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    Sanctuary Returns ‘The children,’ Rory prompted sanctuary as he waited for Johan and Elle outside the town hall. ‘How many were they?’ ‘Five souls,’ Sanctuary answered. ‘Too young, their families searched, but their bodies are buried in the deepest part of the swamp.’ ‘Why did none of the warriors take Rick down?’ Rory wondered. ‘He is sly, and patient. He struck when they least expected it. He left no trace of himself.’ Rory sighed, and started a slow pace along the step the steps. ‘This is a mess. I don’t even know where to start.’ ‘Your father will know. Let him finish this for you,’ Sanctuary mused. ‘You might be Alpha, but he is still more experienced.’ Rory nodded, and felt relief when he saw Johan and Elle walking up the steps. Behind them five of the warriors from the Swamp Lands, and ten men and women ranging in age followed them. When they reached him, Elle smiled in greeting while Johan held out a hand his right hand to Rory. Rory grasped it at the elbow, in the old way, a warrior’s greeting. “We’re ready for the gathering, Alpha Rory.” Johan nodded to his people behind him. “If our requests are met, then we shall vow allegiance to you, as Alpha, and join the fold.” “Then let’s get it over with,” Rory said, leading the way into the town hall. “How is your mate?” Johan asked. “Is he adjusting to his new life?” Rory couldn’t help his smile at the thought of Milan. “Quite well,” Rory said. “He’s moved into the pack house. We’re taking it day by day.” “His wolf has great potential,” Elle said. “The pain you both endured is not easily borne. Born of a trial by fire, he is much stronger than you could imagine.” “I suppose it’s an adventure we’ll have to see through,” Rory said. Rory opened the double doors of the town hall, and wasn’t surprised when all eyes in the room turned to look at them. Around three hundred people had made it to the meeting. The high table ahead was set up for the council. There were eight now, without Rick. Chairs in the first few rows of the right column were left vacant for the guests from the Swamp Lands. Rory noted Milan sat at the front of this row with Rowen and Maryanne on each side. Connor was already leading a discussion on Rick’s crimes. Rick was chained to the ground on a single chair in front of the high table. His mouth taped with a black seal made with Sage’s magic. There was a blue ring of power circling Rick’s chair too, it kept him contained. Rory led his group to the empty chairs, urging them to sit. He thanked Rowen who got up and moved down a chair, allowing him to sit next to Milan. “Why do we need to discuss this farther?” Hunter asked, the shifter glaring at Rick. “Either send him to the dungeons, or end his sorry life. There can be no pardon for the murders he is already guilty of. Delaying his sentence is an insult to the victims and their families.” “No one wants to pardon him,” Iris pointed out. Her gaze shifted to the rest of the town. “The people suggesting the dungeons are playing a dangerous game. Keeping him in the dungeons gives him time to plan. Time to cause trouble again, we really cannot allow that. As far as I’m concerned, Rick’s fate is sealed. So, why don’t we discuss the real reason why this town meeting was called?” “What can be more important than the murder of the Pack’s Moon by one of the Council?” a burly man in the crowd demanded. “Rick lied, and brought false evidence. He could be working with humans outside the borders for all we know. That’s important.” More added to that comment, insisting that Rick’s life should end by the Alpha’s hand. Others insisted on the dungeons, so that he may repent his wrong doings. Chris was particularly vocal about Rick meeting his end. “I demand justice for my parents and aunt,” Chris said, standing. He was at the front of the left row, his hands in fists when he looked at Rick. “There is no need to delay this. Please!” Connor slammed his right hand on the high table, forcing the room into silence. “The council acknowledges all your concerns,” Connor said. “Rick’s crimes are unpardonable. I don’t disagree. However, I have been waiting for our guests to arrive and now that they have, I would like to introduce them to you, Johan and Elle McRieve.” Johan and Elle stood. Elle looked beautiful in her red wool dress, and Johan every part the warrior in his leather trousers and a soft white shirt. Their faces enough to let anyone know they fought hard for all they had. Johan wasn’t much of a talker, so Elle spoke for both of them. “We’re here at Alpha Rory’s request. Our settlement has long lived in the wild swamps of this town. Please forgive any disrespect we may cause during this gathering.” “What settlement?” Lisbeth Jones, the town’s mayor, asked. her eyes narrowed as she looked at Elle and Johan. “I don’t recognize you.” “You wouldn’t,” Connor said, lifting his hand to stop Elle from responding. “They have not mingled with us for years. The Swamp Lands are their home; it’s the deepest part of Portento.” Murmurs filled the room, and Rory reached for Milan’s hand, squeezing tight. Milan responded by covering their clasped hands with his free one. He rubbed Rory’s knuckles, as though giving him strength. Rory glanced at Milan sensing a restless in Milan. “How can that be possible?” Linda asked, her eyes wide. Connor had kept the existence of Elle and Johan close knit, only telling Kutler and Lechter. “It is possible,” Elle said. “Very possible when your way of life is threatened and all you want is to seek sanctuary.” “Portento is already sanctuary,” Lisbeth pointed out. “What could possibly threaten your lives within our borders?” “Love,” Elle said, her words hard, where there should have been softness. “I am an ancestor of a child born from the mating of a human and a wolf. For decades now, we have harbored all such pairings in the Swamp Lands. A real fear grows that the council will kick us out of Portento should they discover such pairings. We are here now to see if our stories can be heard and cherished in the same way yours are.” “How many live in the Swamp Lands?” Lisbeth asked. “A few hundred or so,” Elle said, gripping Johan’s hand when the council members started to protest. “The last wolf/human pairing happened decades ago,” Linda said, shaking her head. “They left town.” “No, they did not,” Rory said, getting up, his gaze narrowed on Lechter, needing to have this out with him. “After the council voted, the pair found sanctuary in the Swamp Lands. Elle’s parents saved them. Every pairing that attempted to settle among us, and was rejected, ended up in the Swamp Lands. The Council has failed Sanctuary.” Lechter stood then, anger in his eyes. “That’s a serious charge coming from a Morgan.” “It must be spoken,” Rory said, glad that Milan kept holding his hand. “I feared you would do the same to me and my mate.” “You’re different,” Lechter said, shaking his head. “You’re—" “What?” Rory asked. “The Alpha? So? You have disliked humans for ages. You’ve pushed for them to get kicked out. You campaigned for Milan’s family to get kicked out. I saw it happen. You even had Chris convinced, my own blood.” “That’s before I knew who he was to you,” Lechter admitted. “I—" “You would not have changed your mind,” Rory cut in, quite sure when he met Lechter’s gaze. It was easy to see, to almost feel, the anger that had grown inside Lechter. His love, his mate, murdered by humans, in turn, he decided no human would touch the place she called home. The place she loved him and their son, Matt. Rory shifted his gaze to Matt who stood guarding the man who might have killed his mother. ‘I’m sorry I must do this, Matt. I told you I would.’ ‘Get it over with,’ Matt replied. Rory nodded and returned his attention to Lechter. “Your opinion matters in the council, in this town. Your blind hatred forced all these people to live in seclusion in the Swamp Lands. My mate and I would have joined their settlement had Rick not escalated his plans.” “That’s absurd,” Lechter said. Milan stood then, making them a pair. “It’s not actually. My mate was human. Everyone in this room knows that,” Rory said then, making the town behind him gasp in surprise. “He had his change days ago. You were there. If it weren’t for Elle and Johan, I might not have known how to go about it. So, I might thank you too for pushing me to discover the past.” “Rory,” Lechter murmured. Rory shook his head and Lechter fell silent, his gaze on Milan, then Elle and Johan. After a minute of silence, Lechter sat down and Connor took over the meeting again. “Elle,” Connor said. “I want to thank your people for helping my son and his mate through his change. I also want to extend an invitation to you to join the Council.” “Only if you allow our people to punish the man you call Rick,” Elle insisted. “Why?” “He has taken five of our young ones,” Elle said, pain in her voice. “Sunk them in the swamp and left us to cry tears of blood. He created fear for all of us. We could not cross the swamp into your lands to seek help. Every time we tried, he sunk another.” ‘What is she talking about?’ Milan asked, turning to Rory as they sat. ‘I’ll show him,’ Sanctuary murmured, surprising Rory. She was swift about it too, giving Milan the same images Rory had gotten when he fought Rick. The reaction was immediate. Tears filled Milan’s eyes and he bent over, making Rory pull him into his arms. “I am well aware of this crime,” Connor said, looking at Rory and Milan, worried. Rory ignored Connor's concerned look and focused on Milan. Milan clutched Rory’s t-shirt, eyes closed. ‘You didn’t have to give him everything,’ Rory chastised Sanctuary, pulling Milan into his arms. ‘He’s freaking—’ ‘I know what I’m doing. You’re the one who doesn’t know your role here. Feel it, Alpha,’ Sanctuary cut him off. ‘What he does for the town is different than you. You’re strength, he’s the compassion, you need him to end this meeting in peace.’ ‘We couldn’t have done this earlier?’ Rory complained, aware that Milan’s freak out was not going unnoticed. He remembered the disgust that filled him when he knew what Rick had done. ‘Why would you give him this memory?’ Rory closed his eyes, and reached in for Milan, as Johan decided to speak up, when Elle couldn’t anymore. “Calling it a crime is an understatement. Rick has caused unimaginable pain,” Johan said, his voice gruff. “One of those children was our daughter. She was only six years old. She was playing on the edge of the swamp when she disappeared. We found her a week later at the bottom of the swamp. We didn’t know what he was, only that if no one made an attempt to cross the swamp, that year we would be free of the pain of losing a child.” “His punishment falls to us,” Elle insisted, deep anger brewing when she looked at Rick. “Give us that, and we’ll do whatever else you need, even if it means we leave.” ‘Milan.’ Rory bit back a moan as Elle’s pain filled them both, affecting Milan more than it did Rory. Rory was harder, built to withstand brute force, and the ugliest of matters. Milan, his Milan, Rory wanted to fold him into his arms and protect him from everything. But, Milan was not having it. Milan clutched Rory’s shirt tight, then slowly sat up, his eyes closed. ‘Yes, you can take it,’ Sanctuary said to Milan, pride in her voice. ‘Diffuse it.” ‘How?’ Milan asked, feeling like he might never feel happy again in his life. He clung to Rory, holding his hand tight. Without Rory, he might have drowned with the weight of it. ‘Her pain is deep,’ Milan examining it for a moment, ‘but, it’s not as raw as it was with us.’ “Will you leave him alive?” Chris asked. “No.” Johan growled out, his hands in fists, his anger fueling Elle’s pain. The memory of their daughter filled them both and it was all they could think about now. “I have no objection then,” Chris said, as though sensing their pain. Rory gave a silent gasp, as Milan seemed to draw Elle and Johan’s pain into himself, pulling it away even from Rory. Then he flooded their bond with hope. Hope for a happier future, because he couldn’t erase the memory of their daughter, neither could Sanctuary. Milan knew about hope. Was filled with it, and now that he had escaped his own pain, he was full of possibilities. Sanctuary took that hope and directed it to Elle and Johan, pushing it into the thread of pain. Rory opened his eyes and looked to Elle and Johan. Johan’s fists eased, and Elle took in a deep breath, as though a weight lifted off her shoulders. ‘You did well,’ Sanctuary praised Milan when he let out a soft sigh. ‘It will get easier with time.’ ‘Don’t show him anymore horrible memories,’ Rory warned her. As tension left Milan and he relaxed, the pain disappeared. Sanctuary held her silence, though she was still present in the backdrop. Rory now understood how Connor might have been crippled without his mate. Milan was his second half. The most important part of this town, Rory decided, looking at Milan with a new light. Nothing could happen to him. Connor stood up and walked around the high table to face Elle and Johan. “Then, the matter of Rick is left to you,” Connor said. “Please note that we too have scars. I hope you choose his punishment well.” “We shall. Before we continue, I would like to bring in a gift of our goodwill,” Elle said, her voice soft, shy where she had not been before. “Do you accept it?” “Yes, of course we do,” Connor nodded. Elle looked toward the closed doors of the hall. A minute later, the door opened and in walked a woman with long brown hair, a red scarf around her neck, and a slight limp as she walked. She looked familiar. Rory almost couldn’t place her until he heard the soft cry from Matt. Matt abandoned his post by Rick and ran to meet her before she reached the front. Pulling her into a tight hug and lifting her clear of the ground, vibrating with emotion. Rory looked to Lechter who stood frozen at the high table. There were no words to describe the clear shock on his face. “Rosemary Lechter has been under our care for eight years. Her recovery has been slow; she was near death when we found her, sunk deep in the swamp. We thought her dead. We gave her a home, and she has lived among us, teaching the children how to read. We called her Sena as she could not remember her name for a long time,” Elle explained. “It wasn’t until Iris came to visit when Milan had his change that Sena regained her memories. She refused to return until we had this meeting.” “But her mate’s bond?” Connor asked, looking to Lechter, who still looked shocked. “Sena almost died,” Elle said. “All her bonds near severed by the pain and the brutal nature of her attack. This matter cannot be explained by one as young as me. You must find Grandma Asta for that.” Lechter came around the high table and fell to his knees before Elle. “Thank you! I am in your debt,” Lechter said to Elle. “Please, get up,” Elle reached for Lechter and pulled him up. “You owe us nothing.” “Nevertheless, I shall try to repay the kindness you have shown my family,” Lechter said, tears in his eyes. Elle patted his shoulder, and stepped aside to allow him to walk to Rosemary and Matt. Lechter wrapped them both in his arms, a harsh sob escaping him. Rory felt happy for Matt, but envied him too. He would do anything to see his mother again. To have Johanna meet Milan and hug him as she used to, full of sunshine and laughter. Looking across the aisle, he met Chris’s gaze and read the same longing there. ‘She’d be proud of you,’ Chris told him with a nod. ‘Your mate is handsome.’ Rory smiled and squeezed Milan’s hand. ‘I can’t wait for you to find yours, Bro.’ Chris stared at him for a minute, then grinned. Elle stepped up to the high table, looking directly at Iris. “The souls living in the Swamp Lands seek justice for the lives lost. Daughter of the earth,” Elle said, begging Iris. “Please send the man named Rick to the underworld with the vines of Hel.” “Elle McRieve,” Iris said. “Your request is heard, but I cannot give you your answer without the consent of two others. You must seek their aid.” “Who must I talk to?” Elle asked. Iris smiled at her then directed her gaze to Rory and Milan. “Your true Alpha and his mate, Milan,” Iris said. Elle wasn’t the only one who looked at them. The entire room turned their attention to Milan and Rory. Milan groaned at the attention. ‘This is kinda high profile, Rory.’ ‘You’re high profile, baby.’ Rory teased. ‘Iris is so having fun with this. How are we involved in a sentencing? Rick sounds like scum to me. She should just give Elle what she asks for.’ ‘We can’t avoid it, baby,’ Rory told Milan. ‘We’re going to need to stand up and go to Elle. Can you do it?’ Rory felt anxiety race through Milan and panic rising. For a minute, Rory thought Milan might not manage it but then Milan got up first. His courage racing wild, it was sexy. Rory followed him and listened to Milan take in a steadying breath. Rory took Milan’s hand and led him to Elle, stopping right behind her. He took Milan’s hand and placed it on Elle’s left shoulder, while he touched her right. “Daughter of the earth, we second Elle McRieve’s request,” Rory said, answering on behalf of Milan, as well. “Little Alpha,” Iris said, getting up from her seat. She came around to where Milan stood her gaze full of affection. “I felt your compassion flooding the room. You might not know it, but you’ll be a wonderful influence on all of us. I grant your request. Rick’s ill fate shall not continue. I’m sorry your families have suffered him.” Rory let go of Elle and pulled Milan to his side. Iris approached Rick. The chains Sage used to hold him disappeared and the seal on Rick’s mouth tore open. Rick let out a relieved gasp and shouted, pointing a finger at Rosemary. “You bitch, I killed you. I finished you!” “You tried,” Rosemary’s voice came in a whisper, the damage to her throat clear as she pulled off her scarf. There were deep gouges on her neck. Matt looked away from her when he saw them, grief tensing his shoulders. Rick had taken her voice. “You didn’t succeed. I saw you kill my friends, and when I tried to save them, you stuck me with wolf’s bane and dragged me to the murky swamp waters. You did your best to kill me, but Sanctuary saved me.” Rick stared at her with hatred. “Still, I took years from you and Hillam, at least. He turned into a raging beast without you. There was satisfaction in watching his pain. I’ll take that much.” “Iris,” Connor urged as the town hall erupted into angry shouts at Rick’s words. Milan clung to Rory’s arm when dark green vines broke through the floor, quickly winding around Rick from his legs, up his thighs, then his torso to head. Thick and round they wrapped tight, tighter, then Iris murmured words and the vines dragged Rick down into the floor. In seconds, Principal Rick disappeared, and the floor restored to normal, as though he never existed. The room went silent, as though everyone was afraid to break the spell. The only thing moving was Iris as she waved a hand over the space Rick had sat. Milan imagined she was warding off bad spirits. ‘Iris is frightening,’ Milan noted. ‘Not many people can handle her presence,’ Rory said, agreeing. ‘She’s too powerful.’ ‘Should we sit?’ Milan asked. ‘It’s not over yet,’ Rory said, nodding to his father who now stood facing the town. “These last few weeks have opened my eyes to many issues,” Connor said. “Troubles under the surface of the town: murder, human prejudice, and corruption. I feel ashamed to have not known these things were happening in Portento. Too many have suffered under Rick’s greed. Others because of my own blindness, I can’t believe an entire settlement of souls went unnoticed. On behalf of myself, the Beta and the Third, I apologize to all of you who call Portento home.” Connor bowed his head, and Kutler and Lechter both lowered their heads to the town’s people. When Connor straightened up, he continued. “I would like to propose new changes in the town’s council and a new look at our policies on humans. I want you all to vote on the acceptance of the souls living in the Swamp Lands. We all understand what a mate means to our people. No one should face judgement because of the goddess’s choice. However, everyone in this town needs to be on the same page on this.” Silence filled the town hall at that remark. Rory felt Sanctuary talking to Milan, though he didn’t hear their conversation. Peace flooded him soon through their bond and Rory guessed Sanctuary was having Milan fill the room with more…hope. Rory hid his smile when Mildred Cohagen stood up in middle of the right row. “I would like to say something,” Mildred said, sounding nervous but determined. Her husband sat beside her holding their baby and their daughters sat beside their father. “Sure, Mildred, go ahead,” Connor said. “Well, we’ve all sat here and listened to a list of crimes committed by a man we thought we knew. All of which were designed to break Portento apart. It’s now too clear that Rick was a selfish and evil man. I don’t think it is fair to vote on the future of people who are deserving of living in this town. None of us needed a vote to live here.” “Why not vote when there might be humans among these Swamp Lands people,” a man in the left row said, standing up. “How can we be sure they are good people?” “Rick was a wolf, one of us. Look at what he did.” Mildred pointed out. “Those in the Swamp Lands have provided nothing but kindness to the Third’s mate and Alpha Rory’s mate. They did this despite their losses at Rick’s hands. They are blessings to the town. I think we shouldn’t vote on this. We should offer full acceptance. Anyone else agree?” For a moment, no one spoke, and Rory feared this would turn into a political battle. Then Mildred’s husband stood, followed by their twins. Jack stood, sparking the rise of all his friends. The three hundred or so people in the town hall all stood one by one, until there was no one sitting. Even the man who had shown doubt now stood, albeit still wary of the idea. Mildred came out on to the aisle. She walked to the front and hugged Elle. “My name is Mildred Cohagen,” she said. “If you ever need help, all you need do is ask.” Elle’s eyes filled with tears as she returned Mildred’s hug. “I am Elle McRieve. I thank you for your acceptance.” More people came up to greet Elle. Soon Mildred led Elle back to her seat. More introduced themselves to the others from the Swamp Lands, and the question of whether to accept them into the fold was answered without a vote. Rory and Milan started to go sit, but Iris stopped them. “Well, now that we have that sorted,” Iris said, her voice enough to silence the room. “As one of the council, I would like to remind everyone of the events last week. As you all know, Rory fought his first duel at Biosense a week ago. He defeated Rick’s challenge to take on the role of alpha. He is now Alpha of the Pack. Beside him is his mate, Milan Takeda. After all the sadness, do you agree that it is time to celebrate? Our town shall have a strong future despite the troubles. Am I right or what?” A round of applause roared in the town hall and amid agreements and whistles. “Then, the council shall convene to plan the ceremony,” Iris said, coming to stand beside Milan and pulling him into a hug. She liked Milan, Rory realized, very much. *** The Council relocated to the Mayor’s office. Lisbeth was eager to discover more about Elle and Johan, Hunter cut straight to the point. “With Rick gone, we are left with quite a few loose ends,” Hunter said, moving to sit on of the armchairs in Lisbeth’s huge office. Iris perched on the arm of his chair, nodding her head in agreement. “The high school for sure needs a new head,” Linda said, sitting next to Hunter. “The vice-principal can fill in, but you know that position must be held by a council member.” “Hunter,” Kutler said, standing next to Connor. “What do you think?” “I don’t have the patience to deal with teenagers,” Hunter shook his head. “Iris?” “No,” Linda, Lisbeth and Lechter all said at once, shaking their heads. Iris laughed. “I can do it,” Iris said. “I like young minds. So full of potential, they are. Why do you all look so frightened?” “If you want work, I’ll give it to you,” Connor said. “Kutler needs help negotiating terms with the Swamp Lands on the logging. He’d love your input there.” “I’m likely to side with the Swamp Lands,” Iris told him. “Kutler?” Connor prompted. “I would love your help,” Kutler said to Iris, with a strained smile. “Fine, I’m sure that will be entertaining anyway,” Iris said. “Who will you make Principal then?” “Elle,” Connor asked, looking to her. “You’re the only one without a current post. Sage runs her hotel. Linda is at the grocery store. Lisbeth is here. That leaves you.” “You would trust me with your children?” Elle asked, a bit awed by this invitation. “You have a nurturing nature,” Linda said, in agreement. “They’ll also learn from you.” Elle smiled, and nodded, looking to Johan in excitement. “Then, I’ll accept,” Elle said. “Great,” Connor sat down on a bench set by the window and turned to Lisbeth. “Biosense. We’re in a disadvantage with them so close, Lisbeth. Cade Ogawa was too close, even with Rick’s help.” “Cade Ogawa is a complication,” Linda said, staring at her nails. “His son is my son’s mate. We cannot bring him harm. Nisin is one of us now.” “Complication is right,” Lisbeth said with a shudder. “Biosense is huge, Connor. They will get curious if a branch goes silent with no explanation.” “What about the Takedas,” Iris suggested. “Both are doctors who spent their lives doing research one or another. Can’t we enlist their help with Biosense?” Connor sighed. “Ilaria flew out of here like a bat out of hell. They might have to stay and takeover Biosense. How do we convince her to come back?” “Simple,” Iris smiled. “Her son. She would do it to protect Milan.” Linda nodded. “That’s an idea. Still doesn’t give us a solution about Cade and Nisin.” “His fate would be death,” Lechter said, making Linda sit up, her gaze narrowed at him. “Relax, I’m not asking for that. Cade is too ambitious. You don’t get to his position with a passive attitude. We can’t kill him. We can’t have him staying in Portento as Biosense head. So, why don’t we strip him of his memories?” Linda thought about it for a moment, and then turned to Sage. “Can you remove all his Biosense memories?” “That will get complicated if we have someone else taking over Biosense,” Sage said, pacing the length of Lisbeth’s desk. “If the Takedas agree, don’t you think they’ll want to know everything Cade was working on?” “Use your magic to catalogue all that information,” Iris suggested. “It will give us insight into how Biosense works, and insulate the Takedas from the mothership.” “What do we do with Cade when I’m done?” “Hand him to the guardians,” Connor said. “They’ll make sure no one can reach him. Nisin may visit him as he wishes. The Welfare Office can handle that, can’t they?” “I’ll handle it directly,” Linda said. “Nisin will be my son in-law. I’ll make sure it’s done right.” “Connor, you’ll talk to the Takedas?” Sage asked. “Yes,” Connor nodded. “Finally, Dolon and Lloyd,” Hunter said with a sigh. “Dolon’s condition can be reversed. The hospital is already on it, he didn’t get too much of that poison Rick wanted. His parents are worried though. Their son attacked an Alpha’s mate.” “Rory will reach out to them after Dolon gets better,” Connor decided. “Besides, I’m hoping this has taught Dolon a lesson. He should stop pushing Rory and Chris’s buttons now.” “They burned Lloyd’s body yesterday,” Lechter said. “He didn’t make it.” “I’m curious about why Rick didn’t have the same stench as Lloyd and even Dolon from that poison,” Hunter said. “I could barely stand in the hallway when he was at the end of the room.” “Rick was corrupted from the start,” Connor said. “I would have smelled that corruption, but he took measures to hide it.” “How?” Linda asked. “This,” Sage held up a bunch of dried wolf’s bane. “It will blind any wolf’s senses, even an Alpha. He must have used it long enough. I doubt anyone knew his real scent.” “Should we ban wolf’s bane from the town?” Linda asked. “What’s the point?” Kutler asked. “If someone is determined to get it, they’ll find it.” “How do we know if there are no more Rick’s hiding among us?” Lisbeth wondered. “The golden pair,” Iris said with a smile. “You mean Rory and Milan,” Connor said, narrowing his gaze at her. “Yes,” Iris said, looking tickled. “I felt it today in the hall. Milan took Elle’s pain and turning the room away from anger and disagreements. Sanctuary is alive again, playing her part. Those two will keep Portento clean.” “They’re still too young,” Kutler said. “So much to learn.” “I’m willing to nurture,” Elle said, looking as excited as Iris. “Me too,” Iris said. “Are you sure I can’t teach at the high school?” “What would you teach?” Hunter asked, placing a hand on Iris’s knee. “History,” Iris said, taking Hunter’s hand and placing it on his lap. “I have a long memory.” “You’ll frighten the children,” Hunter teased. “Children need frightening so that they don’t repeat history,” Iris said, her voice making even Connor shiver. “Iris, that’s a no on frightening children. Work with Kutler.” Lisbeth stood up. “I’m glad to see the end of this trouble. It’s sad about Rick. Iris was right about a celebration. Rory is eighteen. It’s the right time to start learning how the council works. Plus, he’s graduating from high school this year.” “Then spring is the perfect time for celebration,” Sage said, making magical flower petals rain down in the room. “The trees will have woken, the flowers blooming, the ice melted.” “Rory wants to take Milan on a trip to Italy,” Iris said. “I heard them talking about it in whisper from the trees. We can help them plan for it.” Connor rubbed his eyes and stood up too. “That would include engaging the services of the guardians.” “Anything for them,” Iris insisted. “Think of Milan as my son from now on, Connor Morgan. I’m your in-law.” Connor chuckled at that and when Iris got up, he raised his arms in surrender. “Yep, totally, I understand. Let’s end this meeting. I have things to do,” Connor said, heading for the door. “Sage, let me know what happens with Cade. I’ll call the Takedas tonight.” ***
  2. 73 points
    Amore Consumato Vibrating with excitement, Milan stood in the bathroom brushing his hair. He swept fingers through the soft mass when he was done and wondered if he shouldn’t get a cut. It had grown longer. A gift from the change, he thought. Dropping the brush into its holder on the bathroom counter, he pinched his cheeks and smiled at the red flush there. He was no longer pale and sickish. He took that as a serious accomplishment. Milan left the bathroom and was in the closet getting dressed when he heard the Skype ringtone. Pulling on his white One Ok Rock t-shirt, he rushed to the bed and his laptop to answer the call. He smiled wide when he saw Ilaria’s face fill the screen. “Buona sera, Cucciolito,” Ilaria greeted. “Come va?” “It’s going well,” Milan said, happy to see her. “How is Papa?” “Better. Much better,” Ilaria said. “Ayu is with him now. He is saying goodbye as he prepares for his flight back to you.” “Ah,” Milan settled on the bed, adjusting his t-shirt. “You look happier, not as worried.” Ilaria nodded, her dark hair moving around her like silk water. Her face looked bright; her eyes rested, no more shadows, even though it was one o’clock at night in Turin. “Mi spiace, Milan,” Ilaria said. “I’m sorry.” “For what?” “Acting like a crazy woman the last few days,” Ilaria said. “I—” She broke off for a minute as though thinking hard, and then continued. “It wasn’t easy seeing your Papa so ill. It’s the first time for all of us to see him like that. He has been a rock for me…and to see him down…I-I just wanted to get my family away from there. I know I was unreasonable, but—” “I understand,” Milan cut in, hating the contrite look on his mother’s face. He understood her perfectly. One might not think it, but Kiyo was Ilaria’s pillar. The reason she stayed strong for him, for Ayu. Without him…well, the breakdown at the hospital was a clue as to what would happen next. “It was a lot to happen to all of us,” Milan continued. “A lot to take in, I’m still processing it too.” This was the best he could give her. He had hated disliking her for wanting to pull him away from Rory. Ilaria had given him a gift with the extraordinary efforts she put forth to take care of him. She was such a mother, that he sometimes forgot she was human. She made mistakes. She always forgave his. Now, it was his turn. “Ti amo, Milan,” Ilaria said, as though reading his thoughts. “You must never forget that. No matter what shape you take, who you love, what you love, what you want to do, why, when, all of it. You remain mine, il mio bambino. I will love you a lifetime and more. You understand?” Milan smiled. “I love you too, Mamma.” Ilaria let out a relieved sigh and tried for a smile. “Let’s not be on opposite ends ever again. It hurts too much.” “Yes, Mamma, for me too.” Tears slid down Ilaria’s cheeks and Milan wished he could hug her through the screen. “Oh, Mamma, don’t start crying,” Milan begged when she sniffled. Ilaria reached for a tissue from a box next to her, and wiped her eyes. “You’re turning into a crybaby,” Milan teased her when she blew her nose. “Don’t make fun of your Mamma,” Ilaria said, pressing the tissue to the corner of her eye. “Is Rory’s family treating you okay? Have you checked the bag I gave you? I left money there to spend in a wallet. Tell me if it runs out. I will talk to Rory’s dad about groceries and all other needs.” “Rory’s family is very good to me,” Milan said, knowing it was useless to talk her out of calling Connor Morgan. “How is school?” “I’ll start again on Monday,” Milan said. “It felt like the best thing to do. A friend is bringing me work from my classes. I’ve made up most of it.” “Va bene. I trust your judgment on that,” Ilaria said, and then she launched into telling him all the gossip from their neighbors in Turin. She talked for thirty minutes straight, until he had to stop her, as he needed to finish preparing for his date with Rory. “Where is Rory?” Ilaria asked. “We’re going on a date,” Milan said, with a wide grin. “He wants to pick me up, so he went to prepare in his old room.” “Oh, you’re wearing the t-shirt?” Ilaria asked, frowning at him. “Cucciolo, stand so that I see what you’re wearing.” “He said it was casual,” Milan said, getting off the bed, turning the laptop so his mother could see his black jeans and white t-shirt. “This is good enough.” “What are you wearing on top?” “The blazer you had that tailor in Florence make me,” Milan said. “Si, si, that will work,” Ilaria snapped her fingers. “Dress shoes?” “No way, my converse shoes will work.” Ilaria smiled. “Then, I want pictures. Make sure you send them to me.” Milan agreed, promising to get Rory’s picture too. “I have to go now,” Milan said, when he looked at the time. “Rory is almost here.” Ilaria was reluctant to let him go. “Your brother is leaving on the four a.m. flight. I’ll drive him to the airport. You and Rory can pick him up when he lands. Yes?” “Okay, text me his flight details,” Milan said. “Oh, I wanted to talk to Papa too.” “You can talk to Papa tomorrow when I call again. You tell me when you’re not busy. It doesn’t matter how late, I’ll answer.” “I will let you know, Mamma,” Milan blew her kisses. “I have to go now. Kiss Papa for me.” “Okay, okay.” Milan grinned because Ilaria kept looking at him. He reached out and ended the call afraid she might talk to him all night, if allowed. Happy to have cleared the air with her, Milan went to get the dark blazer she bought him, and wore it over his t-shirt. Adjusting the belt on his jeans, he wore socks and jammed his feet into his converse shoes. He was adjusting the laces when Maryanne came into the bedroom. “Oh, Milan,” she said, her voice in a singsong. “Your date is downstairs. He is breaking hearts looking insanely sexy. You’re lucky he’s your mate. Otherwise, all the chicks in the back offices will swarm him. I have Topher and even I’m tempted to have a bite of him.” “Maryanne,” Milan chided. “What?” Maryanne went to the windows that showed off the front yard and pulled back the curtains. “Look at that guy.” Milan hurried to stand beside her, leaning on the wall when he saw Rory standing by his red mustang, looking sexy as sin. Who knew black would look so good on him? Rory wore a black jacket over a black tee and black fitting jeans and his feet in sexy black boots. As though sensing Milan’s gaze on him, he pushed off the car, and looked up to the window, meeting Milan’s gaze. Milan took in air unable to believe Rory was his for good. It still felt like a dream, and he was going to wake up and find himself stuck in a bed hyped up on damn good meds. Maryanne patted his shoulder proving his idea wrong. The surprise of this being reality had his heart beating on a rampage again. Maryanne turned him away from the window. “Go on,” she said, pushing him to the door. “He’s been waiting for you forever, Little Alpha.” Milan left their bedroom and ran down the stairs, opening the front door with his heart pounding in his chest. He gasped when he found Rory waiting at the doorstep. He flung himself into Rory’s arms as though they hadn’t spent the afternoon together. Rory kissed him, holding him close. “Hey, you,” Milan breathed, when they broke their kiss. “You look delicious, smell even better,” Rory said, squeezing him tighter. “You look real good too,” Milan said, reaching up to caress Rory’s clean-shaven jaw. Rory took Milan’s hand and led him to the car, opening the passenger side for Milan. He waited until Milan settled to close the door, and then jogged around to the driver’s side. Once inside, Rory started the engine and they headed out. “Where are we going?” “To have fun,” Rory promised. “There’s more to this place than cold you know.” “So, you won’t tell me what we’re doing tonight?” “Nope.” Rory flashed him a grin. “Okay,” Milan said. “Did you have a nice talk with Mamma?” Rory asked. Milan glanced at Rory, not surprised his mate would know about his call with Ilaria. Rory felt more than he did in their shared bond. Milan knew he wasn’t reaching in as much, knew if he wanted, he could discover all there was about Rory through their bond. Yet, he was holding back, unable to delve into Rory’s personal space. Rory knew it too. It hurt Rory that Milan dared not venture deeper. Milan felt that much. Still, he kept his distance. He didn’t know what he was waiting for. Permission or a—, he couldn’t describe it. “Yes,” Milan answered Rory about Ilaria. “She looked happier. She’s had time to think, said she was sorry for trying to make me move back to Italy. You know, I thought I would be sad having her so far away, but it feels nice somehow. I think we needed time apart. Does that make me a bad child?” “No, it doesn’t,” Rory said. “If you want we can visit them before they come back during spring break. You can show me that cathedral you said you’re named after.” Milan laughed. “I was named after the city, not the cathedral.” “Yeah, the cathedral has your name too.” “A lot of buildings end up having my name. There are even cookies with my name. I don’t know whether I should complain that I came first, or they should complain that I took their name.” Rory chuckled. “It doesn’t matter because you’re the only Milan to me.” “That one’s too sweet,” Milan said, shifting in his seat to study Rory. “How long have we known each other?” “A lifetime,” Rory stated with a straight face. Milan laughed again. “Doesn’t it feel that way?” “It does,” Milan agreed. “When I read books and the characters end up together too fast, I always think the writer is being unrealistic. No one gets together that fast. I thought it was a fantasy since all I ever got were people staying away from me.” Milan’s gaze dropped to where Rory held his hand. “Now—” “Now?” “We’re the cliché, and I don’t care,” Milan said. “Actually, we’re not,” Rory said. “Maryanne and Topher are the cliché. Nisin and Jack are the norm. We’re not.” “Why not? We’ve known each other for two months, barely and we’re attached for life.” “My people mate within hours of meeting each other,” Rory stated. “What?” Milan sat straight in his seat. “No way that’s Nisin and Jack. Nisin is complicated. Jack wouldn’t have it easy with him.” Rory grinned. “Fortunately, Jack is more straightforward than me. And, he didn’t have to deal with meddling parents. He and Nisin are a couple. Jack insisted on telling him everything the first night they met. When Jack heard your change was complete, he took Nisin to the Swamp Lands. They talked it over with Grandma Asta. Nisin’s conversion is set for some time next week. Johan and Elle wouldn’t let Jack do anything until the people in the swamp lands join the town.” “So, where is Nisin now?” “Jack took him to his house. It’s been days since anyone saw Nisin. Jack is being very protective of him.” “Aren’t you worried about Nisin?” Milan asked, concerned. “Shouldn’t you send people to check on him? We should drive to Jack’s place.” “Milan. Don’t meddle in private matters. Nisin is Jack’s mate. I disliked your father very much when he tried to stop me from seeing you. I argued with your mother when she tried to take you away. Let’s not play that role with Jack. He is the best person for Nisin right now.” “But—,” Milan broke off and stared at Rory, and then he sighed and leaned against the door. “You’re right. I just feel bad that I haven’t stopped to think about Nisin since that day Rick attacked. I mean my father just disappeared on him. He must be going through so much. I—and his Papa is also in trouble.” “He has Jack. Believe me. He’s in the best hands possible. Jack won’t let anything happen to him. Do you trust me?” “Yes.” “Then believe me when I saw Nisin is fine.” Rory slowed down the car. Milan looked out to see where they were. Rory turned into a short drive that led into a parking lot full of cars. An attendant helped them find a parking spot close to the entrance. Rory turned off the car, and sat looking at the lighted gardens ahead. “Where are we?” “The Rose Restaurant,” Rory said. “It’s run by Rowen’s mom. Topher’s sister has a band. They usually play here on Fridays. She gave me tickets yesterday. “It’s a pretty place.” Milan undid his seatbelt and started to open his door. “Wait,” Rory said, opening his door and getting out. Milan watched Rory hurry around the front and come around to his side. Rory opened Milan’s door and Milan came out with a smile. He waited as Rory locked the car, and then they headed into the restaurant together. Their table was in a corner by the windows, set for two, private and with a great view of the stage. Milan removed his jacket and placed it on the back of his chair. He adjusted the amulet on his neck as he sat down and smiled at Rory who watched him. “What?” “I’ve dreamt of this moment so long,” Rory said, his smile infectious. “I can’t believe you’re out with me. I’m just enjoying it.” “You’re Alpha of an entire town. I’m the one who is supposed to say that,” Milan said, looking to the stage, where the band played a perfect rendition of Icecream by Sarah McLachlan. Ilaria liked her music; as a result, Milan now knew all McLachlan music. The singer had a great voice, soulful, as she perched on a stool, beautiful in peach. “The band’s great.” “Jade will like you then,” Rory said. “She thinks Topher and I don’t care.” “I doubt that,” Milan said, picking up the menu, and reading it. He couldn’t remember the last time he sat in a restaurant to order food. He was too young when he first got sick. After that, there was no eating out anymore. He glanced at Rory over his menu. This milestone was also thanks to Rory. “What’s good here?” Milan asked. “The short ribs,” Rory said, pushing his menu to the side. Milan did the same and rested his elbows on the table, meeting Rory’s amused gaze. “Order for me,” Milan said. “I’ll eat what you have. Why aren’t we cliché? You only gave me Jack and Nisin’s example. They don’t count. Nisin is sick. Jack probably wants to fix him.” Rory moved the salt holder aside and took Milan’s right hand, straightening Milan’s fingers so that he could trace Milan’s palm. “Fair enough,” Rory agreed. “Maryanne and Topher found each other at a party when they both turned eighteen. You’ve seen them in our kitchen.” “I left the room yesterday,” Milan mused, remembering Topher and Maryanne making out against the kitchen counter. “Yeah, it’s gotten better. They couldn’t keep off each other when they first met. Most wolves mate within hours of meeting their fated partners.” “So, we’re different because you waited?” Milan guessed. “More than waited,” Rory said, shifting his gaze to Milan’s palm. “I had to have Grandma Asta give me a bracelet to control the need to claim you. Your mother would have put me down otherwise.” Milan gave a short chuckle at that. “Was it that hard?” Rory’s hold on his hand tightened, his tracing finger pausing to rub on a line on Milan’s palm. “I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone touching you, even your brother.” Rory shook his head. “Worst case scenario, I would have turned into a mad man and kidnapped you. It would have been a shock to you. Strange thing is I didn’t know what the hell I would do with you once I got you. I had never seen a wolf/human pair before. Grandma Asta saved us both from that ending.” “So, we’re that special huh,” Milan mused. “Quite.” “We’re not usual,” Milan said. “Far from it,” Rory said. “You’re a gift from the goddess to me.” Milan nodded in acceptance. His life was not conventional; of course, the love of his life would not be someone ordinary. Wasn’t it his good luck too to find Rory at seventeen? There were many who never found the right person at all. Milan decided to take it as is. “I met someone at the welfare office today. Her name is Annie. She didn’t think I was good enough to be the Alpha’s mate. Thought I didn’t understand anything about the town. Maryanne thinks there will be more who think like Annie.” Rory made a face. “What they think doesn’t matter. Nothing can change who you are to me, or who you are to this town.” Milan smiled at Rory’s answer. Storing away the solid support, he moved on from Annie. “Why Portento?” Milan asked. “Why are their wolves here? Why this place?” Rory played with Milan’s fingers as he talked about Portento’s history. Milan listened as Rory talked about the founding trio. The alpha who begged for sanctuary for his family and how the goddess answered by creating a barrier around Portento, ensuring their safety. How she made them promise to offer sanctuary to all who needed it, as she had offered. “We’ve kept at it for centuries, generation to generation. We don’t always get it right, but we’ve done well.” “You were right about your roots running deep,” Milan said. Rory let go of his hand when their drinks came. Milan sipped his passion juice, his gaze straying to the band. The lead singer had disappeared. The band now played instrumental music and he didn’t recognize the tune. “I’ve never belonged to a place before. My family and I, we’ve always been on the move. You know that.” “If you had to stay, would you miss the travel?” Rory asked, drawing Milan’s gaze. Milan thought about that for a moment. The fear he felt when his mother asked him to leave for Turin. It was new, and unexpected. That fear tied to Rory, more than Portento. He didn’t want to be away from Rory. “I like being anchored.” “Do you mean that?” Rory asked, holding his gaze. “I do,” Milan said. “Milan, living in Portento with me doesn’t mean you can’t travel if you want. This is not a prison but sanctuary. If you ever feel that you want to travel, all you have to do is say it. Can you promise me that?” Milan smiled and nodded. “I promise.” Sipping his juice, a thought filled his head. “By the way, are there wolves living beyond the town’s borders? Are there humans who know about us?” “Our kind works hard to keep our existence secret from humans. Of course, there are settlements of wolves across the country and others abroad, but I don’t know any like Portento. Our town is the exception, a haven with a majority share, unlike out there where humans have precedence. Portento tries to keep minimal contact with everyone to keep our location hidden.” “Only those in desperate need can find Portento. Rowen says her mom knows a lot more of the settlements around the world. Rumor is that her mom fell in with a bad group who hunt our kind, and needed to find a place to keep Rowen safe. Her extensive research brought her to Portento’s borders.” “Bad groups, with people like Cade Ogawa?” Milan asked. “They want to research on werewolves?” “Worse,” Rory said. “Extremist who think we’re a blight on the world. They kill our kind without asking questions. The group is ran by humans, one of the reason why everyone in this town is wary of them. They hunt us down like beasts.” Milan shivered at the thought of being hunted down like an animal. “Do you have gatekeepers?” Milan asked. “You know, like a videogame. You can’t enter sanctuary without meeting the gatekeeper.” “Yes, we have several gatekeepers. We call them guardians,” Rory nodded. “They keep watch for trouble. Or, stand guard when important assets of Portento leave for any reason.” “So, Portento is the Atlantis for your kind,” Milan said. “You only get in if you are worthy.” “Our kind,” Rory corrected. “I guess you could say that.” “How did Biosense get so close?” Milan asked, his frown deepening. “I mean—there must have been an uproar when we moved into the main town.” Rory fell silent when their waiter brought their plates of food. Their waiter was polite and efficient, placing their plates and ensuring they had everything they needed. He hurried away soon after, leaving them alone. “The Mayor brought Biosense,” Rory said. “Portento is like any other town. We need money to maintain many things. So, she found Biosense to provide a new hospital, while we gave up a small part of the forest where Biosense has set up. I can’t really say more on it, as I don’t know the details. We’ll find out tomorrow. As for you, and your family, your presence was different. It tipped a scale.” Rory watched Milan take his first bite of food made outside home. “Is it good?” “Delicious,” Milan said, feeling like he might eat Rory’s share too. The short ribs were mouth-watering. They melted in his mouth as soon as he took a bite, his appetite surging like a beast. “Mm, we should eat here every day.” Rory grinned his approval and started on his food. “Were you upset about your mate being human?” Milan asked, curious. “Were you…disappointed?” “No.” Rory ignored his food to look at him. “Not even for a moment. I was just glad to have found my mate. I turned into a stalker to be honest. I lived on that tree behind the Takeda house for a few days, watching you.” “What?” Milan’s eyes wide at this revelation. “It was snowing out.” “I didn’t care. I just wanted to keep seeing you.” Milan gaped. “Come to think of it,” Milan narrowed his gaze. “Did you ever work at the grocery store?” Rory grinned. “Nope, but it was the only way I could meet you without freaking you out.” Milan sat back in his seat watching Rory pick up his fork and dig into his food. Any doubts in Milan’s heart disappeared with that confession. He didn’t know how he had gotten so lucky, but he would take it. All of it, the town, Rory, his being a wolf, it was all a blessing, he decided. Milan continued eating, their topic changing to Rory’s favorite music, especially when the band covered his song. Rory had a thing for the Bad Wolves. He’d heard their music in Rory’s car more than once. They laughed a lot, ate a lot, lost in their own world. When dessert came, Milan took a piece of vanilla cheesecake with his fork and he held it out for Rory. “Taste this.” Rory stood, taking his chair and brought it closer to Milan. Milan smiled when Rory sat and leaned closer to take in the bite of cheesecake. They were inches apart now, Milan shifted so that there was no space between them. His left shoulder brushing Rory’s right. He ate a bite of cheesecake too, looking up to Rory. Rory held his gaze. “It’s good, isn’t it?” Milan asked Rory, loving the taste of the cheesecake. He had so many things to taste. “I haven’t tried cheesecake before. I love it. I might get addicted to it.” Milan fed Rory a second bite and grinned when Rory leaned in to kiss him, sharing the taste of vanilla cheesecake. “You’d better be addicted to me first,” Rory teased, ending their kiss. ‘By the way, you’re hiding from me,’ Rory told him. ‘I’m sitting right next to you.’ Milan countered, taking another bite of cheesecake and holding it out to Rory. ‘I’m even letting you eat my cheesecake.’ ‘You know what I mean,’ Rory took the fork from him, and pulled the plate closer to his side. He took a huge bite of the cheesecake, and smiled at Milan. ‘Rory, you thief.’ Rory chuckled and fed Milan the next bite, making sure to make a mess of it. He leaned in and licked Milan’s chin and the corner of his lips, making Milan chuckle. ‘Cheesecake or Milan,’ Rory mused, pushing the empty plate aside. ‘I definitely prefer Milan.’ Milan rubbed Rory’s clean-shaven chin, charmed. The music changed, turning lively. There was a dance floor near the band. Milan watched as people moved to dance. “Let’s dance,” Milan suggested, getting up. He held out his hand to Rory. “Come on.” “Don’t want to talk anymore?” Rory asked, removing his jacket. He placed it on the back of his chair, allowing Milan to lead him to the dance floor. “Dancing is a way of talking too,” Milan said, when they reached the dance floor. Holding Rory’s hand, he swayed to the music. When Rory crowded behind him, and moved with him, he grinned because he wasn’t an expert at dancing, but it felt good to move to the beat with Rory. Rory touched him: his waist, his hips, up his arms, pressing little kisses on his neck setting him afire. The dancers around them turned into a blur, the music the only thing that filtered through. Beat after beat, he moved with Rory, until Milan turned to face Rory. A soft breath escaped when Rory pulled him in tight, their faces inches apart. Milan forgot the world. Rory’s blue eyes the only thing that mattered here and now. Milan rose up on his tiptoes, and closed the small distance between them, kissing Rory in the middle of a dance floor. Lost in the heat of the kiss, in Rory’s arms wrapping around him. He drew back when whistles and claps broke through. Heat suffused his cheeks as he realized they had an audience. Rory grinned, happy, and kept holding Milan when he tried to step back. Milan groaned and pressed his face into Rory’s chest. ‘You weren’t so shy a minute ago,’ Rory teased when they moved away from the dance floor, heading back to their table. ‘I don’t know what came over me,’ Milan sighed, rubbing his hot cheeks. ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ “I’m glad you did,” Rory said, sitting down in his chair. Milan excused himself to go to the bathroom. His face felt overheated and he needed to use the toilet. Milan finished peeing and moved to wash his hands at the sink. Staring at his face in the mirror, he bent over and splashed cold water on his face. When he looked in the mirror again, it was to see his brown eyes turned gold. He felt buzzed and hot, extra hot. Dancing with Rory did that to him. Having Rory’s hands on him set him on ablaze. Leaning over to splash more water on his face, Milan turned off the tap and straightened up. “It’s not the first time he’s touched you,” Milan said to the unfamiliar gold eyes he was starting to love. ‘There was the cave. You liked it.’ His cheeks burned thinking of that day at the cave. At the time, he had been so worried that his newfound connection with Rory was in danger. Then Rory brought him to the edge, and those thoughts disappeared. The ecstasy in that moment, Milan bit his bottom lip, remembering it to detail. He was hard, just thinking of it. He wanted more, and didn’t know how to ask for it. Milan wondered whether it was the same for everyone. Having Rory close made him want to rip all of Rory’s clothes off and explore to his heart’s content. That need so deep, he felt crazy with it. ‘If you come out here, we can get out of this restaurant and I’ll let you do that,’ Rory’s sexy voice filled his head, fueling the consuming need to fling himself into Rory’s arms. ‘Milan.’ The door to the bathroom opened and Milan sucked in needed air, hating the intrusion. He hurried out of the bathroom to avoid the very interested newcomer’s gaze. Back at their table, Rory stood watching him. Blue eyes shimmered with gold and Milan’s steps slowed at the answering fire in his blood. This night was no longer about a simple date. He saw it now. Rory took Milan’s jacket, and met him, taking Milan’s hand. Milan closed his fingers around a hot palm, feeling as though he clung to a live wire. Rory led him out of the restaurant and to their car in silence. Rory unlocked the doors, and opened the passenger door for Milan. When Milan started to go around him, Rory had other ideas. Pressing Milan against the car, dropping Milan’s jacket on his seat, he took Milan’s lips, kissing him hard, a beast starved. Milan clung to Rory, reaching up to wrap his arms around Rory’s shoulders. Rory used it as leverage lifting Milan, taking more, drowning Milan in their shared desire. *** Their true first time turned into an education. There was no elegance in their coming together, instead a mish-mash of sensation, a learning. Nips and caresses on soft skin, tickles, and squeezes, stubbed toes, torn zippers on jeans, and a band t-shirt with a ripped sleeve. They fell on their bed, pushing all the covers to the floor. Milan slid his palms over Rory’s hard stomach, tracing contoured muscles, trailing soft hair down, lower, to treasure. Rory’s hiss of pleasure when Milan took his length in his palms. Strong and powerful, holding Rory’s thick length was awkward at fast, but then it got familiar, obsessive especially when Rory went mad with pleasure. Milan could not forget the feel of Rory’s fingers gripping his hair when Milan decided to taste Rory. His shout of surprise when Milan sucked him and the tremble of Rory’s body when he came. Hours later, both of them slicked in sweat, Rory slid inside him, feeling too large, too much, Milan’s fingers dug into Rory’s arms. Pain bloomed amid the pleasure, Rory held him still when he would have moved. Milan closed his eyes, and fell into the depths of Rory’s love. Their bond snapped in place, a full vibrant color that shot through Milan’s very being, with no barrier left. Rory’s pleasure flooded him, pushing the pain aside, Milan gasped and met Rory’s gaze as Rory surged into him. Once, twice, countless times, heat building, burning. Milan accepted Rory’s open kiss, coming apart at the seams the deeper Rory took him. They turned into one, and when Milan couldn’t take anymore, he exploded with a cry, spilling between them. Rory kept going, hungry for Milan, taking what he had wanted for so long. Milan met his every touch, his every kiss, with his own, until they were both immersed in each other, thoroughly and completely. *** Morning came, bringing with it the sun through the windows with no curtains. Rory turned his head away, to find Milan tucked into his side, face buried into his shoulder. His soft breath brushed against Rory’s skin. Milan had flung a possessive arm over Rory’s chest, his thigh riding high on Rory’s right leg. The sheet Rory had found at around four in the morning tangled around them. Rory smiled, brushing his fingers through Milan’s hair so that he could see his mate’s face. Reaching for his phone on his side of the bed, Rory snapped a picture of them, and saved it as his wallpaper. Milan’s phone already had a picture of them at the green house holding their strawberry plant. Returning his phone to the bedside table, Rory was content to watch Milan sleep. He knew the exact moment that Milan woke up. Brown eyes with a mix of gold seeking him out, Milan’s arm tightening on him when he saw him. “Morning.” Milan blushed, a marvel after all they had done to each other last night. He buried his face into Rory’s shoulder. “Morning,” Milan said, his voice sexy low, it sent thrills through Rory. “You stayed today.” “No snow,” Rory said. “Plus, it’s a Saturday and the sun is out. It will be a warm day.” “I love sunny days,” Milan said, eyes closed, not moving from his comfortable position. Rory shifted, wanting to hold Milan. He pulled him into his arms, adjusting the sheet around them so that he could move his thigh between Milan’s, wanting more skin contact. Milan rubbed his legs against his, and yawned. “I wanna sleep some more,” Milan murmured. Red marks clear on his neck down to his shoulder, and the bite mark Rory gave him when turning him. It had not faded, remaining to show everyone that Milan was claimed. Rory traced the fading red marks, making Milan lean into him. “Sleep, Baby.” They spent the morning in bed. Milan slept, Rory read the One Piece manga Milan was reading, careful to keep Milan’s place marked with a bookmark. At ten o’clock, Milan woke up. Wide awake he sat up, kissed Rory with wild abandon, then rushed to the bathroom. Rory sat up with a laugh, marking his own place in Milan’s book. He placed it on the table on Milan’s side of the bed. Arranging their pillows, Rory paused when he found Milan’s leather drawing book hidden under the pillows again. Milan flushed the toilet in the bathroom, and Rory heard him open the shower stall door. Rory took Milan’s diary, curious about what Milan was drawing now. A pencil marked the last drawing Milan made, and it was a fantasy drawing of the pack house. Milan had given it a life of its own, turning it mystical and wondrous, with vines growing around it. “Do you like it?” Rory looked up to find Milan watching him from the bathroom door “It’s beautiful,” Rory said. “All your drawings are.” “You’ve been sneaking a look,” Milan stated, his tone matter of fact. Rory knew Milan would have discovered it through their bond. There were no secrets between them now. “To read your thoughts,” Rory said, closing the diary and returning it to its hiding place. “You put what you’re thinking about most in this one.” Milan studied him for a moment, and Rory waited for a scolding for the snooping. “Wanna take a shower with me?” Milan asked, and then entered the bathroom without waiting for an answer. Rory got out of bed fast, running after Milan. He wished they could laze around in bed all day, but they needed to get ready for the town meeting. He couldn’t wait to finish the troubles with Rick, so that he and Milan could have more time. That’s all he wanted, more and more time. ****
  3. 72 points
    “Guys, guys, gimmie a break.” CJ’s plea silenced the barrage of questions assaulting him. “I just told you everything I know. Sorry, Thiago, but I think Ozzie and I need to get to my parents. I’ll call you as soon as we know more. We’ll do this again whenever you have time.” “Fuck you, homes. You’re nuts if you think I’m going home now. I’m coming with. I’ll call my mom and let her know what’s happening.” CJ’s sad half-smile conveyed satisfaction. The Squad hung together in good and bad times, and always had each other’s backs. “Fine, you call your parents.” Channeling his fathers’ lessons, he started planning the way César did and issuing orders as Brett would. “Tank, you let Danno and Trip know in case my dads haven’t called them. Ozzie, get us an Uber. Harley, text the rest of the gang so they know what’s going on.” Nobody objected to the demanding tone and absence of please. This was an emergency and they were ready to follow their leader without objection. The short ride to Georgetown had all four men focused on their phones as messages streamed in; Carson said he would meet them at the house after he dropped off his date. Kim, Harley’s girlfriend, sent her regards and promised prayers for the injured soldier. Patrick told them he was on his way to his mother’s house. CJ rushed to the front door while Owen, Harley, and Thiago followed a step behind. Adrenaline coursed through his bloodstream; his fingers were unable to follow brain commands. He input the wrong code on the lock twice, then fumbled and dropped the keys while trying to open it the old-fashioned way. Frustrated, he resorted to banging on it with his palm. “Shhh.” Brett held a finger to his lips as he threw the door open. “Tom’s talking to his ex-wife.” “…because he didn’t want you to hear it from a stranger, Hilary. Yes, I knew he had me as the emergency contact, and I promised I wouldn’t tell you. I also promised if something happened, I’d call you, and let you know whatever I heard.” Tom Kennedy sat on the couch facing the floor-to-ceiling front windows, but his arms and legs were in constant motion. Tapping heel-to-toe on the floor, he repeatedly ran a hand over his shaved head, while the other one held the phone. “That was CJ banging on the front door. He was out to dinner and one of his dads called him.” Tom waved at the newcomers with a grim expression. “Jesus, Hilary, how many times I have to tell you I know nothing else?” Tom took a long pull from the beer bottle on the coffee table. “Look, sorry I sound upset, but I am upset. I’m freaking out as much as you are.” CJ hugged JP, and after Owen, Harley, and Thiago dropped the food on the kitchen counter, they repeated the greeting. “Hilary! The man who called me wouldn’t even tell me where he was calling from. He said Brad was alive and being flown to Germany. He said there were casualties. His unit’s on blackout until the relatives of the dead service members are notified. None of his fellow soldiers are gonna call us no matter what Brad may have told you. But the man promised someone at Landstuhl would get in touch as soon as our boy got to the medical center.” The early-spring evening was cool and windows were open. Hands inside his hoodie’s pockets, CJ gave himself half a hug. He did not know if the chill he felt was due to weather or circumstances. When he heard the rumble of a motorcycle, he assumed it was Dragon since Harley was already with them. He motioned for one of the other guys to open the back door. Devon Marvin Jefferson, an African-America DC native, belonged to the fathers’ group of friends calling themselves The Elite. The tall, muscular man graduated from Howard University’s School of Social Work and was employed by the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Services agency. César and Brett had relied on his advice to help their son deal with his exile from Miami, and later with Ritchie after the boy lost both parents in a boating incident. The conversations between CJ and Dragon forged a special bond between them; the younger man often called on the older one when facing challenges. “Hey, Dragon.” Owen raised the bottle in his hand. “Want a beer?” “Yeah, I have a feeling I’m going to need a couple of them before the night’s over.” “That was a motorcycle engine. I’m guessing it’s our friend Dragon. All the other bikers are already here.” Tom did not bother to look at the new arrival; his eyes remained firmly affixed to a spot on the floor. “Okay, I’m not sure what else I can tell you. Of course I’ll call if I hear anything. No matter what time.” The call finished, Tom stood and gave everyone a sad smile. “You guys could have finished your meal, you know? Not much we can do.” CJ had not seen the police officer look so haggard since he was shot years before. That was a weekend CJ did not want to relive. “Right! As if… Not a chance I could have eaten.” CJ wrapped his arms around the taller man and held him while Tom began to sob. If the red-rimmed eyes were an indication, this was not the night’s first bout of tears. “Okay, what are we doing? Has anyone checked flights to Germany yet? Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s right next to Ramstein Air Base where I used to live. We need to fly to Frankfurt and—” “CJ!” César’s shout made him stop talking. “Slow down, buddy. Why don’t you join the other guys and eat whatever you brought home?” “Your dad’s right.” Tom clasped his shoulder and gave him a friendly shake. “You should eat. Anyway, there’s no reason to go flying off to Germany until we know more.” “Bullshit! I’m not letting Brad be in a hospital by himself. Not when we can be there.” He turned around and stared at his friends sitting at the breakfast bar. “Harley! You’re better at this shit than any of us. Get online and find me flights from Washington to Frankfurt.” “Dude, slow your roll.” Brett grasped CJ’s arm and turned him around so they could look at each other. “The Pentagon has military-wide standards they’ll follow. There’s no need to go flying off halfway around the world until we know more.” César approached them and the two fathers bracketed their son. “You have school to worry about anyway. It’s not like you can just up and leave. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but—” CJ shook free of Brett and took a step away from his fathers. “What I’m thinking is my brother’s hurt, and I’m going to see him. The same I’d do for Ritchie. Or for Ozzie. Or for any of you.” CJ’s tone kept rising. He recognized his growing anxiety and sought to calm himself with regular, deep breaths. “And screw classes. If I managed to survive missing a shitload of them for a stupid election, I’ll manage this. They can all flunk me for all I care. I’ll take them over next semester.” “CJ, that was your first semester in school. And you had the support of higher-ups. This is different.” “Damn right it’s different. This isn’t fucking Clinton. This is Brad!” “Here, I poured you a glass.” CJ was so caught up arguing with his parents he failed to notice Owen approach. “César, Brett, please give us a minute alone.” “Thank you.” CJ sipped his wine, trying not to guzzle it down. He realized he was overexcited and needed to calm down. These were the times he missed pot. “Sorry I’ve been ignoring you.” “You haven’t. But I think you need to chill.” Owen leaned in and gave his husband a kiss. “I don’t know why the dads bother to argue with you. By now, they should realize they can’t win. Remind me never to become so overprotective with our kids.” CJ chuckled. Owen definitely knew how to improve his moods. “Nah, we’ll be even cooler dads than those two.” “I’ll hold you to that. Now, you do realize the trip may not accomplish much. At most, I see it giving you a little peace of mind. And helping Brad realize he’s not alone at a—“ The ringing made everyone turn and stare at the coffee table where Tom had left his phone. It took a fraction of a second for him to snatch it up and answer without looking at the screen. “Hello?” After a moment listening, Tom’s shoulders dropped, he sighed, and reclaimed his seat. “It’s Patrick,” he announced to the room. Owen steered CJ back toward his fathers and the others. “Dads, stop arguing with him. CJ’s made up his mind. No matter what anyone says, he’s going to Germany. Let’s work on this together. Harley, what do you have?” “Bruh, there’s a gazillion flights. Looks like the most popular ones leave here in the afternoon and land in Germany the following morning. About eight hours flying and a six-hour time difference. I checked for you; you don’t need a visa. You have to pick an airline, though.” “Don’t listen to what any of them say. You do what feels right to you. Even if my dad fights you on it. Hell, I’d be going too, but I think I need to stick around here. I’m headed over to Mom and Mac’s place and I think I’ll stay there until things settle down.” Patrick asked to speak with CJ after his dad finished filling him in on what he knew; Hilary was hysterical when she spoke to her youngest son, and her husband suggested Patrick call his dad for details. CJ studied the faces of the men staring at him after ending the call and focused on Dragon. “What do you think? Preach says I should go for it.” The carefully worded reply was typical of the tall man’s approach to conflict resolution. “I agree with your fathers and Tom you may not accomplish much by flying to Germany. However, the importance of seeing for yourself how Bradley is can’t be discounted.” Although he spoke to CJ, everyone else paid rapt attention. “Often, bringing a sense of peace to those affected is as much a priority as healing the wounded. That includes physical and mental wounds. You should do what you feel’s right.” Dragon echoing the words of the injured soldier’s brother brought a smile to CJ’s face. “And let’s face it, you may not solve anything, but I doubt very much you’ll do any harm. If Brad’s conscious, the presence of someone dear to him may just improve his chances of recovery.” With Owen’s calm demeanor paving the way, they reached an agreement soon after Patrick’s call: CJ and Tom would fly to Germany the next day. CJ admitted he was spoiled, wanted to fly business class, and knew last-minute tickets were expensive. Tom balked at the cost, but César and Brett talked him into letting them pay for the flights as their contribution to the effort. They pointed out Tom would benefit from the added comfort during the long flight, and did not want him to feel pressure about flying anything other than coach. Harley made the reservations using César’s credit card. Prior to their departure, Tom received two more phone calls, so they had a better idea what to expect upon arrival. Once on the ground in Frankfurt, CJ insisted on driving the rental car, claiming his knowledge of German would help reading street signs. It was a flimsy excuse, but he felt Tom was still too distraught to be behind the wheel. At the hospital, the liaison officer assigned to them explained Brad was in surgery again. “He won’t be out for a couple of hours, Mr. Kennedy. You mentioned you’d driven straight here from the airport. May I suggest you go to your hotel, rest and freshen up, and then return? I’ll arrange to have the orthopedic surgeon and your son’s primary physician available to speak with you then.” CJ remained quiet while Captain Israel Menendez gave them an abbreviated report on Brad. He was experiencing déjà vu about dealing with similar conversations after Brett was injured in a helicopter crash. “Excuse me, Captain. We were unsure what to expect and didn’t bother making hotel reservations. Could you suggest a place?” “I’ll do one better.” The man reached into his desk’s top drawer and retrieved a piece of paper he placed in front of the two visitors. “This is a list of lodging close by. If you pick one, I’ll call and book rooms for you. All these cater to American visitors to the hospital and the base.” “How about the closest one?” Tom glanced at CJ who nodded. It was an easy walk since they only had overnight bags with them. After checking in, they agreed to meet later, once they had cleaned up and changed. Uncertain about what to expect back at the hospital, the two men stopped to eat. When they returned a couple of hours later, Brad was out of the operating room and in recovery. “I can’t discuss the nature of the mission Sergeant Kennedy was involved in at the time of his injury. It’s classified. What I’m allowed to tell you is that when the vehicle hit the improvised explosive device, your son was driving. The man in the passenger seat perished, but the other occupants survived.” The medical explanations did not register in their entirety with CJ. The physicians discussed recovery period, transfer to a stateside facility, and the very likely possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder. They all assured Tom and CJ the military would do its part, but the best medicine would be having a strong support system. CJ almost laughed, thinking how his friend would be smothered with attention by The Squad and others. “Did anyone else survive?” Brad‘s groggy first words were hard to understand, and CJ marveled they were about his companions. The nurse warned them about the sedative in the saline-drip feed. “Hello, son.” Tom sat next to the bed and held one of Brad’s hands. “Yes, they did. There were casualties when the IED went off, and during the firefight afterward, but most of your unit survived. How do you feel? Are you in pain?” “No… I don’t know… Guess I’m okay.” Brad did not seem surprised Tom was at his side but he blinked twice when he saw the other visitor standing at the foot of the bed. His gaze rested on him before settling on his own lower body. “CJ...” The pause stretched as he stared at the foot of the bed. “Did I lose both?” The detached way he asked was otherworldly. CJ could not decide if his friend was that cool, or if his demeanor was the result of the narcotics coursing through his blood. He decided to avoid discussing the soldier’s lower limbs for the time being. “Damn, Red, you didn’t have to go to all this shit just to get you some attention.” The comment was in line with what CJ had seen his father do; Brett was a master at using humor to defuse tension. “Asshole…” Brad’s twitching lips formed something akin to a smile. His retort earned him lopsided grins from his visitors. “Am I gonna walk again?” There was neither hesitation nor delay in CJ’s response. “Fuck, yeah! Damn right you’re gonna walk again, bud. And run. And jump. And anything else you want to do.” The remainder of the conversation was short; Brad fell asleep. Prior to dozing off, he seemed to smile again when CJ promised him the best pair of store-bought legs money could buy. Both had been amputated below the knee. The early spring sun was below the horizon when Brad awoke next. The summons from a nurse interrupted CJ and Tom’s reading; they trudged back to the intensive care unit together. “Hi, Dad. Hi, CJ.” Brad sounded much more alert than before. “Sorry I passed out.” “Don’t be silly, son.” Tom ran a hand over his son’s messy red hair. “You need a haircut. Feel any better?” “I’m not sure… Where am I?” “Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, right by Ramstein Air Base, my old stomping grounds.” CJ patted his friend on the shoulder hoping there were no wounds beneath the gown; bandages abounded all over the man’s body. “You sound much more alert.” “Yeah… The nurse told me they didn’t add painkillers to the IV when they changed the bag.” He pointed at a small contraption by his hand. “I think he said to push the button if I feel pain.” “Morphine?” “I have no idea. But he said it would knock me out. Right now, my right foot hurts like a bitch and I think I need to push it.” He did, and as predicted, was asleep soon after. Over the next couple of days, as Brad’s condition slowly improved, CJ felt like a journalist filing reports with their newspaper or station. Following each interaction with his friend, he would share information with those waiting back in the United States via e-mail. He and Tom spent most of their time at the medical center, unwilling to venture far in case Brad woke up. In fits and starts, during each lucid period, Brad recounted what he remembered. CJ shared comments from their friends back home, and Tom video called Hilary at least twice a day so she could see their son was improving. “The prognosis is actually very good.” The young doctor spoke to CJ and Tom after Brad had once again fallen asleep following the most recent examination. “The legs are gone. Phantom pain will be an issue, but his other injuries will leave only a few scars. The burns to his right side are minor. There’s no need for skin grafts. No sign of infection in the abdominal cavity and x-rays show all shrapnel was removed.” “I promised him bionic legs and the ability to walk.” CJ’s comment earned him a smile from the physician. “Was I wrong?” “Not sure about the bionic legs part. Who knows what Veteran Affairs pays for these—” “Money will never be an issue.” CJ raised a hand to silence Tom when he made to speak. “I’ll make sure of that.” The Army doctor seemed surprised but shrugged her shoulders. “In that case, it’ll be up to him. Depending on how hard he’s willing to work, he could take his first steps on prosthetics in a few months. But I’m warning you, it won’t be easy. Physical therapy will be excruciating. And his mental attitude will guide his progress. Too many of our wounded warriors lose the recovery battle when they find themselves struggling alone.” “Ha! Not a chance that’ll happen. Brad has an entire squad back home ready to push and help.” An exhausted CJ made it to classes on Thursday. After spending three days with Brad, he returned to Washington while Tom remained behind. In Germany, they learned the average stay at LRMC was under a week. The older Kennedy would come home on the same C-17 cargo plane returning his son to the United States.
  4. 68 points
    *** NOAH *** A loud noise wakes me up suddenly. “Sorry, sorry, go back to sleep, I’ll be quiet,” Jordan says hovering over the bed. “What time is it?” I ask looking for the clock. “Five in the morning.” “What are you doing up so early?” A lot has changed in our lives, but one thing hasn’t — Jordan never gets up this early. Usually I get up first and then I start the long process of waking up Jordan. It’s basically our daily morning routine! He had a phase, after our break up years ago, where he was getting up early. I was so happy! It didn’t last long. “I couldn’t sleep,” Jordan replies. “I only fell asleep a few hours ago,” I say with a yawn. “I know. Go back to bed, we still have lots of time.” I didn’t get that much sleep last night. That is all Jordan’s fault. We were up quite late last night. No, not because of that. It’s usually because of that. But last night we stayed up late talking. Both of us are a bit anxious, but mostly excited. Today is a big day. “It’s okay, I’m getting up. I still have to iron my clothes, shower, and shave.” “I’ve already taken out your clothes and ironed them.” “You what?” I say sitting up. “I ironed them. I put them right over there. Don’t act so surprised.” I am surprised. This is a big deal. “In all the years we’ve been together, not once have you ever ironed my clothes.” “I’m sure I have at least once,” he replies. “Maybe in a dream you did once.” “Well, you’re welcome.” I can tell he is excited too. This is a momentous day for us. We’ve talked about it, scrutinized over every detail for months. Now the day is finally here. We’re standing at the threshold. Once we take this step our bond will be even stronger. I get out of bed and walk over towards Jordan. He is furiously looking through a drawer trying to find something. He doesn’t even notice I’m behind him. When I wrap my arms around his torso, he jumps just a bit. I press my chest against his back. “It’s all going to be okay, don’t worry.” “I know,” he says placing his hand on top of mine. “It’s just ... we’ve been planning this for so long now and it’s finally happening … I just don’t want anything to go wrong. Say if I don’t —” I cut him off. “Everything will be fine. Since when do you worry about these things? That’s my job, remember?” Jordan is always so calm. It’s sort of touching to see him so vulnerable. “I’m not worried. I have you. I’ll be okay.” This has been one incredible journey. It’s been filled mostly with moments of joy, but also some challenges too. I know I couldn’t have done it without Jordan. He has been my rock all these years. He never once let me fall. He was there when I graduated, and when I started my master’s degree in history. He supported me when I decided to go to teacher’s college. I still remember walking with him on my first day to work. I was extremely nervous. I didn’t know what to expect teaching history to a bunch of high school students. I was petrified that I would say something dumb, or do something stupid. But Jordan kept me calm the entire way there. He kept telling jokes, making me laugh. He told me he had faith in me, and knew I would be a fantastic teacher. It was just what I needed to hear. At first, when I started teaching, I wasn’t sure if I should hide my sexuality from my students and the other teachers. For one, it’s not everyone’s business (straight people don’t go around proclaiming their straight), and two, I didn’t know how it would go over with the school or parents. Eventually, if a colleague asked, I would tell them. I didn’t see a need to hide who I am. But I’ve generally been a bit more reserved with my students. I’m proud to say I’ve also been there for Jordan, supporting him through both the wonderful and difficult times. Unfortunately, not everyone on Jordan’s volleyball team was all that supportive of him at first. He could tell some people didn’t feel comfortable around him in the locker rooms. No one said anything to his face, and Jordan said he was okay, but I know it affected him. This was his team. He poured his heart and soul into it. Then some of the other teams in the province found out about Jordan’s sexuality. That’s when things got really ugly. I was at one of his games when an opposing player started to taunt Jordan for being gay. What he said was extremely vulgar and offensive. I was furious. I wanted to beat the shit out of him. I’m positive the referee heard (I was sitting in the stands and I could hear!), but he pretended like he didn’t. As for Jordan, I thought he was going to explode. But he didn’t even flinch. He just walked away. Liam though, bless his soul, made a scene. He would not let it go. Even though it was an awful moment, what happened next was amazing. Jordan’s team rallied behind him. Even the people who were initially reluctant came to Jordan’s defence. An attack on one was seen as an attack on all. I could tell in that moment Jordan was really proud of his teammates. Was everything perfect after that? No. Far from it. There were still issues here and there. But the situation improved a fair bit. Then a few weeks later something unexpected happened. Chris, the team captain, was expelled from school for plagiarism. Turns out, he did it a lot! Liam nominated Jordan to be the new captain. Jordan was adamant he wouldn’t win. He was sure some people on the team still weren’t too thrilled he was even there. But he did, and by a wide margin. In the end, Jordan was a remarkable captain. He mentored the younger players, really boosted everyone’s confidence and morale. I’m so glad he got the opportunity. And to think he almost didn’t because of my own insecurities. In his final year Jordan decided not to join the team because of school. He wanted to focus all of his attention on getting into medical school. He did still practice with them. He stayed on more in a mentorship role. As for the year he was captain, how did they do in the end? I’d love to say they won the provincial championship, but they didn’t. They came very close though. They lost in the semi-finals. There was one silver lining though. In the quarter-finals they were up against that team with the homophobic player. I could see the joy on Jordan’s face as his team annihilated them. The minute the whistle blew, Jordan grabbed my hand, pulled me onto the court, and planted a big kiss on my lips. It was simply electric! And a giant fuck you to everyone who gave him shit for being gay. But, of course, not everyone was happy about that moment. Someone complained about our public display of affection. The coach responded they can go fuck themselves. He pointed out that no one complained about the straight players kissing their girlfriends. Hypocrites. That’s just one example of some of the bigotry and hate that we’ve faced as a gay couple over the years. But that said, I should point out that overall, the vast majority of people have accepted us. Being gay in this city has not really been a huge issue. Yes, there have been moments, and sometimes you have to be careful where you are, but I’ve generally never felt unwanted or unsafe. We truly are blessed to live in such a great city and a great country. Now, as I was saying earlier, we’ve had lots to celebrate too. I was there for Jordan when he graduated. And I was also there the day he got his acceptance letter for medical school. He was too nervous to open the envelope, so he asked me. I still remember the way his eyes lit up when I screamed that he got in! I was so proud of him in that moment. And I showed him just how much as we celebrated that night. Hands down, probably some of the best sex we’ve ever had. Jordan was on fire! I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to walk properly the next day (I was fine). The weeks leading up to that day were nerve wracking. Jordan is always so calm and collected, but I could tell he was stressed out. It was his dream to become a doctor, and he didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t get in. I’m glad we didn’t have to cross that bridge in the end. That said, things really changed for us after that. Medical school was extremely difficult. Jordan was continuously swamped with work. Some days I barely saw the guy! And if that wasn’t bad enough, Jordan continued to work part-time! I told him to quit. I told him I’d work more (his first year of medical school, I was in teacher’s college). I started to tutor more kids at night. That year, to cut down on costs, we decided to share a two-bedroom place with Jenn. That was an interesting year, to say the least, especially because Jenn was no longer single. The year after, when I started teaching, we were able to get a place on our own again. But during that time Jordan continued to work. I don’t blame him. Paying for a master’s degree, then teacher’s college, then medical school, has not been easy. We are in A LOT of debt! But it’s okay. Not once have we ever fought about money, which is a relief! And we both got to follow our dreams. Eventually Jordan will make a lot of money. That’s what I’m banking on! (Kidding, of course). Now, I’d love to say it’s almost over, that Jordan is almost done. Nope. He just finished his medical program. In a few weeks he starts his residency at a nearby hospital. He also wants to specialize in paediatrics, so that will add on a few more years. Even though he won’t be making much, at least now he will have an income. That will help. I was also waiting for this moment before I returned to school. Because I’m an idiot I’ve decided to go back part-time to start working on my PhD. So yeah, it’s not over yet for either of us! “Where is Jenn?” I ask Jordan as we wait by the door. Evan, our loyal companion, is sitting beside us. He thinks he’s coming too. Not today, buddy. “She texted me. As usual, she’s running late. She’ll be here in a few minutes.” Then there is Jenn. She hasn’t changed a bit. Not one bit. I’m not surprised she’s running late. After she graduated, she took a year off, then went back to school as well to get her master’s degree in journalism (she now works as a reporter). That was the year we all lived together. Why was it interesting? Well, for one it is Jenn. I have to say though that she always respected our privacy. At first, I was wary of having sex with Jordan when she was at home, but I got over that pretty quickly! I can’t share a bed with Jordan and not fool around with him. It’s practically impossible! Besides, Jenn started dating too soon after. At first, I think they were going to try to hide it from us. A claim they vehemently deny. But I don’t buy it. All four of us were hanging out at our place one night. Jordan and I were both exhausted so we went to bed early. The next day I got up earlier than usual. I was hungry, so decided to make myself some tea. And who do I see exit Jenn’s bedroom? A very shirtless Aiden followed by Jenn (in the heat of the moment the other night he forgot his shirt in the family room). They both froze when they saw me. I broke into a smile (I bet Jordan the two would hook up within the first month, and I was right). Jenn says they were going to tell us, but then why was Aiden sneaking off so early? Yeah. I thought so. After Aiden finished school, he moved back to Canada from Australia. He originally went to Montreal for a bit, but then moved down here. They hooked up like two weeks later. It was so obvious they liked each other. I don’t know why they were pretending! So, yeah, that led to an interesting year! Aiden was over all the time. Jordan, naturally, was thrilled. So was I. I really do like Aiden, and I think the two of them are really perfect together. Thankfully, Aiden and Jenn spent most nights at his place, so Jordan and I were spared from hearing what those two did in bed together. After that year, Jordan and I moved out, and Jenn and Aiden got a place together. Last year, they made it official. They had a huge wedding in Halifax, Jenn’s hometown. Jordan was Aiden’s best man, and I was Jenn’s ‘maid of honour’ (she insisted on calling me that, and I didn’t really care). As one could imagine, Jenn was a total bridezilla. There were moments that I … yeah … but I still love her. “Did you get all the stuff we need?” Jordan asks as we step outside the apartment. “Yep, I have everything.” “Including the documents? We’ll need those —” “Jordan,” I say cutting him off. “I have everything, trust me.” “Okay,” he says. Jenn is there waiting in her shiny new car. We don’t own a vehicle. We’ve been saving for today. Plus, you can’t really buy expensive things when your partner has huge student loans. Besides we don’t even really need a car. We’re still living in the city, though not right in downtown. We moved a bit further out. This place is closer to my work and not too far from the hospital. At one point in time though, it seemed like he would have to leave this city, or live apart for a while. At first, Jordan was offered a residency in Montreal. The transfer would have been easy for him because he’s fluent in French, but it would have been a problem for me. For one, I start school here in September, though I would have deferred. Two, my French sucks. I’ve taken some French classes along the way, and I can speak a bit, but not enough to teach. There are English-speaking schools, but not as many jobs. In the end though, we didn’t have to move. Jordan got a placement here as well. I’m glad we stayed. This is our city. It’s where we found each other, and found ourselves. It’s where we fell in love. Toronto is home. It always will be. “Aiden just texted me,” Jenn says. “They just left. Should be there soon.” Aiden is bringing Jordan’s mom. She came to Toronto a few days ago. There was no way she was going to miss today! And there was no way we were going to do this without her! She’s honestly been amazing. She is one of our strongest supporters. She’s gone out of her way over the past few years to make me feel like I’m part of her family. Honestly, her warmth and compassion know no bounds. I couldn’t have asked for a better mother-in-law. I know why Jordan’s mom has moved mountains to be there for us. Obviously, she loves her son and me (I joke with Jordan sometimes that she loves me more than him). But it’s not just that. She’s really tried her best to fill that void left in my heart, and my life, by my own mother. In the end, my mom didn’t call. I hate to say this, but she’s not part of my life anymore, though it’s not as bad as it was before. Overall, I’m okay with that. I’ve moved on. I’ve accepted reality. But I would be lying if I said I was completely over her rejection. Part of me hates that I no longer have a relationship with someone who I was once extremely close to. I’ll see an interesting recipe online, and right away, instantly, I’ll think about my mom. To this day, I’ll be in the kitchen experimenting, making some crazy concoction, and I’ll want to call her and tell her how it turned out. I miss not being able to just sit down and talk like we used to. I know this sounds crazy, but to this day I still love her. It’s odd even after all this time … after all we’ve been through … part of me still cares for her, and always will. And I’m okay with that. I’d rather my heart be filled with love, as opposed to hatred. All of this hasn’t just been hard on me, but on my family as well, especially my dad. He has lived up to his promise. It’s been remarkable to see his transition. He is one of our biggest champions now. He even went to the Vancouver Pride parade one year! Once he saw how happy I am, and got to know Jordan (he really loves Jordan), the fact that his son is gay wasn’t an issue anymore. Without a doubt, I know he is extremely proud of both of us. He supported my career choice. He was fully behind my decision to go to teacher’s college. He loves the fact that Jordan is becoming a doctor. My dad talks about us all the time to his friends, his family, even my mom’s family. That though has been problematic. My mom’s family is full of bigots. And my dad has fought with several of them several times. Once, to a family gathering, he wore a shirt that said something like ‘Proud of My Gay Sons’. My aunt was not amused. But as the host, she couldn’t ask him to leave or take it off. My dad can be a bit of a shit disturber at times. It’s one of his many qualities I love. My dad’s unyielding support though, initially led to a lot of problems between him and my mom. He tried to hide it at first, but the two were clearly fighting a lot. And I hated that. I hated that my sexuality was putting a strain on their relationship. They had a huge fight over whether I should be invited for Christmas that first year. My dad was adamant that I come home, but my mom was against the idea. She even threatened to leave the house if I was there. But then my siblings threatened to boycott if I didn’t go. I could tell the situation was spiraling out of control. I had to work hard to get everyone to calm down. In the end that year, Jordan and I went to Montreal instead. I know my dad, siblings and nephews and nieces were all upset. It was the first Christmas I spent away from home. The kids just couldn’t understand why Uncle Noah wasn’t there that year. It’s not that I didn’t want to see them. I did. But I didn’t want to share a meal or spend time with someone who despises me. Plus, I didn't want to leave Jordan’s mom alone. That didn’t feel right either. Jordan said it was okay if I went to Vancouver on my own, he wouldn’t mind. He’s been incredibly supportive when it comes to my family. But I told him there was no way in hell that was going to happen. I told him I was going to be where he was. For her part, Jordan’s mom said it was okay if both of us went to Vancouver. She said if it helped patch things up with my mom, she was all for it. That is what a mom is supposed to say! But it didn’t feel right leaving her alone. I wanted to spend time with the woman who supported us from day one. But after that, I could tell my family was on the verge of collapse. My dad and my siblings were really starting to resent my mom. I was afraid my parents were going to break up because of me. And I honestly didn’t want that. I didn’t want their marriage to end because of my sexuality. I decided I would do whatever it takes, put my own issues aside, my pride, to help my family stay together. My issue wasn’t how my mom would treat me. I was okay if she ignored me, or continued to spew hate. I knew I could handle that. I was not, though, going to subject Jordan to that crap. Not a chance in hell. All that said, there was only so much I could do. The rest had to come from her. Eventually, my mom came to the same realization. I learned from my sister that my mom understood that in order for us to stay together as a family, she would have to tolerate my lifestyle. I honestly hate that world ‘tolerate’. I don’t want to be tolerated I want to be accepted. But I know acceptance is a long way off with her, if ever. She clearly does not approve of my life, and has made it clear she will not encourage my behaviour. Still, even though she said she would tolerate me, she didn’t make it easy. The next Christmas, she didn’t object when my dad asked me to come home. He really wanted all of us to be together again for the holidays. I also wanted to go back, to see him, my siblings, and their kids. I hadn’t seen any of them in more than a year. I told my dad I’d do whatever he wanted me to do, so long as it didn’t cause him problems. In the end, Jordan and I spent Christmas Eve in Montreal (I also wasn’t going to ditch his mom), and then flew to Vancouver that afternoon. We got in quite late and went straight to the hotel. I know my dad wanted us to stay at his house, but we all knew that wouldn’t be a good idea. I told my siblings I would see them the next day at my dad’s brother’s place. We figured it would be best to meet in a neutral territory for the first time. But soon after we got in, around 11 o’clock at night, we heard a knock on the door. In his absent mind, Jordan figured it was someone from the hotel, and didn't bother putting on a shirt, and opened the door. Yes, we were about to, you know. Turns out it wasn’t hotel staff, but my father, brother and sister. They said they couldn’t wait. They missed me and wanted to see me that night. So, once the kids were in bed, they came. I was flabbergasted. It was so good to see them! I was about to cry. Thankfully, I had all my clothes on. It was also the first time they met Jordan in person. They probably saw more than they wanted to at first, well excluding my sister. My brother and dad looked away. Not her. She smiled! Pervert. The next day we all met again at my uncle’s place. The kids were ecstatic to see me, and I was just as ecstatic to see them! They were all confused why I wasn’t staying at grandpa’s house. That one was hard to explain. The one thing though that wasn’t difficult to explain was my relationship to Jordan. Much to the objections of my mom, both my siblings told them about my sexuality, and my partner. Naturally, they had a lot of questions at first, but now they totally understand. All of them took an instant likely to Uncle Jordan. He is a good guy, if I can say so myself. As for my dad’s family, everyone was amazing. They welcomed us with open arms, as I expected. But it wasn’t all positive. My mom pretended like I wasn’t even there. She’d leave the room if either Jordan or I were there. Was I surprised? No. Was I disappointed? Absolutely. A couple of times though I caught her looking my way, or looking at Jordan. So, what would I do? I'd put my hand on Jordan’s shoulder, or around his waist. Should I have antagonized her? Probably not. Did I feel bad? No. Eventually though, when I was alone, she approached me and said hello. Again, I was surprised. Because we were in company, I didn’t want to make a scene. So, I said hello. She asked how I was. I replied and asked her the same. She answered and then excused herself. That was it. Baby steps, I figured. I really had this urge to go introduce Jordan to my mom, just to piss her off. Even though Jordan said he’s love to see her reaction, he convinced me it was a bad idea, and it would only make matters worse. Unfortunately, he was right. Don’t get me wrong, Jordan is still a clown at heart, but he really has matured! We stayed in Vancouver a few days so I could show Jordan my hometown. I later learned from my sister that my dad wanted us to come to the house before we flew back to Toronto. My mom said I was welcome to come back, but Jordan was not. She could tolerate me, but not him. In her mind he is the one who corrupted me and tore me away from my family. She believes if it weren’t for Jordan, I wouldn’t be gay. And for that, she’ll never forgive him. Naturally, that pissed me off. But Jordan, sweet, sweet Jordan, was okay. He said it was fine if my mom never acknowledged him. If it meant there was peace in my family, he could live with that. He even said he would stay at the hotel, and that I should go. Again, I told him I was not going anywhere without him. I don’t know exactly what happened, if my mom changed her mind, or someone said something (I assume it is the latter), but the morning of our flight, my dad called and told us to get ready. He was picking us up and taking us to breakfast. It became painfully obvious right away where we were going. I told him it was a bad idea. I was not going to ditch Jordan. But he assured me Jordan was welcome too. And so, with a lot of trepidation, I stepped into my parents’ home. And there was my mom, sitting in the kitchen. She greeted us nicely. I wouldn’t say she was warm, but she wasn’t rude. And she acknowledged Jordan too. Again, no hug or hand shake, it was a bit icy, but it was something. Even though Jordan despises her (for good reason), he was polite and charming, as usual. I’m positive my brother or sister said something. Someone made some sort of threat. There is no way she changed her mind on her own. But neither of them would say. And I realized, for everyone’s sake, I should just let it be. Since then, I’ve only seen my mother on two other occasions. Both times she was polite. She even spoke a bit to Jordan. Again, it all felt a bit contrived, a bit formal. But it’s better than nothing. Sometimes it feels like some of the hatred in her heart if slowly, and I mean like the speed of a turtle slow, starting to melt away. I don’t expect her to ever call me, send me a gift, or anything like that. But we can at least now be in the same room together. She doesn’t cringe when she sees Jordan. That’s a start, I guess. That of course leads me back to today. Would it have been great if my mom was here today? Absolutely. Before I came out, I would have bet money she would be by my side on such a momentous occasion. The pain of her rejection has dulled over time, but it is amplified on days like today. But it’s honestly okay. Jordan and his unconditional love makes up for all of that. He loves me for who I am. And always will. What more can a guy ask for? Plus, my father, brother, sister and their children are all here. I’m not alone. I have my family. “Hey, Noah, did you forget this folder in the car?” Jenn asks as she locks up. Before I can even answer she flips it open and sees the paper inside. “Oh my God! Finally! This is so much better than I ever expected.” She starts to laugh. I look at Jordan. Oops. She knows. “Give me that,” I say to her. “That stays between us!” Jordan says to her. “But it’s so awesome! And so, so fitting for you. I’m so going to use your middle name. Jordan Juliet Young!” “And if you say it one more time, you’ll see what happens,” he says. “But I have to know — why did your parents choose Juliet as your middle name?” “They didn’t,” he sighs. “It’s supposed to be Julien,” Jordan says in a very sexy French accent. “It was my grandfather’s name. But somehow the ’n’ got mistaken for a ’t’ and it was printed that way on my birth certificate. And because my dad was lazy, he never changed it. So, it stayed as Juliet.” “It’s perfect,” Jenn says with a huge grin. She is going to enjoy this. “I’m going to call you two Romeo and Juliet from now on.” Jordan just glares at her. Poor guy. He’s never going to live this down. “You’ll always be my Romeo,” I lean in and whisper into his ear. And soon I’ll be able to call him by another name too. “Shall we?” Jordan asks extending his hand. “Absolutely.” I say placing my hand in his. “I love you, Jordan.” “I love you too, Noah.” “Yes, yes, the two of you are in love, we get in, great! Now let’s move! We’re on a schedule!” Oh, Jenn. ——— Fear, To be. Insecure, To want. Ashamed, To love. For too long, My truth Hidden, By guilt. My heart Caged, By misguided loyalty. My soul, Afraid of Rejection, Withered away, In the dark, Searching for Acceptance. Approval, I thought, Would set me free. It did. But not theirs. My own. Courage, To be. Audacious, To want. Willing, To love. Accepting My truth, Erased That guilt, Opened My heart, Unshackled My soul. In the dark, A piercing blue Guided me to Salvation; To you. In your eyes, I found myself. In your arms, I have no fear. By your side, I truly am free. Free to be, Free to want, Free to love. ————— The End.
  5. 65 points
    “Damn! You guys brought me a present? How’d you know I like the tall, skinny ones best? They always got long dicks and tight asses." The bouncer licked his lips as he appraised the subject of his admiration. “What’s your name sexy? I’m Jure.” The momentary shock left them all silent as Jure leered and a wide-eyed Harley fidgeted. Chipper was the first to crack. His laughter followed a fraction of a second later by CJ and Owen hanging on to each other while chortling. Ethan was the only one to retain his composure. He did snicker before slapping the bulky, bearded doorman. “Lay off, Jure. He’s off limits. With me and straight.” “Oh, hi.” The bouncer spared Ethan a cursory glance; a wink later, he at last paid attention to Harley’s license. He seemed intent on memorizing every scrap of information on it. “Didn’t notice you. I sort of got distracted.” He moistened his lips with his tongue once again, staring at a bewildered Harley. “I’m good at breaking in straight boys if you’re interested, baby.” Jure ran a hand down his torso and cupped his groin. The predatory display elicited groans from CJ and Owen. “Back in Croatia, both my best friends said it didn’t hurt them that much when I fucked them. And then they liked it and came back for more.” CJ decided it was time to rescue his friend. “Ignore him, Harley.” He snatched the ID out of the bouncer’s hand and returned it to his disconcerted traveling partner. “Jure tried the same shit with Ozzie last time we were here. We’ve got to talk to Tony about this shit. He keeps hiring new people, and it takes us forever to train them. So hard to find good help these days.” Jure gave CJ a dismissive glance before focusing on Owen. “Hi, Ozzie. Welcome back to PRIME, handsome. You know where to find me if you want a real beef injection tonight.” “Give it up, mate. Not going to happen and you know it.” Owen gave CJ a conspiratorial wink. “But if you’re interested in being bottom boy for the five of us tonight…” While the man narrowed his eyes, the others again stood silent, mouths agape, until Chipper spoke. “Wait! Let me pick my jaw up from the floor. Who are you, and what have you done with Ozzie? Damn, CJ, you been giving him lessons in sarcasm and innuendos?” “He’s a good student. Let’s go fuck with Sean.” CJ, Owen, and Harley left Washington mid-morning and rode the interstate the entire way to New York City. They would revert to their preferred back roads later in the trip; the first segment of their adventure traversed areas without the visual appeal of upcoming ones. Chipper was already at the Upper East Side apartment when they arrived, having flown in from Miami a few days earlier. Ethan joined them for dinner, and afterward, the five friends rode the subway down to Chelsea. Although the neighborhood was no longer quite the GLBT bastion it once was, it was still home to many gay bars. PRIME was their preferred watering hole in the City because of their friendship with the owners and the head bartender. Inside, they inched their way through the Friday night crowd toward the rear serving area. Retro night was as popular as ever and Cher’s “Strong Enough” exploded through the sound system. It reminded CJ he needed to send the star diva a text or e-mail. He had not spoken to her since right after the wedding. “Hey, boy! A round of redheaded sluts and make it pronto.” CJ did not like the concoction of Jägermeister, peach-flavored schnapps, and cranberry juice all that much, but the name made it hard not to order the shooter whenever they visited the club. Sean Brody stepped back from the bar so his entire body was visible. Smirking at the group of friends while grabbing his crotch, he shook his head so the curly, red hair created an illusory halo. “I’ve got your boy right here, sir.” “You gonna join us, right?” Chipper knuckled the bartender first and the others followed. “I will this round. But I’m not keeping up with you all night. I’m working, and I have a feeling the five of you seem ready to get shit-faced.” “Nah, the three of us are riding tomorrow.” Harley pointed at himself and his two traveling companions. “I hate having a hangover when I’m gonna be on the bike for that many hours. That‘s why I prefer to smoke. But with CJ avoiding cannabis these days…” “Oh, man, Sean. You should have seen Harley’s face when the bouncer offered to pop his cherry. We couldn’t stop laughing.” CJ barely avoided the punch Harley threw at him. “It ain’t funny, CJ. I’m used to going to gay bars with you guys, but that was a first. Nobody’s ever tried so hard to get in my pants when I’ve gone to DIK Bar with you and the Scandals. Those guys always stopped hitting on me after one of you told them I wasn’t gay. I mean, this one kept going and going and going, even after Ethan told him I was straight. And he said he’d done it to his friends in Croatia. I guess that’s where he’s from? Isn’t that the same as Tank? This guy’s bigger but not so muscular. What is it with people from Croatia? Are they all big and gay? At least this Jure guy—“ “HARLEY!” Sean’s shout made several patrons stare at the group for a moment before resuming their conversations. “Here, bud. Have a drink. We need to slow you the fuck down. So you guys headed up north tomorrow?” “Yep. We’ll return in a couple of weeks. The plan’s to stop in New York again on our way back to Washington. But that may change. We’ll let you know.” CJ raised his glass, encouraging his friends to do the same. “Here’s to good friends. Salud!” “Salud, dinero, amor, y tiempo para disfrutarlos.” Chipper’s expanded toast had Sean staring at him after they downed their drinks. “I’m in town until my sister gives birth, Sean. Then I’m headed to Buenos Aires, so I’m practicing my Spanish. It means: health, money, love, and time to enjoy them. It’s an old Spanish saying.” “When’s your sister due?” Collecting the empty glasses, Sean dropped them in the sink’s sudsy waters. Without bothering to ask what they wanted, he began mixing their preferred cocktails. CJ’s was the easiest: Hendricks over ice with a lime. After the first one, he always switched to Sapphire martinis. “The end of June, early July. My mom’s flying up when the baby comes, and she’s staying for a month or so to help Cristina out. I’m sure my dickhead brother-in-law’s gonna hate having her around. He’s such a fucking control freak. Anyway, you’ll be seeing me in here until then. There’s a few auditions I’m trying to line up, but I’m going to have a lot of free time. I’ll fly to Argentina right after I meet my niece.” “No butt-fucking while I’m in the room, okay?” Harley dropped his bag and helmet on the bed closest to the door while CJ and Owen claimed the other one. They stopped twice to fuel the motorcycles and once for lunch but otherwise, the ride from New York to New Hampshire was a high-speed run aimed at arriving at the hotel with time to do something in the afternoon. “Dude, what the fuck? Where did that come from?” The weather was typical for a late-spring, New England day. It was chilly enough they had worn their Perfecto leather jackets over t-shirts and hoodies. Combined with the motorcycle boots and Levi’s, they resembled members of a gang displaying their colors. “Just sayin’… If I can’t have sex, neither can you.” Harley threw himself on the bed and scooted back to sit with his shoulders against the headboard. “I’m so glad to be off the damn interstate for the next few days. I’m looking forward to riding backcountry roads now. That’s almost always where adventure awaits.” “CJ? Who’s this guy? Didn’t we think he was asexual at one point? Chipper said something last night about me acting different, but this is on an entire different level. And now he’s getting philosophical on us too.” Owen rummaged through his bag and retrieved a Dopp kit. “I’m going to wash my face and brush my teeth. We can head out any time after that.” “I’ll do the same after you’re done.” CJ moved the bags and helmets to the chairs next to the room’s small table and replicated Haley’s position on the bed. “As for Harley, I think Kim’s been a bad influence on him.” “You better be nice to her, CJ. I’m not like Thiago or Chipper, who’ll have sex with anyone. We’re talking about the woman I’m gonna marry.” CJ’s jaw dropped at the announcement. He and Owen liked the girl and knew Harley was happy with her. Marriage was something new. “We better be invited to the wedding!” It was the best he could muster. Details could wait as far as he was concerned. They had a few days together ahead, and he planned to squeeze every scrap of information possible out of his bestie. The ride north from Weirs Beach Motel and Cottages to Laconia Harley-Davidson took ten minutes, and CJ marveled at the number of motorcycles already on the road. If this was what the first day of Laconia Motorcycle Week was like, he suspected by the time it ended on Father’s Day it would be much more crowded. It reminded him of the throngs in Daytona Beach except for not seeing too many riders in shorts and flips. He still had no idea how those people could shift gears wearing plastic sandals. A carnival atmosphere greeted them when they slowed down in front of the dealership. White tents obscured most of the paved space in front, and an attendant wearing neon-lime bib overalls directed new arrivals to a temporary parking area on the grassy lot behind the building. CJ caught glimpses of a band stage underneath the largest canvas awning. A pin-striper worked on a shiny, blue Tri Glide beneath a smaller one, and a tattoo artist was inking a man’s calf in another. “Where to, Harley?” “Inside. I texted Keith before we left the hotel. He’s waiting for us.” “Mate, how do you know this guy?” Owen was the only one who wore a helmet during the ride; he locked it on the engine guard before following the other two men. “I’ve never met him. One of the techs at work knows him and put us in touch. I e-mailed Keith I was coming up with a couple of friends, and he told me to stop by when we got in town.” Keith Askins was several inches shorter than CJ; the three visitors towered over him. The forty-something man’s long, scraggly beard ended halfway down his chest and his arms showed multiple grease-streaked tattoos. He resembled the stereotypical biker. Glancing at the three of them, he extended a hand. “Which one of you’s Harley?” “That’s me. And these are CJ and Ozzie. Ozzie’s the blonde.” “Nice to meet you, guys. Are you all in the same riding club? Those are nice jackets. Looks like you’re wearing a uniform.” “Nah, except for HOG.” Harley referred to the Harley Owners Group, the club sponsored by the motor company. “But we’ve been friends since high school. CJ and I met ’cause I started talking to him the first day of classes. His dad has a Road Glide and CJ rode behind him that day.” “Cool, so where are you guys staying?” “Over on Weir Beach? I forget the name of the hotel.” “You’re right in the middle of things. That’s where a lot of the events take place.” Keith stepped away from the service counter when a customer approached, and the others fell in step behind him. “What are your plans tonight?” “Nothing so far.” “What with all the bikes in town we’re kinda busy here. This week we always end up wrenching non-stop. I don’t have a lot of time to visit now, but I get off work at six. Let’s meet for a beer at the Broken Spoke right after. You know where you turned onto US-3 on the way here? It’s right there on the corner.” Owen nodded at CJ. “That works. We want to stop at the HOG tent and pick up rally pins. These two got me hooked on the damn things when we went to Daytona last year.” “Cool accent. Where you from?” “Australia. But I’m on my way to becoming a citizen.” “You’ll have to tell me how you ended up around these two when we meet up after work. By the way, you should stop by here every day. We have food, we have music, we have specials, and there’s a bunch of contests and raffles.” Harley stared through the glass windows at the activity outside and spoke without turning. “Is the tat artist any good?” “You wanna get inked?” “Maybe. It’s been a while since my last one. I’m itching for more.” “He’s good. He’s from Boston, and this is the third year he sets up shop here at the dealership. Come on, I’ll introduce you. What about you guys? You want to get a tat?” “Not me. But maybe CJ. He’s got two of them and I know he wants more.” “I’m good for now. You go with him, Harley. Ozzie and I want to buy t-shirts. I need a new pair of motorcycle-cop gloves too. Couldn’t find the left one this morning.” A while later, they rode back to the lakefront headed toward the corporate Harley-Davidson exhibits. At the HOG tent, near the entrance to the Weirs Beach Drive-In, they showed their membership cards and added a new rally pin to their collection. Harley had some from events he attended with his father in the past, while CJ and Owen had them from the 2018 Daytona Bike Week and a couple from Rolling Thunder in Washington. They strolled through the vendor booths, bought pins and patches, and it seemed Harley tried to eat something from every food vendor. At half past six, when Keith walked into the Broken Spoke Saloon they were sitting at a table, beers in hand, waiting for the server to deliver Harley’s hamburger. The next morning, the sky was cloudy, but rain was not in the forecast, and the temperature had risen. All three wore a t-shirt, a hoodie, and their leather vest. CJ and Harley had brought miniature sewing-kits and affixed Laconia 2019 patches on those the previous evening. “If I can have your attention…” The heavyset man with the long, gray hair and beard stood in front of the group of riders flanked by four other men. “My name’s Lucas. I’ll be your road captain this morning.” At least a hundred bikers had gathered in the parking lot anticipating the ride through White Mountain National Forest. “Let’s get through the pre-ride meeting and we’ll hit the road.” Lucas rested a hand on the handlebar of a BMW R1200GS CJ assumed was his ride. “We have a large group, so these guys next to me will all ride sweep.” All five wore, bright-pink bandanas around their necks for easy identification. “How many of you’ve never ridden in a group before? Raise your hands.” A smattering of arms went up, but it seemed most of those present were veterans of riding with others. Lucas previewed their destination and the roads they would be traveling. They would be climbing peaks with an elevation of around 6,000 feet, so he stressed the importance of knowing their motorcycle’s capabilities. “We’ll ride in staggered formation. Keep a bike’s length behind the rider in front of you. Please remember although it’s a group ride, safety’s a personal responsibility. If you encounter any problems, pull to the side of the road. One of the sweeps will stop to help you.” The White Mountain Trail outing lasted slightly over four hours. They traveled a landscape unspoiled by overdevelopment on gently curving roads, enjoying uninterrupted views of mountains, rivers, wetlands, and woodlands. CJ loved these times best; he could turn his mind off, and concentrate on the ride. Or take advantage of the solitude to delve into whatever he had been thinking about last. During one of the stops, the road captain and sweep riders assembled the large group and took pictures with as many phones and cameras as they were handed. CJ, Owen, and Harley asked for one of just the three of them. Owen was the one who voiced what all three were thinking. “This one’s getting framed and will become part of the new gallery wall at the apartment.” The three friends said goodbye to the group when they returned to the staging area and headed toward the Harley-Davidson dealership again. On the way, Harley motioned for a stop at Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant. Somebody mentioned they served Thanksgiving dinner year-round, and he claimed he was in the mood for turkey with all the fixings. “This is what I drew last night. What do you think?” Max glanced between the drawing he set atop the tall, tool chest and Harley. He absentmindedly rubbed the intricate dagger inked on his right temple. “I tried to keep it simple. If you end up with a full sleeve, it can be easily incorporated into the design.” “I love it!” Harley resembled a kid with a new toy; his body vibrated with excitement. “What do you guys think?” “I like it! I think I’ve seen that logo before but I can’t remember where.” Owen scratched his head staring at the drawing of a five-point star encased in a circle with five horizontal bars extending to each side. Atop and below, Max had used a military-style, stencil font to write THE SQUAD. “On a bunch of the model airplanes hanging from the ceiling in Ritchie’s room.” CJ had helped his brother build some of those. “That’s the old US Air Force logo. Nice job, Max. You want color, Harley?” “Yeah! It’s going on the left bicep above the Stars and Stripes. Since that one has a lot of red, I think this one should be mostly blue.” “I think I’d want it in just black on me. Since neither one of my other two has color.” CJ chuckled. Max’s grin and shimmering blue eyes were an interesting counterpoint to the shocked expression on Harley and Owen. “What? I’m just thinking about it.” Harley’s energy output may have jumped a little at the comment. “Bruh! That’s frickin’ awesome! We’re gonna have matching ink!” CJ ignored his friend for a moment and glanced at his husband. “Can I, Oz?” The tattoo artist’s confusion became comprehension when Harley said, “They’re married.” “Bloody hell! If you two get that tattoo, the other guys are gonna want to do the same. I’d prefer not to be odd man out. I hate this peer pressure shit, but maybe I need to give in.” Owen shook his head and waved dismissively when CJ and Harley both wrapped an arm around his shoulders and simultaneously yelled, “YEAH!” “Oh, this is gonna be great. It’s like a rite of passage, Oz. When can you fit me and Ozzie in, dude?” CJ rubbed his hands together in anticipation and glee. Max glanced at a piece of paper taped to the side of the tool cart holding inks and other supplies. “Late tonight or this time tomorrow. Since most people go out riding in the early morning, I open up right before lunchtime. I have three other appointments coming in right after this one, and one of them’s a big back job.” “How about tomorrow? I’d rather get you while you’re fresh instead of worn out from going at it all day. One thing, though. We need a hard copy of the drawing you use to create the stencil. There’s a few more members to our little group who may want to get the same thing done. I know for sure my brother’s gonna want it. He’s been bugging our parents about getting inked.” “Not a problem. I’ll make a copy right now and put it in an envelope for you. I’ll include a card for our shop in Boston. In case any of your friends live in the area.” “Actually…” CJ and Owen didn’t have a strict schedule to adhere to for the remainder of their trip. This being the last summer both would have a large chunk of free time, they wanted to travel as much as possible. “Most of us are in the Washington, D.C. area, but one friend goes to Boston University. Oz, what do you think about stopping on the way back and spending a night with Patrick? Maybe we could have dinner with him, Mac, and Hilary.” CJ was the drunkest of the three late that evening when they left the bar. Keith and a couple other techs from the dealership had joined them with their girlfriends or wives. The raucous evening ended when Owen dragged his husband out after CJ bought a round of tequila shots for the entire establishment. Owen told Harley he could not wait for the next morning when CJ realized what the bill was for that stunt. “Fuck the government and fuck the State Department. The day I become emperor, pot’s gonna be legal all over. Fucking Neanderthals and their Victorian attitudes.” CJ’s tirade was more grunted than spoken. “Hell, it would do some of those uptight assholes a ton of good to get stoned now and then. This is why I hate drinking. I’m in pain. I need Advil.” He grumbled all the way to the bathroom. Eventually, they rode to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, ran into people they met the previous day, and immersed themselves in the spectacle of vintage motorcycle races. Having Harley with them meant they had their own commentator. How his friend was able to retain so much information about so many different motorcycles never failed to amaze CJ. The afternoon they spent at the Harley-Davidson dealership once again. Owen stuck by his husband’s side when Max inked CJ, while Harley stepped in and out of the tent. Each time he returned, he shared his most recent conversation or discovery. He spent time inside chatting with dealership staff, or outside admiring motorcycles and discussing them with their owners. After the excruciating pain of the intricate design on his hip six months before, the current session under the needle produced nothing more than slight discomfort. Although no longer in agony, the hangover lethargy led to CJ dozing off while being worked on. Owen, on the other hand, groaned and grimaced when it was his turn. “I swear this is my one and only. I don’t care how many you and Harley get. It hurts!” “Pussy!” CJ’s comment earned him a middle finger. Returning to the Broken Spoke Saloon was out of the question. CJ refused to set foot in the place again. Instead, they ended up at a smaller bar by the shore of Meredith Bay, had dinner, a few cocktails listening to a blues band, and talked to people from so many different states they lost track of the number. Their final day in Laconia they rode around the countryside on their own, stopped at the dealership to say goodbye to Keith and Max, and ended up back at the motel as the sun began to set. While locking their bikes, someone they had exchanged pleasantries with earlier in the day stopped to invite them to an impromptu party around the pool. “We tapped a keg, we have tunes, and the pool’s heated. Drop your shit in your room, put on a bathing suit or shorts, and come join us. We’re just chillaxing.” “Yeah… No.” CJ shivered at the thought of going swimming in fifty-degree weather. “You’re not getting my ass in the pool when it’s this cold. I’m a Floridian. But we’ll come hang. Thanks, bro.” One of their stops earlier in the day, at Owen’s request, was at Hermit Woods Winery. The tasting room was where CJ and Owen hung out, while Harley stuffed his face at the deli. They purchased an assortment of wines and had them shipped. A bottle of their 2016 Heirloom Crabapple found its way into a saddlebag. They carried it with them to the pool area as a contribution to the party. Owen liked the medium-sweet, tangy wine made from Dolgo crabapples, and mentioned it would pair well with the spicy foods they liked. Plastic cups in hand, CJ and Owen sat on a wooden bench watching the cavorting in and around the pool. “Why is it most of these bikers have such long, scraggly beards?” Owen ran a hand over his unshaved face. He had tried cultivating a goatee several times, but the growth was slow and sparse; he always shaved it off a fortnight after. “Don’t be jealous, Oz. Just ’cause you can’t grow one. Hell, Harley can’t either. I think that’s why he’s letting his hair grow. If he can’t braid a beard, he’ll prolly settle for braiding a ponytail. Haven’t you noticed how many of these men have them?” “As long as he doesn’t start going around with a man bun. Those things are hideous. There were so many of them at PRIME I was ready to start amputating.” “Ozzie! You’re being judgmental!” CJ chuckled when Owen looked startled. “So unlike you. And I don’t know about man buns. Some guys look hot with them.” He moved his head closer to his husband’s and lowered his voice. “What I don’t get is why most of the women hanging around these bikers are so skanky.” “Who’s being judgmental now?” “Fine! We’re both judgmental assholes. Oh, shit. Don’t look now but here comes Harley and he looks pissed off. What’s up with all these changes in him? The jokes about butt-fucking, the marriage thing, the philosophical observations…” “Our kid’s growing up, CJ. It’s called maturing.” Owen shifted his attention to Harley when the man sat on the lounge chaise next to their table and grunted. “Hey, mate. What’s going on?” Harley raised his head but instead of saying anything, he glared in the direction he had come from. When CJ looked, Nolan, the guy who had invited them to the party was walking in their direction, a beer in each hand. “Brought you a fresh one, Harley. Since you left the other one behind.” He sat on the edge of the seat and shifted his attention to CJ and Owen. “Hey, guys. Sorry about what that bitch said. She’s not part of our group, so we asked her to leave.” CJ felt as confused as Owen looked. “What are you talking about?” “Harley didn’t tell you?” “I didn’t get a chance.” Harley sipped from the beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Thanks for the beer. The chick he’s talking about made a homophobic comment. When I told her I didn’t like that, and that my two best friends were gay, she went nuts. She looked at the two of you, called you faggots, and said she hoped you’d get AIDS. I told her to go fuck herself with the hot end of a tailpipe and left.” Harley shook his head and took another sip of beer. “Damn, I wish I had a joint.” “You guys smoke?” Nolan smiled for the first time since joining them. “I’ve got some primo stuff. Let me go roll a couple of Js.” “Hold off.” CJ raised a hand to stop the man. “Just take care of Harley. I can’t do it anymore because of a job I’m applying for. Ozzie was never a big smoker, so he gave it up with me.” Nolan stared at Owen and his smile grew. “Dude, you’re a better man than I am. That’s love. I’m not sure I’d give weed up for my wife. Listen, my apologies again. Don’t let a drunken cunt ruin the night for you. Most bikers don’t give a shit who you sleep with as long as you’re cool. I know none of us traveling together do. I’ll be right back.” “See that?” Harley beamed, and CJ was unsure if it was due to the apology or to the prospect of getting high. “That’s what real bikers are like, bruh. Nobody cares what you do in private. Live and let live.”
  6. 65 points
    The vibration against his butt made CJ wiggle twice during dinner; he ignored the phone until the meal was over. As the remnants were cleared, he reached for it. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” “What’s going on?” “It’s Thiago. Nadine’s in the hospital. The baby may be coming earlier than expected.” “Wait, isn’t the kid due in April?” “Yep. Like six weeks away.” CJ tapped away at his phone before sitting again. “Crap. I hope the baby’s okay. Can it even survive being born so soon?” César returned the dirty dishes to the table, claimed the seat next to his son, and rubbed his arm. “Yes, they can. Think positive, CJ. Preemies survive much better these days. Did you reply?” “Yeah. Told him to text or call me.” CJ’s attention remained fixed on his phone, willing it to ring or chirp. Anxiety filled him, concern for Thiago and the baby uppermost in his mind. When the call came through, he nearly dropped the device. “Hello!” While he listened, the other men reclaimed their seats. “Sorry, man. Yeah, family Sunday dinner, and you know the rule about phones.” Slowly, he relaxed, and a smile preceded a grin. “Yeah, well, fuck you too. What happened?” CJ stood, walked towards the kitchen, and reached into the refrigerator for a beer—the wine opened for dinner was long gone. He held the bottle aloft when he faced the family, and Owen raised a hand signaling he wanted one too. “That’s awesome, bro! Congratulations! Hey, Ozzie, the dads, and Ritchie are looking at me drooling for info. I’m gonna put you on speaker.” CJ forgot the beers atop the kitchen counter and returned to the dining table. “It’s Thiago. He has some news for us.” The eye rolling and smiling appeared synchronized. Owen was the first one to speak. “So are we uncles?” “Yes, you are.” Thiago sounded tired. “You have a healthy, bouncing nephew. I haven’t met him yet, but a nurse came out to tell me. I’m waiting until they take him to neonatal ICU so I can go see him.” “Thiago, this is César. Is he okay? Where are you? And how’s Nadine?” “Hey, Mr. A. She’s fine according to the nurse. Her mom was in the delivery room with her. We’re at Howard University Hospital. The kid’s perfect. Ten fingers and ten toes according to the nurse. She said his weight was good for a preemie. I think the ICU thing’s out of caution.” “Dude, this is Brett. Congrats! So, does the critter have a name yet?” “Critter? Fuck you, Captain. That’s my son you’re talking about.” You could hear the new father chuckling. “Of course he has a name. He’s named after my brother and my best friend. I can’t wait for you to meet Fabricio Cesar Baravento.” Monday was President’s Day; CJ and Owen hit the gym early, and afterward drove the Tesla half a dozen blocks to Dog Tag Bakery. The bakeshop run by disabled military veterans had become a favorite place for breakfast treats. “What’d you get?” CJ had remained in the car while Owen hustled inside. “The three coffees and six scones. Half sweet and half savory. Between these, the Redskins onesie, the bottle of 2009 Dom Pérignon, and the Cuban cigars in the backpack, I think we’ve got all bases covered.” “You wanna text Thiago and let him know we’re on our way to pick him up?” “Sure. Hey, are we gonna stop in and see Nadine when we get to the hospital?” CJ’s failure to respond caused Owen to stare. “Well?” “I don’t know, Oz. I’m not sure I can keep my composure around her. I’m afraid my face will show how I feel.” “Your mom?” CJ’s resentment against his dead mother had been the subject of countless conversations between the two. “Yeah… I… It just hits too close. Lourdes discarded me and then gave up parental rights without a fight. I know I came out smelling like roses since Papa Brett was able to adopt me, but still…” He would have had no problem if Thiago’s ex-girlfriend had decided to terminate the unwanted pregnancy. An abortion he could understand; abandoning a child was something that made him uncomfortable. “You can stop by her room if you want. I think I’ll wait until we’re at the hospital before I decide.” Thiago sipped the remainder of his coffee and discarded the disposable cup in the trash bin next to the nurses’ station. “Good morning, I’m Thiago Baravento. I think you have my kid in here. I’d like to bail him out.” The grandmotherly woman behind the counter burst out laughing. “Oh boy, I can smell a first-time father a mile away, and you stink of it. Making jokes, but nervous as all get out.” “Do you know if he’s okay? Can I see him?” The nurse glanced away from the computer screen she had paid attention to since Thiago introduced himself. “You betcha. And if you ask real nice, we’ll let your two bodyguards see him with you.” She winked at CJ and Owen. “Really? But I thought—“ “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You thought because he was in ICU visitors would be restricted. I have news for you, Daddy. We moved your son out of neonatal intensive care this morning. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him.” She looked around conspiratorially. “If you ask me, they screwed up the original due date. That kid was ready to come out.” Thiago shrugged off the hand his two friends placed on his shoulders and turned to hug them both at the same time. “You hear that, guys? Fabricio’s all right! That has to mean he can come home soon.” “Maybe as early as tomorrow. Now, someone left a note about not using the mother’s room for your visit. They’ve set up a separate one for when you’re here. Why don’t the three of you follow me? You can ditch the coats, and scrub down in there. I’ll have your son brought in.” Owen found it hilarious they referred to the practice of holding the newborn against your chest skin to skin as kangaroo care. While Thiago cradled his son sitting in a recliner, CJ and Owen perched on the edge of the bed. “Mate, the nurse said when a mother does this it stimulates milk production.” Owen’s chuckles bordered on giggles. “Maybe you’ll do the same, and can do away with formula and bottles.” “Screw you, homey. Just wait until you have a kid. You’ll have to be careful it doesn’t suffocate in CJ’s chest-hair forest.” CJ watched the father-son duo in wonder. The tiny brown baby had fallen back asleep as soon as Thiago clutched him to his naked torso. “You haven’t fed him yet, have you?” “Nope. It’ll be a first when the nurse brings in the bottle.” “You know what to do?” “I think so. Mom and everyone else have been giving me pointers. I’m sure the nurses will walk me through it when the time comes. I know about burping and the likelihood of getting barfed on.” “That sounds delightful. Not! I remember Mum feeding Liz after she was born.” Sadness clouded Owen’s visage for a moment. He had been six when his sister Elizabeth Liston was born; her death from cancer at eighteen was a shock to everyone. He and CJ often talked about her and the void her death left in their lives. “She would let me hold the bottle for Liz after she stopped breastfeeding.” Thiago’s smile disappeared at the mention of breastfeeding. “That’s not something Fabricio will experience anytime soon. He’ll have to wait until he’s older to play with a tit. By the way, Nadine’s mother talked to me last night. Nadine doesn’t want to see the baby or any of us.” March Madness found CJ in the middle of the hoops hoopla. The annual extravaganza began with each collegiate athletic conference’s tournament and concluded with the national championship game. The Big East Conference held its men’s basketball tourney every year at Madison Square Garden in New York City; he and Owen were in town to cheer on the Georgetown Hoyas. “So, do you have to do anything special for the team while you’re in town?” Ethan fingered the pass hanging from the lanyard around CJ’s neck. “Not really. They’ll let me know if they need me. However, I doubt it very much. They didn’t last year.” CJ still held the title of Special Assistant to the Associate Director of the Academic Resource Center for Student-Athlete Services. A mouthful for being a glorified tutor, but the basketball program also used him in their recruiting efforts. More than one high school athlete had stopped by his parent’s basement for a game of pool during their official campus visit. “Then what’s this official-looking thing give you access to?” “The locker rooms while my school’s team is in them. Stop drooling, pig! The floor while my team’s warming up. There’s also a courtside seat behind the players’ bench reserved for me. I’ll take you down there during the warmups before the game. We can take pictures.” They split their attention between watching the DePaul and Seton Hall game, the sushi containers on their laps, and conversation. CJ sat at the end of the row in case he had to run and do something for the team, with Sean and Ethan between him and Owen. “Mate, why are you and Sean both paying rent when it’s so expensive to live in New York? You two should just move in together.” “Fuck you, Ozzie.” Sean leaned forward and stared at his friend. “Just ’cause you had your fairy-tale wedding, and are now living happy ever after, doesn’t mean everyone has to do the same. Why is it whenever someone gets married or has a baby they start thinking all their friends should do the same? Leave Ethan alone.” CJ came close to choking when he tried to swallow while laughing; he had to put the spicy tuna roll down so he could comb out bits of food from his beard. “If I choke to death, I’m never gonna forgive you. What the hell’s the big deal anyway? The two of you spend more time together at each other places than alone in your own.” “Because…” Sean paused and sighed. “Look, we’ve talked about it. If we’re still together in a couple of years, we’ll revisit the issue.” “Why the wait?” “Because Ethan’s still a very junior member at the law firm. Because if I start going with him to functions, someone’s bound to recognize me at some point. I’m not ashamed of having done porn or having worked as an escort, but not everyone’s as open-minded as you guys, your parents, or their group of friends. Even less so amongst the fucking breeders.” “You’re worried about what other people think?” The surprise in CJ’s voice was clear. “In this case, I am. Not for me, but for Ethan. What if an old trick of mine decides he or she doesn’t want to risk their hiring a prostitute becoming public knowledge and fires him? What if somehow, someone, somewhere sees one of my movies? Right now, it could end up damaging his reputation and interfering with his job. Once he’s better established—or better yet, makes partner—it won’t be as big a concern.” “That’s fucked-up. If anyone who hired you or watched a video you’re in did something against Ethan, they could get in as much trouble by going public.” “For being so smart, sometimes you’re quite naïve, CJ. They could find one of a million reasons to get rid of Ethan. I don’t want to risk it.” “It’s still fucked. Why don’t the two of you move to DC? At least the chances of an old trick recognizing you would be smaller.” “Yeah, but the movies would still be an issue. Plenty of clips of me fucking someone on the internet. And you know well enough once something’s online, it’s there forever.” The following day CJ did not have any commitments until late afternoon, so Owen arranged to visit a section of the Gateway National Recreation Area in the morning. Squeezed into the train during rush hour, CJ found it hard to believe they were headed to the type of natural space he expected to find in a remote area instead of Brooklyn. “You never told me why you wanted to come here.” Owen held onto the metal bar with his knees bent to help balance himself as the train swayed. “The Nature Conservancy’s working on a couple of projects to create wildlife refuges in large metropolitan areas. I want to see what a successful one looks like.” Owen’s connection with the Conservancy helped ease the visit. The office of the Commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor arranged for a ranger to meet them in Jamaica Bay and escort them around. “I grew up in Bensonhurst, and the bay was a place I spent a lot of time around.” Hutch must have been in his early thirties and had a friendly disposition. Even though it was the tail end of winter, he still had a tan, attesting to hours spent outdoors. “But back then my mother would have killed me if she knew I went swimming around here.” They turned up their coats’ collars to ward off the late winter chill. It was colder next to open water than in Manhattan’s concrete jungle. “How come?” CJ watched as a wedge of geese flew by. “And how come there’s so many birds around? I thought they flew south for winter.” Hutch chuckled as they stared at the avians. “This is south for Canada geese. They come here from the Arctic. All these islands and the freshwater creeks and ponds are a crucial habitat for migrating birds. And I was prohibited from swimming out here because of the pollution. It’s much cleaner these days than when I was a teenager.” “What changed?” Owen stopped taking pictures and pocketed his phone. “I mean, I’ve read the reports. I know the park came about almost fifty years ago when the City donated the land to the Service. We’re trying to do something similar in other metropolitan areas, and I think a first-hand account is just as important as lists of numbers and legal mumbo-jumbo.” “Cooperation. Local, state, and federal government pulling together with environmental activists and other concerned citizens. When all stakeholders join in and work together, you’d be amazed at what can be accomplished.” Owen smirked and elbowed CJ. “Maybe we’ll hire my husband here to do some lobbying for us when we run into a recalcitrant politician.” “You two are married?” Hutch followed up his inquiry with one aimed at CJ. “What do you do for a living? Are you a lobbyist?” “Hell no! I’m still in college, but I want to work for the government. I hope to land a position at the State Department. And yes to your first question. Ozzie and I tied the knot last summer.” “Congratulations! How come he mentioned hiring you as a lobbyist? If you want to work for the US government you’d be on the other side of the table.” “Oh, I did a little volunteering for a campaign a while back. Ended up meeting a bunch of politicians, and I’m still friendly with a few.” “CJ’s being modest. When he says he’s friendly with a few he means he has numbers for a couple of past Presidents and a bunch of Senators in his phone.” “Shut up, Oz. Today’s about you, not about me. All that’s history anyway. I’m just an average college student these days.” “Not so average if you know that type of people.” Hutch sounded impressed. ”Anyway, considering how the current administration’s decimating our natural spaces by reducing their size and pushing for oil and gas exploration on protected lands, anyone with your type of connections can play an important role. Even an average college student can have an impact as long as they speak up.” “You’re gonna get in trouble with Mr. A.” Ritchie tsked a couple of times, pointing at the phone his brother placed next to his plate. CJ and Owen returned home early Sunday afternoon and called the dads suggesting they have dinner at their apartment instead of the big house. It was something that happened at least once a month since the wedding. “What are you? Ten?” CJ rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at Ritchie. “You trying to get me grounded? For the record, one of the reasons we wanted to have you bring food over here was so I could have the phone out. Different home, different rules.” “You’re sticking your tongue out at your brother? Who’s acting ten now?” César rolled his eyes. “And what’s so important you need to answer a call in the middle of a family dinner?” “Not necessarily answer, Dad. Most of our friends would text first anyway. Look, in the past three months, we had important calls from Carson, Gina, and Thiago. None were life or death emergencies, but all were important.” CJ glanced at Owen seeking support. “So Ozzie and I decided to modify your rule. We’ll avoid using the phone, but we want them out so we can see a message coming through. After missing Thiago’s texts when Fabricio was born, we decided one of our phones would always be visible. Doesn’t mean we’ll answer, but…” Owen stuffed a fried won ton in his mouth and did not elaborate. “You guys are flying out Wednesday, right?” “Stop talking with your mouth full. Are you trying to change the subject?” Brett took a sip from his beer and returned the bottle to the coffee table. “We leave in the late afternoon. César and I will be in the office in the morning. We’ll bring Wingnut over when we come in.” Third Line Development, and their related companies that continued to sprout like weeds, occupied the second unit on the building’s third floor. They were outgrowing the space, and Brett was already renovating the second floor to suit their purpose. The previous tenant had vacated the space in January, and the fathers would be moving as soon as they finished the remodeling. Their current office would then revert to being an apartment. “You guys better take good care of him.” Ritchie sounded like a concerned parent. “Like we haven’t the other times you’ve been out of town?” CJ focused his complete attention on his brother. “Are you excited?” “Yeah… But I’m also a little scared. What if I don’t get in?” Ritchie and the fathers were flying to Colorado for a few days. They planned to spend time at their place in Vail, enjoying late-season skiing, and then drive to Colorado Springs for an interview and tour of the Air Force Academy on Saturday morning. “I felt the same while I waited for GU to accept me, bro. Relax, you’ll get in.” “Love this song!” Owen closed his eyes and swayed to the strains of “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi’s hit from a couple of summers before. In late 2017, Sebastián Abelló surprised the family with his plans to invest in a restaurant in Washington. Excited about the possibility of decent Cuban food within walking distance, CJ expressed an interest in joining his grandfather in the ownership group. Abuela’s opened in the fall of 2018 with CJ and Owen owning a percentage of the company. “Why are we sitting outside in winter?” Tank held his hands up towards the stainless steel gas heater positioned next to their table. “It’s freezing out here. I think my butt’s gonna be stuck to the chair. I betcha it’s gonna snow again.” CJ had become as adept at rolling his eyes as his father. “Stop whining. That damn tower’s putting out enough heat to keep us warm. And for your information, the first day of spring was ten days ago.” “Give him a break, mate. You gotta remember Tank’s used to Louisiana swamp weather. You know, muggy and full of mosquitos. Just like Florida.” Owen had adapted to the colder weather after moving from Australia as well as CJ had after leaving Miami. Their friend still complained when the temperature dipped below seventy degrees. “Enough about the weather. We’ll order some rice and beans and all those carbs should warm you up.” CJ reached for one of the menus the server had placed on the table. “This is gonna be our big meal today, Oz. I’m in the mood for fried pork chunks and moros.” Tank looked confused. “What’s moros? “Short for Moros y Cristianos. It’s what Cubans call white rice and black beans cooked together. CJ’s grandparents explained it to me the first time I visited Miami. They say it’s a reference to the white Christians and dark Moors who battled over Spain in the fourteen hundreds.” “Not very PC…” “Dude, my peeps are definitely not PC. It’s not overt prejudice, but people of my grandparents’ generation think nothing of referring to a black man as ‘el negro’ or an Asian one as ‘el chino.’ What are you gonna have, Oz?” “Not sure yet. I’m thinking of the vaca frita. So, Tank, what’s up? You said you wanted to talk about something important.” Owen’s fellow rugby player had texted them in the morning, revealed he had a problem he needed advice on, and asked if the couple had time to meet with him. CJ and Owen tried to patronize Abuela’s at least once a week and invited him to join them for a late lunch. Their plans for the day were to study; the half-mile walk to the restaurant was a welcome break. “Danno’s selling Rogo’s.” The blunt announcement, made without preliminary or subsequent explanation, drew a gasp from CJ. “Say what? No way! When? How come we haven’t heard about this? Crap, do my dads—“ Owen grasped his husband’s forearm. “Slow it down, mate. Give Tank a chance to answer.” The inopportune appearance of their server precluded an immediate explanation. Once they placed their orders, CJ pounced. “Okay, son. Spill.” “I just found out last night. He said I could talk about it with our friends, and he would be talking to your dads and the rest of their group this weekend.” Tank removed his ball cap and ran a hand through his hair before replacing it. “It’s all your fault, you know?” “What the fuck? How the hell is it my fault?” “Not yours alone, CJ. Yours and Ozzie’s. He came back a changed man after the trip to California with you two, and the time he and Trip spent in Hawaii afterward. Kept talking about missing the warmth, the beaches, and the surfing.” “Crap! What about Trip? When’s this supposed to happen?” “No idea about Trip. We didn’t discuss him. As for when, he thinks the sale can happen by summer. He said he’s had inquiries about selling the business and the property before.” “Jeez… So, you’re worried about your job?” “That and living arrangements. Remember, I get to live in the apartment above the bar for free. Part of being the manager.” “I wouldn’t worry about work, mate. Any new owner might want to keep you on. If not, you can get another one, or go back to doing massages.” Owen did not address the residential aspect of Tank’s worries. CJ did. “Hey! The housing thing might not be a big problem either. Harley wants to move out of his parents’ place. Maybe you and him can become roommates? I’m sure the dads have an empty unit somewhere you guys can rent. We’ll check with them tomorrow night at dinner.” The conversation lasted through the meal with CJ and Owen reassuring their friend things would work out. They had walked to the restaurant, and Tank had ridden his scooter; all three hit the men’s room before heading back to their places. As they exited the lavatory, a thirty-something, bearded man accosted them. “What the hell do you two think you’re doing?” The black and white checkerboard pants and the white chef’s coat suggested a restaurant employee. “You come in, don’t stop by the office to say hello, and I have to find out you’re here from a server who recognized you?” “Hey, Al. Ozzie and I planned on saying hi.” CJ and Owen shook hands with the man. “We got caught up in our conversation. Have you met our friend Tank before?” The two strangers sized each other up before shaking hands. While Tank was a few inches shorter than his friends, the olive-skinned man stood somewhere between the other three in height. Short, curly, brown hair and a beard not quite as full as CJ’s framed an angular face. Warm, coffee-colored eyes appraised the shorter man. “Alvaro Diaz. I don’t remember you being part of the group in here for happy hour on Fridays.” “Nah, I work most Friday and Saturday nights, so I miss those outings. I’m Tanix Janda. You’re the owner, right?” “One of them.” The man chuckled. “Your two friends here have a piece of the action.” “Tank plays rugby with me. That’s how we met.” Owen clasped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “He’s the manager at Rogo’s, the place owned by the dads’ friend we’ve mentioned before.” “Speaking of your fathers”—Al turned his attention to CJ—“I haven’t seen them in a while. Tell them we can use their business.” “Dude, what the hell you talking about? This place’s always packed.” CJ jostled his business associate with a shoulder. “You getting greedy?” “Hey! I have partners who expect a return on their investment. Anyway, good seeing you guys, and good meeting you, Tank. Stop by anytime. Even if it’s without these two. We take care of our friends in the biz.” Over dinner the following night, they discovered Trip would remain in Washington if Danno returned to Hawaii. Two months after Fabricio’s birth, CJ received a call from Thiago’s mother. She asked for help getting her son out of the house. Except for going to school or work, Thiago had not stepped outside since bringing the baby home. He needed a break, but would not listen to his parents; they thought CJ and Owen might be able to draw him out. With his parents pushing and CJ pulling, Thiago, at last, agreed to resume his Friday night visits to the dojo when he was not working. The first time it happened, Owen and Harley met them at Rogo’s afterward. The four sat at the bar talking to Tank, enjoying a beer while waiting for their burgers. “So that’s it, guys. The place’s for sale. Danno mentioned a couple of inquiries, but no bites yet.” Tank wiped the clean bar surface repeatedly between pouring cocktails. “I don’t know what to tell you, Harley. I want to stay here where I pay no rent as long as possible. Stashing away as much money as possible in the bank. I’ll understand if you want to start looking for a place on your own before I’m ready.” “Bruh, no way. I’ll wait. I’m doing the same by living with the rents anyway. I thought I’d do it for a year, but I don’t mind a couple more months. We can talk about it again in the summer, and see what’s going on then.” “Dude, what the hell’s taking so long? Did they go kill the cow or something? I’m hungry.” CJ had skipped lunch, munching on a protein bar instead, while stuck in a planning meeting for the upcoming student government election. “Dude”—Tank mocked CJ’s tone—“you sound like Harley. Stop bitching. If you’re that hungry, I’ll get you some more nuts.” “Fuck the nuts, I want meat!” “That’s your department, Ozzie.” Thiago stared at his phone atop the bar surface once again. “Mate, stop staring at the fucking phone. Fabricio’s going to be fine alone with your parents. Don’t they look after him when you work nights anyway?” “Yeah, but… I miss him. Hell, now that they don’t stink so much, I don’t even mind changing poopy diapers anymore.” Thiago’s only complaint about the newborn had been the malodorous diapers; the pediatrician suggested a change in the baby’s formula, and he noticed an improvement in the smell afterward. “And I feel kinda guilty. I mean, my parents have been awesome. I hate to go out and force them to look after Fabricio unless I really have to.” “Bud, you’re sooo wound up you’re going to explode unless you take a break now and then.” CJ threw an arm over his friend’s shoulder and gave him half a hug. “Wasn’t it your mother who called me, and practically threw you out of the house?” “Still, I have to—” The ringing phone cut him off, but it wasn’t his, it was CJ’s. “It’s Dad,” he said, looking at the screen. “CJ’s phone, CJ speaking. Hey, Dad. What’s up?” As CJ listened, the color drained from his face, and his hand shook. He reached in his pocket, took out his credit card, and slapped it on the bar. “We’re at Rogo’s waiting for food. But we’ll get it to go. We’ll be over as soon as we can.” The other four men stared at him while he tried to compose himself. He had not felt this lost in a very long time. “Tank, run my card through and make those burgers to go. We need to get to my parents’ place. JP and Tom are there. They just had a call letting them know Brad’s on the way to a hospital in Germany.”
  7. 61 points
    “So, you have martial arts practice every Friday night?” Bentley Riff, Carson’s roommate and a junior at GU’s McCourt School of Public Policy was a candidate for president of the Georgetown University Student Association. The previous fall, he had asked CJ to run for the second spot on the ballot. He was not part of the inner circle of friends; his knowledge about CJ’s life was limited. “Yeah, my buddy Thiago and I have been doing it since high school. Although he’s been slacking off lately.” “Don’t be an ass, CJ.” Owen reached for another slice. They had invited Bentley, Carson, and a few of the other candidates for pizza and beer. “The man has a baby to take care of now. Let’s see if you don’t slack off a bit when you become a father.” “Hey, can I ask another question about Brad?” Carson was the newest member of The Squad and had only met the soldier twice: at the wedding, and at the birthday party in New York. “Shoot.” CJ tried to decide whether his next slice would be a meat-lovers or a veggie-delight. He ended up choosing plain cheese. “So, he lost both legs and that’s pretty fucked already. But did he have any other serious injuries?” “Scrapes and scratches all over. Burns on the side of the body closest to the explosion. A couple of broken fingers, and shrapnel embedded in various parts of his body. The day I got there, he was in surgery. They were removing metal from his abdomen. The doctors worried more about that than his legs being gone!” “What happens next with him?” Gina was one of two non-candidates present. Although she was about to graduate, she had campaigned for Bentley and CJ’s slate of candidates and served as the main contact with the GLBT community. Everyone seemed to think having CJ on the ticket all but guaranteed getting that voting block. The ticket’s endorsement by the Student of Color Alliance, the umbrella organization for groups serving students of color at Georgetown, was also credited to CJ and his impassioned presentation in front of them. “He flies back to the states, gets admitted to Walter Reed, and starts rehab as soon as he’s able to. I guess at some point he’ll get artificial legs. I’m not sure what else happens. Haven’t had time to check up on it yet.” Although most of them were drinking beer, Bentley accepted Owen’s offer of wine. “Ozzie, this stuff is incredible.” CJ had agreed to open a bottle of his treasured Liston Verdelho for the evening; he wanted the man to experience what he thought was the best offering from the family’s vineyard. “So, your family sends you guys a couple of cases every month, but it’s not sold in the United States otherwise?” “Nope, we don’t make enough for export. My brother wants to expand production. He’ll end up running the business when our dad retires, so maybe one day.” “Well, I may be inviting myself over a lot next school year if you guys drink this all the time. And the soundtrack doesn’t hurt. This is the stuff my parents played while I grew up. I’m surprised you like country music.” “That’s CJ. He has the most eclectic taste in music ever. All this stuff’s older than him.” At the moment, Garth Brooks’ “We Shall be Free” emanated from the speakers. “Brooks became a favorite when CJ discovered the artist’s sister was a lesbian and he co-wrote a song for her. It’s one of his anthems. He plays this all the time.” ”Hey, CJ! One final question about the election. When we win, I’d like to have a few meetings of the executive committee over the summer. Are you available?” CJ looked at Owen who shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. This will be the last summer Ozzie and I have free together. He starts work at the end of August, beginning of September. We’re traveling some. We’ll be gone most of June for sure. And we’ll spend a weekend or two with friends on Fire Island at some point. But otherwise, I’m pretty sure we’ll be around. We can meet here or use my dads’ place if you want.” “I gotta pee.” Carson stood but did not move. “Hey, even if you’re out of town, the rest of us can meet. I know you guys skype with Ozzie’s family in Australia all the time. We could do the same.” “Go to the bathroom, Carson. We don’t need you having an accident the way Wingnut did last time he stayed over.” CJ shook his head remembering how he had ignored the dog while lost in his studies, and ended with a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. “On the way back, grab me another beer from the fridge, please. If I’m spending the next two days at Lauinger Library studying, I may as well get a buzz tonight.” “Daddy!” Gamon Mookjai slipped away from CJ and Owen and ran to his father. Chatri looked tired. His clothes were rumpled, and dark circles had sprouted beneath his eyes. His wife, Helen began experiencing contractions the previous day, and they had dropped their son off at CJ and Owen’s place on the way to the hospital. “No running, Gamon.” Chatri leaned down and picked up the three-year-old. “Did you have fun spending the night with your uncles? Thanks for looking after him, guys.” “I helped build a castle! With Legos!” His head tucked into his father’s neck, the kid went from sounding excited to sad. “Uncle CJ said I can’t have any. ’Cause I’m too little.” “Yeah, but I promised I’d buy you some as soon as you’re old enough.” CJ and Owen had kept close tabs on the kid, afraid he would try to eat one of the plastic bricks and choke. “It was a pleasure looking after him, mate. They played with the Legos while I fixed dinner, and then we watched a Disney movie.” Owen grinned at the kid, whose head bobbed in agreement. “He can come hang with us anytime. And now that we have a car seat, I’ll even offer pick-up and drop-off service.” After Thiago’s son was born, they purchased a child carrier thinking ahead to when any of their friends having kids would ask them to babysit. “Stop rolling your eyes. Not everyone gets the same offer.” “How are the mother and the new rug rat, Pad Thai?” CJ’s use of the quasi-derogatory nickname earned him a slap to the head from Owen. “You’re still the same twerp I met all those years ago at the gym.” Chatri may have been berating his friend, but he smiled throughout. “Both fine. Helen’s napping, and the baby’s in the nursery right now. Come on, time for you guys to meet your new nephew, and for Gamon to meet his brother.” “So, Gamon means from the heart. What did you end up naming the new one?” “Right hand’s son,” Chatri replied, smirking. “What?” “That’s what his name means, you doofus. We named him after Helen’s father. Come on, let’s go see Benjamin Mookjai.” Owen’s graduation from George Washington University coincided with Gina’s commencement exercise at Georgetown. He had already told CJ he did not want to make a big deal out of the milestone. It was his third degree, and he did not need to don a cap and gown again. Their friend’s graduation was another matter. Gina Nichols was the first one in her family to graduate from college. Due to distance, cost, and the fact she would be flying home to Alaska two days after the ceremony, she had no relatives to help celebrate her accomplishment. CJ and Owen decided to compensate by making a big deal out of it. On Friday night, they threw a party at the Prospect Street townhouse with her as the guest of honor. “Captain Davenport, Mr. Abelló, thank you for doing this. You didn’t have to, and I appreciate it more than you can imagine.” “Actually, Gina, we didn’t have a choice. CJ told us he was throwing a party and told us what we needed to order. I’m surprised he didn’t tell us we had to get out of our own house for the night.” “Jarhead! Stop being a jerk.” César shook his head in apparent disbelief. “Don’t listen to him, Gina. He’s being ornery.” “What Dad means to say is: Papa’s being an asshole. Again!” CJ blew out a perfect smoke ring and brandished his cigar to emphasize the comment. “CJ’s language might be a bit more colorful than what I had in mind, but he’s right. It’s our pleasure to have you and your friends here. When CJ and Owen mentioned most of the guests were going to be members of the GLBT group at GU, neither one of us hesitated. We figured being this close to campus, our place was convenient.” “Everyone can drink as much as they want, and there’s no need to drive.” Owen took a sip from the twenty-five-year-old El Dorado rum Abuelo Abelló sent him as a graduation present. When he googled the brand, he was surprised to discover how rare and expensive the Guyana product was. He told CJ it was not to be shared with anyone outside the family; he was unsure they could replace the limited edition bottling. “And we figured this was as safe as space as anyone could find, what with it being a gay household. Well, except for Ritchie, but he’s used to us and our friends by now.” “I don’t think he pays much attention to sexual orientation.” Gina repeated a remark she had made before. “But I was impressed the one friend he invited tonight is gay. I wish more high school kids were like your brother. Bullying would be history if we could all be as accepting as he is.” “I hope you don’t become a stranger now that you’re graduating, Gina. You’re welcome to stop by whenever you want after you return from Alaska.” “That won’t be a problem, Dad. Ozzie and I plan on having her over to our place—and by default here—as often as possible in the coming year.” CJ was gratified when his prediction about Brad having a strong support system proved accurate. The day after his friend arrived at Walter Reed Medical Center, his mother, stepfather, and brother traveled to Washington and remained for a week. Ethan and Sean came from New York for a visit, and so did Chipper as soon as his exams were over at the University of Miami. Chipper’s sister, Cristina, called and sent flowers. Even CJ’s grandparents reached out to offer support. Brad had lost his legs, and the recovery would be long and arduous. However, of most importance, he was alive.
  8. 59 points
    The alarm went off at 5:30am. Don groped for it. “Louis, why is this blasted thing ringing now?” I rolled over, groaning. “Forgot?” Don lay back after shutting the beeping clock off. I could feel the bed move under him as he stretched. He turned over and pulled me into his warmth. I wanted to just lay there. “Let’s sleep a bit more, Donny.” His lips were soft on the nape of my neck. “Mmmm, good idea.” I awoke with a start. Confused about the time, I sat up. I’d pushed hard against Don’s chest, causing him to groan. “Lous. You’ve just remembered the horses, right?” “Yes. Damn it.” I swung my legs over the side of the bed. Don pulled himself up, using the trapeze. “I’ll go.” I twisted around to meet his eyes. He smiled and said, “They will be fine. We’ll only be about fifteen minutes late.” “You don’t have to come, Don.” “Yeah, I do. It’s not fair that you do everything.” He pulled on a long-sleeved shirt. “Plus, it’s Monday. I need to get some work done.” So, we got up early. We fed the horses and let them out into the pasture. Then we mucked out the boxes and tidied up the barn. Returning to the house, I put on a pot of coffee; we showered together and dressed for the day. We sat at the kitchen table at about 8:30am to have cereal and coffee. I had a yellow notepad and a pen. I was writing a to-do list. I had to make an appointment to speak with the partners about reducing hours, possibly leaving and contract work. I wrote down that I wanted to fix up Max’s room, adding a note to put one or two of Pa’s books in there. At the bottom of the list was: What needs to happen so Don can drive again? While he ate, Don had been reading his correspondence, and then his phone rang. He picked it up and frowned at the screen before answering it. “Hi, Robert … Tomorrow? … That’s rather short notice … Let me have a word with Lous ….” I’d been listening, so I had an idea of what was coming. “Lous, it seems we have a home inspection and interview tomorrow at 3:00pm.” “Okay.” I sounded calmer than I felt. I was running through the scenarios and what needed to be cleaned and tidied. Don was staring. “Okay? You have no issues with that?” “No, the house is pretty good. It just needs a quick clean. And well … I want to do this so we can get Max here as soon as possible.” “Okay.” He put the phone back to his ear. “We’ll be ready … No, we’ll get it all sorted … They will have to take us as we are … Okay, thanks, Robert … Bye.” Don smiled up at me. “Do you want me to do the laundry out in the barn? I’m gonna go and write, Lous, so I will look after that.” “That would be great, baby.” We got the laundry out to the barn and I started it. I left Don at his desk while I went back to tidy rooms and generally clean up. About an hour later, I’d just finished cleaning our room after doing what would be Max’s, when our doorbell rang. I ran downstairs and pulled open the door to find Robert standing there with a man and a woman. “Hi, Robert.” “May we come in, Louis?” “Um … yes, of course.” The couple smiled at me, as they walked in. They weren’t a couple though. They were in business attire and carried clipboards. The woman had a cross-body portfolio and a handbag as well. They all wiped their feet as I pushed the door closed. The man put out his hand, which I shook. “I’m Elliott Mayhew, and this is Janet Grimes. We are from Children’s Aid.” “Hi, I’m Louis Taylor. Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.” “I know and we are sorry for the change. This isn’t a usual situation. May we sit and talk?” “Yes, of course. Please go through. I should call Don.” I motioned my guests toward the living room. Robert put a hand on my arm. “I’ll go get him.” I nodded; I felt out of my depth. “Yeah, thanks.” I offered coffee and was putting on a pot when Don and Robert came in. Don seemed as unhappy as I felt. We all returned to the living room together. After introducing Don, I sat in the easy chair, while he remained in his wheelchair beside me. Elliot started speaking. “First let me say, we appreciate you seeing us today.” Don replied, “You know, when I agree to an appointment, I don’t expect people just to drop by a day early.” “I understand—” “No, I don’t think you do.” Robert stared at Don. “Don … I don’t think ….” “No, I’m sorry Robert. If me speaking my mind means Max doesn’t come here, then I’ll apologize to Max. I don’t like the tactics; I don’t like the presumption … I don’t like the idea that we need to be spied on or tricked. Frankly, I’m rather pissed off!” Don looked at me and I nodded. I felt the same way. “Yeah, I understand those feelings, Don.” Donny was not done. “You know, you have done background and police checks on us both. Both Louis and I have excellent reputations in our chosen fields, yet you feel the need to try and catch us out … tell me, what did you think you’d find?” “Mr. McPhee, we—” “I am working. You’ve interrupted me and I think you get my drift. You’re here, you’ve interrupted my day, our work. So, let’s get on with it, or, if you have already decided we are not what you want, just go.” Both of the Children’s Aid workers sat back. After a moment of silence, Janet Grimes moved herself forward on the sofa. “Mr. Taylor; Mr. McPhee; first of all, you’re right. We should have discussed the change in the schedule. We do make surprise visits from time to time, but this was poorly timed. I for one appreciate your candor, Mr. McPhee. If you stand up for Max like you have here, well, we couldn’t want for more.” Don looked at the woman. “That boy is going through a terrible thing. We seem to get along, and we’d love it if he chooses to come and live with us.” I brought coffee, and the flavour of the meeting changed slightly. Don was less prickly, and we got down to talking about Max, school and other concerns, including my job. “I’m actually thinking of leaving and doing contract work from home. Don earns enough. It will let me have more time to do things around the house and make sure Max is looked after and supported properly.” “Speaking of support, he mentioned to us the other day that he’s uncomfortable going to these meetings with lawyers alone.” Don rested his coffee mug on his knee. Elliott replied, “He’s not alone, his appointed lawyer is there—” I interrupted. “Mr. Mayhew, a lawyer is not family, or a friend. In any case Max has asked me to be with him.” Grimes and Mayhew swapped glances. “You’d have to run that through the lawyer I guess.” I wondered if these two had beating hearts. “You misunderstand. I am going as his friend, not to represent him. He doesn’t want to go alone. In any case, I’ll deal with it.” The coffee was nearly done, and so was the talk, as far as I was concerned. I wanted these people on their way. “Would you like to see the house now?” Janet Grimes smiled. “Yes, we’d like to.” “You don’t need me, do you, Lous? I’m on a deadline.” I bent to kiss him, heedless of our guests. “No, you go and work. I’ll bring you some lunch later.” Don said his farewells and went out through the kitchen door. Once alone with them, I explained the Janka rating of our wood floors and the tile in the kitchen as both being important for wheelchair users. I pointed out our wider than usual doorways. Then I took them upstairs in the elevator. They checked the electrical faceplates, the cords on blind, and other things they thought might be choking hazards or dangers to a small child. I reminded them Max was fifteen and in a wheelchair. After touring the three bedrooms, explaining the decorating, and the things to be added to Max’s room, the Children’s Aid officers seem satisfied. I gave them a quick tour of the grounds, showing them the finished pathways, and the barn. I pointed out Don’s office, but we didn’t go in. Finally, we stood beside their car with Robert. Janet Grimes scribbled a few more notes. “Mr. Taylor, the small house, is that your property?” “Yes, it is. It’s currently occupied by Don’s mother.” “I see, thank you. Does she approve? Will she support Max?” “Yes, very much so. I’m sorry she’s out, otherwise you could have met.” Robert coughed. “Don’s mother, Rena, is my fiancée. I can tell you for certain that she’s happy about Max possibly moving in.” “Oh, I see. Congratulations, Robert. That’s wonderful.” Elliott unlocked the car. “Thank you, Mr. Taylor, for being so accommodating on such short notice. I know it was an imposition. You’ll hear from us soon.” Ms. Grimes smiled. “Needless to say, we have what we need and won’t be returning tomorrow. That said, if Max is coming, we will have to return to ensure that changes we discussed were complete before Max can move in.” “Of course. As soon as everything is approved, I can add the equipment Max needs.” I shook hands with them both and watched as they climbed into their car and drove away. Robert remained. “I’m so sorry, Louis. I had no idea ….” I sighed. “Wow, that was totally uncalled for. Don was not happy; I’m not either really. But it’s done.” “It is. I should get going, too.” “Okay. Robert … Don’s being angry, that won’t … I mean will it affect anything?” “No, I shouldn’t think so. He was articulate, and not raging. I don’t think it will affect anything, except maybe how those two do things in the future.” I laughed. “Well, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.” Robert opened his car door. “No, it wouldn’t. See you later, Louis. Have a good afternoon.” “Yeah, you too. See you later.” I returned to the house and finished the cleaning I’d begun. “At least it will be over with.” It was nearly noon, and I wanted to fix lunch, but before heading downstairs I peered into the third bedroom; my new office. As I stood there thinking about the colours and the desk, in the back of my mind, I knew it was a job I did not want to do. However, I had to. I fixed an add-water chicken noodle soup, grated in a carrot, threw in some leftover chicken breast and a chopped green onion, leaving it to simmer. Then I settled at the table, pulled out my phone and called work. Going through the staff list, I found Jackie McRae, who was the partners’ P. A. The phone rang twice. “Jackson and Montague, how may I help you?” “Hi, Jackie, it’s Louis Taylor.” I could hear the smile in her voice. “Louis! I was just about to call you! How funny. How are you? I was sorry to hear about your father.” “Thanks, Jackie. I’m doing fine, thanks.” I doodled at the bottom of my to-do list. “You were going to call me? Is everything okay?” “Yes, everything is great. I heard—" Jackie lowered her voice. “—the meeting you prepped that huge document for went like a dream!” I smiled. “Terrific. That’s good news.” “Anyway, just wanted to say. I’m sure they will tell you themselves. They’d like to see you in the morning first thing Wednesday, at ten.” This was a surprise. “Um … yes of course. I’ll be there. I sort of wanted to talk to them as well.” “Great then, Louis. See you Wednesday.” “Yes … thanks, Jackie. See you then.” I finished making lunch and texted Don who said he’d come over so we could eat together. I served the soup and put a selection of sandwiches out as well. A small plate of cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumber rounded out the meal. Don pushed open the back door and rolled in. He moved toward me, and I bent to kiss him. He smiled and went to the table. “Oh, wow. Nice! You are gonna spoil me, Lous.” I laughed. “You’re already spoiled.” I sat down next to him. He picked up his spoon and stirred the contents of his bowl. Don glanced up from it and met my eyes. “Thank you.” I sipped the soup. “For what?” “Just for being you. For being my partner. For not leaving me, when lots of people would have thrown in the towel.” “Babe—” Don lay his spoon down. “No. No, Louis, sometimes things just need saying.” “’Kay.” He reached over and lay his hand on my forearm. “I just want you to know that I am aware of each sacrifice you make for me. I see all that you do in support of me. I love you, and I’m grateful.” I smiled and was frowning too. “Isn’t that marriage? Loving your partner? Supporting them?” “Yeah, but it always falls to one of them more.” He took a bite from a salami and cheese sandwich. “Mmmm, great salami.” “Not touching that comment.” I chose a tomato and cheese from the plate. “At least…not right now.” Don laughed. We finished lunch quietly. I cleared the table and made a pot of tea. I put a Tupperware box of goodies on the table. Don loved dessert. I was Mother, and poured our beverages. Don munched on a Nanaimo bar. “Back to work on Wednesday, Lous?” “Yes. I have an appointment to see them at ten.” “Have you decided what you want to tell them?” “Not really. Well, I’d like to just say, I resign.” After replacing his mug on the table, Don said, “Then do it.” He reached for a blondie. “I think I’ll talk with them first. It would be great if I could keep them as clients when I set up shop here.” The blondie disappeared, and he started on a date square. These were small pieces so we could enjoy a few flavours without all the calories. “Then Louis, I suggest you get out and buy your yellow curtains, desk, and whatever else you need in there.” Little doubts had been clawing at me. This would be my own business; I’d need a business bank account, maybe even an accountant. I’d taken courses while getting my degree; I should be able to do this. I looked at Don. “Do you think I can do it? This home-based business thing?” He licked the final crumbs from his lips and put the lid back on the Tupperware box. “Louis, don’t start all this self-doubt stuff. You handle deadlines at work, you organize us, keep our home running and clean, and our banking and investments are all handled by you. Do you think, because you will no longer drive there, that suddenly you won’t be able to work?” “No, but there is more responsibility, isn’t there? I need to pay taxes, have a business account, and all of that.” “I’m not making light of this, but it’s a small, albeit important, business. You need to keep receipts, which you do for us, you need to find some business software that will help sort out your deductions and taxes, or talk to an accountant. You can handle this, Louis.” He reached for and squeezed my hand. “And the small business banker at our branch can help you too.” I listened and considered Don’s words. He smiled at me and continued, “Are you having trouble deciding what to do … to take the step to resign?” “Yeah, it’s scary; I’m used to the security of having a pay cheque and benefits.” Don frowned slightly. “Okay, I can help. Right now I want you to write a letter of resignation. Give them three weeks’ notice. Then I want you to phone the bank and make an appointment with a Small Business Banker, at the branch closest to work. Then you can go in and talk with them. Open the account maybe. Start to do research into a benefits package that mirrors or is better than what is offered by the partners.” I’d reached for my yellow pad and scribbled stuff on my to-do list. “Thanks, Don.” He smiled at me once more. “Baby, you worry too much, or maybe I don’t worry enough.” “Why are you so … so decisive?” “Because, Lous, if you dither and fret, nothing gets done. Make a choice, and then follow through. It’s not always gonna work, but often it will.” He leaned toward me for a kiss. “It will be okay. You will think back in a year and wonder why you worried.” I smiled at him. “You’re right. I’ll clear up here and get on with things.” With lunch consumed and cleared away, Don went back to work. I did some online shopping for things for my office. I ordered a desk and computer. Don had a very high-end printer in his office, which I’d rather use than purchasing another. I made a list of the benefits we were looking for. I typed up a resignation letter on my laptop and put it on a USB. Around 3:00 I took a break and texted Max. Just to say hello and let him know we’re thinking of him. I then called the bank to make a lunchtime appointment for Friday. I decided to go out for some fresh air. It had been over a week since we’d been running; I was craving the exertion. I went over to see how Don was doing, and to print my letter. He was typing on his laptop when I went in. He turned and smiled at me. “Hey baby, how are you? “ “I’m good Donny. Nearly everything is done. I just wondered if you felt like getting some exercise. I feel like a run.” I held up the USB. “And can you print this for me, please?” “Great idea. Give me ten minutes to finish up here.” He smiled. “You change and get my stuff out for me, please? I’ll be right up to change. And of course, I’ll print the letter for you. I’ll even fold it and put it in an envelope!” “Thanks!” I bent to kiss him. “See you in a few minutes.” The run had been what we both needed. Afterward, we had dinner, coaxed in the horses and then spent our evening together. Giggling like teenagers, we decided to go to bed early. We slept well … eventually. ~~~ After a normal early start on Wednesday, I arrived at the office just before nine. I was a bag of nerves, and glad the meeting was early. I settled at my desk for an hour, plowed through a number of e-mail and tried to get myself organized. Ten minutes before the meeting I checked again that I had my resignation letter. I put it in a sleeve in my portfolio. I locked my computer and made my way to the partners’ offices. Jackie was smiling as I approached. “Hey, good morning, Louis. How are you?” “I’m doing okay, thanks, Jackie. Bit nervous today.” “They both seemed in good moods this morning. Not that they are often not in a good mood.” “That’s a good thing.” At that moment, Jackie’s phone buzzed, and she answered. “Yes, sir.” Then to me she said, “Go on in, Louis. They are ready for you.” My heart was pounding as I nodded at her. “Thanks.” I chastised myself for being so nervous as I entered the meeting room. Pulling myself together, I closed the door and said, “Good morning.” Pierre Montague was in his early fifties, but his blond hair didn’t show it. “Louis, good to see you.” “Yes, good morning, Louis. Glad you’re back. How is your family? We were sorry to hear about your father’s passing.” Frank Jackson rose and shook my hand. Unlike his business partner, Jackson’s dark hair was shot with silver. “We’re all coping well, thank you. To be honest, he’d been ill for a long time.” I pulled out a chair across from them. They rarely sat at the ends of the boardroom table, preferring to sit side-by-side in the middle. “Louis, we’ll get right to it. We know you likely have a lot of e-mail to get through.” Mr. Jackson opened a leather notebook. “We’d like to talk about a case we’ll need a lot of due diligence for—” I interrupted him. “I’m sorry … I think I’d better explain something before letting you continue.” Both partners were surprised, it seemed, at my breaking in. Mr. Montague said, “This is unusual, Louis. What is it?” I drew in a deep breath. “First, I just want to say thank you. You’ve both been very supportive. There’s a lot going on in my life, including the fact that we are going to foster a boy who has recently lost his parents.” Mr. Montague spoke first and said, “And how does this affect us, Louis? Are you asking for more time, because …?” “No, sir. I’m saying that after a lot of thought, I’m giving you my resignation and three-week notice.” Both of them sat back in their chairs. There was silence. They both looked at each other, and Frank Jackson leaned forward. “Louis … Louis, you’re a talented researcher and a good employee.” He glanced to his partner. “We don’t want to lose you. Is resigning the only option here?” I gazed at both men, taking a moment to collect my thoughts. “These past few years, with Don’s accident, and now this boy coming into our lives has made me reconsider a lot of things. I like what I do very much but I need to be home more than I am …. No, I want to be there especially once Max moves in.” Pierre Montague was nodding. “I think we understand that. Louis can you give us some time to think of options?” I smiled at him. “Mr. Montague, my plan is to continue my work as a paralegal, but from home. My own business.” I paused for a deep breath. “I had hoped you’d consider letting me work for you on a contract basis.” Frank Jackson nodded. “That’s interesting, Louis, and I understand it. It’s about work and life balance. Something that is more important now, but it always should have been.” Pierre rose, so I did also. He put out his hand which I grasped. “Louis, as senior partner, we will accept your resignation from the firm. However, we would love to continue having you work with us.” “Yes, we’ll draw up a contract and work with you.” Frank Jackson was saying, “We wish you all the best, Louis.” “Thank you. Thanks, very much.” I wanted to plunk my backside into the chair and weep from relief. “The issue is your notice. Policy says once an employee has resigned, they are required to leave, give up their security passes and access will be removed,” Mr. Montague was saying. I guess I appeared shocked because he continued. “Louis, we’ll pay you for the three weeks. Go home. Get your life, your office, your accounts, etcetera in order. We have a big job coming up and we need you as soon as possible.” He turned to Mr. Jackson. “Let’s get Terry on this for now and we’ll prepare something for Louis.” Jackson was scribbling notes. Pierre Montague flipped his gaze to me. “Can we meet again in two weeks?” He picked up the phone. “Jackie, schedule a two-hour meeting with us and Louis two weeks from now please … no, better make it three hours just in case. It’s regarding the Timberton file … Yes, thank you.” “Will you be ready, Louis?” Montague was asking me. “Yes, sir, I’ll be ready. I’ll see Jackie about the meeting and see you both then.” “Excellent. Do you have a letter for us?” I took the letter from my portfolio and handed it over. Mr. Montague accepted it and shook my hand. “Exciting times, Louis. We’ll speak soon. Please ensure that Jackie always has your current contact information.” “Yes, sir.” “Stay here for a moment. Jackie will come in with some paperwork and then you can go home.” I nodded and sat down. The enormity of this change was slamming me. I sat, and when Jackie came in, I smiled at her. She sat down and began giving me documents to fill in and sign. I’d done it! I’d taken the first step to a new chapter in my life and I was ready. ~~~
  9. 56 points
    “I hate you, bruh.” Harley did not look happy while hugging Owen. The two of them and CJ had spent the previous few days together, most of the time on their motorcycles riding through the countryside around Laconia. Now it was time to part ways. Owen took a step back but kept a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You know you’re welcome to come with us.” The ride to DC from New Hampshire was long enough Harley was heading south this morning and planned to spend a night with Chipper in New York City. “Can’t and you know it. I need to get home. Promised Danno I’d spend a couple of days helping him complete the project he’s been working on. What with him wanting to move to Hawaii and shit. And I have to be at the dealership on Monday.” Harley started working with Danno while in high school. The owner of Rogo’s restored American muscle cars as a hobby, selling most of them but now and then adding one to his collection. Nobody knew what he planned to do with the ones he currently owned when he sold the bar and the attached warehouse. CJ frowned and scratched his head. “I still can’t figure out why you keep doing this with him. It was good money while we were in high school, but you have a decent paying job now. I mean, you spend all your days wrenching on motorcycles, and then go tinker on cars with him.” “I like it, bruh. It’s like working on scooters’ fun, but the cars are a nice change. It also means I won’t forget how to work on cages.” The arrangement had been lucrative for Harley. Danno paid him by the hour but also shared a small portion of the profits with him. It meant the young mechanic did not have to worry about spending money during the two years he spent training in Orlando. “Okay. I wish you could stay, but I understand. And since this is the last car project… You have a safe ride, okay? When Ozzie and I get back, we’ll give you and Tank some help looking for a place. If the dads don’t have any apartments available, they might know of something else.” Thanks to the people they hung around with at the motorcycle rally, CJ’s riding playlist had grown. Before sticking his helmet on, he made sure the connection between the Bluetooth earbuds and the phone was active and hit play. Kip Moore’s “Motorcycle” was queued up. “Too bad it’s about a wench instead of a stud.” “What’d you say?” Owen lifted the front of his full-face helmet; it was tough to hear anything with it closed. “Nothing. Talking to myself.” CJ gave his husband a thumbs-up and turned his engine on; it was time to get going. Taking less traveled roads and stopping only once to stretch their legs and admire the bucolic landscape, CJ and Owen arrived in Freeport, Maine three hours after leaving the hotel in Laconia. LL Bean’s flagship store, across from the Tommy Hilfiger outlet, and a block down the road from the Polo Ralph Lauren one dominated the view. The white building with green awnings was by far the largest on Main Street. It might have been the primary thoroughfare in a small New England town, but it felt like an outlet mall. “What are you looking for?” CJ insisted on the detour to Freeport for two reasons. He wanted to stop at the L.L. Bean store and the prospect of riding US 1. The same road that began in Key West, and he had traveled on so many times. “The Liston tartan.” Owen sounded frustrated while flipping through the stacks of flannel shirts. “I’ll ask, but I don’t think they have it. These are all probably generic. I may end up buying the blue version of the one you’re getting.” The shirt and a pair of Bean Boots—officially called Maine hunting shoes—were the reason CJ insisted on the shopping spree. His old pair of the rubber and leather footwear had been stolen from the back of his topless Jeep. The boots, manufactured in Maine since the early nineteen hundreds, were a fashion staple in prep and Ivy League schools; CJ thought they were the perfect shoes for when he had to trudge through wet or snow-covered sidewalks on his walk to and from campus. “Okay, they don’t have it, so we’ll both have the same shirt but in different colors.” Owen bypassed the stack of iconic red and black Buffalo Plaid shirts and looked for his size on the pile next to them. “We can always dress up like lumberjacks for Halloween. Where to now?” “Kicks.” “Ugh. At the rate you buy shoes, we’ll need to make the master bedroom closet even larger before we move to our house.” Rearranging walls on the house’s third floor had allowed them to create an oversized storage space; a section had been designated for footwear. “Asshole! Stop your bitching. I don’t own that many.” “Says the man with every color PF Flyers hi-tops ever made. Hey, check those out.” The sign on the table, rising above the displayed wares, read Hudson Bay Point Blankets. Owen and CJ both ran their hands over the soft, off-white fabric featuring stripes in green, red, yellow, and indigo. The coverings also had smaller bars in black near the edge, not running all the way across. “I think the black ones represent the size of the blanket. I read about these a long time ago.” CJ’s eyes became somewhat unfocused as he imagined one of those on their bed. “Not sure I’d want it as a bedspread, a little too rustic for what we both like. Maybe for our place in Colorado. But it’d be cool to have a big one on the couch. We could use it in cold months when we cuddle to watch TV.” Owen nodded while reading a smaller sign on the display. “The short black lines are called points. The more of them, the larger the blanket. Let’s get a king. We need to have whatever we buy shipped. There’s no more room on the bikes.” “That’s cool. But I want to keep the flannel shirt with. We need to do laundry tonight, and I’ll wash it. I can wear it when we ride at night or if we hit another cold day.” Minimal storage meant minimal packing. Prior to departing Washington, Harley helped rig a removable sissy bar to CJ’s motorcycle, allowing him to strap a bag atop the microscopic passenger seat. The Harley-Davidson luggage doubled as a backrest. They feasted on lobster rolls at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a side street, and Owen vowed to eat nothing but the crustacean while in the state. Nearly four hours later, after riding along the rocky Maine coast on US Route 1, they checked into a cottage on Mount Desert Island; it would be their base of operations for subsequent days. They were about to leave a voicemail when the phone signaled an incoming call from the same number they had just tried to reach. “Hello? CJ?” The voice sounded sleepy. “Oh, shit! I forgot about the time difference.” CJ glanced at Owen sitting next to him and shook his head. “Sorry to wake you up, Silas. Go back to sleep. We’ll call you later.” “No, no, no. It’s okay. Randy or Tyler will barge in my room any time now anyway. I need to get up and start getting ready.” With each word, the kid sounded more alert. “I’m graduating from high school today.” Owen chuckled at Silas’ proud tone. “We know that, mate. This is Ozzie. CJ and I wanted to call and congratulate you before we started our day.” “Thanks. Where are you?” “Acadia National Park. In Maine. We’re at the halfway point of a two-week motorcycle trip. So what time’s the ceremony?” “Ten. But we’re supposed to meet Randy’s parents and Ty’s brother for breakfast before then. CJ?” “Yeah, dude.” “Thanks for what you wrote on the card. And thank you both for the leather portfolio. I love it!” Silas planned to enroll at the Art Institute of Chicago to study interior design. “We thought it would come in handy. Something to carry drawings, swatches, and whatever.” “It’s great! It even has loops to hold pens and pencils. I already put the fountain pen Abuelo Abelló sent as a present in there.” “You got one of those too, eh?” “Yeah, he said he bought the same thing for each of his sons and grandsons when they graduated high school. He told me I was the first great-grandson to get one.” CJ thought he heard a hitch in his nephew’s voice. He did not get a chance to ask about it. Tyler’s deep voice came through the connection. “Time to get up, Silas. Take your hand off your dick and go shower. We have to meet the others in like an hour.” “See? Told you they’d be waking me up. Guess I gotta go.” “That’s okay, buddy. Ozzie and I need to go eat too. Listen, I’m not sure when, but we’ll see you sometime this summer. Tell Randy and Ty we want your input on the designs they’re working on for our house.” “For real?” “Hell, yeah. Just remember, the place’s rented now, so work won’t be done for a while. We love you, Silas.” “Congratulations again, mate.” Owen and CJ smiled at each other. “He’s a good kid. Ready to call Patrick?” “Yeah…” CJ scrolled through the contact list and tapped the entry for their friend. “What’s up, CJ? Where are you guys?” Patrick was his usual cheerful self. “Yo, Preach!” The new nickname for the Boston University student majoring in theology had stuck. “We’re in your neck of the woods. Acadia National Park in Maine. Means Ozzie and I have added two new states to our list of visited ones.” “What’s the other one?” “Hey, Patrick. It’s Owen. We were just in New Hampshire with Harley.” “Oh, that’s right. So, what do I owe the honor of the call to?” “We were thinking of stopping in Boston overnight on the way back. Maybe we could hang out a bit and have dinner with you, your mom, and Mac?” “They would love to see you. And you know they would put you up too. One problem though, I’m not there.” CJ was surprised. They knew Patrick had a summer job lined up in Boston. “You’re not? Where are you? What happened to the job?” “I called, told them what was going on with Brad, and that I wanted to spend the summer in Washington to be near him.” “Wow! Speaking of our favorite hero, how’s he doing?” “Bah! Good days and bad days. They told us it would take time for his mood swings to level out, but there are times I want to strangle him. He gets weepy, and the rest of the day he’s useless.” “We’ll make sure we spend as much time as possible with him when we return. If he acts up, I’ll kick his ass. So are you doing anything this summer apart from hanging with your brother?” “Yeah!” Patrick suddenly sounded excited. “I landed a job with the Caps”—the Capitals were Washington’s team in the National Hockey League—“working in their summer camp for disadvantaged kids.” “Sounds right up your alley.” “It is, CJ. We get a new group of kids every two weeks, and I get to teach them how to skate and a few basic hockey moves. I love it.” “Okay, if you’re not in Boston, we’ll skip that stop. We’ll be home in a week or so. Give Brad a hug for us, and we’ll talk when we talk.” “I will. Be safe, guys.” Over breakfast, CJ regurgitated information about the national park he had read in the bathroom earlier. He had taken one of the National Park Service’s pamphlets available in the motel’s lobby the previous night. “Did you know this place was first a national monument and when it became a park it was Lafayette National Park before the name was changed?” Owen’s response was limited to a grunt; his mouth was full of maple syrup drenched waffle. A sip of milk helped him swallow. “No! Really? That’s fascinating!” “My sarcasm detector just went critical. Am I boring you already?” “Never!” Owen’s chuckle made CJ shake his head but the smile did not falter. “Honestly, CJ. Every time we visit a National Parks facility, you pick up those brochures and like memorize them. You’re going to pepper me with facts and figures for as long as we’re in the park.” “Fine! I’ll shut up.” “No, no. And quit pouting. I do enjoy hearing what you learn. How about we wait until the first stop before you give me any more facts? Instead of oversharing this early, give it to me in smaller doses.” “Damn! I keep forgetting you have a small capacity brain. We should look into an upgrade.” He ducked to avoid the sweet roll thrown at his face. “Just one more thing for now. Control over the area fluctuated between the French and English a couple of times. French Jesuits started the first permanent European settlement here. But the English burned it down. I’m glad the Brits didn’t pull the same shit with GU. I may have had to go away to school if they had. And then where would we have been?” Even with maximum speed on park roads being thirty-five miles per hour, riding the twenty plus mile Loop Road should not have taken more than an hour. It lasted three. Every bend of the asphalt ribbon revealed a new vista they had to stop for, admire, enjoy, and photograph. The afternoon they spent in Bar Harbor. “I see you were serious.” CJ chuckled as the server walked away after taking their order. “Different restaurant, same lunch.” “I told you I was going to eat as much lobster as I could this trip. Remember how after Israel you said falafel tasted better over there? Even if what we ate in DC was excellent. Same with these critters. Must be a location fixation.” “Don’t give up the day job. I don’t think you can make a living as a poet. So what do you want to do after we eat?” The seafood restaurant’s menu described dishes in English, French, and Portuguese. When asked, their server explained French was for the benefit of their many Québécois visitors. Portuguese was due to the owners’ heritage. A multitude of immigrants from the sea-faring nation had settled in the New England region and thrived in the area’s fishing enterprises. In keeping with the establishment’s roots, Owen ordered glasses of Portuguese wine. As soon as he placed the order, he tapped away on his phone while CJ smiled. When the server delivered their order, CJ was enthusiastic. “Damn, that tastes good. Tell me about it, Oz.” “You know something? I think Portuguese would be an easy language to learn. Between French and Spanish, I can decipher most of the strange words. The winery’s Quinta Covela. Not sure what quinta means, but I suspect it’s something about a fifth.” “That’s right. In this case, I’m guessing it means farm. I’ve heard it used like that in Spanish.” “Okay, this is a Vinho Verde. Not sure how to pronounce the first word. It means a young, white wine. Something bottled within like six months of production.” “Pronounce it like niño. That’ll be close enough. I’ve heard other words with N H in them pronounced that way.” “Okay… I like it when you teach me. It’s the 2017 vintage, made from avesso grapes, and cheeeap! Average ten bucks a bottle retail.” “We need to get a case or something. I like it. Reminds me of a Liston Verdelho. Dry and kinda citrusy. But a little more mineral. Maybe green apples?” “Brilliant, CJ!” Owen’s approval elicited a smile from his husband. “We’ll make a wine connoisseur out of you yet!” “Wine snob’s more like it. Wine’s a perfect example of getting what you pay for. That last five-buck-bottle I brought home tasted like crap. And the funny thing’s people drink it. I’d rather have less of a better slash more expensive one than drink more of the rotgut. “So, what do you wanna do the rest of the afternoon?” “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe walk around and check the place out?” It was what they ended up doing. Bar Harbor was a quaint seaside town with typical New England charm; they strolled along Shore Path following the edge of Frenchman Bay from the town pier to Wayman Lane. When they inquired about a whale watching boat excursion, they discovered the charters would begin the following week. The town’s population swelled with tourists over the summer, but it was still early in the season, so some businesses remained shuttered. At low tide, a sand bar connecting the town to Bar Island appeared, making it accessible to walkers. They hiked old roads and trails through the forested island, paying close attention to the time. More than once, they stood still and silent, listening to birdcalls and the whisper of the wind through the pines and birch trees. Warnings about visitors ending up stranded by fast incoming tides remained uppermost on their minds. Back in town, they walked in and out of antique shops and art galleries. The hand-woven, sea-grass baskets purchased at Island Artisans they had shipped home. They also purchased a large watercolor reminiscent of Hudson River School paintings they thought would look great in the dining room once they moved to their house. “You go on ahead, okay? It’s too early. Wake me up when you get back.” Owen tried to burrow back under the covers, but CJ yanked them off the bed. “Oh, no you don’t.” They had reached a compromise the previous night. CJ relented on a pre-sunrise hike up Cadillac Mountain, and Owen agreed to accompany him as long as they rode the bikes instead. “A deal’s a deal. You can’t back out now. Come on, get up.” The grumbling and arguing did not stop until they were sitting on the smooth, rocky top of Acadia's tallest mountain and the highest point on the Atlantic Coast. The spectacular views of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay as the sun climbed above the horizon at last put a stop to Owen’s complaints. “Fine. You win. I admit it. It was totally worth getting up early to see this.” “Ummm, Oz? I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so.” “Asshole!” It seemed everyone they talked to claimed no trip to Maine was complete without seeing one. The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was on the rocky southwest portion of Mount Desert Island within the confines of Acadia National Park; it was their destination after breakfast. The afternoon they spent traipsing around the fishing village of Bass Harbor, talking to fishermen, and watching boats unload their catch. Rugged, grunting men coiled ropes on their vessel’s deck, while buckets of fish were dropped into large, white chests filled with ice. The crews were mostly men, but a woman or two had infiltrated the male-dominated world. They stared in awe as the sun set over the water, and returned for dinner to the same restaurant where they ate lunch, wondering if they had seen the seafood they ordered brought ashore earlier in the day. Saturday morning, they packed the motorcycles and headed north. Their ride flirted with the Canadian border that paralleled US-1 most of the way; whenever they glanced to their right, they looked at New Brunswick. Their destination, Fort Kent, was the northern terminus of the road that began in Key West. They took pictures in front of the sign marking the spot and checked into a hotel for the night. Since neither had ever visited Canada, they walked across the international bridge for dinner in Clair. They discussed riding to Quebec City, but Lola being with them, meant they would have to backtrack if they left it locked in the US. Further north-of-the-border exploration would have to wait. The return to Washington was fast; they rode interstates most of the way. It was also uneventful, except for the murder of crows that toyed with them south of Bangor, and the bone-chilling downpour they rode through in Massachusetts. Monday night, they slept in their own bed.
  10. 56 points
    Our link pulled at me, and I followed it. These Elites didn’t have their cells set up like the scientists and doctors had. No constant surveillance, just guards. Guards who didn’t see me coming before I took them out. Deke would be proud. The last one had managed to draw a weapon on me, so I’d been forced to use a knife on him. If he was valuable, they could regrow the tendons. If not… it was him or me. And nothing was going to keep me from Captain. Hopefully Anyas was doing his job because I needed Danie and Freska in place soon. He was going to keep the others close, making sure he didn’t lose the biggest threat he had over the other Elites. My stomach churned as I crept along, the weapon I’d stolen at the ready. He’d been a superb actor—at times too good—and it was hard to know whether or not we could trust him. Then again, being welcomed back into the fold of the ones who betrayed him didn’t seem like a good idea to me. Bastards exiled him once, no telling how quick they’d do it again once he’d given up his bargaining chips. And Anyas was many things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. I’d kept my eyes down on the trip to the cells, but I’d learned a long time ago to assess my surroundings and learn the smallest details without being noticed. As a spy or assassin, covert had been drilled into me. So I knew I was running out of corridors before I’d return to the main building. I needed to find them, but I couldn’t go rushing out where I’d quickly be surrounded. The other Elites knew about me and Danie’s skills. They probably had information on the rest of the crew, but Freska’s abilities were a secret that only those truly loyal to Captain had been privy to. The others knew she was a tech mastermind. They didn’t know she could literally bond with inorganic technology and become a part of it, and let it become a part of her. Claimed as spoils of his capture, Anyas had brought us in his ship, but had ours had “limped along at its pathetic pace”. Which meant it should be overhead… Right. About. Now. I ducked into an alcove when the lights flickered, crouching down and leaning against the wall to blend into the shapes of the decorations as best I could. Yep. Right on time. Relief sent a fine tremor through my hands. Anyas hadn’t betrayed us. He’d gotten Freska to a place where she could connect with the ship’s A.I. And that A.I. was now sharing with the planetary A.I.s just what type of joy she could bring them. A glimpse of humanity. Love. Appreciation. Need. I’d almost had to look away from Freska when she spoke of it because what she felt for metal and circuits felt more intimate than I was comfortable with. My face had been on fire. Danie had watched her with rapt eyes, his chest rising and falling and rapidly. And then I had looked away. But whatever the A.I.s felt from her, they returned it tenfold, giving her free reign through their systems. Booted feet pounded by, and I froze, barely daring to breathe. They’d never discover her, but I was still vulnerable. The lights flickered again, and then a voice whispered from a screen in the wall. A speaker? “Kohen?” “Yes,” I whispered. “Good, it’s Freska. The sensors picked you up. You’re down five levels and across the compound from us.” Who else was it going to be? I suppressed a snort. “Of course I am. You got the lights? Doors?” “Yes. I’m tracking you, so I’ll try to divert others away. Captain Querry says to be careful. Make your way here quick, Anyas says. Things—” She broke off, and I tensed. Someone was coming, and they weren’t stomping like a guard. This was different. Soft footsteps crept quietly down the hall closer, and I made a snap decision. Jumping out, I locked onto the person and flipped them to the ground. I covered their mouth with one hand, using my body to hold their arms to their sides and my weight to keep them pinned. With the other, I pinched the blood flow at the neck until they went limp. Blinking rapidly, I stared, crinkling my forehead. It was a woman, a young one, barely into adulthood. Maybe a year or two older than me. An Elite. What the hell was she doing down here? I was glad I didn’t use the stunner on her; knocking her unconscious was kinder. But she’d wake up faster. I could leave her or take her. Making a snap decision, I scooped up her body and tucked her willowy body over my shoulder. I awkwardly leaned into the alcove. “Freska? Get the lights and doors. Now.” The lights went out. Hustling, I followed the directions Anyas had been able to provide us, always tracking toward the bond that I had with Captain. It was awkward with the Elite in my arms, she was a tall girl, but there was something strange going on here. My brain raced as my body moved just as quickly. Why was an Elite female heading into the cells? Why was an Elite female unescorted at all? Was she the reason for the troop of guards that had blasted past or had they discovered the missing guard I put in a cell? Were we discovered another way? Freska would have some answers about the guards movements, and hopefully she or Anyas would have some information about the girl too.
  11. 55 points
    Candy & Kisses Chapter 9 By Dabeagle email Saturday was the dance. I was a little nervous because I hadn't really danced before, but Cal reassured me. I stood in my room and fiddled with the tie. I'd watched a couple of videos, but I couldn't get the hang of it. "Need a hand?" my dad asked from the doorway. I looked at his reflection in the mirror and sighed. "I can't get this. Can you help me?" He smiled as he crossed the room and took the tie from me. He started to undo the knot I'd gotten it in and he looked at me fondly. "You don't ask for help very much." "I guess not," I said. "I thought I understood the video, but I'm all thumbs with it." "Nervous?" he asked as he slid behind me and draped the tie around my neck. "A little," I said. "This has all been out of nowhere. I'm just...riding the wave, Dad." He started the motions, turning the tie from a pretty piece of cloth to the proper dash of color it was supposed to be. "Your mother and I are very excited for you. I know it hasn't always been easy, but Brandon seems like he was worth the wait." I looked at myself in the mirror and then at my dad's face, filled with pride. "He is worth the wait, Dad. If you'd asked me a month ago, I would have said something different. But now?" He nodded slowly and adjusted the tie slightly. "Enjoy it, son." Brandon came to pick me up and I pinned a pink carnation to his lapel, and he pinned a red rose to mine. My parents took pictures, and I was overcome by a realization. I didn't think I'd ever go through this little dance of suit, corsages and pictures before a dance. My sister and brother, yes. I thought I'd be left out. It was a slice of pure magic as the school gym became a dance hall for one night, and the comparatively ugly ducklings you saw all day transformed into swans for the evening. We laughed with friends, but the world shrank down to just us whenever a slow song came on. "A suit makes you look taller," Brandon said as he dusted my lapel. I smiled at him and leaned in, feeling a spike of euphoria. "You look hot in everything you wear." He blushed and smiled at me. "I guess I should always stay fully clothed around you then, right?" I decided not to take the bait. "Ginnie is all pissed I'm dating you. She wants your abs. She wants me to write a love poem about them." "Maybe a dirty limerick?" he asked with a laugh. "How would that go? What rhymes with abs?" We turned in a slow circle and I leaned back just enough to see his face, then press our foreheads together. "Why me, B? Why in the hell did you ever pick me?" He smiled. "Maybe it doesn't take that much to win my heart, I guess. Just sharing your candy and giving me kisses." He looked deeply into my eyes and I felt a giddy flash that he could see all the purely sexual thoughts I'd ever had about him. It was a relief to know he was more than good looking; that he was imperfect, unlike the abstract I'd had in my mind. He was a jock, yes. He was creative, showing me drawings of buildings and a row of books with architectural styles he had in his room. He was a dreamer, looking up at the stars in the night sky and imagining the future. I had dreams, too. The difference was, now they included a future with Brandon. "What are you smiling about?" he asked me. I wasn't going to get into all that with him right now. We were here to have fun. "I'm just wondering how fast the proctors are going to kick me out of here when I kiss the fuck out of you," I said wickedly. I only had time to note the gleam in his eye before my lips were on his. It didn't last long - the fun police broke us up, but we danced like mad all night. I'd never been dancing, but I think we may have missed two dances, otherwise we were out there having fun. It's also worth noting, he can dance. That 'Aww shucks, I can shuffle my feet' was a total lie. Around nine-thirty the dance wore down. I was guzzling water and leaning on Brandon, who seemed perfectly content to let me do so. We said short goodbyes to our friends, even Cathy and Malik swept past us, seemingly pleased with each other. Brandon escorted me to his car, arm around my waist. I spun out of his grip, taking his hand and doing a quick pull to me, as if we were still on the dance floor. He just laughed at me. I grinned happily and we were just goofy until we climbed into the car. "Thank you," I said, smiling. "I had a great time." "Me, too," he said with a matching grin. He turned the radio on and we kind of wiggled in our seats all the way to my house, talking a little about the best songs we'd danced to and some of the people we'd seen. He turned the car off on front of my house, and I admit I just wasn't ready for the night to end. "Come on in?" I asked. "Uh, yeah. Cool," he said, perhaps pleasantly surprised. We walked in to find my mom making popcorn and my dad digging through their DVD collection. "Hi," I said, wandering into the living room. My dad looked up and smiled at us. "How did it go?" Brandon looped his hands around my waist and set his head on my shoulder. "Your son is an amazing dancer. It was a total blast." "Actually, he can dance pretty freaking well," I said, not quite correcting him. "That's fantastic, I'm glad you guys had a good time." He paused and pulled up a disc. "Hah. I knew we had it." My mom came into the room with the bowl of popcorn and ruffled my hair as she went past. "Your sister is still at that concert. Cal should be home in an hour and a half or so and Amanda is in bed, at last. Want to watch a movie with us?" Some people might think it was lame to watch a movie with their parents and their date. My parents, though, did it to be inclusive - inviting my date to join us in a family kind of way. I turned and arched an eyebrow at Brandon. "Sounds good to me," he said. I looked back to them. "What movie?" "One of the great feminist movies of all time," my mother said. "Brandon, are you familiar with Shakespeare?" "We studied him a little in English. His sonnets, primarily. Other than that, only by reputation," he said. "Well," my mother said, warming to the subject. "The Taming of the Shrew is often misunderstood because there is a section where the woman says something like, if the man needs to fix his shoe, the wife presents her knee for him to work on, stuff like that. So some people like to say," she said as she took a seat on the couch, "that it's the woman being subservient, but the other side of that is the response from the husband, which is them being in balance." "So, wait. We're watching Shakespeare?" I asked. My mother looked down her nose at me. "Hey, I'm all for feminism, I don't know if I want to spend the evening with thee, thou and thus, though," I said with a grin. "Do you see what you're dating, Brandon?" she asked with a laugh. "We're watching a more modern retelling," my dad said, giving my mom a long suffering look. "It's called 10 Things I Hate About You." "Oh. Cool. Let me get changed." I turned and looked at Brandon, somehow more attractive for his suit being a little relaxed from moving in it all night. "I'll find some stuff for B, too." He followed me up and texted his parents to let them know what was up. I pulled out a heavy hanger to place his suit on and one for mine. I shrugged out of the coat and tossed it on my bed. "You totally undersold your dancing skills," I told him as I started to unbutton my shirt. "You want sweats or shorts and a tee shirt?" "You didn't even tell me you could dance at all. If anyone was holding out, it was you," he said, pulling his tie off and unbuttoning his shirt. "I have a tee shirt on under this, but it's pretty sweaty, to be honest. Are we getting under a blanket or just hanging out?" "Whatever you want, really," I asked. "Why?" I pushed my slacks down and folded them over the arm of the hanger. "I just noticed the window was open downstairs. If your folks keep it cooler, a blanket means we can cuddle under it. Cuddling in sweats seems sort of less satisfying. You think?" "I don't know," I said, tossing my own damp undershirt aside and approaching him in my underclothes. I pulled up on the hem of his tee to encourage him. "Either way we're cuddling." He got the message and removed his shirt, tossing it on top of mine. He pulled me in, pressing our chests together - a first for us, with this level of skin contact. I was instantly, readily, and apparently hard. He felt...overwhelming to hold so intimately. Gratifyingly, he was as hard as I was. Somehow it just seemed to make us even, having evidence of him reacting to the moment as much as I did. "I get to touch more of you if we go the blanket route," he said, his voice a little shy. Sultry, too. "Tee shirt and shorts it is," I said, my voice wavering a bit. I placed my chin on his shoulder and he copied me. I sighed, feeling our chests move against one another subtly as each breath moved in and out of us. I was divided in my emotions, one half filled with lust, completely engrossed in the feel of his body and his obvious interest pressing into me. Equally, though, I felt in tune with the world. It was a sense of being where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be, with who I was supposed to be with. A certainty. Knowledge. Fact. "How long before your parents come to check on us?" he asked, his voice pitched low in my ear. "Doesn't matter," I said softly. "It'd be too soon. I could hold you here for a long damn time, B." He tightened his grip slightly and ran a hand up my spine, gently caressing each vertebra on the way and sending a shiver of delight through me, until he was holding the back of my neck. He turned slightly and kissed me just below my ear. "I love you, J." I sighed. "You're fucking doomed," I said and leaned back a bit. He looked at me, his face torn between confusion and concern. "My mother predicted I was falling in love. I hate letting her be right, but I can deal with it this time. You are my missing piece, B. I'm totally in love with you." Jesus, that was liberating. The kiss after wasn't too shabby, either. His hand moving up and down my back, playing my spine like an instrument, was sheer heaven. I didn't want anyone to walk in and ruin this moment; I wanted to remember it, unspoiled. So I did force myself to stop, get us tee shirts and shorts and snag my comforter before long, because the horny half of my feelings was getting the upper hand and I was going to embarrass us in another minute or so. My common sense was rapidly failing, so I steered us downstairs. "Not all red, no puffy lips. Pay up," my mom said, holding her hand out to my father. "What's this?" I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. "I have to admit," my dad said as he picked up his wallet from the side table and dug out a dollar for my mother. "I didn't think you guys would be able to resist each other." I looked at Brandon. "That seemed like we had their blessing, to me. Let's go back upstairs. " Brandon's face grew very red, but he smiled at me. Yeah, that beyond beautiful smile. Instead of going upstairs, we settled on the love seat, me leaning back against his chest, with my hand resting on his knee and his arm draped across my chest, holding me loosely. The movie was actually very funny. There were several scenes that had us in stitches, and when it was over my dad kept repeating 'Scoot!' in a high pitched voice, imitating one of the actresses, leaving us in tears with laughter. That did trail off, eventually. My mother announced the formal end of it by stating, "So!" and looking at Brandon. I turned to warn him, but my mother sharply said my name and then smiled sweetly at me. I put my hand back on his knee under the covers and stroked his leg, just to let him know I was there. Among other things. "Brandon," my mom said. "What did you think about the movie, given what we were talking about with the source material - Shakespeare's play." "You mean with that conversation? The balance between both halves of the couple?" he asked. "Yeah. What do you think?" she asked. "Well, she was totally right to dump him for how he played her. I thought it was kind of 'seen that, done that' when it came to him developing feelings for her. But then he realized he'd been a jerk, and he went totally out of his way to make it up to her. I think that shows she wasn't going to lie down and take crap from him, just because they were dating. He had to respect her if he wanted to be in a relationship with her, and she wasn't afraid to leave if she wasn't getting what she needed - respect, at that point." I looked smugly at my mother, who looked appropriately pleased with his answer. "She reminded me of J a little, actually," he continued. I turned my head quickly toward him in surprise. "Say what, now?" I asked. "Yeah, I'm interested in that," my dad added. Brandon grinned at having gotten my attention and addressed me. "J doesn't take crap from anyone. I'm pretty sure my apology would have gone nowhere if he didn't feel he could trust it, and more that it wasn't just an apology to make me feel better." He smiled at me. "J is with me because it's what he wants, and I'd be smart to never forget that." "Okay, you can keep him!" my mom said and burst out laughing. I glanced at her, but gave Brandon most of my attention with an assessing gaze. "This is an equal thing, though. I don't think if I were disrespectful of you that you'd still be with me, either." "Let's not find out just how much I'll let you walk all over me, okay?" he asked and giggled as my eyes shot wide open. I was reminded of Amy's assessment and knew there was some truth to his words. I didn't like having that kind of power. I wanted to love him, not hurt him. "Yeah, let's not," I agreed. Cal came bouncing in the front door, said hello and goodnight, did a double take at Brandon and me on the couch, smiled again and headed to bed. Mere minutes later, Janice dragged in. She grunted at us and ascended the stairs, clearly not pleased to be home. I swear, she could live as a roadie for the rest of her life and be happy as a pig in shit. I stretched, pushing back into Brandon and let out a large yawn. "Holy crap, I'm tired!" I said, or tried to. "Yeah, it's late," Brandon said. "Staying, Brandon?" my dad asked. I glanced at my dad, back to Brandon, and then back to my dad. "Yeah, he is." "Okay. Get some rest, guys. See you in the morning," my dad said. My mom leaned down to kiss me on the head. "Sleep," she said, the corner of her mouth curling up. Then, in sort of a surprise, she leaned over and kissed Brandon on the top of his head as well and also admonished him to sleep. They headed upstairs and I turned to look at Brandon. "So I need to apologize for volunteering you to stay?" I asked, only half-kidding. "I'm going to go with no on that," he replied, the corner of his mouth pulling up. "Let me text home, though, and make sure I'm not going to get yanked home by anxious, over-protective parents." "Okay. I'm going to be an optimist and go find you a toothbrush," I said. I climbed off of him and headed for the pantry near the kitchen where we kept virtually all supplies. I poked around and was not surprised to hear him speaking. My parents weren't prudes, nor were they under any illusions that us kids wouldn't get up to sexy times in our own good time. At the same time, they believed in educating us and letting us make mistakes and achievements on our own. That wasn't to say we had a license to screw when we pleased, only that they knew they couldn't stop it and would seek to guide us to the best ends possible. While they had no concerns for me in the sense of pregnancy, they had always stressed right person, right time, and self-respect. I had never felt like I was going to need that advice before college, but I think my parents had given their tacit blessing to Brandon and me, our relationship, and how we chose to handle it. That wasn't totally the case even a week ago, but I knew spending a little time with him and seeing how we were together would likely go a long way to ease my parents' minds with respect to how well I'd absorbed their lessons about relationships. In fact, I'd listened intently. I wanted a relationship. I was kind of built for it. I actually was pretty tired, but I figured I had a little left in the tank for my boyfriend. I grabbed him a toothbrush that had a printed image of the Eiffel tower on the cardboard backer. It seemed like the right one for him, given his interests. I went into the kitchen and got a half a glass of water, downed it, and headed back to the living room, hoping that was enough time for him to convince his parents. He was sitting on the couch, looking down at his phone. "Everything okay?" "Yeah, I think. Pretty sure I just lied to my parents," he said as he looked up at me. "Oh?" I asked, frowning lightly. "How so?" "I told them I was sleeping on the couch." "Yeah, you lied," I said with authority and gathered my comforter from the couch. "I'll ease your conscience though." "I didn't say I regretted it," he said and grinned impishly. I held up the toothbrush. "Eiffel tower. Seemed like a fit, to me." He nodded and stood up. I waved him to follow me and he did, climbing the stairs behind me. Over my shoulder I asked, "Do you think your parents actually believed you'd be on the couch?" "Probably not. They aren't stupid, but I doubt they'd want to be giving me permission to sleep with my boyfriend," he said with a nervous snicker. I led him to the bathroom where we both washed up and took turns emptying our bladders. Once in my room, I closed the door and turned toward him. It would be easy for someone to say he just looks like a nice looking guy. To go no farther than that, in many cases. I knew he'd never turn Cathy's head on the street, for instance. Ginnie would stare, especially if he didn't have a shirt on. For me, though, Brandon was the kind of guy that stood out in a crowd. There are some nice looking guys at my school, but nobody fucks with my insides like Brandon does. I walked to the bed and tossed the comforter over it, tugging it for a moment to get it reasonably even. "Are you actually tired?" he asked, his voice wavering slightly. "Exhausted," I said and pulled my shirt off and tossed it on top of my dresser. "Me, too," he said with a sigh, that sounded regretful. I really do need him to speak up for himself. Right now seemed as good a time as any to make that point. "Brandon, listen," I said as I peeled off each sock and tossed them toward the hamper. "You have to speak up. I hate seeing that hurt expression on your face or that tone in your voice. It hurts. I need you to remember this isn't my relationship; it's ours." "I know," he said and bobbed his head once before stripping off the tee shirt I'd loaned him. "It's not like you're abusing me, making me do stuff." "But just now, you were disappointed that I said I was tired. Why can't you just tell me what you want? What were you hoping for?" I stepped toward him, keeping my eyes on his face. He cleared his throat. "You know. I was just thinking we might...fool around a little. But you're tired and I don't want to-" I pushed my underwear down to my thighs and wiggled my legs to get them down on my feet. I stepped out of them, a foot or so closer to him. "I'm not comatose. I am tired, legitimately. Trust me that I woke the fuck up when my parents asked if you were staying." His eyes roamed up and down my body and I stood still, letting him drink in what I had to offer. I'm not a jock, nobody will mistake me for someone who works out. I do think I look okay, though. Right now, I was hoping he thought so, too. "God damn," he said under his breath. I stepped away from him and hit the light, dumping the room into shades of gray. I crossed the room and turned the knob on my bedside lamp three times, which brought it to its lowest setting. It wasn't candle light, of course, but I think it set the mood all right. I climbed on the bed and lay on my side, watching him as he watched me. He wiped his mouth with the palm of his hand and then pushed his own underwear down before climbing on the bed with me. Like our kisses, sex with Brandon was like a dance. We moved to music that only we could hear, a beat that allowed us to keep time with each other. I won't say it wasn't fervent at times, and I won't say it wasn't tender and gentle at times. Like any legendary melody, the music our souls danced to had faster beats with thundering drums and insistent horns. It also had soothing strings and delicate woodwinds. There was a time to hurry, to move faster and a time to luxuriate and live in that single beat as if it were a lifetime all on its own. I will say, as well, I was so mistaken in thinking jerking off to him caused me to splatter myself with any real force. Brandon made me feel like I'd actually ejected a testicle. I also didn't think it was possible for anyone to produce more than I did with him, but I'll be damned - he could drown someone.
  12. 54 points
    Love is Blind - 7 Copyright Nick Brady 2019. All rights reserved. ==========////=========== I sat and thought for a minute. “One time I was struggling with something and my mother told me that when we have to make a tough decision, all we can do is to look at what options we have and try to pick the right one. We have to do the next right thing. What's the right thing for you, Ian?” Ian leaned his head back. “What are my options and what should I do? That's a good question.” I pulled Ian into a hug. “Maybe we should sleep on it.” We enrolled for the fall semester. Now I was a Junior and Ian was a Sophomore, actually a little more than that since he had taken summer classes. At this rate, he would catch up with me before I graduated. He followed through on the idea of changing his major and was now in the school of Business Administration. He didn't lose any hours and was feeling better now that he had made his decision. Stuart assured him that his chances of finding a good job would be better in Marketing. We kept the apartment but did not sign up for Mrs. Mac's boarding house, intending to save some money by fixing our own meals. We ate breakfast together then parted for the day. I sometimes packed a lunch for each of us and tried to make something decent for our supper. Ian took over the coffee pot duties and was learning to scramble eggs and make toast. I did the serious cooking and he did the serious housekeeping. We were partners in almost everything. Ian wrote to his mother almost every week although she did not always respond, but sent at least one letter a month with a little money. From her letters, I gathered that things at home had not changed. Ian accepted the situation stoically and said little about it. My mother and I exchanged letters too, although I was not great about writing. I laughed at something she wrote and Ian asked me what was so funny. “Oh, nothing Just something my mother wrote,” I replied. “You're close to your mother, aren't you?” “She's all I've got, and I guess I'm all she's got. We are pretty close.” “You've never said anything about your father,” Ian observed. “I never really knew my father. It's a long story.” “I'm listening.” I leaned back and stretched my legs out. "I guess the short version of the story is that my mother and father were sweethearts in high school and she got pregnant with me when she was 17. They got married but I guess it didn't work out. After high school, they parted company when I was about 3. I don't actually remember him." “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry.” “That's OK. We agreed to be honest with each other. It's not something I talk about because there's not much to tell.” “She was pretty young. Didn't she want to get married again?” “She dated some. I remember some of the men she dated, but I guess nothing stuck. Maybe not all guys want to take on a little kid. She works as a senior manager in a manufacturing company. I think she's sort of married to her job.” “That means you grew up without a father. Was that hard?” “It would have been nice to have a dad, but it's not the worst thing in the world. I had friends with nice fathers, and I sort of borrowed theirs. It was OK. Certainly, it was better than your situation." “Is your mother happy?” “I think so. At least she never complains. She has a lot of lady friends. I guess she's happy enough.” “She sounds like a nice person.” “She is. You need to meet her sometime.” “I'd like to.” “What about you? Do you think you'll ever be reconciled with your father and brothers?” Ian sighed. "I've never really fit in. Maybe when I'm older and they can see me as an adult, but to them, I'm still the clumsy little blind kid in a family of jocks." “But you're in college and doing great. They should be proud of you,” I told him. “Why can't your father and brothers see that? At least your mother is proud of you.” “My mother does what my father tells her to. I doubt he knows she's sending me money. If he finds out he'll probably tell her to stop and that will be the end of it.” “Surely he'll let her help while you're in college. Your future depends on your education.” Ian shook his head. "You don't understand, Andrew. My father only made it through high school because he was a good football player and now he's doing menial work. He resents people with an education. He sees them as show-offs. He'd rather see me fail." “That's crazy.” “Not from his point of view. My brothers are the same way. They take pride in the fact that they're getting by with very little education. They think that educated people are eggheads. They aren't bad people, kind of 'good-old-boys', you know? Like I said, I never fit in.” “I guess the good news is that you don't need them anymore. Maybe you never did.” “Not really. I'll have to make it on my own.” “Nobody makes it on their own, Ian. We all need somebody.” Ian paused. “I like to think I don't need anybody, but that's not true. I need you, Andrew. And not just because I'm blind.” I wasn't sure what to say. “I need you too. I really like that we're together. I hope this lasts.” “What will happen to us when we get out of college? I think about that.” “I do too. If you were a girl I'd ask you to marry me.” Ian laughed. “Guys can't get married.” “No, but think about it. You're blind and I'm sort of your assistant. Nobody has questioned that. We could stay together if we could get our jobs to coincide. Kind of like Hellen Keller and that lady who helped her.” “That's almost too much to hope for.” “It won't happen by accident. We need to plan for it. What do you think?” “If you could ask me to marry you, I would accept. What do you think?” I put my arm around Ian and pulled him close. “I think that's a great idea. Let's make that a plan.” I was to run home for Thanksgiving while Ian stayed behind and caught up on some school work. The evening before I left, we made a Thanksgiving dinner of our own. I roasted a small chicken and Ian did the mashed potatoes. He was an ace at mashed potatoes. When we sat down to eat, I asked him, “What are you thankful for?” Ian thought for a moment. “I'm thankful to be in college. I was never sure I would get this far. I'm thankful for my mother and her support. Mostly I'm thankful for you. What are you thankful for?” “My list is the same as yours – college, Mom, you. Especially for you. Our mothers are different though.” “How's that?” “Both of them love us, but my mother chose to get out of a bad marriage. Your mother doesn't seem to have that choice.” “But they both love us,” Ian said. “That's the thing they have in common. That's the important part.” I agreed. We both had some things to be thankful for. I went home on Thursday morning and came back the next day. While I was home I had a long talk with my mother. She asked me about Ian. “You've mentioned a few things about your roommate. I know that he's blind and I gather that you two are close, but I've never met him.” “I'd like you to. He's a neat guy. He's smart and funny. I like him a lot.” “Is he more than just a friend?” she asked. “Yes, to be honest. We're talking about staying together after college.” “In that case, I'd really like to meet him," she smiled. "How would that work?" “What if he came home with me for the Christmas break?” “He would be very welcome, but would that be alright with his family?” “To tell the truth, he isn't close to his family. I think he would like that very much.” “In that case, I'll plan on it. Let me know when you'll be here, and tell me more about Ian.” “Thanks, Mom. You're the best.” We had a long talk. After I got back on Friday, I told Ian, “You're invited home for Christmas.” “Is that alright with your mother? I mean, does she know about us?” “Mom understands me. She's fine with us. I told you she was a neat lady.” “That sounds wonderful. I can't wait to meet her.” “Um, you will probably have to sleep in the guest room. My room has bunk beds and she might not be quite that open-minded.” “Oh, that's fine. I hate to think what would happen if I tried to bring you home with me.” “You'll be very welcome, Ian. I can promise you that.” That night we shared one of the twin beds. It was plenty big enough for what we wanted to do. We didn't mind at all being close. We showered and slipped into bed just as we came out of the bath. Our time together was becoming more relaxed and loving. We had long passed the point of being friends to one of being committed to making life pleasurable for each other. We shared ourselves as intimately as possible, both giving and receiving. Our lives were not perfect, but we were very happy. We devoted ourselves to wrapping up the semester during the weeks before the Christmas break. Ian took off work and we spent our time studying and finishing some papers. The prospects of surviving another term looked encouraging. Just before leaving we packed our bags and got ready to go. “I hope your mother will like me,” Ian fretted. “I can be a lot of trouble.” “Don't be silly. She'll love you and you're no trouble at all.” “I'm sorry, but I'm kind of nervous. I've never had a boyfriend before and certainly never met his mother.” “She invited you, Ian. She knows we are more than just roommates and she's fine with it.” “What did you tell her?” “I told her that you were smart and funny and a hell of a good lay.” “You didn't!” “No, of course not. But I told her that we were thinking of staying together after college. She's not dumb and she knows how I am. It's OK, Ian. Really.” We packed up the car and left for mother's two days before Christmas. Ian was unusually quiet on the drive over. I knew he was stewing about making a good impression. I also knew that he would. We pulled into Mom's driveway at two in the afternoon and I took our bags and bundles out of the trunk and set them down beside the car. Before I could start for the house, the front door opened and Mom called out, “Hello! I'm so glad you came. Let me help you with those.” Ian stood still with his long white cane in his hand until she approached him. Ian held out his hand and she took it in both of hers. “You must be Ian. I have heard so many nice things about you. Please call me Catharine.” Ian smiled and said, “It's very nice to meet you. Andrew told me that you were a neat lady and I can tell that you are. Thank you for making me feel welcome.” “Well, you are very welcome. Now let's get these bags in the house and make ourselves comfortable.” My things went into my old bedroom and Ian's went to the guest room. Mother hustled us into the living room. "Now I know you've been in the car for a while. Andrew can show you the bathroom while I get something for us to munch on. Take your time." When we had relieved ourselves and washed up, Ian took my arm and we sat down together on the sofa. He looked a little uncertain. “There are some snacks on the coffee table in front of you. I'm sure you can manage just fine. Now tell me about school. Ian, I think you are in Marketing?” I placed some chips and dip on a plate, laid it on a napkin and handed it to Ian. "Yes, Ma'am," he said. "I was thinking of majoring in English but changed to Marketing in the School of Business Administration this past semester." “That's a much more practical choice,” she said. “Are you enjoying your classes?” Mom was easy to talk with and I mostly grinned and listened as she made Ian comfortable. Soon he was relaxed and making little jokes. Of course, the story of the horse meat steaks came up and we all laughed like old friends. Good old Mom. We chatted for a long time before Mom excused herself and went into the kitchen to put some supper together, leaving Ian and me alone to talk. “What do you think?” I asked. “Your mother is terrific. She just couldn't be nicer.” “She likes you. I told you she would.” “I need to know where things are. Could we walk around?” I gave Ian the tour and we located the bedrooms, the front and back doors, then found our way into the kitchen where we sat at the breakfast table and talked to Mom while she rattled the pots and pans. Soon the smell of frying chicken filled the air. I jumped up and set the kitchen table for us and we enjoyed a nice supper. “I can see where Andrew learned to cook,” Ian complimented my mother on her chicken. “Yes," Mom laughed. "I taught him everything he knows, but not everything I know. Is he feeding you alright?” “He is, and he's even teaching me how to fix a few things.” “Ian is generally in charge of breakfast. He makes the coffee and scrambles the eggs,” I bragged. “He's coming right along.” After some coffee, we all stood at the sink. I washed, Ian dried then handed things to Mom to be put away. It went well. When it was finally time for bed, Mom left us alone for a few minutes so that I could help Ian get settled. I turned down the bed for him and sat down next to him. “Do you feel welcome?” I asked. “More than welcome. Your Mom is wonderful.” “I told you she was a nice person. She wants me to be happy, Ian. If you are the one to make me happy, she will love you.” “And I will love her. I guess we should say goodnight.” “Yeah. No snuggling tonight, but we'll find a way,” I hugged him and snuck a quick kiss. “Goodnight, Ian.” I went into the living room and sat down with Mpm. "He's a nice person. I like him," she said. "Nice looking too." “I've never met anyone like him, and I'm not talking about him being blind. That's not really a big part of the deal.” “I like the chemistry between you. I approve, not that you need me to.” “That's important, Mom. This could be a long term deal.” “As long as he makes you happy,” Mom smiled. The next day was Christmas Eve. After breakfast Mom announced. “I didn't want to put up a tree until Andrew came home. We need to go to the Christmas tree lot and pick one out. You can help, Ian.” Mom sat in the front seat with me and Ian got in the back. When we got to the tree lot we got out and walked among the possibilities. “Now help me find a fresh one. I don't want pine needles all over the house,” she instructed us. As we walked down the rows of possibilities I would find one that looked nice and Ian would run his hands over the branches. “I think this one is a little dry,” he would say and we would check out another. When we came to one that passed his initial inspection he leaned forward to crush the needles and sniff. “Oh, this one smells fresh.” Mom stepped up and declared. “That's a beautiful tree. Thanks, boys. We'll take it.” We drove home with it tied to the roof of my Chevy. Once home, we lugged it into the house and screwed into the tree stand, added a little water and wrapped the old skirt around the bottom. Mom sat back and let us do the work, then hauled a box of Christmas ornaments out of the hall closet. “Help us with the decorations, Ian. I never know where to put things.” First, we threaded a long string of lights around the branches then festooned them with our vintage collection of ornaments. "Remember this one?" she would say as she first handed one to me, then passed it to Ian. "The Hendersons gave us this one. And this one we bought when you were in grade school." Each ornament had a history and a story to go with it. Ian examined each, then we collectively found a place for it in the branches. It had been our Christmas tradition ever since I could remember. When finally the box was empty, we sat down on the sofa to admire our work. Ian breathed deeply. “It smells like Christmas.” “It's a beautiful tree. Thank you, guys.” Mom excused herself and returned from the kitchen in a few minutes with a tray of cookies and cups of hot chocolate. “Careful now, that cocoa is hot.” This too was part of the tradition that my mother had created for our little family of two. Ian seemed to glow. “I'm going to feed you tonight,” she said. “Tomorrow you boys will have to starve so you'll have a good appetite for Christmas dinner. It will just be the three of us so you'll have to eat a lot.” It had been a very nice day. I walked Ian into his bedroom and we sat and talked for several minutes. “Are you glad you came?” I asked. “Oh, yes. I never dreamed that Christmas could be like this. Ours was never this way.” “What was Christmas like when you were a kid?” “I guess we had our own sort of tradition. Dad and my brothers would drive out to a state park and saw down a little cedar three and bring it home. We had an old string of lights and made a lot of our ornaments. We didn't have much money. I remember threading popcorn on a string to drape around the tree. Mom would help me while the guys drank beer and watched. It wasn't like your tradition but it was kind of nice.” “Ours has always been the same for as long as I remember,' I said. “I always loved Christmas.” “I don't have much for your mother,” Ian said. “I just got her a little present. I didn't know what she'd want.” “That's OK. I got her something and put both our names on it. She'll like it.” Ian hugged me very tightly. “Thank you, Andrew. I'm very glad I came. I can't imagine being alone this Christmas.” “Neither can I. I'm alone when I'm not with you. I love you, Ian.” “I love you too,” he sounded kind of weepy. “Goodnight.” “Goodnight. I'll see you in the morning.” We all slept a little late the next morning. Breakfast was coffee, a platter of muffins and some fresh fruit. We were to be hungry for Christmas dinner. After breakfast, I went out to the car and brought in a large plastic bag. “I think Santa came,” My mother announced and we sat on the sofa as she handed us each a wrapped box. “Your names are on these.” We opened our presents. Inside the boxes were matching tan camelhair sweaters. “Try them on,” Mom instructed. “Santa left the receipts so we can exchange them if they don't fit.” They did fit and looked very nice. “How did Santa know my size?” Ian asked. “I told you that Andrew told me all about you, enough so I could make a good guess at what size you wear. I passed that along to Santa,” she laughed. “We have something for you,” I reached into my bag and handed a package to her. “Inside was a bright red Christmas sweater with little sparkly things around the neck. “ A sweater. Great minds think alike,” she laughed and pulled it over her head then stood to look in the mirror that hung on the wall next to the front door. “Oh, I just love it. Thank you very much – both of you.” Ian sat for a moment then handed a small package to my mother. “I hope you like this.” “Oh, thank you,” mom said and tore off the paper. Inside was a red wool scarf. “We made those in my high school,” Ian explained. “I kept one and hope you can use it.” “It's lovely. It goes with the sweater.” Mom impulsively gave Ian a quick hug. Thank you very much.” Ian grinned shyly then pulled a small box from his pants pocket. “This is for you,” he said and handed it to me. Inside was a nice wristwatch. I put it on and admired it. "The cover flips up," Ian said. I pressed a small button on the side of the face and the glass cover flipped open to allow access to the hands. It was like the one Ian wore but new and nicer. “Wow! This a great, Ian. Thanks.” “If I lose mine I can borrow it,” he smiled. “It's beautiful. I really like it.” I pushed the lever and tapped the face of the watch with my fingers. It was a very personal gift and I felt my eyes grow damp. Reaching in my bag I extracted a pair of small boxes. “I have something for you, for both of us, really.” In the boxes were a pair of matching rings. “They're sort of friendship rings,” I explained. “The band is silver and the little stones are green turquoise.” We put them on and Ian sat silently, running his finger over the stones. He seemed to be unable to speak. Finally, he croaked, “Thanks.” My mother smiled and excused herself to start our Christmas dinner. I reached over and took Ian's hand. “I love you,” I said quietly. “I love you too. This is the nicest Christmas I ever had.” “The first of many, Ian. The first of many.” ==========////=========== Please send your comments to Nick Brady at y2kslacker@mail.com
  13. 51 points
    I was expelled. This came as no surprise. I already knew it would happen, and I knew I deserved it. Honestly, I didn’t even want to stay. I had no friends, and there was no way I could face Daniel day after day. He shouldn’t have to face me either. I was set to start a new school after the Christmas holidays. Since there were only a couple of weeks left of term there was no point in doing so straight away. In the meantime, my therapy continued. ‘How are you today?’ Mr. Morelli asked me. It was Tuesday before Christmas. I shrugged. ‘I dunno. Tired. I just, I’m tired. Like, I don’t know how to fix it. Me. Daniel. I want to fix what I did to him and I just can’t. And I’m so tired, of all of it. I mean, I’m grateful that I’m being given a second chance. I get it. I understand what I did. I don’t think . . . I won’t do it again. Ever. But I don’t know what to do next.’ ‘Well, I’m glad you understand what you did,’ said Mr. Morelli. He no longer took notes while we talked. When I asked him why he said it was because he knew me now. He didn’t need them anymore. ‘As for what to do next, that’s up to you, really.’ ‘I want to come out,’ I said. ‘I mean, I’m terrified, but I want to do it. To my brothers, at least. If Dad was okay with it, maybe they . . . Anyway, I can’t just keep going around lying to them. I don’t want to pretend to like girls. That’s, this is what put me in this mess to begin with, sort of. Right?’ Mr. Morelli nodded. ‘It certainly seems so.’ I blinked, looked down at my hands. Considered whether to actually say what was going through my head. I bit my lip. He always knew when something was up. ‘What are you thinking, Loz?’ Looking up at him, I sighed. ‘I feel like if I go on the way I am . . . if nothing changes . . . I might kill myself.’ Mr. Morelli pursed his lips and frowned. ‘That seems like a very permanent solution to a temporary problem.’ ‘Yeah, well . . . that’s why I need to do it. You know? Come out, I mean.’ He nodded again. ‘Yes. I do. But, Loz. If you get thoughts like that, please share them. Don’t keep them to yourself. And if you ever feel like you might do it,’ he got up and went over to his desk, taking a card from a small pile, ‘you can call this number and you’ll get help. All right?’ He handed the card to me, and I took it. ‘Yeah. Thanks. I don’t . . . I don’t think I’d actually do it.’ ‘I don’t either,’ said Mr. Morelli. ‘But better safe than sorry.’ I nodded. ‘Yeah.’ * * * When I got home from my appointment, I was surprised to find Christmas music playing in the kitchen. My family weren’t exactly sentimental about Christmas. My only living grandparent was my dad’s dad, who had dementia and was in a nursing home; we always visited him on Christmas Eve. We weren’t exactly in touch with Mum’s younger brother, and Dad was an only child. As such, it was always just the four of us. We had a plastic tree we’d set up, Dad would cook a turkey, and we’d open some presents. Maybe watch something on telly. And that was it. Dad had tried to date a bit at first, after Mum left, and when I was seven he’d had a long term girlfriend who celebrated Christmas with us. The relationship had ended pretty quickly after that. George had been, well, George, and Myra had not been impressed. After that, Dad gave up. He didn’t really have time with three sons to raise and a business to run, anyway. I went into the kitchen where I found Darren elbows deep in a large bowl, listening to Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade on a bluetooth speaker. The oven was on. Darren looked up when I entered and smiled at me. ‘Hey, little bro! How was your shrink appointment?’ ‘Er . . . it was fine.’ I frowned. ‘Are you baking?’ He laughed. ‘Yeah. Thought I’d try something new. Wanted to surprise everyone.’ ‘Well, colour me surprised,’ I said and sat down at the table. ‘What are you making?’ ‘Just gingerbread. Fairly basic. Recipe I found online.’ I smiled. ‘That’s actually really nice. I guess I just didn’t think you’d . . .’ I paused. Didn’t think he’d what? Do something as girly as baking? Darren wiped his hands on a towel and turned to me. As if he’d read my mind he said, ‘Dude, guys can bake too, you know.’ I looked down and scratched the back of my neck. ‘Yeah. I know.’ ‘Of course, I can’t promise they’ll be any good.’ He grinned. ‘I don’t think I’ve baked since primary school or something.’ ‘I’ll bet they’ll be great.’ I chewed my lip, hesitating. Darren returned to his baking, tipping the dough out of the bowl and onto the counter, rolling it out. I didn’t even know we had a rolling pin. ‘Hey . . . Darren,’ I said after a few moments. ‘Yeah?’ Licking my lips, I hesitated again. Was I really going to do this? Right now? What if he’d hate me? ‘What is it, mate?’ he prompted, looking at me over his shoulder. ‘I just . . . I need to tell you something.’ My heart hammered in my chest and my palms felt sweaty. I wiped them on my jeans. Darren laughed. ‘Why so serious?’ ‘I—Never mind. It’s nothing.’ Turning around again, Darren gave me a quizzical look. ‘What’s going on, Loz?’ I squeezed my eyes tightly shut for a few seconds. When I opened them again, Darren was still looking at me, arms folded across his chest, and I sighed. Might as well just say it. ‘I’m gay.’ My heart beat so hard I thought it might jump out of my chest. I wanted to bolt from the room, but I remained in my seat, and Darren stood there by the counter, just looking at me. It felt like an eternity passed, and I held my breath. But then he smiled. ‘Yeah. I kind of figured.’ I swallowed hard. ‘How?’ Darren shrugged. ‘I dunno. Just a feeling, I guess. Always seemed kind of . . . forced, when we’d talk about girls and you chimed in. Like you never really meant it.’ He paused. ‘Does Dad know?’ I nodded. ‘Yeah. He’s known since . . . since I got expelled.’ I bit my bottom lip again. ‘He . . . was pretty okay with it.’ I searched Darren’s eyes, but wasn’t sure what I was even looking for. ‘Are . . . are you mad, or—?’ He laughed. ‘Why would I be mad?’ I looked away. ‘Cause your brother’s a faggot?’ Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Darren run his fingers through his hair. ‘Yeah, I’ve been kind of a dick about shit like that before, haven’t I?’ He sighed. ‘You’re not a faggot, Loz. And I’m not mad.’ He sat down at the table opposite me. ‘You’re my brother. I’ve got your back, okay?’ Meeting his gaze, I found him smiling, and I slowly returned his smile. ‘Thanks.’ ‘Guessing Dad and me are the only ones who know?’ ‘Two of you and my shrink, yeah.’ ‘I know I’ve acted like a massive homophobe before,’ said Darren. ‘It’s just banter, but . . . I’ll try not to do it. Been trying, actually, since I started to suspect. Not saying it’s gonna be easy if you bring a boyfriend home or anything, but I’ll do my best.’ He chuckled. ‘You know, I actually made out with a guy once, at a party.’ I stared at him. ‘What?’ ‘It’s true. Came onto me in an empty bedroom. I was gonna deck him, but then I thought . . . what the hell, right? I was pretty fucking wasted, though.’ ‘I’ve never even—’ I cut myself off. I’d been about to say I’d never done anything like that, but that was a lie. I had kissed a boy. I’d had sex with a boy. Only it hadn’t been consensual. And I wasn’t ready to tell Darren about that. Not yet. I would, but . . . not yet. ‘That doesn’t matter. If I knew I was straight without ever having kissed a girl, you can know you’re gay without having kissed a boy, right?’ he reasoned. I knew Darren was smart. He did well in school, had got all Bs and As for his GCSEs. As opposed to George and me, he had a good head on his shoulders. He was well adjusted and, as it had turned out recently, surprisingly empathetic. ‘I didn’t want to be,’ I muttered. ‘Who would?’ said Darren, and I looked up at him. He must have seen the hurt on my face because he laughed and added, ‘I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean, the world sucks. Knowing how some people will treat you, why would you want to be gay? Knowing how your own family might . . . I’m sorry, bro. For what it’s worth, you’re really brave. Seriously, respect. I’m glad you told me.’ I held back the tears. I never expected this. Never even imagined that he would be this nice about it, that he would accept me like this. Now only George remained. Only time would tell how he’d react, but now I felt like there was hope. Actual, real hope. * * * Christmas was what Christmas always was, if somewhat more subdued than normal in my case. It was hard to get into the Christmas spirit with so much bad shit simmering in my brain. On Boxing Day, I returned home from a quick shopping trip to find Darren watching a football match on telly. I deposited the groceries in the kitchen, where Dad was busy cooking. ‘Cheers, Lawrence,’ he said. ‘Tell your brother to give me a hand, yeah?’ ‘Think you’ll have a hard time tearing him away from that match,’ I said, smiling. ‘How much is left?’ ‘Not too long, I think.’ Dad sighed. ‘Fine. Tell him to come help me soon as it’s done, yeah?’ ‘Sure.’ I went back out into the living room and sat down next to Darren on the sofa. ‘Who’s winning?’ ‘Chelsea,’ said Darren, grinning. ‘Bournemouth’s got fuck-all.’ ‘Nice. Dad wants you to come help with the cooking after it’s done.’ Darren frowned. ‘Why can’t you do it?’ ‘I did my part, I went to the shops.’ Just then, George walked into the living room holding a beer can. ‘Ugh. Is there nothing better on?’ Darren glanced at him, eyebrow raised. ‘You occupied the telly earlier. It’s my turn.’ ‘Yeah, well, that was Crystal Palace.’ Darren laughed. ‘Piss off! Crystal Palace tied with Watford, Chelsea’s slaughtering Bournemouth. I think it’s obvious which the better team is here.’ ‘Only faggots like Chelsea,’ George grumbled and took a swig of his beer. ‘Call me a faggot, then,’ said Darren, shrugging one shoulder. ‘Fine, you’re a faggot.’ I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. ‘Come on, you guys. It’s just football.’ ‘And you’re a faggot and all,’ said George. ‘“Just football” . . .’ Darren gave me a sidelong glance. ‘Stop using that word, bro.’ George laughed. ‘What the fuck for?’ ‘Don’t you think it’s getting old? I mean, who the fuck cares?’ Until now, George had sounded amused. Now his tone darkened. ‘What, so you think it’s just fine to fuck a bloke in the arse, do you?’ ‘Honestly, I don’t give a fuck,’ said Darren with a shrug. ‘None of my business what folks get up to.’ ‘Well, maybe you are a faggot then.’ Darren laughed. ‘Did you miss the part where I have a girlfriend with massive tits, dude? Now will you shut up so I can watch the match, please?’ ‘Fine. Fucking faggot.’ Before I knew what I was doing, I had stood out of my seat and turned to George. ‘Will you just fucking stop it?’ George laughed. ‘Oh, so you’re the family faggot, then!’ ‘Yes, I am!’ My eldest brother frowned. ‘Stop fucking around.’ ‘Not fucking around,’ I said, because now I might as well just get it out there. ‘I’m gay. What are you gonna fucking do about it?’ George’s frown turned to fury. ‘I’m gonna fucking deck you if you don’t take that back.’ I stood my ground. ‘Not taking back what’s true.’ The punch was expected, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Then Darren was out of his seat, football match forgotten, and grabbed George by the arm, pulling him away from me. ‘What the fuck, man? He’s your brother!’ ‘He’s a faggot!’ ‘So what?’ ‘What the hell is going on in here?’ Dad stepped into the living room, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel. He caught sight of me. George had punched me right in the eye, and it must already have been bruising. ‘Loz? Jesus, what just happened in here?’ ‘Your son’s a homo, is what happened!’ George was fuming, trying to get out of Darren’s grip, though Darren had his arms locked behind his back now. George was strong, but Darren worked out more. He was stronger. ‘I’m gonna fucking kill you, you bastard!’ George spat at me. I tried to hold back the tears. Tried to stay calm, stoic, not show him how much he had just hurt me, but my throat constricted and I sobbed. I wasn’t going to let George see me cry. So I ran. Without taking a coat, I ran out into the cold. I rushed down the stairs, ears ringing. My whole life, I’d looked up to George. He’d been funny, outgoing, and very protective of me at one point. And he was strong and tough and didn’t take shit from anyone. Things had changed a bit since he finished high school, but he was still George. He was my big brother, and I had hoped, had hoped so hard that once he knew he’d change his mind, just like Dad and Darren had done. Deep down I had known, though. Known that he would never accept me. I ended up at the playground and, sinking down to the ground until I sat in the snow, knees pulled up to my chest and back against the swingset, I let it happen. I gasped, tears streaming down my face. Sobbing, hyperventilating, I rocked back and forth where I sat and then, because there was no one around in the late afternoon on Boxing Day anyway, I screamed. Howled miserably at the top of my lungs, and then allowed myself to cry in earnest, like a fucking baby. I didn’t care. George hated me, and soon, once I told him what I’d done, Darren would hate me, too. And part of me wanted to die. It felt like forever, but I’d only been sitting there for a couple of minutes when Darren showed up. He had my coat with him. ‘Hey, little bro,’ he said softly. ‘You okay?’ He crouched in the snow next to me. I pulled a gasping breath, trying to stop crying, but my breath hitched in my throat and I hung my head in shame, hiding my face. Darren draped my coat around my shoulders, and then he hugged me. The sheer surprise of it shut me up, and I sniffed. He held me for a long time, stroking my back, and after a while I returned the hug, burying my face in his shoulder. Sitting back again, he combed his fingers through my hair. ‘You’ll freeze out here,’ he said. ‘Let’s go back, eh?’ I shook my head. ‘I can’t . . . I just, I can’t.’ Darren frowned. ‘If you’re worried about George, don’t be. Dad gave him a proper talking to. Said he’d fire him if he didn’t behave. Then he said that he’s got a month to find a new place to live.’ I blinked. ‘He really did that?’ ‘Yup.’ Darren nodded. ‘So it’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid of him. He won’t hurt you again.’ I shook my head and looked down. ‘I fucking deserve to be hurt.’ ‘No you don’t. Loz, it’s all right. You’re all right. There’s nothing wrong with you, mate.’ ‘Everything’s wrong with me!’ I argued. ‘If you knew what I’ve done . . .’ Darren looked at me for a moment, tried to catch my eye, but I refused to meet his gaze. ‘What do you mean? Done what, Loz?’ ‘I’m fucking sick, okay? I’m . . .’ I clenched my fists and then I just said it. ‘I fucking raped someone! I fucked a guy in the arse without consent cause I had feelings for him and that’s why I was expelled. I am disgusting. I’m fucked up, and I deserve to be beaten for it. I deserve to fucking die! You should’ve just let him.’ ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ He stared at me for a long time and in the end, I looked at him. His face was unreadable. ‘It’s true,’ I said softly. ‘I did that. To someone I cared about because he didn’t like me back and because I couldn’t accept—’ I swallowed. ‘Doesn’t matter why I did it. It can’t ever be forgiven. I’m an ugly, pathetic, horrible, fucked up bastard. I hurt him much worse than George could ever hurt me.’ Darren licked his lips. ‘Dad knows?’ I scoffed. ‘Of course Dad knows.’ I sighed. ‘And you had to find out eventually, too. So now you know. Now you know what I’m really like. So just go home. Tell Dad you couldn’t find me. They say freezing to death is a good way to go.’ Darren stood up and took a step back, shaking his head. ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ ‘Everything, clearly! Like I said.’ ‘For fuck’s sake, Loz, don’t be such a melodramatic cunt!’ he shouted. ‘You’re coming home if I’ve got to drag you there.’ He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to my feet. ‘I dunno what happened, and I don’t give a shit, all right? You’re not gonna fucking kill yourself out here, are you fucking insane? Get your coat on!’ In my surprise and shock, I did what he said. ‘But I—’ I began, but he cut me off. ‘Whatever you did you’re my brother and I fucking love you, okay? So you’re coming the fuck home and we can deal with the rest later.’ I blinked, licked my lips, and then the tears came back. I hid my face in my hands. Then Darren had his arms around me again. ‘Fucking moron. Get your head out of your arse.’ He let me go, grabbed my arm again and dragged me along in the direction of home. ‘Made me miss the end of the match, too,’ he muttered, and in spite of myself, I laughed. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. Darren gave me a crooked smile. ‘Yeah. I’m sorry, too. Now let’s just go home.’
  14. 50 points
    “Just wait a bit. I know you’re anxious to get on your way, but I’ve got some help coming.” “Help?” Drew asked suspiciously. His mother looked altogether too smug. “I called Anne. She’s working this evening. She’s rounding up the boys and sending them down. They’ve got a presentation tonight so both teams are up there.” “Boys?” Aria asked sounding nervous. “Rugby boys, love. They love a good tackle.” Drew groaned. “They love a good fight too, and that’s the last thing we want.” “You worry too much. They’re going to create a diversion, that’s all. Go take the van for a drive, love,” she said to Cerrian. Make sure you lose anyone who follows you, then meet us up the new houses in half an hour. Round the back of number four where the kids got their den.” “Right you are.” Cerrian grinned at Drew as she grabbed her coat and keys. “See ya.” “You’re not supposed to be enjoying this,” Drew grumbled, and she flipped him off as she disappeared through the door. The front door slammed behind her and voices rose in the street outside. Cerrian’s rose over them all. “Get that bloody van out of my way or I’m rammin’ it.” “She would too,” Drew’s mother said with a smile that was way too feral for Drew’s liking. Mothers were supposed to be sweet. He almost snorted at that. “At least we know for sure they’re out there,” Aria said, his voice shaking. He hovered by the window trying to see out through the nets without moving them. Drew’s mother wrapped her arms around him and moved him away from the window. “Close the curtains, Drew,” she said. “Come on you.” She hugged Aria then let him go. You’ve got mashing to do. We could all do with a good meal before we do this.” “But…” “I couldn’t eat,” Amara said. He sounded exhausted. Drew’s mother left Aria and crouched by the sofa where he was lying, hugging a pillow. She brushed hair out of his face. “Won’t you try just a bit? Your brother’s going to work hard to whip those potatoes up. Will you try a bit just for him?” Amara’s eyes slid past her to rest on Aria. He sighed and drew his gaze back. “A little.” “That’s the boy. You make sure you eat right when you’re with your grandmother, you hear? You need to keep your strength up and neither of you look like you eat properly. When the dust settles, our Drew is to bring you back for me to get some proper home cooking in you. I’ll soon bring the colour back to that pretty face. A few days of good mountain air and proper food and you’ll be a different man in no time.” Amara gave her a wan smiled. “I’d like that,” he murmured. “You’re family now. That means a lot to us. I know you’ve got that big fancy life out there, but if it gets too much you’ve got a home here, and always will. Understand?” Amara nodded slowly and she patted his shoulder. “Good boy.” Getting to her feet, she motioned Aria toward the kitchen. “Go on then. Those potatoes won’t mash themselves.” “Your mam’s great,” Jay said, smiling toward the kitchen. There was a certain wistfulness in their voice that tugged at Drew’s heart. “You know she meant you, too, right?” he said. “What?” Jay looked startled. “She likes you. It’s obvious, and there’s nothing she loves more than mothering waifs and strays. Trust me, she’ll be fussing around you just as much as these two.” He moved to sit next to the sofa, where he could take Amara’s hand. He was crying softly and Drew decided to give him a moment. It wasn’t hurting him, and Drew had a feeling that some of it was the ice around his heart melting. “Do you really think so?” Jay asked, their eyes shining, moving between Drew and the kitchen door. “I definitely fit the description of waif and stray.” “You’re not a stray,” Amara said, sniffing. “You never have been. You hold us together.” “I think that’s the other way around, darling, but I’ll take it.” “You’d better.” “Seriously, though, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to go to your grandmother’s. You know she hates me.” “That’s mainly because you won’t keep your mouth shut around her.” Jay grinned, their eyes glittering. “I consider it a game. She hates me, she thinks I’m scum and not good enough to lick her boots. I consider her to be a shrivelled up old cow with a stick up her arse.” Amara sighed. “I know, and I don’t blame you, but you could stop mouthing off at her all the time.” “When she stops treating me like shit. Do you expect me to just take it?” Jay began to get agitated. Even though they seemed to be joking around, it was obvious to Drew that they wasn’t as cool about the whole thing as they tried to appear. Jay was taking it all to hear and Drew couldn’t say he blamed them. It was the exact reaction he’d have had himself. Hadn’t he been angry when he first turned up at the Graice house, and that was because of an expectation, not the actual experience Jay’d had. “To be honest, Amara, I don’t take kindly to that kind of treatment myself. I have difficulty with the “better than you because I have money” attitude. I think I have enough maturity not to rise to it, but don’t expect me to be best friends with her.” “I wouldn’t,” Amara said. “I’m not best friends either. She hates Mother, considers her vulgar and a gold digger, which is pretty much true, but she says terrible things about her even when she knows it hurts Aria.” And you too, even though you’d never admit to it. “That’s not acceptable. I don’t think I could keep my mouth shut if she does that. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m pretty protective of people I care about.” Amara groaned. “This is going to be a lot of fun. We’ll stick to the flat as much as we can.” Ten minutes later, Aria emerged from the kitchen holding two plates of steaming sausage, mash, peas and gravy, which he proudly handed to Drew and Jay. “I helped stir the gravy too. I know how to make it properly now. Not out of some box.” He beamed, and it made Drew smile too. In all probability Aria had no idea what the words he’d just spoken actually meant, but he was so sincere, it was impossible not to feel warmed by them. “Aren’t we going to sit by the table or something?” Jay asked. “You can do if you want,” Drew’s mother said coming out of the kitchen with a smaller plate. “I didn’t think we’d have time for all the trimmings. You can rest it on your knees or take it out the kitchen and sit at the table. It’s entirely up to you.” She set the plate on the coffee table and helped Amara sit up, nudging Drew out of the way and almost spilling his gravy all over him. He didn’t say anything because the expression of wonder on Amara’s face as his mother fussed around him was more than worth a bit of spilled meat juice. Instead, he got to his feet and motioned Jay to the kitchen where Aria was already sitting at the table. “Your mother hasn’t put a plate for herself,” Aria said, sounding confused and concerned. “She will, once she’s got Amara sorted.” “But why?” “If she put up a plate now it would get cold by the time she makes sure Amara’s eaten something.” “Is she always like that?” “When one of us needs her, yes.” Drew frowned. “I’ve never appreciated that enough.” “We don’t appreciate things we’re used to,” Jay said, gazing at their food thoughtfully. “I think I’ve got too used to some things myself.” “Like what?” Aria asked, then shovelled more mash into his mouth. He was eating more vigorously and with more enjoyment that Drew had ever seen with the beautifully presented, and probably highly nutritious, meals provided by Emma and the various fancy restaurants they’d eaten at. “Just stuff. Hey, this mash is awesome. Good job.” Aria beamed at Jay, but there was a gleam in his eyes and a shrewd expression that suggested he hadn’t been as thoroughly diverted as Jay had hoped. Drew had a feeling it wasn’t the last time he’d be exploring this subject with Jay. Drew didn’t blame him. For all that Jay swore they were over their past, there was a deep sadness behind his bounce and sparkle that was sometimes painfully evident. Given how perceptive Aria was it was impossible he wouldn’t have seen it. Drew tucked into his own meal and had to admit it was good. He missed his mother’s cooking, and knowing Aria had a hand in it was just the spice to top it off. For a while, they munched in silence and the sheer joy on Aria’s face brought a bubble of happiness through Drew that made him forget, for a moment, the circus setting up on his doorstep. A sharp rap on the door had them all sniffing the air tensely. They hardly breathed until Drew heard a very familiar voice. “Would you believe they had the cheek to knock my door. I told them straight – if they knock again, or dare to knock you, I’ll phone the police, and I would too. Stuck a bloody mic in my face they did, and me only coming next door. I told him if I had to call my Alan he’d stuff the bloody thing where the sun don’t shine.” Presumably spotting Amara the entire tone of voice changed to a coo. “Aww, who’s this little lamb? A friend of your Drew’s is it?” “Mrs. Pugh,” Drew said in relief. “My mother’s next door neighbour.” He’d never been so happy to hear the old busybody. The relief didn’t last long though, when the woman appeared in the doorway. “Well would you look at that. Duw, duw there’s two of them.” She put a covered plate on the counter. “Thought your mother might like some. I’ve been having a baking day. Are you not going to introduce me to your friends then?” Drew groaned inwardly. Like hell was she bringing treats out of the goodness of her heart. She was just desperately nosy about what was going on. Nevertheless, he plastered on a smile. “This is Jay,” he said nodding toward Jay. “They’re a close friend.” Oh well, let’s get this over with once and for all. The whole village will know by the next time I come down. He took a deep breath. “This is Aria.” He reached out and brushed a strand of hair behind Aria’s ear, allowing the backs of his fingers to linger, stroking Arias cheek. “His brother is Amara and they’re the lights of my life.” Whatever reaction he might have expected wasn’t the one he got. Mrs Pugh snorted. “Your mother told me. They’re smaller than I expected, but I knew when I saw you on the news you had something going on. It was the way you were looking at him.” She paused. “Or the other one. Whichever. It’s about time you got a proper boyfriend. Your mother’s been worried. Although, I must say I was a bit surprised you got two. Couldn’t make up your mind?” Drew opened his mouth, then shut it, his mind a blank. “Oh, he couldn’t do that,” Aria said, beaming in his sweet innocent way, but with a wicked gleam in his eyes. “We both love him, and he loves us both. We wouldn’t let him choose.” Mrs, Pugh snorted and sat down in the last remaining chair at the table. “I bet he’s gonna have his hands full with you two,” she said with the soft smile Drew had almost forgotten. She’d given it to him plenty of times when he was a kid. “See if you can’t persuade him to come home a bit more often and not leave his poor mother to worry.” “She worries about him?” Aria’s eyes widened and he gave Drew a sharp glance that made him groan inside. “Well of course. She worries about all her children, and with Drew and that Cerrian, she’s had plenty to worry about. You make sure you keep him safe and stop him going off half-cocked on some crazy whim.” “I am present, Mrs. Pugh,” Drew said. “And that “crazy whim” as you call it, was joining the army.” “Yes, and worrying your mother to death, especially when you got blown up. She was beside herself and you never came back, just went straight into that bodyguard business which isn’t any safer.” “But if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have met him,” Aria said softly, “and I’m really glad we did.” Mr. Pugh gave him that smile again and patted his hand. “Well, it’s nice to see some good came of it, but you should make sure he comes to see his mother more often.” “Oh, I will,” Aria said enthusiastically. “Mothers are important, and Drew’s got a good one, not like mine.” “That’s what I thought,” she said nodding. “I’ve got not time for those fancy Hollywood types. All fur and no knickers, that one. I said to my Alan when we were watching it on telly, if she was any kind of mother she’d be holding your hands not talking to some reporter hundreds of miles away, and all about herself.” Aria coloured and his gaze fell to his plate. He swirled mash and gravy into spirals with his fork. “Don’t you take on, now,” Mrs. Pugh said, patting his hand again. “You stick with Mair. She’s all the mother you’ll ever need. You’ve got someone who cares now boy. Just make sure that when you go back to your fancy life you don’t forget it.” “I never will,” Aria mumbled, and Drew knew with absolute certainty that he never would. “Leave the boys alone,” Drew’s mother said, coming in with Amara’s plate which Drew was pleased to see was almost empty. “They’ve been through enough without your lectures.” There was fair amount of affection in her voice. She knew what Mrs. Pugh was like, and she also knew that her neighbour had a heart of gold and would give the shirt off her back if someone needed it more than she did. That was another thing Drew had forgotten. “Do you want some sausage and mash. There’s enough.” “No, I’ve had my dinner. You know what Alan’s like. Regular as clockwork. If dinner’s not on the table by six o’clock he starts fussing.” “Is he still on that healthy eating kick?” “No, thank goodness. If I never have to look at a grilled tomato again it will be too soon. He’s on stews at the moment. Can’t argue with that. Goes nice with a can of larger on a Friday night.” Amara appeared in the doorway, looking pale and unsteady. “They’re outside the window,” he said, his voice shaking. “I heard something tapping against the glass and when I looked up there was a face. I don’t think he saw me, but I was afraid he was going to come through.” He hugged himself, his eyes wide and scared. Drew wanted to kill somebody. “That’s it,” Drew’s mother said, slamming the plate onto the counter. “No one upsets one of mine like this. Who the hell do they think they are? Come on Elen.” Mrs. Pugh got to her feet, bristling with righteous anger. “I’m behind you, Mair. Bloody cheek. They’d better not disturb Alan. He’s handy with a poker, and he’s got a short temper when I’m involved.” “I bet he does,” Drew mumbled under his breath. “Aren’t you going to .do something?” Aria asked as the two women disappeared. “You can’t let them go out there on their own.” “Trust me,” Drew said. “You don’t want to get in their way when they’re on the warpath. It’s not as if the reporters are going to get in to fist fight with two middle aged women, and it’s best if they don’t see me” “I will be all over the papers tomorrow,” Amara said, chewing his thumb nervously. “And they’ll love it. They’ll be showing it to everyone for weeks.” He held out his hand, and when Amara took it, he drew him gently onto his lap. Amara clung to him. “I can’t stand it, Drew,” Amara whispered. “It hurts and I just want to lie down and go to sleep.” The sound of raised voices made Amara jump and he hissed through his teeth. Aria and Jay looked scared and uncertain. “This is what’s hurting you, love,” Drew said, gently petting Amara. “You’re getting tensed up and that’s not going to do any good for anyone, let alone someone with damaged ribs. Try to relax. No one’s going to get to you, I promise.” “You can’t promise that,” Amara mumbled. “They’re relentless. They turned over a car once. Not mine,” he hastened to add. “But I saw it. I’ve seen them knock people over, too, trample over them to get to whoever they’re after. People have been badly hurt. I can’t handle it.” Drew rested his cheek on Amara’s hair and held him as tightly as he dared. “It’s going to be alright. I promise.” Drew’s mother swept back into the room exuding a sense of urgency. “The rugby boys are here,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be this fast. They’re causing a bit of a stir and blocking off both ends of the street, so they’ve got them corralled for a while. Do you have coats? Come on, get them on and we’ll be on our way. Elen is keeping an eye on the door so she’ll call if there’s a problem.” Both Aria and Amara froze, seeming dazed and frightened. It was Jay who leaped into action and flew thought the house like a whirlwind collecting their things. In a matter of minutes they were gathered in the kitchen, wearing their coats and Drew with his rucksack over his shoulder. After years in the army, he’d got into the habit of not unpacking, and having his bag ready to move out at a moment’s notice. He’d get by for a good while with what he had in there. “I can’t go out there, Drew. I can’t.” Amara clung to his arm, shaking so hard he could hardly stand. “I’m not usually such a coward,” he said to Drew’s mother, “but I just can’t.” “Good gracious no. I wouldn’t expect anyone to go out in that. I wouldn’t let you. No, we’ll go the back way. Don’t worry, it’s safe.” Full of confidence, she opened the back door and led them into a neat garden. Drew noted that she’d replaced some of the flower beds with a herb garden and the shed at the bottom had become a greenhouse. He smiled as she unlatched the back gate and led them into a rather overgrown lane. “Watch you don’t fall, it’s a bit bumpy. We don’t get tarmac down here because it’s not an access road. Here we are, this one is better, because of the garages.” She held Aria’s hand and kept up a steady flow of conversation about nothing in particular as they emerged from the lane, crossed the street, cut down a side street, then through another lane, this one tarred and smooth. The lane seemed to go on forever between that gardens of the long terrace of identical stone houses. Drew had spent a good part of his childhood running up and down this lane and others just like it. The maze of side streets and lanes were a perfect landscape for hide and seek, as were the woods that provided a green skirt to the mountain behind the last row of houses. At the end of the lane, they turned left into another lane that rose steeply into a dark arch of trees. Along one side, a stream burbled over stone, worn smooth by years of its gentle bubbling. “Our Drew was always coming home with wet trousers from paddling in there. Of course, he was forbidden, especially further up where it’s deeper, but what can you do? I tried to lock him in, but he kept climbing out the window, and Cerrian was even worse. The number of times she came back half-drowned is nobody’s business. You two got into more trouble in a week that Sioned did in her whole life.” “But I was still your favourite, wasn’t I?” “I’ve told you, I don’t play favourites. I love you all for who you are. All different, unique people. I can’t be doing with parents who play favourites. It isn’t right.” Drew smiled. His mother had very definite ideas of what was right and wrong, and there was no swaying her sometimes. “Our mother already told us the new baby is her favourite,” Aria said sadly, “and she’s not even born yet. It’s because she’s a girl and Maman has always wanted a girl. She tried so hard to turn me into one, but I’m just…not.” “It’s not for me to be speaking against anyone’s mother. She is your mother after all. She birthed you and nothing can change that. You’re good boys and I know you love your mother, but if that woman was here right now she’d be having a piece of my mind, and that’s for sure. And that’s if she didn’t get the back of my hand.” She stopped and turned, taking Aria’s hand and then Amara’s. “I know it’s not easy for you. It never is when your mother isn’t what she’s supposed to be. I’ve watched men go bad when they haven’t got a good strong mother to set them right. Plenty of discipline and a lot of love is the best, or so I’ve found. Your mother has problems, sweethearts, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Just don’t make them your problems. You’ve done just fine without her, and now you’ve got our Drew fighting in your corner. You won’t get more love from anyone. And don’t forget, you’ve got me now. I’ll fight for you every time, and you’re welcome into my home, with or without that one.” She nodded at Drew, then let go of the boys’ hands and caught Jay in a quick, fierce hug. “Same thing for you only double because you don’t have Drew—well, not in the same way. You come back, and you reach out if you’re struggling.” Jay looked like a rabbit caught in headlights, but they nodded, their eyes suspiciously bright. “Come on then. Let’s get you on your way.” At the top of the hill, the lane continued on straight into the woods, but they turned left onto row of newer-looking houses. About halfway along the street sat what looked like an old bus. It was bright purple, and as they got closer they could see green vines, flowers and colourful symbols painted all over it. The windows were covered over and each bore a painting of someone looking out. They were…interesting, but Drew didn’t pause to examine them. He hurried the boys along to where Cerrian sat, grinning, on a low wall. “You took your time,” she said. “You know we had to wait for the boys. You ready to go?” “Pile in and we’ll be off.” “Need money for petrol?” “I never say no.” Drew’s mother handed over a few notes, but Aria took them out of Cerrian’s hand and gave them back. “She’s giving us a ride, so it’s only fair we pay.” Drew’s mother paused and Drew thought she was going to argue. She would usually have argued, but something passed silently between her and Aria and she simply smiled and stuffed the money into her coat pocket. “I should be paying for cooking lessons, too.” Aria grinned at her. “No, I should be paying you for kitchen help. Will you take a hug?” “Oh yes. In full payment.” Grinning, she swept him into one of the all-encompassing hugs that Drew missed so much. “You take care of yourself and your brother, you hear? And this big, lumbering idiot too.” She patted Drew on the back. “I will. Promise.” She nodded and gave Amara a much gentler but equally warm hug. “I hope you feel better soon, darling. You listen to Drew and he’ll see you right.” “I will.” Amara’s voice was husky and he clung to her for a little while, then let her go and took a deep breath, wincing and sagging against Drew. “Come on you,” Cerrian said, helping him up the step into the bus, following his brother who’d already been hustled inside. Drew’s mother caught Jay as they were about to follow, and surprised them with a hug all of their own. “You come back and visit, you hear?” Jay nodded. “Got to come get my car.” “That you do. I’ll keep an eye on it.” “You don’t know which one it is.” “I think I’ll be able to guess.” Jay snorted. “Yeah, I suppose you will.” With a backward glance, they disappeared inside the bus. “You take care of those boys now,” she said to Drew when they were alone. “They need it.” “I will. I promise.” She nodded. “Watch that one, Jay, he’s got a sadness about him. Oh, I’m so sorry. They’ve got a sadness about them and they haven’t got the support the twins have. Watch them for me.” Drew smiled. “Can’t help yourself, can you?” He bent and kissed her, as she wrapped him in her coffee scented arms. She wasn’t one for perfume and she really liked her coffee. “And take care of yourself, too. They live in a different world but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it yours if you step down off that high horse of yours once in a while. So what if they’ve got money and use too many knives and forks. When the dishes are cleared away, and the money’s in the bank all it boils down to is you and them. Remember that.” Drew frowned. Surprisingly perhaps, he understood what she was saying but he was doubtful about how much he would be able to take her advice to heart. “I’ll try.” “Try all you want, but don’t you go hurting those boys or you’ll have me to deal with, understand?” “Yes, Mam.”
  15. 49 points
    My parents came home late Saturday night. Or early Sunday morning, depending on your definition. I heard them arrive, heard Liz greet them downstairs, but I was too tired to get up and do the same, after the day I’d had. Dealing with Daniel’s anxiety after seeing his mum had been exhausting and heartbreaking. We had taken him back home, and he and I had hung out in his room, cuddling and kissing, until he could manage to go downstairs and eat something. Not that I minded. I wanted to be there for him, and I wished I could have stayed the night. It was probably hell for him. At the same time, when I had come home just after eight o’clock, I had been so emotionally drained that I had gone straight to bed. Spent some time reading, trying to unwind. I realised that the book was still lying open, face down on the bed next to me. I located my bookmark (a used train ticket to Brighton that was three and a half years old) and put the book on my nightstand. I somehow managed to get back to sleep after that. In the morning I went down to the kitchen to find my parents having breakfast. Mum immediately got up and came over to hug me. ‘Oh, my beautiful boy! How are you feeling? How have things been? I feel like we’ve missed so much!’ Laughing, I hugged her back. ‘No worries. I’ll fill you in as we go. How was Ghana?’ ‘Hot,’ said Dad. ‘I honestly thought I would combust. We’ve used so much sunscreen.’ He stood and hugged me as well. ‘It’s so good to see you, son.’ ‘Good to see you too. Both of you.’ It was strange. I had missed them, of course, but only now, being hugged and breathing in the scent of Mum’s perfume and Dad’s aftershave, did I realise how much. ‘I missed you.’ ‘We missed you, too,’ said Dad, and his eyes looked a little wet. I sat down at the breakfast table. There were eggs and bacon and sausages and baked beans, and even hash browns. ‘Guessing you didn’t get a lot of full English breakfasts in Ghana?’ I said with a grin. ‘Did you miss it?’ Mum shrugged. ‘Actually, there’s not a lot you can get here that you can’t get in Accra. Liz had it ready for us when we woke up, though.’ ‘Where is she, anyway?’ I piled my plate high. I hadn’t eaten for about fifteen hours, I realised. ‘She went out to pick up things for dinner tonight,’ said Dad. ‘She’s promised us a feast. Oh, and she mentioned something about a couple of friends maybe coming over for dinner?’ ‘Er, yeah,’ I said. ‘If it’s all right.’ ‘The more the merrier.’ Mum smiled. ‘Honestly, going back to small family dinners is going to be a bit of an adjustment. We’ve hardly been by ourselves for the whole trip. Some days we had dinner with locals, some days with the folks from that German organisation we were working with. We’ve made many friends. Gonna have to return to Ghana to see them at some point. Maybe we could make a family holiday out of it?’ ‘That would be awesome,’ I said, grinning. ‘Always wanted to go to Africa . . .’ ‘Africa isn’t one country, you know,’ said Dad with a chuckle. ‘Ghana is nothing like, say, Morocco. And Morocco is different from Ethiopia, which is nothing like Tanzania. Different people. Different cultures and foods . . . It’s a very rich continent in that sense.’ I nodded, slightly embarrassed. That was probably the sort of thing I should have known. ‘What did you get up to?’ I asked. ‘Vaccines, HIV prevention, disenfranchised youth . . . Things like that.’ Mum smiled. ‘We worked with local organisations. Our money, their programmes. We were mostly based out of Accra, though. Not especially hands-on or anything.’ ‘I was looking into the LGBT rights situation,’ said Dad. ‘Male homosexuality is punishable by up to ten years in prison.’ I frowned. ‘What about female?’ Dad shrugged. ‘Perfectly legal. It’s pretty normal, really. Female sexuality is in many cultures considered to be practically non-existent, or at least very different from male sexuality. Used to be that way here, too, really. Lesbianism was never illegal in England, either.’ ‘Huh. I didn’t know that.’ This could have been the perfect coming out moment, really, but I had already decided to do it that evening. Seemed better, somehow. I wasn’t sure why. ‘It’s getting better, though,’ said Dad. ‘The situation in Ghana is nowhere near as bad as you might think from their legislation. Police even protect LGBTQ people against attacks. Still a lot of stigma, though. That’s where the work is needed. Actually, more and more African countries are decriminalising homosexuality, and many countries never criminalised it to begin with. The world is moving forward, right?’ ‘Every day.’ Mum smiled. ‘There’s so much hope.’ * * * Needless to say, I was nervous. We were going to eat at five, and by four o’clock I was practically pacing my room. I was going to come out to my parents. I was going to introduce them to Daniel. Liz had invited Jamal over. Since my birthday, they’d spent a lot of time together. I was happy for her. Jamal was a really chill guy, and very kind. The sort of person I aspired to be. I was glad Liz had found someone like that. Fred, her ex, had not been a cool person. He’d been jealous and controlling and had hurt her a lot, which explained why she hadn’t been dating for a long time. She and Jamal had gone out on several dates, and she had come home blushing and happy. And he’d stayed over a few times, of course. Made me glad our rooms were across the hall from each other and we didn’t share a wall. Jamal showed up at half-past four. Liz immediately introduced him as her boyfriend. Mum was ecstatic and hugged him. Dad shook his hand. He’d never been the ‘hurt my daughter and I’ll kill you’ type, so he greeted Jamal with genuine warmth and interest. Soon after, I got a text from Daniel. I’m scared. Why? I wrote back. What if they don’t like me? I smiled to myself. They’ll love you. I promise they will. Okay. Stephen’s driving me over now. Good, I wrote. See you soon. He arrived ten minutes later. I went outside to meet him by the car. Stephen was hugging him goodbye. I wasn’t sure when he had become Stephen to me and stopped being Mr. Griffiths, though he had to be the latter at school. ‘You don’t need to be nervous,’ he was saying to Daniel. ‘They’ll like you. I’m sure of it.’ ‘You don’t even know them,’ Daniel mumbled. ‘I’ve spoken to them at Parents’ Night for two years now, Danny.’ Stephen smiled. ‘They’re good people.’ ‘He’s right, you know,’ I said. ‘I’m not worried at all.’ I was, though. Not about whether or not they would like Daniel. I was utterly convinced they would. But I was still nervous about coming out. I knew they’d be fine with it, but all the same. I didn’t let it show, though. ‘See?’ said Stephen, smiling. ‘Okay, I’m gonna get going. I’ll pick you up at nine, all right?’ Daniel nodded. ‘Yeah. Thanks.’ ‘No worries, pal.’ Stephen clapped me on the shoulder. ‘Bye, Michael. I’ll see you later, Danny.’ Then he got back in the car and drove away. Daniel swallowed and looked at me with eyes full of trepidation. ‘Are you sure they won’t hate me?’ he said in a small voice. ‘I am one thousand percent sure they will not hate you.’ He nodded. ‘Okay.’ I kissed his cheek, took his hand, and led him inside. We walked into the living room, where the others were sitting. I did not let go of his hand. I might as well get it over with, I reasoned. ‘Mum? Dad?’ I said, and they looked up. ‘This is my boyfriend. Daniel.’ Dad didn’t even miss a beat. ‘Oh! It’s really nice to meet you, Daniel.’ ‘Yes, very nice,’ Mum echoed. She stood up, came up to us, and hugged Daniel. He looked so surprised that I had to suppress a laugh. Then Mum turned to me and hugged me too. ‘I was wondering when you’d figure it out,’ she said. I stared. ‘You knew, too? Did anyone on the whole planet not realise I was gay?’ Dad and Liz raised their hands. ‘I didn’t,’ said Dad. ‘Me neither,’ said Liz. ‘Made sense when you told me, though.’ ‘Oh.’ I smiled slowly. ‘Guess that’s all right then.’ ‘Should it not be?’ said Dad. ‘So, how long have you guys been together?’ ‘As long as Liz and Jamal,’ I said. ‘Since my birthday party.’ Daniel had stood dumbstruck until now, but now he spoke. ‘It’s really nice to meet you, too, Mr. and Mrs. Storm.’ Mum placed her hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. ‘Call us Diane and Joe, Daniel. There’s no need to be formal.’ ‘Okay,’ he said, finally smiling, ‘Diane.’ Liz stood. ‘Now that we’re all here, let’s go sit down. Everything’s done.’ She smiled. She really had prepared a feast. A Sunday roast with all the trimmings, followed by a homemade sticky toffee pudding. ‘I knew you could cook,’ I said around a mouthful of pudding, ‘but I had no idea you were this good at it.’ Liz grinned. ‘Well, now you do, little bear.’ ‘So, Daniel,’ said Mum, ‘tell us about yourself!’ ‘Oh!’ Daniel looked surprised. Then he turned his eyes down to his hands. ‘I, er . . . I’m not especially interesting. Not much to say, really.’ ‘I’m sure that’s not true,’ said Dad. ‘Dad,’ I said. ‘Don’t push. Please.’ Daniel glanced at me and took a deep breath. ‘I live with foster parents right now. Stephen and Lewis. Er, Stephen is our PE teacher. He’s really nice. Lewis is, too. I’ve only been living with them for a couple of weeks, but . . . they’re awesome. Other than that, I don’t know . . . I like science-fiction, both films and novels. Some fantasy, too. I like video games. I only started at Michael’s school this term. I’m . . . I’m really glad I did. Cause I have friends now, and . . .’ I saw the back of his neck turn darker. ‘And I have Michael,’ he finished quickly, looking even more embarrassed. ‘I’m very glad you do,’ said Mum, smiling. ‘You seem very happy together.’ Daniel smiled, looking down at his hands again. ‘We are,’ I said, and he nodded his agreement. ‘Good.’ Dad reached out and squeezed my shoulder. Neither of them asked why Daniel was in foster care. I was very grateful for that. * * * I didn’t get to see Daniel much for the week leading up to Christmas. I had him over once, and went over to his once as well, but there was so much to get ready, decorations to put up (we hadn’t really done much decorating before my parents got home; it had always been Dad’s forte), cakes and biscuits and pies to bake (which was generally my responsibility, as it had been since I learned how to work the oven), and Christmas presents to wrap. We talked every day, though. My grandparents came for Christmas Day dinner. Both of Dad’s parents were still alive, but my maternal grandfather died before I was born. My mother’s mum was my Nan, while Dad’s parents were Granny and Granddad. ‘Oh, my Misha!’ said Nan when she saw me, grabbing my face and pinching my cheeks. ‘You are so tall now!’ Having had no sons of her own, Nan had always doted on me. She had nary a hint of a Russian accent, having arrived in England quite young, but she had always called me Misha. A nickname for Michael, it also meant bear (which was how Liz had come up with her nickname for me). I hugged her. She seemed so tiny to me now. ‘I missed you, Nan.’ Then Granny and Granddad arrived, more hugs were exchanged, and we all sat down for Christmas dinner. Turkey and then Christmas Pudding. ‘So, how’s school, Michael?’ Granny asked. ‘Ready to sit your GCSEs?’ I shrugged. ‘I guess. School’s okay.’ ‘I heard you got a piano for your birthday,’ said Granddad. ‘Have you been playing it much? Getting back to it? You were so talented when you were little.’ Granddad was a hardcore classical music fan. He was the one who tried to convince both Liz and me to learn instruments. Liz had grown bored with the piano very quickly. I tried the violin at first, but couldn’t stand to listen to myself practise, so I dropped it in favour of piano. Granddad had been devastated when I started high school and decided I’d rather play drums, though part of the reason for that was that our old piano had gotten so hard to tune we had to throw it out. I smiled. ‘Yeah, I’ve been playing a bit. Not as much as I’d like, I’ve been kind of busy lately.’ ‘Busy, eh?’ said Nan with a smile. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve finally found a nice girl, Misha?’ ‘Oh. Er . . .’ I hesitated. Glanced at Mum. She gave me an encouraging smile. ‘I, er, I have actually found someone,’ I said. ‘Oh, how wonderful!’ said Granny. ‘What’s her name?’ I licked my bottom lip. ‘His name is Daniel.’ The table fell silent for a long moment. I looked down at my hands, afraid of what I’d see if I looked at them. They were old. Nan was the oldest, and Russian, and fairly traditional. I practically held my breath. Then Granddad said, ‘Is he a nice boy?’ I looked up. ‘He’s a very nice boy,’ said Dad. ‘A bit shy, perhaps, but kind.’ There was another moment’s silence before Nan spoke. ‘Are you happy, Misha?’ I met her pale blue eyes and couldn’t help the grin that bloomed across my face. ‘Yeah. I’m . . . I’m really happy.’ ‘Well,’ said Nan with a shrug. ‘As long as you are happy.’ And that appeared to be that. Conversation resumed, now directed at Liz, as they wanted to know all about her studies and her new boyfriend (‘I never liked that Fred,’ said Granny), and I was left with a feeling of almost wonder. I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but this hadn’t been it. I recalled my parents’ words: The world is moving forward. Every day. There is so much hope. And I could feel it.
  16. 46 points
    Nico squirmed in his mate's arms. "I can walk all by myself." Diarmad gripped him even tighter, signaling him without words that he didn’t intend to let go. “I know. But you might not walk to where I want you." Reaching his rooms, Diarmad maneuvered a hand free, opened the door, then kicked it shut behind them as soon as they were inside. Slowly sliding down his mate’s body, Nico gasped when Diarmad’s hipbone brushed his hard dick. Fuck! Then he found himself pushed up against the door. With both of his hands placed on either side of his head, Diarmad leaned in, his hot breath wafting over Nico’s face. "So, you want my hands touching you after all, I gather?" Looking up, Nico swallowed hard. "Yes." "Ripping your clothes off your body?" Diarmad bent down, pressed his lips against Nico’s neck, and covered the spot where he could feel his mate’s rapidly beating pulse. "Yes...." Nico tipped his head to the side, giving Diarmad’s searching mouth more access. "...sinking my teeth into your vein, sucking your blood?" Diarmad opened Nico’s shirt with one hand, and nipped at his collarbone with sharp canines. Nico groaned at the brief sting, which converted into hot heat pooling in his groin. "...marking you, making you mine again?" Diarmad flipped Nico around, grabbed his shirt by its collar, pulling it down quickly, effectively locking Nico’s arms behind him with the shirtsleeves. Molding himself against his mate's back, Diarmad ground his hardened cock into Nico’s ass, making sure he knew exactly what he meant by 'marking him'. Nico growled, not liking the feeling of being trapped. "Let go of me!" He struggled to get his arms free, but to no avail; he was no match for Diarmad. As if he wanted to prove his point, Diarmad wedged his leg in between his mate's thighs, opened Nico’s belt buckle, then unbuttoned his fly and slid his hand over Nico’s hot, damp skin, into the fabric of tight boxer briefs, seeking his mate’s hard, weeping dick. Tightening his hand around it, he urged him on, "You want this. Do not fight me. You are mine." When Nico only grunted, he tightened his hand on his cock even more. "Answer me. Look me in the eyes and answer me. Are you mine?" Nico turned his head and gazed back into his mate’s swirling silver eyes, his mind still wide open, so Diarmad could see exactly what he wanted, no, what he needed, even if he couldn't say it with words, and it seemed to work. Diarmad buried his face in Nico’s neck, deeply inhaling his scent. "Yes! Mine." Stepping back, he untangled Nico’s arms from his shirt, then turned him around, so he leaned with his back against the door. Diarmad let his gaze wander over the body that had haunted his dreams for so long, from surprisingly broad shoulders over erect nipples surrounded by small, tawny disks, down to a flat stomach; the open fly not only revealing his mating mark, but also a hard, pierced cock, still partially covered by black fabric. He looked into his mate's teal colored eyes, discovering flecks of the familiar silver in them; one more sign this man was truly his mate. Locking their gazes, Diarmad got on his knees, reached out for Noël’s slacks, and tugged them down completely, together with his underwear. The sight of Noël’s cock pointing to his face, the swollen red head already leaking drops of precum which trailed down the big silver hoop of his Prince Albert, made him growl. Nuzzling his face into Noël’s balls, he inhaled deeply the unique scent of his mate, before he ran his wet tongue up and down the hard length, swirling it around the ridge of its crown. He played with the silver ring he had been fantasizing about since he first saw it, until he heard Noël's gasp. Cupping Noël’s balls with one hand, Diarmad held the base of Noël’s cock with the other, laving it with his tongue until his hand dripped with his own saliva. The perfect lubricant. Afraid his legs would give out under him, Nico had to steady himself by placing his hands on Diarmad's shoulders, when Diarmad engulfed his dick in one go. Feeling a probing finger, he involuntarily spread his legs more, welcoming the slight pain. He hadn’t been with anyone for a long time; hadn't felt the need. ...not until now. “Fuck….” Nico groaned as he sank his fingers in his lover's thick hair, trying to stave off his orgasm, but it was too late. The finger in his ass, perfectly in sync with the mouth on his cock, was too much. Shouting Diarmad's name, Nico bucked into his lover's mouth, filling it with his cum. Yes! Diarmad held Noël's hips with both hands as his hot seed hit his tongue, and he swallowed everything down until the last drop. Feeling drained but content, he rested his forehead against Noël's lower stomach, his lips pressed against their mating mark. Nico couldn't stay on his feet a minute longer; he sank down and joined Diarmad on the floor, a hand still buried in his mate's dark brown locks. Stroking back a wayward strand, Nico slid his arms around Diarmad’s neck and sought his lover’s lips with his mouth, licking until they parted for him. He moaned. So good... It wasn’t until he traced his hands along Diarmad’s side that he noticed unlike him, Diarmad was still fully clothed. Tugging on his rumpled dress shirt, he demanded, "Off...." Without saying a word, Diarmad got to his feet and held his hand out. Nico took it, and was immediately pulled up and led to the bedroom. There, Diarmad threw back the comforter as an unspoken invitation. With his eyes never leaving his lover, Nico climbed into the bed, under the sheets, and waited. Diarmad stepped back, shrugged off his black coat, and then slowly opened the white dress shirt button by button, never taking his eyes off him. “I want to be inside of you. I want you wrapping those long legs around me while I finally feel your heat surrounding me again.” He unbuckled the belt, pulled it out of its loops, and let it fall on the floor on top of his jacket. Toeing off his Chelsea boots and socks, he unzipped his pants and let them fall to the floor. Kicking them to the side, he pushed down his boxers, never losing eye contact with Nico. Seeing his mate's gaze wander up and down his body spurred him. He stood still only a moment longer before he stalked over to the bed and straddled Nico’s hips, the open dress shirt still hanging on his shoulders, enhancing the dark hair sprinkled over his chest. Nico’s breath hitched when he felt Diarmad’s cock grinding against his own. His mate ran his long, elegant fingers lightly up and down his sides. He couldn't help arching his back, pressing himself even closer against Diarmad. Every touch felt so familiar, something he'd craved for so long without even knowing it. Then Nico realized Diarmad had acted exactly as he wanted him to act, including the little striptease he just did. That made him conscious of the fact he'd never bothered with putting his mental shields up. He was an open book. He also noticed something else for the first time: Diarmad's shields were still fully in place. As he slightly probed them, they became even stronger. So his mate took full advantage of Nico’s openness but wasn't willing to do the same for him. Nico’s mood ranged between pissed and sad. Diarmad clearly still didn't trust him enough to open up, although he could see everything Nico was, everything he felt for him. His first reaction was to slam his shields back up. That got Diarmad's attention. "Noël?" "I still don't know all of your precepts, but one thing I know for sure; when one Seraei opens himself up for another, it's common courtesy to do the same." Nico wiggled himself free from Diarmad, suddenly feeling uncomfortable naked. Although Diarmad looked ashamed, he didn't stop him. Nico waited, but when his mate failed to respond, he got up and collected his clothes that were still lying discarded by the front door. Now he felt ashamed himself for how easy he had been. Diarmad sat on the bed and watched as Noël pulled on his pants without closing them, opened the door with the rest of his clothes bundled under his arm, and exited without looking back. His heart beat rapidly in his chest, only it felt as if it had broken into pieces when he saw the single tear running down Noël's face. He wanted to jump out of the bed, call after his mate, stop him from leaving, but he was frozen in place. Nico didn't know how he made the few steps into his room. All he remembered was sliding down the door, the pile of his rumpled clothes still firmly tucked under his arm. So many emotions zapped through him; the most prominent were hurt and humiliation. How could I have been so stupid? He'd bared his soul; his innermost self to his mate, only to get slapped back into his face that he wasn't deemed trustworthy enough to be offered the same. When he finally got back to his feet, his whole body was in pain; every muscle, every joint screamed at him for sitting tensed up on the floor for so long. He dragged himself into the shower and got under the hot water, still wearing his dress pants. He didn't care they would be ruined; he knew in this life, he would never put them on again anyway. After standing under the pelting water for several minutes, he eventually pushed down the soggy material of his pants, stepped out of them, and grabbed the shower gel. He proceeded to scrub every square inch of his skin as if he could wash away the feeling of Diarmad's hands and tongue on him. After that, he washed his hair, pulling at the strands so hard his whole scalp burned. Everything to mask the other feelings.... The water was getting cold, and although he welcomed the numbing sensation at first, he eventually stepped out of the shower, toweled himself dry, and walked back into his room. Standing in front of the still open closet, he remembered how he'd chosen his clothes for the evening, full of hope. Diarmad sat on his bed and stared at the closed door, a lonely sock still lying on the floor. The impact of what he had just done hit him with such force, it almost suffocated him. With his actions during the last ten minutes, he had probably destroyed anything between him and Noël, and he had no one to blame but himself. How he had prided himself on the fact he had hardened; he didn’t need anyone. He didn’t need someone he trusted, only to be betrayed again. This was the result: He had walls within walls around him so high he himself couldn't tear them down, and he couldn’t even let the one man who meant everything to him in. He had to talk to someone, and the only person who came to mind was the man who had been his best friend for decades before he drove him away, as he had everyone else: Landyn. Before he could talk himself out of it, he grabbed his discarded pants, pulled them up, buttoned his shirt, and made his way over to Simon and Landyn's room. He threw one glance at Noël's closed door, where he heard low sobbing; the sound of it almost tore his heart out. Diarmad had to knock twice before a very naked Simon opened the door, a fresh bite mark on his neck. When he saw his king standing there in disheveled clothes, he immediately became alert. "What happened? Where's Nico?" Diarmad shook his head. "I need to speak with Landyn." Simon opened his mouth to refuse the request, when he was pushed aside by an equally naked Landyn. "Sorry love, I didn't mean to─" Landyn ran his hand down his mate's arm soothingly. "'s okay, just make sure he didn't hurt Nico," and with that, Simon turned into the room only to come back seconds later with a pair of sweats and a t-shirt in his hands. "Put these on and see what he's done. I'll be down in a minute." He looked at Diarmad, daring him to contradict him; he didn't. Landyn and Diarmad went down into the living room where Diarmad pointed in the direction of the liquor cabinet. "You want something?" "No damn it; just tell me what the fuck happened! I thought everything was well. Nico showed you, and everyone else in the room, how he feels about you. All you had to do was show him the same, and everything should have been good. How did you manage to fuck up something so simple?" Landyn asked angrily, all his prior sympathy for the man forgotten. "I could not do it," Diarmad mumbled, barely audible. "You couldn't do what? Fuck him?" Diarmad's head shot up angrily. "Must you be so crude?" Then he turned his gaze to the calm sea outside the window. "I couldn’t let him in. I tried, I really tried, but I could not... I froze," his voice broke. "So what's the big deal? Explain it to him; tell him you couldn't accept his invitation to read him, at least not yet, that you need more time. He'll understand." "No... I mean, I did read him; I explored his mind. I saw what he wanted me to do, and I-I could not resist...." "Wait! You mean you read him without giving him the same opportunity? That's against the Codex, against everything it stands for!" Landyn yelled, too upset to care who could hear him. "I know that! Why do you think I came to you? You have to help me; we need to tell him...." "You know what? You two are getting on my last fucking nerve! First, he blabbers about grabby hands and shit, then you─fuck! Couldn't you just fuck each other's brains out and be done with it? Think of something, bare your soul if you must, but get over this! We have important shit to deal with that needs both of you on the same page, damn it." He cocked his head. "Crap, I believe he's in the foyer...." Nico knew he wouldn't be able to sleep, at least not without the appropriate agent, A.K.A. Jack, so he pulled out some semi-clean, faded black jeans, and a random t-shirt, then made his way to the door. He knew Ivan had a secret stash in the kitchen, solely for cooking purposes, of course. Hopefully, everyone was either in their rooms or in the living room and he could sneak down without anyone noticing him. Standing in front of the kitchen door, Nico could hear Ivan’s and Simon's muffled voices on the other side. He knew he wouldn't be able to stand their inquisitive attitudes tonight, nor did he want to explain why he was in need of booze, so he turned and walked to the living room instead, because he knew there was a small cabinet there with all the right bottles. The closer he came to the entrance though, the more he could hear shreds of a heated discussion going on between Diarmad and Landyn. He hesitated briefly, but then decided they must have felt him coming anyway, so he walked through the entire room without paying attention to the two men facing off near the window. He walked around a chair, opened the cabinet, grabbed a bottle of Jack, and turned around, lifting the liquor in greeting before he left the room without a word. When he heard Landyn calling his name, he walked faster until he ran up the stairs. When he got to his room, he went in, locked the door behind him, threw himself on top of his bed, and opened the bottle to take one long swig. Yeah. Nico woke to a key being turned in the lock, but the door wouldn't open. Looking at the chair he had shoved under the door handle before he started his private drinking binge last night, he almost grinned, almost, because the slightest movement of his face caused him enormous pain. Fucking Jack! Nico needed a moment to realize the heavy pounding he heard wasn’t in his head, but at his door. "Nico, open the fucking door before I kick it in!" Ivan's anger practically radiated through the thick wood. Have fun with that; it's solid oak. Nico turned away and pulled a pillow over his head. Darkness, much better. Later that morning, Nico couldn't ignore the incessant ringing of his phone any longer. He fumbled with the annoying thing, finally found the right button and barked, "Leave me the fuck alone!" before hanging up and switching it off. Then he slowly got up, holding his head with one hand while squinting against the bright sun coming through the partially closed shutters. There was a reason he only indulged in the comfort of Jack occasionally. Trudging into the bathroom, his head felt like it was going to shatter when he heard somebody practically knocking down his door again, while yelling, "I got your breakfast and some Tylenol! Get your sorry ass into gear so we can start cleaning up the mess you two made, damn it!" Tylenol! First pee, then door. He relieved himself and washed his hands quickly before he went to the door. Pulling the chair away, he found a tray with lots of greasy, spicy food and the promised bottle of pills. Thank you, Ivan. Nico washed down some pills with OJ and then started his own special way of dealing with a hangover by eating two of the spicy tacos followed by some bacon and eggs. His head felt better, so he felt ready to try the coffee next. The aftereffect was he fully remembered why he felt he had to drown his sorrows in Jack in the first place. Going over to the window, he opened the shutters and stepped out onto the small balcony to breathe in the fresh, clean ocean air, but this wasn't enough; he still felt suffocated. I need to get out of here. He took another much-needed shower, threw on his favorite jeans and shirt, rolled the sleeves up, and grabbed his leather jacket and helmet. When he went downstairs, Nico’s gaze was drawn to the door of the piano room, because for the first time since he had arrived, it stood wide open. The sun shining through the large bay windows created an almost magical glow on the piano's black, shellacked surface, and the lid stood invitingly open. While he was still staring, Henry trotted out of the room, wagging his tail as if he were begging him to enter. The planned ride on his motorcycle quickly forgotten, Nico rushed through the open door. There, in his usual chair, sat Diarmad, smiling sadly at him. "I know it’s probably too late, but I wanted to give back what always belonged to you. I could never have sold your beloved Steinway, knowing how much it meant to you... and to me. As soon as I saw the pain in your eyes, I was ashamed of myself for telling you I sold it." Diarmad closed his eyes briefly, his face showing the shame he felt, even now. "Anyway, in your unique way, you showed me yesterday that you have forgiven me and you still love me; that for you the past is the past." Diarmad looked up, seeking his mate's reaction, and Nico saw tears pooling in his silvery eyes. Tears? Diarmad shook his head. "What did I do? I thanked you by showing you in my unique way, my inability to let go of my guilt, my trust issues, and the wall I built around me and my heart. On top of this, I violated the Codex by scanning your mind without granting you the same courtesy. Noël, Nico, I know this is unforgivable, even if it is too late now, let me give you this," and then Nico was immersed by Diarmad's mind; he could feel all his sorrow, his despair, but above all, he felt the determination to fight for him with all he had. For a brief moment, Nico felt overwhelmed. This could have answered all the questions Nico had in the past: Why Diarmad hadn't told him about the circumstances of the assassination attempt. What he felt when he saw him with Kris— Then he realized, all of this wasn't important anymore. That was the past. Maybe later... He gestured for Henry to wait outside the room. "Guard the door." Then he looked into Diarmad’s eyes. Walking over to his chair, he never lost eye contact. "I think we have some unfinished business left from last night, don't you?" Nico bent down, steadied himself with his hands on his mate's shoulders before he brushed his lips over Diarmad's mouth. Then he did it again and Diarmad shuddered. Moving his hands down the sides of Nico’s body, Diarmad gripped his hips and growled, "Kiss me properly." Nico managed a playful bow. "As you wish, my king" He ran the tip of his tongue around the seam of Diarmad's lips until his lover gripped him harder. "Noël." “Nico.” Quickly hiding his grin, he plunged his tongue deeply between Diarmad’s barely open lips, making himself familiar again with the taste of his mate's mouth. When they broke apart, Diarmad's mind was still open, and Nico could feel hope, joy, relief and passion, but still apprehension. Searching his mate's eyes, he started to unbutton Diarmad's dark blue shirt, following his hands with his lips. After slipping the last button through its hole, he parted the shirt by running his hands over Diarmad's chest and shoulders. When he touched the mark he'd given Diarmad, it felt as if an electric current was running from his fingers right through his arm, through his body and into his cock. Damn. Nico pressed his lips against the leaping black cat before he trailed down to the nipple under it. Diarmad threaded his hand through Nico’s hair, holding him in place, as Nico bit lightly into the beaded nub until he tasted blood, then licked it soothingly, before he kissed his way up again. Reaching Diarmad's ear, he whispered, “I need you.” Nico found himself lifted in the air and placed on the hastily closed piano lid. Letting his legs fall open involuntary, he watched Diarmad step forward, his hands on the first buttons of Nico’s jeans, and then he stopped. Nico stared at him before he grinned, nodding in the direction of his jacket. "Inside pocket." Grabbing the jacket lying on the floor beside the piano, Diarmad searched the pockets until he held up the small tube triumphantly, then his expression changed. Nico knew exactly what was going on his mate's mind, and he hurried to answer the question before it was asked. "Just my overly-optimistic self; I bought it at a rest stop before I came here." Watching him closely for a moment, as if assessing the truth in Nico’s words, Diarmad bent forward to kiss Nico’s neck, letting his hands trail down his sides until he found the buttons of his jeans. Nico’s cock sprang free of its confinement as soon as he had it completely open. When Diarmad didn't do anything more, Nico looked up. "What?" With a possessive glint in his eyes, Diarmad grabbed his dick, rubbing his thumb over the sensitive spot right under the head. "No underwear? Where were you planning on going?" Nico shrugged. "Just for a ride on the bike. I've been feeling confined, frustrated, and needed to get out, clear my mind. Why?" "You belong to me. You're mine. If we do this, you’re mine." Nico frowned and poked his finger accusingly in Diarmad's chest. "If this is to work, you have to trust me." Diarmad closed his eyes, then whispered in a barely audible voice, "I know, I do." Realizing Diarmad still needed reassurance, Nico reached out for him and pulled him against his body until he could lean his forehead against Diarmad's chest. Feeling the rapidly beating heart, he confirmed in a soothing voice, "I'm yours." After some time, he nuzzled his face into Diarmad's chest murmuring, "Where were we?" "I love you,” Diarmad said resolutely. "My mate..." he murmured. "Mine..." and sank his teeth in Nico’s vein.
  17. 45 points
    Patrick and Tristan rounded the hallway corner just in time for Tristan to have the wind knocked out of him by a blur of pink. More people ran up as Tristan tried to catch his breath and hold on to the now wriggling pink lump in his arms. Playing a hunch, he gasped out, “Fran, I presume.” The wiggling stopped and a far too intelligent gaze captured his. He got lost in that gaze for a few moments before yelling got his attention. “Fran, what have you been told about running in the hallways. You’re meant to be staying with your friends tonight.” “But, Kitty, I wanted to meet Trissy.” Tristan ignored the shocked gasps and the chuckling that he was sure he could hear coming from a certain vampire. Instead, he concentrated on Fran. “I’m Tristan. But I’m sure you knew that already. Why did you have to meet me so urgently?” “You ‘posed to help me see mom again.” Before he could answer Kitryn interrupted. “Fran, we had this conversation. Your mom is dead. She was killed by the bad people. She’s gone to another place now.” Tristan shook his head. Fran wasn’t a baby or even a toddler. She was at least six if not older. He couldn’t understand why some adults not only treated children like they were stupid but used silly terms like, gone to another place, and bad people. Why not just say the person is dead and gone? And why call the ‘bad people’ exactly what they were? Evil, manipulative, B— “She is not gone!” Fran’s shout echoed in the small hallway. “She was here. She taught me to find Bad Lady. ‘fore Conny helped me. She showing me power. You no want me to know.” Kitryn sputtered. “It’s not that I don’t want you to know about your power. You’re a child, you should be playing games, not looking for or helping to fight bad people.” “Bad people want me. I fight them. I help. Help mage and Fae. You no stop me.” The more upset she got the more her speech garbled, but Tristan got the idea. “Fran, do you mind if I see your room? If I can sense your mom from her visit, I can set Kitty’s mind at rest.” He ignored the growl at the name he used and kept a smile on his face for Fran as she nodded enthusiastically. He stood straight and set Fran on her feet. He let her take his hand to lead the way. He ignored everyone else as they trailed behind them. Fran may be a child but she was a seer too. Her power would protect her. That was what made the missing seers such a mystery. He still couldn’t work out how this Cheryl was getting the seers and not leaving any trace. “My room,” Fran announced proudly and pushed open the door. An immediate feeling of peace surrounded him. “No evil has been here.” He stated and moved further into the room. He went to one knee in front of Fran. “Can you please think of your visitor and try and call to her? If she is nearby she may come and set everyone’s mind at rest.” Fran nodded and frowned in concentration. A glow appeared beside Fran and slowly grew until it took the shape of a woman. “Fran, what’s wrong, darling? Why did you call me?” Fran let out a low cry. “Kitty say you dead and gone away. He say I didn’t see you. He see you now.” The glowing woman spun to glare at a sheet white Kitryn. “Kitryn Franklan Hermarn Gerald Jackier.” Tristan winced as Kitryn paled further. Everyone knew you were in trouble when a woman used your full name in that tone. “How could you tell your niece that? You know the basics of a seer’s power. I would have shown myself to you if I could, but I seemed to only be able to appear to Fran and only in this room. I know I asked her to keep quiet until I could get things figured out, but I didn’t expect you to react like this. But I see you have a mage here. If you can get him to boost Fran’s power I can stay and explain a bit better.” Tristan snapped out of his shock and nodded. He sent a burst of power into Fran and felt it funnel out. The woman solidified and the glowed dimmed but didn’t disappear. He also sent out feelers of magic into the room. He found wards of protection, and wards to boost power, and wards to aid focus. There was more but those were the most powerful ones. “So, you had better let me explain what’s happened so far and you can fill in what you know. I don’t know how long I have so listen carefully, I will say this only once. “I was injured in the attack on our home and I felt it when my mate was killed. However, by then I had already been caught by a mage. She’d surrounded me with some sort of shield, it stopped the breaking of the mating bond from killing me. They took me with them when they left. Before you ask, I can’t tell you where Cheryl is. I was knocked out. I’m kept in a three-story building with no windows for me look out of and get any idea of my location. I am forced to use my small healing abilities to try and keep multiple seers alive. You don’t know how happy I was when I felt Fran’s power rising and realized I could link with her. The night is the only time I’m left alone unless there’s an emergency. I’ve been trying to find out what I could and pass it on to Fran.” Fran had curled up as close to her mother as she could and had apparently fallen asleep.
  18. 44 points
    Candy & Kisses Chapter 10 By Dabeagle email I woke early to the feel of Brandon climbing out of bed. I turned as he finished pulling on his underwear, then grabbed my discarded tee from atop my dresser. He poked his head into the hallway and then disappeared. I figured he had to pee. I'm unusual like that. My whole family is woken by their bladders, but mine was more considerate. I consulted my phone: eight in the morning on Sunday is too early. Brandon padded back into the room and I heard the cloth slide against his skin as he tossed my tee shirt back onto the dresser and slid beneath the covers. He spooned behind me and I grunted. "No." He paused. "What?" "The underwear. No." There was a moment of silence and then he shifted around, grunted once and then rolled back to me, his soft cock pressed to my backside. "Good boy," I said with a little giggle. "Didn't you get enough last night?" he asked, teasing in a slightly sleepy voice. Obviously eight am was too early for him, too. Honestly, Sunday was made for sleeping in. "I want to feel all of you when we're in bed. I think no underwear should be the rule," I replied. He nuzzled the back of my neck, laying small kisses along my skin. I purred under his gentle touches, now far more awake and interested in him than sleeping. He snaked a hand in along my ribs, crossing my stomach and pulled me a bit tighter against him. I rolled over and kissed him lightly before ducking under the covers and kissing my way down to my destination. "I thought - oh, God!" he said in a stage whisper. I pulled the skin taut on his cock and turned what could have been a sleepy wake up blow job into an oral assault on his manhood. A few minutes later, and a lot of squirming by him under my work, he reached his sweet end. I kissed my way slowly up his stomach, paused at his nipples to address them properly, and then moved up again. I only got a few kisses in before he was pulling on my side, moving me up. It was kind of weird, but I got the hint, bringing my groin up to his face. I hadn't made my move based on the hope of this being an exchange, but neither was I opposed. Rather than being passive, this position had me working my hips, hands against the wall to keep me from bashing my head, as he set me on fire with his mouth. I must have gotten a little too into it as he started to cough and pushed back on my hips so I rolled to the side, bumping my head against the wall as I did. He cleared his throat and rolled after me, settling between my legs and finishing what he'd started. I slid back under the covers, feeling like every cliché about a male who has just orgasmed. I laid my head on his warm chest and threw my leg over his, bringing my knee up to his soft sack. "I didn't think you were after sex," he said with a gentle laugh, his voice humming through his chest. "I wasn't. You started being affectionate," I said to him, my voice little more than a whisper. He ran his fingers into my hair and kissed the top of my head. "I love you," he said quietly. "I love you, too," I said and turned enough to kiss his chest and then snuggle my face against him, relaxing into sleep. I was awoken later by a tapping at my door. "Jerry? Are you decent?" my mother asked. "Yeah," I said sleepily. She opened the door. "Breakfast is on. We made pancakes since Brandon is here," she said. "Did you sleep well?" "Best sleep ever," I said, squeezing Brandon in my arms. "Yes, Mrs. Mason," Brandon said in a scratchy voice. "Well, come on down and eat, lovebirds," she said and closed the door. "That was awkward," he said. "Welcome to my family," I said with a yawn. I rolled onto him, pressing our soft members together and kissing him lightly, but repeatedly. I leaned back once sated and smiled down at him. "You even look hot after just waking up." I leaned in and stared in his eyes and whispered, "I'm glad you're hot on the inside, too, though." He smiled. "What does that even mean?" "It means more sleepovers," I said, giving him one more kiss. I looked down at him and felt a need to speak, to confess perhaps. "Brandon. I know you've said some fucking amazing things to me, and I need to say something to you right now." The corner of his mouth pulled up. "You mean right now, because we're naked?" "B," I said firmly. "You're always on the edge of getting a blow job. You have been for years." His eyes widened a little. "I was nursing that old hurt because I wanted you with me. I've always thought you were the dead sexiest guy. Ever. I love the romantic way you told me how you felt we were coming back to each other. I want you to understand that, when I say 'I love you, too' I'm not just replying. It's not just an expected response. It's something I never dared think I would get to say to you. Now that I have you, now that you're really here with me - I love you, Brandon McCall. I love everything about you." His mouth worked for a moment and then he sighed. "I wish I'd been braver or figured things out faster. I'm relieved, happy, comfortable and a few other cool words now that we're together. I didn't think you'd say yes. I didn't think I'd be enough for you." "You're always enough," I said firmly. I expected to feel a little silly or vulnerable, looking down on him - pinning his naked body with mine - but I wasn't. He deserved to know, and I hoped it would make him more confident about speaking to me, communicating what was important to him. I really was tempted to slide down and have him again, but I knew I was pushing it as it was. I kissed him instead, before getting out of bed. We watched each other pull on underclothes in the morning light. I grabbed shorts and a tee shirt since I had Sunday chores to do. "I think I'll put the dress pants back on and the shirt," he said, pulling the slacks off the hanger. "I have to wear the shoes and I'd look goofy otherwise." He turned his head toward me and cocked an eyebrow. "I am allowed to get dressed now, right?" "Hell, yes," I said with a grin. "You're mine. Nobody else gets to see all that," I said, exaggeratedly eyeing him up and down. He blushed and laughed lightly as he pulled his clothes on. We went downstairs and joined the family for breakfast. Amanda asked Brandon if he had a girlfriend and he said no, that he had a boyfriend. "Okay. You can have one of each. I'll be your girlfriend," she said confidently. I rolled my eyes at her, but she went off happily singing some off-key song about Brandon being her boyfriend. Eventually I walked Brandon to his car. The suit he'd rented was due back by noon, so he really did have to go. He hung the coat and tie in his back seat and turned to face me. "I had a great time," he said, smiling that more-than-beautiful smile. "B, you're a dream come true," I told him. "I wish you didn't have to go. I'd love to laze around and watch movies all day or something." "Promised dad I'd help cleaning out the garage," he said regretfully. "Talk to you later?" "Yeah," I said and we kissed chastely, yet not without warmth. He smiled at me again and then was gone. I headed back inside and wandered up to my room to start cleaning. I put some music on through my phone and a Bluetooth speaker and then glanced at the bed. I thought of smelling that nasty jersey in Brandon's room, but the temptation remained. I climbed onto the bed and knelt down, smelling the sheets. Oh, that was fucking nice. "Brandon seems really cool," Janice said, making me jump. I turned to find her leaning in my doorway, dressed for the day. "He totally is," I said, settling back to sit on my feet. She looked at me speculatively. "You're lucky, in a way. I can't quite picture the folks letting me have a lover sleep over. I'm not sure I want to, actually," she said and snorted, her mouth curling in amusement. I smiled at her and tilted my head side to side, but said nothing. "I've always been a little jealous of you," she said suddenly, the amusement gone from her face. "Cal is the witty one. Amanda looks like she's destined to be a free spirit. You're the strong one. My talent seems to be making all the mistakes first." I frowned lightly, wondering where this was coming from. "I've always thought you helped the rest of us figure out the boundaries. You're like an explorer, getting to try everything new while the rest of us learn from your example." She shook her head. "That's another talent you have. You can call me a fuck-up, but do it so nicely you'd almost think it was a compliment." "I don't think you're a fuck-up," I said honestly. "I think you get places first. You discover things before we do. It probably sucks for you, but I've learned a lot from you." She nodded slowly. "Well, I just wanted to tell you...you guys look great together. He looks real, and I've seen my share of fakes to know what I'm talking about." I nodded in agreement, yet confused. She pressed her lips together and then was gone. So strange. I busied myself getting my laundry picked up and then carried my hamper downstairs. Cal was moving his stuff to the dryer, so I had perfect timing this morning. "So. How does it feel to not be a virgin anymore? I have to ask, since it's been way too long for me to remember," he asked, smiling in that knowing way of his. "I feel satisfied for the moment, but I'm going to go back for more." I paused for a second. "Sort of like catching my breath at a buffet before I go grab my next plate." Cal burst out laughing at me. "Nice, 'Miah. Who hit the wall this morning?" "My head," I said, a little embarrassed, but also kind of enjoying talking about it. "Huh. Walking okay for that," he said speculatively. "We didn't do that! Jesus," I said and laughed at him. "Oh, makes sense," he said. I followed him up the stairs, separating to head into our rooms. I glanced at the bed, having made the decision not to wash the sheets just yet. I busied myself with making the bed, dusting the room and then heading down to take care of the living room, per my usual Sunday routine. Cathy showed up around two-thirty while I was folding clothes in my room. "Hey," she said, plopping down on my bed. "Hey, Cath," I greeted her. "So, anything going to happen with you and Malik?" "Ugh, I hope so," she said and let out a sigh. "As goodnight kisses go, he gets a perfect score. How about you?" "Brandon is great in bed," I bragged and then laughed as she started to push me, demanding I tell her everything. "Sorry, Cath," I told her, in a tone that was clearly not sorry. "Those details are for me and B. I'm not telling you about his amazing body or what he can do with his tongue." "Fucker," she said. "So what, now that you're getting some dick you can't tell me things?" I carried a stack of clothes to my dresser. "I'm saying the dick I'm getting is mine. I'm not talking about him like that. He's not one of those imaginary top four. He's my boyfriend and I love him." "Love?" she said and frowned lightly before smiling. "Wow, you've got it bad." "No," I said, chidingly. "I have it good. Really good." "So disgusting. Well, Malik and I aren't dating, but I got a squeeze. I'm pretty sure he had Hunter beat." She chattered on in that vein, playing a verbal game of trying to get me to brag more about Brandon. I made statements, but nothing with extra detail and it drove her nuts. I was totally enjoying it, too. She hung around for most of the afternoon, alternately chatting and trying to get dirt about Brandon and me. Not totally sure why, since she's not into our body types as a rule. Later in the day Malia started sending me pictures she'd taken with her phone. I liked a lot of the pictures of our friends, and Cathy and I headed over to the drug store to print out the images so I could put them in my room. It was also the first official image of B and I as a couple, and I thought we looked goddamn good together. "Oh, so I didn't tell you," Cathy said with excitement. "Ginnie has gone all stalker on us." "This better not be about Brandon's abs," I said in a tone of warning. "No, no. Remember I told you about that freshman that she was after? The one she scared off from homecoming?" she asked. "Yeah," I replied, curious in spite of myself. "Well," she said, warming up to her story. "Remember Garrett French? On the soccer team? The one Ginnie wanted to see some tit action from?" "Yeah. He's not a frosh, though." "His brother is," she said, smiling widely. "Why are you smiling? What's the hook, here?" "I think she's trying to climb the little brother to get to Garrett." She paused. "The thing is, she's all over this boy. Like, she forgot she wants to climb Garrett mountain, and instead she's all over this kid...Uh, what was his name?" "I have no idea. I didn't even know Garrett had a little brother. Or parents. I mean, he's kind of hot, but that's about it." I thought for a second. "Zack said he's a slut, so Ginnie shouldn't have to work that hard to get in his pants, if that's her goal." "Hmm," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Maybe she really has fallen for this kid, then. I mean, she was pretty upset when the dance didn't happen. She told me she was trying to figure things out, but she couldn't get him. So she was on his Instagram, he has some video thingy, and something else she mentioned, but I wasn't paying attention anymore. All I could think was that she was stalking this kid - and I was trying to figure out why." I shrugged. "Maybe she likes him." "She liked Garrett, but now she's stuck on this Tim guy. He's, like, a year and a half younger than she is. I asked her a little about him and I got this blast of 'so cute, so cuddly, so... - I almost puked." Huh. "So why did the kid turn her down for the dance?" "From what I gathered, it was the parents. She's too old for him. I don't know if Garrett said anything to them, either." She paused. "Should I tell her Garret could be on the table? Maybe that will move her past this one?" "Who knows with her," I said with a shake of my head. "As long as it's not Brandon she's stuck on, she can stalk whoever she wants." "I can't believe you won't talk about his dick," she pouted. "I told you I'm getting it, what more do you really think I'm going to tell you?" I asked, laughing at her look. "I told you about Malik's tool." "You're not in love with Malik, and even if you were, Brandon's cock is mine. Back off," I said, only half joking. She walked to my door, then turned to look at me with curiosity. "You're different. I guess maybe you must be in love. Someday you'll have to tell me why you didn't mention him before." "That's easy. I was holding a grudge. I wanted him and I was mad I couldn't have him. Then when he wanted me, I had a hard time shifting gears." I paused. "It hurt to say I wanted him, before, because he'd rejected me once. I was still stinging." She looked a little down and said, "I wish you could have told me." "I...didn't want to talk about Brandon the way we do other guys. For me...he wasn't anyone else. He was...more." "Well, I hope you talk about him more. He seems like he's good for you." "I think he is," I replied truthfully. Her eyes widened, she wiggled her eyebrows up and down and smiled before patting my door frame and leaving. I had a feeling our relationship was changing and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. It wasn't until dinner that things started to get weird. B and I had been texting on and off late in the day, but when I sat down for dinner I realized Janice was missing. "Where's Jan?" I asked as I put some green beans on my plate. "She went out this afternoon," my mom said. "I didn't think she'd be up as early as she was after that concert last night. She didn't say anything about another show today, did she?" "She told me the set was going to be broken down. The band has a show Monday somewhere." My parents shared a look, and I was only a second behind them in wondering if Jan had run off with a band. It had always been said sort of like a joke, but her tone this morning with me made me wonder. "I'll just send her a text that dinner is ready," my mom said. She walked into the living room for her phone, and after sending her message, pocketed the device and joined us at the table. It was typically raucous, though there was a slight tension in the air with the uncertainty of where Janice was. Cal distracted everyone by talking about loud banging noises from my room the night before, despite my protests to the contrary. Amanda perked up, realizing we were talking about Brandon, but she didn't grasp our brother's intent with his teasing. "Well, I thought you guys looked too adorable for words this morning, when I went to wake you," my mother said. She got a devilish gleam in her eye, glanced at my father and then back to me before saying, "I guess you bought some special...underclothes for last night?" I frowned in confusion. "What? I don't buy special underwear," I said with a snort. "Oh," she said, taking on a confused look. "I figured you must have, since the ones on the floor weren't ones I bought you." It took a beat, but I realized she was saying she'd seen Brandon's underwear on the floor. Cal was faster on the uptake and started to bust my nuts while my father looked like he was trying not to laugh nor choke on the food in his mouth. I wasn't really sure what to say to that, so I just sat there and did my tomato imitation. After dinner my mom called Jan's phone, only to hear it going off in the hallway. We all looked at each other with concern. Janice was gone.
  19. 43 points
    Love is Blind - 8 Copyright Nick Brady 2019. All rights reserved. ==========////=========== My mother smiled and excused herself to start our Christmas dinner. I reached over and took Ian's hand. “I love you,” I said quietly. “I love you too. This is the nicest Christmas I ever had.” “The first of many, Ian. The first of many.” The smell of roasting turkey filled the air and our mouths were watering. It had been a long time since breakfast and we were very hungry. We wandered into the kitchen hoping for a sample. “Is there anything we could do to help?” I asked my mother. “Now, Andrew. You'll just have to be patient. It will be ready in about an hour,” she replied as she basted the turkey. We reluctantly went back out and sat on the sofa. Ian ran his finger over his ring. “Tell me about the ring. I know it's a metal band with flat stones in it, but what does it look like?” “It's Sterling silver and the little stones are blue-green turquoise. They weren't that expensive but they're very pretty.” “It fits right. You made a good guess on the size. I really love it.” I took Ian's hand and looked at the ring then held my hand next to his. “They match, you know. They are another thing about us that's just the same.” Ian squeezed my hand. “You make me so happy. I don't deserve to be this happy.” “Don't say that. If anyone ever deserved to be happy it's you. We make each other happy. That's the way it's supposed to work.” “I appreciate your mother making me feel so welcome. I was afraid I'd be a bother.” “Not at all. She likes you,” I assured him. “I bet your mom misses you this Christmas. What did you tell her about spending it with me?” “I sent her a nice Christmas card and wrote a little note inside. I said I was visiting a friend and wished her a nice Christmas. I asked her to wish my father and brothers a merry Christmas from me too, but I don't know if she'll do that. I guess she will. It doesn't matter.” “I think it matters to you. Don't you have some feelings towards them?” “Mixed feelings, I guess. When I was a little kid I really wanted them to like me. When I came home from school I probably bugged them a lot. Before they got into their teens they were pretty nice to me but when they got to be teenagers they decided I wasn't cool, especially if they had their friends over at the house.” “Were they mean to you? Did they pick on you?” “No, basically they just ignored me or told me to get lost. It's hard to be shunned, especially by your own brothers. They mostly laughed at me if they paid any attention at all.” “How did you turn out to be such a nice person? That could have made you bitter and hateful.” Ian shrugged. “I wasn't home that much. From the time I was six years old, I was in the Blind School most of the time. They even had summer programs.” “I know you learned a lot there, but was it a good experience? How do you look back on those times?” "I guess you could say it seemed normal. I was only home during the school holidays and my friends were all at school. The school was pretty strict, but they took care of me and encouraged me. I was always ready to go back to school." “Being a kid is tough for most of us.” “What was it like for you growing up? Your mom is so great. I guess you had a happy childhood.” “It really wasn't that great.” “What do you mean?” “To tell the truth, I was pretty squirrely. Without a father I had no male role model. I looked to my mother for how to do things. She tried to go out in the yard and throw a ball with me, but it wasn't the same. I wanted to follow her around and do what she did. I guess that's how I learned to cook. I was kind of a sissy, Ian. And it didn't help that I found myself more attracted to my buddies than to the girls at school.” “Did you get picked on?” “I got teased a lot. The neighborhood had a lot of kids. The boys would get together in somebody's back yard or at the school playground and play pickup football or baseball. Two guys would be the captains and take turns choosing us to be on their side, I always got chosen last. I wasn't very popular. We moved to a different neighborhood just before I went into high school so it was like starting over.” “I know what it's like not to fit in.” " About the time we moved, I started to grow. I was as tall as I am now when I was in the eighth grade. If you're big but won't fight, you're a magnet for bullies. It makes them look tough to push around a bigger kid. A couple of times I really lost my temper and got mad enough to fight. After knocking a couple of guys on their butts, I wasn't as much fun to pick on and the bullies started leaving me alone. When I got into high school some of my friends were athletes and played sports. I wanted to fit in so I went out for football. I wasn't great at it but it helped make me more like one of the guys. I had to work at being more masculine. It didn't come naturally." “You said you were a swimmer.” "I always like to swim. Mom was a good swimmer and she taught me how when I was little. I joined the swim team and did pretty well. It was a chance to start over. It helped." “What about being attracted to guys? How did that work out?” “I learned to keep that to myself. I never hit on anybody, but there are always a few guys who let you know that they might like to play, you know? We would never admit we liked to do stuff with other boys, but it was OK to play around a little when you were horny. Turned out that some guys liked to do a lot more than others. We all thought of ourselves as straight, or claimed to be. You're the first person I've ever come out to, Ian.” “Really? Me too. I guess that's our little secret.” “I guess so,” I laughed quietly. “I think Mom knew. Mothers always know these things I guess. She watched me struggle with all this stuff. I think that's why she's so accepting of you. She understands us both, Ian.” Ian looked like he wanted to say more, but just then Mom called us to the dinner table. The turkey ended our discussion. It was a wonderful dinner. Mom was a great cook and we ate until we were about to burst. Just when we knew we couldn't eat another bite, she brought out a pecan pie and we ate some more. We sat at the table for quite a while and talked. Not that we had that much to say but because we were basically paralyzed. After some coffee and deep breathing, Ian and I got up and cleared the dishes away and shooed Mom into the living room while we washed up. When we finally joined her she was leaned back in the easy chair sound asleep. Ian and I put on our coats and slipped quietly out of the house to walk off our dinner. Ian carried his folded cane but took my elbow as I gave him a tour of the neighborhood. We walked past my old high school and I shared some stories. That reminded him of a few stories of his own and we had a nice talk The more we got to know about each other, the closer we became. An hour later we came back to the house and found my mother reading a magazine. “I was about to send out a search party,” she said. “Have you been showing Ian around?” “We were walking off your turkey,” Ian laughed. “Thank you for doing the dishes. It was a pleasure having you with us.” We talked a bit more then Mom got up to excuse herself. “I have to go back to work tomorrow. You boys will have to entertain yourselves.” We took the hint and got ready for bed ourselves. I sat on the edge of the double bed in the guest room. “Mom's going back to work and this might be a good time for us to get back to our apartment,” I suggested. “That's a good idea. We don't want to wear out our welcome,” Ian agreed. “You know what they say about fish and company.” “What do they say?” “Both begin to stink after three days.” “Oh. You're probably right,” Ian laughed. “Let's get up and fix Mom a nice breakfast then we can leave after she does. We'd have the house to ourselves for a little while.” I ran the back of my hand down the front of Ian's T-shirt. “This is a pretty nice bed,” Ian agreed. “We haven't had any quality time since we drove down here.” “Would that be safe?” “I imagine so. She won't get back from work until late in the afternoon and we'll be long gone by then.” Ian took my hand and pulled it down to his crotch. It was obvious that he thought I had a good idea. We kissed goodnight and I went to the bottom bunk in my old bedroom. When my mother woke up in the morning the house smelled like bacon. By the time she had dressed for work, there was a platter of bacon, scrambled eggs and another of pancakes waiting on the kitchen table. “I'm going to miss you guys. This is a treat.” “It's the least we can do,” I said. “I won't be able to use up all these leftovers. Let me send some of this stuff home with you.” We went away with a load of turkey, dressing and green bean casserole. We would put it to good use. We walked my mother out to her car and both gave her a big hug. “Thanks again, Mom. It's always great to come home and spend a little time with you,” I said. “I'm sorry I don't get back more often.” “You're busy. I'm busy. We both have our own lives now, Andrew. I'm proud of you and always love to have you, but I understand. Come when you can, and bring Ian with you. You're both welcome anytime.” She hugged us again then got in her car and drove away, leaving us to our own devices. “Probably we should straighten up the house a little, like clean up the kitchen and make the beds,” I suggested. “Let's make up the beds first,” Ian smiled. We went into the guest room and sat on the double bed. We didn't need to discuss what was to happen next. I turned to Ian and unbuttoned his shirt, then lowered his zipper and he did the rest. I lay back on the bed and let him remove my clothing until we were wearing nothing but smiles. Ian sat down next to me as I lay stretched out. “Let me look at you,” he whispered. His sensitive hands examined every inch of me from the hair on my head down to my toes. It was always a tremendous turn-on for both of us when he did that. When I was painfully erect, he bent over and took me in his mouth, his fingers lightly touching the surrounding area. I lay perfectly still, took his head in my hands and rubbed my fingers through his hair. My eyes were closed as I experienced him at the same time that he experienced me. After a few minutes Ian stretched out beside me and it was my turn, breathing in his scent and enjoying the feel of him in my mouth. We were in no hurry. I raised his knees and licked down between his legs causing his breath to quicken. This had become a regular part of our play and we both enjoyed it. We were not sure which role we enjoyed the most, the giver or the receiver but had learned to love both roles. “Wait,” Ian whispered. “First, would you mind hugging me? I always like it when you hug me.” He stretched out his arms and legs like a cat and I placed myself against the length of him, wrapping my arms under his shoulders and kissing him on the neck, under his chin, then gently nibbling his lips. He embraced me and sighed as we rocked against each other from side to side like we had done that first time in my little tent. But before we made a mess, we had other games to play and took turns pleasing each other in all the ways we had discovered. It was some time before we eventually found the relief we longed for. We didn't keep track of the time. We lay in each other's arms for a while then rose from the bed to shower and put on fresh clothing. We scrubbed the bath, changed the sheets on the beds then went into the kitchen to clean up from breakfast. I stood behind Ian and kissed him on the back of his neck. “I love you,” I told him. He turned and took me in his arms. “I love you too. Do you ever get tired of hearing me say that?” “Not yet. I don't think I ever will.” We tidied up the house as best we could then locked up and took our things out to my car. On the drive back to our apartment we made a few plans. Now that we had determined that our lives would be spent together we had a lot of things to talk about. When classes started again the rest of the semester went by quickly. We decided was that we needed to push the two twin beds together to make more room for our playtime. No one ever came to visit unless it was the landlord making an inspection, We decided that if he hadn't balked at our homebrew, the location of the beds probably wouldn't concern him either. “My mother hardly writes to me any more and she stopped sending any money,” Ian told me one day. “I think when I didn't come back for Christmas they decided to write me off.” “Why would they care?” “Giving me a hard time was their decision. Not coming home for Christmas was my idea. I guess I didn't play by the rules, I don't know.” “I feel bad for your Mom.” "I do too. I still write to her, but I know she's in a tough position. Maybe my father found out she was sending me some money and put his foot down. For all I know, she's not even getting my letters. Maybe it would make things simpler I didn't write to her." “It's hard for me to understand the situation with your family.” Ian sighed. “I've thought about it a lot. I think when I was little, I was sort of a curiosity. I couldn't do what my brothers did when they were my age and that was disappointing. People felt sorry for me and assumed I was retarded. They felt sorry for my family being burdened with such a freaky kid. Then when I was six they sent me off to the blind school and I was out of the way.” “So you never really lived with your family?” “I lived at the school. When I came home I was just a visitor. They never really knew me. When I was home they didn't know what to do with me.” “It's like you weren't really part of the family.” “Not really. I think they saw me as an accident, as something that never should have happened.” “I just can't understand why your father is so harsh.” “My father isn't really a bad person, he's just ignorant, Andrew. He doesn't have any education, he doesn't read. He doesn't understand things and if something happens that he doesn't understand, it makes him angry. He can't understand why he had such a freaky kid.” “You weren't a freak. You just couldn't see.” “But I didn't look like my father, didn't act like him. My brothers grew up a lot like their father. They tried to be like he was. They were good at sports and talked the talk, you know? I think my father suspected that I wasn't really his.” “He thought your mother had been with another man?” “I overheard things. I don't know what he thought. Maybe he thinks I'm not really his kid and is suspicious of my mother. Maybe that's why he's so angry. He hates anything he doesn't understand.” Do your brothers feel the same way?” “I never fit in, but my brothers were decent to me when I was little. It's when I got older that it got worse. I think they picked up on the idea that I wasn't legitimate. I was gone most of the time. I imagine the subject came up. Then when I came home they looked at me differently.” “Didn't your mother defend herself? Couldn't they talk about it?” “That's not the way it works. If something is tough, you just don't talk about it. One way or another, I was an anomaly. I wasn't supposed to be there.”” “I'm sorry, Ian.” “Don't be sorry. My life is so much better now. I can wish things were different, but I'm happy with my life. I'm happy with you.” “I think life is better for both of us now. We need to start thinking about our future.” “I'm not sure I've really thought about my future,” Ian admitted. “I guess I just figure if I can stay in school things will work out somehow. I expected to be alone.” “You're not alone now. We're not alone, we're a team, a couple. We need to make plans. How are we going to stay together after college?” I asked. “That might be a challenge. We aren't going to be doing the same kind of work. I'm not sure what I'll be able to do, to be honest. I hate to admit it, but being blind does close some doors.” “We don't have to do the same job to work for the same company,” I pointed out. “We need to think about how we're going to do this. I can't bear the thought of being separated.” “There will be a way,” Ian smiled. “There has to be. We'll find a nice place and settle down, maybe buy a house and get a dog. We'll find a way.” ==========////=========== Please send your comments to Nick Brady at y2kslacker@mail.com
  20. 42 points
    Behind the bedroom time panel’s cracked surface, an amber four ticked over into a five, signifying yet another lost minute. In the near darkness, Arad had watched it happen seventy-three times hoping the mindless activity would drift him off to sleep. Make that seventy-four. The day had sapped his every gram of energy, but he tossed and turned as ideas flooded across his thoughts in bright waves of DemiShou color. After hitting PAUSE, Arad had insisted on staying with the DemiShou, paranoid of a new seizure or episode playing out he wasn't prepared for. Stopping only briefly for food or water breaks, they stayed until he and Roku both were too tired to stay upright. Nothing happened. "You can have Tank's old room because let's be honest, he's not using it anymore. Take any of the clothes that fit." Roku wordlessly agreed, but hesitated to enter, his gaze following Arad as he left for his own quarters. Deep down, a growing well of discomfort sparked as Arad closed his door, Roku still standing in the hall. Now that discomfort had swollen into a writhing mass of conflict. Rewinding and replaying out the day, Roku had been polite, attentive, and far more centered than expected given the situation. However, Arad couldn’t forget that when he first woke, the beast reared its head and took what it wanted. He hadn’t hurt Arad. Far from it. Given the Syn running through his veins, an argument could be made Arad had encouraged the scene. And he couldn’t deny he’d enjoyed it. How messed up was that? It made sense to keep a wall between them at night. Didn’t it? Roku was still a stranger no matter how heartbroken he’d looked when Arad left him behind. Arad rubbed his sleepless eyes. With his luck Roku was still haunting the— “Oh shit.” Throwing back the covers, Arad climbed out of bed. He took three long, slow breaths and tapped the door lock. The door wrenched itself open, startling Roku. His makeshift cloak puddled around him, Roku sat just outside the door looking awkward at being found in the middle of the night. The innate strength in his face was soft like heated wax, melting despite his efforts to stay awake. Arad hated his intuition as times, but it had saved his life on more than one occasion. “You’ve been out here all night, haven’t you?” “Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Roku’s growl was all sandpaper and coarse. Arad didn’t miss how his apology managed to avoid actually answering Arad’s question. “Can’t sleep?” Again, he gave no real answer, only a poor shrug so minimal Arad almost missed it. Weariness slumped Roku’s body as he blinked hard to open his lidded eyes. “Have you even tried?” Roku’s eyes shimmered and he closed his mouth into a thin line. A tiny tremor chased his lips as if uttering the truth was a burden he couldn’t bear. So he didn’t. Logic and self-preservation rattled inside Arad, telling him to turn around, go back inside alone, and prevent any misstep. But no matter how he’d lived for so many years, he couldn’t be heartless to someone he pledged to help. “C’mon. You can crash in here.” Roku leaned forward for a moment, then settled back even deeper against the wall. “I don’t think I should. I don’t know if it’s safe.” Guilt left a sour aftertaste in Arad’s mouth. Despite his obvious fear of isolation, his need to be nearby, Roku echoed all of Arad’s concerns. He continued to protect Arad like a decent and honorable person. The very thing Arad swore to do for the DemiShou. “Roku, I’m going to be really pissed if I have to stand out here all night. Get in already.” Arms crossed over his chest, Arad waited in the doorway until Roku finally stood, sluggish with an invisible weight. The DemiShou dipped his head, refusing to meet Arad eyes as he entered the bedroom. For good or ill, Arad allowed the door to close behind them. He stepped past Roku and climbed into bed. In the minimal light, Roku hedged, clutching his blanket tighter as he stared at Arad in a bed large enough to fit them both. It might be a snug fit with his size—Roku dwarfed Torrins—but they could manage. “I’ll just stay right here. This is fine.” Voice shaking, Roku turned and curled up on the floor. Back pressed against the bed, he was as close to Arad as he could get without sharing the mattress. He wrestled with his blanket and pulled it over his neck and ears. Arad threw his own pillow down to Roku, which after a quick sniff he didn’t hesitate to claim. “Thank you.” Arad stayed silent as he dragged his covers to his chin and pushed Torrins’s old pillow into position under his head. If they both could find some rest, it would all be worth it. However, he found it impossible to ignore the presence of another man in the room. The gravity of body mass. Additional inhales and exhales. Combined with the extra heartbeat, it made a palpable force holding the power of sleep at bay. Restlessness edged Roku’s silhouette no matter how long Arad watched the amber numbers turn over. He reached over and laid a hand on Roku’s back, which immediately stiffened. Arad made a point not to flinch away, convinced Roku required the contact. “Don’t worry. It’s safe to sleep here. I’ll make sure you wake up in the morning.” “Promise?” The stuttered inhale and all too child-like tone nearly choked Arad’s reply. “I promise.” “O…Okay.” Without moving his hand, Arad resisted the urge to pet the tiger. He stood watch as the tension in Roku’s shoulder ebbed and he settled, the day’s exhaustive pace finally taking its toll. Only when Roku’s breathing steadied and he began to purr did Arad finally allow himself to fall asleep.
  21. 42 points
    Over the next few days, the weather slowly warmed, and it was above freezing during the day. Nights were a different matter. They were well below freezing, clear and cold, and dipped down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit at one point. This had the effect of melting most of the snow during the day, only to freeze it at night. During daytime hours the ground was a slick mess of water and ice. So too were the roads. Corbin only woke up once to an utterly dead fire. That same day he let the fire die, he also noticed the taps were frozen when he first awoke. After that, he was motivated to leave his hearth well banked so that his home wasn't as cold as the outside when he started the day. He knew frozen taps were bad news, as that ice could burst his pipes. Luckily after the cabin warmed the water thawed, and flowed fine. He seemed to get away with it, this one time, likely because it wasn't below freezing long enough for his water lines to completely ice up. Corbin remembered that the taps were barely open when he first walked into the house. Everything slowly dripped. Of course, the first thing he did was tighten them all down, so they stopped. However, after a little research, he realized the slow drips were on purpose. It helped keep the taps and the shower from freezing. He walked around his cabin and reopened all of them slightly, and was satisfied to see them barely dripping - just as they were before. He put his chicken project on the back burner for now. He wanted the weather to warm a bit first, and everything he saw said that May was the time things really shifted into Spring in Hailey. Once that happened he'd build the chicken run and the coop. It'd be a lot easier to set posts in ground that wasn't frozen too. It was now early Thursday morning, and he was out walking his property. It was just barely above freezing, but he didn't mind the cold since he was bundled up against it. Corbin owned about thirty acres of land that came along with the cabin, and he had yet to see most of it. It was brushy and treed. Most of the trees were evergreens of some sort or another. Corbin noted the locations of the biggest downed trees on the land with his pad and pencil as he crisscrossed the parcel. He intended to cut up as much of the wood as he could reasonably get to and haul out easily. He could use the wood himself of course, and then he also toyed with the idea of maybe selling any extra. All of the stuff that was down was very dry. It burned well, and Paul liked it, so other people probably would as well. His property was fenced with barbed wire and posts on three edges. The only open side was to the south. His cabin sat in the very south-western corner, and he could see the corner post where the fence began on that side from his porch. The more he discovered about the place, the more he liked it. Yes, the situation challenged him, only because he had to learn as he went along. Yet, he was a fast pupil, and smart - he didn't forget lessons. Corbin also had Paul to help him here and there. Things between them seemed alright. He went up to Paul's one more time to help set the massive beams that went on top of his posts. It was a little awkward for a while, but they warmed back up quickly to one another. 'Maybe this will be okay,' he remembered thinking. Then Paul turned a certain way, and he caught Corbin checking out his package. The tall man laughed and shook his finger at him. Okay, it was a challenge, but Corbin was working on it. He really wanted to do the scouting today and was glad he got it done. The forecast was crazy. Even though it was now mid-April, there was a big storm moving in. By this evening they were supposed to have six inches of fresh snow. It would essentially stop all but the most required of his outdoor activity. He also didn't know how long his power would hold, so he made sure his phone was charged while he had juice in his batteries. It had already started to come down, though it wasn't bad yet. As long as he had good visibility, he wasn't worried. He had walked for over an hour, and he ended up near the stream that just clipped the south-western edge of the property, near the corner fence post. Corbin stepped carefully near the water. He heard it running under the thinning ice, and there were spots in the middle that flowed totally free now. 'Water looks really clear, and it has a good flow.' He wondered about the viability of a hydropower system to supplement his solar array. Solar was great, but he'd love a redundant system in the case of a string of heavy cloudy days - like today when his power production would take a hit. He needed to assess where the best spot would be for it, or if it were even possible. That was the main reason for the stop at the stream. 'Okay, looking for a narrow spot, somewhere the water is fastest.' Corbin glanced over the banks of the small waterway, and he saw a point a few dozen feet to the south where the banks were closer together. He made his way, picking along the edge, always careful to avoid the ice, and he hung onto the overhead branches of the leafless deciduous trees that draped like an umbrella over the water. A sudden burst of motion startled him, and he jumped. "Fuck!" His balance was ruined by a big rabbit that ran from its hiding spot in a whirl of fur and snow. He teetered, and his gloved hands flailed wildly at the whip-like branches around him in an attempt to save himself from falling. It happened in slow motion in his mind. He fell, and as he did, he twisted to his right and tried to get his legs under himself. Instead of landing face first he hit the ice with his boots and crashed through it into that branch-choked section of stream. He was up to his waist, and the water was shockingly cold. It seemed to blast the air right out his chest, and he inhaled in a gasp. "Fuck!" His teeth instantly began to chatter, and his skin broke into chill bumps. He looked down and could see that his legs were wedged between the many branches that were hidden under where the ice used to be, just before he fell through it. The water ran swiftly past his legs below the branches. His breath came in rapid puffs as he reached down. He strained against the submerged constraints, but they very effectively trapped his legs. "Shit. Shit!" He looked up, and there were a couple of thin trees that draped over the stream within reach. Corbin grabbed one of the small leafless trees in each hand, and he strained to pull himself up. He strived to get his feet out, on top of the branches that trapped him. He managed to shift himself a little, but he couldn't hold himself up forever. The trees bent too much under his weight, and it just wasn't enough for him to pull his legs free. He had no choice but let himself sink back into the icy water. He put his arms around the trunk of his body and his teeth continued to chatter uncontrollably. "Fuuuck." His eyes were a little wild now. He had been in the water for a couple of minutes, and he was no closer to getting out. He noticed that his legs no longer really felt cold. Instead, there were painful spearing sensations in the muscles of his lower body. Corbin winced at the pain. He needed to call for help. His phone was in his pocket, which was underwater and blocked by the branches around his waist. He pulled hard and tried to make enough room to get to it, but he couldn't both hold the limbs out of the way, and get to his pocket. He had to get out. He had to get OUT. "Ahhhh!" Corbin reached into the water and pulled hard on the submerged portion of the cluster of limbs. It flexed and moved a bit, but not enough. It didn't work, and thanks to the amount of time they had been in the water, now he couldn't really feel his feet. Corbin pulled his now soaked arms and hands out of the water. He looked around and panted. He had to be missing something, there had to be a way. Slowly the pain in his lower body subsided, and now it actually felt warm? "Thaaassss weird." He didn't notice as he drew the word into a long slur. Corbin's teeth also slowed their chattering. He looked around, still waist deep in the icy water, and his coloration began to grow pale as blood shifted from his skin and limbs to his internal organs - his body's last attempt to ration warmth. "I'm in trouble," he whispered. He tried to think, but as his internal temp cooled, it became harder. "Harrissss." He swallowed. Before, whenever he was in trouble, Harris was always there. Yet, there was no Harris there now. All Corbin had was what the man had taught him. He pulled the thirty-eight from the harness. That was difficult because his cold, numb fingers didn't want to obey him. "Three timessss." He clung to what Harris told him. The logic behind it was forgotten, only the ritual of the action itself remained, but that was enough. Corbin raised the gun to the sky, and he willed his nearly unresponsive hand to squeeze the trigger. Three shots rang out in close succession. They echoed through the valley and against the hillsides that framed Corbin's land. He lowered his arm and dropped the gun. It landed in a clatter of metal on the ice beside him. Corbin slowly looked around. He was incredibly tired. "I'll jus ressst. Little bit." It seemed a good idea. His head bobbed, and his eyes rolled back. His unfeeling legs gave out, and he would have slumped entirely into the water if the branches that trapped his legs didn't keep him mostly upright. His next sensation was a spreading warmth through his body. He was so comfortable, and he sighed as he slipped into unconsciousness. The snow gently continued to fall, and slowly the world around him whitened with a cold blanket. ------------------------------------------------------------------- A strange sort of semi-awareness came to him. He was cold, and his entire body shivered violently. His eyes slid open. He was on his belly, and he lay against a very warm body. It had to be Liam. He could hear a crackling, roaring fire and he blinked. His brain slowly became aware of more sensation and input. He was in a soft, warm sleeping bag, and the person under him had their arms circled around his body. He could hear the wind howling outside, and little ice crystals as they impacted the windows. "Liam?" He rubbed his cold, shaking hand along the outside of the thigh of the man beneath him. He registered that leg was hairier than he remembered. The man under him shifted. "Corbin?" The voice was saturated with hope. A much warmer hand than his own rubbed his back briskly from his neck down to his butt. "Hey. You're gonna be okay." "Liam?" He swallowed. "What, what's happening? Where's Stefano?" He stuttered the words past his chattering teeth. Paul pulled his head back so he could look at the still confused man. "Corbin, it's Paul." He rolled and turned Corbin on his back, then continued to rub his cold skin. Corbin had warmed some, enough for his body to know it was colder than it should be, and for his autonomic reactions - like shivering, to start up again. "You fell into the stream. I'm trying to get you warmed up." "Paul." He stared up at Paul's face. There was something he couldn't quite remember, but it concerned Liam. "Where's ... Liam?" The past and present collided into a jumbled mess in his mind. His teeth chattered until Paul flinched at the sound. "I don't know." Paul wore a concerned expression as he looked down at Corbin. He continued to rub the smaller man roughly and tried to get warmth back into his body and limbs. Earlier in the day, Paul was just about to return home to get out of the approaching weather when he had heard gunshots while out on his land. He knew they came from the direction of Corbin's property, and he immediately hoofed it over. Luckily Paul was already at the far northern edge of his land. Otherwise, he would have been too late. As it was, he had nearly killed himself running almost a mile loaded with his typical gear, over rough snow-covered ground. It was blind luck Corbin had fallen into the stream at that corner. On foot, it was the best path into Corbin's property, and Paul ran right by where he had fallen in. That combined with the fact that Corbin wore a highly visible coat probably saved the smaller man's life. Even then, at first Paul didn't know if he had made it in time. Corbin was unconscious and chilled to the touch. Paul had to chop the limbs around his waist with his hatchet before he could even attempt to get him free. Then it took everything in him to pull Corbin out, weighed down as he was with his wet clothes and water-filled boots. Paul had quickly carried him through the ever-increasing snow on the ground to Corbin's cabin. It was by far the closest choice. At that point, he didn't know if he could make the drive to the hospital, which also meant the ambulance couldn't make it to them either. The roads were treacherous, and the wind was picking up. Paul had decided that he would have to do what he could for Corbin in the cabin. He had laid Corbin down in front of the fireplace, and there he stripped the completely unresponsive man out of his freezing cold, wet clothes. Then he threw on all the spruce that the hearth would hold. Paul then got down to his briefs, found a sleeping bag, and put them both in it, right next to the roaring fire. Paul had wrapped himself around the still, chilled form of the blonde man and rolled onto his back still holding him, so Corbin lay on top of him, chest to chest. He rubbed the smaller man's back and hoped it would be enough. 'God, he's so cold,' he couldn't help but think. He didn't mean to, but after some time Paul must have fallen asleep. He was awakened by Corbin an hour later as he warmed a bit and began to shiver. Now that he was shaking Paul knew Corbin would recover. He just had to keep him warm until his body reached the proper internal temperature. His slowness and confusion would pass as he thawed out. With that knowledge, he felt relief wash over him. Corbin blinked and lay there. His expression was tired and still confused. Paul's hand slid to a stop on his chest, and he bit his lip as he looked down at the addled man. He tried to push aside his attraction for Corbin. Now wasn't the time. "Corbin, I ..." Corbin's eyes fluttered, and he dropped back to sleep. He shivered less, and Paul could feel that he was warming. His heart-rate had increased as well, another good sign. The tall man put Corbin on his side and scooted up against his backside to spoon him. Paul took a deep breath and put his arm around his front. He pulled Corbin in close, and he could tell that there were only a couple of degrees of difference in their body temps. He would be fine soon. Till then, he would lay there. He couldn't help but feel an intense protective instinct, and a need for Corbin to be okay. There was an undeniable attraction to the blonde man as well. Paul knew it. It was muted for now as concern outweighed his desire, but it was still there. After a few minutes, Paul joined Corbin as he slid off to sleep, and the two men dreamed in front of the fireplace. ----------------------------------------------------------- Corbin woke. He was warm, comfortable, and he immediately noticed that he was not alone. He raised up a bit and turned. Paul lay sleeping, and Corbin stared at his face. His mind raced as he tried to dredge his memory. His eyes widened. The stream. He had fallen in. The last thing he remembered, he was trying to free his legs. Then the gun. He had fired the gun. He swallowed as he looked at the man in the sleeping bag. Paul had undoubtedly saved his life. He turned all the way, so he faced Paul and lay back down. The tall man shifted and woke as he did. Paul's eyes opened. "Hey." He smiled. "You okay?" His expression was open and relieved. Corbin locked his gaze on Paul. "I am now." He could feel himself respond to their proximity. Paul's scent was intoxicating - that same mix of musk, pine, and sweat. This close to him, it was impossible to miss. Paul's expression spread into a grin. "Good." He swallowed. "I was really worried." Paul reached and put his warm hand on his neck. He felt Corbin's temperature and frowned in thought as he mentally ran through his assessment. Their faces were only a few inches apart. Corbin's willpower wavered, then it broke. Corbin leaned in and kissed a surprised Paul. The tall man closed his eyes, and let it happen for a moment, then he inhaled and pulled away. "Wait," Paul breathed. He looked into Corbin's blue eyes. "Are you really there? I don't want to do this if you're not." Corbin stared at him, his gaze predatory and wild. "Your name is Paul, you saved my life, and you're frustratingly competent at everything." He was there. He wasn't in control, but he was there. Corbin rolled Paul onto his back and went back to kissing him. As the fire crackled in the background Paul's hands roamed up and down Corbin's naked body. His beard rubbed against Corbin's neck and face, and the smaller man gasped when Paul gripped his ass, then ground his hips into Corbin's groin from below him. "Get these off." Corbin nearly growled the words, and he pulled at Paul's briefs. The man quickly complied, and he felt Paul's thick, hard cock as he lay back on top of him. Corbin didn't even own condoms or lube, but he was also not thinking very clearly. He needed this. Corbin had to have him. He sat up on his knees and pulled on Paul's legs, so his ass was in position against his groin. "Whoa, buddy." Paul grinned at him. He sat up with Corbin and firmly pushed until he had put the smaller man on his back on top of the sleeping bag. Then the tall man climbed on top of him, cock to cock. He hadn't even looked yet, but Corbin could tell Paul was quite a bit bigger than him. Paul lay down, then slowly ground his hips into Corbin, and the blonde man groaned. At this point it didn't matter how it happened, he just needed it to happen. His hands rubbed up and down Paul's body, and he smelled and felt precome as they moved against one another. His mouth found Paul's and they kissed, both insistent and needful. Paul pulled back and watched his face. He found it a wonder of physical expression. It shifted from intense desire to the inevitable look of a man about to get off. Corbin's blue eyes locked onto his own, and his mouth dropped. His body stiffened, and he released with a grunt, then Paul joined him only a moment after. Both of them groaned and writhed against one another. Paul pulled him back in and kissed him as they finished with a euphoric shudder. Paul lay there on top of him, and both men breathed hard. Eventually, he put his hands on the floor and pushed himself up so he could look at Corbin. The smaller man gazed up at him. His expression was not what Paul expected. Corbin looked almost … sad? Disappointed? Paul frowned. "I, uh, are you okay?" Corbin sighed. This had done damage, but maybe it would be okay. "I'm fine. I just, I shouldn't have done this." "This again?" Paul's voice betrayed his frustration. Paul looked at him, frowned and set his jaw. "You have a boyfriend. This 'Liam.'" Corbin stopped breathing and stared at Paul. His face fell, and the color drained from him. "Wh … where did you hear that name?" His voice sounded hollow, and his eyes were haunted. Paul was taken aback. "From you. You were delirious." It seemed as if a long-suffering dam had broken, and the blonde man sobbed. "No, no I'm sorry." He shook his head. "I can't, I can't do it." He pushed at the bigger man and tried to get up. Paul stood quickly, and Corbin scrambled to his feet. He looked at Paul, and tears streaked down his face. He looked as if he were terrified. "What? What's wrong?" Paul was completely lost. "What else did I say?" Corbin's eyes glittered with raw terror. Paul was torn between trying to comfort and shaking him. He was acting so strange. "You, you asked about someone named Stefano." The semen from their ardor before began to liquify, and it slowly ran down Paul's furry groin. Corbin's eyes closed, and he swayed. Paul moved to catch him, but Corbin found his balance and steadied himself. Then Corbin staggered and sat on the couch. He pulled his legs up with his knees bent and put his arms around them. 'What have I done?' Corbin looked up at the handsome, naked man that stood in his living room. He was acutely aware that he might have just cost Paul his life. 'This guy saved me. He saved my fucking life.' "Fuck." He helplessly searched his mind for a way to make it right. Paul watched him, then quietly sat down on the couch close beside Corbin. The tall man didn't say anything, he just waited. Corbin struggled hard to find the right path. His eyes widened in epiphany. 'Harris. He'll know. Call Harris.' His eyes locked onto Paul's. "I need to make a call." The tall man shook his head. "Your phone bit it when you fell into the stream." Corbin shook his head. "No. It's fine." He got up, went to the wet pile of clothes, and pulled his cell phone from his pants pocket. Paul watched as water poured out of the phone with a skeptical look on his face. The blonde man shook it a few times. Then he pulled the phone apart. A very slim, strange looking phone was inside. It was devoid of any exposed ports, or other points of entry for water. Corbin wiped it clean on the sleeping bag. Paul realized the "phone" was actually a case. It looked like a phone, and it acted like one, but it only transmitted key-presses through to the real thing underneath, Corbin put the case beside the fireplace to dry. Then he held his right thumb against the screen of the little alien phone. It unlocked with a chirp, and he immediately began to punch in a number. "What, what the hell?" Paul stood and tried to get a look at the strange device that he held. As he did, even in his distressed state Corbin noticed that Paul was impressively hung - uncut, thick, and long. 'Perving on him, even now. Nice Corbin.' The call picked up almost immediately. "Hold a moment," the male voice on the other end said. Corbin heard him speak to someone, and a door closed. "Go ahead." His voice was held in the low, calm tones Corbin had come to associate with safety and competence. "Harris," Corbin stared at Paul who looked back at him, totally bewildered. "Harris, I fucked up."
  22. 40 points
    It was a slow walk to school. The weather was getting cooler. The sky was dark and dreary, just like my mood. It had been almost a week since I had been to school. The incident happened on Friday, and it was now the following Thursday. Images of what had been said about me in my absence were messing with my mind. It could not be good. I entered the double doors of the high school and cautiously walked down the hall to my locker. I had traveled the journey hundreds of times, but today I was not that invisible soul marching quietly along unnoticed by loud, rambunctious students. Other students stared at me as I walked along with my head down. I could feel them staring even though I dared not meet their eyes. I could hear them abruptly end their conversations, and I could feel their eyes follow me as I walked quickly past them. When I arrived at my locker, Todd was waiting for me. For the first time this morning, I felt good. Just seeing him standing there made me feel safe. But my happiness was short-lived as Shaun walked by me. His locker was next to mine. We had been neighbors throughout our three years of high school. I always enjoyed seeing him every morning. We usually bantered back and forth, starting our day with a laugh. My exchange with Shaun usually set the tone for a fun day. This morning was different. He didn’t say anything hateful to me like the last time I saw him. He glanced a couple of times at me and Todd. I guess he was trying to decide if we were together. When he slammed his locker shut, I jumped. I guess I thought he was going to hit me or something. Todd was carefully watching me. I knew he had my back in case Shaun wanted to start something. However, he didn’t say anything. He just looked at me sadly and walked away. I retrieved the books I needed for my morning classes and closed my locker. I turned to Todd and asked, “You ready?” “Ready,” he replied. As we started to walk away, I noticed trouble coming our way. Billy Hanson and Robert Clayton were approaching. They were the two guys who had held me in the restroom while Josh hit me. They were members of the football team and friends of Todd’s brother. By the scowls on their faces, it didn’t look good. “Hey faggot, how’s the arm?” They both started laughing as they circled me, pushing Todd roughly out of the way. Everyone in the hallway stopped walking. They could sense a fight. I could see students running towards us in all directions, hungry for some early morning excitement. “Leave me alone guys. I haven’t done anything to you.” I was scared. I could feel my body shaking. I had to put up a brave appearance if I was going to survive. I didn’t want the reputation as a wimpy sissy to follow me around the rest of my high school years. “Yes, you did, Fag. You perved on us,” said Billy as they laughed and moved in closer to me. I flinched, waiting for their fists to make contact with my body. I was still sore from my earlier beating. It was going to hurt like hell. “Leave him the fuck alone!” Someone shouted from outside the crowd. I could sense movement as someone was pushing students out of the way to get to us. “Touch him, Mother Fuckers, and you’re dead!” Suddenly, Josh emerged from the crowd. He had his fists balled tightly and was red-faced with anger. He was prepared for a fight. Billy and Robert took a step back from me, but they didn’t back down from Josh. They stared angrily at each other. “What’s the matter Joshie, getting soft on us?” Robert spat. “You turning into one of them, too.” “Shut the fuck up, Clayton. I’ll take you out right here.” As he spoke to Robert, he was slowly stepping between me and his two friends. I couldn’t believe Josh Mathews was protecting me. “Yeah,” sneered Billy. “You and whose army? The way I see it, there are two of us and only one of you.” He began to approach Josh. “You don’t count too good, Shithead!” A voice shouted from the crowd. Carl Hobson then stepped forward and put his arm over my shoulder. Carl is the center on the basketball team. We have played together for the past two years. He is a star player, and it is rumored that several colleges would be scouting him this year. Robert and Billy looked back and forth between Josh and Carl. Josh had an imposing body, but Carl is tall- really tall. He towered over me as he kept his arm protectively around me. “Yeah, Fuckers! You need to go back to basic math.” Next, Bobby Watson emerged from the throng of students and stood next to Josh. Bobby is also a member of the basketball team. He sits on the bench a lot, like I do, but he usually gets a lot more playing time. He reached out and pulled Todd in close to him. “You got anything else to say, Mother Fuckers?” Josh got up in Billy’s face and poked his finger into his chest. “You come anywhere near Carson or my little brother again, and I’ll kick your ass so hard they’ll have to have a cleaning crew come in here and wipe your shit off the walls,” Josh spat angrily. Several students started giggling. “Whatever, Fucker,” replied Billy. He was trying to act cool and put on a brave front, but you could see the fear in his eyes. He tried to stare Josh down, but he quickly averted his eyes. “Come on, Clayton,” he muttered. “This piece of shit ain’t worth it.” He angrily looked at me, then he and Robert broke through the crowd and stormed away. Students began to disperse. They were disappointed that they hadn’t seen a fight. The tardy bell rang, and students began running in all directions. I knew that the confrontation would be the talk of the school for the rest of the morning. “Todd, you get to class. Carson you come with me,” Josh ordered while grabbing my arm and pulling me with him down the hall. Todd stood for a minute wanting to follow, but Josh hollered back, “Now!” He turned and headed off to class. He let go of the grasp he had on my arm and threw an arm around my shoulder. “We’ve got to talk.” That was the only thing he said as he led me in the direction of the gym. We entered, and he took me into a side room. It was the weight room where we came to work out after school. “Sit down, Gary.” He pointed to one of the weight benches. I walked over and took a seat. Josh paced back and forth. He suddenly stopped and knelt in front of me. “Look, Little Bro. I really don’t know what to say here. There isn’t anything I can say to make up to you for what I did. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened.” Tears were beginning to form in his eyes. I knew he was opening up his heart to me. He was very vulnerable, and he was exposing all his feelings for me to see. Before me was one of the strongest and most athletic guys in the school completely devastated. “I couldn’t believe it when your mother came by the other night and talked me out of going to Mr. Snow. I still don’t understand. I beat the shit out of you, and you don’t want revenge?” I looked into his face and watched more tears forming in his eyes. I wanted to reach up and wipe them away like I did to his brother, but I knew better than to do that. “It wasn’t all your fault,” I responded. “I provoked you.” “Maybe you did, but I still shouldn’t have done what I did. Billy and Robert were there, and I guess I didn’t want to look weak in front of them. When you jumped me, things just got out of hand.” He hung his head and wiped away some falling tears. “Look what I did to you. You’ve got your arm in a cast, and Todd said I broke two of your ribs. Oh, God!” He lost all composure. I looked at his dejected body and my heart was breaking. I reached for his arm and held it. “I forgive you,” I whispered. “What?” “I said I forgive you.” This time a little louder. “It’s not that simple.” “Yes, it is. I forgive you. Sometimes it can be just that simple.” He looked up at me, and our eyes met. Man, he’s got those penetrating blue eyes just like his brother, I thought. “I know you’re sorry, and you regret what you did to me. Getting you suspended and ruining your future wouldn’t make me feel any happier,” I told him. “Maybe we can’t change what happened, but I can forgive you.” “Little Bro, you’re a very special guy,” he said as a smile appeared. “It takes a big man to do what you’re doing. If someone had done to Todd what I did to you, I’m not too sure I could forgive them.” I was really beginning to feel close to Josh. He kept calling me Little Bro. It made me feel good. I had grown up as an only child, and I had always wanted a brother. I always thought I would like to have been the older brother; however, being Josh’s younger brother was fine with me. I didn’t know what else to say to him. I did feel good about the decision I made. Josh really was a good guy. He just made a mistake. Unfortunately, I had been on the opposite side of his fist when he made it. “I still have to make it up to you, somehow,” he insisted. “Just keep calling me, Little Bro,” I replied with smile. “I like that.” We both stood at the same time. He threw his arms around me and we embraced. We stood there for a minute rocking back and forth. It was nothing sexual, just a bonding of friendship. Josh was the brother I always wanted. Josh was the first to speak. “We better get to class.” He let go of me and wiped the remaining tears from his face. My eyes were a little misty, also. “Yeah. I guess we better,” I said. “We’re going to be in a shitload of trouble. I’ve missed half of my physiology class.” “You think that’s bad,” he frowned. “I’ve missed most of your mother’s calculus class. I’m kinda at the top of her shit list right now.” “Maybe I can help,” I replied. “I have inside connections.” “I doubt it,” he added worriedly. I reached out and touched his arm. “Thanks for what you did earlier.” “Hey, you’re my Little Bro now. I gotta protect you,” he beamed proudly. “I may have to take you up on that sometime.” My smile quickly left my face. “I guess I’m the school fag now.” “No one is going to mess with you or Todd while I’m around. Don’t worry,” Josh said reassuringly. “You’ve also got Carl and Bobby watching your back. You have more friends than you think. Not everyone in this school is as narrow-minded as Hanson and Clayton.” “I hope so,” I said apprehensively. He asked, “Are you coming over to see Todd later?” “Yeah, we’re going to work on our homework together.” “He likes you a lot, you know?” “I know. I like him a lot, too.” Here come the red cheeks again. Josh pulled me into him and placed his arm around my shoulder. We walked out of the gym and down the hall together. It felt nice to have a big brother.
  23. 40 points
    Chapter Three – Nice Shape Did it count as a weakness of character that he was fapping furiously in the shower to the umpteenth recount of what had happened earlier that day at the photoshoot? Aidan was pretty sure it did but it was just as true that he could not help it. Heathcliff Stone could charm the panties off a nun with his flirting. Or maybe, just maybe, Aidan just needed to get laid. Once he had that virginity - partial virginity! - thing out of the way, he would act less like a hormone-driven teenager, and more like the professional he was. Plus, he really needed to get a cooler head. He had really believed his semi was visible through his pants when Heathcliff had teased him about his ass. Talk about misunderstandings. Speaking of which, Aidan thought as he snuck one soapy hand behind to tease that unfortunately still virgin opening, he needed to find someone willing to help him get rid of his V-card. For now, the fresh memories of oiling Heathcliff Stone’s amazing muscled arms, and almost touching the guy’s ass had to do. Aidan slid back his foreskin, at the same time as two fingers began penetrating his ass. Ah, damn, why the hell couldn’t he be a little bolder? By twenty-two, as a gay guy who wasn’t in any sort of denial or confusion, he should have already had a long list of fuck buddies. But no, he had to study and work all the frigging time, and that was leaving him little leeway to create that fuck buddy list. The brief encounters Aidan had marked down as the only experiences in his life, as far as sexual congress was concerned, didn’t matter. If he were to think about them, he could not recall them in explicit details. Unlike what had happened while touching his charge’s amazing muscles. He needed to approach the matter of his virginity seriously. Later. Right now, he just needed to close his eyes, remember how Heathcliff friggin’ Stone had praised his ass, and how firm the man’s biceps had felt, and just stick both fingers deep inside his ass, to make himself spill all the pent-up energy he had stored in his balls. Aidan was breathing heavily once done and almost wanted to laugh at himself. How long had it been since he last jerked off? Maybe a week? The fact that he could not clearly remember was terrible in itself. At his age, he was supposed to be more sexually active. Much more sexually active. And probably spend a lot less time on social media. Good thing he had stumbled upon Heathcliff’s videos, though. At least he was working out almost daily and made at least ten percent healthy choices when it came to food. Otherwise, things would have probably been much worse. Aidan stepped out of a shower, and he was about to begin drying himself with a towel when Heathcliff’s remark about his ass rushed to his mind. Turning to one side, he started checking himself out in the mirror. Well, his ass was pretty well shaped. Funny, before, he had used to think that it was a bummer that he had that kind of ass. His type of ass was definitely not plumped like this. No matter how much he worked out, he didn’t seem capable of losing more of that. It was definitely nothing like Heathcliff’s behind. Before Saturday, he had only been able to guess the beautiful shape of those gluteus maximus muscles through the material of the fashionable sportswear the guy liked to use when recording his videos. But now, oh, damn, he thought with a sigh. Now he knew everything. He had seen it firsthand. Tabloids were never that risqué in presenting Heathcliff’s adventures. The most they had shown were snapshots of the guy from afar when in nothing but the buff or censored photos. And, for a guy who certainly enjoyed his sexy adventures to the max, Heathcliff didn’t post racy pics or videos on his social media. He was all professional there, and he wasn’t displaying himself as a desirable sex object, unlike other celebrities. Not that he wasn’t a very much a desirable sex object. Aidan knew he really needed to get a hold of himself. One, he could not objectify Heathcliff Stone like that, especially now that he had met the guy in flesh and blood. Two, because that hadn’t been the way he had been raised. He knew better. His mom and dad would have shaken their heads over his behavior. Not that he would have ever told his parents something like that. Only the thought made him cringe. Despite the lecture he was trying to give himself mentally, for some unfathomable reason, he had a massive crush on a celebrity. Well, a celebrity who wasn’t looking down on people, that was for sure, but a celebrity, nonetheless. Aidan shook his head. Maybe Heathcliff had just been teasing him. And his butt was, well, a bit too … plump. Heathcliff Stone was now a business partner to his company, and Aidan could keep things at a professional level. With that decision in mind, Aidan stepped into his living room. The phone rang, and he hurried to take the call. Anyone calling after nine pm probably had a very good reason to do so. The caller ID gave him pause, but he swiped right in less than an instant. “Hey, Spark.” Heathcliff’s energetic voice boomed into his ear. With a small wince, Aidan moved his phone a bit away. He decided to play along. “What’s up, Stone?” “A small evening workout routine is up,” Heathcliff replied promptly. “Seriously? At this hour?” Aidan checked the clock on the wall, just to be sure. “Well, since you put a span in my works with your confidentiality agreements and whatnot, I have some energy left to waste. And I never let anything go to waste.” “But seriously, it’s nine o’clock in the evening,” Aidan protested, pointing out the obvious. “And don’t you know it’s the morning routine that burns all the fat?” He was using one of Heathcliff’s favorite phrases on purpose, to see if he could piss him off. “Sure, sure.” Heathcliff chuckled at the other end. “But I don’t want you to lose that butt.” Aidan wondered for a second whether his blushing could somehow be felt through the phone. “Seriously, stop teasing a guy over his weak points,” he mumbled. “Weak points?” Heathcliff seemed taken aback. “Bunny, the only weak point you have is your stiff personality.” Aidan had a mind of just cutting off the convo. The guy had some nerve. “Bunny?” He pretended to be pissed off at the nickname. It was kind of cute, though. “What about me makes you think of a bunny?” he insisted. “Well, you’re always on the run,” Heathcliff replied. “I should call you a busy bee, too, but that’s not sexy.” “Oh, god,” Aidan murmured. “How would you like it if I gave you a nickname? And frankly, Bunny would be a much better nickname for you than for me.” “Really? Why?” Heathcliff played along. “You know.” Aidan felt a little worked up. “Because of how much you fu--” He caught himself in time. He was not supposed to insult his company’s business associates. “Are you trying to tell me I fuck like a bunny? Oh, I can assure you I’m not fast at all,” Heathcliff drawled, making Aidan blush a little more. The guy wasn’t even in the same room with him and could make his knees go weak. “Anyway, come by, and I’ll show you why exercising in the evening has certain benefits.” Heathcliff didn’t even wait for him to reply and cut off the conversation. Aidan had a mind to just pretend he hadn’t been invited to work out at nine o’clock in the evening, and just see about his usual routine. But, somehow, he felt compelled to dance to the guy’s tune. No, that wasn’t right. He felt drawn like a moth to a flame. He just hoped he wasn’t going to get burned. *** Heathcliff was probably known to tabloids and whatnot as a guy who acted on impulse, but that was far from it. Even the craziest of his adventures were well thought over, and, if he ended up making the headlines, that was because he didn’t care. Actually, once he had seen what tabloids meant for his popularity as a fitness trainer, he had philosophically decided that all publicity was good publicity, after all. And, to make the circle complete, that brought him enough business to make him even more worthy of starring in trashy papers. Of course, there had to be some turning point, one way or another, and that had just come as the endorsement deal offered by The Healthy Shakers. Now was the time to put to the test whether the lack of appearance in tabloids was going to have a negative or positive impact on his audience. The money was good. What was even better, he had a babysitter. And Heathcliff was quite curious about what Aidan Spark was hiding, and not only beneath his tailored suit. For starters, it was underneath the dry-cleaned clothes that one could find a delicious rump. Yeah, Heathcliff wanted to see more of that. He had no idea why the guy said that was his weak point. Or how he could blush like that. If the young man was gay, which Heathcliff was ninety-nine-point-ninety-nine percent sure of, it was difficult to imagine he had no experience. Despite his attitude and yuppie personality, Aidan had to unwind once in a while. And he must have had at least a bit of college experimentation under his belt. If gay guys in the area were leaving Aidan Spark and his gorgeous behind alone, they were either blind or he, Heathcliff Stone, was one damned lucky fucker. Heathcliff whistled as he put on the thinnest t-shirt and sports shorts he had around. It was clear as day that Aidan was far from indifferent to his body. So he intended to show it as much as possible. The outline of his cock through those shorts was just impossible to miss. Maybe Aidan needed a little friendly nudge. Maybe he had been the proverbial bookworm in school. But Aidan was taking care of himself, as far as Heathcliff could tell. Which meant that the guy wanted, at least subconsciously, to put himself out there. If that was what Aidan lacked in his life, Heathcliff was happy to oblige. Also, he was damned curious to see what shape Aidan was in, without so many clothes. The buzzing sound let him know that his guest and personal project for the evening had arrived. With a smirk, he began walking down the stairs. *** “Why are you in a suit?” was Heathcliff’s first question as he took in his guest, standing in the doorway. “What part of evening exercising was unclear?” Aidan put one finger up. It was like the young man was rehearsing a role. One that hadn’t been his in the beginning. Yeah, Heathcliff thought. The corporate bunny nickname suited him. He was probably brainwashed on a regular basis. But Heathcliff truly wanted to have a say in that. “I don’t remember agreeing to anything.” “Then why are you here?” Heathcliff crossed his arms and didn’t miss how Aidan’s pretty hazel and green speckled eyes lingered on his guns. “To … assist you in any way I can. Maybe …” “Hush. I’ll lend you some sports clothes. Come.” “But I don’t--” “Hey, I thought you were supposed to keep me happy,” Heathcliff interrupted the guy again. Aidan Spark was there because he was curious. Also, because, most probably, he couldn’t or wouldn’t help himself. There was interest there, but also a lot of hesitation and Heathcliff wanted to bring the real Aidan Spark to light. He could bet he was going to be in for a delightful surprise. “And how does making me work out at this hour keep you happy?” Aidan questioned. “Well, I would rather have anyone working with me be at the peak of their health,” Heathcliff said. “Oh, that’s why your agent looks like he’s one hamburger away from having a coronary.” Heathcliff could feel his lips twitch. The corporate bunny was a witty thing, too. “That man, unfortunately,” Heathcliff sighed, “might just be a lost cause. I say ‘might’, because I’m still not giving up on him. But I have a theory, and you’re the perfect subject.” “Would you mind sharing that theory?” Aidan said. Heathcliff rummaged through his drawers and came up with some sportswear he knew was too tight for him, but hadn’t bothered getting rid of. “Here.” Heathcliff threw the t-shirt and the shorts to his guest. “Okay,” Aidan sighed. “Um, some privacy?” “What? Haven’t you ever changed in a locker room with all the other boys?” Heathcliff smirked at him. “Well, they weren’t looking at me,” Aidan said, casting his eyes down. “Who says I’m going to look at you? And really, what do you think you have to hide? I can assure you I’ve seen plenty of naked men in my life.” “Yeah, that’s the problem,” Aidan exhaled. Hmm, Heathcliff could smell a bit of insecurity there. So endearing. All right, for the moment, he was going to allow the bunny a little room to feel more secure. “I’ll be downstairs,” Heathcliff said. “Okay,” Aidan replied, and this time he sounded grateful. *** Heathcliff was proud of his home gym. And he intended to make Aidan Spark work out a little so that he could see how much he could push the young man around and get away with it. It was funny how exciting the prospect of seducing the yuppie seemed. To be fair, as much awesome sex as he usually had, he wasn’t as enthusiastic as he had used to be. Everything was, at least for him, too easy. And he didn't only think that because he was a bit too full of himself, although many would have said exactly that about him. It was a simple fact. With his growing popularity, ending up in bed with whoever he wanted was too damned easy. Not that his physique and personal charm weren’t usually enough, but being a recognizable face surely made his charisma go through the roof. “I’m here,” a hesitant voice called, and he turned to look at his guest. Who looked pretty good in clothes that were a bit too large for him. Funny thing, Heathcliff hadn’t thought before that he liked this type. The cute, hesitant, ready to bolt bunny type. “Let’s look at you.” Heathcliff walked toward Aidan. Without hesitation, he grabbed the guy’s right arm, feeling his muscles. Nice. Firm enough. Seeing how many young people were not enthralled with the prospect of working out, it was good that Aidan Spark was, indeed, as he expected, taking care of himself. Heathcliff made Aidan turn, taking in that bubblegum butt that was making the entire thing tenfold more interesting. “Okay,” he said. “You seem in pretty nice shape.” “Thank you,” Aidan answered primly. “Do you smoke?” “No!” came the absolutely terrified reply. “What about drinking?” “Are you serious?” Aidan sputtered. “Of course not! I mean, only on special occasions.” “Hey, as your trainer …” Aidan pursed his lips. “Again, I have absolutely no idea when I agreed to that.” “And yet, you’re still here, and ready for a workout.” “Okay,” Aidan said with a small, exasperated huff. “Fast food?” No response. Ah, that was the problem. “Too busy working?” Heathcliff asked again. “Something like that,” Aidan mumbled like a kid caught doing something naughty. “I will give you hints and pointers along the way about nutrition, as well. But, for starters, think more colors on your plate.” “Ketchup is red,” Aidan said promptly. Heathcliff could feel his lips twitching, eager to smile. Don’t put it past the corporate bunny to give him lip. “Sure, sure,” he replied. “My theory is to teach good habits as early in life as possible.” “Then I’m a lost cause because I’m already twenty-two,” Aidan said. “Twenty-two? That’s a perfect age, actually,” Heathcliff said. “Young people should create their own lifestyle once away from their parents. It is a test. There’s no one to tell you what to do and what to eat, so you need to decide all that for yourself.” Aidan sighed. “And the fast food menu is just a convenient way to start.” “Which is bad.” Heathcliff put one hand on Aidan’s shoulder and wagged his finger at him. “Let’s see you on the treadmill.” He crossed his arms and looked at Aidan. The guy began running at a casual pace. All seemed good. His favorite corporate bunny was in reasonably good shape. “Um, how long should I do this?” Aidan asked, without stopping. “A little more,” Heathcliff said. He wanted to see the guy sweating a little, but nothing else. When Heathcliff stopped the machine and gestured for Aidan to get down, he observed with satisfaction how strands of the perfect, slick hair were now curling against the young man’s forehead. And there was a bit of sweat on his upper lip and his forehead. Heathcliff almost wanted to lean in and have a taste. But he wasn’t that kind of seducer. Aidan was going to come to him because he wanted to, and not because he was pressed into anything. Instead, he slipped into his professional shoes. If he were to admire the young man’s lovely body and let his own pleasure demand its rights, he would reach the end of this way too soon. Aidan was proving to be a fast learner, and quite obedient when it came to having everything explained to him in logical terms. Apparently, the bunny made a fuss only when teased. And that was okay. *** “Okay.” Heathcliff nodded. “You have good stamina. I like that.” “I bet,” Aidan said in a low voice, almost to himself. “What was that?” Heathcliff asked right away. “Nothing. I’m not used to working out at this hour.” His personal trainer chose to ignore his not so hidden pleas to finish the training session. Aidan could feel the sweat pouring down his back. Being like this, in front of Heathcliff Stone, made him feel a bit awkward. Actually, awkward was not the right word. He felt a bit too hot, and it wasn’t only because of the physical exertion he was put through. Heathcliff’s eyes were on him, at all times, evaluating him, and Aidan could feel their cool fire, which, most probably, made the man’s lovers as hot as he was feeling. It was as if something were about to happen. Aidan knew well what he was hoping would happen. Partially. Not totally. Heathcliff was a fucking handsome man that could star in movies and ads. He could not see anything else but a temporary distraction in someone like Aidan. False modesty was not among his flaws. Aidan knew he was pretty handsome himself, but he wasn’t in Heathcliff Stone’s league. And while studying to be among the top of his class had been an endeavor he had managed with flying colors, physical appearance was not something that could be treated equally. Some people just had it. Aidan worked out and wanted to be attractive, but there was only so much he could do. The few times when he had gone to gay clubs, he had been picked up and had not been refused, but his partners had been in the same league as him. Plus, playing safe meant he didn’t have to be disappointed. And Heathcliff Stone looked like disappointment in the works incarnate. The guy was a teaser, a professional flirter, but Aidan didn’t want to be a notch on his belt and nothing else. What was he thinking? Heathcliff found it entertaining to tease him because he was probably bored. Aidan would have been lucky to be a notch on his belt. But, if Aidan were honest with himself and his chances, and also took into consideration how detached the guy looked right now, although as intense as he always was when explaining his routines, he just needed to take his mind off of that. Well, in theory. Because while he obediently went through all the directions Heathcliff was giving him, he could think of nothing else but why the man was not already making a move. Aidan knew he couldn't resist. But Heathcliff was doing nothing but behaving like a professional trainer, which he was. That was that. Most probably, Heathcliff wanted to make sure that the people working with him and representing him had, at least, some dedication to fitness. It was a logical explanation. Not that it settled well with him. Either way, he was going to be disappointed. And he needed to think of going for deals that didn’t come with that kind of unpleasant consequences. Which meant playing it safe, like usual. *** Aidan could not believe that was over. He had practically had a personal training session with Heathcliff Stone, and he knew well how much that was supposed to cost. If he were to think about it, he was basically taking advantage of his position. But, hell, the workout had made him feel really good, and also, Heathcliff had been nothing but professional, save for that little teasing in the beginning. Well, he did feel good, but he could not deny the disappointment he felt. Disappointment that should not have been there, seeing how he was so determined to play it safe. Nonetheless, he had expected a bit more from visiting Heathcliff at home, after dark, regardless of his internal battles concerning how far out of his league the fitness guru was. Yet, Heathcliff hadn’t made a move to touch him in any way that could be deemed inappropriate. “What the hell?” he murmured to himself. Had he really expected to be assaulted? Actually, that was one tiny reason why he had never gone too far with the guys he had tried to hook up with. His parents had ingrained in him to be cautious, and even though he was no longer living with them, and he was pretty much on his own, those teachings were still in his head, stopping him from doing something that could be deemed dangerous. Even if just a little. Even if he wanted to do something that was, at least, a tiny bit dangerous. Even if it meant that he was going to experience the bitter taste of disappointment. Which was there, despite all that. *** Heathcliff had every reason to pat himself on the back for his restraint. The bunny had looked a bit dejected upon leaving, which meant that he had prepped himself for something else. Certainly different from a regular training session. Heathcliff had enjoyed training the young man. Aidan Spark was in as good a shape as he could expect from someone of his age, and he was catching up fast. He was also intelligent, and he knew what questions to ask. And that, for a man who taught others healthy living, pretty much felt like a victory. Now he was curious. What was going to be the bunny’s next move? By all means, he was ripe for the picking, as far as someone as experienced as Heathcliff could tell. But why was he, Heathcliff, hesitating? Again, he tried to tell himself that it was because he wanted to give the young man enough space to make his own choices. Yet, with the bunny out the door, Heathcliff began to feel a tad impatient. Whatever he liked, he took. And people were throwing themselves at his feet, so it wasn’t like he needed to pressure anyone into giving in. But, with Aidan, he felt like, no matter how slow he knew he had to take things, he wanted everything and he wanted it right that moment. Only his moral compass, and yes, he had one of those, prevented him from overwhelming the bunny and getting him to yield. At some simple level, he knew he would win. Yet, somehow, that wasn’t good enough. Aidan had gotten out of his shower, two buttons open off his shirt, smelling good, and with a promise in his beautiful, innocent eyes. But Heathcliff had ignored all the signs, and just held the door for the guy to leave. Heathcliff shook his head and smiled. Soon he was going to be thirty. Maybe he felt like he was turning over a new leaf. Hmm, he had never thought of that before. If he wanted to, he could stow those confidentiality agreements in the bottom of a drawer, forget about them, and go partying. It wasn’t like Aidan Spark could watch him twenty-four-seven. But he felt that wouldn’t be right. Also, Heathcliff wasn’t exactly in the mood to party. What he wanted was not in some posh club or bar, waiting to wave at him from the sidelines. What he wanted was, for the first time in his life, a completely different person than the type he usually took to bed. TBC
  24. 39 points
    Jenny looked down at her daughter, and Tristan could see tears glinting on her cheeks. “I really don’t know a lot. The seers are all too badly drained to tell me much. I know Cheryl is using their powers to see what’s happening with her enemies, and that she has something planned that will be happening soon. I also know she has a mage working for her, but not willingly. I was ordered to treat a young female mage. Her name was Milly, she was very pregnant and the trauma of being taken brought on her labor. She had a baby boy and she named him Michael. She said that was the name of her mate and then she told me she didn’t expect for them to make it out alive and made me promise to protect the baby and the toddler who’d been taken with them. She wouldn’t calm down until I promised, and the baby was left with me when guards came to take her away again. No matter how much she cried and begged they wouldn’t allow to even give him a cuddle goodbye. The last thing she called out was for me to remember my promise. “The baby and toddler, whose name is Ophelia, have been set up in the room next door to mine. They are both calm and sleeping alright at the moment, but Ophelia keeps looking for her mother. She may not be able to talk much yet, but anyone can understand ‘mama’ and then a child searching around. I don’t know how much longer it will be before she starts to realize something is wrong. Children are more perceptive than an adult will admit.” This was said with a glare at Kitryn who hung his head and cast a pout through his eyelashes at Simon. Simon just chuckled and pushed him off the couch they were sitting on. This seemed to break the cloud that had settled over the group and everyone chuckled. Jenny stopped and seemed to be listening to something. “Duty calls, the baby is awake. I’ll come when I can and Kitryn, remember to listen to Fran. A child she maybe but her powers are growing fast and she will soon surpass any seer I’ve met in my lifetime.” The glow surrounding her intensified and when everyone had lowered the hands they’d used to block their eyes Fran was sleeping alone on her bed. Simon ushered everyone out while Kitryn tucked Fran safely into her bed. They all made their way silently back to the main room that had become their regular meeting room now. “What now?” Simon asked when no one spoke. Tristan looked at Patrick and at his nod spoke, “Patrick and I know Michael and Milly. I went to school with Michael and I stood for him when he had his mating ceremony with Milly. Patrick told me Michael was the mage who set wards around the compound.” “But you said there weren’t any wards around the compound,” Simon pointed out. “I know. Patrick and I had just decided Cheryl must have Michael and have a way of making him do what she wants. Fran’s mother confirmed that and told us how he is being controlled. He’s obviously taken down the wards, but the wards surrounding Fran’s room and how they’re keyed to work are the strongest I have ever seen. I don’t know how he knew she was here or how to find her, but nothing can get to Fran in that room and there are extra wards to increase the strength of her gift. Essentially that room is the safest place on the compound for anyone we want to keep hidden from Cheryl. As soon as I have rested I will restore the wards around the compound and add a few modifications so Michael can’t be forced to break them. But, at this moment I am afraid I need to head for bed. Patrick, I take it I have my usual room?” At Patrick’s nod, Tristan headed out the room throwing a “Goodnight all,” over his shoulder.
  25. 39 points
    (This section is written in the third person POV) Shaun was walking down the hall with his arm wrapped around Melissa’s small waist. Students were walking past them, occasionally exchanging hellos or nodding their heads. He had been with Melissa for over four weeks. It was close to setting a record for him. Suddenly, he felt a hand grab his arm. He turned around expecting to see a friend’s face; but instead, he was staring into the glaring eyes of Mrs. Carson, Gary’s mother. He was fond of Mrs. Carson, or Mom, as she had insisted on him calling her on his second visit to Gary’s home when he was in the fifth grade. She had been a second mother to him, sometimes almost a first mom. His own mother worked all the time and rarely spent much time with him. She was a good mother; however, she wasn’t blessed with good maternal instincts. Mom had filled that role, and he never once questioned her love for him. There had been many nights he had fallen asleep in her lap during his numerous sleepovers with Gary. He would be on one side of her, and Gary would be snuggled on the other. When it was bedtime, she would help them up to bed and kiss them goodnight. When he broke his arm in the sixth grade while he and Gary climbed an oak tree in Gary’s backyard, it had been Mom who took him to the hospital and stayed with him in the emergency room. Mom had called his own mother, and after finding out he was all right, she said she would be there when he got home. It was Mom who held him and comforted a very scared little twelve-year-old boy. Now he was looking directly into the eyes of the woman he most admired, and a wave of guilt overtook him. This was the one thing he had been trying to avoid. Since his fight with Gary, he had missed Mom. He knew that one day she would ask why he wasn’t coming around anymore. He was sure she had heard the rumors about what he had said to Gary in the cafeteria. By now, the whole school knew the story. She held his arm gently and said, “Shaun, can I talk to you for a moment?” The look in her eye told him that it wasn’t a request. “Sure, Mom,” he responded. He whispered goodbye to Melissa, and she gave him a peck on the cheek and walked away. “In my room,” she directed. “This is my planning period. I’ll write you a pass for your next class when we are done.” “Yes, Ma’am,” Shaun replied sheepishly as he entered the room and took a seat in the front row. Mrs. Carson pulled up a seat and sat down, facing him. She asked, “Would you like to tell me why I haven’t seen you in over a week?” “No, Mom. I can’t,” he replied. How could he tell her that he had outed Gary to the entire school? In doing so, he had destroyed their six-year friendship. He realized that he didn’t hate Gary. He had been caught off guard by last week’s incident. Guys their age are taught to hate gay people. That had been the bantering in the gym classes since the fourth grade. Queers, fags, cocksuckers, butt buddies. All these words had been ingrained in him for years as dirty. When any guy innocently checked out the size of another guy’s cock in the shower, the teasing would be endless. So that night in his room, when he saw Gary staring sensuously into his eyes, he reacted instinctively. When he mentioned it to his friends the next day, it became a major issue. They had instigated his confrontation with Gary in the cafeteria. He had reacted childishly, and now he regretted it. Since then, he had left Gary alone and he hadn’t said anything to him. On several occasions, he had even told his friends to shut up when they started talking about him. On the day he returned to school and Billy and Robert began to harass Gary, he was about to jump in when Josh suddenly shouted out. “Why aren’t you Gary’s friend anymore?” Mom startled him from his thoughts when she questioned him. “It’s complicated. I don’t think you’d understand,” he muttered softly. “Is it because he’s gay?” Shaun raised his head and looked surprisingly into Mom’s eyes. She knew Gary was gay? “Yeah,” he answered timidly. The guilt was coming in waves, and for the first time he felt embarrassed. “He made a mistake, Honey,” she explained. “He never meant to hurt you. If he could take last week back, believe me he would.” “He made a mistake?” Shaun asked incredulously. “I’m the one that fucked up.” He put his hand to his mouth. “Sorry, Mom, that slipped.” He couldn’t believe it. He had ruined Gary’s life. He had outed him at school, resulting in him being beaten up. However, Gary was the one who was sorry! Mrs. Carson smiled warmly at Shaun. “He loves you, Shaun. You’re his best friend. He misses you terribly.” “I know,” Shaun stated. “But things are different now. We can’t be friends.” “Why? What’s changed?” “My friends would talk about me. They’d call me gay, too.” Shaun hung his head. As soon as he said it, he realized just how inane the comment was. “That’s more important to you than his friendship? You would turn your back on a friend to keep other people from talking about you? How shallow are you? You are going to have hundreds, maybe thousands of friends in your lifetime. But you will be able to count on one hand your true friends- those who will stick by you no matter how bad, as you say, you fuck up.” She reached out and gently held Shaun’s hands. Shaun looked up and met Mom’s eyes. He knew he had been wrong, but he didn’t know what to do about it. Things had gone too far. “I don’t know what to do. I outed him to the entire school. I don’t think he will ever forgive me. I know I wouldn’t.” “Talk to him Shaun, he might surprise you,” she said assuredly. “Gary has a very forgiving heart.” “I’ll try.” It was all he was able to say. He wanted Gary’s friendship again, but had too much happened? Was there anymore going back? Maybe going back wasn’t the answer, maybe they had to move forward. * * * * * * * * “Come here, you perv!” I shouted as I pushed Todd down onto his bed. “You pinched my butt in the hall today in front of everybody.” We had returned to Todd’s house after school to do our homework; but since no one was home to monitor us, homework was the last thing on my mind. I was more interested in taking a pop quiz on kissing, and we all know what was going to pop up! I leaned in and began to kiss Todd passionately. It felt so good, so right. I could lie here all day like this. Soon we began to grind our hard cocks into each other, and he began to moan in my ear. “We have to stop,” I said breathlessly, pulling myself off him and lying down on my back. Todd glanced at my dick poking through my khaki pants. A small, wet patch was beginning to form. “Why? It’s just getting fun,” Todd giggled as he pressed down on my cock, stroking me lightly through my pants. “Because last night after we made out in my room, I had to take a shower and jack off. Since my right hand is in a cast, I had to use my left. It didn’t feel right.” I began to blush as I remembered the fantasy I had about Todd in order to make myself cum. “Then maybe I can help you,” he replied shyly. He began to rub my crotch more forcefully. I closed my eyes and let out a slight whimper. When he began to unbuckle my belt, I wanted to stop him. However, my other head wouldn’t let me. I knew we weren’t ready for real sex yet, but a hand job would feel really good! “Lift your butt up,” ordered Todd. He unzipped my pants, pulled them off and threw them on the floor. My dick was tenting my white briefs. Todd gently stroked me through the cotton material. He was playing with my head to see if he could get anymore precum to soak through my briefs. “Lift up again,” he said. He pulled my underwear off, leaving me exposed to him. “It’s beautiful,” he said admiringly. He took my cock in his hands and began stroking me. He reached out and helped me remove my tee shirt. It was a little difficult because of the cast. I was now completely naked before him. He continued stroking my cock with one hand while rubbing my balls with the other. When he leaned over and began sucking on my nipple, I moaned so loud the neighbors had to have heard. Todd giggled and went back to licking my chest. He let his tongue travel downward and licked around my belly button. Then he traveled further, nibbling at my pubic hair. With my eyes closed, I was reveling in the feelings. My moans were becoming louder. Todd removed his hand from my dick, and a strange warmness engulfed it. My eyes shot open, and I looked down to see Todd sucking my cock into his mouth. He was careful not to scrape me with his teeth. It was better than any anything I had ever experienced while jacking off. It was better than my dream. I wish I could say I lasted for an hour, but I didn’t. This new experience had me feeling so excited, I couldn’t hold it very long. After about three minutes, I informed Todd I was going to cum. “Here I cum!” He pulled his mouth off, and cum shot out in giant streams. One flew up and landed on my neck. Another on my right nipple, and then several more hit my stomach. The remainder coated Todd’s hand. “Cool.” He looked up and grinned. He knew he had done a good job. “Not too bad for my first time,” he giggled. “Oh God! I’ve died and gone to heaven!” I said breathlessly. “That was fantastic!” He ran to the bathroom, grabbed a towel and cleaned the cum off my chest. He smelled his hand before he wiped it off. “Ew, gross!” I shrieked. He giggled again. “How did you know what to do?” I asked. “That felt really great.” “I’ve been practicing,” he grinned. “Practicing? On who?” I was starting to get upset. I thought I was his first. “On a carrot.” He was blushing bright red. “On a carrot?” I started laughing hysterically. “Yeah. When I met you, I hoped we would do something someday. I wanted it to feel good. So, I’ve been practicing with a carrot.” His face burned even brighter. “That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of,” I laughed. “But it worked. That was great!” He grinned widely as he lay down beside me and put his head on my chest. “I love you,” he quietly stated. I know my heart seemed to stop. After all the lonely years I had experienced, I thought I would never hear those words said to me by another boy. “I love you too,” I responded as I rolled on top of him and began kissing him. We made out for several minutes before I lifted him up and pulled his shirt over his head. He lay back, and I began to nibble at his little nipples as he had done earlier. Since this was my first time, I was trying to copy what he had done to me because it had felt so good. I wanted him to experience the same feelings. If I was a moaner, then Todd was a screamer. We could never have sex with anyone in the house. He was squirming all over the bed. I lifted him up and pulled his pants and underwear off. Forget the foreplay, I wanted him now! His dick popped out and I got the first glimpse of my boyfriend’s cock. The best way to describe it is cute, just like him. It wasn’t very big, probably five inches long and slender. To me, though, it was just right. He had blonde pubic hair and hairless balls. Eager to please him, I took it completely in my mouth. Todd screamed and rammed his dick deep inside my mouth. I loved the hardness in my mouth. I hadn’t been practicing with a carrot, but it seemed that I instinctively knew just what to do. I sucked him deeply several times before he began convulsing on the bed. I knew he was close. If I lasted three minutes, he only lasted two. Soon, I felt the head of his cock expand, and he let out a scream. “God, here it comes!” He rammed his cock to the back of my throat. I felt the first shot blast into my mouth before removing it and letting the rest land on his stomach. He didn’t cum as much as me, but it was still a nice load. “Fucking Awesome!” He screamed breathlessly. I laughed because it was the first time I had ever heard him curse. I looked into his face and grinned. “You liked that, huh?” “I loved it, just like I love you.” He leaned forward for another passionate kiss. When I opened my mouth, he began exploring inside my mouth, tasting the remains of the cum that he had just deposited there. We lay quietly for several minutes. Occasionally, we would kiss; but most of the time we just stared into each other’s eyes and smiled. “We better get cleaned up,” suggested Todd. “Josh should be home soon.” He blushed when he asked, “Do you want to take a shower together?” “Does a cow have tits?” I responded. I slapped his cute ass on the way out of his room as we ran naked to the bathroom. When we finished showering, we toweled each other off and ran back naked to his bedroom. As soon as we entered his room, we ran into Josh. He looked at us standing naked before him. Both our dicks were hard and pointing upward from the very thorough toweling we had given each other. He looked astonished. Then suddenly he began to smile. Soon, he erupted into laughter. “You Little Bros been naughty?” he asked with a wide grin. “Yeah!” We both said at the same time. We looked at each other and began laughing. We got another loud roar from Josh when we simultaneously grabbed our cocks and started shaking them at him. Josh held out his arms and we walked over to him still naked. He embraced us in a huge bear hug. He let us go, but not before smacking us both on our bare butts. We all burst out in laughter again. Josh left the room, and Todd and I slowly dressed as we watched each other closely. He walked over and buttoned my shirt while giving me little kisses on my face. When he was done, I did the same to him. He walked me to the door, and we embraced. “I love you, Todd.” I said as I gave him a gentle kiss. He returned the kiss and replied, “And I love you, Gary.” “I’ll see you tomorrow. Call me tonight before you go to bed,” I told him. “I will,” he replied. I kissed him one last time before I opened the door and left. I looked back when I was half way down the block. He was standing on his porch watching me. When I waved at him, he waved back. He was still watching me when I turned the corner and headed for home.
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