knows that I am. She asks that I call her, not the other way around. She sounds pretty amazing. So, when did your parents want to meet? This weekend, if at all possible. That should be ok. Avi, my parents are…not the kindest people in the world. Is there anything I should do to avoid upsetting them? No, just be yourself. I won't let them do anything to you. Ok. :: I took a moment to phrase what I wanted to say. :: Lex, ever since you claimed me, I've been feeling someone's eyes on us after classes. You have? At first I thought it was just general jealousy, but it's been pretty consistent. Have you felt it? :: Once again, I saw him text and erase, text and erase. :: Not that I know of, he wrote back. :: I was disappointed with his response. If he wasn't going to be honest with me, then I'd have to search for the truth myself. Tomorrow, I would seek out our stalker and find out what his deal was by confronting him directly. :::: The following morning, Lexus thought that my drab mood was due to his having left so abruptly to go see his dad. I let him believe it because the misdirection would help me track down our stalker without his trying to interfere. I felt the glares directed at us during lunch. Lexus sat closer to me and gave me more intimate touches than usual in an attempt to make up for what he felt he did wrong. His proximity to me seemed to really incite our stalker. I almost felt ill from the sensation of being watched so closely. When I first felt the chills, I figured it was all in my head. I thought that the stress of maturing into an Omega and being claimed was getting to me. The invisible daggers being aimed at us were not an illusion. Morgan was also concerned with what he saw on my face. He passed me a note during Humanities class, something he hadn't done since we were in high school. As much as the concern made me smile, I realized I couldn't keep anything from my bestie. :: Hey, what's going on? You look like you're getting ready to start another fight. Remember how I said I felt that Lex and I were being watched? Later on today, I'm gonna find out if it's true or not. What? How? I'm cutting out of my last class a little early and am going down the hallway where I last felt the glaring. Why don't you wait to investigate with Lexus? That's the thing, Lex keeps denying we even have one. No, I have to do this alone. I don't like the sound of that. Just be careful, ok? :: As I had explained to Morgan, about fifteen minutes before the class ended, I excused myself to go to the restroom. I walked down the hallway where Lex thought he had caught his scent. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement. Someone had excited a class. I rushed after them. "Hey, wait!" I called out as I neared the tall figure. When he turned around, I noticed that he had file folders in one hand and a briefcase in the next. He was a scholar. "You lost or something?" the scholar asked and I shook my head. "Sorry, I mistook you for someone else," I responded. I let out a deep breath as he walked away. My feet began to drag as I slowly made my way back. What was I thinking? How could I possibly narrow down who our stalker was if I didn't even know his face? I dragged a hand down my face as I tried to think. I felt someone tug me sideways by my hoodie and nearly fell as I lost my balance. I felt a large hand covering my mouth and the coldness of a curved blade at my throat. The blade was so sharp that I didn't realize it had cut me until I felt blood running down the emblem on my neck. I heard the stranger's heavy breathing and let out a sound of disgust when his tongue licked at my blood. My emblem began to hurt, burning in a fiery rejection. I struggled against him until he pressed the blade against my inner thigh, way too close to the family jewels for comfort. "You're not going anywhere." I knew that voice! Before I was able to make another attempt at freeing myself, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head and my vision darkened. :::: I felt groggy. The lower left side of my head throbbed in pain, as did the emblem on my neck. My lips felt dry. A gag had been stuffed in my mouth, and I found it difficult to think. My body kept wanting to drift back into unconsciousness, but an annoying voice startled me awake. "The albino that got away." My pale lilac eyes settled on a face that was both beautiful and disturbing. He had dark brown eyes, fair skin, and black hair that reached down to his chin. Though his skin was fair, he had imperfections like freckles and birthmarks. I had always envied his looks. His appearance had never been ridiculed or laughed about. "Ashur?" My question was muffled due to the gag. I didn't know what he used to tie my hands behind the chair, but it felt thick and soft. Out of all the Alphas that could have stalked us, I would have preferred anyone other than Ashur. Hell, I would have even preferred Nestor. Though, I had heard through Sabine that Nestor had settled down with a male Beta and the couple lived in another town. Ashur was sadistic and unpredictable. Crazy, I'd even say. I never regretted having turned him down because I knew him to be violent and selfish. Damn, I hadn't even realized that he came to the same campus. A quick glance around made me realize that we were in an empty classroom. How long had I been knocked out? Was there anyone still around? Would anyone be able to hear me? "I've always admired you, Avion," Ashur admitted. The words didn't sound very sincere. "You never gave any ground and always fought back." I swallowed hard. I didn't know where he was going with any of this. I didn't know what he was planning to do. All I could do for the moment was observe. Ashur reached out to roughly tug the top of my hair until my head tilted back. The throbbing on the lower left side of my head intensified. "And then you allowed yourself to be claimed by Lexus of all people…that pathetic, useless dolt." I heard the sound of walking and running outside of the classroom. My eyes lit up with hope at the sound. There were still people around! As if he sensed my thoughts, Ashur used the hold he had on my hair to tilt my neck to the side where my emblem was. I felt his nail dragging down just below the cut, causing pain to flare up. He then leaned down to give my ear a sharp bite. I let out a muffled cry. "I think I will cut this tasteless emblem right off your skin," Ashur growled. "No!" I cried out once again though no one could hear me. Lexus! I felt something inside my chest clench as I sent out the plea. Avi? Avi, is that you? Lex! You can hear me? Ashur has me! Ashur has me in an empty classroom! I'll find you! Just keep talking to me! I felt the blade sliding down to my collarbone and up the other side of my neck. "Or perhaps, I will carve one out of my own," Ashur contemplated aloud. "In a much bigger place, one that Lexus will always be able to see…" I was nearly choked as he roughly tugged at the collar of my shirt and tore it open in the back with the blade. Lex, he's going to cut my back up! Just hold on! I felt Ashur's hands spread across my back and his lips descending on my spine. My body began to shiver in disgust. He bit at the skin and then tugged it sharply between his teeth. "Hah!" I hissed in pain. Lex…I'm sorry. I thought I could confront him alone… We were both startled by the sound of keys opening the lock on the door. Lexus immediately ran in, rushing past the university's dean in the process. I started crying, happy to just see him. I didn't have time to feel ashamed about it. The shame could come later. The blue-eyed Alpha quickly took hold of Ashur's wrist tightly until the blade was dropped from his hand. The Bernese struggled to get out of the grasp, but Lexus adamantly dragged him towards the dean. "You've seen it with your own eyes now, right?" Lexus challenged the dean. "My mate is hurt. You can no longer allow this to continue." I saw the dean lower his head as if in defeat. "I…I understand," he replied. He then slowly walked over to untie me. "You both have my deepest apology." As I stood up from the chair and removed the gag, I had every intention to help Lexus with Ashur. Lexus must have read my thoughts, because he stopped me right in my tracks. "No. Morgan will catch up with us soon. You are to wait here for him and then the two of you are going home," Lexus commanded. "I will deal with Ashur myself." Just a few hours ago, I would have given him hell for using another Alpha command on me. But, at that particular moment in time, I really did just want to go home. The moment I saw Morgan skidding to a halt in front of the door, totally out of breath, I rushed over to hug him tightly. The Beta didn't hesitate to hug me back. "I knew something bad was gonna happen," Morgan babbled. "That's why I told Lex right after class…thank goodness you're ok!" I broke down into more tears while in the presence of my best friend. Morgan decided to skip all of his evening classes to stay at home with me.
  22. 30 points
    The universe stalled, refusing to move forward. Daiko shouted and everything rushed forward. “They’re going to fire!” Torrins braced against Franc’s chair. “Evasive maneuvers!” Franc’s hands flew across the controls and Alpha One Flagship spun and dipped in the viewscreen. The maneuver still wasn’t fast enough to hide the flare of the warcraft’s particle cannon. The Midas Ascending lurched as a violent tremor shook the framework, throwing Arad to the unforgiving metal floor. The power flickered, dimming the lights and equipment displays for a moment. Alarms blared and the emergency warnings flashed in every monitor. Franc righted himself in his seat. “Engines are down!” “Get them back up, damn it!” Torrins sounded as desperate as Arad felt. “They’re not responding and we’re drifting into the star’s gravity well.” “Can we fix it?” A new schematic on Daiko’s screen, scrolled a litany of text at his fingertips. “Damage report shows emergency bulkheads are down. They breached the hull. Better yet, the engine’s venting and it’s pushing us out of orbit towards the star. We’ve already almost drifted past the gravity well’s safe point.” “What about thrusters?” Panic seeped into Franc’s response as he frantically beat on his console. “The damage to the engine is affecting them too. Even they were working right, they’re not enough to escape the warship or keep us from burning.” “Fuck!” Unsure of the next step, Arad sat on the floor rubbing the ache out of his shoulder. “What do we do?” The comm flared to life, the audio of First Commander Bard’s voice was distorted with static. “Captain Torrins, I am under orders to bring back the contraband property or erase it if we cannot. I don’t particularly care which option you choose.” Torrins snarled in disgust. “Kill that comm.” As Franc slapped the control, Torrins resumed pacing, scrubbing furiously at his jaw. Arad swore the deck showed signs of wear. “Franc, talk to me. How much time do we need?” The lights dimmed briefly and everyone scanned the bridge. Hopefully it would hold together long enough. “At least another five minutes.” Daiko’s sharp inhale could be felt as well as heard. “They’re charging weapons again. Time is a luxury we don’t have.” Torrins stopped pacing. Blinding light filled the bridge as the star they’d been orbiting entered the viewscreen, forcing everyone to avert their eyes. Shadows fled in the intensity giving Arad a glimpse at an afterlife he wasn’t sure he’d earned. The brightness made him teary. He shielded his face until the ship turned far enough to move the star out of view once again. Blinking the light out of his eyes, Torrins turned, sweeping his sad gaze over every nut and bolt in the room. Pain, rage, and loss etched lines into his face, each one entangled with the others. The dread pooling in Arad’s gut told him the captain was making a silent goodbye to an old friend in the middle of the chaos. Seconds stretched into forever as Arad joined him. Stomping back to his chair, Torrins growled as he punched the panel on the armrest. “Emergency evac! Abandon ship! Abandon ship! Drop everything and head for the shuttle!” The command could be heard in the hallway, echoing and overlapping, building like the anxious swell in Arad’s chest. It continued to repeat, becoming part of the alarms. Daiko and Franc scrambled out of their seats and sped out the door. With a ragged inhale, Torrins headed for the hallway, ignoring Arad as he bolted. Arad jumped to his feet and followed, because he was not about to be left behind if there was any chance of survival. He’d come too far for this to be the end. The evacuation order continued over and over, mixed with the sirens. Arad winced, trying to block out the noise as he raced to keep up with Torrins. For the first time, he would have welcomed the clatter of footsteps. Lungs burning from fear and exertion, Arad managed to shout at Torrins over the bedlam. “You’re going to get in a shuttle and escape? That’s insane! What makes you think you can outrun a military vessel of that size? It’s big enough to block out the sun!” “The shuttle’s cloaked. They’ll never see us until we’re long gone.” Arad thought back to how the warship had found them in the first place when Franc said it shouldn’t have. “How can you be sure?” “Staying on board isn’t an option. We’ll end up in prison or the morgue before that commander is done. I choose none of the above.” They turned a corner to find Tank allowing Nixta to enter the mini-airlock to the shuttle first. “Cap, what the fuck is going on?” “Corporate warship found us.” “Son of a bitch.” Tank dipped his head, turning his body to step through. It was the only way his bulk would pass the threshold. The crew were strapping themselves into sturdy chairs with Franc and Daiko already at the helm powering up the lifeboat. It would be a tight fit for all of them, but Arad wasn’t picky by habit. Serene caught sight of Arad, and her standard discord flared. “Torrins? What do you think you’re doing?” “What?” “There’s only room for six.” Her piercing stare rooted Torrins in the doorway. Franc glanced Arad’s way, then turned front along with the rest. Arad felt the disconnect more than ever. The captain paused in a moment of indecision. “Torrins, get a move on! We don’t have time for this bullshit!” With a tight lipped growl, Torrins spun to face Arad. The captain’s brow creased hard. His entire frame quaked with the unsteady stance of the guilty man. Regret stained his words in ugly colors. “Sorry, kid. You were fun, but this is what we hired you for.” Torrins gave Arad a hard shove, pushing him clear of the hatch. It swung closed with a loud clang, leaving Arad on the other side, trapped on the wounded ship.
  23. 29 points
    “Mr. McKenzie, are you going to join the rest of the class?” Dr. Crest asks from the front of the room. I slowly raise my head off the desk, I look over and I feel my twin’s eyes burning into me. I just give him a shrug. “Sorry, was a long night at work.” I offer leaning back into the cramped desk. Dr. Crest removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. “Maybe you should consider getting a different job, doesn’t seem like your twin isn’t having these issues, nor do his grades compared to yours.” This gets a chuckle from everyone else in the class, I can feel the heat rushing up my face. This pisses me off I grab my bag and get up from the desk. Fuck this I don’t need this today. “Josh, come on man sit back down.” Joe says to my left. I roll my eyes at my twin, and head for the door. “Mr. McKenzie, the class has just started.” Dr. Crest says. I turn around, “Well according to you I shouldn’t even bother.” I say, and shove open the door. The windows don’t block the incoming sunlight in the hallway and I shield my eyes. Who the fuck even has a philosophy class at 8:30 in the morning anyway. This professor is always busting my balls, and I have had a rough fucking week. I pat my jeans pockets and curse to myself. Of course, Joe has the keys to the car, and I wasn’t about to walk to my Aunt’s house, I like staying there I have my own room unlike at the dorms where I share with my twin. I decide, to go back to the dorm and try and go back to sleep. Unlocking our dorm room, the musty smell of sweat and sex hits me. I look around and there is smell Joe’s football workout clothes everywhere and a few used condoms in his trashcan by his bed. I let out a sigh, I also see he has tossed his dirty clothes on my bed. I just roll my eyes and walk over to our dresser, I figure I will just go shower instead. I grab a clean pair of boxers and walk across the room to our bathroom. I am the clean freak of the two of us. Joe is the typical guy messy. It shows when I don’t stay at the dorm to keep it clean. I turn on the water and wait for it to heat up. We stay in the oldest dorm, so it takes a good five minutes for the water to actually heat up. I check my phone and there is a message from Taylor. “You had a good show last night, we have so many people wanting a private audience with you.” I decide to call Taylor while I am waiting. The phone rings a few times, “Hey baby.” He says his gruff voice over the phone. “Hey.” I reply. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class?” He asks. I roll my eyes, “Class was canceled.” Taylor owns the escort, cam model site. He’s way older than me, and despite him calling my baby we aren’t in a sexual relationship at all. I am the exception to a lot of his rules. Taylor keeps things strictly business with all the “models” if that’s what you want to call us. You have a few options you can perform on a cam show, which is what I normally do. You just get on and well get off and put on a show. Normally there are horny old men that want “twinks” and they will pay for a one-on-one show with us in a private chat room. I get a lot of money from those and normally those are the only shows I do. We also can be escorts, I’ve done it a few times and only when Taylor has asked me too, only because he can charge a ton of money with me we are not expected to do any sexual favors at all, and if we do we can charge them money but it’s known up front that we don’t do that. Even though I know most of the other Escorts do. “Well the professor should have emailed and I wouldn’t have woken you up and you could have slept still. So we have someone that’s wanting you to escort them….” He says trailing off. “No.” I reply stiffly. “Look Josh…he’s been a very reputable person, and he won't want anything extra.” Taylor says. I shift on the toilet, “I want double.” I say. “Ok.” He says. This takes me by surprise, “Really?” “I know how you feel about escorting.” “It’s fine, just as long as you trust this guy.” I say tightly. I can hear his smile through the phone, “I do, he’s been a customer with me for a long time. He is very selective and normally it’s just for an outing. On another note, you had a thousand views last night, and did you really do 4 private shows?” I smile, “yeah I did them, I didn’t go offline until like 4 am.” “Damn boy.” I laugh, “I haven’t had sex in so long okay!” “Well, you should change that.” Taylor says. One of the biggest demands is playing with other models, but it’s strictly against Taylor’s rules that is unless you are with your boyfriend. He doesn’t want his escorts or models creating drama. Most come in to do a few shows and leave, very few ever stay at the house, except me, I normally stay there on the weekends and Taylor doesn’t care like I said I am his favorite. “Well, I think my shower is finally warmed up….I am going to shower and maybe grab some food.” I tell him. “Okay, I will get the details from our guy and see when he wants you.” “Sounds good.” I tell him and hang up. I strip off my jeans and shirt and get under the water. The hot water hitting me starts to instantly relax my body. I grab the dial soap and start soaping up my body, scrubbing the dry lube and cum off of my body, I fell asleep after my last show and didn’t have time to shower, it was probably why I was in such a shitty mood I never work that late on a Sunday, but I have been trying to save for a car. Relying on Joe and Taylor is terrible... I like it, I mean I have one of the highest watch demands. I am slim with natural muscles and a six pack, most of them comment on how skinny I am and my sharp jaw line. They also like for me to look directly at the camera, so they can see my blue eyes. I wash my hair, thinking if I should get highlights in it again or just cut them out. I put it to the back of my mind, I just want to enjoy the hot water hitting me. Then I hear the door open. “Are you fucking serious Joshua!” Joe yells as he comes into the bathroom. I roll my eyes, “What.” I say. “You just walk out of class like that?” Joe says shoving back the shower curtain. It’s not like I was embarrassed by him seeing me naked, we are identical twins so it’s not like he is seeing anything he doesn’t have at all. “Yeah, I wasn’t about to sit there and listen to him lecture and embarrass me in front of the whole fucking class Joseph.” I tell him emphasizing his full name. “Well he’s right, you should come work with me at the pizza place.” He says. I scrunch my nose at that, “No, I make three times as much money in one night. Besides, I don’t have a full ride like you do. I still have to pay for books, access codes, and tuition.” Joe rolls his eyes, “Josh, what if something goes wrong, like someone starts stalking you, and rapes you?” “It wont.” I tell him. “How do you know?” “Joseph, it won’t happen. Plus, I am more careful now more than ever.” I had to be more careful since I was always at a high demand for my shows. “He just shakes his head, have you been tested recently?” He asks looking concerned. I look at him confused, “Joe I don’t sleep with clients. I’m not some fucking whore just because I am gay. I have never slept with a client all I have done is just jerked off on cam that’s it! I can’t fucking believe that’s what you think.” I try to hold back my anger. I can see regret all over his face, “Sorry, I just worry about you. You’re my twin man, and I love you and I don’t want to see you messed up from all this.” “Joe, you sleep around way more than I do, so don’t get me started.” I say. This causes him to blush, “Fair point. I am going to get tested.” He says not making eye contact. I laugh, “So you want me to go with you.” I ask. He nods, “yeah…” “You should have just asked, instead of assumed I would need to be tested.” “I’m not as open with this stuff as you are.” He says. “Can I go back to my shower now!” I ask. He rolls his eyes at me and pulls the shower curtain closed. I hear him flush the toilet and a few seconds later the water turns ice cold. “I fucking hate you!” I yell. I hear him laughing, “Love you too little brother.” “By five minutes!” I yell. “Oh, Aunt Lydia wants us to come over for lunch.” He says from the bedroom. I turn off the shower, “Ok, that’s fine. I need to wash some clothes.” I towel off grabbing the boxers and pulling them on. I walk into the room, and Joe is just laying on his bed. “Do you ever eat?” Joe asks looking at me. “What the hell do you mean do I ever eat?” I ask giving him the are you stupid look. He shrugs his shoulder, “Just you are skinnier, and we are normally the same.” “Anything else you want to inspect on me?” I ask. He thinks about it, “I am bigger than you.” He says with a smirk. I flip him off, “We are identical in every way dipshit.” I tell him. Yes, we have both compared the size of our dicks and we are the same size he just likes to talk shit to me. “So….You had a long night?” He asks genuinely concerned. I start loading my basket, “Yeah, I did four private shows, and just hung out in the chat room.” I tell him. “So, like what do you do in the private chats?” He asks nervously. I sit on the edge of my bed, “Are you really asking cause you're curious, or you just getting ammo to use on me later?” I ask. He shakes his head, “I’m just genuinely interested. I want to know about your job, and life man I feel like we never talk or see each other anymore.” I feel guilt hit me, and I know most of the rift that is between us is because I’m not willing to forgive him. “Yeah, I know it’s just we are both busy.” “So let’s take a day of the week and just hang out.” He says. “Yeah, I guess we could.” I tell him knowing it won't last. “Awesome, so tell me about the private chats?” I feel myself blush, “I mean, they pay a good amount of money for thirty minutes depending on who the “model” is. Some want us to act out roles, others want to just see me jerk off and just give them attention. Except for my last customer he paid quite a bit of money just to talk to me.” “How much do you charge?” Joe asks as he puts a pillow under his body. “100 dollars for thirty minutes, unless it’s a higher demand then Taylor sets the price. Last night was a pretty high demand.” He doesn’t say anything he just nods his head. “Do you make a good amount?” I just smile, “I made a grand last night.” “Damn.” He says shaking his head. “Come on man, get your dirty clothes the room smells like a locker room and sex.” I say crinkling my nose. He laughs, “Yeah I had some company over this weekend.” “Please tell me you kept her off my bed.” “Of course man!.” He says flashing me his perfect smile. I can feel his eyes watching me as I start picking up the clothes that are strewn across our small dorm. I stand up straight and toss pants into a basket, “What!” “Look, I want you to come work with me.” He says. I smirk and shake my head, “Joe, shut up. Don’t ruin the good conversation that we had going.” He lets out a sigh, “Just like I said man I miss you. Plus, I have had to go to your classes, because you have been MIA.” “It’s the least you could do for me since you are the reason I have this job in the first place.” I say with no emotion in my voice. He breaks our eye contact, “I will grab the clothes from the bathroom.” Is all he says dropping the subject. I feel my phone vibrate in the pocket of my jeans, I grab it and answer it. “Yeah?” “How likely are you to do me a favor right now?” Taylor’s gruff voice comes over the line. “I am already doing you a favor.” I tell him sitting on my bed. There is silence on the other end. I know he is thinking of how to pitch this favor to me, “Jay baby, you know you are my favorite. I will cut you 75% of this escort. You know I only do 50%” I shake my head, “You know I don’t like to do that, plus it’s my day off.” “Please baby? I will make it up to you.” He says. “Who is supposed to be doing this?” I ask. “Lane, but his dog died.” Taylor says, and I can tell in his voice he is clearly annoyed. This makes me feel a bit better because Lane is what you would call one of the Top Five. Meaning he is an exclusive escort as am I. “What would I be doing?” “It’s the same client I talked to you about earlier. Lane was supposed to go to a lunch with him.” he pauses. “What else?” I ask. “I am just worried this is a wealthy client and I would like to keep him.” “It’s just lunch??” I ask. “Yes, just lunch he’s a pretty well-known individual in the bigger city. Jay, I know you don’t like doing this, but please you are my last hope, Ryan is already booked, and so is Merrick, and Trent is out of town with a client.” He pleads. “Well if he is well known why he is taking an escort?” I ask. “He is well known, but a private person in the city.” Taylor says. “I mean it’s Aurora Colorado, so he must be from Denver then, You realize this is the second time you have called me in an hour with this kind of request?” I tell him. “Jay, I know that’s why I will have a bonus for you that I know you will love.” “What about the others, they aren’t going to be jealous and asshole more than they are?” Taylor laughs, “well when they get into the top five they can be rewarded too.” “When?” “In an hour, I’m outside and I we have to go back to the house to get you changed..” He says and I can hear the smile in his voice. “Give me a few minutes.” I tell him and hang up. I turn around to find Joe looking at me. “Are you fucking serious?” “I have a job.” “Joshua come on man! We have lunch plans with Aunt Lydia, she has been wanting us both to come over for a while, says she has some news. I run my hands through my hair, “Tell her I picked up another shift at the library for overtime.” He shakes his head, and I can see the judgment in his eyes, I don’t need this shit from him right now. “Whatever man, I guess I’m supposed to keep lying for you then. While you are out there being a rent boy” “Fuck you, Joseph, this is the least you can do for me.” I tell him flipping him the bird “Please, be careful.” He says guilt washing over his face. I nod my head, “I will see you this evening, and I’m asking for this weekend off after this, so if you want to catch up we can.” I see him wince, “I have a date, but we can Sunday. Maybe we can have a family night with Aunt Lydia.” I just shake my head, “I gotta go.” I don’t look directly at him, I know how he’s going to look at me and I don’t want to see it. I put my cell back in my pocket and grab my wallet from the dresser. I leave the dorm room shutting the door. I take the stairs and head out to the parking lot. I see Taylor’s Black BMW waiting. I open the door and the cold Air hits me, “Hey.” I say getting in and shutting the door. I look at the 35-year-old, his brown eyes meet mine, Taylor doesn’t look like someone you would want to meet in a dark alley. He is 6’3 and massive, not fat but built like a tank. His massive brown beard only adds to the intimidation, but if you ever knew Taylor like I do he is a massive teddy bear. He reaches over and puts his hand behind my head and runs his massive fingers through my hair. “Hey, baby boy.” He says in his deep gruff voice. Taylor is not what you would expect he isn’t gay, he has a wife and kids. He keeps his business strictly separate from family life. His wife knows about it since they have ground rules. She doesn’t see the issue as long as he takes care of his employees., and doesn't bring any drama home “Put your seat belt on.” He tells me. I listen to him, he is the type that he won’t move the car unless you do have the seat belt on. After he hears it click, he reverses out of the parking spot. “Happy I say?” I ask. He nods, “Josh, I really do appreciate you doing this for me.” I just shrug and look out the window. I would do anything for Taylor and he knows that he really has been good to me. “As long as I am paid.” I say letting out a half laugh. “What’s on your mind? Joe at the dorm?” He asks. Taylor knows the strained relationship I have with Joe. He helped me a lot through it. “Yeah, we were supposed to go over to my Aunt’s for lunch. I should make an appearance soon, I haven’t seen her in a week.” I tell him. He gives me a once over, “Well after this one, and the next job I am making you take two weeks off.” I start to protest, but he cuts me off, “I will make sure you are paid. You look like hell Josh, you aren’t sleeping, and you are looking skinnier than usual.” I just sit back in the seat, I know when to argue and when to not argue. “I could use a few weeks off.” I say. “When is the last time you went out and had fun?” He asks. I shrug my shoulder, “I don’t know. Between school and work, and family drama it’s been a while.” “That’s why I am making you take off. You need to go enjoy the money you make, I know you haven’t even spent a damn dime of anything you have made have you.” I shake my head, “I just want to make sure in case anything happens, that I have something to fall back on.” He doesn’t say anything, we ride in silence, pretty sure he was turning into the driveway of the house, and parks into the garage. I get out of the car and make my way into the house. It smells good in here, the cleaner must have just left. I make my way through the kitchen into “my room” this is just the base house, no other model has been to Taylor's actual house or met his family, but I have. “What are you going to wear?” he asks standing in the doorway crossing his massive tattooed arms. “Is it some role play thing or what?” I ask. He shrugs, “I don’t know, but keep it casual.” I walk over to my closet and pull out my black skinny jeans they have massive holes in the leg, but I look fantastic in them. I grab a pink colored shirt, in the closet is a standing rack, and I grab a pair of purple silk boxers. I look over to Taylor to see if he approves, and he nods his head. I kick off my shoes, and take off my shirt, and drop my pants along with my boxers. I hear Taylor sigh, “What?” I ask turning around to face him. being naked in front of Taylor is no big deal. “You are too skinny. You will come to my house for dinner.” He says. “What about Julia, I know how she feels about you bringing work home.” I say. He scowls at me, “She doesn’t consider you work. She was the one that insisted I bring you home when we found you a few years ago. How much do you weigh?” he asks. “I don’t know, can you get off the weight subject?” I ask getting defensive. “Have you been tested recently?” He asks. “YES! You know this I am clean I don’t have anything, I haven’t even had sex in a long time.” “Get dressed. The client is here.” He says looking down at his phone. He has this ring doorbell that has a camera in it. I watch Taylor leave my room and shut my door, I slip on the boxers and get dressed, I don’t want to keep the client waiting too long. I make my way out into the “living room.” Where Taylor is sitting with the client. I can tell the man is in his late 40’s. He stands up and he towers over me, I won't lie and say it doesn’t intimidate me I am only 5’11. He puts out his hand, “I’m Mr. Castiglione. I hear I get the pleasure of your company twice this month.” His voice was smooth. I just nod, not trusting my voice. Being around older Gentlemen intimidated me, and it wasn’t helping how this man carried himself. His graying dark hair, and blue eyes. He had white teeth and dressed and a nice grey suit. He was in shape I could tell how the shirt fit across his chest. “Not a boy of many words, is he?” Mr. Castiglione looks over a Taylor. Taylor laughs, “Jack, has never been a massive talker.” I just smile, at the use of my fake name, we had an issue about a year ago, when I had a stalker and Taylor made us start using fake names. Mr. Castiglione looks me up and down, and I make sure to not make eye contact with him. “You ready to go Jack?” He asks. “Yeah.” I finally say not trusting my voice to say anything else just yet. I don’t know what it is about him that intimidated me, he was friendly and was actually attractive for an older gentlemen not saying older gentlemen aren’t attractive. Mr. Castiglione said his goodbye to Taylor and led the way out. He unlocked his Aston Martin I just looked at him stunned, “This is your car?” A smile spread across his face, “Yeah it’s one of my toys. I figured I would take it out for a spin today.” I get in the passenger side, and he got in as well the smile still on his face. “So, I figured we could go into Denver and get a nice lunch.” I nod my head, still trying to wrap my mind around being in a car that is worth more than my life. “Y..yeah, that’s fine sir.” He laughs, “Please don’t call me sir. So, Taylor said it took some bribing to get you to agree to escort me twice.” I feel my face heat up, “Yeah I don’t do escort services at all.” I tell him. “Why not?” He asks. I shrug my shoulders, “Just not really comfortable with it, and people that rent us usually expect something.” “They expect you to have sex with them?” He asks looking over briefly taking his eyes off the road. “Yeah, and I’m already naked on cam most of the time. I’m just not able to…I don’t know how to explain it.” I say looking out the window. “You don’t like feeling like you’re selling your body?” He says. I shrug my shoulders, “I guess so.” “Well you don’t have to worry, I don’t expect you to have sex with me. Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t have sex with anyone younger than thirty.” “I’m eighteen.” I tell him. He laughs, “exactly.” “Then why am I here?” I ask boldly. He rubs his chin, never taking the other hand of the steering wheel. “I am a very successful businessman as you probably could have guessed. I don’t get the pleasure of having a lot of company around, it’s a lonely life. They never tell you that once you become successful and reach your goals that you would be so lonely at the top. I find the company of others nice, I thought it was going to be someone else, but there was a family emergency.” “Yeah, there was.” I don’t offer more than that to him. “So do you have a boyfriend?” He asks. “I have a twin.” I blurt out. He glances at me, “Is he gay as well?” I laugh, “not at all. He’s the all American football jock.” “Are you two identical or fraternal?” “Identical down to our toes.” I say, laughing because I feel like a dork for saying that. “Does he know?” I look at him, “know what? That I am gay, or that I’m a cam model/escort?” “Both.” He says. “He knows.” Is all I say. I think he picked up on the fact I didn’t like that subject, so he didn’t ask any more about Joe. We don’t say anything enjoying the car ride. Pretty soon, he pulls off the interstate and onto a busy downtown street. I am taking in the building when he pulls to the curb. A younger guy in a uniform approaches the driver side. “Hey Mr. Castiglione, I will park your car.” We get out, and we are standing in front of a large building. “Where are we?” “It’s the Palace Arms. I think you will like it.” I follow him in, and they seat us. I felt out of place, I was dressed way down for this. “Relax Jack.” “I just didn’t think we’d be in some fancy place.” I tell him. He laughs, “You are fine. So are you in college?” He asks. I nod, taking a sip of the water that was placed in front of me. “Yeah, for now.” He looks at me strangely, “What do you mean for now?” “I have to work a lot.” I tell him. He ordered for me, we didn’t talk about anything important, and I finally started to relax around him. He was really nice. Before I realized I scarfed down all the food it was time to go. “Well, I have enjoyed this. I am going to take you back now. I have to get on a plane to my New York office.” “Wait you have an office in New York?” I ask amazed. “Yeah, I also have my own private jet.” He says winking. “That’s awesome I have always wanted to go to New York.” I say. He thinks for a minute. “How about you come with me next weekend?” “What?” I ask in disbelief. “I will take you to New York with me.” “I, don’t have the money for that.” “I didn’t ask about money now did I?” He says handing a card to the waiter. “I mean, I would like to….but…” “Jack, I have no interest in your body.” He says firmly. “Besides my best friend is having a party and I think you would enjoy it.” He says smiling. “Doubt it. I will talk to Taylor.” I say. The waiter comes back and hands him the card, “Come, I need to get you back home.”
  24. 29 points
    I splashed some water on my face in the bathroom and looked at myself as I dried it with a towel. If there was one thing in the world that I didn't bother trying to fight, it was sun. I did not play with the sun. I always had a long-sleeved hoodie that could protect me from its rays and long pants. I carried a bottle of spf 30 with me at all times in the zipper pocket of my pants, which I quickly reapplied. I didn't think much of my appearance, as I was used to the stark paleness that came with lack of color. In my early teens I tried dying my hair just for kicks, but I felt it made me look even worse, so I allowed the color to fade. I kept my hair generally short because it was wavy and could easily become unruly if left to its own devices. But, when it was no longer than 2 inches on top, it was easy to manage. While human, we didn't have any of our canine features, but my yorkie form also had similar wavy fur. The only time my nose turned pink was when I got sick and had to wipe the skin raw. The tips of my ears and my lips were pink, but that's about it. I had no freckles or markings of any kind. All of the paleness made my eyes stand out in contrast. They weren't really lilac in hue, it had something to do with the lack of pigment in my irises and the blood vessels being visible. But, lilac was how the world perceived them. After I closed the cap of my sunblock and tucked it away, I looked back into the mirror to see a familiar set of amber eyes staring at me. I had to do a double take. "Whoa, is that you, pink-nose?" Derrick the Doberman asked. I turned around to look him in the eye and had to crane my neck up. I was 5'7" (170cm). Derrick, he was at least 6'3" (190cm). "You still trying to fight me?" I questioned, and he actually looked chagrined. I almost felt a sneeze coming on, but then I realized it was just my newly adjusted Omega nose taking in his scent. Waffles, of all things, and muted. Someone was actually bonded to Derrick. Who knew? "About that…" Derrick replied as he hunched his shoulders forward and placed his hands in his pocket, looking very much like a kid told that he had to go sit in time out and was guilty about it. "I tried to find you again for weeks to say sorry for being such a dick, but I couldn't find you. I know I say a lot of shit without thinking, but you'd think that after turning 21, I'd have learn to control that habit." He scowled. "The point is, you had every right to lash out like that and for a Beta…wait, Omega? I thought you were a Beta." I instinctively covered my neck where my faceless stalker's emblem rested. "What's it to ya?" I retorted. He actually chuckled. "Jeez, are you always this defensive? I have nothing against you being an Omega," he said as he headed towards one of the bathroom stalls. "Well, whether you believe me or not, I really am sorry." I shuffled my way to the door, but shot him smirk. "Apology accepted. I wasn't any less of a dick that day. So, I'm sorry, too." I caught sight of the surprise on his face as I finally left. I think the two of us were finally seeing each other in a different light. If he weren't an Alpha and if I weren't an Omega, we could have actually been friends. :::: Though it took me a while to bury down the traumatic events of that morning in order to concentrate on my classes, I think I did well. At least, until around lunch time. Morgan had a class during my lunch break, but Sabine easily found me and kept me company. I always ate inside to avoid the sunlight as much as possible, so it was always a good feeling that my few friends preferred to hang out with me instead of sitting outside. "So, I was thinking of getting him those Husky brand shoes he keeps drooling over for his birthday," Sabine mused aloud. "Oh, he'll love you for life if you go that far," I snickered. "Are you ready to actually form a bond with him?" "Maybe," she replied with a grin. "It's still too soon to tell." The smile on my face fell when I remembered that I didn't have that kind of choice anymore. Sabine noted it immediately and apologized. "Shit! I'm sorry, Avion, that wasn't very thoughtful of me." She admitted. A moment of silence washed over us both for a while before she spoke up once more. "And you still haven't been able to figure his voice out?" Sabine asked. I shook my head and let out a little groan. "I'm trying not to think about it too hard." "Hey pink- crap, I never got your real name. No more name-calling from now on, I promise," Derrick called out as he approached us. Right beside him was a young woman that was about four inches taller than me, and she wasn't even wearing high heels. "This is my mate Deziray, Dez, these are…" "Sabine and Avion," Sabine filled in. "Nice to meet you! You guys wanna sit with us?" Derrick actually looked to Deziray as if to ask if it was okay and only sat down when she sat down. That small notion made me curious about their relationship. Didn't the majority of Alphas boss their Omegas around? And Deziray was definitely an Omega. I didn't know what her canine form was, but my nose kept telling me she was an Omega. "Avion," Deziray tested out. "Your name's as tricky as mine." "Yeah, you wouldn't believe how many times I've been called Avon over the years," I responded. "Ha! Try 'Desi-rah' or 'Dezray.' I feel your pain, believe me," Dez countered. "Derrick and Deziray…if you two ever got married, even your names sound cute together," Sabine stated. "You have that double "De" thing going." A blush actually formed on Derrick's face, which didn't go by unnoticed by Deziray, who promptly pressed her finger into one of his pink cheeks in a gentle teasing manner. "My blushing groom-to-be. Though, marriage is still a few years away. Yeah, I gotta admit that it's gonna be fun sending out the invites with both our names." "You two are waiting to get married?" the words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. The couple before me was just so different compared to those that I had seen before. "Deziray's studying to become a nurse and wants to work for a few years before we get married," Derrick explained. "And I'm taking over my family's auto shop, so the first year or two after graduation will be busy for us both." "Good for you both," I commented. "Sorry if I sound so shocked, it's just that the other Alpha-Omega couples I've seen barely even waited to graduate high school before marrying and having kids." "I understand why they would," Deziray admitted. "Strong bonds like the ones between Alphas and Omegas can be overwhelming at times. But, I figure that if we already know we're in it for the long haul anyway, then what's the rush to have kids?" "It's harder on the Alpha to curb the need to throw caution to the wind and mate without protection," Derrick confessed. "But, it's just primal instinct. You don't need to go bareback to form the bond and, once it's in place, then that need calms down." "That's amazing," Sabine acknowledged. "I wish you both success and, when the time comes, I better get an invite." "You're officially on my list," Deziray decided, flashing a smile. "Both of you." I never had such a long conversation with a mated couple before. They left before us due to their class schedules, but I actually hoped to talk to them during lunch every day. "You know what," I told Sabine. "I think this is the first time that one of my fights actually turned out for the better." "Hey, just because those two are more mature than we thought doesn't' mean that you should continue going around picking fights," Sabine admonished. "It's not like I start them!" I argued. Sabine began to argue back, but I ended up tuning out her words as my senses narrowed down to one thing. The scent of dark chocolate. I didn't know how to explain it, but the scent of an Alpha was different than the scent of real food. An Alpha's scent carried a specific presence. I stood up and looked around, desperately trying to identify the face that went with the scent. But, then it was gone. Had he walked past the table? How long had he been around? "Hey, are you ok?" Sabine asked, concern bleeding into her voice. That was when I realized that I was clutching the zipper of my hoodie with two trembling hands. "I-I'm fine. I just thought…" "You are not to accept any other Alpha's intentions or affection. The same goes for Betas and even other Omegas." But, Derrick and Deziray didn't treat me with that kind of intent or affection. I didn't break that command, not in the slightest! So, why did it feel like the Faceless Alpha wasn't pleased with me? :::: I was tense the rest of the day. I was barely able to concentrate on my remaining classes and an anxiety began to build inside of me as I walked out to the bus stop. Though we commuted together on the way to MU, it didn't necessarily mean that we'd end up taking the same bus back. The classes were all different hours. "Don't move and keep facing forward," the command was whispered into one of my ears. Well, shit. I felt him tracing the marking on my neck with his finger. While it wasn't unpleasant, I was quickly becoming aggravated with the way he kept trying to be the one in control all the time. "Why are you hiding?" I continued to question him. "Why can't we talk about this like adults?" Seeing Derrick and Deziray opened my eyes to the possibility of having an equal and mutual relationship even between an Alpha and Omega couple. If they could have that kind of balance, why couldn't I? Why couldn't we? "I'd like nothing more than for us to talk like adults," the Alpha admitted. "Especially after seeing how friendly you were with that Doberman earlier even though he had humiliated you on the first day of classes." I frowned. "You saw all that? And what does Derrick have to do with anything?" "How easily you forgave him," he whispered as he rested his chin on top of my hooded head and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. I could have easily tugged them off, but as my hands lifted to take hold of his arms, they merely rested on top of them. I had to force myself to think through the haze of his scent. Forgiveness. He was talking about forgiveness. "Is there something I need to forgive you for? On top of all of these theatrics, I mean?" Mere moments before, I was so tense and anxious. I was also afraid of what the Faceless Alpha was going to command me to do. But, his touch was gentle and almost soothing. Could he have really done something to me in the past that needed forgiving? Instead of answering me, let out a long sigh and let me go. "When you get on the bus, you will not look in my direction, not even when the bus takes off." "So that's it, then?" I hissed. "You won't show me what you look like, but you have the audacity to half claim me with an emblem?" "…can I take that to mean that you weren't upset about the kiss?" I felt myself bristling from head to toe. I wanted to deny it adamantly. But, something in my gut urged me to be honest. I took a deep breath and folded my arms across my chest. "That's…not exactly the issue here," I grumbled. I could all but feel his hope rising. For a moment I didn't know whether I should be relieved or annoyed about it. Why would I want him to have any kind of hope at all? What the hell was wrong with me? "Then, am I allowed a parting kiss?" "Parting…you're not getting on the bus?" I asked. "I don't normally take the bus. My car was in the shop," he confessed. "A friend's dropping me off to pick it up." "Oh." "May I?" he all but pleaded. I gulped hard. I was currently living my 'worst case' scenario in terms of maturing into an Omega. My body had quite easily accepted this Faceless Alpha's emblem. He was apparently someone in my past, someone that needed forgiving. And instead of facing me, he ordered me around this way and that. I had every reason not to allow him so much as a handshake. And yet… "I mean, I guess. If you must," I heard myself answer. Either I was an idiot or my second head was trying to take over my mind. I heard him give a happy laugh. "Then, keep your eyes closed." I still didn't know what possessed me to agree to it. Maybe it was because he had actually asked that time and gave me the choice. Maybe it was to try to throw him off-balance. But, I had to admit that when I felt those soft lips against mine once more, I regretted nothing. The Alpha must have meant for the kiss to have been a simple one, but I took hold of his collar and kept him in place as I all but ate at his mouth. A satisfaction filled me when I felt his tongue stutter against mine before allowing me to do as I wished. When we both pulled away, I found myself biting my lower lip. I wanted to see him. I wanted to understand. For reasons that I couldn't figure out, a part of me had already accepted him. I wanted to know why. "You can open your eyes, but remember not to glance my way." The command came towards my right before I felt him walk away behind me. I tugged on the edges of my hoodie as I hunched down over my knees. Why couldn't I have matured into a Beta, instead? :::: I shared a reasonably priced apartment with Morgan about twenty minutes' commute from the campus by bus. The two of us worked on the weekend and his grandfather sent him money to help with expenses once a month. Morgan was studying criminal justice and had always wanted to be a police officer like his grandad. I received the first text message when I started to make dinner. Morgan's classes were scheduled all over the place, so he usually got home three hours after me and left one hour before me. Faceless Bus Stalker 5:30PM Did you get home safe? Yeah, why wouldn't I have? Just checking. …so, did you pick up your car? Yeah, this auto shop's the best. Would you like for me to pick you up tomorrow? You could sleep in a little longer. Wait, do you know where I live? Not the exact location. Don't believe that for a second. How else would you know that I'd be able to "sleep a little longer?" Avi, my intention isn't to scare you. You don't have to say yes. I haven't given you permission to call me Avi. I don't think anyone's ever called me Avi. …then, may I have permission to call you Avi? …I guess. If you must. Thanks, Avi. It'd be nice if I knew what to call YOU. Other than Faceless Bus Stalker, that is. Did you seriously rename me Faceless Bus Stalker? Yes, and you will remain FBS until you show me your face. I will. I just need time. I mean, how the hell am I even gonna get into the car if I have to keep closing my damn eyes? You'd just have them closed until I stand behind you. Does that mean you'd let me pick you up and drop you off? :::: Fuck. Did that mean that I wanted him to pick me up and drop me off? Even with the prospect of more sleep, it was still shady. Hell, everything was still shady. :::: Let me think about it. I'll get back to you. As I said before, you don't have to say yes. Although, I would like nothing more than for you to say yes. :::: Alright. Think, Avion, think. I knew a lot of Alphas back in high school because many of them tried to mess around with me. Some were jealous of my grades. Others were struggling with being gay or had shoddy parenting. But, the point is that they tried to take their shit out on me. There was that Akita that looked like he had swallowed dung after my project was named the best of the class. He made my life miserable in science class. But, he wasn't that much taller than me and, unless he had magically bulked up, there's no way that he was my Faceless Bus Stalker. There was the Boxer whom I had helped during one of our History classes and then turned around and started making fun of me with everyone else. Thanks to him, I grew to really distrust alphas. But, once again, the Boxer was short and stout. Then there was the Bernese Mountain dog, Ashur, who was as vain as vain could be. He was freakishly tall, but had a similar build to FBS. I turned him down when he asked me out quite forcefully and he became one of my more prominent bullies during high school. And then, there was the Husky. I felt a shudder roll through me and ended up grasping both my arms as if it would help me get warmer. Nestor the Husky had some major issues. Best friends with Ashur, the two of them just wouldn't leave me alone. I never found out whether it was because Nestor was a homophobe or was beaten up at home and lashing out or both. But, I couldn't have been gladder when the whole lot of them finally graduated. All four of them were Juniors when I entered my Freshman year of high school. For two whole years, they had targeted me. Could my Faceless Bus Stalker be one of them? Could he be Ashur? Could he be Nestor? I felt another shudder run through me as I shook my head. If FBS was either one of them, I wouldn't hesitate to move out of the country and leave his ass behind, unfinished bond or not.
  25. 29 points
    The one regret that changed everything. It was eight o’clock in the morning and the contractors were back to work, filling my house with the obnoxious noise of renovations. I crumpled my pillow into a ball and shoved my face into it as I let out a frustrated cry. Lately, I’d been spending most nights with Aaron since my house is basically nothing but bones with a bedroom, but after Friday night, I was basically exiled until I figured out how to fix things with Donovan. The bastards didn’t care if I personally fixed my relationship with him, they only cared about themselves and if Donovan hated them. That meant I was back at my house; where the bathrooms had no doors, the kitchen was gutted, the floors were plywood, and the walls were studs. It was barely livable. I shouldn’t have been living there, but I was. Of course, neither living in this construction hellhole nor getting the cold shoulder from my best friends were the reasons for screaming into my pillow. Donovan. Sweet, sexy, smart, funny, sassy, and smoking hot, Donovan. The things I’d said, the look on his face, and the hurt in his green eyes. Those were the reasons I’d screamed into the dark abyss of my feather pillow. I’m surprised I heard the chirp of my phone (indicating I had a text) over my release of emotions, but I did. I didn’t want to look because I had a good idea who it was and he wasn’t anyone I wanted to talk to. I was confident it wasn’t from any of my friends, and it definitely couldn’t have been from my boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend (I couldn’t bring myself to use that term, not yet). One would think Donovan had made himself clear, but I hadn’t quite reached the acceptance stage. It was funny because, in the past, none of my breakups had that effect on me. If they wanted to break up, I said, ‘okay, good times’ and gave them a handshake before they walked out of the door. I never thought twice about the split. Donovan was the first person I actually wanted to date and spend time with, but old habits die hard. I grabbed my phone while holding on to a sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was texting me. There was a strong internal battle raging as to whether or not to look at the phone. On one hand, if I didn’t look then the possibility of Donovan wanting me back was alive and well, but if I looked, I’d know it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him. It was Davis. Fucking Davis Hollingsworth. *** *** *** *** I’d met Davis the previous week, about a potential commercial remodel job. The job was a big one and would keep me busy for a while, if I could get it. It was a hospital that was going to undergo not only extensive remodeling, but additions, which was why they needed me. Davis worked for Samaritan Health Corp. and was in charge of overseeing the entire project, including hiring contractors such as myself. I’d never been one to suck up, but it was a big job and I really wanted it. I was respected in my field but was still considered a small fish. This contract would bump me up considerably. Life might not revolve around your success but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying to climb that ladder. Having the hospital job in my portfolio would allow me the opportunity to pick better, more sustainable jobs, which was why I allowed him to leach onto me. Since he wasn’t local, he asked if I’d show him around. I didn’t want to, but decided I needed to be friendly. As far as mistakes go, friending Davis had been a big one and I hadn’t been able to shake him since. I didn’t tell him about the Friday night game, but I’d accidently let it slip that I was going out with friends that evening, so he invited himself along. Everything happened so fast and the next thing I knew, he was following me into the bar. Davis was obviously gay and very obviously interested in me—a feeling that wasn’t reciprocated. I hadn’t had a chance to tell him about Donovan, both because I didn’t have time and had no interest in sharing anything about my personal life with him, which made everything incredibly awkward when we sat down. I’d already been fighting with Donovan, which was my fault. Before arriving at the bar, I’d had every intention of sitting him down when the night was finished and explaining everything. Donovan didn’t look happy when he saw Davis follow me in and Davis didn’t look happy to hear Donovan was my boyfriend. I was stuck in an awkward sandwich in which I only wanted Donovan, and Davis could choked on a straw…after I got the contract. In a perfect world, Donovan and I would’ve rubbed our blissfully happy relationship into Davis’ face, but we weren’t talking so, instead, I awkwardly sat next to Donovan. I’d told him I wanted to talk when we were finished, he agreed, and about two seconds later, he became pissed because I offered to get his drink refilled. That was pretty much the point when the night went to shit. As Donovan stormed off, he took his friends with him and I watched them dance for a while before Davis started dropping comments about Donovan—he was obviously jealous and didn’t like him. I, mostly, ignored him as I followed Donovan and his friends around the bar with my eyes. That’s when a Britney Spears song came on and everyone forced him to dance. The dance itself was terribly cheesy, yet hilarious. The best part was watching Donovan—the guy could dance and watching his body move was my favorite pastime. Watching him move only gave me more motivation to leave so we could work things out, so then I could ravage his smoking hot body. I watched them hysterically laugh as the song finished and then they pushed each other toward the exit. I couldn’t help but smile at Donovan’s carefree spirit. He looked especially good laughing. “Donovan is seriously hilarious! I love that guy.” It made me happy to know my friends liked Donovan, almost as much as I did—Drew could’ve toned it down a bit, but I wasn’t worried. Davis asked about Donovan and his friends, so we took some time to explain how we’d all met and about the night we’d all gone to the club after they beat us for the first time. “So, you’re into guys like that?” Davis asked. I felt his judgement and something inside of me panicked. I shrugged and nodded, too afraid to say something that might offend him. Hindsight… “I think you’d do so much better with someone who’s not so...you know?” I knew what he was implying and I would’ve been lying if I’d said there weren’t moments, in the past, when it was a little difficult for me—mostly because my dad, as great as he was, had really fucked me up. “Sometimes he can be overly, boisterous. Like tonight.” “Yeah, that dance was terrible! I was cringing the whole time. You’d never do anything like that, would you?” “Of course not.” And I wouldn’t have. I’ve never like attention and I’d always shied away from things like public displays of affection, karaoke, school talent shows, dancing at weddings with less than six beers or three hard drinks, or tripping on air. Basically, anything that might bring unwanted attention, which was any attention. “I didn’t think so, because you’re not like that,” he smirked but I shot him a hard glance that told him to watch it, that he was treading on very thin ice. Davis looked around the table and realized he wasn’t surrounded by Donovan haters. “Seriously though, you’re different. It’s my experience that not all gay guys are created equal. I guess to each their own. I for one, wish there were more guys like you. You’re cool and chill. You’re a man, you play sports, you live life. You don’t try and prove yourself by waving the flag or...doing a ridiculously embarrassing dance to Britney Spears in the middle of a bar,” he laughed. Kurt looked at me with his mouth agape, unable to process how ridiculous this guy was. That he’d be talking shit about Donovan in front of us. We couldn’t help but laugh, not at what he was saying but at his cluelessness. I was already on shaky ground with Donovan, and as much as I wanted Davis’ contract, it didn’t come close to how much I wanted Donovan. Davis was treading in sinking sand and none of us were gonna pull him out. I was still staring at Kurt, thinking about the day dad had taken us all to watch a baseball game and tried to justify my sexuality by saying I just like a tight ass. My father has said a lot of really ridiculous things in my life but that topped them all. On the plus side, we’ve gotten a lot of mileage from that ignorant statement. We were still laughing when I they noticed the smirk on my face. “Well...yeah, I mean—I’m not a fag or anything, I just like a tight ass. We were the only ones at the table that were in on the joke and we were about to lose our shit over it, like we did every time one of us said it, when I saw Donovan. According to the look on his face, it was obvious he’d heard (at least) a little of our conversation. I knew I was fucked the second I saw him. I wanted to stove everyone out of my way and rush to him and explain the conversation. If he heard my tight ass comment I knew he’d never give me the time of day. Instead of doing something noble, I sat there terrified, totally mute, as he put on a pretty decent exit show, including a spot on impersonation of Ross and Rachel’s “We’re So Over” fight. A few minutes after he’d stormed off my brain started to function again so I grabbed my jacket and started to make my way out of the booth. “I’m going to go talk to him and clear the air.” Drew stopped me. “I think you should let him cool off, first.” I disagreed. I didn’t think this was something that could wait, but they held me back. I sat back and glared at everyone—I wanted to punch them, Drew specifically! He loved to interfere with Donovan and me and he really loved to side with Donovan. Deep down, I knew I shouldn’t have listened to them and I should’ve gone after Donovan to straighten everything out, but as I always did, I second-guessed myself—if the three of them said I shouldn’t, then it was probably the right choice, right? “Fine, but I’m skipping tomorrow so I can fix things with Donovan.” Again, everyone shook their heads no. “No way! This is our annual family reunion, you’re not going to skip it for some boy!” “You make it sound like I’m sixteen! Guess what, I’m not and Donovan’s not some boy.” I hadn’t ever had feelings for anyone the way I did for Donovan, and we hadn’t even been dating long. He’d challenged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, in all of the good ways. Maybe my friends didn’t see it, but it didn’t matter. I’d had enough! I wasn’t going to sit there for a minute longer and feel worse than I already did so, with haste, I continued to move out of the booth so I could go home. Drew put his hand on my chest in an attempt to stop me. “Where are you going? You know you can’t go to his house.” “Why? Because you have plans to go, instead? Get out of my way. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” I threw his hand off of my chest and walked out. By the time I got home, I was furious with everyone, including myself. I felt like the Hulk as I stormed around my shell of a house, ripped the plastic off of my bed, pulled the spare sheets out of storage, and brought my travel bag in from the truck. I was stripping down when I heard my phone chirp, indicating an incoming text. Donovan! My heart raced as I slipped my shoes back on, ran to the kitchen where I’d left my phone, and swiped my phone. [Davis] Hey good looking. If you want company tonight let me know It would’ve been the best text ever…if it wasn’t from Davis! I wanted to throw my phone, but that wouldn’t have solved anything, in fact, it would’ve only added to my frustration. Plus, I’d never know if Donovan had tried to get in touch. Instead, I ignored Davis, crawled into bed, and thought about Donovan. I didn’t sleep as I debated whether or not to ditch the reunion the following day, so I could see Donovan. Of course, as it turned out, that wouldn’t have worked because he was at the reunion. *** *** *** *** The whole day was a joke. First, I found out that Donovan was Donny Allerton. I cannot count how many times I wanked to his google pictures back in the day. He looked different now; ten years older and less muscular, but still hot as fuck. I couldn’t believe I dated him. Not only that, but he was friends with our grandfathers, in my co-ed league, and he’d kicked our asses. I’d fucked him and fucked things up with him. I followed him around with my eyes, upset that I couldn’t talk to him. There were a thousand reasons why, which included the fact my entire family was there, including my dad, but mostly Donovan wanted nothing to do with me. It was hard to watch him interact with my family knowing I couldn’t be by his side. It wasn’t just me, he wouldn’t talk to the rest of DAKS either. I felt like such outsider by the end of the day. Most of my family were ignoring me, my dad crossed a line, DAKS were pushing me to fix things for their own selfish reasons, and I missed Donovan--who left shortly after the game. I left as soon as I could slip out unnoticed, and went straight to his house. I was tired of being told I needed to wait. Every minute I wasted was another minute I didn’t get to be with him and the further and further away he became. Of course, he wasn’t alone. Why would he be? That would’ve meant something was going my way and that was plain, fucking crazy! Oh, no, all of the DONNAs were there and they were all drunk, especially Donovan. Not wanting to dig myself any deeper, I didn’t acknowledge the fact that seeing nearly-naked Donovan wearing a tiny pair of eighties-inspired, boy short undies was what my fantasies were made of. The maroon, with white trim, undies beautifully contrasted against his dark-olive, sun-kissed, smooth, flawless, and perfect skin as they hugged his tight waist and lean thighs. Donovan, Donny Allerton, wearing sexy boy shorts. Yeah. He looked good. The mud mask was definitely funny, but he still looked hot. He was drunk, though, and being drunk, especially with an audience, was a terrible scenario so I left when he asked me to leave, but if he thought he’d seen the last of me, he was going to be disappointed. I was good at that, disappointing people, but I wanted to fight for Donovan. I didn’t think he’d give me another chance, and I knew I didn’t deserve one, but I was going to fight for one anyway. People worse than I, get chances like a cat with nine lives. I drove back to his house the next afternoon—unlike the night before, Allé’s van was gone, so that was good. I got out and knocked on the door a few times. Either he was ignoring me or he was gone. I was counting on the latter. I’d been so focused on the door, I hadn’t heard the car pull up. “Looking for someone?” I turned to find the strangest person I’d ever met…Allé. He was wearing courduroy, flared pants with an orange and red, paisley shirt. According to Donovan, I didn’t have a great fashion sense so I had no right to judge. “I was hoping to talk to Donovan, but—” “But he’s not here. Work stuff,” he looked unamused. “Of course, work stuff.” Duh. He’d always worked on Sundays. I tapped my fist into the palm of my hand as I walked back to my truck. It was fine, I’d try again. You know what they say—if at first you don’t succeed, stalk them until they get a restraining order against you. “I’m supposed to go to brunch with him on Wednesday. The plan is to meet here at ten. I have a feeling I’m going to be busy. I’ll probably send him a text around ten after, to let him know I’m bailing. It’d be a shame if he didn’t have anyone to go with.” He dropped a manila envelope through the mail slot on the door then walked back to his car, which was parked behind my truck. Was he actually giving me a leg up? I watched him with uncertainty as he met my gaze and smiled before reiterating. “Wednesday. At ten.” He actually gave me an in. Donovan might have Allé’s balls for what he did, but that strange man was actually helping me out. For the first time all weekend, I smiled as I stepped off of the curb and, with a smile, pounded my hood as I walked to the driver’s side of my truck. “Wednesday at ten!” I shouted back. *** *** *** *** As frustrated as I was with Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s brief conversation with Allé had given me hope. It didn’t mean Donovan would respond, but it’d give me time within his schedule to try. Not wanting to get out of bed yet, I looked at my phone once more. [Davis] Breakfast? Fuck no, you idiot! [Shane] I’m already working so I’ll see you for our one o’clock meeting That was a lie, of course, although I did have some very important things to do. I needed to win back Donovan. *** *** *** *** The only good thing about Davis was the fact he didn’t require a suit and tie for meetings. Business casual was my favorite working attire. Normally, I didn’t put much effort into my outfits (unlike Donovan) because frankly, I didn’t care. Today was different. There was a one-in-three chance the hospital I might get to work on was Donovan’s workplace. For the life of me I couldn’t remember which hospital he worked. I wasn’t going to stalk him, but if there was a chance I might run into him, I wanted to look good. It was a no brainer to wear the dark-wash jeans he’d picked out—the ones that led to the epic, mirrored blow job—a cream shirt and green blazer (tied together with a leather belt), and shoes. I didn’t too look bad. On the way to the hospital, I wondered how I could casually stroll through the pediatric areas. Were they close to where I was going to be? Were they accessible to the general public? Would it be part of the included tour? If so, how would Donovan react if he saw me? Would he make a scene in front of my potential bosses? Did I care? By the time I pulled into the parking lot, I was a hot mess. But nothing prepared me for how I’d feel when I spotted Donovan’s white 4Runner in the parking lot. Samaritan was his hospital and he was working, so I blasted the AC and tried to cool off so I wouldn’t be a sweaty, nervous mess when I walked in. I psyched myself up on the way through to parking lot. I needed to focus on the meeting and then, afterward, I could casually run into Donovan. Fuck. I was so distracted by the thoughts of Donovan that I’d forgotten all of my paperwork in the truck, so I jogged back, grabbed it, and then hustled back to the building. So much for the AC cool down. I was almost to the building when I spotted a stray German Shepherd that donned a blue vest and, after a quick glance around, no one to claim him, which was strange for a service dog since they weren’t usually too far from their master. I wanted to give him a good rub down, but when a service dog is wearing its vest, that means they’re on duty and it’s frowned upon to overly pet them. As I snapped my fingers and pointed to the ground, I commanded. “Sit.” I smiled as he obediently sat and debated whether or not to leave him while I went to my meeting or take him to the front desk. I was interrupted before I came to a decision. “Moscow! You sneaky pup.” I turned around and came face to face with brilliant green eyes and perfect brown hair. It took him a second to realize it was me, and when he did, he didn’t look all that happy about it. His disappointment didn’t stop me from smiling when I saw him. Then I smiled a little more when I caught his eyes roaming down my body. “I didn’t know you had a service dog.” His eyes narrowed. “I don’t. I bring service dogs to visit kids in the Oncology unit, you know, just doing my part to embarrass all of the normal gays of the world.” I cringed. I hadn’t expected that comment and I hated that he had that kind of ammunition, but I totally deserved it. It was my fault. Donovan hooked a leash onto the dog and started to walk inside so I followed. “I deserved that.” “I know, that’s why I said it.” “You have every right to hate me.” “I know, that’s why I do.” He wasn’t make it easy, that’s for sure. He punched level five on the elevator—I needed six—so I waited with him. “Could we get lunch or coffee? Or just ten minutes to talk?” His features softened as he actually thought about it while he looked down at Moscow, who was sitting perfectly next to Donovan's leg. Donovan was wearing scrubs covered with dogs—very fitting. No doubt, he’d planned that out. After the world’s shortest elevator ride, we stopped and the door opened on level five. Donovan tugged Moscow’s leash to indicate they were leaving, but paused and turned toward me. I could tell, by the hurt and angry look on his face, his answer wasn’t going to be favorable. “I’m pretty busy. You know, being a fag and all.” He tugged on the leash again and Moscow followed him out as he carelessly waved over his shoulder. “See you around, Shane.” I’d royally fucked things up. If the contempt that oozed off of him was anything to go by, I had a lot of work ahead of me. If I’d thought too long or hard on it, I would’ve been easily overwhelmed, instead, I’d decided to take it day by day. I just needed to focus on small goals, such as having a conversation without him throwing all of my failures into my face or not looking as if sharing oxygen with me might kill him. Baby steps. Wednesday, at ten. *** *** *** *** I did it. I got the contract. It took eight signatures from seven different people, but it was mine and it was time to rub shoulders. It’s annoying how that works. People who’d barely had it within themselves to say two words to me before, were suddenly patting me on the back and shaking my hand as old friends would. The glass double doors on the other side of the room were open. It was my ticket to leave, but since no one was in a hurry to leave, getting there would’ve been problematic. I felt yet another hand on my lower back as they swooped in from behind me. “Congratulations, Mr. Kelly!” Davis’ tone was more seductive than it should’ve been and his body was closer than I would’ve ever voluntarily chosen for it to be. A shiver of disgust ran down my spine and I felt like scum for emotionally whoring myself out for the job. I’d allowed his creepiness to slide so I could get the contract, and then regretted it. If it weren’t for the giant check they’d handed me after signing, I would’ve walked out. Fortunately for me, I could put up with a lot of things for big checks. “We should celebrate with dinner and drinks. Maybe even a late start tomorrow morning.” He winked after his repulsive suggestion. I glanced at the doors again and wondered which would be less obvious—taking a running start, sliding across the conference table like Jason Statham, and running for freedom, or shatter one of the floor-to-ceiling windows with a chair and jump to my death. If either had been an option, I would’ve done it. I tried to school my features so I’d look less like I’d rather jump to my death and more like I was disappointed that my schedule was conflicting. “As great as that sounds (which it didn’t), I actually have plans tonight. Plus, I doubt Donovan would be keen to it and besides, as you know, I’m currently in the dog house.” Davis dramatically rolled his eyes and smirked. In another life, one where Davis wasn’t overly creepy and gross, he and Donovan might’ve actually been friends. “No offense, but I’d hardly call getting dumped in public the dog house. I mean, have you even talked to him since Friday night?” “I was at his house Sunday. I also saw him this morning before the meeting.” His confident smirk morphed into a frown as my words sank in. I wasn’t interested in filling in the gaps with the truth. I wanted him to make assumptions that weren’t favorable to him—or us. Davis opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted when I was dragged away. “Mr. Kelly, I have a few people I’d like you to meet.” He pulled me to a small group of men who were heads of various departments that would be affected by the project. There had been talk of taking a tour of the hospital and the areas that would be under construction, but we ran out of time so we settled for introductions. It was the last man, Mr. Humphrey, who caught my attention. He was the head of Pediatric Oncology and I’d realized I was shaking his hand with more sincerity than the others. “On my way here, I rode the elevator up with one of your staff members who was on his way to Oncology to surprise the kids with a service dog. I thought that was a great idea.” “I would have loved to see the look on their faces! Donovan’s always going above and beyond for those kids.” He looked at his watch and rocked his head back and forth as he contemplated something in his head. “He’s supposed to be there for another thirty minutes. I always enjoy being there for special events like this, but I missed it since I was here. I was planning on stopping by on my way out, if you want to join me.” “That’d be amazing. If it’s not too much to ask,” I smiled, excited, yet nervous to see Donovan again. “My pleasure.” I could tell by the look on his face, it really was. “That sounds fantastic, I’d love to go, also. You know, kids and dogs,” he sang as he slid himself into our conversation. His going along would ruin everything. I was walking on broken glass already and showing up to Donovan’s work place, with Davis, wouldn’t have benefited me at all. Hoping they’d take the bait, I suggested. “Is it a good idea for a lot of people to walk through there at the same time, with all of those compromised immune systems and all? It seems like a bad idea. You guys go ahead and I’ll just wait until another day.” “You’re absolutely right. We don’t want to overwhelm them. Davis, since you’ve been there before, I’ll take Mr. Kelly,” Mr. Humphrey responded. Davis frowned and watched as we said our goodbyes and left the conference room. We took the elevator down and Mr. Humphrey signed us in at the front desk before we were buzzed through the secured double doors and, as we walked, he talked about his vision for the hospital and pointed out some of the potential changes he’d like to see. The walls were colorful and full of fun paintings that ranged from professional to those that were obviously done by the kids. As we made our way down the hall, I’d glanced into some of the rooms and noticed most of the residents were missing. It wasn’t long before I found them, as we turned the corner into a giant recreational/living room with couches, big bean bags, games, books, toys, televisions, and everything kids could dream of. Every spot was filled with kids. Some had IV bags hanging behind them, some were in wheelchairs, and some were sitting without restrictions. Moscow was lying on the floor, with several kids surrounding him, but no one paid him attention. Nope, everyone was paying attention to a good looking nurse wearing puppy scrubs. The hot nurse raised a small remote and started the music. Everyone was smiling and laughing as Donovan and his three minions started swaying to “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I didn’t look away as Mr. Humphrey nudged my arm, moving us toward the show, and excitedly said. “You’re in for a real treat. Donovan is a crowd favorite and is always putting on a good show. Come on, you won’t want to miss this!” Just as every performance I’d seen before, this was just as flawless. His moves were smooth and perfectly timed, and his face was happy and expressive. What the kids had lacked in technical skill, they made up for by being adorable. Donovan was so engrossed in the kids and the dance that we were able to watch the routine completely unnoticed. When it was over, he used the remote to pause the music before speaking to the crowd. “Okay, lazy bones! Get up and show me what you’ve got!” As he motioned for them to get up, some of the kids happily jumped up while others moaned and groaned, but slowly made their way. I turned my head in surprise as Mr. Humphrey’s voice boomed over the crowd. “Do you mind if I join?” He asked the small crowd, then smiled as he walked toward the kids and nodded for me to join. I shook my head and found a nice spot to awkwardly stand. Donovan smiled. “Of course! It’s always a pleasure when you join us, Nick.” As Donovan smiled at Mr. Humphrey (Nick), he also looked at me as if to ask, ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’ I smiled broadly and tried to play the cute-and-innocent-one by waving to him with my fingers, which he didn’t find amusing. It wasn’t a total loss, I did receive a class Donovan eye roll. Once again, Nick tried to get me to join in. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the dance, everybody knows Thriller, but it was more the fact that my “spirit animal” was a hippopotamus, and not ones in Disney movies that could dance. I shook my head and gestured that I was perfectly comfortable where I was. “Do we let strangers watch and not participate?” Donovan asked the kids. A roar rang in response to his question. “No!” “What do we do when strangers won’t dance with us?” The next thing I knew, I was being pulled to the stage area by a mob of small people. I could’ve easily overpowered them, but it was frowned upon to beat up kids undergoing cancer treatment, which only left me with one option—to join them. As they shoved me into the lineup, I looked at Donovan to find him smiling at me—well, not so much smiling as smirking, but still—he appeared to be quite happy with his ability to manipulate me into dancing. If dancing made him happy, then I’d dance. He started the music and everyone began moving. I was prepared for him to play Thriller, again, but I was wrong. Instead, we were listening to remax version of Little Einstein’s theme song. It’s one thing to dance to a familiar song, it was quite another to try to dance to a song I’d only ever heard when hanging with my nieces and nephews. Just as I knew would happen, I’d stumbled over my own feet, and a few innocent children, as I tried to follow along. I was a few counts behind on every move and missed every transition. By the time I’d caught on to waving my hands in the air, they’d already moved on to the next move. I was a few rows in front of Donovan so I couldn’t see him, but I felt his eyes on me as he watched me fail, miserably. On the other hand, I had a perfect view of Nick and it was obvious, by his moves, it wasn’t his first rodeo. For an old guy, he could dance quite well to children’s songs. I sighed with relief when the song finally ended and the room erupted into applause as the kids dispersed around the room. Nick laughed as he squeezed my shoulder, “Well, you tried!” “Yeah, well, I’m not exactly fluent in children’s song and dance,” I laughed at myself. “You were great. Kids don’t care if you’re good, they only care that you’ll try. Come on, I want to introduce you.” I followed him toward Donovan, who was talking and laughing with a few of the older kids. Their conversation ended when they noticed us approaching. One blonde boy in particular, had watched me with interest. Nick introduced me to Donovan and his three amigos—Calvin (the overly interested blonde), Evan, and Owen. Calvin’s eyes widened with amusement. “You’re Shane! Shane, from the videos and Snapchats! I thought you looked familiar!” I had no idea what he was talking about. Videos? I’ve never been in a video. Snapchat? I didn’t have one of those. “I can’t believe I’m meeting Donovan’s boyfriend!” Calvin exclaimed. My head snapped up and all thoughts of videos and secret Snapchats disappeared. Donovan had talked about me? They knew about me? I turned my attention to Donovan, who looked slightly uncomfortable, and smiled. Nick looked between us with confusion and amusement. “I didn’t realize you two were dating.” Donovan opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He’d panicked and I knew he wasn’t going to correct the situation, not in front of everyone. “It’s only been a month or so, nothing serious,” I offered with a genuine smile and a nonchalant shrug. “Nothing serious my butt! You’re in every single video that Donovan shows us. Plus, his Snapchat might as well be called Shanesnap since you’re the only thing he ever Snaps or has on his story.” I chuckled as I watched Donovan avoid my gaze. He was always so confident and sure of himself, so I allowed myself to enjoy watching him squirm as a preteen unknowingly revealed all of his secrets. My insides fluttered from knowing he’d found me captivating enough to share with others. All of the times we’d been together, he’d secretly taken videos and pictures and sent them to his friends, including his patients—that’s how much he’d liked me. That alone made up for the total disregard for my privacy. The blonde was oblivious to Donovan’s not-so-subtle gestures to shut the hell up, so I asked him. “What kind of videos were they?” He looked at his friends, as if they’d help jog his memory, and smiled, “Well, most of them are of your butt. According to Snapchat, Donovan’s obsessed with your butt.” Once again, my eyes snapped to Donovan, who was desperately shaking his head at Calvin and his friends, but that didn’t slow the kid down as he held up his fingers and started to count with them. “There was the superzoom of your butt when you were catching, another one, of your butt, when you were running bases while he played the “Bubble Butt” song in the background, a few boomerangs of you eating and working out, a cute one of you setting the dinner table, and a morning—” Donovan tried to push him away, “Okay, I think he gets it. Go be annoying elsewhere.” Calvin slipped from his grip with a smile and continued. “Nurse Doo Doo always talks about you. He says you’re kind of a stupid boy, but you tick his boxes, so—” Donovan tried to interrupt. He was not amused by the conversation, but no one paid attention to him. “Oh, my god! Will you hoodlums shut up?!” I looked at the boys, quizzically, and asked, “What boxes?” “You know! Requirements for dating someone. There are negotiables, like having all your teeth, a driver's license that’s not suspended, and a bank account that’s not overdrawn.” He paused as he tried to remember more so Owen practically shouted. “Soft hands!” Calvin informed Owen that it was considered a non-negotiable and he won’t budge on those. I looked at Donovan with surprise. Soft hands? That’s a requirement? I’d have to make sure I moisturized more often if it was going to be that big of a deal. What else did I need to know? Being happy to gain as much insight as possible, I inquired. “What are some other non-negotiables?” “Nothing that you know anything about!” Donovan covered Calvin’s mouth with his hand. He’d tried, unsuccessfully, to push them away. Instead, they started to laugh and Evan decided to pick up where his friend had left off. “I can’t remember his non-negotiables, but with the way he goes on and on about you, I don’t think you have anything to worry about…or maybe you do?” he raised his brow. “For weeks, it’s been Shane this and Shane that, until last week when he got super mopey. He said something about you ghosting him? Will you stop ghosting him already because he’s annoying when he’s not happy?” His expression was a mixture of seriousness, about not wanting Donovan to be mopey, yet, he laughed as he dodged Donovan’s attempts to silence him. Maybe they weren’t as oblivious as I’d thought. I laughed as I watched Donovan try to control the situation, but I felt terrible because I knew I’d been such an ass to him. It wasn’t only the fact I’d run out of his house a week ago and ignored him, or even what I’d let happen Friday. I had baggage and issues that would drop me from his list in a heartbeat. “Okay, that’s enough, everyone. Back to your rooms!” This time Donovan wasn’t messing around and Nick had his back. He shooed everyone away and they scattered like birds in every direction before slowly making their way to wherever they belonged. As I awkwardly stood there, I watched Nick and Donovan usher kids around and do whatever it was they did. I could’ve left, but I wasn’t ready. I knew Donovan was upset, but it was as good of a time as any to at least try to get somewhere with him. I sat on one of the couches and watched Donovan as he interacted with a mixture of grace and confidence that only he could manage. Fifteen minutes had passed before everything appeared to be settled and Donovan passed by. He abruptly stopped after he realized I was still there and had no intention of leaving. “Why are you still here? Do I need to file a restraining order or something?” He stood in front of me, the way a football coach would while giving a serious lecture; his feet shoulder-width apart and both hands firmly holding a metal storage-clipboard over his genitals. Even angry and hostile, he looked good. His brown hair was styled in a quiff and his lean arms were lightly flexed as he gripped his clipboard. “Since I was invited here by your boss, I doubt that’s necessary.” Donovan’s hard look softened as he sighed and shifted his body until he was hugging his clipboard against his chest and his green eyes were almost pleading. “Seriously, Shane. What are you doing?” “Seriously?” He nodded. “I want to talk. I really, really want to talk.” “There’s nothing to talk about.” “There’s lots to talk about. At least, there’s lots for me to explain.” “There’s nothing I want to hear.” “How do you know? You have no idea what I have to say.” “Excuses, lots of excuses.” I let out an annoyed sigh. “I guess there’s only one way to find out.” “Then I guess we won’t be finding out.” His eyes narrowed with defiance as I stood up so we were chest to chest. “It’s not a negotiation.” He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “You have every reason to write me off and I have no doubt you will, but not until I have a chance to talk. It doesn’t matter how much you resist, we’re going to talk sooner or later, just accept it.” I wasn’t angry, but I wasn’t exactly happy about Donovan’s attitude, either, regardless of what I deserved. Donovan pursed his lips, but didn’t say anything. I took a moment to let my eyes wander across his gorgeous face, especially the curve of his slender nose and the contour of his cheekbone. I’d missed him terribly and it took all of my self-control to not caress his cheek with my thumb. I wish I could’ve gone back one week. If I could’ve done it again, I never would’ve yelled at him and stormed out of his house. I would’ve stayed and explained everything but, in the moment, I didn’t think he’d understand. Yeah, I’d been stupid before, but leaving that morning was the one regret that’d changed everything—the “what if” of all of my scenarios. “Please?” I half begged. So much for not negotiating. “Maybe. We’ll see.” “Okay. Maybe is a start,” I smiled. Donovan rolled his eyes. “Maybe is only maybe.” I decided it was time to leave while I was ahead—progress was going to come in small doses and I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. I’d never thought that way before. Relationships were convenient and nice, but I’d never tried to make them work before. Either they were a relationship or they weren’t—it was black or white, no grey. Living in the grey with Donovan had been different and it made me feel as though I had something to strive for, someone to be my best for—a future.
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