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  1. 71 points
    “RITCHIE!” “WHAT?” The brothers stared at each other. CJ, atop the stairs, was annoyed; his younger sibling below smirked. Further words were unnecessary. The confrontation was another episode of an ongoing battle. As much as he enjoyed holiday trappings, CJ had manifested his weariness with the barrage of Christmas music heard wherever he went. “If you don’t lower the volume, I’m gonna fuck you up.” “Scrooge! Why are you so cranky? This is a great song!” The tune in question—“Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses—had been released years before either was born. It was seventeen-year-old Ritchie’s favorite seasonal song, and he expressed his love of it by cranking up the decibels whenever it played. He lowered the volume for all others on the playlist. “Mate, give it up. Our brothers are down there together. If I know Spence, he’s egging Ritchie on.” Owen clamped a hand on his husband’s shoulder and steered him back towards the kitchen. “Then, I’ll fuck them both up.” CJ grinned when silence enveloped them. His brother had cut the feed to the first-floor speakers. Eschewing a large celebration after his twenty-first birthday bash the previous year, CJ opted for a family dinner Monday night. He and Owen, Ritchie and his girlfriend, Lucy, César and Brett, and Spencer and Tilda gathered at Annie’s Paramount Steak House in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The restaurant and the multitude of other eateries and bars in the vicinity catered to the area’s substantial gay population. CJ and Owen were regular visitors; management knew them and delighted in providing a birthday cake while staff and patrons joined in singing “Happy Birthday.” On Christmas Eve, following a day of sightseeing, the Australian visitors and their American hosts landed at Fish—Chef José Andrés’ outpost at the MGM National Harbor—and at the casino afterward. They staked seats at a roulette table but abandoned them when the minimum bet became one hundred dollars. “Hey!” César held his phone aloft for his son to see. “Before you ‘fuck ’em up’ and we have to clean up the blood, how about we call your grandparents?” “I’ll take care of them outside. Pink snow will look pretty on the side yard.” CJ knew before the day was over, their guests would gather around the blazing firepit with cigars and after-dinner cocktails. CJ’s paternal grandparents and his maternal grandmother were on a two-week cruise circumnavigating their native island. The voyage—a joint present from their children and grandchildren—was the first time any of the three had returned to Cuba since their exile. It was an opportunity to visit their birthland and a chance for Olga Santos to spread her deceased husband’s ashes on Baracoa’s sandy beach. “Dude, are you gonna open one of those bottles?” Brett pointed at the case of wine sitting under the Christmas tree by the front window. “Not sure, Captain. Santa CJ gave them to me for being good this past year.” Owen wiggled his eyebrows. “Really good now I think about it. What about you? Have you been naughty or nice?” His relationship with his father-in-law and fellow surfer was outstanding; the teasing was nothing out of the ordinary. Earlier in the day, they had all gathered at the townhouse for a casual breakfast and gift exchange. Owen surprised CJ with a Georgetown University graduation ring on which he had the generic stone replaced with a real, blue sapphire. The Aussie’s present was a case of Biondi-Santi 1975 Il Greppo Brunello di Montalcino CJ purchased at auction. “He better not uncork it unless he plans to share with me.” Spencer had joined the group in the kitchen. “That Ritchie spends way too much time playing pool. He ran the table on me, and he’s doing the same with Patrick right now. Beast!” The other men joined CJ’s nodding. “Yeah, he spends as much time hitting the cue ball as he does playing with the flight simulator. Or pulling his pud. What are Brad and Tilda doing?” Patrick Kennedy, home from college, maneuvered his brother’s wheelchair over the cobblestones of the shared driveway soon after breakfast. The Boston University sophomore traveled to Washington with his mother, Hilary, and his stepfather, Mac. His father and his husband, Tom and JP, had invited the Boston couple to join them for Thanksgiving and now for Christmas. Until Brad became accustomed to his artificial legs, it was easier for the others to travel. César and Brett insisted they all come over on the twenty-fifth, assuring them they had been included in the count given the caterer. “I’d be careful, Spence. His dick wasn’t blown off. Lately, Legless’ had bouts of the horns a lot.” “CJ!” “Sorry, Oz.” CJ shrugged. “I meant he only lost his legs, Spence. His other appendages survived. Your brother hates it when I call Brad Legless.” “Here you go, Preston. This is from CJ and me. Merry Christmas.” Owen handed the Amtrak porter a card with two hundred-dollar bills inside. “Thank you, Mr. Liston. You too, Mr. Abelló.” The man stuck the envelope in his back pocket as he tipped his red cap. “Will you be celebrating New Year’s Eve in New York?” “That’s the plan, my man.” CJ took a step sideways so the attendant would have a clear view of the other couple. “This is Ozzie’s brother, Spencer, and that’s his girlfriend, Tilda. They’re here from Australia. We’ll all be in Times Square on Tuesday.” “Oh, my! Good luck navigating through that unruly mob. A million souls and not a toilet anywhere. I hear people wear diapers since they spend hours and hours standing.” “Hopefully that won’t be us, mate. CJ has something else planned.” Spencer and Tilda smiled and remained quiet during the exchange. As soon as they boarded the train and sat, he pounced. “What the bloody hell was that?” “What do you mean?” CJ’s innocent reply hid his amusement. “That! You give the conductor a Christmas card with, I guess, money in it. And he knows both your names? W T F?” Laughter precluded CJ from offering a response. The responsibility fell to Owen. “Mate, we take the same train every month it seems. After a while, you start trading head nods, then a few words, and next thing you know, you’re asking them about their kids or their bum knee. You forget CJ can talk to a wall and make friends with it.” “Asshole!” “Here.” Owen handed Tilda a glass of wine. “The next street over’s Park. Then there’s Madison and after it, Fifth Avenue. That’s Central Park’s boundary. If I know my husband, we’ll ride hansom cabs through the park after dinner. And we’ll walk around there tomorrow.” “Ta.” Tilda leaned over the balcony’s railing, staring west through the concrete canyon. “This is such a lovely view. All these tall buildings! So different from anything in the Hunter Valley.” The sliding glass door opened. Spencer took a step outside and within seconds returned to the apartment’s warmth. “Brrr… too damn cold out there. How do you like the wine?” “Haven’t tasted it yet. You’re right, it’s a tad chilly out here. What are we drinking?” Tilda asked as they all moved to the living room. CJ held the bottle aloft while reading the label. “A Chilean Cabernet. Alma Libre 2017. Not bad. Haven’t had it before, and I have no idea who bought it. My dads and their friend who owns the co-op with them have been here since Ozzie and I last visited.” That evening, Owen’s prediction came true. After dinner at Uskudar, a Turkish restaurant a few blocks away from the apartment, CJ insisted on a stroll through Central Park and a ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages. As usual, CJ was the first one awake. He threw on jeans and a sweatshirt, started the coffeemaker, and slipped out of the apartment. The sun had yet to climb above the buildings to the east when he jogged to Pick-A-Bagel for baked goods, lox, and the usual fixings. “You’re a nutbar! It’s freezing outside and that’s all you wore?” Tilda sat on the couch satisfying her need for caffeine. The sound of two showers meant the Liston brothers were also awake. “It wasn’t bad. I only went a couple of blocks. But it is cold. I cranked up the heat before I left. It’s already warmer in here than when I got up.” CJ dropped the bags in the kitchen and returned with his own mug. “Any ideas what you want to do today?” “Well, Spencer’s told me about places he saw when he did his walkabout before uni.” As the temperature in the apartment climbed, the woman shed the blanket she had wrapped herself in. “I wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty, but he told me you need to take a boat out to it. I don’t think I want to be out on the water in this cold.” “We can head over to Battery Park. You can see the statue from there and take pictures. Whenever we’re down there, we always end up at the Freedom Tower afterward. You’d enjoy that. The observatory on the hundredth floor is sick. The 9/11 memorial makes me tear up every time I visit, and the train station next to it is out of this world. It was designed by one of my favorite architects.” “Shower’s all yours. Tilda.” Spencer, freshly shaved and dressed, stopped for a moment on his way to the kitchen. “G’day, mate. I meant to ask you, what was that large envelope the doorman handed you yesterday when we arrived?” “Yeah, CJ. Why don’t you tell us what’s in the envelope?” Owen’s mocking tone made CJ smirk. “Asshole!” His husband knew what it was; he was certain Owen wanted to see him squirm while weaving a plausible explanation. He was going to throw him a curve. “Admission to New Year’s Eve.” “What?” Owen looked startled. “I thought you were going to surprise them.” “I was. Then I realized you wanted to see me sweat trying to make something up. I decided not to give you the pleasure.” “Who’s the asshole now?” Tilda’s head followed the exchange, her mouth agape. “Are you two for real?” “What?” The three males replied simultaneously. “The way you talk to each other. I swear I’ve never seen anything like it. Anyone hearing you would think you’re seriously arguing. But I can see you’re not. It’s like you guys get off on this.” “Blame it on CJ and his dads. They corrupted me after I moved.” “Fuck you, Oz. Your sarcasm’s always been there. You may have loosened up a bit since we met—” “It’s a defense mechanism, Tilda. I had to adapt to avoid extinction. Brett and César banter like you wouldn’t believe it. CJ gets it from them. Of course, the three of them surround themselves with like-minded people. You know, birds of a feather and all that shit.” Owen stopped when CJ chuckled. “What now?” “Nothing, I just think it’s funny how you view our friends. I need a refill. Anyone else?” Three mugs were raised. “I’ll bring the carafe in. Carry on, Oz.” “Anyway, Spencer can confirm all this. He was around us last year. What amazes me is that CJ and his dads surround themselves with really diverse people. Race, religion, nationality… But they all seem to be clones when it comes to personality. That and being in shape.” Tilda waited until CJ refilled her mug. “It makes sense. You definitely have those two traits yourself. And you nailed it with the birds of a feather comment. It’s natural for people to flock to those they share values with. In this case, those values are smartassness and hunkiness.” “And on that note…” Spencer stood and pulled his girlfriend up. “Why don’t you go shower? I’ll help Owen sort breakfast.” Spencer offered Tilda a hand, helping her out of the taxi. Her head turned, and her eyes followed the line stretching from PRIME’s entrance. “The queue’s ginormous. We’re going to freeze while waiting to get in.” “Ah! A damsel in distress. I shall rescue you, milady.” CJ was in rare form. They spent the day sightseeing with laughter as the soundtrack. He decided Tilda was okay. As far as he was concerned, she could join the family. The martinis prior to dinner and the wine with the meal contributed to his joviality. “JURE!” CJ raised a hand in greeting as he approached the door. “Hi, CJ.” The bouncer smiled, and the smile grew when he spoke to Owen. “Welcome back, Ozzie. How are you tonight, handsome?” The security man had a history of flirting with Owen. “Remember, if you get bored, I’ll be here waiting for you.” “Give it up, mate. Ain’t happening. Hey, this is my brother, Spencer, and that’s his girlfriend, Tilda. They’re visiting from Australia.” “Welcome to New York. I hope you enjoy your time in the city. You’ll definitely have a blast in here.” Jure raised the velvet rope, allowing them to enter without checking ID or paying the cover charge. As always happened, those in line grumbled. “Mate, that was awesome. I like going out with you two.” Spencer may have clung to Tilda a bit more when a couple of guys walked by and undressed him with their eyes. “Yeah, well, don’t get used to it. This is about the only place in New York we get away with it.” CJ held Owen’s hand as he strolled towards the back. “Come on, let’s go see Sean. Ethan texted me he’s already here waiting for us. So are the owners and Tony’s brother and his girlfriend.” They were far from sober when they left the bar at closing time. Mario and Spencer made plans to join CJ and Owen at the gym the next day while their girlfriends went shopping. Back at the apartment, Owen was the responsible one, ensuring everyone took painkillers and drank a bottle of water as hangover prevention. When the reporter and the actor relaxed, signaling a commercial break, CJ sprung to action. Cupping his mouth, he shouted at them. “Anderson! Bradley!” “CJ!” The response was simultaneous and accompanied by hand motions inviting him to climb on stage. Spencer’s request for something extraordinary on New Year’s Eve led them to their current spot. Every December 31st, crowds streamed into New York City’s symbolic heart beginning in the afternoon. The celebration on Times Square had gone on for over 100 years as people gathered to watch the world-famous ball drop at midnight. When planning the trip, CJ and Owen realized they would need to stand for hours if they wanted to secure a good location from which to enjoy the festivities and discussed alternatives. CNN’s Anderson Cooper had interviewed CJ during the 2016 campaign. Owen met him the following summer on Fire Island, and the men had remained in contact. CJ’s latest appearance on the TV anchor’s show took place during the promotional tour for Bullies Beware. The envelope couriered to the apartment the previous week contained four passes allowing them access to the network’s area on New Year’s Eve. “What’s this? A Coopers convention? Do I need to change my last name?” CJ shook hands with Bradley Cooper as soon as he reached the raised platform. “Man I haven’t seen you in ages! I didn’t know you were gonna be here tonight.” “We’re in town, and Anderson convinced me to stop by. We’ve been talking about my latest movie.” The film had a limited release before Christmas, and rumor was the actor was in line for another Academy Award nomination. “Hate to interrupt the lovefest, boys. We’re coming out of commercials.” Anderson motioned for the four visitors to step back. “CJ, stand outside camera range while we finish the segment. Next break will be a long one. Commercials, remote reports, and more commercials. Your group will be on afterward.” The reporter had been agreeable when his young friend explained the night’s plan. A graduate of Georgetown University, Bradley Cooper returned to The Hilltop now and again. CJ met him when the actor screened A Star is Born on campus the previous year. School administrators asked César and Brett to host a cocktail reception for him, and he had remained in touch with the fathers, CJ, and Owen. “I’ve never done this before.” Tilda held her hair out of the way while the four friends were fitted with lapel microphones and earbuds. “There’s nothing to it.” CJ jammed his Hoyas knit cap back on his head once network personnel finished adjusting the equipment. “I was nervous the first few times. Just ignore the camera. Make believe we’re not on TV. Or that millions of people are watching.” “Asshole!” Owen whispered, but the microphone broadcast his words to the control booth. “Careful with the language, please.” The disembodied voice was heard by all through their earpieces. Spencer covered his microphone with a hand, before adding his own comment. “You’re such a wanker, CJ. Now that’s all we’re gonna think about.” “That’s a wrap.” It was the director speaking in their ear again. “You have a fifteen-minute break, Anderson.” The anchor passed the handheld microphone to an assistant. “Why is it I’m not surprised you two know each other?” He pointed at Bradley and CJ. “We’re both Hoyas!” The actor plucked the hat off CJ’s head and stuck it on his own. “You guys know my husband… That’s his brother, Spencer and his girlfriend, Tilda. They’re visiting from Australia. This will be their first time on air. Be gentle with them.” “Be back in a minute, guys. I need to use the porta potty.” Their host left them alone on the stage. “Nice to meet you, Spencer, Tilda. Welcome to the US.” “Thanks, mate.” Spencer was calm, but Tilda seemed star-struck. She shook hands with the famous actor but did not say a word. “How long are you guys in town for?” The woman at last found her voice. “We fly to California on the second.” “Perfect!” Cooper turned to CJ. “What are you doing tomorrow?” “Recovering.” Owen’s response was confirmed by CJ’s nod. “Brunch and maybe we’ll catch your new movie.” “Nah… You can do that any time. Or I’ll give you a DVD of it. Irina”—Irina Shayk was the man’s partner and mother of his daughter—“and I are having friends over. I want the four of you there.” “When and where?” CJ did not bother consulting with his companions. He was certain they were all agreeable. “Any time after ten. Let me text you the address.” The man grinned at Owen while tapping on his phone. “I bought a townhouse in the Village. I remember your wine connection, Owen. You’ll like my new place. The cellar holds a thousand bottles or so.” “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I just met Bradley Cooper! My girls back home will never believe it.” Tilda blabbed non-stop. “They will when they see the pictures.” Spencer returned his phone to his back pocket. “And if he was serious about going to his house tomorrow, I’m sure we’ll get more.” “Oh, he was serious.” CJ raised his own phone. “He already texted me the address.” “Okay, boys and girl. We ready to do this?” Anderson Cooper clasped a hand on CJ’s biceps, his other one firmly affixed to the shoulder of the man accompanying him. “CJ, have you met Andy?” “I haven’t before.” He stretched a hand out to Andy Cohen, the show's co-host. “But I know who he is. Nice to meet you, Mr. Cohen.” “Please, it’s Andy. Anderson told me about you. We’re about to go on air. Relax and you’ll all be fine. We’ll talk a bit about each of you and about how it’s already 2020 in Australia.” “We’re back in New York. Andy’s returned from cavorting with the crowd, and we’re joined by four special guests.” Anderson’s eyes sparkled, and his smile shone as he faced the camera. “I was not cavorting. I was working.” Andy sounded indignant, but his grin did not falter. “Those man-on-the-street interviews are hard after a few cocktails. And some of those men were just plain hard. The muscles!” “You or them? Anyway, I met CJ Abelló during the 2016 presidential campaign. He appeared on my show a few times. Later, he introduced me to his husband—” “They’re married? There goes my fantasy.” “Hush. As I was saying, I met Owen Liston, and we’ve remained in touch. Last year, CJ published the acclaimed Bullies Beware. I was lucky to interview him again. Happy New Year, gentlemen.” CJ’s experience was evident when he didn’t hesitate. “Same to you and Andy, Anderson. Thanks for having us. Hey, let me introduce you to our companions. The guy’s Owen’s brother, Spencer. The lovely lady’s Tilda, his girlfriend.” “G’day, mate. Happy New Year to you too.” Spencer sounded calm, but incessantly patted his coat’s front pocket. Andy’s eyes shot wide open. “Oh, em, gee… You’re Australians! I looove the accent.” He was hamming it up for the camera; he was already aware of their nationality. “Hush. Stop gushing.” Anderson sounded like an annoyed parent. “Tilda, you haven’t said a word. How are you tonight?” “I… I’m a little nervous but good.” “Nothing to be nervous about, dear. Why don’t you tell us about yourself and how you ended up with these three ruffians?” “Hey! Watch it with the name calling!” Owen’s quip and chuckles were apparently enough to calm the girl. “Well, I’m from Pokolbin. That’s a town in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. I’ve known Spencer and Owen since I was little. Everyone knows the Listons! Their winery produces—” “Wait, wait, waaait.” Andy raised both arms and bent his wrists so the palm of his hands faced upward. “You’re all Australians, and you own a winery? I’m in love.” “Hush, Andy.” Seldom shy, CJ left Cohen with his jaw reaching for his chest while Cooper laughed. “They are Aussies. I was born in Miami. If you’re a good boy, maybe we’ll bring you a bottle of the family wine one day.” “YESSSS! I’ll have you on my show, and we can do shotskies all night.” His eyes raked over CJ and Owen. “Can’t really tell under all the layers, but I suspect you both have rocking bodies. Maybe we’ll do the show shirtless.” While Owen shook his head, CJ nodded. “Sure thing, buddy. I hope your network has deep pockets. We’ll do your show shirtless, but you’ll have to make a six-figure contribution to a charity of our choice.” Anderson rolled his eyes. “Are you two quite done? Sorry, Tilda. You were saying?” “It’s okay, they’re funny. Liston wines are some of the best in the region. Unfortunately, they don’t make enough to sell outside Australia. But CJ and Owen get cases sent to them as pressies all the time.” “For those of you not fluent in Oztrayan, pressies means presents.” The look Anderson gave his co-host was decidedly evil. “You don’t know what you’re missing, Andy. I tried some last summer while we were all on Fire Island. Next time I’m Down Under, I’m bringing back as many bottles as I can.” Andy’s pout made them all chuckle. “I hate you all. Please continue, Tilda.” “Well, about the same time Owen moved to America, Spencer left for uni in Sydney. When he returned, he started work in the family business, and we would see each other now and then. Last year, after CJ and Owen got married, Spencer and I started dating when he came back from Washington.” “Did your brother getting married inspire you to date, Spencer?” “Nah, mate. I always thought Tilda was pretty and nice.” He glanced at his brother and brother-in-law for a fraction of a second, both winked at him and took a step back out of camera range. Anderson smiled. He was in on it. “So, what are your intentions toward this lovely young woman?” “Well…” He reached in his pocket and withdrew a small box. Eyes fixed on his girlfriend, he opened it to reveal an antique opal and diamond ring. “Tilda? You know that old song I love? The one by Gin Wigmore?” Tilda covered her mouth with both hands; the realization of what was happening washed over her. Spencer dropped to a knee and sang. “Oh my God I'm beaten in the game of love And I fall down I fall down on my knees I fall Oh my God, I'm beaten in the game of love “And since I’m beaten, I gladly surrender. Matilda Linsay, will you marry me?”
  2. 71 points
    “You know something? This is the first time I wore a coat and tie since your birthday party a year ago.” Brad Kennedy tossed his walking stick in Sparky’s back seat, belted himself in, and shut the car’s door. “You should do it more often, Red. You look good.” CJ had approached his friend the previous week with a lunch invitation. Searching for increased funding, he had quietly lobbied on behalf of Heroes Haven and wanted Brad to meet one of the individuals he had spoken to several times. “So, let me tell you about Tammy. I told her you were like my brother. Also told her you were a good example of the type of vet we’re trying to help.” What he did not tell the former Army Ranger was the meeting was also intended to assist the recovering vet. The time with Alex Minsky a couple of months before helped his friend’s attitude; he was in a much more positive frame of mind after. When he was fitted with new legs, he followed Minsky’s advice, working hard to regain mobility. “Senator Duckworth—” “We’re having lunch with a United States senator?” Brad sounded surprised. “Umm… Yeah. Is that a problem?” “Nah. I just thought you were staying out of politics these days. Figured we were meeting some rich person to ask for donations.” “I am staying away. Mostly. This isn’t about politics. Heck, I didn’t even have to register as a lobbyist since I’m not getting paid. Anyway, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ladda Tammy Duckworth agreed to meet me when I asked your relative to introduce us.” “Joe?” “Yep. Representative Kennedy has become a good friend. Anyway, I approached Tammy to see if we could get her support lining up some Federal funds for Heroes Haven. The program intrigued her. She insisted on visiting the place. Afterward, she made phone calls and wrote letters to get us a little money. It’s an ongoing project, and we’re in regular contact. Okay, we’re here.” CJ stopped in front of Forbes Grille and smiled when he saw the glint in the valet attendant’s eyes; the Tesla always attracted attention. The restaurant was a private dining club catering to business people. Years before, César bought a membership for his son as a present, and CJ made use of it on a regular basis these days. Inside the door, long, mournful notes emanating from ceiling mounted speakers caressed CJ’s ears. A Florida grocery chain had used Pat Metheny's “Last Train Home” in holiday commercials for years. CJ was very familiar with it and thought it appropriate for the moment. Brad had escaped the battlefield, but he had a last ride before he was truly home. He needed to overcome his tragedy and focus on his future. “Mr. Abelló, it’s wonderful to have you back with us.” The maitre’d flicked a silver lock of hair away from his forehead and shook hands with the younger man. “Senator Duckworth’s already arrived. She’s waiting for you in the dining room.” “Thanks, Nelson. I’m not sure if you remember my friend, Brad Kennedy…” Nelson Wheatly had manned the front of the house for years; CJ suspected the sixty-something man had a photographic memory. “Of course I do. You’re the friend who went into the Army after graduation.” He shook Brad’s hand enthusiastically. “I am.” Brad tapped one of his legs with the walking stick. “My fighting days are over, though.” “Well, welcome back. I guess we’ll have two honest-to-goodness American heroes with us today.” “My apologies for making you wait, Senator.” CJ extended a hand toward the Thai-American official from Illinois. “No apology necessary, CJ. You didn’t make me wait. I escaped the madness on The Hill early so I could catch a breath. I have you to thank for the respite.” Brad stood next to his friend in silence until the woman locked eyes with him. “Brad Kennedy, ma’am. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “It’s mutual, young man. You two sit, please. You’re both tall enough I’m about to get a crick in my neck.” When the men took their seats, she spoke to Brad. “Where do you keep yours?” The redhead appeared confused. “I’m sorry, ma’am?” “Your Purple Heart. Where do you keep it?” Brad hesitated for a moment. “Oh… I’m not sure where it’s at. I gave it to one of my dads and asked him to keep it safe. It doesn’t mean that much to me. Maybe if I have kids one day they’ll want to see it.” “And why do you hesitate when you mention kids? Did you get injured somewhere that would prevent you?” “No, not at all.” A miniature smile formed on his lips. “That part escaped injury and works well.” “Good. In case CJ here didn’t tell you, I’ve given birth twice since I lost my legs. I want you to remember not having them doesn’t prevent you from doing almost anything you want.” “Why did you ask about my medals?” “A little unofficial research. I’ve discovered most recipients feel as you do. Politicians make a big deal out of awards and recognitions. They fail to understand what most of us want are opportunities. To live and be productive.” “CJ mentioned you were injured in a helicopter accident—” “Baloney! It wasn’t an accident! Those suckers were trying to kill me.” The woman’s vehemence startled CJ. “If it had been Vietnam or any other American war, you and I would be dead today. But we’re not thanks to improved field medicine. With so many of us returning injured, I intend to rattle as many cages as I can until all who serve are taken care of. It’s why I’m interested in the organization CJ represents. Have you been there?” “No, not yet. CJ and Ozzie promised to take me for a day trip next month.” CJ felt a need to explain. “Ozzie’s my husband, Owen, Senator. It’s a nickname.” “I still have to meet him. I heard good things about him from a couple of mutual friends.” “Then I’ll have to bring him by your office sometime soon.” CJ had a devilish smile on his face. “Or we can have lunch again if you want to escape the crazies one more time.” Senator Duckworth’s laugh was rich. “I may just take you up on that. So, Brad, how long have you had your new legs?” “Less than two months. I’m still getting used to them. That’s the reason for the stick. To help with my balance.” “Give it time, soldier. It’ll get easier to maneuver around. Let me tell you something. I have a great pair of legs I hate. They’re painted to match my skin tone and one of the toes is a little longer just like my real one used to be. I look at myself in the mirror when I wear them, and all I see is loss.” She pointed at her steel and titanium prosthesis. “But when I see these, I see strength. Same thing with my wheelchair. People always want me to hide it in pictures. I say no! I earned the damn thing. It’s no different from a medal I would wear on my chest. Why would I hide it?” Conversation lagged while the server recited the day’s specials and took their order. Brad asked for a beer, but when the senator requested iced tea, CJ followed suit. “Has the Veterans Administration been doing right by you, Brad?” Duckworth toyed with a breadstick from the basket on the table. “I guess… I’ve probably had it easier than others. One of my dad’s best friends’ a doctor. He and his two partners have become part of the team treating me. I know they’ve spoken to the VA docs at Walter Reed.” Brad smirked, stabbing CJ’s arm with a finger. “And this guy keeps an eye on me. I know he’s made phone calls to unjam things a couple of times. He also had a friend of his—a marine who lost a leg—fly in from California to talk to me.” Brad momentarily hesitated. “And I suspect that’s why I’m here today. He figured you could also help me.” The woman neither confirmed nor denied his suspicion. “You’re lucky. The kind of support system you enjoy isn’t what most injured vets have. Too often, we abandon them. We use them up and discard them. One of us commits suicide every hour, and that’s one too many. We’re failing them, and it’s the reason I’m trying to help fund Heroes Haven. So they can expand their programs and hopefully save some lives.” The food’s arrival interrupted their conversation. When resumed while eating, it revolved around the senator’s infant daughters, Brad’s brother and mother in Boston, and CJ’s impending graduation from college. Duckworth declined dessert and settled for a cup of coffee when Brad ordered a slice of pie. “What are your plans for the future, Brad?” “I…” He hesitated while drumming the tabletop with his fingertips. “I have no idea, Senator. I don’t have any training except for killing people. CJ asked me the same thing a year ago. At the time, I was considering following in my dad’s footsteps. Becoming a cop. But now…” “Now what?” “Well, now that’s out of the question. Not much use for a cop without legs.” “Bullcrap!” She reached for her phone and tapped at it. “What’s your phone number? I’m texting you a name I want you to google later. Matias Ferreira is a U.S. Marines veteran who lost both legs. He was sworn in as a police officer in New York six years after he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. “Don’t give up on your dreams, Brad. The moment you want to quit is the moment when you need to keep pushing. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be painful. It’s never going to get easier. You just get stronger. Your future’s created by what you do today. Don’t allow fears or naysayers tell you you can’t achieve what you set out to accomplish.” “You look good mixing drinks behind the bar, mate.” “SPENCER!” Tank nearly dropped the cocktail shaker in his hand when Spencer Liston stood before him. “What the heck? What are you doing here? I’m going to kill your brother for not telling me you were coming in. How long are you in town for? I have to work a lot over the—” The shock was such he apparently failed to notice CJ, Owen, and a pretty, young blonde standing behind the man. The loud laughter stopped him midsentence. “The two of you are so dead. Y’all, sit.” The commanding tone brokered no argument. “Let me finish this and I’ll be back.” While serving as groomsmen for CJ and Owen, the bartender and the younger Liston sibling befriended each other—both were gym bunnies and avid weightlifters. He poured the contents of whatever concoction he was working on into glasses, garnished them, and delivered them to the waiting server at the end of the bar. A chuckling CJ pulled out one of the stools and offered it to the girl next to him. “Did you see his face? I think we surprised him.” “I thought he was about to launch into a Harleyesque monologue.” Owen directed his brother to the seat next to the girl and sat on the other side of Spencer. “What with them living together, I was worried it was rubbing off on our Ragin’ Cajun.” On Friday night before Christmas, Rum & Cola—the bar attached to Abuela’s Restaurant—was packed with young professionals. Some were well inebriated, no doubt having stopped by the popular watering hole after work and still languishing around. Others resembled the new arrivals, stopping for a drink while waiting for a table. All appeared in good spirits; the atmosphere brimmed with holiday cheer. Wanting to surprise Tank, CJ did not bother with reservations. One of the benefits of being part owner of the place was his ability to be seated even when it was crowded. “Okay, now that I can think straight—” “HA!” Tank threw the white towel he had been wiping the bar’s surface with at CJ. “Y’all better watch it, bro. You’re next in line after I beat the crap out of your husband. Now, what’s going on?” He smiled at the girl sitting with the guys. “Hi. I guess you’re with these guys?” “Nothing going on, mate. I missed my brother. So I flew over to spend the holidays with him.” Spencer reached for the woman’s hand. “And Tilda’s never been to America. Tank, this is my girlfriend, Tilda Lindsay. Tilda, my lookalike behind the bar is Tanix Janda. I’m sure you already figured out he goes by Tank.” “G’day, Tank. It’s great to meetcha, mate.” “Same here. How come Spencer hasn’t mentioned you in any e-mails? How long has this been going on?” The girl threw her head back. Her teeth brightened the tanned face, and her laughter lit up the room. “Ah, yeah. He told me you were the guy in the wedding party he became closest to. He wanted to surprise you. We’ve known each other since we were kids. I’m also from the Hunter Valley. What are you making?” Tank reached for a bottle of blue liqueur and poured a generous amount into a steel cocktail shaker. “Captain on Acid. Since you guys didn’t tell me what you wanted to drink…” “Sounds scary. What’s in it?” “Captain Morgan rum, coconut rum, pineapple juice, blue curacao, and a bit of grenadine. It’s a beachy drink for it being so cold outside, but it’ll warm you up. So, you’ve known Spencer since you were kids?” “Yeah… When he came back from Sydney with his fancy Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking”—the air quotes made Tank’s grin grow—“we bumped into each other in town. After his trip here for the wedding, he called me, we went out, and we’ve been dating since.” “So how long are you guys in town for? And what are your plans?” “From what I hear, we’re eating a lot. CJ’s birthday dinner, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. At least you guys don’t celebrate Boxing Day or it would be one more.” Spencer butted in. “We’re going to New York for New Year’s Eve. We’re in DC until the twenty-eighth. You should come up with us. I hear their place up there’s big enough.” “I can’t. Gotta work that night.” Tank winked at Tilda. “Then I have a date with a hot college wrestler.” CJ and Owen left their guests sleeping when they went to the gym the following morning. Jetlag caught up with the Australians, and they asked to sleep in. Breakfast was late; it was near noon when they bundled up against the cold and clambered into Sparky. “So, you bought this house two years ago?” Tilda tucked a loose strand of golden hair under the knit Georgetown cap CJ had lent her. “To the day!” Owen was excited to show off the place he and CJ would soon be calling home. They drove Spencer by it when he was in town for the wedding but were unable to show him the inside. “Days later, the people we leased it to took over. They vacated early. That’s why we get to go in.” CJ felt giddy when he slipped the car into a spot in front. “We could park in the back, but we want you guys to experience going in through the front door.” The long, narrow house was empty and clean. The German company that leased it for the previous two years hired professionals to scrub the interior. “Mate, your masonry needs work.” Spencer ran a hand over the white-painted brick next to the entrance. “Too bad my brother isn’t here. He’s a brickie.” Inside, Tilda removed her overcoat and tossed it over the staircase’s handrail. “This is lovely. It’s in good shape.” “Yeah, well, we’re about to gut the interior.” Owen shivered as he had when he and CJ had discussed how much work there would be. “We have lead paint, and that means removing lots of plaster. CJ wants an automatic house. That means we need to run all new electrical and wiring for certain things. Quite a few walls will come down and get rebuilt.” “I’m glad we came by here and turned up the temperature before you guys arrived.” The furnace would be replaced with a more efficient gas-powered one to serve as a backup for solar power. “Let’s start upstairs. We’ll work our way down to the basement. That’s the only space for which we have decent architectural drawings.” “You guys said the top three floors are the same, right?” Spencer trailed his brother and girlfriend with CJ at his side. “Yeah. A seating area in front, a bedroom, a bathroom, another bedroom, and the storage space running along the back. The two middle floors we’ll rehab, but we’re not moving walls.” “You’ll see the house CJ grew up in later, Tilda. We’re doing the same thing the dads did. The entire top floor will be a master suite. The seating area will become part of the front bedroom. The bathroom and closet will grow, and the back bedroom will become first a nursery and then an office slash study.” “You and Spencer will have to come visit us again. We haven’t picked out colors, or furniture, or fixtures yet. But we’ll make sure all the bedrooms have comfortable beds.” CJ winked at his brother-in-law and wiggled his eyebrows. “Wanker!” Back on the first floor, CJ talked about placing a giant Christmas tree in front of the bay window facing the street. He cut the description of their plans for the main living areas short; he could tell Owen was itching to give his brother a detailed briefing on their plans for the basement. “Oz, why don’t you take them downstairs? I’ll join you in a minute. I’m gonna get that box out of the car’s back.” “We still haven’t decided about the walls.” Owen was in the middle of his description when CJ returned. “CJ’s cousins suggested a brick veneer, but we’re not sure we want the fake stuff. They’re going to price using real brick.” “Even behind the wine storage bins?” Spencer looked doubtful. “Nope. Since it’ll run the entire length of the house, those outer walls are gonna be covered in spray insulation and drywall panels. The brick would be on the wall separating this section from the hallway we’re creating and all the equipment on the other side.” CJ leaned the box he had fetched against the staircase and joined the others. “Since the house’s brick on the outside, and we’re covering three existing walls, we thought it would be cool to kinda recreate the feel with the new one we put up. We’ll use it to hang some art, and Ozzie wants part of it as a living wall. But I’m pushing to do that in the master bathroom. It’d be cool behind the soaking tub.” “So all the bins will have glass doors?” Tilda flipped between a couple of pictures in Owen’s phone. “Is this a sink? Are you having a full bar down here?” “Nope. Just wine and beer. And cigars. The doors Ozzie asked for so we could have different temperature zones. The sink’s there to rinse out glasses and stuff.” “If you swipe through the rest of the pics, you’ll see the hammered copper bar sink they want to use. We won’t hang out here a lot. But on days like today, when there’s only four of us, we could sit here and share a bottle. Keep flipping. The blue leather chair and the cork storage barrel table you already saw in our apartment. The next picture should be the cowhide Barcelona chair and ottoman. Then there’s a few choices for two more chairs. We haven’t decided what we’re going to use yet.” “Is this pink stone?” Tilda turned the phone around to show the referenced image. “Yeah, my cousins are a pain the butt. They claim since this is gonna be a gay household, they had to throw a little pink in. That’s a slab sliced off an amethyst geode and polished. It’ll be the new top for the cork storage table. Oh, and although Ozzie claims we haven’t chosen the other chairs, my vote’s for the Frank Lloyd Wright barrel ones.” “I’ll probably let CJ pick those. After all, he’s given me free rein otherwise. We’re using cork on the floor. I think it’s fitting, and cork’s an environmentally friendly material. It’s soft, would prevent a bottle from breaking if dropped, and it can be refinished like hardwood.” “Sounds like you’ve thought of everything, mate.” Spencer stared at the drawing on the tablet Owen had given him. “I don’t see a bathroom in here. What with all the drinking…” “There’ll be one outside this room. Since this space will be locked, we want anyone using the laundry stuff to have access to the restroom. We’ll have a half-bath with a toilet, a urinal, and a sink.” “A urinal?” Tilda sounded surprised. “Yeah! Wait until you see my dads’ house. One of them insisted on putting one in their basement when they remodeled. Over there it works great since that’s where we watch sports, and men make up most of the guests.” “What’d you go get from the car, mate?” The two couples had returned to the main floor. CJ’s lopsided grin got an almost-giggle from Owen. “What is it with younger brothers? Spencer’s as nosy as Ritchie.” “Watch it, you little bugger. I happen to be older than you.” “Fuck off, Spence. Anyway, not sure if you saw the brass address plaque by the front door. Ozzie and I ordered a new one and it arrived a couple days ago.” “Can we see it, please?” Tilda’s politeness was a welcome respite from most of their friends. “Sure. Ozzie and I’ve been thinking about what we wanted on the new one for a while. We settled on it a few weeks ago after we met with my cousins.” CJ reached for the flat parcel, slit it open with a key, and removed the bubble wrap around it. “You guys are the first ones to see it.” EVERHOPE 131 11th Street S.E. Capitol Hill Historic District National Register of Historic Places 1896 “What’s Everhope?” “That’s the name of our house!” CJ and Ozzie wanted Tilda to meet some of their friends, so they invited Harley and his girlfriend, Kim to join them at Guapo’s Restaurant for dinner. Located in the Tenleytown neighborhood near the American University campus, the Mexican eatery was a favorite spot, and it didn’t disappoint that evening. “So, how did you come up with the name?” Kim Hoang attended the University of Maryland and was home for Christmas break. “Everhope’s very unusual. Although it has a lyrical sound to it.” “CJ likes to name inanimate objects. I knew the house would end up with one. Since we own it together, I told him we had to name it together. He’s said from the beginning this would be our forever home—” “You mean the two of you want to stay in Washington permanently?” “I do, and it’s something I discussed with Ozzie before we got married. As much as he loves Australia, and as much as I love Florida, neither one of us wants to return to those places. The State Department may post me anywhere, but this will always be home base. It’s why we’re spending so much on the remodeling.” Owen dipped a churro in chocolate sauce and closed his eyes while humming with content. “Anyway, Kim. We hope to raise our kids in DC. We hope our place’s always full of friends like you and Harley. We hope my Aussie family comes visit often.” Spencer fisted his chest in macho approval at that comment. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Next time you come, that’s where you’ll stay.” “How about one more round of hot chocolate, guys?” CJ motioned for the waiter when everyone nodded. The tequila and chili powder laced beverage was ideal before they braved the cold once more. “Between our hopes for the place and hoping it will be where we live for many years, Everhope sort of came about.” Sunday morning, CJ made sherry poached eggs and served them in crispy-prosciutto cups. Owen defrosted, sliced, and toasted one of the sourdough loaves he had shipped from San Francisco on a regular basis. Bundled up against the cold, they set out on a sightseeing tour. The route and stops honed over the years were always popular with visitors. They started across the Potomac at the Iwo Jima Memorial. The Marine Corps Memorial was the one place in Virginia they parked Sparky and walked the grounds, even though they drove up to the main entrance of Arlington Memorial Cemetery and the Pentagon afterward. Returning to DC, they found a spot in the same lot near the Jefferson Memorial CJ had used before. “Mate, this looks so different from the other two times I’ve been here.” Spencer had visited the monument by the Tidal Basin during his gap year travels and again when in DC for the wedding. “Both times were in summer. This is the first time I’ve seen the grounds covered in snow.” By the time they were done with the presidential and war memorials, they were cold and hungry. They ducked into the Smithsonian’s Castle Café for sandwiches and coffee. “Which one’s your favorite one, Ozzie?” Tilda circled a finger over a map of the Smithsonian. She perused the brochure while nibbling on her sandwich. “The natural history one.” The woman ran a fingernail along the drawing searching for it. “The National Museum of Natural History? Why?” “Don’t laugh.” Owen looked embarrassed. “The dinosaurs. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s what a ten-year-old would say. But with me, it’s the fact that such incredible creatures disappeared. It was natural causes, but it drives me. I want to help protect the species we have today. It’s been a guiding force. I also like their Ocean Hall and the geology one. I mean, I wouldn’t mind one or two of those little gemstones.” “Mate, that’s so gay. Jewelry?” Spencer had trouble talking and laughing at the same time. “But props for the first part. We’re all proud you’re making the world a better place.” “What about you, CJ?” “The National Museum of American History. The artifacts fascinate me. They’re like little windows into our past. Like with the red shoes from The Wizard of Oz, to me they mean nothing. But you stand near them long enough, you’ll hear an older person talk about seeing the movie when it first came out.” CJ raised a hand to stop anyone from interrupting while he sipped from his cup. “But to be honest, the one Ozzie and I’ve been to the most is the Air and Space Museum. My little brother drags us there whenever he can.” “You’ll like Ritchie, babe.” Spencer’s head bobbed. “Solid kid, not as stuffy as my brothers here”—asshole was uttered simultaneously by CJ and Owen—“he’s already a pilot, and he wants to fly jets. Damn does he ever. I heard those words so often…” “Well, okay then. Those are the three I wanna see. We can do one now if there’s time. If not, we have a couple of days.” In the evening, Tilda at last met CJ’s fathers and brother. “So, you have Chinese food the same day every week?” “Ever since Ritchie moved in.” Brett used a chopstick to push the last few bites around his plate. “We always liked eating together as a family.” “It used to be a nightly event. Then, CJ and Ritchie had other interests and obligations, so it didn’t happen as often. We try to preserve the tradition on Sunday nights.” César sounded nostalgic. “Mate, the dads are gonna be a basket case when Ritchie goes away to college next year.” Owen’s comment made Spencer look askance at him. “The dads?” “That’s what everybody calls them, Spence.” Ritchie pointed at the wine in the middle of the table. “Can I have some more?” “I don’t know. Can you?” César’s words made CJ roll his eyes. “Stop being an ass, Dad.” He reached for the bottle and passed it to Ritchie. Tilda and Spencer had carried half-a-dozen bottles of Tasmanian Kreglinger Estates Sparkling Rosé with them as a present. Since they would be unable to drink them New Year’s Eve, CJ and Owen decided to share them with the rest of the family. “No need to correct his lousy grammar all the time.” “Hey! I use proper grammar.” “Then you should have said may I have some more. Don’t worry, Air Force pilots don’t have to be smart.” CJ wiggled his eyebrows. “They only need to look studly.” “Asshole!”
  3. 68 points
    “What are we listening to?” Tyler Scott ran his eyes and a finger down the wine bottle’s label. “Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Blend 2017 Pinot Grigio. And why are we drinking Two Buck Chuck?” “Here, Ty.” Owen handed the man a different, nearly empty bottle and a glass. “Don’t you know Chef CJ doesn’t like to be distracted while cooking?” “Asshole!” CJ was happy. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving meant he and Owen had their cousins and their spouses at their apartment. The rest of the family was at Abuela’s, but the three younger Abellós declined the invitation to join them. “That’s Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.” “Mate, your cousin always plays an artist’s music to death after we go to a concert. Saturday night we were at the Kennedy Center for a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra, and he’s been playing classical music all week.” Owen opened a fresh bottle after Randy slid the now empty one aside. “And don’t knock Two Buck Chuck. Considering it’s three dollars a bottle, the stuff’s okay. We use it a lot for cooking. Not so much for drinking. The flavor notes are kinda mundane.” Taisha had been looking at the wall where the guys hung favorite pictures, nursing her own glass of wine. “I guess the one with the sharks’ the most recent one?” Owen refilled her empty wine glass. “For now. We have one from a GU party and the one we took with Bezos at the HRC National Dinner. We need to hang them.” “So, what are you making, cuz?” Randy stared at CJ while resting his chin atop his own husband’s head. “What’s the wine for?” “Veal scaloppini. The recipe calls for chicken broth, but I’m replacing most of that with vino.” “Damn! You’re such a doodie.” “Are you calling me a shit?” CJ’s smirk and raised eyebrow drew chuckles. “Nah… A doodie’s a dude who’s a foodie. Silas called Ty that one time when he was cooking, and I appropriated the word.” “Speaking of Silas, how come he didn’t want to come over tonight? Isn’t he going to work on our house? I thought he’d want to be here for our discussion.” “The kid loves Cuban food, and we don’t get to eat it that often in Chicago. His part in all this won’t really kick in until we settle on structural changes anyway. Ty and I will give him a summary of whatever we decide. We’re all having breakfast together, right? He’ll be there to help describe the plans for the basement.” “That’s a perfect lead-in.” Rod opened the notebook he had placed on the counter. “I’m ready to take notes. Since the Germans decided to vacate the house early when you wouldn’t extend their lease, we can start some serious planning. I have a few questions to get us started.” “Ask away, mate. CJ and I have been talking about this on and off for almost two years.” “Let’s start with what we know. Ozzie wants a Tesla solar-tile roof. That means—” “How much is that gonna cost us?” CJ wielded the knife in his hand as a pointer. “Ahhh, we haven’t really priced it yet.” “What? Come on, cuz. You’re slacking. How are we supposed to approve things if we don’t know the price? You think Ozzie and I are made of money?” “Yes!” The reply was simultaneous by the cousins and their spouses. An amused CJ shook his head. “Assholes!” Even when the discussion revolved around a serious matter, levity remained within reach. “Mate, we want to do this right, and we’re willing to spend money. That doesn’t mean we don’t want a budget. Remember I work for a non-profit. I get paid shit.” “Cry me a river. You’ll get one, Ozzie. In time. But we talked about the roof and the new HVAC a long time ago. Considering we’re dealing with fairly new technology, it didn’t make sense to cost it out until we were close to starting. Uncle Brett won’t let us overspend anyway.” Although Brett would not be involved in the day-to-day details, CJ knew he and Owen were in good hands with Third Line Development serving as the project’s coordinator. “True dat. Carry on, cuz.” “Crap, you guys are gonna be tough clients, aren’t you? Anyway, Silas, Ty, and Randy have preliminary drawings for the basement. Since we plan to review those tomorrow, we’ll skip that part of the house tonight. I know you said you wanted Ozzie to make all the decisions about the wine cellar, and they’ve all talked about it.” Rod paused to sip his wine. “We know we have lead paint, so our first project will be abatement. Taisha handles a lot of the permitting for us, and she’ll get started this coming week.” The man sought confirmation from his wife; she satisfied him with a nod. “That’s all going to be a pain. With your place on the National Register of Historic Places, we’ll have more hoops to jump through than usual.” “What else do you want to know?” A smile lit up Owen’s face when CJ had him taste the sauce. “That’s brilliant!” “Top priorities after what we already have. From both of you.” “We can discuss those while we eat.” CJ poured the skillet’s contents over a platter of cooked veal cutlets. He carried the pot to the sink, drained the angel hair pasta, poured it into a bowl, and sprinkled fresh, chopped parsley over it. “Okay, boys and girl. Help yourselves. There’s salad and grated Parmesan on the coffee table already. You know the drill. Fill your plates and plop your ass down on a floor cushion or the couch.” Owen stepped over to the beverage refrigerator by the wall unit. “I’ll open another bottle.” Silence reigned while everyone took an initial bite, then the compliments poured forth, starting with Taisha’s. “Ozzie, you’re gonna get fat if he cooks like this all the time. This rocks.” “Nah. We generally eat light and healthy at home. Tonight’s special because you guys are here.” “That’s it, Oz. Butter them up so we can get what we want.” CJ’s joke was mostly ignored; a couple of smirks popped up while everyone savored the meal. “So, Rod, next top priority for me is automation. I want a smart house.” “How smart? Elementary school or college?” CJ wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Cute, cuz. Alexa, lower living room window blinds.” Everyone seemed disappointed when nothing happened. “Doctorate degree smart. I wanna be able to do that kind of stuff everywhere in the house. It didn’t work here ’cause all we have is regular old blinds. And I want to be able to do as much as possible from my phone or tablet.” Rod exchanged the fork in his hand for a pen and scribbled in his notebook. “We’ll have to bring in a subcontractor for that. They may need to do some hard wiring, but I think most of that can be accomplished through Bluetooth these days. What do you want to be able to control?” “Lights and sound, heating and cooling, blinds and drapes, door locks and security cameras. I also want it to—” “You also want it to wipe your butt when you go to the bathroom?” “Shut it, Randy.” CJ could not contain the chuckle. “I swear. I don’t know why you’re involved in this. What do you bring to the table?” “Ohhh, bring to the table… Is that how you diplomat types talk? I bring my good looks and my architectural savvy. You need me, cuz.” “I get it, CJ.” Rod ignored his brother, made another notation, and returned his attention to the meal. “I’ll do a little reading, and once I pick a specialist, we’ll all meet. It sounds like you’ll have a big exposure to hacking and need lots of computer power. Are you guys considering a private server to tighten security?” “NO!” CJ’s quick and emphatic response made Owen laugh. “Are you nuts? You think he didn’t learn anything from all the time he spent with the Clintons?” “How could I forget politics?” The eye rolling was not limited to Rod. “What about you, Ozzie? What else do you want aside from the solar roof and wine cellar?” “A green house.” “To grow veggies in?” “No, you wanker. A green house, as in an environment-friendly place.” “How green?” “As green as possible. Highest possible LEED certification.” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a third-party construction certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council was the most widely used building rating system in the world. Rod paused with the fork halfway to his mouth. “That’s it?” “Well, yeah. I mean, we’ll have to figure out how we get there. But I want the house to be as eco-friendly as possible. Recycled materials, sustainable products, energy efficient appliances…” “I have a question for all of you.” Taisha had been uncharacteristically quiet. “You spent over two million on the house, and it sounds like you’re going to spend a lot more. Isn’t owning the most expensive house on the block considered a no-no?” “Somebody has to.” CJ’s flippant retort earned him a hard glare from the woman. Tyler intervened in time to save his cousin from a tongue-lashing. “I think that’s because most people are already thinking of selling when they buy, T. I don’t believe that’s the case with these two. Sounds to me as if they have a completely different frame of mind.” “Got it in one, Ty. Ozzie and I want a family. We want to raise our kids in that house. And one day we would like to have grandchildren running around.” CJ shrugged his shoulders. “Look, I know all that’s way, way off in the future. Hell, it may never happen. But both of us value family and hope the place’s always full of relatives and friends. Just like my dads’ townhouse.” “My turn to ask a question.” Randy reached for the wine bottle and refilled his glass. “Do you guys have at least an idea of how much you’re willing to spend?” During the subsequent momentary silence, CJ and Owen exchanged glances. The Australian waved a hand at his husband, giving him the go-ahead to reply. CJ’s reply was tentative. “About a million?” “Jesus Christ!” “Damn skippy.” “There goes the piggy bank.” “There goes your birthday present next year.” “Y’all done?” The reactions amused CJ. “That’s just a number we pulled out of thin air. We discussed it with the dads. You people know they financed the house for us. Since we bought it, our access to my trust fund increased. Money wouldn’t be an issue, but the dads said they would finance the renovations anyway. Once we have it nailed down, they’ll modify the loan.” Rod seamlessly steered the conversation back to the environmental certification. “Back to the green house. My exposure to LEED’s been limited to new construction, Ozzie. One issue I can foresee is the windows. If we want maximum energy conservation, we’ll need triple glazed ones. Those are expensive to begin with. Since we can’t change the exterior because of the historical designation, we’ll need to order custom ones. That means more money and time. Not like we can go to Home Depot and buy standard sizes.” “Do we have measurements?” Owen tried to refill his wine glass, but the bottle was empty. “We need more. Anyone want anything while I’m up?” Headshakes all around was the response. “Gray might have them,” Tyler said. “He’s the one who gave us the basement’s measurements for us to work out the wine cellar’s design.” Rod scribbled in his notebook again. “I’ll check with him when we’re back in the office on Monday.” Gray Young began working for Third Line Development’s primary contractor on the company’s first project. Since then, he had earned his license. He now ran his own crew, supervised projects, and had been tapped to lead the house-remodeling project. “I have a question about the wine cellar.” Taisha focused her attention on Randy and Tyler. “Shoot,” Randy said. “There’s obviously going to be a lot of storage. Is all that off-the-rack or custom?” “Most likely a combination. If we can find the right supplier, using standard systems will save us time and money. But there’s stuff we’ll need to build to the project. Why do you ask?” “I read an article a while back about a Baltimore company that you may find interesting. There’ve been reports on TV and the newspaper about the city planning to demolish thousands of abandoned, dilapidated row houses. Part of their effort to diminish crime.” The opening comment captured the men’s attention. “Knowing what CJ’s involved in with the vets, I think this might be right up his alley. “The Forest Service launched a matchmaking effort to connect non-profits employing former prisoners who deconstruct abandoned buildings in big cities with private companies looking for reclaimed lumber. I forget the number, but tons of old wood end up in landfills every year. There’s a high-end furniture company that buys most of the old floors and walls coming out of Baltimore. “If you guys end up having a carpenter build some of the cabinetry, I could make a few phone calls. Maybe we can get our hands on some of that wood. I think it’d be cool to say the new stuff’s as old as the original house.” “I love it!” CJ’s excitement was palpable. “The effort to rehabilitate prisoners might be up my alley, but I’m sure Ozzie loves the idea of less going to landfills. Hey! I have an idea. We’re gonna end up moving some walls, and that would mean having to patch or replace floors. Right?” Since he was the historical restoration expert, CJ aimed the question at Tyler, who nodded. “So, what if we get in touch with whatever non-profit coordinates the program and hire them? They can send their workers in to remove whatever we plan to replace.” He paused to assess the reaction and was encouraged by the apparent agreement. As usual, Randy could not resist an opening. “So, you want a bunch of sweaty ex-cons running around your house working with wood? Sounds like great porn in the making.” “Asshole! We may need to find a cabinetmaker willing to work with the reclaimed stuff…” The following morning, CJ was surprised when he stopped the Tesla in front of his fathers’ home. He and Owen had texted Silas, asking him to wait outside for them. Randy and Tyler were staying at Rod and Taisha’s place while their son took over one of the basement bedrooms at the townhouse. Ricardo Abelló stood next to his grandson with an arm draped over the teen’s shoulders and climbed inside the car after the youngster did. “Hey, Uncle Rico, what you doing?” “What does it look like?” The man studied the interior of the car and smiled. “I’ve never ridden in one of these before, and I decided I wanted to have breakfast with the boys. Either my mother or my wife would find something for me to do if I stayed behind.” Owen sounded confused. “What do you mean? There’s nothing to do. The entire meal’s catered.” “You obviously don’t know the Abelló women that well, Ozzie. They would find something. Anyway, Randy, Ty, and Silas have kept the details of what they’ve been working on for you away from me. I want to see what my kids designed.” “Umm, it’s only the wine cellar.” CJ made the turn on Wisconsin Avenue and headed north toward the Takoma neighborhood. “More the reason for me to check out the plans. We’ve never done more than a tiny closet for wine storage. From what I heard, this is on a whole different scale.” Ricardo Martín Abelló was over ten years older than his brother, César. Rico met his wife while in college, and after their wedding settled in her hometown of Chicago. With financial assistance from his father, he founded Second Line Restoration; the company flourished and was well regarded for their meticulous work on historical structures. “Mate, if you really want to see a top-notch one, you and Lynne should visit Australia. My parents would welcome you. The Liston Winery cellar would knock your socks off.” “Maybe next year. Your parents did invite us to visit when we met them at the wedding.” Taisha refused to join the men for breakfast. She claimed she had enough of the Abelló boys’ banter the previous evening. There was a lively discussion at the breakfast table while the men scrutinized the design. In the end, they tweaked a few details; the primary ones being there would be an effort to use wood reclaimed during demolition and biometric access to prevent pilfering by guests or teenagers. It was around lunchtime when they all returned to Georgetown and crowded the basement to munch on snacks and watch football. “Hey, Legless.” The smack to the back of his head made CJ stumble. Who knew his aunt had such strength? “Ouch!” Lynne was not finished with him. “How dare you poke fun at a war hero? Shame on you, CJ. I thought I knew you better than that.” Brad Kennedy leaned on his cane to prevent his own stumble. The hearty laughter confused the Chicago woman. “You should see your face, Mrs. Abelló. Your surprised expression matches CJ’s.” The elevator’s noise had alerted everyone in the basement someone was joining them; CJ had been certain it was Brad. He had his own key, so he could come and go at will. “Dude! You’re wearing your legs. That’s awesome!” Brad had been fitted with artificial limbs recently and was still getting accustomed to them. His gait was awkward, and he tired quickly but claimed it was getting easier. “Yeah… I thought it might be a little crowded over here to maneuver the wheels around. About him calling me Legless, Mrs. Abelló—” “Please, Brad. It’s Lynne. How long have we known each other for?” “Thank you. Lynne it is. Anyway, Legless has become my new nickname, and I’m fine with it. It’s descriptive since I lost them. And since it was CJ who first called me that, I have to put up with it. He’s my brother. I’ve called him worse.” Fudge packer was what he often used in private. “Come on, Red. Come sit on the couch. You want wine, beer, or something harder?” “What’s the wine? Liston?” Brad had succumbed to the spell Owen wove amongst their friends—most all Squad members had become wine enthusiasts. “None open, but we can crack one if that’s what you want. Most of us are drinking something from Australia, though.” Owen raised his flute, twirling the liquid inside, allowing the light to reflect off the pink wine. “Ninth Island Sparkling Rosé from Tasmania. Wanna taste?” “Nah, not in the mood for bubbly. I’ll take one of César’s Dos Equis Amber.” In the late afternoon, everyone moved upstairs for dinner. The sun set early and by the time they were ready for dessert the sky was dark, streetlights were on, and the stray pedestrian outside the floor-to-ceiling front windows could be seen scurrying around bundled up against the cold. “If we could have everyone’s attention…” All eyes turned toward Owen and CJ standing behind the kitchen peninsula. “CJ and I have something we’d like to share with you lot.” “Let’s make sure everyone has some bubbly. Ozzie and I would like to propose a few toasts.” Both men held full flutes. “This is your chance, Ritchie. I’m lifting all limits.” “HEY!” “Relax, Captain. We know what we’re doing.” “I sure as shit hope so.” “Shut up, Jarhead.” César grasped his husband’s arm when Brett made to rise. “Let it play out.” “Thanks, Dad.” CJ unfolded a piece of paper he retrieved from his back pocket. “The first one is to all of you. Our family and friends who’ve loved us and supported us. Who’ve stood by us in good and not-so-good times. We’ll never be able to repay you. Salud!” As they lowered their glasses, CJ winked at Owen. “You’re on, Oz.” “Our second toast is to the armed forces, to the veterans amongst us, and particularly to our brother, Brad. We love you, mate. And even though you’re battered, what matters is you’re still with us. You’re alive and kicking.” The line elicited chuckles from the injured Army Ranger and a few others. “Thank you for your service to our country.” Owen barely wet his lips before adding, “Yes I said our country. One of these days I’ll be an American citizen, and I can’t wait.” “Okay, our final one requires a little explanation.” CJ nervously fidgeted with the piece of paper in his hands. “Dads, what do you think about becoming grandparents?” “You getting a fur baby to keep Wingnut company?” Brett’s mention of his name made Ritchie’s golden retriever raise his head, but it was not enough for him to abandon his rawhide bone or the spot in front of the fireplace. “Shut up, Jarhead.” “Fur baby, Papa? You anthropomorphizing puppies now?” “Quarter word!” “Shut up, Ritchie.” CJ thought César sounded like a broken record. However, his dad had a glint in his eyes. “In vitro or adoption?” César’s question lit a fire of comprehension amongst the group; comments and questions flew around the room so fast it was impossible to understand what anyone said. Eventually, when neither CJ nor Owen uttered a word, everyone quieted down. “Okay, you all know Owen’s sister Liz died a little over two years ago. We had a long conversation with her the day before she left us, and we’ve never shared what was said at the time.” CJ took the napkin his husband offered and wiped a couple of stray tears the same way Owen had. CJ passed the sheet he held over to his husband; Owen glanced at it, raised his eyes, and a sad smile formed on his face. “I guess I get to read this. My sister was weak and in pain the last time we visited with her. Although we spent some serious time together, the conversation wasn’t really that long. But she knew what she wanted and gave us a letter with all the details. She ended it with a poem I’d like to share with you.” Silence permeated the room. Not a word was spoken; the only sound the crackling of the burning logs in the fireplace. Owen cleared his throat and read the four lines they had printed earlier in the day: “And when I die and when I'm dead, dead and gone, There'll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on.” “That’s not a poem. It’s a song. ‘And When I Die’ by Blood, Sweat and Tears.” “Shut the fucking fuck up, Jarhead.” César’s outburst broke the spell, and everyone spoke at the same time once again. When the muttering died down, CJ raised his glass. “So, we’d like to propose a toast to Liz. We want to thank her for leaving us the eggs she had frozen during her first bout with cancer. It’s taken some time, and we had a couple of setbacks, but we’re pregnant.” Pandemonium ensued. CJ and Owen once again remained quiet but endured the hugs and kisses rained on them with smiles. Glasses were drained, more bottles were uncorked, and the toasting lingered after everyone reclaimed their seats. “I think I can answer most of the questions you’ve shouted out real quick.” Owen smiled at the grandmothers as both wiped rivulets of tears and at Brett as he blew his nose. “My Mum was in on it. It’s Friday morning in Australia, and she was supposed to tell everyone about it over breakfast. CJ and I have kept our phones off, and I suspect there’ll be a large number of calls and messages waiting for us. Our friend Gina Nichols is our surrogate, and she’s due sometime in late April.” CJ picked up the narrative. “On this side of the world, our brother, Ethan, and our friends, Chatri and Helen, are aware of what’s going on. They helped us navigate through a multitude of legal and medical issues. Ritchie knew we were trying but not how far along we were.” “My dear brother-in-law found out over the summer when he was part of a conversation we had in Miami after battling sharks.” The seamless transitions between the couple almost sounded rehearsed. “The conversation was with Aba. She’s agreed to move to Washington next spring and serve as nanny to her first great-grandchild.” “I swear the two of you won’t quit until you convince me I’m old. A grandfather? At thirty-seven?” Brett wagged a finger at CJ and Owen. Rapidly declining temperatures forecast to dip below freezing overnight did not deter the family from gathering, covered in coats, quilts, and blankets, around the fire pit in the side yard. “Dude, quit bitching. I’m like sooo in my happy place right now. Don’t mess with it.” CJ exhaled a cloud of bluish smoke and rolled the Cuban cigar between his fingers. Surprised expressions and shrugged shoulders greeted the sound of a car navigating the driveway on the house’s other side. CJ voiced everyone’s thought. “Are we expecting anyone?” “Not us.” César waved his cigar to indicate him and Brett. “We’re not either.” Tom glanced at JP for confirmation. Tank’s voice cleared the mystery. “Where are my daddies?” Their friend was followed by another one of Owen’s Scandals Rugby Football Club teammates. A few of the team members had organized a potluck meal for those with no nearby family. “And why have you been ignoring texts and phone calls?” “Hey, Tank!” CJ stood to greet the man. “Sorry, our phones were turned off when we sat to eat. How the hell did you already hear the news?” “Harley. Brace yourselves for tons of messages when you turn them back on. The Squad’s been going nuts. So is it true? Are you guys gonna have a kid?” “Harley?” CJ and Owen asked at the same time while staring at a guilty-looking Ritchie. “Sorry… I texted Lucy, and she said she was going to tell him.” Lucy Wilkinson was Ritchie’s girlfriend and Harley’s sister. “Join us, guys. We’re celebrating. Either one of you want a little brandy?” César’s offer was accepted with nods; Ritchie was sent inside to fetch two additional snifters. “So yeah, Brett and I are going to be grandfathers.” “That’s awesome! Congratulations. So, am I gonna be an uncle or an aunt?” “Damn, son. You’re going to be the most muscular aunt ever.” CJ could not stop chuckling. “Actually, we’re not telling yet. We found out when they did tests to screen for a few things, but we don’t want to jinx anything.” Tank’s gaze swept the gathering until it rested on Sebastián. “Thank you for the kind words last night at the restaurant, sir.” “Bah, nothing to it. It seems my grandsons”—the man waved his cigar in CJ and Owen’s direction—“managed to solve the little difficulty you had with Al.” Alvaro Diaz was the chef and majority owner of Abuela’s, the restaurant Sebastián held an ownership interest in with CJ. “He was so scared of losing his business; he came clean with his father. I had to speak to him about his son being bisexual, but he was more worried about the sexual harassment. I think he talked some sense into the kid.” “Like I mentioned to CJ and Ozzie before and to you last night, it’s been great. Al’s gone out of his way to make sure it doesn’t happen again. New employees get verbal and written rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not.” CJ leaned over and pecked his husband’s cheek. “You done good, Oz.” “The two of you make a good team.” César’s pride in his son and son-in-law was unmistakable. “I have a question about the baby. How come you decided to do it now instead of waiting until you were established at work?” “You.” CJ’s one word surprised his father. “You do realize when the kid’s born I’ll be older than you were when I was, right?” “Yeah… I guess. I hadn’t thought about that.” “Look, Dad. The fact you and I are so close in age has made it easier for you to deal with me. That’s something most of my friends don’t have. Ozzie and I want to be good parents like you and Papa. And like you, we want to be our kids’ friends too. That’s harder when the age difference’s larger. And to be honest, we like the idea you and Papa will be young grandparents. That will be a great experience for your grandchildren.”
  4. 65 points
    “Damn!” CJ’s exclamation elicited a grin from the man. “Not what you expected?” The lack of a noticeable accent suggested a Mid-Westerner. “Sorry… Definitely not what I thought a Special Agent would look like.” He shook his head, returned the smile, and extended his hand. “CJ Abelló. And this is my husband, Owen Liston.” “G’day, mate. You’re big.” Leave it to Owen to state the obvious. Lincoln Duvall Ericson was indeed a large man. CJ guessed closer to seven feet than six, and nearer to 300 pounds than 200. His biceps threatened to rip the rugby shirt’s sleeves. A massive chest stretched the purple fabric taut, and tree-trunk thighs bulged under tight blue jeans. Clutching a black leather jacket and a helmet in one hand, he would fit in well with either their rugby-playing or motorcycle-riding friends. “My size makes it hard to blend in. I thought dressing like one of your friends and riding the motorcycle over might help. Just in case our suspect’s watching.” Lincoln had parked his BMW K 1600 GTL next to CJ and Owen’s Harleys. Brunch at Bradley Cooper’s on New Year’s Day had been a fitting capstone to Spencer and Tilda’s East Coast experience. The Greenwich Village townhouse was spectacular. Food and drink were plentiful, and the friendly crowd was in a festive mood. After much begging by the guests, Lady Gaga agreed to sit at the piano for an impromptu concert. She kicked it off with a short medley of her hits. When she belted out, “This is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman, it became a sing-along. CJ had enjoyed the film. The song about someone accepting themselves as they are and fighting intolerance put into words everything he believed in. For her final number, she had their host sit next to her; Gaga and Cooper performed their Grammy and Oscar winning “Shallow” from A Star is Born. “You two better be at my concert next time I tour Australia.” As they said goodbye in the afternoon, Lady Gaga handed Spencer a card. He and Tilda agreed to e-mail the singer’s manager to coordinate admissions and backstage passes. “And you two”—the woman turned her attention to CJ and Owen, offering them a similar card with a hand-scribbled note on it—“better call me next time you’re in New York. You now have my cell. If I’m in town, we’ll get together.” Sadness prevailed the following day when the couples parted. Spencer and Tilda flew to Los Angeles for the West Coast portion of their trip, while Owen and CJ returned to Washington. Months later, while in Australia for a promotional tour, Cooper praised CJ, Owen, and the 2016 Liston Chardonnay they had taken to his party. Bottle shops carrying the product sold out, inventories dwindled, and prices rose along the supply chain. Winery profits were better than usual that month. Back in DC, the remainder of the week they read, worked out, and binge-watched home remodeling shows. On Monday, Owen returned to work. On Wednesday, CJ began his final semester at Georgetown University. His curiosity was piqued when Brett texted asking him to stop by the office before going up to the apartment. “Yo! Brett!” The man shook his head when CJ called out and waved. He and César complained every time since their son began using their first names on a frequent basis. CJ greeted office workers he passed on the way to the glass-enclosed conference room at the front of the building. Inside, his other father and his cousin Rod stood next to the large table, bent over a pile of documents. Gray paced by the floor-to-ceiling window, his phone plastered to the side of his face. Aware of the long permitting process for renovations to a house on the National Register of Historic Places, Gray Young—their friend and general contractor for the project—began filing applications months before CJ and Owen reclaimed possession of the Capitol Hill property. On the first workday of the New Year, abatement crews began removing lead-contaminated plaster and asbestos-infused vinyl sheet flooring discovered in the kitchen. “How was your first day back?” Brett kissed the top of CJ’s head and ushered him inside the room. “Meh… One interesting class and two boring ones. Spent most of the time talking to people. I have to go back for a student government meeting tonight, but your text got me curious. What’s going on?” “Hey, CJ.” César’s enigmatic expression did not portend well. “We have an issue with your place.” He pointed at the documents on the table CJ realized were the renovation plans and timetable. “That don’t sound good. What’s the problem?” “The problem’s we have a jerk inspector.” Gray had finished his call and joined the others. “Sorry about this, CJ.” “Dude! It ain’t your fault.” Rod clasped and shook the man’s shoulder. “This isn’t the first time we have this kind of shit happen.” CJ shook his head in confusion. “Fine, let’s start at the beginning. Somebody wanna fill me in on the details?” Everyone turned their attention to Gray. “Okay, I do have a bit of good news. Lead and asbestos abatement will be complete by the end of the week. Next Monday, we can get back inside and start tearing down walls.” “That’s good news. But maybe we can start demo on Sunday? We’ve been watching all these remodeling shows, and I’m itching to sledgehammer a wall or two. Please?” CJ’s child-like pleading elicited chuckles. “Yeah, guess we can do that. But you’ll have to be nice to my other half. Pres usually has plans for me on Sundays.” Gray grinned, lifted his ball cap, and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, the reason we called you in. I had an unpleasant visit from an inspector this morning. He said he had a problem with how the elevator tower would affect the property’s appearance.” “Say what?” CJ was confused. “The elevator won’t even be in the house.” One of his first asks, when planning began, was for a lift like his parents had. The design called for locating it inside the carriage house. Since that structure was not as tall as the residence, a tower would be added to reach the home’s top floor. “The problem isn’t with the unit itself. This guy claims the tower will protrude above the roof line.” “That’s bullshit!” CJ’s confusion teetered on anger. “You won’t see shit standing in front of the house. And if you’re on the sidewalk across the street, I doubt you’ll see it either.” “We’ve been reviewing the plans most of the morning.” Rod ignored the fire in his cousin’s voice and spoke in an even tone. “We even called Chicago. Ty says there’s no way this should happen.” Tyler Scott, Rod’s brother-in-law, was experienced in renovating historical structures. He had been an integral part of the design process. CJ had assimilated construction knowledge since Brett founded his firm, but it was not detailed enough for a solution to jump at him. “What do we do?” “One option is to let him deny the permit.” César lifted one of the documents from the table. “These are the regulations for appealing. We’re all certain in the end we’ll get the proper approval.” “Spit it out, César. I hear a but.” At times like this, CJ hated his father’s precise, methodical approach. “It would delay us. And we don’t know how long.” “Not acceptable. With the baby on the way, Aba moving, and me starting work in the summer, we want to settle in as soon as possible.” “Tell him the rest, Gray.” “I think the guy’s looking for a payoff.” “The fuck? How do you figure?” CJ paid attention like he had not in class. “He peppered our conversation with comments about the owners’ wealth. How much the house had sold for. How much was budgeted for renovations. How much building the tower and supporting it would cost. All throughout, he mentioned ten thousand dollars as his estimate for specific items.” “And that means he wants ten grand to approve the fucking thing?” “Most likely,” Brett replied before Gray could say anything. “We’ve encountered similar situations before.” CJ sighed and at last dropped into one of the chairs. “How did you handle it?” “We appealed. And we’ve won every time. However, this is different. We’ve never dealt with a structure on the register.” “One other thing.” Gray’s continued apologetic tone bothered CJ. He would talk to him afterward and reassure him he was not to blame. “I was on the phone with a friend in the construction business. He’s dealt with this douche before. The guy has a reputation.” “Fine! Set up a meeting. I wanna meet this crook and give him a piece of my mind. I’ll bring Lola as backup.” “Asshole!” The fathers’ simultaneous comment brought forth renewed smiles. “We can just pay him off and be done with it. I mean, in the scheme of things that’s a drop in the bucket.” Rod’s suggestion was not well received. “Like hell we will! If I can’t shoot the fucker, I wanna ruin him. I wanna make sure he loses his job and is publicly humiliated. Hopefully, he’ll end up as somebody’s bitch in jail. Trip will have a field day with this story.” “Vengeful much?” Brett’s remark, at last, broke the tension. CJ’s scowl was not as pronounced. “Hey, how about we call Tom and ask for advice?” As a result of the conversation with District of Columbia Police Captain Tom Kennedy, CJ contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Their Public Corruption Unit assigned Special Agent Lincoln Ericson to the case. On the phone with CJ and Owen, Lincoln had asked countless questions; it was now clear why the final ones had been of a personal nature. “When you mentioned both of you rode motorcycles, I figured this was a chance for me to take my own scooter out for a spin. Thankfully, there’s no snow or ice on the roads.” “Yeah, but you prolly froze your butt off. It’s cold as hell.” CJ thought he would enjoy warming him up by climbing all over the man, but one look at Owen made it easy to dismiss the thought. “Nah, not that bad. I’m from Detroit. Michigan’s plenty cold.” “Mate, we’re gonna have to go out riding together after this mess’ over. By any chance, you play rugby?” “Stop recruiting, Oz. Let’s nail this Hussein guy first. Then you can try and rope Lincoln into becoming a Scandal. That’s if he doesn’t mind cavorting in mud with a bunch of overgrown, oversexed gay men.” “Why would I? That sounds like fun. One of the reasons I was assigned this case’s ’cause I’m gay.” By the time CJ and Owen returned home on Sunday, they were tired, covered in dust, and satisfied with the amount of destruction wreaked inside the house. During the following days, lumber and drywall filled a large portion of the carriage house, and solar roof-tile pallets crowded the side courtyard. Gray began working inside the residence while awaiting the results of the FBI operation. The Saturday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend, seven days after the meeting with Special Agent Ericson, home remodeling was the furthest thing from CJ’s mind. “You guys warm enough back there?” CJ rubbed his hands trying to vanquish the remaining chill. Getting into a snowball fight with his gloves back home in Washington was not his smartest move. Carson stopped tapping on his phone. “I'm good. Brad?” “Yeah, it's fine.” The Army veteran had been uncharacteristically quiet since leaving Heroes Haven. “What’s on your mind, Red? You haven’t said much.” CJ orchestrated the trip to Delaware as part of his continuing efforts to ensure his friend did not become a statistic. Over twenty veterans a day killed themselves in the United States. He and Owen had vowed not to allow such a fate to befall their friend. “Thinking… Man, I really don’t have that fucking much to complain about, you know? Some of the people I talked to today have nobody. Their injuries and having no one at home when they got back is what left many homeless” Brad spent time alone with compound residents while CJ and Owen met with the executive director. “I’m making you guys a promise right now. I’m gonna stay alive. Those men would do anything to have family and friends around like I do.” “Turn right at the next intersection, Ozzie.” Carson tagged along on the trip for lack of anything better to do and the opportunity for a home-cooked meal. Mr. And Mrs. Sawyer invited their son’s friends to spend the night at their home. “That’s not what the GPS says, mate.” “Screw the GPS. We’re taking the scenic route. It’ll take longer, but I texted the rents. They’re not expecting us until later.” “Okay… if we get lost, I’m siccing CJ on you. Brad? Keep thinking the way you are. You living and thriving is what we all want too.” “Thanks, Ozzie. And thank you, CJ.” “For what?” “For once again jumping in trying to help me. You seem to do that a lot. Kinda funny you were the ice breaker today.” “What do you mean?” “They all knew who you were. Those who had met you before said how nice you were. Those that hadn’t at least knew you were the youngest member of Haven’s board of directors. When I ended up following them to see the indoor arena, one asked me how I knew you. Ended up telling them the entire story of how we met.” Brad chuckled. “They thought I was gay too. Had to set them straight.” “So to speak…” The chuckles were more pronounced. “Yeah… It felt good to share stories of our high school days and our friends. I even had to show them the tat.” Over Christmas, Brad and his brother Patrick had the same tattoo other Squad members shared inked on their left arm. “I swear some of them were salivating. We’ve really led a charmed life, haven’t we?” “I remind CJ how lucky we are constantly.” Owen shared a wink with his husband. “Yeah, well, it’s not what those guys know. They never had the tight relationships we all do. Some found them in the service and then lost them. That’s part of what landed them where they are. The changes and the isolation. But I could see hope in them. That if they were lucky, they might one day have something similar again. It felt good to share those memories. The fact we all had battle experience made it easy to talk to them. Kinda fucked up to laugh at our antics, when shared pain was what we had in common. “The reason we were in there so long, is they wanted to show me the horses. They move lessons indoors when the ground freezes. The loose sand’s easier on the body when you fall. You know? That was the closest I’ve been to a horse. Excluding when you dragged us out to Central Park for carriage rides. Those guys came alive when they talked about their relationship with the animals. I’d love to learn how to ride.” “YES! Yes, yes, yes.” CJ’s shout and fist-pumping made Owen take his eyes off the road for a second. “You gonna be alright, CJ? I think I know what got you excited. Why don’t you share it with Brad and Carson?” CJ twisted to face the back seat. “Hell yeah, I’m okay. This is perfect! Brad, buddy, you just solved my dilemma.” “What the hell you talkin’ about?” “How’d you like to move to Heroes Haven for six months or so?” “I wish… But I ain’t homeless. I wouldn’t qualify. And I don’t want you pulling strings, bending rules, or pushing your weight around to get me in. You hear?” “Ahhh, but there might be a way. Without me having to do any of those things. Listen, the reason Ozzie and I spent so much time with the executive director was a long phone call to someone out in California. The woman we spoke with wants to do a documentary on the place. It would follow a resident for a few months. To chronicle participation and changes. Ozzie and I agreed to invest in the project. And when we get back to DC, we’re talking to the dads about the family foundation getting involved. But they were also trying to convince me to be in it and maybe narrate it.” “Yeah? Sounds good. But that don’t mean shit for me.” “Dickhead! Don’t you see, Brad? This is the way you get to move in. Dude, we tried to come up with a good hook for my involvement in the film. You’re it. What could be better than one of my closest friends, one of my brothers, being the connection?” “But I’m not homeless or destitute!” “Details, details. We’ll work that shit out. They can focus on you, and cover the homeless aspect through your interactions with the others. Like exploring the reasons for their condition and how Haven tries to help. Damn it! I’m a fucking genius.” “Asshole!” It was naked studs as far as the eye could see. The entire first floor was stripped of plaster walls, and the wood supports stood like silent guardians. A low whistle emanated from Special Agent Ericson. “Damn! Moving right along… You guys aren’t fooling around with the remodeling, are you? Is this going to be all open space?” CJ and Owen returned to DC Sunday afternoon; at first light Monday, they met Lincoln and a handful of agents at the 11th Street house. All vehicles were inside the carriage house, and the doors were locked. The other agents were ensconced on the second floor with the monitoring equipment installed the previous day. “We thought about it. It’s what CJ’s dads did with their place. But we agreed we wanted to retain as much of the house’s original character as possible. We’ll make the front parlor a bit smaller, enlarge the formal dining room, and combine the kitchen with the back room.” “Are you keeping the fireplace?” Lincoln inspected the minuscule camera and microphone his team had installed on the mantle. There were others placed in strategic spots. Anything taking place on the first floor would be seen, heard, and recorded. “Yeah! I love the smell of wood burning on a cold day. Ozzie’s letting me keep this one as is. There’s one on every floor, and the others will be converted to gas. My husband’s the ultimate environmentalist.” A hint of pride infused CJ’s words. “The whole project’s been an exercise in compromise, mate. CJ and I have disagreed and argued. Sometimes, we’ve flipped a coin. He’s actually agreed to more stuff I wanted than the other way around.” Owen’s smirk elicited chuckles from the other two men. “I’m expecting epic battles once we start choosing furnishings and paint colors.” “Hope I get invited back, so I can see the results. Okay, this guy’s going to be here soon. Let’s go over the plan again.” The knock on the outer door startled them. Lincoln had joined the other agents while CJ and Owen walked around the first floor discussing possible furniture placement and artwork locations. CJ tried to maintain a neutral expression when he opened the door. “Quadim Hussein?” “That’s me. And you are?” The FBI had told them the man was a naturalized citizen born in Pakistan. His skin tone was similar to other people CJ knew from the same area of the world. “CJ Abelló. I’m one of the owners.” He pointed at Owen standing by the fireplace. “That’s Owen Liston, the other one.” Neither CJ nor Owen made a move to shake hands. This was not a social visit. “I’m glad you invited me to discuss our little issue.” “It might be a small matter to you, Mr. Hussein. To us, it’s a big deal.” Following the Special Agent’s instructions, CJ moved closer to his husband and leaned against the fireplace’s mantle. He rested his hand on the edge, next to the plastic bank-bag Lincoln strategically placed on it. The movements were designed to direct attention to the banded currency visible inside the gaping bag. “We believe we could appeal your decision and win, but the delay would put us behind schedule and cost us a lot of money.” Quadim’s eyes followed the intended path and glimmered when he noticed the money. “Maybe we can come to some sort of arrangement?” Perfect. This was the opening they were told to look for and seize. “That’s our hope too. Did you have something in mind?” Owen’s comment sounded innocent. The goal was to make the man ask for a payment, not offer him one. “Maybe…” Hussein’s eyes roamed over the space as if studying it but consistently returned to the fireplace mantle and what they all knew was his bribe. Still, he danced around the issue. “I can tell there’s a lot of money being spent in this place. Have you considered a contribution to one of the local preservation groups? I might be willing to bend the rules and give you an approval if you were to make one. Not everyone can afford to maintain this kind of property. Several organizations raise money to make low-cost loans to homeowners who can’t find funds to repair their homes.” “Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that, CJ? It’s something we do in the environmental field all the time. Developers are granted regulation waivers in exchange for land or cash donations.” Owen’s performance was Oscar-worthy in CJ’s opinion. “Ohhh, that’s something we’d be willing to do. Anonymously, of course. Do you have any suggestions for an organization and an amount, Mr. Hussein?” CJ was ready to reel the man in and get the entire thing over. “Well, I’d have to think about which group would be best. Ten thousand would be a reasonable amount.” “Very reasonable.” Owen’s nodding was mimicked by CJ. “The problem’s we’re so busy, I’m not sure CJ or I have the time to research this.” “I’d be happy to coordinate it for you. After all, we all want the same thing, right? Spread the wealth around to help others and get you your approval.” Hussein was still being careful with how he worded comments. “Maybe I could help you out. I can take the payment and make your problem disappear.” Bingo! They had him. “Lovely of you to be so helpful. CJ and I appreciate your help.” Positioning himself so his eyes were not visible to any of the cameras in the room, Owen winked at the man. They did not want to deal with entrapment claims. “That would be ideal!” CJ pointed at the cash-stuffed bag. “Would you like to count it? I think this is what you’re asking for.” “I’ll trust you. I need to get out of here and go home. I told the wife I wouldn’t be gone for long.” He reached for the bag, glanced inside, and zippered it shut. “You two enjoy the holiday. I’ll be back tomorrow with the approved plans.” “FBI!” Lincoln’s shout made even CJ and Owen jump. “Quadim Hussein, you’re under arrest.” On the last day of the month, CJ spent most of his time at the dojo describing what he claimed was snail-paced progress on the house. He exaggerated the delays. Almost two weeks after Quadim Hussein’s arrest, they had all the necessary approvals for the renovation project. Individual, periodic inspections would be required along the way for specific tasks, but those would not be burdensome. He was looking forward to mucking around the property with Owen the next day. Ritchie’s presence at the apartment when he returned home was a surprise. “What up, bro? I’m surprised you’re here. How come you’re not with Lucy like most Friday nights?” Owen interrupted before Ritchie could reply. “Give us a minute, mate. CJ, drop your bag, change into shorts, and come back out. I opened a bottle already. We’ll have a glass of wine while your brother explains.” CJ’s brow furrowed with suspicion. “Fuck that! There’s obviously something going on. What gives?” There were no interruptions this time. Ritchie blurted out the reason for his presence before Owen could stop him. “Lucy’s pregnant.”
  5. 63 points
    Following Arlene’s directions, Jenny Gillespie’s studio sat tucked away in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells, above a travel agent on the main high street. Jaymes—his Rover now back in action—eventually found parking a few streets away on the third floor of a municipal car park. As the engine died, in the gloom of the building, Nathan felt Jaymes’ gaze come to rest on him. Insightful as always, he knew exactly what Nathan was thinking, which is why he’d kept the conversation light and diverting on the drive over. Truth be told, Nathan appreciated his presence, because he knew only too well how nervous he’d have been if he’d come alone. Still, it wasn’t every day you got to take your clothes off for a photographer and showcase your skin and bones, even if not your crown jewels. As though hearing the doubting voice in his head, a warm hand landed on his thigh and squeezed. “You know you’re going to rock this, don’t you?” “Not sure about that.” Nathan mourned the loss of heat when Jaymes removed his hand, but almost immediately the warmth transferred to around Nathan’s neck and shoulders, pulling him into Jaymes’ body. Nestled against him, Jaymes kissed the side of Nathan’s face and whispered in his ear. “I’m going to be with you, Nate. All the way.” Since Sunday—except for working hours—they had spent every waking and sleeping moment together. After visiting the solicitor, they enjoyed a light brunch inside a trendy brasserie overlooking the stormy Eastbourne seafront, and had a long chat about the implications of the will. Jaymes quelled any worries Nathan might have, reasoning that if Nathan, a relative his uncle had met only once, had left him so much money, then his true next of kin would surely have been left a hell of a lot more, making him a very wealthy man. After lunch, they agreed to drive straight to Polly’s. Instead of dessert, Jaymes had stoked Nathan’s ardour by promising him another unhurried session in the bedroom when they got home. Nathan drove barely under the speed limit and arrived at Polly’s at three-thirty. When Nathan explained the plan to set Jaymes up in Nathan’s spare room, Polly became pensive. If she suspected anything between them, he couldn’t tell. And even though Nathan cited the good sense of the plan, about them keeping very different work hours, about having the spare room available and being able to keep an eye on her cousin, she gave him a quizzical frown as they watched Jaymes load his things into the van. On his way past them, Jaymes deftly changed the subject, asking about her dinner date the night before with her girlfriends. Brilliant ploy, too, because a flustered Polly soon went on the defensive. “Girlfriends? She told me you had a dinner date with somebody, and it definitely wasn’t the girls. You had a date with Benny Osmond, didn’t you, Polly?” asked Nathan, his arms folded. “What? No!” said Polly, aghast. “Why would you think that?” “Because you two were thick as thieves the other night down the pub.” “He’s a child.” “Told you,” said Jaymes, tilting his head at Nathan as he carried another box to the van. “So who, then? We know it wasn’t the girls.” “None of your beeswax.” “You know he’s going to keep guessing, Poll,” called Jaymes. “May as well fess up now.” Polly looked between the two of them, before ramming her hands onto her hips. “Fine. I had dinner with Katherine Osmond, Benny’s mum.” “Oh. Oh?” said Nathan, raising his eyebrows. “For goodness’ sake, nothing like that. I called her to find out what she knew about Arlene and, as she wasn’t busy on Saturday night, suggested we have a drink and a bite to eat. Appeal to her journalistic curiosity, so to speak. Apparently she doesn’t trust her either. So now I’ve got her on the case to find out more.” “My goodness, you are one tenacious little private detective, aren’t you?” said Nathan. “Hang on. Were you going to keep this a secret?” “I wanted to surprise you. She may not come up with anything.” “Polly,” said Nathan, mock frowning. “You know we don’t keep secrets from each other.” Behind Polly’s left shoulder, Jaymes stopped moving, caught his eye, and pulled a face. Catching on, Nathan felt his cheeks colour. Fortunately Polly didn’t notice. “If I find anything out, you’ll be the first to know, okay? So are you boys coming in for a drink?” Jaymes beat Nathan to the reply. “Would love to, Poll, but I really need to get back and unpack my stuff in the spare room. And if Nathan doesn’t mind me using his ironing board, I should get some clothes ready for tomorrow morning.” “Knock yourself out.” “Fine, I’ll come to you then,” said Polly, not letting up. “I’ve been marking homework all morning and my brain is ready to implode. Need a dose of adult company along with my favourite tipple. I also want to hear what your solicitor had to say.” Nathan and Jaymes exchanged a panicked glance. “Sure,” said Nathan, shrugging defeat, noticing Jaymes rub a hand over his eyebrows. “How about you give us an hour to get Jaymes settled and then come over. Text me when you’re near. Maybe we can order some take-out—” “No, I’ll cook,” said Jaymes, a little abruptly, slapping Nathan on the shoulder. “Enough with the bloody take-outs. But can we stop off at the supermarket on the way back?” “Ooh,” said Polly, clapping her hands together. “Jaymes is going to cook. Bonus. He has a proper oven now. He cooks really well, Nathan. Wait until you’ve been wowed by one of his recipes.” Nathan knew Polly managed to feed herself with only a microwave, a toaster, and piles of take-out menus. How Jaymes survived so long, heaven only knew. “Can’t wait.” Fortunately, Polly left early. After Jaymes amazed them both with tenderloin steaks, red wine jus, fried onions, button mushrooms, green beans and sautéed potatoes, together with Polly’s bottle of full bodied red Italian Amarone, they fell onto the sofa—Polly in between Jaymes and Nathan—and discussed the trip to the solicitors. Polly agreed with Jaymes, about the warning being unnecessary, that his first cousin already had a life in Australia, maybe even a family of his own, and probably a huge windfall from his late father. Why would he want to endure the miserable weather of England and be chained to a bakery? By eight, knowing Nathan had to rise early, noticing him yawning a couple of times, Polly left. Nathan and Jaymes both waved her off from the front stoop. As soon as Nathan stepped inside and closed the front door behind them, Jaymes pulled him into an embrace, eagerly seeking out his mouth, his hands cupping and squeezing Nathan’s backside. An involuntary moan escaped Nathan, as he moulded himself into Jaymes’ body, his own passion burning with anticipation. Until Jaymes broke the kiss and whispered into Nathan’s ear. “Come on. Let’s rinse the dirty dishes and load the dishwasher.” “Mr Fischer, you have a strange sense of foreplay.” “I’m thinking bed, but maybe we ought to sleep. You have to be up early tomorrow.” Nathan pulled away and stared incredulous at Jaymes. “There is absolutely no way I’m going to be able to sleep. Not until I’ve expended a good deal of energy. Any suggestions?” “Want to go for a run?” said Jaymes, smirking playfully. “I’m thinking more along the lines of a blow job,” said Nathan, rubbing his erection against Jaymes’. With a growl, Jaymes lifted Nathan off the floor, threw him over his shoulder, and swiftly clumped up the stairs. In the bedroom, he carefully unloaded him onto the mattress and proceeded to climb on top. Face to face, unhurriedly now, they began to undress each other, helping one another by shifting their body weight to allow an item of clothing to be fully removed. Eventually, when both lay naked alongside each other, Jaymes kissed him deeply, before letting his mouth and hands explore Nathan’s body. Without pausing for breath, Jaymes swallowed Nathan’s cock, his tongue working him hard, while a hand squeezed his balls before sliding around to his backside, a finger stroking around his crack. Nathan already felt his orgasm building, but when Jaymes pulled his mouth away and instead focused his tongue’s attention on his backside, spreading the cheeks wide with his hands, Nathan felt his control slip away. At the first swipe, Nathan surrendered to the sensation, but when Jaymes face buried into him, his tongue working wildly, rabidly, a fierce climax ripped out of him. Jaymes seemed as surprised as Nathan, because, after a brief chuckle, he stopped what he was doing and concentrated on the head of Nathan’s cock, drinking as much as Nathan had left to give him. “I think somebody needed that,” said Jaymes, giving Nathan a salty kiss. “You have no idea. But what about you?” “Hmm. I’m looking forward to being inside you.” “Then what the hell are you waiting for?” This time, a usually energetic, enthusiastic, Jaymes took his time preparing and fucking Nathan. When he finally began the erratic to-and-fro thrust for home, Nathan’s erection had returned and he came a second time moments after Jaymes. “It’s almost ten. We need to sleep.” Nathan reluctantly agreed, relaxing against Jaymes’ body. Jaymes was right, of course, Nathan would need to rise in just over three hours to get things ready for Arthur and his son. Nevertheless, he breathed out an irritated sigh. “Your cousin is a total passion killer, you know that?” “She wasn’t to know. Are you annoyed?” “Not really. There’ll be plenty of other times. Simply looking forward to having you in my bed.” “Ditto. Breakfast at five-thirty? I’ve bought blueberries, yogurt, and oatmeal.” “Are you sure? You can stay in bed, if you want.” “Nope. We breakfast together. New home, new rule. Now let’s sleep.“ Which is what they did. Nathan rose just before one on Monday morning, sliding carefully out of bed so as not to wake Jaymes. However, this time, once he’d done his usual routines and made sure Arthur and his son had everything they needed, he slipped back upstairs, set his alarm for five, and climbed back into bed. As promised, they shared breakfast together, the first in a line of concessions. ++++ At seven on Monday evening, Nathan heard the door slam downstairs. He’d just emerged from the bathroom after a customary shower, a towel wrapped around his waist. “Honey, I’m home,” came the now-familiar voice, from below stairs. Nathan chuckled to himself. Jaymes’ slow, deliberate footsteps clomping on the stairs halted him, a moment of delicious anticipation at seeing the man he shared a bed with, a man he was allowed to touch and kiss and savour, a man he had been thinking about all day. As Jaymes’ entered the room, he slowed, his smile slipping, his eyes widening, taking in Nathan’s state of undress. Nathan’s pulse raced at the instantaneous reaction. Dropping the bag from his shoulder and absently throwing papers onto the table, Jaymes strode over to Nathan and almost knocked him off his feet, crushing him into an embrace. “Fuck! I’ve been thinking about you naked all day. And here you are, like an unexpected Christmas present. Do you always shower after your day in the shop?” “Most always.” “Then I am well and truly fucked. I’m not normally a creature of habit, but this I could get used to.” “Hmm,” said Nathan, nuzzling Jaymes’ neck but jumping as a hand crept beneath the rim of his towel and softly squeezed his balls. After letting out a gentle sigh, Nathan inhaled Jaymes’ body scent of leaf, and earth, and manual work. Yes, thought Nathan, he could definitely get used to making a habit of this kind of stress relief at the end of a busy day. +++++ Tuesday evening, as Nathan stood under the shower, he thought he heard the front door slam, and reduced the water pressure so he could listen better. Confirming his suspicions, he heard the sound of running footsteps on the stairs, punctuated by a sudden crash, a string of expletives in Jaymes’ distinctive voice, followed by more hastened footsteps. When the door to the bathroom burst open, Jaymes had already removed his boots, shirt, most of his jeans, and hopped on one foot trying to remove a thick woollen sock. “You started without me!” he said, in a mock petulant voice, “Only just begun, Jay,” said Nathan, setting the water to full throttle again. “Getting myself washed and ready and prepped to give you a good time. But do you really want to start in here? In my—what was it you called it—phone booth shower? I mean, is it safe, bearing in mind you can barely navigate the stairs?” Unheeding, Jaymes--completely naked now--wrenched open the cubicle door and squeezed in with Nathan. Instantly, his arms snaked around Nathan, their slick bodies crushing together, Jaymes’ already hard cock rubbing against Nathan’s, their mouths finding each other with new familiarity. After satisfying himself, Jaymes pulled away, then pushed his nose gently into Nathan’s ear. “Let’s find out, shall we?” +++++ Wednesday afternoon, and both Jaymes and Nathan had taken a few hours off work. Traditionally, Wednesdays tended to be less busy than the rest of the week and old hand Molly could always call him with any problems. Jaymes, having worked nonstop since he had arrived in town, kept his own hours and simply took the time off. Nathan found himself getting calmer on the stroll from the carpark to the studio. Jaymes walked alongside in companionable silence, their shoulders occasionally bumping together. In only a few days, they had settled into a comfortable existence of careful, companionable distance in public, and full throttle, no holds barred action in the bedroom. For the moment, at least, Nathan relished the arrangement. At the top of a narrow staircase, a smiling Jenny met them at the front door to the studio. After shaking hands with Nathan she peered quizzically at Jaymes. “This is Jaymes. He’s a friend. Here for moral support,” said Nathan, clocking the appraising looks Jenny cast Jaymes. “He’s not a member of the football team, if that’s what you’re thinking.” “Shame,” said Jenny, giving Jaymes an appreciative once-over. “Come on in, both of you.” Inside what was probably once a largish flat of two or three bedrooms, the structure been knocked into a substantial wooden floor-panelled workspace. Two doors led off into what Nathan assumed to be a bathroom and a kitchen. Three couches stood arranged against one of the walls, one of them beneath the shuttered windows and the others either side, somewhere for the subject matter to relax when they weren’t being photographed. Someone had decorated a corner of the studio to look like a miniature baker’s shop. Shelves housing trays of assorted glazed bread loaves, buns and colourful cakes, together with a wooden butcher’s block lit by bright spotlights filled the space. Nathan walked over and squeezed one of the loaves but found them to be solid. “They’re plastic” said a laughing Jenny. “Well, a couple of the props are real. But a friend works in West End theatre as a set designer, and loaned them to me.” “Apart from the smell—or lack of—I’d never have known. So where do you want me?” “Let’s sit down, have a cup of tea and a chat first. Then I can tell you what I have in mind.” Jenny’s ploy, clearly meant to get Nathan relaxed, worked up to a point. Apart from soothing pop songs playing in the background, and a lavender infuser lightly tainting the air of the room, they reclined on one of the comfortable sofas. Jenny ran through her ideas, of having him in a variety of poses and his groin being covered each time by various props. For each idea, she continuously asked his opinion and purposely included Jaymes. To compliment the glaze of the loaves, she suggested Nathan oil his entire body with baby oil, and have him naked except for his football socks, either shoved down the ankles—as though he’d just played a game—or neatly pulled up to the knee. For his part, she wanted some photographs with him looking directly at the camera, and some where he picked a spot off-camera and held the gaze of someone. “You’re probably thinking this is all about the body, but remember that people always zero in on the face first. A good-looking face like yours with an interesting expression will trump a sexy body any day. And remember I’m a static camera photographer—no Annie Leibovitz—so don’t worry about me hopping about or crouching down in front of you. I’ll be seated on a small stool all the time, but if you get the impulse to move about, don’t worry, just go with your instinct. The camera’s on a swivel and I’ll follow your lead.” An hour after they’d arrived, she suggested he head to the bathroom to get oiled up and put on his white robe, while she played with her light meter and adjusted her camera with trial snaps at the empty backdrop. Jaymes began to offer to help, but Nathan waved him off, knew if Jaymes started to rub him down with oil, they would never leave the bathroom. Just as Nathan began to stand, Jaymes put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him back down to sitting. Without removing his hand, he began to massage the shoulder. “Are you okay, Nate?,” whispered Jaymes. “You’re wound tighter than the first lady.” “I’m fine.” Jaymes reached another hand out and tidied a lock of hair over Nathan’s ear, before massaging the other shoulder. Nathan closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation. “You want me to cook you dinner when we get home?” Nathan opened his eyes and rolled them, but smiled into Jaymes’ warm gaze. “You’re always cooking for me. It’s not fair to you.” “Do you hear me complain? Besides, it’s part of our rental agreement. And I’m hoping that maybe you’ll get naked for me again later tonight.” Jaymes reached out and smoothed his thumb slowly across Nathan’s lips, a little idiosyncrasy of Jaymes that Nathan had begun to enjoy. “I’ve been naked for you every night since Saturday.” “And your point being…?” Nathan chuckled and felt some of his anxiety fade. But the soft clicking of the camera brought him back to himself, and he began to stand. Before leaving, he leant in, held Jaymes’ chin in one hand, and a pecked a quick kiss on his lips. Freezing suddenly, he realised what he had done, and quickly cast a glance at Jenny, but noticed her already immersed in her work. “Oops, sorry. Come on. Let me get this over with.” Unlike the rest of the studio, the small pink bathroom appeared original with its cracked sink, scratched perspex shower cubicle, short but deep bath—all in pink, of course—and pink toilet. Only the floor-to-ceiling mirror with lightbulbs all around appeared new. Nathan undressed, grabbed the giant sized bottle of baby oil and started to smother himself. After ten minutes, Nathan poked his head out of the door and called Jaymes in, to check he had covered himself evenly. Satisfied, Nathan tied his robe and pushed Jaymes back out into the studio. “Okay, Nathan. For the first couple of minutes, leave your robe on, and just find a spot and a pose that feels natural and where you feel at ease.” “Local pub?” offered Nathan. At least Jenny had the decency to laugh at his lame joke. “I’m not sure the elderly patrons at the Duke’s Head are ready for a semi-naked baker.” After five minutes of self-conscious posing, Jenny suggested he drop the robe. Jaymes obliged by coming over and collecting the garment from him. Even when he eventually got used to the blinding spotlights, Nathan felt as stiff as a board—and not in a good way. Following Jenny’s choreography, he moved around the set, at one point holding a wholemeal loaf in front of him, or kneeling down sidelong to place bread into a basket, his outside knee raised and hiding anything but a sprinkling of pubic hair. On a couple of occasions, Jaymes told him to relax, but the coaxing seemed to have the reverse effect. An occasionally murmured ‘good’ from Jenny seemed far from adequate, but fifteen minutes into the shoot, and Nathan felt ‘good’ was going to be as much as he had to offer. “Relax, Nathan,” said Jaymes, again. “I am trying to bloody relax. You constantly telling me is not helping.” At that point, Nathan noticed Jaymes—standing a good stride behind Jenny—lean forward and whisper something into her ear. Without turning, Jenny stopped shooting and nodded. “Nathan,” she said, her eyes focused on him. “Let’s have you up on the butcher’s block, facing the camera, lying on your side. Use the football to cover your groin.” “Seriously?” said Nathan, clambering up onto the surface and laying out flat. The coldness of the countertop raised gooseflesh as first, but the studio lights soon helped to provide warmth. Comfortable at last, he looked over to see Jaymes standing behind Jenny’s right shoulder, watching and grinning, while Jenny snapped away. “Try to relax a little more,” said Jenny, which succeeded in making him roll his eyes and tense up even more. As he lay on his side, matching the pose Jaymes had adopted in the Mosswold lodge—no coincidence there, clearly what Jaymes had suggested to Jenny—Jaymes caught his eye. Grinning mischievously, Jaymes smoothed a hand down from his tight tee-clad chest, passing over his stomach, and stopping at the fly to his jeans. Without hesitating, he popped the top button, unzipped himself and then thrust a hand behind the waistband of his briefs. With Nathan watching mesmerised, he grabbed at his package, slowly squeezing and readjusting. Nathan’s eyes became saucers and instant lust filled him. “Good. Good!” said Jenny. “Nice. Hold that expression.” Not difficult for Nathan. Except the good intentions began to have another effect on Nathan, and he felt blood pounding south. With one hand cradling his chin, the other draped on top of the football of black and white regular pentagonal patches, he felt his cock begin to rise to the occasion. Embarrassed, he rolled onto his stomach but in doing so, his hip knocked the ball away from himself and off the bench. All the time he could hear the click, click, click of Jenny’s camera mingled with the rhythmic smack, smack, smack of the football bouncing across the floor. Totally exposed now, stretched out with his backside on full display, he crossed his long legs at the socked ankles, raised his upper torso on his elbows and glared over at Jaymes. “Brilliant!” said Jenny, snapping her camera furiously. “Keep that look!” Jaymes, of course, simply grinned back at the glare, and Nathan couldn’t help the wicked grin that joined in with his angry glare. “No idea what you’re doing behind me, Jaymes, but keep doing it. And as for you, Nathan. Amazing. You’re a natural,” said Jenny, the excitement clear in her voice. Five minutes later—probably fifteen minutes earlier than expected, Jenny called time. “Already?” said Jaymes, astonished. He handed a relieved Nathan his robe which he donned instantly. “Trust me. I’ve got everything I need. Unless you want to get naked, Jaymes.” “Maybe another time, thanks.” “Good. Then I think we’re done here.” “Can we take a look?” Jenny beckoned them both over and used the small viewer on the back of her camera to show a couple of the better shots. Although Nathan couldn’t see the full details in the miniature screen, he was impressed with the quality. “I said you’d rock this,” murmured Jaymes, grinning at Nathan. "And, as usual, I was right.” “They’ll need cropping and editing,” said Jenny. “Not sure if they’d be better in full colour or monochrome. We’ll see. I promised I’d let Arlene see them all before we choose the final shot. My one small concession to her. Hope that’s okay with you?” “Fine by me,” said Nathan. “Good then,” said Jenny, smiling. “I think you’ve set the bench quite high today, Nathan. Sometimes I snap hundreds of shots and never get the one. From what I can tell, at least ten of these are beauties. Unless one of the other players pulls something out of the hat, I think we may well have our calendar centrefold.” Nathan gulped, while Jaymes beamed triumphantly. “And?” asked Jaymes, a smug look on his face, waiting for Nathan to tell him he was right. “And, I’m going to take a hot shower to get this oil off me. And then, you’re taking me for a drink.” “Duke’s Head?” “Fine, but fully clothed.”
  6. 62 points
    Nathan smirked as he peered into Benedetti’s, waiting in line with Jaymes to talk to the maître d'. Jaymes had described the place perfectly. Large mirrors lined every wall, just above the top of each burgundy leather booth, but tilted gently in such a way that diners got a full view of the whole floor space. Even the ceiling had been mirrored in places. Just a quick glance into the heart of the place, and Nathan spied a sea of celebrity faces, both major and minor, all immaculately turned out in their weekend finest. “Do you think if I shout the word ‘cut’ at the top of my voice, they’ll all freeze in place?” murmured Jaymes, leaning into Nathan, his warm breath dusting his ear, as though hearing his thoughts. Nathan chuckled and caught the eye of the equally amused maître d'. Nothing seemed to faze Jaymes, who had been upbeat all the way to town in the taxi. Nathan had been looking forward to Saturday night all week, not so much because of meeting with Clifton and his husband but to having Jaymes to himself in his bed later without having to worry about waking early Sunday morning. Better still, he knew Jaymes had been looking forward to the same thing. He and Polly had been clothes shopping earlier in the day because Jaymes felt he had nothing showy enough to impress Nathan’s celebrity friends. Honestly, Nathan no longer cared what Clifton thought about Jaymes, but he had to admit, seeing Jaymes dressed up in a black silk shirt and snugly fitting grey trouser suit, two thoughts came to mind. One, to show this incredible specimen he happened to be intimate with off to the world, or otherwise to cancel the dinner date altogether in favour of slowly stripping the man and having his way with him. Fortunately, before they’d dressed, he and Jaymes had put aside time in the bedroom to ‘take the pressure off’, so to speak. Blow Jobs only, admittedly, but enough to take off the sexual edge. Since last Saturday—it had only been a week—his life had been transformed. Jaymes’ books and a few photos now filled the previously half empty bookcase. Jaymes’ clothes hung alongside Nathan’s in the master bedroom, and they had even rearranged the kitchen to suit them both. Breakfast together at five-thirty had become a ritual. Fresh fruit, muesli, coffee, freshly baked Fresher wholewheat toast and conversation—largely instigated by Jaymes—against a backdrop of subdued news from the small television, became the order of the morning. After a short wait, one of the servers led them to the booth, where two men already sat. Holding a conversation behind their menus, with only their similar dark hair visible, they looked like a couple of naughty school kids. Neither noticed Jaymes and Nathan heading their way. Only as the server stopped and introduced Jaymes and Nathan, did the pair emerge smiling. “Apologies,” said Clifton, placing his menu down on the table. “Raul was catching me up on some of his antics in the States.” With his bronzed skin, Raul Jurado glowed with veritable health. Absently, Nathan wondered what Doris would make of his aura. Something positive, no doubt. His alert brown eyes seemed happy in the way they assessed the new guests, and his generous smile felt authentic. If anything, he stood out among the sea of celebrities as the genuine article. Unlike Clifton, he got to his feet—a little awkward from behind the booth table—and reached out a hand to greet them, leaving an amused Clifton still seated. “Nathan, Jaymes. Meet the husband, Raul,” said Clifton. “Hope you don’t mind this place. Bookings are hard to come by, but my manager, Giorgio, has connections here and managed to pull some strings. I just hope you don’t mind authentic Italian.” “Who doesn’t like Italian food?” said Nathan, sitting in the chair opposite Clifton. “Actually, to be absolutely precise, it’s Sicilian,” said Raul, clarifying. Nathan instantly liked his voice. A deep, soft, staccato Mexican accent evident on certain words and syllables, combined with American pronunciations, his voice like a younger Gael García Bernal. “Mafia inspired, then?” quipped Clifton, to Nathan. “Watch out for bullets in the food.” “Many people refer to Sicily as God’s Kitchen because of the variety of dishes and natural ingredients. While for others the cuisine is considered peasant food.” “I’ll be right at home, then,” added Jaymes, seating himself next to Nathan, opposite Raul. “Both you and me,” said Raul, grinning back. Nathan felt himself relax. Jaymes’ approval of anyone did not come lightly, so he felt relieved to see him warm to Raul. Hopefully, there would be no need to leave early tonight. But he also loved seeing Jaymes relax and enjoy himself. Already he had turned on his charm offensive. As though hearing the voice in his head, and although they had agreed to no PDAs, Jaymes’ warm hand landed on Nathan’s thigh and squeezed. “There are six place settings. Are you expecting someone else?” Nathan asked Clifton. “Giorgio and his girlfriend might join. He’s dropping the kids off to his ex-wife’s place. So as long as there are no dramas and he can get away, they’ll join. Whenever he comes here, he chats with his pal, the chef, and we end up getting amazing things that aren’t on the menu. So I suggest we order drinks and maybe a sharing platter of appetisers while we wait to see if he shows.” “Fine by me,” said Jaymes. “And apparently, he needs a chat with you, Nathan.” “Me? Why me?” “I have no idea. But, hopefully you’ll find out later.” Raul ordered a cold Sicilian antipasto platter of assorted cured meats, eggplant, stuffed olives, assorted bell peppers, artichokes, and a long roulade of vine tomatoes and mozzarella, all served with a basket of fresh Pane Siciliano with its sesame seed crust. For the table, he ordered the house red wine, a very decent Chianti, saying that Giorgio would probably insist on a particular wine once he arrived. “Nothing fancy, I’m afraid,” said Clifton, grimacing at the huge serving dish. “Are you kidding?” said Jaymes. “This is what I call good honest food. Give me this any day of the week over some poncey, flavourless, overpriced, tiny-portioned nouvelle cuisine creation.” Nathan’s head snapped to Jaymes. Had the remark been meant for Clifton at what Jaymes had labelled the pretentious meal he’d endured at Clifton’s grandparent’s house? Fortunately, Clifton didn’t seem to register the comment and instead Raul began to respond. “I like you already, Jaymes. When it comes to food, I am like you and I often tell Clifton he favours style over substance,” said Raul, before placing a hand on Clifton’s arm. “But I must also say, to his credit, he’s taken me to a few amazing places where they produce both. So I’m always open to new food experiences. Except when I’m training, of course. Then my coach gets to dictate everything I eat, down to the last stick of celery.” “You’re not training at the moment?” asked Nathan. “Nothing intensive, no. I still have my regular fitness routines, but the intensive competition training will begin in early June.” “You know, I think I remember your debut performance,” said Jaymes, stroking his chin. “At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, wasn’t it? Took everyone by surprise. You performed to the Mission Impossible theme. Mesmerising. When the American commentator introduced you, he quipped about you skating for that well-known Winter Olympic nation, Mexico, and I remember a few people in the background laughing. Then he went on to make some smartass comment about not many ice lakes to practise on in Acapulco. Man, did you shut that idiot up with your performance. You came fifth, if I remember correctly?” “You do, and I did. In that particular heat, anyway. Thank you for remembering.” “I would never have taken you for a figure skating fan, Jaymes,” said Nathan, breaking a bread stick and bumping shoulders with Jaymes. “And you’d be right. I’m not, specifically. I’m more of a toboggan and ice hockey fanatic,” said Jaymes, catching Nathan’s eye and winking. “More rough and tumble than finesse. But when Winter Olympic sports are on the television, I’ll binge watch all the events. And Raul’s performance that year really stood out.” “You are now officially my new best friend.” “So how’s the television series coming along, Cliff?” asked Nathan, realising Clifton’s attention had drifted elsewhere, scanning the room. “On and off. The big boys at HBC4 had a screening of the pilot last week and, as a result, want changes made to tighten up the script, especially the dialogue. So we’re furiously reshooting scenes right now to meet the May deadline. Which means days of very early mornings.” Welcome to my world, thought Nathan. “Something you and Nate share in common,” said Jaymes, echoing Nathan’s thoughts. “What’s the name of the show?” “Candle Wishes,” said Nathan. “At least, that’s the working title of the pilot.” “Sounds like a birthday party. What’s the story about? Or are you not allowed to tell us?” “Can’t give the wider plot away, mainly partly of being held to secrecy, but also because I don’t know. We’ve only been given the script for the pilot, so a lot either hasn’t been written yet or is under wraps. We tend to find out a week before shooting. But it’s a modern day thriller. Part political, part conspiracy, partly a modern social commentary. Very disturbing, if what we’ve filmed so far is anything to go by. Headless twin boys found in a houseboat.” “And what part do you play?” “CID. A British detective inspector working the case from the UK side, alongside my US counterpart played by Helen Monash. The case—or cases, I should say—straddle both countries, both continents.” “Wow,” said Nathan. “I’m already hooked. Have you been on set, Raul?” “He doesn’t really get the time. Not at the moment, anyway.” Clifton and Raul shared a knowing look, before Raul spoke. “I’m retiring from the sport this year.” “Huh? How old are you?” said Nathan, aghast. “Twenty-six. But I’ve had a couple of recurring injuries which aren’t getting any better. Plus the fact that Nathan and I are expanding our family. Can I show them?” “Of course you can.” Raul pulled out his wallet, and prised out a photograph from one of the compartments. After leaning into Clifton, with both of them grinning at the image, he passed the picture across the table to Nathan. The image showed a pregnant woman leaning into a man who was clearly an older version of Raul. “It’s my sister-in-law, Miguella, with my older brother, Javier, next to her. They live in San Diego with their six kids, aged between four and twelve. I send them back money when I can, but they simply can’t afford to raise any more kids. They’ve been very careful since little Marco was born, but shit happens. When she found out they were expecting twins, they told the family they’d decided to give them up for adoption. Clifton and I were planning to adopt anyway, but maybe not for another year. But when we stepped in and offered to be the adoptive parents, we weren’t sure how they’d respond—my family are staunch Roman Catholic—but everyone was stoked at the idea, even my grandma. Clifton and I have a place in San Jose, around seven hours drive up the coast, so we’d raise them up there. Means the families still get to see each other regularly.” All the time Raul had been speaking, Nathan tried to read Clifton’s face. But although he had his usual fixed grin in place, his eyes did not meet Nathan’s, instead looking to Raul from time to time and then scanning the other diners. “That’s amazing. How long until they’re due?” asked Jaymes. “She was around twelve weeks in that photo. So if all goes to plan, we’re probably looking at August.” “And do you know the sex of the babies? Or is it too early yet?” “At the time of the picture, they didn’t know. But now it’s confirmed. They’re—,” said Raul, stopping and squeezing Clifton into him. “We’re—having a boy and a girl.” “Even my mother has offered baby-sitting duties,” said Clifton, smirking, his attention returned to the table. “Can you imagine, Nate?” Both Raul and Nathan laughed. “Why’s that funny?” asked Jaymes, who appeared irritated at the private joke. “Cliff’s mother was never what you’d call maternal. I once heard her describing her experience of having Clifton saying bringing one child into the world was enough for a lifetime. Totally ruined her figure, complexion, nails, and gave her permanent bags under the eyes. Maybe if she’d waited until she was in LA, it might have been a different story.” “But then I’d never have known you,” said Clifton, quietly, smiling at Nathan. “And let’s not forget, she also managed to produce an in-demand movie star,” said Jaymes, an arm landing around the back of Nathan’s shoulders. “Who has an equally hot husband.” “Yes, well, all that came a lot later,” said Clifton, smiling his understanding at Jaymes. “She’s flying over in March. You ought to meet her. I know she’d love to see you, Nate.” “We could present her with your calendar as a keepsake, Nate,” said Jaymes. “Oh, my God, Jaymes,” said Nathan, putting his head in his hands. “I swear, you are evil.” “Hey, I forgot to ask,” said Clifton. “How did that go?” “It went,” said Nathan, meeting his gaze. “Let me tell you,” said Jaymes, pulling Nathan’s body into his own. “My man rocked the shoot. No kidding. The photographer said she produced some of the best shots she’s ever taken. And this from a professional. Wait until you see. I had a hard-on for most of the session.” “Jaymes,” said Nathan, looking mortified onto Jaymes’ eyes, but grinning still. “What?” said Jaymes, kissing him on top of the head. “Just telling it like it is.” “Well, I would love to see the finished product,” said Raul. “When does it go on sale?” “I’m guessing you guys will get free copies as you’re hosting the event. But I’d imagine it’ll be ready to go on sale in April or May. I can text you when I know more. Or you can keep an eye out on the Crumbington Summer Fête website.” “Don’t worry, we will,” said Clifton. “Ah, here’s Giorgio.” Giorgio and a pretty girl half his age approached them. After Giorgio introduced her, Toni, they began to play musical chairs but Giorgio insisted on everyone staying put, and seating themselves either end of the table. As Clifton expected, the first thing Giorgio did was to head to the kitchen, to sort out platters of main courses. All in all, the evening went extremely well. Toni turned out to be a minor celebrity too, openly admitting to using Giorgio to give her career a boost, even though she was also really fond of him. On a couple of occasions, people stopped by to say hello to either Clifton or Raul, and during another occasion, when Clifton excused himself to use the washroom, Nathan found himself chatting to Giorgio. “Not sure if Clifton told you but I have a favour to ask. How would feel about us using your baker’s shop for one of our episodes? It would mean filming on your day off, and although there’d be a nominal fee involved, this kind of thing always brings in publicity. Maybe even get the local reporter to snap some shots and publish them in the weekly rag. All media interest has got to be good, eh?” “I suppose that would be fine. As long as we could get everything done and dusted on the Sunday,” said Nathan, noticing Jaymes deep in conversation with Toni. “Jaymes is living with me now, so I’d need to check with him to make sure he’s okay, too.” “Good. And I was going to suggest the pair of you come up to Oxford, to see what’s entailed. The men you met at Clifton’s dinner party—” “Martin and Gallagher—” “That’s right. You remember them?” Nathan had received a friendly email from Martin a few days after the party, telling them to pop in if ever they found themselves in Oxford. As if that could ever happen with his working hours. “We got on really well.” “Brilliant. So we’re setting up and starting the shoot in three weeks. Their home will be Clifton’s home in the show. Wondered if you and your partner would like to come and see what’s entailed. You know; setting up cameras and lights, meeting the crew and some of the cast. I’m sure having you there would make Gallagher a little less anxious. Martin seems to be fine with the idea, but Gallagher usually has a million and one questions. You’d be doing Clifton a big favour, too. How does that sound?” “Sounds great. Once again, as long as it’s on a Sunday.” “Okay. Leave things with me. I’ll contact them and get back to you. In the meantime, thanks.” “How long is Clifton over here?” “For the first stint? Until July. Then he heads straight back to start shooting a movie in LA. As well as an important—uh—personal matter he needs to take care of back there.” “He told me.” “He did?” said Giorgio, his stern gaze swinging to glare at Clifton. “What the hell? He’s not supposed to be breathing a word just yet. If the press gets wind, it’ll be all over—” “Hang on. Surely starting a family’s a courageous thing. Why would he need to keep that under wraps?” “Oh,” said Giorgio, his concern melting, his gaze coming back and his head nodding. “Oh, I see. That. Yeah. He has that as well, although Raul is gonna be the principal stay-at-home parent in the arrangement. Hoping to get some positive PR coverage outta that little life changer.” “And I’ve no doubt you will,” said Nathan, intrigued now as to what other personal matter Clifton might be dealing with. Should he approach Clifton directly? Maybe they could have an informal chat later. Conversations came to a temporary end when sharing plates arrived, of grilled mixed seafood, cooked meats, pastas, cannelloni, arancine—rice balls—and other of Giorgio’s personal favourites. At the end, everyone chatted happily, immersed in their own conversations while waiting for coffee to arrive. Nathan took the opportunity to sit back and glance around himself. Giorgio and Clifton had their heads bowed together, with Clifton listening intently, his expression neutral, nodding occasionally at something Giorgio said. No doubt at all, Clifton’s features had sharpened over the years, were more sculpted and breathtaking. Even his eyes shone with life and attraction. An adjective used more often to describe women, the man was truly beautiful. At the other end of the table, Raul, Jaymes and Toni laughed at some shared joke or another, nothing forced or guarded in their reactions, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Leaning back, Nathan stared up into the tilted mirror and his eyes were naturally drawn to Jaymes. And something that should have been obvious struck him then. Of all people around the table, only Jaymes brought a smile to his lips and made his heart beat faster. Absently, Jaymes ran his tongue across his own bottom lip, wetting the rim, and something in Nathan’s stomach wriggled, his cock stirring. As though sensing the scrutiny, Jaymes gaze raised to the mirror to meet Nathan’s. With a lopsided grin, he winked at him, before returning to the conversation. A moment later, however, Nathan felt a foot hook around his ankle beneath the table. Eventually conversations were interrupted temporarily by two waiters bringing a selection of coffees on silver trays and serving them to everyone. “How are you doing?” asked Jaymes, leaning into Nathan and leaving Raul to chat privately to Toni. “Great. I’m really enjoying tonight. I haven’t done this in— You know, I don’t think I’ve ever done this.” “Poor Nate. They’re good company, aren’t they? Did you know Toni’s father works in my field of work. Bit of a rock star, actually, he’s a famous dendrologist. Studies and classifies all types of trees, shrubs, and lianas. Published a number of books. And Raul is such easy company. They’re going to make amazing parents, him and Clifton. I’m glad we came along.” “Me too. Thanks for coming, Jaymes.” “Hey,” said Jaymes, leaning in and kissing Nathan on the cheek. “If it means I get to spend more time with you, I’ll come anywhere and anytime you want me to.” Jaymes eyebrows flicked with humour at the comment but Nathan’s heart filled, and he had to look away for a moment. Fortunately, Giorgio silenced the table with a fork clanging against his glass. “So,” he announced, at around ten-thirty. “There’s this tiny private jazz club around the corner, not Ronnie Scotts, but one where Toni has a private membership. We’d normally head there on our own, but you guys have been so much fun tonight we wondered if you’d be interested. Anyone fancy a cocktail nightcap to the cool strains of Unthinkable Things?” Jaymes leant into Nathan and whispered into his ear. “How tired are you?” “Wide awake.” “Me too. And I’m really enjoying tonight. What say we join them for a drink or two, watch a couple of numbers, and then disappear before the witching hour arrives? Because there are a few unthinkable things I still want to do to you tonight.” Nathan turned and kissed Jaymes full on the lips. “Deal.” When he turned to nod to Giorgio, he noticed both Raul and Clifton had been watching, intrigued. “You know,” said Clifton. “I had my reservations about you two. But I can see I was wrong. Good for you both. Nathan could do with a bit of good luck in his life.” Nathan didn’t have the heart to tell him his good luck came with a June expiry date.
  7. 59 points
    Soft jazz emanating from the speakers was the only sound in the apartment as CJ stared at his brother. Owen moved toward his husband with a glass of wine, and Ritchie squirmed in his chair before downing the remainder of whatever was in his. He met his brother’s eyes, but a moment later dropped his sight to the empty goblet. “Ozzie? Could I have a little more?” Owen nodded, fetched the bottle from the kitchen, and topped off the teen’s glass. “CJ? Are you going to say anything?” Ritchie’s voiced cracked the way it had not since puberty. Ritchie’s facial expression reflected the internal battle CJ assumed raged inside. Should he confront or console the kid? He wanted to scream. He also wanted to hug the seventeen-year-old and tell him everything would be fine. “I will in a second. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll change and be right back. Oz, maybe you should leave the bottle out here?” He bought himself a few minutes to think. If Ritchie was in the apartment, he suspected the fathers did not know about the situation. He had to tread carefully; whatever he said or did could have repercussions affecting more than his younger brother. Above all, CJ did not want to overreact the way César and Brett had at times. Everything he was wearing ended on the floor, replaced by gym shorts and a t-shirt. He was glad Owen had the temperature higher than they usually did. Considering the seriousness of the situation, he was glad they would at least be comfortable. Back in the main living area, Owen had taken a seat on the couch, and CJ dropped next to him. “Okay, bro. How about you give us details.” “There’s none! Lucy missed her period. She took a pregnancy test, and it came back positive.” Ritchie sounded calm, but the fidgeting was a good sign he was anything but. “Who else knows?” “NOBODY!” He nearly jumped out of the chair when he shouted. “Sorry… SHIT! I can’t believe this. She’s been on the pill in like forever. We’re not sure how it happened.” “I can tell you how it happened.” CJ decided a little humor might help calm his brother. “You stuck your hard dick inside her pussy, moved it around—” “CJ!” Owen delivered a hard slap to his husband’s bare thigh. “Ouch! Hey, he said he didn’t know what happened. I was trying to help him remember.” “Asshole.” The smirk on Owen’s face matched the diminutive one on Ritchie’s. “Okay, bro. What do you need from us?” “I… She… We… FUCK!” Ritchie placed the wine atop the coffee table, leaned forward, and covered his face with both hands. He shook his head, and CJ thought he was crying. Dry eyes and a resolute face emerged when he looked at the two older men again. “Neither one of us is ready for a kid. She wants an abortion. I told her I would go with her, and I’d pay for it. We checked online. She doesn’t need permission from her parents or anything like that. We want to do this as soon as possible. Maybe even—“ “Damn! Slow down, bro.” CJ was happy to see his brother’s decisiveness once he surmounted the fear of telling. “Let me repeat my question. What do you need from us?” “I want to borrow some money. I don’t want Mr. A to see a big expense on my credit card or a withdrawal from the bank account.” “Done. CJ and I keep a couple thousand dollars in cash. It’s yours.” Owen’s response earned him a hand squeeze from his husband. “It won’t be that much. We checked at Planned Parenthood.” “Whatever it takes, bro. Do you want me to call them? I know the local director from attending fundraisers.” “No! I’m sure they won’t say anything, but this is one time I’m glad we have different last names. I know the dads also support that place, and I wouldn’t want anyone to slip next time they bump into Mr. A or the captain. But we’d like to borrow your apartment for afterward. So we can come here and… I don’t know. I just don’t want her being on her own. And if she went home, I wouldn’t be able to take care of her without her parents wondering what’s going on.” “And Lucy’s certain this is what she wants?” “Yeah. She’s headed to MIT in the fall when I go to Colorado Springs. Neither one of us’ ready for a baby.” Owen poured the remainder of the bottle into Ritchie’s glass. “When do you need our place? CJ and I will plan on doing something.” “Tomorrow? They’re open on Saturdays, and we want to get it done as soon as possible.” “Actually, that works well for us.” CJ and Owen exchanged a quick glance. “We wanted to do a walk-through at the house. We promised Lincoln lunch and a calm tour.” “Is that the FBI agent?” “Yeah, you’ll like him when you meet him. Nice guy. How about we give you the apartment starting around noon tomorrow? We won’t return until you text us and tell us it’s cool.” CJ appraised his brother, seeing him in a new light. The kid was acting in a mature, calm, and informed way considering the situation. “You’re awfully calm right now, bro. I’m impressed.” “Yeah, right. If you could see my insides, you’d realize they’re all twisted and knotted. Look, Lucy and I are not your run-of-the-mill, uneducated people you hear about having kids while in high school. Thiago’s a young father, but hell, he’s already a college graduate. And the two of you are having a baby while still young, but that’s by design. Lucy and I are smart. This is not like something we’re making light of, but shit happens. We’re trying to follow your advice. I keep hearing you say it’s not worth wasting time worrying about the past. You always say if there’s a problem, we should deal with it and move forward. Why waste time agonizing over something instead of tackling it and finding a solution?” “I hope you realize you used a few quarter words in that little speech, bro.” “Fuck you, CJ!” Ritchie did smile this time. “Anyway, we’re both responsible for the pregnancy. That’s why I’m standing by her.” Mr. Henry’s, a corner pub with a gay-friendly vibe serving burgers and craft beers, was the chosen meeting spot. The restaurant was a two-minute walk from the Eastern Market Metro station and a ten-minute stroll from the house. “Thanks for inviting me to lunch, guys.” Lincoln lived across the Maryland border, near the Silver Springs station, and rode the train in for the meeting. “I’m glad we get to keep in touch.” “Dude, the way you dealt with the crooked inspector was dope. We owe you and wanted to thank you.” CJ signed the credit card slip and stood. “Plus, we liked you. We’re always up for making new friends.” “Come on, mate. Let’s go check the place out and see if they’ve made any progress.” On the way to the house, Owen again made a pitch for the FBI agent to come to a Scandals practice, and he agreed to check out the next one. “You said you played football in high school, Lincoln. I think you’d be good at rugby. When I moved to Washington, my dads used to play with friends now and then. Nothing formal. When the gay club was organized, they decided not to join due to time demands. Owen did as soon as he moved from Australia. I don’t play, but I know all the guys. They’re a good bunch.” “CJ’s gone with me to the last two Bingham Cup—“ “What’s that?” “It’s an international tournament held every two years. Last one was in Amsterdam and the one before in Nashville. It’s named after Mark Bingham. He was a San Francisco Fog player aboard the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. We can’t go this year, but you might be interested. It’s in Ottawa this time around.” The dumpster parked at the curb was a sign of progress; workers had begun removing the existing roof, preparing for the installation of solar tiles. The door and several windows were open, and the beat of a Salvadoran cumbia filled the air. Lincoln looked surprised. “They’re working on a Saturday?” “Yeah, there’s so much to be done, CJ and I agreed to pay overtime now and then to speed the project up.” One of the workers was someone CJ had met before. “Hola, Roberto. ¿Como estás?” “Bien, patrón. Bien. Trabajando duro.” “Eso es bueno. Le voy a mostrar la casa a nuestro amigo.” “Bien, bien.” Owen tried not to laugh at Lincoln’s confused expression. “Not used to rapid-fire Spanish? CJ knows the guy, asked him how he was doing, and told him we wanted to show you the house.” “What was that word he used? Patrón? Isn’t that a tequila brand?” “A man after our own heart, Oz.” CJ clasped the FBI agent’s arm. “Glad to see your knowledge of Spanish covers the essentials. Booze! Patrón is kind of a respectful way of addressing someone. It literally means boss. Come on. Let’s give you the nickel tour.” The place had been swept clean after the lead and asbestos abatement, but dust once again covered most surfaces. The door to the front room had been removed, the opening enlarged, and the new rear wall was framed awaiting drywall. “So, we told you we were keeping separate spaces here instead of a full open-floor plan.” CJ pointed at the new partition. “By moving the wall, we get a larger dining room. This front space won’t get much use, but Ozzie and I wanted to retain some of the original character.” “One of the first things CJ mentioned when we toured the place was he wanted a big Christmas tree framed by the window. Something people could see while walking or driving by. I don’t think we’ll use the space much except during the holidays.” “So, you guys will have a formal living room and a formal dining room. Surprising. I don’t get a stuffed-shirt vibe from either one of you.” “We’re not! But I sit on a few boards, and at times we’ll have to entertain. I don’t think inviting a bunch of rich people over to watch a football game and drink beer’s gonna work if I want to ask them for money.” “Let’s not forget the political side. CJ’s stayed away after the 2016 election, but I’m sure we’ll be hosting receptions for candidates in the future.” Owen moved further into the house and stopped in front of the expanded dining space. “Although we’re keeping separate rooms, we still want to give the house an airier feel. It’s why we expanded the opening to the first room. Here, we’re installing pocket doors with glass inserts. This is one room we actually have an idea of what we’ll have furniture-wise.” CJ’s excitement at the reference bubbled to the surface. “Wait ’til you see what we’re getting, Lincoln. Are you familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright? We ordered replicas of the table and chairs he designed for the Robie House in Chicago. They’re sick.” While Owen rolled his eyes, Lincoln chuckled. “I’ll take your word for it. I’ll google it later to see what you’re talking about.” “You don’t need to do that. Screw later. Here, let me show you.” CJ’s phone was full of inspiration pictures. “Wright’s my favorite architect ever, and Ozzie’s letting me have some of his design touches. Even though they’re not from the same period the house was built.” “I actually like it too. Some of it will fit in well, some of it won’t. But we’ve compromised on other areas, and this is a good place for this style furniture. Anyway, there’ll be two swinging doors leading from this room to the kitchen right behind it. It’ll make it easier for servers to come in and out with food.” “What are you guys doing there?” Lincoln nodded toward the area behind the framed door openings. “Obviously starting from scratch.” CJ led the way to the largest space in the house. “This used to be the kitchen, a large pantry, a maid’s quarters, and a small room we think was used for sewing.” “So it’s gonna be all one space now?” “Yeah, a huge kitchen with a large island with seating and then a family room. We’re still deciding on fixtures and finishes. We agreed on a farm sink and at least some glass-fronted cabinets but haven’t settled on other stuff. Owen wants quartz counters since they don’t require maintenance. I want granite.” “Let me know who wins that one. What’s that small space in the back?” “That’ll be a powder room. We have to relocate plumbing for it, but since we’re changing all the pipes to copper, it’s not that big a deal.” By the time they reached the top floor, Lincoln appeared as excited about the remodeling as the owners. “This all sounds awesome, guys. I hope I get invited over once it’s done.” “You will. In the meantime”—Owen opened his backpack and retrieved a bottle of wine—“this is a present from us to say thanks.” “Oh, man. You two are something else.” Lincoln ran a finger over the label. “Liston… So this is from your family’s winery?” “You got it, son.” CJ clasped the man’s shoulder and gave him a friendly shake. “That there’s a bottle of 2017 Liston Shiraz. You can’t buy it in the States, but we have connections.” CJ’s wink and Owen’s headshake elicited a chuckle from the FBI agent. “Mate, make sure you let it breathe before drinking it. I’d suggest a big, juicy piece of meat with it.” CJ smacked his husband’s arm. “Stop propositioning him! At least wait until he agrees to join the Scandals.” “So what are we going to do about Lincoln?” Owen absentmindedly twirled clumps of CJ’s chest hair between his thumb and index finger. “What do you mean?” “Oh, the fact that man got a hardon when you were flirting with him today.” CJ adjusted the pillow under his head as he did countless times each night. “I did no such thing!” “Maybe not by our standards with our friends… I got the feeling he wouldn’t mind getting naked and jumping in bed with us.” “Yeah, well, he’ll realize that’s not in the cards if he starts hanging out with us. Although—” “Although what, wanker?” “He’s definitely the type I wouldn’t mind fucking with. If we were into that shit.” Owen snorted a chuckle. “Yeah, you definitely have a thing for tall, burly boys.” “Fell for you, didn’t I?” “That you did! Mate, I can’t wait until the house’s done and we can move in. We’ll finally have our home for real.” “Don’t know about that, Oz.” CJ tugged at his husband until the blond lay sprawled atop him. “When you use my body for your bed, and I get to keep you warm throughout the night, that’s enough for me. Wherever we’re together, that’s my home.”
  8. 57 points
    Subject: Third Meeting of the Crumbington Summer Fête Committee: Thursday 10 March Attendees: Arlene Killjoy (chair); Doris Watts; Nathan Fresher; Polly Fischer; Arbuthnot Mulligan; Michael Stanton Guest(s): Jenny Gillespie Living in the church-owned house adjacent to the village hall, Father Mulligan always arrived first to committee meetings, to unlock doors and put out chairs, drinks and snacks. By the time Nathan arrived for the meetings, as soon as he’d locked up the shop, Arlene and Doris had usually joined Father Mulligan. Polly and Mikey arrived last of all. Despite Nathan being later than usual that evening, courtesy of Jaymes’ habitual horniness, Doris sat alone in her seat of choice. “Did I get the wrong night?” said Nathan, hesitating in the doorway. “Arby’s gone to get a small table to put Arlene’s fancy snacks on. She called and doled out instructions. And said she’s running a little late,” said Doris, rising slowly from her seat and hobbling over to him. “Apparently she’s picking up the photographer who’s got pictures from your calendar. Can’t wait to see, can you?” “Hmm,” said Nathan, purposely looking away. As he stood there, she reached him and hooked her hand under his arm. “Come and join me. Try a cup of Arby’s cooler.” At the previous meeting, Father Mulligan and Doris had made up a jug of cranberry fruit mix, a berry flavour Arlene detested and not something any of the others had wanted to try. “Not for me, Doris. It’s one of the few things Arlene and I agree on. I find cranberries on the sour side.” “Most people do, which is why Arby and I shake things up a bit by using our own secret recipe. Just try one cup. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And I wanted to have a chat with you, anyway.” As Nathan settled and took a tentative gulp of the juice, his taste buds exploded, just as the burn hit the back of his throat. “What in heaven’s name..?” “Shush, dear. Arby ran out of Smirnoff, so he’s using something called Balkan 176 this week. But I find a cup or two of Mulligan’s Cosmopolitan Cooler helps oil the wheels and makes Arlene’s meetings run more smoothly. Amazing the little things that man picks up in his religious circles. Now, about you. Thought I was right last month. And now I am seeing almost pure red. Energy, sex, and passion. More vibrant than the colour of this cocktail. I am right, aren’t I? Somebody’s having a marvellous time in the bedroom department right now. Your aura’s burning brighter than a bonfire.” “Is it?” said Nathan, his cheeks reddening. “Yes, things are—quite good—in that department. I suppose.” “You suppose? Goodness me. I’m worried if I sit too close, I might burst into flames.” Nathan gave a shaky laugh and polished off the rest of his drink. “Nathan, you are such a lovely boy. Anybody else who’d been through what you have, would have run a thousand miles from this village. But that’s not you, is it? Loyal to a fault. Your father would be so proud. You know, at my wedding to Ned, my late husband, my mother told me that if my son or daughter ever found someone special, I was to pass these onto them. Unfortunately, we never had any children, so I hope you’ll do me the honour of being the son I never had.” Doris handed over a small, deep blue velvet pouch, tied together with black drawstrings. When Nathan opened the bag and tipped the contents into the palm of his hand, out fell two silver Claddagh rings. He’d seen similar ones before, Irish rings used to indicate someone’s search for love and whether the person is in love and taken. “If you’re available, you’re supposed to wear this on your right hand with the point of the heart away from the wrist. Pointing towards the wrist—I always think it looks upside down—indicates you’re not looking for a relationship because you’re already in one. Of course, it could also mean you’re simply not looking. On your left hand pointing to your wrist means you’re engaged, or taken for good.” “Why two? One for each hand?” “Silly boy. Of course not. The other’s meant for the person who shares their heart with you.” “Oh. Not sure if I’m ready for that yet.” “Perfectly fine, Nathan,” said Doris, wrapping her veined hand around his and smiling. “Then keep them safe until you’re sure.” Nathan wondered if Jaymes would notice if he popped a ring on his right hand the way Doris had described. Then again, maybe that would be a bit too much, considering the circumstances. When he held one ring up to the light, he smiled. “She’d have wanted you to be happy, you know.” “Sorry?” “Your mother. She’d have wanted to see you happy and settled.” Nathan popped both rings into the pouch and put them into his pocket. “How well did you know her, Doris?” “Everyone knew your mother, dear. Well, on the surface anyway, but apparently not as well as we thought. But she was friendly enough with me and the other ladies of the village. Refused to join in the gossip, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. Her only close friend was Margie Hogmore.” “Clifton’s mum. I remember. I’m sure I’ve asked you this before, but do you know why my mother left? The real reason?” Doris grimaced then. “You know what us old ladies are like. We all had our opinions and suspicions. Rarely grounded in any truth or facts. She was a popular woman with everyone, so we assumed she’d met someone else. But the true answer is, nobody really knew. She told none of us. The only person she might have told would have been Margie. But if so, Margie never breathed a word.” “She’s coming back here next month. Mrs Hogmore. To visit her son, Clifton. He’s working over here.” “Is she now? That’ll be nice. Maybe you and her should have a heart to heart.” Maybe we should, thought Nathan. Maybe the time was right. Right then, Arlene Killjoy burst into the room, a huge black bag dangling heavily from one hand, her designer handbag in the other. Apart from being weighed down, she appeared in unusually high spirits. “Nathan. Be a dear, will you? Go and help Jenny with the projector screen and the projector. We’re having a bit of a production tonight. Got some wonderful things to show you.” Over the next twenty minutes, as Mikey and Polly arrived, everyone took instructions from either Jenny or Arlene in setting up the hall. Anticipation ran high when they arranged the usual horseshoe of chairs around a low table of canapés and a selection of drinks including beer and wine, with a projector and screen set up at the open end. “Well, everyone,” said Arlene, clapping her hands together, once everyone had seated themselves and relaxed. “We’re going to dispense with the usual agenda this month because I’m absolutely delighted to report that it’s all good news. Very shortly, we’ll be showcasing some of the football team calendar, which, I am pleased to report, has turned out far better than anyone could have expected. I’ll let Jenny talk more about that and some other amazing developments. In addition, I have a three dimensional computer animated walkthrough of the stall plan for the fete, something my husband’s department helped create, so you can see where every stall will be set up. And before I start, let me tell you that all village stores remain pride of place on the green. The last thing I’ll talk to you about is a couple of the sponsors I’ve approached. As usual, let’s make this open to any comments or suggestions. Now, I’m going to hand over to Jenny.” Jenny Gillespie was about to stand, but then thought better of it, and sat back down again. “Okay, so if I tell you I was a little sceptical about the calendar idea, I’m certain you’ll understand. I know some of you had doubts yourselves,” she said, glancing around, her gaze and smile settling on Nathan. “A lot of the team members had reservations, too. But I can tell you here and now, that, as Arlene intimated in her introduction, I am immensely proud of the end result. Both personally and professionally. What I’m going to show you tonight is only a draft of the final version—some of the twelve players still need to sign consent forms for us to use their images, so those I cannot show you today, even though I’m sure they wouldn’t mind—but even so, I hope you see the quality and potential. Father Mulligan, can you hit the lights, please?” As the lights dimmed, Jenny played with the laptop on the table in front of her, until the first slide popped up, of a white screen. In plain black, the words Crumbington United Uncovered headed the empty shot. “We’re still in two minds what to have here. Arlene and I wondered about a whole team photograph in the changing room, but logistically that’s difficult to organise.” “Pop along Sunday,” said Mikey. “We’ll all be there for the game against Christchurch.” “Nice idea, in theory,” said Jenny. “But a candid shot of the team without the professional touches of all the other photos is going to look out of place. And, no disrespect, but to put that on the front cover might cheapen the overall effect. I’m considering have a collage of all the team shots in December. For the cover, I’m actually thinking along the lines of having a monochrome shot of a recently vacated changing room. But let’s keep an open mind as you see the other photos. Okay, these are in no particular order of which month will be which. So I’ll start with Ken Mills, the gym instructor.” As soon as the shot appeared, Nathan could tell exactly what Jenny meant. Professional. Pure resolution, skin tones and sensuality, the shot was exquisite. With wall bars as a backdrop, a naked Ken scaled a huge braided rope held tightly between his thick hairy thighs, the corded muscles of his arms and defined furry chest, his feet crossed around the rope at the ankles and his handsome features in full view even though his tense concentration was fixed on a spot above his head. “Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt,” whispered Polly, next to him. “Is that really young Kenneth Mills? If so, I need to change my personal trainer.” “Sorry, Polly,” Nathan whispered back. “But he bats for my team.” “Of course he does.” “Arby, dear. Can you give me a top up and some more ice,” said Doris, holding out her plastic cup to him. “I’m going to need lots if they’re all like this one.” The next photograph had everyone instantly laughing aloud. Mikey—stark naked, his hairless skin oiled liberally and caught by the studio lights—held a meat cleaver in his hand which had just sunk into the surface of a thick wooden trestle, nicely covering his groin area. With a startled but comical look directly at the camera, his other hand held the rim of his white butcher’s hat, which had the words ‘Fresh Meat’ in red plastered across the top. It looked as though whatever he was supposed to be chopping had just escaped. Either that, or he had just managed to avoid chopping off his chopper. But once the laughter had died down, and on second glance, Nathan realised how Jenny had captured Mikey perfectly, his comical personality, but also his amazing body, large and muscled which dwarfed the trestle. “Fresh meat, indeed,” said Polly. “What did Bev make of this?” Beverley was Mikey’s wife. “You’re all the first ones to see any of the photos in their finished format,” said Jenny. “Well, when she does,” said Polly. “Just make sure your mother-in-law has the kids that night.” Everyone laughed, but a quick look at Mikey, and Nathan could see pride shining from his eyes. Sat next to him, he leant over and nudged Mikey in the ribs. “Pleased you got involved now?” he asked. “I can’t believe that’s me,” said Mikey, scratching his head. “Definitely one to show the grandkids.” Jenny went through more. Dennis Abraham the plasterer, originally from the West Indies, his flawless polished walnut skin contrasting amazingly with the roughly plastered and whitewashed wall behind him; Mel—Melchior Slubowski—landscape gardener, with his Polish origins, and almost bleached ivory skin but lean, muscled body pushing a lawnmower set against the verdant greenery of a beautifully trimmed garden. Even George Collier, Bob’s son, and now the village postman, who quite frankly could do with losing a few pounds, had been captured brilliantly, another comic pose, lying facing the camera on a conveyor belt with parcels and packages, a postman’s hat on and a heart-shaped package covering his vitals. A couple of others were not only stunning but also interesting, such as the identical twins Eric and Tom Milton, painters and decorators, and their wallpapering shot. Eric stood to the left of the shot facing the camera, behind a wallpapering table which stopped just above his groin, a pasting brush in one hand, but had been caught turning and laughing at something his brother had said. Tom perched halfway up a short stepladder, one leg raised to the top step, completely naked but facing the wall, about to hang a sheet of paper, turned to his brother, caught mid laugh. Neither had gym-wrought bodies, but the shot was nevertheless flawless, not only showing humour but incredible skin tones and the stunning likeness between the two younger men. Others shots, Jenny went on to describe briefly, unable to show them because consent forms had not been completed. Shots such as Benny Cheung the mechanic—who had been worried about being photographed with Ken, and Gupta Mahtani, who had stalled a couple of times about whether to take part fearing the publicity might hurt his professional career until his daughter had all but threatened him. Nathan noticed Jenny hadn’t shown his photograph yet and wondered if maybe something had happened to make them decide to withdraw his pictures. Until the next slide lit up the screen. This time Polly, next to him, gasped quietly. Jenny had chosen the one where Nathan started to get a hard on, so had rolled onto his stomach and glared at Jaymes. Except the overall effect became something entirely different. Even if he did say so himself, Nathan’s backside had been captured perfectly, his socked feet crossed at the ankles of his long legs, a slight dusting of hair visible on his nicely defined chest. But the stare—or perhaps carnal glare would be a better expression—was nothing short of incendiary. In a good way. More importantly, technically everything about the shot appeared perfect; the focus, the detail, the tones, the lighting. “I’m very proud of this one,” said Jenny. “Good God, Nathan!” said Polly, before thrusting a hand over her mouth. “Sorry, Father Mulligan. I was going to comment on your amazing bum, but that sexy stare is nothing short of explosive. Nuclear. What lucky so-and-so was on the receiving end of that?” “What did I tell you,” said Jenny, smiling satisfied at Nathan. She had taken great pains to impress on him how people zero’d in on faces before bodies. “Actually, Polly, I was giving your annoying cousin the evil eye, because he was misbehaving. As usual.” In the semi-darkness of the room, Nathan sensed Polly’s gaze land on him. “I have to come clean, Nathan,” said Jenny. “I showed a couple of your shots to a friend of mine who’s a reporter. They’re always looking for good stories and he wanted to know if they could do an article on the village calendar for their newspaper. Arlene knows and loves the idea, but I’d need your consent. He’d want to use this picture or one of the others. But there would be amazing publicity, not just for the fête, but for your shop.” “Who is it?” “HuffPost.” “Isn’t that an American publication,” asked Polly. ‘Why would they be interested in us?” “More international, these days,” said Jenny. Nathan noticed Arlene had said nothing, had let Jenny do all the talking. “And they love local interest stories. Bread and butter of modern day media.” “I don’t see why not,” said Nathan, shrugging. “Don’t you?” said Polly. “With shots like that, darling, you’re likely to end up being invited to do movies.” Mikey choked on a laugh, until Polly elbowed him in the ribs. “Not those kind of movies, perv,” she said, before her attention shifted back to Jenny. “But why can’t we use our own local newspaper? Wouldn’t that be more appropriate?” “And we will,” said Arlene. “Before anything else. But wouldn’t it be good to entice people from further afield to come to our little festival in this neck of the woods?” Nobody could argue with that. Jenny even offered to talk to Katherine Osmond and provide a couple of sample shots for the paper. Arlene then went on to show them the three-dimensional model of the actual fete on the screen, which was actually extremely cool, even though the model stalls had no particular detail. The way it had been designed felt as though those watching strolled into the village green, past the Fresher name and logo above the first stall, around the small fairground in the centre of the green, past Mikey’s stall, the newsagent and confectioner, Doris’ florist stall, the shoe shop, and the haberdashery, all interspersed with fun stalls such as hoopla and coconut shies. Out onto Church lane, other stalls had no names above them, supposedly not yet confirmed, but the whole thing appeared professional and at the end, everyone applauded, even Polly. For all her pushiness, Arlene had done an incredible job. Once the lights came back on, she stood to address them all. “I’ve got a number of investors onboard already—Shawbanks, Radleigh and Posner—and a few more irons in the fire, but I’m sure once they’re aware of the calendar, the celebrity hosts, and other surprises we have in store, many more will commit. As far as the calendar is concerned, we’re considering a retail price of £14.99, which, as long as we sell the minimum five hundred, will give us a clear profit of ten pounds per calendar, so five thousand pounds, already twice the amount we raised from the fête last year. Officially the calendar launch will be the third week in June, here in the village hall, with all the players signing copies and, of course, Jenny explaining her concept. We’re expecting to have a number of members of the press in attendance especially as Clifton O’Keefe and Raul Jurado will be here, too. So, of course, we’ll need to lay on more canapés, bubbles and cocktails for the event. Fortunately a friend of mine is a caterer and will take care of all of that. But it’s almost nine-thirty, so I think that’s enough for one night. Once again, a big thanks to Jenny for her superb work.” Among the small group, everyone gave a polite round of applause. “And I must add, Arlene, you’ve outdone yourself. You were right all along, this event really did need an injection of new ideas,” said Father Mulligan. Even Polly nodded her approval, although her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Hear, hear,” said Nathan, just as his phone vibrated in his pocket. Jay: How’s it going? Nathan grinned down at the display. Every time Jaymes’ name popped up on his screen, a smile lit his face and he felt his heart get lighter inside. He quickly thumbed a response. Nathan: Top notch. Just got to see myself naked. Jay: If you’re trying to impress, don’t bother. I get to do that every morning and night. When can I get my hands on this calendar? While others around him began to clear things away, Nathan halted for a moment. By the third week in June, at the official calendar launch, Jaymes would already be on the other side of the world in Malaysia. He shook his head quickly to suppress the twinge of sadness seeping into him. Nathan: Don’t worry. I’ll get you an advanced copy. Jay: Magic. Are you done there? Nathan: Almost. Give me 15, just in case. Jay: I’ll order your usual. Tell Poll and Mikey I’ll get theirs, too. Before leaving the hall, Nathan approached Jenny and went to shake her hand, but she pulled him into a hug. “You’re very photogenic, Nathan. And you look after your body. If you ever wanted to do any modelling—” “Heavens, no. That is not me, Jenny. I do look after myself but I don’t want to have to worry about everything I eat or every grey hair that appears. That is simply not me.” “Well, just to let you know, my journalist friend’s name is Franz Kingston, and he will most likely contact you by telephone, ask you a few questions about the fête and the calendar. Hope that’s going to be okay?” “Fine. I’ll also mention the brilliant photographer.” Jenny chuckled and awarded him with her warm smile, before raising an eyebrow. “And if you and your boyfriend ever consider coming in for a couple’s session, just let me know.” Nathan pulled a face and shook his head at a still smiling Jenny. Once in front of the camera was enough for a lifetime, but he looked forward to telling Jaymes about her offer later. As he held the door open watching Jenny depart, once again his phone buzzed. Raising his eyes to the heavens, and sure to see another text from Jaymes appear on his phone, he was surprised to see one from someone else. Martin: Giorgio mentioned you coming up to Oxford to see the film crew setting up. He said something about arranging a local hotel for you, but I told him you’d stay with us. Hope that’s okay? But why don’t you and your lovely man come for a long weekend? Drive up Friday and back Monday. We’d both love to have you here and your man will help keep Gallagher from murdering members of the TV crew. Stood now in the middle of the church hall, Nathan chuckled at the words. Lost in thought, he puffed out a sigh and gently shook his head. “What’s the matter?” asked Polly, in the process of carrying plates to the small kitchen. “New friends. They’re inviting me to their place in Oxford for a long weekend.” Nathan stuffed the phone into his pocket and began to help with the tidying, “Obviously, I can’t go.” “Why obviously?” asked Arlene, in the process of shutting down her laptop computer. “Yes, Nathan,” said Polly, stopping inlace and adopting a familiar admonishing tone. “Explain to Arlene. When was the last time you had a proper holiday?” Nathan rolled his eyes at Polly and said nothing, folding one of the chairs around the small table. “That would be when his grandfather was still alive,” said Polly, raising her eyebrows at Arlene. “And it rained the whole time we were away. I’d have been eight, I think. Grandad was still around to look after the shop while we went to Blackpool for the week; mum, dad and me.” Despite the terrible weather, Nathan still had snippets of good memories from their one time away. “And since your father passed away, when was the last time you had a holiday or even a week off?” asked Polly. “Sorry, scratch that, how about a whole weekend off.” “Okay, Polly. I get the point,” said Nathan, glaring at her as he carried a couple of chairs to the storeroom, and continuing as he returned. “Since dad died, I don’t really feel confident burdening anyone with managing everything. Molly can look after things for a couple of hours, but she has never cashed up or dealt with orders and invoices. And heaven knows what she’d do if one of the ovens packed up, or something worse. So I’m usually not far away, in case she has any difficulties.” “Because, of course, Oxford is on another continent,” said Polly, heading towards the kitchen. “You know, Nathan,” said Arlene, as she packed her laptop away in her bag. “My husband’s friend, Fingal, has run a professional baking outfit in Dublin for the best part of thirty years. He’s semi-retired now—has been for over five years—and lives with his new wife just outside Mosswold. If you want, I could put you in touch?” “I’m not sure.” “Nathan Fresher,” said Polly, hands on hips, a tone he knew only too well. “Don’t make me slap you.” “No obligation,” said Arlene, with a shrug. “Meet him, have a chat, and if you think he’s okay, consider having him step in. I get the impression he’s a little bored right now, so the work and a little bit of pocket money might be just what the doctor ordered. And don’t you think it might be good to have someone as a backup in case, at the very least, you’re ever under the weather?” No sooner had she finished than her attention turned elsewhere. “Father Mulligan, can you show me where you store this extension lead you lent me? In case I need it again?” Arlene trailed behind Father Mulligan in the direction of the small storeroom. “As much as I mistrust her, she might have a point,” said Polly, arms now folded. “If he’s got experience, why not at least meet up with him?” If there was one thing living with Jaymes—albeit for a short while—had taught him, it was that he had to start living again, grabbing every scrap of life thrown his way. What could be the harm in meeting this person, Fingal? Maybe he needed to start letting go a little, listen instead of always finding reasons why he couldn’t do something. A long weekend away from the shop with Jaymes and in the company of new friends sounded like heaven. Surely he was entitled to a little slice every now and again? “Okay, Arlene. I’ll meet this friend of yours, Fingal. Let me know his number and I’ll call him tomorrow.” In the cold light of day, he thought, he could always change his mind and decide not to call. “Better yet, Nathan,” said Arlene, as though hearing his thoughts, and plucking her phone from her bag. “I’ll call him now for you. Get him to come and see you at the shop first thing. That way you can let your friends know tomorrow whether you’re going to see them or not.” When Nathan turned to Polly, she simply shrugged and gave him a supercilious smile. Even Doris patted him on the arm as she went to leave with Father Mulligan. “Okay, okay. Thank you, Arlene. I’d love to meet your friend.” Maybe they were all right. Maybe the time had come to shake things up a little. What harm could there be?
  9. 56 points
    During Nathan’s Friday morning exercise—his morning runs now confined to Tuesdays and Fridays—he raked over the appearance of fifty-nine year old Fingal Finnegan during the week. Apart from having to listen carefully to understand everything the man said—the Irish brogue very different to local accents—he really liked Fingal, found the man down to earth and probably more knowledgeable than Nathan would ever be about their profession. He reminded Nathan of his grandfather, the light in his eyes sparkling when he talked about his love of his calling. Another huge thing in his favour; he and Arthur Meade got on like old friends, talking about the trials and tribulations of using the now-considered obsolete ovens. If he was going to be absolutely honest with himself, he knew Fingal to be capable of being left in charge for the long weekend, knew the man would know exactly what to do. Which is why he texted Martin back and agreed to drive over and stay for the weekend, driving back Sunday night. But, however irrational the emotion, deep down inside the mere thought of not being there, of being away from the shop for even a whole working day—especially his two busiest days—made his mouth dry, and sent a shiver of cold dread through him. Despite a few curious questions from Jaymes, he hadn’t shared his terror with anyone, had even given an enthusiastic Fingal the spare set of shop keys for the weekend duty. But even as he handed them over, he felt removed from his body, as though someone else performed the treacherous deed. Fingal had spent each day since Monday in the shop shadowing him or Arthur or Molly, going through each simple routine including opening the store, dealing with invoices, and closing and cashing up in the evening. Fingal even suggested a couple of improvements, simple things Nathan had never considered. Just after ten, having stayed to help through the morning rush, Nathan tossed his overnight bag into the back of Jaymes’ Rover. At breakfast, Jaymes explained his need for a diversion on the trip, to drop off files to a colleague in the South Downs National Park, so their route would take them south, a little out of their way. They agreed to stop off for lunch in Winchester, which would get them to Oxford mid-afternoon. After Nathan had texted Martin, and everything was set, they managed to get as far as the end of the high street before Nathan breathing became erratic and he demanded Jaymes pull the car over. “I can’t do it, Jaymes. I can’t leave the shop unsupervised.” “It’s not unsupervised, Nate. Fingal is more than capable—” “I know. I know,” said Nathan, putting his head into his hands and scrubbing at his hair, his heart pounding. “In theory, he is. I know that better than anyone. But I just have this feeling that if I leave, something bad will happen. Don’t ask me how, but I just know.” “Okay, Nate. Now you’re sounding unreasonable. Nothing’s going to happen—” “How do you know?” said Nathan, looking up and glaring at Jaymes, hearing himself getting hysterical. “You don’t. Nobody does. Shit happens. Shit none of us can predict.” “Nate, Nate,” said Jaymes, switching off the engine, and pulling Nathan’s body into his arms. “Christ, you’re shaking, baby. Calm down.” Jaymes’ body heat began to work its magic almost immediately, as he held tight and, with one hand, stroked slow, calming circles into Nathan’s back. “Okay, look. I’m no psychiatrist, but my guess is your worry comes from you feeling as though you’re about to abandon the shop. And, yes, I use the word abandon deliberately. On two occasions when you’ve left in the past—to go to school, or for a run—you’ve returned to find someone’s left you for good. Your mother and your father. Even Clifton. I get it, Nate. I do. But those were other people. Your mother had a choice, your father’s time was simply up. In each case, they left you and there was nothing you could have done. Not really. This time, you’re in control. This time the choice is yours and you’re coming back. You’re not abandoning anyone or anything, are you?” Unbidden, Nathan’s eyes had moistened. Everything Jaymes said, he knew already, had told himself the same thing time and time again. But nobody had ever reflected those words back to him. “I hate this fucking village. I do. And I hate my fucking life here. Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I have a normal life, like everyone else in the world?” “You think everyone else has it better? Sorry to piss on your pity party, Nate, but that is simply not the case. One of Polly’s teacher colleagues, a single parent, is bringing up a young son with cerebral palsy. And do you know what terrifies her most, what keeps her awake at night? Not the act of living up to the actual caring, which she does brilliantly, but the thought of what’s going to him happen when she’s too old to do so. More people than you could ever imagine are dealing with their own nightmares, just trying to get through each day.” Still held by Jaymes, Nathan quietened for a moment, hearing their hearts beating in tandem. “Look, if you really don’t want to go,” said Jaymes, “we turn around and head back now. But remember that Polly’s going to be stopping over in the flat the whole weekend and she’ll call instantly if there’s a problem. Molly, Arthur and Fingal all have your contact number. And we’re about a two and a half hour’s drive away, in the unlikely event we need to get back urgently. More importantly, you deserve this time away, Nate. You’ve earned it. So what do you want to do? Just say the word.” Nathan straightened up and, without looking at Jaymes, swiped at his eyes with the palms of his hands. “Did you ever see that film The Forgotten?” asked Nathan, trying to make light of his meltdown. “With Julianne Moore. About aliens abducting kids and then observing the parents to see how long it took them to forget about their own offspring.” “I can safely say I’ve never seen the movie.” “There’s a bit where the aliens can just ping a person into the sky, rip them from the earth and whip them straight up into space. I wish that would happen to me right now.” “Really? One movie definitely not to watch. What do you want to do, Nate?” Nathan took a deep calming breath and pushed a hand through his hair. Despite feeling the remains of nausea in his stomach, the undercurrent of his dark thoughts, the moment had passed. “Drive on, Jay. Let’s do this thing.” “Good man,” said Jaymes, starting up the engine again. For the next ten minutes, they travelled in silence, and Nathan simply breathed. If anything, he felt embarrassed about his breakdown, but also found starting up a conversation again difficult. Did Jaymes think less of him because of his show of weakness? Eventually he found some common ground. “His name’s Billy, by the way,” said Nathan. “Sorry?” “The kid with CP you mentioned. Billy Corrigan. Jemma Corrigan’s boy, Polly’s colleague. He goes to St Joseph’s. Absolutely lovely kid. Played in the school football team against us. Has a bit of trouble balancing and staying upright all the time, but the lad has so much enthusiasm and the most amazing laugh.” Without saying a word, Jaymes’ hand reached across and landed on Nathan’s upper thigh. Nathan peered at him, sniffed back the remains of his tears, and smiled at Jaymes’ own grin as he concentrated on driving. And right then, his heart gave a tug and he felt a feeling waken inside him, as though lifting this head to witness the most spectacular sunrise. As inconvenient as the emotion might be—considering Jaymes would be gone in June—he realised something unquestionable in that brief, blindingly obvious moment. Nathan had fallen in love with Jaymes. “Paper tissues are in the glove compartment,” said Jaymes, no judgement, just a statement of fact. When Nathan pulled open the drawer, glad to have something to do, he found a pair of thick leather gloves on top of an untidy mess of other items buried beneath, including sunglasses, letters, paper documents, and packets of unopened tissues. “You must be one of the few people I know who actually keeps gloves in his glove compartment.” “In my line of work, those babies are a life saver. You can wear them if your hands are cold.” “Nah, I’m fine.” Nathan pulled out a few items before getting to a pack of tissues. As he began to replace the documents, he noticed one from somewhere called the Bangor Medical Centre. “It’s okay. It’s just the results of a regular health check,” said Jaymes, noticing Nathan’s attention drawn to the document. “Have a look if you want. FC has me taking medicals annually. That one’s from just before I arrived here. A condition of our medical insurance.” “So I take it you’re fine?” “Fit as a butcher’s dog,” said Jaymes, before a moment of hesitation had him glancing at Nathan. “Goes with the territory, Nate. I don’t have a choice in the matter in my line of work.” “Heavens, Jaymes. I’m not criticising. I’d be the last one on the planet to do that. Since as long as I can remember, my father made me and him have bi-annual medical check-ups together. Ironically, he was obsessive about health, despite being a closet smoker. My last one was in January. And I, too, am in good shape.” “You most certainly are.” Jaymes waggled his eyebrows, before winking at Nathan. Jaymes’ habit of catching his eye, or winking, or smirking had suddenly taken on new meaning, and Nathan found himself blushing. “Are you okay?” asked Jaymes, who missed nothing. “I’m—I’m fine. Sorry, a bit hot in here.” Jaymes did not seem be buying Nathan’s excuse and after staring at him a couple of times, his eyes were drawn to the now-closed glove compartment. “Come on, Nate. Spit it out.” “No I—I just wanted to say thank you. For being a good friend. And not kicking me out of the car.” Jaymes snorted and shook his head, and even though he said no more, Nathan could tell he hadn’t completely believed Nathan. Using the GPS navigation app on Nathan’s phone—after completing Jaymes’ chore and having a leisurely lunch—they pulled up outside Martin and Gallagher’s house just before three. On the outskirts of Oxford, the two men’s character converted farmhouse sat in its own grounds. All original features or updates matching them, with mature trees, well-tended bushes and other colourful flora out front, the building couldn’t have been more different to Clifton’s grandparent’s new-build. A familiar Tesla sat in the driveway—Clifton’s car—next to a Range Rover, an older, more traditional design in racing green. Jaymes smiled and grunted his approval, parking alongside. “Nice to see somebody else in this world has taste.” “I didn’t realise Clifton would be here,” said Nathan. “Truly. I thought it was just us.” “Aren’t they filming the series using this house? Isn’t that the whole point of you being here?” “Yes, I—I suppose so.” “Then, of course Clifton’s going to be here.” Martin must have heard them pull up, because as they collected their bags from the back of the Land Rover, he appeared at the front door. Decked out in mustard corduroy trousers and an oatmeal crew neck sweater he looked as welcoming and comfortable as his home. “All morning Gallagher’s been asking me when the real people are going to arrive. And here you are. Thank goodness. You can get him off my back about this whole arrangement. Come through.” Martin led the way through the house, down dark, oak-panelled hallways with intricately patterned rugs on the floor, past beautiful rooms with exotic wall hangings, walls lined with ornate wooden cabinets, bookcases, or hung with antique paintings, past a long bevelled mirror with a polished wooden frame, beautiful blue and white Chinese plant holders—nothing cluttered, but carefully positioned to make the most of both the house’s character and the eye-catching artefacts. “Love your house, Martin,” said Jaymes. “Thank you. You should have seen the state she was in when we bought her. Took a lot of love and care, and hard earned cash to get her looking like this.” “I can image. What kind of acreage so you have?” “Just over eleven. The previous owner sold off a lot of the land to another farmer. But we have enough surrounding us to make sure we’re not encroached upon by developers or other ventures. The field at the back of the house is ours and leads down to the Grendle River. We’ll take a walk there tomorrow morning.” Enjoying Nathan’s or Jaymes’ attention, Martin stopped from time to time to explain one piece or another, citing approximate time periods, countries or origin and, in some cases, even the designer of the piece: painter, craftsman or sculptor. When they reached four huge studio lights, modern and standing in a row and wildly out of place, stored against one wall of what Nathan assumed to be the living room, Martin stopped and heaved out a deep sigh. “Happily, the whole film crew doesn’t descend on us until Sunday morning first thing so we have a day and a half of respite before the show begins, or the shit-show as Gallagher calls it. Although at Giorgio’s request—Clifton’s, more like—we’re hosting drinks for members of the cast tomorrow night. Hope that’s okay by you chaps? Drop your bags here and come through to the conservatory. I know it’s a lovely day, but it’s a bit too cold to sit in the garden. So our sacred pavilion is the next best thing.” Bright light shone from the end of the house where a conservatory built of glass and timber brought natural sunlight into the interior. Lined all around with verdant plants of various shapes and sizes, the humid space felt like a greenhouse, except the stone floor had been laid with a wonderful circular rug of terracotta silk, and the centre of the semi-circular space was filled with comfortable cream-coloured settees and a large oak coffee table. White china containers of milk and brown sugar sat on a large steel tray amid matching cups and saucers, and elegantly designed pots of coffee and tea. The first to catch his attention, Raul looked up and smiled as Nathan entered behind Martin. Clifton sat next to him, talking urgently into his mobile phone, but looked up and waved on seeing their arrival. “Told you I heard a car engine,” said Martin. “Nathan and Jaymes have arrived. Come and get some coffee, boys.” Jaymes entered behind Nathan and squeezed up against his back, a hand draped over one shoulder, his chin resting on the other. When Nathan turned quizzically to him, he pecked a kiss on his lips, before turning to raise a palm in greeting to Raul and Clifton. So much for keeping their physical contact on the down low. Raul grinned broadly and rose to meet them. “Where’s Gallagher?” asked Nathan, after taking turns to give Raul a hug, and then taking a seat with Jaymes around the table. “In the garden on his phone, checking in with staff,” said Martin, pouring them both coffee. “Ever since he stepped out of the rat race, six months ago, he’s been helping run the shops. Probably a hangover from his frenetic life in the corporate world, but he thinks things will fall apart without him there for a day or two.” Nathan felt Jaymes squeeze his shoulder. “Sound familiar?” said Jaymes, to Nathan, and then to Martin. “Nathan’s having similar concerns about leaving his shop for the long weekend.” Martin gave Nathan a grim smile and a sympathetic nod. “I do understand. When we had only one shop, I used to be there all the time. Someone once likened the experience to the one new mothers and fathers have when they leave their kid in the care of someone else for the first time. Feels almost like a betrayal. And they spend the whole time either staring at their phones, waiting for a call or a message, to hear the worst, or phoning and checking in far too often.” “I promise not to do that,” said Nathan, mainly to Jaymes. “Lord knows what Gallagher’s going to be like when the television crew turn up and start clumping through the house, moving furniture around. Thank goodness he’s temporarily moving out.” “He won’t be here?” said Nathan, horrified. “What if they break anything?” “I’ll be here to keep an eye on things. And moreover, everything’s covered by their insurance. I’ve already had the more precious items moved into storage. Not taking any chances. But they’re talking about starting at the crack of dawn and doing a couple of late night shoots. Being isolated here, we’re not disturbing any neighbours. But Gallagher’s a light enough sleeper at the best of times. So he’s moving into the flat above our high street shop for the month until they’re finished.” “You know, maybe allowing them to use my place is not such a good idea,” said Nathan, to Jaymes. “Martin and Gallagher’s house is going to be used as my character’s home, and features in a lot of episodes—eight in total,” said Clifton, who had finished his call, and finally joined their conversation. “Whereas your place will only be used in one, and then only briefly. As the location of one of the witnesses. You won’t get anywhere near the same disturbance or upheaval as Martin, and if what I heard is correct, the shot will be done and dusted in a day—on a Sunday. Don’t worry Nate, there’s no way Giorgio would have agreed to let them interfere during business hours. Because he knows if he did, I’d be looking for a new manager.” While Clifton had been talking, Gallagher walked through the conservatory doors and bent to give Jaymes a hug. After doing the same to Nathan, he thumped himself down next to Marin and glanced around quizzically. “What did I miss?” “Nothing, dear,” said Martin, patting his partner on the thigh. “How are they doing back at the shop? Not burnt the place down yet, I take it.” “On the contrary. This very morning they’ve sold the Victorian dining table, the extendable one.” “Goodness me. We’ve had that piece hanging around for, what, eighteen months? How much did they discount?” asked Marin, clearly impressed. “Nope. Full price,” said Gallagher. “Two and a half grand.” “For one table?” asked Nathan. “I’m guessing it’s not just any old dining table,” said Jaymes. “You’re absolutely right, old man. This one’s a showpiece. Built around the end of the eighteenth century, this beauty extends into a twelve feet table, but unlike modern contemporaries, has amazing workmanship; moulded edge, canted corners together with a winding handle and mechanism, and removable leaves used for the extended table. The Victorians loved to entertain, but they also liked to save space when they could.” “At some point, I’d love to come and have a look around your shop,” said Jaymes. “Looking for something in particular?” asked Martin. “Just interested,” said Jaymes, and Nathan felt sure he was the only one to notice the slight colouring in his cheeks. “I don’t have my own place. Tend to be more of a nomad with my job. But I’d certainly be interested in seeing some of the types of furniture craftsmen have created.” “Maybe we can do that Sunday,” said Martin. “Once everything’s been settled here. Now, back to today. We’re having a barbecue this evening, even though the weather’s a little cold. Nice and informal. Gallagher’s never happier than when he’s conducting his symphony over the barbecue, waving tongs around like the true maestro he is. We’ve been prepping all morning. We also have these amazing free-standing gas heaters, tall aluminium and stylish, too, we can set up on the patio to keep everyone warm. Raul and Clifton are in charge of the drinks trolley and I’ll be playing fetch for them all.” “What about us?” asked Nathan. “You, my dear boys, are here to relax, have a good time, and let us spoil you,” said Gallagher, before casting a brief smirk at Jaymes. “Oh, and you’re on washing up duty later. But don’t worry too much. We’ve just had a brand new dishwasher installed.” “In the meantime,” said Martin, glancing at his watch. “It’s almost three. Did you have lunch yet?” “We did. On the way here.” “In which case, once you’ve finished your coffee, why don’t I show you up to your room, let you have some personal space to rest and freshen up. That’ll give us time to get things started down here. And then we’ll all meet in the garden at six for drinks. How does that sound?” “Sounds perfect.” Martin dropped Clifton and Raul off first, and then led Nathan and Jaymes to a small, cosy bedroom overlooking the garden. With yellow and grey themed walls, a steel framed bed housed a thick double mattress, covered in a simple grey quilt patterned with lemon yellow embroidered flowers. “It’s a little on the small side, but this one has a beautiful view and its own bathroom off the door in the corner. There’s a jug of drinking water on the sideboard and towels in the bathroom. Make yourselves at home.” Once Martin had left them, and after Nathan had used the bathroom, he emerged to find an amused Jaymes in socked feet stretched out in the bed. “Come and try the bed out.” Nathan prised off his shoes and jumped onto the bed next to Jaymes causing the mattress to bounce and recoil deeply, the springs groaning and wheezing loudly like a braying donkey. Both of them laughed aloud. “Unless you want us to wake the whole house, I think sex is off the menu this weekend,” said Nathan, after leaning in and kissing Jaymes. “Aw,” said Jaymes. “We could be quiet.” “When are you ever quiet? And besides, this bed can’t help itself.” After chuckling softly, they both lay still for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. “On the way down,” said Jaymes. “When you found my health check, were you going to ask if we could ditch the condoms?” “What?” said Nathan, rolling onto his side to look at Jaymes, shock registering on his face. He most definitely had not put that particular two and two together. “No, Jaymes. I wouldn’t do that to you. I know you’ve been hurt before and would never push you into doing anything you didn’t want to do. Most of all, I want you to feel safe, to be able to trust me.” “I do trust you, Nate. That’s the point.” Jaymes turned to take in Nathan. “And you know how much I hate the damned things.” Nathan hesitated. More than anyone he had ever met, he trusted Jaymes. But conceding on the condoms would take their relationship to a new level, a relationship already doomed to end. “Let’s have this conversation again when we get back to Crumbington, shall we?” Which is what they agreed to before Jaymes pulled Nathan over, kissed him and gathered him into a hug. Before long, both had fallen asleep and Nathan roused first to late afternoon light through the window and a faint smell of food cooking. Checking his watch, he saw the time as five-thirty. Rousing Jaymes, they took turns to shower quickly and changed into warm clothes, before joining the others already in the garden. Martin and Gallagher had set up comfortable cushioned rattan furniture just beyond the conservatory, four tall pyramid-type heaters on a low setting arranged behind the chairs, and casting heat and light over them all. Soft music played through a Bluetooth speaker on the low table, the only sound disturbing the peaceful evening in the backwoods. Clifton already sat there, looking fresh and ready for his close-up, legs crossed elegantly at the knee, a tall aquamarine cocktail in one hand, an arm slung over the back of the settee. As promised, Gallagher held court over the huge barbecue, a white chef’s hat worn largely for decoration, while Martin stood beside him, a tall glass of something opaque in one hand, frowning down critically at the grilling fare. “What is your poison?” called Raul, who had just handed Gallagher a bottle of beer, and headed back to the drinks trolley. “I’ll have whatever Gallagher’s drinking. How about you, Nate?” said Jaymes. “I can’t believe you let him call you Nate. You used to hate that,” said Clifton, taking a sip from his drink. “He can call me anything he wants,” said Nathan, placing a hand on the back of Jaymes’ neck. “As long as he cooks me breakfast every so often—among other things.” “He’ll have a beer, too,” said Jaymes, wisely not getting dragged into the conversation. While they sat together—Raul and Martin eventually joining them, leaving Gallagher to the cooking—Clifton explained how the film crew would set up, where they would be stationed and exactly how intrusive the whole intervention could be. He also did a great job of selling the excitement surrounding the experience, and by the end, Nathan had relaxed about the idea. Afterwards, he announced the good news about the pilot being warmly received by the network and not only commissioning the full series of eight episodes, but fully expecting to have a second season. Casting had worked furiously to get all the characters posts filled. Giorgio, he explained, had invited many of them for the drinks party on Saturday evening, something even Clifton had no idea about. Just as Gallagher brought over the first platter piled with barbecued food, at around six-thirty, Nathan’s phone chimed in his pocket. “Fingal,” he said with an anxious glance at Jaymes. “He wants to FaceTime.” “Don’t worry, Nate. He’s probably just checking in.” Without another word, Nathan jumped up and marched into the centre of the darkening garden to take the call. Fingal’s laughing face filled the frame. “Bumper day today, Mr Fresher. We’ve all been fairly rushed off our feet. Couple of customers asked after you, so I told them you’d taken a well-deserved break. Seriously though, Nathan, you’ve got a nice little outfit going on here. Although you’re missing a trick or two, could do with tightening up a few loose ends, so to speak. We’ll have a little chat when you come back next week. I’m doing some other work Monday and Tuesday, but I’ll drop by and see you Wednesday, if that’s okay?” “Of course it’s okay,” said Nathan, Wednesday being a quieter day, they would have more time to talk. But right then, something else had caught his attention. “Is that Arthur in the background? What happened? Is there something wrong with the ovens?” “No, nothing’s wrong. I’m taking him and Molly out for a drink and a bite to eat.” Nathan felt his face flush with guilt. In all the years the two of them had worked for him, he’d never thought to invite them out for a drink or a meal. Yes, he’d given them generous bonuses over Christmas and for their holidays, but he’d never considered taking them out and socialising with them. Already Fingal was proving the better man, the better boss. “Save the receipt from the first round and I’ll reimburse you Wednesday. And tell them both I’m grateful for all their hard work.” “They already know that, Nathan, but thanks for the drink. We’ll be sure to toast your health. How are things there? It seems pretty dark.” “Oh no, we’re having a barbecue in the garden, so I stepped away from the conversation. Sun’s almost gone now. But it’s going really well here. And thanks again, Fingal.” “Any time, my boy. Any time.” “Let me guess,” said Jaymes, as Nathan sat back next to him. In his absence, Gallagher had piled the small table with ribs, burgers, steaks, sausages, baked potatoes, and an assortment of salads. “Nobody died. Everything worked out fine.” “Fingal says they had a really good day,” said Nathan, taking his bottle of beer back from Jaymes. “He’s taking the team out for drinks.” “And how does that make you feel?” “Surplus to requirements.” “Come on, Nate. Don’t beat yourself up. Anyone can shine for a day or two. You seem to manage the same fifty-two weeks of the year. Fingal has someone like you who understands and appreciates his efforts. Who do you have? Give yourself a break, baby.” Once again Jaymes had nailed Nathan’s mood, and he sighed deeply before leaning into Jaymes’ body heat. How many busy Fridays and Saturdays had Nathan managed over the past years? Hundreds. Instead of dwelling on the thought, he took a good tug on his bottled beer and helped himself to food. Throughout the evening, everyone took turns to tell stories. After a certain amount of coaxing from Gallagher, Clifton let on about the storyline of the pilot of his television show, but not before swearing them all to secrecy. Afterwards, Raul talked briefly about his upcoming schedule, but then began to grill Jaymes and Nathan about their individual work. Eventually Martin and Gallagher took over the reins. “I’m really enjoying this,” whispered Jaymes, later on, as Gallagher told another comical story from his days living out of a suitcase while working in the corporate world. “Nice to think of Martin and Gallagher as our friends.” Strangely enough, Nathan’s attention snagged on the word ‘our’ and he stiffened for a moment. “What’s the matter?” “It just—makes me sad when I’m reminded of how little time we have. Would be nice if we could build more things together, but you’ll be off in June, and I’ll be back to my usual solitary day-to-day.” “I’m only in Malaysia, Nate. Not on Mars. And I’m sure to be back from time to time.” “I know. I suppose it’s just my usual over-dramatic way of saying I’m going to miss you.” This time it was Jaymes’ turn to fall silent, staring off into the night. Nathan felt bad then, and joined in the banter with Gallagher until Jaymes’ attention drifted back. Later on, noticing him yawn a couple of times, he pulled Jaymes’ head down onto his shoulder, and wrapped an arm around him, getting a rumbled growl of approval from Jaymes in return. Tonight, sitting there surrounded by friends, with Jaymes glued to his side, Nathan felt like the luckiest person in the world. Enjoy the time you have, he told himself. Tomorrow can wait.
  10. 56 points
    “Have you never had counselling?” “Not since the hospital. I think maybe they mentioned it but…things happened.” “I’m sure they did, but has no one ever discussed this with you? Has no one ever explained that sex without consent is rape and that you can’t give consent when you don’t have a choice. Even if you seduced someone, even coerced them into having sex with you, if you believed you’d be hurt, or even killed, if you didn’t, there was no consent. You were a victim, Jay, don’t forget that. You were repeatedly raped and abused. It wasn’t your fault you didn’t run from that. You were a child and you had nowhere else to go.” Jay gaped at Drew, shaking their head. “I… No one…not even at the hospital. No one explained it like that.” “Then you never spoke to the right person. Promise me you will.” Jay swallowed then nodded, albeit reluctantly. “I will.” “Good. Glad that’s settled. Now, do you want to go back to the flat or stay here for a bit. You don’t have to talk about this anymore if you’re tired. You can join the twins and rest while I speak to Lady Jane.” Jay’s eyes flew wide. “No. No, I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want you to talk to her.” “Then what do you want? Do you want to leave?” “I…I don’t know.” “If you do, you’ll be running away. I won’t stop you, but I think you should stay. You don’t need to run anymore. You’re not on your own now.” “Aren’t I?” They sounded bleak. Drew took them by the shoulders and pushed them back so he could look them in the eye. “Don’t you listen to what people say to you? You’re family, Jay. Maybe you don’t share our blood, maybe we haven’t known you for long, but you’re family. My mother has decreed it, so it is.” He smiled, but Jay didn’t echo it. “She doesn’t know.” “Do you think that would change anything? Do you think my mother is sheltered because she lives in the back end of beyond? She’s a worldly woman, and Ceriann… She’s been all over the world and seen things not even I’ve experienced. Not all of them have been good. She knows the score as much as I do. I know you can’t trust us, not yet, but I promise you, I promise no one will judge you. In fact, you might get mothered even more. I can’t speak for the twins but I’ve a strong feeling they’ll be just the same.” For a moment, Drew was afraid Jay was about to faint, but they pulled themselves together, even though tears were pouring down their face. “I…I can’t…” “I know. It’s too much to ask of you. How can you trust us when you’ve kept this so close for so long? I can speak words, make promises, but at the end of the day you’ll only know when it happens, and it will happen. Everyone will say to your face that your past doesn’t make us love you any less.” “You…love me?” “Of course, you ridiculous pixie. We all love you. You remind us all what it’s like to have a true friend, and what it’s like to be free—even if you aren’t.” Jay pondered for a moment, then nodded. “I’m not free,” they said. “Not really. Not at all.” “I know. So, tell me the rest and you’ll free a bit more. If you’re brave, I promise that by the end of the day you’ll be freer than you’ve ever been in your life.” Jay started, raw fear stealing what colour had remained in their face, but they nodded. “There’s not really that much more to tell. My master sold me to a monster. He…raped me every day and lent me out to others who…” They swallowed thickly. “Come on. Let’s sit back up on the seat, get comfortable.” “What about…” They motioned at the puddle of vomit. “I’ll clean up in a bit. You missed the carpet, so thanks for that.” “Can I help?” “Do you feel up to it?” “I think it would make me feel better. Could you make coffee?” Drew, pleased that Jay’s voice sounded stronger already, readily agreed. He located cleaning products in the sliding cupboard and brewed coffee while Jay cleaned up. When they were done, they sat, side by side, sipping their drinks while Jay pondered. “I carried on running away,” they said when their coffee was half gone. “He kept on bringing me back. He had thugs and they weren’t gentle. He threatened all the time that if I ran away again he’d kill me. I guess I was too valuable to him. And at least I got to be me, and he gave more pretty things than I’d ever had. He liked me dressing up in women’s clothes and makeup. He said he got more for me that way. They sighed, their eyes misty as they remembered. “One day, after my ass had been dragged back yet again, he looked at me and shook his head. “You’re pretty,” he said, “and you make me more than anyone else, but you’re expendable. Remember that.” “I didn’t remember it. I thought it was just like all the other times and started planning the next one. Then he sent me out on a job. It seemed good at first. I was wearing my best stuff and the John was rich and clean, even charming—to begin with. He took me back to a posh penthouse and treated me really well. He wined and dined me and petted me like I was some kind of fancy dog he’d just bought from a pet shop. Some of the things he said were a bit weird, but I didn’t think anything of it—until he took me into the bedroom. There was nothing new in that, but when I was stripped, he pinned me to the bed, put his hands around my neck and told me he’d been looking forward to this day for half his life. He said I was fortunate, blessed even, and not to worry because it would be quick and he’d even make it good for me.” “What? What did he mean by that?” Drew’s blood ran cold and his body stiffened, on high alert. Suddenly, he wanted very badly to kill someone. “I was never meant to leave that room. I’d become the star in my very own stuff movie. Someone said that to me later and it’s kind of stuck in my head. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was filming the whole thing. There would have been people all over the country, maybe even the world, who’d have got off on watching me die. How fucked up is that?” Drew knew all about snuff films. He’d been forced to watch some once when undercover. He’d never recovered from the images he’d seen and the thought that Jay could have been one of them, one of the nameless children who’d given their lives needlessly and sickeningly to satisfy some twisted fantasy made him feel sick. He pulled Jay to him and held on tight. His fingers itched and he wanted nothing more than to put a bullet through the head of that monster, even though he knew it was impossible. “I thought he was going to strangle me and there would have been nothing I could do about it. I fought, but he was way too strong. I passed out thinking it was the end. But I think he miscalculated. He thought I’d be out longer than I was, because I came to with him leaning over me, a syringe in his hand. I freaked. I took him by surprise and when I twisted he lost balance and fell off the bed. I ran for it and almost made it, because he’d got tangled up when he fell. I was nearly at the front door when he came out of the bedroom, roaring like some kind of fucked up wild animal. I went through the first door I saw and tried to find a lock, but there wasn’t one. I tried to hold it closed with my body but I didn’t have a chance. When he burst through, he sent my flying across the room. I was in the kitchen. He was right behind me and there was a knife block next to my hand. I pulled out the biggest knife I could see, but before I could do anything he’d slammed into me and I thought I was going to pass out again because I was sandwiched between him and the counter top and it just knocked all the air out of me. I knew I was going to die. He wouldn’t make any more mistakes. So, I squeezed the handle of the knife and just stabbed it behind me. I didn’t care what it hit, as long as it got him away from me.” The images Jay was painting in Drew’s mind were horrific. He’d seen some bad things in his life, dammit he’d done more than one himself. He’d even killed children when he’d had to but he’d never trapped an innocent child alone in a room and murdered them in cold blood, or got any satisfaction out of any kill he’d ever made. The thought sickened him and the fact it had happened to Jay, this golden, sparkling, pixie who had more life in them than anyone Drew had ever met… He was sorry the bastard was dead because if he hadn’t been he’d have tracked him down and made him pay, inch by inch, moment by moment. For now, all he could do was be there for Jay, to listen and try so hard to make them feel safe. “He jumped back bellowing like a goddamn bull. I didn’t think, didn’t pause, didn’t…care. I stabbed him again…and again…and again.” Jay was shaking so hard their teeth chattered and they couldn’t go on, so Drew held them until it stopped. “I called the police and told them what I’d done. They came and broke the door down. I was sitting on the floor in the corner and they just grabbed me and handcuffed me. They were yelling but that was nothing new. I was used to people yelling before they did bad things to me. At least they didn’t hit me.” “I’m glad they didn’t hit you,” Drew said, his voice as cold as his heart. “If they had, I’d have found them.” Jay started and pulled back, staring at him. “You would? For me?” “Let me tell you something about me. When I give myself to someone—a lover, a friend, anyone—I give it all; the good and the bad. I will do everything I can to keep the bad away from the twins, but I won’t hide it. I’m a hard man and I’ve done hard things, things I’m not proud of. What I am proud of and what I will never regret, is that I take care of my own. You should know that if the man who did this to you was still alive, I’d find him, anywhere in the world. I’d find him and end him, and before he took his last breath, he’d be begging for it.” Jay shuddered, a deep shiver that rocked their body. “Does that make you frightened of me, or disgusted or horrified? That I would torture someone to death for harming you?” Dumbly, Jay shook their head, their eyes wide and lips gaping. “Then what the hell makes you think I’d be disgusted or horrified about what you did. You fought for your life. Anyone would have done the same thing in your place.” Jay shook their head, a twisted smile sharpening their expression. “Apparently they wouldn’t. The judge said it was “a sustained and animalistic attack, far beyond what might be considered reasonable in the circumstances”. That was when my lawyer tried to argue it was self-defence.” “Of course it was self-defence. What the hell did they think it was. The monster was about to kill you.” Jay nodded. “They found the syringe and analysed what was in it. It would have killed me a hundred times over. If I hadn’t woken up when I did… They explained in court what it would have done to me, and it would have been entertaining to watch, I guess, but like you said, I’d have been begging for the end—which I guess is what they want.” “And they still said it wasn’t self-defence?” Jay nodded again. “They dropped the murder charge and told me that if I agreed to give evidence against the people who took me, they’d drop manslaughter to aggravated assault and I’d walk free. By then I’d already been in prison for about eight months because they considered me a flight risk. They were probably right.” “So, is that what you did?” Jay shook their head. “If I’d done that, they would have killed me. The police had no chance of catching them all and I’d seen what happened to people who crossed them. They never understood, Drew, those people are everywhere. They’re evil monsters. It would have been nothing to them to snuff out another inconvenience. I was told as much in prison.” “Did they tell you that? That you’d be killed if you said anything?” Jay snorted. “What do you think? Of course they did. I was lucky to survive as it was. I was a fifteen-year-old, gender fluid whore in an adult prison—yeah they sent me there because I was being “unreasonable” about taking a plea and testifying. That wasn’t what they said, of course, but we all knew it was punishment and an attempt to get me to cave.” “Jesus, Jay, what happened?” “I got lucky.” They chuckled mirthlessly and pushed away so they were sitting up, with their back against the wall. “In the beginning, I was charged with murder. They put me in solitary confinement in the medical wing because I was still in shock, and they thought I was a suicide risk. Then, when I kept refusing to testify, they sent me out into the lion’s den. I don’t know what they thought was going to happen. I figured I’d be torn to pieces in the first few days. But… There were people in there who were either part of the gang or paid off by them, because I was told that as long as I behaved and didn’t talk I’d be looked after, and I was. To be honest, the time I spent in prison was so much better than it had been before I wouldn’t have cared if I’d stayed there forever. That changed, of course. No one wants to be prisoner forever, do they?” “No.” Drew couldn’t help but stare at Jay. They seemed so fragile, so young and vulnerable, and they were. God knows they were, but… They’d survived. They’d come through and built a new life for themselves. They were here, standing on their own two feet, living the best life they could, better than most. Pride blossomed in his chest and he longed to hug Jay, to tell them how he felt, but he couldn’t, because that was not what Jay needed right then. “In the end, they gave up, especially because of all the media attention. People were asking questions and suddenly I was an embarrassment they just wanted to go away. My family back here in the UK had seen the reports and recognized me. They petitioned the government to bring me home. I was finally sent back to the UK and had to go through the whole thing again—without the pressure to give evidence. I spent four months on remand in a young offender’s institution, where I got beaten up worse than I had in with the rapists and murderers in America, then suddenly I was free. Apparently, the CPS felt it wasn’t in the public’s interests to punish me any further, because one day, two strangers turned up, put me in a car and took me home.” “Strangers?” “They were my parents. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize them—well I didn’t at first but it didn’t take long—it was that I’d changed so much I wasn’t looking through the same eyes, and neither were they. Don’t get me wrong, they tried. They really did, but they’re older and fancy, with the whole “what would the neighbours think” thing going on. I couldn’t be the son they wanted. I couldn’t be anything but me and that didn’t fit in with their comfortable, upper class lives. “I kind of had a breakdown and ended up in hospital. I met some cool people and they lit the flames so to speak. When I came out, my parents didn’t really want me back home. I was almost seventeen decided I could live quite well by myself—which turned out to be very much true. My parents couldn’t wait to get me out the door. They set me up with a flat and the equipment I needed to start up, and then they backed off. I think they forgot they ever had me. They certainly never reached out, never contacted me, never answered my messages, were never in when I called around. In the end I stopped. I got the message loud and clear.” “I’m sorry.” “Nothing to be sorry for. It’s their decision, their loss.” Jay attempted to grin. They couldn’t quite pull it off but Drew was proud at the attempt. “While I was in the hospital I reinvented myself, and I literally came out a different person. Jayson Stephens died in there and I never thought I’d see him again—until I met her.” “Lady Jane?” Jay nodded. “She hated me from the start. Thought I wasn’t good enough. When she found out who I really am she told me I had to tell the twins and then keep the hell away from them because she didn’t want my past to catch up and pull them down. It all sounded so reasonable when she said it. I could see the truth in every word. The thing is…I couldn’t do it. I love them, and all our friends. I’ve spent so many hours fighting with myself. Should I tell them? Should I tell everyone? I’ve decided to do it over and over and over. It’s not fair of me not to because one day, whether it’s Lady Jane or someone else, it’s going to come out. When that happens, we’ll all go down. Oh God, Drew, I’ve been so selfish.” Jay started to sob again, rocking, their head in their hands. “I’ve been so selfish, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I’d never had friends. I’ve never had anyone, not like them and it’s got nothing to do with the money, I swear.” “Jesus, Jay, do you really think I’d believe for one second it’s about money? As far as I can see, apart from Alice, you’re the only true friend the twins, have, that they’ve ever had.” Jay moaned, a long, drawn out wail of pure agony, startling Drew. “What?” he asked. “What did I say?” “Alice knows. If it all comes out she’ll… Oh God it’s such a mess.” “Alice knows?” “She’s a fucking princess, Drew, of course she knows. Her security know everything about everyone.” “And she’s okay with it?” “Okay? Of course she’s not okay, but she’s the best friend anyone in the world could ever have. Even better than the twins.” Jay paused. “Okay, no, not better than the twins, but as good as. She looks after people. She looked after me, but she had to fight for it. They didn’t want to let her have anything to do with me and she has to have extra security when I’m around. She has press agents watching me, watching everything. But she wouldn’t let go.” “Of course not. Why would anyone let you go? You’re an amazing person, Jay. I don’t know anything about Jayson, but I do know you and I’m amazed by you.” Jay sniffed and looked up, even with their eyes puffy and makeup smeared all over their face, they were a true, natural beauty. Not like the twins, nothing like the twins—they were simply breath-taking—but strangely pure even after everything they’d been through. He was a lily next to their roses—a rainbow lily of course, with a touch of sparkle. “You’re amazed by me?” “I am. More now than ever. How the hell have you lived with all this? Alone?” “Alone’s all I know how to be. I’m the only one I know I can rely on.” “Not anymore.” Drew opened his arms and Jay jumped into them, hugging him with a strength that belied their small frame.
  11. 53 points
    “Kohen, calm down.” Captain’s warm hands landed on my shoulders. He squeezed them, rubbing the tense muscles. “I won’t let anyone take you away from me. We’re bonded, remember? Where you go, I go.” “But you just said—” “I know, and maybe I need to censor some of the information I share with you until you are a little calmer. Breathe, okay? There may be some calls for action against us by those who are dirty or who were colluding with the Elites and hoping not to get caught, but I know Freska. She’s damned every single one of the dirty bastards. They’ll go down for this. And even if governments are calling for action against us, there’s a simple solution.” Captain pulled me toward his chest, folding me into his arms. Bunching my hands into his uniform, I breathed in his scent, took in his heat. Fronts pressed together, there was no escaping my reaction to him, but this wasn’t that kind of intimacy. I matched my breathing to his, slowing down my sharp gulps for air. I pressed my forehead to his shoulder. “Thank you.” I blinked and leaned my head back. “What solution?” A slow smile spread across his face. Captain shrugged. “We just go to one of the planets that is hailing us as heroes and settle down. I’m sure at least a few of them are good enough to stick around forever on. You trust me, right?” “Always.” “Good. I already knew that, but I wanted to be sure that you remembered you trusted me. That you can always trust me.” He leaned in, his lips parting. Knowing what was coming, wanting it, I met him in a gentle kiss of lips. His hands roamed my back, hypnotizing sweeps up and down along my spine. Brushing our mouths together, he covered every inch of my top and bottom lip with tiny nibbles with his lush lips, taking his time before finally giving me the firm pressure I craved. “Mmm,” I sighed. The last of the tension leeched out of my body. Captain backed me up to the bunk. I watched languidly as he finished getting ready and then left. Sleep claimed me soon after. The door alert woke me, but it took me a few moments to put on some clothes. “Danie?” “Can I come in?” Danie looked up and down the corridor. “Sure?” I drew out the word, backing up so he could step inside. He was acting strange, which was saying a lot for him. His behavior was never quite what was expected. His outsides might mimic a human perfectly, but he hadn’t been programmed to act perfectly. Bandages covered his arms. “Are you okay?” I asked him. “Yes. The medic says they will heal quickly, but they are deep enough to warrant covering.” He’d been scratched during the attack. I’d forgotten. Being busy killing people had that effect. “Are you… um… do you want to sit down?” I waved a hand toward the lounge area. “I guess.” They both sat a foot or two apart. Danie sat quietly, but he didn’t speak. I shifted around, looking at him then away, then back at him. “What did you come by for?” I asked. It might sound abrupt, but well… I wanted to know. “Do you dream?” he asked. I frowned. “Dream? Like make plans for life? Or like sleep?” “It is an ambiguous term. I meant sleep.” “Yes.” Though I hadn’t, not with Captain watching over me. He made everything better. “I had… flashes. While I was recharging and in stand-by. Freska says I’m sleeping, even though I’m not really human, so was it a dream?” “Maybe?” How was I supposed to know? I didn’t want to say that though. “Did you ask Freska?” Danie’s eyes widened. “I can’t do that.” “Why not?” Now I was curious. I settled into the couch. “It was about her. What if she became upset or some other emotion? She’s different from everyone else. I can connect with her.” He touched the back of his neck, but his other hand drifted up his chest. I don’t even know if he realized it. “I don’t want to lose that.” He was worried about offending Freska. Maybe embarrassed about the dream? And he didn’t want to lose his connection to her? The longer Danie was alive, for lack of a better word, the more he was integrating his hardware and software. His humanness. “Is that all you dream about? Freska?” “It was after we killed those people. When she connected with us. I could feel her inside me. I-I like it. What if she did it again?” Danie tilted his head. “I don’t understand any of this. Is this how you felt, when you were rescued?” Was it? He’d been scared, confused, stressed, angry, happy, and so much more in such a short span of time. There’d been a plot to capture or use or kill him since he’d been sold the first time, and his first brush of freedom hadn’t stopped that. But Captain had. Maybe that’s what Freska did for Danie. “Some. But what I’ve learned is that talking with people is the best way to make sure they know how you feel and you can learn how they feel. So you should talk to Freska, even if that seems like it’s a bad idea.” “That’s it? Talk to her?” I stood. “That’s it.” I needed to get some clothes on. I’d slept enough, and talking with Danie made me realize if I wanted to be a part of Captain’s decisions, I needed to remember I didn’t want him protecting me. I had to stay strong, rebuild the confidence I had. This crew made me one of them, so I wasn’t going to shirk my duties. First I’d seek out Captain to learn what was happening and what our plan was, then I’d find something useful to do.
  12. 53 points
    Drew hovered at the top of the stairs, uncertain what best to do. He’d hoped to head Jay off before Lady Jane got her claws into them and at least let them know they had an ally. Now, he wasn’t sure if it would be best to wait or walk in. Crashing the meeting might make matters worse, but on the other hand, leaving Jay to face it alone seemed…wrong. He was a man of action and had found social interaction could be a minefield, at least at this level. He didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Lady Jane when she had only just come into the twins’ lives, but Jay was their best friend and had done more for Amara and Aria than anyone else Drew new of. Before he could overthink things even further, the door to the office was flung open and Jay fled the room, heading for the front door. Drew followed and almost over-ran. Jay had tucked themselves away behind a pillar and sat, hunched on the ground, hugging their knees and sobbing as if their heart was breaking. Drew hesitated for only a moment, then crouched at Jay’s side. He had no idea what to say. When he rested a hand on Jay’s shoulder, they jumped as if they’d been burned. “Drew?” they said, their voice confused as if they couldn’t understand how Drew could possibly be there. At least their surprised forestalled the heart-breaking sobs. “I’m sorry I’m late,” Drew said. Jay frowned, sniffing. “What do you mean?” “I was hoping I’d get to you in time to go in with you. I take it you don’t want to go back with me.” Jay’s eyes widened and they shook their head compulsively. “Come on then, let’s get out of here.” Drew stood and Jay gazed up at him for a moment with a blank stare before holding out their hand and allowing Drew to help them to their feet. Without a glance at the hall, Drew led Jay down the steps, holding tight to their hand—half through fear of them bolting and half because he thought Jay needed the human connection. From the expression in their eyes, Jay was holding on by a thread. Turning unhesitatingly to the right, Drew led Jay around the side of the house into a large open courtyard. He paused to gawp at the enormous garages, like a pair of aircraft hangers filled with cars of all kinds, mostly black. The bus stood out like a sore thumb, lodged between a sleek jaguar and a hulking SUV. Jay pulled back against Drew’s hold. Drew stopped immediately and turned to them. He remained silent giving them opportunity to gather themselves. “I…” “It’s as safe a place as you’ll find around here. No one will bother us there.” “But…” Drew turned fully and rested his hands on Jay’s shoulders. He gazed into their eyes, which were veiled and fearful. “I know,” he said simply. “I saw the folder. It’s okay.” Jay’s eyes flew wide and Drew honestly thought they were going to bolt. He made sure his hands rested lightly, not wanting Jay to feel restrained in any way. Jay took a step backward, glancing to the side, and Drew knew they were on the verge of running. “Don’t,” he said softly. “I don’t know what she said to you, but we can figure this out. Just come to the bus and talk. If you still want to leave, I’ll find a way to explain to the twins.” “I…” “Please. I swear I won’t hurt you, Jay. I don’t give a damn about what happened in the past. I know you as someone who is smart, funny and a damn good friend. You’ve been nothing but kind and honest, and loyal to my boys. I don’t know where we’d have been without you. We owe you. And besides”—He grinned—“you’re one of the family. You may be the black sheep, but black’s always a fashionable colour, right?” Jay shook their head slowly, their mouth hanging open, their eyes wide. They were completely stunned. Drew carefully rested his arm across Jay’s shoulders and drew them toward the bus. He wondered, too late, if it would be locked, but it wasn’t. Of course not. Why on earth would Ceriann have locked the bus when she left it in the hands of strangers? After depositing Jay on the bench seat, Drew hurried to the kitchen and set a kettle to boil on the gas burner. “Do you want to talk about it?” Jay remained silent, their head bowed, sitting on their hands. “You know you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, don’t you?” Jay snorted. “Okay, so tell me, what exactly are you ashamed of?” Jay raised their head and gazed at him with an expression of incredulity. “Are you being serious right now?” “Deadly.” “You read the file?” “Not all of it, but enough to get a gist of what happened.” Jay frowned. “How do I know you’re not just fishing? How do I know you know anything at all?” “I guess you’ll just have to trust me, Jayson.” Jay started as if Drew had stuck a pin in them, then they deflated and covered their face with their hands. Their shoulders started to shake and Drew was very tempted to forget the kettle and run to them. However, he was afraid that if he came on too strong Jay would run, and he had no idea where they’d go. So, he grabbed two mugs and made two hot drinks, all the time watching Jay carefully, ready to move in an instant if they decided to make a run for it. Jay, however appeared frozen, not moving at all, apart from the shaking of their shoulders. When the kettle had boiled, Drew made coffee, set a mug on the table in front of Jay and sat on the other side, giving them space. Jay glanced up, took the mug, then lowered their gaze again, staring at their hands where they wrapped around the hot china. They didn’t attempt to raise the mug to their lips. Drew sipped his coffee and wondered what to say. What could he say to make this situation easier for Jay? It wasn’t an easy situation. “I’m assuming you haven’t told Aria and Amara,” he said at last, because the silence was too much to bear. Once again, Jay jumped as if they’d been poked, then raised a frantic gaze, glancing around like a caged animal. Drew laid down his mug and leaned forward. “Take it easy. I give you my word I won’t tell them anything unless you specifically ask me to. This is something that needs to come from you if it comes at all.” Jay’s breath hitched and they, too laid their mug on the table, then drew up their legs to hug their knees, curling into as small a space as possible. “Is she putting pressure on you to tell them?” Jay shook their head, shrinking even smaller. “Is she threatening to tell them herself?” There was silence for so long, Drew thought they were never going to get an answer. “She used to pressure me to tell them, but now she says if I don’t leave, she will.” Drew’s jaw clenched. The good feeling he’d started to accumulate for Lady Jane disappeared in a flash. That evil cow. How could she do this to what was very clearly a vulnerable child? Well, technically not a child, at least in body, but still a vulnerable person. It had become abundantly clear that for all their bounce and sparkle Jay was carrying a huge burden. They must be so frightened that the fragile world they’d built around themselves would come crashing down at any moment. That crushing understanding brought him to his knees next to Jay. He took Jay’s hands in his. “You have to understand that you are not alone anymore. No matter what happens from now on, you’re part of our family. There’s no way Aria and Amara would turn against you for this, and if they do, I know for sure my family won’t. You’re one of us, warts and all. Do you know what my mother said before we left?” Jay gazed at him, looking deeply confused. They shook their head. “Watch that one, Jay, they’ve got a sadness about them and they haven’t got the support the twins have. Watch them for me”. And I’ll tell you now that in Wales “watch them” means a whole lot more than “keep an eye on”. It means “take care of them, make sure they’re okay, that they know someone cares”. It means “you’d better make damn sure you notice when they’re struggling”, and I’ve seen you struggle. I haven’t known why, or what you were struggling with, but I’ve seen the darkness in the middle of all that glitter. Now I know what it is, and my mother would tan my hide if I didn’t stand by you.” Jay bit their lip and sniffed as tears rolled down their cheeks. They didn’t move, didn’t take their eyes from Drew’s for a moment. They just held themselves rigid, the rolling tears the only sign of their distress. “Are you really that worried about how the twins will react?” Jay shrugged, just a tiny rise of their shoulders. “You’ve known the twins a lot longer than me and you know them much better, I’m certain you don’t believe any more than I do that they’d turn against you, so what is it really? Are you afraid you’ll hurt them?” Again, a slight shrug, and more tears. “Please Jay, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s at the heart of this. What’s really going on.” There was a long pause, then Jay collapsed in on themselves and fell into Drew’s arms. They clung to him, their face tucked into the crook of his neck, and sobbed. Drew held them close, rocking slightly and giving them a chance to calm before pushing them any further. “She…” Jay sobbed even harder and spat incoherent words. “I can’t understand you. Take your time.” Finally, Jay pushed away from Drew and saw up, their back against the seat. “She said if I didn’t get out of the twins’ lives, she’d go to the press. It would finish me. But I don’t understand why she’d do that because it would finish them too, for being friends with me.” “What do you mean by “finish”?” “Our careers. Who’d want to watch fashion videos made by a murdering whore? And who’d want anything to do with anyone close to them?” “I think you’ve been holding this too close for too long. I don’t know much about the whole YouTube culture, but I know people, and how much they love scandal. They’ll watch you just to see what kind of person you are. I also know that people are a lot more forgiving than you might give them credit for, understanding too. Aria said almost the same thing as you just did about the whole asexual thing. He thought it was the one thing that defined him, that made him rotten and that if anyone knew about it they’d hate him. He was pushed into making that video, but it’s done nothing but good for him, as a YouTuber and as a person.” “I know, but that’s different.” “Yes and no. You’d get different shit, and I’m not going to bullshit you by suggesting it will all be good. There will be haters—there are always haters—but their voices can be drown out. We can talk to Amara’s PR people and they’ll make sure to get the best spin. People will stand behind you, I know it.” Drew leaned back and brushed the hair from Jay’s face. Jay turned away. “You hate yourself, don’t you? You blame yourself for what happened and believe all the shit that was said about you at the time by ignorant assholes who had no idea what you’d been through. You believe them even though there were far, far more people on your side.” Jay shrugged again. “You’re not a bad person. Nowhere close. The things you did were—” “Evil,” Jay broke in. “The things I did were sick and evil.” Their face twisted, disgust written all over it. “I don’t deserve anything I have…or anyone. I don’t deserve friends. They don’t deserve friends like me who will only bring them down. I’m filth. I’m just a pile of shit covered with glitter but—” “Stop it.” Drew caught Jay’s wrists to stop them tearing at their hair and face. He was too late to stop their nails raking deep grooves in their forehead. “Stop.” Jay still wouldn’t look at Drew, but they drew themselves up and clearly made an effort to take deep breaths and calm down. “Now listen. You deserve everything you have and more. I don’t pretend to understand what you do, but I know you work hard at it, just like Aria does. If you’re successful it’s because you’ve worked for it, and because people like what you do. That’s all about you. As for Aria and Amara. I think they’re damn lucky to have a friend like you. Where would they be now, if not for you?” “They’d have been fine.” Jay mumbled. “They’ll always be fine.” “Maybe, but they wouldn’t be here right now. Not here, with us.” Jay shook their head and turned away again. “It might be good for you to talk about it,” Drew said, pressing on when Jay tensed. “Sometimes it makes things easier when you talk to someone who isn’t close to the situation and won’t judge. Maybe you can get some clarity, a different perspective.” Jay snorted but sighed and rested their cheek against the back of the seat, facing away from Drew. After a long silence they started to speak in a flat, dead voice that had hardly any hint of Jay in it at all. “I was twelve when they took me. It was a trafficking ring, but I had no idea what that even was. All I knew was that I trusted someone who betrayed me and suddenly I was in the back of a van with five other boys just like me, and we were being taken away from everything. They took us to France first, through the tunnel. I don’t know why no one looked in the back of the van, but they didn’t. I have no idea where they went on the other side. We seemed to have been cooped up in the van for days with no food and very little water. I only knew we were in France because I heard people talking and recognized the accents. “Then the van stopped and we were dragged out by three men, all yelling at us. I didn’t get a good look at where we were but it turned out to be a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. As soon as we got through the door, they started “training” us.” Jay swallowed hard, and Drew’s hands itched to pull them close and hug them tight. He’d had some involvement in infiltrating and helping the police take down trafficking rings and he knew full when what the “training” entailed. “I’m sorry about that. Jay,” Drew said, keeping his voice calm and hoping it would help Jay move on and not dwell too much on that part of his story. Jay shivered and shrugged. “We were there for about six months. I turned thirteen, but I didn’t know it. After that, we were split up. I don’t know what happened to the others, I never saw any of them again. I was taken to a small airport and put on a private jet. I was told I’d been bought and paid for and I was to do everything my new master told me, or they’d find me and kill me. I believed them.” “Damn,” Drew swore softly and this time gave in to his impulse to pull Jay close and hug them tight against him. Jay was shivering and Drew was in half a mind to fetch a blanket to wrap them in but was afraid that if he broke the moment, Jay would close down again. “Go on.” “There’s not much to tell, really. You know what goes on, Drew. I was treated well as long as I did what I was told and I learned fast that bad things happened when I didn’t. I was treated quite well on the whole, better than I expected. My “master” was fabulously rich but not much into sex, so he didn’t want me for that. I was basically an ornament, just like the Ming vase in the hallway or the Monet on the wall in the sitting room. He was an American, and so were all his friends, so I assumed I was in America. As long as I behaved well, I was looked after. I had the best of everything – clothes, food, even a valet to take care of me.” “What happened?” “How do you know something happened?” “You’re here,” Drew said simply. He knew how things went. If his “master” liked young boys decorating his home, when they ceased being young enough they were sold on. They never went back. He cradled Jay, gently rocking him. The shaking wasn’t easing. In fact, it was increasing and Drew worried about Jay becoming hysterical. He’d seen the file, he knew what came next, did he really need to hear it. Jay chuckled. “Yeah, I am, aren’t I.” “You don’t have to go on. I saw the file. I know what happened.” “No, you don’t. I need to tell you.” “Okay, whatever you need. But hang on just a sec.” Drew stretched over and grabbed a neatly folded throw, then wrapped it around Jay. “Thank you,” they mumbled, as Drew settled down again, adjusting his hold so he was supporting Jay but not restraining them. Jay heaved a sigh that rocked their entire body. When they’d been silent for a long while, especially as their body had started to relax against Drew’s chest, Drew began to wonder if they’d fallen asleep. “I couldn’t do it, Drew,” Jay murmured at last, taking Drew by surprise. “I had the best of everything, spoiled, praised, petted, but I wasn’t free. My entire life was dictated by someone else, and if I got it wrong I’d be thrown in a cellar, just to remind me of my place. Sometimes I was locked in there for days, in complete darkness with no food and only a little water. That was usually after I tried to run away. Mostly I’d get a few slaps and a couple of hours, or a night, in the cellar. They told me there were rats and spiders and if I moved around too much I’d be bitten. I did hear things, movement in the darkness, but I never saw anything, so I don’t know if they were real or in my mind. I believed though, and I was terrified.” “I understand,” Drew murmured. “I’ve had my time sitting in the dark and listening to the wildlife closing in.” “I couldn’t stop,” Jay said, a hitch in their voice. “I couldn’t stop running away. I hated being there. I hated being told what to do and I hated him. He could be so nice, sometimes he even seemed to care, but when I displeased him he changed, like he was a completely different person. His eyes were so cold and when he told me he would kill me if I didn’t behave myself, I believed him, but I just couldn’t stop.” Jay sniffed and their whole body heaved with a shuddering sigh. “Do you want to take a break? I could make tea. It would warm you up.” Jay shook their head against Drew’s chest. “No. I want to go on, to get it over with.” “I understand. Take your time.” Drew wondered how the twins were, whether they were worried. Jeff would keep them calm, but he didn’t like the fact that he’d left them fretting. They’d know there was something wrong, if nothing else because of his cagey attitude. Maybe he should have been more honest with them, but it wasn’t his place to tell them anything about Jay. It was up to Jay to tell them as much as they wanted. “I pissed him off one time too many. I broke some valuable antiques in an escape attempt, and he was furious. He told me he’d had enough of me and I wasn’t worth the trouble. I was thrown in the cellar, literally. I found out later that I’d fractured my arm, but I didn’t know it then. All I knew was that it bloody hurt. Everything hurt. I was a fourteen-year-old kid who was still twelve in his head, who believed his only value was how pretty he was, although I’d already started to get uncomfortable with presenting as a boy. I used to look at the pretty dresses at the balls and parties my master held and wish I could try them on. I asked my master for makeup but he flatly refused. He liked pretty boys, not pretty girls or anything in between.” Drew had been utterly shocked by the contents of the folder he’d found and a small part of that was discovering Jay’s biological gender. He would never have dreamed of asking and hadn’t given it much thought, but if pressed he’d have been inclined to say that Jay had been born a girl. Maybe there was something in him he needed to examine a little closer. Not that it had made any difference, and neither would it have if he’d discovered sooner, but he was disappointed in himself for the assumptions he’d made and the fact he’d made them in the first place. “You do know there’s nothing wrong in that, right? I mean, in liking what you like and being who you are.” Jay chuckled. “Don’t worry Drew. I might be screwed up in many respects, but not that. I know who I am and I’m happy with it. Well, the gender part of it anyway. “All of it, Jay. You’re a beautiful person all the way through. Don’t forget that.” Jay huffed. “You don’t know the half of it.” “No, and you don’t have to tell me, but if you do I know it won’t change my mind about you.” Jay drew back slightly so they could tilt their head back and gaze up at Drew. “Do you know what I did?” They sounded so lost and confused, Drew wanted to hug them until their bones creaked, but that would have been disastrous. Instead, he brushed the crazy-coloured hair back from Jay’s face and tried to project sincerity. “Yes. I didn’t read the whole story, but I can guess. It wasn’t your fault.” Jay chuckled again, a hollow, empty sound that made Drew’s stomach churn. “But it was, Drew. It was. You’ve no idea what a bad person I am, the things I’ve done.” “I’m a soldier, Jay. I was in special ops. You’ve no idea what I’ve done either.” Drew couldn’t help a shudder pass through him as flashes of memory caught him unaware. Jay frowned. “I forgot,” they said. They frowned, their eyes misting with deep thought. “Maybe you would understand.” “You’ll only know if you tell me, but I was placed in terrible situations, and had to do terrible things. Some of them would shock the hell out of you. I’m sure of that. On the other hand, it takes a hell of a lot to shock me—apart from the twins. They shock me on a daily basis.” For the first time, Jay smiled. It was a small, bleak smile but a smile nevertheless. “Yes, they can be shocking, can’t they. And you don’t know half of it yet.” Drew was genuinely alarmed. “What do you mean?” “The twins have…interesting lives. We all do. It can get crazy.” “Even crazier than it already has been?” “Oh yes. Wait until throw a party and you get to meet the rest of our friends. Or when they take you to some of their other homes.” “Other homes?” Jay gave a far more genuine smile and patted his cheek. “You poor, innocent child. You’re in for such a shock once they start properly absorbing you into their lives. I hope your heart can take it.” Drew couldn’t help but wonder the same thing.” The smiled dropped and Jay cuddled in again, hiding their face. “You know I killed someone, right?” “I’ve killed more.” Jay’s body jerked, but they didn’t raise their face. “Yeah, but that’s allowed, isn’t it? Expected. Soldiers are supposed to kill people, not pathetic little whores, bought and sold. Owned.” “We all do what we have to, and if I hear you call yourself a “pathetic little whore” again, I’ll confiscate your makeup for a month.” Jay glanced up again, their face set in lines of pain. “That’s what I was.” “No. Never. You’ve never been pathetic and what happened to you wasn’t your fault. What happened to you wasn’t whoring, it was rape. Every time.” Jay heaved and Drew thought they were going to be sick. The shaking started again, deep within and radiating outward. “I haven’t… No one ever… Oh God. Oh God.” They pushed away from Drew and ran for the bathroom. They didn’t make it, falling to their knees in the kitchen and vomiting on the linoleum. It flickered through Drew’s mind that it was a good think they’d missed the carpet. Drew crouched next to Jay, rubbing their back and murmuring crap. When they’d done, he took them into his arms and held them while they sobbed.”
  13. 53 points
    Captain held me tight, his body wedged behind mine. His breath heated my neck, and his hips were rocking the hard bar pressed tight to my ass in subtle surges. I went from lazy grogginess to aching need in seconds. My shaft filled, the skin behind my balls literally aching with the need to be touched. A heated sigh and shudder left me. “Captain.” “Hmm?” He nuzzled my neck. “You awake?” Part of him was. His arm slid down my stomach. “Hmm, you are. You need me?” “I want you.” I always needed him, but I wanted him too. The weight behind my ear shifted, and the synthgar’s pinch sent a lance of heat through me. My eyelids grew heavy, but I didn’t want to look away from the strong fingers I was twining with mine. That he let me touch him, squeezed our hands together even, was priceless. I couldn’t see the tiny creature move to Captain, but the bond between us flared and his hips surged against my ass as he gasped. “Ahh, Kohen.” Captain’s fingers stroked my cheek, my lips, as he tilted my head sideways to look into my eyes. “You’re amazing.” What I felt from him… he wiped the dark places inside me clean with the pure joy and heat beaming through our bond. I needed him closer, and I didn’t even have to say it. Captain stretched past me and reached for lubricant. Snick. Squish. Slick rubbing. Panting. The sounds of sex took the place of words we didn’t need to say as Captain played my body exquisite sureness. His arm under me stroked my chest, grazing my right nipple with the edge of his thumbnail. I arched my back and then exhaled in a long ahh as his slick fingers found my entrance and danced over the tight flesh. He pressed without entering until I pushed back, then he slid his finger inside in a long, slow glide. Still new, it ached and forced my walls to part, but I was so intent on the feelings he was delivering to me through our bond and as he strummed my body, I was too busy processing all the exquisite sensations to focus on the pain of the stretching. No, I knew what was coming and I couldn’t wait. “Please,” I exhaled on a whisper. He was in so much need, I didn’t know how he was holding back. “Now.” Captain grabbed more lube, then he rolled me over. “Want you face to face.” “’Kay.” He hovered between my legs on his knees. Captain leaned forward on one fist shoved in the bedding over my shoulder, the other wrapped around his erection as he breached me, his eyes watching with need, the same need I felt wrapping around us both through our bond. It wasn’t enough that I was feeling him entering me, each fraction of his rosy head piercing my core and then inch after inch of his shaft… no, I could feel my stretched rim squeezing him like a hand wrapped tight, then soft, warm walls pressing against the sides, top, and bottom of his shaft and easing the path as the lube spread. He lost it the last few inches and sank in deep, thudding our bodies together. I curled up, crying out, and he froze. “Again!” I demanded. He always treated me as if I was about to break, but this time, this time I needed more. He needed to fill me, consume me, take me roughly. Thank the stars for our bond because I clutched at him but didn’t have to say anything more. The lazy rhythm I woke to and that he’d stretched me with was gone, and Captain followed both our desires to completion. We fell back asleep, still wrapped together, messy, my body and his smelling of each other’s lust. It was doomed from the start, however, as duty reared its ugly head. We were pinged not nearly long enough later to overcome my exhaustion—or Captain was. “Sir, we’re receiving massive amounts of incoming messages directed to your eyes only. Freska has handled what she could but—” Captain sighed. “I understand. I’ll be there shortly.” I crossed my arms over my chest, holding the blanket beneath my chin. Captain stroked my hip. “Sorry. We knew this would probably happen; Freska did release a doozy of a message on the universe.” He probably should’ve been working since the moment we got back to the ship. Everyone else had been, it sounded like. “Sorry I distracted you.” “Hey,” Captain said. He leaned down, kissing me, parting my lips, teasing my tongue. He pulled away reluctantly. “I needed to reconnect with you after that just as much as you needed me. This bond between us is important and needs to be nurtured. We can’t just ignore it. I don’t want to, even if we could. Okay?” I nodded. “Okay.” I rolled onto my back to watch him dress. “What do you think the messages say? Who are they from?” “Planetary leaders. Central Council members. All wanting to know how Elites are real, how we found out about their plans, why we didn’t contact a committee, is it really true, what are we going to do now, come in for debriefing, demands for information sharing, calls for justice for and against us, conscription.” At the last one, I jolted up. “Can they do that?” “No.” Captain shook his head. “Central cannot compel our military service once we’ve been released, and every single person on this ship has been released.” “Except me. And Danie. Oh my god, what if they demand you hand over me and Danie?”
  14. 52 points
    “You are to be interviewed as soon as possible.” “I see,” Captain said. He stood ramrod straight. The alien in front of us with the line of guards blocking the exit ramp of our ship was tall with a large head topped with a dome of purple scales, and all the swirling patches on his clothes made him look very important. “The prisoners?” he asked. His voice hissed on the end of the word, and the multiple nostrils on the end of his protruding snout snapped shut to cut off the sound. “Ready for transfer.” Deke and his small team stood behind three transports with thick bars. They were gagged as well. I was relieved. I clenched my hands in fists, looking away from their glares and frantic movements hampered by the fields holding them to the transports. Three men snapped their weapons into holsters on their thighs and stepped forward from the line behind the man in charge. They walked away immediately, not waiting for the rest of their squad. The color of the scales darkened on the male’s head. “Now, if each of you will follow along with one of my men, we will start the interviews.” He began to turn. Wait. What? Each of us go with one of them…? I tensed, and Captain stepped back and to the side so his body barely covered mine. “No,” Captain said. A bugled whistle pained my ears, and all the color faded from the guy’s scales. “No?” he hissed. “We are not subject to military interrogation as civilian contractors, even if we were working on the Council’s orders, which we were not. As such, we can only be interviewed on the matter as a case of civil unrest as false imprisonment and violence was perpetuated against us and we fought back to retain our rights of freedom and life. If the Council convenes and wishes to judge the matter as one of abuse of power by a planetary governing body, we can also be called to testify before them as to that matter. “Otherwise, you have no legal right to separate, question, or detain my crew. We have provided evidence of criminal actions, the criminals who are so accused who survived the violence against us, and we stand ready to testify in public session as to these matters. That is all.” Captain stood straight and tall in front of me, protecting me and the rest of the crew, and he didn’t bend an inch. His voice didn’t shake as he firmly stated our rights. If I wasn’t so damn scared, I’d be whooping. Deke clearly wanted to, that, or start laughing at the sheer dumbfounded shock that even I could recognize on the alien’s face. Freska elbowed him. He huffed, and I glanced at him. All the amusement faded from his face and cold fury took over as I heard plastic scraping noises. Someone had just armed their weapon. Freska spoke up. “Do you really think us so naïve us to approach Central without putting surveillance in place to ensure our presence would not be swept away like so many other embarrassing debacles for the powers that be?” “We have control of all the technology—” “I am technology you have never seen,” Danie said. He stood beside Freska. “And you have no idea what I can do. What I will do, if you try to harm any of these people who are just trying to right wrongs that have happened to too many innocents. That video that was transmitted? A single command and only a few seconds against a few old men and women. I had no need to use more… deadly means.” The cold, impersonal tone was as scary as the implied threat if the soldiers’ faces were anything to go by. The alien whipped one of its tentacles behind its back, and the weapons were powered down. “You cannot hide from this. Everyone saw what you did. It is your duty—” Captain cut him off. “I did my duty, for years, for people who were looking out for themselves. For greed. Power. What I’ve learned? Power corrupts. No one remains untouched. No one has the right to demand I give up my life to save the rest of the universe, and I’m not going to risk those who depend on me just to satisfy some heroic ideal any real soldier knows is fake bullshit. Bad things happen every day, on planets all over the universe. Someone else is just going to have to fix them. I’m done.” Captain backed up, pushing me with him. We retreated into the ship, never turning our backs on the soldiers on the ground. As soon as the hatch slid shut, Captain’s shoulders slumped. I put my hands on them and leaned against his back, resting my head against his shoulders. “I shouldn’t have spoken for the whole crew like that,” he said. He looked at the hold which held basically the whole crew. Everyone was armed or carrying supplies for running, in case we’d had to abandon the ship. “Hell yes, you should have,” Deke said. “Captain Querry, you should know by now that you are more than just the captain of our ship, you are the man who we all follow because you would do anything for us. Fight off fictional Elite who are hell bent on taking over the universe, refuse to bend to sneaky politicians who’d turn us into figureheads and puppets or worse, scapegoats.” Others nodded at Freska’s words. “But that Council toady was right. We won’t be able to escape this. Our ship is known to every single station, dock ring, and landing field on every planet with a vid system. We’re either famous or infamous—and I don’t know which would be worse.” “Stop being such a defeatist. You solved that already. Like a damn intern, always spouting off silly questions they know the answer to,” Aparoe muttered.
  15. 52 points
    Meeting the next morning had been nerve fraying madness because I could tell half the Council had been awake all night and the other half were plotting. The worst part was I was among both halves. I wasn't going to let myself get outmaneuvered by a bunch of politicians with fake smiles and even faker scents. I was up all night going over what I was going to be saying should stuff go wrong or worse. Pat and I walked in to see the Council just sitting down, and I could smell the tension in the air. The fact that Travis was frowning was a good indication that something was wrong. Horribly wrong. I was almost waiting for it to get worse. It didn't take long. One thing I will say is I completely underestimated how much of a conspiracy was going and how much the Council could totally fuck up. I mean, I handed them copies of my findings, had personal assurances from two councilmen that they would look into the matter, and they had twenty-four hours to make calls, send emails, text, or even phone a fucking friend to find an answer. What I got was nothing. I somewhat expected there to be very little. I mean, if I were going to make close to three hundred people disappear, I would get rid of as much shit as I could. Destroy any hard copies, erase emails, delay messages. I mean, if I can think this up, then they would have a better time because they're politicians. Shifty is what they do. Suzette came in looking utterly pissed, and I must say it was a damn hot look on her. She was pretty but not really head-turn worthy to me. Would have I banged her before I met Pat? Yes, duh, but she wasn't all that. Until she got angry. Then her eyes burned, and her pale skin flushed to bring out the red in her auburn hair. Pissing her off would be worth the fight just to see how amazing she looked, and the sex after would be like trying to quench the sun. Pat snickered beside me when he smelled my slight interest. I can't really get angry because I tease him infinitely more when he finds someone attractive. Focus, I told myself. Good thing I didn't get too distracted because Suzette was telling me something no one wanted to hear. Every trace of the reports from the past few months had been eradicated. We all knew this was utter shit because she would have copies on her area back in her home office in Saskatchewan, but someone had gotten to those even. This resulted in the beginning of days of shouting. I would tune out until Pat would nudge me, which is why they were all staring at me like I was retarded. "I'm thinking," was all I said. Travis rolled his eyes. He knew I was so not paying attention to the crap spewing forth from the Council. He also knew I could, if needed, repeat back their argument if I had to. I could zone out but retain most of what was said. Thank you, public schooling and lectures from the various heads from the orphanages I lived in before I was adopted. "Security is lax..." blah blah. "You're not fit to be on this Council..." yada yada. It went on for too long and several times they had to recess until tempers would calm, which was another bit of runaround bullshit. I was noticing a pattern though. One of the few people NOT engaging in the shouting matches was SFB. He would start them and sit back to watch his handywork. It was all too obvious that he knew something, but no one could pinpoint what it was. He was too cool, too good at using his stuck-up snobbery to deflect the issue, and once he was done, the Council would be yelling at each other again. I got a nudge from Pat before they all rounded on me. Looks like it was my turn to talk. "No, I haven't gone directly," I said. The topic was whether to allow me to take my own forces to investigate. "Which means you have some information," said the Smug French Bastard. This, of course, set off another bout of shouting because they all had copies of my findings. "I obviously have information. All of which is in the packet I gave everyone. Did you even read it? Can you even read it?" Oh, that really got his goat, and my petty victory was short lived because the Council was still shouting. Nothing was getting done. "I don't have to stand for this," growled SFB. "Good thing you're sitting down," was my reply. I was starting to like this. I could go on insulting him and none on the Council would care because they were too involved in their own shit. Even Travis was involved as he was trying to call the meeting to order. "You are the bastard of a goat-fucking whore. You lie with pigs!" SFB would have to do better than that to piss me off. "Your mate is nothing more than a misbegotten mongrel!" Ding ding ding! We have a winner! "Are you insulting my mate?" Pat laid his hand on my arm just as my phone rang. He fished it out of my pocket to answer. "You would dare insult my mate, you self-felating ass-munching frog?" My shout silenced the room, and Travis stood slowly to look over at SFB as if to remind him who was in the room. I didn't know how strong the SFB was, but I doubted he could match me and Travis. "If you say one more word about my mate, I will bend you over and shove your head up your ass where it has been residing since you were conceived. If that doesn't work, I will enlist the help of my mate's father who is also none too happy with you." "Good. Jon, it's Dyl," said Pat to me. He was quiet, but all talking stopped as I snatched the phone. "Talk to me, son," I said. I listened avidly as he told me what he had found. Three days. It took him three days to find out what had happened and no one on the Council could give me anything but hell. It hit me hard when he told me that Clancy Wallace died. He was too damn young, but he was skilled. He couldn't fight magic. Made me super glad Phuong was along for the trip. "Dyl, you're awesome. I knew it was right to send my best to do what the Council could or would not. Keep us posted if anything comes up." I only felt a little bad about hanging up on him, but I had to plan my attack. "Don't keep us in suspense, son," said the head of the Council. Did I feel condescended to? Nope, not with how old he was. He was old enough to call Travis son. "I am very pleased to report that my Prime Enforcer and his group have found many of our missing people, as well as some from Salt Lake City Pack. They were being peacefully detained by a small shaman sect who has been hit by a large Lycan force. Some of their numbers were taken or killed. With my team there, we can begin negotiations for their release and potential treaties." The news seemed to bring some relief to some members of the Council. Not all, though. Especially with what I had to say next. "The attackers came from the east, were confirmed to be Lycan, and may have come from as far as Quebec. This, of course, takes the strain off you, Councilwoman Suzette, but the burden falls on you, SFB." I turned to glare at him. "What is this SFB?" he asked, looking down his nose at me. Everyone in the council chambers, even the Head himself, chimed in with "Smug French Bastard," which made me all kinds of happy. One, they knew he was smug, and two, they read my reports where I was calling him that. The SFB just glared haughtily. "I spit on you all." "Still doesn't change the fact that you're in the hot seat. Now, what do you plan to do about a rogue group of Lycans out of your district?" I was forcing the issue to shift to him. "How can you be sure they came from my area? Manitoba is still east of Saskatchewan." I could see the wheels in his head turning, wondering how he could deflect this. "But Manitoba is made up of shaman camps and Solaris, neither of which would have beef with the Equis Camp whose members are made of both," said Councilwoman Suzette. I could tell she was more than happy to be out of the hot seat, especially after all the reports from her area were gone. "Solaris wouldn't harm their own and won't attack without provocation. Before you ask how I know this, I was raised by a Solaris, my son is a Solaris, and I have seen how they work and think." I had to keep him from dodging too many things. Keep firing and he won't be able to dodge it all. I looked up when the doors opened, and I felt so much relief flood through me. I had more help come waltzing in, smelling of surf and sun. "This is a closed session, gentlemen, please state your names and pack affiliations, or I will have to ask you to leave," said the Head of the Council. "Betas Kao and Dean Whitmore-Saechao, Homestead Pack, and our adjunct Beta Xander Travers of Cali Sands," said Kao, my awesome Beta. One of them since Dean was also my Beta. He’s been yelling at me for years; I figured I'd make it official now that he was Lycan. "I am also here with permission to report back to my father, the honorable Wind Master of the Rogue Valley Flock, and to speak on his behalf should the need arise." Kao ended with a bow of respect to the Council. "Very well. Gentlemen, please take your seats." They did, and I shot them all the biggest look of gratitude ever. I needed all the minds I could have in keeping the SFB on his toes before he fell on his ass. “Jonathan, you seemed very relieved to see your betas.” “I am, sir. They can help keep me from killing anyone for insulting my mate or help me hide the body.” I am so glad the Head knew a joke when he heard one because his old eyes sparkled for a moment in humor. “To continue. The peoples of Manitoba would not commit these crimes against Equis Camp. So, unless my geography is off, that leaves Ontario and Quebec. Unless, of course, the attacking parties came from New York. Can you assure me they didn’t, Tony?” I fixed him with a level look, and I was a bit proud and slightly ashamed he swallowed in fear. I knew the alpha he had served before this post was no true alpha, so he may not have had that answer-the-fucking-question a real Alpha was capable of. Pop had it in spades, but he knew when I was lying, so I rarely got to see it. “I can assure you they did not come from that region.” He was too scared, and his scent was too honest, to be lying. “That leaves you, SFB.” I crossed my arms and stared directly into his eyes. He was no alpha, and I took a small amount of pride when he dipped his head. “It again comes to me to fix your American problems.” He gave a faux sigh. “I will look into it, but if I find they come from outside my region, I expect compensation.” I grinned at him innocently. “Some cheese with that whine? Maybe some French fries?” I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard Dean whisper. “Or maybe some crepes, Suzette?” Ever hear the sound of twenty facepalms? It’s awesome. I don’t know which is better: the people who got the joke and facepalmed or the ones who completely missed it. Dad jokes for the win. Venting to Dean had been a mondo stress reliever, even with Kao snickering in the background when my inner surfer came out. Pat had been there. He had seen the shit I had to go through to even get this far with the Council, but Dean needed to know what he was up against with this group of asshats. My bud would just nod, commiserate, and once I was done, he placed his hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. “Sucks to be you,” he said, and I socked his shoulder even while I laughed. “I’ve missed you. Like a hernia, but I’ve missed you.” A knock on the door to our room’s inner door, the one that Aaron used, surprised me. Pat opened it and cocked his head to the side. “Xander,” he said with a bit of a quizzical look. “Alpha-Mate Farris. Have I come at a bad time?” I recalled Xander Travers. He was Goldie Kirkland’s beta-designate. Good man, from what little I knew of him. Hell, he would have to be if he was Victoria’s mate, boyfriend, whatever. I hadn’t spoken to him much, but if Goldie sent him, I better start. Patrick shook his head and gestured into the room. “Come in, Xander, and leave the titles at the door. This is a title-free room.” Travers came in and gave me a formal bow. “I’m not sure how to officially greet you…um…” I chuckled. “Jon or Jonathan is fine, Xander. Especially while we’re not doing anything official. Have a seat,” I said as I gestured to one of the table’s two chairs. He sat a bit stiffly. “So, what bring you here?” “One item is getting some experience with the Council, or as Alpha Kirkland calls them, ‘the old fart brigade.’” That made me chuckle. “The other is a simple message: She misses you.” It took me only a split second to wonder who he meant, but I nodded when I got it. “I miss her, too.” I smiled at Pat whose own smile was one of fondness. * * * I wish the rest of the time was spent just relaxing in the rooms, but it wasn’t. It was a shit ton more stress, and most of it came from the SFB. He was slimy, no good, underhanded, cheating, manipulating, smug, bastardly, French (had to be added or else I would have to change his acronym), lying, but fuck it all, we couldn’t catch him at it. He was too slippery, and it was the most infuriating experience of my life. I knew he was covering something up. We all knew he was covering something up, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. For days it went on with me, Dean, Kao, and Pat trying to see what his left hand was doing while he waved his right hand around. Even Travis was trying to watch. I think we were so busy watching his left hand while the others watched the right that we didn’t see he was using his toes, too. Maybe he had a third hand no one could see. Fucking SFB. That day’s Council session was dragging into the night. It looked like it was going to get really, really heated because no one could find any trace of a crack insurgence team capable of kidnapping wizards. Shaman. Whatever. I growled at my phone, stupid fucking technological piece of utter filth, and thrust it at Pat as it rang. “Zeke, why are you…” my mate started, but it wasn’t his voice I could overhear on the line. It was Dylan. “Not Zeke. Put Dad on the phone.” I let out a heavy sigh, because his tone was not happy. “He’s in a Council session, Dyl.” My mate, seeing I didn’t want to hear any more bad news, tried to field the call himself. No go. We had to raise a stubborn and headstrong ass. When Pat gasped, I grabbed the phone from him. “Watch your language, Little Dude,” which was all kinds of dumb to say to him, but what he told me next turned my blood to ice. Him calling me Alpha, which only happened once when he took up the mantle as Prime Enforcer, was enough to shut me up and really listen. The attack he told me about brought my blood to a boil, hearing Angus McDouchebag may had something to do with it made me start growling, but hearing that Gene, the man I sent up there, the man I respected as both father and brother, was dead made my blood freeze. Hearing my son break down in tears broke me. There was a slight shuffle of the phone on the other side. “The Head Enforcer is currently busy, Alpha,” came Quintin’s brisk military voice. If he was now on the phone, it was far worse than I was dreading. “Fucking shit.” The entire Council was straining to hear what I did. Updates from the actual field were rare. “Quint, anyone else hurt?” I was livid. My anger would rage and then become cold. I had to get a grip on an involuntary shift and run off to Saskatchewan, so the Council didn’t say a word. Travis had left his seat to come down and lay his hand on my shoulder as my Betas and mate came in close. Family had drawn in and was keeping this just us for now. If the Council found it rude, they didn’t utter a peep. “Not lastingly, sir. We’ll all heal.” Which meant there was only one fatality. Gene. It was a huge loss to our hearts. For over a decade, Gene had been in and out and around our lives. He was a beloved part of our family, and someone had taken him from us. “What are your orders, Alpha?” I could hear Quint was hanging on to his military training by a thread. Having to deal with his loss, Dylan’s breakdown, and my anger was too much, so I did what I could to lessen his strain. “Get home. Get me prints and anything else needed to ID the trackers. I need hard evidence.” I would hang the fucking piece of shit out to dry and completely destroy the ECP if it had anything to do with this. “Yessir. Anything else?” “No. I'll notify Gene's next of kin. Tell Dylan he doesn't need...” I heard Dylan’s warning growl come through the phone and knew I should stop any thought of telling him what he needs or doesn’t need. “Or not. Just get him calmed down. I know you boys were fond of Gene, but Dylan worshiped him.” I hung up and hung my head. There was a brief moment when all of us in that huddle just sighed, but when I looked up, my eyes were flame red. I turned them on the Council. “I regret to inform you that Lunais Liaison Eugene Johnson is in the arms of Luna.” More than one gasp could be heard, and their scents turned to bitter bile as mourning began. Under all of this was one scent that seemed thrilled. I turned my gaze to the SFB. I don’t remember moving or grabbing him out of his seat by his throat. I don’t remember shifting even. I do remember him pissing himself as I pulled his face close to my snapping jaws. I could kill him before anyone got another breath. “If I find out you had anything to do with this, I will put all the forces of Homestead against you and whoever killed my friend.” “The Rogue Valley Flock stands with Homestead,” came Kao’s clear, strong voice. “Beware the skies as you watch the ground.” “Cali Sands stands with Homestead,” said Travers. “The provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba stand with Homestead.” Suzette’s voice was firm but filled with sorrow. When the Head of the Council stood, his posture perfect, he looked around the room. His gaze, for once, was perfectly clear. “The North American Lycan Council stands with Homestead.” I was so shocked I dropped the SFB in the puddle of his own piss. I knew Travis was a powerful Alpha. I was no slouch. Here though, in the body of the aged man, was something I would never have guessed. I felt so weak compared to the sheer energy pouring off the Head. “I stand with Homestead for the death of my son.” War had been declared. Now all we had to do was find our target. * * * “Pretty much the rest has been back and forth. So, did you find me the evidence I have been looking for?” I asked my son as I shoveled potato salad into my mouth. I was starving, having been off food for a few days. Stress makes me stop eating, or I puke. Probably why I was still so trim. Dylan handed me a two-inch-thick file folder. “Everything we could dig up on the attacking group. They come from many packs and groups from Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and drumroll please… the fucking ECP. Funny thing is, ninety percent were listed as rogue within the weeks prior to the mass kidnappings.” I skimmed what he had collected. This was enough to start proceedings. I was still thumbing through it when Dyl’s phone went off multiple times. “Someone’s popular.” “Thank god for that, too. I’m forwarding some info my spies have collected.” I looked up from the files with a grin. “You have spies?” “Colt and Phuong. They’ve been working on tracking the people back to their hideouts.” Spies, indeed. I motioned for him to continue when three other phones went off. Mine, Pat’s and Dean’s. He had cc’d all of us just to make sure the data wasn’t lost. “As you can see, the spies found out where all their orders are coming from.” I glared at my phone and then blinked as it was crushed. “Oops. Honey,” I called over, and Pat was chuckling. His own phone was powdered, too. “We need new phones now.” He pulled out his tablet and ordered them. “So, can I go rip his skin off one cell at a time, Dad?” “No, son. This one is mine.” Angus Mc-Fucking-Leod was the source of all their orders. The same building where I used to work. The same building I kicked his ass in. All of this was tied directly to the ECP. I had everything I needed to take him down. The doors to our little room burst open and in stalked Travis. I had never seen him so enraged. Oh boy, he was pissed. “I can’t go after him, but I am telling you now, Jon, as your father-in-law, former alpha, and friend to kill that rat-bastard Angus.” Looks like Dyl had cc’d it to Travis, too. That’s my boy. “Gladly. The problem is going in. Homestead has plenty of forces, but we would be vulnerable to attack if we took everyone.” I jumped a bit when Kao appeared next to me. “Jon, I have fifty of RVF’s soldier on standby. We fly on your orders.” “The Wind Master approved this?” I had to ask, because that was a coast to coast trip. The cost alone would be a lot, and they may not return. “He would send more, but he’s in discussion for the mating ceremony for my sister to two Shaman.” My jaw hit the floor. “When he is out of the discussion, give him my thanks.” Phuong…mated…to two other people? Was that even possible? Dyl chose that moment to be his normal evil shit self. “You do realize that this mating will result in you and I being related by marriage, right Feathers?” Kao raised his brow. “One of her mates is my cousin, Rhava.” “Explain that while we head back to the Council chambers,” I said as we left. Travis gave a brief nod and marched ahead of us to take his seat for the session after lunch. The Little Dude told us everything he could fit into the short walk time, but I now had an aunt and some cousins of my own to meet. Interesting turn of events, but it wasn’t important at this time. When we walked in, the Council chambers were in an uproar. This was a first, but I was getting snippets of the yell. The Council was literally divided. You had one faction for the execution of Angus McLeod and all parties responsible, and the other faction was against it. Funny that all those against it were from the east coast of North America. From Newfoundland to Florida, the four Council reps were all against it. One other, the rep from the South also seemed against it, citing a need for more solid evidence. The only person not shouting, not siding with either faction, was Tony. As Head of Council Security, I would imagine him trying to do more to bring this group to order, but he sat there looking resigned to his fate. It was something very out of character for the man. He had been a staunch supporter of the laws when he and I worked together, but something had changed in him. “Enough!” Patrick shouted, his voice silencing the entire Council. I had never heard him use that tone. I didn’t know he could use it. It was the Alpha Command voice. It carried the force of power I never knew was in my mate. I got hard. “Sit down!” he yelled again, and even his own father sat with his mouth shut. Perhaps I wasn’t the first Alpha Lunais of our generation as I previously thought. Patrick nodded to me. “Thank you,” I said into the silence. “Now, I am guessing you have all received some intel from my Enforcer on where the rogue group has been getting their orders.” A few nodded, unable to speak. Damn, my man was powerful when he wanted to be. “These have been verified via coyote and shaman. I, Alpha Jonathan Davenport, do call for a vote to accept this as factual.” “I second the motion,” said a new voice as it entered the room. I looked back to see Goldie Kirkland, Alpha of the Cali Sands pack, Jack Conners, Alpha of the Sawtooth Pack, and their betas. Also, marching into the room with her own escort was a child. Alice Kirkland looked like she belonged here. The infamous Sarge was her shadow as usual “Alpha Kirkland, why have you come here with your daughter?” asked the Head. “Because the shitdick that attacked my pack last week was doing so on orders from Angus McLeod. My mate and Co-Alpha is watching our pack, but you try telling my daughter not to do something.” Alice jumped up for hugs from Kao and Dean, but she came over and hugged herself to my leg and refused to let go. I had met the girl only a few times, but I was the one she cuddled. Made me feel all sorts of happy. “Your presence at this session has been acknowledged and accepted. Have you evidence to give as we move to accept previous evidence as fact?” asked the Head. He seemed to be the only one able to speak after Pat’s command. “I do,” said Alice and pulled out a My Little Pony tablet covered with the fan character Flufflepuff. She sent a few files to everyone present, one being the video confessions from several Lycans. It amazed me how smart this little girl was. She could go from cute princess to cool and collected to ripping your head off if she wanted…much like her mother. It took less than two minutes for the vote to come in. The motion passed and all of this evidence pointed the gun at Angus McLeod. Bang bang, mother fucker.
  16. 51 points
    After three cups of coffee, some tears, some laughter and a whole lot of hugging, Jay decided they were ready to go back inside. Drew assured them they didn’t have to tell anyone anything, and that Drew would stop the twins asking questions if Jay didn’t want them to. He’d also offered to speak to Lady Jane. Jay made him promise not to, but it was one promise he had no intention of keeping. Jay stalled at the front door, but before Drew could say anything, they squared their shoulders and tilted up their chin. Taking a breath, they stepped over the threshold and Drew followed. If he’d seen anyone in the hall things would not have gone well, but they made it to the flat without coming across a soul. Once again, Jay paused, staring at the door as if it would open into a prison cell. “You don’t have to,” Drew murmured. “You can sleep on the bus. I’ll sleep out there with you, or I’ll send Ceriann out.” Jay glanced at him, and the bright flare of hope took his breath. It died fast, a light going out somewhere deep inside that hurt Drew. “I don’t want her to win,” Jay said softly. “I-I don’t think I can tell them, but… I want to be…” “You know the boys better than I do, and I don’t think they’ll press you for something you’re not ready to give. Ceriann, on the other hand, will probably hound you. Would you object if I took her outside and beat the shit…er…have a word with her?” Jay flashed a brief smile that faded fast. They took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You can tell her,” he said. “I don’t mind her knowing. I trust her.” A wave of emotion that he couldn’t quite name washed over Drew and he squeezed Jay’s shoulder. “This is all down to you,” he said. “It’s your pace, your decision.” Jay nodded once, then opened the door. Every eye swivelled to them as soon as the door opened. “Where have you been?” Aria demanded. “I wanted to look for you, but Jeff wouldn’t let me. What happened? Oh no! She made you cry. What happened? Please tell us.” Aria threw his arms around Jay, and Jay broke again, clinging to their friend. “What the fuck…” Amara struggled a little to get up, but he was quickly at his brother’s side. He glared at Drew as if it was Drew’s fault Jay was upset. “What happened?” he demanded. “Jay got upset. It’s not for me to tell you why and I promised Jay you wouldn’t press them for an explanation. Can we just leave it that Jay’s upset and they need your support? You don’t really need to know why.” “Like hell we don’t. This was her. This is something she’s done. She’s always hated Jay and I should have made her tell us why when she was a bitch to them earlier. I’m sick of it. I understand what happened with her and our mother, and I can forgive a lot, but no one ever told her she couldn’t be nice to Jay and she’s always treated them badly. “He straightened to his full height, only wincing slightly. “If she wants any chance of us trusting her or making a relationship with her she has to realise she can’t treat our friends like this. What the hell did she say?” Amara was so angry he was shaking. Drew was surprised by the strength of his reaction, but the thought was quickly followed by another—why was he surprised? Aria and Amara had always been fiercely protective of their friends, and Jay in particular. He wondered for a moment whether they actually knew. “You’d better spit it out, Drew,” Ceriann said, coming to stand beside him, “because if you don’t, I’m going to track that bitch down and beat it out of her. This is my Jay she’s fucking with and that means she’s fucking with me, too.” That caught Jay’s attention and they pushed Aria away gently. “Don’t. Please. It would just make it worse. I can’t… I…” “Jay?” Aria ducked his head to look up into Jay’s face. He put one hand against Jay’s cheek. “You know you can tell us, whatever it is. We’ll help you. We’ll make it better. If she’s horrible to you, we’ll leave. We’ll never come back. I won’t be friends with someone who treats you like this. I won’t.” Jay shook their head. “You don’t understand.” “No, we don’t,” Amara said, hands on hips. “We don’t understand at all. Why does she hate you so much? Is she going to be like this with all our friends?” “Not Alice,” Aria said, his voice strangely tight. “She likes Alice because she’s important.” “Jay’s important too,” Amara came back instantly. “I know that, but she clearly doesn’t.” “Then we should tell her.” The twins exchanged their twin stare, then both nodded. “Agreed.” Amara headed for the door, with Aria close behind. “I’m coming too,” Ceriann said. “Hang on there.” Jeff, as usual stopped everyone in their tracks. “I think this is one of those situations where we all need to take a breath. Jay, you look like you’re going to pass out on your feet. Come sit down here. Drew, put the kettle on. Ceriann, get that blanket and tuck Jay in, they’re bloody freezing. Aria and Amara, plant your arses. You’re going nowhere until we know what we’re dealing with. Wading in with two feet at this point isn’t going to help anyone.” Drew smiled with relief as he headed for the kitchen, leaving Jeff issuing orders. As he walked, he slipped out his phone and texted Ceriann to meet him in the kitchen. He was still searching for the kettle when he heard Ceriann telling Jeff she was going to help Drew. “Look at him. He’s so bloody useless. I partly blame you. You told him to put the kettle on. Has he never heard of a coffee maker or a tea maker? See that thing that looks like an unexploded bomb?” She clattered around the kitchen flicking switches on some weird looking machines. “All mod cons here,” she said cheerfully. After a few minutes, when the others’ attention had moved on, Ceriann glanced at Drew, while still going through the motions of making hot drinks. “So, what’s going on, little brother?” “What I’m going to tell you can’t go further than us. Jay asked me to talk to you because you’re the only person they feel they can trust right now. They don’t want the boys to know.” “Why the hell not? Not that I’m not chuffed to bits that they trust me but Christ, the twins are their best friends and I’m just some crazy old woman they’ve just met.” “God knows why, but they seem to like you.” “Cheeky.” She cuffed him and he ducked, grinning. He sobered fast though and explained as quickly as he could what he’d seen and what Jay had told him. “Fucking hell,” she said. “That goddamn fucking bitch. I’m telling you now, Drew, I don’t know I can control myself if I see her. I want to rip her hair out at the roots. Jesus, that poor kid. No wonder they seem so…sad. Even when they’re laughing their eyes are….” “Haunted.” “Yeah. Not surprising, huh?” “Not at all.” “So, what are you going to do?” “I don’t know. I can’t tell the boys because Jay asked me not to. I really hope they’ll tell them themselves because it’s a hell of a burden to keep a secret like that, especially now when the boys know something’s up.” “Yeah, but you can understand why they don’t want to.” “Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to tell them either, if it was me.” “What are you going to do about her? You’re not going to let her get away with it?” “God no. I thought I’d take Jeff with me a bit later, when everything’s settled down, and have a quiet word.” “Why Jeff and not me? I want to come.” “You’ve just eloquently told me exactly why you shouldn’t come.” “Eh, what’s a bit of hair here and there?” “That’s it. No fucking way.” Drew’s attention was jerked back to Amara, who was on his feet heading for the door. “Wait,” he called. “Where are you going?” “I’m going to talk to her, of course. Look at them. They’re a mess. Jay won’t tell me what’s she done, so I’m going to find out for myself. Don’t look like that, Drew. Don’t even try to talk me out of it. I know what you’re going to say and maybe it won’t solve anything, and maybe it will make things worse, but hey… we’ve got nothing to lose. She’s the one who’s going to lose her grandchildren again, and if we’re as important as she says we are she’ll get her head out of her arse and realize that she can’t treat our friends like this. Hell, she can’t treat anyone like this. Look at them?” Amara motioned to where Jay was still weeping in Aria’s arms. “I’m not putting up with it, Drew. No one no one, not even my own grandmother treats my friends like this. No one treats Jay like that. Jay’s not just a friend, and you know that. Jay’s our adopted brother.” It wasn’t the first time Drew had heard Aria and Amara refer to Jay as their brother. Never had it been so clear to Drew how deeply that went. From the expression on their face, it had never been as clear to Jay either. “Please don’t,” Jay said. “I love that you want to, but it really wouldn’t help.” “What can she do? Throw us out?” “No. She could… She could… Please don’t talk to her. Please.” Amara narrowed his eyes, focussing on Jay now. His voice was curiously soft when he spoke. “What did she say to you, Jay? What are you afraid she’s going to say to us?” Damn Amara and his perceptiveness. That look flashed between the twins again. This time, Drew could read it clearly enough. I told you so. “Amara, please don’t push this,” Drew said. “If you want to help Jay, let it drop because this is hurting them. Can’t you see that?” Amara glared at him. “Yeah, I can see that. We’ve known for a long time that something’s wrong. We’ve talked about it so many times. Jay’s hurting. Jay’s not alright. Jay’s hiding something. We know something’s horribly wrong and we love Jay so much that it’s hurting us too. I’m not going to make Jay talk to us. I’m not going to make them tell us what’s wrong, even though it hurts that they don’t trust us, but I won’t let this go, and if Grandmother tells us something Jay doesn’t want us to hear well sorry, so be it. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind huh?” He glared at Jay. “Sometimes you’ve got to let it go and trust that the people who care for you will pick up the pieces after.” “Please don’t ‘Mara,” Jay croaked. “Why?” “Amara.” Amara shook off Drew’s hand. “I know your business is your business, Jay, but how many more times are we going to get to this point? You’re breaking our hearts and we can’t take it anymore. What the hell are you so scared of? That we’re not going to like you anymore? That we’re going to throw you to the lions?” “No. You know I don’t.” “Then you don’t trust us?” “No. It’s not that. I swear.” “Then what is it, Jay? What the hell is it that turns you into a fucking wreck and is taking our best friend away from us. Don’t think we haven’t noticed it’s been getting worse. And it always gets worse when you’re here.” “I-I didn’t think…. I didn’t know.” “What? That we care about you? That we love the fuck out of you? That we can see you fading away in front of our fucking eyes? We’re scared to death Jay. Don’t you know that? Can’t you see that?” “’Mara, maybe we shouldn’t—” Not even Aria was able to cut through Amara’s anger. Drew had never seen him like this, and to be honest, he was a little bit scary and a little bit magnificent and whole lot bloody sexy. “Shut up, Aria.” Still glaring at Jay, Amara sighed and his anger dropped away. “Do you have any idea how fucking awful it is to lie in bed wondering if this is the night you’ll get a call to tell you the person you love more than anyone else in the world, except Aria, has done something bloody stupid because they’re too damn stubborn to ask for help?” Jay shook their head, stunned into silence. “Do you know how many times we’ve talked about it? About what we can do, what we’d do if anything happened, how we could stop it happening?” “I’d never do anything like that Amara. I’m not suicidal.” “You sit there looking like that and I’m sorry but I don’t fucking believe you.” “Trust me, if I was suicidal, I wouldn’t be here right now.” “You did it once,” Aria said, his voice trembling Jay’s head jerked down. “That was different.” “That’s what you keep saying, but you’ve never told us why it was different.” “Because…. Because…” “That’s enough, Mara,” Drew said firmly. “I understand how you feel but if you really do care for Jay you won’t put them through any more of this. You’re putting unfair pressure on them to tell you something they’re not ready to share.” “But they shared with you.” Amara turned his blazing eyes on Drew who actually took a step back. “It’s their choice, not yours.” “Fuck you. You know nothing about us, about Jay and us. If you want to stay in our lives don’t even try to get in between us.” “I wouldn’t dream of it, but please think about this. It’s you who are hurting Jay right now.” “No, Drew, it’s not. It’s the big fucking secret, whatever it is. That’s what’s hurting them and it’s going to keep on hurting them, over and over and over, and if we don’t ask and don’t talk and don’t push then it’s never going to change.” “How do you think Aria would have felt if someone was trying to force him to talk about his sexuality?” Amara stopped as if Drew had slapped him in the face. “How could you even say that?” he gasped. “It’s the same thing.” “It’s not the same thing. It’s not anything like the same thing.” “Trust me, it is. More than you know.” Amara turned to stare at Jay. Then he narrowed his eyes. “If it is then it needs to come out like Aria did. Aria suffered for years for nothing. We can hardly believe how much better it is now it’s out in the open. Aria might never have done what he did if Mother hadn’t practically forced him to.” “That doesn’t mean you have the right to force someone else into doing what Aria did. It’s not your choice. I know you’re not stupid, so you have to see that.” Amara sagged. “I know it’s not my choice, but it’s hard to see Jay like this when I know it would be so much better if they’d just talk about it.” “How do you know? You don’t know the facts. You don’t know the implications. You don’t know what it would mean for Jay or for you if they talked about it.” “Okay, you know. You can tell us. What are the implications? What would it mean for Jay or for us if they told us?” “Don’t Amara, please. Please just leave it. Please.” Amara sighed and returned to the sofa. He sat and took Jay’s hand. “I’m angry, Jay. I’m so bloody angry because I hate to see you like this. I want to smash something, to hit someone. I want to smash her fucking face in for doing this to you. I don’t want to hurt you. I really don’t. I’m only angry because I love you.” “I love you too,” Aria said. “And I want to hurt someone too, but gentler than Amara. Maybe I can wire up her television to explode or something. Or mess up all the books in the office.” Jay smiled and relaxed a little. “I love you both, too, but I just can’t talk about it. I can’t. It was hard enough talking to Drew and he was…” “He was what?” Amara asked, a definite edge to his voice. “A stranger. It didn’t matter so much if he hated me after.” “Hated you?” Aria said, his face showing shock and outrage. “Drew would never hate you. We would never hate you. You don’t hate them, do you Drew?” “Not even the tiniest bit.” “See. Drew doesn’t hate you and we wouldn’t either. There’s nothing you could say that would make us hate you, Jay.” Jay snorted. “Right. You don’t know how wrong you are.” “Really?” Amara had gone very still and Drew thought it must be because he was in pain. His voice was tight, but Drew recognised something else apart from physical pain. “I’ve worked at the safe houses. You know I don’t like it, but I’ve still done it. I’ve talked to the kids, watched them, learned about them. I’ve read files and talked to people who know what they’re talking about. One thing that always really freaked me out was this look they had, kind of a darkness behind their eyes like even when they were smiling, part of them was screaming. One of the reasons it freaked me out so much was because I can see the same thing in you. “Do you think I don’t see those moments when the screen falls, that I don’t catch you looking like you’re about to cry, or run, or scream, or whatever? Then you chew on your lip ring, sniff and pull the mask on again. I see more than you think, and I know you’ve done things in the past that you’re not proud of. I’ve jumped to my own conclusions and I don’t think anything you tell us can be much worse. I don’t care if you were an addict, or if you lived on the streets, or sold yourself. I don’t care if you sold drugs to buy food or acted as a fucking mule. I don’t care, do you understand? I don’t care what you did or who you were because I know who you are now and I know what you do now.” By the time he’d finished speaking Amara had tears running down his face. Drew felt awkward, as if he was intruding on an intensely personal moment. Ceriann and Jeff had slipped off to the kitchen and Drew was pretty sure she’d be telling Jeff what had happened. “But it…” Jay’s breath hitched. “It would…It was worse… I did… I can’t…. It would ruin you.” “It would what? Ruin us? What the fuck does that mean? It wouldn’t ruin anything, whatever it was.” “No one would…No one would listen to your music. No one would watch…” “Shut up Jay,” Aria said, shocking everyone. “You have to stop worrying about us. If we think there’s a problem we can work it out ourselves.” Drew smiled, bursting with pride because this, more than anything else brought home to him that the twins could deal with things themselves and the last shreds of his concerns about taking advantage of the them went flying right out of the window. There was no way anyone would take advantage of these two. They were far shrewder and more astute than he had, even now, given them credit for. They were truly a force to be reckoned with in every way. He had no doubt Jay would tell them everything, or that they would deal with the situation and handle it in the right way when they did, Drew was the one who needed to stay out of the way and not mess things up. “No, you can’t. It…it’s too much. She said…” “Don’t even go there. I don’t give a shit what she said. She knows nothing about us.” “Well, she does,” Aria cut in. “I mean, to be fair she’s had Alicia telling her everything, so she does know something.” “Alicia?” Jay sniffed and frowned. Drew had almost forgotten they hadn’t been privy to the discussion. “Yeah, apparently she’s a plant.” “A spy working for Grandma.” “Really?” “Yeah, and she’s going to find out just exactly what we think about that next time we see her.” Jay gave a thin smile, then they shuddered, covered their face with their hands and blurted—“I was a whore and I killed someone.” Everyone froze and there was absolute silence, then Amara huffed. “I figured it was something like that, but I would never have guessed you killed someone. Did they deserve it?” Jay nodded. It appeared they were too stunned to speak, which didn’t surprise Drew at all because he was pretty shocked himself. “Was it someone who hurt you?” Aria asked, stroking Jay’s hair. Jay nodded again. “Then I’m glad they’re dead, because if they weren’t we’d get Drew to talk to his friends and have them assassinated.” “Hey, hang on a minute. I’m not in the mafia, you know.” “Yeah, we know.” Aria waved a hand as if technicalities didn’t matter, and Drew inwardly groaned.
  17. 51 points
    “Where’s Deke?” I’d expected him to be in the meeting I’d interrupted, but as it broke up and everyone went to their respective parts of the ship, he’d been nowhere to be seen. “He insisted on overseeing the ship security after he locked up that Elite bastard. Said he didn’t trust them not to have put something on the ship or tricked the A.I. even though Freska said the ship confirmed we’re clear of any devices or anything.” I turned quickly from the viewscreen that showed the system we were currently passing. “Is that a concern?” “No,” Captain said soothingly, “like I said, the ship’s A.I. said nothing was added or installed while she was berthed. It’s safe.” He put a hand on my back. “I think Deke’s just restless because he didn’t have anything to do. He’s not used to someone else being able to do all the ass kicking, as he put it.” “He said we kicked ass?” I didn’t know if I should be pleased, but I kind of was. My face heated. My skills weren’t a good thing, but they could be used to kick ass, if I needed them to. But that wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do. That’s why I was working in maintenance, not security. That, and I’d never trusted myself before. Turns out I’d been right to worry— “Kohen? Were you listening to me?” Captain stopped in the middle of the corridor. “Oh. No.” I’d been locked in my own brain again. “Sorry.” “Do you need to find a place to meditate or go see Aparoe for something? I should have taken you straight to Medical,” he fretted. He slid his arm around my waist. “You can lean on me, talk to me, if you need to.” “No, I’m fine. Just… thinking.” I curled my arm around Captain’s back, enjoying his closeness. “I will tell you my thoughts. Just… not now.” That word kept coming. Just a little worry. Just a simple plan. Just thinking, just not talking. “In the meeting, you mentioned delivering the Elite, your cousin and his contact, and what vid files we could only stream and then record for the more far-flung galaxies.” I licked my lips. “But what about after?” We were still in the middle of the corridor. Anyone could come by. This ship was small, so it wasn’t like there was much privacy outside of his quarters. But I couldn’t wait to ask these questions later—I’d go mad waiting for the answers the whole day. Captain raised a brow. “We’ve talked about that.” “So… planet with a good patch of dirt and water and space port not too far off for when everyone comes to visit?” Sure enough, our privacy was invaded and someone had been listening to our conversation. The voice came before the body turned the corner. “Like you’re going to have any privacy or time to yourselves or the crew will let you just up and disappear on us.” Deke twisted at the waist, his spine cracking. “I’ve been sitting and torturing for too long; I need some place to stretch out. This ship is tiny compared to the last one.” “The last ship was an attempt to bribe us into complacency and laziness. And it almost worked,” Captain pointed out. “Would’ve too, if it wasn’t for Kohen and Danie.” Deke waved a hand. “Whatever. It was still nice not to be cramped in a space tin can. Can’t blow stuff up or really get a workout in. Just you wait, Kohen, I know of this one planet Captain Querry and I once spent four months on digging out an encampment of Preus IV immigrants that couldn’t speak a lick of standard and who used deadly force as a method of greeting.” “Seriously?” I frowned. “This is one of those fake stories you tell, isn’t it?” “No, no,” Deke said. He tilted his head back exposing the soft underside of his neck and chin, pointed out the scar, then started walking back down the corridor. I had to follow to keep up with him and hhear is hoice. “See that scar there? One of them said hello and sliced into my throat. Aparoe was so mad they threatened to stop fixing me for the whole rest of the trip to Central after that.” “How was it your fault?” I asked indignantly. “Trust me, it usually is when something goes wrong,” Captain said. “Biggest pain in my ass still somehow became head of my security.” “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” I didn’t remember where I’d read or heard the suggestion, but it seemed like a good fit for the situation. Deke was, well, Deke. I had to suppress a laugh when Deke wordlessly objected. The two of them exchanged a look. “Hey, I saw that!” Now it was my turn to object. “Are you guys managing me?” “You seemed nervous after the meeting, wanting to know where Deke was before. The chaos will end, and we will all be okay,” Captain said soothingly. “I promise.” He really shouldn’t promise things he couldn’t guarantee, but I knew he’d try. They both would. And I was coming to the realization that I might not need to fight, but I’d do it if I had to if that’s what it took to protect me and mine. The next two shifts were spent traveling straight for the Central alliance. My waking hours I spent with the keepers of the ship—my good friends, a few new ones. I was trying to learn all the jobs; I was good and cleaning and fixing things but the ship was really self-sufficient. I was slowly going crazy. Worse, everyone knew about us, so we couldn’t stop at most of the medium-sized arrays. So, by the time that planet came back into view with its crowded air space, I might as well been strapped to the outside of our ship to wave. That’s about all I was good for.
  18. 51 points
    "What are you doing?" Caleb lay on the cot, propped on his elbow. "Why are you sleeping there?" Wren steadfastly refused to look at Caleb and he made up his little sleeping pad a couple of feet away. "Well, Charles is coming down early tomorrow. Do you really want him to catch us snuggled up together?" They had left Charles's house after a fantastic dinner and gotten back to the farm. Shortly after, it was time for bed. Caleb frowned at Wren. "We'll hear the truck." He patted the cot. "Come on. I like sleepin' with you." Wren still had on a t-shirt and his briefs. He stood unsure with his quilt in his hands. He glanced at Caleb. In his expression were uncertainty and discomfort. 'He doesn't want to.' The thought was a shocking revelation to Caleb. He immediately felt a flash of anger. "Fine." Caleb rolled on his side, facing away from Wren. It was quiet in the tent for a bit, then Caleb heard Wren lay the quilt on his sleeping pad. Wren sat on the cot, and Caleb glared over his shoulder at him. "What?" He snapped at Wren, his tone sharp. Wren flinched. "Caleb, I - " He sighed. "Look, I don't want to give you the wrong impression, okay?" He bit his bottom lip. "We're having fun, and that's great." He tried to smile. "But we should leave it at that." Instead of anger, Caleb was shocked. He sat up, staring at Wren. "Wait. Are you saying, that you're only willing to fuck around? That everything else, it's off the table?" Wren looked pained. "Jeez, you make me sound shitty, man. But, that's what fuckbuddies are. We're friends who fuck around." Wren grinned. "It's perfect, right? There's no attachment, and we just have fun with no expectations." Caleb blinked. Wren started to say something more, but Caleb jerked his chin at the light hanging on the center pole of the tent. "Can you get the light?" Caleb lay down and rolled over. He unconsciously curled into a ball on the cot. More silence. Wren stood up, clicked off the light, then Caleb heard him slip under the covers on the sleeping pad. "Goodnight, Caleb," Wren said quietly. Caleb didn't respond. Wren sighed and the blankets rustled as he rolled up into them. It would be a long while before either of the men fell to sleep. ⤱ It was early the next day, and Charles frowned at Wren. His friend had given almost monosyllabic responses to everything Charles had asked the whole morning. Now, Wren guided the newly running rototiller onto the edge of the big garden and began the process of tilling the soil into a usable bed for the seeds they were planting. Caleb walked by, the bags of Beecher's seeds in his hands. "Hey." Charles put out a hand and stopped him. "What's up with Wren? He said around four words today." Caleb clenched his jaw and shrugged. He started to walk past. Charles's grip tightened on Caleb's shoulder. "Caleb." It was that "big brother" tone Charles liked to use. He turned his brother around to face him. Caleb stared down, his face impassive. "Bub, what's wrong?" Charles shook him gently. "You guys not gettin' along?" Caleb wet his lips. "Wren just needs to get himself figured out. That's all." He tried to walk away again and Charles held on. An unnerved expression was now on Caleb's face. "Caleb, what's goin' on?" Caleb glanced at Charles's eyes, desperation, and anxiousness written in that gaze. Charles felt a lightning bolt of realization. "You…" He looked past Caleb at Wren as he tilled the garden. Then he refocused on Caleb. "You an' Wren?" Caleb swallowed and Charles knew. Caleb let out a breath and nodded. "Yeah." Though he had already wondered, Charles wasn't quite sure what he'd feel if it happened. Right now, the most significant emotion was one of concern. "Okay." He still gripped Caleb by his shoulders. "Well, what's wrong?" Caleb frowned at Charles. At first, he thought Caleb was angry, but the way his face moved made Charles realize that Caleb was doing his best to avoid getting upset. His protective instinct kicked in. Charles glowered dangerously, and his fingers dug into his brother's shirt. "Tell me - what'd he do?" ⤱ Wren focused entirely on the rototiller. It wasn't exactly easy to keep it headed in a straight line, so it took effort and concentration. That was what Wren needed - something to occupy his mind. He hated how his thoughts kept trying to loop back to Caleb, and he fought to keep the handsome man out of his head. Earlier, he had left a message for the sheriff's office. Wren expected to hear from them at some point during the day, and he hoped it'd be sooner rather than later. None of them had a lot of confidence in that route, but they had to get something on the books with the law. As he struggled to think about anything but Caleb, a hand on his shoulder startled him. Charles motioned at the noisy machine, and Wren turned it off. Wren wiped his forehead of the sweat that had begun to form. "Yeah?" He glanced around for Caleb. The big Shaw boy was supposed to follow along behind, planting as Wren tilled, but he was nowhere to be seen. Charles noticed. "He's down by the creek." Charles jerked his head toward the barn. "Let's talk." "Uh, okay." The first stirring of anxiousness ran through Wren, and he followed Charles over the fresh-turned earth. Charles and Wren entered the barn, and Charles sighed. He leaned against the ladder leading up to the loft. "Wren." He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "God, I don't even know what to say." Wren frowned. "What?" Charles had never been one to talk around anything. "Just say it." Charles eyed him, then nodded. "All right then." He cleared his throat. "Caleb tells me he's good enough fer you to play around with, but not good fer anythin' else. That true?" Wren's jaw dropped. "Uh, he…" Wren made a flabbergasted sound. "He told you?" Charles waved a hand. "Wren, I don't care about the gay shit." He stepped close, a serious expression on his face. "I care that Caleb feels like he's nothin' to you but a toy." "What? No!" Wren was upset to hear such a thing. "I don't think Caleb is a," he shook his head, "he's not a toy!" Charles crossed his arms over his chest. "Then what's wrong at least bein' open to the possibility of something more than," he wrinkled his nose in obvious distaste, "fuckbuddies?" Wren did not want to have this conversation. "Charles, look, I love you, man, but I don't want to talk about this." He began to push past Charles. "Hell no! Don't walk away from me!" He grabbed Wren's shoulder, and Wren whirled, his Krav Maga drills now governing his body. He grabbed Charles's wrist and pushed his other hand against his arm. Charles grunted, bent over, as Wren held his arm straight to his side in an arm-lock. "I said, I don't want to talk about it." Wren gritted his teeth. To punctuate his statement he pulled a bit on Charles's arm, and his friend sucked air through his teeth as Wren tweaked his shoulder. Charles laughed. "Well, you'll have ta break it." He glared at Wren from his position. "Because this is my brother. An' I'll be damned if you, of all people, get to make him feel like he's nothin'." Charles grimaced. "You're supposed to be his friend, Wren." Wren wavered. "I never meant…" He slumped, his grip faltered, and he released Charles. Wren sighed, and Charles straightened to eye him. "Charles, I just don't want anything more with Caleb." "Then tell 'im that. But don't keep screwing around with him." Charles moved his shoulder to get feeling back in it. "Maybe you can, but he ain't built to handle that." Charles ran his tongue over his teeth. "But, I want you to tell me why. You're already friends. I see how you two are together." He nodded at Wren. "Tracy and I both thought things would go real well between you." Wren gripped his own head with his hands and leaned back against the barn door. "You wouldn't understand, Charles." Charles cocked his head. "Try me." Wren leaned over, put his hands on his knees and hung his head. He struggled to say what he needed to to make Charles see. Wren closed his eyes. "I don't want more with Caleb, so when he leaves, when it ends, it won't hurt as much." There was silence while Charles thought. Finally, Wren straightened to look at him. Charles stared at him, then he threw his hands in the air. "What kinda sad bullshit is that?!" He pointed at Wren. "So, because yer afraid something might end, you ain't even gonna try? Are you really that chicken shit?!" Wren swallowed and felt his anger rise up. "I'm not chicken shit!" He took a step toward Charles, who had also heated so that his skin flushed red. "People leave!" Despite his best efforts, Wren felt himself start to cry. "I'm glad you've never had that shit happen, mister fucking perfect, but people fucking leave me!" Charles frowned, blinked, and he slowly held up his hands. "Wren. Caleb ain't your dad." Wren gritted his teeth. "I never…" He made a pained noise. "I never said that." Tears continued to streak down Wren's face, and he angrily swiped at them. "Don't try to analyze me!" Charles looked sadly at Wren. He took a long breath and nodded. "Fine." He sighed and stepped out of the barn, headed around to the creek where he had said Caleb was. Wren looked at him, teary-eyed and confused. "Wait." Charles looked over his shoulder at him. Wren grimaced. "That, that's it?" Charles appeared perplexed. "Well, yeah. Ya got your wish." He turned his back on Wren and continued on his way. "I'll leave ya be. I don't want my brother datin' a fuckin' coward." ⤱ Caleb was by the creek, seated on a cool stone by the water. He tossed pebbles into the flowing stream and watched as they splashed and sank down out of sight. He caught a glimpse of someone walking toward him, and he turned. His eyes met those of Charles's, and Caleb went back to looking at the water. Charles sat beside him and sighed. Caleb felt raw, and he didn't know why. He shook his head, annoyed and upset with himself. "He didn't promise anything." He stared over the water as he spoke. "I shouldn't feel like he owes me anything. He doesn't." Charles frowned at him. "Well, there has to be a reason you feel that way. Did Wren give you cause ta think what you were doin' was more than playin' around?" Caleb grimaced. He despised this sort of navel-gazing introspection. Charles bumped him gently with his shoulder. "Well? Did he?" "It's just, the night before last," Caleb laughed, a sad note in it, "ah, it just felt like more. The way he looked at me, an' the way he treated me." He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I misread things." He tossed another pebble into the water. "He didn't even want to just lay together. If it isn't connected to sex, he doesn't want it." They both heard the rototiller start up in the field. Charles put a hand on Caleb's back. "Well, whatever you wanna do, I'm with ya." He smiled at Caleb. "Look, Wren ain't in a great spot right now, an' he's probably pissed at me." Charles patted him affectionately. "Maybe we should just let 'em be fer a bit." Caleb nodded. "Yeah." He stood up and reached a hand down for Charles. His brother gripped, and Caleb hauled him to his feet. "Let's get the planting done. Then we've got a house to tear down." Charles grinned. "Yep." They both headed up the creek bank to the garden. "Let's get to it." ⤱ Wren didn't say a single word over the next five hours. Despite that, the entire garden was now tilled, planted, and watered. As soon as that was done, he broke his silence and called for the heavy equipment and operator they needed to knock down the house. Matt knew the area and had been to Beecher's house. Matt gave a quote for the job, Wren accepted, and it was set to happen. As Wren hung up Charles looked expectantly at him. They knew he was calling for the demolition. "Well? Is Matt comin'?" "Tomorrow." Wren walked by him and caught sight of Caleb as he sat under the shade cast by the tin roof of the shed bordering the garden. The big man was sweaty from his work with wet stains from his neck down to his waist. They were all in a similar state and had all worked hard. Wren debated. He had spent the whole morning angry, upset, and irritated. Now that it was nearly noon, and he had time to think, he wasn't sure what he should feel. He was spared from further reflection as his mother pulled in. The plan was for her to bring them lunch, and she was right on time. All three of the men began to move toward her. She got out of the truck, the big wicker basket in hand, and she lay a smile on them as they met by the corner of the house. "Howdy, boys." "Hey, Mom." Wren smiled faintly. "Thanks for lunch." He reached for the basket. "You're welcome, but I'm gonna hand this off to Caleb." Rachel passed the basket to a confused Caleb. Her gaze was enigmatic when she looked at Wren. "Can we talk for a bit, Son?" "Uh, sure." Wren glanced at Charles. There was no surprise on his best friend's face, only a measured look from him before he sat by Caleb on the porch of the house. As Wren walked toward the barn with Rachel he wondered what Charles had done. ⤱ Caleb frowned while Rachel and Wren walked away. He looked at his brother as Charles rooted around in the basket for a sandwich and a little bag of chips. "Did you say something to Miss Rachel?" Charles coolly unwrapped his sandwich and spread its wax paper covering on his lap. "Yep." He took a big bite of the ham, turkey and cheddar sandwich, mayonnaise and tomato juice running out of it as he did. Caleb made an indignant sound. "What? What did you say?" Charles looked at his impatient brother, chewing slowly. Finally, he swallowed and licked mayo off of his lips. "I told her she needed to talk to 'im." He held his sandwich, looking carefully for where he should take his next bite. Caleb grabbed his wrist before Charles could take another mouthful. "Well, what…" He grimaced. "What did she say when you told her that?" Charles frowned. "That she'd talk to him?" He cocked his head at Caleb, one eyebrow raised. "Do ya really think she doesn't know?" He thought back to the moment in Rachel's kitchen, and that little remark she made about how Wren and Caleb didn't really have anybody else but each other. Caleb's eyebrows knit into a frown. Charles eyed him, gently pried his hand free of Caleb's grasp, and took another bite of his sandwich. ⤱ Wren and Rachel entered the cool, shaded space of the barn and she turned to look at her son. "Wren, Charles called to tell me that we need to talk." She held her head up and put her hands on her hips. "I know somethin' is goin' on with you." Her eyes softened. "So, let's talk." Wren clenched his jaw. 'Charles, you bastard.' That Charles had gotten Rachel involved was beyond the pale - it was dirty pool, and Charles knew it. "Mom, it's nothing. There's nothing." He tried hard to keep his voice neutral, but he struggled to avoid the wavering tone of nervousness. Rachel looked at him for a long, quiet moment, then she sighed. "Wren, I've spent a real long time waitin' for you to tell me." She smiled sadly. "But, maybe I didn't do the right thing, because I can tell it's eatin' you up." Wren felt a wave of realization, and he paled. "What…" He wet his lips. "What do you mean?" His voice was small, weak. Rachel chuckled. "Oh, baby." She stepped to him and folded Wren gently in her arms. "Your daddy and me, we knew when you were twelve that you were different. We just wanted to give you time to figure it out, an' talk to us." "What?" Wren lay his head against her neck. "No." He began to cry. "No, daddy, he…" Wren gasped as he internalized what she had said. "He knew?" "Yes, hon. We knew." She gently held him. "He was just worried about the uncles finding out, an' what might happen to you at school." She smiled. "We even talked about homeschoolin' in case things got bad." She patted Wren's back. "Your daddy sure loved you." "I thought…" Wren breathed, attempting to reign in his emotions. "I thought he left, because of me." "Wren." Rachel's tone was one of complete shock. She pushed back to look at her teary son. "No." She shook her head. "No, baby." She put her hands on his neck and pulled his head down to hers, their foreheads touching. "Never, not in a million years would Adam have left because of you." She too began to cry. "He was so proud of you - how hard you work, your pretty voice, how smart you are." She laughed. "You were a bright spot in his life - in both of our lives! I don't know why he left us, but I know that it wasn't you." Wren had carried the guilt from his father's absence around for so long that it tried to cling to him. Even in the face of Rachel's words, and her love, it still tried to hang on. "Really?" He closed his eyes. "He was proud of me?" Rachel leaned back to look at him. She ignored her own tears but wiped Wren's off his face. "Look at me." Wren did, and her brown eyes held him. "You were everything to him." She nodded slowly. "Your daddy would have done anything for you." There was no holding onto it, and the burden he had carried slid from his shoulders. Wren slumped in relief, and Rachel again hugged him. There, in the shade of an old barn filled with hay, Wren forgave himself for a sin that he had never committed. ⤱ Caleb held his wrapped sandwich and the bag of chips as he watched the barn. Charles finished his lunch, dusted his hands, then stood. "Caleb, I'm headin' up to my place. Caleb glanced at Charles, a bit annoyed with his brother. "Stir shit up an' leave?" Charles snorted. "Yeah. That's me, a shit-stirrer." He frowned when Caleb continued to glower at him. "Why are you defending 'im?" He waved a hand toward the barn. "Wren isn't bein' a good friend to you, and I ain't havin' it." He set his jaw. "That's why I called Miss Rachel - she needs to get him screwed on right." Caleb glared, then he dropped his eyes. He sighed. "Just, don't be mean to him. He needs you to be his friend." Caleb began to unwrap his sandwich. "I'm fine. I'll be fine." Charles huffed. "When he does somethin' worth bein' mean for, then I'm gonna give it to him." Caleb groaned and lay his head back against the post behind his back. "Charles, for fuck's sake. The best thing you can do is to just be decent to him!" "I have been." Charles shrugged. "When he deserves it." Caleb pressed his lips together and made himself avoid speaking for fear of what would come out of his mouth. Charles watched him, hesitated, then he sat back down on the porch with a sigh. "I just want the best fer you." He put a hand on Caleb's shoulder. "An' Wren too." Charles shook his head. "But, if you ain't noticed, Wren needs some pushin' to get to where he needs to be." Caleb frowned. "And where is that, exactly?" He slumped. "I don't want you bullying him into thinking… Into thinking we should be together." Charles quietly stared at Caleb until Caleb grew uneasy with the silence, and he glanced at his brother. Charles smiled as Caleb looked at him. "What?" "Nothin'." Charles grinned fondly and patted Caleb. "An' everything." He got up. "I'll see ya tomorrow when Matt shows with the excavator." Caleb watched with a confused frown as Charles walked away. Soon he heard the sound of wheels on gravel as Charles drove back up the hill to his and Tracy's place. Caleb sat there with his half-unwrapped sandwich in hand, his jaw working as he thought. There was movement out toward the barn. Wren and his mother ambled along the path that ran around the edge of the big garden toward the old house. Rachel had her arm around Wren's middle, and Wren had one over her shoulders. They spoke quietly to one another, then they arrived at the porch. Caleb watched as Rachel hugged her son. "I love you, Wren." "Love you, Mom." Wren smiled as they separated. Rachel looked at Caleb. She motioned to him, and Caleb put down his sandwich then stood to meet her. She pulled him in, and they embraced with him towering over her little 5'4" frame. She patted his back, then looked up at him. "You're a good boy, Caleb." She nodded, her smile slight but genuine. He nodded. "Thank you, Miss Rachel." She smiled at him a moment more, then she sighed in satisfaction. "I'm gonna head back home. If you boys need anything, just give me a holler." Caleb watched until she passed out of sight around the corner of the house, then he turned his attention to Wren. Wren unconsciously crossed his arms over his chest. "Charles go home?" Caleb nodded. He stood awkwardly by the steps of Beecher's house, then he sat and picked up his sandwich. Wren hesitated, then he joined him. He dug out his own lunch and sat beside Caleb on the steps. He started to unwrap the food and smiled tentatively at Caleb. "You waited for me?" Caleb nodded. He looked over at Wren. "You're worth waiting on," Caleb said, and he took a breath. "Yeah. I'll wait." Wren stared down at his sandwich. "You really think so?" He audibly swallowed. "I don't know, Caleb. I don't know if I can be… If I can be what you deserve." He sighed. "I mean, people date to figure this shit out, you know?" Caleb shook his head. "All right, fine. Then I'll take you out on a date." Wren laughed and looked at him. "Really? Well, what kinda date? Where would we go?" Caleb's uncertainty returned. "Well, I don't know." He suddenly felt silly. "I…I guess it's dumb. Nevermind." "No." Wren put a hand on his knee. "I'm sorry. I wasn't making fun of you." Wren's expression was one of hope. "You really want that?" Caleb knew the answer instantly. "Yes." He allowed a little smile. "I know we went at this a little backward, but there's no reason we can't try, is there?" Wren continued to look at him. His eyes moved over Caleb's features, and Wren appeared nervous to Caleb. He finally wet his lips to speak. "We can give it a try." Caleb grinned. "Well, all right." Though the men had plenty on their minds, they both quietly ate their lunches. They took their time, neither in a hurry to give up their comfortable proximity. Finally done, Wren wadded up the wax paper wrapping for his food. He looked over at Caleb, and his half-smile made a corner of his mouth go up. "I'm looking forward to whatever you plan for us, Caleb." Caleb heard something in his voice. Something that until now, Wren hadn't given him. "Okay." Instead of getting up, he put his arm around Wren's shoulders. In the face of his friend, there was both uncertainty and a willingness to trust. Caleb stretched his neck, willing Wren to meet him. After a moment of hesitation, Wren leaned over, and they gently kissed.
  19. 51 points
    Adam “Can’t believe there’s only a month until your wedding.” Payne said swinging the door to the gun range exit. “I know. Time has flown by. I’m excited though.” “Right?” Payne laughed. “I can’t believe that sweet man agreed to marry your ridiculously large ass.” “Zip it, shorty. I have a fantastic ass.” I tried to look over my shoulder at my butt. Payne leaned back to check it out, nodding her head she said, “it’s not too bad.” I nudged her away. “Stop checking out the goods, woman. They don’t belong to you.” “You’re just lucky we didn’t use it as a target, nobody would miss.” She laughed throwing her head back reminding me of the we’d just gone through. Ugh! I hate recertifying to carry my weapon, it’s a royal pain in the ass. Thankfully, the time had gone quickly and we passed with flying colors. One more thing to tick off the to-do-list. Payne had come with me to do hers at the same time. Payne misses working with me out in the field as much as I miss her. “How’s Wade doing Payne? Give me an honest answer. From his reports and stats he seems like he’s doing fine, but I want your opinion on how he’s really doing?” I asked as we walked to my car. Payne smiled warmly. “He’s great Hotshot, I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, there absolutely is, but he’s doing a good job. No, he’s doing an excellent job. Although, I think he’s wasted in homicide.” “How so?” I asked getting in the driver’s seat. Payne plopped her butt in the passenger seat slamming the door. God that annoys me. “Do you think the door is shut, Shorty?” I growled. She just rolled her eyes and flipped me the bird. “I will cut that sucker off one day. What are you going to do then?” Payne laughed and flipped me off with her other hand. “Jesus, now what about Wade?” I have been worried he wasn’t fitting in with the other detectives, but his work has yet to suffer for it. It’s just a feeling I get and observation too I guess. I’ve seen him make the effort to get to know the other detectives but none of them go out of their way to include him, except for Payne. I heard her sigh. “Look, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way. You promise?” She asked her eyes boring into mine waiting for an answer as I started the car. “I promise, now damn well tell me girlie.” She punched me – hard. “Don’t call me that.” Her face all screwed up in a scowl. “Ow!” I groused rubbing my arm, thank god, we were still parked in the parking lot. “If you don’t stop punching me, I’m gonna file a report.” I stuck my lip out pouting playfully like a five-year-old. “Oh, who ya going to tell? Ian? My dad? They aren’t exactly the most intimidating people I’ve ever met. Amy will be on my side, so what are you going to do? Ya big baby.” She taunted me. “Nope, I’m going to tell Ian’s mom,” I answered smugly. “You’re in trouble,” I sang at her as we left the firing range headed back to work. “You wouldn’t!” Payne gasped mockingly. I nodded my head. “I love that woman, but she can be hella scary when she wants to be,” Payne chuckled. That made me laugh. “Now dish, what’s going on with Wade?” My phone rang blaring through the car. “Price,” I said after connecting through Bluetooth. “This is Officer Chandon, The Chief wants to see you as soon as possible.” Payne’s eyes rounded on me watching my reaction. “I’m on my way back to the station, I can be there in half an hour.” “I’ll let him know.” The call was ended. “What do you think that’s about?” Payne asked. “Not a clue,” I said looking in the rear-vision and side mirrors before changing lanes. “Okaaay, so Wade?” “He’s too soft to be in homicide, Sarge. That doesn’t mean I think he’s bad at his job. He’s more suited to something like Special Crimes, he has endless patience, compassion, and empathy. It’s just a pity we don’t have that unit here, those types of crimes just get lost with whoever can be bothered with it. We need someone like him around.” Payne’s voice softened at the end. She’s usually hard and to the point when it comes to work but can break out the softer side when necessary. Unfortunately, in our line of work that’s not very often. Payne has a soft spot for Wade, as far as I could tell she always had. “I’ll figure something out Shorty, we won’t lose him. Not if I can help it.” <>-<>-<> Officer Chandon nodded at me when I arrived seeing I was in my dress uniform. Something that was expected when called to the chief’s office. He led me into the chief’s office with a quick knock on the door opening it immediately after then stepping aside so I could enter. He shut the door behind me then immediately took his seat in the corner of the room. My boss was sitting in a chair in front of he chief’s desk. They were laughing at something one of them had just said. His eyes met mine as he stood with a smile still on his face indicating for me to take a seat next to him. “Come sit, we would like to have a quick chat.” “Yes sir,” I answered sitting in the seat next to him still wearing a confused frown. The chief waved his hand to stand down. “Don’t look so serious, Captain Price.” My frown deepening as the chief and my boss chuckled. “Uh…” I didn’t know what to say because he’d confused my rank even at the interim level. “We’ve finally made a decision. I apologize for the length of time we’ve kept you waiting. But we had to be sure you were the right man for the job. Starting this morning you are the new Captain. You’ve taken the exams and you’ve more than proved you’re ready for the job.” “I…” I must have sounded like a moron, I thought I was going to be a sergeant if they decided to keep me at all. After all the cafuffle with the FBI and the drug case they’d taken from us I didn’t think there was much chance of the promotion now. This was confusing, great, fantastic even, but confusing. “Look, we need new blood in there. You’re not a favorite of some detectives and officers but you don’t seem to care about that. You treat everyone fairly it seems and you have grace under pressure and foremost you make a decision and you stick with it. We need someone like you in that position. They’ll come to respect you if they don’t already. Now lets hear what you have to say and you can inform us of what you’d like to…” <>-<>-<> I signed in at the school office. I couldn’t wait to tell Ian but I didn’t want to do it over the phone. I’d gone back to the station and changed into my uniform then told the detectives I was taking my fiancé to lunch. Walking through the school all proud and puffy chested a few of the local stoners balked at my presence giving me a wide berth. “Dad!” I heard Pat’s voice behind me, turning around I came face to face with my son and his girlfriend Sasha holding hands. “Is Riley okay? What are you doing here?” Smiling at Paddy I shook my head, “Riley’s fine, bud. I’ve come to see Dad, I have some news. Do you want to come with me, to be honest I’m a little lost?” Pat chuckled. “Sure.” He quickly kissed Sasha. “Tell the everyone I’ll be there soon.” “M’kay. Hi Uncle Adam,” Sasha said hugging me quickly before she disappeared. Pat led the way toward Ian. “She’s lovely Pat, make sure you treat her right.” “I do. Promise.” He smiled up at me and by up I mean all of probably three inches, the kid is growing like a weed. “Good man.” Pat knocked on the open door before entering with me on his heels. Ian was sitting at his desk with Quinn, Sasha’s older brother who was an English teacher that started teaching this year. They were eating sandwiches and had been discussing one of their students. His face lit up reflecting mine when he saw me all be it he looked confused. “Hi,” he said standing coming toward me. Ian greeted me with a peck on the lips and made sure I remembered who Quinn was. The man is nothing if always polite and on top of social graces. I love that about him. “You remember…” “Quinn,” I said stepping forward to shake his hand. “How are you handling the hormonal teenagers?” He laughed. “Not as well as they’re handling me.” I smiled in response. I can’t imagine doing their job, I don’t have the patience. “I’ll let you guys visit. Thanks Ian, for your help.” He stammered before picking up his lunch and leaving us for a family chat. Ian smiled as Quinn left before turning his focus on me. “What brings you by? And is that a different uniform. I haven’t seen that before?” His head tilting as he looked at my captain’s uniform, I’d changed before coming to see him. “I came to take you to lunch but I guess I’m a little late for that. But, yeah, I have some news for you both.” “Well, spill Dad. I’m hungry and Liam will eat my lunch.” Pat shifted around impatiently. “Okay, okay.” My smile had them both grinning in anticipation. “They finally made a decision on those interviews from last October. I’ve been promoted to Captain.” “Really, congratulations Dad.” Pat gave me a hug. “I have to go get some lunch, but that’s awesome Dad. I’ll watch Riley tonight so you and Dad can go celebrate.” As he went to leave I called him back. “Hey Pat, I want to celebrate as a family so if you want to help your dad after you’ve done your homework. Get your sister ready for when I get home. That would be great.” “Sure no problem.” Pat’s smile warmed my heart. I’m such a big sap, but the happiness he showed just by being included was amazing and heartbreaking all at the same time. “I love that kid.” I sighed pulling Ian into a hug. “You’re amazing,” Ian whispered into my ear, “we’ll have our own celebration tonight once the kids are asleep. Congratulations you’ve earned this.” “This means better hours, babe. We’ll getmore family time, I’ll occasionally be called away but we’ll be able to spend more time together.” I squeezed Ian to me. “Love you.” “Love you too,” he said before kissing me. A little less PG than the school would like, but eh. I don’t give a shit. I love this man and I dare anyone to tell me I can’t kiss him whenever I want. Maybe. The damn bell rang right then finishing our time together. I gave him another quick kiss before making my exit. As I was leaving the kids started piling in. I laughed when one kid asked, “What are the pigs were doing here?” Ian corrected him politely but with his usual amount of sass. “I’m not quite sure why the police were here but they asked about you specifically.” I laughed all the way back to the car. That’s my man, gently terrifying teenagers with his calm demeanor everywhere he goes. <>-<>-<> We’d had a nice family dinner at a local Italian restaurant to celebrate my promotion, but I’ve been anticipating and day-dreaming about having Ian to myself all afternoon. Finally. And boy! I think we need to celebrate the celebration; he’s just about drained me of everything. I’m spent. “Holy shit, babe. Where the hell did you learn that?” I panted trying to catch my breath lying next to him; he was smiling smugly short of breath himself. My man maybe quiet and reserved in most situations, but in the bedroom he is a tiger. Uninhibited, forward, sometimes downright aggressive but in the sexiest way possible. Seriously I can’t even catch my breath right now and my body is still trembling. He knows how to work me over, shamelessly. “Research, plan, execute.” “Sexy.” I laughed. “So porn.” “Yeah.” He laughed with me. “Can’t believe you watched porn without me.” He laughed harder. “You were here… just sleeping and I was bored.” I used what energy I had left to roll over pulling him to me. “Next time wake me up, we’ll research together.” I bit his nipple hard then soothed it with my tongue. “Nghh, don’t get me started again. I don’t think I have the energy. You wore me out. That was work.” “What? Having sex with me is not work!” I slapped his bare ass. He laughed again. “Sexy, fun, enjoyable, work. Do that again.” So I did I slapped his ass and bit his nipple again, he moaned erotically and loud. “Shower, then I want to try that thing you did to me on you.” Ian was running across the bed, leaping through the air toward our bathroom. “Hell, yes.” Thank god we aren’t still in the apartment we’d wake the kids with our bedroom olympics. It was always athletic, even when it was tender it was amazing. Better every time. Ian is never boring, he likes to experiment sometimes he keeps things exciting. I’ve never had anyone excite me or get me so aroused before in my life. “Hurry up, I’m starting without you.” He called just loud enough for me to hear him. I hauled ass into the bathroom. <>-<>-<> When I strode into the shift briefing I was met with applause head on. Some more enthusiastic than others. “Alright, alright. Thank you and lets get down to business,” I said as I approached the podium, I continued without a pause and the room quieted down. “There are a few announcements. First, Officer Windsor.” I looked around as he stood up at attention. “Everyone meet Detective Windsor. He has been promoted and will be taking Wade’s place. He’ll be working in homicide. After the briefing get one of the detectives to take you home to get a suit, then go down to headquarters and get all everything squared away.” I switched to the next topic. “Detectives Muller and Potts are now heading up a new unit of Special Crimes, the unit will specialize in crimes against children, crimes of a sexual nature, and other sensitive matters that fall into the category. Officers Jankowski and Sullivan will be at your disposal whenever needed, otherwise they’re on backup for other matters.” The room fell into a rumble of disarray while congratulations and welcomes being tossed around. I waited a couple of minutes until everyone fell back in line. “Okay, as you all know the FBI has taken quite a load off our plates. That doesn’t mean we aren’t busy. There is nothing of particular urgency right now so back to the grind. I’d like the five new appointees to stay behind as well as Head Detective Richmond. That’s all, dismissed.” I cringed at the sound of chairs scraping and loud conversations echoed through the room as everyone headed out for their shift. The six left behind took seats at the front of the room staring at me expectantly, well except for Richmond because of course he’s above being told what to do. “I want you partnering with Windsor the next little while, if you could take him to get changed and then do what you do.” I smiled, it was genuine, kinda. Detective Richmond muttered under his breath as he left the room with Detective Windsor on his tail. “Now, as for you four,” I said sternly, “Officers, I want you shadowing the detectives this week, see if you all can’t find a rhythm to work together.” My eyes glaring at Payne because sometimes she doesn’t play nice with others. “Yes, sir.” They all answered simultaneously. “Good.” I nodded my head. “We have your first case here.” I dropped a file down in front of Payne. “This case has come from CPS, your contact is Theo Scanlon. All the details are in the file, but may I suggest you meet with Theo to get a feel for the case. The man’s been doing this a long time, he’s also a close friend. And let me tell you he has a knack for weeding out the truth. He doesn’t suffer fools, but at the same time he knows you are all new to this unit and has the patience of a saint. Go over the file together then get to it. Muller, keep in touch.” After speaking I headed back to my office. Sitting in my chair I took a deep breath, then realized my hands were shaking. It’s going to get easier, they just have to get used to me is all. My eye caught on my in-tray, how freaking long was the briefing this morning? My in-tray was now overflowing with files and paperwork. I swished my mouse to make my computer come alive while pulling off the first file on the pile. Once I put my password into the computer my emails flashed up. Eighty-freakin’-three new emails, reminders, meeting requests, and god knows what else. Welcome to the big leagues Captain Price. <>-<>-<> Paddy handed me a beer before I’d even managed to sit down. “God, I love you kid.” I smiled then gulping down half the bottle. “Feelings mutual, long first day?” He chuckled. “It was okay. I just forgot how much bullshit, red-tape, and paperwork comes with the job. My old Captain in Florida used to be inundated, I never really thought about it until now he made it look easy. Even doing the Sergeants job for the past couple of months didn’t have this much.” I sat at the table where Pat was doing his homework. “How was your day? Learn anything?” Pat laughed out loud. “Yeah, it’s school. That’s my job – to learn.” Ian gently tapped Pat on the back of the head as he walked behind his chair with Riley. “Don’t be a smartass.” “Thanks babe, I didn’t have the energy.” I snickered while Ian chuckled. Patty huffed, but he was grinning from ear to ear. Riley landed in my arms in just enough time for me to put my beer bottle on the table. Then Ian leaned down and kissed me hello. “Love you.” “Love you too,” I said between kisses then I gave Riley a few of her own while we had our after work snuggle. “Dinner’s still a little while away,” Ian told me as he swung around sitting in the chair next to me, playing with Riley as he did so. Pat had gone back to doing his homework. “So, I was thinking today. It never really occurred to me after the wedding and the adoptions what our surname will be. Have you thought about what you want to do?” Ian asked me and Pat then patiently waited for us to answer. Pat looked away from his homework chewing on the end of a pen pensively. His head tilting until his face morphed into a horrified scowl. “Are you okay Pat? There’s no right or wrong here, we will support whatever you want.” I told him alarmed at the look on his face. He swallowed almost audibly. “I was going to suggest hyphenated, b…b…ut have you really said it out loud. No matter which way we go we’ll sound like a bad game show.” Pat’s head dropped into his homework. “Oh my god.” He groaned. “I can already here them taunting me.” He looked up making us both laugh because the paper he had been writing on was stuck to his forehead. We both laughed harder when he snatched it away. Ian and I looked at each other for a moment, I’m sure he was saying it in his head too because eventually I was looking at a face that was mimicking mine in amusement. Yep our hyphenated names would absolutely not be received without at least a chuckle. “Crap, what are we going to do?” Ian asked quietly. “I’d at least like the kids to have the same last name.” Ian nodded in agreement with me, in the corner of my eye I could see Pat nodding along as well. “Price has a nice ring to it,” Ian said, “Ian Price, Pat Pri…” he stopped his whole body cringing.” “Yeah,” I laughed fiddling with my empty beer bottle, “I don’t think so. What about Wright, Adam Wright. That’s a good name. Riley Wri…” now it was my turn to cringe. “Christ.” I wiped my hand down the front of my face. “Our kids are going to get beaten up aren’t they? Maybe we should just change our last name to ‘Smith.’” I suggested jokingly to Ian. “Pat Smith,” Patty said with his face screwed up in disgust, “you might as well change my name to John Doe.” Riley clapped her hands squealing like any happy baby, oblivious to the turmoil the adults were suffering. Ian leaned over to Pat taking his face in his hands kissing Pat’s forehead. “I love you sweet boy,” he said with a chuckle, “we wouldn’t lumber you with either of those names.” Mulling over our options in my head I stared at the beer bottle in my hand. “What if we went with our mothers’ maiden names. Ian shook his head ‘no’ vigorously. “Nope, that’s the name Anna used when she met you.” “Geez, I forgot about that. And don’t say that name in this house.” I said dazed. “I’m with you there,” Ian replied. “I hate that woman,” Pat mumbled quietly. Ian and I let it go, she really hurt Pat with all her nonsense. I hope she never comes back into our lives because I fear with the way Patty feels about her, I’ll be an accessory to crimes I don’t even want to think about. We all turned when we heard the front door open and close then my parents appeared in front of us. Pat packed his homework away before getting up to greet them with a hug. “Coffee?” Pat asked them both moving closer to the kitchen waiting for them to answer. “Oh, yes please,” Mom answered. “Beer if you have it Pat?” My dad asked. They both sat down at the table smiling. “You here for dinner?” I asked my folks. “Yes, Ian invited us for Pat’s lasagne.” Dad grinned. “It is not something you say no to.” I grinned back. “No, definitely not. So, what are you all up to?” Dad changed the subject. Ian let out a big sigh. “We’ve been trying to figure out what surname to use after we’re married and with the kids adoptions.” Pat came back with a coffee and three beers, placing the coffee in front of his nan and the beers split between, me, Ian, and his grandad. “Uh, why do nan and grandad look like they’re about to bust a gut?” My parents both erupted into a raucous laughter. Riley flinched but then squealed again slapping her hands on the table from where she sat on my lap. “Oh, my god,” mom said holding a hand to her chest trying to catch her breath, “we’ve all been laughing about this very thing since you boys got engaged.” I moved my squirmy daughter around on my lap trying to get comfortable. “What’s so funny? We can’t come up with anything that won’t get the kids beaten up in the playground. Although I’m sure Pat can hold his own.” I added as an after thought. Mom glanced at dad, he gave her a curt nod. “Well, all us grandparents have been talking and we may have a solution.” Oh, dear god. No! Ian looked as scared as I felt but Pat looked intrigued.
  20. 47 points
    Chapter Twelve – Perfect Shot He walked over to Heathcliff and his companion, and, for a couple of seconds, he just stood there, not knowing what to do. It was surely foolish, to act on instinct like that because truth be told, he wanted to dance with Heathcliff, too, and there was no turning back. Heathcliff’s companion seemed to be the first to notice him standing there. “Can we help you with something?” the guy asked, frowning slightly. Aidan licked his lips and swallowed. He was about to make a total fool of himself, but he wasn’t going to back down now. “Would you like to dance?” he asked Heathcliff directly. “Excuse me,” the guy in the white tee huffed, “we were just in the middle of a conversation, and you’re interrupting. And seriously, is that your pick up line? Maybe you should go home and polish it a little.” “I’d love to dance,” Heathcliff said dramatically, taking his companion by surprise. And not only. Aidan’s eyes grew wide. Now he had expected a rejection or at least a small jab at his request, and the only unknown factor in all that was how Heathcliff would go about it. Funny how he wasn’t ready for a positive response. “You would?” he asked, feeling, and most probably looking, a bit stupid. “Let’s go,” Heathcliff said with determination and took Aidan’s hand, ignoring the other completely. “Hey, that’s not very nice,” the guy called after them. Heathcliff only half-turned toward him. “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” he said in a sugary voice. “I’m just suddenly in the mood for dancing.” “You could have just said so,” the guy threw his last words at them. “Jeez, some people,” he added, most probably to himself. Heathcliff snickered like a kid doing something naughty and carried Aidan quickly to the dance floor. And, unlike Michael who had shown Aidan a proof of his virtuosity as a dancer just earlier, Heathcliff pulled him into a tight hug and kept him there. “Heathcliff,” Aidan called softly, “we’re not exactly dancing.” “I suppose we should also move a little, right?” Heathcliff began to move, but only slightly, in total disregard of the fast-paced music. “We’re not supposed to slow dance,” Aidan pointed out again. It wasn’t like he minded. Actually, being there, in Heathcliff’s arms, felt good and right at the same time. “It’s the only style of dancing I know,” Heathcliff replied. “Seriously? Aren’t you the master of all things, you know, physical?” “That I am.” Heathcliff chuckled. “I just skipped dancing lessons; that’s all.” “Michael is an excellent dancer and your friend. Doesn’t he find this appalling coming from you?” Aidan asked and wrapped his arms around Heathcliff’s neck. “Ah, Mikey. I thought he would seduce you and you wouldn’t say ‘no’.” “I’m only here for you, you spoilt fitness guru,” Aidan said affectionately. “You’re such a perfect babysitter,” Heathcliff’s voice dropped low. Aidan was sure they were putting on a bit of a show, slow dancing while all the others were engaged in much more physically strenuous exercise on the floor. “Michael told me you wanted me to ask you to dance. Is that true?” Aidan asked. “It is,” Heathcliff admitted simply. “But why? Isn’t this how you practically send the others around here the wrong signals?” “What do you mean? What signals?” “You know. That you don’t want to hook up. Dancing with your babysitter is the surest way to keep everyone at bay.” “Good. That’s exactly what I want to do.” Aidan wanted to be able to have a witty comeback to that. The thing was he felt like no other words were needed. *** Heathcliff had never played the sentimental card with anyone in his life, as he liked to believe that he was as honest as they came in all his dealings. Yet, right now, keeping Aidan close in his arms, he felt pretty damn sentimental, and it wasn’t some play. The strategist in him was all a frown. The rest was smiling, though. He had to remind himself to thank Michael later. Apparently, a small friendly nudge had been enough for Aidan to come to him and ask him for a dance. To say that he had been thrilled the moment he saw Aidan there, a bit shy, but determined, was an understatement. Heathcliff was so happy that the only way to contain what he felt was to hold Aidan tightly. The weirdest thing of all was that, for the moment, his mind was blank. He could not remember one step from his elaborate plan to seduce the corporate bunny. And he had thought he had everything thoroughly planned. Obviously, something was happening. If he hadn’t been so giddy with Aidan coming for him, he would have investigated the issue thoroughly. With a content sigh, he snuck his hands lower on Aidan’s back. “Are you all right?” Aidan asked gently. “You’re a bit not your usual self tonight. Are you ill?” Heathcliff scoffed. “I just wanted a dance with my babysitter. How is that a problem?” “It’s not,” Aidan replied. “But we’ve been slow dancing for about twenty minutes or so, and the music changed five times. People around us are really starting to stare.” “Let them stare,” Heathcliff said smoothly. “Don’t you like the attention?” “Actually, I don’t. I’m not a famous influencer like you.” Ah, finally, some steps of his elaborate plan were coming back to him. Heathcliff knew exactly where he wanted Aidan. “Then we can go somewhere private.” Aidan pushed himself away to look at him, with something akin to suspicion in his lovely eyes. “Heathcliff,” he said, his voice a little wary, “aren’t you here tonight to hook up?” Heathcliff pulled Aidan back into his arms. “I changed my mind.” “All right. So do you want to go back home and sleep?” “Will you tuck me in?” Heathcliff joked. “Of course,” Aidan said. “What kind of babysitter would I be if I didn’t send you to sleep with a bedtime story?” “Don’t you like this club?” Heathcliff asked. “I’m sure Michael will be disappointed to hear you want to leave so quickly.” “The club is fabulous. It’s you who makes me worry. Are you sure you’re not ill?” This time, Aidan raised one hand and touched his forehead. Heathcliff pulled back. It wasn’t that he didn’t like to tease Aidan over his babysitter role, but he was sure this wasn’t in the job description. Also, it was not part of his plan. “Let’s go somewhere private, bunny boy,” he said with determination. He dragged Aidan after him through the crowd. The bout of sentimentality from earlier was thankfully over. Now he could go back to being business-like, as his plan for the night demanded. Plus, he wasn’t sure he could win Aidan over by being sentimental and doe-eyed. That wasn’t him. Michael smiled at them as they walked over to his table. “You two were quite the sensation on the dance floor.” “Mikey, can I have that private booth now?” Heathcliff asked. Michael’s eyes lit up. “For you? Always. Seeing you so taken with one another, I’ve already sent word. You’ll not be disturbed.” “Wait; what?” Aidan intervened. “What do we need a private booth for?” “For the same reason anyone needs a private booth when going to a club. To have fun in private,” Heathcliff replied. “Are we going to have fun in private?” Aidan asked. “Yes. I recall a certain kink of yours that only I can cater to.” “Oh, fuck. You can’t be serious,” Aidan protested. “Come with me, and stop being difficult.” Heathcliff held Aidan’s hand in his tightly like he was afraid bunny boy would make a run for the exit. “Since you’re my babysitter, I must take care of your needs.” “Stone, you’re still a conceited bastard, aren’t you?” “Stone? You called me Heathcliff earlier. It was nice for a change.” “What was nice for a change was you being less of a conceited bastard,” Aidan replied. Heathcliff laughed. “Did you really fall for that act?” He could not tell why he felt the need to distance himself from his behavior from earlier. It was like control was slipping through his fingers. Heathcliff Stone was always in control. So taking back the reins, like he was doing right now, was completely normal. “Actually, ah, it doesn’t matter. Let’s get it over with. I know exactly what you have in mind. But let me tell you. I’m holding my liquor well,” Aidan warned him. “I thought you told me you don’t drink.” “I don’t. I have a natural tolerance. Something about some of my ancestors being sailors and all that.” “Ah, so you’re from a family of explorers? That explains everything,” Heathcliff said with a broad smile. “And what do you mean by that?” Aidan asked. “Your bold personality, of course. You came to invite me to dance.” “I’m pretty sure my ancestors would have been engaged in thrashing the bar by now, but let’s say that I believe you. But I don’t think I’m bold, at all.” “Let me be the judge of that, okay?” Heathcliff linked his fingers with Aidan’s. “You two are better than any reality show,” Michael interrupted them. “I wish I could be a fly on the wall to learn what’s coming next.” “Do you have flies in here, Mikey?” Heathcliff joked as he looked at his friend. “That calls for a visit from the health department.” “Just go and have fun, you two. But, seriously, you should tell me how that went.” “A gentleman never kisses and tells.” Heathcliff flashed a big grin at his friend. Michael replied with a knowing smile. But he could read something akin to surprise in Michael’s eyes. Ever since he confessed to him how much he liked Aidan and wanted to trap him, Michael had had a hard time hiding it. Of course, Heathcliff knew why that was happening. Michael was too considerate a friend to tell him anything he didn’t want to hear. However, Michael had jokingly proposed to save Aidan from him, by trying to seduce him. Heathcliff wasn’t sure who Michael was trying to protect. It was clear as day that his friend had been taken with Aidan from the first second. For some reason, he felt proud; his affection for the young man wasn’t misplaced, and Michael was validating his decision. Also, if Michael joked about hooking up with Aidan, that meant Heathcliff wasn’t the only one to notice how incredibly cute the bunny was. He offered his hand to Michael. “Thanks, man.” “Have fun, you two.” Michael grinned at them. “Especially you, Aidan. Don’t let Heath push you around, okay? Also, don’t fall for this vulnerable act. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” “Thanks for the heads up. But you have nothing to worry about,” Aidan said with a small laugh. “I am Heathcliff’s babysitter and not the other way around. I’ll be completely responsible, and I’ll take care that he doesn’t start using colored markers on the walls.” Heathcliff looked at Aidan. So he was having fun, after all. That was the only reason why he allowed him to talk like that. As soon as they were alone, Heathcliff was going to be back in charge. Right now, he could allow Aidan a few giggles at his expense. *** “Seriously, Stone, you’re so easy to read. I told you about body shots, and of course you have to do something like this,” Aidan said as he gestured toward the table on which a small shot glass, and a whole bottle of tequila, along with a beautiful porcelain plate full of lime wedges, were neatly arranged. “I still don’t understand how you can give up on a night of hooking up and getting busy with various handsome men just for the sake of trying to get me under the table. Wait, was that your plan? To have me drunk so that you could sneak out and have fun without me hovering over you?” Heathcliff laughed and pushed him toward the love settee. Aidan didn’t have to look too close to notice how this particular private booth had a romantic flair to it. It had obviously been modeled to cater to couples. “I’m having fun right now.” Heathcliff hovered over him while Aidan sat. “I actually have a business proposition, but let’s talk about that later.” “Business proposition?” Aidan wondered out loud. “Let’s talk after you’re a little looser than this.” “I told you. I don’t get drunk easily. Also, I wouldn’t want to risk getting into a coma by accident.” Aidan gestured towards the bottle. “Don’t worry about that. I just want to see your skill at drinking body shots. I don’t want you drunk either. So, are you ready?” Heathcliff asked with a smirk. Aidan rolled his eyes. “Okay, I am ready.” He should have known Heathcliff was all for fooling around. But the sooner he could get this over with, the sooner Heathcliff was going to go back at doing what he wanted, and Aidan could return to his job. That, of course, unless the little voice inside his head telling him Heathcliff actually wanted to hook up with him and no one else was saying the truth. Aidan had a mind to ignore it as wishful thinking, but, at the same time, he worried about what it might mean. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to run away from this? Maybe if he just hooked up with Heathcliff one time, he would still be fine? Plus, that being the case, he could say he lost his V-card to the biggest crush in his life to date, which was huge. Aidan shook his head. Heathcliff was caressing his jawline slowly, still standing and looking down at him. “You’re always thinking of something,” Heathcliff said. “I can tell.” “It’s not so hard to tell, seeing how I tend to fall silent all of a sudden,” Aidan babbled nervously. “What are you thinking about?” Aidan decided to grab the bull by the horns. “Are you trying to get me in bed with you, Stone?” “Is it that obvious?” Heathcliff chuckled. “Pretty much, yeah. But why? We’re practically in your type of paradise. Outside this door, there are literally dozens of men waiting for a chance to get into your graces. Yet, you’re wasting your time with me when you could go out there and swim in dicks or something.” Heathcliff laughed wholeheartedly. “Let me see how good you are at body shots and then we’ll talk business.” Aidan shrugged. On the outside, he could play it cool, but on the inside, he was a hot mess. He just hoped Heathcliff wasn’t going to notice how his palms were sweaty, his heart started to beat faster, and he could only do this much to avoid jumping the sexy fitness guru’s bones. From the first second Heathcliff embraced him on the dance floor and kept him there, he had known he was doomed. Of course, he was trying to grab at straws and tell himself that Heathcliff meant nothing by it. “Is it that bad for your ego that I’m telling you ‘no’?” Aidan asked. There was still a chance to escape. He could piss off Heathcliff a little, and he could go. “Are you telling me ‘no’?” Heathcliff asked and climbed the settee, placing his knees on Aidan’s sides, trapping him between his muscular thighs. Aidan knew his heart rate was now in a danger zone. Heathcliff leaned in and kissed him gently. In response, Aidan dug his blunt nails into the plush canvas of the settee. “Your answer,” Heathcliff demanded, keeping Aidan’s head firmly in his hands. Aidan gulped loudly. “No, I’m not telling you ‘no’,” he replied. “Good.” Heathcliff caressed his cheeks and stood up. “Then I think it’s time for our little introduction.” Aidan had a mind to ask what that was supposed to mean, but the words caught in his throat. Slowly, with hooded eyes, Heathcliff began to unbutton his shirt. The thumping rhythm coming from the club was muffled, but it made the perfect musical backdrop for Heathcliff’s striptease show. “I have already seen you naked,” Aidan said, just for the sake of sounding like he wasn’t impressed at all. He was very much impressed. And yes, he had seen Heathcliff naked, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to see the man naked again. Heathcliff’s only response was an all-knowing smirk. Aidan watched fascinated as the shirt came off. However, it looked like Heathcliff had no intention to go further than that. Not that he minded. The topless look was perfect on Heathcliff. “So, what are you waiting for?” Heathcliff challenged him, hands on hips. “For you to lie down so I can show you what a body shot looks like,” Aidan said with courage he knew well he didn’t possess. “Then how about you make room for me?” Heathcliff laughed. Of course, Aidan thought and stood up to allow Heathcliff to stretch on the settee. Pretending to be absorbed with pouring himself a shot, he kept from throwing glances in the other’s direction. So, it was a bit of a surprise to see Heathcliff already with a lime wedge between his lips and well prepared with a short, thin trail of salt on his naked chest. Aidan gulped but knew it was now or never to show the sexy asshole he was not fazed easily. He threw his head back as he let the alcohol burn his throat and then, he straddled Heathcliff quickly. It wasn’t the most comfortable position to assume, but he didn’t care for details at this point. Aidan pressed Heathcliff into the settee with both hands on his shoulders, and licked the trail of salt, making the other giggle. And, without a glitch, he raised his head and pulled the lime wedge out of Heathcliff’s mouth, savoring the sour taste. “Wow, perfect shot,” Heathcliff joked. “In the mood for another?” “I think I played along enough,” Aidan said, staring into the other’s eyes from above. “How about you tell me about that business deal you wanted to talk about?” Heathcliff put his hands on Aidan’s hips and moved slowly upward. “I think I like this position. Don’t you agree?” Aidan sighed. “You’re impossible; you know that, right?” “And you’re a tiny bit hard,” Heathcliff replied, moving one hand and placing it over Aidan’s crotch. “Who wouldn’t be?” Aidan retorted. “Come on, isn’t this enough for your ego? The night’s still young. Why don’t you go pick up a nice guy and have some fun with him? What do you say?” “I am not exactly crazy about nice guys,” Heathcliff said, moving his hand on purpose over Aidan’s semi, making him grunt. “Then go find a naughty one.” “You didn’t let me finish. I’m not into nice guys, except for one. You.” Aidan licked his lips. “So the only way we can solve this is by letting you have your way with me?” “Have my way with you? What are you, an innocent maiden?” “I’m not innocent!” Aidan protested. “Exactly,” Heathcliff said with satisfaction. “So let’s get back to what I was saying. Can you pay attention?” “I could if you didn’t fondle me through my jeans,” Aidan complained right away. “I think that’s actually helping to keep you focused on me,” Heathcliff replied. Aidan sighed. “Okay, just say what you have to say.” “I don’t like this thing with NDAs and all that,” Heathcliff began. “It’s not only because it is annoying as hell to get guys to sign before, after, or in-between. It is because it’s like I’m trumpeting all over the place that I got myself a deal. I am a confident man, but this reeks of self-importance.” “Okay,” Aidan admitted. “But it’s not like I prefer the alternative, which is not to get laid at all. So, I must ask you, isn’t it annoying for you to hunt my partners down and get them to sign those stupid NDAs?” It was. Aidan nodded. “Yes, it is. But that’s what the contract says.” “Normally I’d say fuck the contract,” Heathcliff said, and his moves on Aidan’s still clothed cock became more daring. Aidan could feel his breath hitching in his chest. “Don’t fuck the contract,” he said stupidly. He knew what Heathcliff meant by that. “I have no intention to.” Heathcliff chuckled. “I realized, however, that there is a solution that could keep everyone happy.” “Seriously? What?” Aidan asked, trying to focus on anything else but the hand moving over his cock. “I have something you want, and you have something I want. Do you see what I’m getting at?” Aidan closed his eyes tightly. “I can’t say I do.” “We don’t have to make a big deal out of it,” Heathcliff continued. “You want to be the perfect professional, and I have nothing against that. Actually, I think it’s perfect for what I have in mind. If we hook up, there’s no need for NDAs.” Aidan’s eyes snapped open. “Is that your business deal? I should sleep with you because I’m sure not to go with tabloids with something stupid like how you snore after fucking?” “I don’t snore,” Heathcliff protested. “It was some stupid example! I can’t believe that you really thought of this! And how do I keep being the ‘perfect professional’, as you say, while I’m sleeping with you?” “It’s simple. You keep me happy, and I keep everyone at your company happy, by projecting the perfect family-friendly image everyone wants of me.” “And I’m what? Some sacrifice for the greater corporate good?” Aidan sputtered. He made a move to get up. Heathcliff wrapped one arm quickly around him and stopped him. “Do you like me, Aidan Spark?” Heathcliff asked. “Look at me, tell me you don’t like me, and I’ll let you go. Because I like you very much and I think that this solves everything. No one will know as long as you don’t tell anyone.” “Do you think is it that simple?” Aidan squirmed into the other’s lap. “And how can you say so confidently that no one will know? Your friend, Michael, is well aware of what we might be doing right now.” “Chill. Mikey and I have been friends since forever. And he never lets paparazzi into his club. He has a nose for them. And I won’t drag you to clubs and expose you everywhere. Where I want to drag you is my bedroom, and no one, absolutely no one will know what’s going on in there.” Aidan bit his bottom lip hard. “It’s stupid,” he said after a few moments. “But I suppose you do have a point.” “Is that all? I have a point?” Heathcliff asked. “Come on, bunny boy, don’t keep me waiting. Do you like me or not? Because if you can say that you don’t, hand on heart, I promise I won’t ever bother you with this.” “I …” Aidan trailed off. “Eyes on me,” Heathcliff insisted. Aidan knew it wasn’t a good idea to look at Heathcliff right now. But if he didn’t, he would look like a coward. So he assumed the risk. Why did that spoilt fitness guru have to look so handsome? It wasn’t helping Aidan with his decision at all. But it wasn’t just Heathcliff’s natural sex appeal that was making him drown into those amazing blue eyes. The man was looking at him pleadingly. Aidan knew it had to be an act, but there was something inside him, a soft spot of sorts, that made him feel for Heathcliff staring at him like that. “I do like you,” he said dejectedly. Heathcliff’s hand cupped his face and caressed him. “And is that such a bad thing that you must look down like this when admitting it?” “I can’t win against you, can I?” Aidan said, looking down. “Oh, damn, why do you have to be so cute?” Heathcliff whispered. “I like you more than I’ve ever liked anyone else.” “You’re just saying,” Aidan said stubbornly. Heathcliff straightened up, but without letting Aidan go, just adjusting their position so that they could sit upright. “I’m not just saying. Look, you have fuck buddies on speed dial. Am I such a bad deal compared to them? I promise I’ll be worth your while.” “Okay. But I must warn you. I’m bad at this,” Aidan said with a deep sigh. “Really? You’re bad at sex? I must say that what you’ve shown me this far tends to contradict you. And how come you have fuck buddies if you’re so bad at this? You know what? Let me be the judge of that. And if it’s that bad, which I seriously doubt, I will work hard to correct those flaws you fear so much. I really mean it,” Heathcliff said solemnly. “Just say ‘yes’.” “Okay,” Aidan mumbled, feeling a bit ashamed with himself. He was giving in to temptation here. And he could not blame Heathcliff for being some manipulative seducer. If anything, the guy was asking nicely for it. Heathcliff caressed his cheeks slowly. “Give me a kiss. I promise you that you won’t come to regret it. I can keep things professional as long as you do the same.” I already regret it, Aidan thought. As for keeping things professional, that was going to be a challenge. At the same time, he wanted to find a reason to say ‘no’ and could not think of one, let alone more. Heathcliff took his mouth and kissed him gently. It was hard to put that kind of kiss next to the perfect playboy persona Heathcliff was known for. Or maybe that was making him so successful in all his romantic dealings. And Aidan knew that by playing along with that so-called business deal, he was doing no favors to himself. Except that his entire body was reacting to Heathcliff’s caresses and kisses, and he wanted, at least once, to do something wild and amazing that he could recall many years from now. TBC
  21. 47 points
    It was ironic after all the fights we had that the only time I managed to scare Nicola was when I threatened to hurt myself. I frightened her that day without meaning to. I even made her cry. It was a reaction I hadn’t bargained for. My sister’s emotional tirade on a mercifully empty beach shook me up and helped me see things from a different perspective, but ultimately did little to stop the pain. Perhaps she was right. Maybe I was being selfish, but I found it impossible to think about anything other than my own sorry state. I was in a bad place; the result of a steady decline that began with my accident five months earlier and looked like ending very soon. At times it felt like I was swimming against the tide; the more I tried to save myself the worse my situation became. That day felt like the end of the road and telling Nicola was probably a massive shout for help. It could have been my survival instinct kicking in when I most needed it, or maybe I never intended to carry out my threat in the first place. Attention seeking. I knew this was how a lot of people would see it and I could understand why, but in truth, I wasn’t even sure myself. I was frightened. Not at the thought of dying, but by the realisation of how easy it would be and ultimately how fragile my life was. I always thought I was indestructible. Now it felt like I needed help just to make it through the rest of the day. Without directly asking for her help; Nicola had assumed the mantle of my protector. My irrational behaviour was making her nervous, and she wanted to get me home, but I was sick of that house and desperate to avoid Alex. Besides, there were things I wanted to do that I had put off for far too long. “Come on, you said we don’t spend enough time together, well this is an opportunity to make up for it. You get me all to yourself for the rest of the afternoon.” “Wow, aren’t I the lucky one.” She made a joke of it but I could see in her eyes she was scared and unsure how to handle me. “Don’t knock it,” I said. “Enjoy me while I’m here.” She stared long and hard at me as I waved down the bus, but she didn’t say a word until we arrived at the bank where I withdrew five hundred dollars. It was the maximum I could take from my account in one day and the most amount of cash I had ever seen. “Why do you need so much money?” “I wanna buy things.” “Like what?” “A gun, some rope, maybe some painkillers.” “Not funny.” “Okay, I’ll buy you something instead then.” “I don’t want anything.” “Please. I want to. There must be something you need. Clothes, jewellery, how about a new syrup.” “A what?” “Never mind, it was just a joke.” “I don’t like the way you are at the moment,” she said. “It’s not like you to be so generous.” “Thanks.” “I prefer the old Robbie.” “You can fuck off then!” “That’s better, I like you when you're like that. It’s what I’m used to. I don’t want you to change—or to go away!” Her words weren’t wasted on me, but I wasn’t sure I had the energy or fight left in me to stay. “I’m in pain, Nicola. It’s always there from the minute I wake up, to when I go asleep again. It’s not fair.” “Then you have to go back to the hospital.” “It’s not that kind of pain. It’s…. I can’t explain it. Like a dull ache in my stomach that makes me feel sick and scared and really, really, dark. I’m lonely, even when people are there, I’m still alone. I can’t seem to make myself feel happy, and I don’t wanna live like this.” “I’m calling mom.” She reached for her phone, but I stopped her from using it. “She has her own problems. It’ll be okay.” “I think this is more important, Robbie. I don’t like the way you're talking. You're frightening me.” “You asked me what was wrong. That’s just some of the things that are going on in my broken mind. Come on, I wanna buy Amy something.” I thought that a gift may help me back into her good books after I shouted at her, but my mood made it difficult to focus on shopping. I felt tired so we stopped at Swiss Chalet, and Nicola allowed me to buy her lunch. “That money’s supposed to last you until you're eighteen,” she said, and I laughed. Frugal didn’t suit her and eighteen was still two years away. The odds on me ever getting my hands on that trust fund had lengthened considerably lately; only a complete fool would have put money on it. “Then you’ll be rich, and you can spend whatever you want. You got that to look forward to; something for you to focus on. You're fortunate. Who knows, I might even let you buy me a car.” “I don’t mind; I’d like it if you had some of that money.” “Only if you're here to give it to me. It won’t mean anything if you're not. I wouldn’t even want it!” Everything she said made perfect sense and I was trying my hardest to share her optimism, but on the journey home my mood sank to new depths. Seeing Don’s car on the driveway didn’t help, and we could hear them arguing from outside. I went straight to my room, stripped to my underwear and climbed into bed. Sleep was the only way I knew of stopping the pain, and the thought of never waking up again was still frighteningly appealing. I suppose the writing had been on the wall for a long time. There were too many problems left unresolved; issues that should have been dealt with by now, instead of being left to fester in the hope that they would somehow go away. My new parents were the worst offenders. Since coming out, there had been little or no discussion with me regarding my sexuality and no serious attempt at reconciliation. Don had made his views clear from the beginning and despite Sue’s initial assurances to me that he was sorry for the way he overreacted, there had been little evidence to suggest this was the case. He had never backed down from his assertion that I wasn’t actually gay. I was easily led, foolish, gullible, and even depraved, but not gay. According to Don, I was attracted to Nathan because he looked like a girl, wore make-up, and painted his nails. I wondered what excuses he would have come up with for Conner. Even Sue could see his arguments made no sense, and now she was embroiled in her own dispute with the man I refused to accept as my adopted father. * * * It was dark when Sue woke me. It seemed like a long time, but I had only slept for a couple of hours. I sat up in bed drenched in sweat. Most of the nightmares that had tormented my sleep were real, and when the pain returned, it was clear my fragile rest had solved nothing. Sue wanted to know if I was hungry, but there was more to it than that. She looked troubled and hesitant like she was holding something back or waiting for me to say something. I asked her what was wrong, but it wasn’t difficult to work out. “Maybe I should be asking you that, dear. Nicola told me what you said to her earlier.” I groaned and stared at the ceiling, but it was expected. My sister warned me she was going to tell her. “Don’t be annoyed with her. She had to. I needed to know.” “Am I grounded?” “No, of course not. Why would you be grounded? You’ve done nothing wrong. But if you really feel that way, then you need help. Professional help. Because it won’t go away on its own. You need to talk to somebody right away.” “I don’t wanna talk to anyone.” She let out a deep breath and studied my face. Then sat down on the bed. “Honey, you did the right thing by telling someone how you feel. That was the best thing you could have done. You're obviously not well, but there are people out there who want to help.” “Like Mr Symmonds, you mean. No thanks. I don’t wanna see any more counsellors.” “No, not Mr Symmonds. I’ve talked to the principal, and he wants to see you.” “I didn’t mean most of the stuff I said to Nicola. I was angry and feeling shitty.” “Nicola seems to think you were serious. It upset her.” “I know. She was crying.” Sue was starting to tear up as well. She looked more uncomfortable than I had ever seen her before and it was only a matter of time before she took a chance and put her arm around me. I didn’t object. I was feeling guilty for causing her so much distress. Maybe she needed a little comforting too. I wondered if Don was still at home on the prowl or if he had gone back to work. “It’s not your fault, dear. You scared her, that’s all. And me too. I know you wouldn’t say something like that for no reason. We’ve obviously messed up for you to even consider that. We let you down when we promised to look after you, and that’s not good enough. It will change. You’ll see. Things will be different.” There had been times in recent months when I would have given anything to hear those words, and maybe I should have felt at least some vindication at her remorse, but I didn’t. She had shown me glimmers of her better side before only to be cajoled by her husband back to his way of thinking. I found it difficult to believe her and sat stony-faced throughout, before attempting to put her mind at rest. “It’s okay; I’m not going to do anything.” She looked as if she wanted to believe me, but was too scared to be complacent. “You're not well, and we can’t take that risk, honey. I’m just pleased you managed to say something.” “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” “No dear, I think you're a gay teenager who’s going through a hard time. And as Mr Andrews, pointed out, it puts you in the high-risk category. The kids who show up on their radar, who they believe are most likely to harm themselves.” “Did he say that?” “Yes, dear. It’s the reason why people are so worried.” I didn’t know anyone was worried about me. I thought I was the only one, when in fact, I was following a well-read script. Running away, the things I had told Walter and Mr Andrews, my behaviour at school. They would have all triggered alarm bells in the system, although in the end, little had been done to save me, and I wondered how many had slipped through the net. I wanted to get up, but Sue was over-protecting again. At times she threatened to suffocate me with overbearing kindness that was more akin to torture. Recent developments only made it worse as I found out when I visited the bathroom. The cabinet—once home to a selection of aspirin and Tylenol—had been stripped bare. Sue, it seemed, had removed anything that could be used as a weapon of self-harm and all that remained was a tube of toothpaste and some cotton wool. ‘I suppose I could choke on it if I ate enough’. I was only looking for something to get rid of a headache, but when I returned to bed and asked Sue if she could get me a painkiller, it was as if I had asked for a semi-automatic. “Why?” “Because I have a headache. I’m pretty sure one Tylenol isn’t gonna kill me.” I had visions of her padding out my room and forcing me to eat with plastic cutlery. It was over-the-top, she must have known it would be impossible to stop someone who was determined. ‘If I wanna do it no one could stop me’. Except I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. Sue considered herself fortunate to have found out before it was too late and had made good use of the time I spent asleep. “Your friend called me earlier. Walter, he’s a nice man.” “You spoke to Walter? But you said he was too old to be my friend.” “That was before I had a chance to talk to him. He knows a lot of people, and he’s eager to help. There’s someone he wants you to talk to. Joe somebody. I said you would give it a go.” “But you didn’t ask me. I don’t like those people.” “This person has nothing to do with the church. He usually works in Toronto. Walter has gone to a lot of trouble to get him here. He’s coming to the school on Monday to see you.” Sue seemed to have her mind set on the idea, but I wondered if Don would be so keen to involve somebody who he had no control over. “What about Don?” “I don’t think we need to discuss this with him, do we?” “I don’t know.” I must have looked apprehensive at her noticeable change of tactics. She usually told him everything. “He has problems at work that he needs to deal with, so he won’t be home for a few days. This is my decision. I’m legally responsible for your welfare, and I trust Mr Andrews’ advice.” I wanted to know why Don wasn’t coming home. He would usually sleep here even when working long hours, but once again Amy ruined my attempt to gather information. When she knocked on the door. Sue wiped her face, but my little sister wasn’t fooled. She could see her mom was upset and knew she wasn’t having the best of days. I called her over to apologise for shouting earlier and received a welcome hug in exchange. It was funny how I valued her affection, yet still tried to avoid any contact with Sue. “Why are you in bed?” “I was tired.” “He’s not well,” said Sue at the same time. “Yeah, that too,” I said. “But I’m feeling a bit better now you're here.” I could see Sue watching me as I put my arms around my little sister and dragged her screaming onto the bed to tickle her. Nicola would no doubt fill me in about Don, and she was the next person to stroll into my room as if it were a public footpath. She claimed to be looking for Amy, but that was just an excuse to spread a little harmless gossip. “Guess what? Daniel’s just come home.” I probably looked as deadpan as Sue as we exchanged glances. It was hardly breaking news, but Nicola kept us dangling until I asked. “And?” “And he’s brought a girl back with him.” Amy stopped struggling and looked at me with wide, mischievous eyes. I didn’t see that coming, but I probably should have. Sue though didn’t share our enthusiasm, and I hardly blamed her. She probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind to meet her son’s first girlfriend, and even I had to admit, Daniel’s timing was abysmal. My brother, of course, was blissfully unaware of the dramas unfolding at home and must have wondered why everyone had congregated in his bedroom. ‘I hope he doesn’t want to bring her in here’. “Has Daniel got a girlfriend?” asked Amy. “Go and see for yourself,” Said Nicola and then laughed as Amy bolted for the door. “Make sure they’re not kissing.” I knew Amy would be over her like a rash and expected Nicola to be equally annoying and follow her upstairs, but instead, she made herself comfortable and sat on the bed. “That’s a bit mean,” I said. “No, it’s payback. Daniel was a real pain when he was younger. Whenever I brought a boy home, he wouldn’t leave me alone.” “That’s because we told him not to,” said Sue. Nicola threw her mom a look. “I knew you were behind it.” “Someone had to save you from yourself, dear.” “Well, that didn’t work,” I said, but Nicola spared me her usual scorn, perhaps conscious of my fragile state of mind. Instead, she smiled sarcastically at me while Sue patted my head and left us to go upstairs. I was in no rush to meet Daniel’s fiancée if that’s what she was, but I suspected he would want to bring her downstairs to show her around and I didn’t want her to see me in bed. “Nicola, do you mind if I get changed?” “No, of course not.” She was leafing through one of Daniel’s gaming magazines and looking bored, but made no attempt to get up and leave. I laughed. “What I meant was, do you mind going outside while I get changed?” She huffed like it was a big deal, and then swung her legs over the bed, so she was facing away from me. Then continued reading the magazine. ‘This is crazy. Am I never going to be left alone again’? I guessed that was about as much privacy as I was gonna get, so I threw back the sheets and quickly dragged on a pair of sweat pants and a top. “It’s okay, I’m decent now. Thanks for being so considerate.” “Stop whining, it’s not like you’ve got much to hide.” She laughed at her joke, but I had heard it before, and it wasn’t funny then. “You don’t have to sit with me, I’ll be okay on my own.” It was unlike Nicola to stay in on Saturday, and I wanted to know if she was going to meet Mr Lube again that night. “No, I’m not gonna leave you.” She had taken my place on the bed and was lying on her back with her hands behind her head. “You know Alex hasn’t come home yet. I thought he was only taking Luke to the park.” “He’s probably gone to visit one of his friends.” “He wouldn’t usually take Luke with him though, would he?” “I dunno, maybe.” “Why are you covering for him?” “I’m not.” “Mom thinks Alex is bullying you, and dad thinks you're bullying him.” “What?” “I know, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? You're too weedy to bully anyone. So what really happened last Sunday?” “I already told you, nothing.” I switched on the computer and sat at my desk. I knew now why she had decided to stay. There was always a reason. She turned on her side to watch me, before hitting me where it really hurt. “I know it’s been almost a year.” My reaction was instantaneous, I heated up, and my mouth went dry. She was the only one who ever mentioned my mom. “Ten days away,” I mumbled. “Including today, but I try not to think about it.” “But if you did, it would be okay. I mean, it’s only natural for you to think about her. You can talk about it if you want.” My eyes never left the computer. “To myself, you mean?” “She hasn’t been forgotten, Robbie. Just because we don’t talk about her all the time.” “It doesn’t matter.” “It does matter because I think it’s a big part of why you're feeling so bad. It’s not wrong for you to still feel upset and angry.” “There’s no point in feeling upset anymore. It won't bring her back or make things any better in my life.” “I don’t agree with you. I think it would help if you come to terms with it.” “I have come to terms with it.” “No, you haven’t. Not at all.” She got up and stood next to my desk forcing me to look at her. “I thought maybe we could do something next week to remember her. Something positive rather than sad. Something she would have liked.” “Like what?” “I dunno yet, I’ll talk to mom about it. What do you say?” “Maybe.” “That’s a yes, then.” “I said maybe.” “I think about her a lot, you know.” “You never knew her.” “Yes I did, I remember her from when we were little, and mom says you’re just like her.” I scoffed, knowing full well it wasn’t true. “I’m nothing like her. I wish I were.” It was an invitation for Nicola to strike. An opportunity she must have been waiting for, and she didn’t waste it. “Then why don’t you start now by standing up for yourself?” “What do you mean?” “You know what I mean. What happened with Alex?” “I can’t say.” “So are you just gonna let him get away with it? Your mom wouldn’t have done that!” “I’M NOT HER!” “What would she think?” “IT DOESN’T MATTER. SHE’S NOT HERE. SHE’S DEAD!” “Okay, forget it. Just let everyone walk all over you. I’m only trying to help you!” “I don’t need your help!” She backed off and sat down again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” “It was my fault,” I said. I spoke quietly and repeated myself until she understood. “What happened was my fault. I just can’t stop thinking about it, that’s all.” “Did he rape you?” “No!” “What then?” “It’s embarrassing.” “If he forced himself on you or made you do something you didn’t want to do, then you have to tell someone.” “No, I can’t. You don’t understand. You don’t get it. How would you feel if it were you?” She grabbed my hands and pulled me upright. Then put her arms around me and squeezed me so hard I struggled to breathe. “I’m right then,” she said. “I knew I was. I’m sorry.” “There’s nothing for you to be sorry about or anyone else. You still don’t understand. It was my fault, I was stupid. I don’t deserve sympathy or anything from anyone. Please don’t say anything.” It was a relief when she let go of me and stood back. I could breathe again, but she was crying. The second time that day I made her cry. “How can it be your fault?” “Because I allowed him to think things that weren’t true. I flirted with him.” “Did he force you to do something for him?” “Yes.” “Did you tell him you didn’t want to do it.” “Yes.” “Then it’s not your fault, and you have to report it to the police. I’ll go with you.” “NO! I can’t do that.” “You have to, or it’ll happen again. You're not safe in this house with him here. I’m not sure if anyone is. Will you at least let me tell mom.” “No, she’ll want me to report it.” “She needs to know; you're not the only boy in this house.” “He’s not interested in Daniel if that’s what you mean. It’s only me. It’s like some kind of weird obsession. He’s convinced I’m his boyfriend and we’re gonna be together forever. He really believes that.” The relief I felt after finally breaking my silence was overwhelming. It seemed like Nicola was able to extract information from me almost at will. Stuff that I would never reveal to anyone just seemed to flow out of my mouth whenever she questioned me. I could never understand how she did it, but it was a talent which set her apart and made her a natural choice of confident. She combed my hair with her fingers and then wiped her tears with her sleeve. “Here, you can use these. I keep them for emergencies.” I handed her a box of tissues from my nightstand, and it made her chuckle. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” she said, pushing the tissues back towards me. “Best you keep them for your emergencies.” Nicola was far too worldly for my liking, but in this case, she was wrong, and I felt compelled to put her straight. “If you must know. I haven’t had any emergencies like that since Alex, and I doubt if I’ll have any soon.” She giggled at my response thinking it was a joke until I gave her a hard stare. “Sorry, I don’t mean to laugh,” she said. “I didn’t think boys could go that long without, you know.” “Well, it shows how much you know then. I don’t know why I’m even telling you this.” “Because it’s obviously worrying you and you don’t have anyone else to talk to. If you told mom, she could get you some help. There are people at the hospital who know about these things.” ‘Like I’m ever gonna do that’. “What should I say, I can’t jerk off anymore; can you arrange to get me some help?” “Well, you can word it a little different, but she will understand, Robbie. It’s not a taboo subject anymore.” “It is for most people.” “She’s a mother and a nurse; I’m pretty sure she knows about that kinda stuff. I can ask her for you if you want.” “No! Don’t you dare. That would be so embarrassing. If you tell anyone, I’ll never trust you again.” “I’m not gonna tell anyone, you, dork. But you're talking to the wrong person. I don’t know that much about boy’s stuff. Maybe Conner would be a better option. He could probably help.” She winked at me, and I rolled my eyes. “You don’t understand. I would have to explain it to him, and I don’t want him to know. And if I don’t, he’ll think there’s something wrong with me.” “There is something wrong with you. You're sixteen. You shouldn’t have any trouble shooting your load at that age, every boy I’ve known has….” “Nicola, please. Do you have to be so crude?” “Sorry. I’m just saying how it is. I thought Conner might be, you know…. A little more hands-on.” She giggled, pleased by her little quip but I didn’t join in. “I can’t even think about doing anything like that with him at the moment, or anyone else for that matter.” We sat in silence for a while. I was annoyed but not at her. She did the right thing that day. Just being able to talk about it to someone had helped. “It’s quite common,” she said. “I know a girl who wasn’t able to have sex for nearly two years after she was sexually assaulted.” She started to backtrack when she noticed my reaction. “Not that it will be that long for you, of course. I know other girls who got over it a lot quicker.” “How many people do you know of who were sexually assaulted?” “Four,” she said. “But I’ve heard about a lot more. It’s a serious problem. You're not the only one.” I nodded and stared at the floor. “And how many of those were guys?” “I…. I don’t think any.” “I thought so. Now maybe you understand why I won’t tell anyone.” “It doesn’t make it any worse you know, if you're a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter. No one will think badly of you.” I didn’t agree. No matter how it was handled, people would soon find out, and when they did the one who would suffer the most would be me. I knew that for sure. Alex had a lot of friends, even if they weren’t real friends and they weren’t the kind of people I wanted as enemies. Those who did believe me would forever think of me as the boy who Alex forced to give him a blowjob. Who could be forced to do that against their will? Even I was having difficulty believing it. Now it was my turn to cry. I guess it was about time. Perhaps the most challenging day of my young life had finally caught up with me, but I was still kicking thanks mainly to my sister. There had been times in the past when I couldn’t bear to be in her company. Now I was almost too scared to be away from her. It’s impossible to underestimate the role she played during my darkest days, but I believe she was the only one capable of helping me, and she didn’t let me down. I suppose it was odd how I was able to discuss personal problems with my sister, but not with Daniel, a guy of a similar age who I shared a room with. I would never have been comfortable sharing that kind of information with him, but Nicola was just Nicola. I really could talk to her about absolutely anything, and that day, more than any other, she proved her worth.
  22. 46 points
    It was just a few days after Travis left that I found myself having a problem I never predicted. Just one of those things you don’t ever think about until they happen. After two whole weeks of warm and sunny weather, we had our first taste of summer rain that night. It was a welcome and refreshing, although brief shower and I was happy for the break from the neverending heat. I woke up that morning and the pleasant smell of rain immediately hit my nostrils, coming through the cracked open window. I got dressed and went to the kitchen to make myself some coffee, which was when I had my unpleasant surprise. The tiled kitchen floor was all wet. I looked up and saw the ceiling was wet as well. Just brilliant, the roof was leaky! I found some old rags and wiped the floor clean, and then went to check all the other rooms. Luckily, they were all dry, which meant the roof was leaky only above the kitchen. Of course, I had no idea how to fix it. My knowledge of home repairs did not extend beyond changing light bulbs and maybe tightening loose screws - not that I had the tools to do it anyway. Even if I knew what to do, I didn’t have time because I had to hurry up and get ready for work. I had already lost enough time cleaning the kitchen, so I forgot about the coffee and breakfast and went to change. I’d think about the roof later. Before I went to school, I put a large bucket under the leaky spot just in case we get another unexpected shower. The classes that day went pretty well. It’s funny how before I came here, I was nervous about the kids accepting me as their teacher, but now interacting with them was the part of the job I was looking forward to the most. In our final class, the kids had to read short essays they wrote about someone from their family. A boy named Caleb wrote about his grandpa and how the old man broke his leg chasing after a stork that pooped on his tractor. I was glad he was one of the last kids to read his essay, because it made all of the other kids burst into laughter. It took them a while to calm down and not much work was done after that. The breaks in between classes, spent in the teachers’ office, were not as fun, to put it mildly. I simply had nothing in common with the other teachers, all of whom knew each other and had been working together for a long time. They didn’t avoid me or exclude me from their conversations, but I wasn’t really encouraged to join in either. One of the teachers, an old lady named Christie, was the loudest and most talkative of them all. When she talked, I swear you could hear her from any room in the school. Marina was the closest to me in age, so we got along rather well, but the others were mostly middle-aged or older. I rather liked Marina, and not just because she was my oasis in that desert of gossip. She was an interesting character, capable of having intelligent conversations on various topics. I found out from talking to her that her husband served in the military. When he returned from deployment, they decided to move to Taernsby as they were looking for a more relaxing environment. This was their third year living here and they seemed to be pretty happy. Hopefully I can say the same thing in a few months or years. “How long did it take you to get accustomed to living here?” I asked her during one of our breaks between classes. “Who says we’re accustomed?” she let out a playful chuckle. “I kid, but really, this is like nothing we’ve known before. I do have to say, moving here has helped my husband a lot after coming back. He has a vineyard here, works on the house, goes fishing. I enjoy it quite a lot, too. I miss my friends, but we still talk and they love to come around every now and then.” “So you don’t get bored?” I asked. That was still one of my main concerns, that it would get to the point of every day being the same and nothing exciting ever happening. People flee the country and move to the city every day, and it seemed I was the only one doing the opposite. “Of course, we all get bored sometimes, don’t we?” she shrugged elegantly. “Honestly, after living in the city for so long, this was just what the doctor prescribed. Gosh, I sound like I’m sixty and about to retire, but it’s true. We appreciate having time to ourselves, raising our little boy and just being in nature.” “I guess that’s always a plus. No noise or pollution.” I was still not entirely convinced, but hearing her story made me a bit more open to this experience I chose for myself. Maybe moving here could turn out to be not such a bad idea, even if only temporary. Maybe I could make it work! When I returned home from work, I remembered my problem with the roof and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to take Tom up on his offer. I was looking forward to talking to him for more than two minutes and getting to know him better. Only then did I realize I didn’t even have his phone number. Looking him up on Facebook was also useless since I didn’t know his last name. But, as it sometimes happens, fortune smiled on me that day and the first people I saw on the street when I left my house were able to help me. A nice, elderly couple were strolling by and were more than happy to explain in detail how to get to Tom’s farm. I also learned his last name was Claffey. His house was in the street east of mine, in a part of town I’ve never been to - or at least I didn’t remember ever going there. So, I decided to take a walk and pay him a visit. I still didn’t have his phone number to call in advance, so I could only hope he would be there. The walk took me less than ten minutes, and when I arrived to that part of the street, I could see a nice-looking house made of yellow brick. There was a well-maintained front lawn, as well as an even bigger backyard and a large garden behind it. I could see many wooden ancillary buildings in the backyard, where I assumed all the animals were kept. Not long after I rang the bell, a plump old lady opened the door. She wore a blouse and a long skirt, with an apron over it, while her white hair was tied in a bun. “Yes, how can I help you?” she asked in a much more energetic voice than I imagined her to have. “Uh, are you Mrs Claffey?” “Yes, and you are?” “I’m Charlie, nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. “I work as a school teacher here, and I was wondering if Tom was here?” “Oh, the teacher - the little Greyston boy, is that right?” she asked, having obviously already heard about me. Hopefully not about the shop incident. “Yes, that’s me,” I nodded. “How nice of you to come here! I hope you’ve settled in nicely. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to call us. We’re having fewer children every year, I’m afraid. But they still need teachers, you know. Someone has to educate them. But not a lot of people want to work here.” “Yes, I have fifteen kids in my class.” “That’s nothing,” she waved her hand. “I remember when Tom went to school, there were at least two dozen in his class. Most of them gone now, left to the city to try their luck. And they should, while they’re young. I keep telling Tom to go out there and see the world. He says he likes it here at the farm. I say the farm will wait for you when you come back - but he won’t listen. Well, there’s only so much I can say to convince him, he’s very stubborn, you know.” I chuckled politely. I could see she was ready to talk for hours. “Speaking of Tom, is he home?” I asked, hoping to cut the conversation short. “Oh yes, he’s back there in the garden, weeding the onions. Even though it rained and the ground still hasn’t dried, he can’t leave it alone. He has to be out there, doing something. If he didn’t have to come in to eat and sleep, he’d be outside the whole time,” she said and stepped out, peeking behind the corner and calling out. “Tom, your friend’s here!!” “Who is it?” I could hear him shouting from behind the house. “Charlie!” the old woman yelled back. They weren’t that far away, I’m sure they could’ve had this exchange in a normal tone, but ok. I had to suppress a laugh, not wanting to offend her. She turned back toward me. “I’ll leave ya to it then, he’ll be on his way now,” she said as she patted my shoulder. “Feel free to come by any time, son. Oh, would you like some coffee or lemonade?” “Thank you, but no, I won’t be staying long. Maybe next time,” I nodded and she went back inside, closing the door behind her. I didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to meet Tom. As I went around the house and entered the garden, I saw him trying to clean his clothes. “Coming!” he yelled and looked up. “Hey,” he smiled, looking pleased to see me. “Hey, I hope you don’t mind me coming,” I smiled back and approached him. “Of course not!” He extended his hand for me to shake, but then remembered it was dirty, so he wiped it on his jeans. “Heh, sorry!” “I don’t mind,” I said, being completely honest. “Did I catch you in a bad time? What’ve you been doing?” “Oh, not at all, I was just doing a bit of weeding. I needed a break anyway.” I could see that. He looked all flustered and sweaty, although in a good way. He still seemed to be in a good mood, as if he wasn’t tired at all. “I could help if you want?” I offered. “We could finish more quickly together.” When I was a kid, I would often help my grandparents around the garden, doing stuff like watering plants, weeding and planting. It’s been a while since then, but hopefully I wasn’t too rusty. Even though Tom tried to dissuade me, I insisted, so we got down to finish the last row of onions. He started on one end, and I on the other. I was surprised at how easy the weeds were to pull out. “That’s because I’d already gone and got rid of the big ones,” Tom chuckled. “Now it’s just these little bastards that are left.” We finished quickly and as we stood up I looked around and couldn’t help admire the large property they had. You could see it was well taken care of. “Wow you have a lot of stuff planted, huh? I’m not even sure I recognize all of the plants,” I admitted. I knew my veggies the way they looked at the grocery store. I was less familiar with how they looked in the garden, with only the leaves sticking above the ground. Tom stood next to me and pointed at various areas, explaining what was planted in which section. “So, as you’ve seen, these are onions, and right over here are garlic and asparagus. Those few rows to the right is spinach, and behind it are green beans and peas. That whole area in the back is for watermelons and pumpkins.” “Ungh, I feel my mouth watering already. I love watermelons!” “I’ll bring you some when they’re ripe,” Tom offered. His eyes showed that he was very happy to see my enthusiasm about his work. “Sweet, I knew coming here would pay off,” I winked, feeling comfortable around him. Tom then showed me around the farm, briefly explaining what he and his grandparents were doing, all the while being sweet and considerate. He didn’t laugh at my almost complete ignorance of agriculture and farming, at least not maliciously. I learned that they raised and sold chickens, and that they also owned a large field a bit further away, where they grew corn and wheat. They sold most of it, but would always keep one portion for feeding the animals and making flour. While we were there, I got the distinct impression that Tom truly enjoyed what he was doing. It felt nice to see someone so passionate about something. “So, I did have a reason for coming here,” I finally said during a brief lull in conversation. “I wanted to ask for your help with something.” “Sure, what do you need?” he asked readily. “I kinda had a problem with rain last night, my roof above the kitchen seems to be leaky. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with fixing it.” “Alright, we can go and have a look!” he said cheerily, as if I had just invited him for ice cream. His enthusiasm was certainly infectious and I found myself smiling involuntarily. “Hopefully it’s nothing too big and we can fix it quickly. Have you got any tools at home?” “You know, that is something a smart person would have remembered to check. Clearly, I am not one of them.” “That’s alright,” he let out a laugh, “I’ll bring my own and we’ll see what we can do! I’m guessing some roof tiles cracked or fell off. Do you have any trees near the house?” “Yeah, there’s two right outside the kitchen.” “Sometimes, if the wind is strong, the branches can hit the roof tiles and damage them,” he explained. We sat in his truck and he drove us back to my place. I first led him inside to show him where the water leaked, after which we went back outside to locate the possible damage. I found a ladder in one of the sheds, which Tom used to climb to the roof. Apparently, some of the shingles were cracked, letting the rain in. Unlike me, he had obviously expected that something like that might be the case, so he brought some sealant and repaired the crack. He said the gutters needed cleaning too, as they were full of leaves, but we left that for another time as I didn’t want to abuse his good will to help. Even though I wasn’t of much help at all, I stayed outside with him the whole time, so I can observe the whole process. Maybe some of his skill would rub off on me. After everything was done, I invited him inside for a beer. That’s when I decided to take the plunge and be open with him. He was unlike any other guy I had ever met, and maybe that’s what attracted me to him. I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to find out. “Tom, I hope you don’t think the only reason I called you over was to help me with the roof,” I said, daring to look him straight in the eyes. “Oh?” He was truly a man of few words. I found it amusing and very endearing. “I’m sorry if got my signals crossed, but it seemed to me that we have a connection, and I was wondering if it’d be ok if I asked you out? I’d really like to see you again,” I explained and he put his beer bottle down on the little coffee table and looked at me. “Yeah, I’d like that!” he nodded and flashed a smile. “Well… great!” I was happy to hear that. “You know I’m talking about going on a date?” “Yeah,” he nodded again. “Great! So I’ll call you to make plans, ok? Or you can call me, that works too!” We exchanged numbers and sat around for a little longer, comfortable around each other. We chatted about Kayla, my moving to Taernsby and working at the school. Even though we didn’t kiss or do anything sexual that day, I still counted it as a big victory because I’d asked him out and he said yes. I was ready to get to know him better, and although he didn’t say it, I think he wanted the same thing with me. At least I hoped so.
  23. 45 points
    Tuesday, April 9th Wolfgang scratched his pubic hair as he urinated into the toilet. It was early, he was sleepy, and his body wasn't quite ready for the waking world. He finished, shook himself clean, then padded back into the bedroom where Jed lay on his side facing away from him. Wolfgang climbed in behind the broad, powerful man. Jed shifted a little, then made a groggy sound as his slim companion pressed his naked body up against him. Wolfgang prickled with Jed's sensations and he rubbed his face against the bigger man's neck. The beast sparked into awareness and Wolfgang ground his now-erect cock against Jed's ass. Aggression and desire flared along with the beast and Wolfgang internalized them as if they were his own emotions. An unconscious growl vibrated in Wolfgang's throat. He gently scraped his teeth along Jed's neck. Jed's body moved against him. The man was still mostly asleep but the wolf ran on instinct, a pure desire governing it. The wolf was unburdened by self-perception and labels, and it was currently in command of Jed's body. Wolfgang promptly lubed himself and rubbed Jed with his slick fingers. Now the man was awake. "What are you two doing?" Jed arched his neck, and Wolfgang put his now-slippery hand on Jed's throat. Wolfgang grinned and continued to rub his shaft against Jed. "I'm just giving the beast what he wants." Wolfgang nibbled on Jed's ear, pulled his hips back a bit, and lined things up. "I can feel your need, Jed. I know it's what you want too." Jed's throat moved under Wolfgang's palm as he swallowed. "That shit isn't fair." His tone was one of breathy desire. Wolfgang noticed that Jed didn't try to deny it. He smiled and slowly increased pressure on Jed's body with his slick member, while he gently gripped Jed's neck. There was only a bit of conflict in Jed as Wolfgang entered him. Mostly, both Jed and the beast indulged in Wolfgang's aggression and the way the smaller man took command of the shared moment. Jed groaned. "Fuck. You've turned me into a damn bottom." Wolfgang's cock slid until it gently tapped Jed's prostate and elicited a gasp from them both. Wolfgang grinned. "We both know that's not true." He started to slowly move back and forth, and Wolfgang felt as Jed gripped himself and began to stroke. Since he was now connected to Jed's sensations as well as his own, Wolfgang would get off only if Jed did. His strange gift made him a perfect lover, and near-impossible to resist. "I'm sure you'll put me on my back again soon." Jed didn't respond and continued to stroke. He was getting them both close, but Wolfgang wanted things to last longer. He pulled Jed's hand off of himself. "Wait. Slow down." Jed groaned but he did as Wolfgang said. To reward him, his slim lover experimented with his thrusts, until he found the precise spot where he contacted Jed's prostate. Wolfgang grinned, and he began to move in mini-thrusts, his penis rapidly tapping that sensitive place, deep inside Jed. "Oh. Oh, fuck." Jed moaned, the beast tinging his voice with lusty power. Jed gripped Wolfgang's hip. "Don't stop." Wolfgang had no plans of stopping. Jed reached again for his leaking erection. "No." Wolfgang gripped his wrist. Jed was easily strong enough to free himself, but Wolfgang felt the decision in Jed's mind - this time, he would allow Wolfgang to do what he wished. Wolfgang panted. "I'll get us there." He never stopped with the assault. Jed twitched, moaned and gasped as he allowed Wolfgang to pummel him. A slow, steady tingle built and built, and both men breathed faster as Wolfgang sped up. An incomprehensible, groaning sound tore from Jed's throat as the beast lent its voice to his, and the men orgasmed in an explosion of physical release. Both lost the ability of coherent speech for a moment and Wolfgang unloaded inside Jed while his furry lover made a tremendous mess on the sheet beside him. They burned in the moment together, then finished with a shudder. Jed and Wolfgang lay still, both breathing with effort. This time, the beast gave Wolfgang the impression of satisfaction, trust, and fondness as it luxuriated with Jed in a post-orgasmic daze. Wolfgang smiled and leaned forward, his lips to Jed's ear. "I think your dog likes me." ⧫ "So, what do you think?" Jed asked as Wolfgang pulled a soft, wool sweater over his head. Jed held up a hand to tick off what they knew. "So far we've found a murderer who only kills on the new moon, Larry who is missing a tooth, presumably that same tooth is somehow buried inside that tree limb." He jerked his thumb at the length of the redwood branch they had taken with them. Jed sat on the edge of the bed as Wolfgang finished getting dressed. "It all seems pretty weird to me." Wolfgang joined Jed to put on his shoes. "Yeah." He pulled the leather foot gear on and tied them into place. "Larry is obviously wrapped up in this, somehow." He straightened and shook his head. "But on the new moon. Only on the new moon. That makes no sense." Jed considered. "It also doesn't make sense that he'd sabotage his own crew." He grimaced. "He's gotta be losing money, right?" Wolfgang agreed. "Yeah." He cocked his head and crossed the room to where the redwood branch leaned in the corner. "Have you ever seen anything like…" He picked it up, and Wolfgang's hand brushed the tooth. He gasped, then the slim man staggered, his eyes wide. Jed stood up, alarmed. "Whoa. You all right?" Wolfgang blinked and he looked down at the tooth. "Uh, how long are teeth supposed to live after they're out of the mouth?" He looked utterly dumbfounded. "Because this one is still alive." Wolfgang continued to stare in wonder at the half-exposed tooth. "Though it's not connected to Larry anymore." Jed frowned. "It's still alive?" Wolfgang nodded. Jed scratched his head in confusion. "Well, who is it connected to now?" Wolfgang appeared almost frightened, and he wet his lips as he examined their evidence. "I don't know. But it's someone who is unspeakably angry." ⧫ Jed had to leave to go to work at the coffee shop, though they made plans to meet up again in the evening when Jed and Wolfgang were both free. That left Wolfgang to his own devices for the day. He made himself some coffee and sat at the kitchen table while he booted up his laptop, sipping his beverage. Soon he was online at the search screen and he considered. "Hrmm." Wolfgang typed. 'New Moon murders' went into the engine. He hit enter and the computer did its thing. Soon there were several choices, and he examined them. Besides the recent murders, none seemed connected or promising. He snorted. "I guess that wasn't all that brilliant." He began to try another search when he cocked his head at one of the alternative search suggestions. 'Did you mean New Moon Ritual?' Wolfgang shrugged. He was not immune to the rabbit hole of the internet, and he clicked the link. It took him to a page done by a Humboldt County history buff named Vernon Rogers. He looked to be a local reporter, and his particular focus seemed to be native issues and news. The page Wolfgang had found was Vernon's own personal research and hobby. Wolfgang settled back and began to read the entry. 'In this ongoing deep dive into native culture, I discuss a new moon ritual of the Yurok tribe, native to Northern California. The Yurok believed the benevolent spirits of the forest, strongest during the new moon - could manifest if given an offering of some sort by the ritualist. It is said these spirits would commune with the practitioner, offering guidance, wisdom, and communion with nature itself. Though, elders warn against approaching these entities without an offering. As one elder put it, "the spirits will always take something - be it something offered, or should we forget an offering, something else."' Wolfgang frowned. "A nature spirit that shows up on new moons?" He snorted and was about to close the page, certain it was too far-fetched. He hesitated. "Okay. I'm fucking a werewolf." Wolfgang sighed. "Maybe it's not so far-fetched after all." He took another slug of coffee and continued to read. ⧫ Jed worked the morning shift in the coffee shop. His regular two customers were there - the young guy with his nursing book and the older woman now with a text on the history of the middle ages. It was just after ten a.m. and he had worked through the crush of early customers with Kasey. "Whew." Kasey shook his head. "I'm glad you were scheduled today, Jed." Jed smiled and lifted the tip jar. It was crammed with bills and a thick layer of change on the bottom. "Yeah, me too." Kasey laughed, shook his head, then disappeared into the back of the shop. The next few hours passed in relative quiet. They did enough business to pay the bills, but not too much more than that. That suited Jed as it gave him time to think about the events in the forest. His shift ended and Jed bid goodbye to Kasey with a wave. "See you tomorrow, Kasey." His boss smiled and waved. Jed only had to use the voice a few times during the day. Kasey was slowly growing more confident over time, as was the young nursing student. The student, in particular, Jed's wolf found tempting. The moon was still less than half-full, but as it filled, the beast grew in strength and influence over the body they shared. Jed had to focus to keep from dragging the young man into the bathroom and fucking his brains out over the sink. So it was a relief to leave the proximity of such temptation. Jed walked down the street, past the Diver Bar and Grill. It was a beautiful day out, so the door to the place was open to let in the sun and fresh air. Jed moved past the doorway, and the smell of cooking beef made his feet slow. A tremendous urge to feel a slightly bloody steak between his teeth hooked him. He knew the beast needed an indulgence of some kind, and his pocket was fat with half of the tips earned that morning at the coffee shop. 'Fine. Steak it is.' Jed surrendered this little thing to his wolf, and he stepped inside the relative dimness of the eatery. "Hello, sir." Franklin forced a smile as he approached, a menu in hand. Apparently, the young man hadn't forgotten their last encounter, and the beast could smell both anxiousness and attraction in his manner. Jed silently cursed. 'You fucker.' Now he knew the real reason the wolf wanted him there. Jed forced a smile of his own. "Hello, Franklin." He worked hard to avoid use of the voice. Franklin led him to his regular corner table. Jed sat, and he was thankful that the young, dark-haired man left him to look over the offerings on the menu. Jed fought to keep his eyes on the tabletop, but the wolf was strong, and it forced him to turn his head and watch the skinny server as he waited on another table across the restaurant. Jed's head swam with the beast's desire. 'You fucking dick.' Jed blinked and tried to clear his thoughts. 'Stop it. You got us fucked into oblivion this morning, wasn't that enough?' Apparently, it was not. Franklin approached, wet his lips and gave Jed a slightly more relaxed smile. "Sir, have you settled on what you'd like?" Jed was deeply afraid of what the beast would do with their voice. He didn't trust himself to speak, so he pointed at the t-bone on the menu. Franklin appeared a little puzzled but leaned to look at Jed's choice. The young man's scent came to Jed, and he closed his eyes. He had to get it over with. "Rare, to go." Franklin froze in place. Jed could feel him, still standing close. Jed steadfastly refused to open his eyes. Franklin cleared his throat. "Uh, all right, sir." That nervousness was back. "Would… do you want anything else?" There was a clear implication in that tone, hopeful and provocative. The boy was essentially offering himself on a platter to the wolf. Franklin had no idea what he was getting into, and Jed reminded himself of that fact. It took every ounce of his willpower, but he slowly shook his head. He kept his eyes closed. "Oh. Well, all right." Jed felt the disappointment from Franklin and the beast thrashed in Jed's mind. Franklin gathered the menu. "Your food will be right out, sir." Jed nodded once, and he heard Franklin move away. He finally peeked out and sighed with relief to see that the young man was no longer in sight. "Fuck you," Jed grumbled under his breath. He knew there would be repercussions if he took Franklin. The boy was too malleable, too easy to dominate. Jed was a natural-born leader in the world of wolves. His father told him that only a few had the gift of the voice and that it marked him as something special. If Jed didn't live with silver the way that he did, he would have been destined to fight for leadership of a pack. As it was, other wolves wanted nothing to do with both him and his father. Jed was fine with that. He had no desire to revel in the beast - which was an essential part of pack life, again, according to Jed's dad. The natural tendency of Jed's beast was to accumulate a "pack" of its own. Franklin and the boy at the coffee shop were one thing, while Wolfgang was quite another. Jed felt a shift in the way the wolf perceived the slim private investigator. Instead of prey, or competition, the beast now treated Wolfgang as an equal, almost as a mate. That didn't mean the need to fuck and dominate others went away. In fact, that drive seemed stronger than ever, and Jed found himself swimming against the tide of the beast's desire. In the eye of his wolf, it was their natural place to screw whoever they liked. It was who Jed was born to be. It wasn't long before Franklin delivered Jed's meal in a takeout container. Jed had already counted out the money for the meal plus a nice tip, and it sat in a haphazard stack on the corner of the table. He desperately needed to get out of the restaurant, and when his food arrived, Jed stood. "Here you are, sir." Franklin handed the waxed cardboard container to Jed. When he did, Franklin let a feather-light touch travel along Jed's finger in a move that Jed was sure was not an accident. A subvocal groan vibrated in Jed's chest. He couldn't help himself, Jed brought his gaze up from the box in his hands, and he looked Franklin square in the eyes. The young fellow stared back at him, and he swallowed in nervousness. "Thanks." Every opportunity, the beast now pushed intention and power into Jed's voice. Franklin began to sweat. Jed barely managed, but he turned away and strode quickly out of the restaurant. Out in the sunshine he gasped in relief. He had won the battle of wills. 'Fuck, it's not even the half moon. Fuck.' The beast felt stronger than it had been in years. Jed shook his head and frowned at the way his cock was uncomfortably turgid in his jeans. There were people about so he couldn't adjust things. He still attracted a few glances from appreciative women and envious men. Jed was not a small guy, and at the moment he showed. He grumbled to himself, angry at the wolf, put his head down, and walked the few blocks to his apartment. ⧫ It was a peaceful moment in the forest, with dappled sunlight filtering through the foliage high above. The loggers were on a break, their machines quiet. That meant the natural sounds and sights of the redwoods once again appeared. About seventy feet away from their camp, a massive fallen redwood, studded with moss, ferns, and grass, slowly decomposed back into the earth. An early riser of a raccoon tottered along on top of the trunk, up before the dusk and most of her kin. She foraged for herself and her two kits. They were ravenous little babies. They had just started eating solid food in addition to nursing for their nutrition, and she was always on the search for them. Something smelled good near the bottom of the decaying tree. She looked down from her vantage point. It wasn't berries, or a grub, or anything she would typically eat. Instead, she smelled meat, fruit, and there was a white thing there as well that gave off a delicious scent that she had never experienced. She eagerly climbed down to plop beside the little bounty of gifts. She smelled the liquid inside a strange, hollow stone beside the food, but it reeked of something, and she avoided it. She scampered over beside the white substance, her paws stretching for it. A sudden knowledge that the food didn't belong to her slammed into the raccoon's mind. She squeaked and ran as fast as her legs would carry her. She was so frightened that she ran straight through the camp of two-legs, drawing excited shouts from the creatures as she dashed past them. She didn't care, she had to get away. It was some time before she finally calmed enough to stop her flight. She blinked, the reason for her fear forgotten. With a shake of her little body, she resumed foraging. Those babies were not going to feed themselves. ⧫ Wolfgang was annoyed that his best lead was what he could only describe as an eccentric newspaper reporter for one of the local rags. Regardless, that was the current situation. It was early in the evening and Wolfgang called Vernon Rogers, the author of the article he had found online. The fellow agreed to meet Wolfgang at a cider bar in Eureka after he finished work that same day. Wolfgang pulled up to the address. It was one of many businesses nestled in the block building. He entered the warmly lit place. The inside was decked out in wood tables free-standing in the room, along with black metal chairs. Wooden booths were against the edges, while a glossy bar dominated the eastern wall, with multiple taps and fridges filled with various bottles of cider. Wolfgang looked around, immediately liking the cozy, functional space. It was a Tuesday night, so it wasn't precisely hopping inside. There was the male thirty-something tattooed bartender, a couple of college-age girls at the bar, and an older fellow seated at the corner booth. Wolfgang instinctively knew the graying man sipping on a cider in the booth was Vernon. He stepped to the bar. "Hey." He slid a five across the slick wooden surface. "Sixteen ounces of…" He considered the menu above the bartender's head. "Ah, let's try the sour cherry cider." The bartender nodded, took the money, and expertly poured the cider. Soon Wolfgang had the cold glass of dark red liquid, and he took a sip as he turned with the beverage. It was chilled, barely effervescent, crisp and sweet, with a slightly sour undertone of cherry. Wolfgang frowned and looked at the drink in his hand. It was remarkably complex and he simply hadn't expected that from a local cidery. The man in the booth had noticed Wolfgang's reaction and grinned at him. "Good, huh?" He nodded at his own glass which held half a measure of an amber-colored cider. "It's always a tough choice between the honey crisp or the sour cherry for me." Wolfgang nodded. "It is good." He shifted his drink to his left hand and extended his right. "Wolfgang. Are you Vernon?" The man stood. "I am." He shook and Wolfgang immediately flooded with eagerness, curiosity, and the achy joints of a man in his sixties. Wolfgang smiled and was all too happy to release Vernon's hand. Vernon seemed used to his aching body, and he settled across from Wolfgang as he sat. "So, you're interested in the Yurok legend of the new moon spirit?" Wolfgang nodded and took another sip of his cider. "Yes." He pulled out his phone. "Do you mind if I record us?" Vernon seemed elated. "Not at all!" He grinned and his green eyes glittered with his excitement. "I'm so happy someone is interested!" Wolfgang found his excitement charming, and he smiled. "Well, that's great." He began recording on the device. "So, tell me about these new moon spirits. What are they, what do they want, and how does a person go about 'communing' with one?" Vernon nodded, happy to talk about his passion. "The Yurok are a very spiritual people and the new moon spirits are just one of the entities they communed with." He seemed to catch himself, and he flushed red. "Err. I mean, if you believe that sort of thing." Wolfgang cocked his head. "Do you?" He took a drink of his cider. Vernon grimaced. "Well, I know I'm not supposed to." He sighed. "But, I've seen things in my life that make me realize I don't know everything there is to know about the world." He wet his lips, then finally nodded. "Yes. I believe they exist, and that the Yurok communicated with them." "Okay. So, what are they?" Vernon took a breath. "As far as I can figure out, they're an embodiment of the forest itself. A manifestation of it." He struggled to better describe the legend. "They're stewards of their own little slice of the natural world." Wolfgang frowned. "Hmmm. So, you've heard of the murders happening in the forest…" Vernon looked horrified. "Oh, no!" He shook his head. "No, these spirits have only been described as peaceful. The only harm the elders said they had ever committed was on foolish petitioners who didn't bring an offering of some sort for them." Wolfgang focused on that statement. "What sort of harm?" Vernon looked uncomfortable. "Well, the communion always costs something. Always. And if there's no offering, then sometimes a spirit would take, ah, other things from a person." He leaned forward, his hand on his cider, and eyes serious. "One legend says that a medicine man who offered too little lost the tip of his tongue." Vernon made a cutting motion in front of his mouth. "That the spirit took it! Others lost all their hair or even a finger." He looked very severe as he spoke. "Needless to say, something like that only happened once in a generation, if then. The rest of the tribe learned from the mistakes of their members, and always brought a significant offering of some kind to the communion." Wolfgang frowned. "So, could a spirit take a tooth?" Vernon shrugged. "Sure. If it communed with someone who didn't bring enough of an offering, yeah. Just pluck it out when the spirit left the body." Wolfgang considered. "Okay, so, what did these spirits look like?" He idly wiped the condensation off the glass on the table. "Were they all ghostly, or…" "Oh no." Vernon interrupted. "No, they take on their surroundings. There are legends of shamans coated in wood, earth, and rock." Vernon nodded. "They are very 'real' when they come to the petitioner." Wolfgang supped from his glass and let his mind turn over the information. "Just a few more questions." He leaned forward. "You said these spirits are peaceful, right?" Vernon nodded. "And, they're also tied to the land?" Another nod. "Okay. We already know that they get pissy if you don't give them enough of an offering." By this time, Vernon looked a bit nervous, but he nodded again. "I don't know if 'pissy' is the right word, but, yes." Wolfgang smiled. "So, what is to stop one from getting angry if a group of people is cutting down the very thing that creates it - the forest?" Vernon bit his lip and laughed uncomfortably. "Do -" He shook his head as if he didn't want to believe it. "Do you really think a new moon spirit is murdering loggers?" Wolfgang sat back in his seat, his eyes staring at the cider before him. He did his best to keep his voice devoid of inflection and raised his blue gaze to Vernon's face. "No. No, of course not."
  24. 45 points
    Tristan was furious. However, it was a toss-up as to who he was more furious with, himself or his mate. How dare the fanged bloodsucker speak to him like that. Who did he think he was? Tristan had every right to think he was about to be told to not get his hopes up. After all, he was just a lowly mage. He was nobody special. His family had made sure to remind him of that at every opportunity. He wasn’t smart enough. He wasn’t strong enough. He was an embarrassment to the family name. He was about to bang again when the door was wrenched open and he found himself face to chest with his mate. Why was he angry with the sexy vampire? “What do you want? Have you decided?” Oh yes, that’s why he was angry with the idiot. He shoved and was grateful when Carl moved enough to allow him to enter the room and shut the door. He knew his strength was nothing compared to a vampire's and that if Carl hadn’t wanted to move Tristan would have had more luck moving a solid brick wall. Once the door was shut, he spun to face his mate. “What gives you the right to say all that and then run away? You can’t just say you’re trying to seduce someone and then leave.” Carl snarled. “Why not? You obviously had already decided to reject me. Or you’d decided that for some unknown reason I would reject you. You didn’t think to ask me what I was thinking. You made assumptions. I am one of the oldest vampires known to be around currently. I run my clan with the help of my bond mate and a council. I—” Tristan’s brain shut down at the word mate. He knew it was too good to be true. His mate was already mated. As usual he was left with no one. A hand shaking his shoulder snapped him back to the present. He shrugged the hand off and thought he saw hurt pass over Carl’s face before an expressionless mask fell into place. “You’re not interested in anything I’m saying, are you? Why did you chase after me? Why not just let me go if you aren’t interested?” Tristan frowned. Something wasn’t making sense in all this. Why did it sound like Carl wanted him? Did he just want a fling? Or did he want to keep Tristan as his dirty secret and set him up in an out of the way place where he would visit him for booty calls when needed? “Are you even listening?” The exasperated tone pulled his attention back to Carl. “I don’t understand.” He finally managed to get out around his tight throat. “Why are you making me out to be the bad guy here? You already have a mate. So why are you yelling at me for assuming that I’m going to be rejected.” His voice picked up volume as everything he’d been thinking came out in a torrent. “If you think you will be able to set me up and only visit when the mating urges get too bad then you have another thing coming. I am no one’s dirty secret. I sit and wait for no man.” “Where are you getting this from?” Carl yelled throwing up his hands. “I have never said I wanted you to be my dirty secret. I have never said I would hide you away. Do you even know anything about vampire mates? Once we mate, I won’t be able to feed from anyone but you. I would rely on you to go on living. By agreeing to mate with you I would be putting my very life in your hands. All you would have to do would be to walk away and I would be dead within a month at most. That would be if I didn’t go blood mad first and have to be put down to protect others. Now, why don’t you tell me what gave you these ridiculous ideas.” Tristan swallowed. Only one thing kept circling his mind and he blurted it out without thinking about it. “You said you already have a mate.” Carl frowned, then grinned. Tristan glared, what was so funny? Did this fanghead think so little of his feelings? Did he think… “I have a bond mate. Not a fated mate.” It was Tristan’s turn to frown. “A mate is a mate. Once bonded the bond can’t be broken.” Carl shook his head. “I think you have a different idea of bonded. I have a contract that says I am mated to Natalia until one or both of us meet our fated mates. Under high council law, fated mates trump any and all mating agreements signed before the fated mates met. My contract is called a bond. I gave my bond—or suspect you would call it my promise or my word—that I would share the ruling of my clan and any money made during our rule with her and she would do everything she could to support me and our clan. If we found the relationship became intimate, then any issue would become the heir of the clan automatically. However, since I prefer men and she women that never became an issue. As the leader of the clan, I can name anyone heir and I have been seriously considering naming Simon. Although, I would prefer you didn’t say anything until I have had time to train him more. “Does any of this make things clearer for you?”
  25. 44 points
    Tristan cocked his head to one side and stared at Carl. Maybe he had jumped to conclusions. Maybe he should have listened before he spoke. But, really? A vampire elder and a second level mage? What were the fates thinking? What did he know about leading a clan? Carl seemed to be a patient male. He just stood there waiting for Tristan to process what he’d said and to make a decision. “I think we need to sit and talk properly. I will warn you now I have reservations about how this mating would work and I would want to sort through all potential problems before I think about any talk of claiming.” Carl dipped his chin. “I agree. If the last few minutes are anything to go by I think we have a lot to talk about.” Tristan barked out a laugh. That was the understatement of a lifetime. He held out his hand. “How about we agree to see where things go?” Carl grinned and Tristan didn’t like the look in his eye. He let out a very manly squeak when he was pulled into a hug. “How about dinner after sunset tonight?” Tristan shivered when Carl’s whisper tickled the sensitive skin behind his ear. Before Tristan could answer frantic knocking on the door broke into their moment. “We’re under attack. Flash bombs and other explosives are in use. All vampires are to stay in their rooms with doors locked for security.” The voice repeated the warning and then moved away from the door. Presumably to repeat the warning on the next rooms. “I gotta go,” Tristan said pushing away from Carl. Carl growled and pulled him back in, holding him tighter. Tristan huffed. “I’m guessing you want to protect me? Well, you can’t. Flash bombs are enhanced by magic to give of sunlight. And explosives run the risk of fire or exposing you to the outside by blowing out walls. Either way, you are sitting this one out. I, on the other hand, am a mage and am needed to fight. You have to let me go. I will come straight back here as soon as it’s safe. I promise.” Carl mumbled something against the skin of Tristan’s neck and Tristan shuddered when he felt a fang nick his skin. “I can’t let anything happen to you. I’ve just found you. You don’t know how long I have lived alone.” “I’ll be fine. I’m better at offensive spells than most other level two mages, so it’s the enemy that should be worried. I may have even invented a few they haven’t even heard of yet. Even if this bitch uses her stolen powers to see what is going o happen, she can’t defend against magic that no one but me knows how to throw around.” Carl hissed and after pressing a kiss to Tristan's lips he pushed Tristan towards the door. “Come back to me or come sunset I will hunt your ass down.” Tristan blew him a kiss and slipped out the door. And straight into chaos.
  26. 44 points
    Lex woke up early, around five in the morning. Knowing that there was no way he was going back to sleep he slid quietly out of bed and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. He opened the slider silently and stepped out into the cool morning air. He settled himself on one of the loungers, tucked his feet up under him, and watched as the lights from the city reflected off of the harbor. He thought back to their lovemaking the night before. Ian somehow understood him on a level no one else could, not even Cassie, which he instinctively knew that was how it should be. Ian knew exactly what he need and delivered it in spades. He smiled as he remembered the soft caresses and kisses and the feeling of absolute bliss as Ian had slid into him. It was right, it was so right that Lex didn’t understand how anything else could exist. As he sat out on the terrace the sky started to gradually lighten. Activity at the airport started to pick up as flights began to take off and land. Red eye flights from the west coast were bringing travelers coming to enjoy everything fall has to offer, other people departing to far off places. For a moment Lex was tempted to just get on the next plane he could find a seat on and run once again, but he would never leave Ian behind. Besides it was time that he faced whatever lay ahead no matter what. The sun broke out over the distant horizon, its rays touching everything in sight. It sparkled off the water and danced off the glass windows of the tall buildings. The city was awake and moving. There was the distant sound of car horns blaring, the cry of sea birds calling to each other. He could hear a ship’s horn sound from further down the harbor as a freighter prepared to depart. Lex heard the slider open and Ian set a tray down on the table next to Lex’s chair. He tilted his head up and took his morning kiss. It felt like it had been forever since he tasted his lover even though it had only been a few hours. Ian had order coffee and some pastry from room service. There was a full, insulated carafe holding a rich blend of Colombia’s finest. Lifting the cover off of the tray Lex discovered two giant bear claws, still warm and smelling of heavenly cinnamon and sugar. There was also a blueberry muffin, which he just rolled his eyes at, as well as a bowl of fruit salad. “Thank you,” he said to Ian as he took the cup of coffee that the man had poured for him, complete with vanilla creamer added. He grabbed one of the warm bear claws and moaned as the sugary pastry melted in his mouth. Ian sat down next to Lex and sipped his own coffee as he reached for the blueberry muffin. He looked over and smiled at the look of bliss on Lex’s face as he savored his sweet treat. Ian loved that look. He loved it when it was a pastry causing it and he loved it even more when he was the cause of it. Funny how food and sex could elicit similar reactions from people. Swallowing his bite of muffin he asked “So what’s the game plan for today? What do you want to do?” Lex unconsciously licked his lips, his tongue catching a stray crumb, causing Ian’s cock to twitch, and replied “I think I want to hit the gym they have here, I need to run. I need to burn off this bear claw and I just need to run. Then I want to take a long, hot shower with you and fuck you senseless up against the wall. Then lunch, maybe, if I can manage not to get sick. Then we head over to his office.” Lex let out his breath in a long, slow exhale. “Yep, that’s what I want to do.” Ian was still stuck on being fucked senseless. He blinked several times to clear his vision, which had narrowed its gaze onto Lex. He nodded and in his deep husky voice replied “Sounds like a good plan to me.” and that is exactly what they did. Lex was not lying when he said he wanted to fuck Ian senseless. After they had finished their breakfast and let it digest for an hour or so, they had thrown on shorts and tank tops and went down to the gym. Lex hit one of the treadmills hard, setting a brutal pace for himself. Ian watched him carefully as he worked his body out on the machines and free weights. When he saw that Lex had finally slowed down to a more reasonable speed for a human he went over and started the treadmill next to Lex and did a half hour of cardio while Lex stayed in whatever zone he had found for himself. Ian knew it was a coping mechanism and he was OK with it. He just kept an eye on Lex to make sure he didn’t hurt himself overdoing it. When they had both slowed down and cooled off, Lex looked over at Ian with such a heated gaze that Ian was surprised not see smoke coming from the man. They quickly wiped down their machines and headed for the elevator. They unfortunately were not the only ones in the small space but somehow managed to keep their hands to themselves as the other riders were a mother and her two young kids. Ian had to chuckle a little when the younger girl, about five or six looked at them and wrinkled her nose at the smell. Personally, Ian thought the musky scent wafting off of Lex was kinda sexy, but he guessed the little girl just thought they stunk. Luckily their floor came up quickly and they all but ran down the hallway to their room. As soon as they were inside Lex grabbed Ian and shoved him up against the wall. If he could have stuck his tongue down to Ian’s toes he would have done it. The kiss was searing and when they finally broke apart, Ian was the one who dragged Lex to the bathroom. Once under the spray it was fast and it was hard. Foreplay was practically nonexistent. It seemed like only a matter of a few heartbeats before Lex was fully seated inside of Ian, his balls pressed up against firm ass cheeks. Pausing only a moment Lex started a fast rhythm, so much the opposite of the previous night’s gentle lovemaking. This is what Lex needed in this moment and this is what Ian so willingly gave. Lex drove all of his tension and anxiety into Ian and Ian took it all away from him. When Lex came it hit him suddenly and with the force of a hurricane. He screamed out Ian’s name as he poured himself into the man. Ian took every thrust and every burst of hot cum and cried out as his own cock exploded and seemed to expel all of the tension and anxiety Lex had given to him. When the orgasmic tremors finally subsided Lex leaned against Ian, propping him up against the wall, still connected and slowly let their panting fade to even breaths. Lex placed his forehead between Ian’s shoulder blades and kissed him. Ian turned and captured Lex’s mouth in a soft kiss. There was no need for words. They merely washed each other and finally rinsed off. Once they had recovered and dried off Lex got as far as putting on his boxer briefs and a pair of black jeans when he flopped back on the bed and questioned Ian “What am I doing? Is this even the right thing? I just don’t know anymore.” Ian’s heart went out to the man he had fallen in love with. He wished he had a crystal ball so he could tell Lex what the next few hours held. Instead he lay down next to him and as Lex rolled over to his side Ian looked into his pretty hazel green eyes and reassured “No matter what happens, this is the right thing. I know it is and deep down you know it is too. Your mom never would have given you his name if she didn’t think he was a good person. And before you say that she thought your step father was a good person, it’s not the same and you know it. Trust yourself Lex, that’s what you need to do.” “That’s exactly what Cassie told me. I thought she was talking about you, but I know what she was telling me was to learn to trust my instincts and not rely on the auras. You know she told me that the reason I couldn’t see your aura when we first met was because deep down I didn’t need to. I think she was right. But I’m scared Ian. I just want him to like me.” Ian pulled Lex close and ran his hands softly over the ridges of Lex’s back and told him “It’s OK to be scared. I am too. I think we both just need to think positively.” Ian kissed him gently and then asked “Are you up for lunch or are you too much of a train wreck?” Lex kissed him back and replied “I’m going to be a train wreck whether we eat or not. Let’s just make it something light like sandwiches or salad, I don’t think I could handle anything else.” They finished getting dressed Lex finishing off his attire with a grey polo shirt. Ian had on dark gray jeans and a navy blue polo shirt. Giving Lex one more reassuring kiss they exited the hotel. They found a nice cafe a few blocks over from the hotel and had to wait about ten minutes for a table. Once they were seated they both ordered water as neither man wanted any alcohol. Lex was too nervous and Ian was nervous for him. The cafe had a luncheon soup/salad/half sandwich combo where you could choose one of three cups of soup, a small house or Caesar salad and a half sandwich off the menu. Lex chose the chicken tortilla soup and Ian got the minestrone. They both wanted the house salad and Lex chose a half roast beef sandwich and after trying to decide between that or the turkey Ian went with the roast beef as well. The restaurant was busy and they had a lot of take out business too. That was always a good sign and proved true in this case. The waitress brought out their soup and salad first and both were really good. When she came over with their sandwiches Ian’s eyes popped. “Damn, if this is what they call a half sandwich I’d love to see what their whole one looks like.” he remarked. The roast beef was piled high between two thick slices of homemade, multigrain bread. The sandwich had to be at least three inches thick. There was also a slice of thick cheddar cheese and was topped off with lettuce and tomato. A good size portion of potato chips took up half the plate. Their waitress pointed out the mayo, mustard and barbeque sauce bottles on the side of the table. Lex knew that Cassie would approve as she couldn’t stand it when sandwiches automatically came slathered with condiments. She hated mayo and mustard. The barbeque sauce she would be ok with. They both sank their teeth into the rare beef with gusto, all worries temporarily put aside as they focused on the food. When every last bite was gone they both wiped their mouths with napkins and sat back. Ian could almost see the wheels spinning in Lex’s head as his brow furrowed slightly at whatever thought had just crossed his mind. He reached across the table an took Lex’s hand “Talk to me Lex, I can see your thoughts going a mile a minute.” Lex looked up at him and said “I was just wondering. What if he’s married, has a wife and kids and a whole family. Should I really be disrupting that?” “Lex, you need to stop the ‘what ifs’. What if he does, and what if they welcome you with open arms?” It doesn’t matter because in a couple of hours you’ll know.” Ian answered. “Now come on let’s get out of here and take a walk before we head over to his office, we have an hour and a half before our appointment and it’s a beautiful day.” That was true, after they paid the bill they stepped out into the bright sunshine. It was a gorgeous early fall day. The temperature was in the mid 70’s and there was a nice breeze coming in from the ocean. Lex took Ian’s hand as they took their time and made their way toward Ryan Carson’s office building. They window shopped along the way and followed the red line on the sidewalk indicating the Freedom Trail for several blocks. As it got closer to three o’clock and they got closer to the office Ian could feel Lex’s had start to tremble. He stopped them and pulled Lex off to the side and wrapped his arms around him and whispered “We got this, you hear me? We’re doing this and we’re doing this together. I won’t leave your side. I promise.” Lex took a deep breath, inhaling Ian’s comforting scent and then as if a switch had been flipped he squared his shoulders, lifted his head and agreed “Yep, you’re right. We can do this, as long as I have you, nothing else matters. Let’s go.” Lex took Ian’s hand with a new resolve and set off down the sidewalk. He hesitated for only a second when he reached the building that housed his father’s office. He pulled open the door with confidence and stepped into the cool interior. They approached the information desk and Lex could’ve sworn the lady behind the counter did a double take when she looked at him, but maybe it was just his nerves kicking in again. They were directed to the elevators and told the offices were on the thirtieth floor. As they waited by the elevator Lex though he saw a few people give him a weird look. Their auras flickered with confusion. He shook it off as the doors slid open and he and Ian got on with three other people. They rode up in silence and the elevator made stops on the tenth and fifteenth floors to let off the other passengers. The exited on the thirtieth floor and immediately in front of the them was a reception desk with the law firm’s logo behind it. The receptionist was a pretty girl in her mid twenties and when she looked up her face registered a flash of surprise and Lex could have sworn he heard her softly whisper “Holy shit.” Her face quickly regained its pleasant expression and barely missing a beat she inquired “May I help you gentlemen?” Lex stepped up and informed her “I have an appointment with Mr. Carson. My name is Lex Hewson. “Of course Mr. Hewson, please go down this hall and take your first left. At the end of that hallway is Mr. Carson’s office. His administrative assistant will take care of you.” As they turned the corner they passed another office worker who gave Lex his own double take. Lex put his hand on Ian’s arm and stopped, saying “I’m getting a little freaked out here. Everyone’s aura is flashing confusion. I don’t know what’s going on.” Ian reassured him once again “I don’t either, but let’s go find out.” When they reached the end of the hallway an older woman, probably in her early 40’s looked up and yet again Lex thought heard another whispered ‘Holy shit’ as her aura flashed both confusion and shock. She was extremely professional, however, as other than her eyes widening for a split second her expression remained the same. “Mr. Hewson?” Lex blinked and answered her “Yes, I’m Lex Hewson and this is my fiance, Ian McColm. I have a three o’clock appointment with Mr. Carson.” “Of course, I’m his administrative assistant Jennifer Watkins. Please follow me.” she said as she stood and led them a short ways back down the hall and into a large, bright conference room. There was a massive table in the middle which could easily seat twelve people comfortably. Floor to ceiling windows gave way to a stunning view of the city. Jennifer told them “Please help yourself to water or coffee,” pointing to the small refrigerator next to a Keurig coffee maker. I’ll let Mr. Carson know you are here. It should only be a few moments.” Ian looked at him and said “Yeah, I saw that too. Well it won’t be much longer now.” They both went over to the window and looked out at the beautiful view. The office faced west and they could see the faintest hint of the hills to the west and north of the city. Lex let his eyes follow the vapor trail of a plane high up in the sky, heading east. Europe he guessed. As he pondered the possibilities he heard he conference door open and a pleasant voice inquire “Mr. Hewson? I’m Ryan Carson.” Lex turned around feeling like time had morphed into slow motion. His eyes took in the man in the doorway and as they settled on him and registered his features, time sped up again and all three men exclaimed “Holy shit!” Lex walked over and stood in front of the man. His peripheral vision registered the assistant standing behind him. At first glance Lex could have sworn he was looking in a mirror. The resemblance was so strong it was uncanny. It wasn’t until you took a closer look that you could see the subtle differences. Ryan Carson had hazel eyes, but his were more of a honey, hazel color with no green flecks. They were roughly the same height, but Lex had a more leaner, youthful build. His shoulders were a little broader and waist a little smaller. Ryan had more lines around his eyes and his hair was a few shades darker than Lex and he kept it cut much shorter. It was also threaded with a touch of gray at the temples. Now he understood all of the weird looks and the confused auras. He was pretty stunned himself. Ryan was the first to speak. “Is it safe to assume you’re not really here to discuss a family law matter?” he asked. Lex just nodded. Ryan continued “Your mom. Sarah Channing is your mom? Lex looked confused for a moment before he answered “My mom’s name was Sarah, but her last name was Hewson, not Channing.” “She’s married?” Ryan inquired, not picking up on the past tense. “She was, but she never took his last name. I always thought Hewson was her given name.” Lex said. He took out a picture of him and his mom when he was about 10. It was a close up of them and she was laughing and he had an ear to ear grin. It was his favorite. “That’s her.” He handed the picture to Ryan. Ryan took it and smiled wistfully as he looked at a face he hadn’t seen in over 25 years. “Beautiful as always. How is she?” he asked. Lex looked down and shook his head, tears welling. He couldn’t speak so Ian spoke for him. “Lex’s mom passed away when he was twelve. He didn’t know about you until a couple of years ago.” Ryan’s face fell as he received the news. Up until that moment Lex hadn’t focused on the man’s aura, but as he learned the news of Sarah’s death Lex could see the wave of dark blue sorrow wash over the man. He had really cared about her. There were a multitude of colors swirling and shifting around Ryan rapidly, but Lex was in too much emotional turmoil himself to even try and sort them out. The only other thing that he saw was the dark golden thread that now extended between them, merely reinforcing the bond that their mirrored images already confirmed. Ryan lifted his eyes to meet Lex’s. “Could you excuse me for a moment?” Ryan turned abruptly and left the conference room. His assistant Jennifer looked a little stunned. She turned to Lex and Ian and said “I’m sorry gentlemen, I’ll go see what’s going on.” She too exited the conference room leaving behind a stunned pair. Lex looked at Ian and almost started to panic, “Oh fuck he hates me. What do we do now? Let’s go, let’s just go. You need to get me out of here Ian, please get me out?” Ian was having his own moment of panic but he forced himself to remain calm and told Lex “No, we need to wait and see what happens. You knew there was a chance something like this could happen. Let’s just be sure before we leave. Calm down and take a breath.” Lex sucked in a huge amount of air and let it out slowly and shakily. Ian continued “OK, good. Now did you see his aura? Could you make out what he was feeling?” Lex tried to steady himself and recall. He informed Ian “All I can remember is a whole lot of colors blending and swirling. That means his emotions were all over the place. I couldn’t sort them out.” Ian remarked “That’s actually good Lex, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s rejecting you. He’s probably overwhelmed. So try to chill a bit and we’ll wait for one of them to come back. Now come here.” Ian pulled Lex into his arms and engulfed his shaking body. He gently stroked his back, feeling the bumps and ridges underneath the shirt. Soon the shaking stopped and he could feel Lex relax a bit. Neither man knew how much time had passed when the conference door opened again. Ryan stood in the doorway and took in the sight of the two men entwined in their embrace, his brow furrowed slightly. Lex and Ian broke apart and turned to face him. Ryan cleared his throat and said “First of all I’m so sorry for turning tail and rushing out of here. I was a little bit more than overwhelmed and I sort of panicked. It was rude and I probably didn’t make a very good impression. I hope you don’t think poorly of me. I’m happy you’re here Lex. Just a little shocked. It’s not everyday that one finds out they have a son. An adult son at that. Oh my God, I have a son.” Ryan’s eyes clouded over as his emotions got the better of him. Lex stepped away from Ian and went to stand in front of Ryan. He could see the turmoil swirling furiously in the aura surrounding the man, but nowhere in there was any hint of a negative emotion and Lex took that as a good sign. He also took Cassie’s advice and muted his ability, instead choosing to trust himself. He gave Ryan a small smile and said “I have a father, for the first time in my life, I have a father. It’s taken me a long time to get here. The least I can do is give you a little time to adjust to the idea of having a son.” Ryan took a deep breath and asked “Would it be too much if I hugged you?” Lex’s heart soared as he embraced the man standing in front of him. He felt genuine warmth in the embrace and after a moment when they pulled apart their emotions reflected in the glimmering of tears in each man’s eyes. Ryan looked over at his assistant who was standing in the doorway and started to speak but she cut him off “I’ve already cancelled your last two appointments. I called Lauren, she’ll take care of everything and yes, on the way.” Lex had no idea what she was referring to but Ryan merely shook his head and told the two others “I swear she’s a mind reader and I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude but you must be Mr. McColm?” he said as he looked at Ian. “Please call me Ian. I’m Lex’s fiance.” Ian replied. Ryan raised an eyebrow, the same one Lex always did, smiled and shook Ian’s hand saying “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Lex breathed a sigh of relief. It was one thing to find out that you had a son that you didn’t know about but it was a whole other ballgame when that newfound son turned out to be gay. Not everyone would be so welcoming. Lex looked at Ryan and offered “I guess we have a lot to discuss don’t we?” I’m sure you have a lot of questions and so do I for that matter.” Ryan agreed, but hesitated as he interjected “Yes,we do have a lot of ground to cover, but if you don’t mind I’d like to wait until Seth gets here. He’s my husband.” Lex’s jaw dropped. Nope, he was not expecting that. He felt Ian’s finger under his chin pushing it up. He snapped out of it and blurted out “That was it. That’s what you told my mom. She said you told her something, Something that made her change her mind about telling you that she was pregnant, You’re gay. Son of a bitch, that was it. Huh. My dad is gay. No wonder you didn’t bat an eyelash when Ian said he was my fiance. Wow, Just, Wow.” Ian laughed and told him “OK, now you sound like Cassie. Don’t do that anymore. I can only take one of her!” Lex smiled, realizing that Ian was right. He looked at Ryan and apologized “I’m sorry. My best friend is a total flake and sometimes I open my mouth and she comes out. But yeah, we have no problem waiting. I have my support system with me, you should have yours too.” Ryan went over and took three water bottles out and hand one to each man and they sat down to wait until Ryan’s husband arrived. As they waited Lex couldn’t help but wonder what kind of answers he was going to get for all of his questions. He took a sip of his water then reached over for Ian’s hand and smiled when Ian gave him a reassuring squeeze. So far things were going better than expected, they both were hoping it stayed that way.
  27. 44 points
    Caleb lay awake while Wren continued to sleep. The rooster had already crowed a couple of times, but Caleb's black-haired companion stubbornly remained in the world of dreams. Caleb sighed. He had decided, after last night with Wren, that he was very likely gay. He had enjoyed both the physical act of their coupling and the emotional way he felt connected to Wren. More, he also liked the way it felt to lie with his bare chest against Wren's back in the still, slow brightening of the morning. It was warm and comfortable there. It wasn't what Caleb dreamed of when he imagined waking up with another person - it was more. It was beyond what he had dared to hope could be. 'It feels natural.' Caleb smelled the back of Wren's neck. The rooster crowed again, closer this time, and Wren made a sleepy noise. Caleb lay still as Wren shifted. He heard Wren swallow, then there was a sharp intake of breath as his friend woke and realized they were naked and spooning. "G'morning, Wren." Caleb's voice was gravelly and even deeper than typical, thanks to its lack of use. "Hey. Good morning, Caleb." Wren turned so that he faced Caleb, and Caleb put his arm back over Wren's slim waist. Caleb's hand stroked up and down the small of Wren's back. Wren's half-awake cock was warm against Caleb's hip. Caleb looked openly at him. He slid his hand up Wren's back and lightly moved an errant lock of black hair out of Wren's face. Wren blinked slowly as the hand moved over his face. Caleb's eyebrows knit in curious concentration, and he continued to stroke his fingertips over Wren's barely stubbled chin. "Caleb?" Wren's eyes closed under that delicate touch. "Yeah?" Caleb leaned in and smelled Wren's skin. He bore the scent of wood smoke, the lotion they had used, and the muskiness of their lovemaking. Wren breathed quietly, his breaths warm against the side of Caleb's face. "Everything okay? Like, really okay?" The worried tone in Wren's voice made Caleb smile. "Yeah." "Good." Wren's lips pulled into a smile. "Okay." Wren lay still, and Caleb continued to touch him. Wren appeared to struggle to stay awake, yet he was also unwilling to surrender to sleep. He chuckled quietly. "That feels nice." "Yeah?" Caleb wet his lips. "It's okay? You don't mind me doing this?" "I don't mind." Wren sighed with contentment. "Why would I mind?" "I don't know." Caleb's palm lay against Wren's warm jaw. He could feel his friend's steady heartbeat under his fingers as they touched Wren's neck. "I've just never done this. I don't know what's, ah, what's right." Wren's eyes opened, green and vibrant. "How does it feel?" He pressed his body against Caleb's, their groins together. Wren's hand rested on the back of Caleb's neck, while his gaze searched Caleb's face. "Does it feel wrong, being here with me?" Caleb swallowed. "No." His voice was almost a confession. Both of the men's erections lay up along their bodies, pressed between them. "It feels right." Wren leaned in, and Caleb closed his eyes. "Then it's right, Caleb," Wren whispered. Wren gently kissed him, and as Caleb rolled on top of him, he began to believe it. ⤱ A half-hour later, Wren stood naked in the tent. He shivered in the early morning coolness and cleaned his body with a sanitary wipe. He glanced down and saw Caleb as he lay on the cot and looked up at him, an enigmatic quality in that gaze. Wren smiled. "What?" Caleb smiled slightly. "I just," he sighed and the smile remained. "I don't know." Caleb sat up and Wren admired his exposed chest. "This," he motioned back and forth between himself and Wren, "it's new. I don't know what to do with it." He swallowed, and nervousness showed on his face. "I don't know what, ah, what the rules are, or what I'm supposed to do with it." A moment of deep fondness and empathy ran through Wren. He put the used wipe in the trash bag hanging from the center tent pole and sat on the cot facing Caleb. Wren squashed his immediate desire to put his hand on his handsome friend's neck. He wasn't sure what had brought on that urge. Wren just didn't do physical displays of affection outside of trying to convince a guy to have sex with him. "Well, we can clear that up." Wren wet his lips, a little nervous himself. "Do you want to keep doing this with me?" He watched Caleb's blue eyes as he spoke. "I'll just tell you now that I'd like that. I'd like it a lot." Caleb chuckled. "Well," he rubbed the back of his head, scratching fingers through his very short hair, "I guess there's no denying that I like doing it." He bit his lip and shrugged. "So, what would that make us? Are we fuckbuddies now?" Wren grinned. "Well, if that's what you want to call it, sure." Caleb nodded, seemed to consider something then cocked his head. "What do you want to call it?" Wren felt a weird flutter of panic. "Uh, 'fuckbuddies' is fine." He nodded. "Yeah, it's fine." He grimaced. "Uh, but to keep doing things without condoms, then we'll have to keep it just between us. No fucking around." He gauged Caleb. "That okay with you?" Caleb eyed him and weighed Wren's response. He took a breath and nodded. "Yeah. All right. Sounds good. It's not like I've had anything going on, so monogamy works." He motioned for Wren to move and they both got up. Caleb took one of the sanitary wipes and began to scrub himself. Wren hunted around for a clean pair of underwear and Caleb chuckled. "What now?" Wren smirked as he put on his briefs. Caleb wore a mischievous expression, finished with his quick cleaning and tossed his wipe. "I guess touching is back on the table." Wren laughed, stepped close to his still naked friend, and cupped Caleb's furry balls. He grinned into Caleb's face. "Yep. It is." They horsed around a little, touching and playing, while in the back of Wren's mind, he tried to avoid defining what a monogamous fuckbuddy could more easily be called. ⤱ It wasn't long before they were up and dressed. The first item of the day was to get the garden tilled so that they could plant the seeds gifted to Wren by Beecher. The disced earth was a good start, but they needed to break it up with the rototiller, form the rows, and get the seeds in the ground. That was proving difficult. Wren frowned at the rototiller. "What do you think is wrong with it, Caleb?" They had pulled the old workhorse out from under the shed roof and tried to start it. Caleb looked down at the machine and scratched his head. "I don't know. It should run fine. I cranked it up for Beecher once this year." He tried a couple more times on the pull-start. The engine gurgled but never fired up. Caleb knelt to examine it. Wren sighed loudly. Caleb smirked and looked up at him from where he was crouched. "It's fine." He made a motion toward the shed. "Can you grab the toolbox?" Wren moved under the simple little roof of the open-sided shed. Beecher's toolbox was an old, hinged metal beast of a thing, and it was always under the workbench. Wren saw the empty spot where it should be. "Caleb." He raised up so he could see his friend. "Did papaw move it?" Caleb straightened and set his jaw. "No." He stalked over and stood next to Wren. They could both see the imprint of the heavy metal box in the dirt, but it was now gone. The slow fire of anger began. "They took it." Wren shook his head and clenched his jaw. "I swear if I find…" Wren jumped when his phone vibrated. He pulled it out. "It's Mom." Wren answered. "Hey, Mom." "Wren, you'd better get over to the highway, near the mouth of the holler. Ragan just called. A couple of Beecher's cows are loose. Ragan said the fence is down there. He's keepin' them from gettin' hit, but he needs help gettin' em back on the property." Wren made a flabbergasted noise. "We just -" he huffed. "Okay, Mom. We'll go get 'em wrangled." He frowned. "I think when we're gone, something else will happen to the property." Rachel sighed. "Those boys. Do you think they cut the fence, Wren?" "I know they did. The rototiller won't start either. I'm sure they're going to do everything they can to make sure we fail." Wren and Caleb were already on the way to the truck. "Can Charles keep an eye on things while you're gone?" Rachel's voice sounded worried. "Son, I'd come keep watch, but if they're really doin’ this stuff, then there'd be nothing to stop ‘em from wrecking my place too." "No, Mom, you stay out of it." They got into the truck, Caleb behind the wheel. "I'll call Charles. We'll get it handled. I don't know how much use it'll be, but I'm gonna call the police after we're done too." Wren hung up and immediately called Charles. He quickly gave his friend the lowdown. "Shit, Wren. I'm in town shopping with the baby. I wanted to give Tracy a break, so she's the only one home." Wren groaned, then sighed. "It's fine. We'll just try to finish up quick." Charles snorted. "Oh, don't you worry. We'll make sure we keep eyes on your place." Wren hung on to the handle above the door as Caleb drove quickly down the twisty road leading to the mouth of the holler. He frowned. "How?" ⤱ The big, white Dodge truck nosed carefully down Wren's gravel road. It crunched on the rocks, and then jerked to a stop when the driver caught sight of the old, blue Corsica in Wren's roundabout. Tracy strode down the gravel drive, purpose on her face and a twelve-gauge in her hands. She raised the gun, aimed, and the Dodge threw rocks as it reversed. The gun discharged, and birdshot pinged against the metal and glass of the vehicle. Tracy broke down the shotgun, still moving forward, shoved another shell in and whipped the weapon back up, ready once again. There was no need. The Dodge careened backward around the curve, out of sight of the house. Tracy watched the road for a moment, then turned and walked back to her car. She sat on the hood and made sure her cotton dress wasn't showing more to the world than she liked. With a little smile, she waited and enjoyed the sun on her face, the twelve-gauge in her lap. ⤱ Caleb waved his arms. The six-hundred-pound heifer danced, bouncing on her front hooves, trying to find a way around him. "Hey!" he yelled at her, took another step, and she turned. Ragan and Wren kept her from running around the edges of their little blockade, and she finally ran back through the gap in the fence, onto Wren's property. "Thank god." Ragan, the old farmer who had noticed Wren's errant cattle, wiped his weathered face. He looked behind them at the road. It was only a dozen feet from the fence, and the cows easily could have been hit by a car. "I'm glad it went this way." Caleb nodded. "Thanks to you, Ragan. We appreciate the help." He frowned. "You got any pliers? We can twist the fence back together for now, till we can come back and do it right." "Yup." The coveralled man moved to his truck parked on the roadside where he had pulled off when he saw the animals. Ragan returned with a couple of pairs of pliers while Wren guarded the hole in the fence. Wren eyed the cattle as they slowly moved away, deeper into his property. "Thanks, Ragan." Wren took one of the tools. "If Caleb and I pull on the posts, you think you can twist the wire together?" Ragan nodded affably. "Sure can." Wren and Caleb got into position on either side of the gap in the fence. "All righty, go ahead, boys." Ragan started with the top wire while the two younger men strained to bring the posts closer together. The old farmer had strong hands, and he firmly twisted the wires together with the pliers. Ragan stepped back. "Okay, let's see if it'll hold. Careful." Caleb and Wren gingerly turned the posts loose, and the wire tightened. It wavered, but the twisted metal held. Wren grinned. "One down. Three more to go." Ragan stood with them while Caleb and Wren finished the task. Soon the fence was back up, and there was no longer a danger of the cattle getting out. Ragan nodded at the work. "Looks good." He eyed Wren. "Sorry to hear about Beecher, Wren." Wren gave him a pained smile and nodded his head. "Thanks, Ragan. He was a good man." "That he was." Ragan worked his jaw. "So, yer home now?" Wren nodded. "He left the farm to you, didn't he?" Wren sighed. "He did." Ragan looked thoughtful then turned his eyes to the fence. "I was gonna ask how your uncles were taking that, but I reckon now I don't have to." The Hambricks were not well liked by much of anyone in the county, thanks to Wren's uncles. Everyone knew that they were not good men, yet many didn't have a choice except to deal with them. They owned so much property in the area, it was inevitable that other locals would have to interact and do business with the family. Wren shook his head. Caleb knew Wren didn't want to air his family's dirty laundry for the world to see, but it was apparent what had happened. "Yeah. They didn't take it well." They all chuckled uncomfortably. Ragan smiled at Wren, then clapped a hand on Caleb. "Well, looks like you've got some help, at least." "Yes, sir." Caleb nodded. "Wren's letting me put my degree to use on his land." Caleb looked fondly at Wren. "We're partners." Ragan grinned. "Good. You boys are gonna need to look out fer each other." Ragan took his pliers and dropped them into his pocket. "I'm gonna get back to the old lady. She probably thinks I had another heart attack and keeled over this time." He got into his truck and grinned. "Time to disappoint her!" He cackled with a laugh. Wren giggled. "Thanks again, Ragan." The two guys waved as the old, wiry fellow drove away. They got back into the truck. Soon they were on their way back home. Caleb only hoped that they'd find everything just as they had left it. ⤱ Caleb parked, then he and Wren got out of the truck. They both approached Tracy where she sat on her vehicle with the twelve-gauge. Tracy was not a small woman. She was wide across the hips, and similar at her shoulders. Sturdy, hardworking, far from being fat, instead she had a frame used to the rigors of farm life. Wren waved, and Tracy grinned. "Hey, thanks for keeping an eye on things, Tracy. Everything all right?" "Oh, things are just dandy." Tracy slid off the hood of her car, the shotgun pointing up and leaning against her shoulder. She handled the weapon with a comfortable familiarity. Wren grinned at her as they talked. Charles and Tracy began dating in high school, and she had been someone Wren always liked. That only increased as time went on and he got to know her better. "So, there wasn't any trouble?" "Well, trouble tried," her grin widened until most of her teeth showed, "but trouble got peppered with some birdshot." "Hah!" Caleb hooted gleefully. They all laughed, and Caleb patted her back affectionately. "Which one was it? Was it Wade?" She narrowed her eyes and shook her head once. "I don't think so. I would have seen him coming down the hill. No, it was one of the others." Wren couldn't stop grinning at the idea of Tracy shooting at his uncles. "Well, maybe that'll make them think twice before they try anything again." Tracy cocked her head and looked a little disappointed. "Yeah." Her expression shifted, and Wren thought that her smile was just a touch malicious. She gazed up at the tip of the barrel of her gun. "It might make me a bad person, but I sure hope they're dumb enough to try again." ⤱ It was an hour later, and Charles had returned from town. He had taken Oliver to his house and Tracy took over watching their young son. Now he stood by his brother as Caleb took the rototiller apart. He held up the carburetor and a slurry of thick, grainy fuel dripped out of it in glops. "Sugar." Charles tapped his foot. "Guys, I think it's time to call Casey." Casey Keen was the sheriff of Carter County. "Yeah." Wren sighed and straightened. "I'll ring him up tomorrow. I know it's only going to make the uncles change tactics - get even more underhanded." He blew out a breath. "I'm not sure they're going to stop." Wren wrinkled his nose. "Huh. I've not heard from Mr. Roseberry. I figured they would have tried to take the farm through the court before resorting to all this." Charles snorted. "Oh, you can bet they talked to him. But they didn't have a leg to stand on, an' Roseberry knows it." He waved a hand over the rototiller. "So now they're doin' this." Caleb swiped as much of the contaminated fuel out of the machine as he could with an old rag. "They'll stop if it costs them." He looked up at Wren and Charles. "I'm tellin' ya, the second they're caught, the second we can prove it's them, then this is over." "Yeah, but how?" Wren shook his head. "We can't keep watch over everything, all the time. Plus, now that Tracy shot at one of them you guys are in the line of fire too. Not to mention Mom." Wren felt weighed down by all of the worries. "I'm just, I'm not sure how we're going to do this without resorting to the same tactics." "I think that's what they want. They'd love to catch us wrecking their properties." Caleb pulled more parts off of the little engine as he spoke. "But, you're right. We can't keep eyes on everything all the time." Charles was quiet, and Wren looked at him. "What are you thinking?" Charles's jaw worked as he thought. "Well, I was just remembering seein' something at Glen's Sporting Goods that might help." "The place in Grayson?" Wren asked, and Charles nodded. "What? If there's something that helps keep the uncles away, then I'm all for it." ⤱ It neared dinner time and all three of the men were hungry, but they were almost finished with their task. Caleb twisted the screwdriver as Wren and Charles held the ladder against the tree beside Rachel's drive. Once done, he leaned back a bit and found the button on the small, weatherproof camera. Wren made a noise. "Yep, it just sent a picture of your big, goofy face to the app on my phone." Caleb grunted at Wren's description. "Good." Charles grinned. "I didn't know there was an 'app' or whatever, but that makes things real handy. We can see movement in real-time." He jerked and pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Huh. Tracy sent a text. Guess who's on the move?" Caleb climbed down, and they all heard an engine. They watched as Wade slowly drove by, staring over at them. Wren smiled a huge grin and waved. "Go ahead, you son of a bitch," he said through his teeth. "You even turn down our roads now, and we'll know it." They placed cameras near the highway where the fence was cut, at all of the entrances of their private roads, and one at each of their homes overlooking their houses. The little crew also installed additional devices at each of their barns. They were motion activated and instantly kicked on when movement was detected in their field of view. They took pictures every fifteen seconds when something was moving, and those photos were dropped into a folder Wren set up in the app provided by the manufacturer. Wren played with the settings so that he received a notice instantly when any of the ten monitoring devices took a shot. It was an expensive solution. Wren dumped a lot of money into the equipment. Caleb knew they'd be a tempting target for a well-aimed shot from a rifle, so he also screwed thick, steel guards into place beside and under each of them. The only way someone could shoot one down now was to stand right in front of it, right in view of the lens - where it would promptly take the offender's picture. Wade motored on past and the young men watched him go. "Well, I'm sure Wade will tell the other two what we're up to," Charles said as the Dodge disappeared around the curve in the blacktop. "Good." Wren put his phone back into his pocket. "I'd rather they just stay away. I don't want to fight with them, and if the cameras do that for us, then great." Caleb had his doubts. "I don't know." He frowned. "I mean, they're committed to this road now." He made a face. "And Tracy did shoot at one of them." "They deserved it. They were trespassin', whoever it was." Charles considered as they got into Caleb's truck. "Still, I think you're right. I don't think they'll stop, they'll just change tactics." Caleb started the engine and looked over, confused, at Wren. Charles always rode shotgun when they all used the truck. This time his brother sat behind the front passenger seat, and Wren took it instead. Caleb met Wren's gaze, and his black-haired friend smiled and shrugged. "We sittin' here for a reason?" Charles groused in the back. "Uh, no." Caleb put the Chevy in gear. He pulled onto the gravel drive, pointed back up the hill toward Charles's place. Charles had already texted and warned Tracy that he had his hungry brother and Wren along with him. She assured him that she was ready for the assault on their dinner, and even suggested inviting Rachel up as well. They all thought it a good idea, now that they had the monitors in place. Caleb found himself looking forward to the meal. It had been a long time since they'd all eaten together. They got up to the house and Rachel's truck pulled in as they got up onto the porch. They waited while Rachel approached in the fading light of early evening. She grinned at them. "You boys get the cameras up?" "Yep. It's all done, Mom." Wren nodded. "Oh, good." She shook her head as they all went inside. "It's sad you had to resort to this, but maybe it'll help." Caleb instantly smelled coffee, chili powder, and several other spices and herbs he couldn't place as they walked into the kitchen. Tracy was just removing a pork loin from the oven. It looked terrific, coated in a dark, savory rub of some kind. "Lord, that smells good." Charles watched as Tracy removed the meat from the hot cast iron pan. "What kinda rub is that?" "Instant coffee, Italian seasoning, and a pile of other stuff." Tracy grinned at the loin as it steamed on the plate. She waved a hand. "That Bobby Flay, he makes some crazy things, and I had to try it." "Oh, gettin' fancy!" Rachel hugged her while Caleb and Wren found seats. She pushed back and frowned at Tracy. "Now, you didn't go through no trouble for me, did you?" "Well, it has been a while. I wanted it to be special." Tracy waved off her concern. "But it wasn't no trouble." Charles smiled and put a hand on Tracy's back. "Hon, thanks for feedin' us." He patted her. "Sit. I'll serve it up." While the pork rested, Charles served broiled vegetables, mashed potatoes, and by that point, it was time to cut into the pork loin. Soon they all had full plates of food before them and glasses of milk to drink. Caleb looked around the table as Charles settled in. Everybody was happy, hungry, and they all complimented the blushing Tracy on her meal. "This is nice." Wren wiped his mouth and looked at Tracy and Charles. "Thanks for having us." Caleb swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, thanks." Charles cocked his head at Caleb, a little frown on his face. "Well, I think Wren meant him and Rachel, but, sure Caleb." He smirked. "I reckon you forgot that you live here?" Caleb flushed red. Wren too looked at him, a bit of stress on his face. Caleb began to speak, but Rachel beat him to it. "Well, that's good." She glanced around. "Means he feels at home down on the farm." She nodded and cut another piece of pork. "That's how it should be, right?" Tracy nodded. "Yep." She grinned and held up her glass of milk. "To new starts." Caleb felt relief and picked up his glass, then all of them echoed the toast and took a drink. Caleb swallowed the milk, then set his glass back on the table. He felt Wren's warm hand pat his leg and had to stop himself from looking over at his friend. Though he couldn't keep from grinning.
  28. 43 points
    Chapter Eleven – A Risk Worth Taking “A night to remember,” Aidan mumbled to himself as he took the package just delivered by his door, and went inside. He inhaled once and then exhaled. He hoped Heathcliff wasn’t in the mood to make fun of him, by sending him something like knee-high socks and pom-poms. At first glance, there seemed to be no pom-poms. Good. He could breathe normally. So Heathcliff had opted for normal clothes, by the looks of it. What the hell was that guy thinking? That Aidan didn’t have a pair a jeans and a t-shirt? He took a small critical look at the jeggings neatly packed. And then he took out a white tee with some imprint on the front face. With a shrug, he decided to try them on. If they didn’t fit, he could make fun of Stone later, seeing how stubborn he had been about knowing a man’s measurements just by looking at him. Well, the jeggings fit, but jeggings fit anyone. Aidan looked in the mirror and grimaced. Of course, Heathcliff had to choose something that gave his ass a lift job. Like it wasn’t enough that he had that kind of butt. Obviously, Heathcliff still wanted to make a little fun of him. But, Aidan thought, as he looked again critically at his behind, his ass did look good in those jeans. He just hoped the t-shirt wasn’t going to be tight fitting. Unlike the fitness guru he had to babysit, he had no six pack to show off through his tee. Of course, Aidan remembered and his mood dipped. He was invited to hit the clubs with Heathcliff only because he needed to keep his eyes on that wandering dick. At least, the t-shirt was comfortable and not revealing. That pre-washed style was precisely what Aidan liked when he wasn’t in a suit. And it fell below the waistline, so his ass wasn’t going to stick out too much. The jeans were ankle-cropped, so he needed some loafers to match them. No wonder, he thought as he looked inside the box. Heathcliff had thought of everything. He took out the soft suede shoes and tried them on. Not only they fit; they were also comfortable. Aidan took one last critical look at himself in the mirror. Well, he did look nice. He looked nicer than usual, and seeing that he had just put on some jeans and a t-shirt said something about Heathcliff’s taste in clothes. Probably the guy could work in the fashion industry if he didn’t care about being a fitness guru anymore. Too bad Heathcliff didn’t have the same good taste in men. Aidan stopped himself with a grimace. He was acting like a jealous prick, and, even if there was no one to see him doing that, it was still wrong. And Heathcliff had great taste in men. Only the most gorgeous male specimens to ever walk the earth landed in the guy’s bed. So, in the end, he was just a jealous prick, Aidan thought grimly. And why was he jealous, anyways? Heathcliff had basically said that he wanted to fuck him. Aidan could say the word, and that would happen. But then what? Setting aside the fact that it would have been dangerous to get freaky with one of the company’s business partners, there was nothing to look forward to after that. Men like Heathcliff Stone were good to be erotic fantasy material, but nothing else. As he had said before, for Heathcliff, it would have been just another conquest. And that man loved to move on fast from one guy to another, almost as much as he liked men in general. Aidan didn’t want that. He would not be able to face Heathcliff again if they were to screw once and then meet again like they were people working together and nothing more. In a way, he could understand why office romance was so frowned upon at his company. Working side by side with someone one had been so intimately with once the passion fizzled out had to suck balls. Aidan didn’t want to test how much of that theory was correct. As always, he needed to play safe. His phone interrupted his train of thought. Looking at the screen, he smiled against himself. Of course, Heathcliff had to call him, ask if the clothes fit and gloat about how right he always was. “Hey,” he began. “Have you already tried on the clothes, bunny boy?” Aidan rolled his eyes. Was Heathcliff easy to read or what? “Yes, and they fit, thank you very much. Now, before you start congratulating yourself, yes, I admit, they are perfect. Even the shoes. You could be a fashion designer in your spare time, or a seamstress, as I said.” “Have you tried on everything?” Aidan was a bit puzzled. “Come on, Stone, you don’t suspect me of not knowing how to put on a pair of jeans, I hope. And I have plenty of jeans, you know?” “Bunny boy, listen closely. Have you tried on everything?” “Yes, you spoiled fitness guru, impossible being that you are,” Aidan said with a huff. “I currently wear the t-shirt, the jeggings, and the loafers. Are you satisfied now? How much of a control freak can you be? I won’t make you look bad at the club, don’t worry. I promise you won’t even know I’m there.” “Hmm. You haven’t tried on everything,” Heathcliff said. “I hope there wasn’t some snafu with the delivery. Go look inside the box.” “Okay,” Aidan replied. “Can you please tell me what should I be looking for?” “It’s a surprise,” Heathcliff’s voice dropped low. “Just look for it. And, of course, once you find it, put it on.” Aidan shrugged and began rummaging through the box. With a frown, he extracted a small package he had missed before. He pressed the phone between his cheek and shoulder so that he could rip open the package. And almost dropped the phone when he looked at the small strange object in his hands. “Seriously, Stone?” He threw the offending thing on the bed. “Of course. Come on. Your outfit will not be complete without it.” “A thong? Pink on top of everything else?” Heathcliff’s chuckle on the other end was making him shiver. The man had some nerve. “What? I think it would show your naughty side.” “I don’t have a naughty side! And for your information, underwear is worn underneath your clothes. So there’s nothing to show!” “Yes, you do have a naughty side.” Heathcliff was ignoring what he was saying on purpose. “But you’re shy, too. First, I thought black would be a good fit, but I changed my mind. Pink is your color, bunny boy.” “I can’t believe you!” Aidan sputtered. “So, are you going to wear it?” Heathcliff asked, completely ignoring Aidan’s indignation. “What I’m going to do is that I’ll turn it into a sling and I’ll come by your house to break all your windows,” Aidan said with conviction. Heathcliff laughed. “Ha! Good luck finding any pebbles on my perfectly manicured lawn.” “I’ll bring my own, don’t worry,” Aidan replied. “Aww, are you really that upset, bunny boy?” Heathcliff drawled the words on purpose. “Of course I’m upset! You’re blatantly flirting!” “And? Who has ever died from flirting?” “I feel the itch to strangle you a little. Probably with that pink thong you so carefully chose for me. So there’s a start for everything.” Heathcliff was laughing so hard right now that Aidan had to keep the phone a bit away from his ear. “I like you, Aidan Spark,” Heathcliff said as soon as he managed to regain his voice. Aidan wanted to say something but had no idea what he could say to that. Also, his cheeks were on fire now, and it wasn’t because of his indignation over the pink thong. He felt warm all over. “Don’t forget. Nine pm, sharp.” “Are you going to leave without me if I’m there, let’s say at one minute past nine?” Aidan said, trying to pretend he was cool and collected. “No, if you’re not here, I’ll come to get you,” Heathcliff said softly. “And I’m going to have you wear that thong, whether you like it or not.” “I’ll be there on time. I’d rather wear my own underwear,” Aidan said dryly. “Good. See you, bunny boy.” Aidan swallowed hard as he stared at his phone after the conversation was over. Yeah, Heathcliff was playing in the big league while he, Aidan, was not even qualified to be called an amateur. *** Heathcliff whistled a happy tune as he watched himself in the mirror. The long sleeved shirt was dark blue, as his pants. His choice of outfit was a bit more serious than what he usually wore when he went out clubbing, but more than ever in his life, he wanted to impress his date. He opened one button more, but then he reconsidered. The point was to avoid going over the top. Aidan Spark was not going to know what hit him. If the bunny wanted to keep things professional, that was an approach Heathcliff was more than willing to try. But first, he was going to put Aidan through his paces. After all, Heathcliff was dying to see more of the real Aidan. Usually, an ass like that and a cute face like Aidan’s were enough incentives for him to make a move. But now, for some reason, he wanted more. He could not exactly define what that was, but he intended to explore it thoroughly. Yes, Heathcliff admired himself in the mirror one last time. He looked like he meant serious business. He checked his wrist watch, and, on cue, his doorbell rang. The bunny was there, right on schedule, as expected. He opened the door with a bit of impatience and smiled fondly as his eyes set on his babysitter. Aidan looked perfect in the clothes Heathcliff had picked for him. Also, he looked more his age, and more relaxed. His hair was a little tousled, too, and Heathcliff expected that some hairstyling attempts had been made in that area. Aidan looked good, but also, very much surprised. “Is this what you’re going to wear?” Aidan pointed at Heathcliff. “No ‘hello’, no nothing?” Heathcliff chided his guest, opening his arms wide. “Sorry, hi,” Aidan said right away. Heathcliff knew he couldn’t help it. He reached out and ruffled Aidan’s hair. A pair of miffed eyes stared at him, their owner obviously taking affront. But Aidan didn’t move his head away, so Heathcliff’s touch turned into a caress. For a couple of seconds, they stared at one another. Aidan was the first to react, breaking the silence. “Well, what’s with the business smart yet casual look? We won’t look good together! I mean --” Aidan stuttered. “I thought you were only going to lurk from the shadows? Where are your NDAs, bunny boy?” Heathcliff inspected Aidan like he expected him to produce official papers out of nowhere suddenly. Aidan took out his phone out of a back pocket and showed it to Heathcliff. “It’s not customary for how my company does things, but I think going digital for one night won’t hurt anyone,” he explained. “Oh, I see. You’re always ready, like a boy scout.” Heathcliff smiled. “What don’t you like about my clothes? Don’t you think I can get enough attention dressed like this?” He pointed at his body on purpose. Aidan’s eyes were looking him up and down with a hungry look. It was a good thing that bunny boy was so young. He had no censure when it came to things he didn’t think visible with the naked eye by others. “Of course, that’s not the point.” Aidan shook his head. “But you’re overdressed, and I’m underdressed, given the circumstances. I thought you were worried I’d make you look bad. Now it looks like you only care about me doing exactly that. I could have worn a suit,” he said, pursing his lips. “No, bunny boy, you couldn’t have.” Heathcliff smiled and stepped out of the house. “Now let’s go. Since we’re in a professional relationship, I only thought it suitable to dress the part.” Aidan shook his head and exhaled. Heathcliff had every reason to be pleased with himself. Regardless of what he was saying, bunny boy was into him big time, and Heathcliff was going to capitalize on that attraction. He only needed to play his cards right, and his prey was going to be ensnared before the night was over. *** “Why are you walking two steps behind?” Heathcliff asked, throwing a curious look at him. “I don’t want people to have the impression that we’re together. While I’m here on official business, I have no wish to sabotage your chances to get laid,” Aidan said quickly. He was pretty nervous if anyone asked him. Not that he had never been in a gay club, but this time and this place were different. First of all, they were inside some posh establishment, and they had gotten in without waiting one minute at the door. The bouncer had thrown Aidan an appreciative look and acted friendly toward Heathcliff. Then he had allowed them to walk inside, not without throwing a short ‘nice catch, Heath’ at Heathcliff, and being met with an all-knowing smirk. Oh, Aidan had seen everything but said nothing. After all, it was no wonder that bouncers and whatnot knew Heathcliff. What was surprising was the bouncer telling Heathcliff that. Seeing what kind of men were usually in the man’s bed, Aidan must have looked homely and average. Maybe it was some inside joke. Maybe, from time to time, Heathcliff chose some random guy for a pity fuck, and that was it. With that conviction in mind, Aidan decided to stay a little back and let Heathcliff bask in the usual attention. It looked like his companion had a different plan. Heathcliff grabbed him by the shoulders and made him walk side by side with him. If things were going to keep up like that, he was lost, Aidan thought. He could smell Heathcliff’s expensive cologne and feel his warmth. If the man was going to do as little as breath in his direction, his legs were going to buckle under him. Good thing Heathcliff was keeping him close. “Are you okay, Aidan?” Heathcliff whispered into his ear. “Are we on the first-name basis now? I thought you were all business tonight,” Aidan whispered back. It was nice to hear Heathcliff calling him by his given name. Too nice, actually, and that was a huge problem. His legs weren’t quite bucking under him, but he needed to draw all the irony he could muster to avoid making a total fool of himself. The more he wanted to swear off Heathcliff and to entertain any idea of erotic nature about him, the deeper he was sinking. Aidan had a mind to make a run for the door and spare himself the embarrassment. “I like your name, you little fire,” Heathcliff’s voice dropped low. Aidan gasped. What the hell? Had Heathcliff been looking into the meaning of his name? Why? With some difficulty, he got a hold of himself. “I like your name, too, although you’re nothing like the tortured hero from Wuthering Heights,” he replied casually. “Would you like me to behave like a tortured hero?” Heathcliff asked smoothly. “No, actually, I’d like you to have fun tonight. I know it’s been a lot. People at my company can be overbearing sometimes. So feel free to hook up, and I’ll take care of NDAs and whatnot without getting in your way.” Heathcliff chuckled. “So generous of you.” “People are looking at you.” Aidan gestured with his chin toward no one in particular. Of course, there were plenty of interested looks thrown their way. Aidan wasn’t in the least surprised. Carefully, he extracted himself from Heathcliff’s hold. “Come on,” he said. “There are so many gorgeous men here tonight. You must be thrilled. Look, someone’s already coming your way.” Aidan was sure he was babbling like an idiot, but he could not help it. A man in his late thirties, with a nicely groomed beard, dressed up about the same as Heathcliff was making his way toward them. Well, the guy was handsome, tall and strong, but he was not precisely Heathcliff’s type. Probably Heathcliff was going to let him down gently. Aidan stepped aside, determined to give his companion free rein to mingle. But, to his surprise, the stranger stopped in front of him. “What’s your name, cutie?” The man towered over him. Aidan almost took one step back. From up close, the guy was pretty impressive. “My name … Um … Sorry, I’m working tonight,” Aidan said quickly, putting his hands over his chest in an unconscious defensive gesture. The man blinked a couple of times and then smiled. “May I ask what your job is about? You don’t look like a waiter or a bartender. Are you maybe a stripper?” The stranger leaned in closer, and Aidan gulped. A stripper? That was not exactly a good idea for a joke. But the man’s interest seemed genuine. “No.” Aidan shook his head energetically. “I must look after someone. I can’t say more. It’s, um, confidential.” He searched with his eyes for Heathcliff. His charge was several feet away, relaxing on a sofa, and already engaged in conversation with a handsome man. Heathcliff’s companion was a guy in his late 20s, with longish brown hair, and by the looks of it, he was also pretty attractive. The pang of jealousy Aidan had felt earlier squeezed his heart. But that was why he was there. Heathcliff would do what he wanted, with whom he wanted, and Aidan wouldn’t stop him. “Mysterious. I like it.” The man who had approached him drew closer. Aidan looked up. “I’m sorry. I wish I could, um, make your acquaintance,” he struggled to find his words, “but I’m working tonight.” “It’s okay,” the man said with a broad smile. “Here’s my card. If you’re ever not working, and in the mood for a drink and more, call me.” Aidan was pretty stunned as he stood there with the man’s card in his hand. Eventually, he shook his head and looked over at Heathcliff. Well, it didn’t look like there was any progress on that front. Heathcliff seemed to enjoy his conversation with his companion, but, by body language signs, there was no sexual interest just yet between them. Aidan decided to scoot over and climb a high seat at the bar so that he could observe his charge without being too intrusive. Suddenly, he felt a pat on his back. He turned to look at the bartender who welcomed him with a bright smile. The man was as young as he was and wore what could be called fascinating eye contacts that made his eyes look like a tiger’s. Aidan was probably gawking. The bartender smirked. Of course, he shook his head. If he sat at the bar, he needed to order something. He was going to ask for some sparkling water and hope he didn’t have to break the bank for it, seeing how posh the place looked. “This is for you.” The bartender pushed a small tray with three drinks on it toward him. Aidan stared stupidly at the tray. “What?” he barely managed. “I didn’t order anything. And I can’t drink!” “Oh, baby, you’re so sweet.” The bartender guffawed. “Just take the tray over to Heath’s table. The red one’s for you,” the man added and winked at him. “What’s in it?” Aidan looked at the tall glass suspiciously. Well, obviously, neither the Old Fashioned nor the Roman Holiday could be for him. “Don’t worry, darling. It’s just a Shirley Temple. For a cutie like you, it’s just what you need.” By how the bartender grinned, Aidan was pretty sure that wasn’t a Shirley Temple. But, with a sigh, he took the tray. What was Heathcliff playing at? Wasn’t he supposed to lay back and let Heathcliff fool around? For the moment, he wasn’t going to protest. He was just going to take the drinks to Heathcliff’s table and find out what was going on. Maybe Heathcliff didn’t like that guy and was using Aidan to pretend he was taken? It wasn’t exactly in his job description, but Aidan could do that. However, there were three drinks there, so that scenario was unlikely. He walked over with the tray in his hands. Heathcliff seemed deep in conversation with his companion, just as before. Could it be the two were just friends? Aidan felt relieved. He placed the drinks carefully on the table. Heathcliff finally looked at him. “How come you’re not on the dance floor? I thought someone was already courting you.” Aidan pursed his lips. Was it okay to give away what his role was, in front of the other? “I’m Michael.” The stranger stretched out his hand, putting a stop to his dilemma for the moment. He took the man’s hand and shook it. Michael was indeed a looker, from up close, too. But he didn’t seem to be Heathcliff’s type. He didn’t seem the flirtatious type, nor was he the kind to star in fashion magazines. Michael had an appeal that didn’t come from the way he looked. His brown eyes were honest, as was his smile. Aidan felt instantly drawn to him. “I’m Aidan,” he replied. “I know.” Michael’s fully-dimpled smile broadened. “So you’re in charge of our dear Heath here?” “Um, sort of. I’m just …” Aidan trailed off, not really knowing what to say, and looking desperately at Heathcliff for a cue. Who was looking at him like a tomcat waiting for a little mouse to make a move. So he was made a fool of, after all. It didn’t matter. Two could play that game. “I must make sure that all of Mr. Stone’s sex partners sign NDAs so that they don’t go running their mouths off to tabloids and ruin our brand,” Aidan said in one go. Michael stared at him, a bit surprised, and then burst into laughter. Aidan didn’t have the guts to look at Heathcliff right now. Probably he wasn’t grinning anymore. “Well, that’s a noble mission, Aidan,” Michael said. “Come, sit next to me.” “Aidan will sit next to me,” Heathcliff intervened. Aidan remained unflinching, looking first at Michael, and then at Heathcliff whose face, no surprise there, looked now like cut in stone. Oh, damn, had he gone too far by blurting out the truth? Sometimes, he needed to check himself. Only a child made such mistakes. “Oh, Heath, please, let’s not fight. Aidan will get bored while you go hunt down your hookup for the night. I only wish to keep him entertained.” Oh, good, Michael wasn’t the hookup for the night, Aidan thought, feeling relieved. He seemed way too nice to be some one night stand. “I’m sure you’ll make him neglect his duties,” Heathcliff replied smoothly. “I can sit between you two,” Aidan said, and instantly thought he had just committed another faux-pas. Two pairs of eyes, one brown and warm, the other blue and slightly pissed, set on him. “Good decision, Aidan.” Michael encouraged him and made room so that he could take his seat on the sofa. The moment he sat, Heathcliff stretched one arm and draped it over his shoulders. “Aren’t you a bit overbearing, Heath?” Michael laughed. “Give our little friend here some room to breathe.” Casually, Michael put one hand on Aidan’s knee. “If you’re ever interested in ditching your job as Heathcliff’s babysitter, I’d like you to come work for me. Do you have any experience with nightclubs?” Just as quickly, Michael removed his hand. The man was a bit of a flirt, after all. Wait, nightclubs? Aidan finally felt his brain catching up with the surroundings. “Is this place yours?” he asked directly. Michael chuckled. “Yes. How do you like it?” “It’s really nice,” Aidan said enthusiastically. Heathcliff’s hand on his shoulder squeezed, and he was being pulled slightly toward the other. Michael seemed to observe everything with an amused smile. “But, unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with nightclubs,” Aidan added, this time regretfully. “No worries.” Michael adjusted his position so that he could face Aidan. “I can show you all the ropes.” “I don’t really think I would be qualified. Plus, I don’t think I have any experience with, well, anything.” Aidan felt the need to be honest. Michael’s eyes lit up. “You’re so adorable! And modest. I understand why Heath is so taken with you.” Aidan gulped and cast his eyes down quickly. Taken with him? Heathcliff? Michael didn’t know his friend that well, then. But Heathcliff was taken with many men, on a regular basis, so it was normal for Michael to say something like that. “We have only a work-related relationship,” Aidan said without looking up. “Interesting,” Michael commented. “Heath, what do you have to say in your defense?” “Maybe that you’re too close to my babysitter. Seriously? Offering him a job? Good babysitters are so hard to find. You wouldn’t believe it,” Heathcliff replied. Aidan exhaled. Of course, it was all a joke. Good, now he knew where he stood. “Are you having fun, Aidan?” Michael asked. “Your club is fabulous, Michael, but I really am here because of work,” Aidan said apologetically. “I feel for you.” Michael patted his knee. “But I was actually wondering if you’re having fun as Heath’s babysitter.” “I wouldn’t call it fun. It’s, um, interesting,” Aidan said slowly. Talking to people like those he was seated with at that table felt a bit like walking on eggshells now. “Then let me help you do something fun for a change,” Michael stood up and stretched out his hand. “Let’s dance. And maybe I can convince you that my offer is worthy of your consideration.” Aidan stole a nervous look toward Heathcliff who was still holding him by the shoulders. “Go on,” Heathcliff smiled at him. “I think you’re entitled to a little bit of fun. Also, I trust Mikey here to fend off the competition.” “Okay,” Aidan replied, not really understanding what Heathcliff was getting at by that. “But it’s only one dance, and I’ll get back. Please, if you hook up, at least take the guy’s name so that I can, you know, do my job.” Heathcliff burst into laughter. “How fast do you think I can hook up?” “You’re you,” Aidan said simply. “I bet you can raise one hand and say one word, and you’ll have to beat everyone off with a stick.” “Hmm, maybe I should do that before you leave the table,” Heathcliff purred and began caressing Aidan’s nape with the tip of his fingers. Aidan shuddered. Everywhere Heathcliff touched him felt electric. Or maybe he was impressed by being there and in such company. He stood up a bit brusquely and took Michael’s hand. As he turned to look over his shoulder, he noticed Heathcliff’s eyes. The man was looking at him in a way that was not easy to define. Was there a tiny bit of longing? No, that couldn’t be. Heathcliff was not the longing type. “I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised with Heath.” Michael helped him move to the rhythm on the dance floor, still holding his hand. “Why?” Aidan asked directly. Michael knew how to move. It was like he was made for the dance floor. The best part was that Aidan found it easy to take after him. At least he didn’t appear to have two left legs. The curious and even somewhat jealous looks thrown in his direction told him that Michael didn’t keep it a secret that he was the owner of the place. But even without that, the man would have drawn plenty of interest. He didn’t have only the moves of a dancer, but also a body that seemed shaped by such activities. “Because he brought someone like you with him. Usually, he’s all about social butterflies.” Aidan nodded, not knowing what to say. Michael suddenly pulled him close, almost making their bodies touch. But his talents as a dancer shone through, and Aidan was just close enough to feel the other’s body heat and nothing more. He could tell he was a little overwhelmed. “It’s just work.” Aidan shook his head. Michael was a bit taller so he could stare down at Aidan. “By what Heath tells me, it’s more than that.” “Um, what does he tell you?” Michael chuckled. “That you’re a fascinating person.” “He says that because I’m not the usual type he hangs out with. Not that we’re hanging out. I need to watch over him because, you know,” Aidan said quickly. “Work,” Michael completed his phrase and looked at him a tad amused. “I mean it about the job, Aidan.” “But we just met,” Aidan pointed out. “There is no way you could know I’m qualified. Or at least that I have what it takes to assist you.” Michael nodded, and then pushed Aidan slightly away, only to make him twirl and end up with his back flush against him. Aidan felt a little dizzy, and not because he had just performed a perfect pirouette like a ballerina. Michael smelled nice, and Aidan could feel his breath on his cheek. “Heath tells me you’re talented. Bright, even. Also, that you know how to deal with difficult situations.” “He’s just saying. Also, I believe he has too much fun teasing me. So, please, take what he says with a pinch of salt.” Michael’s low chuckle sent shivers down his spine. “Heath is rarely impressed with a man’s intellect. You’re an exception, sweetheart. So, if we could get over your modesty, please tell me, what would you do to bring this place up to speed with the 21st century?” Aidan was taken aback by the sudden question. But, as Michael continued to guide him and make him dance, really dance, he began thinking. “How is your social media presence?” he asked. “Facebook page, Twitter account, Insta, all that jazz,” Michael replied. “What about engagement? What’s the average number of likes, tweets, and so on when you post something new?” Michael laughed. “Let’s say that I’m doing a fine job keeping people interested in my venue in the real world. I don’t think I’ve posted anything new in about three months.” “Three months?” Aidan expressed his surprise. “Then I’m sorry to break it to you, Michael, but that’s like the equivalent of being social media dead.” “I thought so,” Michael sighed. “What about your website?” “Err, let’s say I haven’t had enough time to take care of that,” Michael replied and smiled charmingly. “You need a website,” Aidan said, trying hard to ignore Michael’s enticing sway of the hips as the man pulled him close again. “And a social media manager. For starters, I mean.” “See? And you say you have no experience,” Michael said brightly. “Let’s go back and enjoy our drinks. Heath must be already bored out of his wits.” Aidan looked back at the table, only to find the place empty. Instantly he felt the now familiar pang in his chest. So Heathcliff had found someone quickly after all. “Ah, he’s gone already,” Michael noted, too. “I hope I can be good enough company. What do you say, Aidan?” “Sure,” Aidan said. “But please, don’t let me keep you from seeing about your evening, as usual.” Michael’s face was all a smile. “We could talk more about what I can do with this place.” “Certainly.” Aidan nodded. “But are you sure you want to spend your Saturday night talking business?” “Definitely.” Michael gestured for him to take a seat. “Okay,” Aidan began, but his eyes began searching around. “I’d say that you should start …” he trailed off as he noticed Heathcliff standing not far away from them, and talking to a young man dressed in a white tee that probably showed a perfect set of six packs. The kind he didn’t have, Aidan thought ruefully. A pat on his shoulder woke him up from his thoughts. “Do you want to know what you should do right now?” Michael asked him. “I’m sorry.” Aidan shook his head, feeling guilty. “Where were we? Ah, we were talking about--” “We can talk some more about that another time. Now take a sip from your drink,” Michael encouraged him, “it will give you strength.” Of course, as the guest, Michael probably wanted to know his opinion about the cocktails served there. Aidan dutifully took a sip through the straw. “There’s alcohol in it!” Michael laughed. “Of course. It’s a Dirty Shirley, not your usual Shirley Temple, but that’s just a small detail, right?” “I wouldn’t call one ounce of vodka a small detail,” Aidan said wryly. “Someone knows his cocktail recipes.” Michael laughed. “Now take another sip of liquid courage, go over there, and ask Heath to dance.” “Why would I do that?” Aidan asked, feeling a bit hot, and not just from the drink. “Because he told me that’s what he’s hoping for tonight,” Michael replied promptly. Aidan blinked a few times. He looked at Michael, but it didn’t look like the guy wanted to play him. “Why? Is he getting cold feet? Does he think one percent of the male population here would reject him or something? I bet he aims at a perfect score,” he babbled. “What does he need me for?” “Why don’t you find out?” Michael said with a small, secretive smile. Aidan looked at his host, then over at Heathcliff. The young man in the white tee was well into Heathcliff’s space, yet, Heathcliff didn’t seem to take the reins, as expected. Aidan took a long sip from his drink. What was the worst that can happen? In a few words, he would make a fool of himself. Heathcliff could tell him to fuck off so that he could see about his mating strategies for the night. Somewhat, with Michael’s encouragements, and the alcohol in his system, Aidan felt like the worst was a risk worth taking. TBC
  29. 42 points
    2 Leon loved horses: handsome, loyal and excellent judges of characters, they were the best companion to have. He always knew his limits with a horse, humans, not so much. At twenty-two, he had spent most of his life in a whirlwind of study and business assessments: his father gave him tough, rigorous and trying programs and expected him to excel. When his father thought him ready, he sent Leon to Harvard at seventeen, away from the safety of home for four years. Those years as an undergraduate, in a foreign country, taught him a lot about people. He learned when to trust, when to suspect, when to walk away. He worked hard at Harvard, enough to graduate on top and earn admission into the Oxford Business School. Oxford was where he met his five housemates who he now viewed as brothers. Being an only child, he’d never known what it was like to have siblings until he moved into the house in Carfax with the five. Now, sitting on a gorgeous black stallion, riding across the lush green plains of Paul O’Hara’s lands in Ireland, Leon felt free. Paul’s family home was beautiful, his horses enough to make Leon envious. Most of all, Leon loved the wild sense of spirit here, it seeped into his soul. The expansive lands flowed to the sea. Leon took in a deep breath of the clean morning fresh air and imagined the magic in this place flooding him. Ireland was the first stop on this six-month tour. They would spend two weeks with Paul’s family before they headed to the next stop. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Logan Mason interrupted the solitude, making Leon clutch his reins tight as he turned to scowl at him. Logan was unhappy with him for lying about his itinerary. They’d been here three days, and Logan had yet to look at him without scowling. It was annoying. “You didn’t need to follow me out here,” Leon said, irritated by the interruption. “I wanted a ride too,” Logan said. “I thought we could keep each other company.” “I want to be alone,” Leon said. “You are,” Logan said, moving his horse away, the long dark coat he wore falling around him to drape over the white horse he rode. Logan’s form was elegant and strong on a horse; one could almost believe he rode horses for a living. “Imagine yourself alone, Leon,” Logan said, giving him a short scowl, before he rode away to put distance between them. Leon shook his head at that comment, and urged his horse forward, determined to find a way down to the beach. When he did find the beach, he allowed the stallion into a fast run, and couldn’t help grinning at the feel of fresh air beating on his face. Logan stayed with him, though he kept his distance, enough to make Leon almost forget he was there. Almost. When they got back to the stables an hour later, Leon dismounted and helped the groom take care of his horse. Leon was busy talking about horse grain with the friendly groom when Logan came to find him. “Breakfast is ready,” Logan said, remaining by the door. “Paul’s mom called.” Leon rubbed the stallion’s neck as the horse ate his oats, and glanced at Logan. Logan was scowling again. He didn’t do that with David, or the others, no, only with Leon. When it was just the two of them, Logan scowled and stood with his arms crossed against his chest. “Are you angry with me?” Leon asked, turning to the black stallion. “You lied,” Logan said, without prompting. “You’ve made us both liars to your parents and my superiors.” Leon smiled. “Am I not allowed to make decisions in my life?” Leon asked. “The itinerary I sent in was the perfect escape, no murky places, and filled with elite destinations. It was boring and you know it. I changed my mind and made another.” “The first itinerary was safe,” Logan said, dropping his arms to his sides, his scowl turning into a frown. “We’re flying blind right now.” “This is safe too,” Leon said, looking around the busy stable. “There is no one to harm me here, except an over-excited horse. It’s an accepted risk percentage for any other person, why not me?” Logan blinked, and then looked away from him. “You should have at least told me.” Logan grumbled. “Asking Stevens to keep it from me was not nice either.” “Are you certain you wouldn’t have reported it to my parents? Or asked questions around the wrong people in your team?” Leon asked. Logan glanced at him for a moment, then shook his head and kicked the ground with his riding boots. “I’m not that stupid.” Leon smiled, murmured his goodbyes to the handsome dark stallion, and stepped up to Logan. “You would have made a report to my parents out of duty,” Leon said. “There is nothing wrong with that. Even now, I’m quite sure you’ll give it, but they can’t stop me now. I’m already away from home. We just have to see this through for six months.” “You’re making my job difficult,” Logan said. “I’m living my life,” Leon said. “If you go along, there should be no trouble for any of us, Logan Mason. So, stop scowling at me every time you look at me.” Logan sighed, and then the sigh turned into a chuckle, the sound of it low and amused. “Breakfast is ready,” Logan reminded him after a minute. “Let’s go then,” Leon went around him, heading out of the stables. “I’ll need to take a shower before I eat. You should join them at the table first, Logan.” Leon walked away fast, glad that Logan did not follow him up to his room. He stripped fast and entered the shower, taking a hot one. When he was done, he dressed in an older shirt and dark jeans. He wore black work boots and hurried downstairs to join everyone for breakfast. Paul’s mom grabbed his arm when he entered the large kitchen with the huge table. She took him to a chair next to David and her husband. Leon sat down, accepting a mug of coffee from her. “That should warm your bones up,” she said. “Riding by the sea the cold seeps into you.” Leon thanked her and glanced around the filled table to find Logan seated next to Paul and one of the stable hands. He was laughing as he ate his bacon, and Paul told him about playing in the stables when he was young. “Are you two talking now?” David asked Leon, passing him a bowl of sausages. Leon placed two on his plate and passed the bowl to Paul’s Dad. “Sort of,” Leon said, as he filled his plate with the bowls that passed his way. Soon he was digging into scrambled eggs, sausages, beans and hash browns. “We’ll have to see how it goes when he reports in to his people.” David sighed, studying Logan. “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?” “A serious pickup complete with my grandmother’s elite guard,” Leon said, chewing on eggs. “I’d like to avoid seeing that,” David said with a grim sigh. “Shit, we need to be nicer to Logan.” Leon grinned and turned to Paul’s Dad when he asked him if he would like to see how the cows are milked. Leon decided then not to worry about Logan and any report he might send in to his parents. Instead, throwing himself into a hearty breakfast and listening to Paul’s Dad discuss the cycles of cow grazing. *** Midday found them in a mud pit at the neighbors. One of the neighbor’s mares had entered a mud hole. It was taking every able man to help pull the mare out. Leon was hip deep in the mud, working to calm the frightened horse, even as he made sure the rope wrapped around the horse was secure. “You look like a mud ball,” Petr teased Leon, standing on the edge of the mud hole, his hands at his hips. He was relatively clean, as he’d only been pulling at the rope. Leon swiped mud away from his cheeks and walked to the edge. He gripped the back of Petr’s left leg and pulled him into the mud pit too. Logan gripped the rope tied to the mare’s middle, and bit back a laugh when Petr fell on Leon and they both sunk into the mud. When they got their footing back, both of them looked like mud balls, resulting in a round of laughter and more teasing. When the mare struggled, the ribbing ended, Petr and Leon worked together to calm the horse and help push her up and out of the mud. The process took about two hours, and when the mare was free, the veterinary took over the job of checking the horse’s health. Once the veterinary declared the horse without serious injury, Leon’s friends joined him in the mud, and Logan watched in amusement as Leon laughed, looking happy, despite the mud that was surely in his ears and mouth now. He looked like one of the guys, playing in the mud. Logan could understand a bit, of what Leon wanted during this trip. He decided then to keep his silence on the change of itinerary. He would report on Leon’s well-being, and not mention anything until it was necessary. *** Their time in Ireland moved too fast, the two weeks at the O’Hara farm ended with a graduation party prepared by Paul’s parents. They invited neighbors and friends. A huge bonfire burned at the beach, and there was beer drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the night. Logan got to dance with Leon for a minute and was charmed when he realized that Leon was drank, and finding every kick of the sand amusing. “You need a bed,” Logan teased him when he couldn’t walk straight. “Who needs a bed, when you have the stars and the sand?” Leon asked, collapsing on a blanket laid out on the beach away from the fire. Leon lay back and braced himself up on his elbows. “Are you ready to come out from behind that wall, Lt. Mason? You’re holding yourself so tight around us. You should have fun. Kiss a beautiful Irish girl and drink in the night and stars.” “I’d rather kiss a handsome Irish boy,” Logan said, sitting on the blanket beside Leon. “Really,” Leon glanced at him with wide eyes. “I’d never have guessed it.” Logan smiled and pressed on Leon’s shoulder, his smile widening as Leon collapsed back on the blanket. “Go to sleep Handsome Aeras Prince,” Logan teased. “If you wanted to kiss me, I wouldn’t object,” Leon said, resting his head on his arms. “I like kissing handsome boys too…” Logan watched Leon drift into sleep and folded his arms over his knees. He beat down the hope that bloomed like a wild fire spark inside him. He reminded himself that kissing a prince would only lead to trouble in the future. *** Bags packed, the Landrovers filled with supplies collected in the last week, and they were back on the road again. Logan sat in the backseat in the first Landrover, with Riku taking up the front passenger seat. Leon drove, and David sat with Logan in the back. Petr, Paul and Anselm rode in the second Landrover. “Where to?” Logan asked, when Leon finished calibrating their navigation map. “Germany,” Riku said, from the front seat, practically vibrating with excitement. “I want to hike the Geierlay Suspension Bridge.” “Anyone you know there?” Logan asked, crossing out the nice Norwegian resort written in his itinerary, and putting in Germany. “Are we really driving this?” “Yep,” David grinned. “We have to do it. I heard it takes almost seventeen hours, plus there is taking the Channel Tunnel train to Frethun. We have to try it.” Logan shook his head in disbelief. He met Leon’s gaze in the rear view mirror, his eyes widening when Leon lifted a brow at him. “What?” “Wanna call it quits already?” Leon asked, heading to Dublin so they could take the ferry back to the UK. “We can drop you off at the Royal Navy base. You can fly back to Aeras—” “I’m not quitting,” Logan cut him off. Leon smirked and relaxed in his seat. “Then enjoy the ride, Logan,” Leon said, ending the topic. It took them eighteen hours to get to Sosberg, Germany. Delays on the road, a wrong turn in Belgium and a misdirection when they finally entered Germany added on their time. Logan was not surprised when Petr managed to get them a house to stay in Sosberg. A house that he said one of his uncles owned in what looked like the rural parts. Logan didn’t push for more information because Petr didn’t want to offer it. It was a good place to bunk for the month of August. Logan noted that no one pushed, or questioned the availability of the house. The white two-story house had six bedrooms. Leon and David bunked together, allowing Logan to get his own room. After a long shower, and a few hours of sleep on an actual bed, Logan left his bedroom, heading downstairs to find David and Anselm in the living room playing video games. “Where is everyone?” Logan asked. “Leon is asleep, Petr and Riku have gone out on a date, Paul went on a grocery shopping run,” David said. “Wanna join?” “I should—” “Leon will be out for a few more hours,” Anselm said. “Speaking of which, this is a new stop, Logan. I hope we can get you to break out of the shell here. I heard you’re an elite marksman. Play with us. We’re getting our asses kicked by some local team here.” Logan moved to sit next to David on the couch. He joined the game and they were well into winning two rounds when Paul returned. They baked four large pizzas in the oven, Petr and Riku returned with Riku smiling in wild happiness. Leon woke up just as Logan was removing the last pizza from the oven. “My stomach brought me downstairs,” Leon joked, taking in the scent of fresh baked pizza. “Petr, did you make these? You’re getting good, buddy.” “I didn’t make them.” Petr shook his head, wrapping an arm around Riku’s shoulders. “Logan made the dough, rolled it out and Anselm did the rest.” “Logan,” Leon smiled at him, clearly impressed, making a second stutter shake Logan’s heart. He looked away from Leon, and concentrated on cutting the pizza into slices. “You surprise me. You cook?” “Hard not to when you live alone,” Logan said. “I guess we’ll keep learning new things about you through this trip,” Leon said, coming to sit next to David at the kitchen table. Logan fought a scowl as Leon leaned into David, and got his hair caressed in return. Now that he knew Leon didn’t mind kissing boys, this affection between David and Leon was starting to annoy him. What kind of relationship did they have? Was it deeper than friendship? Logan turned to the sink and turned on the water, annoyed by the wave of jealousy that filled him. Taking in a deep breath, he washed the knife and then his hands. When he was done and turned around, it was to find Leon watching him with a speculative gaze. *** Germany was a period of rest, and recuperation. Leon took a lot of photos of the surrounding villages. Logan made it through the various experiments in the kitchen by Petr, and Anselm’s attempts to discover the mechanics of the suspension bridge when they went on the hike. They were scheduled to stay two weeks, but it turned into a month. One afternoon, Leon urged Logan into a two-day trip to visit The Blue Waters of Eibsee. Everyone else was busy doing their own exploration, so Logan agreed. He drove, with Leon acting as the navigator. Leon took more photos during their trip. They got to the lake late, and stayed at the Eibsee Hotel for the night. At sunrise, Leon dragged Logan to the lake, and Logan finally understood Leon’s excitement. The lake waters were blue, surrounded by an impressive mountain view that left Logan breathless. Leon spent a few minutes taking photographs of the sunrise at Eibsee Lake. When he was done, he stood next to Logan and took in a deep breath, letting it out in increments. “It’s so beautiful, it’s unreal,” Leon said. “I would hate to live here.” “Why?” “Because I’d become numb to the sight of this, and slowly forget how amazing this place looks.” Logan took in the lake, the blue water and the mountain reflecting on the surface. He could see Leon’s logic. “You’re right. It would be a sin to turn numb to this,” Logan agreed. Leon turned to look at him, a small smile playing on his lips, before he turned to stare at the lake. They stayed at Eibsee Lake for hours, hiking through the nature paths around the lake, when they got tired, they went back to the hotel to eat. Logan found himself relaxing in Leon’s company. That evening after dinner, they settled on lounge chairs in a private patio staring at the view of the lake beyond. They talked—more than he had expected—about the lake, about food, and their experience crossing the channel to France. The wrong turns, the right ones, and the sights they saw on their drive to Sosberg. “Why did you guys really decide to take this trip?” Logan asked. “Because,” Leon said, adjusting the pillow under his head. “Why not take the trip?” “Leon, you lied to your parents for this.” “My Dad is strict about safety because my mom worries. If he was to hear about me driving around like these,” Leon shuddered and shook his head. “It would not be pretty. Yet, I’m so happy to be out here, I’m afraid it will end too soon.” “Is it the same for the others?” Leon closed his eyes and shook his head. “No, they have more freedom than me. Their parents encourage wild trips across countries,” Leon said with a sigh. “Riku’s dad told him it would open his eyes. Petr’s dad wants him to gain not less than twenty business contacts. He has it rough.” Logan chuckled, marveling at the parental concern. His mother was happy he called her when he was away, and visited her to tell him his adventures when he was home. She bought him new t-shirts, socks and shirts, when she thought his were too old. On the day he finished a tour and went home, she took him grocery shopping. He couldn’t imagine ever being afraid of her, or taking orders from her. As far as he was concerned, Gabriella Mason was a great mom. “What are you thinking about?” Leon asked, shifting in his lounge chair to look at him. “Mm…we’re almost a month into this,” Logan said. “You have plenty of time, Leon. Whatever it is you want to do, do it, without worry. I’ll protect you as long as I can.” “You won’t write a report to my parents?” “No.” Logan promised, smiling when he saw Leon’s gaze widen. “I should have when I discovered we were driving to Ireland, but—” “But?” Leon asked. “I like teasing you.” Logan looked away from Leon, focusing on the lake instead. Leon chuckled but didn’t say more. Logan glanced at him and frowned when he found Leon facing him, eyes closed, about to fall asleep. “It’s cold out here. We should go in,” Logan said. “I like it here.” Leon toed off his sneakers and settled on the lounge chair. “Let’s stay for a while.” Not wanting to ruin a great evening, Logan sat watching Leon sleep. When the wind picked up, he reached for a blanket folded on the table. Shaking it out, he covered Leon with the soft blanket, and settled on his lounge chair. Once again, he reminded his heart that Leon would never be his, not ever. ***
  30. 42 points
    Arad had no idea how to process his day with Roku. Most attracted strangers found it easier to get along the more time spent together, didn’t they? For Arad and Roku, each passing day tangled their lives into something far more complicated. Given the growing connection between them, it shouldn’t be so easy to drive them apart. A curious situation for two people so fond of one another. So fond of one another? What a glaring understatement. Pulling to free the cover’s tension, Arad turned over to better see Roku in the dark. Watching Roku sleep had become a habit he should consider breaking. It started as a response to an unknown person on board, but now it had become something else. Curled on the floor, Roku snored, the gentle sawing a soothing sound. The proof of normalcy in what was anything but. At first he’d dismissed his attraction as a byproduct of caring for the DemiShou clan. Then from the awkward circumstances of their first encounter which still aroused him, even without the Syn. After that, he passed it off as admiring the physique of a well-constructed male. Purring voice, god-like muscles, and yes an unfairly ample endowment added up to appreciating Roku’s more primal aspects. Roku’s torso swelled and shrank with his breathing in a smooth motion. No sign of agitation. No sign of new nightmares. The jagged shards of his fractured memories piercing the surface made Arad ache. They barely knew enough to craft a rumor, and it chilled worse than an unprotected spacewalk. Roku mostly knew peace when he slept. Mostly. Yeah… it was all about animal attraction. Sure it was. Arad began to relax, finally feeling like he could drift off, but cursed silently over the need to pee. It was always something, wasn’t it? Getting out of bed required a careful dance around the tiger blocking the floor. Arad suspected that was deliberate on Roku’s part. His position created a wall between Arad and the door. Not that they had to worry about intruders, but the intent was appreciated. After nearly kicking Roku getting around him, Arad tiptoed to the door. He cringed at the noise of the door opening and looked back over his shoulder to find Roku exactly in the same state. Neither of them liked to sleep with the hatch open. Roku and Arad shared similar issues about shelter and security, but while Arad’s stemmed from living on the streets, Roku couldn’t really explain why. Barefoot, Arad made his way to the lav as quietly as possible. The automatic lights were turned down to minimum because he hated how Torrins let them blind everyone in the middle of the night. Arad relieved himself and took a quick drink from the sink. He was pretty sure he could crash now. As he stepped out into the hallway, he nearly screamed at the figure in the shadow. “Roku! Son of a bitch! You about startled me to death!” Arad stage whispered his frustration, somehow keeping from disturbing the non-existent neighbors. Not moving or speaking, Roku sat on the floor waiting, face in his bent knees. “Roku?” The tiger snuffled into his knees. Dead asleep. Arad shook his head as his pulse settled. “My hero from the terrors in the night.” He may have been mocking the DemiShou, but Arad’s admiration for Roku grew. Roku was tortures by his animal instincts. Frightened by their intensity, he didn’t trust himself to stop if he gave in to his baser urges. He wanted Arad. The taste he had when waking hadn’t curbed it, and Arad didn’t know how to handle it. He wanted to believe Roku had enough self-control, but he also knew how groggy Roku had been when he woke. If he had been more aware, would he have been less animalistic? Or more? Neither knew, and Roku refused to risk it. So he made due with being near Arad. He stayed close, protecting Arad from himself and any other that might do him harm. More than casual friendship had spawned in their time sequestered together. If only Arad knew what to do with that. Sex had always been a tool. A pleasurable tool, but a tool nonetheless. Perhaps not the most seemly of skills, but it had its advantages. Learning to seduce a man became an easy thing to learn and knowing how to use it to extract a trade came soon after. Arad had never known a man he wanted to bed down without getting a prize in return until Roku. Only problem was, he didn’t know how. It had always been part of a transaction. Trading services in that way made Roku uncomfortable, so Arad would have to teach himself how not to be a whore. Assuming of course that Roku ever gave him the opportunity. With a sigh, Arad tapped Roku’s shoulder, trying not to startle him. “Roku. Get up, you overgrown stray. Let’s go to bed.” It took three tries to get a response and it was limited. With a garbled murmur, Roku nodded as he rose without really opening his eyes. Arad headed back to the bedroom, Roku’s incoherent mumbling trailing behind him. He peeked back more than once to be sure the tiger didn’t fall and break his face open during the short trek. Leaving the bedroom door open, Arad got into bed and arranged the covers to keep himself cool in the warmer atmospherics while keeping watch to make sure Roku survived the return trip. Shuffling his feet, Roku crossed the room with all the grace of a brain-dead tweaker, stripped off his kilt, and crawled in bed. He rolled on his side and pressed his gloriously naked self—thick muscles, cock and all—against Arad. A lullaby of snoring immediately resumed. Arad froze, unwilling to breath out loud. Rigid with indecision, he stared at the ceiling, praying his heartbeat—which thundered for a completely new reason—wouldn’t wake Roku.
  31. 41 points
    It was a pleasant, warm summer afternoon that found me sitting in the living room, almost dozing off. I was killing time by watching House Hunters International and munching on apples. Earlier that day, I had discovered several apple trees in the backyard. Of course, I had no idea which variety they were. All I knew was the apples were a nice yellowish-green color and they tasted delicious! Unfortunately, I also found dozens of apples fallen and rotten under each tree. It made me realize I know practically nothing about taking care of fruit trees, so I made a mental note to ask Tom if he could help me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an expert at it. Even though it was late summer, the September days were still quite warm, which I enjoyed. What I did not enjoy was days getting shorter. I disliked the feeling of getting home from work and finding that it’s already getting dark. On the other hand, it wasn’t like I had much to do once I finished my preparations for the next day’s classes. As a result, I had a lot of free time and not much to fill it with. I started wondering about what people in this town do to have fun? They can’t possibly be working in the fields and around the house all day and spending every evening at the ‘Bar’, can they? At times like those, I missed having my friends around. I missed the way we could just text each other and make plans to meet for drinks or go see a movie. Unless you already had a family, life in Taernsby was quite lonely and I wasn’t prepared for that. Sure, Tom and I had finally broken the ice and started dating, so I was looking forward to spending more time with him, but I he had his farm to take care of. I couldn’t just call him every time I got bored. Our first date was nothing short of beautiful, and I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed myself! I never thought I needed such romance in my life, but Tom definitely proved me wrong. Even though he was still somewhat shy, perhaps due to his lack of experience, he was very attentive and caring. I started to realize he was slowly getting under my skin, and I was fully prepared to allow it. As I sat in front of the TV, trying to kill some time, my phone rang. I almost jumped to answer it, welcoming any distraction. I smiled when I saw it was Jae, my best friend. We had been texting often since I moved, with me telling him about my new life, and him filling me in on what was going on with him and Alison. As soon as we got to talking, I realized just how much I missed having him around. We used to see each other at least once a week, usually more, so these few weeks that I’ve been gone were the longest period we’ve been apart. “So, where do you like it better - here or there?” he asked. I could just imagine the evil smirk on his face as he was making me choose. “I know you’re dying to tell me ‘I told you so’! But seriously, it can’t be compared,” I shook my head. “Don’t get me wrong, I like it here, I really do. It’s so relaxing and quiet, it feels like life is going by more slowly than in the city.” “In other words - time is standing still and you’re bored?” I had to laugh. “Yeah, but it’s not just that.” “Then what else?” “Well, sometimes I feel like Paris Hilton in The Simple Life, you know? I like it, but half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. Like, I’m trying to live my life the same way I did in Ryderville, but then I realize I can’t do that here. And it can be lonely, that’s for sure.” “Maybe you just need some more time to adjust. You already said you liked it, right? And that’s the most important part. Everything else will fall into place in time,” Jae said and I already felt a bit better. I told you he was very intelligent and I wasn’t exaggerating. “Yeah, I said it a million times and I guess I’ll say it again - you’re probably right,” I admitted, drawing out a satisfied laugh from the other side. “So, when are you gonna come over? Talk with Alison and get your butts over here already. I miss you, guys!” “Hey, you’re the one with a car, you should come to us,” Jae countered. “And did you forget about The Thumbnails concert? You have to come and go with us?” The Thumbnails were our favorite local indie band, consisting of two guys and a girl. One of the guys went to uni with us and he would always let us know when they were playing. I had completely forgotten they were scheduled to play at a club in the city in a few weeks. “Shit, I totally forgot! When is it?” I asked. “On the 27th. You can come, right?” “I wouldn’t miss it! But don’t think you’re off the hook, you two still need to come and see my new home and everything! And besides, Alison’s got a car.” “I know, we’ll make plans and let you know. I just don’t know when I’ll have the time, what with working two jobs and everything…” “Your job search still not working out, huh?” I asked. I knew that ever since we finished uni, Jae hasn’t been able to find a job in his field, so he had to work two jobs as a waiter. The student loan wasn’t gonna pay for itself. “What can I say, no one seems to need an archeologist.” “Have you considered moving?” “That’s what I’m gonna have to do, it seems,” he replied. Jae was never a big fan of changes, and the idea of moving from the city he spent his whole life in was unnerving for him. He didn’t like talking about it, so I wasn’t surprised when he casually changed the subject. “So… How’s the market for gay boys at Taernsby? Or have people there not discovered Grindr yet?” “I wouldn’t know, I didn’t even need to use Grindr,” I said, waiting for his reaction. “You’re kidding?! You’ve actually met someone there?” Jae exclaimed, sounding nearly as surprised as when I told him I was moving. “Yeah, I have. His name’s Tom,” I replied, already feeling a smile creeping up on my lips. “Ooh, tell me more! What’s he like?” “He’s very… Tom.” “Well, that tells me everything,” Jae laughed softly. “Heh, sorry but I don’t know quite how to describe him. He’s so different than any other guy I’ve gone out with.” “So he’s not a narcissistic gym-freak?” “Hey, that’s not the type I go for,” I started to protest, but he quickly shut me up with examples. “Oh really? Dylan, Pedro, Luke-” “Ok, ok, you’ve made your point,” I jumped in. Jae was having too much fun with this. “But yeah, Tom is not like them.” I’m not sure if Jae believed when I told him we went on a picnic on our first date and didn’t go further than kissing. He probably expected to hear dirty details and was surprised that there weren’t any. In any event, I was happy he had called to catch up, and was looking forward to seeing my two best friends soon. It wasn’t long after Jae and I finished our conversation that my phone buzzed again. It was Tom, responding to my message from earlier. He had returned from working in the field and was now free. I tapped a quick message to let him know I was on my way and headed out. When I arrived, Tom was already outside on the front lawn, with his dog walking beside him. I waved as I approached them, crossing the street, and he waved back. His cute face lit up with the most brilliant smile. It felt good knowing that someone was so happy to see me. “Hey, I missed you!” I told him as I approached and gave him a lingering hug. “I missed you too! I had a great time yesterday,” Tom gushed, kissing me on the cheek. “You look really nice,” I scanned him with my hungry eyes. He wore a simple white t-shirt that accentuated his tan, and sand-colored shorts that reached to his knees. “Thanks, so do you. You always do!” Bruno came without reservations and plopped down on the grass near my legs, turning over on his back. He was a huge St. Bernard that looked like an oversized stuffed animal. His fur was white, with light brown back and hind legs. His ears and parts of his head were a darker shade of brown. He was very calm and friendly, and his size only made him even cuter. “This is Bruno. I think he’s happy to meet you,” Tom introduced us, crouching down next to his pet and started giving him belly rubs. I followed suit and scratched the dog’s tummy, my hand occasionally touching Tom’s. We looked at each other and smiled - it felt nice and easy. They often say that pets look like their owners and vice versa, and I think that’s true in this case as well. Tom and Bruno didn’t physically look alike, but I found their personalities matched. Both of them were sweet, adorable and easy to get along with, easy to like. I was drawn to the guy from the moment I first laid eyes on him. “He is so precious! How old is he?” I asked, moving my hand to scratch the dog’s neck. He then stuck out his long tongue and started licking my hand, making me giggle. “Almost a year,” Tom said. “Yeah, he likes you.” “I like him too,” I said looking at the dog, and then looked up at Tom and winked. “How did you get him?” “Through Dave, that’s my sister’s husband. One of his friends had little puppies for sale, so I bought one.” At that moment, the door to the house opened and a little ball of energy ran out, making noise. “Uncle, I ate my dinner! Can I now play wi-” the little girl shouted as she ran toward us, until she noticed me and stopped. “Mr. Greyston! Hey!” she exclaimed, surprised to see me. “Hey, Kayla,” I waved to the girl. “You can call me Charlie when we’re not in class, ok?” “OK! You’re not here for school, are you?” she frowned and I couldn’t resist chuckling. “No, I came to see your uncle Tom.” “Oh, ok! Because I didn’t finish homework yet, but I will,” she promised and knelt down to play with the dog. Bruno happily stretched and rolled around on the grass as the girl gave him belly rubs and talked to him. I don’t think homework was on her mind at all at that moment. Tom and I stood up and started walking away, when an old man walked out of the house. It was Tom’s grandpa, Michael Claffey. He wore a plaid shirt, worn-out pants and glasses. What was left of his hair was all grey. “Oh, I wasn’t aware we had guests,” he observed as he slowly came toward us. “Grandpa, this is Charlie. Charlie, this is my grandpa,” Tom introduced us. “Hi, Mr. Claffey, it’s nice to meet you,” I shook his hand. “You too, young man. So, you’re the Greyston boy? I wouldn’t even have recognized you if I saw you on the street, you’ve grown up!” “Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve been here,” I nodded. “Not much has changed here, as you can see. Taernsby is as nice and welcoming as ever,” he nodded and I could notice Tom rolling his eyes. “How’s your family?” “They’re all doing well. My sister is starting uni this autumn, and mom and dad are still working.” “That’s good. Your dad hasn’t been here in years. At least now someone’s going to take care of the property. Don’t wanna let it all get covered in weeds, hey?” He chuckled as if he was making a joke, but I could tell he was also being serious. “Yeah, dad’s been busy with work,” I replied, not knowing what to say. “And you came here to be a teacher, huh? That’s nice, coming back here to your roots. I’m sure you’ll do good here! And we’ve got plenty of young girls looking for bachelors. We’ll get you married in no time!” “Great,” I nodded and smiled uncomfortably. I noticed how different Mr. Claffey was from his wife. While she spoke about advising Tom to go out and explore, he seemed perfectly content with living here. I wondered how much of an influence he was on Tom. After Kayla went back to her house, accompanied by her grandpa, Tom and I walked around, talking and enjoying each other’s company. He led me through their fields all the way to a rather large thicket of birch trees. There was a stream flowing through, and we set on the grass, watching the clear water pass by, cascading over the rocks. “You do have all the best views,” I said, admiring the nature around me. I could see a bunch of tiny birds sitting on the branches - their song was all around us. “Yup,” Tom chirped. “I do like my view right now.” I turned to see him looking straight at me. We leaned at the same time and kissed - it was giving me life. It wasn’t just the fact that I was kissing this amazing, cute guy. When I was with him, I felt inspired and encouraged, as if life is simple and all of my problems would be easily resolved. “Do you really like it here?” he asked me as we sat there, watching the sun slowly cross the sky, down toward the horizon. “In Taernsby, I mean.” He sounded insecure. Maybe he was afraid I’d leave him like Donovan did. I didn’t ask. “I do,” I told him honestly. “But it’s tough. I feel like I need to learn so many things now.” “Like what?” he asked curiously, scooting closer to me. “Like how to fix a leaky roof without having to call you,” I replied, much to his amusement. “And for example, I have this big backyard, with all these sheds, chicken coops and what not. I have no use for them, do I just leave them be? And all of the fruit trees, I don’t know how to take care of them. Your grandpa is right - dad’s not coming and there’s no one to take care of it now.” I remembered how grandpa would spray the trees to kill the insects and prevent diseases, all the while wearing a white mask over his face. If we happened to be visiting while he did that, Kim and I wouldn’t be allowed to go outside and play in that area so we wouldn’t inhale the fumes. “I know grandpa used to prune them, spray them with chemicals and stuff, but I don’t know any of that,” I lamented. “Maybe I can look it up on YouTube?” “You’re cute when you’re nervous,” Tom took my hand and squeezed it. “I can show you all of that if you want.” “I don’t know. When I came here, I thought I’d just work as a teacher and enjoy the nature and fresh air. I didn’t realize I was going to have to work even when I get home,” I chuckled at myself, realizing how naive I must’ve sounded to him. “But thanks, you’re sweet. I’ll think about it. Maybe you could ease me into it.” “You can work as much as you want to,” Tom shrugged. “If you don’t want to raise animals, grow your veggies and fruits, you don’t have to. You can relax, mow the lawn every now and then and buy the stuff you need from the store.” “Oh, right. The store,” I sighed, remembering the annoying woman at the cash register. “What’s the matter?” Tom asked. “I kinda did something stupid the other day,” I winced, remembering the argument I had with Susan, the cashier. Tom laughed as I gave him a detailed account of what happened. “Susan’s harmless, she just loves to talk,” he explained. “People are used to it, I guess. They don’t go to the store just to shop, but also to hear the latest gossip, you know?” “So the store is like the town’s very own news channel?” “Pretty much.” After a while, we decided to go back to the house. We were in no rush, so we walked slowly along a beaten dirt path. When we were halfway there, Bruno saw us and joined in, walking by our side. Tom and I were close all the time, letting our hands touch and shoulders brush off of each other. I enjoyed those fleeting touches and I think he did too. We finally sat on a bench behind his house, next to a large pine tree. Bruno laid down on the grass beneath our feet and Tom took off one of his slippers, scratching the dog’s belly with his bare foot. The big, cuddly animal closed his eyes and enjoyed the attention it was being given by its owner. At one point, Tom and I raised our heads and looked at each other at the same time. There were many things I wanted to ask him and learn about him, but at that moment I think our lust prevailed over any desire for conversation we may have had. We brought our lips together and kissed. It was gentle at first, but then Tom put a hand on the back of my neck and pulled me closer. I put my hands on his waist and then deepened the kiss, opening my mouth. Our tongues connected and I couldn’t resist moaning a bit. He was such a good kisser and I was eager to try everything with him. Just a simple touch of his hand got me excited, but when he kissed me like that - I was burning on the inside. Lost in the moment, we didn’t notice anything around us until we heard Bruno bark. Breaking the kiss, we turned to see Tom’s grandma standing nearby, a nervous, uncomfortable look on her face and a tray with two glasses of lemonade in her hand. “Excuse me,” she said curtly and left, not looking at either of us. Tom’s head dropped and he let out a heavy sigh. I felt bad for the guy. He’d told me his grandparents weren’t exactly crazy about him being gay, and now this sensitive issue was back in the forefront because of me. “Tom, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-” I started to apologize, but he turned to me and took my hand, placing it on his thigh. “Hey, it’s ok,” he smiled one of those smiles that told me he was only pretending to be strong. “You got nothing to be sorry for. I said I didn’t want to hide and I meant it. I, uh, I need to talk to them.” He stood up, still holding my hand in his. I followed suit and gave him an encouraging smile. Even though I felt bad for potentially coming between Tom and his grandparents and ruining their seemingly perfect little family, I was fully prepared to stand beside him. I would not leave him hanging. “Want me to come with you?” “If you want to, yeah,” he nodded. “Sure,” I smiled and followed him into the house.
  32. 41 points
    Chapter Thirteen – A Pretty Hard Situation Aidan had no idea how he could keep so silent. It was maybe because Heathcliff was silent, too, and that, in a way, was making him feel terribly nervous. What could Heathcliff be thinking? Was he reconsidering the whole thing? But he had been the one to come up with the idea in the first place. And Aidan was pretty certain it was not typical of Heathcliff to go back on his decisions. Yet, they were together in the backseat of a taxi, and they were saying nothing to each other. They weren’t even sitting too close, and there was tension between them that Aidan had no idea what to do with. He could say it was sexual tension, but that wasn’t the whole story. Heathcliff was not even looking at him, preoccupied, apparently, with the deserted streets flying by out the car window. Aidan was too scared to take the first step, grab the other’s hand, or do anything that would break the silence. The driver was silent, too, but, at least, he had a reason. He was working. Something that, if Aidan had been careful enough not to blow it tonight, he should have been busy doing, as well. In a way, by Heathcliff’s line of reasoning, it was work. Not that it was in the traditional sense, but -- “We’re here,” the driver interrupted his train of thought. Heathcliff was busy paying the driver while Aidan got out of the car. He would lose his V-card because of work. That thought was enough to make him laugh. Only that the joke was on him, and he was determined to go through with everything just for the sake that it was all going to happen because of Heathcliff Stone and his fucked up sense of logic. No, that wasn’t fair, Aidan chided himself internally. He wanted to do it. He wanted to do it so much that he was afraid he was going to ruin it somehow. “Hey,” Heathcliff called for him gently. “Ready to get inside, or do you find the pollution haze to be particularly enthralling tonight?” Aidan snickered. “You can still see the stars,” he pointed upward, at the dark sky. “Okay, I should have thought of buying a telescope if I had known stargazing had some sort of aphrodisiac effect on you.” Aidan shook his head. He was worrying too much. Heathcliff was up for mischief as always. And there were much worse ways of losing his V-card. He knew that, with Heathcliff, he was going to enjoy it. So he hurried to join his host, and walk inside together. He gasped as Heathcliff grabbed him abruptly and kissed him hard on the lips as soon as the door shut behind them. “I thought we were never getting home,” Heathcliff said and pressed their lips together again. “Ah, so that kind of impatience made you behave like you were made of stone?” Aidan laughed nervously. “Frankly, I thought you were having second thoughts about the whole thing.” “What?” Heathcliff frowned while his hands were busy cupping Aidan’s ass. “Why should I have second thoughts about the one thing that I’ve been dreaming of since I met you?” “Dreaming?” Aidan guffawed. “Right. You have men like that Matt guy in your bed at a snap of the fingers.” “I don’t want men like that. Not anymore,” Heathcliff said simply. “Were you worried for real? I just thought not to give the driver any reason to think there’s something between us. You know, paparazzi could be hiding anywhere.” “Oh,” Aidan said. “That’s logical.” Maybe Heathcliff was joking a little, but his consideration was noted. “There’s no way I’d give up on this, bunny boy,” Heathcliff said and squeezed Aidan’s butt cheeks hard. “You really are something, Stone,” Aidan grunted. “Isn’t my ass a bit, you know, too big?” Heathcliff chuckled. “I like to have plenty to hold on. If you’re hoping to kill my erection with conversation, it won’t work, especially since the conversation involves your gorgeous ass. Come on. I told you I want you in my bed.” Aidan knew he had to pretend he was completely used to having men proposition him for sex. So, with a calculated shrug, he was the first up the stairs. Walking straight was a challenge, though, as Heathcliff made himself busy by squeezing his ass. “How impatient can you be?” he complained. “We’re only a few steps away.” “Too many.” Heathcliff’s reply was curt. Aidan wanted to say that he wasn’t impatient at all, but he was nothing short of trembling. Heathcliff pushed him through a door to a small room and caught him from behind making both of them land on the bed. It was only this far he could keep up with appearances of being cool. This time, when Heathcliff kissed him, Aidan spread his legs and trapped the other between them, wrapping them tightly around him. Heathcliff seemed bent on devouring his mouth, and Aidan couldn’t say he minded. Everything he wanted was to feel more of the other’s body. His hands were busy trying to unbutton Heathcliff’s shirt. Damn, he was so nervous his hands were trembling, and seeing how they were almost glued to one another, trying to move was tricky as it was. “Fuck this,” Heathcliff said with a small annoyed huff and pulled so hard at his own shirt that the small buttons began flying everywhere. Aidan couldn’t suppress a giggle. “I thought I was supposed to do that.” “Shut up,” Heathcliff growled playfully at him. “I will get up for two seconds to take off my pants. Be naked.” Aidan was still laughing as he was pulling his t-shirt over his head. Dealing with the jeggings was a bit trickier and not only because they were so tight, but also because he could not take his eyes off Heathcliff and his perfect physique. He gulped as he took a look at Heathcliff’s hard cock. The man was stretched to his limits, as things looked. Aidan yelped as Heathcliff pulled suddenly at his pants, dragging them away and making him almost fall off the bed. “Your ass looks perfect in these, but they’re a fucking pain to take off,” Heathcliff noted with a half-amused voice. With their powers combined, the jeggings were eventually thrown somewhere in an unknown direction, following the rest of their clothes. “You would have looked so nice in that thong,” Heathcliff shook his head as he pulled down Aidan’s underwear. “Well, I don’t think that having something up my butt would have been that comfortable,” Aidan chose to be philosophical about the idea. “Hmm, you will have something up your butt soon, and I bet it won’t be that comfortable,” Heathcliff said. Aidan could feel his laugh freezing a little on his lips. This was it. He was going to do it. And Heathcliff’s cock seemed unusually large from where he lay on the bed. Maybe there was still time to confess about his V-card? But no. If Heathcliff were to back down, the opportunity could be lost. Heathcliff was all hot and bothered now, but tomorrow, after helping Aidan to get rid of his virginity finally, he was going to be back at his world of Matt-like dudes with supermodel bodies and handsome faces created to star in commercials. Heathcliff was bound to get back to his usual ways regardless of whether Aidan slept with him tonight or not. And that meant that he needed not to waste this opportunity. Yet, he could not help thinking that having Heathcliff knocking at his back door with that thing was going to be pretty tricky to deal with. “Do you have a butt plug?” Aidan asked. Heathcliff looked at him, a bit surprised. “What for? I like it that you’re kinky, but tonight, I only want to put one thing inside you, and that’s my cock.” With that, Heathcliff began tugging at his cock. Aidan adjusted his position on the bed. “I thought it would be a good idea to, you know, stretch myself a little.” “Don’t worry. It’s been a while since you’ve done it, then? Since you finished college, maybe?” Heathcliff asked. “Yeah,” Aidan hurried to say and stopped. The trick with telling lies was having a system, and he could tell, with the utmost clarity, that his system was in shambles. He had told Heathcliff he had no shortage of men to have sex with, and now he had just hurried to say another lie that was contradicting the first. “Really? Do you do anything at all outside work?” Heathcliff expressed his surprise. “I was just teasing you earlier when saying that you haven’t done anything since college.” Aidan was thankful that Heathcliff was busy rummaging through a drawer. When he saw what the man held in his hands, he made himself little. Heathcliff threw the pack of condoms and the lube on the bed and hopped on it. Aidan tried to sit casually, but he could not do it. Heathcliff grinned. “Are you nervous, Spark? You don’t have to be. What? Am I that big compared to your fuck buddies?” “Yeah,” Aidan said while his eyes remained staring at Heathcliff’s cock. “The biggest.” “Thank you for the compliment. Now come here,” Heathcliff whispered, and pulled him into a kiss. Kissing was something he could handle. Aidan enjoyed how Heathcliff’s hard body pressed his into the bed. Their erections were touching, and he liked that, too. His bed partner was good at this, he could tell, even without any basis for comparison. Heathcliff began moving lower, kissing his jawline, biting his neck playfully, and going south. Aidan gasped and moaned as Heathcliff took his nipples one by one and played with his tongue around them. It was the most pleasant type of torture he could think of. Heathcliff’s tongue traced a long wet trail between his solar plexus and his belly button where it stopped for an earnest dip. “Fuck, so good,” he barely managed to whisper. Heathcliff was keen on being totally in charge, by what he could tell. When his cock got attacked by hungry lips, Aidan had to ask himself what he was going to do if he were to blow too soon. No, it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’. Heathcliff was sucking his cock with purpose, helping himself with the hands, one on Aidan’s balls, squeezing gently, the other at the base of his dick. Aidan whimpered. It was too much. Was it okay to blow so soon? But what was he going to do later? “Heath, I’m gonna come if you do this,” he complained. There was no response except for a hot mouth swallowing him to the hilt. Aidan bucked his hips upward, no longer in control while Heathcliff milked him to the last drop. As he dropped back on the bed, he covered his face with his hands. “Well, I think that now you’ll feel a little less nervous about me pounding your gorgeous ass with my big cock,” Heathcliff said carefully. Aidan moved his hands away, pretending he wasn’t embarrassed. “I will?” he asked tentatively. “Yes, you will,” Heathcliff assured him and placed a small playful kiss on his lips. “Now forgive me if I get to work, but it’s only this much I can show restraint.” “Okay,” Aidan said. “Do you want me to suck you, too? Maybe a little?” Heathcliff made a small, impatient gesture. “No. I love your mouth, Aidan, but I really need to feel that butt.” “Okay,” Aidan whispered, his voice meek. Heathcliff was right, to a certain degree. He was no longer that nervous. His bones were like jelly, and he had just seen heaven. But he was still an anal virgin, and Heathcliff’s impatience was not something he could take lightly just as he couldn’t take that gorgeous hard cock lightly. All in all, the situation was pretty hard. Heathcliff knelt by the bed and pulled him closer. Aidan gasped as he felt the man’s tongue on his balls, then going lower. Heathcliff helped him to adjust his position so that he could rim him. Aidan bit his hand, and his eyes rolled in his head. His dick was spent, but he could bet that thing was twitching now that Heathcliff’s tongue was in his ass. So that was how rimming felt like. It was a revelation, and one of the top tier kind since Aidan was pretty certain nothing could compare to it. He was sure he was making some weird sounds because Heathcliff stopped. “Do you like it?” “Are you seriously asking me that?” Aidan mumbled. “It’s fucking everything.” “Good to know,” Heathcliff chuckled. “Now, forgive me if I’m not making this as long as I wish, but my cock is going to burst if I’m teasing it anymore.” “Go ahead,” Aidan said, trying to sound sure of himself. Wet fingers were probing his backdoor slowly and, in spite of himself, Aidan grabbed the sheets with both hands. No, no, no, he needed to relax. It was like a yoga exercise if he thought about it. Breathe in, breathe out … repeat. Maybe it helped, or Heathcliff was using lube in generous quantities because he could feel how his ass was slowly opening. Even if Heathcliff was impatient, he was too experienced not to realize that he was dealing with a pretty tight ass. The other’s fingers were going deeper, slowly massaging the muscles inside and Aidan could feel a new sensation growing. He had never gone this far when fingering himself, and the fact that he had postponed buying a dildo and experiment a little seemed a serious overlook on this part now, more than ever. Not that it didn’t feel good. Actually, it felt great, like a different kind of pleasure he had no idea existed. The slow stretching was nice, too. People were exaggerating when talking about anal sex and making jokes about how much it hurt. So many of them were having plenty of it, Aidan was sure. “I guess you’re ready,” Heathcliff whispered and straightened up to put a condom on. Aidan pushed himself on his elbows to look at him. Heathcliff was gorgeous. He was a guy who took to bed only other gorgeous men. Yet, Aidan was there, his dick already sucked, his ass well prepared, and waiting to lose his V-card to that man. “Here I go,” Heathcliff joked and put himself in position. Aidan smiled. So that sensation that he had only felt it so far with the fingers, he was going to feel it again, but more intense, better, right? He could feel Heathcliff’s cock against his entrance. His own cock was leaking, hard again, leaning on one side. A small push and Aidan jolted. “Fuck!” “What?” Heathcliff was startled, too. “Aidan, you better not tell me you forgot to file some stupid documents at work.” “No,” he scowled. “It’s just … Okay, you really are big.” “I know,” Heathcliff chuckled. “But you should get a little bit more creative with the compliments, bunny boy.” “It’s not a compliment; it’s a fact,” Aidan replied. Heathcliff shrugged. “Okay, I’ll take it.” And he started pushing again. Aidan forced himself not to cry out. Okay, all the jokes about anal sex and whatnot were right. It hurt. But he could not tell Heathcliff to stop right now. “You definitely haven’t had sex since college,” Heathcliff noted with a small grunt. “You’re tight as fuck.” He changed his angle, and Aidan felt a bit of relief. How were those breathing exercises? In and out, in and out … He could tell Heathcliff was taking things slow, most probably surprised with having to deal with such a tight opening. “Hey,” Heathcliff called softly and touched his cheek. “Tell me if it hurts too much.” “I think,” Aidan licked his lips, “I’m getting used to it. Yeah, I’m getting there; don’t worry.” “Okay,” Heathcliff replied, but he didn’t seem that convinced. He withdrew a little and added more lube. By the small frown on his face, Aidan could tell he was puzzled. Aidan sighed in relief. When Heathcliff got back to work, it was a bit better. “All in,” Heathcliff said like it was a victory of sorts. Which, of course it was, seeing what a hard ass Aidan was, no pun intended. The good news was that he was, indeed, getting used to the sensation. The even better news was that when Heathcliff began to move, slowly at first, the sensation from before, the pleasant one, started to return. Aidan could not make quite clear what was pain and what was pleasure, but the latter definitely grew. Heathcliff was murmuring words of praise that involved his ass, and Aidan could sense a different kind of arousal. Heathcliff was also holding him by the legs, keeping him in place, and giving him a sense of security that was not entirely physical. Aidan touched his dick gingerly, a bit surprised to find it rock hard. He began to pump it, as he expressed his growing pleasure through small grunts and moans. This was it. And it was friggin’ better than anything. Yeah, he was jerking off, but he was doing it with an amazing cock up his ass that was hitting something like a perfect spot inside and was making his entire body squirm in pleasure. He could feel his eyes getting moist, his mouth filling with drool and he was certain he was coming although he needed to look to be sure, something difficult to do with his head thrown back in ecstasy. “Oh, fuck, Aidan, you’re so hot,” Heathcliff whispered, and his hammering intensified. His cock spent for a second time that night, Aidan finally dared to open his eyes. He took in Heathcliff as he was moving on top of him, a serious expression etched on his face, and he could not stop himself. Aidan put both his hands on Heathcliff’s cheeks, and his thumbs caressed sensuous lips. He let them wander next, making sure to play with the man’s nipples, which were hard and aroused, and so pleasant to play with. He pulled at them hard, and Heathcliff cursed under his breath. It looked like he hadn’t been off the mark with that nipple play. Heathcliff pushed one time hard, making the bed creak, then a second and a third time and stood there, his fingers digging into Aidan’s thighs. He liked looking at Heathcliff like this, he realized, as the man pulled back. Heathcliff almost stumbled toward the bathroom, probably to throw away the used condom. With one hand, he reached between his legs. His ass had been thoroughly used, that was for sure. But even touching it gently like this still gave him small shivers of pleasure. *** Fuck, Heathcliff thought, as he came back and looked at Aidan, as he laid there, stretched on the bed, lazily fingering himself. The bunny’s ass had been everything and more. So damn tight and wonderful, and Heathcliff couldn’t tell whether it was because he hadn’t done it in a while, or Aidan was truly special, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t blown a load so big in a long, long time. The bunny was still shy, but that was something they were going to work on. With all that timidity, however, Aidan hadn’t hesitated to pull at his nipples hard, and that had been all he needed to go over the edge. He had been surprised seeing how tight Aidan was. Not that he only fucked well-used guys, but that was something new. Aidan was not a virgin, but he had fucked very little in his life. Or maybe his fuck buddies preferred to bottom? Heathcliff shook his head. With an ass like that, it would have been a shame for Aidan to top most of the time. “How was it?” he asked, as he lay on the bed, next to Aidan. “Super,” Aidan said with a small satisfied sigh, followed by a lazy smile. “Seriously, I thought losing your V-card should be tougher.” Heathcliff blinked a few times, and Aidan’s smile faded. “What card?” he asked slowly, still not believing his ears. “Nothing. It’s an expression,” Aidan said quickly and looked away. “Maybe I should go get a shower,” he made a move to sit up. Heathcliff was quick to grab him and pull him back. “Aidan,” he said a tiny bit menacingly, “tell me I didn’t just pop your cherry.” “You didn’t,” Aidan squirmed in his arms. “Don’t take me for a fool. I’m not ancient. I know what a V-card is.” “Are you mad?” Aidan squeezed his eyes hard and then opened them quickly. Heathcliff huffed. “I want to strangle you a little. Why didn’t you tell me?” No, that wasn’t what he wanted to do to bunny boy. He could feel his lips twitching, and he wasn’t exactly angered. Actually, what he felt was far from anger. “I thought you would say ‘no’,” Aidan whispered. “Maybe you don’t do virgins or something.” Heathcliff shook his head, still not believing what had just transpired from what Aidan told him. “That’s silly. I kept wondering why the hell you felt so tight, though. Ugh, I do want to punish you a little.” He pulled Aidan on top of him and kept him close. “I did pop your cherry,” he laughed into sweaty strands of chestnut colored hair. Reaching for Aidan’s ass in this position was easy. Slowly, he began testing the tight opening that had just welcomed him earlier, not without some resistance. Aidan shivered in his arms. “So how was it for real?” he asked. “The best I’ve ever had?” Aidan joked, but even his voice was trembling a little. “Smartass,” Heathcliff said, and pushed two fingers inside, busy checking for damages. “How come you blurted out the truth, though? Otherwise, you seemed to have kept your secret well hidden from me. Fuck buddies, pretending to be experienced, cruising dating apps …” “Too well fucked, I guess. My mind going all blank and that,” Aidan whispered and hid his face in the crook of Heathcliff’s shoulder. “Ah, now that’s what I call a compliment,” Heathcliff whispered back and kissed Aidan’s temple. “You should have told me, though. I would have been more patient, taken more time to get you ready. And I thought you were just a little fussy over the deal I proposed.” “It was perfect,” Aidan murmured. “Thank you.” Heathcliff felt the sudden need to swallow a lump in his throat. His bed partners often praised him for his moves, his prowess in bed, his cock and many other things. But he could not recall being thanked for a good fucking. This hadn’t been just a good fucking. It had been much more and not only because he was, practically, Aidan’s first man. Getting his head around that idea was hard. “Am I really your first?” Heathcliff asked gently, caressing Aidan’s hair slowly, while his other hand was still busy feeling the other’s asshole. “Yeah. Trust me; I tried to keep it a secret. Apparently, all the blood from my brain, along with any traces of self-preservation went someplace else.” Aidan snickered, but by his light trembling, he was enjoying what Heathcliff was doing to him very much. “I’m so glad you’re not mad, Heath.” “I couldn’t be. It’s … well, my ego just received a well-deserved boost.” “Well-deserved,” Aidan giggled. “So, did you just recently discover that you like guys?” “No, I’ve known for a while. But except for some handjobs and blowjobs, I haven’t done anything. I mean, until now,” Aidan sighed contently. “Would you like to do it again? At least, this time I know I’m dealing with a virgin.” Heathcliff increased the rhythm of his fingers, being rewarded immediately by Aidan’s hitched breath and small bucks of his hips. “I can only be an anal virgin once,” Aidan said, but he was laughing. “Until this night is over, you’ll still be one. At least give me that,” Heathcliff demanded. “Well, there is one thing I haven’t done,” Aidan replied. “Can I fuck you?” “Whoa, whoa,” Heathcliff reacted. “Curb your enthusiasm, bunny boy.” “What? Are you an anal virgin, too?” Aidan snickered. Heathcliff was surprised by the young man’s audacity. But, by now, he should have been used to it. However, he would not go there right now. “I know everything about gay sex. Your delicious ass decided your fate, I’m afraid, bunny boy. You’d be wasted as a top.” “Try me,” Aidan moved his head and pushed himself up a little to look at Heathcliff. Why was it suddenly difficult to look into those pretty brown eyes? “Maybe another time,” Heathcliff decided to brush it off and pulled Aidan into a deep kiss. Bunny boy didn’t protest. He liked kissing just as much as Heathcliff, so they both delved into it, their tongues soon engaged in a small battle of wills. This time, when they rolled on the bed, with Heathcliff on top again, they took their time to look into each other’s eyes. Heathcliff knew everything about gay sex, and that was a fact. But except for a long time ago, he could not recall feeling like this. Like he wanted to drown into Aidan’s pretty brown eyes. “What?” Aidan asked and bit his bottom lip quickly. “What-what?” Heathcliff teased. “You’re looking at me like, I don’t know. Don’t tell me I’m the first who ever got his cherry popped by you.” Aidan snickered, and his eyes darted sideways. “Actually, yeah, you’re my first. Hard to find virgins in a city like the one we’re living in.” “Seriously? Am I the only victim of helicopter parenting, then? And I thought everyone lied on Facebook and whatever. I really thought they were all closeted virgins.” Aidan licked his lips nervously. “Helicopter parenting?” Heathcliff commented, amused. “Well, I love my mom and dad. But they wouldn’t be surprised with me being a virgin at twenty-two. They would say that’s good and that I should wait for that special someone.” “Your parents are awesome,” Heathcliff said, his lips twitching. “Really?” Aidan glared. “If it were for them, I’d still be a virgin. I’m sure they would tell me not to sleep with you.” “Then I’m lucky they don’t know.” Heathcliff leaned in and stole another quick kiss from Aidan’s pouty lips. “How come you slept with me, then?” “The chick should fly out of the coop at one point. And for me, I think it was long overdue. Don’t you think?” “No, actually I think twenty-two is a good age to lose your V-card,” Heathcliff joked. “Yeah, right,” Aidan snorted. “When did you lose yours, then?” “I was eighteen. But we’re not talking about me.” Heathcliff hurried to change the subject. “What did your parents tell you that made you so cautious?” Aidan shrugged. “You know, the usual. That there are bad people everywhere. That being young shouldn’t mean being irresponsible. And, of course, that I should make sure, really, really sure, that’s something I want.” “Hmm,” Heathcliff purred. “So you are sure, really, really sure?” “If you keep teasing me, I don’t think I’ll keep being sure for long,” Aidan threatened him, but he was smiling. “Then I must say that I’m glad you picked me,” Heathcliff concluded. “You were the one who picked me,” Aidan pointed out. “And who could tell you ‘no’?” “Ah, so you haven’t bought the whole deal thing for a moment, then?” Heathcliff asked. “And I thought myself so clever.” “What? We don’t have a deal?” Aidan’s eyes grew wide. “Don’t worry; I won’t rush to the tabloids with the story of how you lost your V-card to me. But I thought you played along because you liked me.” Heathcliff had no intention to sound like a miffed kid when saying those words, but he was a bit annoyed. It was like Aidan, virgin or no-longer-a-virgin Aidan, was still slipping through his fingers. “Of course I like you, you big spoilt fitness guru or whatever you are because I won’t call you that, seeing how much like a kid you behave. Seriously? Do you need validation from someone like me?” “Someone like you? What’s that supposed to mean?” “C’mon, don’t make me spell it. Average. Non-supermodel material. A guy on the street.” “I don’t see you that way,” Heathcliff protested. “Then there’s really something wrong with your eyes,” Aidan burst into laughter. “Bunny,” Heathcliff warned, “I have perfect taste in men, and my eyes are not that bad.” “Exactly.” Aidan squirmed a little under him. “You have perfect taste in men, and I’m an exception. I have no gorgeous six-pack; I’m not particularly handsome; I don’t have amazing muscles; I don’t--” “You forget that I checked you personally, and from the perspective of a fitness trainer. You have nice muscles, with good definition, even if they’re not cut from some bodybuilder magazine. You’re cute as a button, and your eyes are especially pretty. You may not have a six-pack, but you are in perfect shape, and I like your body very much. Especially your ass is bound to leave a long-lasting impression, no matter where you go.” Aidan looked at him for a few seconds, opened his mouth, and then closed it. “I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Heathcliff said. “Do you think someone like Matt has anything on you? It’s the other way around, bunny boy.” “Wow, I mean, do you really mean it? There’s no point to lie since I’m already in your bed, and it’s not like I’m going to say ‘no’ if you say ‘let’s fuck again’.” “Hmm, thanks for letting me know in advance. And you’re more than Matt in every possible way.” “And now my ego is receiving a boost, and I can’t say it’s well-deserved. Matt and other guys like him are supermodels! I mean, have you seen that guy’s cheekbones? I mean--” “Stop it with that guy already,” Heathcliff warned. “I can’t remember his face right now, and I fucked dozens like him. Do you know where’s the difference?” Aidan looked at him with questioning eyes. “Where?” Heathcliff caressed the other’s forehead slowly. “Unlike Matt and others like him, you don’t have only half a brain. You’re witty, funny, a hard worker. Just look how serious you are about your job.” “So you fucked me because of my PowerPoint skills?” Aidan mumbled, but he didn’t look away. His big brown eyes were filled with excitement. “PowerPoint? Where did that come from?” Heathcliff asked. “Never mind,” Aidan said quickly. “So do you like me? For real?” “Is this level of insecurity a consequence of helicopter parenting?” “It might be.” “Let me put your mind at ease, then. I like you.” “And you’re not just going to call Matt or someone like him tomorrow because you’re already bored of me?” “Bored of you? I barely had a taste. And it looks like you have a knack for postponing sex with conversation. What do you say? Are you ready for another round? I promise I’ll treat you kindly, like a virgin should be treated,” Heathcliff promised solemnly. Aidan snickered. “Maybe not so kindly. I like, um, feeling you,” he added, and this time, he looked away. Heathcliff kissed him. Bunny boy was tons of fun. And he wasn’t afraid of saying what he wanted. For Heathcliff, that was super cool. TBC
  33. 41 points
    Caleb stepped away from the porch as Wren finished the last of his lunch. Caleb was at a near-complete loss as to how to deliver on a date when they were both closeted to almost the whole county. If word got out about them, it could mean nobody would purchase anything raised by Wren's farm. It could be their undoing. He made a call, standing out beside the pole where they had installed the camera next to the house. "Caleb!" Tracy's voice was upbeat and happy. "What's goin' on?" Caleb heard Oliver making little airplane noises in the background. She must have him up in her arms as she spoke. "Hey, Tracy." Caleb leaned against the pole and looked over his shoulder at Wren. He wanted to make sure he wouldn't be overheard. Wren waved from his spot on the porch, and he grinned at Caleb. Caleb smiled at Wren, then went back to his conversation with his sister-in-law, secure in knowing Wren was too far to hear him. "Well, I need some help." He sighed. "I, uh, I want to take Wren on a date, and I don't know how to go about it." "Awww!" Before Caleb could swear her to secrecy, Tracy loudly proclaimed, "A date! Okay, you came to the right girl, Caleb! What kinda date do ya want?" Caleb heard Charles say something in the background, and he inwardly groaned. He shook his head but continued. "Well, you know… food, candles, all that romantic stuff." He scuffed his toe in the dirt. "I don't know where to take him without, ah, without people knowing." Tracy laughed, her voice alive with happiness. "Oh, we can get this done!" She said something to Charles, then came back to the phone. "When did you want to do it?" "Uh, would… do you think Saturday is possible?" Caleb grimaced. "Err, where are you thinking we'll go?" "Saturday will be fine. Gives us a few days. Don't you worry about where, let me handle all that." There was a shuffling sound as she shifted the phone to her other ear. "Okay." Caleb heard the click of a pen. "Tell me, what sorta stuff do you think you guys will wanna eat?" ⤱ After Caleb finished with his call, he and Wren stood in Beecher's empty living room, examining the area. "It's a shame to waste those." Caleb pointed at the handsome, walnut-wood built-ins. They were sturdy shelves in two corners of the room. Despite the advanced age of the shelves, they were still beautiful pieces, darkened by age and the stain used to protect the wood. They had already emptied the built-ins. The books that used to be there were all carefully wrapped in plastic bags and placed in the barn. There were old volumes of history, hardbound versions of the Farmer's Almanac from years past, and much more. Wren envisioned many nights sitting by a warm fire, paging through those paper treasures. He hadn't really thought about the built-ins qualifying as treasures themselves. Wren contemplated and slowly nodded. "Yeah. I wonder what it'd take to remove them." He bent down and stuck his head in to look at the way they were fastened to the wall. "Ah, heavy screws in the back, seated flush with the wood." Caleb was on his knees, his face low, and he looked through the gap between the bottom of the built-in and the floor. "A long strip of wood supporting beneath." Caleb examined the bottom of the shelving. "No screws tying the strip to the wood. It's just resting on it." He smiled at Wren. "We have the time. Let's save 'em." Wren and Caleb got busy with the removal. The shelves were well-connected with many long, strong screws. It took some time, but they got the first one down. It lay in one solid piece on the floor, then they began to remove the second one. The final screw came out of the back, and Caleb grinned as they gripped the heavy shelf. "There we…" As it came free, a sliding sound interrupted him, and both of the men looked down at their feet. A manila envelope with old duct tape attached slid out into view as the built-in moved. It appeared that the tape failed when the furniture shifted, and now the envelope lay in sight at their feet. "That's weird," Wren said. He and Caleb squatted beside the newly exposed envelope and Wren picked it up. It was dusty and covered in cobwebs, with a piece of old duct tape on each end. "It must have been stuck to the underside of the built-in." Caleb frowned as Wren undid the two-pronged metal clasp which held it closed. "That was a great spot to hide something." He shook his head. "It had to be hard for Beecher to get up and down. Why would he do that?" "I don't know." Wren stood by the removed built-in, and he gently dumped the contents on top. There were various pieces of paper inside, and on most of it, Wren recognized his grandfather's writing. There was also a spiral-bound notebook, and Wren slid it over so that it was right-side up. With Caleb at his elbow, he opened it to the first page. Inside was the cramped writing Wren recognized as his papaw's and they began to read. 02 Feb 2009 I wanted to start documenting because I just don't know what the hell my boys will do nowadays. That fellow from the EPA came by Wade's place again today. Someone tipped off the feds that Wade was using so much nitrate that it was washing into the stream and killing the fish and crawdads. Wade was sure it was Casey who ratted him out. He just made sheriff, and he's the eager sort. Wade, Jason, and Kyle are all getting investigated, and it doesn't look good for any of them. I'd never call the law on my own boys, but I'm happy that someone did. I hope it wasn't Casey though. That boy doesn't need my three oldest after him, badge or not. Caleb made a sound as he thought back. "I remember that!" He nodded and tapped the page. "Yeah. Your dad told us some about it." "Yeah, same. I remember it too." Wren frowned in concentration. "Something happened though. For some reason, the feds dropped the case." He made a disgusted noise. "A lot of bad crap happened that spring, so I had forgotten about the case against them." Wren spoke of his father's disappearance. Caleb gave him a sympathetic look and a pat on his shoulder. "Yeah. I know." Wren smiled at his friend. "Thanks. I'm fine." He turned the page, and there were additional entries written. He continued turning them and scanned the topics quickly. "Wow. Papaw kept a journal. There's more in here about the EPA and their investigation." He kept going, then Wren saw a date that he recognized and stopped cold. Caleb noticed Wren's expression, and he read along with his friend. 06 May 2009 Adam is missing. Rachel just called and said he didn't make it home after leaving to repair some fence today on their property. Wren and her have gone out looking for him. His truck is still parked so he couldn't have gotten far. I hope he's all right. I asked his brothers to help her look, and Kyle was the only one to go. I don't know what is wrong with those other two boys. Their brother is missing, for god's sake. I'm going to go take a look at where I can get to. These old knees won't let me hike the hills anymore, but I can go walking by the creek. Maybe he ended up down here at my place for some reason. I have to at least look. Be alright, son. Please. Wren blinked. He still remembered that night. They were so worried, and they had yelled themselves hoarse as they stumbled around in the dark. They found his work done on the fence at the far limit of their property, and they tracked him until they lost his trail near the creek. That was one of the few times Wren saw his uncle Kyle concerned for anybody but himself. Kyle had kept going back and forth, looking for where the trail of his little brother might have restarted. Though he was an excellent tracker, Kyle lost the trail and Wren's father seemed to disappear completely. The next day Kyle was out again with them. By this point, Wade and Jason were concerned enough to bother themselves, and they too showed up. Wren remembered Jason and Wade's slightly worried frowns as they stood near the creek and watched Kyle try and track Adam. Adam had been gone more than twenty-four hours, and that meant Rachel could report him missing. She did, and that same day, some folks from the sheriff's office showed up. Everyone had at least a passing knowledge of one another, and the sheriff assured the family that they'd find Adam. A newly-elected Sheriff Keen brought dogs, but even they lost the trail, right around the same spot that Kyle did. He was gone. Just gone. His disappearance was reported as suspicious, but Adam was an expert woodsman. If anybody could disappear in the hills of Kentucky, it would have been him. Kyle continued to go back to the property, searching for his brother. Wren, Charles, Caleb, and Rachel all did as well. As the weeks passed hope died, and instead they all began to realize that they would never see him again. There were additional entries in Beecher's notebook. Caleb and Wren lost themselves for a time, reading. Most of the entries concerned Beecher's sadness at the disappearance of Adam, and his growing suspicion that something had happened to his son. Beecher couldn't accept that he would simply run away. Wren turned to the final page. 30 September 2009 I think I know something awful. I believe that it was Adam. I believe that it was Adam who went to the feds, and I think he turned in his brothers for wrecking the stream and the fields with fertilizer. I've been thinking about this for a real long time, and as soon as Adam disappeared, the case against my boys fell apart. Rachel doesn't know a thing. I asked if Adam might have been involved with the EPA and the investigators who came by. If he was, he kept it quiet. Smart of him to keep her out of it. I tried to talk to someone from the agency, but they refused to give up their source. I don't have proof of anything. I can't go to anybody with my suspicions, Lord help me. I think one, or more of them killed their own brother. They both stared down at the entry, stunned into silence as their minds churned. Caleb exhaled and looked over at Wren. Wren swallowed, then he wet his lips, his eyes blank as he thought. "Casey is coming tomorrow." He slowly nodded and somehow managed to keep the vast upwelling of emotion out of his voice. "Papaw could have been wrong." His eyes locked on to Caleb's. "But, if Dad were the one to report them, then that'd be a hell of a motive." Caleb nodded. "Maybe Sheriff Keen can find out." "Yeah. Maybe." Wren put the notebook and the other various items back inside the manila envelope. He felt raw and barely controlled. "Caleb, don't say anything to anybody about this." Wren turned a haunted gaze on him. "If they're capable of this, then there's nothing to keep them from doing it again. We can't endanger anyone else." Caleb set his jaw and nodded. "Okay." He stepped into Wren and pulled his friend in for a hug. He rubbed Wren's back. "I'm sorry," Caleb whispered as he held Wren. Wren closed his eyes and his brain felt like it was going to seize up from all of the thoughts and emotions. "I… I don't know what to even think right now." "I know." Caleb squeezed him. "Let's wait until Casey comes by. We can see what he says." Wren nodded against Caleb's neck. The two men stood for some time in the quiet space of the old house. As he clung to Caleb, Wren looked down at the envelope. Unfortunately, an old farmer's worst fears made far too much sense to disregard. ⤱ Caleb and Wren moved the built-ins out to the barn. They also combed through the entire house, looking for additional clues or notes Beecher may have left. Wren even crawled under the place, just in case Beecher managed to hide something there. They didn't find anything else. Now Caleb understood why Beecher hid the envelope. The suspicion alone could ruin a man, and since he had no proof, Beecher kept it to himself. Though, he never threw away the notebook and other documents. He kept them, which meant Beecher still suspected, even until the day that he died. By now it was mid-afternoon. Royally filthy and covered in dust, Wren and Caleb went out to the creek and peeled off their dirty clothes. The water was cold but clear, and they quickly washed the worst of the day's efforts off of themselves. Wren shivered and Caleb admired his naked body. Wren noticed and smiled a little at him. Caleb knew Wren still struggled with the information in the notebook. Though Caleb was impressed by Wren. He was handling matters well, all things considered. They put on their underwear and shoes and carried their dirty clothes with them over to the tent. The envelope was hidden under Wren's sleeping pad, and he checked to ensure it was safe. "Wren, you're going to know if someone comes onto the property from the road." Caleb put a warm hand on his back as Wren replaced the sleeping pad and straightened. "Relax." Wren nodded. "Yeah. I know, I just had to check." Caleb eyed him. Wren looked exhausted. Both the physical work and the anguish around his father had taken their toll. "Hey. Why don't we take a nap?" He smiled. "We've done a lot today. We could use a break." Wren sighed. "Yeah." He nodded. "Okay." They both kicked off their shoes and now wore only their underwear. This time, Caleb had no assumptions. He lay on his cot while Wren closed up the flap to the tent. Without a word, Wren returned, slipped in beside him on the cot and turned his back toward Caleb. Caleb smiled and pulled Wren to his chest. "Rest," Caleb murmured. Wren made a small noise. "Thanks, Caleb." Wren's voice was low, and Caleb heard the fatigue in the tone. Wren relaxed, and soon he slept. Caleb lay thinking as he held Wren. There was much to consider, and a lot to worry over. He knew Wren was vulnerable, and that he needed closeness. Caleb tried to avoid the expectation that Wren would continue to need him the way he did at the moment. After a half-hour, Caleb finally allowed his mind to quiet. He was warm and comfortable, and as he fell to sleep, he could pretend that all was well. ⤱ Early the next morning, Sheriff Casey Keen drove up the holler in his patrol car. He passed both Jason and Kyle Hambrick's farms on the way, and he idly looked over at Kyle's nearest fields. They were mostly bare this early into the season, but already the neat rows of newly sprouting tobacco greeted Casey's eye. It was the third year for most of those fields. Casey knew Kyle would abandon them, and that he'd move on to yet another plot. He shook his head. Like many others, he had no great love of Beecher's three eldest. They were not folks Casey enjoyed. He drove on past Rachel's road and sighed. He still remembered searching for Adam with the worried woman, Kyle, and her son, Wren. 'Maybe I'll stop in, check on Rachel on the way back.' As he turned down the gravel drive leading to Beecher's farm, Casey's pale green eyes flicked to the little black box mounted about eight feet up on a tree. Surrounded by metal flanges, he caught the glint of glass as he drove. 'Hrm.' Casey slowly continued. He was almost sure that it was a camera. He knew Beecher had left the farm to Wren; the community was small and word got around. It was a known fact that Beecher's sons expected to inherit the place, so Sheriff Keen knew there would be problems from the situation. Additionally, when Casey got the message Wren needed to make a police report, he knew where the source of trouble lay. He pulled up behind Caleb's truck and got out. Casey noticed another camera on a tall fence post, up safely out of reach. 'Yep, definitely family trouble.' Wren and Caleb walked toward him from the barn. Wren was putting his phone into his pocket and he nodded at Casey as they neared. "Hello, Sheriff Keen." Caleb also nodded in greeting. "Howdy, boys." Casey smiled, his perpetual five o'clock shadow glittering with gray here and there as he did. "So, I hear you wanted to report some mischief on the farm?" The two young guys glanced at one another, and Casey felt something unsaid pass between them. "Yeah. That's true. But I need to fetch something first." Wren jerked his chin toward the big tent set up on the property, and his manner was serious. "I'll need to get something for you to see. Sheriff, it concerns my dad." Casey frowned. "Adam?" He scratched the brown hair under his hat. "Well, by all means. Go on." Wren nodded and he moved toward the tent. Casey watched him, then focused on Caleb. “You’re pitchin’ in down here? Even knowin’ Wren’s uncles?” Caleb straightened to his full height. “Yep. Wren can use the help. And I’m not afraid of those boys.” The barest of smiles rested on Casey's lips. He didn’t want to tip too much toward one party or the other in disputes, but it was tough to stay neutral when it came to that lot. Wren returned with a thick, manila envelope. Judging by the look in Wren’s eyes as he handed it over, Casey realized that his day had gotten far more interesting than he had planned. ⤱ They spent the next half hour going over the documents with the sheriff. “Wren, I’m goin' to do a little diggin’.” Casey carefully put all of the papers and the notebook back into the envelope. He looked seriously at Wren and Caleb. "Boys, you know this isn't proof of anythin'. You can't go tellin' folks those boys had anythin’ to do with Adam's disappearance." Wren nodded. "I know. But if you could find out who the EPA worked with, and if it was my dad, then that might make for a bigger argument. It might mean things need another look, right?" The sheriff pursed his lips and nodded. "Maybe." He put the envelope under an arm. "Boys," he sighed, "y'all be careful, all right?" "Yeah. We will be." Wren had to resist the urge to put an arm around Caleb's shoulders. Instead, he reached and patted the big Shaw boy's back. "You've got our list of incidents too. I know you've just got our word on those, but I wanted to get it on the record book, in case there's more." Wren grunted as he remembered. "Oh, and Ragan helped us with the fence out near the road. We can get him to back us up if you need." Sheriff Keen smiled. "I believe you. But, you still can't prove any of those three were the ones to do it." He patted the envelope under his arm. "Same with this. But I will check into things." Wren waved as the sheriff left with their police report and the documents written in Beecher's hand. Sheriff Keen was right, none of it proved anything. Yet, Wren couldn't stop thinking about what might have happened between his father and the uncles. Caleb could sense Wren's unsettled manner. "Hey," he smiled. Caleb seemed unsure what to do with his hands, so he awkwardly put them into his pockets. "So, I guess we can hold off on the whole date thing." He shrugged. "Doesn't seem like it'd be high on your list right now." Wren laughed. "Honestly, I need something to look forward to." He pushed Caleb's chest a bit playfully, trying to lighten the mood. "You're not getting out of it." Caleb grinned. "I don't want out of it." They gazed at one another, and Wren bit his bottom lip. Caleb looked so damnably handsome standing there in the early morning sun. He wore a half-buttoned flannel shirt with a white t-shirt underneath, jeans, and his worn work boots. A pair of leather gloves poked out of his back pocket. Caleb was ready for their planned work of tearing down the house today and it showed. Wren had the urge to feel his skin under his hands, and he reached out for Caleb. Wren put a hand on the side of Caleb's face. His big friend smiled under that touch. Just as Wren was about to pull him in for a kiss, his phone vibrated. Wren chuckled. "Hang on." Caleb smirked as Wren pulled the phone out of his pocket. Their camera had taken a picture of a flatbed truck with a big excavator on the back. "Oh!" He stepped back from Caleb. "Matt's here." Caleb nodded. "Ah, okay." By now they could hear the engine of the flatbed, but the camera had given them a few more seconds of warning. Caleb made a face and pushed at his groin. "Damn it. Matt will think I've got a thing for heavy equipment." Wren snickered. The two guys walked out to meet Matt as the big truck appeared around the curve in the gravel road. As the vehicle pulled up, Wren looked at the excavator. The truck stopped with a hiss of hydraulics and the crunch of tires on gravel. "Well." Caleb smiled at Wren. "Are you ready?" Wren looked at his grandfather's home and tried to etch it into his mind. The profile, colors, and the features of the place - all of it mattered to him. Matt's door opened and his boots hit the ground just as Wren sighed. Wren looked up at Caleb. "Yeah. It's time for the next chapter."
  34. 40 points
    While the three men waited for Seth to arrive they kept the discussion to neutral topics, how the boys liked Boston, sports, and weather. Close to forty-five minutes had passed when Jen, as she asked them to call her, opened the door and informed Ryan that Seth was on his way up. Ryan excused himself saying “I’m going to meet Seth. I think he’s going to need a heads up before seeing that I’ve been cloned.” As soon as he was out the door Lex stepped into Ian’s embrace and said “I’m in total shock. I can’t believe this is happening. My father is OK with me. Please tell me it’s real.” Ian kissed his forehead and murmured “It’s real. It’s definitely real.” Ryan was only gone about five minutes before he reappeared in the doorway, holding hands with a man who must be Seth, led him into the conference room. Seth took one look at Lex and exclaimed “Holy shit!” Lex and Ian both laughed and Lex confirmed “That seems to be the general consensus today.” Ryan introduced them “Lex, Ian, this is my husband Seth Beckett. Hon, this is my son Lex Hewson and his fiance Ian Mccolm.” Seth was a handsome man, shorter than everyone else, standing about 5’9”. He had dark, almost black hair and warm, dark brown eyes. Lex thought there might have been some Asian descent in his background as his eyes had a hint of the distinct almond shape indicative of that heritage. He had a strong build with wide, but not bulky shoulders and a trim waist. He was wearing green hospital scrubs and the lanyard hanging around his neck indicated that he was a doctor at Shriners Hospital for Children. Lex held out his hand and as the other man gripped it firmly he said “It’s nice to meet you. I’m sorry if we took you away from your work.” Seth greeted him and Ian warmly and reassured them “It’s alright. My residents can handle my post-op patients and handing off to the next shift. I was almost done for the day anyway.” He looked more closely at Lex and remarked “If I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes I never would’ve believed Ryan when he told me you looked exactly like him. The resemblance is truly remarkable.” Ryan at that point interjected “Well, now that we’ve all gotten over the shock, why don’t we have a seat and try to figure out where we start?” As they all sat down, Lex looked puzzled and answered “Honestly I don’t have a clue. I only have what my mom told me to go by. Other than that I feel like I’m out in left field.” Ryan prompted him “Well, why don’t you tell me what you know and then I can see if I can fill in any of the blanks.” Lex looked to Ian for support knowing that telling his father about what he went through was going to be harder than telling Ian had been. He had to take a moment and while he was gathering his thoughts Ian interjected and said “He just needs a minute. He went through a really rough time as a teenager and I think he’s trying to figure out the best way to tell you without upsetting you too much.” Ryan and Seth both looked concerned at that point. Finally Lex was ready to start and began “I was born on May 26, 1992. My mom and I lived with her Aunt Brenda outside of Seattle. When I was four Brenda married and moved away. My mom raised me with help from my best friend Cassie’s mom and our retired neighbors. The few times I remember asking her about my father she just told me that you weren’t in the picture anymore.” Lex continued to relay how his mom started dating, got married and then was diagnosed with cancer. He told them about her dying and the letters he got and the one he didn’t. As he approached the point where he needed to tell them about the abuse and the scars Ian stopped him and asked if he needed a break. Lex shook his head, just wanting to get it over. He didn’t go into as much detail as he did with Lex and he left out what Cassie had done for him. That was her story to tell if she ever chose to. He told them all the rest, rehab, moving in with Cassie, getting his degree, finding out about his grandparents and his inheritance, and then about finding out about him and how it took over two years to get here. He told them about meeting Ian and the tattoo. When he was done there was silence. He looked over at Ryan and saw waves of red anger coming from him. “Don’t be angry,” he said. Ryan looked at him and replied “I’m not angry.” Lex smiled and told him “Yes, you are. I can see it,” and then proceeded to tell him about the auras. Ryan and Seth were silent until finally Ryan spoke “So we can’t lie to you huh? Man, you are going to have such a major advantage when you have kids. But seriously, it’s a lot to take in. The auras? I think you get that from my side of the family tree. I remember stories about my great-grandmother when I was a kid. Supposedly she could always tell when someone was lying as well as what they were feeling. I’m willing to bet she saw auras too.” The smile that graced Lex’s face was so genuine with his relief that he wasn’t the only with his ability, that it almost split his face in two. Ian loved the look that he saw on Lex. It warmed his heart to see that he was being accepted by his father and his husband. Ryan continued on “I think it’s my turn to fill in some of the missing pieces. I met your mom when we moved to Marblehead when I was around 8. We were in the same class at elementary school and it stayed that way through high school up until she left. We became best friends. We didn’t live in the same neighborhood but we were within biking distance and often hung out together. There was a group of about five or six of us who were pretty tight. By the time we were in eighth grade all the kids had started to pair up in girl/boy pairs. I felt like I was the odd man out, still trying to sort out why I didn’t like looking at Susie, but would rather look at Johnny. You know how it goes, and with peer pressure added in I guess I just gravitated naturally to Sarah. She was sweet, pretty, had a wicked sense of humor. Sarcastic as all shit. She was an amazing girl and it sounds like she became an amazing woman.” He paused to drink some water before continuing “ The summer between ninth and tenth grade was hard. Sarah was at odds with her parents. She kept our relationship a secret from them. Hell, most of the kids our age did. We knew none of our parents would approve of dating when we were so young, only fourteen or fifteen. Shortly before school started one of our friends told us his parents were going away for the weekend. His older brother was going to have a party and he managed to bribe his brother to let him invite some of us, otherwise my friend threatened to tell his parents and snitch on his brother. God, those were the days! So, being the sneaky kids we were, all of us told our own parents that were were going to sleep over a friend’s that night. What can I say other than alcohol was involved and lots of it. So, Lex, you were conceived in the same way thousands of other unintended pregnancies happen. Drunken sex. I do remember it however and while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great either. Two barely fifteen year old virgins have no clue to begin with, nevermind throwing booze into the mix. I pretty much decided that girls really didn’t do it for me. After the party we didn’t speak of it again. A few weeks later I felt it was unfair to your mom to lead her on so I ended up telling her I was pretty sure I was gay. She seemed to take it pretty well. I had no idea that she could have been pregnant. A few weeks later we found out that her dad had been in a car crash and was seriously injured. I don’t think it was more than a couple of days after that when Sarah told us that she was going to stay with her aunt while her dad recovered and her mom focused on him. None of us had any reason to suspect that she was pregnant. We just drifted apart, I went on with my life and I always wondered what had become of Sarah. I ran into her mom a few times and whenever I asked about her, her mom just said that they had had a falling out and weren’t on speaking terms. I finished high school, went to Boston University and then managed to get a really good scholarship to Harvard Law School. I got a job with this firm, started at the bottom and worked my way up. I’ve been practicing law ever since. Lex, you’re right, I am angry. I’m angry at Sarah for not telling me. I’m angry at that asshole of a step father for hurting you so badly and I’m angry at that law office for losing the damn letter they should have given you. I would have taken you in Lex. It would’ve been a challenge. I was a junior lawyer and was working insanely crazy hours, but I would’ve done it. I know my parents would have helped. Dammit I am angry. Angry that I lost so much time with you and missed out on so much.” At that point Seth pulled Ryan to him to calm him. Lex had Ian’s hand in a vice grip. Lex could see that the emotions were high in all three men. He suggested taking a break. They were surprised to see that it was after seven o’clock and Ryan was surprised that Jen was still there working on her computer at her desk. She asked them if they would like for her to order in dinner for them. Knowing that it was going to be a long evening they decided on Chinese food and Jen took care of ordering an assortment of various dishes for them. Lex opened another bottle of water and drank down half of it in one go. While they waited for the food they tried to relax and Ryan took off his suit jacket and tie and undid the top two buttons of his dress shirt. Seth stretched, while Ian paced the length of the windows, looking out at the view. Lex excused himself and went to the men’s room. After taking care of business he washed his hands and splashed cold water on his face. His nerves were a little frayed and he was still trying to process what he had been told so far. As he pushed the door open Seth was just coming in. He looked at Lex and said “It’s been a really intense evening huh? Ryan is absolutely thrilled that you found him. You’ve been a pleasant surprise Lex. I’m so glad you decided to come. I love your dad and I’d do anything to see him happy. Right now you make him very happy and I hope you can see that I’m telling the truth when I say that we hope you become an important part of our family.” Lex’s eyes clouded as tears threatened. He didn’t need to see Seth’s aura, he could hear the truth in his voice. “Thank you, I’d really like that.” he managed to get out and smiled at Seth before he turned back toward the conference room. Fifteen minutes later the food arrived and Jen told Ryan she was leaving and that she had spoken to Lauren who was going to stay as long as they needed her to. She gathered her things and said goodbye to all of them and turned down the hall. Lex asked “Who’s Lauren and why are we disrupting your evening so much that she has to stay somewhere for you?” Ryan grinned widely and informed them “Lauren is Seth’s sister. She’s watching our girls for us until we get home.” Lex’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head and his jaw headed south toward the floor. After a moment of complete shock he stammered “Y-Y-you have girls? As, as in daughters? As in I have sisters?” Even Ian was speechless as this latest bomb was dropped. Ryan laughed and managed to blush as he said “Oops, forgot to mention that didn’t I? Well Lex, you have twin sisters, Amelia, we call her Mia, and Shannon. They’re eight going on eighteen. We also have a dog, Lucky. She’s a shepherd mix. Sometimes I think she’s smarter than all of us.” Lex took a moment to process all this and of course his mouth kicked into gear before his brain and he spoke before thinking things all the way through “How did that happen?” was what came out. Seth burst into laughter and the other two joined in. Still chuckling he informed Lex “I am a doctor and if you’d like me to explain how babies are made I can.” Lex’s brain finally caught up and he realized the absurdity of the question and rephrased “What I think I meant to say was did you adopt them or use a surrogate? Sometimes my brain has a massive glitch. Too much Cassie I think.” Seth answered for them “We used a surrogate and donor eggs. We both contributed sperm and lo and behold, one girl is biologically mine and the other is Ryan’s. It wouldn’t have mattered either way. They’re great girls, Mia is our quiet one, she loves dance and music while Shannon is more outgoing and she loves sports, any sport. She’s currently playing soccer and Mia takes dance lessons. Ryan gauged Lex’s reaction as Seth was talking and explained “Seth and I met when we were twenty-five. Seth had just started his residency and I was low man on the totem pole at the law firm. Mutual friends introduced us. It was hard at first, a resident doctor doesn’t have much time and neither does a junior lawyer. Somehow we managed. We dated for three years and then moved in together. Seth proposed and I said yes, but it took us another three years before we managed to coordinate our schedules enough to allow for a wedding. Gay marriage had only been legal at that point for a few years. We both wanted kids, but it took another couple of years before we were established enough that we could handle the whole process. A friend of ours was willing to be our surrogate so we worked with a fertility clinic, obtained donor eggs, got them fertilized and luckily on the first try we created the girls. We haven’t looked back. And now it looks like our family is getting two more members and I, for one, could not be happier.” The four men took a break from the heavy conversation and enjoyed the assortment of Chinese dishes that Jen had ordered for them. When they had eaten their fill and cleaned up, things came to somewhat of a standstill. It was almost nine-thirty and Lex was exhausted, both mentally and physically. Ian could see that he had as much as he could handle for one day and said “Would it be alright if we got together again tomorrow? I think Lex is at maximum informational overload right now. I know that I’m more than a little overwhelmed myself and I’m sure you two need some time to process everything.” Ryan agreed completely and suggested “Why don’t you both come over to our house tomorrow around 11:00 and we’ll cook brunch for you? You can meet the girls and we can get to know each other? You can take the T, there’s a stop about four blocks from us. It might be quicker than driving anyway.” Seth added “We would love to have you over and I know the girls will be thrilled.” Ian looked at Lex, leaving the decision to him. Lex didn’t hesitate to agree. They exchanged contact information and got the address and Ryan wrote down how to navigate the T and which stop to get off at. Ryan told Lex to text him when they were on their way and he would meet them at the stop. He also told them that he would give them a ride back to their hotel. He usually took the T but he had a meeting that morning out in Framingham and had needed his car. Ryan locked up the office as they left and thank God it was late and most everyone was gone. They few cleaning people and security that they passed all did a double take as the four men exited the building and went to the adjacent parking garage. Ian had to laugh when Ryan hit the unlock button on his key fob and a Lexus GS chirped in reply. Lex started snickering as well. Ryan didn’t get it until Seth pointed out “You own a Lexus, you know a LEXus?” Ryan smiled as he understood why they were laughing and said “It must have been a cosmic force that pushed me to buy this. I was originally looking at an Infinity. This one was a good deal. I got it used with only 20,000 miles on it. It’s been a good car for the past three years.” Lex and Ian got into the roomy back seat and snapped their seatbelts in place. Ryan made sure everyone was settled before he pulled out and drove to the exit. Lex put his head back and closed his eyes for a moment. He had a slight headache from all of the information that his brain was trying to process. Ian saw him and reached over to take his hand reassuringly. It wasn’t a long drive to the hotel, but traffic was busy as it was in any big city. Ryan pulled into the entrance way of the hotel and waved the valet off, letting him know they were just dropping their passengers off. The four men said their goodbyes and Ryan and Seth departed. Lex and Ian were silent as they went to the elevator and made it up to their suite. Once they were inside Lex made his way over to the bedroom and flopped down on the big bed that had been turned down. He planted his face in his pillow as he hung his feet over the side. Ian smiled and slipped Lex’s loafers off his feet and sat on the edge of the bed and massaged the feet gently. “Pretty big day huh?” he said. Lex lifted his head and took a deep breath before saying “I’m completely blown away. I still have a thousand questions but my mind is spinning like a top. I think I really just need to enjoy your foot massage for a few more minutes and then pass out. I can’t process anything else tonight. I don’t know about you, but I’m totally wiped out.” Ian just hummed his agreement and continued rubbing Lex’s feet. Gradually he sensed some of the tension leaving Lex and he stopped as he saw that Lex was getting drowsy. He leaned down and kissed him and told him “Go brush your teeth and pee before you fall asleep. I think tomorrow is going to be another big day. We can talk in the morning.” Lex got up begrudgingly and did as he was told. When he was done in the bathroom he stripped down and slid into bed. He was asleep by the time Ian joined him after his turn in the bathroom. Ian had left the curtains open and the room was softly lit by the light of the full moon. As Ian settled in next to Lex he just looked at him, so happy that everything finally seemed to working out for Lex. He deserved it. For someone who had been through Hell and back, Ian believed Lex was one of most amazing people he had ever met. He ecstatic that Lex had chosen him. Gradually his own exhaustion caught up to him and his eyes drooped and finally closed as sleep claimed him.
  35. 40 points
    I had been thinking about asking Tom on a date ever since the day he came over to my place and I confessed my attraction to him. However, living in a small town limited my options. Besides the ‘Bar’, there weren’t really any other places we could go to, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take him there on our first date. Chances of us running into one of his friends or acquaintances were too high, and besides, I wanted us to be alone. Luckily, it turned out I needn’t have worried at all because it was Tom who took it upon himself to organise everything instead. I was pleasantly surprised when two days after we last saw each other, he called me first. Just hearing his voice made me tingle with excitement. “Would you like to go on a date with me?” he asked, totally unexpectedly. I was fully expecting I’d be the one to have to move things forward, but I obviously underestimated him, and I was glad about that. I was always able to admit when I’m wrong. “Oh… Of course I would! What did you have in mind?” I asked, not even attempting to hide the enthusiasm in my voice. “You’ll see, it’s a surprise!” he sounded excited and mysterious, and I liked it. He was surprising me more and more, which I guess was to be expected since we barely knew each other. “Ok, I like the sound of that!” “Great! What do you say I pick you up tomorrow after you get back from work?” “Sounds perfect. Do I need to bring anything? How do I dress?” “Nope, no need to bring anything! And just wear something comfortable, I suppose,” he suggested. Whatever he had in mind, I was looking forward to it, pretty certain I would enjoy it. I’d like to say I was cool and relaxed, but that would be a big lie. That whole day before our date, it was all I thought about. I could hardly focus on my classes. My giddiness seemed to be rather obvious, as Marina noticed it and approached me on our lunch break. “What are you so chipper about today?” she asked as she sipped her coffee with milk. The smirk on her face told me she already had a pretty good guess. “If you must now, my lovely friend, I’m going on a date this afternoon,” I replied with some glee in my voice. “Oh, who’s the lucky guy? Do I know him?” Marina asked, scooting closer to me and lowering her tone. I had no doubt the gossip queens from school would find out all about it anyway, but that was no reason to make it easy for them. “Maybe. His name is Tom and his niece Kayla is in my class.” “I’m not sure I know him, but I do know Kayla, sweet girl. A bit wild, though. She seems like a handful.” “Yeah, she’s got a lot of energy, but she’s actually very smart and well spoken. Always has an opinion on things. It’s so much easier to work with such kids.” “You sound like you’ve got years of experience at this,” she chuckled. “You’re gonna be good at this, I can tell.” “Thanks, I sure hope so,” I nodded appreciatively. “Well, good luck today, sweetie, and tomorrow I hope to hear all the lovely details and maybe see some pics?” “Ummm we’ll see! I am gonna say I’m really looking forward to it.” And I was. The first thing I did when I returned home that day was shower, change into comfy, light gray sweatpants and a dark, wine-colored t-shirt. Even though I was feeling peckish, I didn’t want to eat anything in case our date involved some kind of food. I could hold on for a bit longer. After I was all set, I texted Tom to let him know I was back from work and ready to go. He promptly texted back, saying he was on his way to pick me up. Barely a few minutes later, I heard the sound of his pickup truck stopping in front of my house. As I came out, he smiled at me, waiting for me outside. I was glad to see he was wearing similar clothes to mine, so I wasn’t underdressed. “Hey, how are you?” he asked, giving me a hug. I liked his scent - soap mixed with the smell of wood and flowers. “I’m great, looking forward to our date,” I replied, getting in the passenger seat. “Me too,” he shot me an enthusiastic look and then turned back to look at the road, starting the engine. We were on our way, and I could tell he was taking me to some place I’ve never been to - at least not in years. We passed the main road out of town and drove for a few more minutes after the last house disappeared from view. As we drove, I observed the meadows and fields on both sides of the road, interspersed with trees and a few cottages. “Here we are,” Tom announced as he slowed down the truck and finally stopped next to the road. Apparently, we were at Green Peak, one of the hills surrounding the town. When we got out of the vehicle, I had to stop and look around in awe - the view was breathtaking. The hill was overlooking the nearby forest, a vast expanse of dark green trees that stretched out in front of us, with no end in sight. Behind us, the houses of Taernsby were like little dots in the distance, surrounded by a patchwork of fields. “Wow. This is beautiful.” I was at a loss for words. “I was hoping you’d like it,” Tom chirped. “Come on, let’s settle down.” He opened the trunk and took out what appeared to be picnic supplies from it. We found a nice spot under a big walnut tree and decided to settle down there. In a matter of minutes, we were sitting on a large blanket spread out on the grass, munching on snacks and drinking beer. Well, we only drank one can each and then switched to water - Tom because he was driving, and me because I didn’t want to get drunk on our first date. I wanted to be totally present and enjoy everything that day had to offer. “Thank you for bringing me here, I love it. Do you come here often?” I asked as we lay on the blanket, propped up on our elbows. “Yeah, sometimes. I like the view,” he explained briefly. “You don’t talk much, do you?” I chuckled. “I guess not. Only when I have to.” “Now I know that’s not true,” I said, turning to the side so that I was facing him. We were right next to each other, our bodies almost touching. “I’ve seen how you are with Kayla, you get so animated. It’s really nice to see.” “I love her, she’s my little treasure,” Tom nodded, his eyes almost sparkling. “And she loves you too, I can see that. She has a great uncle. A really cute one, too!” “Thanks. I- I really like you, Charlie. I think you’re awesome.” He was now on his side as well, facing me. We were lying just inches apart from each other, and I put my hand on his forearm, gently stroking it. “I think you’re pretty awesome yourself,” I whispered and leaned in. I was unable to resist it any longer. Our eyes closed and our lips touched - our first kiss. I could only describe it as warm and romantic. It was brief, but long enough for both of us to realize how passionate we were for each other. “We should do this more often,” I suggested with a smirk as we separated. Tom laid on his back, with me right next to him, my arm resting on his chest. “It’s nice, isn’t it,” he said, more of a statement than a question. “Very,” I nodded in response. Tom was quiet, as usual, but I didn’t mind. We laid there in comfortable silence and I felt satisfied being next to him. “Can I ask you something?” he suddenly asked. “Sure, fire away.” “What are you looking for right now? I mean, do you see this going anywhere?” “Oh… I haven’t thought about it that far, to be honest.” I shifted so that we were looking at each other. He was asking me questions I had no answer to, and I wasn’t sure what to say. “I mean, I didn’t come here just to have sex with you, if that’s what you’re wondering. I mean, I do want to have sex with you eventually, but I also want to get to know you, spend time with you. I want us to do whatever - hang out, go to the bar, weed your veggies…” Tom chuckled and I gave him a peck on the lips. “As long as you don’t eat those onions before I do this,” I added and gave him another kiss, this time longer and deeper. Our mouths opened and our tongues found each other. Tom was a good kisser - great, in fact! His lips were soft and delicious and his masculine scent had me fully hard in no time. He seemed to always sense my next move and went in sync with me. As I moved my hand and placed it on his back, he put one of his on the back of my head, gently caressing my hair. I felt like he was treating me delicately, as if he was afraid of hurting me. We continued kissing and caressing each other for a while, until Tom broke the kiss, slowly stroking my arm with his hand. “So, is that ok with you?” I asked, wondering what he thought about what I’d just told him. “Yeah. I just… I’m not interested in one-night stands.” “Don’t worry, me neither,” I shook my head. “You got me real horny, though,” Tom laughed, his cheeks appearing a little pink. “Right back at ya.” “Look, about, uh, the sex stuff... I hope you’re ok with us waiting for a while,” he said hesitantly, diverting his eyes and looking down between us. I thought about what to say for a moment. I didn’t exactly sleep with every guy I met, but I never had a relationship that moved slowly. I wasn’t sure I’d know how to do that. However, I knew that I liked Tom and I didn’t want to scare him off. Even though he was turning me on so much, I was willing to at least try taking it slow. I could wait for the full course as long as I got the appetizers every now and then. “Hey, that’s fine. Honestly,” I tried to reassure him, running my fingers through his unruly brown locks. There was no fixing them, but I didn’t mind. He looked good whichever way they fell. “I- I was with only one other guy,” he said, stopping to think for a moment, as if deciding whether to tell me the story or not. “His name was Donovan. We were both eighteen when we started dating, and we were together for a year. I was in love with him, but I guess he didn’t feel the same about me. One day, he came and told me he didn’t want to live here anymore. Said there was no future for him here, nothing to do or see. He moved away to go to uni and stayed there.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, stroking his arm until my fingers reached his, getting entwined. “That has to be tough, especially since he was your first love.” I didn’t know this Donovan, but I couldn’t blame him for wanting to see what else the world had to offer beyond this little town. Still, I felt bad that Tom got hurt as a result. “Do you mind me asking - does anyone here know you’re gay? I just want to know if we need to hide or not. Because I don’t mind people knowing.” “My friends know,” Tom said. “I couldn’t keep it from them. That was another thing we disagreed on - Don and I. I didn’t think we had to hide because I didn’t know it was a big deal for some people. I didn’t know you could get bullied, or beaten up for being gay. He was afraid of people finding out. I guess it’s easier to stay anonymous in a big city than in a town like this.” “What about your grandparents?” “Ahh, they know, but they like to pretend they don’t. You see, I’ve never brought anyone home after Donovan left, so it was easy for them just to ignore it and pretend I never came out. We never talk about it.” “I see… So, if I was to come over-” I started to ask, but he took my hand and brought it to his lips. “I don’t want to hide and I don’t like lying to them. So, I don’t want us to pretend.” “Ok,” I grinned. “So if I want to jump your bones,” I said, playfully pecking him on the lips, “and shove my tongue down your throat in front of them, that’s ok?” “Maybe don’t go that far,” Tom laughed and pinned me down to the ground, kissing me. “Or else,” he said, pausing to kiss me between each word, “Bruno - might - get - jealous!” “Wait, Bruno? Who is he now? If you tell me you have a husband-” “Oh right,” Tom let out a hearty laugh, “you haven’t met my dog! He must’ve been inside when you came the other day.” “Bruno’s a dog! Of course,” I said, faking surprise. “What breed is he?” “He’s a St. Bernard. Very cute!” “Wait, aren’t they like huge?” “Yup,” Tom nodded with satisfaction. “Kayla was so scared of him until a few years ago. Now she adores him! You should see them together. She keeps trying to climb on his back and ride him like a horse, but he keeps throwing her off.” “I can’t wait to meet him! I’ve been thinking of getting a dog, now that I have a big yard and everything. Maybe you can help me pick one out?” “Sure, I’d love to!” We spent the next hour talking about animals, kissing and just enjoying the day. I did most of the talking, though, but Tom was a good listener. I think maybe he felt that he had already opened up too much and that was enough for him for one day. It was already evening when we returned to town. Tom dropped me off at my house and I made sure to thank him for the lovely first date with a long kiss that left me rock hard. As soon as I got into the house, I had to strip down and surrender myself to the fantasies of being with him. It wasn’t long before I shot a big load across my chest and stomach. I thought about taking a picture and sending it to him, but changed my mind. I didn’t want to freak him out after everything he said about taking it slow. Eventually, I just sent him a text saying: < I had a great time! > He didn’t take long to reply: < Me too! See you tomorrow? > I immediately texted him back: < Yes! >
  36. 39 points
    “Where do you need me?” Tristan yelled as soon as he spotted Patrick. “Protect Fran and the other children. They are in the main meeting room.” “On it.” He feinted right and stunned a vampire trying to creep up on Patrick, before spinning and taking off down the next hallway. He ran as fast as he could while sending stunning spells at anyone not wearing a glowing blue armband. He sent a thank you to anyone listening that Kitryn had suggested everyone wear something to identify them as friends. With so many elders either in residence or expected, there were a lot of strangers running around fighting. He skidded to a halt near the required doorway. He took only a moment to assess the fight confronting him before he waded in. He took out one enemy without being spotted but then all bets were off. He managed to stun three more and the bear shifters guarding the door took out the last ones. The sounds of fighting were cooling off and Tristan hoped that was a sign they were winning. Tristan got the bears to shift and help him restrain the stunned enemy to be questioned later. They then dragged the limp beings inside the door. The children were all huddled in a corner. Fran was talking to them waving her small hands around as she spoke. Two more bears prowled back and forth growling. “How are you all doing?” Tristan made sure to keep one eye on the door as he crouched down and spoke as cheerfully as possible to the kids. Some had shifted and others were clinging together. Fran answered for them all. “We okay. Littlies scared but we sing.” Tristan grinned. “Singing is good. Can you teach me?” By the time that had taught him their ‘Bear is sleeping, don’t wake him’ song the sound of fighting had stopped. The person through the door was Carl. Tristan oof’ed and the children giggled as Carl swung him around and started patting him down. He hit a ticklish spot and Tristan dissolved into giggles. He doubled over hitting the floor on his knees. The children took this as an invitation and soon he was in tickling hands. “Uncle, Uncle, I give up.” Tristan managed to gasp out between laughs and trying to catch his breath. A strong hand latched onto his arm and he was plucked from what was rapidly becoming an animal pile. He looked up into Carl’s amused face. Scowling he poked his mate in the chest. “I am not hurt, but if you're not careful you soon will be, mate or no mate.” Carl let out a belly laugh that made Tristan’s scowl deepen. Then Tristan grinned. “Keep laughing, mate. Of course, I may be busy for the foreseeable future when it comes to bedtime.” He let the comment sink in. then he saw the light dawn in his mate’s eyes, and he stopped laughing. The light in Carl’s eyes brightened and he stalked toward Tristan. Tristan backed up. “Now, Carl, remember there are little ones in here with us. We can’t—” The rest of what he was going to say was lost in the kiss his mate laid on him. His brain shut down and everything narrowed to the tongue that was now fighting his for dominance. The kiss ended when Carl pulled away with a hiss and Kitryn’s laughing voice echoed, “Get a room you two.” “Don’t mind if we do,” Carl snapped, and Tristan found himself in his mate's arms. The world whizzed by and Tristan hung on for the ride. He hoped there be more rides in his near future.
  37. 39 points
    Chapter Fourteen – Sex Education Heathcliff caressed Aidan’s cheeks slowly, prolonging their kiss. At the same time, his hands were getting busy because there was no way he would go back on the promise he had made earlier that night. He needed to be inside Aidan again, and this time, he would do it like he was supposed to when dealing with a virgin. He interrupted the kiss to search for a condom. “So, have you at least tested your backdoor with a dildo?” Heathcliff asked, still not having enough of hearing how Aidan had given his precious V-card to him. “I was thinking of that,” Aidan replied. “But I just couldn’t find the time, you know? So it was just with the fingers. Gosh, I do sound like such a virgin, right?” “No worries,” Heathcliff said with a small chuckle. “I like all this virgin talk from you. Tell me more.” Aidan eyed him suspiciously. “You’re enjoying this too much, Stone.” “Hey, I popped your cherry. I totally earned the right to be called Heath. Plus, I like it how it sounds in your mouth.” “Um, okay,” Aidan said, blushed and looked away. Heathcliff caressed Aidan’s cheeks gently. “Look at me,” he ordered. The pretty brown eyes glared at him. “It means a lot that you’re doing this with me. That we’re doing it together, actually.” Aidan snickered. “Oh, damn, I didn’t peg you for the seducing type. I thought you were all direct and stuff. When it came to sex, I mean. I’m babbling, right?” “Do you think I’m trying to seduce you?” Heathcliff grinned. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job already.” “You basically tricked me into doing it with you because of work,” Aidan said while continuing to glare. “And you totally fell for that, right?” Heathcliff’s grin broadened. “C’mon, I had to come with a play. You really are like a bunny. You’re too good at running.” “And you can’t keep up? Maybe you should work on your stamina,” Aidan joked. “Do you think I lack stamina? Maybe I should show how much in top shape I am, then.” “It’s a promise?” Aidan stuck his tongue at him. Heathcliff shook his head. Yeah, the bunny was a firecracker in bed, and he had been right to let his hunter instincts guide him in this case. “Let’s try something different. You made me drool for that ass for so long; I’m entitled to receive compensation.” “What do you have in mind?” Aidan asked directly. “On all fours,” Heathcliff commanded. He wasn’t expecting Aidan to comply so dutifully, but as much as the bunny liked to contradict him sometimes, just as much he seemed to take to orders without being told twice. Heathcliff was now sure he hadn’t met someone like Aidan in his life. Not that he ever found it difficult to get it up, but anything he did with Aidan was making him hard, from kisses and light touches to being presented nicely with a perfect round butt right in his face. “Like this?” Aidan asked, looking at him over one shoulder. Heathcliff was still too enthralled with the gorgeous sight in front of his eyes to reply. With a small grunt, that could mean anything, he grabbed Aidan’s ass cheeks and pulled them slightly apart. It was like the little pink hole was winking at him. He smiled and pushed two fingers inside. A small hitched breath was the instant answer from Aidan. “Is it, I mean, does it always feel this good?” Aidan asked. “It’s like, I mean, wow, it’s like, I don’t really know how it’s like,” he ended his babbling sentence with a small sigh. “Yes. If you did it once and loved it, that means you’re hooked,” Heathcliff joked. “Ah, then I guess I’m hooked,” Aidan said with conviction and wiggled his gorgeous butt a little, to get more of Heathcliff’s fingers inside. “Easy,” Heathcliff cooed, “I’m going to give you the real thing right now.” “Okay,” Aidan replied and breathed out once loudly, then pulled a pillow and embraced it with determination. Heathcliff almost had troubles ripping the condom package as his eyes were continuously drawn to Aidan’s ass. Yeah, he had spoken nothing but the truth. With that kind of ass, Aidan would be wasted as a top. It wasn’t some joke. Heathcliff knew he was damned lucky to have gotten first to that ass. It must have been because of Aidan’s demanding job. Obviously, the guy didn’t have time to cruise the clubs and find a partner, and it wasn’t ironic at all that it was because of work that he had found someone to sleep with. All in all, it worked for Heathcliff. Plus, if Aidan were so busy working, he would be busy to fill in all the openings, pun intended. Yeah, bunny boy would not have time to do anything except for work and Heathcliff. Satisfied with the way he had managed to figure out Aidan’s entire schedule for the foreseeable future, he climbed the bed to sit on his knees between Aidan’s legs. Even this way they fit. Aidan’s ass was sitting just at the right height for Heathcliff to stick his cock inside. He was suddenly in the mood to see how they looked like, ready to fuck and fitting so well. He grabbed Aidan by the hips, and for a while, he played around with his cock, just letting it slide between the other’s butt cheeks. He reached for more lube, decided to help Aidan feel even more pleasure than the first time. By how tight the young man had been, it must have hurt, at least some. And Heathcliff didn’t want Aidan to remember even for one moment that the first time hurt, no matter how great it felt afterward. “You’re such a teaser, Heath,” Aidan complained. Heathcliff laughed. Busy taking care of business in the best possible manner, he had forgotten that his bed partner appeared to be quite sensitive and willing to get down to it. “Do you want me to stick my cock in your beautiful ass, Aidan?” Heathcliff teased him some more. Aidan’s ass was stretching nicely, and his heavy breathing was a clear sign that he was enjoying it. Heathcliff pushed inside slowly, now taking the time to enjoy the sensation even more than the first time. The grip was still steady on his cock, and the muscled channel wasn’t giving in quickly, but they were getting there, to the point of making one with the other, even if fleetingly. “Damn, this look from above, bunny boy, is ten out of ten,” he confirmed out loud what he was thinking. Aidan was just moaning softly, and he was rocking his hips, too, meeting him mid-way. “I can tell you. An ass like this? I’m seriously lucky,” he said. “You’re just saying,” Aidan protested meekly. “You fucked hundreds of asses or something.” “Hundreds? Okay, stop reading tabloids right now,” Heathcliff said. “They weren’t that many.” Suddenly, he felt the need to be a little defensive. It was a good thing all the blood in his brain was most probably asked for duty at the downstairs department because he would have wondered why the hell he wanted to deny his sexual conquests. Usually, he was proud of them. “Ah, this feels so good,” Aidan moaned prettily. “Can I jerk off?” Heathcliff laughed. “You don’t have to ask.” “Okay. Thank you.” Damn, always prim and proper. Asking for permission and being thankful for it. Heathcliff knew he would have to buy a rabbit cage soon. There was no way he would allow other guys to get to Aidan. At the club, earlier that night, that dude had been all over Aidan. Or maybe he had been just normal and decent, but Heathcliff could not be bothered with details. What did bunnies eat? He shook his head and pushed inside Aidan deeper. He wasn’t the kind to amuse himself with silly jokes, but now he was getting all worked up about treating Aidan like a pet. But, seriously, he needed to learn everything about Aidan’s likes and dislikes. That was a start. For now, he needed to see to the young man’s sex education. Lesson number one was learning that only Heathcliff’s cock felt that good. Determined to prove the said lesson with a practical experiment, Heathcliff changed the angle and reached under Aidan so that he could touch his chest. Aidan’s nipples were hard, small round pebbles waiting to be teased more. “Oh, fuck, what did you do? Why does it feel this good in my ass?” Aidan murmured and moved to slam his ass against Heathcliff’s pelvis over and over again. “Just a little trick to get to your prostate more,” Heathcliff murmured into his ear. “Do you like this?” “Are you kidding me?” Aidan whispered. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.” “Good, that’s good. Keep that thought.” Heathcliff kissed Aidan’s ear, making him moan loudly, and then followed the jawline until Aidan picked up the cue and moved his head enough so that they could kiss. Saying that they were kissing was a bit of a stretch, seeing how they were both grunting and moaning, and needed the air to do that. Heathcliff was carried away, so much that he hadn’t realized that he had been pulling at Aidan’s nipples for some time. Not that Aidan was complaining. Actually, bunny boy seemed pretty much far gone, and his mouth was slack and moist, and Heathcliff could taste it to his heart’s content. A louder moan and he knew that Aidan was coming, which was good since he could not keep it any longer, either. He let Aidan collapse on the bed and straightened up so that he could come as he wanted in the first place while looking at that gorgeous ass swallowing his cock. “Your ass is too damned good,” he said in a staccato rhythm, as he came in waves, screwed deep inside Aidan’s tight body. Aidan didn’t seem to have any energy left to thank properly for the compliment as it was his habit, but Heathcliff didn’t mind. He hurried to throw away the used condom and then he fell on the bed next to Aidan. Slowly, he reached with one hand to caress the other’s back in passing. “How was it?” he asked. Aidan turned his face and grinned at him. “I might not be able to sit, probably, I don’t know, but it was all worth it.” “I can’t believe you ran from me so much when you basically wanted it just like I did,” Heathcliff started talking, speaking his mind more than he intended in the first place. Aidan’s face became serious. “I can count on you, right? No one can know.” “Scout’s honor,” Heathcliff promised. Now that he thought about it, he could not remember the last time when he needed to sneak around. As appealing as that sounded, it was actually dissatisfying. For some reason, he could see himself taking Aidan everywhere with him and showing off his pet. “What are you thinking about?” Aidan questioned. “For a second, you smiled like you were terribly satisfied with yourself, then you frowned, and became all serious.” Okay, so it really wasn’t like him to wear his heart on his sleeve, and Aidan had just witnessed ... Nothing. He had witnessed nothing. “It’s not important. Now, tell me, Sparky, how did you really manage to keep guys away from your ass?” “Is this still bothering you? I knew I should have kept my mouth shut about my V-card,” Aidan said with a snort. “Now you think there’s something wrong with me, right?” he added anxiously. “With you? No way!” Heathcliff denied. “With the rest of the gay guys in this city, yes!” Aidan giggled and looked at Heathcliff through his eyelashes. “I can’t believe I did it. Do you think others will be able to tell? I mean, I should be different now, right?” “Not really,” Heathcliff replied. “It might help your confidence, though. Seriously, Aidan, you’re not off the hook. Come on; tell me everything.” “Everything?” Aidan quirked an eyebrow. “About what?” “Your sexual experience, obviously,” Heathcliff said as he rolled on the side and propped his head against his palm, the arm bent from the elbow. Aidan sighed. “It’s nothing exciting to tell. Why do you want to know?” “You’re my student now. I must gauge your level of experience,” Heathcliff said promptly. “I’m your what now?” Aidan pursed his lips. “You obviously need some sex education in your life,” Heathcliff explained right away. “I know how to put on a condom,” Aidan said. “And that’s all you know about sex,” Heathcliff said with a smirk. “Okay, so I didn’t fuck hundreds of dudes, but I do have Internet, and there are books, you know?” Aidan glared again. “From the top, bunny boy,” Heathcliff commanded, in a tone that brooked no contradiction. “And they weren’t hundreds,” he hurried to add. “How many were they?” Aidan asked, his eyes darting sideways. There were a few reasons why Aidan did that. Sometimes, because he felt embarrassed. Other times, because he felt insecure. And, on occasion, because he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer. Bunny boy was like an open book, and Heathcliff was definitely sure of his theories. So, right now, maybe, just maybe, Aidan was a tiny bit jealous, picturing in his head that he was competing against an army of underwear models and Insta-famous stars. “I didn’t exactly count,” Heathcliff replied. That wasn’t exactly true. But he wouldn’t admit to being a loose character. It was true that he had felt it was normal to do so and fuck as many guys as he could get his hands on, but right now, under a pair of cute, scrutinizing brown eyes, he felt the need to lie. “So they could be hundreds,” Aidan concluded. “They aren’t!” Heathcliff protested again. “Dozens? Over 80?” Aidan continued. “I’m going to tickle you; I promise,” Heathcliff said menacingly. “Okay,” Aidan decided to let it go. “But you would definitely have much more to tell than me. My so-called experience is almost close to zero compared to you.” “Let me be the judge of that. How can I be a good sex educator if you don’t let me establish where we stand?” “All right. Do you always have your way?” “Always,” Heathcliff confirmed, with a broad smile. “Of course. With eyes like that ...” Aidan trailed off. “Do you like my eyes?” “Okay, it’s serious. Something happened to you, and you’re not telling. I can bet my shitty paycheck that you’re told you have amazing eyes one hundred and ten times a day.” Something had happened to him, and Heathcliff was pretty sure he didn’t want to go there. At least, not right now. He needed to process why he wanted to grab Aidan, put him into a nice shiny cage and keep him at home for who knew how long. He could not remember if he had ever felt the need to do that with anyone. Usually, he was all for enjoying the act, and then, rather quickly, unless the guy was good otherwise and could be kept as a friend or at least as a pleasant acquaintance, he wanted to see his partner out the door as fast as possible. Mainly because he was too busy with something else. Like establishing himself as a real influencer. Sex was great, as long as it didn’t become a complication. The thing was, right now, as he was looking at his current bed partner, Heathcliff didn’t want him out the door. Good thing tomorrow was Sunday, and he was sure that even a busy bee like Aidan didn’t have to work. Supposedly. Better to ask. “You’re not working tomorrow, I hope,” he said. Aidan rolled his eyes. “I don’t. But what’s that have to do with what we were talking about? Do people put up with you and this way of yours to make conversation?” “Yeah, they do. Great. So, if you’re not working, nothing stops you from spending all Sunday here, with me.” Aidan stared at him, wide-eyed. He gulped visibly. “Okay. As long as I don’t bore you or stand in your way otherwise.” “You don’t bore me, and you don’t stand in my way. And, seriously, is it that little trust you have in me? I told you that the deal is for you to keep me busy so that you nor I have to chase down dudes with NDAs and whatnot. And that goes, I promise, for as long as we have to work together.” “That’s a big commitment, Stone,” Aidan said while watching him intently. “It could be months. If things work smoothly, maybe the entire year. You do realize you’re practically saying that you’ll fuck the same guy for this duration, right?” “Yes, I do realize,” Heathcliff replied, feeling a bit miffed over being treated like he couldn’t understand his situation. “What? Do you have other plans?” “Like what other plans?” “I don’t know. Hooking up with dozens of guys, maybe?” The moment the words flew from his mouth, Heathcliff regretted them. He was not supposed to give Aidan ideas about hooking up with other dudes. “Yeah, right,” Aidan snorted, “only that I lack your eyes, your perfect body, your big cock, and - am I forgetting something? - ah, yes, your reputation. I’d say that the chances for me hooking up with one guy, let alone dozens, are close to none.” “That guy at the club came directly at you,” Heathcliff pointed out. Clearly, he was in a sudden mood to sabotage himself. No, no, no, he was doing that only because he wanted to hear from Aidan’s mouth that the bunny had no intentions to pay any attention to any other guy save for him. “I know,” Aidan admitted. “But I was working,” he added, a bit defensively. “Was that the only reason you told him ‘no’?” Heathcliff asked, his voice suave and completely innocent. Aidan looked away. “No,” he said in a meek tone. “Hmm, louder, bunny boy, I don’t think I heard you.” “I said ‘no’,” Aidan repeated, and this time, he glared at Heathcliff. “All right, you spoiled fitness guru or whatever you are. I like you. And dozens of guys coming to ask me to dance or whatever won’t change that, for as long as our deal stands. Do you feel better now?” Clever, Heathcliff thought. The bunny wasn’t easy to fool. He had seen through Heathcliff’s game right away. “Yes, definitely better,” he said, feeling suddenly better about himself. “Now back to your experience with sex. The first time, the second time, and the third time. Spit it all out.” “Are you taking notes? And how come you know there wasn’t a fourth time?” “I didn’t,” Heathcliff said with a big grin. “I do now.” Aidan appeared mad for a second, but he was biting his lips not to laugh, and that was impossible to miss. “All right,” he sighed. “The first time, it was with a guy at a gay club. It was my first time going. We danced, and we started to fool around. Eventually, we traded handjobs.” Good. Gay clubs were out of the questions. Guys who were interested in trading handjobs with Aidan appeared to lurk around those places. Perverts, Heathcliff thought to himself, pleased with his findings so far. “The second time, in college, my roommate came with a friend, and I won’t go into details, but that guy ended sleeping with me in the same bed.” Aidan coughed and made an effort to continue. “He kind of asked me to suck him off and played with my cock. It was okay-ish, I guess.” Good thing college was over. There was no need for strange dudes to land in Aidan’s bed by accident. “And the third time,” Aidan sighed deeply, “it didn’t happen all the way, actually. I went to this guy’s place, and his mom walked on us. It was pretty fucking weird,” he pursed his lips, “since he wasn’t out to her. Thank God we weren’t naked. I didn’t have to hunt down my clothes on the way to the door.” Yes, thank God, Heathcliff nodded. “How did you end up fooling around with this guy?” he questioned. “Some ad,” Aidan shrugged. “It was stupid. He did sound nervous over the phone. I should have known he had something to hide. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a shouting mom, but rather for him to have some corpses buried in the backyard.” “Corpses?” Heathcliff asked, a bit alarmed. “I’m watching way too many crime shows,” Aidan sighed. “Well, you never know,” Heathcliff said solemnly. “It’s better if you don’t use ads and dating apps and all that.” “Aren’t you supposed to tell me that I’m absurd and worry for no reason?” Aidan stared at him, wide-eyed. “No. You have every right to worry.” “Why?” Aidan sounded alarmed. “Do you know something I don’t? Hey, you’re using dating apps, too!” “I do, but I have experience. You’re just a virgin,” Heathcliff said, barely keeping from laughing out loud. Playing with the bunny was way too much fun. “I am not a virgin anymore,” Aidan pointed out. “Please,” Heathcliff snorted, “you have no experience whatsoever. And I am going to correct that.” “You are?” Aidan stared through his curly eyelashes. “Yeah,” Heathcliff grinned broadly. “Bunny boy, as I can see, your experience makes you the perfect candidate for Heathcliff Stone’s special sex education course.” “Oh, is it a course?” Aidan played along, biting his lips in the most enticing way possible. “How much is it?” “For you, completely free. Of course, you need to understand that, during this course, your body might suffer certain types of abuse, all of the pleasant kind, mind you, but still.” “All right, I’m in,” Aidan said with a small shrug. “But I hope we can continue our course another day. My ass is a little … sore, I guess.” Heathcliff pulled Aidan close for a hug. “As your instructor, I will see that your wellbeing is optimal. Now I’ll take you to the bathroom and give you a nice shower. You don’t have to lift a finger. It is my solemn duty to do everything in my power to make you feel amazing.” “Damn,” Aidan whispered, “are you certain you don’t want to start selling this course of yours online? Guys would enlist by the thousands.” “I’m sorry, but admittance is a rather stringent affair. Actually, only one particular person has managed to qualify.” “Hmm, I wonder how he did manage,” Aidan said, his eyes glinting with mischief. “First of all, he dutifully presented something called a V-card. Seeing how such a thing comes in short supply, I could not do anything else but to admit him.” “I didn’t dutifully present anything!” Aidan protested. “It was only because of a technicality that I let that slide.” “And I’m glad you did,” Heathcliff kissed Aidan on the lips with a loud smack. “Because that gave me this idea for a course that I can sense it would be very successful.” Aidan giggled. “Oh, fuck, I’m just too lucky, right? No one will believe me, not years from now when I say who I lost my virginity with.” “Do you find yourself often talking about such intimate things?” Heathcliff questioned. “No,” Aidan replied. “But I assume that, when one gets to talk to his future boyfriend, such topics of conversation might pop up.” Boyfriend? Heathcliff could feel the smile freezing on his face. Whatever was happening, Aidan saw it just as a fleeting experience, nothing to last. Something to be remembered and talked about with presumptive boyfriends, but fleeting nonetheless. And why was that bothering him? He was all for spending pleasant fleeting moments in the company of good-looking men. Shaking his head, he pushed the thought away. Aidan patted his forehead. “I had no idea you had a melancholic side, Stone. Not that it doesn’t suit you. This forlorn look might just make you worthy of being called Heathcliff, after all. I should wonder what’s that all about, but I bet you’ll just say it’s nothing.” “It’s nothing,” Heathcliff hurried to say. “Now upsy-daisy. I want you bathed and ready for bed. I need you to get all your energies high for tomorrow.” “All right. Even in bed, you are a slave driver,” Aidan said with a small snort. “But so that you know, I can take care of myself.” “And? How is that relevant to how I must take care of you as my one and only student?” Aidan sighed. “I suppose it’s not.” Heathcliff stood up and helped Aidan to his feet, too. On the way to the bathroom, he placed one possessive hand over Aidan’s ass. For the foreseeable future, Aidan would not have any boyfriends to confess his past transgressions with a particular fitness guru. He could work with that. *** Aidan could swear something was a bit off in the way Heathcliff looked at him. Not that he didn’t like it. It was making him feel a little too hot and dizzy when those magnetic blue eyes set on him. Things had gone much, much better than he had expected. He felt a little like walking on clouds, and like he was on the point of laughing uncontrollably. The thing was he felt happy. Heathcliff was pure perfection in bed, not that he had any basis for comparison, but he could bet that not many people could say that the first time had been that good. For him, it had been that, and even more. Just the thought of being held tight by Heathcliff was making his face split into a big smile for no apparent reason. It was also making his cock twitch, but seriously, for the moment, he needed to think of going to sleep. As young as he was, he could not think it wise to do it three times in a row. Actually, he had come three times if he remembered correctly. Funny how the details were blurred. Definitely, he needed a repeat performance. Losing his V-card with his crush. That was amazing, and impossible if he thought about it, but he was there, in Heathcliff’s house, in his bed, and his arms. Good thing he hadn’t blurted it all out that last bit. It had been embarrassing enough to talk to Heathcliff about his virginity and almost complete lack of experience. The last thing that spoiled fitness guru needed to know was that Aidan was crushing on him, and had been doing so for a while now. Heathcliff had been a little odd. In a charming, fascinating way, of course, but not at all what Aidan had expected. He had thought the guy would be arrogant, as usual, full of himself, maybe caring and understanding as he always was, but still entitled to look down on Aidan for being so inexperienced. Aidan had expected a lot of teasing, and right now, he was relieved since he wasn’t good at handling embarrassment that easily. Instead of that, he had received a lot of questions, and, except for a little playful banter, Heathcliff had been completely considerate and even … Aidan could not put it into words. If he were to think of it, he played a dangerous game. He was crushing on Heathcliff as things were. Little was needed for him to really fall for the guy. And right now, he could feel that if tomorrow, for some reason, all the people on the planet wanted to leave for Mars, except for him and Heathcliff, he would have found that situation ideal. He was childish to think like this. He needed to keep his head clear. Heathcliff was not the type for romantic complications, and no one knew that better than Aidan. Heathcliff Stone didn’t have boyfriends. He screwed guys, fucked their brains out, but that was all. And Aidan was day-dreaming just because he had only had great sex with the man. No, not great. Amazing. Everything he could dream of for his first time. “Are you tired, bunny boy?” Heathcliff whispered into his ear, making him shiver. Heathcliff was washing his body in long, languorous strokes, and Aidan could barely keep his thoughts in check. It felt too good. Most probably, guys fell in love with Heathcliff after just one time with him. Maybe that was why Heathcliff didn’t keep anyone close. Who needed complications? But it looked like he wanted to keep Aidan close. Now that was puzzling. “Have you ever done something like this with anyone?” Aidan asked. “What? Sex?” Heathcliff laughed into his ear, making goose bumps appear everywhere, on Aidan’s skin, despite the hot water slushing over him. “No. Keep him for, you know, more than a day.” “Of course. I do not always fuck once and forget,” Heathcliff replied. His strong arms were now wrapped around Aidan, and he was pulled back, flush against the other. There was, without a doubt, an erection rubbing against the small of his back. He wasn’t the only one who had no idea how he would go to sleep like that. “But for months?” “You still don’t trust me, bunny boy?” “I do trust you,” Aidan answered, feeling a bit confused. “It’s just … if you get bored …” “You worry too much. But I do have plenty of ideas on how to make you feel less worried. Every day, after work, come here. Spend time with me.” “Every day? I’m sure you have plenty --” “Mouthing off to me? I told you. You’re my pet.” “I really have no idea when I agreed to that,” Aidan said, his voice dropping to a whisper, as Heathcliff began to lavish his ear with small licks and kisses. “Pets don’t have to agree. They’re happy when they get a master.” “They are?” “Yes. Trust me. I’m a certified pet owner.” “So you had others? Pets, I mean?” “Aren’t you full of questions? Here, a task for you,” Heathcliff said, and pulled Aidan’s hand to place it over his hard cock. “Let’s see how good you are with handjobs.” “You know that already,” Aidan said softly, but his fingers curled around Heathcliff’s hard cock. He sighed when Heathcliff did the same to him. The position was awkward, his arm pulled backward, but he didn’t mind. If the man wanted to practice yoga while giving each other handjobs, he wouldn’t mind. Heathcliff turned him gently and, facing each other, it was easier. Also, they could kiss, and Aidan was the one with the initiative, angling his head and getting closer, while his fingers continued to get busy with Heathcliff’s cock. Heathcliff was busy doing the same to him, and no words were needed about what they wanted. Aidan could feel strong fingers wrapping around the back of his head as he was brought even closer so that they could deepen the kiss. Maybe Heathcliff would not let him do the penetration ever, but Aidan could get a little of the upper hand in this. He moved one hand to grab Heathcliff by the nape in the same fashion and put his soul into the kiss. A small surprised grunt from the other let him know that his small aggressive act was not overlooked, or rejected. Heathcliff was letting him attack his mouth, and Aidan grew bolder. It was perfect. He could assert his own way of dominance, even if it was little. Heathcliff didn’t seem to mind and allowed him to lead the hostilities. From time to time, he was, however, returning the favor, and Aidan was only pretending to withdraw, to renew his forceful attack once more. They were moaning into each other’s mouths, as they both came, almost at the same time, the rhythm of their strokes too much to handle for too long. Heathcliff’s eyes were a tad darker when they finally began to let go reluctantly. It hit Aidan just that moment. Whatever he was scared of, falling for an un-fallable guy, must have been on Heathcliff’s mind, too. There they were, a man with the sexual experience of a hundred, and a guy who had just lost his virginity. Of course, someone like Heathcliff Stone must be scared about having some novice fall for him, just because they had sex. Amazing, mind-boggling, knee-melting sex, but just sex. Aidan needed to show that he understood the situation and could be mature enough not to be a cliche from some angsty teenage movie. So he smiled and pressed his forehead against Heathcliff. “You don’t have to look so worried, you know? I’m perfectly capable of keeping things professional.” He waited for a couple of seconds, but there was no comeback. Only their still heavy breathing filled the steamy air. Great. He had done something stupid somehow. Maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe -- “I know,” the reply finally came. Oh, okay, he thought. So Heathcliff knew and they were on the same page. He couldn’t have asked for more. TBC
  38. 39 points
    Wild thoughts spun through Arad’s brain, brought on by each point of contact with Roku’s bare body. Truly the universe hated him. It must considering after granting him the Ansariland as well as giving himself the chance to save himself and free him from Torrins, it would gift him an attractive male—fully human or not—who had enough issues to prevent them from being physically intimate in spite of having a taste the day they met. Cruel and unusual punishment. If Arad had said all that out loud, he’d be accused of babbling like a damned fool. He definitely felt like one. Roku shifted, throwing one brawny arm across Arad’s chest and pulling him closer. The fine coating of fur had all the qualities of delicate silk. A strange contrast to all the power coiled in Roku’s frame. Arad gave off a heady shiver as Roku’s nose brushed just above his temple. A deep inhale rustled his hair. Then a second deeper still. The timbre of Roku’s snores changed, blending seamlessly into a purr. Barely audible murmurs escaped Roku. “Arad… smell so…” The furry, muscled arm flexed tighter and the third intense sniff was accompanied by a happy rumble. Arad found himself pulled closer into Roku’s unconscious embrace. Cruel and unusual punishment. Arad knew Roku was naked. He’d watched him drop his kilt by the poor hallway lighting spilling in through the open door. An act which made his own eyes open wide. Whether in shock or hoping to see more? Now was not the time to question it. If there were any doubt of Roku’s nudity, the final proof was the gentle nudge at Arad’s thigh. Roku rolled his hips in his sleep and it lurched and gradually crawled its way upward in a lazy arc. It swelled and warmed as it grew like a live creature on a mission, insistent on finding the gap of skin between Arad’s undershirt and loose shorts. Cruel and unusual punishment. Could skin burn skin? Because that question seemed awfully important under the circumstances. How many times had he asked himself that in the last minute? Roku grunted and shifted his hips, causing the veiny length to snake up Arad’s side. And yes, he could feel every vein and velvety ridge. The downstroke pushed his waistband lower giving the DemiShou unrestricted access to his hip after a series of strokes. With his arm pinned at his side to the mattress, he could feel the weight along his arm, the heavy sack firming with every pivot of Roku’s body. If he reached up, he’d have a handful of hot pipe—Holy crap! Was it bigger than he remembered? “Roku? Roku, are you awake?” Arad whispered, trying not to startle the tiger. The only response Arad got in return was heavier breathing in his hair and stronger purring. A slick spot formed as Roku’s skin rolled back and the plump head started juicing, leaving its slippery trail, enticing Roku to press himself even firmer against Arad’s hip. The entire greasy length was trapped between them in a rhythm of tender rutting. Resisting the urge to push back against the motion took a great deal of his fraying concentration. It didn’t take long for the nutty scent to reach Arad and his own traitorous dick responded in kind, doing its best to undo his efforts. A flash of familiarity caught Arad’s memories. Davis would behave similarly when he wanted another round rather than let Arad sleep. The main difference was how Davis didn’t care what Arad wanted while he rode out his Syn high—he was paying after all—and Roku wasn’t actively aware of anything he was doing. He was too upstanding an individual to be faking sleep. A rare find in Arad’s world. The other difference was he didn’t find Roku’s attentions the least bit repulsive. Much the opposite. Closing his eyes, Arad said a silent prayer into the night. Please let me get through this without doing something stupid we’ll both regret. Fair and life were two words with little connection in Arad’s experience. Trading sex had become a way of survival for Arad, but he couldn’t remember the last time anyone had shown an interest in him without an ulterior motive. Davis and Torrins wouldn’t have been able to say that. When was the last time someone had wanted him for him rather than what he could provide? And when was the last time Arad could say the same? Roku wanted him. He knew that. But he also knew Roku’s misgiving on the whole subject. If he woke right now, found himself in Arad’s bed humping his way to a sticky end, he’d never forgive himself. He’d yet to come to terms with their first questionable encounter and all its dubious levels of consent. Arad was more pragmatic. Neither had been in their right head at the time. It happened. Hustling carried enough risk he wasn’t about to spend hours, days, weeks crying over sex that he’d enjoyed and where no one had been hurt. But Roku was at war with his own values, and Arad refused to make matters worse for him. Cruel and unusual punishment. Purring became rougher as Roku’s moan turned into frustrated mewling as if he what he desperately needed to live lay out of reach in spite of his unconscious efforts. The tone speared Arad’s chest and accelerated his already quickened pulse. Could lust be so painful it drove a man to cry? What if it was more than lust? “Arad… touch me… please…” Roku’s pleading mumble, while groggy, was far more complete than any other sleep-speech he’d made up until this point. Something inside Arad broke free. A craving for pure contact untarnished by the subtext of transaction. A substantial thing they both wanted, whether either one was willing to admit it out loud, and a thing he wouldn’t go without. A man could only be so strong. He’d sort out his repentance later.
  39. 39 points
    Caleb and Wren pulled in at Rachel's house. Caleb got out immediately and didn't look at Wren as he exited the truck. Instead, he shut the door and walked straight to the porch, tension in his neck and shoulders. Wren hesitated in the vehicle, seemed to think better of stubbornly remaining there, then followed a few steps behind. Caleb opened the door to the house. The smell of bacon made him salivate, and the three stacks of bread, cheese, bacon, and tomatoes on the counter helped him forget a bit of his irritation at Wren. Rachel smiled as he stepped into the kitchen, and her eyes flicked to Wren as he came in through the front door. "There are my boys." She motioned at the table. "Go on an' sit. I'll be done soon." Caleb took his regular seat, the one on the far corner from the stove, closest to the doorway leading to the "man room." Wren hovered behind him a moment and Caleb felt his irritation mount. "Pick a seat," he growled. Wren huffed. "I was, jeez." He pulled out a chair diagonal to Caleb, flopped down and glared at him from across the table. Rachel glanced over her shoulder at them. She finished up their sandwiches, then put some potato chips on each plate along with a couple of mandarins. She put the dishes on the table in front of them and settled with a sigh. "There you go, boys." She smiled at them both. "Go ahead an' eat." "Thanks for lunch, Miss Rachel," Caleb mumbled and picked up the thick sandwich. It smelled savory, cheesy with the acid bite of tomato, and his mouth watered. "Yeah, thanks." Wren bit into his food, chewed, and a grunt of approval came from him. They were all three quiet. Caleb knew Rachel felt the awkwardness in the room between them, and he felt bad about that. She didn't deserve their moodiness. He cleared his plate and looked up at her. "It was real good, Miss Rachel. Thanks a bunch." He stood and reached for Rachel's plate. "Here, I'll do our dishes." She wiped her mouth and gave him a surprised smile. "Well, thank you!" Caleb took their dishes over to the sink. He glanced down at Wren as he leaned back, finished with his meal. He stepped past him and began washing up in the sink. It was painfully evident as he neglected to take Wren's dish. "Don't worry, I'll get mine," Wren grumbled. "Yep, you will," Caleb answered, his back to the room. He was still irritated with Wren, and it showed. Rachel wasn't having it. "Okay, boys." Her voice carried a tone that made Caleb flinch. "Y'all are friends, and I don't know what is goin' on, but is it worth actin' like this?" She looked back and forth between them. "Well? Is it?" Neither answered, and both appeared chastised. She motioned at Wren. "Give him your plate." Wren stood and stepped over next to Caleb. He handed the ceramic dish to his friend. "Sorry." Caleb wasn't sure if Wren was apologizing for his being forced to wash the plate, or for how he had acted before. Caleb was willing to call a truce so he nodded. "Yeah, me too." Wren locked eyes with him, and the barest smile flickered on his lips. 'That'll do,' Caleb thought with some relief. Rachel made a satisfied sound and pushed herself to her feet. "Good. Y'all got too much to do to be bickering." She put her hands on her hips. "Speakin' of which, I need help with the coop. Caleb, that support under the laying box looks loose to me. Can you look at it after you're done?" "I've got it, Caleb." Wren walked by and bumped him gently with his shoulder on the way out - another little peace offering in the world of men. Caleb smiled as he finished up at the sink. Rachel crossed her arms as Caleb turned with the dish towel in hand. She cocked her head at him. "You boys all right?" Caleb thought a moment, then he nodded. "Yeah." He stepped over and kissed the side of her face. "Thanks, Miss Rachel. For everything." She smiled. "Well, you're welcome. I appreciate your lookin' after Wren." She looked thoughtful. "Neither of you really got anybody else right now, an' I'm just glad he ain't by himself." There was a strange tone in her voice as if she waited for Caleb to say something. He felt a weird panic. "Yeah." Caleb stepped away. "I'm gonna go see if he needs help." He crossed quickly to the door. Caleb left the house. He knew it wasn't true, but he had the sensation that something chased close, right behind him. ⤱ "Wren, wait up." Wren stopped and Caleb bounded to him from the house. The guys fell into step and continued on to the coop between the house and the barn. Wren glanced at Caleb as they stood next to the coop. When he did, he caught Caleb staring at him, a pensive look on his face. Wren wrinkled his nose. "What is it?" Caleb bit his lip and gazed at the house. "Wren, does your mom know about you?" He waved a hand, his discomfort with Wren's sexuality on display. "About the gay thing?" Wren felt his stomach drop. "No." He stepped close. "Caleb, what'd you do? You didn't tell her?" "No." Caleb shook his head. "Well, why would you ask that?" Wren folded his arms over his chest and felt his neck tighten. Caleb cocked his head and grimaced. "It's just in the way she talked. About you and me, about us hanging out." Wren's mouth was suddenly dry. "Look, there's no way she knows unless someone told her." He felt sick just thinking about it. Caleb nodded, hastening to head things off when he saw Wren's steadily growing agitation. "Okay. Okay then." Wren blew out a breath he didn't know he had held. Caleb still eyed him. "What now?" Wren snapped. Caleb flinched, and Wren immediately kicked himself. He didn't need to start something again with Caleb. "I'm sorry," Wren sighed and ran a hand through his black hair. "It's just stressful. God, this is exactly why I didn't think I could do this, why I didn't think I could come back here." Caleb nodded slowly. "I can see it's stressful, Wren." He rested his eyes on Wren, then he looked toward the house. "But I can't believe your mom would be anything but loving. Yeah, it might shock her, but…" Wren stepped very close, and Caleb straightened in surprise. "No. No. She can't find out, you hear me?" Wren heard the wavering in his voice, but he couldn't help it. Caleb didn't understand. How could anybody understand? "Wren, I'd never tell her." Caleb looked hurt. "You think I'd do that to you?" Wren stood toe to toe with him for a moment longer, then he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and slumped. "No." He sighed. "It's just that she can never know." Caleb put a hand on his shoulder. Wren looked at it, his face miserable. "Okay, Wren. If that's what you want." Caleb spoke in a gentle tone. Wren hung his head. "You don't get it. It's not what I want." His expression slid into melancholy dejection. "I don't want to hide it from her." Caleb cocked his head so he could see Wren's face. "Well, then why keep it hid?" Wren felt a decade of doubt, shame, and guilt manifest in a sudden wave of disgrace. He closed his eyes. He couldn't say it, and he shook his head. Caleb's arm slid around his shoulders. "Come on." Wren let Caleb lead him to the barn. Caleb pulled him inside, and there, out of sight of the house, he did something Wren didn't expect. Caleb folded him in a hug. At first, Wren's arms were out, hovering over Caleb, unsure if he should wrap them around his burly friend. Then he returned the embrace. Wren closed his eyes and lay his head on Caleb's shoulder. Caleb held on, and Wren felt something crack. He broke as they embraced. Wren cried, and Caleb moved a hand up to the back of his head. "It's okay," he whispered. "If you don't want to tell me what's going on you don't have to. But, you can, and I won't tell anybody." Wren had never told anyone, and he hadn't planned to. But as Caleb held him, he felt that dark secret bubble up. It had been with him so long, and it had eaten a raw, gaping hole in him. He made a desperate sound. "I... god, Caleb." He squeezed, and turned his face down against Caleb's shoulder and neck, so only Wren's nose and mouth were visible. "It's okay." Caleb continued to hold him. Wren began to believe him. He wet his lips. "I can't tell her," he drew in a shaky breath, "because dad left us. He left because of me." Caleb sounded confused. "What?" "It was because of me." Wren gently shook his head against Caleb. "He must have figured out I was gay, and he left." Caleb squeezed Wren. "Aww. Wren, I don't think that's true." Wren had thought he was to blame for so long, he couldn't let it go. "It is. He, he must have known before I did." He sobbed. "He couldn't stand the thought of a faggot son, and he… he left us. It was so awful that he left us." Caleb pushed him back to arm's length. "Wren." He stared into Wren's teary eyes. "Your daddy loved you. He loved you and your mom, both." He clenched his jaw "I know I was only twelve when he never came back, but I remember that much." Caleb gently shook him by his shoulders. "Your daddy loved you." Wren continued to stream tears and he closed his eyes. Only one more question remained, one more riddle. "Then why'd he leave?" Caleb's face fell. "I don't know." He pulled Wren back in and crushed him in his arms. "I don't know, Wren." ⤱ The repair for the coop was simple. The pair got back in Caleb's truck shortly after. Wren was very quiet, elbow on the sill of the passenger-side door, and he propped his jaw on his hand as he watched the world go by. They were soon back at the tent and got out. Caleb looked past the barbed wire fencing. Up on the side of the sloping, hilly terrain above the house three of the cattle that came with the property grazed. Two had calves with them, born this year. He could see from where they stood that one was a little bull. Caleb noted it. They'd need to decide if the little calf was destined for castration and eventually the butcher, or if they'd sell him off to another farmer to stud out. There were a few possibilities, and Caleb filed it away as something to discuss with Wren later. They had other things to worry about at the moment. His black-haired friend gazed sadly at the house. "I guess it's time." They had turned the utilities off, and they were ready to demolish the structure. Caleb stepped up beside him. "Yeah." He rubbed his chin in thought. "But we should be able to use plenty from the old place. Windows can be reused for projects. Single-pane or not, we should remove all of those. We'll haul the wiring in for recycling. I think all of the plumbing is copper too. It won't be a total loss." He sighed. "But, I know what you mean." Wren smiled at his friend. Caleb started to move toward the house, and Wren put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey," Wren took a deep breath. "I'm glad you're here." His eyes had an honest, unguarded quality in them. "Just, thanks for being here." Caleb smiled. "Well, of course, Wren. I don't know where else I'd be." ⤱ They got busy. Wren called for a large, metal trash container for delivery to the property. While the pair waited for that, they used the hours of daylight they had left. By the time the truck with the container nosed along the gravel road, they had almost all of the windows removed in a careful stack leaned against the house. The truck dropped off the container and Wren paid the deposit with the last of the cash he had left. As the delivery driver climbed back up into the cab of the big, flatbed truck, Wren shook his head. "I have almost a hundred thousand dollars in the bank and I forgot to withdraw any." Caleb chuckled and wiped his face. They both sweated from their efforts. It was cool, thanks to the season, but they were working hard. Only a few windows remained. Though Wren had wanted to get them all removed before dark, they hadn't quite made it. The light was slowly fading and Wren wanted to do something before it was totally gone. "Here, help me." Wren picked up a few loose bricks that lay about along the edge of the house. Caleb looked mystified for a moment, then smiled. He and Wren soon had a ring of blocks out in front of the tent. The evening had just gotten to the point of needing a light to see by when they finished. Caleb hunted for kindling and other small pieces of wood, and Wren went into the tent. Wren found their camp chairs, hauled them out and set them up near the new fire ring they'd built. Caleb knelt and began to form a teepee of sticks, leaves and other detritus within the little circle of bricks. Wren smiled as Caleb found the lighter in the pocket of his camp chair. Caleb bent to ignite the leaves stuffed under the teepee. "Wait." Wren looked up the hill and saw the lights at the Shaw place a little over a mile away. "I should call Charles, see if he can come down and hang out for an hour or two." In the dying light, Wren could barely see Caleb's features as he frowned. The expression quickly disappeared from Caleb's face. "Yeah. That sounds good." He refocused on the fire. Wren hesitated. "Ah." He waved a hand at the house on the hill. "He's probably just winding down with Tracy and Oliver." Caleb didn't look up, still trying to light their little pile of flammable tinder and wood. "Oh, yeah. Probably." His tone was noticeably neutral. Wren tapped his foot, unseen in the growing dark. "Well, I'll just leave them alone." He took a seat in his camp chair as a tiny flame began to catch and cast light over their surroundings. Caleb snapped another few twigs and leaned them against their growing fire. He stood and looked down at it, the front of him illuminated in the orange-yellow color of the light. He stared for a bit, then Caleb glanced at Wren and took his seat. Wren had set their chairs side by side, and Caleb didn't move away at all. Their hands on the arms of the chairs were so close, Wren could have lifted his pinky and touched Caleb. The fire snapped and popped as it grew. Heat chased the chill from around the little refuge they had created there, though Wren still shivered as the sweat on his back cooled uncomfortably. He expected Caleb felt the same way, and he stood up. "I'll be back." He'd carried the most precious thing from his grandmother around with him for years, and he retrieved the old faded quilt laying on his cot. Wren reverently moved it outside in his hands. He stood behind Caleb. "Here." Wren draped half of it over Caleb, walked around, and got under the other side. Now they both sat under the warm, comfortable quilt, with the growing fire before them. "Thanks." It was almost a whisper from Caleb. They both watched the fire, and to Wren, the moment had a dream-like languidness to it. The slightest motion on the arm of Wren's chair drew his eye. Under the quilt, he felt Caleb's finger slide against his. It was so subtle Wren thought he imagined it, but that touch gently slid up and down Wren's skin. Wren looked over at him. Caleb continued to stare at the fire for a moment, then he turned his head to meet Wren's gaze. Caleb wet his lips and inhaled. "Yes." Wren frowned. "'Yes?'" He swallowed, and Caleb continued to stroke Wren's hand, now he let his touch travel from fingertip to wrist in a gentle, back-and-forth motion. Caleb nodded. "Yes." He turned Wren's hand over and Caleb slowly closed his around Wren's. He looked down at the lump where their clasped hands were hidden beneath the quilt. "You asked before, if I thought about fucking up. If I worried about it." Caleb's face moved as emotions rolled beneath the surface. "The answer is, yes. I worry about it." Wren processed. He had known Caleb for so long, and he felt both the vulnerability and the cry for help. The possibility of another physical moment with the big Shaw boy also fired some baser pathways in his brain, but Wren tried to rise above that. His hand moved a little as he gripped Caleb. "Well, if we're both afraid of fucking up, then…" Wren flinched. "Then maybe we should just…" "I want it to be you." Caleb interrupted. Wren licked his lips. "Sorry?" Caleb's eyes were unfocused and he audibly swallowed. "I think I just need to try it." He clenched his jaw and nodded. "I just need to try it, and I want it to be with you." Wren blinked. "Sex. You want to have sex with me?" He knew that's what Caleb implied, but he couldn't quite believe it. Caleb nodded. Wren reacted to the possibility of being with Caleb and his earlier apprehension faded. "Wh…" Wren cast a glance over his shoulder at the tent sitting in the dark. He felt the need for this moment to be something more than he was capable of giving. "We can't do this here. A tent. Cold, and dark." Caleb's hand tightened. "That doesn't matter to me." Wren's mind tried to blow itself apart as he thought. "I… we need a condom." "Is there a reason for one?" Caleb asked. Wren knew Caleb was a virgin, and he also knew his status. "N… no. No, I guess not." Caleb breathed. "We don't have to." He lowered his head slightly and Wren had the impression of disappointment. "I can tell you don't want to." Wren turned in his seat. "Oh, that's not it at all. I just... I just don't want to fuck this up." His face was pained. "I'm not the best at taking things slow, and I just… I want the best for you." Caleb looked Wren in the eyes. "I've tried to push you out of my mind since you got back. I can't." He stood up and pulled Wren to his feet. Caleb's arms went around him, and one of his hands found the back of Wren's neck. He whispered, "Let me do this." Wren tingled with desire, affection, and the need to do the right thing for Caleb. For the first time in Wren's life, the right thing coincided with his own attraction. Wren gently kissed Caleb in the softness of the firelight. This time it was unhurried, gentle, and the difference in Caleb was pronounced. Wren felt it. The broad man allowed the pace to be set by Wren, and Wren was determined to give Caleb the best moment he could imagine. He pulled away and Caleb's eyes were closed. They slowly opened, dreamy, focused, trusting. Wren swallowed. "Come on." He took Caleb's hand and led him into the tent. Wren clicked on the single camp light hanging from the main pole, and a soft, diffuse glow lit their sleeping area. Wren pulled at Caleb's pants button and leaned forward again. He strove to avoid aggression as they kissed. Instead, his touches as his hands slid into Caleb's jeans were light, and Wren undressed them in slow, measured movements. "Lay down, on your back." Wren smiled, and Caleb did. He stared up at Wren's naked body, his blue eyes glittering in the light from the lamp. Caleb bore an expression of amazement and awe, and Wren swallowed when he looked down at him. 'Nobody has ever looked at me like that.' Wren found his lotion. Masturbation was a big part of his life, so he had prepared. He settled on Caleb's middle, and he smiled down at his friend. "You okay?" Caleb nodded, and he ran his hands along Wren's slim, almost-hairless torso. Wren took the lotion and he let it warm. Then his slick, lubricated hand slowly stroked Caleb. Wren enjoyed the meatiness of his friend's erect cock and the way Caleb sighed. After a few languid passes, he lubed himself too. Wren positioned Caleb against himself, shifted his weight back, and down, and began the process of relaxing his body. Caleb's hands slid down Wren's ribcage. One settled on his waist, while the other wrapped around Wren's wet, leaking dick. His eyes never left Wren's face. Pressure mounted. Wren closed his eyes, bit his lip, then grunted when penetration occurred. Caleb froze. "A… are you all right?" There was a waver in his deep voice. Wren smiled. He knew precisely what Caleb was feeling right now, and it was something entirely new. "I'm fine. We just need to go slow." Wren leaned over to kiss his friend. Caleb's strong hands were warm and moved over his back as they made out. Wren relaxed, piece by piece, and over time Caleb slid into him. Caleb lay his head back. "Oh, god." He appeared stunned at the sensation of Wren's body wrapped around his member. Wren moved his pelvis, and both men groaned. A new dribble of precome leaked out of him, and Wren began to stroke. Caleb put his hands on Wren's waist and looked in abject wonder at him. "You feel good inside me, Caleb," Wren whispered. The sensation of Caleb's cock gently sliding against Wren's prostate was almost pure pleasure. The fact that it was Caleb, his friend, it made things even more intense for Wren. Caleb's jaw dropped, and he moaned. "Oh, I'm glad." Caleb wet his lips. "Fuck, Wren I'm gonna get off." Wren grinned at him and began to stroke faster. "Good. Go ahead. I want you to." Caleb's breaths were now audible and came in short, staccato gasps. He straightened his neck to look at Wren's face, bit his bottom lip, and he pushed his hips up - instinct driving him now. He groaned, mouth open, and Wren felt him come. Knowing Caleb was close, then feeling his orgasm, it took Wren to the edge and beyond. He closed his eyes and arched his back, settling his full weight on Caleb. He shot on Caleb's slightly furry chest and added his own voice to the groans of his friend. Caleb's hips continued for another twenty seconds, slowing until at last, he was still. He breathed, staring up at Wren framed by the illumination of the little camp light. Wren was flushed with endorphins and the tingling sensation which accompanies a beautiful coupling. He put his clean hand on the side of Caleb's face. "I hope you're okay." He shook his head. "This wasn't worth it if you're not." Caleb smiled. "I, ah," he wiped his face. "Fuck." Caleb put his hands back at Wren's waist. "I'm good." His voice wavered, and he cleared it. "I'm real good." Wren grinned. "Okay." They cleaned up as best as two guys in a tent can. Wren retrieved the quilt from the chairs outside, put out the fire, and he returned to find Caleb on the two-man cot. Caleb had moved over to one side, and he watched as Wren stood beside it. After only a moment of hesitation, Wren clicked off the lantern and climbed onto the cot with him. He draped the quilt over the thin blanket covering them, then pulled the covers up to his chin. Wren rolled onto his side, his back to Caleb, and Caleb put a thick arm around him. "Goodnight, Wren." Caleb nosed the back of Wren's neck, and chills chased over Wren's skin. "Goodnight, Caleb." Wren listened and felt as Caleb's breathing slowed. Soon his friend was asleep. For Wren, sleep would be some time coming. He was fine with that. Wren found himself struggling to unpack the way he felt. So he lay there, his new lover's body pressed to his, and his mind circling around a premise that had to be flawed. Though when sleep came, it was deep and peaceful - filled with pleasant dreams.
  40. 38 points
    9 Leon might have refused to take on his role as a Prince of the Kingdom in the palace, but the people had not forgotten him. Even now, as he sat opposite two ministry of tourism officials, Logan could see that they regarded him as Prince Leon. They wanted Leon’s support in promoting tourism projects through the new hotel and any trips he might take. Leon negotiated for an equal deal for him, David and the ministry. A surge of pride filled Logan; it was nice to see Leon in such a productive setting. Still, Logan could not find a single piece of the Leon he’d spent six months with across Europe. It was like that Leon had disappeared and been replaced with this new Leon, a business-first Leon. He couldn’t help but miss Leon’s carefree side. Logan’s phone buzzed and he moved away from his position at the door. Toom took over as Logan answered the call. “Mason.” “Why is there a team going through our hotel? They asked me to call you,” David asked, somewhat irritated. Logan had forwarded Leon’s schedule to the command center. Commander Stevens would have sent a secondary team to sweep the hotel before Leon’s arrival. “David, I’ve taken on a job with Leon,” Logan said. “I know he hasn’t told you or the others. I’ll leave it to him to tell you when he’s ready.” David sighed on the other end. “I knew something was wrong yesterday,” David said. “He was acting off all day. Well, this is both good and bad news. It’s bad news because this second team is annoyingly nosy.” Logan chuckled. “Why is it good news?” Logan asked. “For you, Logan,” David said, the warmth in his voice made Logan grateful he’d managed to keep David as a friend all this time. “You’ve waited to get close. Protecting him gives you plenty of opportunities, doesn’t it?” Logan glanced to the lounge where Leon still chatted to the two ministry officials. “It also depends on what he wants, David,” Logan said. “You’re right,” David agreed. “Although, Logan, have you ever stopped to think why he never asked you to stay?” Logan frowned. He’d never told anyone that Leon had indeed asked him to stay. He remembered every word Leon said that funeral day in the car. Leon had asked him. Logan had walked away, because he had wanted Commander Steele's mission, more than Leon at the time. “Why he never pushed you for more when we both know he can?” David continued. “It’s because his life is not quiet. Anyone who gets close loses so much.” “That’s absurd,” Logan said, shaking his head. “I lost nothing with him, David. I only gained.” “You were not fully committed,” David said. “Up to this day, Logan, you remain just a step out of the circle. It’s conscious on your part. If you take a fully committed step toward Leon, you’ll understand what I mean. You’ll understand why Petr has worked so hard to pull you into our circle.” Logan fell silent knowing that David was half-right. The other half, well, Logan wanted to step fully into Leon’s life, he just wasn’t sure Leon wanted him there now. “The team at the hotel is discrete, David. They might ask questions, but they won’t trouble you.” “They feel different,” David noted, he was too sharp for his own good. “It feels a bit like when Princess Gia visits. Something—” “I have to pull in all the stops,” Logan cut in, not about to let David realize that Leon was now under the Kingdom’s full protection. “He’s a prince, you know.” David chuckled. “I almost forget it,” David joked. “Almost. Well, okay. We’ll cooperate with them. I’m relieved to know you’re with him again. Good luck, Logan.” David ended the call and Logan stood watching Leon. He had never stopped to consider what being Leon’s true partner would entail. Why had that never been a concern before? Leon stood and Logan pushed those thoughts aside. He hurried back into position, so that his team shadowed Leon to the elevators as he finished with the officials. They headed to the Anastasia Grand Hotel. Leon and David had named it after Princess Anastasia. Logan wondered how Leon was coping without his parents as they walked up to the hotel’s front doors. David met them at the entrance, pulling Leon into a loose hug, with a wide smile as he greeted Leon. He was dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt. He was clearly in the middle of pulling the opening ceremony together, even as he stopped to welcome Leon. Logan listened as Shirley, John and Tom cleared the surrounding area, thanks to the secondary team. “Thank you for coming, Leon.” “Anything for you, David,” Leon said, as they entered the hotel. David looked behind Leon and winked at Logan before he squeezed Leon’s hand in mock surprise. “Oh wow, is that Logan Mason?” “Don’t bother,” Leon said, scowling at David. “I know he’s worked for you, Petr, Riku, Anselm and even Paul. The whole lot of you kept it a secret from me. I don’t know what you thought I would do.” David dropped the surprised act and let go of Leon’s hand to cross his arms against his chest. “We were helping out our buddy. You’re not the only one who got close to him, you know,” David said to Leon. “He’s our friend too.” Leon turned to look at Logan for a second, and then shifted to face David. “So, you have trouble,” David stated, then before Leon could give an answer, David continued. “Whatever it is, I’m glad you have Logan with you. I’ll at least feel at ease.” Leon sighed and took David’s elbow, leading him into the hotel. Logan didn’t miss the fact that Leon did not try to explain to his best friend why he needed a serious security detail. Leon and David started a busy three hours that left Logan’s team moving through the eighteen floors of the hotel. Logan took it as a plus, it gave them time to secure the hotel, and make sure there were no uninvited guests. “We’ve covered all possible weaknesses,” Shirley reported, as they waited for Leon to finish talking to service staff. “The secondary team is monitoring all traffic. They’re also in charge of the parking lot. The ceremony has guests we don’t have time to account for, not to mention staff—” “It was too short a notice,” Logan agreed. “We'll tighten our circle around the prince when we get to the ceremony.” “Alright, boss,” Tom and John said. Shirley nodded to Leon who had finished talking to the service staff. Thankfully, after this meeting, David announced it was time for lunch *** David insisted on including Logan’s team in the dining room. Leon settled at a table in the corner of the small, private and elegant dining room on the third floor of the hotel. His chair was tucked into the corner of the wall, away from windows as per Shirley’s instructions when she left him. Leon swiped his thumb over his phone screen, over and over, though he never opened any app, or message notification. His gaze strayed to the two security-team members sitting at a table a few feet away from him. Tom and John, Leon recalled from Logan’s quick introduction in the morning. Leon wondered if they too were former members of the Royal Navy SPOC team. They looked highly trained. They moved like Logan, even now at rest, they missed nothing in the room. Leon wondered how Logan convinced them to work in his business. He wanted to know so many things about Logan. David entered the dining room, having finished with their chef, coming straight to Leon’s table. He slid into the chair next to Leon. “We’re having chocolate mousse with raspberries for dessert. Your favorite,” David said with a happy smile. Leon returned it, though he felt it a shadow of his real one. “Logan?” Leon asked, knowing David would tell him without teasing him. “Outside,” David said, “he’s making sure you’re safe.” Leon nodded and placed his phone on his table mat. He rubbed his right earlobe and tried to ignore David’s raised brow. David leaned closer, his gaze expectant. “What?” “I’m not sure whether to feel insulted by the fact that you continue to hide a huge secret from me.” “It’s too complicated,” Leon said. “I would tell you if I had an easy explanation.” “Do you need extra help?” David asked, concern creasing his forehead. “We can ask Petr, and even Anselm—” “No.” Leon said, not about to draw his friends into his problems. “I need time and patience, David. This will get resolved quickly.” David gave him a skeptical glance, and then reached for the glass of water set by his plate. “Fine,” David said, after a slow sip. Leon picked up his phone, plastering on a smile for David. “Why don’t we take a selfie of you?” Leon asked, keeping his tone cheerful. “Let’s shock Sadie when you actually post this on your gram account.” David laughed and Leon took David’s photo then, glad to see his best friend happy. Lunch continued in a lazy, quiet slide until Logan and Shirley entered the dining room fifteen minutes later. A shift change, Leon noted as Tom and John left the dining room. Leon sat back in his seat, and watched David approach Logan. No doubt to make sure Logan and Shirley were satisfied with the food on the menu. Leon had taken the chef’s special, a delicious grilled chicken with rice and sauteed veggies. He hadn’t finished it all, but it tasted spectacular. Leon tried to concentrate on his cup of coffee, even his phone, but it was useless to try. His gaze slid to Logan with every attempt to look away. He bit his bottom lip to keep from smiling when Shirley got her plate and promptly exclaimed over the presentation of food. Logan giving her a startled, censoring look was so priceless, Leon wished he had his camera for the first time in a very longtime. *** “This looks amazing!” Shirley said, reaching for her phone. “I’m so taking a pic of this and sharing it.” David chuckled at Logan’s reaction to that statement and poured water into Logan’s large glass. “I expect you to tag the hotel when you post,” David encouraged Shirley before Logan could stop her. He winked at both of them, before he walked back to the table he shared with Leon. “They are so cool,” Shirley said, already doing as asked on her phone. “This Prince is so different from his cousins. I wonder if it’s because he lives outside the palace.” Logan picked up his fork, his gaze on Leon. David slid into the seat next to Leon. Their connection seemed to have only grown deeper with time, Logan noted. Leon trusted David. As though to prove his thoughts, Leon picked up his dessertspoon and took a bite of the chocolate mousse with raspberries in David’s bowl. Jealousy so blinding rose so fast, Logan jerked his gaze back to his plate. He took a bite of the delicious grilled chicken on his plate, barely tasting it. Reaching for his glass of water, he took a healthy gulp, his gaze sliding back to Leon. David moved his bowl to Leon and took Leon’s bowl. Logan remembered a time when he’d done that without thought. The more he watched them, the deeper the acute feeling of loss filled him. Annoyed by it, Logan forced his attention back to his own plate, afraid of what he might do if he kept watching longer. He had this urge to walk over and demand back the rights he seemed to have lost with Leon. *** The hotel had elevated its security protocols. The food he’d thought to mess with was no longer going up to the third floor. The private dining room had pulled in the hotel’s top chef to cook and serve in person. He’d not made the cut when they chose service staff. He should have realized that Prince Leon’s presence in the building would turn everyone into nervous pricks. He’d not accounted for that. Adjusting his apron, he wondered if there was an easier way to approach his target. Picking up a tray filled with dirty plates, he slid it into the sink and turned on the hot water to spray debris off the plates with expertise. His phone buzzed and he tapped the earpiece in his left ear without pause. “Progress?” the gruff voice filled his head, fraying his nerves. “First plan failed. His security is good. Food is out of the question.” “What now?” “I’m looking for an alternative. I’ll keep you posted.” “Your package will be waiting as soon as you succeed. Once you get it, fly out without delay. No more visits to the house in the glades. Don’t slip up.” “Understood.” The call ended fast and he sighed, wondering what would happen if he failed his mission. He shuddered at the thought. Things hadn’t gone so well for the three before him. “Hey,” a soft feminine voice said, drawing his attention to a young woman who looked harried. She stood a few feet away holding a pair of gold scissors. “I just got these from storage and they’re really dirty. We’ve neglected them. I need to wrap them with bows for the ceremony. Can you help me?” Taking the scissors, he smiled as he ran hot water over them. Could it be so easy? *** After lunch, Leon retreated to a suite on the eighteenth floor set aside for him by David. The opening ceremony was coming up in thirty minutes. David handed the key card to Logan. “I’ll leave him in your capable hands,” David teased Logan as they entered the elevator. “See you in thirty.” Logan nodded as the elevator doors closed. Upstairs, Logan made Leon wait at the door with Shirley and Tom, while he and John cleared the penthouse suite. Logan was glad to discover no unwanted surprises. In the master bathroom, he paused when he saw the tray with antibiotic ointment and fresh bandages sitting on the sink counter. “Clear,” John called from the living area. Logan closed the bathroom door and went to the front door. “Clear,” he confirmed, allowing Leon into the suite. Leon let out a tired sigh, as he walked to an armchair in the living area. He shrugged off his blue jacket and draped it over the back of the chair. Logan frowned when he spotted a red stain on Leon’s upper right arm. He rushed to Leon’s side, taking his arm in a panic. “You’re bleeding.” Leon glanced at his right arm and cursed under his breath. “It’s nothing,” Leon said, shrugging his arm out of Logan’s grasp. “Dax will be up to help shortly.” “No.” Logan took Leon’s left arm and started to the master bedroom. That’s what the tray was about in the bathroom. “What are you doing?” “Helping you,” Logan said, urging Leon to the bathroom, not really giving him a chance to fight him. “You don’t have to do this,” Leon complained, when Logan closed the bathroom door and stood waiting on Leon to remove his white shirt. The red stain on Leon’s arm made Logan worry. It was so out of place. Leon scowled at Logan. “It’s better if I wait for Dax.” “Leon,” Logan said, taking a step closer to Leon, his gaze never leaving the red spot on Leon’s right arm. “You’re hurt, and bleeding. Please, let me help you. I can help redress your wound.” Leon studied him for a moment, and then lowered his head with a sigh. He started to unbutton his shirt, his hands trembling slightly. Logan took in a deep breath remembering the last time Leon had removed a shirt in front of him. They’d been in Sevilla. Leon riding a horse, while he laughed, rain falling on him. Logan longed for that carefree Leon. Leon shrugged off his stained shirt. The bathroom was large enough to fit a small one-bedroom apartment. Yet, watching Leon remove his shirt made the room feel smaller. To distract himself, Logan walked around Leon to the sink. He still couldn’t help looking back and staring. “Logan?” Logan drew his gaze away from Leon’s naked back to find Leon watching him. Logan cleared his throat, and studied the contents on the tray near the sink. Leon moved closer, leaning on the sink counter next to him, making sure Logan had access to his right upper arm. Logan took in a deep breath and focused on looking over the bandage on Leon’s arm, scowling at the stain of blood. Logan undid the old bandage with care to reveal an angry bullet furrow that was an angry red, scabbing over slow. Throwing the old bandage into the trash, Logan studied the wound, worry settling in his stomach. The shooter in the Arguro Forest had done this to Leon. It left a bitter taste in his mouth. “He got close,” Logan said, his gaze moving from Leon’s right arm to Leon’s bent head. He stared at the soft brown hair begging for his fingers to comb through it. Leon lifted his head, and looked at him, gray eyes filled with shadows. There was a time he would have leaned in and kissed Leon until those shadows disappeared. He couldn’t now and it pained him. “I don’t know why anyone would hate me so much that they would shoot at me,” Leon said, his voice low. “Do you?” Logan knew different. Leon was a prince. Anyone who wanted him dead had to have a vendetta against the royal family. It could be political. It was no secret that Queen Amethea loved Leon most. Hurting him would hurt her, as Logan was already aware. She would do anything for this particular grandson of hers. “Don’t worry,” Logan said, keeping his voice low. “Whoever they are, we’ll catch them.” Logan took the ointment from the tray with the bandage supplies. He applied a generous amount to the angry wound, then placed a neat dressing over the wound and taped it with care. “You do that really well. Must be from experience,” Leon noted, looking at Logan through the mirror. Logan concentrated on finishing with the bandage. When he was done, he looked up and met Leon’s probing gaze. Taking a step closer, Leon’s maddening cologne filled his nostrils. It wasn’t fair to smell so good. Heart beat speeding, Logan stared at Leon, wanting. Then Logan cupped Leon’s jaw, his gaze dropping to parted lips. Leon’s breath hitched and Logan leaned closer and kissed Leon as he had wanted to since he saw him this morning. Like falling into a beloved rhythm, their kiss a remembered perfection, it set him aflame and all he could think was how much he had missed this. A soft moan escaped Leon and he stepped even closer, reaching up to hold Logan’s left wrist. Another minute of bliss, and Leon jerked away from him, panic in his eyes. “Stop,” Leon managed, shaking his head. He turned away from Logan and closed his eyes. "I can't." Logan stepped back, breathing hard, remembering where they were and who he was to Leon now. “I’m sorry,” Logan said, moving away from Leon. Logan picked up the shirt Leon had removed and left the bathroom in fast strides. ***
  41. 38 points
    Davis and Kaleb stumbled into Kyle and Blu’s house with babies in tow, looking haggard from lack of rest. The men both have dark rings under their eyes and are haphazardly dressed. Blu coming down the stairs took one look at the two men and started laughing his ass off before he stole… “Which one is this?” he asked looking starry-eyed down at the baby. “Which color?” Kaleb asked. “Uh, seems normal pinky color.” Blu tilted his head inspecting the skin of the baby closer. Kaleb rolled his eyes, “No outfit asswipe.” “Are you drunk, brother?” “Oh god, I wish. Do you have anything? I can call off.” Kaleb’s eyes scanned the kitchen for a miracle cure. Blu handed the baby back to Davis. “Here you go Poppy, this one smells a little funky. Let me have the other one?” Davis refused to take the baby back, also turning away so Blu couldn’t take god knows which one he had in his arms. “It’s your problem now Blu, Kaleb has the diaper bag. Goodluck. I don’t know what’s in that formula but, yikes.” Davis gave him a smirk sidestepping his friend to sit at the kitchen table. Kaleb dropped the diaper bag at Blu’s feet, “I recommend you hurry, princess detests me and she’s even worse at dirty diapers.” Blu snatched up the diaper bag while maintaining a safe hold on Kassidy. He grumbled all the way to the office where he could change the baby in peace. Kyle entered the kitchen just as Blu left. Kyle smirked and waved his hand in front of his face, “Blu make sure you hose her down.” The kids started piling in the kitchen one at a time while Kyle started on breakfast, he shushed them when they got a little noisy because Kaleb and Davis had fallen asleep sitting up holding a baby each. Levi chuckled with an evil quietness watching his uncles he opened the refrigerator pulling out a pack of string cheese handing some to Cody. The two boys proceeded to pull the cheese apart and decorate their Uncles laying the cheese pieces in their hair, resting in their ears. Somehow Levi managed to get a piece up Kaleb’s nose. The two boys fist bumped then ate any leftover cheese while they waited for their breakfast. Kaleb helped his brother serve the food, which he made sure everybody other than his two nephews ate first. “See what being a smartass gets you? You two can eat last.” “Wow, Uncle Kaleb you must be tired if that’s all you got!” The young boy exclaimed through a laugh. Kaleb shook his head, “You have no idea. Eat, sleep, and poop! That’s all they do, and the princess screams, like a shrill, enough to make you want to be deaf. So how’s the love life, Levi? I see your Pop still has the laundry room door off. He’s never been too exciting, I still don’t understand how your dad landed somebody soooooooo boring.” Last part of his statement ended with an exaggerated sigh. Blu entered the kitchen childless catching the end of Kaleb’s statement smacking the back of his head as he walked past. “Shut your stupid tired face shithead.” Blu opened the refrigerator door coming up with someone's keys, he held them up. “Do these belong to anyone, or are they just cooling off after letting Kaleb drive.” Davis looked over to Blu sleepily then felt his pocket. “Oh, their mine. Sorry,” he said through a yawn, “I think.” Closing his eyes again, it seemed Davis no longer cared. “Babe you should take today off–” Kaleb stopped suddenly looking over at Blu. “Where the hell is my baby?” Panicking his eyes moved around the room searching for their missing child. His brother-in-law shook his head slowly doing his best to look confused. “What baby?” “Return the kid Blu, or I will hurt you,” Kaleb said through gritted teeth. Maria came into the kitchen holding the sweet little baby in her arms. “Relax, sweetie. I’ve got your precious bundle right here.” “How’s my baby little girl? Have you decided to love your daddy today?” Kaleb said as he stood and cooed over her in Maria’s arms. The little girl immediately started to scrunch her eyes preparing to wail. Kaleb shook his head and sat back down, “Your daughter hates me, Davis.” Davis opened his eyes sitting up quickly from his slumped state. “I’m up. I’m up. What’s happening?” “You’re daughter… is she ever gonna like me?” Kaleb asked crossing his arms in a pout. A knock from the entryway of the kitchen had everyone’s attention, they all blinked before Kaleb threw himself at the big man standing before him. “You’re back,” he sobbed, “you came back.” Burying his head in James' chest. James pulled back from Kaleb enough so he could see Kaleb’s face. His eyes moved around the room taking in the scene in front of him. The surprised faces made the mans insides warm filled with the love from his young family. “Who’s babies?” his eyes moving back to Kaleb’s. “Are they yours?” he asked excitedly. “Ya… ours,” Kaleb motioned to Davis as he blushed. “But she hates me,” he gestured toward his daughter in Maria’s arms. “It’s like she has a motion sensor if I get within four feet of her she screams bloody murder.” Smiling James pulled Kaleb into his body for a comforting hug. Meanwhile, the others all gathered around the men to welcome him home. “Go away he’s mine, find your own.” Kaleb swatted at the pestering group. Davis handed the baby he had to James, kissed the mans cheek and mumbled, “Levi, I’m taking a nap in your bed. I’m glad your back James.” **** During lunch at school Cody was sitting with his friends chatting animatedly, when red-headed Mary Ann Bickers walked up to the boy kissing his cheek. “Oh my god you’re disgusting,” Cody said wiping at his cheek. Mary Ann flicked her hair over her shoulder, “You’re my boyfriend now. What’s your cell number?” The girl asked in a rather demanding tone. Cody turned red in the face, “that’s none of your business, and I’m not your boyfriend.” His face screwed up while scrubbing his cheek rapidly with the cuff of his sleeve. “We’ll see about that Cody Waters, I will tell everybody you kissed me by the restroom after lunch.” Mary Ann hissed before stalking off. Jared quickly sent a text to Blu and Kyle amused at what had just happened to Cody. Feeling bad for the young girl because now he had to report it due to the zero-tolerance policy. He moved forward toward Cody to get his side of the story. After listening to Cody and his friends recap the event it was as he suspected. Not liking the fact he had to report the incident, he was still amused at the ballsy young girl. She went after what she wanted. Years ago the situation would have been dealt with easily and taken for what it was. Young kids learning boundaries and coming into the angsty teenage years. Today with the way things were it’s considered sexual harassment. Go figure. It all seems over the top in Jared’s opinion. Kyle read his text from his brother, chuckling before summoning for the girl to report to the office. His hands were tied he had to deal with this situation in a professional manner even though the intention was harmless. The only thing that happened was embarrassing his son which in all reality, his own kids had a running tally of who could embarrass who the most. **** Levi’s phone rang while he was working on a book report which was due in a few days. Recognizing Marks number from the baseball team, he answered it. “Hey man what’s up?” “What are you calling my phone for Mary Ann?” “No, I’m not putting him on my phone.” “I don’t care if you think he’s your boyfriend.” “If you haven’t realized it Cody is definitely not interested.” “Ya well, you're out of luck unless you turn into a puppy. He likes those.” “Does Mark know you’re using his phone? Hello?” Levi turned to look at his phone noticing she hung up on him. Hopping off his bed he strolled downstairs into the living room, finding Cody. “What’s your girlfriend calling my phone for Cody?” “What? Huh?” Cody looked at Levi, “I didn’t give her your phone number or mine. I swear she’s nuts and gross. I had to come home after school when she kissed my cheek and scrub it for half an hour to get rid of her germs.” Link perked up, “Tell her to keep her lips off our little brother Levi. He’s too young.” “Yeah, Levi, tell her to stay away from me I’m too young,” Cody said fist bumping with Lincoln. “Ya, you’re both weird but whatever,” Levi said as he turned heading back to his report. **** The Water’s house was in absolute chaos. It is the morning of Jared and Manson’s wedding. Jared was getting ready at their place but Mason and Kasey had stayed the night at Blu and Kyle’s. The family members were back and forth between the two houses all morning. Kasey following Kaleb around all morning full of questions and wanting to help with the babies. Now that James was home he was back to work but now working with Kaleb, Davis, and the triplets. Kyle’s family didn’t really need a constant nanny, they’d settled into a routine that worked for them and were happy, much to Kaleb’s relief. The last thing he wanted was to go through the drama of finding a nanny or manny he could trust to look after their precious babies. “Dad,” Link yelled over the landing at the top of the stairs, “Bella’s stupid cat slept on my tie and now it has hair all over it. “Shut up, she’s not stupid. Jerk!” Bella called out. “Pop, I need to find my other shoe,” Cody screeched running down the stairs with one shoe on pushing Khan out of the way at the bottom. “Move Kahn.” “Mom, calm down. Everything is already organized. You don’t need to do anything, Kaleb, and Christopher have everything handled,” Mason spoke into his phone moving around Cody to go back upstairs. “Uncle Kaleb, the green baby is crying!” Kasey yelled. “Of course, why not!” Kaleb shouted throwing his hands in the air stomping off to deal with his baby. Kasey tapped Mason’s side, “Poppy do you have Spotties bow tie?” “It’s on Dad’s nightstand where you put it a few days ago,” Mason said kneeling at the boy's side. “Okay, but he needs it before the wedding. He has to Poppy, he’s family.” Kasey pouted while looking at his shiny shoes. Blu flew into the living room holding a shoe in one hand, ruffling Kasey’s hair with the other. “Pop, where is dad?” Link said from above. Blu gave the shoe in his hand to Cody turning the boy to go back upstairs while looking up at Lincoln distractedly. “Uh… Dad’s over at Uncle Jared’s. What do you need?” He turned quickly to Kaleb. “James said to take…” he pointed to the baby, “uh… the last one of your babies over to Jared’s you need to get your tux on and your brothers are freaking out.” “Pop!” Blu turned his attention back to Link. “What buddy?” Blu sighed already exhausted and they hadn’t even really started yet. “We have to leave in forty minutes Link. You kids need to hurry up.” “There’s a problem.” Link pointed at the cat, “that thing sat on my tie it’s covered in hair, and looks like something a rich person would wear around their shoulders for a coat.” Blu waved his hand up toward Link, “Go and get one from my closet, I have a few smaller ties just pick one.” “I’m leaving now shit for brains, you better not be wearing those sweats to the wedding dickhead.” Kaleb waltzed out with the green baby, diaper bag, and Kasey in tow. “Your tastes always did suck, other than Kyle.” Blu flipped off Kaleb and handed Kasey a ten dollar note with the other hand. The young boy scampered off after his uncle grinning like he’d won the lottery. He’d been cleaning up between the two houses today because of the excitement and stress. Kasey was loving it. He’d gone to the bank this week to deposit his bad word money and the box was looking a little empty. He was happily filling it up again. He was gonna be so rich when he grew up. Silly dults. He caught up to Kaleb because needed to go back to his house to look for Spottie’s bow tie. He’s not allowed to cross the road by himself. After the chaos continued for another half an hour, Blu was shuffling the kids and Mason into the Escalade. Jared would be going in Davis’ Escalade, Kaleb had finally caved and let his husband have the cool family tank rather than the traditional mom’s soccer van. “Okay, folks, welcome to the ‘Groom to Altar’, shuttle. The traffic is light and we are expected to arrive in 23 minutes. Please fasten your seatbelts and stay seated while the vehicle is in motion. There is no food service on this flight and any stains from food snuck on board will be dealt with by a severe grounding. We’re off, enjoy the ride,” Blu looked in the back at the kids before departing. “Parents are so lame,” Link laughed out. “But we will keep you.” **** The gazebo at the park was decorated with colorful roses, that left a lovely scent wafting through the air. There were a few lines of white chairs to accommodate family only, per the soon to be newlyweds request. A small group of stringed musicians played a welcoming melody, for the guests. The sun shined brightly through the ocean blue colored skies, with a light warm breeze, and fluffy white colored clouds littered the sky. It was a beautiful March day, warmer than usual for this time of year. The two men were going to have an exceptional day if the weather was anything to go by. Everyone took their places and the music started for the wedding march. Jared and Mason had decided to walk down the aisle together, while Kaleb and Kyle waited at the pulpit with the ordained minister. Blu sat with his parents and James surrounded by the kids. Nan and Elsie sat behind, both ladies sporting embroidered handkerchiefs and specially bought hats for the occasion. Teddy stood at attention in his service dress uniform off to the side keeping an eye on the festivities. Although they barely had any security he had amped it up not taking any chances with Jared and Mason’s wedding nor that fact the entire family was present. Once the music started Jared and Mason commenced their walk to officially share their life together. Mason a little shiny-eyed but happy. Jared wearing the mother effer of all grins, he stood tall and proud to be marrying the love of his life. Although he’d loved his wife with all his heart, he’d found another love just as wonderful in Mason. Kasey closely shadowed his dads with Spotty well in hand. He’d done a good job training the well-behaved dog with his Poppy and Grandpappy’s help. The young boy concentrated doing the right thing all the way down the aisle taking his job seriously. He took his place to the side of his Uncle Kyle ready for when he had to give them the rings. Besides looking after Spotty, the rings were his responsibility and he didn’t want to mess it up. “Dearly beloved–” Levi sunk in his chair wishing he could just disappear as he pulled his phone out. “Mark I can’t talk my uncles are getting–” “Mary Ann I’ve had enough of this game.” “No, you’re not talking to Cody. Not now or ever! Tell Mark to put you on a leash, you need some self-control. On second thought I will tell him myself.” Levi said heatedly. Clicking the disconnect, he glanced up and all eyes were trained on him. “Umm… yes… As I was saying. We are gathered here to join both of these men in the holiest of vows, that of marriage. Both men have written their own vows which they will now give to one another.” The minister still giving Levi the stink-eye, who smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Taking Mason’s hand in his with a shaky voice Jared said, “Mason when both of our worlds seemed at their darkest we found our love could get us through anything. We’ve been through the worst of times and made a lot of happy memories already. Today you do me the honor of becoming not only my best friend but my husband. I promise to love you through sickness and to comfort you in sad times. And to be everything you deserve to have in life as your partner.” Mason smiled warmly reaching up to dry the fallen tears on Jared’s cheek. “Never would I have thought I’d be so lucky as to find a love as deep as ours. You brought a light into the darkest period of my life, and with it the most amazing gift of a son that I adore.” He glanced quickly at Kasey sending him a wink making the young boy beam. “I will treasure our love, making our family a priority. Nothing could be more important to me. I want to honor the love and life you’ve given me. I love you with all my heart Jared and will forever.” Kasey tugged on his Dad’s jacket slipping the rings into his hand, offering a toothy smile. “Now the grooms will exchange rings as a sign of the never-ending love.” The minister smile to both men with a nod signaling his go ahead. Jared’s hand trembled while he slid the ring onto Mason’s finger, with a wobble to his voice he said, “I will love you forever.” “I love you,” Mason silently mouthed to his soon to be husband. Jared blushed, squeezing Mason’s hand grinning. Wiping the tears away from his eyes, Mason hand holding the ring poised at the end of Jared’s finger. With a thick throaty voice, he said to his love at the same time placing the ring on Jared’s finger, “I will love you forever.” “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honor and privilege to pronounce these two men husbands. You may now kiss your partner.” The minister proclaimed. Kasey tapped on both his dad’s back, “When can we get me a baby brother? You said after you got married. So?” The crowd erupted with laughter as both men stammered without an answer. Mason picked up Kasey, kissing his cheek. “We’ll talk about it later little man.” He leaned in kissing his new husband squashing his beloved son between them. “You’re squashing me!!! Help Teddy, help!” Kasey screamed.
  42. 38 points
    Wakefulness dragged Arad to the surface with a firm pull he resisted at all odds. He couldn’t remember sleeping so well in ages. His efforts ultimately failed and he opened his eyes to find a handsome tiger watching over him. Arad croaked, his voice thick with sleep which hopefully hid his nervousness. “Hi.” “Good morning.” “Is it a good morning?” For Arad, that was the real question. Their first encounter could be blamed on a number of factors, making it no better than waking next to a stranger after a party, but this... This stepped across the consent boundaries Roku had continued to hide behind. How would he react now? “I think it is.” Relief flooded Arad’s chest, leaving him grinning. “Good. Because I don’t regret last night one bit.” The eyes sparkling as part of Roku’s content expression spoke when he didn’t. No blatant evasion. They could lie together and bask in each other’s presence without guilt rising and ruining the moment. Only a sheet covered them and with an arched brow, Roku lifted the edge, peeking underneath. “Explain a little something to me. We seem a little mismatched here. How did I end up the one in your bed naked?” “Oh, that was all you.” Arad raised a hand to swear the truth. “I tried to be good and keep my hands to myself—” “Excellent job, I see.” “—but you started humping me in your sleep.” “I did not.” “The crusty cock snot all over my hip and stomach says otherwise. Doesn’t matter though. You can only tease a man so far before he retaliates.” Roku gasped in mock offense. “You took advantage of me.” “The big, bad tiger could have stopped me when he woke up.” “But then you wouldn’t have finished.” Arad’s mouth fell open, too stunned to speak. Not only had Roku made a joke inside his oh so very earnest comment, but he’d made an entirely inappropriate joke at that. Once Arad wrapped his head around the idea, he burst out laughing and Roku joined him. Reaching out, Roku pulled Arad into his arms as they calmed. He inhaled deep and strong along Arad’s temple before his voice sobered. “I still worry I could hurt you.” Arad pulled back so he could look into Roku’s eyes. “You’ve been more human to me than most people I've ever known. I’m not worried you’re gonna maul me.” Roku didn’t look especially convinced. “Look, let's not overthink this. I know we’ve been kind of thrown together, but I’d like to believe we can figure this out from here. Wherever it goes. We don’t own each other and I don’t expect anything from you.” He didn’t resist as Arad shifted out of his arms. “I know, but sometimes I get an urge to hide you away and keep you safe.” “We’re the only one’s here.” “It doesn’t mean I don’t want to protect you.” Roku raised a hand and brushed his knuckles along Arad’s cheek. “Roku, I’ve been on my own for a long time. You’ll learn to get over that.” Capturing Roku’s hand, he drew it to his chest. “Right now, all I’m asking is that you don’t pretend last night didn’t happen.” “I won’t. I promise.” “And in case I seriously mess this up, in my defense, I’d like to say that no guy’s ever stuck around before.” “I don’t remember if anyone has for me either.” “Blind leading the blind.” Releasing his hand, Arad slapped Roku’s chest and started to climb out of bed. “Come on. I’ve worked up an appetite.” Not totally ogling Roku as he dressed took some doing, but somehow Arad managed. Scratching his waist Arad spotted the dried remnants on his skin. “I should probably clean up before we eat.” Roku sidled along side him and sniffed along Arad’s neck clearly sampling inside the collar of his shirt. “Not yet. I like how you smell right now. Your scent is sharper somehow. It reminds me of last night. You can shower later.” “You marked me.” “I was asleep.” “Whatever. Don’t think I’m going to stop showering just because it turns you on.” Unlike many slugs, Arad had always prided himself on his need for habitual cleanliness. They padded to the mess hall, walking close enough to bump along each other through the hallway. For a change, Roku prepped their meals. Seeing him trade the unspoken roles they’d fallen into helped aleve a tiny fluttering of worry. Roku continued to have his concerns, but he appeared to be setting them aside enough to get to know Arad properly. They weren’t gone, of course. No one could get that lucky. There were still sheer walls to climb and Roku’s lack of memory and history to contend with, but the here and now held a much broader scope of possibilities between them. Possibilities Arad wasn’t ready to give up. Not anytime soon. When the cooker chimed, Roku juggled the piping hot bowls of food with a comical series of yowls and never dropped both trying to get them to the table without scorching himself. He skidded one over with a quick poke, and Arad stabbed his utensil in it to keep the bowl from flying off the edge. Roku shook his hand and blew on his singed fingers. “I’ve been noticing something. I know we found another case of rations, but we both know that won’t last forever.” “Yep.” Arad paused, staring into his bowl. Utensil in hand, he’d stopped short of stirring his food. “And we don’t have the parts to fix the engine, right?” “Yep.” “Do we have a backup plan?” Thankfully, Roku said we. It felt good that whatever came next, he expecting them to that next step together. However, it didn’t make the answer Arad had been concocting over the last few days any less awkward. Arad’s sigh pushed curls of steam from his bowl across the table. “Yep… but I’ve got a feeling you’re not gonna like it.”
  43. 38 points
    Sheriff Keen left Wren and Caleb to their upcoming demolition project, turning down the road leading to Rachel's house. He, Adam and Rachel were all close to the same age, and they went to school together, so Casey knew Rachel well. When Adam had disappeared a decade ago, Casey was sure he'd be found. Adam's vehicle was still parked so he couldn't have gotten far. At least, that was what they had thought. As the days went on, all of them began to accept that Adam was gone. After weeks of effort, the search was called off and a year after he vanished, he was declared deceased. Ever since that day Sheriff Keen had wondered. He and Adam weren't exactly close, but it was a small county, and they knew one another. Casey respected Adam's ethics and his resistance to his brothers' practices. For him to just disappear, it certainly drew the sheriff's scrutiny. He pulled up beside Rachel's place, where Rachel was already out and working on her farm. She had a basket on her hip and was walking in from the chicken coop. Her smile was visible from the path and she threw up a hand in greeting. Casey grinned and returned the gesture. He'd always liked her. The thing with Adam's disappearance was made all the harder watching her go through hell and, over the weeks, seeing the hope in her eyes slowly die. He walked to the corner of the house and tipped his hat. "Miss Rachel." She still had a hint of a smile. "Sheriff Keen." He knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he couldn't quite help himself. "Ah, can," he motioned at the basket, "can I help you with that?" Rachel looked down at the basket with its twenty or so eggs. They both knew it wasn't heavy. She handed it over. "Why, thank you." He followed her around to the side door. "I was just around, an' wanted to make sure you're well." Rachel climbed the steps and opened the door. She looked at him, her head tilted a bit. "Well, I'm doin' fine. But with Beecher's passin', things could be better." She nodded. "Though it's real good to have Wren back home." "I can imagine. He's a good boy." Casey handed the basket over to her. He put his hands on his hips and looked toward the road. "I suppose I'd best get to movin'." There was a hint of his reluctance to do so in the tone. "Well, I'm sure yer a busy feller." Rachel eyed him. "Think you could take a few minutes to sit, have some coffee, an' catch up a bit?" Casey's grin had returned. "Well, I think maybe I could find the time." Sheriff Keen followed Rachel inside, the door gently shutting behind him. ⤱ Caleb watched as the front corner of the old house leaned under the force of the excavator. Matt expertly handled the machine and that section of the home got to the point of no return, then slumped over with the sound of breaking wood and a rush of air. Dust rose up around the pile of debris, and then the only sound was that of the excavator's engine. There was more to do, but after Matt repositioned the excavator, it would be a simple matter to knock down the rest, piece by piece. Matt hopped out of the idling machine and stepped over next to Caleb and Wren. "Well, that's a start." He eyed the jumble of wood, plaster, and roofing material on the ground. "Want me ta break things up some and lift the bigger bits into the garbage as I go?" He jerked a thumb at the big metal waste container sitting nearby. Wren grinned. "Well, sure. If it's not too much hassle." He nodded at Matt. "I'll pay you for the trouble." Matt waved a hand. "You already paid for a hour." He climbed back up into the seat of the excavator and spoke louder so he could be heard over the engine. "Let's see what we can get done in that time!" With a grin, Matt began scooping up entire chunks of wall. Then he turned the bucket of the excavator and dumped the pieces into the trash. Caleb found it oddly satisfying to watch the machine at work. Matt was saving them a tremendous amount of time by helping with the disposal as well as the demolition. He put a hand on Wren's shoulder then, leaned and raised his voice so Wren could hear him over the machine. "I'm going to call Charles!" He flinched at the sound of scraping metal on wood as it lifted another bucket-full of stuff. Wren turned toward Caleb and wiped his face. Tears had tracked down Wren's cheeks, and he smiled sheepishly at Caleb. Wren nodded at his friend. Caleb patted Wren's shoulder and gave him a sad smile. He knew the moment was one that needed to happen, yet it was still painful for Wren. Caleb walked over to the edge of the garden, away from the noise of the machine. Charles expected to help them with the work, and after Matt finished Caleb was sure they could use the extra pair of hands. Caleb pulled out his phone and called his brother. ⤱ Tracy scrolled through the choices on her phone. She bit her bottom lip, searching for the perfect solution to Caleb's date conundrum. Charles had already left to go help Wren and Caleb with the tear-down of Beecher's place, and that left her and Oliver at their home. That suited her fine - it meant she could plot in peace. Oliver burbled and wriggled around on the couch beside her. Tracy smiled and patted his little body. "Are you a good baby?" She leaned over, and his tiny hands gently pushed at her face. "Momma's gonna git em!" She mouthed his soft belly through his jumper, and he tittered with laughter. Tracy raised up and looked at her happy boy. His sea-green eyes were wide, excited, and unsure at what she would do next. He continued to giggle and thrash his short, chubby limbs. She laughed. "Oh, you are momma's good little man." He was fed, had been changed only a few minutes before, and he had a happy start to his day. "Such a helper." Tracy pushed his growing, dark hair off of his forehead. "Helpin' momma get uncle Caleb's date planned." He grunted in response and was distracted by a fly as it buzzed through the room. Tracy knew that she was lucky to have such a healthy and happy baby. She and Charles were further blessed to have Caleb nearby who loved and doted on Oliver. So she would do everything in her power to help Caleb have a great and memorable date with Wren. The fact that Caleb had now accepted himself enough to allow for a date was progress. Tracy had a knack for seeing things in people, and she had known both Wren and Caleb were gay for some time. When she had first brought it up with Charles, her husband had been a bit stunned by the revelation, but it wasn't long before he too accepted how things were. Together, they decided that they would be as supportive as possible to both of them. That Caleb and Wren would fall in with one another had always been a happy little fantasy in their discussions. That it seemed to be happening was a great source of joy to both Tracy and Charles. Tracy knew there were some bumps along the way, but she was confident the pair would find their path. Tracy went back to her phone. Finally, her eyes rested on what she had been looking for. She grinned. "Bingo." ⤱ Wren looked at the photograph on his phone. The camera at his mother's house had snapped a picture of Sheriff Keen's patrol car in Rachel's drive. That in and of itself wasn't cause for concern. Casey was a vigilant guy, and he often checked in on the various folks in the county, so when Wren got the notification of the sheriff's visit to Rachel he wasn't worried. He had put the phone back into his pocket and got on with the clean up with Caleb and Charles. Then it vibrated again when the sheriff left - forty minutes later. Wren wiped his face free of sweat with one dirty hand and frowned at the back end of the vehicle in the picture the camera had taken. "What's wrong?" Charles stopped beside Wren, leaning a little on the shovel he was using to scrape up some of the smaller bits of wood leftover after the demolition. "Oh, it's just Sheriff Keen." Wren shrugged. "Caught him on camera. He must have gone to check on mom after he took our statements about the vandalism." Wren was careful to avoid the other business the sheriff was now investigating as well. He also didn't reveal that the sheriff had spent the better part of an hour at his mother's home. Charles nodded. "What'd he say 'bout that?" Charles scooped up a shovelful of debris as the men spoke. "He seemed pretty happy to get it on paper." Wren grimaced and bent to pick up a loose board. He tossed the wood off to the side, close to the dumpster. "Probably should have gotten him involved sooner." Caleb picked up the board Wren had tossed over, and he lobbed it into the trash. "Eh. Sheriff knows we wouldn't call 'im for no reason now." He caught his breath and put his fists on his hips. "The trade-off now might not be worth the trouble to the uncles. Sheriff seemed real happy to believe they're up to no good. Now we've got it on record that we suspect them of mischief, we can call him up if we have anything else happen." Charles smiled and appeared satisfied. "Yup. That's good." He jerked his head at the camera mounted next to the driveway. "I'm likin' those. They make things harder on those three." Wren agreed. "Yes, for sure." Wren patted Charles's shoulder. "They were a good idea, Charles." Charles nodded and looked around for more to haul over to the dumpster. "It was yer money. I'm glad they're a-workin'." They continued to work over the next few hours. Thanks to Matt's excavator, most of the heavy lifting was done. All they had left was clean-up of the smaller bits. By lunchtime, almost all of it was in the garbage. The three men now stood and appreciated the sight of the cleared houseseat. The only things that remained were some cement pads that were almost level with the earth. Back when the house was built, they had bricked up supports to rest on the pads. Thanks to a lack of earthquakes, the foundation relied on gravity alone to hold it all together. Wren tapped one of the mostly-buried pads with the toe of his work boot. "I think I can use these in my foundation." He walked the edge of the now-demolished house and nodded to himself as he got to the corner. "Yeah. I can at least use the ones in the corners." "What kinda foundation you buildin'?" Charles picked up a few loose nails on the ground. "Doin' a concrete pad, or what?" Wren shook his head. "No. I'm doing something called a rubble trench foundation. It'll have drainage at the bottom, be really cheap, and works well." He chuckled at Caleb's and Charles's expressions. "Just trust me. I've done these out in California when I did the workshops on strawbale builds." Caleb shrugged. "All right. Long as you know what you're doin', we can help get it done." Wren nodded. "Thanks." He glanced at Charles. "Hey, can I talk to you real quick?" Wren saw Caleb frown as the two men walked away. Wren slowly led them along the path toward the barn. Once they were out of earshot, he sighed heavily. "Sorry." Charles blinked. "Fer what?" Wren clenched his jaw. "Ah, for the whole arm lock thing, and just… for not hearing what you were saying about how I was treating Caleb." Wren nodded as they arrived at the barn. "You're right. I knew better than to expect him to play by the same rules I'm used to." Charles turned and gazed out over the field. "Wren, the only things that matter ta me, are that you an' Caleb are happy." He continued to look at the tilled earth and sighed. "It's just, you know things ain't gonna go well with mom an' dad. The way things are with Caleb. So I want you an' him to be as right as you two can be, no matter what that might look like. Just so he has somethin' good in life, other than Tracy, me, an' Oliver." Wren grimaced. He knew that Rebecca and Joshua Shaw were old fashioned, conservative, and unlikely to accept anything about Caleb's sexuality. It didn't seem to be in them. "I… I wasn't really thinking of your folks." Charles smiled sadly. "Yeah." He looked at Wren. "Well, at least they're in Lousia. They're pretty happy ta stay away from the farm an' do their own thing there." Wren sighed. "Yeah." He thought of his own mother and her acceptance of him. "Well, I'm sure Mom can make a little room for another kid." Charles grinned and patted Wren's back. "She already has. Takes good care of 'im, an' me too." He laughed. "She don't know how to see us without feedin' us!" Wren laughed along with him. That much was true. He shared the moment with Charles, grateful for his friend and his continued support and understanding. "You are both part of the family, you know that." Wren put a brotherly hand on Charles's shoulder. "Thanks. Just… thanks for everything." Charles smiled, the expression reaching all the way to his eyes. "Yer welcome. An' we know. Same fer you, Wren." Wren nodded. He and Charles looked over the field at Caleb. The younger Shaw made himself busy and continued to pick up debris left behind by the excavator. Wren swallowed as some of his nervousness returned. "I just don't want to fuck up, you know?" Charles nodded. "I do." He had a satisfied air as he stepped away. "That ya care, that's enough. Means the right thing'll happen in the end." Charles walked back toward Caleb and the now bare houseseat. The way Charles said it, the confidence in his voice, made Wren smile. He followed along behind his friend to rejoin Caleb. The three men spent another hour picking over the property, until an utterly clean and cleared rectangle of land lay before them. ⤱ "You don't have to, Wren." Caleb sat propped on his elbow and smiled at Wren as he undressed. "I'm tryin' to not expect anything of you, and this is a part of it." He motioned at their sleeping area. Wren folded his jeans on the end of his cot, and Caleb gazed at him. He was now just in briefs, and Caleb would never tire of seeing his slim, toned body. Wren looked down at him, a half-smile on his lips. "We got our date in, what? A couple of days?" Caleb nodded, and frowned slightly, not quite sure how their sleeping arrangements and the date related. "Well, as long as you promise to be a gentleman until then, I'll sleep with you." Wren crossed his arms over his chest and grinned down at Caleb. Caleb laughed. "What? You're worried about bein' too easy?" He smirked. "Little late for that, isn't it?" Wren shook his head. "Hey, you're the one who wanted to reset and try dating." Wren pursed his lips, and Caleb saw the stubbornness on his face. "Those are the terms." His eyes glittered with playfulness. "Do you accept?" Caleb rolled his eyes. "Fine." He patted the cot. "Come on." Wren got in and Caleb pulled himself right up against Wren's warm, smooth back. Wren sighed, and the two men each wiggled a little to press as much of their skin as possible together. Invariably, Caleb began to harden, and he grimaced as his penis filled out between them. After a moment Wren turned his head. "Are you naked?" Caleb bit his lip. "Uh. Yeah." He shifted, trying to get his erection into a more comfortable spot. It now lay in the groove of Wren's ass, warm and unmistakable to his slim companion. "It seemed like a good idea until you suddenly decided to play hard to get!" Wren snorted with a laugh. "Well, 'hard' is definitely a great word to describe this!" Caleb grinned and nuzzled Wren's neck. "You got a boner?" His hand began to slide from Wren's hip toward his groin. Wren grabbed his hand and put it on his belly. "That is none of your business, tempter." He sighed and gripped Caleb's hand. "Goodnight." Caleb chuckled. "Goodnight, Wren." It took quite a while, but eventually, Caleb slept, his erection still nestled against Wren's warm, inviting body. ⤱ The next few days passed. Wren had yet to hear back from Sheriff Keen, other than a short check-in, to say that he was still trying to find someone from the EPA to talk to him about the old investigation a decade past. The uncles had all been quiet. Wren wasn't sure if they had caught wind of the visit by the sheriff, or if they stayed away due to the cameras. Either way, he was glad. Wren didn't want trouble, he just wanted to be left alone. Since installing the devices, there had not been a single unexplained incident on the farm. He and Caleb had got the tractor going again yesterday. Well, Caleb had, and Wren had handed him things as he needed them. Wren was thankful for Caleb's mechanical skills and his strong back. His friend was a real asset on the farm, and as the green starts of their crops appeared in the field, Wren realized that there would be a lot of work harvesting too. Yesterday after a test run on the tractor, Wren had gone to the library in Grayson. There, he used the connection to print out his plans for the strawbale house he planned. Though he modified the original vision a bit and expanded the footprint to fit that of the foundation outline left by Beecher's old house. They'd have to build the rubble-trench foundation between the cement pads left over, but Wren was happy to reuse what was already in place. That night after Wren's return from town, they had again spooned. Caleb breathed steadily behind him, his strong arm across Wren's middle. Wren lay there and attempted to ignore both Caleb's persistent hard-on and his own member which had gone three days without attention. It was getting more difficult as the days passed, but Wren was determined to wait until their date. Details concerning said date were kept closely guarded by Caleb. Wren had tried to wrest information from him earlier, and Caleb only shook his head. "Nope. You said it was on me. You just need to be dressed, ready to go by five-thirty tonight." It was Saturday evening and the time approached the appointed hour. Wren looked at himself in his phone's camera. He wore an elegant dark blue shirt, patterned with little white diamonds all over. Tan slacks that fit his body well covered his bottom half. A black belt and black leather shoes matched one another well and added to his mix of dressy and casual. Wren checked his hair and pushed at a stray bit that was sticking out. It was longer than he liked, but he hadn't gotten the chance to get it cut before their date. While he was messing with it, he caught sight of the ring on his finger. Wren smiled at his grandfather's ring. It fit perfectly on his right ring finger, the silver and hammered copper glittered handsomely on his hand. Wren's phone vibrated in his grip, and he saw a picture of a familiar pick-up from Charles's camera as Caleb's truck left their house. Wren's date was on the way. Caleb had changed and gotten himself ready at Charles's and Tracy's place. For some reason, the man wanted to get prepared apart from Wren. The phone sent another picture as Caleb turned down Wren's drive, then another when he pulled up in the drive in front of the house. 'Cameras definitely work.' Wren grinned. He picked up the envelope that lay on the cot, took a final look at himself with his phone, then he tried to calm down as he stepped out of the tent. He walked quickly toward the truck in the afternoon sun. 'Relax. Why am I nervous?' Wren opened the truck door. He blinked, and he gave an unconscious smile at the sight of Caleb. Caleb stared at him from behind the wheel with a smile of his own. He wore a gray, denim shirt with pearl snaps. New, dark jeans were on his legs, and Wren saw the low shine from his brown boots as the light landed on them. His short hair and blue eyes accented his look perfectly. He seemed like a dream come true for anybody searching for a handsome country man. "Hey, Wren," Caleb said as Wren slid onto the seat. Wren openly appreciated the sight of Caleb. "Hey." He grinned. "You're looking good." Caleb swallowed. "Thanks. You too." Caleb started to put the truck into gear, then cocked his head as he considered something. Wren watched him. "What? What's wrong, Caleb?" The big man eyed Wren, smiled, then he leaned over. Wren let Caleb pull him in, and their lips met. Caleb smelled of soap, shaving cream, and his unique, masculine scent. He tasted even better. After a long, leisurely kiss the men gently drew back. Caleb had a hand on Wren's face, warm and callused. Wren looked into those eyes and felt an impossible to describe sensation as he did. Something that started under his sternum, and spread in a band over his chest. Wren's heart hammered until he could feel it beating. "You just…" Caleb appeared both wonderstruck and elated. "You just look so good." Wren leaned a bit into that hand still on his skin. "I'm glad you think so." Caleb spent another few seconds, then he grudgingly removed his hand. He gripped the steering wheel. "Okay. Onward." He grinned as he turned the truck. "Our date awaits!" Wren was genuinely curious. "Where are we headed, anyway?" He frowned. "I'll be honest, I am not looking forward to keeping my hands to myself." Caleb smirked. "Then don't." He got to the end of Wren's drive and turned left, toward the end of the holler. Now Wren was confused. "Err, where are we…" Caleb pulled onto his brother's drive, that smirk still on his face. "Did you forget something at Charles's?" Caleb parked. "Nope." He looked at Wren. "Come on." For the first time that evening Caleb seemed nervous. "I hope you like it." The two men got out. Wren followed Caleb, around the house. There, half-way to the barn he saw Tracy. She was on the way back to the house, and she grinned broadly at them. "Howdy, guys." Wren was so lost. "Uh, howdy." Tracy put a hand on Caleb's arm as they passed. "Everything is ready." She patted him. "Y'all have fun." "We will. Thanks, Tracy." By now it had darkened a bit, and a strange, yellow glow leaked out between the gaps in the boards of the barn loft. Wren stared up at the building. As Tracy walked away, Caleb took his arm. "Come on." Wren let his date lead him to the barn. Once there, Caleb began to climb the ladder to the loft. Standing underneath, Wren saw a rope of lights around the edge of the loft, and then up the poles inside too. It lit the place in a muted and warm glow. The smell of something savory also hit Wren's nose as he followed Caleb up the ladder. He got to the top. Caleb stood beside a little patio table set up in the loft. A single candle was unlit on the middle of the table, and two covered plates were there as well as a bowl of salad. Place-settings for two, which included a couple of wine glasses and a bottle of red wine, completed the treasures Wren could see. Caleb gulped with nervousness. "Uh," he waved a hand over the table. "I… I know it isn't what you're probably used to." He looked at the table, and Wren could see the anxiousness in Caleb. "Anyway, when Tracy suggested it, I thought it'd be the only way we could have a…" He frowned and slumped. "Ah. I'm sorry. You were looking forward to this, and…" Wren took two steps and folded Caleb in his arms. At first, Caleb stood there, his hands hovering over Wren. Then he hugged Wren back. Wren smiled against him. "This is awesome. This is perfect." "Really?" Caleb's tone was filled with both hope and doubt. Wren leaned back to look at him. "Yes. Really." Caleb stared down. Finally, he smiled with relief. "Okay." Wren and Caleb took their seats. Caleb took the foil off of their meals and released steam into the air above the table. Wren took a look at them. Each plate held a ribeye, covered in a peppercorn blue cheese sauce, a brown sugar butter-glazed sweet potato, green beans with bacon, and a moist brownie. Wren's mouth watered when the food was revealed. "Holy shit." It looked a little steamed, thanks to the foil, but the smell was amazing. Caleb grinned and portioned some of the pre-dressed salad to them both. "Tracy is really going crazy with her recipes." He snickered. "She and Charles are having the same thing we are." "Wow." Wren shook his head, impressed by the food. "She made all this?" Caleb nodded and speared a forkful of salad. "Yep." He took a bite, and his tongue snagged a caper that had landed on his lip. They both began to eat. The steak was a perfect medium, juicy and flavorful with the sauce. Wren's eyes rolled back as he chewed. He made an unconscious noise and swallowed. Caleb grinned at him. He too was obviously enjoying the food. They ate a sumptuous dinner and drank a great bottle of wine split between them. As Wren sipped the last of his wine, Caleb wiped his mouth with a napkin. Caleb smiled as Wren gave a contented sigh and sat back. "How was that for dinner?" "Oh man, so good." Wren couldn't stop smiling. He laughed. "I don't know how you'll top that, mister." Caleb chuckled. He stood, stepped over and pulled Wren to his feet. "Well, we're not done with our date." Wren looked into Caleb's eyes. "Oh?" His voice was soft as Caleb held him. "What else do you have planned for us?" Caleb grinned. He pulled out his phone, pressed a few buttons then put the device down on the table. Wren looked confused at the phone, then the first few notes of "I Hope You Dance" began to play. Wren laughed in delighted surprise. Caleb's face was alive with emotion as he wrapped Wren in his arms. Slowly, he swayed side to side with Wren in his embrace. The song played and Wren lay his head on Caleb's shoulder. Wren closed his eyes, his skin tingling and heart thudding along in his chest. Caleb's strong hands rested on the small of his back, his body warm against Wren's. The motion of their bodies in time to the music lulled Wren into a kind of trance. Caleb gently kissed his neck and chills chased over Wren's skin. Wren opened his mouth slightly and breathed. Slowly, Wren leaned more on Caleb, a desire to be close to the man ruling him. When the song faded they remained together, both unwilling to part. Wren cleared his throat. "This was a nice date, Caleb." Wren heard the small sounds of Caleb's face moving as he smiled. "It's not over yet." Caleb's hand slid down until he pushed firmly against Wren's ass. The tall man ground his groin into Wren's at the same time. Wren wet his lips. "Ah, this is cruel." He grinned. "Making me want sex when there's no lube in sight?" Caleb smirked. He held Wren's hand and led him to the back of the loft. There behind a wall of carefully placed bales of hay a comfortable looking nest of sleeping bags and blankets lay on the floor. Beside that, very visible, was a bottle of lubricant. Wren gaped. "Oh man. You planned well." Caleb didn't answer. Instead, he began removing their clothes, while Wren touched, kissed, and played with him. By the time they stood naked in the cool air of the loft, both men were painfully erect, and each oozed precome. Caleb lay Wren down on the bags. He followed him, his tongue insistent and needful in Wren's mouth. Soon, Wren felt the familiar sensation of lubricant, and Caleb took care of that while they made out. Caleb pulled his mouth away and Wren stared up at him from his back as Caleb lined up. As he began to push forward, Wren lifted his hips slightly to help things along. The entry was smooth, and Wren's jaw dropped as he lay his head back on the pillow. Caleb never stopped watching Wren's face. Wren looked at him and there was something powerful in Caleb's expression. It was the same thing he had seen that first night down at the tent. 'He looks like I feel.' The thought sprang to Wren's mind as Caleb sank into his body. Wren groaned, and Caleb slowly flexed his core, driving his hips in a sensual, steady rhythm. 'How I feel…' Wren's thoughts did their own thing and he couldn't stop where they went. Caleb began to stroke Wren, and his motion picked up. Caleb's breathing increased along with his movements. Caleb clenched his jaw and Wren gasped. As the big man speared himself deep into Wren, they both groaned. Wren orgasmed and shot a thick, hot rope of semen up his front, all the way to his neck. Then he continued to fire in time to Caleb's hips. Caleb leaned down, panting as he got off inside Wren, and the men kissed, both passionate in the moment. Caleb continued to pant and lay his head against the side of Wren's neck. When they had both recovered, Wren rubbed Caleb's back with a smile. "I don't know if I can handle anything else if you have more planned for our date." Wren giggled, and Caleb pushed up to grin at him. "No." Caleb bit his lip and reached to run his fingers lightly over Wren's face. "No, this is all of it." Caleb's expression shifted to something akin to reverence as he looked at Wren. "This… is everything." Caleb's Adam's apple moved as he swallowed and continued to look into Wren's eyes. That same feeling was there, and Wren knew. He no longer had a doubt. Wren stared up at Caleb. "So, I think maybe, if you wanted, maybe we could try the boyfriend thing." Caleb's face quirked into a surprised smile. "Oh?" He wiggled his hips a little, sliding his cock in and out a bit. "You gonna tie yourself down to a hillbilly like me?" Wren laughed at Caleb's restless pelvis and smiled back at him. "If you'll have me, yeah." Caleb's smile melted slowly and he continued to stare. Finally, he wet his lips and nodded. "Yeah. Boyfriends it is."
  44. 38 points
    Part Two 7 Four Years Later They said time healed all troubles. Well in his case, time aggravated his troubles. Logan doubted those who made that observation had ever faced his brand of troubles. Dragging on a white t-shirt, Logan ran a negligent towel over his damp hair and damped it into his duffel bag. He zipped up his bag and hauled it up, leaving the changing rooms. He walked down a long corridor, and turned right at the end, and straight into an open-plan office. He dumped the bag on a bench by the entrance, nodding at the men lounging on office chairs around the room. “Logan.” He headed to the glass office tucked in the farthest corner, and the man holding the door open for him. “Commander,” he greeted Stevens as he passed him and went to take a seat on one of the guest chairs. “You look better,” Stevens said, closing the door, and pulling down the blinds for privacy. “Better than a few hours ago, I thought we’d lost you, man.” “The take-down was touch and go,” Logan said, rolling his shoulders, as he settled in his chair. He hadn’t slept for forty-eight hours. His blood still pumping with adrenaline from the intense mission his team had completed in the last few hours. “Greg Lamar’s compound had enough ammo to bring down an army. I still can’t believe we managed to infiltrate it. If it weren’t for Shirley’s undercover work, we would not have made it.” “Her dad was upset she went in so deep,” Stevens sighed, crossing his arms against his chest. “I had to convince Commander Steele that you would make sure nothing happened to her. I’m glad you didn’t let me down, Mason. Everyone is praising your team’s success. The burst has brought down Greg Lamar. He’s rumored to have strong ties with a powerful enemy gunning for The Crown.” Logan gritted his teeth. “I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to infiltrate Lamar’s ranks. I still don’t believe they’re tied to religious extremists. It felt like a front. Like there is more to their regime.” “Neither does Commander Steele,” Stevens said on a sigh. “He’s talking like the mission is incomplete, even as he praises your team. The evidence you collected is with his team, going through analysis. The next few weeks will be interesting.” Logan frowned, thinking about the reasons why he had taken on this assignment four years ago. Commander Steele had thrown him into it without much explanation at the time. It had taken him six months to realize his team was assigned to investigate the people who had bombed the car carrying Leon’s parents. The day he understood the purpose of investigating Greg Lamar, he had thrown himself into the assignment with tunnel vision. It had taken four years to infiltrate Lamar’s tight ranks, and six months to plan a take down and pull Lamar into custody. Last night, Logan had watched with satisfaction as his team flew in Greg Lamar into this very building for processing. Greg Lamar had orchestrated the assassination of Prince Kleopas and Princess Anastasia. He’d planted the bomb in the car himself, and gloated on his accomplishment to Logan, in person, two months ago, calling it a victory against the enemy. Logan had wanted to punch his front teeth out when he remembered Leon’s tears. “Has anyone told Prince Leon that we have caught the killer?” Logan asked, hoping they had. If nothing else, he’d worked hard to give Leon closure. Stevens went silent, and then moved away from the door, going behind his desk. “That’s right, you haven’t heard, have you?” Stevens asked, settling in his chair with a sigh. “Prince Leon walked away from the palace two days after his parents’ funeral. He made such a fuss when Her Majesty tried to reverse his decision that he threatened to make a public announcement of it. As a result, Commander Steele is forced to keep an eye out on Leon, as he prefers to be called now, from a distance. Prince Leon now runs Castle Arguro independent of the palace. Commander Steele has lived a hard life of providing protection where it is unwanted for four years.” Logan didn’t wonder why Leon would make such a decision. The death of his parents had destroyed him. He remembered every second of that night at the morgue. Leon crying like the world ended and his parents still…so still. Logan shook his head to clear the vivid images that remained even after four years. He couldn’t forget the feel of Leon breaking down in his arms. “Why does the Queen allow Leon to do this?” Logan asked, swallowing hard. “Rumor has it that she’s afraid he might renounce his titles. She promised him no interference, as long as he kept his silence to the public. They’ve kept an amicable stalemate for four years. She summons him to the palace on family occasions. He refuses to attend, and always provides a viable excuse. The palace is forced to send out press releases countering his continued absence.” Logan sighed. “Well, I hope someone lets him know his parents are avenged.” “I’m sure they will,” Stevens said. “Thanks to you, Logan, and your team. I’m glad you’re taking the time off. You deserve it.” Logan rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand. “I’m going to head out to my mom’s island for a few days. I’m sure your people will take over Greg Lamar’s interrogation. He will be glad to talk to you. Now that it’s over, he’s going to find a way to avoid the worst.” “Life in a black hole is inevitable for him,” Stevens predicted. “If he wants leniency, he will have to drop gold in information.” Logan’s gaze narrowed, thinking that Lamar might really drop such a bomb on their investigation. “I’m curious. Why does Commander Steele believe there is more to Lamar?” Logan asked. Stevens studied him for a moment. “I don’t know, but it has something to do with the Royal Family. He won’t tell me more,” Stevens said. “I’ve not dared ask. I figured the problem is more complicated than it seems.” “Hmm,” Logan said, standing up. He faced Stevens, and smiled. “Now, Sir, I would like to start my much anticipated leave.” “Of course,” Stevens waved him to the door. “Go get some rest, Logan. I’m sure you’re eager to discover how the business you’ve poured money into is doing.” “You knew about that?” Logan asked, staring at him in surprise. “Hard not to when your business partner reached out to me for clearance applications,” Stevens said. “You must have made a hell of an impression on Petr Mikhailov when you went off on that trip with Prince Leon. He’s worked hard for you.” Logan grinned, feeling a bit like he’d been caught with his pants down. “Sir,” Logan started. “Don’t bother,” Stevens said, shaking his head. “It’s not easy for us folks when we retire, you know. Having something to fall back on when you get out is a great idea. You’re lucky you made good friends with someone like Petr. He won’t screw you over,” Stevens said. “Yeah, he said something along the same lines when he bulldozed me into it,” Logan said with a laugh. “Thank you, Sir.” Stevens nodded and urged him to leave with a nod. Logan left the office with a quick salute and decided he’d have a talk with Petr before he headed to his mother’s island. Reclaiming his duffel bag, he headed outside, and went to the huge black truck he liked to drive around the Capital City. Dropping his duffel bag on the passenger seat, he reached into the glove compartment and found his personal cell phone. He plugged it on the charger and turned it on. Logan settled in the driver’s seat, to check the notifications he’d set up the last time he’d left the phone here, a month and a half ago. He wondered what Stevens would call his obsession with news on Prince Leon. Every time he talked to Stevens, he commended himself on his act. He’d perfected the art of deceiving people that he didn’t care about Leon and what he did with his life. The truth was that he knew about Leon’s decision to stay out of palace business. Petr, David and Riku had detailed it to him. Leon blamed his grandmother for his parents. He thought the palace was responsible for his parents’ death. Logan had worried about Leon distancing himself from the palace, had even tried to get Petr and David to talk Leon out of it. However, Leon’s friends thought it a blessing. They all thought that as long as Leon was uninvolved in politics, then he would remain safe. Logan hoped Leon’s friends were right. The notifications on his phone came in one by one: news articles mostly, with Leon’s name tagged in them as well as pictures on social. He spent the next thirty minutes going through the messages, smiling when he found a picture of Leon playing with a puppy at a shelter. The smile on Leon’s face as he held the brown puppy made Logan’s heart ache. He liked these type of photos the most. There were tons of pictures with slices of Leon’s life. Leon working out with a trainer in a gym, or running a marathon for a cause, other times with David in one of the many businesses they owned together. Logan found his favorite was one of Leon holding up turnips at a farm on the outskirts of the capital. Then the last notification came in and he scowled. It was of Leon at a party at Leon’s vineyard. David was said to have thrown the party to celebrate Leon’s twenty-sixth birthday. In the picture, a gorgeous blonde man stood too close to Leon, smiling up at the prince with eyes Logan understood all too well. The caption read, ‘Prince Leon is all smiles next to Model Hansen’. It was obvious even to him, they knew each other, intimately. Logan shut off the phone and dropped it on the dashboard. He dreaded such pictures the most. The thought of Leon finding solace in another man’s arms hurt. Wiping a hand down his face, he wondered if he would ever stop this obsession. What if they never met again? What if Leon had forgotten him? What if…? **** “We have Greg Lamar in custody, Your Majesty,” Commander Steele reported, watching Queen Amethea pace her office. “He’s refused to name the person who hired him. We’ve tried everything.” “Everything?” Queen Amethea asked, sparing him a short glance. “We’re four years into this investigation. How hard can it be to get Lamar to admit that Isaak hired him?” “They are careful to never have direct contact,” Commander Steele said. “We’re combing through Lamar’s financial records, hoping to find a connection. As of now Lamar’s Regime stands as an extremist religious group.” Amethea stopped pacing. She was tired. The plans she’d carefully laid out to invest a Crown Prince remained in the vault, untouched. Isaak’s family remained in a state of impatience to see him invested. They kept up a veiled act of being her most favored family, even as they lobbied powerful politicians for support. She moved to an armchair and sat, her gaze on Commander Steele. He looked older. This investigation was hard on him too. She was well aware of the fact that his daughter had gone undercover to gain them access into Lamar’s Regime. Lamar’s Regime, the messy group headed by Greg Lamar, the man who bombed her Kleopas’s car. “My son is proving a formidable foe,” Amethea said, shaking her head. “He has found a counterattack for each route we’ve taken. He’s even found a scapegoat for the murders you presented to me.” “I still have Lady Dora’s lady-in-waiting in protective custody,” Commander Steele said, his tone making her narrow her gaze at him. “What are you thinking?” Amethea asked. “We’ve been afraid to release the details about Lady Dora’s death,” Commander Steele said. “We have needed irrefutable evidence and been unable to get it. Why don’t we use the media to our advantage?” “You want to place that woman in the spotlight,” Amethea said, hating the thought of placing an innocent in more danger. “We’re left with no choice,” Commander Steele said. “At least with this out there, we can draw attention to the problem.” “What about Leon?” Amethea asked, wincing at the thought of her favorite grandson. “He’ll be in trouble.” “We’re keeping him in our sights,” Commander Steele assured her. “As you did Kleopas and Ana?” Amethea asked, unable to hide her bitterness. “Your Majesty,” Commander Steele said, regret in his eyes. “I promise you, we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances to keep Prince Leon safe.” “Your best needs to be exceptional,” Amethea stated. “Leon is the future of this Kingdom. Nothing can happen to him. Release the details we’ve collected to the media. Make it public knowledge, and start the conversation on Lady Dora’s untimely death. Let the people make the decision.” “Your Majesty,” Commander Steele said. “You and I have conducted an exhausting investigation in four years, culminating in the arrest of a bomber, without the main perpetrator. I don’t want to push this for another four years, Commander. This has to end this year. Release our findings, and let’s see how far Isaak is willing to take this fight.” “Yes, Your Majesty.” *** Three weeks later, Leon woke to phone calls from all his friends. Still lying in bed, he connected them all on a conference call and hugged his pillow, his eyes closed. “I’m glad they caught the bomber,” Petr said in greeting. “I was starting to worry that your intelligence community needs help, Leon.” “How are you holding up?” Anselm asked, horses neighing in his background. “Do you need us to visit?” “I can be free in a week,” Riku said, swiveling his chair from side to side in his office. “Want me to fly over?” “I’m not falling apart,” Leon mumbled out, rubbing sleep from his eyes to look at his friends on the screen across his bed. “Besides, David has me busy.” “You barely show up for meetings to do with the hotel,” David countered. “What are you doing up at the vineyard alone?” “Decanting wine,” Leon said. “The vintner is tolerating my presence.” “You mean you’re giving him no choice,” Paul mused, letting out a healthy yawn. “Your wine is good; don’t annoy him enough to run away.” “I’m quite invested in making his life easier,” Leon said. “I want us to produce enough wine to sell nationwide, instead of to a select few.” “And that’s how you deflect a topic,” David announced, drawing Leon’s scowl. “Leon, you’re refusing to talk about the issue at hand.” “It’s a non-issue,” Leon stated. “What does it change?” Leon sat up on his bed, and pushed hair out of his eyes. “What does catching the bomber change?” he asked, looking around the master bedroom. This had once been his parents’ room. Now it was redecorated to suit his tastes. The only thing remaining were the pictures on an antique dresser in the corner. “It won’t bring them back to life,” Leon said, shaking his head. “Just dredge up old memories I’d rather forget.” “I’m flying out next week,” Riku stated. “Don’t come, Riku,” Leon said, with a sigh. “I’m fine, I promise. We’re quite busy anyway, David and I. The hotel is opening soon, we’re just waiting for inspections.” “Yeah,” David supported him. “We can meet next month as planned.” “Are you sure?” Petr asked, his gaze narrowed. “I mean, if you want me to put an end to this Lamar…” he trailed off. “Don’t interfere,” Leon ordered, afraid Petr might put out a hit on Lamar on his behalf. Riku chuckled. “Petr, stop scaring our dear Prince,” Riku said. “Come back home,” Petr told Riku. “You don’t need to work, Riku. You’re driving me crazy.” Leon chuckled, amused by the endless cycles in Petr and Riku’s relationship. “How is Genevieve?” Riku asked. “Getting married, baby,” Petr said. “Again, to another man,” Petr added. “When will you forgive me for looking at her?” “When I’ve punished you enough,” Riku said. “I was sleeping before you called,” Leon interrupted the lovers. “Sleep is overrated,” Paul said. “I’m curious, Leon. I heard your Uncle Isaak is having a hell of a time because of evidence that his first wife was murdered. What happens next?” Leon cursed and got out of bed. He reached for his robe refusing to think of the shenanigans growing in the palace. He was certain the story ran about Lady Dora dying of poison was released by his grandmother. “His kids will take over, if necessary,” Leon said, repeating what he’d told his grandmother four years ago. “Are you sure?” Anselm asked, skeptical. “If they can’t trust Prince Isaak to take over, then they’ll definitely not choose Constantin,” Petr said. “Are you sure you can escape this?” “I’m already managing it,” Leon said, tying a belt around his waist. “Stop worrying, guys. If Constantin won’t take it, then Gia will. I’m not planning on taking more trouble into my life.” A general silence filled the room, and Leon stared at his friends’ skeptical faces. “If you’re done worrying, can I end the call?” Leon asked. “I should go run now after you woke me up so early.” “Well, if you’re fine, then I’m good,” Paul said. “I have a vet coming in, so I’ll hang up first. Call me, Leon, if you need to talk.” “Thanks, Paul.” Leon nodded when Paul's face disappeared off the screen. “I’m in Paris this coming week,” Petr said. “I’ll stop over for the hotel opening. Keep me posted.” “Sure, Petr.” Leon agreed knowing it was useless to argue with Petr. His screen went dark, leaving Riku, David and Anselm. “I’m not buying that you’re fine,” Riku stated. “I’ll call you when I don’t have a looming meeting, Leon. Answer my questions then.” “Forgive Petr, already. He’s dying to marry you,” Leon said. “Fat chance,” Riku ended his call. “How’s Starbust?” Anselm asked Leon. “Doing well,” Leon said with a smile, thinking of the stallion Anselm had given him for his birthday months ago. “I’m taking him out on a ride today.” “I’m glad you two are getting along,” Anselm said. “Don’t forget to keep me updated on him.” “I’ll call,” Leon promised, knowing he would send pictures of Starbust to Anselm by end of day. Anselm ended his call first, leaving David. “I’ll be seeing you later this morning,” David said. “We can have coffee.” Leon wished he could escape David’s knowing gaze, but they were business partners. There was no escaping David’s concern. He decided to put on his best smile and waved at David as he ended their call. Alone in the master bedroom, Leon looked around the elegant room and wondered why he only felt a hollow in his heart. He should have felt happy that they’d caught the man who had set the bomb that killed his parents. He should have felt relieved, but instead, all he felt was numb. Untouched, like an iceberg in winter, frozen, always so frozen. **** Three weeks after that conference call, Leon rode Starbust into the woods surrounding Castle Arguro. It was a pleasant Tuesday morning. He had no pressing commitments, and wanted to take Starbust on a run for the day. He held the stallion’s reins, enjoying the morning, the ride, and the lush wildness of Arguro Forest. It was a great escape from the pressures of daily life. His thoughts were blissfully blank, as he navigated the paths in the forest. Then, the thud of a bullet hitting a tree too close startled the black thoroughbred stallion into a run. Leon swallowed bile and leaned over his horse, gripping his reins to keep control of Starburst as they raced through the wild forests surrounding his home. A second shot sent birds flying from the branches. A harsh hiss left his lips when he felt a painful sting on his right upper arm. Leon leaned lower on his horse not daring a glance back. Starburst ran fast, scared and unsettled. Leon needed all his wits to keep control. He thanked his luck as Starburst emerged from the forest and onto an open field a minute later. The horse kept up his fast pace, heading to the safety of Castle Arguro’s stables. When they were halfway there, Leon turned back thinking he would see his assailant. His heart thudded in his chest when he saw no one standing at the tree line aiming a gun at him. It was almost as though he had imagined it. Starburst slowed down when they were closer to familiar territory. Leon brought him to a stop outside the stables and jumped off the saddle with a wince. Pain lanced up his right upper arm, blood dripping down his sleeve. The groom who came to take Starburst gave a short gasp taking the reins from Leon. “Your Highness, you’re injured!” Leon glanced at his arm with a grimace. The bullet had grazed him hard and left a deep furrow that dripped blood down his arm. It stung. The next few days would be uncomfortable. “Your Highness!” Dax came running from inside the stable, horror clear in his eyes. “Oh God, how did this happen?” “Don’t start with me,” Leon said, turning away from Dax, intent on running away. Dax grew up in the service of the main royal family. He knew the rules and regulations of running a palace front and back. When he moved to Castle Arguro, those rules and regulations remained ingrained inside him. It was a constant source of frustration for Leon. Having grown up wild and unchecked, Leon often chafed under Dax’s constant attention. The man took everything that happened to Leon too seriously. Four years of Dax and Leon still had not found a middle ground with the thirty-one year old attendant. Dax’s concern seemed to deepen with time. “Stop,” Dax ordered, running around Leon to stop his progress to the castle. Dax’s gentle hands took Leon’s right arm. Leon winced when Dax ripped the hole on his sleeve wider, his gaze narrowed as he studied the angry bleeding gouge. A soft hiss escaped Dax when he recognized what had injured Leon. Meeting Leon’s gaze, Dax let go of Leon’s arm and took a step back. “It’s time to report this,” Dax stated, his tone enough to tell Leon there was no arguing. “These are no longer accidents.” Leon let a heavy sigh escape, unable to refute Dax, thinking back on the last three weeks. His yacht blowing up minutes before Leon boarded two weeks ago. A week ago, the tires on his favorite Ferrari had blown up on a particularly scary stretch of curved road. Now there was a stray bullet in Arguro Forest. Three accidents in the space of weeks was no longer a coincidence “Someone is trying to kill you, Prince Leon,” Dax said, his eyes wide with worry. Leon’s gaze shifted to the castle beyond the stables, an uneasy feeling brewing deep inside him. Leon had called Castle Arguro home for twenty-six years. Arguro was his parents’ home first. When they died, he became Castle Arguro’s master. Four years after their funeral, he now looked forward to living a quiet life in this place. Content to focus his extensive resources on businesses and the charities his parents founded and supported. He wanted no political power or official duties from the Kingdom’s Palace. He wished to live like a forgotten prince. With that goal in mind, Leon never ventured into the royal court, or involved himself in the constant running intrigues that ruled the Kingdom’s seat of power. He was fourth in line to the throne, and hoped to become twentieth. If only his cousins would marry and give birth, as expected, ensuring his freedom. Now, with the new scandal tying Prince Isaak to the possible murder of his first wife, his number had gone up a notch. Leon wished daily that his grandmother would name Constantin or Gia Crown Heir soon. It would save him so much thinking. Leon looked at Dax, a deep frown furrowing his forehead. “Do not go running to grandmother’s officials with this. Use Castle Arguro’s resources first. Reach out to private security firms and keep it discrete,” Leon warned, when Dax smiled. “They may also handle security around the castle until we find the culprit. I’m quite sure there is no need to alarm the palace over this. It could be an annoyed business associate.” “Okay, whatever you say.” Dax nodded, looking pleased now that Leon was putting importance to the incident. “Let’s get you inside and see to your arm. It annoys me to see your blood staining the grass.” Leon chuckled and gave the wound on his right arm a wary glance. He still couldn’t believe someone had gotten close enough to graze his arm with a bullet. *** In the master suite, Leon took a quick shower, and then allowed Dax to fuss over his wound. His wound tended, Leon changed into casual clothes, and sandals. He left his bedroom and went into his study to get his phone. He found a message from David asking why he missed a meeting at their usual club. Leon dialed David’s number. “I got caught up at Castle Arguro,” Leon said. “How did it go?” “The hotel passed inspections, I got the call yesterday,” David said. “The staff is busy making preparations for the opening tomorrow. I know you don’t like the ceremony, but this one will need your presence. We need a bulging intake to remain in the black.” Leon thought about the gunshot in the woods. He worried his attacker might take a shot at him in public. Still, the new hotel was important. David had worked hard to get it finished. “Come on, Leon.” Leon smiled. He could never say no to David. “Alright,” Leon caved. “Send the details to Dax. He’ll work the schedule.” “Thank you,” David said, sounding relieved. “When you can get away, come over to my place. I have a small party. I invited Hansen. You like him, don’t you?” Hansen was a handsome twenty-one year old model Leon had met at a party. He was pretty to look at and he made Leon laugh. Sad thing was Hansen liked to make other men of power laugh too. Hansen was great fun, but Leon knew to stay away from such trouble. As though sensing his withdrawal, Hansen had started a deadly game of trying to remain Leon’s exclusive. Leon didn’t want any part in that game, so he was now avoiding Hansen when he could. Leon went down the stairs from the second floor, heading to his main office on the castle’s ground floor. “I’ll have to think about your party offer,” Leon told David. “Hmm…okay. You sound off today. Everything okay?” David asked. “Yeah,” Leon said. “Call me when you want to share. I’m a great listener.” David knew him too well, because of that, Leon would need to work extra hard not to involve him in his new developing dangerous saga. “Thanks, David.” Leon ended the call and slid his phone into his pocket. He paused when he reached the final step and saw his cousin, Gia, walking down the long hallway from the main entrance toward him. “Leon.” Gia raised her hand in greeting. The two royal guards behind her were enough to make Leon cringe. They even followed Gia into the bathroom. God was he glad to be free of that kind of scrutiny. “Gia,” Leon said, changing direction to meet her. He accepted her light kiss on his cheek and took her right hand when she offered it in greeting. “What brings you to Castle Arguro?” “Can’t I visit my cousin because I miss him?” Gia asked, allowing him to lead her to a quiet sunroom to his right. The royal guards stopped at the doors. Leon waited for Gia to settle into an armchair before he sat opposite her on the couch. Leon smiled at her when she studied him, her green gaze critical. “You look…wild.” Leon nodded. His casual wear was unheard of in Gia’s world of rules and regulations. Anyone living in the palace remained put together, never uninhibited and rough to the public eye. “You look elegant as always,” Leon complimented. “Still a charmer,” Gia said, awarding him a gorgeous smile. “I miss you, Leon. I wish you would visit the palace more often.” Leon shrugged his shoulders. “I visit grandmother in her private residence when she insists.” Gia studied him, her gaze hard to read. She folded her hands on her lap, looking prim and proper. “I’m on the way to a Navy Women Association meeting,” Gia said, glancing at the delicate watch on her wrist. “I don’t have much time.” Leon nodded in understanding. “Leon, there is unrest in the palace,” Gia said, “and it could spill over to Castle Arguro. I only wanted to warn you, and ask you to stay away from the palace. If you could refuse grandmother’s summons as you often do?” Leon kept his expression blank. Truth was he never refused his grandmother’s summons. Others might think he did, but he always found a way to meet her when she asked. He had promised her that he would remain uninvolved with the palace, but she was still his grandmother. He couldn’t ignore her when they shared a tragedy. This request was unusual for Gia. She had never bothered to ask him to ignore a summons. Leon smiled, shrugging his shoulders. “You know me,” Leon said. “I’m too busy managing business, the vineyard and others. Castle Arguro remains an island in The Kingdom’s politics.” Gia smiled then, making Leon wish he knew her better. Gia got up and came around the small coffee table to where he sat. She leaned down and kissed his cheek, brushing a strand of his hair behind his ear. She then straightened to her full height and ran an elegant hand down the green skirt suit she wore. “I love you more every time we talk. There is simplicity to the life around you I wish I could have. Let’s do lunch one of these days. I heard you’re opening a restaurant in the new hotel by the beach. I’ll show up for the opening if you like.” Leon nodded, watching Gia pick up her purse from the armchair. “Well, sorry to take up your time,” Gia said, ready to leave now that she was done. “I have to go, Cousin.” “Have a great meeting,” Leon said, sitting back on the couch. Gia gave him a last glance, and then left the sunroom in a brisk walk. Leon sat on the couch, his thoughts on his grandmother. She had so many wanting a touch of power in the palace. It couldn’t be easy for her dealing with it alone. Leon was named after Queen Amethea’s husband, King Leon Raphael Maximillian. He died of cancer when Leon was one year old. Amethea still mourned Raphael hard as she loved him dearly. Leon often hoped to find a love as beautiful as his grandmother’s for his grandfather. Thinking of it now, his parents had had a pure love too. Leon had only come close to finding that kind of love once. His heart ached at the memory of Sevilla. The budding love that disappeared on him as quickly as it appeared. He thought of Logan Mason often, wondered what had become of him, but never dared look into it. He didn’t want to discover that Logan had found another man to call his own. That would hurt too much. Still, Leon couldn’t help hoping to find that solid love one day. He wanted a man to love him without reservation and condition. He wanted a better love than what Gia’s father had for his current wife. Those two who married for power and status, Leon sighed. His uncle, Prince Isaak, the royal first born and presumed heir, first married a commoner, Doris. Doris then died after giving birth to their son, Constantin Marcos. Prince Isaak then took on marriage to the noble, Lady Erika, Gia’s mother. Prince Isaak and his second wife, Princess Erika, lived in the palace with their two children, Constantin and Gia. They were not an easy family. They remained very protective of the succession line. Leon was aware of the fact that they kept a clear distance from him to solidify this gap. He didn’t mind it; and wished Gia would stay away from him like her half-brother, Constantin. It would make his life easier. Leon wanted to keep his father’s stance on the palace. It was better to keep away from the political whirlwind. Interference with palace politics brought misfortune. Leon knew well the pain of such misfortune. His parents were dead. Their tragic deaths taught him it was better to live a quiet life, so he did, with selfish determination. Despite his grandmother’s many attempts to draw him into fight for the throne. In terms of succession, Isaak was first in line, followed by Constantin, then Gia, and Leon came last. That fourth number gave him more stress than he wanted. Gia and Constantin needed to marry fast and get kids, Leon thought again with a scowl. Maybe then, Gia’s visits to his castle would end. Leon sighed and reached into his pocket for his phone. He called David, and smiled when his best friend answered on the second ring. “I’ve changed my mind about that party,” Leon said, deciding he needed a distraction. “Keep Hansen out and I’ll come over.” “Done.” *** “I heard one of your teams was exceptional in Bangkok,” David said, pacing the hallway as he talked on the phone. “Monarch Security has grown, Logan. Congratulations on running an international outfit.” Logan chuckled on the other end. “I’ve only managed it because of your help and Petr’s, of course. He asked for a team to watch over Riku. I had to send one.” “They’re both pleased,” David agreed. “Anselm says you sent him three men for his site job off the coast.” “He can’t take more than three men anyway. The job is delicate,” Logan said. “I’m lucky my business manager is so competent, otherwise this would end as fast as it started.” “We’d never let that happen,” David assured Logan. The five of them had a vested interest in seeing Logan prosper. Logan went silent for a moment, and then asked, “How is he doing?” David smiled. It was always the same whenever Logan called. They talked business and then Logan asked for updates on Leon. It wasn’t easy on Logan at first, but now, David wished he could push Leon back into Logan’s arms in some way. “He’ll be at the hotel opening ceremony tomorrow,” David said. “You could attend. You’re no longer restricted by clearance levels, Logan. You’ve earned it.” “I don’t think he wants to see me,” Logan said. “He seems happy.” “Does he?” David asked, looking up when the front door of his house opened to admit Leon. Sadie, David’s girlfriend of three years, met Leon at the door. She accepted a kiss on her cheek from Leon who looked a bit subdued this evening. David searched Leon’s handsome face wondering what it was that was off about him, but he couldn’t find it. Instead, he read the same old sadness that Leon had worn for four years now. It was like a heavy shroud resting on Leon’s shoulders. “I saw pictures of him from a party you threw at his vineyard—,” Logan started. “You really mustn’t trust everything you read in the papers,” David said, waving at Leon who glanced at him with a raised brow. “Logan.” “I’ll find a way, David,” Logan said. “I’m afraid if we casually met, we’d both find a way to run away. I want it to be that if we’re to meet again, none of us will have an escape route. It’s the only way it will work.” David sighed. “You’re both idiots,” David said, shaking his head. “Me, more than him,” Logan agreed. “I have to go, I’m busy with something.” “Sure,” David said. “Take care of yourself.” “You too,” Logan said, and ended the call. David sighed and went to the living room to find Leon perched on a stool sipping on wine. “You came,” David said, accepting a drink from Sadie. “Not much of a party,” Leon teased, looking around the empty living room. “Is it just you and Sadie?” “You’re the one who showed up too early,” David chuckled, settling on the couch. Sadie joined him, cuddling into him. “Leon, you cancelled Hansen, how could we keep the party on?” Sadie asked with a small laugh. “Besides, a quiet dinner with you is better.” Leon shrugged and moved to settle in an armchair. “Who was on the phone?” Leon asked David. “Last minute opening ceremony plans to get through,” David lied smoothly. “You might end up with a very full day tomorrow. I called Dax a dozen times since we talked.” Leon sipped his wine. “Busy is good.” “Is it?” David glanced at Sadie, raising his brow at his best friend’s attitude. “Take a vacation.” Leon chuckled at the idea. “Why don’t you? Sadie, make him give you a wedding.” Sadie smiled. “Now we’re talking. David, listen to Leon.” David laughed, knowing Sadie was the one with cold feet in their relationship. He liked that Leon loved Sadie enough to look out for her the same way he did with David. David wondered if he shouldn’t tell Leon about Logan asking about him. Was it cruel to stay silent? Would it be worse to tell Leon and watch him worry about it? He didn’t know what was best. Leon and Sadie started teasing each other, and when Leon laughed, David decided he would leave it all to fate. It might not be his place to push Leon and Logan back together. *** Off the coast, on a small island owned by the Kingdom of Aeras, Logan hammered the last nail into the floor of the newly built porch around his family beach house. Wiping the wood surface to clean out dust, Logan stepped back to admire his work. The wraparound porch looked good. His mother would be proud of the addition. She always wanted the porch around the old house. Logan had no time to build it as he grew his career in the Royal Navy. Now, at twenty-eight, his career secure, his finances stable, he could build the porch comfortably. The sad thing was that his mother was no longer with him. She had passed away after a harsh bout of illness two and a half years ago. Logan maintained the beach house in her memory. He was glad to have finished the porch after trying to get it done for so long. “You’d love it, Mom,” Logan murmured, sitting on the stairs, and reaching for a beer from the cooler beside him. He drank deep, his gaze on the water churning on the white sandy shores below. Logan loved it here. It was nothing but peace and quiet, away from the daily modern hassles of life on the mainland. He imagined spending his life here often. He hoped to share the beach house in the future with the right partner, if he got lucky. ‘You’ll get lucky,’ his mother would say. ‘You can watch the stars paint the night sky with him. Your father used to bring me here to do that. That’s how we ended up with you.’ Logan smiled at the memory. Gabriella Mason had loved telling him of the love she cherished with his father. Their love made him envious. He had hoped to meet a man he could share that kind of bond with too. He had come close with Leon. He pressed his palm into his chest, the vault in his heart shaking loose. He doubted anything would ever top that love in Sevilla. Instead of finding a way to survive and find an ordinary love, he tortured himself by asking for updates from David. He liked to think Leon would love this wild island too. “Mom,” Logan murmured. “If I get lucky and he returns to me, he and I might not make a kid, but we’ll damn sure try under the magical skies.” Logan laughed at his own thoughts and sat back on the stairs to watch the sun slide down on the horizon. He loved off days most. He was on his fourth beer when the satellite phone he used out here buzzed on the worktable behind him. ***
  45. 38 points
    Wednesday, April 10th (First Quarter-Moon) Jed parked his Toyota pickup in front of his father's shop. The building was situated near the top of Humboldt Hill, looking down on the city of Eureka. He got out and heard the sound of the table saw. His father was hard at work. He would put in fourteen-hour days until the day before the full moon. Jed walked in through the sliding door. Daniel Polis carefully ran the board through his table saw, safety goggles on his face and gloves on his hands. He stopped moving as Jed entered and looked up at his son, then continued through his cut. He finished, straightened, and turned off the loud machine. "Hey, Dad." Jed smiled and stepped into the shop. It was neat except for the light layer of sawdust around the table saw. Finished wooden chairs, hand tooled doors, and stools awaited stains and varnishes against one wall, while the other side of the place held stacks of wood destined for use in future projects. Daniel took off his goggles and nodded. "Hi, Jed." He scented the air, his brown eyes remaining on his son. He narrowed his gaze at Jed. "A new boy? Does Shawn know?" Jed frowned. "Dad, you know the thing between Shawn and me is for necessity." He waved a hand in dismissal. "It's nothing more than that. I'm just feeding the wolf." Jed shrugged. "But, yeah. I've added a new guy to the mix." Daniel snorted. "I like Shawn." He nodded as he moved the newly cut lumber off of the table saw onto a pair of sawhorses. "You could do worse." "Dad, he's straight." They had been over this many times. "It wouldn't work. Shawn wouldn't really be happy." His father leveled a knowing look. "With the voice, you can make any man happy to lay with you." He brushed his front clean of sawdust. "Like you already do with Shawn." Jed shook his head. "Can we not talk about this?" Daniel eyed Jed. "Fine. It's your pack." He smirked at his son and snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah. You don't have one of those." Daniel knew Jed's wolf yearned to possess a pack, and that the lack of one was a button to push. Daniel's beast was strong. It made him more aggressive, confrontational, and unpleasant, and the closer it got to the full moon, the more the beast would reign over Jed's father. "Dad, dial it back." Jed's wolf growled in his mind, but he managed to avoid pushing intention into his words. Daniel blinked, then his brown eyes narrowed in effort. "Shit." He rubbed his face. "I'm sorry, son." He shook his head. "Fucking thing. It's always hard during this half of the month." He set his jaw and nodded. "Do it. The voice." Jed nodded. He removed the silver ring on his left hand and put it on his right. Then he reached and patted his father's shoulder. The silver wouldn't hurt his dad, but it was very uncomfortable to any other wolf, and Jed wanted to avoid antagonizing both Daniel and his beast, and instead, soothe them both. "Relax. There's no enemy here, no reason to fight." The change in Daniel was pronounced. His shoulders slid down as he followed Jed's command and relaxed. Daniel sighed and his beast fell under the sway of Jed - at least for a time. "Better." He smiled sadly at his boy. "I don't know what I'd do if you didn't have the gift, son." Jed felt bad. He had been distracted by Wolfgang, and it was a couple of days past when he would typically have dropped by to see his dad. He regularly stopped in to soothe what amounted to a monster in Daniel. "I'm sure you would have managed." He tried to be encouraging. Daniel shook his head. "No. We both know that's not true." Daniel patted his son's hand that was still on his shoulder. "After what happened to your mom…" "Dad, stop." Jed shook him a little. "You couldn't help what happened." Daniel looked into Jed's eyes, misery and guilt written on his face. There was no erasure of that terrible full moon. Jed knew that his father would never forgive himself for what he had done under the throes of the beast. "Maybe not. But that doesn't change anything, does it?" Daniel said with a flat tone. Jed had nothing comforting to say to that. ⧫ Wolfgang drove by Jed's shop, parked, and poked his head into the business. Several patrons were inside and the place was staffed by a slightly overweight guy behind the counter. Jed was nowhere to be seen. He didn't know the big man's schedule today, though the two of them were due to meet up again that evening. After his meeting with Vernon last night, Wolfgang had spent a bit of time going over his notes. He couldn't totally disregard the possibility of some malevolent force haunting the redwoods. These new moon spirits of Vernon's were, unfortunately, his best lead so far. Still, he had an unanswered question. Was Larry secretly in league with this supposed spirit? Wolfgang suspected that Larry's tooth was taken in retaliation for the lack of an offering, yet Larry hadn't acted like someone who would be interested in destroying his own logging operation. It made little sense to Wolfgang. It was a puzzle, but currently, he was hungry and the time was just past noon. Wolfgang had only eaten a couple of eggs with some toast, and his belly growled. He walked down the sidewalk and put his hands into the pockets of his light jacket. It was cool, with a thick layer of low clouds creating a ceiling of gray above his head. He remembered the place he and Jed had visited for their first meal together, and Wolfgang entered the Diver Bar and Grill. He liked the spot. Additionally, if he wasn't mistaken, the skinny server had showed some interest in him. Though it was readily apparent to Wolfgang that Franklin was absolutely smitten with Jed. He couldn't blame the boy. Wolfgang blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer environment. "Ah, hello again, sir." Franklin gave him a smile as he weaved through the tables, a menu in hand. "Hello, Franklin." Wolfgang motioned at the back table in the corner. "Just one today." "All right. Follow me, please." Franklin led Wolfgang past a few occupied tables. That gave the slim man a chance to appreciate the sight of Franklin's small, yet shapely ass. Wolfgang was not shy. When Franklin stood so that he could slip by, Wolfgang made sure his hand brushed the server's groin. That elicited a surprised little grunt from Franklin. There wasn't any skin on skin contact so Wolfgang couldn't feel what Franklin did. He didn't need to. As Wolfgang took his seat, Franklin flushed red, and he wet his lips with his tongue. "Ah, would… do you want to hear the specials, sir?" Wolfgang smiled up at the awkward, cute young man. "Actually, I'd rather hear when you're off work today." ⧫ It was just after three p.m. and Jed had returned from his dad's place. He paced in his apartment and tried to control himself. Interacting with his father's wolf always hyped his own beast - brought it closer to the surface, which made it harder for Jed to manage it. It was the price he paid. He had to keep his father level and help him keep his beast tame. Jed could command others of his kind - they listened to him. Wolves like his dad craved guidance, and without a pack leader, they slowly devolved, almost entirely lost to the monsters inside. It was why lone wolves rarely survived long. If a wolf gave in and left a trail of death in their wake, then they were hunted by others of their kind, or the rare and dangerous human who had the knowledge and training required to hunt werewolves. Jed had heard his father refer to those people only as 'hunters', and they were the bogeymen of Jed's childhood. 'Coffeeshop. The boy.' The beast's desires infected Jed's mind. He stopped, and his silvery eyes slid to the doorknob that led out to his porch. Then it was just a two block walk away to the coffee shop. 'Take him. Bring home. Make ours.' Jed rubbed his face. "No. No." He gritted his teeth. "Just stop." Jed desperately tried to figure out a way to bleed off his aggressive desires. He checked the time and groaned. He wasn't due to meet up with Wolfgang until seven - four hours away. He wasn't going to make it, and the wolf knew this. The need slowly built. Jed's beast bided its time and continued to gain traction in Jed's psyche. "Fuck. Stop." There was now a pleading tone in Jed's voice. He walked to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. He heard the blood rushing in his ears as his heart pounded and didn't have to look in the mirror to know that his eyes were almost entirely silvered. Jed gripped the sink, head down, his jaw clenched. "God, what has gotten into you?" He grimaced and tried to push back. It was like hitting a wall. Despite all the silver he wore and had in his teeth, the wolf was winning. Jed's phone vibrated in his pocket. He forced his hand to move and retrieve the device. His eyes widened at the name on the screen. "Oh, thank fucking god." He eagerly picked up. ⧫ Shawn arrived and parked. He closed the car door and took the short stairway up to the door. Jed had told him to come in as soon as he arrived. His friend had the tell-tale inflection Shawn had come to know as desperation, and he was reasonably sure of what to expect when he opened the door. Shawn was Jed's best friend. He and Jed had regularly screwed since they were teenagers, even though Shawn identified as straight. It became something of a safety valve for Jed. Shawn knew what Jed was, and he willingly allowed the beast to use him. Shawn entered. "Jed?" He shut the door behind him and jumped. Jed stood naked in his hallway, his muscular, hairy body on display. Shawn laughed, a bit uncomfortable. "Uh, okay. It's gonna be that kind of visit." Jed stalked closer, and now Shawn saw the silvered eyes. "Jed? Buddy?" Jed pushed himself against Shawn until he had pinned the smaller man against the door. "Err… Jed." The big man gripped Shawn's wrists and held them pressed to the wood behind him. Shawn swallowed. "Uh, you need to talk to me, man." Jed's mouth opened, and he tasted Shawn's neck. "Shit, Jed… talk to me. Make me want it." The first few times it happened, Shawn was confused as to why he found sex with Jed irresistible. Jed himself didn't know what he was doing, initially. Once he found out, he told Shawn. His friend had merely shrugged. "Well, it's fun when it's happening. As long as you don't make me kiss you, or suck your cock, then I'm down." Despite the lack of the voice, Shawn began to respond physically. But his enjoyment would increase significantly with just a few words from Jed. Jed panted against Shawn's skin. "I'm going to fuck you." Shawn's jaw dropped when Jed said the words, his pupils dilated, and he struggled to free his hands so he could take off his clothes. "Yes," Shawn said. Both he and Jed removed Shawn's clothing until he stood naked against Jed. Jed wasn't waiting to get to the bedroom. He bent Shawn over the end of the couch. By this time in their relationship, Shawn knew Jed, and he also knew to prepare beforehand if he didn't want to be sore after visiting. There was no preamble, Jed gripped Shawn's shoulders, pressed his cock against Shawn's exposed hole, and pushed. Wisely, Shawn had spent some time lubing himself before heading over. In the state Jed induced, he'd not even care that it hurt, and Jed was often rough when in the moment. Shawn moaned as Jed sank his cock into him. Once completely inside, Jed immediately pulled back and began to pummel him. "You're mine. Mine!" The beast exerted its full power through Jed. Shawn groaned under him. "Yes. Yours. Ah, god." Jed reached around and stroked Shawn's dick. Shawn was now beginning to shake, and his breathing increased as Jed screwed him. "Fuck, Jed. Ah, fuck." "Yes. Tell me." Jed hammered Shawn and gritted his teeth. "Come. Do it." Shawn gasped, and he orgasmed under Jed, his semen splattering onto the couch beneath him. Jed followed as Shawn's body contracted around his thick cock. Shawn slowly wound down as Jed came to a stop. For whatever reason, the effect of the voice never lasted long with Shawn. Perhaps it was because he had grown up with Jed, and he had heard it many times. Regardless, he began to grimace at the sensation of Jed's cock inside him. Shawn could even feel Jed's heartbeat in the turgid organ. "You all done, buddy?" He patted Jed's hairy leg. Jed pulled his hips back. Shawn started to straighten, but Jed gripped his shoulders. He turned Shawn with irresistible strength and pushed him backward onto the couch. Shawn watched as Jed climbed overtop of his prone body, his irises still covered in silver. "Not done." The voice once again snared Shawn, and he hardened up in seconds. As Jed went down on him, Shawn let his neck relax and settled in for a long afternoon. ⧫ Wolfgang was a bit disappointed. Franklin had other plans for his evening so Wolfgang would not get to do wonderful and terrible things to the young man until Friday. Still, he had other tasks to occupy his time. Wolfgang headed north on the 101, toward Klamath and the Yurok tribal council building there. After a drive of over an hour through rural and wooded landscapes, he arrived and pulled into the roundabout in front of the place. Wolfgang parked in a nearby lot. He walked toward the council house and took note of some distinct details as he approached. The building was a vast, two-story sprawling structure. It sat nestled in amongst redwoods and ferns, only barely set apart from the forest behind it by a thin stripe of landscaping. The positioning gave the overall impression that the place belonged with the trees. Brown-painted wood clad the outside and a big, round opening in the outer wall led to a vestibule deeper inside. The slim man went into the vestibule, and then through a door. After he had struck out with Franklin, Wolfgang had called the place, hoping he'd be able to speak to one of Vernon's sources. Wolfgang walked inside and stopped at the desk. A young woman with silver hoops in her ears, dark hair and brown eyes smiled at him from behind the wooden, glossy furniture. "Hello. I'm Amy. Can I help you?" "Hello, Amy. I hope so." Wolfgang smiled. "I'm Wolfgang, and I'm here to see Evan McAllister. He was going to meet me here." There was only the slightest shift in her countenance as her smile slipped, but Wolfgang noticed. "Ah, yes." She stood. "Follow me, I'll show you to the elder." Amy led him down one wing of the building through a wide hallway. The walls were adorned with various pictures, paintings, and ceremonial pieces depicting tribal life both ancient and modern. All of the work looked recent, but the tribe was doing its best to reclaim its past through different media and expression. The young lady stopped in front of a closed door. Amy looked a bit uncomfortable as she motioned. "Elder McAllister is inside." Wolfgang eyed her. "Is there something wrong?" She looked pained. "Ah, it's just…" she struggled to find the right words. "The elder is a bit challenging to speak with. He's, uh, easily distracted." Amy's forced smile was back. "If you have any trouble, just pick up the phone and dial three-two. That's my direct line, and I'll come to see if I can help." Wolfgang wrinkled his brow. "All right." He had come this far, he certainly wasn't going to leave without speaking to the man. He straightened. "Thanks. I'm sure it'll be fine." She nodded at him and walked away toward her desk at the front of the building. Wolfgang shrugged and opened the door. An elderly man with weathered skin, wrinkled and tanned from age and the sun, sat at the small, round table in the room. His hands were clasped in front of him, resting on the wooden surface, and his head came up as Wolfgang opened the door. A black patch covered his right eye, and the other stared at Wolfgang with great intensity. "Ah, hello." Wolfgang stepped in and closed the door behind him. He reached a hand across the table. "I'm Wolfgang. Thank you for meeting me, Mr. McAllister." Evan sat, unmoving, and continued to look at Wolfgang. Wolfgang let his hand awkwardly fall. "Uh, all right." He pulled out the chair across from the elder. "A child of subtle violence begat of flesh and shame…" The singsong sound of Evan's voice was a bit jarring and cut off as if he had left something unsaid. Wolfgang hovered over the chair, confused and a bit unsettled. Evan blinked, similar to a person awakening. His eye focused on Wolfgang, this time without the glassy stare it had earlier. The old man leaned forward and stretched out his hand. "Hello. I'm Evan." His single, dark eye glittered under the lighting in the room. Wolfgang sat and leaned so that he could reach the man's offered hand. Apparently, he hadn't heard a thing Wolfgang had said when he first entered. "I'm Wolf…" his speech cut off as he contacted the skin of the elder. Chills shot up Wolfgang's spine as he shared the sensations in the old body across from him. His skin prickled with unseen caresses, and Wolfgang's head jerked as the distant sound of thunder passed across his right ear. The old man's grip tightened, impossibly strong for one of his age - just an ounce short of painful. Evan's face now showed wonder. "You hear them." Wolfgang closed his eyes to blot out a sense, trying to limit the amount of input to his brain. 'Half of your world,' a breathy voice whispered in Wolfgang's right ear, 'half of ours,' traveling around him to finish in his left. It was as if someone walked behind him, speaking the words. Evan still gripped his hand. “Who are you, really?” Wolfgang couldn’t help the gasp as a presence flooded into his awareness. Something used the body of Evan, wearing it like a suit, and it breached Wolfgang’s mental defenses as if they weren’t there at all. It swirled through Wolfgang, and he whimpered, completely paralyzed. ‘He doesn’t know,’ the multi-tiered voice echoed in Wolfgang’s mind. The tendons stood out in Wolfgang's arm and the limb shook as Evan gripped him. Both men shared the overpowering entity between them, but that didn't decrease the hold it had on Wolfgang. At some point, Wolfgang's eyes had opened, though he stared, unseeing at a spot on the wall above Evan's head, and his breath came in fits and gasps. Just as suddenly as it had appeared the presence was gone. Wolfgang and Evan both slumped, their hands separating and falling to the table with a synchronous, hollow thud. Wolfgang shook his head. He felt as if every muscle had been as tense as it possibly could, and his body hurt from the strain. Evan watched him. "So." He crossed his arms over his chest. "A Tempter comes to see my servant." The entity in the old man smiled, his teeth somehow still intact and perfect. "Those years are past this body, child of Sa'la." He cocked his head. "So, why have you come searching the council of my conduit?" Wolfgang wet his lips. "'Tempter'? 'Sa'la'?" He frowned. "I don't know what you mean." Evan smiled, then he looked as if he listened to a voice whispering in his ear. Wolfgang had no doubt that he genuinely did hear something. Evan nodded to no one in particular, and once again seemed himself. "It is not for me to say." His eye settled back on Wolfgang. "Ask what else you will of me." After a few beats, Wolfgang shakily took out his phone, hit record and slid it across the table between them. He cleared his throat. "Ah, Evan McAllister." He hesitated. "Uh, this is Evan, right?" Wolfgang genuinely wasn't sure. The elder grinned his eerie, perfect, white smile. "Yes, for now." "Ah, okay. Let me know if that changes." Wolfgang saw Evan nod. He got right to business, unsure how long he would have Evan's attention. "Tell me about new moon spirits. I want to hear everything about them that you know." ⧫ Wolfgang drove south on the 101, away from Klamath and the strange old man in the council building. It was now after six, and he approached the little town of Trinidad, about thirty miles north of Eureka - his destination. Lightning streaked across the sky out over the ocean. A storm raged over the water, and it was headed toward the coast. In an hour or so, the whole northern part of coastal California would be lashed with wind and rain from the strong system. Five seconds after the lightning flashed, thunder rolled over the car and Wolfgang. A strange sensation of deja vu shot through him, and he instantly recalled the thunder in his right ear back with Evan in the council building. Chills raced over his skin and he swallowed in anxiousness. 'They were talking to him. Telling him the weather that was coming.' Wolfgang gripped the steering wheel. "God. How fucking weird." Wolfgang had asked many questions during their session. Evan was there throughout, and the old man had seemed surprised by his own continued lucidness. He had smiled at Wolfgang once they finished. "They must have wanted this, the spirits here. The ones who commune with me." Wolfgang navigated around a large, slow truck in the right lane of the highway. He knew many things in the world were outside of what most considered "normal", but the display in the council building far exceeded even his experience with the supernatural. He simply didn't know the world contained such powers and entities. "Can a new moon spirit possess someone who isn't trying to summon one?" Wolfgang had asked, his eyes locked on Evan. The old man grinned. "I have not asked for any of these powers to possess me." A smoothing of Evan's face was startling to Wolfgang. He looked almost fifty years younger, as he channeled some entity, and as he took on the appearance of a man in his early thirties. "Yet, as you can see," Evan leaned forward, his now suddenly blue eye staring at Wolfgang, "the spirits do what they will." After he had asked the final question, Wolfgang began to truly believe that he was on the right track - that a new moon spirit was murdering people among the northern California redwoods. Unsettled would be an inadequate description of Wolfgang's state of mind as he parked and got out of the car. Finally, back at his rental, he entered the place, about a half hour ahead of when Jed was due over. The power of the entities flowing through Evan had completely overwhelmed Wolfgang, and he had been at their mercy. If a new moon spirit were the same, then there would be no fighting one. It would merely possess whomever it wanted. Though Evan gave him a little spark of hope in that regard. Wolfgang fired up his laptop and began a search for something he hoped that he would never have to test.
  46. 38 points
    4 ‘What did you have for dinner?’ Leon glanced at Logan who sat next to him on their flight. He was asleep, covered with the blanket the flight attendant gave him. His head tilted back, his lips parted in sleep. Logan looked tired. ‘Why aren’t you answering?’ Leon stared at his mother’s questions on the family chat on his phone with a small smile. ‘Sorry, Mom, I got distracted. Logan grilled steaks for dinner. It was a good meal. He’s very good at cooking. You’d be proud.’ ‘Are you giving him trouble? I can’t believe I have to trouble strangers to take care of my grown son. It’s really embarrassing. Are you troubling him, Leon?’ Leon shook his head. ‘You’re the one who believes I can’t take care of myself.’ ‘You are causing him trouble. I’ll have to make him dinner when you get back. Make sure you bring him home with you. I’ll need to shower him with thanks so he only says good things about you.’ Leon sent her a laughing gif, and grinned when she sent one back to him. ‘I miss you, baby boy.’ ‘I miss you too, Mom.’ ‘Tell David to call me, or message me too. I like his funny stories.’ ‘I will. What are you up to?’ ‘We met your dad’s business associates in Paris. We were going to visit a vineyard in Normandy, but your grandmother summoned us home.’ ‘Something wrong?’ His grandmother rarely summoned his parents into the palace. When she did, it was because of a serious issue. Otherwise, she visited them at home. His grandmother liked riding horses in the forest surrounding their home. She made sure never to miss the opportunity. ‘Not that I can tell. I haven’t pressed your dad for info, I will. I’ll tell you when we know more.’ Leon felt a slight tingle of warning go through him, but it disappeared as fast as it came. He assumed his grandmother had discovered he had been given six months away from home without guard. She would be furious, but his parents would talk her out of her annoyance. Or, it could be something else, like representing Granny at a charity ball, or a tour of the cities. Leon shrugged. Whatever it was, his dad would handle it. He always did. ‘I have to go, Mom.’ ‘Okay, dear. Do send me pictures of you and your friends. I want to brag to your grandmother when I see her.’ ‘I'll send them.’ Leon promised, already uploading the pictures he’d chosen that wouldn’t give away too much about his itinerary. There were pictures of him and his friends in a group at the suspension bridge, at Paul’s home in Ireland, and eating lunch in Prague. They all looked happy: every one of them with a wide smile, including Logan who always stood on the edge of the group. Leon’s gaze lingered over him for a minute, even as his mother sent him a message. ‘Oooh, my Leon looks so handsome. Granny is going to be so tickled by these pictures. I love you.’ ‘I love you too. Dad, you too. You should text more on this group.’ He waited a minute, and then grinned when Kleopas wrote. I like reading your conversations with your mother. Don’t forget to bring Logan home as you’ve promised. Leon smiled and sent him thumbs up with a promise gif. A tablet appeared over his phone, and he looked up to find David smiling at him. “Read these, then sign.” “What is it?” Leon put away his phone and took the tablet. It was a form sent by their guide for their hike to Trolltunga. Leon read it. He was going to write his name when Logan took the tablet from him. “Hey, he’s not done with that,” David said. “Your guide is not equipped to take on Leon,” Logan said, producing his identification documents from his pocket. He took pictures of the official documents with the tablet, and then signed the form himself. “That should sort them out legally.” “I was going to take responsibility,” Leon said. “I know,” Logan soothed, as David took the tablet and disappeared, satisfied. “I’m only taking responsibility for the trouble your parents would rain on the guide if something happened.” “Nothing will happen.” Leon shifted, so that he sat facing Logan. “Why did you decide to enter the Royal Navy, Logan? I’ve been very curious.” Logan’s brow rose, then he smiled. “Nothing special about my decision,” Logan shrugged. “After high school, at eighteen, I joined the navy, and worked my way up. Two years in, I was able to qualify into the RN SPOC, and that’s where I’ve been the last four years. I’m now working under Lt. Commander Stevens.” “You want to end up in the Palace,” Leon guessed, “doing special ops for Granny.” “For the country,” Logan said. “I like working to make Aeras strong enough to protect our culture, and way of life without outside help.” The Royal Navy Special Operations Command was not an easy program to enter. Logan would have to have a will of steel to get in and get through the impossible training. The nine-month training program qualified eight people on their best round. Leon had a lot of respect for officers who qualified. They had the ability to protect a monarch under the worst conditions possible. He felt honored to have Logan guarding his life when he could be following his grandmother instead. “You’re wasted on me,” Leon decided. Logan chuckled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” “Your parents must be proud,” Leon said, wondering what they were like. “My mom is always proud of anything I do,” Logan smiled at the thought of her. “And your Dad?” Leon wondered aloud. “Um…he passed away when I was young. A car accident,” Logan said. “He’s the reason I joined the Royal Navy. He was a lieutenant.” “Oh,” Leon said. “I’m so sorry.” “I was too young.” Logan shook his head. “Mom is the one who remembers him well enough.” “Still, it couldn’t have been easy to grow up without him,” Leon said. “We managed,” Logan said. “Still do. When Mom is missing him terribly, we go out to this piece of land off the coast where he wanted to live with us when he retired. She likes it there, because he had even built her a nice house.” “Your dad sounds like a romantic,” Leon said. “A soppy one,” Logan said with a laugh. “Or so my Mom makes him sound.” Leon nodded, thinking Logan’s mom sounded like Anastasia. “So, Paul wanted you guys to visit his home in Ireland. David wanted to drive to Germany from the UK, Riku wanted to visit the Suspension Bridge. I didn’t understand Prague, and now Norway.” “Actually, David wanted Prague, he thinks the city beautiful, and spent most of his time walking obscure streets and entering rare item shops,” Leon said. “So, David gets two,” Logan said. “Who wants the hike in Norway?” “Me,” Leon said with a grin. “I actually want two too, Norway then our next stop in Sweden. Our guide has promised to show us the best spot at Trolltunga, and then we'll chase the northern lights on a road trip, which I hear is a matter of patience and time.” “Sounds like dangerous fun,” Logan said, wrinkling his nose. “Yours are the sexiest ideas; troublesome, but the most exciting ones.” Leon grinned. “Don’t take that back later on our nine hour long hike to Trolltunga.” “What’s next after Sweden?” Logan asked. “Petr wants to visit Riku’s home in Bangkok. We’ll stay there for a month. I’d love to get pictures of the temples there, the culture too. Then, we’ll head to Sevilla, Spain for December.” “Anselm’s home,” Logan guessed. “His family breeds impressive thoroughbreds. He’s promised to give me one. The plan is to stay in Sevilla for Christmas, and head home for New Years. My family requires it of me.” “Of course,” Logan said, already knowing New Year’s Day was the one day when the Queen insisted on having her entire family at the palace. “You’ve been great,” Leon said, feeling the need to be grateful to Logan. “Thank you for not reporting the change of schedule. For going along, even when you thought it wasn’t right.” “I like adventures,” Logan told him, his blue gaze heavy with meaning. Leon stared for a second, his longing evident. Logan saw it clear as day. When Logan said nothing, Leon started to get up. Then Logan touched his arm, stopping him. “I’m not your ideal—” “You are,” Leon cut him off before he could continue. “I’m as ordinary as you, Logan. I hope you can cut through the paper work, and see me.” Logan sighed, conflicted. “Think about it for a day or two,” Leon said, remembering Riku’s observation about Logan. “What about Darius?” Logan asked, gritting his teeth as he asked the question. Leon smiled. “He was a distraction in Prague.” “Don’t you care for him?” “I—,” Leon broke off and shrugged. “He was passing by.” “Will I be passing by too?” Logan asked, narrowing his gaze in question. Leon bit his bottom lip. He was afraid going it with Logan would turn to more, the fear made him want it even more. No. Logan would not be a passer-by for him. “If that’s what you want,” Leon said, even though it pained him. Logan nodded. “I don’t know what I want.” “Then…think about it and tell me,” Leon said, and got up needing to put distance between them. Otherwise, he was liable to throw himself into Logan’s arms and hope for the best. One thing was sure though, he really didn’t want a passing fling with this man. He was selfish enough to want Logan in his life forever, despite Logan’s obvious ambitions. He walked up the spacious cabin and slipped into the empty seat next to Anselm. Anselm was playing a video game. When he saw Leon, he handed over the second control and lifted a brow in challenge. Leon smiled and threw himself into the game, happy to escape his thoughts. *** Hiking to Trolltunga was a lot of fun in the company of Leon’s friends. Their guide was an experienced hiker in the area, with three others in her team. Her name was Emilie and she was Anselm’s friend. Anselm had met her on a hiking trip in Spain. When she returned to Norway after that trip, she started offering her services to hikers visiting Norway. She was easy with the group of young men, even as she kept them strict in terms of pacing and safety. They listened to her, even as they kept up an upbeat atmosphere on the way to the top. The scenery was enough to thaw out the worst of moods. They started mid-morning with the intention of camping at the top for a sunrise view. Logan was glad he made sure Leon had a heavy jacket in his pack because the night was cold up there. When sunrise came, Logan acknowledged that the hours spent hiking up here were worth it. The breath-taking view at Trolltunga was nature at its finest. Watching Leon take pictures of the stunning view of mountains, blue river water, the sheer drop from the rock formation called the troll’s tongue, and nature’s own paintings made with snow. Leon grinned like a wild man at the accomplishment, his cheeks flushed with exhilaration as he took photo after photo. When he was tired, he sat down to stare and watch, like a man finding religion. The group drifted to silence too, taking it all in, as there weren’t any words to describe the moment. Logan walked up to Leon who sat on the rock at the top of the world. Joining him, Logan wrapped an arm around Leon’s shoulders and leaned into him. “Let’s try it out,” Logan said, thinking he didn’t want to miss knowing the Leon who found pleasure in hiking to the highest point for a view that made the heart pump faster. Leon looked at him for a minute, before he reached for his cell phone and brought it up to take a picture of them. “Evidence to hold you accountable,” Leon said, when he was done. “I would kiss you here at the top of the world, Logan Mason.” “Why don’t you?” “It won’t feel like as it should, since you just decided," Leon said. "So, just sit with me.” Logan smiled, thinking he understood what Leon meant. He pulled Leon closer and contented himself with holding him. *** October was a better month, Leon decided. He trailed after Logan on a walk around the neighborhood they were staying in Odda. Norway was turning into a life-changing adventure because of Logan. Leon felt as though he was rediscovering a man who had stayed by his side for two months and loving every minute of it. He wondered if they could extend their stay here, if only to keep the magical sense of discovery alive. He liked getting to know Logan. Liked spending hours with him, even though it was just on a walk, or hanging out by the pool, or watching Logan run like mad and do an insane numbers of burpees on his morning workouts. Such small things made him happy. “Are you cold?” Logan asked, stopping so that Leon could catch up. Logan removed the light scarf he had around his neck and wrapped it around Leon’s neck. “I told you to wear yours. Next time listen to me.” Such simple words sounded like romance to his speeding heart. Leon wondered if he had always been so easy. Had his heart always needed so little? Logan cupped his cheeks. “What?” Leon smiled and shook his head. “Nothing, let’s continue. It’s nice to escape the house. Anselm, David and Paul brought in girls from the party last night. It’s noisy.” “You’d have been part of it before,” Logan accused. Leon chuckled, not taking offense to that. It turns out his short fling with Darius had really annoyed Logan. He liked to think it had helped Logan take a step toward him. “I’m here with you now,” Leon said, slipping his hand into Logan’s, and they continued their walk. ***
  47. 38 points
    3 Leon stared at a picture of Logan leaning against a tree at Eibsee Lake. The lighting was phenomenal, casting Logan’s face in a perfect profile. Dark hair cut in a neat military style, those gorgeous blue eyes staring in the distance. Logan was tall at six feet two, Leon often found himself looking up when they stood side by side. Logan wore a simple t-shirt and jeans in the picture, his feet in black boots. Leon sat back in his chair breathing out slowly, and then chuckled. There was no fighting it. He wanted to kiss Logan. He wanted Logan, and all his aloof charm. Leon sighed and shook his head. He wasn’t sure Logan wanted him. “Your new hobby is extremely interesting,” Riku said, strolling into the lounge, and dropping into a comfortable couch by the window. “If you want him, tell him.” “He’s not like us,” David said, bringing Leon a bottle of juice. Leon thanked him with a