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  1. 127 points
    KIERAN ~ BLACK JACK “FuckohfuckohfuckohFUCKOHFUCKOH.” Kieran’s body had become a gigantic active volcano, with a devastating eruption only milliseconds away. Until. “NOOoooo!” For the third time, Kennedy had brought Kieran right to the toe-curling edge of what promised to be the best orgasm of his life, caressing Kieran’s balls with one hand and drawing that talented mouth and tongue, up and down his eager, granite hard shaft—only to pull his mouth away with a pop seconds before lift-off. “What the fuck are you doing to me?” “Giving you your money’s worth,” said Kennedy, smiling up at Kieran, those cool blue eyes gazing playfully. “You’re not, you’re torturing me. I swear, Kennedy,” said Kieran, pleading. “If you don’t finish me off soon, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands. So to speak.” Just after they’d entered the cabin and Kennedy switched on the ‘do not disturb’ sign, as Kieran kicked off his shoes in the upstairs bedroom, a wave of uncertainty had hit him. But Kennedy had pulled him into a gentle kiss, which had initially calmed him before turning molten, reigniting Kieran’s arousal. Grinning hungrily, Kennedy had pushed him back onto the mattress, pulling off Kieran’s trousers and underpants completely before obliging with his promised deluxe service. Lying back on the bed, his knees hanging over the end of the mattress, Kieran had watched in awe and bliss as Kennedy had devoured him. Right now, his head bobbed up and down, mouth sucking hard combined with the snakelike tongue’s caress around his shaft, one hand gripping around the base pumping, gradually building speed. Kieran’s hands clutched handfuls of duvet as his thighs begin to tremble, his head thrown back onto the mattress, a carnal roar issuing from somewhere deep inside. Kennedy finally sent him over the precipice, swallowing the whole length into his throat, as the inevitable eruption ripped through him. Without removing his mouth, Kennedy took every drop Kieran had to offer, with Kieran moaning loudly and unashamedly, his heart thumping, dark spots flickering across his vision. Lying there, staring up unseeing, he wondered if he should be freaking out a little right now, that another man had just blown him. But he didn’t. In fact, if Kennedy offered to do him again, he’d definitely not only let him, he’d plead with him—well, maybe after resting up a little. Sex had always been a bit like going through the motions with Jennifer. And she had avoided oral sex, usually wanted to get the main deed over and done with as quickly as possible, without too much fuss or foreplay. If this was his initiation to gay sex, then he was fucked. What other incredible delights might be in store? “Are you okay?” came Kennedy’s voice. Kieran’s addled brain tried to find the words. “Feels as though you turned all the bones in my body to liquid and then sucked them out through my cock,” said Kieran, unable to move. “Eloquent,” said Kennedy, after laughing aloud. Kieran just about managed to raise his head and stare at the man between his legs. “Get up here,” said Kieran. “Next to me.” Kieran enjoyed ordering Kennedy around, and, oddly enough, every time he did, Kennedy did exactly as he demanded. When he felt Kennedy’s body land next to his, he pulled his mouth into a kiss, tasting the saltiness of himself on Kennedy’s tongue. This time, however, there was nothing rushed about the embrace, both savouring each other’s mouths. “You’re turning into a total kiss whore, Mr West,” said Kennedy, pulling his mouth away. “So, how was your first ever gay blowjob?” “If I offer to give you back the five hundred, can I get one of those every day for the rest of the trip?” Kennedy laughed aloud again, that nice rumble Kieran had come to enjoy. “How about you keep the five hundred, and I’ll still give you one of those every day, anyway? So you’re staying? For the rest of the trip?” “Fuck yeah. I always was, but I definitely am now.” Oddly enough, Kennedy let out a deep sigh then, but when Kieran turned his head, he saw him on his back, looking into the air and smiling. And then a sudden thought came to Kieran. “Shit. What about you? Don’t you need to get off, too?” Once again Kennedy chuckled, quieter this time, and placed a hand across his eyes, becoming a little sheepish. “I already did. Shot a load in my trousers when you came.” “No!” “I know. Like an over-sexed teenager,” he said, before taking his hand away and looking Kieran in the eyes. “But in my defence, watching your expression while you’re being blown is as hot as all hell.” They lay in companionable silence. Kieran almost began to fall asleep, until he became aware of his unorthodox position draped over the end of the bed. Not to mention still wearing his shirt, bow tie and black socks. Kennedy spoke before he had a chance to break the silence. “I really need to go and clean up.” “You going to grab a shower?” “Yeah, I think I’m going to have to. Get some of this gunk off me.” “Want some company?” asked Kieran, feeling unusually bold. “In the shower?” said Kennedy, startled, his gaze swinging Kieran’s way. “Are you sure?” “Almost since we boarded, you’ve been perving at me while I’ve been in the shower.” “I have not!” “Sure you have. I’m not complaining. That’s why I left the bathroom door wide open. If you’re going to put on a show, you might as well put on a good one.” Kennedy’s burst of laughter was followed by him jumping up from the bed and holding out his hand. “Come on then.” Kieran took his hand and hauled himself to standing. “But before we do,” said Kennedy, reaching for Kieran’s bow tie. “We need you to lose a few of these clothes.” Slowly and meticulously, Kennedy unclasped his bowtie and then began unbuttoning his shirt, all the while maintaining eye contact with Kieran. Intimate and erotic, Kieran could feel his breathing deepening again. With a final flourish, Kennedy lifted the shirt from across Kieran’s shoulders, and threw the garment onto the carpet. Kneeling to the floor to remove each of Kieran’s socks, Kennedy’s nose almost grazed Kieran’s renewed and straining erection. When a fully-clothed Kennedy stood and began to unfasten his own shirt, Kieran stopped him with one hand and began to return the favour. Two could play at that game. Kieran had seen Kennedy’s body a number of times on the vacation; at his parent’s when Kennedy hauled himself out of and sunned himself around the swimming pool, even on the cruise when he left the shower with a towel wrapped around him. But he had never seen him fully naked before and, although he had undressed him the same way—keeping their eyes together—he now rewarded himself by drinking in the perfect proportions and sheer muscular physique of the man, the dusting of dark chest hair trailing down to the substantial erection. Once again he marvelled at being unabashedly aroused by the body of another man. What the hell had they put in the drinking water? Thirty minutes washing each other’s body, and one more orgasm each later, they towelled themselves off in the bedroom. Kieran felt so calm and comfortable, with post-orgasmic tiredness overtaking him now. As though hearing his thoughts, Kennedy spoke. “Think I’m ready for bed. How about you?” “Yeah, I think I am, too.” Kennedy grinned, took the damp towel from him, and disappeared into the bathroom. He returned seconds later, butt naked still, and headed to his wardrobe. “Kennedy?” “Yes,” answered Kennedy, his back still to Kieran. “Can we do away with clothes in bed? I’ve always preferred sleeping in the buff.” Kennedy brought his hand away from the shelf that held his tees and sweats, and turned his head. A small devilish smile curled one corner of his mouth. “Are you sure? You’re not worried I might be tempted to take your virginity while you sleep?” Once again, Kieran met the remark face on, smiling and folding his arms. “You promised to be the perfect gentleman, remember? And anyway, if that does become an option, I’d rather be awake, if it’s all the same to you. Do we have a deal?” “If it means me having you naked and in bed with me, then yes, we have a deal.” Ten minutes later, they lay in bed together, although Kennedy still had his bedside lamp on. Kieran shuffled purposely closer to the middle of the bed, turning on his side to talk to Kennedy, who checked his phone. “I haven’t thanked you yet.” “Thank me,” said Kennedy, turning quizzically to Kieran. “For what?” “For choosing me. As your companion. I’ve seen and experienced so many things I could never even have imagined. And it’s all thanks to you.” Something fleeting flickered across Kennedy’s face then, and he looked away, before shaking his head softly. With a gentle sigh, he put his phone down on the bedside cabinet, and turned on his side to face Kieran. “We dock overnight in Okinawa tomorrow. How do you fancy us getting a hotel for the night?” “Sounds sleazy,” said Kieran, grinning. “Count me in. I didn’t think you were into doing excursions. You haven’t been on a single one yet.” “I’m not, and I won’t. But I’ve got some business to take care off in the evening, so I’m meeting a contact there. A little bar down the backstreets of Naha. Wondered if you’d want to come along. Maybe meet me there.” “I was going to go see Shuri Castle with Laurie.” “You still can. That’s during the day, isn’t it? And she’ll want to get back to the boat afterwards, to see Steph. Maybe you could come and meet me outside the bar afterwards? Around seven? Have a couple of drinks, get my business out of the way, and then we can have a nice dinner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. Just you and me. What do you say?” “Let me think,” said Kieran, frowning and tapping a finger in the middle of his lips. “I might have to charge extra for that.” Oh yes,” said Kennedy, playing along. “How much extra?” “At least one extra special technique blow job from the master. Do you think he can manage that?” “Do you know, Mr West. I think it’s time for the master to teach his student this special technique. See if he’s up to the job. How does that grab you?” Kieran hadn’t even considered the notion of reciprocating, the thought of him blowing another man having never crossed his mind. But suddenly the idea of watching Kennedy’s face while he brought him to orgasm, had his heart racing and his cock growing heavy. “The student is keen to learn.”
  2. 123 points
    Chapter 1 It was astounding how beautiful he was. Kendall shifted in his seat, trying not to stare at the best friend he had in the whole world. Swallowing down the lump in his throat, he felt the dread crawl over him, and he steeled himself for what he was about to do. He'd entered Sticks and Suds by the side door, slipping into the booth unnoticed. The waitress, having seen his arrival, approached him with a welcoming smile. He waved her away with a, "Thanks, Cora, I'm good." As she nodded, turned, and retreated, Michael caught his eye, giving him one of those heart-stopping smiles he seemed to reserve just for Kendall. Gesturing, he indicated he was almost finished his pool game. Candy, the flavor of the last couple of months, chose that moment to plant a big kiss on Michael, reaching up and wrapping her arms around his muscular neck. Kendall smirked to himself at her obvious act of possession, knowing how Michael felt about his women when they got that way. That smirk turned to a frown as he wondered if Candy might be different. She'd already lasted a few weeks longer than most of them did. The feeling such a thought gave him was exactly the reason he had to follow through on why he asked Michael to meet him here. He watched Michael disengage himself from Candy's grip, powerful arms gently setting her aside as he turned away to prepare to take his next shot. Leaning over the table, the view he provided was that of sheer masculine perfection. His flaring back was on perfect display, and his was an ass that Kendall had stared at and fantasized about for the entire six years he'd known him. From roommates the first year of Police College, to sitting in this booth today, Michael was never far from Kendall's thoughts... and that had to change. His resolve wasn't wavering, but his body was showing signs of the great stress he was under. Nausea threatened to overtake him and there was a noticeable tremble to his hands. He found himself wishing Michael would hurry up. As if he heard Kendall's thoughts, Michael replaced his cue in the rack and turned to look his way with a smile he recognized as victorious. Chalk up another win for the big Irish/Italian cop no one seemed to mind losing to. Careful not to drown in those intense blue eyes, Kendall glanced away as Michael started his short trek towards him. True to form, Michael stopped to say a few words to a couple sitting at the booth closest to the group of pool tables. His deep, rumbling laugh brought Kendall's eyes back to him. That natural charm and friendliness gave Kendall a chance to take in his incredible appeal for a few more seconds. Those muscular, jean-clad legs with that bulge that couldn't be hidden in any pants, up his amazing set of abdominal muscles, to the power packed chest stretching the navy blue t-shirt that had POLICE printed across it, Kendall got lost in the perfection that was Michael. His gaze continued up to see a frown flicker across the face that haunted his days, and his nights, as Michael stared back at him. Quickly looking down, Kendall wondered what his face had shown. Normally he was so careful about hiding how he felt, but knowing there was an expiration date on the option of admiring the person he loved most in this world, had, for a split second, caused those careful walls to drop. A rueful smile appeared on his face at the mental acknowledgement he wasn't going to hide anymore, and it hit him again, the enormity of what his intention was going to cost him. Looking back up, he was startled to see Michael slide into the seat facing him, running a hand through that glossy black hair of his. There was a look of genuine worry on his face, and that caused a deep searing pain to run through what was either Kendall's heart or his soul. "Hey, buddy. What's going on? Are you okay?" His concern was so evident, Kendall's conviction wavered, and he found himself floundering in a pool of emotion, robbing him of his ability to speak. "Hey? Did something happen? Do you need something to drink? You don't look very good." His determination slowly exerted itself, and Kendall was soon able to give him a weak smile. "I'm okay...I just need to talk to you about something... something important." A couple of deep breaths calmed him slightly, and he continued to convince his friend he was all right. "I am not sick or anything, but what I have to talk about is really hard for me, so I need you to listen and let me get things out, okay?" Michael, looking perplexed, nodded. "Okay, so first you need to know something, and I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. You've been my best friend for so long and I was being totally unfair to you... I was being unfair to both of us." He looked away as his heart started to race, and he could feel a horrible kind of sweat breaking out on his entire upper body. God, this was so hard. "Just tell me, Deuce," Michael said softly. "Whatever it is, it can't be that bad. Best friends forever, right?" Hearing Michael's nickname for him got him back on track, barely, and he tried to give him a reassuring smile... one he didn't feel. "I hope so, Ace, I really do." Michael started to react, but Kendall's agonized plea to "Wait," stopped him cold. It was clear he didn't know what was going on here, but Kendall watched the realization dawn on his friend just how serious this was. He'd never seen Kendall like this before because he had never allowed him to. As hard as he tried to stay calm, a nervous hand was gripping and releasing the blond hair on the top of his head while he fought the terror of what he was doing, and how it would all turn out. The uneasy expression on Michael's face as he watched him struggle not to lose it was making things worse, but he knew he had to do this. "I'm sorry, Ace... just bear with me please." Another plea to hold a now anxious Michael in check. "I should have told you this a long time ago. No excuses... I told myself I couldn't figure out how, but the fact is, I just didn't have the guts. I'm gay." Those two words came out softly, but the sob that followed had him swallowing fiercely. He watched as Michael's face went totally blank. Forcing himself to really look at the man, he found he couldn't read him. He could always tell what that familiar face was thinking, but this time, as he searched it, he couldn't decipher anything. When a sick fear started to overwhelm him, he saw Michael's eyes come back into focus. "How is that possible? You're kidding right? I know you've slept with a lot of women." He rubbed his face with large hands as if to wake himself up. "We've had sex with women in the same room. Remember Kelly? You had her climbing the walls. I know because I was there." The confused expression matched his words. "Yes, you were there. There haven't been a lot of women, though. As a matter of fact, I haven't had sex with a woman in a couple of years... not since Amanda. I just let you think I did because it was easier than this." Kendall stopped to take a few deep breaths, trying to regain some control. He was right on the edge of breaking down completely, but he knew he was only halfway done. "I realized what I was doing wasn't right, and I stopped. Dragging other people's feelings into my messed up life was wrong. All it did was make me feel worse. I'm gay. I'm not here to convince you of that. This isn't a joke. I wish it was, but it isn't." The sadness coming from Kendall hit Michael full force. He had a strong urge to take the big man in his arms and hold him. It hurt so bad to see him like this. "It's okay," he said softly. "I had no idea, none at all, but it's okay. I don't care. You are still my best friend and always will be. You didn't think that would change, did you?" He waited for his friend to finally meet his eyes. The look he saw there was one of utter despair. "The thing is, we can't be best friends, not for now, not like we have been...." That was Candy's cue to slide into the booth beside Michael. He hadn't seen or heard her approach. "Baby, you're ignoring me and I don't like it. You told me you were going to teach me to play pool." Michael shifted his stunned gaze over to Candy. "What the hell are you talking about? Not now, Candy. I told you Kendall needed to talk to me, so could you just piss off." It wasn't a question, and it came out as a hiss as he glared at her for a second before looking back at the man across from him. The tension was excruciating, and he wanted Candy gone. He turned and glared at her again, watching her pout go from hurt to indignant. He couldn't have cared less in that moment. Finally, she slid out of the booth and stalked away, throwing a comment over her shoulder as she left. "Fine. Stay here with your boyfriend then. I'll find someone else to teach me." "Bitch," Michael uttered as he focused on Kendall. "What the hell do you mean? I told you I was fine with it and you say we can't be best friends anymore?" He couldn't help it. His words were spit out with anger and hurt. This part was something Michael couldn't accept. He had never been closer to any other person, outside of his parents, in his whole life. He relied on Kendall and his almost daily presence. They did everything together. They had coffee every morning, they ate together most evenings, they went to the gym, movies, hockey games, camping, fishing... fuck, even shopping. They hardly ever went a day without seeing one another, and told each other everything. Okay, so apparently not everything, but that didn't matter right now. How could Kendall even think of ending their friendship? "You can't be serious? You've got to be fucking kidding me. Why in hell would you think we couldn't be best friends? Haven't I always been supportive of you? Fuck man... don't even go there. Seriously, you're freaking me out here. I don't give a rat's ass if you're gay." A long silence followed those words, and Kendall looked like he was dying inside. What the fuck? "Say something. Tell me you don't mean this. Please, Deuce, " Michael pleaded. Desperation combined with disbelief, but those feelings were giving way to a fear stronger than any Michael could remember experiencing. This could not be happening. Now they were at the part that had Kendall twisted up in knots. This was what'd prevented him from telling his best friend sooner... the reason why his life has been on hold for so long. "Ace... you need to understand everything. I need to have my own life. The last thing I want is to end our friendship, but I don't see any other way." He couldn't stop the tears from welling up... he didn't even try. He felt so fucking raw, and imagined cutting off a hand couldn't hurt any worse. "I need to find someone for me, and I can't do that when I see you every day. I'm sorry. I couldn't ask for a better friend. I lose here too." This time the tears spilled over with a vengeance and he could no longer meet the pained look in Michael's eyes. "Hey, am I missing something here, because I don't get it? If I take up too much of your time then I'll just back off. I really am okay with... with the gay thing. Hell... I'll even help you if you want. I'll help you find someone, whatever it takes, man. Just please don't end our friendship. It doesn't make sense and there's no reason for it. And please don't cry. We can get through this. I just can't imagine us not being friends. Fuck, Deuce, I need you." "I love you, Ace," Kendall whispered. It came out so low he wondered if Michael heard him. Obviously, he had. "Hey, I love you too, man. You mean more to me than a brother ever could... you have to know that." "No." The word came out wreathed in the pain he felt. This was it... what he'd dreaded and avoided for so damn long. "You don't understand. Shit. I know you love me, but what I am talking about is something different. I am in love with you. I am in love with you and I have been since our first year of college. I don't have a life because I can't think of any other guy but you. I crave being around you and I'm lost when I'm not. I think about you all day and I dream about you at night. That's why I can't be around you anymore. It's not what I want... it's what I need. Do you get it now? I am in love with someone who can't return it. I look at you, and I feel all this love I have to hold back and try to bury, and it's fucking killing me." Kendall would not have thought it possible to feel so exposed, so brutally vulnerable, but he had done it and there was no going back. Michael was reeling. The anguish in Kendall's confession ripped him to the core, and the shock of his words hit him like bullets. He knew what he was hearing, but he couldn't react. One thing that got through loud and clear was that Kendall was in love with him and it was preventing him from moving forward. 'Someone who can't return it' was rebounding in his head. What should he say to that? He did love Kendall, and seeing him so unhappy, hearing such suffering in his voice... knowing he was the reason this six foot, three inch man was reduced to this painful mess, robbed him of the ability to fathom a solution or produce a reaction... so he just sat there feeling like the world had dropped away beneath him. He felt defeated. He hadn't expected this, nor was he prepared, and he felt embarrassed that he had been so dense, so oblivious, to his best friend's pain. Kendall waited for Michael to respond but nothing came. He understood. He was feeling shell-shocked, and he was the one who dropped the bomb. The time had come. "I'm going to go now. I am really, really sorry I dumped this on you. I hope you're going to be okay. You're probably pissed at me right now, and I don't blame you. Maybe someday we can be friends again... as hard as this is, I need you to respect what I have to do. I have to get over you... I've tried for years, but it hasn't worked. You know what they say about out of sight, out of mind." He tried a little smile, but it wasn't returned, not that he expected it to be. "Take care of yourself, Ace." There was nothing more to say, so he got up and slipped out the door behind him, taking one last glance at a man who looked like he had just lost his best friend. Pain punched him in the gut as he watched a tear drop from that chiseled jaw and land on the table top. Michael couldn't, for the life of him, figure out what he could have done or should have done. He had never felt so lost in his life. He'd tried to speak... to say something... anything... but nothing came out. And now it was too late. His best friend was gone. Kendall stumbled to his truck with that last image in his head. Seeing Michael's tears was something he hadn't been prepared for. He'd never seen his friend cry before and it devastated him that the first time it happened, he was the cause. He'd convinced himself he would feel better once he came clean... free, and ready to move on with his life. Maybe that would come someday, but for now, he had never felt lower. The door had just closed completely on the man he loved with his entire being. The last thing he wanted was to replace him with someone else. Kendall's mind rebelled at the thought, and reality hit him as he pulled out of the parking lot. Sobs that came from the depth of his soul began to make their way up and out. He knew nothing would ever be the same again, and he had only himself to blame. The very real thought occurred to him that Michael would probably never forgive him for walking away from their friendship. The sobs became hoarse, screeching howls that threatened to stop his heart with their intensity. Driving was no longer an option as he pulled over onto a weedy shoulder and tried to get himself back under control. Flinging open his door just in time, he spewed the contents of his stomach onto the pavement. Again and again, his body convulsed. So this was the start of his new life? All he could think of was that handsome face with the tears running down its cheeks...a testament to the pain he had caused. Over and over in his head, one question repeated itself, so he let it escape his lips and said to no one, "What have I done?"
  3. 122 points
    KIERAN ~ SUNSET Bali had seen some difficult times since the start of the new millennium. If terrorists targeting tourist spots wasn’t bad enough, the region was all too prone to natural disasters; volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Nevertheless, Kieran had to agree with Laurie’s description of the small province of Indonesia, that Bali represented an island paradise. Lush green paddy fields with a back drop of verdant mountains contrasted with perfect beaches of white sands and azure sea, lined by tall coconut trees. Hindu pagodas and temples constructed from local stone, now moss covered and age-worn, blended naturally into the horizon whenever driving from one location to another, as though they had been grown organically rather than built. Since their talk, Kieran had given himself over to Bali’s magical spell. However much he hadn’t felt some of them, Kieran’s words had worked their charm. Kennedy’s guard had dropped, and he’d relaxed back into the holiday. They sunbathed in the nearby sandy cove the morning of their penultimate day, two short flights of steps down from the villa. Deserted except for the four of them, they lay together savouring the cloudless day in companionable silence, until Steph and Laurie cried off because of the intense midday heat. “Fancy a dip?” asked Kieran, leaning up on one elbow. Kennedy’s body glistened deliciously with coconut sun oil, applied earlier by Kieran. This morning, Kennedy wore only a pair of stylish shades and tight black and gold briefs. At Kieran’s words, he turned his head and yawned, stretching out his arms. “Mmmm. Could do.” “Skinny dip?” Kennedy sat up then, brought his knees to his hairy chest and raised his sunglasses. “I think you’ll find nude bathing’s illegal in Bali.” “Who’s going to know? Come on, old man,” said Kieran, dropping his scarlet Speedos, and showing his all. “Live dangerously for once in your life.” “You think I don’t live dangerously?” “Yep,” said Kieran, running into the sea. “Last one in’s a sissy.” “Too late for that,” laughed Kennedy, stepping out of his briefs and tossing his shades onto the towel. Within seconds he had joined Kieran in the sea, both immersed past waist height, splashing each other and laughing like school kids. Kieran really enjoyed the rare moments when Kennedy let his guard down even though he knew later on things would return to his usual formality. Taking advantage of the situation, Kieran did what he’d been wanting to do all morning and wrapped his arms around Kennedy’s neck, his legs around Kennedy’s waist. Without asking permission or even checking Kennedy’s reaction, he brought their mouths together in a salty kiss, feeling Kennedy’s arms tighten around him. For a full five minutes, they remained that way, with Kennedy twirling them slowly around in a circle in the cool waters. “See,” said Kieran, pulling his mouth away. “Nobody’s going to know whether we’re wearing cozzies or not.” “But they might, if we start having sex in the sea.” “However much the thought of that makes me hard, maybe we should save it for the bedroom.” “I can live with that,” said Kennedy, grinning, pushing away from Kieran and swimming a few strokes on his back. “Let’s just enjoy the freedom of being in the ocean.” “For one more day, at least.” Kieran hadn’t meant the remark to spoil the moment, but Kennedy’s smile dissolved. Kieran immediately dived beneath the water and came up next to Kennedy. “Hey old man, can I give you a suggestion?” said Kieran, shaking the water from his hair. “It’s a kind of take-it-or-leave-it piece of advice.” “Go on,” said Kennedy. “I understand why you couldn’t tell us everything about your meeting in LA, except that you’re no longer going for an acquisition. But reading between the lines, it sounds as though you might be considering a merger?” “No comment.” Kieran laughed, and twisted onto his back to match Kennedy. “Fair enough. But just in case you are, during my masters we looked at contemporary businesses, and one of the specialist areas I studied in depth is successful mergers, identifying the key elements that helped to make them work—particularly where companies are geographically challenged or where there are clear organisational cultural differences. One key differentiator concerns pre-merger integration. Kind of getting to know how each other’s business works. One simple, but successful way of doing that is to consider swapping one or two key talents for a period of time—pre and post merger—for them to gain insights into how the new company operates, to explain how their own company does the same, and then figure out the best way for the two to work together going forward. Of course, you’d also have to consider the needs of the individual. Do you maybe have any key members of staff who might have family connections in LA?” The slowly spreading smile transforming Kennedy’s face was better than the stunning landscape. “You’re dangerous, Kieran West.” “You have no idea.” Shortly afterwards, Kennedy insisted they dry off and put on their swimwear, before heading up to the villa for a shower. Often, Kieran had been the one to instigate sex between them, but this time Kennedy took control with a sense of urgency. Kieran enjoyed these rare moments, allowed Kennedy take his fill of him. Lying next to each other, both panting, Kieran smiled up at the slowing turning ceiling fan of teak and metal. He’d noticed Kennedy peering at him quizzically a couple of times of late; when Kieran laughed along with the girls, when he leant in playfully and pecked Kennedy on the cheek, or when he jumped up to help the villa staff bring food to the table. Kieran had decided to live by his words, to enjoy the last days of their time together unencumbered by any negative or melancholy emotions. Because, clearly, something Kennedy hadn’t realised or appreciated was how much Kieran had changed. Not only did he feel a newfound confidence in himself, but for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was looking forward to the future. On Monday morning after their return, he would be starting a new and exciting job. Not only that, but with the ten thousand—double the amount agreed—sitting in his bank account, he could not only pay his sister, pay off a chunk of his and his brother’s studies, and get himself a new suit, but have enough to put down a deposit on his own rented place. How could he possibly hate Kennedy for that? Finally he had a future—even if that future did not include Kennedy. On their final night together, they visited a restaurant recommended by the guide books, Sunset Spice, a Balinese seafood restaurant built on the beach, overlooking the sea and the sunset. While Kennedy walked barefoot out onto the sand to take a phone call, Kieran marvelled at how healthy he looked with his deep tan, accentuated by his beige chino shorts and short-sleeved white cotton shirt. “Kieran, we’ve been meaning to ask. How would you feel about sharing your swimmers with us?” asked Laurie, a little sheepishly. Kieran’s mind had been elsewhere and, with the small bottle of Bintang in his hand, he turned quizzically to them. “Which ones? The red or the gold?” Steph almost spat her cocktail out across the table, and then proceeded to cough uncontrollably. Laurie laughed too then, and patted Steph on the back. “Your sperm, Kieran. Steph and I want to start a family and, well, we think you would make the perfect donor. What do you think?” This time, Kieran dropped the bottle he had been holding to his mouth, and only just managed to catch it in time before the contents spilled all over the tablecloth. “For heaven’s sake, Laurie,” said Kieran, aghast, but catching up quickly. “Drop a bombshell, why don’t you?” “Seriously, though,” said Steph. “It would be great if you could think this over. We’re going to do it anyway—one of the reasons Laurie’s been losing weight—and we were set on using a reputable semen bank friends of ours had recommended. Even though they give you information about the history of the donors, you’re unlikely to get to meet them. If it’s any consolation, we both came up with the idea of asking you.” “What would I need to do? I mean, I’m not sure I’m ready to bring a child into the world.” “To put it bluntly, it’s only your semen we need. Usually donors in the UK don’t have any legal obligation to the child or any responsibility in how the child is brought up. Neither do they need to support the child financially and aren’t named on the birth certificate, either. But the reason we’re asking you is because we’d be more than happy for you to be a part of the child’s life, but only if that’s what you want.” “Wow, girls. That’s a lot to take on board.” “I know. We both do. But will you at least have a think about it?” “Of course I will. But why didn’t you ask Kennedy? He’s your best friend.” “I ran the idea past him months ago. In a subtle, theoretical way. If you’d seen the look of horror on his face, you’d know why I’d never consider him. Even if it’s not strictly his own, I think Kennedy would freak out about the simple notion of knowing there’s a kid out there with his genes.” “Funny, I can’t think of anything nicer,” said Kieran. Even though he had been looking at Kennedy, he didn’t miss the exchange of glances between the girls. “Don’t take too much time to think it over,” said Steph. “Clock’s ticking, as they say.” Steph reached out her almost empty glass to clink a cheers with the neck of Kieran’s bottle. “Christ! You want me to fill it now?” said Kieran, nodding at the glass, a mischievous smile on his face, which had both girls laughing aloud. “What did I miss?” came Kennedy’s voice. “Nothing,” said Kieran, smiling up at him. “Absolutely nothing.” ***** Two hours before their arrival into Heathrow, Kieran awoke to a member of the cabin crew placing a tray of breakfast in front of him, onto a tray table he hadn’t set up. When he rubbed his eyes and looked to his right, he found Kennedy smiling at him. “I know you’d never forgive me if I let you miss breakfast.” “Too right,” said Kieran, laughing and raising the chair into a sitting position. Sex on that last night in Bali had felt more like making love. Unhurried, familiar, and mutually satisfying. Not a word passed between them, like a rite of passage, as though they both felt this would be the last time. Which, in reality, it probably was. In the morning, Kieran refused to feel sad, and packed his bags while making light with Kennedy, the girls, and the villa staff, as they packed his things into the back of their airport transfer van. Even though they all arrived at the airport together, the girls had different flights, later in the day, so they bid their farewells before boarding. Heathrow’s organised chaos came as no surprise as England’s busiest airport woke to a new day. “Kieran, where are you going?” called Kennedy, about to head for the terminal’s meeting point. “I’m going to the tube station,” he said, pushing his trolley towards the main doors, but stopping once to address Kennedy. On the flight back, he had resolved to make the parting as painless as possible. But he needed to do so as soon as possible. “Ben’s bringing the car round. We can drop you off.” Unless a person knew the real man, they wouldn’t know that Kennedy’s voice sounded almost pleading. “No need,” said Kieran, plastering a smile on his face, his stomach twisting a little, but his resolve firm. “I’ve got it from here. Take good care of yourself, Kennedy. And thank you for absolutely everything. You’re really special, you know. Don’t ever forget that.” With those final, parting words, he turned and walked away, unable to look back.
  4. 121 points
    KENNEDY ~ CAPTAIN’S TABLE Kennedy fiddled with the gold cufflink on his left sleeve, and peered nervously towards the large doors to the room. Tonight’s event showcased another side of the gay community. Two nights ago, at the White Party, some of these people had been sexy Snow Queens or Marilyn Monroes, complete with platinum wigs and high heels. Others wore next to nothing; loincloths or Roman togas. Tonight, with most people dressing in either black tie or evening gown, his mother and father wouldn’t have looked out of place. Although, if you looked closer, dotted around the room, some guests had chosen alternatives; white, powder pink, or blue tuxes, some men in drag, dressed gloriously in stunning gowns. Kennedy would normally have enjoyed the splashes of non-conformity, but his mind remained elsewhere. Once again, he checked his watch, then brushed at an imaginary dust mark on his sleeve. “For goodness’ sake Kennedy, will you stop fidgeting—oh, fuckity-fuck,” said Pete, gazing over Kennedy’s left shoulder, his eyes going wide. Along with a lull in the weather, Pete had emerged from his cabin that evening. “What?” said Kennedy, spinning around, but seeing nothing through the crowd. “Fuck my old boot,” said Pete, his mouth hanging open. “Queer One scrubs up good.” And then Kennedy spied him—Kieran—with Laurie on his arm, and a sudden pride swelled in his chest like an inflating airbag. Kieran absolutely rocked the dress suit, a perfect fit with a black bow and dark red—burgundy—cummerbund. Not only that, but his hair had been trimmed and tamed with gel, and he moved with an easy confidence Kennedy had never noticed before. All heads turned as he passed, some clustering together to pass comment on this deliciously handsome male specimen. Prince Charming had arrived at the ball. Laurie stopped and looked around, before whispering something in Kieran’s ear. After finishing, she nodded towards Kennedy and Pete, before moving off. Kieran strolled over to join them, his expression unreadable. On his way, he plucked a flute of champagne from a waiter who smiled and then turned to give Kieran’s departing back a once-over. “Look at you, Mr Hottie,” said Pete, as Kieran arrived. “Licensed to kill.” “You look really good, Kieran,” said Kennedy, amazed at how shy he sounded. “These bloody shoes are killing me,” said Kieran, grimacing at his stylish black patent leather dress shoes. “Style comes at a price, kid,” said Pete, whose own dress suit had seen better days. “Where’s Laurie gone?” “To let the MC know Kennedy and Steph aren’t going to be dancing tonight.” “Yes, a shame she’s not better,” said Kennedy. “Still, maybe you and I could take a turn on the floor later? Once the contest is over?” “We’ll see,” said Kieran, his expression unreadable. Even though they’d managed to secure a table bordering the dance floor, their party size being depleted now had meant other passengers—complete strangers—joining them at their table. Kieran chose to sit away from Kennedy, between Laurie and a nice looking older man. Kennedy glanced Kieran’s way a couple of times, but he continued to engage the man in conversation— either that or he purposely ignored Kennedy. After a served meal of lobster bisque, choice of filet mignon, black cod or vegetarian pasta, followed by a selection of desserts, cheeses and coffee, the first of the dancers took to the floor. Two large bears, dressed in pink and blue tuxedos, danced the cha-cha. Although light on their feet, they came frighteningly close to Kennedy a couple of times, and at one point he thought they might crash into their table. Kennedy’s favourite came in the form of a mountain of a man, completely bald, dressed in a sleeveless, flowing dress, in sparkling electric blue, with one arm showcasing an inked sleeve tattoo. Energetically performing the Lindy-Hop, his lesbian friend, dressed in a bright red dress suit, looked like a character out of the Dick Tracy movie. They made an unlikely but mesmerising couple. Once applause died down after the final act, the announcer moved back to the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, a slight change to the programme. We were promised a final performance tonight, but due to one half of the couple being sick, tonight’s dance will instead be performed by Kennedy Grey and Kieran West.” Amid the sound of applause, Kennedy looked around shocked to find Kieran standing behind his chair, his hand held out palm upwards. “Come on, old man,” said Kieran, his voice and face stern. “Exactly the same as you practiced with Steph. Every step the same. Let me lead, and you follow. Are we cool?” Stunned, and unable to reply coherently, Kennedy allowed Kieran to take his hand and lead him away. Stood in the centre of the dance floor, with all eyes on them, Kieran adopted the same starting position Steph and he had agreed upon. As the music began—the staccato rhythm of El Tango de Roxanne—Kieran moved in perfect sync with Kennedy, their eyes glued to each other. Often, when dancing with Steph, she had been unable to maintain the fierce glare between them, usually dissolving into a fit of giggles. Kieran’s eyes never once left his and positively smouldered with sexual innuendo. Each time Kieran crushed their bodies together, at one point bending Kennedy’s body backwards while closely hovering over him, he inhaled Kieran’s unique body smell mixed with his gentle spiced aftershave lotion. At the end of the dance, with a final flourish, they ended frozen in place, their hands joined with each other’s above their heads, their hips joined at the groin, and foreheads pressed together. Around the room, the watching crowd erupted with loud cheers and applause. When Kennedy finally relaxed and peered over at their table, he noticed Laurie grinning broadly while fanning her face with her hand. Next up, the band changed gear into a gentle two-step allowing everyone to join. Kennedy had been about to head back to their table but Kieran pulled him into the dance. Within seconds the floor filled around them, with a few people—other gay couples—leaning in to congratulate the two of them on their performance. Kennedy shook his head, still stunned. “That was amazing. How the hell did you memorise those steps?” “Child’s play. Although, of course, the video helped. My cousin and I were West London under fifteen ballroom champions in our youth. Three years running. Unlike you, though, I loved dancing lessons. Still step out every now and then whenever she’s in town.” “Well, aren’t you full of surprises?” “You have no idea. There’s a lot about me you don’t know.” “Clearly. So does this mean I’m forgiven?” “For what?” said Kieran, a puzzled expression on his face. “For everything. Forcing the kiss on you. Not standing up for you in front of Patrick when he was being a royal prick. For making you smoke a cigarette.” “According to Joey, you did stand up for me. Only you did so after I’d left.” Kennedy snorted. He’d forgotten Joey came into the bar after Kieran had walked off and would have heard his heated exchange with Patrick. “And for the record. You didn’t force me to kiss you. Bribed, maybe. But nothing was forced on me. Besides, that must be the quickest monkey anyone’s ever made.” “I meant it, you know? I will honour that deal.” “Yeah, but I only really gave you about a hundred and fifty quid’s worth. How about the other three-fifty?” “You get that anyway. For having to put up with my shit.” Kennedy felt himself being twirled around until he faced the table where Richmond and Mike sat watching, probably bitching about them both. “Nah,” whispered Kieran in his ear. “Got a better idea.” In front of the whole room, Kieran brought their lips together but before they could connect, Kennedy placed his hands on Kieran’s chest, held him in place. “Kieran, you don’t have to do this. People will see us, will see you.” “Uh, that’s kind of the point. Plus, I need to test something out. So please indulge me for a minute or two.” Once again, Kieran moved forward and this time Kennedy closed his eyes, felt the full force of Kieran’s lips press against him. At first, the kiss felt tentative, a brush of lips as though exploring, but then Kieran’s tongue teased open his lips. Once their tongues collided, Kieran tilted his head, his hands weaving through Kennedy’s hair, pulling him forward. Deepening the kiss, their tongues danced their own private tango, while Kennedy pulled their bodies tightly together. When eventually they came up for air, Kennedy met the startled gaze of Kieran, his plump lips moist and reddened, his pupils dilated. “My God! I really like kissing you. What does that say about me?” “That you have good taste?” “Can we head back to the cabin?” said Kieran, ignoring the quip and instead plucking a playing card from his top pocket. “I’ve had this jack of spades burning a hole in my pocket for days now. And I think I’m finally ready to trade it in tonight.” “Huh? I don’t understand. Is that why you’re packing?” said Kennedy, confused. “But you know I can’t fly you out until the end of the cruise.” “I wasn’t packing. I was trying to find my bloody bow tie. And anyway, that’s not what I’m asking. I want to trade this baby in for its original purpose. I want to swap this for one of your famous, mind-numbing, Kennedy Grey blow jobs. Best in the northern hemisphere, according to my sources.” “Hang on, Kieran. Are you sure? You don’t have to do this.” “Fuck that. I’m the one getting the blow job, not you. You think you’re man enough?” After staring at him for a couple of seconds, Kennedy grabbed Kieran by the hand and dragged him off the dance floor back towards their cabin.
  5. 119 points
    Ethan and Aiden were enjoying the crystal clear water of the tropical lagoon as they swam together, hand in hand. Under the watchful eye of a well trained snorkeling and scuba instructor, they looked down into the water through their masks while snorkeling. Ethan felt perfectly at home in the water, much more so than Aiden. Brightly colored tropical fish would come out to investigate only to vanish back into the coral as the two approached. When Ethan dove down below the surface by himself a single clown fish emerged from the safety of the coral reef and swam up to Ethan, rounding his hands and briefly stopping in front of Ethan’s mask as if to say “Hello”. After he returned to the surface for another breath of air, he dove back down below the surface. Many fish in bright yellows and vibrant blues came out to join the single clown fish to swim with him. As he reached his hand out near the coral to let the fish weave through his fingers, three seahorses swam out of their protection to wrap their tails around his fingers until he had to return to the surface one more time. Aiden and the instructor watched through their masks as they floated at the surface, in awe at how nature responded to Ethan’s presence. The flight had been very long and after eighteen hours in the air and one layover in Los Angeles, they stepped off the plane into a tropical paradise, but neither could deny that it was worth it. It took forty minutes by boat to get to their final destination. The Australian/New Zealand Solaris and Lunaris Lycan Councils had graciously offered a private island resort they jointly owned just off Fiji’s western edge as an additional wedding present so that the young couple could have a truly relaxing and private honeymoon. The ten acre island had five guest bungalows spread out across the best section of its white sand beaches. The full time staff took care of all the cooking and cleaning as well as instructing guests on snorkeling or scuba diving for the more adventurous around the several delicate reefs that surrounded the island. They had the island for two weeks before they would be going on to visit New Zealand and Australia, acting as ambassadors to build ties between the American Lycan Council and their South Pacific counterparts. Stepping onto the deck in front of their bungalow, overlooking the lagoon, Ethan and Aiden laid down on the large lounge chair after their relaxing swim in the warm water. Trevor, Casey, Darius, and Cody were still out in the water, snorkeling with the islands other instructor, just off one of the other coral reefs that surrounded the island. Cuddling up against his mate, Ethan looked out across the lagoon and to the horizon to the west. Aiden smiled down at his Pup, seeing the happy and content look on his face as he watched their friends splashing around. Laying his head on Aiden’s chest, and casually running his fingers through the dense fur, Ethan quietly asked, “Could it possibly get any better than this?” “If it can, I really don’t see how. A tropical beach, a gentle breeze, and the man I love with all my heart.” “I never thought it would be that fun to swim in a lagoon like this or dive down to see all the fish.” “It’s amazing to see how everything responded to you. That clown fish really liked you and those seahorses took to you very quickly.” “I could feel all the life around me, but mostly I could feel you.” “With all the fish swimming around you, I could feel something more than I normally do. I’m not sure what it was, but there was something there. I could definitely feel your happiness.” Ethan continued to watch their friends while never lifting his head off Aiden’s chest, “I’m glad we brought them with us. It’s fun watching the guys out there. I know it’s our honeymoon, but it wouldn’t have felt right leaving them at home.” “I know I could protect you from most anything and with your gifts you can easily defend yourself, but I don’t think we would have gotten far without them. They take their duties of protection very seriously, even if they try to make it look like they don’t. You’re right through; it wouldn’t have felt right leaving them at home. They’re a part of our family and a part of us. We just have to get them well trained for when the time comes that they become babysitters for our kids.” “I like the idea of having kids with you. I know your Dad and Marsha want to eventually become grandparents.” “We’ve got several options when we decide it’s time. We can adopt or use a surrogate. We have one offer, and I’m sure there would be others if we asked.” “If we asked one of the lunis she-wolves, would that increase the chances the pup would be a lunis? I kind of want at least one of each. “As far as I know, the odds are the same regardless if one parent is lunis or not. I think it would be cute having a little lunis and lupus Elemental pup running around.” “I guess until we decide to use alternate methods of having kids, we’ll just have to keep trying the old fashioned way.” Aiden had to laugh at Ethan’s comment and enthusiasm. “Who would have ever thought that getting kicked out of the house would end up making all my dreams come true. Not only do I have you, but I have your world now.” “Seems like it was destine to always be your world from the start.” Kissing his Pup’s head, “That horizon out there is our future. We may not know what is just beyond it, but it is going to be a wonderful journey getting there at each other’s side.”
  6. 117 points
    KIERAN ~ THREE YEARS ON “Where’s Kennedy?” asked Kieran, carrying a tray of pungent Indonesian appetisers to the outdoor table, followed closely by Matius, pushing a rattle-clinking drinks trolley laden with bottles of spirits and jugs of soft drinks. Kieran had spent the last hour watching—and occasionally helping—Maya prepare Indonesian dishes in the outside kitchen, mesmerised at the array of natural ingredients and spices going into the wok for each dish. Laurie and Claire sat enjoying the last of the afternoon sun, at a table beside the swimming pool. Steph sat several feet away from them, in the shade of the back porch cooled by an overhead fan, with little Polly in a crib next to her, rocking her gently from side to side. Even though Laurie had been the birth mother, their baby had brought out the maternal in Steph. “Inside. Feeding the twins,” said Laurie, enjoying a cool Singapore Sling. Kieran came over and joined them, sitting in the low two-seater rattan sofa. “He’s managed to get Link off to sleep, but Clint’s got a bit of colic, he thinks.” “Maya will go help Mr Kennedy now,” said Matius, before turning back towards the kitchen. Lincoln and Clinton had been born nine months earlier, courtesy of a surrogate mother. Neither Kieran nor Kennedy had been expecting twins, but both had been delighted. This time around, Kennedy had been the donor, but Kieran had insisted on the names, in keeping with family tradition. “I can’t believe how he is with them. I swear he has the patience of a saint.” Not much in life left Kennedy speechless and in awe, but the arrival of their twins had seen a fundamental change in him, in his priorities. Even with their full-time, live-in nanny, Kieran often drove home at the end of a long day to find Kennedy already there, helping with the boys. Usually he dismissed the event as ‘working from home’ but Kieran knew better. If Polly had brought out the maternal in Steph, then the twins had brought out the doting parent in Kennedy. “Well, he does have practice, having to live with you and Ed,” came Steph’s voice, from the shade. “I heard that,” said Kieran, joining Laurie and Claire’s laughter. “Where’s Jeff?” asked Laurie, handing Kieran a chilled glass of white wine and clinking their glasses. “Doing me a favour,” said Kieran, quietly to Laurie. “He’s on his way back from the airport right now. Friends are over for a working holiday and having dinner with us before heading to their hotel.” “And tell me again why they’re at a family gathering?” called Steph. “Bloody hell. Does your wife have super-hearing?” asked Kieran, mugging at Laurie. “Meet Wonder Woman,” said Laurie, giggling. “You know Jeff,” said Claire. “Always finding waifs and strays to bring home.” “Mum!” said Kieran, with mock outrage. “I hardly think the son of the Earl of Stratham is either a waif or a stray. Nor is his partner, Trevor. They were the ones who helped arrange our wedding in Scotland at short notice, as well as the catering, and I didn’t hear you complain then.” Everything had fallen into place so quickly over two years ago, through friends of friends. Cole’s pals from Japan, returning in January from their holiday in Scotland, had sown the seeds in Kennedy’s mind when they met for a drink. And once Kennedy got an idea in his head, there was no stopping him. They’d referred him to their friends who, through family connections, had a slim window of opportunity to host the wedding for the newly appointed global CEO of Grey Steel Global and his gay partner. They, in turn, got in touch with the famous chef, Marcus Vine, to request his help in catering—something Vine was famous for declining because of a busy career running his international restaurants. But somehow, he’d found the time, and everything had come together beautifully, with Kieran and Kennedy finally married on a glorious day in early June with Loch Arkaig, Ben Nevis, and the stunning grounds of Mortimer Hall as their backdrop. “That lovely young man, Rudolph? Why didn’t you say so. Stephanie, I know I’ve said it before but it was such a shame you and Laurie couldn’t be there. So close to Polly’s birth, and all. But the whole ceremony was like something out of a Disney movie, with this world renowned chef actually there, catering the whole event. His partner even helped set up a couple of marquees on the grounds. Did we tell you? Absolutely adorable.” “Yes,” said Steph, while Laurie rolled her eyes at Kieran. They’d hated not being there, but Polly had been a difficult pregnancy for Laurie and they didn’t want to take any chances. “We saw the photos, Claire. The official ones, as well as all those posted by guests on Kieran’s Facebook wedding page. Even saw a couple of them featured in Attitude mag.” Kieran noticed Kennedy heading out to join them. Forty-five years old and he still looked good enough to eat. As he spotted them and walked into the sunlight, when Kieran saw a flash of gold on his wedding finger, his heart swelled with pride. In the last hour he’d changed his shirt to a loose-fitting, short sleeved Indian cotton one, in aubergine, opened at the collar to reveal his chest hair. Kieran knew the shirt well, because he owned the damned thing. Seeing Kennedy wearing his clothing, he felt himself getting hard and had to adjust himself, before waving Kennedy over to his seat. “Thought I might find you here,” said Kennedy, squeezing in next to Kieran, taking the glass of wine from him and having a sip. “Leaving the old ones to do all the manual labour.” Once they’d tied the knot—and probably because he’d warmed to little Polly—Kennedy had been the one to push for kids. And, as usual, he’d taken to the project like a man with a mission. “Why are you wearing my shirt? Not that I’m complaining.” “Little Clint puked on mine.” “Ah. How is he?” “Asleep now. Maya managed to calm him down. She’s amazing with them, insisted on watching them, even though I said I’d take the baby monitor. I wonder what it would take to persuade her and Matius back to England—” “Don’t even think about it,” warned Claire, while lifting her glasses in place to checking her phone display. “Reagan, Bernie and the boys are almost here.” “And here’s Dad,” said Kennedy, nodding to the driveway. They all watched as Jefferson parked up the Toyota. Once the engine had died, he brought the two passengers straight over to where everyone sat around the pool. Considering their long flight from England, Rudy and Trevor appeared remarkably awake and alert, even though their loose, rumpled, travel clothing told a different story. Rudy’s broader build complemented the slighter frame of Trevor, his dark red hair worn almost militarily short and odds with Trevor’s wild black mop, as though the latter had just woken. Maybe the time shift would hit them later. Kieran remembered only too well his own jet lag experience the first time arriving in Singapore. Kieran warmed to see them, had really gotten on well with Trevor, had felt a bond between them both coming from humble origins. After greeting everyone, and cooing quietly over a sleeping Polly, they made their way back to one of the rattan sofas. “So how are you faring?” asked Kieran, as the guys settled in their seats. “Can we get you a drink?” asked Laurie, at the same time. “Funnily enough, Jeff just asked the same thing on the way here,” said Rudy. “How we feel. Hadn’t really thought about it.” “But we’re both great,” said Trevor. “If a little disorientated. And I’d love a drink. But I’m not sure if we’re ready for an early evening vodka and tonic—” “—or a morning mug of hot cappuccino,” finished Rudy. “In which case, how about I fix you both an Espresso Martini,” said Laurie. “Then you can have a taste of both.” “Done.” Over drinks, and while the last of the September sun bled from the cloudless sky, Trevor and Rudy brought them up to date with their lives. Although still managing the gym in the south, Rudy was spending more and more time helping to run his family business, Mortimer Whisky, while Trevor was now managing the books of a stable, profitable portfolio of clients. “Yes, we’re in a good place. Not sure we’re ready for kids just yet, but we’re definitely tying the knot next year,” said Rudy, reaching out to hold Trevor’s hand. “Where are you thinking of doing the deed? Scotland?” asked Kieran. “You know, we both want something small and non-traditional. Some place with sun and sand. We’re thinking maybe a simple commitment ceremony on a beach in this part of the world. Trevor favours Vietnam, maybe Halong Bay or Da Nang. I’d really love Bali.” Kieran exchanged a glance with Kennedy, almost certain the idea had popped into his head at the same time. Kennedy smiled and winked at Kieran before addressing the two men. “Guys, we still owe you so much for helping with our own ceremony at such short notice, so if it helps, I have a four bedroom villa in Bali which is yours whenever you want. And apart from the villa, there are plenty of other villas around, if you want to invite a number of guests to attend. There’s even a private cove linked to the villa where you could hold the ceremony. Just let me know the dates, so I can alert the staff.” “Seriously?” said Rudy, his eyes wide. Kennedy nodded, while Kieran laced his fingers into his husband’s free hand and squeezed. “And if you’re not sure about Da Nang, Halong Bay or Bali,” said Kieran. “How about doing them all? And how about adding Ho Chi Minh, Singapore and Semarang in Indonesia to the itinerary?” “Whoa. Our budget’s definitely not going to stretch to that,” said Trevor. “Bali will cost you nothing. It’ll be my wedding present to you both,” said Kennedy, grinning. “Driver pick up, villa with a pool, all food and drinks in the villa. All you’d need to do is get there and take a little spending money.” “There you are,” said Kieran. “Make Bali your last stop.” “Nice idea,” said Trevor, the accountant in him rising to the fore. “But it’s the cost of the flights to each of those other destinations and then hotel accommodation that’s the killer.” “Could you fly into Hong Kong and fly out of Bali?” asked Kennedy. Kieran smiled, knowing where Kennedy was going with his question. “I guess so.” “So what if you could still see all those other places without flying in or staying there,” said Kennedy, clearly on the same page as Kieran. “Sorry,” said Trevor. “I don’t understand.” “What my husband means is, have you considered a cruise?” said Kieran, smiling at Kennedy. “Because, let me tell you, we both highly recommend them.” “In fact,” said Kennedy, kissing Kieran on the cheek. “We might even join you.” THE END
  7. 117 points
    KENNEDY ~ HOME Early December, two months after the end of what Kennedy now considered to be the best vacation and the biggest mistake of his life, he found himself marching through an almost empty, unfamiliar office space at seven-thirty on Friday evening, with nobody except the cleaning staff most of whom stared at him suspiciously. Not that he cared. This was something he should have done weeks ago. He had been directed to the sixteenth floor and to the reception for Leonard’s office space. Standing still, he stared around himself, at the completely empty reception area, as a sinking feeling filled him. But then, beyond, in the fishbowl office, he noticed the familiar dark-haired man stand up and walk to the photocopier, prodding buttons on the display. Kennedy rarely felt unprepared, but this whim felt like walking on broken glass. Without hesitation, he marched over and tapped his knuckle on the window of the security door. After peering up, the figure frowned then moved towards the portal. “Len’s not here,” said Kieran, after opening the door for him, and before turning back to the machine. “Oh, okay,” said Kennedy, stood awkwardly in the doorway, his back propping the door open, his hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets. “So how—uh—how have you been?” “Fine. I’m doing fine.” “Okay. And the the job’s going well?” Kennedy had never been very good at smalltalk. “Loving it. Lots to do, but we’re getting there and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” “Good. That’s good. Got you working late, I see. So what’s with the suitcases?” Up against one wall, Kennedy recognised the large black case Kieran had brought with him for the holiday, plus a couple of other, smaller ones. At his remark, Kieran let out a small sigh. “I’ve been staying with Cole since I got back. Had a flat-share lined up, but it fell through at the last minute. Anyway, Cole’s friends are over from Tokyo, so I’m bunking back with my sister for the week, until I get something permanent sorted.” Kennedy stared at the sad line-up of cases, until Kieran broke the silence. “What do you want, Kennedy? I already told you Len’s not here,” said Kieran, after lifting the top of the copier, placing another sheet inside, and slamming down the lid. The question sounded so harsh and direct, Kennedy faltered for a moment, unable to speak. “I—I wanted to see you.” “Me? Oh, let me guess. You want your dad’s watch back?” “No, that’s not why I’m here at all,“ said Kennedy, rubbing a hand nervously around his chin. “At least, not unless you come with it.” “Unless…what?” “You heard me,” said Kennedy, softly. “Okay, Kennedy, what’s going on?” This time Kieran stopped his work and folded his arms. Kennedy came into the room, let the heavy security door slam closed behind him and perched himself on the edge of a desk. For someone so accomplished in his professional life, he felt in unchartered waters here. But he had never been one to back down from getting something that he sorely needed. “I’m going to say some things to you that I’ve never said to another living soul.” Kennedy waited to see Kieran’s reaction, but he simply leant back against the copier, his arms still folded. “I’m listening.” “You’ll need to be patient; this is somewhat difficult for me.” “Do I need to sit down?” “You might want to.” Kieran wheeled over an office chair and sat with the backrest to his chest, his arms draped over and his hands clasped together. “First off, I need to say I’m sorry. Sorry for not being brave enough to tell you how fond I’d grown of you. Sorry for not keeping in touch after the holiday, although, God knows, we’ve been rushed off our feet with the merger, which is all coming along nicely, by the way, with regular updates from Giorgio and Sloan. Yes, I took your advice.” “Good.” “And the second thing is—” “You mean there’s more?” “—is that as much as I feel this particular word has become bland, overused, and, in this case, is totally inadequate—I mean, for goodness’ sake, the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, so why do we only have one—sorry, getting off topic. What I mean is, Kieran, I’m falling in love with you. No, sorry, scrub that. I’m already in love with you. Have been since our tango together on the cruise. Maybe even before that, and now I’m—” “Stop,” said Kieran, softly, which caused Kennedy’s voice to break with emotion. “—I’m second guessing everything, Kieran. Every decision, which is not like me. I’m fucking asking for your opinion in the mirror every morning, asking you as though you’re standing there in the bathroom next to me. I can’t do this without you. Move in with me, not with your sister. You can have a spare room as long as you want, if that’s what you want. Hell, you can stay forever, which is what I’d prefer. But it’s your choice. I want you to do what you want.” “What if I tell you I’ve met somebody?” Kennedy’s heart sank then, all the hope he’d been storing up evaporated, and suddenly he felt a sting in his eyes. And the Greys never shed tears, his father had taught him that. Was he too late? Trying to pull himself together, he stared down at the office carpet. “Have you?” “What would you say if I told you I have?” With an effort of will, Kennedy brought his emotions into check, and eventually smiled, still unable to meet Kieran’s eyes. Something else his father had taught him was that even in defeat, an Englishman remained gracious; a gentleman above all else. “I’d say that man—or woman—is the luckiest person alive. I’d tell them they’ve just hit the jackpot with the most beautiful person in the world. Someone who lights the room up just by walking in and makes the person with him feel like they’re blessed. And I’d tell them to tell you so every day you’re together—” Kennedy hadn’t heard the soft movement from across the room, but suddenly found himself being enveloped by Kieran’s arms. While Kennedy wrapped his arms around Kieran’s waist, Kieran pulled Kennedy’s head down onto his shoulder. “For fuck’s sake, Kennedy. Why couldn’t you have told me that before?” “Because I was scared. Because I was worried I might fuck up and let you down one day. Because I’m a coward and an ass.” “No argument here.” Kennedy chuckled softly, breathed in Kieran’s unique scent, one he’d missed so much, but when he pulled his head away and faced Kieran, he saw his lover’s eyes were moist, too. “Have you really met someone else?” “Of course not. Cole took me to a couple of clubs—gay and straight. Must say, the music’s better in the gay clubs, but it’s not really my scene, neither of them are. And, more importantly, nobody looked like you.” “Thank goodness. So will you let me try again, to be your partner, or boyfriend, or whatever you want to call us. And will you come and stay with me? If I ask you nicely? You can have your own room, if you want. Or you can—you know—sleep in mine.” In response, Kieran pushed his lips gently onto Kennedy’s. Soft kissing soon became more, something Kennedy had dreamt about every night. Kieran also warmed to the connection, except before things got too heated, Kieran put his hand on Kennedy’s chest and pushed away. “If I sleep in your bed, where will you sleep?” Kennedy chuckled and pulled him back, hugged him tightly. “Heaven knows, I’ve missed you.” “Look, Kennedy. If we’re really going to be together, you may want to hear what I want.” “Anything.” “We’ll need to be open and honest with each other, especially if we’ve pissed each other off somehow.” “Okay, I deserve that.” “Not just you, me too.” “Okay.” “We’re taking ballroom classes together at least once a fortnight. And you will make the time.” “Agreed.” “And I’m sure you’ve heard Laurie’s more than likely pregnant with her first child and I was the donor. Well, I want us to have kids one day.” “Oh, wow, okay. Wasn’t expecting that. How about we start with a dog?” “Really?” “Why not. Let’s go pick one out at the dog rescue tomorrow.” “I would fucking love that.” “Thought you might. I’ve cleared my weekend in the hopes you might be free. Now are you ready to leave yet? We can pick up some Thai take-away food on the way. And in the meantime, I can take your bags down to my car if you have things you need to finish up here.” “Nope, I’m done.” Between them, they collected Kieran’s bags and headed towards the lift lobby. “Does Len always expect you to work this late?” “Len normally kicks everyone out by five-thirty.” “So what’s got you working so late tonight?” Kieran stepped into the lift, pressed the ground floor, and turned to Kennedy with a sly smile. “I was waiting for you.” ****** When Kennedy opened the burgundy front door to his house, he saw everything in a new light, nervous about having Kieran there, and badly needing his approval. The four bedroom house had always been nothing more than a space to live and sleep in for Kennedy, and also an investment in case he needed to realise the equity one day. Now, for the first time, he wanted someone to like the place as a home. “Leave the bags and let me give you the grand tour.” When he led them to the living room, he realised for the first time how spartan and functional he had made the room. When Patrick had lived there, at least they’d had some paintings on the walls, to brighten the decor. Patrick had taken them with him. Even though the furnishings were Italian and expensive—three piece navy sofas in a U-shaped arrangement, dark frosted glass coffee table and grey silk carpet—everything felt cold and formal. Kieran said nothing so Kennedy immediately took him to the place he did most of his work. “Open kitchen and dining room.” This was one space he liked because one whole windowed wall lined the back yard, and the houses overlooking. He had also bought a large table and fitted the kitchen with a range of expensive appliances—not that many of them ever got used. “A ten-seater dinner table. Impressive. And your kitchen is spotless. Does either of them ever get used?” Kennedy snorted and shook his head. Nothing got past Kieran. “Not often. Not any more. Mrs Dabrowski comes in every morning to do any household chores—cleaning, making the bed, washing, ironing—so everything is always kept looking spick and span. I’m at work most of the time, so don’t have a chance to mess things up. There’s probably not enough to keep her busy, but I know her family needs the money.” “And she’ll have a dog to care for soon, while we’re both at work.” “That she will. Shall we get your things upstairs?” “Look Kennedy. I’m not going to simply mooch off you. Somehow I need to contribute.” “Of course, but the house is bought and paid for.” “Then I’ll pay the bills.” “Contribute, maybe. Fine.” “And I’m cooking for us. At least three or four times a week. Man cannot live by takeaway alone.” “Whatever you say.” “Hang on,” said Kieran, peering curiously around. “Where’s your Christmas tree?” “I—I don’t usually bother. When it’s just me.” ‘Well, that’s going to change, too,” said Kieran, folding his arms across his chest. “You know what? We’re having the best fuck-off Christmas tree over there by the front window. So the whole world can see. And we’re having all our friends over for a fantastic Christmas party.” Kennedy laughed, and already felt a ripple of relief running through him. Life, that was what this house needed, some life. Something Kieran would provide in abundance. “Whatever you want,” said Kennedy, heading towards the stairs. “Let’s haul your things upstairs. And, by the way, Leonard’s office is on the way to mine. So as long as you don’t mind leaving early in the morning—around seven-thirty—I’ll give you a lift to work every day. So, here’s the upstairs.” Kennedy showed Kieran the three spare bedrooms, before trailing him into the master bedroom. After appraising the bed for a moment, Kieran poked his head into the adjoining bathroom, before strolling into the room that had been turned into a wardrobe. “Fuck. Your walk-in wardrobe is almost as big as my sister’s apartment. Why is it half empty?” “That side used to be Patrick’s.” “Oh, I see. Shall I hang my things there?” “You’re going to share this room with me?” said Kennedy, feeling the smile lighting his face. “Of course I am, old man.” “In which case, you can put things wherever you like. Before you come and have a shower with me. This is your home now.” Kennedy had been putting his jacket on a hanger and turned to see Kieran quickly turn his head away, and bring a hand to his eyes. This time Kennedy stopped him, gently turned him around and pulled his hand away. Kieran didn’t resist, and once again he had tears in his eyes. “Hey, what’s the matter, love? Did I say something wrong?” “No, of course you didn’t. I’m being stupid. But you don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear that single word, one that everyone I know seems to take so much for granted.” “Home?” “Yes, home.” “Kieran, you are home. This is your home now.”
  8. 117 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 56 Again, a lull occurred in the conversation. Kellar sat in quiet contemplation. He didn’t blame his grandfather for the contentious disconnect with his mother. According to Elinor, Miss Sybil, and now her own father, Gigi was a strong, independent, and maybe even willful individual. ‘As alpha as he was,’ Fendral had said about his daughter. Her determination had most assuredly been fueled by her own mother passing down the family prophecy, and the obligation that came with it. She’d had no choice but to follow her destiny, and his grandfather understood that now. As he’d confessed to Kellar and Tobyn, fear overrode everything else at what must have been a desolate time. Fendral had lost so much. Even to this day, without copper protection, it was an extremely dangerous world out there. Back then there was no hiding from hunters, and the paranoia surrounding departures from pack lands was warranted. He could see the rift from both sides, and in the end, they’d both been right. It was doubtful he would ever know what his mother had encountered after she left Morningstar. He could only hope she’d been happy in those years. There might be some more answers back in New Brunswick, but he didn’t feel driven to search for them. He was satisfied with the ones he already had. Would this feeling change? Maybe, but for now he would enjoy the peace he enjoyed in this moment. What his grandfather had just said, about being proud of who he was and where he came from, had gotten through to him. He was the product of a long line of heroes, from his mother all the way back to Cahlar. But his father, the healer, had played a big part too. He saw that clearly now. He was no reincarnation, but if some shifters chose to think otherwise, it didn’t make him any less Kellar. “Grandfather?” “Yes?” Fendral was looking weary, but Kellar would let him decide when he wanted to rest again. “Was it coincidence, or did something else bring you to my cabin?” “Yeah, I was wondering that too,” Tobyn said. “It was not a coincidence,” the older man said with conviction. “I didn’t have a clue where my wolf was headed, but there was a purpose to our journey south. I’m not sure how to explain it, but there was a period of time… years… where it seemed like we were waiting for something. We were being guided… I’m certain of it. I’d like to think it was Esther. She once told me I would have to hang on at some point in the future, at a time when I could find no reason to. She said I had to keep going every single day no matter what, and no matter how long it took, but when I asked what she meant, she had no answer… only that I would be needed for something in my wolf form. She didn’t know for what or why, she just knew it. Your grandmother made me promise. She made me swear on our bond and the earth mother, and I did. It was a promise I didn’t break. I know it sounds cryptic, but that’s how Esther was. Like I told you, she knew things. She never doubted her ability, and neither did I.” “What does that have to do with showing up at my cabin, sir?” “It’s the only explanation I have. With the feelings I had before and after, it fits. Do you know you smell like clover most of the time?” Kellar was thrown by the question, but Tobyn reacted right away. “He’s right, doc. You do. Sometimes it’s strong, like when my wolf runs through a clover field after a rain. Other times it’s like the sunbaked red-clover hay I used to help stack every summer. We all have our subtle differences, but I’ve never smelled anything like that from another shifter.” “I have,” Fendral said. “Your mother and grandmother both carried the same one, exactly as Tobyn describes. I never would have come within a mile of you if not for that clover smell. It was such a comfort to experience that scent mixed with wolf again after all those years. It’s what drew me to you, and I didn’t want to leave it. Remember the day our wolves played?” “Of course. It was a new thing for me, and I loved it. You left when I shifted back.” “That’s right. It was a strange thing for me. I didn’t understand why I would even want to interact with you. My wolf went more on instinct than thought. Now I get it, but at the time I couldn’t fathom a connection. If you had looked like Gisla, or anyone else in our family, it might have been different, and I might have put something together because of that familiar scent. Or maybe if I could have shifted back and had a clearer mind.” “So, my scent brought you there?” “No, certainly not. As I said, my wolf took us south for whatever reason, but your scent kept me around. Every time I tried to leave the area and head back to Morningstar, I would end up making my way back because it felt wrong, and it was a good job I did.” “Why do you say that?” “Because I came across two hunters headed towards your woods, and I led one of them away. My senses were great that day, and I heard them talking from far off. After what I heard, I showed myself, and the younger one ended up taking the bait. He followed me, but the other man went to catch the two-sided one. He said that pelt would be worth a fortune, and if it took days, he’d get that monster. I think he was referring to the size of your wolf,” Fendral said, taking a second to grin. “It’s funny how much clearer my human mind was that day. I knew he was talking about you and your coat, Grandson, so he must have already seen you at some time.” “You were there?” Tobyn asked, an incredulous look on his face. “We never scented you.” “I’m not surprised with all that elk stink. But no, I wasn’t there when you killed that hunter. I arrived after you left, and as soon as I saw your tracks leading away, I hightailed it out of there. I knew you were both fine. I think that’s when I suspected you were mates. Your scents had changed… combined. It was you who finished him, wasn’t it? I could smell you on the parts you tore off him,” he directed at Tobyn. Tobyn nodded, his eyes going to a dumbfounded Kellar. “So, if you hadn’t done that, Kellar would have been facing two.” “We would have been facing two, babe. So, you saved us… is that what you meant by Esther’s message? It was what you were meant to hold on for?” “At the time, I didn’t much think about the why. I’d never done anything like it before, but it just felt right to do it. Fear is a wolf’s friend, but I felt none the whole time I played with that killer. It was satisfying. I kept the bastard moving as far and as long as I could. It worked best when I traveled well off, and then came back from a different direction. I’d make a noise he could hear. He stopped a few times, but as soon as I moved away, he’d start following again, cursing the whole time. My hearing hasn’t been that good since,” he said with another grin. “He finally picked his spot, though, and set those damn traps, but by then he was a long way from your area. I kept moving in and out of range. It didn’t matter the direction of the wind… he always reacted when I closed the distance between us. I thought they could somehow smell us, but that’s where that pulse comes in, doesn’t it?” “Yes. It’s the silver they all wear that alerted him to your presence. It can work at a fair distance too.” “Great discovery, that. I’ve got to meet this brother of yours. If he’s your brother, that would make me his grandfather too, wouldn’t it?” “Yes, it would. He’d love that. Warren will like you, and you’ll like him.” “I’m sure I will… wee Adelin’s mate, eh? I’ve missed so much. Okay, so like I was saying, at that time I was surviving more on instinct than thought, but sitting here now, it all makes sense. It has to be the reason I finally stopped thinking about my promise to Esther. I was meant to find you, and I did.” “You were meant to save us.” “That’s another way of putting it.” Fendral acknowledged, but he hung his head. “I guess I should have given more credence to my mate back then. Losing her made me… less, and I let fear for Gisla override my mate’s wishes.” He visibly struggled for a few seconds and then mustered up a small smile. “Esther and I were so good together, but that woman was a challenge. She probably would have said the same about me.” “I think you did give her credence, Grandfather. You hung on for all these years because she asked you to… way longer than any other shifter ever heard of who chooses their wolf. The entire pack is astounded by your resilience, and that includes me. We don’t know how you managed, but Tobyn and I have learned the earth mother has her ways. My mom did what she had to do, and so did you. I’d love to hear more about my grandmother when you’re up to it.” “She was the perfect mate for an alpha. When I took on my responsibilities, she shared the load. I have a thousand stories for you.” Again, he looked wistful. Kellar glanced at his own mate, and they shared a look. His grandfather had just described Tobyn as well. “Should we tell him who those hunters were, doc?” “He should know. It might give him peace to hear the truth.” “I agree. It should come from you… I hate talking about them.” “I know you do, babe.” “Grandfather?” “Yes, Grandson?” The old man squeezed out a smile, fooling no one. He’d been lost in his memories of Esther. “That hunter you led away… and the other one….” “Yes?” “They were two of the three who murdered my parents.” “My Gisla? Are you sure?” “Yes, sir. They’re all dead now. Warren shot the one you led away that day. After we discovered the protection of copper, we hunted him down on pack lands, but he was a crafty son-of-a-bitch. My brother ended up saving my mate, but that’s a story that can wait till later. And you know Tobyn killed the other one, and saved me in the process. The third one, he was an older brother, the father of the young one. The one Tobyn rescued me from said shifters had murdered his older brother, so that’s the lot of them.” “How do you know they were the ones?” “Because of Miss Sybil’s vision. My father managed to slash the face of the one Tobyn later killed. It left a huge scar over his eye and on his cheek. Miss Sybil described some other details, and it had to be them. Their name was Reznick. If the bragging the older one did was accurate, they were responsible for the deaths of close to a thousand shifters over the years.” When Kellar finished speaking, Fendral looked away. He was about to ask the man if he was okay when he turned back to face him. “I saw that scar. I was close enough I could have got one of them.” “No, sir,” Tobyn said, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have. You would have been another notch on that old one’s walking stick if you’d tried. They’d have felt your presence, and would’ve been ready for anything. They were beyond dangerous.” “He’s right,” Kellar agreed. “As good as it might have felt to try, you would have died, and none of us would be here now, talking to each other. You did the best thing possible by splitting them up and leading one away. It allowed us to defeat old Reznick, and survive. And, it allowed us to eventually take out the younger one.” “I thought Warren did that.” “He did. You could say we were a one-two punch.” Kellar tried a little grin. “Please don’t regret anything. You didn’t know, and that was a good thing. It all turned out the way it was supposed to.” “Are you all right, sir? We thought you would want to know.” “Yes, Tobyn, I’m glad you guys told me, and I’m fine. If anything, I feel more satisfaction in the part my wolf played, and in knowing those shifter-killers no longer walk the earth.” A weak smile followed before he closed his eyes. “Grandfather?” Kellar asked after a minute had passed. Fendral came back from wherever his mind had gone. “Yes?” “Can I ask you one more thing? I know you’re tired.” “Ask me anything you want.” “Okay… I was just wondering. Now that your condition is improving, do you intend to take back your responsibilities one day?” “You mean as Alpha? God, no.” Fendral reaction was strong. “It was an honor I abused, and I would never try to reclaim it.” “Sir….” “I have no regrets, Kellar. I’ve changed. I lived and survived as a wolf, and I made it through my own darkness. I’m ready to move forward, not back. I may not want to be alone anymore, but being Alpha again holds no appeal for me.” “Well, that’s good, and I’m happy you no longer want to isolate yourself. We really want you in our lives. It’s just, once the pack members find out I’m your grandson….” “They’ll expect you to become Alpha. It is your birthright.” “He doesn’t want it,” Tobyn said, reaching over and giving Kellar’s hand a squeeze. He appreciated the show of solidarity from his mate. Fendral looked first at Tobyn, and then at his grandson. It was a piercing gaze he leveled. “Care to explain why not?” Kellar swallowed. “I get that it’s an honor, sir, but I’m a healer.” “Why can’t you be both?” “That’s what Miss Sybil said, that I could be both, and I know it’s true, but I… I don’t think alphas, ah… I think the leadership council is what Morningstar needs… not me. Tobyn and I plan on searching out as many packs as we can, and set up a network of communication. We’re doing well here, but shifters could still be dying out there.” “It sounds like you’re taking on a different responsibility. A bigger one.” “Exactly,” Tobyn interjected. “How much can we expect from one person? All Kellar does is give of himself, over and over again.” Fendral sighed. A deep long one. “I know I’m missing a lot of information about the pack and all that’s been going on. I’m tired, and I want to catch up, but before I go lay down, I want to say something. If you’re looking for support from me, you have it. I barely know you, but you’re my daughter’s son, so I’m in your corner no matter what.” “Thank you, Grandfather. So, you will understand if I decline the honor? You won’t be disappointed in me?” “Are you disappointed in me, after all the mistakes I’ve made?” “No, sir. I’m in awe of the man I’ve talked to today.” “Well, there’s your answer. I’m in awe of the men I’ve talked to today.” He smiled, and Kellar felt the warmth of it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t sit up any longer. My muscles are complaining so if I could use your bed again, I’d appreciate it.” “It’s your bed now, sir,” Tobyn said as Kellar assisted the man as he rose stiffly from the chair. “And I am thankful for that. You’re not going to stop calling me sir, are you?” Tobyn grinned. “Probably not.” Fendral chuckled. “Do you know if my home is still empty? It was a few years back when I approached it.” “Nothing’s been changed. It’s been maintained ever since you left it.” They all made their way down the hall, and Kellar and Tobyn exchanged looks over the elder man’s head. “I want him to stay with us, babe.” “So do I. He doesn’t need to be rambling around that big house of his. We’re his family now.” “You’re the best.” “I am, but you’re going to need to convince him.” “Grandfather,” Kellar said as they helped the man sit on the bed. “You don’t have to decide anything now, but we‘d really like it if you’d live here with us… with your family. We just want you to know that.” Fendral laid his upper body down, and Kellar helped him swing his legs up. It was easy to see he would be out like a light in minutes, possibly seconds. “Thank you, boys. I’ll give it some thought, and we’ll talk later.” He yawned before his eyes closed, and Kellar was proven right. His grandfather may have wanted to have their conversation, and take advantage of having a voice again, but it had taken its toll. Flickering, Kellar was reasonably pleased with what he saw. There was no need to be quiet leaving the room, but they were anyway. “I sure didn’t expect to hear all that,” Tobyn said once they returned to the kitchen. “Did it shake you up like it did me?” “Crap, Tobyn. I still don’t know where the man found the will to hang on all this time. He didn’t just lose his mate… hell, that’s enough to make a shifter wolf out all by itself. On top of that, he lost his three kids, and he carried all that guilt about how he handled their wanting to search out their mates. Fuck. I hope I have half his strength one day.” Tobyn looked up from clearing the table. ‘Sometimes you really are the dumb one.” “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing… it’s not what you did… it’s how you see yourself. Sometimes you piss me off.” “Really?” “No. Yes… sometimes, yes. I just wish you would give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve gone through a lot too, with that shit childhood you had. You shifted, having no idea who you really were and what was going on, and you didn’t go bonkers. Fuck, the control you showed.” “Lots of kids lose their parents, Tobyn.” “See, there you go again. Yes, that’s true, but you’re a shifter… we’re pack animals. And you survived most of your life without one of your own.” “But….” “But, nothing. You built a life all by yourself, worked in the human world, developed your skills as a healer, and you didn’t suffer any depression. That takes strength… alpha strength.” “I only did what I had to.” Kellar didn’t like that Tobyn was so seriously annoyed. “God, you are so exasperating sometimes. You should see yourself when you’re healing. It’s like you’re giving every ounce of everything you have, and you wade in every time with no hesitation. You always do that, like you did with Vega. You accomplish miracle after miracle and act like it’s no big deal. I know how hard that was for you, to stand in front of the entire Vega pack and make that speech… that’s fucking strength.” Tobyn dropped their cutlery into the sink with a loud clatter. “Are you mad at me, babe?” “No. God, no… I just… I’m sorry. I love you so much and sometimes….” “Sometimes, what?” Kellar joined his mate at the sink. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Can we forget what I said? I didn’t mean to come off angry. What we heard from Fendral this morning was so sad, and… there’s no way I could survive losing you. I could never be that strong. As strong as you and Fendral are. I guess it’s an alpha thing.” “Tobyn, please. Don’t think like that, because it’s not true. I see you as the strongest, most determined person I know, and I’m not just saying it. Don’t worry… I get where this is coming from. Come on.” He took Tobyn’s hand. “Let’s go sit in the sunshine. This has been quite a day already.” “That’s a great idea,” Tobyn said with a sheepish smile. “I got a little carried away… sorry.” “Nothing to be sorry for. You just said you loved me so much it drove you crazy.” “I didn’t say it drove me crazy, I said you did.” “Semantics, babe. It’s the same thing,” Kellar said smugly as they walked out into the backyard. “You drive me crazy too, and it’s the best feeling ever.” Kellar led his mate to the picnic table where they sat across from each other, hands still entwined. It was a gorgeous day: peaceful, sunny, and warm. “You know what’s weird?” Kellar asked after they sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the peace only nature could bestow. “What?” “I feel content.” “Actually, that is weird. I would have thought you’d be anything but.” “You said it yourself. I had a shit childhood, and never really felt connected to anyone or any place. That’s all changed. I have you, and in any world I ever envisioned, that would be enough, but I have so much more. I’m sitting in this beautiful place with you, my grandfather is sleeping inside our house, and my brother is only a five minute walk away. I have a home, a family, a pack of amazing friends, and I have a real memory of my mother. Even if Miss Sybil is wrong, and I never recall anything of my father, it’s enough. I know he fought for my mother and me. I don’t even mind being considered the savior, not that I’m ever going to acknowledge it,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “Okay, that’s more like it. And we have a new location to search.” “Yeah, we do, but about that?” “Oh. I think I know what you’re going to say. You don’t want to leave Fendral. Am I right?” “I can’t. Not till I’m sure he’s thriving, and that could be a month or even months away.” “Okay. I agree. We can wait as long as you want. This way, we’d be here for Warren if he wants to get things started.” “I was thinking the same thing. You’re not disappointed?” “Not in the least. I love that man in there, and he comes first in my eyes too. We quite possibly wouldn’t be here without him. I was shocked to hear he deliberately led the young one away. Facing two Reznicks back then would have been difficult for us, if not impossible.” Tobyn shuddered. “That was our first experience with a hunter.” “I agree. We had enough trouble with one of them. It surprised the hell out of me too, to hear what he did, but with all the earth mother’s done for us, it makes sense he was part of her plan. We’re right aren’t we, to think it’s a plan, and not just a string of coincidences?” “With the journey we’ve had so far, and from what we’ve learned in the last few days, plus all the gifts she’s given us, how can you even ask that, doc?” “My mind still regresses sometimes. I guess it’s from not being raised in a pack. I remember when I actually believed there was no magic in the world.” He shook his head at the thought. It seemed a lifetime ago. “Speaking of the earth mother’s plan, there may have been another purpose for Fendral being around your cabin.” “Such as?” “The only reason I ran in your woods the day we met was because I picked up his scent.” “Oh, hell. That’s right. You told me about that… about scenting the old grey, after I healed your head. Holy crap. We met because of my grandfather. Wait till we tell him. We have so much to thank that man for.” “Him and the earth mother… and Esther.” “That’s right. My grandmother too.” Kellar, in that moment, realized his family may have been missing for most of his life, but they were all responsible for what he had now. It gave him a warm feeling. “You okay, doc?” “Huh? Yeah. Why?” “You went real quiet.” “Oh, yeah, I was just counting my blessings. Tobyn?” Kellar squeezed the hand under his, and stared into his mate's eyes. “Yeah? “I’ve been thinking.” “I know. I’ve been waiting.” “Oh, so you know what I’ve been thinking about then,” Kellar teased. “Yup. You’re thinking about your birthright, and what you should do.” “What… are you some kind of special seer now, like my grandmother was?” “No, doc. I just know you, so spit it out.” Kellar started tapping his fingers on the picnic table top, something he usually didn’t do. He had trouble saying what was on his mind, because once it was out there…. Tobyn reached his idle hand over and placed it on the nervous one. “Well?” Kellar sighed at his mate, and then began to let his tentatively-reached conclusions loose. “Being an alpha could come in handy when we start our search again. We have no idea what we might come up against, but other packs would surely take us seriously if an alpha was at their gate.” “Mm hmmm,” Tobyn agreed. “And our own members are going to expect it once they find out I’m Fendral’s grandson. If I don’t accept it, some, maybe all, are going to have a hard time understanding my reasons. I mean, think about your mom, Miss Sybil, and even Arthur’s reaction, when I said I didn’t want to be alpha. They thought I was nuts. I do want to respect pack traditions, I really do. Besides, my turning it down might put pressure on my grandfather, and while he’s doing all right for now, he’s far from a healthy man. He needs time.” “Right again.” “If I did it… accepted the… position… my heritage… whatever we call it, I wouldn’t want anything to change. I’d still want there to be our same leadership council, hopefully with the addition of Clarence.” “Makes sense.” “So, I would only act in an advisory role, if they needed me, like, if they were at a stalemate or something. I wouldn’t want any involvement in the day to day stuff… I’m a healer.” “Yes, you are.” “Well, how does all that sound to you? Do you think they’d all accept something like that, where I’m only partly involved now and again?” “Kellar, as Alpha, you wouldn’t be asking anyone to accept anything. You are Alpha until you say you’re not, so you’d be telling all of us the way it would work. But, if you’re asking me whether it’s a good solution, I’d say it’s about perfect.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” “Cool. You know the only reason I can even consider it is because I have you at my side.” “I know.” Kellar grinned at Tobyn’s smug look. “Okay, maybe I’ll see what my grandfather thinks about it when he wakes up.” “Another great idea. I think you’ll make the man very happy. No matter what he says, I have no doubt he’d be proud if you continued to represent his and your family in this way.” “Oh, man. I feel better already. This has been weighing on me… a lot. So, do I really smell like clover?” “Uh huh. I thought you knew that.” “It was news to me.” “Hey, what do I smell like to you?” “Heaven… pure heaven.” Tobyn chuckled. “I definitely got me a romantic one.” “And I got me a bossy one… one who lets me think I’m in charge.” “And sometimes I actually let you be in charge. I was being serious, doc. Do I smell like anything to you?” “Oh yeah. You have your own unique blend, but the closest is a plant I use for ear infections.” “Eww… you’re kidding me, right?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m not. It’s called Joe-Pye weed, and it was once used by natives who claimed it cured typhus fever.” “A weed.” Tobyn screwed his face up, making Kellar laugh harder. “It’s only called a weed because it grows wild. Its favorite place is along streams… I’ll show it to you someday, and you can smell it for yourself. It loses its aroma once I dry it. It’s also called Purple Boneset, and it smells kind of like vanilla, but better.” “Better than vanilla? I like that,” Tobyn said, finally smiling. “So, it’s purple then?” “Yup. Come to think of it, the color is identical to red clover blooms, right down to the two tones.” “Identical? See… we’re perfect for each other.” There was a seriousness behind the humor in those heart-stopping eyes, making Kellar’s breath catch. “Yes we are, babe, a match made by the earth mother. So… if I do happen to stand up in front of a crowd and make another one of those ‘alpha’ speeches, would it fire you up like last time?” Tobyn burst out laughing, eyes twinkling. “I’m not gonna lie, mountain man… there’s a good chance it would.” “I can’t ask for any more encouragement than that.” Losing himself in sunlit hazel, he leaned over the table and connected his lips to Tobyn’s. Kellar finally understood who he was, and that he was exactly where life had always meant him to be. He wasn’t some lone shifter. No, he and his mate had a destiny all their own. ~ The End of Book One? ~
  9. 116 points
    KIERAN ~ FAMILY Kieran woke to the now familiar sound of scratching at the bedroom door. Aligned warmly along his spine, Kennedy slept still, the slow rise of pressure from his chest against Kieran’s back, an arm draped protectively around his waist, his hot morning erection lined against the crack of Kieran’s backside. Despite efficient central heating, the air in the room held a crisp December coldness and Kennedy’s toasty nakedness felt too good an opportunity to waste. But as he began to turn, Kennedy’s arm tightened around him, the other squeezing down to line up his erection, before reaching around Kieran’s body and grabbing lube and a condom from the nightstand. “May I?” came Kennedy’s hot breath in his ear. Without replying, Kieran waited until the sheath had been rolled on before pushing back onto Kennedy, still loosened up from the night before, but nevertheless experiencing the initial, delicious burn as Kennedy entered him. Kennedy followed up with a low grunt before biting Kieran’s neck and shoulder, while pushing himself all the way inside, before beginning their slow dance which only got better with time. Since they’d lived together, Kieran had found out a number of things about Kennedy, and one was that he relished morning sex, loved when one of them roused the other from sleep using sex, waking them to the new day like a steam train leaving the station, gradually building speed in their bump and grind, both brought to wakefulness with fast breaths and mounting pleasure. Without losing the momentum, Kieran turned his head so he could take Kennedy’s mouth, his orgasm almost upon him. Kennedy came first, ramming hard, filling Kieran with his warmth. Instead of stopping, he kept going, hitting Kieran expertly on his sweet spot, until Kieran exploded into Kennedy’s hand, sparks and dark spots flashing across his vision. “Merry Christmas,” Kennedy managed to breathe out, after carefully withdrawing, wrapping the condom in tissue and dropping the item into the bin. “You can say that again.” Both lay still a moment, chests rising and falling as their breaths normalised, staring at the ceiling. Until the soft scratching and whimpering at their bedroom door began again. Kennedy chuckled; a deep, beautiful sound. “I wonder who that could be?” Ed, their good-natured Cockerpoo had been an instant hit with everyone. Kennedy drew the line at letting him sleep in the bedroom with them, at maintaining their modicum of privacy. But Kieran knew eventually the charms of their ginger curly-haired, sad-eyed canine rescue pup would wear him down. “Can I let him in?” asked Kieran. “It is Christmas, after all.” Kennedy gently shook his head and huffed, but a fond smile had settled on his face. “Go on, then.” Without hesitation, Kieran sprinted naked for the door, and yanked on the handle. Instantly, the fiery ball of dynamite scrambled into the room, first running rings around Kieran’s ankles before leaping onto the bed and heading straight for Kennedy. When Kieran joined them back in bed, fearless Ed had already started licking Kennedy’s face, with Kennedy laughing, helpless to restrain the excited pup. Kieran took a moment to enjoy the scene; a usually in control Kennedy allowing himself to be smothered with affection was a sight worth paying for. Something fundamental had changed in his man, he had mellowed. Yes, the hard-assed businessman still appeared, usually in the mornings when they drove to work together, but when Kennedy arrived home, he seemed to throw off that professional mantle and relax into himself. With a supreme effort of will, he’d even made a point of limiting the number of times he checked his phone over the weekend. Just as Ed calmed down and settled on the quilt, there came a knock at the door. “Are you boys decent?” came Claire’s voice, pushing the door open a crack but not entering. “As decent as we’ll ever be,” said Kennedy, laughing. “Merry Christmas, Mum.” Kennedy’s parents had kept their promise and flown over on the twenty-first of December bringing Reagan, a very subdued Bernie, and their three boys, to spend Christmas and New Year with them. At first Kennedy had balked at the idea of the full house, of accommodating seven extra souls. But they’d all been brilliant—Kennedy’s three extra bedrooms and spare bathroom helping matters—with the boys fighting over walking Ed to the park every day; his mother and sister having dinner on the table one night when they arrived home after work, leaving Bernie and Jefferson in charge of drinks. Kennedy’s house had never seen such an abundance of life. After a couple of days, Bernie had finally chilled, and one night, over beers, he and Reagan told them the story of how they’d decided to give things another go, how Bernie had quit his job in Melbourne in November to make a clean break and had taken a new one in Singapore, so he could spend more time with Reagan and the boys. From what Kennedy told Kieran, Reagan remained quietly optimistic. “Merry Christmas, Claire,” added Kieran, as an impeccably dressed Claire opened their door, and stood in the doorway. “Merry Christmas to you both. Look, I know it’s early, but I’m starting breakfast right away. After that, we can open presents, get that out the way, too. Right now, the boys are still sleeping, but I’ve no doubt they’ll be awake soon and demanding to open them. Then Kieran, Reagan and I have a whole heap of table arrangements, food preparation, and cooking to manage for lunch, so I’m going to need you to take your father, Bernie, and that little rascal who should not be on your bed, down to the local pub. Get you out of the house. I’ll set Reagan on putting the boys in front of the television to keep them occupied. What time are our guests arriving?” “Around one o’clock,” answered Kieran. “Good. In which case we’ll aim to eat at two. What are you laughing at, Kennedy?” Kieran turned to see Kennedy chuckling beside him. “Nothing, Sergeant Major Mum,” said Kennedy, before turning to Kieran with a sly grin. “My mother, the perennial organiser. Whatever you do, listen very carefully to her instructions in the kitchen and do not—I repeat—do not deviate from the plan in any way. People have died for less.” “Don’t you go listening to him, Kieran. He never did a thing he was told growing up—” “Yes, and look at me now.’ “Don’t talk back to your mother. Now go get showered and dressed. I need you downstairs in fifteen,” said Claire, before stopping and addressing Ed. “And you, young man, come down with me right now. If you want feeding and know what’s good for you.” Ed stopped licking himself and froze, staring at Claire, aware he was being addressed, before sitting up, jumping off the bed and running out past Kennedy’s mother. “See,” said Claire. “At least someone does what they’re told.” Their bedroom door closed to the pair of them laughing. ***** Kieran answered their doorbell just before one. Dressed in red silk and white furry trimming beneath their warm overcoats—in fancy dress as Santa’s little helpers—Laurie and Steph stood there with carrier bags full of goodies, Laurie almost bursting with excitement. “It’s confirmed, Kieran,” said Laurie, hugging him, unable to contain her delight. “All going well, we’re looking at a July baby.” “And we agreed to tell you, Kieran, but we’re keeping things hush hush at the moment,” said Steph, with a loaded glance at Laurie. “Just to be on the safe side. So no big announcements today, isn’t that right, Laurie?” “I know, I know,” said Laurie. “But Kennedy will suspect as soon as I refuse a drink.” “Then I’ll let him know on the quiet,” said Steph, reaching in and hugging Kieran. “In the meantime, something smells absolutely delicious.” Kieran led them through to the open kitchen and dining room. Reagan ran over and hugged the girls, they’d clearly met before. Claire waved from her sentinel position at the oven. “Oh wow,” said Steph, her mouth dropping open. “This place looks amazing. Looks like somebody gave Kennedy’s house a makeover?” And Kieran had to agree. He peered across the room to find Kennedy by the fridge door pulling out a bottle of champagne, smiling at him and nodding. Every time Kieran entered the room, his spirits lifted seeing their beautiful Christmas tree, sparkling decorations, and the tastefully decorated table overseen by Claire. And Kennedy clearly approved. “Champagne, ladies?” called Kennedy, holding up the bottle. Before Laurie could answer, Steph jumped in. “We’re both still on our special diets. So no alcohol for us today. But why don’t you put some of this sparkling ginger ale we’ve brought into a couple of champagne glasses and nobody will be any the wiser.” And so the party began. By one-thirty, as the house continued to fill with the delicious aromas of cooking, all their guests had arrived. Claire shooed them all out of the way—including Kieran—into their living room to chat, leaving Claire and Reagan to ready food for the gathering. And they certainly had a crowd. Figuring how to fit sixteen around Kennedy’s ten-seater table had been a challenge. But Kennedy had found a couple of folding trestle tables and picnic chairs, and they’d formed a large square so—in true family style—everyone faced into the centre of the table. Kieran’s mum arrived last, together with his sister Jules and Curtis, the boyfriend. At first, his mum seemed a little nervous and out of place, but after a couple of champagne cocktails she relaxed, chatting to Len, Steph and Laurie as though they were old friends. Even Kieran’s brother, Sean, made a short appearance for lunch although he had to bail at five to visit his latest fling. At one point, Kieran sat back and gazed around the table, at his old and new family and friends, and felt a swell of pride. Just then, a warm hand landed on his thigh. “Well done, love.” “Me? Thank your mum and sister, they did most of the cooking.” “You know what I mean. None of this would have happened, had it not been for you.” Kieran smiled, turned to Kennedy and pecked him on the lips. “We should make this a tradition. Your kitchen suits this kind of occasion brilliantly.” “Whatever you want, Kieran.” During dessert, Ed, who had been confined to the living room, was brought out and, in a display of rebellion, took a fancy to a particular bauble high up on the Christmas tree, managing to jump up and topple the whole thing onto Jefferson, much to the squeals of amusement from Reagan’s kids. After they’d cleared most of the table and set the dishwasher going, Jefferson and Bernie had offered to make coffee or tea for everyone. Soft Christmas tunes played in the living room, as everyone made themselves comfortable. During a lull in the various conversations, Steph, sitting the other side of the room, addressed Claire. “So come on, Claire. I think we’re all intrigued. How did you and Jefferson meet?” “Oh, shush. Nobody wants to know.” After a few encouraging noises, Claire relented. “Oh, well. If you insist. I know Kennedy’s heard this story before, but I met his father at an embassy ball. Dragged along by my mother and father, I didn’t want to be there, even though the embassy were supposed to put on something of a spectacle for their guests. I think some lower ranking member of royalty had arrived for one reason or another. Of course, Jeff’s family were well-known, his father being head of the consulate, but I’d never met any of them. So when this nice young man approached me, asked me if I could waltz—which of course, I could—we took a spin around the floor. Well, by the third dance, I knew. Jefferson was the one for me.” Everyone made pleasant noises at the end of the story, and Kieran gazed over at his mother, who caught his eye, smiled sadly and shrugged. Not everyone got to have their happy ending. Once again, small conversations hummed around the room. “When did you know?” asked Kieran, snuggled into Kennedy. “Know what?” “That you wanted me. I mean, when did you really know?” Kennedy appeared to consider this. “You know, I think it was on my stroll up the lane in Okinawa, when you were waiting for me. I saw you standing there, grinning at me as I approached, and, I don’t know, something inside me just clicked. And then, when I got to you, and you gave me a hug outside that Buddha bar—” “Outside the what?” said Kieran, turning to face Kennedy. “That bar. The Giant Buddha lounge, or something like that. The one you were standing beneath when you hugged the life out of me. Only remember because the bar light popped on just as we hugged. What about you?” But Kieran’s mind went back to that evening and later to the night in the hotel, the one branded in Kieran’s brain forever, the first time they’d made love. And all this time, he hadn’t realised he’d been standing beneath the giant Buddha bar in Okinawa waiting for Kennedy to arrive—waiting for his destiny? “Hey, Kieran. Are you okay?” “More than,” said Kieran, turning and kissing him on the cheek. “I love you, Kennedy Grey.” “Love you, too. But for the record, I said it first.”
  10. 114 points
    KENNEDY ~ LOST For the first time in his life, Kennedy felt lost. Which was odd in itself, because everything concerning the merger had come together beautifully, better than anyone could have dreamed. Erin, Karl and the rest of the management team had been stoked at the idea, had loudly voiced their approval at their first meeting on his return. In the past, Erin had often questioned why they’d not spread the wings of their expertise into the domestic security market, and now, a ready-made, successful company would be joining their ranks not as an acquisition, but as a partnership, with the company’s talent working alongside them. Even Sloan had quietly nodded his approval, although Kennedy knew him well enough to recognise the stalwart countenance of a defeated man. Before long, Kennedy would need to have the chat with Sloan. The last thing he wanted was to have the man walk and, moreover, Sloan needed to know why. With meeting after meeting happening—some at ungodly hours—he’d had little time to think about anything else. And usually work provided an excellent distraction. Not any more, though. Things had slowed. Sometimes during meetings, his thoughts would drift back two months, to a certain naked man heading for the shower after a session or two of mutually satisfying sex; or to Kieran’s body laid out on the beach, beautiful, in mouth-watering scarlet swimming briefs, soaking up the Bali sun. But more than all of those, he missed Kieran’s sparkling eyes, and incredible smile that lit up in amusement, grinning playfully either at something Kennedy had said or done, usually incorrectly. And the thought kept hitting him hard, punching a hole through his chest, especially when he arrived home late each night, when he stood for a moment in the threshold of his lonely house, knowing he could have had everything. And all he’d needed to do was ask. Ask if Kieran would like to be a part of his life. They could have stayed in touch, met up occasionally for drinks and dinner, seen how things went in the real world. But Kennedy had made his cold, plain intentions clear from the outset, something he always did in his business life, and now he felt empty; eviscerated. Mainly because Kieran had honoured the very rules Kennedy had damned himself with. Moreover, would Kennedy be happy having Kieran around occasionally, or did he want something more? Hell, who was he kidding? Could he handle casual with Kieran? Not on your life; the question didn’t even need asking. But, before he made any personal call to action, would Kieran even be interested? “What do you want, Kennedy?” came the gentle American female voice next to him, a soft hand landing on his sleeve. “You know, I have absolutely no idea,” came Kennedy’s detached voice, from somewhere inside him. “Me either. Let’s get one of each and then we can all share.” When Kennedy raised his eyes, he saw the business people around him, seated at the restaurant table, chatting amiably. Kyle Crystal, the Vice President of Cold Steel, sat opposite with his wife, Jerry; Sloan and his wife, Mary-Anne sitting next to them, and Giorgio sitting to his left. Kelly-Anne Marie Milletto sat next to him, on his right, her hand almost possessively resting on his sleeve. Only Kennedy had no significant other to bring. As usual. Probably five or six years older than Kennedy, Kelly-Anne Marie had amazing perception. Giorgio had been spot on with his assessment of her. Kennedy also made eye contact with the young, blond, perfectly sculpted waiter to Mary-Anne’s right, whose smile and prolonged eye contact with Kennedy could only mean one thing. “One of each sounds great,” said Kennedy, pulling the small laminated dessert menu up to his face, to cover his view. The over-attentiveness of the waiter had begun to rankle. “There’re only six of them, after all.” “I’m all for that,” said Mary-Anne, grinning at her mother. “Custard apple crumble, apricot layer cake, brandy creme brûlée, New York cheesecake, chocolate brownie with caramel ice cream and English spotted dick—whatever that is. Yuck. Sounds like an STD. Sloan here’s not really a dessert person.” “Yes. I’ll pass, if that’s okay? Until it’s time to order coffee.” Kennedy noticed Sloan whisper a few words to his wife, peck her on the cheek and then head for the restaurant door. No doubt he was heading outside for a cigarette. With the chill November air and the heavy rain, only an ardent smoker would brave the weather. Maybe now was Kennedy’s opportunity. He waited for desserts to arrive, for everyone to sample the delights, before making his move. Once again the young waiter stood to Kennedy’s left—in between him and Milletto—to deliver the food, subtly rubbing his thigh up against Kennedy’s arm, as he placed each dish onto the table. A year ago, Kennedy might have been flattered, might have even taken the young guy up on his advances, but that switch had been flicked off. Once everyone had sampled the sweets, Giorgio wanted to order coffee, so Kennedy excused himself from the table to go and fetch Sloan. He found his colleague stood under the restaurant canopy, overlooking the carpark. When Kennedy moved to stand next to him, Sloan nodded unsmiling before continuing to stare out at the heavy rain clattering on the regiments of cars. “Popular tonight,” said Sloan. For an amused moment, Kennedy realised he and Sloan rarely talked about anything but work issues. “Me?” said Kennedy, mystified. “You mean with our colleagues and their other halves?” Sloan snorted and simply nodded his head at somewhere past Kennedy. When Kennedy turned, he noticed the young waiter who had been flirting with him, standing twenty feet away, leaning against a wall beneath a car canopy, smoking a cigarette. On noticing them, he raised a hand in greeting. Kennedy waved back. “You were here first. Think he might be checking you out, not me,” said Kennedy. “If only I were gay, things would be so much easier,” said Sloan, puffing a plume of smoke into the night. Kennedy was not about to let that one go without a comment. “You think it’s easy?” said Kennedy, folding his arms. “So here’s a few home truths. First off, Sloan, with a face and body like yours, you’d have seen a shitload of action. But the all-you-can-eat coming out buffet soon gets old, and eventually even us gays want to settle down—most of us, anyway. And right then, gay or straight, we’re all on the same playing field. But please don’t think for one minute that being gay and in a relationship is any easier. You met Patrick. What part of our relationship looked easy to you?” Sloan laughed. One thing Kennedy liked about him was that he’d never had a problem being around Kennedy and Patrick as a couple. But even Sloan could not refrain from commenting with irritation on Patrick’s total lack of interest in their business and their significant successes. “So,” said Sloan, after a moment’s contemplation. “I suppose congratulations are in order, Kennedy. You’ve finally managed to ship off your pain-in-the-ass Chief Operating Officer. Not only to the other side of the world, but to the in-laws, no less. Bravo.” “Is that really how you see this?” “Is there any other way?” “Christ, Sloan. Wake up and smell the cinnamon bagel. You’re the one person in my office who keeps me on my toes. Everyone else does what I tell them. You’re also one of the few who understands how all the departments drive the business forward, someone who doesn’t bury themselves in their own area of specialism. Your father-in-law needs to see that, needs to witness your drive and ambition first hand. A year from now, you’ll be one of a very short list of people who has gotten beneath the skin of the new, wider company. And around that time, we’ll be ready to go public. Right then, we’re going to need someone charismatic to romance investors. I’m not giving you a prison sentence, Sloan, I’m handing you a golden ticket.” “So you’re not just getting rid of me?” “Say the word, and I’ll keep you here, send Karl instead.” Sloan peered sidelong at Kennedy, before turning back and puffing out a trail of smoke. “No. I’m in for the long haul. Besides, Mary-Anne’s looking forward to spending time with her mother.” “And the other plus is you’ll be able to fly your kids over to visit you, take them to Disneyland and Universal. That should earn you a few brownie points in the absent dad stakes. And you can do it all without the ex breathing down your neck, or turning up screaming in the office reception.” “Oh God,” said Sloan, turning to Kennedy, his expression mortified. “You heard about that?” “No, I heard it. My office backs onto reception, remember? Don’t worry, Sloan. I’ve got your back. We all have our crosses to bear. And anyway, seems like you’ve fallen on your feet with Mary-Anne.” “You know what? She’s it for me, Kennedy. Yeah, I know she’s a lot younger, but this is the woman I want to spend my life with. She’s probably the first person who actually understands me and will tell me if she thinks I’m being an idiot or can see that I’m in the wrong.” Like mother, like daughter, thought Kennedy, while Sloan continued speaking. “I know I’ve acquired something of a reputation, having married three times. But what people don’t know—not really something a man likes to admit to—is that my first wife cheated on me a year into our marriage, and her best friend who’d been the chief bridesmaid, someone who stood by me through the messy break-up and subsequent divorce, became my second wife. Total disaster. Our two kids were the only good things to come out of the catastrophe. Hindsight is a beautiful thing and only now I can see what a mistake I made. A wise soul once told me mistakes fall into three categories. Ones you simply can’t fix and have to live with; others you can if you really want to; and some you don’t want to make right, because the mistake has given you something better.” “Someone recently told me something similar about problems.” Sloan laughed and stubbed out his cigarette. “Same thing, I suppose. I’m going back inside. You coming?” “In a minute.” Kennedy needed a moment alone, staring out at the heavy sheets of rain. Maybe someone like Sloan could put problems and mistakes into one pot and call them the same. But they were not. Problems generally occur due to external factors, often beyond our control, randomly, often unpredictable and unaccountable. But we own mistakes, they are personal to each of us, and really—if we are going to be honest—they’re ours to decide whether to fix, even if we enlist the help of others to do so. And the simple truth? He’d made a terrible mistake. His dilemma? Could this one be fixed? After a deep breath, he pulled out his phone and checked the time: eight-ten. Straight afterwards, he scrolled down his list of contacts. After pushing the call option for one, he waited a few seconds until a familiar voice answered. “Hey, Leonard. You up for a drink later? I need to run something by you.”
  11. 113 points
    Thanks to Jim for editing! I’d never liked hospitals, but they didn’t bother me. Not really. Unless I counted the time they told me my mom was going to die, there had been no traumatic experiences. And even then, that hadn’t been a real hospital, but a specialist’s office with cozy furniture. Hospitals didn’t scare me until the day that I hadn’t gone back to Nevada with my grandma and I found out that I could lose my father in one. Luke’s message had been difficult to understand with all of the static, but from what I did get out of it, I knew there’d been an accident, and it was Eddie who was in the hospital. My first thought was to call Luke back, but he didn’t answer, so my next move was to call Eddie’s cell phone, just in case. The call went straight to voice mail. When Seth found me I was on the floor with my bag, pulling the list of numbers Jase had given me out from behind the cover of my mom’s journal, where I’d placed it. I couldn’t even properly greet Seth. I was too busy panicking when Jase didn’t answer either. Seth didn’t quite understand what was wrong with me. He was too busy wondering why I wasn’t on my feet with my arms around him, and rightfully so. But as soon as I explained what I could, he’d explained that there were two hospitals between the airport and home, and we could check both of them. I was relieved to have help, but no less frightened as I wondered what kind of accident had occurred and how bad Eddie was hurt. Getting to Seth’s truck felt like it took forever, and once we were in it, I couldn’t seem to stop worrying, asking a hundred questions about how far away the hospitals were and how long it would take to get there. When I started asking Seth questions that he didn’t know the answers to, like what had happened to Eddie, he instructed me to keep calling everyone’s phones, just in case. The task kept me distracted, at least until we reached the first emergency room, and I decided that if Eddie was anywhere, it had to be there. It was the same place he’d taken me after the baseball incident. Seth was with me when I pushed my way past a line of people to the nearest desk. Naturally, I thought my problems were worse than anyone else’s, but the nearest nurse, who was busy speaking to another family, disagreed. “If you’d just take a seat...” she said to me, and I acted like I hadn’t even heard her. “I just need to know if someone was brought in here,” I explained. “He’s my dad.” “Your dad?” “Yes, Eddie Soarda.” “Okay, take a seat for minute...” “I don’t want to take a seat,” I informed her. “Look,” Seth said, placing a hand on my shoulder so I’d know he was there with me. “If you could just check for us, please. If he’s not here we have another hospital to check.” I was not pleased when she started telling Seth that we’d still have to wait, and I found myself looking around, frustrated, and wondering how much they’d like it if I started checking rooms myself. I looked down the hall where I’d been taken after getting hit in the head with a baseball, noting things seemed generally quiet. Then, I turned towards two double doors, closed and labeled emergency. I went towards those doors, frowning when I found that they were locked. I looked through the small, rectangular window, not at all sure what I was looking for. Anything, I guess. But what I found was two men, walking towards me; the first an older, baldheaded man in a white coat and hospital scrubs, and the second was one of the two people that I’d said goodbye to at the house that morning. I lifted my fist, and started pounding on the metal frame, not caring that it hurt my hand. “Jase! Jase! Will someone open this fucking door?” I spun around, not liking the way that an agitated male nurse was coming towards me. He was bigger than me, taller and wider, but I held my ground and a second later, Seth was there with me. “Open the door!” I ordered. “My family’s back there!” “Sir, you’re going to have to come over here,” the big grumpy nurse informed me, just as Seth took up my position of knocking on the door, yelling for Jase, trying to get his attention. “My dad’s back there,” I argued, and the man sighed. “What’s his name?” “Eddie Soarda,” I responded irritably. It felt like I’d already been through this. “Why don’t you come with me and I’ll check for you?” he offered. Helpful, maybe, but not good enough. “Rory,” Seth said, tapping my shoulder, and I spun around just in time to see one of the doors swing open, and I was faced with the bald doctor; and Jase, who seemed focused on Seth until he saw me standing there. I watched his eyes widen momentarily in surprise, a sure sign that he hadn’t expected me; but rather than ask me what I was doing there, Jase waved me forward, and the next thing I knew I had my arms around him, clinging tightly. I think part of it was because I was relieved to see him, and the other part of it had to do with me wanting to be on the right side of those doors when they closed again. “Are you alright?” Jase asked me when I didn’t let go, and I forced myself to nod. I let go when I realized that the doctor was walking away. “Hey!” I objected. “What’s going on with Eddie?” “Come this way,” Jase said calmly, leading me back down the hall, where he’d come from; and when Seth remained at the doors, looking uncertain, Jase added, “Seth, you can come, too.” Seth nodded, but still didn’t move as he looked to me. Obviously, just hearing it from Jase wasn’t good enough. “Please stay,” I said, not really sure what I was in for and truly not wanting Seth to disappear on me again; and that’s all I had to stay before he followed us. “Jase?” I said, rather impatiently. “Let’s go sit down, okay, Rory?” he replied. “Luke’s waiting.” “Can you just tell me if Eddie’s okay?” I asked, just as we passed a another smaller, private waiting room. Seth paused there, and I watched him stare in at the tall, dark-haired man who occupied the room on his own, tapping at a cell phone as he paced, obviously frustrated with the lack of service bars he was getting. But what really got my attention, was that there were tears running down his face and his free hand was shaking at his side. Even worse, there were bloody, large stains over his casual button-up shirt and jeans. I studied the funny look on my boyfriend’s face as he suddenly turned and headed for the room, only to be cut off by Jase’s hand on his shoulder. “Seth,” Jase said firmly, suddenly looking concerned. “Please come this way.” There was a rather serious look exchanged between Seth and Jase, but Seth complied, hurrying away from the waiting room with Jase, just as the crying man looked up, and glared. “What’s going on?” I demanded. If they were trying to scare the hell out of me in a very frustrating way, they were succeeding. Jase only placed a hand on my shoulder, leading both Seth and me away. I looked at Jase, and Seth, both of them seeming to know something I didn’t, and that only irritated me more. “Will someone please talk to me?” I demanded, feeling rather frightened by their behavior; but Jase simply continued to push us down the hall, seeming unnerved about something. I found myself looking over my shoulder, back towards the room where that man had been, and I became startled when I saw him standing outside of the room now, watching us. “Who is that?” I asked. “In a minute, Rory,” Jase replied, his voice so stern that it didn’t even sound like him. I’m sure I looked terrified to him when he glanced at me, because his expression softened then. “Eddie’s alright,” he told me, and that was enough to calm some of my nerves. “Okay,” I said slowly. “So what happened? Where is he?” “Rory?” I spun around to find Luke rushing towards us out of another small waiting room with a bench-shaped sofa, a large wooden coffee table, and two chairs. He reached us, stopped directly in front of me, and just stared, his eyes and nose looking red, and his composure seeming flustered. “You got my message,” he said simply. “I thought you’d already be gone.” “Oh,” Jase suddenly said, as if he just remembered something. “Rory, your grandma--is she waiting?” “What?” I asked, confused by the question. “No, she’s on the plane.” “She didn’t come with you?” Luke asked, sounding annoyed. I cocked my head at him. “Why would she?” Seth seemed to understand the situation better than anyone as he looked between all of our confused faces. “Rory got your message after he got off the plane,” Seth explained to Luke, and Luke’s red eyes drifted back to me, and he stared again. Jase looked at me, but didn’t seem all that surprised. I tried to give Luke a small smile. “You got off the plane?” he asked me. I nodded, but frowned. This was not the homecoming that I’d been hoping for. “Can we see Eddie?” I asked, turning back to Jase. There would be time for pleasantries later. Besides, it wasn’t feeling pleasant at all, having one of us missing. But Luke didn’t seem to want to wait, and I grunted as he unexpectedly lunged forward, hitting my chest hard as he wrapped his arms so tightly around me that I couldn’t even hug him back. When he pulled back, he punched my shoulder. “Ouch!” I objected, startled to find him glaring at me. “You never should have got on that plane in the first place!” he informed me. “That was seriously fucked up.” “Okay,” I said slowly, not in the mood to argue with him. Jase looked over his shoulder, and I followed his eyes to where the guy with blood on his clothes was still glaring at us. “Let’s go in here,” Jase insisted, corralling us all into the small waiting room. I frowned at Seth when he kept looking back at that man, as if he fully expected himself to turn around and go over there. “Who is that guy?” I asked again, this whole situation becoming very confusing to me. I hadn’t even figured out what had happened to Eddie yet. “And where is Eddie?” Jase sighed as he broke away from Seth and Luke and led me over to the sofa. “We can’t see him yet, Rory. He’s alive, and...” “Alive?” I responded dramatically. “Alive is all you’ve got? All that means is better than dead!” As far as I was aware, alive was a temporary situation for everyone, and the word itself was not a comfortable one. “Have you even seen him?” “No,” Jase replied carefully. “He’s okay, though, Rory. So far they’ve told us he’s awake, and he’s responsive. The car was totaled. He has some pretty bad breaks. Right now, they think something might be wrong with his back--nothing major. It’s probably nothing, but they’re checking him out.” “It was a car accident?” I asked quietly, feeling like I was getting this information backwards. “It was taking him a little long to get home after dropping you off,” Jase explained, and then paused for a moment, obviously disturbed by something. “Jase called Eddie’s phone, and a paramedic answered it,” Luke explained, taking a seat on the other side of Jase. “Oh shit,” Seth suddenly said, and we regarded him curiously. He looked at me to explain. “Just when I was getting to the airport the radio mentioned an accident; they said there were like four cars involved, but I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry, Rory.” “You wouldn’t have known,” I said quietly. “That was the accident,” Luke said, matter-of-factly. “There were cops here, saying that Eddie was hit by someone who ran a red light. There were two more cars behind him that couldn’t stop in time.” I was staring at Seth, noting the way that something about this news disturbed him, and I watched my boyfriend exchange another look with Jase. “That man back there,” I said. “Who was he?” “What man?” Luke asked. “Guys,” Jase said. “Let’s not worry about anyone else right now. Someone should be here soon to tell us if we can see Eddie...” “Seth?” I questioned, cutting Jase off. Seth was frowning, but his eyes didn’t leave mine for very long moments as he obviously struggled to tell me something. “Seth?” I said again. “I know him,” Seth finally said, and Jase sighed. He obviously didn’t approve, but he didn’t object to Seth continuing, either. “That was Aaron’s dad, Rory.” “Keslin? Where?” Luke demanded, and before he could stand up, Jase had his hand and was holding him down. I was so busy staring at Seth, putting things together in my head that apparently, he already had, that it took me a few moments to realize that Jase had grabbed my hand, too. But it didn’t matter, as I pictured the crying man with the cell phone and the blood on his clothes, because I was too stunned to move, anyway. That’s why I was grateful that Luke was suddenly asking the questions that I couldn’t, even if he sounded pissed as hell while doing it. “Were they there?” Luke was glaring at Jase, who clearly, had wanted to avoid this conversation. “From what I know, the Keslins...” “The whole family?” Luke asked. “Yes,” Jase replied. “They were coming from the airport, too.” “So... what, they were behind Eddie?” Luke asked. “No. They took another exit.” “They ran the light!” Luke said accusingly. “Jase?” “Luke, let’s let the police sort it out,” Jase insisted. “Right now...” “Who was driving?” Luke demanded. “Just tell me who was driving.” Jase fell silent, and that seemed to be answer enough for Luke as he pulled his hand away from Jase and defensively crossed his arms. “That fucking figures,” he hissed. “Is everyone okay?” I asked, and Luke seemed to sober momentarily as he regarded Jase expectantly. Jase turned his head, though, to face me. “I honestly don’t know.” I dropped my head into my hands, closing my eyes. It was bad enough having to worry about Eddie, but as I thought of the entire Keslin family being involved in an accident I felt entirely overwhelmed. I hated a lot of things about Aaron Keslin. I’m sure I’d find more things to hate him for if he’d caused an accident that hurt Eddie; but thinking of the blood on Mr. Keslin’s clothes... I couldn’t help feeling frightened for Aaron, too. “Well,” I said quietly. “Mr. Keslin looked okay, right? I mean, maybe...” I trailed off, not even sure what to say. I shouldn’t even be thinking about the Keslins, I decided. Eddie was in this hospital. And he was hurt. And I hadn’t felt so helpless since I’d watched my mom wither away right in front of me. I felt hands on my shoulders and looked back at Seth, who’d walked around the couch to stand behind me, looking both worried and reassuring at the same time. I wondered what he thought about all of this. I suddenly wanted to hug him, wondering if he was as worried about Aaron as much as I was worried about Eddie. “I think I’m gonna go look for something to drink,” Seth said quietly, but the look on his face told me that he was likely going to be searching for more than beverages. I wasn’t about to object to it. “Do you guys want anything?” “I’m kind of thirsty,” I replied, swallowing against a dry throat. “That would be great, Seth,” Jase said. “Thank you.” Seth nodded, and after giving my shoulders a light squeeze he was excusing himself from the room. Jase was standing shortly after his departure. “I’m going to see if I can find out anything else about Eddie,” he announced, and I looked up at him. “I’ll go with you,” I was quick to say. “No,” Jase insisted. “Rory... please, just keep Luke company, alright? If I hear anything I’ll come right back to tell you.” I was going to object to that, but before I could even think about it Jase was out of the room, and Luke was sliding across the sofa, reaching for my arm to stop me from following him. “He’s freaking out right now, Rory,” Luke blurted. “Look... I’m worried, too... just, maybe we could let Jase take care of stuff? It makes him feel better. I know Eddie’s your dad, and you’re worried, too, but...” “You guys have known him longer.” “No,” Luke said quickly. “It has nothing to do with that. It’s just, Jase... like I said, he’s freaked out. I think he’s just getting some air. I mean, he just talked to the doctor... Besides, I kinda could use some company. He keeps leaving me here. I mean... I think Eddie’s gonna be okay. I just...” “You don’t have to be reassuring, Luke,” I cut him off. “I think we both have the right to freak out a little.” He sighed. “Good, because I’m fuckin’ freaked. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. I swear to god if Keslin’s not already dead I’ll kill him if Eddie’s not okay.” I looked over at Luke, feeling a little unsettled by his threat, but then I realized that he probably had no idea what he was saying. He sounded scared, and looked numb. I could understand both of those feelings. “He shouldn’t have taken me to the airport,” I said, thinking out loud more than anything. “If I wasn’t so slow... I wouldn’t have left, and he wouldn’t have had to...” “Don’t start thinking like that,” Luke cut me off. “The two of you still would have gone to drop your grandma off, and I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if both of you were in that car.” I fell silent, realizing that if I hadn’t been so stubborn, that very well could have been the case. It was terrifying to think about, but at the same time I felt guilt over not being in that car with Eddie when it happened. “Rory?” Luke said, interrupting a long silence that had grown in our small waiting room, and I forced my attention towards him again. “You’re really staying?” “Yeah,” I said quietly. “When we see Eddie... he’s going to be okay, and really happy about that.” I tried to give Luke a smile that I really wasn’t feeling before I leaned back against the sofa, and as another painful silence filled the space between us, we waited. ................................... There was no clock in our small waiting room, I noticed. It was frustrating, not knowing how long it had been, but I think I was grateful, not knowing, too. It kept my mind off of wondering what was taking so long, convincing my mind that not much time had passed. Luke seemed less convinced, though, the way that he’d started pacing. We both looked up when Seth returned, three sodas and a bottle of water occupying his hands as he looked around the room. “Where’s Jase?” Seth asked. “He went to see if there’s anything new with Eddie,” Luke replied as Seth handed him a cold soda before he came to sit next to me. “Did you find anything out?” I asked Seth as he handed me the bottle of water and placed the two remaining sodas on the coffee table before taking one of my hands. My question must have caught Luke’s attention, because within moments he was on the other side of Seth, sipping his soda and looking at the back of Seth’s ball-cap-covered head expectantly. “I couldn’t just not talk to Mr. Keslin,” Seth said almost defensively. “He recognized me, Rory, and the guy’s a complete wreck. He’s refusing treatment. Won’t even let the fucking doctors look at him. I called my dad. He’s coming down here to sit with him.” “Okay. But what did you find out?” I asked, and frowned at the way Seth looked at me worriedly. Maybe...we should talk on it later, Rory. I don’t know if you want to hear it right now, with Eddie...” “Just say it,” Luke cut him off. “Why is Mr. Keslin a wreck?” Seth sighed, and glanced at Luke briefly, looking like he thought the answer should be obvious to him. “Because he doesn’t understand how he pretty much walked away from that accident, and the rest of his family didn’t. It’s sounding pretty bad, and since Eddie was there, he’s sort of blaming...” “Oh that is such bullshit!” Luke snapped. “They’re the ones that ran the light! Aaron ran the fucking light!” I fully agreed with Luke, and felt angry myself that Mr. Keslin would blame Eddie, but I was currently too worried about too many other things to express this. “How bad is it, Seth?” I asked. Seth frowned, facing me directly, obviously trying to ignore the way that Luke was glaring at the back of his head. “It’s not good. Mr. Keslin is obviously... I mean, he walked away. Mrs. Keslin was right behind him in the back seat with Cody and Alex. But, after they hit Eddie, they got hit on the side of the car that Aaron and his brothers were on.” Luke sat up a little, some of his anger defusing as he listened. “Are they alright?” Luke asked. “Aaron is. I mean, his dad said he was better off than the rest of them when they brought him in here. Mr. Keslin’s waiting for someone to take him to Aaron or his wife, but Alex’s car seat wasn’t strapped in. They think he’s going to be okay, but he’s hurt pretty bad, and Cody...” Seth frowned, and swallowed, looking a little pale as he sat back in his seat. I found myself comfortingly squeezing his hand, wanting him to finish what he was saying, but all the while dreading it. “Most of the blood on Mr. Keslin, is Cody’s.” “Is he alive?” Luke asked quietly from behind us, and once again, I hated the word. It was a terrifying word, especially in this situation. Cody was a brat, and I couldn’t stand him anymore than I could stand his brother. But suddenly, that didn’t matter. He was a kid that I’d met, that I’d come face to face with. I knew him. Not personally, but I knew him. I’d known him as the guy who was in the other room when I was alone with Aaron; the guy I wanted to avoid whenever I went to Aaron’s house, but I knew him. I was terrified of what Seth was going to say about him being alive. “His head was...” Seth started, but stopped himself to swallow again. He knew Cody, too. He knew Cody, and didn’t want to be telling us this. “He got hit really bad. They have him in surgery, but if he lives through it, he might not even wake up... And if he wakes up, he might not even be Cody anymore.” There was silence between the three of us as Seth finished and dropped his eyes from mine to stare down at our joined hands. My knuckles were turning white I was squeezing him so hard, but I couldn’t seem to help it. I felt like someone had just struck me in the stomach, and I could hardly breathe, let alone move. I realized that I’d actually been holding my breath when Luke abruptly stood up and turned his back on both of us. “Luke?” I said, noticing the way that I sounded like I was choking when I spoke. But, Luke didn’t answer. He practically fled the room without a backwards glance. I met Seth’s eyes, almost desperately. I wasn’t sure what I was desperate for, but I seemed to find some of it there as he looked back at me and gently pried my fingers off his hand, and then closed both of his over them. “I don’t know what to do,” I whispered, and when I leaned into him he slid an arm around me, pulling me closer. This time the silence in the room felt like a stunned one as I closed my eyes, and waited again. ............................................... I felt like I should be crying or something. Jase wasn’t back yet. Luke had disappeared. Eddie was somewhere in this hospital, alone and probably in pain. And Aaron’s brother could be dying while we just sat there, doing nothing. Even crying would have felt more productive than just sitting there. I voiced these feelings to Seth. He told me I should cry if I wanted to. I told him I was too numb for it and that he should do the crying. Then, he told me that we were doing exactly what the doctors needed us to do. We were being patient. I wasn’t feeling very patient. When Jase finally returned, he had the bald doctor with him and I was instantly all over both of them with questions. Basically, I wanted to see Eddie. After hearing about what was going on with the Keslin family, I just needed to see him. I wanted him to tell me himself that he was alright. When the doctor told me that I couldn’t see him I almost threw the world’s biggest temper tantrum right there in the hospital, but Jase was able to explain things to me a little easier. He insisted that Eddie really was alright. They’d finally determined that the only surgery he was going to need was going to be for his left arm. No one gave me the gory details, but I got the impression that he’d practically shattered it, along with his hand. The hospital was taking care of that now, so it would be hours before I could even think about talking to Eddie again. When the doctor left, Jase asked us where Luke was and once again I looked to Seth, who admitted that he’d spoken to Mr. Keslin. Jase looked as unnerved by the news of the Keslin family as I felt, but seemed to hold himself together and announced that he was going to go look for Luke. Seth volunteered to go find everyone something for lunch, since he thought it was close to that time, and feeling tired of the small waiting room, I volunteered to go with him, deciding that the cafeteria couldn’t be that far. When we passed the room that Mr. Keslin was in, I couldn’t help looking. The blood on his clothes was so much more disturbing now, knowing where it came from, and I could feel knots boiling in my stomach as we passed--the thought of Cody never waking up again becoming a frightening one in my mind. I knew what it felt like when someone didn’t wake up. Mr. Keslin was now on a chair, his head back and his eyes closed. I might have thought he was sleeping if Mars Fisher wasn’t sitting across from him, talking quietly. I was surprised when Seth didn’t stop to talk to his dad. Instead, he led me away from the scene quickly. I guess that was because I was there with him. I’d never met Mr. Keslin, but it probably wouldn’t take much for him to figure out who I was. Seth led me to an elevator, and when we reached it the two of us entered one alone, but he made no move to hit any buttons as he gently took my hand and turned to me. “There’s a cafeteria here,” he said. “But I think we should get out for a while.” I instantly shook my head. “I can’t leave.” “Yes, you can,” he insisted. “Let’s go get some lunch. We’ll bring Luke and Jase back some real food.” “Seth...” “Twenty minutes, okay?” he said. “That’s all it’ll take.” I shook my head, but made no objection when Seth took me all the way to the parking lot and we got in his truck. There, I finally looked at a clock and found that it was in fact well past lunch time. Grandma Alice should have already landed in Nevada by then, so I took a few minutes to call her and explain what had happened. Apparently, Jase had already left a message on her answering machine for me and she’d been worried sick, and like me, had been unable to reach anyone. She asked if I wanted her to come back, and suddenly I was tempted to beg her to; but instead, I told her what everyone else had been telling me, that Eddie was fine. When Seth started driving I begged him not to go far from the hospital, so we ended up at a fast-food Italian restaurant; and thank god they had chicken sandwiches, because suddenly I couldn’t eat anything red in color, and the mere thought of marinara sauce disgusted me. It was hard to eat anything with the hospital stench still thick in my nostrils and the emotional exhaustion that had me feeling dizzy. But Seth refused to leave the restaurant before I at least ate half of my sandwich, something I ended up being grateful for, because I did feel better after having some food. I was equally grateful that Seth didn’t order anything with marinara on it. Just looking at the guy sitting at a table across from us as he downed his pasta made me nauseous. Needless to say, when we left, we were taking more chicken sandwiches back for Luke and Jase, and I wasn’t surprised when Seth grabbed a few extra for his dad and Mr. Keslin. In all honesty, I was surprised that Seth wasn’t sitting with them. I at least had Jase and Luke with me; Mr. Keslin didn’t have anyone. For a while I thought that Seth was worried I’d be upset with him for going to lend some support to the Keslins, so I told him I wouldn’t mind. But he insisted that he was where he wanted to be. When Seth and I got back to the hospital, things seemed a lot different than when we’d left. Mr. Keslin was no longer in the room down the hall from us, and Mr. Fisher was with Jase and Luke. To my surprise, they were all smiling. It seemed that they’d taken up exchanging family stories, and Mr. Fisher seemed to be keeping Luke’s and Jase’s minds off of more uncomfortable matters. They were all happy with us when we passed out lunch; and while Mr. Fisher didn’t know how Cody or Aaron were doing, he’d explained that a few nurses had finally convinced Mr. Keslin to let them clean him up and check him out, and they’d taken him to see his wife, and fortunately, Alex, too, who apparently, was cranky and asking for his parents. Jase voiced his concern for the Fisher family. Maybe he’d been at odds with them in the past, but he didn’t want this for them, not anymore than he wanted to be sitting there with all of us, waiting to hear that we could see Eddie. Luke, was different. He was mostly quiet about the Keslin family, but obviously angry about the accident. It was no secret that Luke blamed Aaron for it. I wasn’t sure if I did, too. I guess I was trying not to think about it for now. I just wanted to hear that everyone was okay. There would be plenty of time later to be angry about why this had happened. It was almost three o’clock when Mr. Fisher had to leave the hospital, asking Seth to call him later, and inviting all of us over for dinner if we wanted to take a break from things. He also gave Jase a hug and his personal number, telling him to call if there was anything that his family could do. Just after he walked away, Jase had suggested that Luke and I take him up on his offer so we could get out of the hospital for a while, but neither of us were interested, and no one else went anywhere. Except when Jase decided to take a walk to the gift shop, and Seth volunteered to show him where it was, since he’d passed it a few times on one of his earlier outings. I think Seth volunteered to go because Jase had become restless after Mr. Fisher left, and Seth seemed to be the only one of us capable of keeping Jase company without driving him crazy. Luke and I couldn’t seem to stop when it came to asking Jase what was taking so long, as if he were supposed to have the answers we needed. We were leaning on him, and I, for one, couldn’t seem to help it. It was strange, but hearing that Eddie was going to be okay coming from Jase made me feel a lot better than when I heard it from the doctors, who were always mentioning possible risks and complications. The whole experience of being there was a trying one, but every time I started to panic, Jase would make it better; and even if he was freaked out, like Luke said he was, he was holding it together a lot better than the rest of us. But I could understand why he’d need to get away from Luke and me for a while. At least Seth wasn’t driving Jase crazy--I was happy about that. There was someone there who could be there for Jase, too. With Seth and Jase absent from our room, which felt like it was getting smaller every minute, I stretched out on the sofa as much as I could and stared up at the ceiling panels, wondering if Eddie was going to see the same thing when he woke up. I wondered when he was going to wake up at all, or be ready to see us. It seemed to be taking an obnoxiously long amount of time for them to fix him, leaving me with way too much opportunity to think about complications, among other things. Like wondering if Eddie was really going to be okay. Even if he was alight physically, there was still going to be an aftermath to this whole situation. Mr. Keslin was looking for someone to blame, and it was hard to imagine how Eddie was going to feel if Cody didn’t make it. It wasn’t Eddie’s fault. The Keslins had hit him, and then it was another vehicle that had supplied most of the damage to theirs. But I knew if it were me in Eddie’s position, and someone died... it was hard to even think about. Harder, because I couldn’t help thinking about how I’d feel if Eddie was the one who might not wake up. I released a breath I’d been holding and brought both hands to my head, holding it as if that would keep my thoughts from spinning. “I like Seth,” Luke suddenly said, and I turned my eyes towards him. He was across from the sofa in one of the two chairs with his feet stretched out on the coffee table as he flipped through one of the many magazines he’d pilfered from other rooms. “You’ve already told me that,” I reminded him. “I meant, he’s being really cool right now,” Luke replied, without looking up from his magazine. “Yeah,” I agreed. “I think... he feels guilty, about not calling me yesterday. We really haven’t had a chance to talk about it. I mean, I sort of yelled at him, and I feel stupid now...” “You know he’s not doing all that he’s doing because he feels guilty.” I sighed. “I know; I was just saying, in general. He’s being really great, and I don’t want him to feel bad. It’s not like I called him, either.” “He tried to catch you at the airport, right? I mean, that’s something. It’s really lucky he was there. We thought you were gone.” “Yeah,” I agreed. Luke finally looked up from his magazine. “Rory? Why did you get off the plane? I mean, I’m not complaining. Just, why did you change your mind?” I stared at him for a moment, thinking about the question. “I didn’t change my mind,” I finally said, and Luke raised an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean? Did your grandma make you stay or something?” Luke sounded offended. “No,” I said quickly. “That’s not what I mean. I didn’t change my mind because I don’t think...I don’t think I ever wanted to leave.” “What?” I mean... I’ve been thinking about it, since I got off the plane. For a while now, I’ve kinda not wanted to think about leaving, because it was just too hard, you know? I didn’t want to say goodbye. With you... and everyone telling me to stay... it just made it harder, you know?” I paused, and Luke looked somewhat guilty for a moment, but I continued. “But then, a few days ago I came home and Eddie said... he said he loved me, and he didn’t want me to go. He didn’t wait for an answer, but when he walked away, I think I knew.” “Then why didn’t you just tell him then?” Luke asked, sounding curious, not accusing. “Why didn’t you just say you were going to stay then?” “My grandma says I’m stubborn,” I replied, after a moment of consideration, and I got a small chuckle from Luke before I became more serious. “I’ve been thinking about that, too,” I admitted. “I don’t really know, except--this sounds stupid, because everyone’s been telling me to stay, or to think about it, even my grandma--I sort of felt like I had to go back. Like, I needed to.” “Do you still feel like that?” Luke asked cautiously. “Yes and no,” I replied honestly, and Luke frowned. “What do you mean?” “I mean... I think I still want to go back. I want to say goodbye.” “But you...you don’t want to move back there, right? I mean, you wouldn’t be just fucking with me, getting off the plane--right?” I found myself smiling. “No. Remember when my grandma got here, and you yelled at me?” Luke had the decency to look guilty. “I might remember that.” “You said, my mom’s not there anymore. And, I knew she wasn’t... I knew I was going to go back, and she wasn’t going to be there. But the whole time I’ve been here, I kind of thought that one day, my life was going to be like it was before. I mean, she wasn’t coming back, but I thought that I could at least go back to what I had before, without her. I just figured that I needed to get back to it, to make everything okay again. Here, I’ve felt like I’ve been in limbo. I guess it just took me a while to figure out that while I was waiting to get back home, I’d already found a new one.” Luke took a moment to process my explanation, and then gave a slight nod. “So you just wanna say goodbye... to what you had before?” I nodded. “I think at some point, I have to. I don’t know if I can do it from here... today, I just wasn’t ready.” Luke looked thoughtful as he studied me. “Maybe when Eddie’s better, we can all go with you,” he suggested. “Yeah,” I replied, with a faint smile. “I think that would be good.” ....................................................... I leaned back against Seth, mostly because he was conveniently behind me, and I was getting tired of standing. In response, he moved his arms around me and pulled me back further, his body suggesting that I could make myself comfortable as he stood in the waiting room doorway with Luke and me, watching as Jase spoke to the bald doctor again. Over the last few hours, when I hadn’t been driving myself crazy, I’d been talking to Jase about things that got both of our minds off our surroundings--like school, and what I’d need to do to get ready for it now that I was staying, and whether or not I wanted to unpack some of the stuff that I had stored in the attic. Jase told me that if I wanted to, I could unpack some of the things my mom and I had had in our apartment and find places for them in the house. I wasn’t in the mood to seriously think about it, but it was nice to know I could make myself at home in the place that was going to stay my home. Luke, at some point, had gone for a walk and decided to call Dave from a pay phone. He discovered that Dave had been frantically calling, but like me, had been unable to get through. It seemed that Angela had called Seth’s house looking for him, and his parents had told her about the accident. From Angela’s mouth, the news had spread like wildfire. There were several people, like Dave and Angela, who wanted to come to the hospital, but Luke was considerate enough to prevent Jase’s headache from getting any worse, and asked them not to come. It was going on five o’clock when a doctor finally came to talk to us. After some careful negotiating, Jase convinced us to wait while he got the information, and now we were just waiting for him to come back and tell us that we could see Eddie. At least, that’s what we hoped he’d tell us. When Jase shook the doctor’s hand and suddenly turned back towards us, we all stood up a little straighter, waiting to see what he had to say. He was hard to read, looking rather serious as he came to a stop in front of us. “We can see him,” Jase announced, and there was a collective sigh of relief. “But before we go, we need to talk. He’s going to be out of it, and probably really tired. They’re going to watch him overnight and move him into his own room tomorrow, and we’ll go from there. For now we’ve been asked to make visits short, and one person at a time.” “Okay,” Luke said, and I nodded with him. “Can we go?” I asked. Jase nodded. “One more thing. Eddie is probably going to be sleeping through the night. He needs his rest and there isn’t really any good reason for all of us to be here.” Jase paused and looked at me. “Rory, I know you want to talk to him, but after you see him, I want you and Luke to go home.” “Forget it, Jase. We can stay,” Luke stated. “You should go home and get some rest,” Jase insisted. “You’d be bored here all night, anyway. Go home. Let Rory get settled in...” “I was only gone for three hours,” I pointed out. “Plus, my bags are in Nevada.” Jase sighed, and then sternly placed his hands on his waist. “I know you guys are worried, but we’re not going anywhere until you agree to let Seth take you home. I promise to call if anything changes.” I felt Seth’s hands slide to my shoulders. I had a feeling that he wanted me to agree with Jase, but Luke and I were reluctant. “Why can’t we see him, then decide?” Luke asked. “Because I need you to go home,” Jase replied, sounding exasperated, but then he forced a smile. “Luke, you need to take care of Chey for the night, and...” “I’ll send Dave,” Luke countered. “And I can’t think with you guys here,” Jase said bluntly. He looked incredibly apologetic as he looked between Luke and me. “Listen, I’m not asking you to leave right now. Just tonight. Go home, get some rest, and come back in the morning. Please.” Luke glanced at me, and I got the feeling that he was waiting for me to decide for us. I also got the feeling that Luke would go with whatever I decided. Honestly, even the idea of leaving the hospital made me feel guilty. Eddie was hurt, and I felt like I needed to be close. But Jase was tired, and stressed, and dealing with our feelings and worries along with his own. Seth squeezed my shoulders and pulled me back against his chest. “Let me take you home,” he insisted, and with a slight nod, I relented, not sure how I felt about that. “Thank you,” Jase said, and throwing his own arm around Luke’s shoulders, he led us away from the waiting rooms and through the corridor. I felt like I was in a maze as Jase stopped every few moments to check the signs above us before we reached the room that Eddie was in. When Jase told me that I should go in first, I argued with him, insisting that it should be him. Luke solved the problem when he got sick of listening to us and entered the room on his own. That gave Jase plenty of time to convince me to go in next, insisting that he’d be checking in on Eddie all night and he wanted Eddie to see me while he was somewhat coherent. When Luke returned from the room ten minutes later, his eyes were red again, just as they were when I’d arrived at the hospital. I watched as he took a moment to hug Jase, and then he faced me. “He really is out of it,” Luke remarked, chuckling lightly to himself as he wiped at his watery eyes. “I don’t know what he’s on, but he seems... happy.” Jase managed to smile at that, but I was still looking at Luke. “Does he know I’m here?” I asked nervously. “I didn’t tell him,” Luke replied. “I thought you’d want to.” I let out a breath, knowing that that really wasn’t the case. I guess you could say that I was a little nervous about Eddie finding out I was back, especially at a time like this. After all the times that Eddie had asked me to stay, and I’d shut him down...I guess I wasn’t sure why he’d want me back. I wasn’t expecting how terrifying just the thought was. If I’d blown my chance, I didn’t know what I’d do, just like I didn’t know what I’d do if Eddie hadn’t been okay. If it had been worse... if it was Eddie lying where Cody Keslin was right now, I wasn’t sure that I’d even be able to live with myself, knowing that the last thing he thought about me was that I didn’t want to stay with him. I felt like I had a second chance now. The only problem was, even as I stepped through the door in front of me, I had no idea what to do with it. I guess it was logical to start with seeing my dad. It wasn’t a very big room, more long than wide, and I was momentarily confused when my eyes fell over a woman who looked to be in her thirties, fast asleep in a hospital bed with one elevated, casted leg. There was a curtain drawn behind her, and it reminded me of Jase explaining that Eddie would be in his own room tomorrow morning. I walked around the curtain slowly, and had to pause and collect myself after seeing what was on the other side. It was no wonder Luke was so upset. As I took a good look at Eddie, who’d been a perfectly healthy human being when he left me at the airport this morning, I really hoped that things weren’t as bad as they looked. I’d expected a cast around his arm, maybe a sling. There were both of those. But I wasn’t expecting to see the brace around his neck, just below his face, which simply didn’t look like Eddie’s face. His dark hair was pushed back, and seemed clean, but his entire forehead was purple and looked swollen. The bruise reached beneath his closed eyes and consumed his nose. I found myself wondering if it had been broken, too. Seeing him there like that, I suddenly felt like I needed to go back out and get Jase, wanting him to convince me again that Eddie was really okay. But instead, I took a few careful steps around the bed, towards his left side, wondering if he was even awake. “Hi,” I tried, not really sure how to start this. As it was, I was continuously reminding myself not to ask him any stupid questions, like how do you feel? But I guess Eddie wasn’t asleep, because at the sound of my voice his eyes fluttered and slowly opened, just a crack. He didn’t seem particularly focused on anything as he inhaled deeply, and released the breath slowly, obviously fighting for consciousness as he lifted his uninjured arm stiffly right before it dropped back down on the bed. I looked down at his hand, and careful to avoid the bruises on his knuckles, I took his fingertips in my own, watching as he struggled to turn his head before he remembered the brace. His eyes opened, and then drifted to me, looking droopy and tired. I tried to smile, but feared that it looked more like a grimace as Eddie took in my appearance, not seeming at all surprised for several long moments before he curiously narrowed his blackened eyes on me. “You’re going to miss your flight,” he told me, his voice sounding dry. I made a face, feeling confused over his words before it occurred to me that Eddie was the one who was confused. I tried to smile again. It was becoming a chore, especially since all I wanted to do at the moment was cry. I should have cried when Seth told me to. “Nah,” I said conversationally, swallowing down a knot in my throat. “I already did that, hours ago. No worries.” Eddie blinked slowly. It seemed like he was having some difficulty in focusing. “Oh. Okay,” he said, and I looked at his bruised forehead, wondering how hard he’d hit it. As I looked at the IV running into his arm, I hoped his current state of mind had more to do with whatever was in it than the knot on his head. I had a feeling that now was not the time to explain to Eddie why I was there. “Do you need anything?” I asked, and Eddie seemed to consider the question. “Rory?” “Yeah?” “Could you get Jase? I’m ready to go home...” He paused, looking confused again, and then regarded me somewhat seriously. “I wrecked his car, didn’t I?” I couldn’t help it, I released a small, strangled chuckle, but I couldn’t tell if it was more of a sob or a laugh. “Yeah,” I said quietly. “You kinda did.” Eddie closed his eyes and groaned, and I squeezed his fingers, hoping that he wasn’t in pain. But, a moment later he was looking at me again. “Jase is going to kill me,” he said matter-of-factly. “I don’t think he’s that upset about the car,” I assured him. Eddie exhaled another breath, seemingly concentrating on something. “Was anyone else hurt?” The question hit me hard, my mind floating to the Keslin family. Suddenly, all of the fears I had about Eddie being devastated about it, having been involved in the accident came flooding back. The mere thought of having to tell him that someone might die collapsed in my gut. How was I supposed to tell him someone might die? My face scrunched up before I could help it. I wanted to scream at him that no matter what happened, it wasn’t his fault. Because that’s what I’d want someone to say to me. But when Eddie looked sober for a brief moment, and looked me over with obvious concern, I took in a deep, shaky breath, and held it together. “We’re just all glad you’re okay,” I insisted, pausing to force a smile. “I think Luke and I have been driving Jase a little crazy. We were all worried.” “I’m... okay,” Eddie decided, shifting uncomfortably in his bed as he slid his hand further over mine. I looked down at his bruised fingers for a moment before I met his eyes. “I want to talk to you, Eddie. About a lot of things.” “Okay, go ahead,” he replied. His voice was sounding drowsy, and his eyes were glazed over, but he was squeezing my hand, as if to let me know he was still there. “You can talk to me...” “Yeah,” I agreed. “I know. Um... but maybe after you get some rest.” He seemed to consider this. Or, maybe he was just spacing out, I couldn’t tell which. “Are you going?” he finally asked. “No, I’m not going anywhere--except to get Jase. I should get Jase for you.” Eddie sighed. “Yeah. Tell him I’m ready to go home, m’kay?” “Okay. I’ll let him know.” When Eddie closed his eyes again I prayed he wouldn’t open them, because that’s when my face started feeling wet. I carefully pried my fingers from his and backed away slowly, still not sure if he was really okay. Still not sure if I was. ............................................. Standing at the edge of the pool, water running down my body from head to toe and wearing black shorts so drenched that they sagged at my hips, I stepped into the water for the fifth time, and sank down to the bottom. I kept trying to find that peaceful place, to think of my mom as I wondered what she’d tell me to do about all of the worry in the pit of my stomach, but it wasn’t working. Nothing was working. The image of Eddie, lying in that bed looking like someone else’s dad; and the thought of Mr. Keslin, waiting all alone in that room with his own son’s blood on his clothes. Even Aaron, somewhere in that hospital, knowing that he might have killed his brother; and whether or not he even cared--it was all there, in my mind, making me crazy. I felt like I should have stayed at the hospital, where the air was stale and suffocating, and my more torturous thoughts were at least somewhat smothered. I left the pool tiredly, wishing that I’d turned on the lights before I came out because it was going on nine o’clock, and dark. I paused in front of the glass door, looking down at the puddle I was leaving around my feet from all of the water coming off of my shorts. I changed my mind about thinking the lights being off was a bad thing, and after a quick look around, I pulled a Luke. As soon as my swim trunks hit my ankles I stepped out of them, and slipped into the house. Unlike Luke, I wasn’t exactly comfortable with marching through my surroundings completely naked. I suppose there was something adventurous about it, though, not knowing if someone was going to walk in on me at any given moment. Whatever excitement I drew from that was short-lived when I thought about how there was no one really around to catch me, anyway. The house seemed empty, and lonely, knowing that Jase and Eddie wouldn’t be there tonight. It was quiet. Too quiet. It didn’t help matters that Luke had refused to leave his room ever since we got home. I’d tried to talk to him, constantly reminding him that Eddie was okay, because it made me feel better when someone else said it. But he wasn’t in the mood to hear it. In fact, he wasn’t in the mood to hear anything, unless it was about how Aaron Keslin was God’s biggest mistake. Like Mr. Keslin, Luke needed someone to blame, and he’d directed all of his emotion towards Aaron, in the form of anger. I wouldn’t say that Aaron didn’t deserve this, but I couldn’t help feel sorry for all of the Keslin family; and when I thought about what they were going through, becoming angry with Aaron wasn’t on my agenda, because I felt sorry for him, too. I thought of knocking on Luke’s door when I passed it; but instead, I decided that he could come talk to me if he wanted to. Besides, I needed him to cool off first. It was hard enough to remain calm. I didn’t think allowing him to pull me into his dark mood would have been the best of ideas. I grabbed the pair of gym shorts Luke had given me to wear from off my bed. Most of my wardrobe was now in Nevada, except for a pair of jeans and a couple of loose socks that had been left in the dryer, so I’d be walking around in Luke’s clothes for at least a few days. When I went to take a quick shower I entertained the idea of calling Jase at the hospital. I kind of wanted to hear him tell me that Eddie was okay again. Hell, maybe Eddie would be lucid enough to tell me himself. But after drying off and putting on the gym shorts, I left the bathroom to hear the doorbell echoing through the house. Chey was scratching at Luke’s door insistently, but obviously he had no intention of leaving it, so I headed upstairs myself, already knowing who was visiting us. It didn’t even surprise me that Dave was standing on the other side of the front door with Seth. In fact, I’d asked Seth to go get him when I realized that I couldn’t improve Luke’s mood on my own. Dave gave me a small smile as he held out a foil-wrapped casserole dish. “My mom made dinner,” he said. Seth looked sheepish when he held out a stack of wrapped plates. “So did mine,” he announced. I didn’t make a move to collect either of the meals, but smiled and opened the door wider. “Where’s Luke?” Dave asked as he entered behind Seth. “In his room. Are you gonna talk to him?” I asked hopefully. Dave just smiled, handed me the casserole dish, and headed on his own way as I closed the door. “Is Luke still going off about Aaron?” Seth asked quietly, and I frowned, nodding. “Let’s just put these away,” I insisted, leading the way into the kitchen. “Unless you’re hungry?” “Have you eaten?” Seth asked. “No, but I’m not really that hungry.” “Maybe later?” he asked as I led the way to the kitchen, and I noncommittally nodded. Seth was regarding me worriedly as we put the food away. I had a feeling that he wanted to convince me to eat something, like he had earlier, but didn’t want to seem pushy. I wished that I could make him believe I was okay, but in all honesty, I was just plain tired, and didn’t know if I was okay or not. If I could get my nerves to settle, I had no doubt that I’d be crawling into bed and going to sleep. At least if I was asleep, time would pass faster. When I woke up, I’d go back to the hospital, and hopefully find out more about what was going on, and not just with Eddie. When Seth and I passed Luke’s door to get to mine, it was cracked open, but we passed silently, hearing that Luke and Dave were talking. Actually, Luke was doing the talking, saying how much he hoped they sent Aaron to jail for running that light. But at least he sounded calm now, and obviously he wasn’t complaining that Dave was there, even if he’d told me before that he wanted to be alone. I turned on my bedroom light when I reached it, waited for Seth to enter, and quietly closed the door behind us. “Seth?” I asked, somewhat hesitantly. “Have you... heard from Aaron. I mean, has he tried to call you or anything?” Seth took a seat on my bed and slid his hat off his head, his eyes meeting mine evenly. “I’d tell you if he did.” “Oh,” I said, feeling a little stupid for even asking as I moved to sit next to him, leaning back against his hand when his fingers moved to rub at my bare, lower back. I glanced at him. “It’s not because I’m jealous, you know,” I told him. “It’s just... no one’s heard anything new, and I guess...” “Do you blame Aaron, too?” Seth cut me off. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I think right now I’m just worried for him. I mean, I feel like I should be angry, because Eddie’s hurt, and it sounds like it’s Aaron’s fault. But with Cody still... I mean, if he doesn’t wake up...” I paused, and let out a breath. “It’s just scary, I guess.” Seth slid his hand further up my back and I turned my head to face him. “I think so, too,” he said. “It’s scary.” “Are you okay?” I suddenly asked Seth as it occurred to me that despite his ability to be a source of support, he could very well be just as torn up as the rest of us over this. “You and the Keslins...” “I know them,” Seth interrupted, nodding. “And it’s really hard to see this happen to people I’ve sat down to dinner with, just like it’s hard seeing it happen to you. But, I don’t like to think about how things could get worse, until they do. So, yeah. Right now, I’m okay.” Seth forced a smile at me that I’m sure was meant to be reassuring, but whether it was meant to reassure him or me, I didn’t know. I decided that it didn’t really matter, and leaned towards Seth, and pulled him forward until my arms were around his neck and his head was on my shoulder as he hugged me back. When I pulled away, and Seth turned his head to kiss me, I leaned into his mouth as it touched mine, parting my lips when it occurred to me that this was the first time we’d really kissed since Friday night. I closed my eyes and pressed my tongue against his, coaxing him into deepening the experience as I felt his hands on my back, seeming cool as his fingers traveled over my skin. By the time he pulled back, placing us nose to nose, I had my hands up his shirt, holding onto his sides as my thumbs traced his ribs. “So you’re really back?” he asked, and I smiled. It seemed like such an obvious attempt to change the subject that I couldn’t help feeling grateful for it. “Technically, I don’t think I ever actually left,” I pointed out. “Even if you didn’t, I’m sorry I didn’t want to say goodbye to you.” “I’m sorry I didn’t make you,” I replied, cracking a small smile. “But I guess it doesn’t matter now, right? You were at the airport.” “And you didn’t leave.” I nodded, and then turned to stretch out in my bed, smiling at him when he took the opportunity to slide his hand up my leg, over my knee, to my thigh, just beneath my shorts. He kicked off his shoes and turned onto the mattress with me, his head coming just below mine on the pillow. “So are we still broken up?” I asked him, and Seth raised a surprised brow at me. “Broken up?” “That’s what we were doing, right?” I asked. “I mean, when I was going back to Nevada... We didn’t say it, but it kinda felt like... you know.” Seth sighed, and I shivered when his fingers moved to my inner thigh, tickling me there. “I think it was more like... taking things slow. You and me--we’re kinda new. It was sort of hard to tell what would happen with you gone.” “But I’m not gone.” “No,” he agreed. “And since I’m not... I’d probably have a problem with you meeting someone else,” I said. “Okay,” Seth replied simply. “But, I don’t think that’s something to... worry about. We’re not broken up.” I smiled. “Just checking.” Seth sighed and removed his hand from my shorts to wrap his arm around me. He pulled me closer and his forehead came to rest against my chin. I closed my eyes, noting that they felt like they belonged that way while I took in the feel of Seth’s warm, comforting body against mine. “Will you stay here tonight?” I asked him. I didn’t really have to. I already knew that was his plan. But, there was nothing wrong with a little reassurance. “Yeah,” he said quietly, and I snuggled closer to him when I felt his fingers moving over my back. My room suddenly felt warmer, and my body so relaxed that I couldn’t even think about moving it. I wasn’t sure how that was possible, when my thoughts were still going a mile a minute. I wasn’t really focused on Eddie being hurt anymore, though. I think my worries around the topic had finally worn themselves numb, leaving me open to think about other things, like the future. It had seemed uncertain for a while now, but strangely, it felt more uncertain now than it ever had. I’d just chosen a life, I realized. Maybe it was silly, but after everything that had happened today, I felt like I should have a plan when it came to what I wanted to do with it. This hadn’t happened when my mom died because after she passed away, I just didn’t care. But now with Eddie in that hospital, drugged up but still there; and Seth next to me and Luke in the other room--I cared. I cared about a lot of things. I think I just wanted to make the best of everything. No. I didn’t just want to make the best of things. I wanted to experience them. Everything. I wanted to go into that hospital in the morning and tell Eddie that every time I said I didn’t need him while I was growing up, it wasn’t all true. Because now I realized that even if my mom had given me everything she could have, I’d still missed him. It just took a while to realize it. And, I wanted to be around while Luke was going through whatever he was going through right now. I wanted to be there for him in any way I could, even if that meant standing back to let Dave help him. I wanted to invite the Fishers over for dinner and beg Jase not to let Eddie cook. I wanted to be with these people. I’d chosen it, and I wanted to do a lot more than simply make the best of it. School. It was going to be terrifying, starting all over again in a new school. Even with the support of my friends and family it was going to be an adjustment, not only being in a new atmosphere but being a new person, too. Someone who was out of the closet. Someone who wanted to hold his boyfriend’s hand in the hall between classes. Everything was going to be new. But, looking to the future didn’t necessarily mean leaving the past behind. I realized this. Tomorrow I was going to have to pick up the phone and call Nathan. I was going to have to tell him why he hadn’t gotten a call from me today from my grandmother’s house. And I hoped that when I did that, he’d still want to keep in touch with me. And I hoped that despite their quarrel, Nathan would help me get in touch with Jason. In many ways, I felt like I was just now arriving in Arizona. But this time, I wanted to do it right. I did realize that that meant coming clean with Jason and Nathan sooner or later. I’d have to let them know who I really was. I’d have to let everyone know. I wouldn’t be ready for that by tomorrow, but I hoped that some day I could tell my friends everything; and when I did, I could only hope that they’d understand. I must have fallen asleep. It was dark in my room when I opened my eyes, but the warm body wrapped around me was reassuring. I ran a hand down Seth’s back, finding it bare, and as I reached his butt I felt soft boxers. I kissed the part of him right in front of me and his chest hair tickled my lip, and then I lay there for a long moment, feeling a slight headache. I shifted in his arms to see the glowing numbers of the clock and found that it was only eleven o’clock. It felt much later. I could hear a television on, somewhere past my room, and thought about investigating; but when Seth tightened his hold on me I settled back down, shifting closer to him as I slipped my thigh between his. “Hey,” I heard him whisper, as if to test whether or not I was still asleep. “Hi.” “Can you go back to sleep?” he asked me as he began to rub my back, and after a moment of considering the question, I shook my head against his shoulder. “I want it to be morning.” “You’ve still got a ways to go,” he replied. I heard a smile in his voice. I sighed, and rested for a moment. I felt like... I’m not sure how I felt. Numb, scared. But by now, those two feelings were becoming familiar to me. I think I just wanted to talk. Only, I had no idea what I wanted to talk about. I tilted my head, looking up at him, and in the dark his eyes shone back at me. “Seth...” I started, but cut myself off when I abruptly pushed myself up, just enough to place my mouth over his. Lying there with him was nice, but suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t get enough company. One little kiss was supposed to make me feel closer to him, I suppose. That’s all it was meant to be, but from the moment he cupped the back of my neck I was clinging to him, finding ways to pull him closer to me as I grabbed at his arms, his waist, his face... I felt like I was pulling until he finally lifted himself and came over me, holding himself up as his mouth moved over mine in our familiar pattern. I pulled him down. I wanted his weight on me. For just a little while I wanted to feel completely smothered, so I held him there until I almost couldn’t breathe. I shifted beneath him, pressing my body against him, and shivering as the thin layer of hair on his chest brushed against my skin. A stirring in my groin took over my body, just as I felt something hard against my stomach; but the way we were pressed together made it difficult to tell if it was him or me. Him, it seemed, when he shifted lower and I felt his shaft grind lightly alongside mine, what was left of our clothes separating my skin from his. I tilted my head up, demanding more from his lips until I felt his tongue in my mouth, moving against my own. As I clutched at his shoulders, as if letting go would allow him to leave, it occurred to me that usually I was the one over him. That was probably a strange thought to have at the moment, but true nonetheless. Usually I liked it the other way, but right now, I needed it to be exactly how it was. I closed my eyes, my breathing becoming deep and heavy as he removed his mouth from mine and kissed my neck instead. His lips were rough, but his tongue was soothing as he crossed my throat and moved down my chest. My hands reached for him and my fingers tangled in his hair as he circled my navel and when I felt his fingers--more aggressively than not--hook in my shorts, I lifted my hips from the bed and felt the air in the room brush over my cock and thighs. His mouth came down, hot and wet over the head of my erection and I gasped at the sensation. My eyes rolled back as his mouth glided down my length and I hardly even noticed it as he finished stripping me of my shorts. I felt his hands on the backs of my knees, which parted further on their own accord as he lifted them slightly and my head slid off the pillow as he practically pulled me to his mouth. My ragged breathing was met with moans when I felt his throat closing around me before he slid over my shaft again. My grip on his hair was tight. I knew because my fingers were going numb, but I couldn’t seem to let go, not when my body was quivering as my hips came off the mattress. I felt a tug on my balls, and jumped, thinking that I was about to come before I realized that it was his hand there, fondling me before sliding back behind them, into my cleft. The finger that abruptly pressed against my hole was cool and damp, and I squirmed against it. I wasn’t bothered by its presence there, not like I thought I’d be. The sensation of his mouth, sucking me into oblivion was enough to distract me from that, and the light pressure I felt, right before I felt his finger moving inside of me. He hit my prostate and I jumped, shuddering as that sharp overwhelming sensation hit me. I thrust my hips upwards when the urge to do so became uncontrollable, and in response Seth’s free hand slid under me, guiding me to meet him until one final groan escaped me and my body halted, spent and shuddering. I felt like I was just waking up as Seth’s mouth met my stomach again. I reached for him, pulling him to me until I parted my lips against his, feeling satisfied as his weight settled back over me. I could feel Seth through his boxers, still hard against my thigh. I forced a hand between our bodies, reaching for him. It was the sharp chirp of a phone that brought us both to pause. I’d like to think that any other night, we would have ignored it. But, this time was different, and in a moment Seth was moving off of me and helping me to sit up. “Is it yours or mine?” I asked quietly. “Mine.” He moved from the bed, searching for his phone in the dark, and answering it as he rejoined me. “Hello?” Seth’s voice was quiet, steady. It was like he was wary of the phone, just as I would have been. From behind, I moved my arms around him, and rested my head against his back, waiting. “Yeah, we’re okay over here... what do you mean?” Seth’s shoulders went rigid, and in response, so did I as I held him tighter. “It’s okay. Just tell me, please... are you sure? ... okay... Um, no. I’m gonna stay here tonight... I know. Me too... I love you, too.” Seth’s voice was shaky by the time he finished on the phone, and I don’t think he even bothered hanging it up before he dropped it carelessly on the floor and suddenly turned towards me, sniffling as I wrapped my arms tightly around his neck. “That was my dad. He was calling about Cody.” .............................................................. What do you do? How are you supposed to feel? How do you deal with it when a life just ends? It seemed complicated being someone who I knew, but wasn’t close to. When it was my mom, I knew what I was feeling, and I knew that it was reasonable to feel that way. With Cody, I wasn’t sure that I had a right to feel... anything. I kept picturing myself back in the Keslin house, Cody meeting Aaron and me at the door. The look on his face when he was blackmailing his brother. That cruel, arrogant look that I’d wanted so badly to knock right off his face. Only, every time I thought back, I saw myself pulling him into a hug instead. Holding him. It was like inventing myself a role in his life. Because if I’d had one, it would have justified my feeling more than just sad. He was younger than I was, and he was gone; and apart from feeling that it was unfair, I just felt sad. It didn’t feel like enough. I looked around the kitchen table at the three blank faces around me, the entire setting striking me as odd. Off. Wrong. It was almost one o’clock in the morning. The table was set with plates, spoons, forks, and knives. Napkins had been placed out and there was hot food in front of us, just like there would have been if we’d been sitting down to dinner every other day. Luke was stabbing his mashed potatoes with a fork, his face drawn into a pale, unreadable mask. Dave wasn’t far from him. He was picking at a piece of chicken, every so often bringing a tiny piece to his mouth looking inconspicuous about it, like a child sneaking a taste of dessert before dinner. Like me, Seth hadn’t even touched his food. He just stared at it. Beneath his red eyes, I could practically see the lump in his throat. I didn’t know what to say to him. He probably knew Cody better than any of us, even Luke, it seemed. But it seemed that even Seth didn’t know how he was supposed to feel. I think the problem was, that none of us had really been close to Cody. For me, personally, I felt guilty for wishing that I could have gotten to know him better, now that he was gone. It was a sense of regret as I realized that even after losing my mom, I’d managed to take life for granted. I felt ashamed of that. Her death had been a big thing for me, but now with Cody, I felt awkward. I found myself wondering if this was how the people around me felt when they were sharing their condolences. Awkward. “I saw him last week,” Luke suddenly said, and three sets of eyes turned their attention to him, but Luke wasn’t looking at any of us. He’d gone from stabbing his potatoes to stabbing the cooked carrots, and on his plate, they were beginning to look like mashed potatoes. “He was in the gas station with one of his friends. He flipped me off. He’s always been like that, ever since me and Aaron... I thought he was such a little shit. But now... can I still think that and... can I still think that?” I frowned, understanding what Luke was asking. I felt that his thoughts mirrored my own, in a way. He wanted to feel something, but didn’t seem to know what it was that he should be feeling. My attention turned to Seth when a small, sad chuckle escaped my boyfriend. Luke looked at him, too, seeming confused. “Cody was a little shit. A big, spoiled brat. I swear he was the biggest snob I’d ever met.” Luke frowned at that. “He didn’t deserve... he didn’t deserve what happened.” “No,” Seth agreed. “He didn’t. But I think... he liked being a brat. He liked driving people crazy, so I think...it’s not wrong to feel like that about him.” Luke stared at Seth for a long moment, and then gave him a slight nod, his expression seeming understanding. There was another long silence. Minutes passed, before it was broken by Luke again. “I didn’t think he was going to die.” I looked up again to find that my blond friend didn’t look like he was talking to anyone in particular, but then he looked at Seth again. “When you said he was hurt like that, I thought that it was just... I expected it to be different. Like, I figured he’d wake up, and everyone would think they’d overreacted... and Aaron would brush it off, like he does with everything. I thought it was going to be okay... But this... this isn’t okay. No one can fix this. What Aaron did...” “We don’t know what happened in that car,” Seth said quietly. “We don’t know it was actually Aaron’s fault. It could have just been... an accident.” Dave and I sat up a little straighter in our chairs as we looked between Seth and Luke. I, for one, was a little worried now. That had not been the right thing for Seth to say, especially to Luke, who was still in the mood to blame everything on Aaron, which he did as he narrowed his eyes and scowled. “He killed his brother.” I heard Seth take in a breath. “He lost his brother,” Seth replied evenly. “A car killed Cody. Maybe... Aaron could have avoided it, but to accuse him of... it’s not fair to say that. Even about Aaron.” Luke dropped his fork and glared. “Luke,” Dave said quietly, obviously not liking where this was going. I didn’t like it either, especially since I felt the sudden need to choose sides. I’d been doing my best to allow Luke to deal with this however he needed to. If he needed to be angry with Aaron for a while, then I supposed that he had the right. Only, his anger felt almost like it was getting out of hand, and it seemed that Seth was the only one willing to point this out to him. “You can defend him all you want,” Luke suddenly retorted. “It doesn’t change what happened. He can’t fix this! He can’t bat his eyes, and...he can’t fix this.” “No. No one can,” Seth quietly agreed, and Luke just stared at him for a long moment, as if he expected Seth to take it back. “Guys,” I said, when they continued to glare at each other. But, I didn’t finish my thought once I realized my voice was shaking. I wouldn’t have had the chance to when Luke suddenly stood and walked away. I looked at Seth, frowning to find that his eyes were even redder than before, but whatever he was feeling, he was holding it back. “You’re right you know,” I said quietly. “It’s not fair to blame Aaron. Luke’s just...” The corner’s of Seth’s mouth turned up slightly as he gave me a small, grateful look and reached over to squeeze my hand. “I’ll go talk to Luke,” Dave said, standing. “He’ll be okay. I mean, tomorrow you guys will see Eddie... everything will be okay.” “Not for the Keslins,” I whispered, and Dave frowned. He started walking, but I abruptly released Seth’s hand and stood up, too. “Dave, let me try.” Dave regarded me skeptically for a moment, and I openly frowned at it. But finally, he shrugged and sat back down. I didn’t really know what I wanted to say to Luke. I could understand some of what he was feeling, but obviously not all of it, and at this point it seemed like letting him bitch about Aaron was only going to make him angrier. I knew they had a history. I knew that Aaron had done plenty in the past to fall from Luke’s good graces. But this time, it almost seemed as if Luke thought Aaron ran that red light just to attack him. I didn’t know what to say to that. I found him in his room. His door was open, and he had Chey on the bed with him. She jumped down when she saw me, wagging her little tail and sniffing at my jeans as I stepped into the room. Luke met my eyes with a flat expression as I sat down next to him. He looked so tired that all I wanted to do was tuck him into bed. It wouldn’t have done any good, though. I doubted that he could even sleep. I reached out to wrap and arm around his shoulders, and there was only a moment of resistance before he leaned into me, letting me hug him. It felt like such a switch, being there like that. I’d grown so used to Luke being the guy who always had his shit together, and the guy who was there to lean on every time I needed him. Being there for him was new to me, and I almost felt guilty that it felt so good, even if it was a little bothersome. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that Luke was capable of this kind of reaction in a situation like this. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been through a lot, too. Between losing his mom, and his dad abandoning him, and then Aaron--everything Aaron had ever done to hurt him--I guess I should have expected him to act like this. “Why is it so unreasonable...” he suddenly whispered against my shoulder. “Why is it unreasonable to want someone to fix this? Why can’t we just all go back and make yesterday disappear? You came home... it should have been a good day. We should all be here right now. We should just be a family... but he took it away.... Why did he have to take it away? He takes everything away. I feel like I can’t... I can’t do anything without wondering how he’s going be there, fucking it up for me. Why does he have to be...I want him to fix it, Rory. Aaron... he fixes everything that gets in his way, why can’t he fix this, too?” Luke released a strangled gasp, resting his forehead on my shoulder, and through my thin t-shirt I could feel moisture there, and I hugged him tighter, finding it a little hard to see as my eyes started to water. “We are a family,” I said firmly. “Luke...tomorrow you and me are going to go back to the hospital... and listen to Eddie bitch about how he’s ready to come home. And he’s the one who’s going to be driving Jase crazy, and... we’re going to laugh at them. You’ll get on Jase’s case for acting like someone’s mother... and I’m going to sit there and know... this is my family. You guys are a family. We are. Aaron Keslin hasn’t taken that away from you. He couldn’t.” Luke lifted his head, meeting my eyes, paying no attention to the tears now running down his face. “And what... what is going to happen when Eddie finds out about Cody? How is he going to feel when someone tells him about Cody? What’s that going to do to him?” “I don’t know,” I admitted. “But whatever happens, we’re going to tell him that it’s not his fault, because it isn’t, Luke. He’s going to believe that sooner or later because... he has to. It’s not his fault--and maybe, it’s not Aaron’s fault, either. Not like that. It was an accident... but it’s not unreasonable to want someone to take it all back. I know what it’s like to actually expect to wake up and find everything...” “How it’s supposed to be,” he finished. “Yeah,” I agreed. “It never happens, though,” he said ruefully, cracking a small smile. “Yes it does,” I stubbornly argued, and Luke raised an eyebrow at me. “When?” “Tomorrow,” I said quietly. “Tomorrow I’m gonna wake up right where I’m supposed to be. So, I know it’s gonna be okay.” Luke sat up some, using the back of his hand to wipe at his face as he avoided my eyes for a moment. When he met them, he forced a smile in my direction. “When did you get so... reasonable?” “I don’t know,” I said thoughtfully. “But don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t last.” Luke smirked. “Good, because I kinda look forward to the next time you sit yourself on a cactus. Just let me know ahead of time. I’ll bring the Polaroid.” ................................................................... The glow of morning was flowing through my window, seeming brighter by the minute as my fingers smoothed Seth’s hair and I stared at the clock, wondering if six thirty was too early to wake everyone up. I supposed it was, especially when we all only went to bed two hours before. I hadn’t slept, not really. I’d spent the last hour ignoring the knots in my stomach, and trying not to think about Cody Keslin. But now, I felt strangely calm. In fact, despite my body’s aches and slow movements, I almost felt like I’d been sleeping all night, and I felt eager to get out of bed. But, I didn’t do it too quickly. It was peaceful, just lying there with Seth snuggled up next to me; and considering that yesterday morning I never thought it would happen again, I wasn’t about to take it for granted. Or him. I wasn’t sure how I would have gotten through everything without him. I kissed Seth’s bare shoulder, and pulled a blanket over him as I moved away quietly, not wanting to wake him. My bedroom door was opened, but then so was Luke’s. Chey was on his bed with him again, hogging his pillow and stretched out like any queen of the roost would be. The scene was made comical by the way that poor Dave was curled up on the bedroom floor. He’d rolled away from his bedding, and looked like he was passed out where Chey normally was. The house still seemed too quiet as I made my way upstairs, and I could still smell the food we’d heated up last night. The scent was kinda hard to miss since we’d left all of our plates on the table, and they’d hardly been touched. As I stared at it, it almost seemed like those filled plates were there, waiting for someone to come sit down and eat. I cleaned it all up, and as I wiped down the counters, the hum of the dishwasher kept me company. I found myself moving around the house, picking up stray dishes or straightening pillows, anything to pass the time. I wanted to call the hospital, and I almost did, but decided that I kind of wanted to wait for Luke to do that with me. He’d seemed a little better after our conversation before we went to bed. He’d even apologized to Seth, and gave my boyfriend a hug. Seth, being as understanding as usual, insisted that Luke had nothing to be sorry for. He even looked genuinely confused when it came to why Luke was apologizing to him at all. I kind of hoped that Luke would wake up feeling good enough to want to call the hospital with me. But before I could decide whether or not seven fifteen was too early to wake him up, the phone was ringing through the house. I think I rushed to pick it up in the kitchen so the ringing wouldn’t disturb anyone more than I was eager to find out who was calling. I didn’t even put that much thought into it. There had been several calls the night before, all from people who wanted to know what was going on. Given that it was Monday morning, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was Luke’s boss, wondering why he wasn’t at work. As I lifted the phone, I made a mental note to remind Luke to call in to work if this wasn’t his employer already calling. “Hello?” I answered. It was the first time I’d used my voice for hours, and I was surprised to find it somewhat thick, like it would be if I’d just woken up. “Good morning. You sound tired. Don’t tell me you guys were up all night.” I nearly tripped over my own feet as I paused, leaning against the counter. “Eddie?” “How are you guys doing?” “Us?” I demanded. “How are you doing? I didn’t even know if you’d remember that I was here.” “Well... things were a little fuzzy last night,” Eddie admitted, and I could hear a smile in his voice. “But Jase made sure I got my details straight.” “So are you alright?” I asked. “A little stiff, but definitely ready to get home.” “You’re coming home?” “Eh... not yet. They’re making me wait a few days... um, some of the medication I’m on is making me groggy, but I was wondering if you guys wanted to come down for a little while.” “Yeah, of course,” I said quickly. “Um... I kinda wanted to talk to you.” “Yeah... we will.” I sighed, taking a moment to feel relief over the sound of Eddie’s voice on the other end of the line. I was going to get to talk to him. Really talk to him. “We’ll be right there,” I promised. “I’m looking forward to seeing you.” “Me too.” “So, do you think on the way you guys could stop off for breakfast? If I see one more carton of jello...” I laughed. “Yeah. Anything. Anything you want.” ................................... It was difficult not to be happy after hearing Eddie’s voice first thing in the morning. I hadn’t expected it, and I soon realized just how much I’d needed it. I was excited when I woke everyone up, and as soon as I told Luke about hearing from Eddie he was ready to go down to the hospital in his boxers. Dave made him get dressed, though. Seth said that he should go home for a while, and offered to take Dave home, first. I thanked him for everything, and he asked me to call him if I needed anything, even if it was just company. He got several kisses for that before I climbed into Luke’s jeep, and Luke and I headed back to the hospital after stopping for four breakfasts of ham-and-egg sandwiches and hashbrowns. Jase met us outside to make sure that we’d find Eddie’s room okay. He looked tired, but he was grinning, and ate half of his meal before we even got in the building. Eddie’s room was on the third floor now, and while it probably wasn’t even as large as my bedroom, it was an improvement over the small space he’d been in the night before. Eddie looked like he’d improved since the night before, too. Maybe it was just the lighting, or maybe he was a fast healer, but the bruise on his face was hardly noticeable anymore, even if his nose was still a bit swollen and his eyes were black. It looked like he’d dozed off, but Luke wasn’t exactly shy about ambushing his bed to hug him. Eddie’s groan following the attack warned me from doing the same thing, but he smiled when he saw me. The next thirty minutes consisted of Luke and me asking Eddie a million questions about how hurt he was, what was sore, what he remembered and how long it would take for him to get back home. Jase finally told us to give it a rest and the four of us had breakfast as Eddie asked if I was really staying and I told him how I’d gotten off the plane. I guessed that he wanted to make sure I didn’t change my mind again because he called Grandma Alice from the hospital and made arrangements for me to get my stuff back. It was a happy visit. It almost felt like we were in a hotel room rather than a hospital, the way that we all lounged around Eddie’s room watching television and talking, leaving every once in a while when a nurse showed up to check on Eddie. I didn’t really have any time alone with him that morning, but that was okay. I was simply content being there with everyone; and the fact that Eddie was talking and joking about how he was going to look like Frankenstein when his cast came off because of the pins in his arm, was all I could have asked for. Only, seeing him alright and happy worried me, too. Luke seemed to be thinking the same thing, because the two of us kept exchanging concerned glances before I finally pulled Jase aside. “Is everything okay, Rory?” he asked as we stepped out into the hall and headed towards a vending machine. Eddie had asked for a bottled water. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I mean... no.” Jase frowned and regarded me expectantly. “What’s going on?” “Last night... Mr. Fisher called and sort of gave us some bad news. I didn’t know if I should say anything, but...” Jase sighed, and stopped walking to face me. “I saw him this morning,” he said, and the grim expression on his face told me all I needed to know. “Does Eddie know about Cody?” I asked. “I wasn’t going to tell him yet,” Jase admitted. “But, there have been police officers all over the hospital investigating the accident. I’m not sure when they’re going to stop by here... I had to tell him.” “Oh... so is he okay?” I asked, and Jase let out a breath. “I think he is. It’s a very sad situation, and hard for Eddie. But, he also realizes it’s not his fault.” I released a relieved breath after hearing that. “Good, Luke and I were worried that he’d blame himself or something. I mean...” It’s very... it’s very upsetting, hearing about Cody. It’s hard for Eddie, too. It’s probably going to bother him for a very long time. But he knows that he should be grateful that he’s okay, and his family’s okay... he’s going to be alright.” Jase flashed me a reassuring smile, and I gave a slight nod. “How are you and Luke doing with everything? You don’t look like you got a lot of sleep last night.” “I’m better now. I mean... I feel like I should be doing something, you know? I didn’t really know Cody, but... I feel like I should be doing something. And Luke...” I paused for a moment as I considered how much I wanted to tell Jase before I shrugged, sighing. “Luke was taking everything pretty hard last night. I think he’s angry... I probably wouldn’t let him get Aaron alone anytime soon.” Jase rubbed at his temple, and started walking again. “That doesn’t surprise me. Luke has gotten very good at blaming things on Aaron.” I frowned at that. “You don’t think he has a right to? I mean, after what Aaron did to him...” “Luke has a right to be angry,” Jase agreed. “But I start to worry when he goes looking for reasons to be angry. You have to understand, Rory, that it wasn’t just about a stolen car to Luke. He really cared about Aaron, and Aaron hurt him. For a really long time he just... I think it was easier for him to be mad. But, it was every little thing. When Aaron showed up at one of his wrestling matches, Luke would blame him if they lost. Or, if there was a dance or something at school, and all his friends were going, Luke would blame Aaron for not wanting to find a date--granted, his reasoning for that one was warranted. But... it was everything. When things weren’t going right for him, it was Aaron’s fault.” Jase paused, regarding me thoughtfully. “When you first got here, you and Luke had a fight.” I blushed a little at that, knowing very well that Luke and I had had a fight. Not one I cared to remember, because given that it was over Aaron Kelslin, I’d rather not remember it. Luke and I had never told Eddie or Jase what had happened, or how we worked things out. I guess I’d hoped that it would never happen. “Yeah, I remember,” I said quietly. “Were you seeing Aaron then?” Jase asked candidly. I sighed. “Yeah, but I think we’ve established that it was a mistake.” Jase laughed at my perturbed tone. “I’m not picking on you, Rory. I’m just saying, after you guys got in that fight... that’s about the time that Luke stopped blaming Aaron for everything.” As Jase started feeding quarters to the vending machine, I paused to think about that for a moment. One of the worst memories I had since arriving in Arizona was the time that Luke had stopped talking to me, all because I’d accepted Aaron Keslin’s phone number. I remembered how angry he’d been, towards me, and Aaron. But, I also remembered that after we made up, he’d told me that he was tired of being angry when it came to Aaron Keslin, and somehow that meant more to me now than it had then. If I thought back on my own disastrous relationship with Aaron, and Luke’s behavior towards me throughout it--at least, after that first fight--then it was easy for me to say that he’d been so supportive that it didn’t make sense. Although, more supportive towards me than my actual relationship with Keslin. But still, I could remember times when Luke said things like, he hoped he was wrong about Aaron. There had been times when Luke shared parts of his own relationship with Aaron. Besides explaining to me about how he’d ended up with a criminal record, though, it occurred to me that the only other times Luke would really talk about Aaron was to let me know that I wasn’t alone when it came to the way Aaron treated me. He’d direct anger towards Aaron when it seemed that Aaron was hurting me. I never would have considered that Luke wasn’t over Aaron Keslin. But now, after hearing what Jase had to say, and given Luke’s reactions the night before, the way that he wanted Aaron to fix things... I couldn’t help wondering if he was over Aaron at all. Not his romantic involvement with Aaron, exactly. At this point I highly doubted that Luke would touch Aaron Keslin with a borrowed dick. But, I wondered if he was over Aaron in particular. They’d been best friends before they were anything more. Luke was in a situation every bit as tragic, if not more, than mine when he first moved in with Eddie and Jase. He’d latched on to Keslin. He trusted him. Cared about him. But the way Aaron treated him... I suppose that wasn’t something easy to get over. I suppose my first clue should have been the fact that Luke was more interested in guys who he couldn’t have than guys who wouldn’t mind being all over him, all because he didn’t want to get hurt again. Luke was carrying around a criminal record thanks to Aaron. Their friendship, and whatever else they shared, had ended badly. I found myself wondering if Luke had ever actually found closure from all of that. Yesterday, as Luke discovered that Aaron had run a red light and placed actual lives in jeopardy, including Eddie’s, and then finding out about Cody... I couldn’t really blame him for thinking that Aaron had gone too far this time. Maybe Luke’s nonsense over demanding that Aaron fix the impossible had more to do with Luke wanting Aaron to stand up and act like an actual human being. To show that he cared. To show that he was actually sorry about something. Only, the fact still remained that as tragic as the accident had been for everyone involved, it could have still very well been an accident. Aaron Keslin had done his share and then some of rotten, vile things, but not even I was prepared to accuse him of taking the life of his own brother. And since no one had actually talked to Aaron, there was no way of knowing what was going on in his head. Hell, it was hard enough trying to figure him out when he was telling you what he was thinking. But, there had been a death. Loss of life. Death. And it had been Aaron’s brother. He and Cody had fought, but from what I’d learned from Aaron, and even Seth... Aaron and Cody had been close, too, in their own way. Aaron Keslin was one of the coldest people I knew. Perhaps the craziest. But I couldn’t imagine this not being devastating for him. I guess I hoped that Luke would realize that, because no matter his feelings for Aaron, the fact remained that Luke and I, we still had our family. Aaron was now missing a part of his. When Jase turned around with a few bottles of water in his hand, I was still staring at him. He gave me a gentle smile. “Luke’s going to be okay, Rory,” he said. “I think he was just scared. All of us got a really good scare.” I just nodded, agreeing. Jase didn’t have to remind me of how frightening yesterday had been. It still felt frightening. “I don’t know if Luke would have wanted me to tell you...” I started quietly, but stopped when Jase placed a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry. Luke will come talk to me when he’s ready. Let’s go back to the room, okay? I think Eddie’s about ready to doze off again. We might as well visit while we can.” “Okay,” I agreed, and together we headed back past the nurse’s station and down the hall to Eddie’s room. It was the sudden sight of Mr. Keslin that had both Jase and me pausing. He was in a wheelchair now, looking a lot worse than he had the day before as a nurse wheeled him out of a hospital room, about four doors down, straight ahead of Eddie’s. He was slumped in the chair, wearing a hospital gown and a pair of sweatpants, and his eyes looked so red that I had no doubt they actually hurt. When he looked in our direction, I noticed that for the briefest moment his hollow, devastated expression turned hard. Cold. It was a menacing way to be looked at, but at the same time, I felt such sympathy for the man that I didn’t even care. I swallowed as Jase placed a protective hand on my shoulder, and we remained there until Mr. Keslin was out of sight. “I feel like I should do something,” I said again, and Jase looked at me. “You are doing something, Rory. You’re making your dad very happy, just being here with him--that’s all you need to do right now.” Jase sighed, and looked at me more seriously. “Look, Mrs. Keslin is in the room that Aaron’s dad just came out of. It’s possible that we’ll be seeing more of them until Eddie goes home. You have to understand that they don’t want us around. Promise me if you see him again, you’ll stay away?” I sighed, but nodded, understanding what Jase was saying. “But what about Aaron?” I asked. “Have you seen... I mean, is he...” “Mars said that he’s in pediatrics with his other brother.” “Alex,” I said quietly. “Yeah. He’s been scared ever since they brought him in, and Aaron is... well, I guess he’s keeping him company. Mrs. Keslin was there, but... after Cody, she’s just not doing very well.” Jase paused, frowning to himself, but then shook his head, as if deciding not to say what he’d been thinking. “Come on, let’s just get back, okay?” I took a moment before I nodded, and then reluctantly followed Jase back to the room, where I forced a smile until I was able to stop thinking about the Keslins long enough to listen to Eddie and Jase argue about whether Eddie should listen to the doctors, or just go home. Eddie wanted to get into his own bed, but Jase wasn’t sure he was ready for that. In the end, Eddie was too tired to argue, and agreed to stay put as long as Jase went home overnight to get some rest. It was past noon when Eddie’s light snoring alerted us to the fact that he’d fallen asleep. Luke had been telling me about the guys on the swim team at his school, other than Rick. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea for me to join the one there, but apparently the topic wasn’t interesting enough to hold Eddie’s attention. Jase might have agreed to go home overnight, but he didn’t want Eddie to wake up alone. That’s why, when he suggested that he and I go down to the school, which was running orientations all week, Luke agreed to stay at the hospital. He’d called Dave to keep him company, and as I left with Jase, Luke was flipping through a magazine at Eddie’s bedside, looking mostly content, and I was happy to see him smiling again. It was a strange experience, walking around an unfamiliar school, knowing that I’d be starting there in a week from the day. I already had friends, but it was still a little nerve-racking. I’d been in classes with the same people pretty much since kindergarten, and this was obviously going to be a switch for me. I was thinking on it so much that I actually forgot about hospitals and injuries and death for a while. I decided that was probably a good thing. Jase seemed to think so, too. He seemed to enjoy walking me around the school, which was mostly empty. There were a few other students walking around, and teachers getting ready for the year. We were able to track someone down in the enrollment office, but it seemed we needed more than just to show up to get me enrolled into school; but that was no sweat for Jase, who said he’d get my grandma to arrange for my old school to send my records, and I’d be enrolled by the first day. For the time being, we both settled for a tour. Jase knew his way around most of the school, and didn’t seem to want to leave until I became at least somewhat familiar with it. As we walked around, I found myself talking to Jase about Jason and Nathan. I think he was a little surprised, because it’s not like I’d really talked about them all summer. I told him how I still needed to call Nathan and explain why I hadn’t started school with him. I also told Jase how I wanted to keep in touch with my friends, but I was worried that it might not be so easy unless I could bring myself to be completely honest with them. It felt like it was a long time ago when Luke had told me that Jase was easy to talk to. I discovered that he was right. Jase was very good at helping me sort out my thoughts and discover that I needed to express to Jason and Nathan that I disliked them fighting, but even if they didn’t make up, I wanted to maintain friendships with both of them. He also helped me realize that unless I didn’t want an honest friendship with them, sooner or later I’d have to come out of the closet. He suggested that I tell them about him and Eddie first. It would be a good starting point. If I knew how my friends were going to react to my gay father and his partner, it might give me a better idea of how they’d react to me. But, like I told Jase, I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready for any of that just yet. He was kind enough to assure me that no one in the house would take offense if I wasn’t quite ready to tell my friends about my living arrangements yet. It was nice for him to say, but whether or not Jase, Eddie or Luke became offended wouldn’t change the fact that I already felt guilty about it. Sooner or later Jason and Nathan were going to have to know the truth. But I decided that I shouldn’t worry about it, not when I already had enough to deal with as it was. Not sleeping the night before had taken its toll on me by the time we got back to the hospital. Eddie was complaining about his dinner meal, which had recently been delivered to his room, when I dozed off in a chair. The next thing I knew, Luke was gently shaking me awake, saying that it was time to go. It was dark outside, and Jase and Eddie were looking over the same book together. They both seemed amused that I’d drifted off, and it was Eddie who ordered me back to the house to get some real sleep. I felt obligated to argue with him, already embarrassed for falling asleep, but I knew when I was beat; so with little objection, I went home with Luke. Jase stayed with Eddie, but promised to be home soon. If he made good on that promise, I never knew it. I remembered calling Seth when Luke and I got home, and him telling me that he was going to come over. Things got a little blurry after that. I remember waking up on the basement sofa to the sound of Seth’s voice. He was sitting in front of me on the floor, talking to Luke about something that was making both of them laugh. He told me to go back to sleep, and I did so. The second time I woke up, Seth was kissing my face and telling me that he’d call in the morning; and the third time, Luke was telling me that I should get in bed. I obviously didn’t make it there, though, since on Tuesday morning I woke up on the couch with a light blanket thrown over me. Late on Tuesday morning. It was ten o’clock before I got up and took a long shower, wondering why the house was so quiet. I was in search of clean clothes when Luke came downstairs and gave me some jeans and a t-shirt to borrow. I was swimming in both, and it only reminded me to call my grandma and ask her to send my things as soon as possible. At least I had my own socks and boxer shorts. Since the hospital was talking about releasing Eddie that evening, Luke and Jase had gone out early that morning to fill Eddie’s prescriptions; and while they were out they were kind enough get me some of the things I wouldn’t have until I got my bags back. I wanted to go to the hospital again, but settled for calling Eddie when Jase explained that for most of the morning the doctors would be busy making sure that he was ready to come home. On the phone he sounded even better than he had the day before, perhaps a little bored, and he mentioned being sore; but mostly he was just eager to come home, and I assured him that we all wanted him home, too. My day moved along quickly after talking to Eddie. I called my grandma, and she mentioned that Jarred would be over for dinner, and that I could expect a call from both of them, then. She said that he was disappointed that he didn’t get to meet me, and would like to at least do it over the phone. This led to a long conversation as I worried about what his reaction to me and my family would be. But, as it turned out, Grandma Alice had already explained everything to him, and he cared about who I was attracted to just as much as Grandma Alice did. Seth came over again just after lunchtime. It seemed that things had been pretty quiet around his house. His parents were trying to be supportive of the Keslins. His mom was making phone calls for the family, and his dad was helping with arrangements. It seemed that the Keslins wanted Cody’s funeral to happen quickly. It was all very depressing to hear about. My own mother’s funeral had taken place just weeks after her death, and it had all seemed very rushed to me. I remember feeling pushed, even though Grandma Alice made most of the decisions on her own. I could sympathize with the Keslins, knowing that it was always difficult to bury a loved one. I was glad they had people like the Fishers to help them out, especially since the entire family was still stuck in the hospital. What I wasn’t so happy about, though, was that Seth was getting depressed over the whole thing. He seemed to feel torn between wanting to be supportive of the Keslins and wanting to be supportive of us. It wouldn’t have been such a problem if he didn’t feel like Mr. Keslin was angry with him for being around me. Seth had been at the hospital that morning, and he admitted to me that he’d asked to see Aaron. I assured him that I didn’t mind at all, and I was actually a little disappointed that the Keslins had made it clear that they didn’t want Aaron talking to anyone. Luke had walked in on us talking about this, but instead of making any angry remarks towards Aaron, he opted to ignore the topic entirely and he told Seth and me that it would do us some good to get out of the house for a while. We were both a little reluctant, wanting to be around in case anyone needed us, but when Luke called everyone up, we found ourselves at the movies for a few hours with Angela, Dave, Brian, Rick, Cathy, and Meg. I was grateful that none of them flooded us with questions. Instead, it seemed that the whole group was focused on keeping our minds off of everything. Even Rick was being a lot nicer than usual. He even called up some of the guys he swam with to meet us afterwards so I could meet them. They seemed to have a close-knit swim team, just like I had back home. It didn’t hurt one bit that none of them were really that hard to look at, and Seth cracked me up when he objected to me joining the team on the grounds that he didn’t like the idea of me showering with a bunch of hot guys. It was four thirty when Seth dropped Luke and me off at home, and when we got there, we were rushing to get into Eddie’s Suburban with Jase when he announced that he was on his way to go get Eddie. ................................................... “Luke, what are you doing?” Eddie asked, sounding half annoyed, and half amused as he looked over his shoulder--which he could do now without the brace around his neck--at Luke, who was shoving Eddie’s hospital gown into the small duffle bag that Jase had brought along with Eddie’s clothes. Jase was currently helping Eddie button up the front of a comfortable plaid shirt while I waited patiently and Luke did what was necessary to occupy himself. “Souvenir?” Luke responded. Jase snorted. “No thank you. I’d prefer to forget all about this.” “I’ll second that,” Eddie responded, smiling as Jase leaned forward to give him a quick peck on the lips. Eddie was officially out of bed. He’d been a little wobbly on his legs at first, but he was standing fine, now. He didn’t like that it was hospital policy for him to be wheeled out in a chair, but if it would get him home sooner, I don’t think he was about to complain. As it was he’d already been delayed when a couple of police officers came to interview him. Eddie had told them exactly when he’d told us. He could remember going through a green light, and then feeling the impact of the crash. He remembered that it hurt, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up in the hospital and they were asking him to hold still. But as far as the accident was concerned, he’d never even seen the Keslin’s vehicle coming. It seemed that the other two drivers involved had only suffered minor injuries, and the one that had hit Eddie’s bumper had seen enough to know that the Keslins had come out of nowhere. But, the police still wanted to interview everyone. “Does anyone want to go out to dinner?” Eddie asked. “Oh no you don’t,” Jase stated. “You’re getting home-cooked meals, in bed. No strenuous activities until the doctor says otherwise.” “How is eating out strenuous?” Eddie wanted to know. Luke rolled his eyes. “We’ve seen the way you eat,” he remarked, and I laughed. I stood up when a nurse came into the room with the wheelchair we’d been waiting for. “I’ve got that,” I insisted. “Alright,” she replied, smiling. “I’ll wait outside to walk you guys out.” “Thanks,” I said, and when I moved the chair over to Jase and Eddie, Eddie grumbled the whole time Jase fussed over him to help him into it. Jase took over the wheelchair on the way out, and the nurse was there to escort us. We didn’t make it very far, though. We’d started down the hall and came to an abrupt halt when we noticed a room in front of us had the door opened, and Mr. Keslin was visible, talking to the same officers that Eddie had talked to. I hardly noticed that, though. Not while there was another wheelchair outside the door, parked between two waiting chairs, and occupied by Aaron Keslin. I stopped, with Luke right next to me, unable to keep from staring for a minute. He was in a white muscle shirt and jeans shorts, obviously as done with his stay at the hospital as Eddie was. He had stitches marring the left side of his face, from his forehead, down past his cheek. He was going to have a scar. There were more on his head, which had been shaved. I guessed that they’d shaved part of it for the stitches, and he’d likely insisted on having the rest done, too. Far be it for Aaron to have a bad haircut. And despite the stitches, or the splint on two of his fingers, or even the blue brace surrounding his ankle and his bruised-up legs, his small features and pretty looks were still intact. But there was something different. No smirk, no cruel glares. His eyes were surrounded by dark circles, drawn to the floor. He looked blank. Numb. He hadn’t noticed us, and as I looked around at Jase, Luke, and Eddie, the consensus seemed to be that we didn’t want him to. Jase looked concerned. Eddie’s expression seemed sympathetic, sad. Luke was as blank as Aaron was. “Are you guys ready?” the nurse asked us, obviously not understanding the holdup. No one responded to her. It was kind of hard, anyway, when Mr. Keslin suddenly saw us and started to raise his voice at the heavier of the two officers. “Why are you in here harassing my family?” he demanded. “Haven’t we been through enough? Why aren’t you talking to them!” Mr. Keslin made a large show of pointing at my family. “Sir, please,” the heavier officer started, but words didn’t stop Mr. Keslin from moving furiously out of the room in our direction. Aaron looked up then, his brow knit and his lips curled down in a frown as he glanced briefly at us, and then focused on his father as he came to stand about five feet away from Eddie. “How can you live with yourself?” Mr. Keslin screamed, startling me. I could hear Mrs. Keslin from her room, sobbing now. One officer stayed with her while the thinner one came for Mr. Keslin. “My son is dead! How can you live with yourself?!” “Shut up!” Luke hissed, and I made a grab for him as he moved himself between Eddie and Mr. Keslin, but he shook me off. “Luke,” Eddie said quietly. “It wasn’t his fault!” Luke shouted, and Mr. Keslin glared at him. “You stupid little punk, I should have done something...” “Mr. Keslin!” The nurse intervened as Jase moved to pull Luke back. “Please go back to your room.” I watched as the thin officer took hold of Mr. Keslin’s arm. Aaron’s dad didn’t exactly resist him, but he didn’t go back to his room, either. “They destroyed my family!” he screamed, and I stood in stunned silence as the man began to cry. It wasn’t sobbing like his wife. He had silent, angry tears running down his face. I found myself moving behind Eddie, placing a hand on his shoulder. He reached up with his good hand and squeezed my fingers. “You killed my son!” Mr. Keslin shouted, and I’m sure he would have been glaring at Eddie as he said it, if Luke and Jase weren’t blocking his view. “Dad!” I looked up at the sound of Aaron’s voice, sounding small and strangled. His lip was quivering and his eyes were red as he glared at his dad’s back, looking even smaller than he had the night that Seth and I had found him drunk. “It’s not his fault.” I saw Jase and Eddie look towards Aaron, surprised. But everyone’s attention was back on Mr. Keslin when he suddenly turned on his son. “You shut up! Don’t you say a word!” he spat. “You’ve already done enough!” His father’s tone seemed to be Aaron’s breaking point, because the next thing I knew, Aaron was dropping his head into his hands as a painful sob escaped his throat; the only sound he made as his shoulders began to shake and his tears fell. I found myself instinctively wanting to go to him, but the way Eddie squeezed my hand tighter prevented it, and I think we were all surprised when Luke suddenly broke away from Jase and headed straight towards Aaron, glaring at Mr. Keslin while the officer held him back. “Luke,” Jase called timidly, but rather than responding to Jase, I watched as Luke took the seat next to Aaron’s wheelchair, and simply stared at him with an unreadable expression. “Get away from my son!” Mr. Keslin ordered, as the officer struggled to restrain him now. But when Aaron suddenly looked up, reaching out to grip Luke’s wrist with his uninjured hand, everyone fell silent. Luke frowned, glaring at Aaron’s hand on him, and for a second, I thought that he might actually lash out. But, all at once, Luke seemed to calm, and I watched as he regarded Aaron in a way that could only be described as patient. “He wouldn’t stop,” I heard Aaron whisper. His eyes were watering steadily now, and he sounded nearly out of breath. “He just wouldn’t stop.” Luke took a moment, and then sat up a little straighter. “Who wouldn’t stop?” he finally asked. “Cody! I was trying to drive... and we just kept yelling at each other. He was telling me I went the wrong way... he just wouldn’t stop... I.. I told him I hated him!” Aaron took in a deep, shaky breath and released it in a series of sobs, holding onto Luke, who suddenly, looked like he had no idea what he was doing. “He wouldn’t stop! He just... and he was kicking the back of my seat, and I looked back... I looked back... then, my mom was screaming, and... I told him I hated him! Why did I tell him I hated him?” Aaron didn’t get much further than that before he broke down completely. It hurt to watch, even as Luke completely caved in and leaned forward, gathering Aaron Keslin into his arms. And Aaron held on. He held on, and he sobbed, and Luke held him, careful not to do harm to the stitches. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but I was aware when Jase came to stand behind Eddie with me, and I found myself leaning into him without thinking about it, even more so when he wrapped an arm around me. But we both went rigid, and Eddie’s grip on my fingers turned to steel when Mr. Keslin suddenly took up residence in the seat on the other side of Aaron. Luke noticed, too, and regarded the man challengingly. But Luke’s features softened when Mr. Keslin simply reached out and placed a timid hand on Aaron’s back. Aaron jumped at it, and released Luke to look back. Aaron looked terrified then, facing his father. When Mr. Keslin held out his arms, Aaron only hesitated for a moment before he leaned into them, and together they cried. Eddie didn’t release my hand when Luke quietly rejoined us and the nurse led us out of the hospital, and I discovered that I didn’t want him to as I squeezed tighter. “Do you think they’re going to be okay? The Keslins?” I found myself asking, and Eddie glanced up at me, looking thoughtful, even if a little sad. “I wouldn’t be,” he said quietly. “If it had been you... but I think someday...” he paused, sighing. “I think eventually, they will be.” I looked down at him as we reached the Suburban that Jase had parked at the front of the hospital. “Will we be okay?” I asked. Eddie slowly stood, and I watched until he was towering over me, a smile curling his mouth. “I know that we’ll be.” “Good,” I decided. “‘Cause I think I’m ready now.” Eddie raised a curious brow, and I couldn’t help wondering if it hurt with his bruises. “Ready?” “Yeah,” I explained. “To have a dad.” Eddie just grinned at me as I helped the rest of my family make him comfortable in the car, and together, we went home. ............................................ Desert Dropping Epilogue The next weeks were a blur. It was nice having Eddie home. After everything that had happened, it felt like he’d been missing for a lot longer than a few days. He didn’t like taking his pain medication because it made him drowsy, so for the most part he was sore, and lounged around the house all day, since Jase couldn’t get him to stay in bed. Eddie and I had done a lot of talking in that time. It almost felt like we were just getting to know each other. He liked to joke around by saying that I was grounded for waiting to change my mind about staying at the last minute. I don’t think I really would have cared if he had grounded me. I confessed to him how scared I’d been when I’d heard he’d been in an accident, before I even knew what kind it had been. Eddie kept reassuring me that he was fine, and said that he planned to be around for a long time. No one could really make promises like that. But I had to admit, it did make me feel better to hear it. Elsewhere, I’d started school. My grandma had sent my things back to me just in time. My first day was easier than I thought it would be, even though I hardly saw Luke. He was a year ahead of me and we just didn’t have any of the same classes. We didn’t even have classes near each other. But that was okay because Seth and I saw each other all the time. In a few classes, in the halls, and at lunch. Rick was in our year, too, and I settled in easily. I even made a few new friends, and some Seth and I made together. I was surprised how much I didn’t think about being out at school. That’s just the way it was; and while I noticed that some guys flat out refused to have anything to do with me, most of the people I crossed paths with were people I’d met one way or another over the summer, and they weren’t bothered by me, or the fact that Seth and I were seen holding hands all the time. This could have had something to do with Luke and the rest of the wrestling team posing a threat to would-be homophobes, though. I just preferred to believe that my peers had more maturity than I gave them credit for. I never heard anyone really talk about Seth and me. They were all too busy talking about Dave and Angela. The two of them had quickly reached a phase in their relationship where they were spotted arguing one second, and making out the next. Luke was pretty sure that they argued just so they could make out. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Every once in a while he’d complain when Dave spent, in Luke’s opinion, too much time with Angela, but for the most part I think he was happy for his best friend. I kept hoping that Luke would find someone, too, so I could be happy for mine. My Grandma Alice still planned to get married in December. We’d be taking a long weekend to go to the wedding. I’d talked to Jarred over the phone, only to discover that he wasn’t much of a talker at all. I had a feeling that that was a large part of why he and Grandma Alice got along. Hell, she’d probably talked him into marrying her and he never got a word in until it was time to say I do. But, my grandma sounded happy, and was looking forward to our visit. I was looking forward to it, too, because like I’d told Luke, I still had the nagging feeling that I needed to say goodbye. And then, there was Jason and Nathan. I’d been able to talk to both of them separately, since Nathan had found Jason’s number for me. But, I had yet to come out to them. I’d talked to Jase a lot about that, and ultimately, I’d decided to wait until we went to Nevada. They deserved more than a phone call. I had no idea what I was going to say to either of my friends, but when I came out to them, it would be face to face. I still had time to sort all of it out, I guess. The day of Cody’s funeral, Seth didn’t go to school. I’d known that he’d be attending. No one from my family was going, but Jase had picked up a large bouquet of flowers and asked Mr. Fisher to give it to Mr. and Mrs. Keslin. The card had been unsigned. At school, there was a small memorial for Cody Keslin. During the last hour of the day, everyone was called to the auditorium where there was a moment of silence, and then several of Cody’s teachers and a few friends made small speeches. His teachers all said he was brilliant, and how terrible his loss was. His friends, who were older than him, and mostly girls, all talked about how adorable he was. I assumed that all of his real friends were at the funeral. There were rumors that Aaron would be at the school that day to give a small speech about his brother, but I wasn’t at all surprised when it didn’t happen. I saw Aaron once during the first week of school, when I’d passed one of the counselor’s offices. He’d looked...different. His confident air seemed entirely diminished. He hung his head expertly, like that was all he knew how to do with it, hiding his shaved head under a ball cap. I’d waited long enough for him to notice me, and I’d given him a small wave. It was all I could think to do. He’d given me an uncertain nod, and then turned back to the counselor as if I wasn’t there at all. I’d found out from Seth that Aaron wasn’t doing well at home. He came to the school once a week to pick up work from his classes, but refused to go. Seth also mentioned that his parents were upset with him for something, but no one was saying what. But upset or not, they were also worried about him, and while Seth insisted that nothing was for certain, there was talk that they were thinking of placing him in a mental health facility for depression. That had worried me, and I’d tried to call Aaron after hearing it, but his mother had simply said that he wasn’t taking calls before she hung up on me. At least I found out what his parents were angry about, though. We all did. It was about a week after Cody’s funeral when Luke and I had returned from school to find both Eddie and Jase at home. Eddie had been working at the house since his accident. He hadn’t quite been ready to get back he courtroom yet, so our living room was full of legal documents when Jase and Eddie explained that while the police were interviewing Aaron about the accident, he’d managed to tell them all about a car he’d stolen last year, including how he’d done it right before he picked up his best friend for his birthday, and let that friend take the blame when they were caught. There had been a small investigation, and after giving the cops details that Luke never would have known, Aaron had already been arrested and released back to his parents. This news was met with mixed reactions. Eddie wasted no time in pushing for the courts to clear Luke’s name, Jase wanted to celebrate, and I found myself both happy for Luke, and feeling sorry for Aaron Keslin. Not because he was in trouble. He deserved to be in trouble. But, after everything he’d been through, and seeing him look so... broken, the last few times I’d seen him, it was just hard not to feel sympathetic. Apparently, though, Luke felt the same way I did. I don’t know what was more of a surprise, the fact that Aaron had come clean, or the way that Luke had asked Eddie to help Aaron, the way that Eddie had helped Luke. Eddie didn’t necessarily look thrilled over the idea when he asked Luke if he was sure. But, he didn’t argue. Instead, he said that he’d have to check and see if it was okay with the Keslins, but then warned that even if it was, Aaron was in a lot more trouble than Luke had been in because of his original lies, and he wasn’t sure if he could do much to help, anyway. Luke had taken that as good enough, and never brought it up again. In fact, Luke hardly ever brought Aaron up at all. Ever since the day Keslin had broken down in his arms at the hospital, Luke had had very little to say about him. He’d seemed as sad as everyone else at the school memorial for Cody, but he was past placing blame. The accident had been labeled an accident, anyway. Aaron was ticketed for running a light, and the two drivers behind Eddie were ticketed for following too close. Eddie seemed to have been the only one driving the way that he was supposed to, and everyone’s insurance rates went up. But it was still an accident. I think Luke had come to accept that, and I think he’d also come to accept that no matter what punishment he’d thought Aaron might deserve, Aaron was already suffering enough. Everyone had suffered enough. As Eddie suspected, when he asked the Keslins if he could help, they declined. Although, they didn’t tell him to go to hell the way he thought they would. Instead, they thanked him for offering, and even issued an apology to Luke. They hadn’t made much more of an effort than that, so we took it as it was, and we all moved on. I hoped that the Keslins could, too. ............................... It was Friday, early November, and I laughed where Seth had me pinned up against the wall outside of the school as he nipped at my ear and zipped up my light jacket. It was a colder day, and he’d been complaining that I was going to end up with a cold if I didn’t keep my chest covered. I met his lips as he kissed me briefly, and I straightened his hat before he took my hand and together we headed towards the student parking lot. He was walking me to Luke’s jeep, since he had to go straight to work. Seth was in an extra good mood that day. He had just found out that his brother and his family were going to come home for Thanksgiving. It had been the ordeal with the Keslins that had caused his parents to reevaluate their relationship with their wayward son. Seth kept telling me that I had to come over to meet everyone, even though Thanksgiving was still weeks away. I kept promising him I would, regardless. “Did you ask Luke if he wanted to go bowling tonight?” Seth asked me, and I nodded, smiling at him as he reached to run his fingers through my hair. It had grown out another inch, and ever since he’d taken to touching it, I’d stopped thinking about shaving it. “Yeah, he’s gonna be there, but he’s gonna ride with Dave and Angela.” “Isn’t he getting a little tired of being the third wheel with those two?” Seth remarked. “They’re gross.” I smirked. “Luke thinks we’re gross.” Seth smiled at that. “Maybe a little,” he admitted. We moved through a cluster of cars almost blindly as I tried to remember where Luke had parked that morning, but came to an abrupt halt when we actually spotted his jeep. Luke was leaning against his front bumper, but he wasn’t alone. I narrowed my eyes, wanting to make sure I was seeing right as Aaron Keslin leaned on the jeep, just next to Luke, and the two seemed to be talking quietly. It had been a while since I’d seen Aaron now. From the looks of it, his hair had grown back some and he looked otherwise well, but even from the distance I could see the pink scars still marking his face. But, it was more than just the scars that made him seem different. He just didn’t seem... like himself anymore. Just like the time that I’d seen him in the counselors office, he didn’t strike me as the same guy who’s approached me in the park so long ago. As much as that guy had turned out to be a complete prick, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad to think, that he was gone. I started moving towards them, but stopped when Seth suddenly grabbed my arm. “We shouldn’t,” he said quietly, and I frowned at him, but didn’t argue. The truth was, no one had heard from Aaron in months. Eddie had heard that Aaron worked out a sentence with the district attorney, but he wasn’t sure what that was. Seth had tried getting in touch with Aaron a few times, but in a strange change of roles, it was Aaron avoiding him. In fact, Aaron had been avoiding everyone ever since Cody’s funeral. According to the information that Seth’s parents had, Aaron had been going to treatment for his depression, and he’d been taking his schoolwork home with him in the meantime. I’d be lying if part of me wasn’t concerned that he’d tried to come out to his parents, and they hadn’t taken it well. But Seth insisted that even if he had come out at home, his parents couldn’t have reacted badly. They were too worried about him for that. After losing Cody, the last thing they wanted was to lose another son. And right now, I guess the last thing Seth or I wanted to do was scare Aaron off when he was actually talking to someone, and Luke, of all people. When Aaron looked up suddenly, looking right at us, I felt like we should be moving forward again. But a moment later, he was giving a small wave and leaving, but not before I saw him hesitantly reach out and touch Luke’s shoulder in a gentle, almost grateful way. I sighed. “Maybe you should try calling him again,” I told Seth. Seth shook his head. “He’d call if he wanted to talk... I think he’ll be okay.” “How do you know?” I asked skeptically, as Seth placed a hand on my back and started leading me towards Luke. “Because, he just carried on a conversation with Luke that didn’t result in Luke beating the crap out of him or otherwise threatening to. I don’t care how depressed Aaron is, he’ll see it as an accomplishment. “Hey guys,” Luke called as we got closer. “What was that all about?” I immediately asked, and Luke shrugged as he walked to meet us. “He was here getting his school work. I guess he’s got a tutor.” “Does he plan to finish the whole year like that?” Seth asked curiously. “Um, no... actually, he’s moving,” Luke announced. “He was sentenced, to move, actually, for the whole car thing.” “They’re kicking him out of town?” I asked incredulously. “Can they do that?” Luke laughed. “No, I mean... well, he was probably looking at some jail time, at least until he turned eighteen. But, since his psychiatrist thinks that that would only hurt him right now, they came up with another alternative.” “Which is?” Seth asked, sounding a little concerned. “There’s a hospital, where his aunt lives,” Luke explained. “It’s actually like a school, but he’ll be...” “Locked up,” I said, not liking the sound of it. “Look, I know it sounds strange,” Luke said. “But it sounds like he actually wants to go, Rory... and I think it might be good for him. He’ll have his aunt close, and his parents will be able to see him once a month...I’ve never seen him this down before. I mean, he doesn’t think he even deserves to be around people. Normally, I’d agree with him, but he’s just...” “Different,” I provided. “Yeah,” Luke agreed. “He’s sort of blaming himself for what happened to Cody.” I frowned at that, and looked to Seth. My boyfriend sighed. “I’ll try to call him again, Rory. But I’m not gonna force it.” “You shouldn’t,” Luke agreed. “He’s getting through it. He just needs time--you ready to go home, Rory?” I sighed, and looked at Seth. “I have to get to work, anyway,” he told me, and then leaned forward for a kiss, teasing my lips with his tongue for a moment before he pulled back. “I’ll see you tonight.” “Okay,” I agreed, and watched him walk away for a moment before I headed to the jeep with Luke. “Hey, Luke?” I suddenly asked. “What did you say to Aaron?” Luke paused to face me, looking thoughtful. “That I forgive him.” I cocked my head, studying him for a moment. “Do you think that’ll help?” I finally asked. “I don’t know,” Luke replied honestly, and then smiled. “I didn’t really do it for him... I did it for me.” ............................................ I wasn’t sure if Luke’s forgiveness of Aaron Keslin was the reason why my blond-haired friend ended up with a date for the following weekend, but Luke sure seemed happy about it when he went out with a new guy from our school. At least, he seemed happy about it until he arrived home two hours later, bitching about how he almost got his teeth knocked out for trying to kiss a straight guy. As it turned out, Luke’s date just thought he was trying to be nice by offering to show him around. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry when he’d told me about it. Eddie and Jase chose to laugh. But even Luke could find humor in the situation, and the fiasco didn’t exactly stop him from rejoining the dating world. Especially since when word got around the school about his date with a straight guy, guys who he hadn’t even thought liked other guys were approaching him and he couldn’t seem to choose one over another. Jase had to draw a line when Luke showed up at the house with three different dates over the course of one weekend. It seemed that he was clearly over his funk. I couldn’t really tell if Jase and Eddie were happy or terrified of that. I went a lot easier on the parental units, because I spent most of my time with Seth, or other friends, new and old. And, every weekend Eddie and I made it a tradition to go out to lunch and then a movie. He’d officially switched the Suburban into my name, but since I never really needed to use it, he and Jase were taking their time when it came to car shopping, since they were looking for two vehicles now. I don’t think they minded, though. At night Luke and I could hear them as they searched the internet, getting excited about one vehicle over another. It seemed to have become a hobby for them. It also became a hobby for Luke and me to tell Eddie how good he’d look in a nice dependable minivan. When Jase started to agree with us, on a more serious level, Eddie swore he’d disown us both. But I figured that wouldn’t happen anytime soon, not when I was just starting to call him dad--kinda. It was a little awkward. For both of us, I think. I’d tried it once and found myself blushing uncomfortably over it when it took him a while to respond. But, I didn’t quite quit. Every once in a while, it would pop into my head, and it would just come out, and after that first time, Eddie was sure to answer right away, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I think he especially liked it when I said the word in public. I’d even caught him bragging to Jase about it once or twice and that made me... feel good. He was my dad. But, just because I had a dad--a family--it didn’t mean that my mom was forgotten. As time passed, I found that it became easier to really think of her. I’d continued to read her journal, and listen to her tapes. It had been a long while since I really questioned her decision to send me to Eddie. It was probably a good thing that I’d lost interest in the question, though, because by the time I finally did reach the last entry in her journal, there was no other explanation than the last words on the page. I’m sending him to Eddie. I want him to be happy. I want him to be loved. That’s right. She’d wanted me to be with Eddie. She’d come to that decision before she died. She wanted me to be happy. She wanted me to be loved. In Arizona. Ari-frikin-zona. I wondered if she even knew how hot it was in Arizona. And she wanted me to live there. Not just for the summer, either. She wanted me to move there, with a father I didn’t even know, or want to know. She wanted me to rearrange my entire life with no warning, and she wanted me to be happy about it.... And as far as I was concerned, giving me the family that I had now, was one of the best things she’d ever done for me. I was loved, just as much as I would have been if she were still with me. I was happy. And, I was right where I was supposed to be. End.
  12. 111 points
    KIERAN ~ KENNEDY GAY No doubt at all, the suite at the Mandarin Oriental was the nicest, must luxurious hotel room Kieran had ever stayed in. Not that he’d stayed in many. Except for one huge disappointment. Kennedy was not there to share the king sized bed with him. On that first night, despite getting text messages from the girls, Kieran hadn’t felt like going out, had holed himself up in his room and binge watched HBO movies over a club sandwich room service meal, while sitting cross-legged on the bed. His only reminder of Kennedy? After the mix up with time in Okinawa, Kennedy had noticed Kieran wasn’t wearing a watch and had lent him one of his own, nothing pretentious, just a leather strapped timepiece his father, Jeff, had given him as a kid. Kieran loved wearing the device, loved smelling the navy leather strap which, every time, reminded him of Kennedy. The next day the sun shone gloriously, so with Laurie proudly clutching her Hong Kong guide book, the three of them took the ferry ride to Lantau Island and climbed the steps to the Big Buddha. Strangely, though, the air of spiritualism had disappeared for Kieran, as though that window of opportunity had passed him by, and he simply enjoyed being in the girl’s company and seeing the incredible sights. After taking photos of each other at the top, and climbing back down the tall stairway, they stopped for a vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery before taking a heart-stopping glass-bottomed cable car down to the town of Tung Chung. Laurie’s guide had promised outlet malls—a guide that had served her well—and the girls had then proceeded to shop like Vikings. By the time they all reached the hotel late in the afternoon, with the girls had also booked into the Mandarin Oriental, everyone felt pooped and ready for an afternoon nap. Len, who had finally managed to load his unsocial nephew, Leighton, onto a plane back to New York that afternoon, had invited Kieran and the girls for a relaxed dinner and drinks in his hotel in Lang Kwai Fong. Stylish and yet still retaining some old Chinese charm, the restaurant served Peking cuisine; Peking duck with paper thin pastry rolls, finely chopped cucumber and spring onion, and sticky hoisin sauce; huge tiger prawns cooked in a light chilli sauce, broth-like chicken soup, fried noodles, and various stir-fried vegetable dishes. Kieran enthused about everything having only ever sampled English style Chinese food—and then usually as a takeaway. Sitting between Len and Laurie, they all conversed genially until Len turned serious, and, while the girls chatted between themselves, lowered his voice to talk to Kieran. “My human resources manager emailed me an employment contract for your new job. Give me an email address so I can send it over to you. Ideally, I’d like you to look through over the next couple of days—don’t want to spoil your holiday, but if you could do this sooner rather than later, I’d be grateful. Let me know if there’s anything missing and if you’re happy with the package, so we can get you to sign on the dotted line and get you on board as soon as you get back. Are you okay with that?” “More than okay.” “The starting salary and bonus scheme might seem a little generous, but it’s only slightly above market rate for this kind of role, and besides, I am reliably informed by someone not here right now, that you will not only work your ass off but are worth every penny.” Kennedy. Even when he was not physically present, he still impacted Kieran’s life. He had to look away from Len’s gaze for a moment, to level his emotions. “Send it over to the email address you’ve already got for me,” he said, after a few calming breaths, “and I’ll do the honours tonight. Get everything back to you first thing tomorrow.” “Okay, that’s impressive. Are you always this efficient?” “I’ll tell you what, Len—and we can make this official if you want, write this into my contract—but I guarantee that in six months’ time, I will have increased revenues across all of your businesses by between fifteen to twenty percent at the very least. How does that sound?” “Like I should have hired you a few years ago.” After dinner, Len opted to head back to his room, while Kieran and the girls decided to explore the bustling bar scene in Hong Kong. Into the balmy evening air, they wandered Wyndham Street filled with bars and restaurants and people spilling out onto the pavement. Eventually they hit an outdoor escalator and decided to see where the moving staircase would take them. Steph spotted them before anyone else; Richmond, Mike, Patrick and Joey, with another male couple Kieran recognised from the cruise, standing just inside a bar called Staunton's on Staunton Street. “Should we go and say hello?” asked Laurie, unsure. “Kieran?” asked Steph, always sensitive to his feelings. “Honestly, I don’t mind,” he said, staring down at the group. “Looks like Joey might need saving.” “Let’s grab a quick drink. And if it gets too much, tonight’s time-to-escape word is douchebag. If anyone uses the word douchebag, then it’s time for us all to get the hell out of there.” “Since when did we have a time-to-escape word?” asked Kieran. “Since tonight.” “And why douchebag?” asked Laurie, frowning. “English people don’t use that word.” “Exactly.” When they approached the group, Patrick spotted them first and waved them over. After kissing each of the girls, he even shook Kieran’s hand and smiled. Would wonders never cease? Richmond and Mike simply nodded their hellos. Joey’s face, however, positively lit up when he saw Kieran and he came over to say chat. Once Patrick had bought them all drinks, Joey and Kieran excused themselves to move away from the group to a quieter part of the bar to catch up. To begin with, they shared stories about their night and what they’d seen of Hong Kong. After a while, Joey’s face became serious. “So, listen. I need to fess up. I talked to my sister, Chloe. She’s still friends with your ex-girlfriend, Jennifer. They catch up every other week. I hope I didn’t drop you in it, but I told her about you being on the cruise with your new boyfriend.” Oh, hell, thought Kieran. That should go down like a heavily loaded depth charge. “What did she say?” “She said I must have you mixed up with someone else. Until I forwarded a photo of you and Kennedy dancing, and then she went quiet. I have to ask you, Kieran. Are you really gay, or are you putting on a show here? Richmond seems to think you’re not the real deal.” Kieran laughed at the question. Three weeks ago, he would have confessed to Joey about the whole thing being a sham. But now? No fucking way was he denying what was so obviously true. “I am one hundred percent the real deal. Steph and Laurie were grilling me about the same thing over lunch today. How could I be with Jennifer for so many months and now be with a man, and not be freaking out? I suppose some men might. And I don’t have a perfect answer except, objectively, I’ve always seen the beauty in both forms; male and female. You know, like in the James Bond movies where Halle Berry comes out of the sea in her tangerine bikini. Do I appreciate the sexiness? Hell, yes, I do. And then, when Daniel Craig does the same in his light blue briefs, can I appreciate his sex appeal. Sure I can.” “So you’re bi?” “To be honest, I hate labels. But if I had to label myself right now, I’d say I’m Kennedy Gay.” Joey laughed at that, a nice infectious laugh that had Kieran grinning. “Can I ask—and you don’t have to answer—what’s he like in bed? Kennedy?” “You can ask,” said Kieran, his voice lowered. “You ever been to Oxford Street at Christmas when they turn on the Christmas lights?” “Nope.” “One minute the street is normal, dull street lamps and dark pavements. The next—wham—above the road lights of all colours, shapes and sizes, sparkle and shine everywhere, bringing everything to life. That’s what sex is like with Kennedy.” “So Kennedy’s your Christmas, then?” “Yep, except he definitely does not come just once a year.” Once again Joey laughed aloud and clinked his glass with Kieran’s bottle of beer. “Cheers for that. You know, I had a girlfriend in college, too. Felt such a fraud, as though I was cheating on her every time we went out, especially when I checked out another guy. Coming out was such a relief. At medical school nobody gives a flying fuck whether you’re into guys, girls, or both, including girls who used to be guys, or guys who used to be girls. It’s so liberating.” At that moment, Steph and Laurie appeared in front of them, both looking excited, and Kieran wondered if they were about to use the douchebag word. “Kieran, we’re just going to have a quick browse through that cute little shop opposite. Mike says they’re selling these darling Chinese bowls and plates and other pottery items at absolutely bargain prices. Can we leave our drinks with you and Joey for a couple of minutes?” “Of course you can,” said Kieran, laughing. Kieran and Joey watched them disappear into the small store “A few minutes, my ass,” said Kieran. “Those two can’t resist a bargain. Dragged me kicking and screaming around an outlet mall today. Bet you ten quid they’ll be gone at least half an hour, and then come back with a couple of shopping bags full of goodies.” In their absence, Kieran and Joey chatted happily together, and with no Kennedy by his side, he was grateful for the distraction, to be able to talk about their own favourite parts of the cruise. From time to time, both of them peered over the heads of the other patrons in the crowded bar, to where Richmond held court. Patrick was not there, must have excused himself to use the toilet, but Richmond’s voice could be heard even above the hubbub in the bar, and a few people nearby had begun to give him annoyed stares. Richmond appeared to be addressing his comments to the gay couple they had met on the boat. “S’like it’s become some kind of fucking holiday competition, who can bring the prettiest, dumbest, barely-above-the-age-of-consent, sidekick to parade around on a leash with them, like they’re showing their pedigree puppies off at Crufts Dog Show.” “Okay, Rich,” came Mike’s placating voice. Richmond had clearly knocked back a few drinks too many, and both he and Joey could hear the tirade clearly across the other voices in the bar. “Have you had to put up with that all holiday?” asked Kieran. Joey huffed out a sigh and shook his head. “They go way back, him and Patrick. So I try to ignore him most of the time. But honestly, sometimes I’d like to punch the guys lights out.” “…freeloading off their fucking sugar daddies. Makes me want to puke.” “Okay, dial it down, Rich,” came Mike’s softer voice, with hand on Richmond’s arm. Joey looked away, but the hurt in his eyes said everything. “I’m not freeloading, you know,” he said. “I’ve paid my way. I do have my own money.” “Why does Mike put up with that jerk?” “No idea. Maybe Richmond’s dick is as big as his mouth.” Both of them chuckled at that quip, until their attention was drawn back across the bar. “An’ you know what sickens me most? Paddy’s now playing catch-up, bringing his own fucking useless little piece of shit cocksucker along with him, just so’s he can rub it in Kennedy’s face—” Kieran put down his bottle of lager, readying to go over and confront Richmond. But before he had a chance, a loud crack followed by a few screams and shouts of consternation, the smashing of glass and something else being overturned brought the bar to silence. When Kieran turned around, he saw Richmond on the floor, with Patrick standing over him, his face red with rage, his finger pointing at a shocked and bloody-mouthed Richmond. “If you ever refer to Joey that way again, so help me God I will end you. Joey is a catch, by anyone’s standard. And I am not competing with anyone. I’m the one who’s lucky to have him, not the other way around. If you can’t deal with that, then you are no longer my friend.” “It’s okay, Pat,” said Mike, helping a shocked Richmond up from the floor. “He’s had a bit too much to drink. I’ll take him back to the hotel.” But Richmond hadn’t finished. While Mike set the small table upright and apologised to the people sitting around, Richmond confronted Patrick. “I’m on your fucking side, remember?” he said. “If that’s how you’re going to behave, I don’t want you on my side. Not if you’re going to be disrespectful of my friends,” said Patrick, about to turn away, but then spotting Joey and Kieran standing together in stunned silence. Turning Richmond to face their way, Patrick pointed to Kieran across the bar. “And, for the record, do you honestly think Kieran’s just a decoration? Did you see him and Kennedy on the dance floor? I have never seen two men so coordinated. Yes, men. They are both men, Richmond, and I really hope Kennedy realises how lucky he is to have Kieran. Because I sure as hell know how lucky I am to have Joey.” With that, Patrick pushed Richmond towards Mike, and then turned his attention back to Joey. “Come on, babe, let me pay up and then we’ll get out of here.” While Patrick disappeared into the depths of the bar, and Mike loaded Richmond and himself into a taxi, a broadly smiling Joey quickly finished his drink. “Sorry to leave you alone, Kieran, but looks as though I’m going to get lucky tonight.” “You’re not sorry at all,” laughed Kieran. “No, I’m not. And Patrick’s amazing when he’s in this kind of mood. So I’m going to make the most of it.” “Hey, we’re off to Bali tomorrow, so I probably won’t see you before we go. Let’s arrange to catch up when we’re both back in London.” “You’re on. You know, I wasn’t really looking forward to Hong Kong, but I wouldn’t have missed that little show for the world. Enjoy the rest of your holiday, and safe flight home.” “You too,” said Kieran, shaking Joey’s hand, and waving at a departing Patrick, who actually smiled and seemed ready to leave, but then relented and came over. “Kieran, I owe you an apology. I was rude to you on the cruise and, in hindsight, that was unacceptable. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, so I hope you’ll accept my apology. I think you might be good for Kennedy. I just hope he appreciates you.” “Thank you, Patrick.” Joey and Patrick left in the next red taxi, leaving Kieran standing there, stunned and alone. Straight away, Kieran wanted to call Kennedy, but had no idea whether he would be in the air right now on his way back to Hong Kong. Fortunately, right then, the girls returned from their forage, laden down as anticipated with bags of goodies. “We’ve saved so much money,” said Steph, holding up one of the carrier bags. “I think you mean spent,” said Kieran. “Where is everyone?” asked Laurie, putting her bag down and getting her drink. “Did we miss anything?” asked Steph, putting her bags down and also looking around. “Nope,” said Kieran, grinning happily. “Apart from watching one serious douchebag go down in flames—metaphorically speaking—you missed nothing at all.” “Okay, Kieran,” said Steph, hands on hips. “Hand me my drink, and then spill the beans.” ******* In Kieran’s mind, Hong Kong airport appeared to have been designed to resemble a giant modern cathedral with high vaulted ceilings and huge windows showcasing regimented rows of airplanes from all over the world, waiting to be boarded or disembarked, and distant planes taking off and landing. Moving walkways ran through the centre of the main terminal, lined either side by departure gates and a few last minute shops or eateries. Kieran stood at the departure gate, staring over the heads of those around him and shuffling from one foot to the next. Passengers were already boarding and still no sign of Kennedy. “Will you calm done, Kieran,” said Steph, for the third time. “He texted that he’s on his way.” Nothing could placate Kieran. He’d spent the whole three days wanting Kennedy by his side, and now, finally, the man had arrived back in Hong Kong just as they were about to depart for Bali. “If he’s not here, I’m not getting on the—” “Here he is now,” said Laurie, pointing past Kieran. Kieran turned and his heart gave a lurch, a fixed grin forming on his face. As he approached too, Kennedy could not help the small smile that slipped onto his tired face. Wearing his travel attire—baggy and creased beige chinos and wrinkled Indian cotton shirt, he still looked good enough to eat. With him, he had only a carry-on bag, all he had taken to Los Angeles, the rest of their luggage checked in by Kieran. When he reached them, he first gave the girls a quick hug and then came over to Kieran and hugged him tightly. “I really missed you,” said Kieran, but Kennedy said nothing in return. Steph then hurried them onto the plane, both girls being stopped as they boarded, something beeping on the scanning machine, and them both being told that they had been upgraded. All of them would be in business class. Kieran knew Kennedy had somehow worked his magic, and simply gave him a sly smile. As they marched down the ramp towards the plane door, Kieran put his hand on Kennedy’s arm and stopped him. “Sorry, I didn’t ask. Did everything go to plan in LA?” asked Kieran. “No,” said Kennedy, an odd, bewildered expression on his face. “Everything did not go to plan. Everything did not go to plan at all. But I’ll explain everything when we’re on the plane.
  13. 111 points
    KENNEDY ~ PATRICK The sudden loss of warmth from Kieran’s body with his departure, from having him pressed up against his back, took Kennedy by surprise. During the molten kiss—from a supposedly straight man, no less—something strange had happened inside, a simple truth had come to light, something that had been so obvious, so fundamental, that he had been blind to it all these years. “We need to talk,” came the voice of his ex-lover. Nine years, to be precise. He had spent nine years of his life with the man in front of him. Pretty much all of his thirties. And in all that time, they had never been in love. Not really, if they were both going to be honest. Maybe they loved each other, in a brotherly kind of way. Kennedy provided a financial security blanket while Patrick brought domesticity and continuity. But what they had was a partnership of convenience, nothing more. “Kennedy! Are you listening to me?” “Yes, Patrick,” he replied calmly, peering up at Patrick instead of looking through him. No doubt about it, his ex still looked good, a little heavier of frame perhaps, but still handsome and in good shape. Over Patrick’s shoulder, he noticed Joey rush into the room, but on seeing them together, move to one side of the room, not far away. “First of all, what’s with snogging the rent boy? Was that show just for me?” “Okay, enough, Patrick. Let’s put a few things straight, shall we?” “Straight? Fine. Let me start. In case you didn’t know, your boy’s got a girlfriend back in England.” “Yes, I know he had a girlfriend. Just like you and I had girlfriends back in college.” “You don’t get it, do you? Just like the last one, this little cocksucker moron’s taking you for a ride, too—” “No!” said Kennedy, standing and meeting Patrick’s gaze. “You do not get to slag off Kieran! Have a pop at me all you want, but leave Kieran alone. He’s been nothing short of heroic for standing by me and putting up with this whole stupid charade. Yes, Richmond told me in no uncertain terms what everyone thinks of me, but Kieran deserves none of it. Only one man on this ship has stood by my side and defended me through all of this, and that’s Kieran.” “Yeah, because you’re paying him to.” “Not true. I’m paying him to be a companion, not a defender. The lot of you managed to turn Ewan against me last year, and I was paying him, too. But unlike the rest of you evil queens, Kieran has a good heart. And he’s the first person who has ever got me. Understands why I do what I do, what I’ve achieved despite everything. Someone who sees the things I’ve accomplished without being jealous or judgmental.” “Like me, you mean?” “If we’re going for honesty, then, yes.” “Fucking unbelievable,” Patrick spat out, turning his head away. “Still reinventing history much? You always did put your work before us. Never put any time aside for me. You alone were the one responsible for ruining us.” “Takes two, Patrick. I admit I spent a lot of time getting one deal after another off the ground. I was single-handedly trying to salvage my uncle’s company from going under. You knew that. But you never gave me any encouragement or support. All you ever did was either whinge endlessly or nitpick everything I did, especially when I got home dog tired. Berating me for where I put my jacket, or if I slept the night on the sofa, or what channel I watched on the television. You made life in that house unbearable. And now Richmond tells me you thought I was cheating on you all that time, while I was away at weekends working my ass off. That is not only untrue, but monumentally unfair and, frankly, unforgivable. You know what? The day you stormed out, I felt as though I could finally breathe again.” Patrick stood unspeaking then, but a change occurred in him, his eyes glassy, clearly hurt. Kennedy didn’t want that. From the start, he had only wanted to clear the air, but not at the expense of hurting Patrick’s feelings. When he looked around, he noticed Joey had left, had probably heard enough. “It’s been five years, Pat. You need to let this go. For both our sakes.” Patrick unfolded his arms and thrusted his hands into his pockets. “Richmond told me you’ve barely left the cabin the whole cruise,“ said Kennedy, “Is that true?” Oddly enough, Patrick smiled at that comment. “Rich tends to over-exaggerate. Of course we’ve left the room for meals. But Joey can be very demanding in the bedroom.” Unexpectedly, Kennedy’s laughter finally broke the stalemate. “We’re never getting back together, are we?” asked Patrick, as though he already knew the answer. Kennedy smiled and shook his head very gently. “Joey’s nice, Pat. And he clearly adores you. You two suit each other.” “He’s young, and messy. And a bit of a scatter brain where finances are concerned.” “Which is why he needs someone like you.” ******* Kennedy passed only a handful of fellow passengers on his way back to the cabin, everyone else undoubtedly getting dressed up for the captain’s dinner that evening. When he reached the double doors, he took a deep breath before swiping his keycard. Things needed to be said—damage limitation—and he had let sleeping dogs lie with Patrick for far too long. Neither liked to apologise. Even so, trepidation unsettled his stomach now. He had meant what he said to Patrick, about Kieran being a decent guy. But Kennedy had forced that kiss on him and overstepped the very boundaries he had set. If Kieran was pissed off at him, he had every right to be. Inside the room, lights blazed but nobody appeared to be there. When he walked into the bedroom, Kieran’s case sat open on top of the bed. Why was he packing? They weren’t due in Hong Kong for four days. Had Kennedy succeeded in scaring him away? “Kieran?” he called out. No answer. For the next thirty minutes, after checking with his friends, he searched all the places on the boat Kieran had liked to hang out; the coffee shop, the bowling alley, the cinema. Eventually, he headed up onto the rain-glistened deck where the bad weather had finally cleared, to the relaxing spot along the sea rail with the row of chairs and sun loungers. “Kieran?” The familiar figure pressed up against the deck railing made no sign of acknowledgment. Perhaps a slight movement of the head or a stiffening of the body. Hard to tell by the dimness of twilight. There was most definitely an exhalation of smoke from a cigarette Kieran had been nursing. Just as Kennedy thought, the damage had been done, maybe too late to salvage anything—but he had to try. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and joined the ‘Hate Kennedy’ party. Stood there companionably for a while, following Kieran’s gaze out to sea, he gathered the right words to say. On the horizon, the last vestiges of the day’s light tinted the sky, shimmering an orange and purple melange across the tips of the waves. A couple of times Kennedy chanced a sidelong glance but Kieran kept his gaze trained on the ocean, taking an occasional puff from the cigarette. “Beautiful isn’t it? Did you know that twilight has three phases? Civil twilight is what we’re seeing now. Starts right after sunset, once the sun’s lost from view and drops to around six degrees below the horizon. The second is called nautical twilight, between six and twelve degrees, and the third is astronomical twilight, between twelve and eighteen. On a good day, like today, twilight is accompanied by a spectacular light show.” “So what’s dusk?” “Officially, dusk is the transition from the darkest phase of twilight, just before night kicks in.” “What is it about the human race that we have to categorise something as lovely and natural as sunset.” “Twilight.” “Sunset. Twilight. What-the-fuck ever.” “Back before television and the internet, people had a lot of time to kill. Man had to do something with all those spare hours. Apart from reading, writing, and masturbation.” A snort of laughter next to him lightened Kennedy’s mood. “What I asked of you earlier, in the club, was wrong. I panicked and I’m—I regret that. What I should have done was to grow some balls and deal with the situation on my own. A few years ago, actually. The way I’ve had to all my life. If I made you uncomfortable, that was unintentional.” “Are you apologising?” “I don’t apologise, remember? Look Kieran, we have another four days on the boat. I can’t do anything about that. But if you want, I can rearrange your flight so that you can fly back home from Hong Kong. I’ll still honour the deal. Make sure you get the full amount plus the additional money for the—umm—extra service I asked you to perform. You’ve been a trooper—I truly mean that—and you’ve put up with more shit than anyone else in your place would have done. More than I ever would have. And I respect you for that.” Kennedy fell silent then, hoping that Kieran would say something, anything. Nothing came. “And if you don’t want to come with me to the captain’s table dinner tonight, I’ll also understand—“ “Are you fucking kidding me?” said Kieran, turning to him and stubbing out the remains of the cigarette on the sea rail. “What kind of message would that send to the assholes you used to call friends? Fuck that, I’m coming. And I’m bringing my best game.” “Okay.” As a businessman, Kennedy had learned to deal with a fair amount of bravado. Kieran’s fierce tone and somewhat veiled threat made him a little nervous. “But I’ll be getting changed in Steph and Laurie’s cabin. Even though she’s still sick, Steph’s insisting on adjusting the length of my dress suit trousers and then pressing them. And Laurie’s going to give my hair a quick trim. So I’ll be coming with Laurie and I’ll see you there.” “Understood,” said Kennedy, disappointment filling his stomach like concrete. Part of his enjoyment over the evenings on the cruise had been in getting dressed for dinner together, at assessing each other’s choice of evening wear. “And will you be joining us for pre-dinner drinks?” “Might be a little late, but I’ll be there. Okay?” “Thank you. Are we good, then?” “We’re getting there, Kennedy. We’re getting there.”
  14. 110 points
    KIERAN ~ DATE NIGHT Even with the five star status, the Naha hotel room didn’t hold a candle to their luxury cabin on the ship. Significantly smaller bed—probably queen size—the room had simple but stylish furnishings, the one saving grace being the floor to ceiling windowed panorama over the whole of nighttime Naha. Even the bathroom had a tiny shower cubicle only big enough for one. At dinner, Kieran had opted for a simple and quick dinner, Italian fare, aching to get Kennedy back to the room. “I know I already mentioned this over dinner, but what you heard tonight is strictly between us,” Kennedy said, as they both prepared for bed. “And as I said already,” said Kieran, removing his shirt, and heading into the bathroom to shower. “You don’t need to worry, Kennedy. You can trust me. I promise.” “Yes, I know. And thank you,” came Kennedy’s voice. Dried and with only a towel around his waist, Kieran passed Kennedy as he headed for a shower. “And are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” he asked. “To LA? For moral support?” “It’s a turnaround trip. In and out,” called Kennedy, above the sound of running water. “I’d rather you make the most of your time in Hong Kong. Mandarin Oriental’s already booked and paid for, and it’s a beautiful city with some great attractions; the Peak and the Peak Tram, various local markets, Ocean Park, colourful temples, the Big Buddha, and, if you really must, Disneyland—” “They have a giant Buddha in Hong Kong?” called Kieran, his interest piqued. “They do, indeed. On Lantau island. It’s next to a Buddhist monastery. You can get a cable car up from a town called Tung Chung. You should take Steph and Laurie. People say it’s spectacular.” After his disappointment in Koh Samui, he wondered if he should simply give up on his whim. But then, maybe he could go on the premise of simply sight-seeing. Not wanting to make any decision right then—he had bigger concerns on his mind—he put the idea to the back of his mind until they reached Hong Kong. Without answering, he clambered naked beneath the covers but sat up with his back against the headboard, his knees pulled into his chest. Even now, here in the room with Kennedy, he was unsure how to broach the next subject. Of course, by now the man knew him well enough to realise something was up. “What’s the matter, Kieran?” said Kennedy, coming back into the room and sitting in just his underwear on Kieran’s side of the bed. “You seem nervous. Have I done something wrong?” “No, of course not.” “We don’t have to do anything tonight, if you don’t want to.” “Are you kidding? Of course I want to. I’ve been waiting all day—” Kennedy kissed him tenderly at first, letting the embrace gradually become hungry, and Kieran felt himself relax. After a few moments, he gently pushed Kennedy’s face away. “All day long, I’ve been reliving you pushing your tongue into my ass. And every time I do, my ass cheeks clench together and my insides turn to jelly. So as long as you promise to show me what to do and to go slow—and I know I can trust you—I’d like you to fuck me.” Kennedy’s eyes went wide, his face still hovering near Kieran’s. “Are you sure?” “Of course not. But I keep having this vision of you inside me, of your face as you come in me. And I need to know if what I’m imagining is as good as the real thing.” “But I didn’t bring any—” “I did,” said Kieran, silently sending his friend Cole a thank you. He reached for the small bag beside the bed, unzipped the top and pulled out the contents. Condoms and lube. “Actually, this was a joke from a friend. I almost threw it back at him.” “I’m glad you didn’t.” “Yeah, me too.” Once Kennedy had shed his briefs and climbed into bed next to Kieran, they began to fool around. Kieran enjoyed his newfound freedom to touch Kennedy’s body, running a hand across the hard planes of his chest, his nipples, trailing down to his genitals, making him gasp and tremble when he cupped his balls and squeezed them. To show Kennedy he meant business, he kissed his body from mouth, throat, chest, all the way down to his groin, and, after a moment’s hesitation, took Kennedy’s cock into his mouth. In his mind, he tried to remember the things Kennedy had done to excite him, and attempted to do the same. Kennedy clearly enjoyed the attention, because his hands weaved into Kieran’s hair and he pushed his hips up to meet Kieran’s bobbing head. Not for long, though. “Stop,” gasped Kennedy, pulling Kieran’s mouth away. “Okay, so full marks for paying attention. But the way we’re getting carried away, it’s going to be over before it’s even begun. And I’m thinking maybe it’s my turn, that you let me try a little—uh—ass play before deciding on the main event. See how comfortable you are. If it feels too much, then we can put off the deed to another day. How does that sound?” “I’m in your hands, Kennedy.” Much to Kieran’s delight, Kennedy rolled Kieran onto his back and took the lead, sucking the head of his shaft into his mouth, slowly working his already hardened cock artfully with his tongue. After a few minutes, while still sucking, Kieran felt a lube-coated finger touch his hole. For a moment his body stiffened, but Kennedy worked him unhurriedly, moved in a circular motion, allowing him to relax before occasionally dipping inside. When Kennedy raised his head from Kieran’s cock and captured him in a fierce kiss, Kieran hardly noticed the digit smooth all the way inside him. This time when Kennedy returned to blowing him, his finger twisted, working him, until he touched a sensitive spot deep inside. A bolt of electricity sizzled through him, and Kieran hiked in a breath before muttering aloud an expletive. “Ah. The ‘on’ switch,” said Kennedy, after releasing Kieran’s cock from his mouth, and grinning up at him. “Fuck. Do that again.” This time, Kennedy pushed in a second finger, and started to loosen Kieran up, while sucking him relentlessly. When both fingers scooped over the spot, Kieran almost blew his load. “Kennedy,” he breathed, barely audibly, his hands grabbing Kennedy’s hair and pulling his head away. “I’m here.” “You need to fuck me. Soon.” But instead, Kennedy worked another finger and more lube into him, until the hot pain, the stretch, had begun to subside. By now, Kieran’s body had started to push back onto the fingers, hungry for the sensation. When simultaneously, Kennedy’s talented mouth and fingers retreated, a moan of abandonment escaped him. But Kennedy’s face promptly appeared over him, kissed him before bringing Kieran’s knees up towards his chest. “Condom?” said Kieran. “Already on. With plenty of lube, too,” said Kennedy, smiling, and lining himself up with Kieran’s body. “I’m pretty good at multitasking. Look, this might feel a little uncomfortable at first, so I’ll go easy, but take a deep breath and hold on for ten seconds.” “Two miles,” said Kieran, softly, feeling Kennedy’s cock nudge his entrance. “How’s that?” said Kennedy, stopping. “Ten seconds between the lightning and the thunder, means the storm’s two miles away.” Kennedy chuckled. “Whatever works for you. Ready?” “Give it to me.” Kennedy had been right. Even after he had been loosened up, the first breach of Kennedy’s cock past Kieran’s anal muscles burned painfully. Instantly, Kennedy’s mouth covered one of Kieran’s stiff nipples and he bit firmly, before returning to attack his neck and then his mouth. The distraction worked, and with each tiny diversion, he pushed a little further inside. Suddenly Kennedy stopped, his eyes hovering over Kieran’s. “I’m in. All the way.” “So what are you waiting for?” Kennedy chuckled, and started pulling out slowly, just a little, before sinking back inside. For what seemed like an eternity, he continued this way, until Kieran almost begged for more. But Kennedy must have read the signs in his face, and began longer strokes, this time plunging in and hitting Kieran right on target, nailing the tiny goldmine inside him. When Kennedy not only brought their mouths together, but also pinched Kieran’s left nipple, Kieran almost fell to pieces. Panting heavily now, he began to reach for his own cock, needing to speed his release only to have Kennedy swat his hand away and begin pumping his shaft in time with his own rhythm. Kieran didn’t stand a chance. Already the orgasm had begun to form, causing his toes to scrunch up, and when Kennedy began thrusting harder, erratically, Kieran exploded in Kennedy’s hand, spraying semen all the way to their chins, the nerve endings in his body going off like a New Year’s firework display. Distantly, he felt Kennedy filling him with warmth in the condom, gradually stilling and collapsing on top of him. Glistening with sweat, Kieran’s body vibrated from head to toe, but then so did Kennedy’s. They both remained unmoving, Kennedy’s head buried in Kieran’s neck, both breathing heavily, both unable to speak. Kieran didn’t want to move, wanted their bodies to remain glued together forever. Eventually one muffled word escaped Kennedy. “Fuck.” Slowly and carefully, Kennedy withdrew from Kieran. Even so, Kieran experienced the loss of heat and substance from inside him like an amputation. Kennedy rolled off and lay next to him, both of them staring at the ceiling, while Kieran waited for his thoughts and sensations to settle. “Is it always this intense?” he whispered. “Not for me. Not in the past, anyway. Maybe this is simply what it’s like between you and me.” Kieran thought about that remark for a minute. “In which case, I am well and truly fucked.” Kennedy laughed aloud. “I think we can both safely agree to that.” Kieran watched Kennedy stand, remove the condom, and head for the bathroom. Still Kieran felt unable to move. But fortunately, Kennedy came and lay next to him again. Once more, they lay in companionable silence, each with their own thoughts. Kieran’s soreness would be interesting, but something else was on his mind. “Kennedy.” “Yes?” “Does this mean I’m gay?” “If it did—even just a little bit—does that bother you?” Kieran thought about the question. “No, not at all. What would bother me immensely, was if we never got to do that again.” Kennedy laughed aloud, before rolling on his side and addressing Kieran directly. “And with such an excellent scholar showing clear promise, the master might even let the student take charge next time.” “Really?” asked Kieran, amazed. He had unfairly assumed Kennedy would always want to be the one in charge. While they both got comfortable, with Kieran’s head resting on Kennedy’s shoulder, Kieran recounted the day he had spent, visiting historic and not-so-historic sites in Okinawa, making Kennedy laugh when recounting their trip to a tourist market where one of the items on display was variously flavoured tins of Spam. When Kieran mentioned Leonard, he noticed Kennedy quieten, waiting for him to finish. “Forgot to tell you. Leonard phoned me today, just before I met up with you. I should have mentioned earlier but it slipped my mind. He asked me if I thought you were reliable. Sounds like he’s impressed. Something to do with you giving him advice on his websites.” “At lunchtime today. An Okinawa noodle restaurant they took us to, between attractions. Yes, he’s using outdated formats. I put him right over a couple of Asahi beers. Could do so much better, even if only by consolidating a few of them. No big deal, really.” “Well, apparently it is, for him. He loves your energy and enthusiasm. Something I can definitely vouch for, especially after tonight.” Kieran peered sidelong at Kennedy and they shared a mutual grin. But Kennedy hadn’t finished. “And he’s about to offer you a job. As his head of marketing in their London office. His current person’s about to retire and he needs someone with fresh ideas to take the helm. Thinks you have great potential and I agreed. Told him I think he’d be a fucking moron not to offer you the job.” Kieran stared at Kennedy for a moment, his mouth gaping open, unable to speak, before turning his gaze away. He had learned, especially from a professional perspective, to suppress his emotions where potential work was concerned, mainly because of late—apart from this trip to Asia with Kennedy—all news tended to be bad news. Tears welled in his eyes, something that rarely happened, something Kennedy noticed immediately because he squeezed his arm around Kieran’s shoulders. “Shit, Kieran. Did I say something wrong? Should I have told him no?” “No,” he replied, swiping at his eyes. “Fuck, no, Kennedy. Exactly the opposite. Head of marketing? That’s my idea of a dream job. I have no clue what’s happening to me right now, everything is so crazy. In a good way. Sorry, what I meant to say is everything is amazing. All thanks to you.” “You undersell yourself, Kieran.” “Now, you know that’s not true. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here right now.” “Point taken,” laughed Kennedy. “Point taken. And for the record, I’m glad it’s you that’s here.” Me too, thought Kieran. Even though it’s only for the next two weeks.
  15. 110 points
    Waking up early on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, Robert looked around the room he had chosen and wondered where he was. It took a couple minutes for his brain to kick in, and he sighed when realization dawned on him that this was his new home. Robert was only in foster care for a little over a month, but in that time he had been in three different houses, including a group home, and was physically assaulted twice by other teens for being gay. He looked out the window into the backyard and across to the other island. That’s a view to wake up to. I think that’s the Tampa Yacht Club, across from us over on Davis Islands. And that up there is the Hospital. Not a lot of fancy houses on that side of the channel from what I can see, but Dad says it’s one of the wealthiest places in Tampa. I wonder if my grandparents live over there. Are they as rich as Dad? I don’t know if I have any other uncles, cousins, or other family here in the city. Davis Islands, across the channel, was indeed one of the wealthiest areas of the City of Tampa, filled with old money families, and it held several restaurants down its central strip. It also held Tampa General Hospital at its northern point and a small private plane airport at its southern tip. Robert realized he had started to feel like he was safe, and home, in what was less than a day. That realization scared him. Shit. Can this all be real? What if DCF here says Adam can’t keep me. What if they send me back to foster care? I don’t think I can handle that, especially if they are like the group home in Boston. He shivered and pulled his blanket tighter around himself. Something smells good. Dad must be cooking, but he said he couldn’t cook. He rolled out of bed and stretched, letting out a big yawn. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he walked into the bathroom to relieve himself. In short order, he was out of his bedroom suite and walking through the short hallway that opened up into the family room and open kitchen. He was wearing just his loose boxers, which he slept in. His smooth athletic body was on display, which also featured a tribal style phoenix tattoo on his right shoulder and chest. There were also some healing bruises on his torso and biceps. The right side of the house consisted of an ample open space that made up the gaming room, family room, and a large open kitchen. Two islands dominated the kitchen, one with bar seating, and the other a central island used for prep and storage. A short hallway led off the family room to three bedroom suites, and another hallway off the kitchen led to the last bedroom suite, the wine closet, and wet bar. Further down were the laundry room and garage access. “Who are you?” Robert asked as he looked at the man who stood in the kitchen. The aroma of pancakes, bacon, and eggs filled the air, and stirred in was the scent of freshly-ground and brewed coffee. The man was tall and slender with sea-green eyes and a mop of curly black hair, and appeared to be the same age as his father. He too was in his underwear and a plain t-shirt. “I’m Duncan. You must be Robert,” he said with a smile. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m cooking. There’ll be enough for all three of us.” He stepped over to the coffee pot and looked at Robert. “Have a seat. Do you drink coffee? What do you take in it?” Robert sat at the island and nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Cream and sugar please.” Duncan poured and passed him his cup of coffee, with cream and sugar as requested, and went back to the stove to finish making the breakfast. “I came in late last night, and you two were already in bed. Your dad gave me the week off, but I was closer to here than to my brother’s place. So, I decided to crash here.” “I don’t think Dad will mind. He seems like a very caring person.” “He is. Adam and I go back a long time. We went to high school together, and he offered me the job being his steward after he found out I was getting a divorce.” He continued to fix the food and looked over his shoulder at Robert. “How do you like your eggs?” “Scrambled, or fried hard. But I’ll take them scrambled today.” Duncan laughed a bit and fixed up a plate of the hot food for Robert. He sat it on the counter in front of him, and quickly slid silverware, butter, and syrup over to him as well. “Just like your dad.” “What about me?” Adam asked as he walked into the kitchen. He was wearing track shorts and sat down at the island next to his son. “Good morning, both of you. I wasn’t expecting you back so soon, Duncan.” “As I said to Robert, I was closer here than to my brother’s place, so I decided to crash in my bed. I didn’t think you would mind.” He slid a plate of food, utensils, and a cup of coffee over to Adam. “The part about you was your son likes his eggs the same way.” He chuckled and grabbed his plate and coffee, and headed for the last bar-stool at the island. Adam nodded and swallowed his bite of pancake. “This is good. Thanks for cooking.” “Yeah, thanks, Duncan. It is good.” “You’re welcome. I woke up hungry and thought I would make some for all of us. I’m assuming you guys have a full day planned, and it’s the least I can do.” The conversation went silent as the three men ate their food and sipped their coffee. Robert was the first to finish and went to clean up his dishes. He rinsed off the white ceramic plate and silverware before putting them in the dishwasher. He then started cleaning the skillets that Duncan used. “You don’t have to do that. I was about to grab it all when I was done.” “It’s cool man. I’m used to cleaning the kitchen back at home. It was how Mom and I worked things out. She cooked, and I cleaned up.” Adam watched his son and nodded his approval of his initiative of cleaning up the kitchen. He noted the tattoo, bruises, and a nasty looking scar he had on his left shoulder blade. “I see you got ink! And that is a wicked looking scar on your back, and what’s up with the bruises?” “Mom paid for the tat when I turned sixteen last November. The scar was from a car accident we were in when I was twelve. A piece of rebar shot through the roof and caught my back. I was pinned to the seat until the fire rescue got me out.” Robert’s tone was subdued, but he worked with diligence. He finished up the dishes and walked over to the island. “So, Duncan said you guys went to school together?” Adam noted the abrupt subject change and made a mental note to look into the accident, and how he got the bruises. “Yeah, Duncan and I went to Jefferson High School, and we were in the Scouts together.” He looked over at Duncan, and just shook his head. “Oh, the stories we could tell,” Duncan said, sitting back and sipping his coffee. “Were you two a couple?” Duncan shook his head no. “Nah, just good friends. I knew he was gay before he officially came out, and I didn’t care if he was or not. Always thought Adam was a good guy.” “It wasn’t for lack of trying,” Adam said with a laugh. “I had misread Duncan, and one night on a campout when we were alone, I offered to give him a blowjob. While he turned me down, we spent the night talking about what guys in the troop I liked, and he steered me towards Marvin, who was gay. Still not sure how you knew and I didn’t.” “Because he made a pass at me,” Duncan laughed heartily. “It seems I give off false positives on the gaydar. I still do, but I’m cool with it. I consider it a compliment.” He smiled and finished off his coffee. He stood up, grabbed his and Adam’s dishes, and put them in the dishwasher. “So… Dad offered you a job working as a steward for him. Do you like this sort of work?” Duncan nodded, “I do. It was also the family business. Cleaning that is. My family owns a local cleaning company that does both houses and businesses. Even your dad worked for us, for a couple of summers during high school.” Robert looked over at his dad and caught Adam smiling and nodding in agreement. “Word of advice son…If the guy you plan on marrying refuses to clean a toilet, then he’s not the one for you.” “Where did you learn to cook?” “Partly from my mom, and I took a culinary course for two years at Hillsborough Community College.” Duncan finished up wiping down the counters and started the dishwasher. He topped off all three cups of coffee and sat back down next to Adam at the island. “I found out that while I love to cook, staying in a kitchen all day is not in me. Plus my soon to be ex-wife is a lot better chef than I am. She refused to let me cook.” Adam shook his head, “Her loss.” He looked over at Robert and smiled. “We’ll head out about 9:30 am, and hit the Verizon store first to get your phone setup, and then we’ll go shopping. We’ll get the electronics I mentioned, and we need to discuss school options later. I don’t want to bombard you all at once with stuff. Also, my mother wants to know when she can meet you. There’s a hockey game tonight, Lightning vs. the Panthers, at Amalie. I figured we’d stay home and watch it unless you want to go to the arena.” Robert looked a little stunned but nodded. “Sounds…,” he coughed and cleared his throat. “Sounds good, Dad. We can stay in tonight if you want.” He smiled and walked off towards his room. “He seems like a good kid, but he has some fear in him,” Duncan said when Robert was out of earshot. “If you want some unsolicited advice, I’d suggest counseling. For both of you.” “I noticed, and Sylvia suggested the same thing. I’m planning on scheduling a family session for next week,” Adam said. His face showed the worry he had been hiding from Robert. “Thanks for cooking breakfast, my friend. You didn’t have too.” “Least I could do. I think I’ll add it to my workload.” “Are you sure? You don’t have too.” Adam said while he laid a hand on Duncan’s shoulder giving him a quick squeeze. “Yeah, I’m sure. You have a lot to worry about with your son now. Not to mention with your new business venture, you won’t have the time.” Adam sighed some, “I know. Thanks, Duncan. You’re heading out?” “Leaving with my brother this afternoon, and won’t be back ‘till Saturday. We’re headed down to Key West. Going to do some fishing over in Bahia Honda, and some drinking along Duval St. I wanted to take Jeremy with us, but Debbie said no, he has to stay for school.” “I hope you and Ian enjoy yourselves, and be careful.” Adam gave him a little grin. “Jeremy is a nice kid. You’ve got a good nephew there.” They talked a little more before going their separate ways. ~.~ “Where would you like to go shopping for clothes?” Adam asked as he shut the door to his Acura RDX. The SUV was perfect for his needs and stylish enough to fit in his neighborhood. While Adam didn’t care about appearances, there was a certain level he needed to maintain to live on the island. They had finished up at Verizon Wireless, where they got Robert a new Galaxy S9+ phone, transferred the data from his old phone, and Adam bought him a Galaxy Book as well. The two-in-one tablet/laptop would help in Robert’s schooling, and it was tied to the mobile account. “Um… Mom bought my stuff from Target or Walmart, so that’s fine with me.” Adam nodded and pulled out of the parking spot. “If that’s what you want, that’s fine. But, you can go anywhere you want. Is there any place you wanted to go?” “Seriously, Dad?” Robert looked astonished. “You’ve dropped close to two-thousand dollars on me, just here.” “Robert. First off, you’re my son and only child. I see myself spending money on you, a lot. Second, you had two small suitcases, and neither was that heavy. So, I’m assuming you didn’t bring much clothing. And what you did might be too warm for Florida. You did come out of a Nor’easter down to what would be summer to you.” He paused as he looked at Robert, and got them on the road. “I was left some money when my grandfather, your great-grandfather, died. I invested it and used it to go to M.I.T. when I was accepted there. I worked hard after graduation, and sold off the patents I had, and made more than enough to retire at age thirty-seven. I’m not trying to brag about this. Let me spoil you a little before I have to be a stingier father. Okay?” Robert sat stunned in the passenger seat and looked at his dad, and then back out onto the road. He wasn’t sure when they started, but tears began to flow freely down his cheeks. He was too overcome with emotion to talk and just turned away from Adam to look out the window. Noticing his son’s change in demeanor, Adam pulled into the parking lot of a small strip mall . He unbuckled his and Robert’s seat belts and held onto his son the best he could in the car. “It’ll be fine son. It will all work out.” “I… I… don’t know Dad… it feels right, but I feel so bad… I feel like I’m betraying Mom…,” Robert said as he sobbed. Adam comforted his son and held him for a few minutes. “You’re not betraying your mom. Don’t feel that way. Sylvia suggested that we go to family counseling, and I was going to schedule it for next week. Would you rather we do it sooner if I can get us in?” “If you can, please.” “Alright… Now, let’s finish what we need to do today, okay?” “Okay.” “So, let’s head to International Plaza, go look at the stores and get lunch, and if you see something you want, we’ll get it there. If not, we can hit a Target or Walmart on the way home. Sound like a plan to you?” Adam smiled at Robert, while he took a spare napkin from the center console and wiped the tears from his son’s face. “Sounds good, Dad.” ~.~ Shopping at the mall went better than Adam had expected. After Robert got over his inhibitions, they ended up at several stores buying different fashionable clothes suited for life in Florida, and a new desktop PC for Robert’s room from the Microsoft Store. A late lunch at the Cheesecake Factory rounded out the father and son shopping trip, and they were soon home. Adam assisted Robert in putting his clothes away and setting up the desktop, letting Robert lead the way in it all. It was still early in the afternoon when Adam’s mom called. He excused himself to take the call in his bedroom. “Heya, Mom. How are you doing?” Adam asked as he walked over to the sitting area he had set up in his master retreat bedroom. The master retreat was large, almost as big as the family room and game room on the other side of the house combined, and he had decorated it as two different zones. The king-sized bed sat on the south wall, near the center of the room. On each side of the bed sat a square bedside table made of yew, with two drawers apiece. They matched the headboard and footboard of the bed. Across from the bed was the fireplace, a forty-inch flat screen 4K Ultra High Def TV was mounted above it. Two armchairs and a small table made up the sitting area, along with a small computer desk with chair and a desktop PC on the western wall, overlooking Davis Islands. Other furniture dotted the room, along with more artwork on the walls. The retreat was designed with a ‘safe room,’ located in the massive walk-in closet, but Adam had turned it into a server room, which ran the whole house smart system. “I’m doing fine. How’s my grandson?” She asked. “He’s doing fine. We spent the day shopping for clothes and getting him some electronics for school, but I’m wondering what happened to him back in Boston. He said he feels like he’s betraying his mom.” Adam let out a long sigh. “This morning, Duncan fixed breakfast for us, and we were all mostly still in our night clothes. Robert was wearing boxers, and that’s when I saw he has a tattoo on his right shoulder and chest, and a scar on his left shoulder blade. He’s also covered in bruises... deep bruises that are healing on his chest, back, and arms. He refused to talk about any of them.” “Oh, honey. It’s been barely a month since his mother died, so I can see where he feels like that. It sounds to me like he’s scared to talk about what happened in foster care. That’s the only place where the bruises could have come from. If it happened prior, they would have healed by now. How’s he handling the rest?” “He seems to like it here. We’ve not had any fights at all, and no drama, aside from him tearing up a couple of times. Either he’s hiding it very well, or he’s being completely genuine and has one of the most level heads I’ve ever seen.” Adam exhaled. “Mom, I don’t think I could have gone through what he has in the past two months, and be as composed. I… I’m going to talk to Sylvia to see what happened when he was in Massachusetts DCF’s custody.” “You’ll need to. If he was assaulted, there could be some issues there. That needs to be addressed pretty damn quickly.” They spoke a little bit more and hung up after making plans. Adam used the desktop PC to look up his medical plan’s mental health providers. He called a few of them to find one accepting new patients and to schedule an appointment for that week. Adam left his room to find Robert in the exercise and gaming room. When Adam was decorating the house, he wanted this room to be partly for exercise and partly for gaming. A PS4 and an Xbox One were both connected to another flat screen 4K Ultra High Def TV mounted over the fireplace that both separated and was shared with the family room. A small sitting area, consisting of a couch and coffee table, was right in front of it. Behind the sitting area were a weight machine, an exercise bike, a treadmill, and some free weights. Robert had stripped down to athletic shorts and was on the treadmill running. He was barely breathing hard as he ran at a leisurely pace. He nodded to his dad and focused back on his form. “Don’t stop running, but I made some plans for us later. We’ll stay home, eat some pizza, and if you want we can watch the game together. Also, my mom and dad will be coming over for the game. They want to meet you.” Robert nodded again, “Sounds good. I like everything but anchovies on my pizza.” He kept running and started to show some sweat on his brow. Adam chuckled. “I don’t think I know anyone who likes anchovies on their pizza.” He paused to watch his son a bit and nodded at the discipline he showed in working on his running form. “Let me know if you use the free weights, and I’ll spot you.” Robert nodded and kept running. ~.~ “I’m nervous,” Robert said. He sat at the island bar eating pizza while the Lightning Live! Pregame Show played in the background in the family room. He was munching on a Meat Lover’s pizza, and Adam had let him have one of the Bud Lights that he had in the wet bar. “They’re going to love you. Trust me.” “Will… will they care if I’m gay?” “No, they won’t, and they already know,” Adam smiled, and then chuckled shaking his head. “Here’s a funny story for you. I came out to my parents when I was your age, and I was scared to death. Well, that Christmas, Dad bought me my first dildo. Oh, it was more of a gag, it was a Great American Dildo. But Mom… well, she bought me a selection of lubes, some ‘how to’ videos from the gay bookstore Tomes and Treasures, and ordered me a variety pack of a thousand condoms from Adammale.” Robert couldn’t help but laugh at the story. “They did that? And what’s a Great American?” “A Great American Dildo is a gag gift, but I’ve heard of people using them. They’re as thick as your calf, and about as long as your arm.” Adam cringed as he thought about it. “No, way. I’m not a size queen.” “So, are you a top or a bottom, Dad?” “Versatile, but I prefer to bottom,” Adam said honestly. It wasn’t lost on him he was talking to his teenage son about sex. “What about you? Have you had sex yet?” Robert nodded. “I have. I’m versatile as well, but I topped mainly with the guys I’ve been with.” He paused a moment and blushed as he realized whom he was talking to. “I'm not used to talking about this with anyone in the family.” “I’m an open book, Rob. I’m happy to talk about it with you, even buy you stuff if you need it. Just keep it in your bedroom, and I’ll keep my partners and me in mine.” They ate more of the pizza in silence while watching the pregame show. The doorbell rang. Adam, got up and answered it, and greeted his parents. They walked in and went to the kitchen. Robert stood up when they walked in and hugged his grandmother and grandfather. “Rob, this is my mom Samantha Smith, and my dad Derrick Smith. Mom, Dad… this is my son, Robert Turner. Don’t call him Bob or Bobby.” “A pleasure to meet you, Robert,” Samantha said and hugged her grandson. “Likewise,” Derrick said and shook his hand. He squeezed his shoulder with a smile. “A fine looking young man. Adam, you’re gonna have to knock the boys off with a stick when he starts school.” That brought a round of laughter from everyone. “Thanks, and it’s nice to meet you both,” Robert managed to get out. “So, your dad hasn’t told me when your birthday is. When is it? I have a lot of catching up to do!” Samantha said. She went to the family room and sat on a couch dragging Robert with her. Derrick sat on the other side of Robert, sandwiching him in place. Adam fetched drinks from the wet bar for his parents and handed the two beers to them before sitting on the other couch. He gave Robert a small apologetic smile and nodded to the seat next to him, for Robert to move to when he got a chance. “I was born on November 25th.” “A Christmas season baby,” Samantha pondered. “Well, don’t worry. We’re not the type to buy one present and say it’s both Christmas and your birthday.” “Thanks…” Robert said in a puzzled voice. He started to get a 'deer in the headlights' look. “Rob, come on over and sit here. And give them some room. The game is about to start.” Adam interjected. While Robert was changing seats, Adam stood up and grabbed their drinks from earlier. “Mom, Dad, there’s pizza on the counter if you want some.” He handed Robert his Bud Light and sat back down. Robert sat stunned waiting for one of his grandparents to say something about the beer, but when they didn’t, he took a drink of it. “Have you decided on a school yet?” Derrick asked. “Not yet, Dad. I was going to talk about it in the morning with Rob, and give him the options.” Adam smiled at his son. “Though we already have supplies depending on where he wants to go. His caseworker Sylvia said to wait a week so that she could get the records from Boston for us.” Talk turned towards hockey, as the game started with the Lightning vs. the Panthers. Robert was amazed that for two people who never left Florida, his paternal grandparents sure knew a lot about the game. He was surprised to learn that his dad made the team for M.I.T. when he was there, as a fourth-line right-winger for one season. As the game wound down, Robert found himself tired from the day’s events. “Good night, Grandma and Granddad. I’ll see you all around.” “Come over here and give me a hug,” Samantha said and stood up. Robert walked over to her, and they hugged quickly. “Good night, Rob. Sleep well, and welcome to the family,” Derrick said. He quickly hugged his grandson. Adam smiled at his son and hugged Robert as well. It lingered a bit longer than with the grandparents, and Adam placed a kiss on the top of his head. “Good night. I love you, Robert.” “I love you, too,” Robert said and quickly went to his room. He didn’t want anyone to see the fresh batch of tears that were threatening to flow. Adam put the empty bottles and boxes into the trash and recycling, as the three adults talked about family issues in the kitchen. “That was nice. Robert seems like a good boy. You said you are going to counseling?” Samantha said as she leaned on the central island. “Yes, I called today, after our talk. They are supposed to call back tomorrow. It’s going to be tough, but they may have time on Friday.” Derrick listened to the two for a bit and nodded along. “You’ll do well son. I’ve got faith the two of you will pull through this.” “Thanks. I’ll be honest… I’m scared shitless over this. I go from single gay man, looking for a new boyfriend, and getting a start-up going, to instant father of a sixteen-year-old son I didn’t know I had. Hell, today he questioned the amount I was spending on him, and the only thing I could think of was I was trying to spoil him some.” “Did you mean what you said to him? That you love him?” Samantha said, in a neutral tone. “Of course,” Adam said. He exhaled a long breath. “When Sylvia told me about him, I felt a little weird and worried if I could love him. Especially seeing what Michelle did to me. However, once I saw him yesterday,” he paused and shook his head. “There is no doubt I love him, and I would die for him.” He laughed a little. “I know that sounds cheesy.” “Nonsense... It’s what every true parent would do for their child.” After talk had wound down, Adam escorted his parents out and went back into the house. After making his way to the library, he sat at the desk with his laptop open. Adam looked over at the family picture sitting in the corner of the desk. It was an older photo, taken at the photo studio on a trip to Walt Disney World. Adam was 14 at the time and hadn’t come out of the closet yet. His parents were in the background, with a fake park scene on the screen behind them. Adam stood in front of his mom, while another person, a couple of years younger than him, stood in front of his dad. The person was Tibot, Adam’s estranged brother. For the last fifteen years, they had been in contact only via email. Adam opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of whiskey he kept there. Opening his laptop and letting it boot up, he thought about what he was going to tell his brother. Adam took a swig from the bottle as the email program fired up, and with liquor-fueled courage, he typed up and sent the email. He didn’t expect a response - he rarely got a reply back. He went to work looking at real estate properties his business partner had sent him. Twenty minutes into looking at Google Street View, Google Earth, and the properties his partner wanted him to see, Adam was engrossed in his work. The return notification surprised him, and he sent the remaining mouthful of whiskey sloshing up the sides of the glass bottle. Adam stopped and watched the liquor run down the sides. Then after a deep breath, he picked up the container, swallowed the contents, and clicked open the reply. His eyes widened as he read, "Call me."
  16. 109 points
    It was Monday, February 5, 2018, when Adam Smith opened the door and let the woman in. He had spoken with her earlier that morning and had been on an emotional roller coaster since. “Please come in. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, water?” “No thank you, but I appreciate the offer,” Sylvia Cramer said. She smiled as he shut the door behind them. She looked around the house, taking in the sights. It was her job as a social worker for the Florida Department of Children and Families. “The living room is located to the left. It’s a five-bedroom, six-bath house, and I’m still settling in,” Adam said as he led her into the living room. The house had a Tuscan feel on the exterior that continued inside. A stone façade and cobblestone driveway led to the front entryway in the front center, and a three-car garage to the right. Immediately one stepped into living space, with the front room on the left and dining room to the right. Two-story ceilings with wood beams gave the place an open and massive feeling. Off the living room were a powder room, the door to the master retreat, and a library. The rest of the house was off of to the right past the dining room. The warm cream color on the walls was carried on throughout the house. Adam sat down in a comfortable chair, while Sylvia made herself comfortable on the couch. Adam took his mug from the coffee table. He'd made coffee just before Sylvia's arrival. He noticed his hands were shaking. In addition to the couch, two armchairs, and coffee table, all facing a fireplace, paintings hung on the walls. They were tasteful art in an impressionist style. “It’s a nice place you have here. Is it new construction?” “Yes, it is. They just finished building it about two weeks ago, and I’m slowly adding my personal touches. I’ve got lots of things to buy to furnish the place fully.” Adam replaced the mug. He drew in a deep controlled breath and let it out slowly. Calm down and slow down. He smiled and spoke to Sylvia. “Sorry, I’ve been a nervous wreck since you called earlier. It’s not every day you learn you’re a father.” “No worries. I can understand the situation,” Sylvia said, giving him a reassuring smile. “Now, I’m doing the formal home inspection. There are some questions I need to ask as well.” “Go ahead. I’m an open book.” Sylvia smiled and took out a voice recorder and a file folder from her bag. “Do you mind if I record this?” “I’m fine with that.” She clicked the recorder on, and began with the questions, “So, can I get your full name and age, for the record?” “Adam Smith, and I just turned thirty-eight years old a week ago.” “What do you do for a living?” “I’m retired. I went to M.I.T. and into business shortly after. I patented a new medical device I designed. I did quite well when I sold it to a pharmaceutical company. I’m now looking into starting a new business here in town. It’s going to be a microbrewery and restaurant.” She nodded and jotted down the answer. “I’m not going to ask for your finances, but the judge may want tax records before everything is finalized. You said earlier you were single. Are you seeing anyone?” Adam shook his head. “No, I’m not seeing anyone currently. My last boyfriend didn’t want to move when I decided it was time to come back home.” “So, you’re gay?” Sylvia said in a neutral tone. “I am. Is that going to be a problem?” Adam asked, getting a bit defensive. “No… not at all. However, I do need to let you know your son, Robert Turner, is gay too.” Adam was speechless. That morning he had received the call from Sylvia Cramer, informing him that he was the father of a sixteen-year-old boy who was placed into foster care after the death of his mother. The child’s mother turned out to be a college friend named Michelle Turner. Adam and Michelle were inseparable during those first years at M.I.T. when Adam was coming out of the closet and sowing his oats. Michelle stood by him the whole time. They had a falling out when, for his twenty-first birthday, his friends took him out drinking at a local bar. He and Michelle ended up in bed together and had sex. Adam regretted it the next morning. Regret turned to hatred when he learned the truth. Michelle had planned it. She had fallen in love with Adam, and hoped by sleeping with him he would accept her. It had the opposite effect. He pushed her away and lost track of her when she left M.I.T. a few weeks later. “That… that’s not going to be a problem is it?” Adam stammered. “I mean with the Judge or Michelle’s family? I know not everyone would be thrilled about a single gay man raising a teenage gay son.” He took another deep breath, and let it out in a long sigh. “Damn, I can hear the accusations now. Some perverted incest is going on in this house.” Sylvia shook her head and gave him a small smile. “You have nothing to worry about. There is case law that protects you, and the Family Court Judge, in this case, is very fair. She will handle this with a sensitive hand, and she usually takes the cases dealing with GLBT youth. Normally cases are assigned first come, first served, but they do trade offs. As for his maternal family… no need to worry about them. They signed away custody once they found out he was gay. I think that hurt the boy a lot.” “Those bastards,” Adam said while shaking his head. “Oh, sorry…” He blushed realizing what he had said. “No worries. I’ve said the same a few times, both during and after talking with them.” She put the file away and turned off the recorder. “Let me check the rest of the house, and then we can call the visit done.” Adam showed her the rest of the house, starting with the library and master bedroom; then the other side where the kitchen, a family room, gaming room, and the four bedrooms were. Adam said that the one immediately off the kitchen would be for a live-in butler he was hiring, while the remaining three would be guest rooms. Of course, his son would get one. All were spartanly decorated, as he was still in the process of furnishing the rooms. “Well, that will do it. I’ll file my report, and make my recommendation that your son be given to you,” Sylvia said with a grin. They stood at the front door and talked a bit. “Off the record, let me give you two pieces of advice.” “Please do,” Adam said while hoping he didn't sound apprehensive. “I don’t trust his maternal family, so I would get a lawyer, for the very reason you said earlier. A gay man, with a gay teen… I’ve seen it before. They are going to go ballistic. Also, you may want to put locks on the wine closet, and the wet bar.” Adam nodded listening to her. “I’ll retain a lawyer tomorrow. When… when should I expect Robert?” “After the paperwork is submitted and he’s transferred from Boston, Massachusetts to Tampa, Florida. I feel it shouldn’t be more than two or three days.” “Thank you, Sylvia.” “You’re welcome, Adam,” she said. She turned and headed to her car while Adam shut the door. ~.~ Over the next three days, Adam was in a whirlwind of activity. He retained a lawyer the following day, a cousin of his who worked with Family Law. After that, he contacted the contractor who had built his house and paid for a rush job to add locks to the wine closet and the cabinets for the wet bar. They were able to schedule for the next day. He spent the remainder of the three days interviewing potential butlers and shopping to finish furnishing the bedrooms. He decided to hold off on getting anything else for Robert until he arrived and they could take stock of what he still had. Sylvia called the third day after the home visit to say there was an issue. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had placed a hold on the case pending review, and a paternity test. Adam agreed to one and contacted his cousin for legal help. Working with Sylvia and his cousin they got all the necessary paperwork done, blood work, and Adam even paid for the airfare to have Robert transferred. He purchased first-class seats for both him and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families chaperon. Finally, the end was in sight, after a month of legal filings. Robert’s plane was set to arrive at noon, at Tampa International Airport. Sylvia, per protocol, was picking him up. The Florida Department of Children and Families would need to do their intake, which meant Robert wouldn’t be arriving at the house until later in the afternoon. ~.~ Robert Turner sat in the passenger seat of the car, staring out the window at the buildings in Downtown Tampa. Sylvia was driving; she had music playing low, and was chatting about life in Tampa in general. Robert wondered if one of the high-rise condos would be his father’s place. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, on Monday, March 5, 2018, with barely a cloud in the sky. The temperature outside was in the high 80s, and the sun shone in all its brilliance. Robert felt like he could get used to Florida. Well, perhaps not the heat, but he was determined to fit in. Over the past month, Robert finally had accepted the fact his life had changed. He wasn’t sure if it was for the better, or for the worse. He was surprised by the first-class accommodations on the flight to Tampa, and to learn that it was his father who had paid for it. His mother had told him his father had died in a car accident when he was two-years-old, and had even given him a false name when he was older and wanted to look for grandparents. He was starting to resent her for that. He loved her, however, and missed her so much it pained him to think of her poorly. He was hurt deeply when his grandparents and aunt rejected him for being gay. That was when the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families got involved, and he had to come out of the closet. He never thought his family would be bigots, with their Democratic values. As they took a detour and passed by Amalie Arena along Channelside, he looked at the bridge crossing over to an island in the bay. They were driving over it when he asked, “My dad lives on an island?” “Yes. This is called Harbour Island. It used to have a retail mall, but now it’s some businesses, some condos, and a gated upscale housing community,” Sylvia said in a pleasant tone. “So, not only an island but he, well… I mean, we also live in a gated community?” Robert asked a bit stunned. “What does he do for a living?” “Didn’t the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families go over this with you?” “No, they didn’t. They only told the foster care facility things, and I was left in the dark. The only thing I know for sure is that Adam Smith is my biological dad.” Sylvia let out a long sigh but didn’t respond immediately. They had pulled up to the gate’s guard post, and she was dealing with that to get on the island. The guard had just opened the gate for them to pass when she responded. “I’m sorry you went through that Robert. I can tell you the basics, but it's best you learn from your father. He was just as much in the dark about you as you were about him. “I will say this about Adam. After he found out about you, he’s done everything in his power to get you here with him. If Massachusetts hadn’t denied him visitation over the past month, I dare say he would have been in Boston, seeing you every day. He wants this to work out between you two.” Robert nodded but remained silent; he didn’t know what to expect from moving down to live with a stranger who had proven to be his biological father. They approached a house that overlooked the water, and towards Davis Islands and Seddon Channel. It was a massive two-story Tuscan design that Robert couldn’t help but be in awe over. They pulled into the cobblestone driveway and stopped facing the front door. Sylvia turned off the car and was stepping out when the front door opened. Adam stepped out and waved to her. “That’s Adam, your father,” she said through the open door. “Go on up to him, and I’ll get your suitcases out of the trunk.” Adam stood near the front door and waited for Sylvia and Robert to move. He’d been waiting in his library working when he saw the car pull up. Adam was very nervous, and his palms were sweating. He brushed them off on his pants and took a few calming breaths. When the passenger door opened and Robert stepped out of the car, he knew this was his son, and in his heart he felt the first stirrings of love a father has for his child. He couldn’t help but smile looking at Robert, and started to walk to him. Robert nodded to Sylvia as she shut the door and went to the trunk. He was also nervous; he was shaking and couldn’t open the door at first. He then realized it was locked, and quickly unlocked it before getting out. He grabbed his backpack that was in the floorboard and shut the door, looking towards Adam. There was an instant connection. He could sense it was true that Adam was his father, and he was home. He shivered as Adam moved towards him, standing frozen in his spot. He wanted to go to him, but he couldn’t make his legs move. He was overcome with emotion. When Adam stepped up to Robert, he stuck his hand out to shake. “Robert… it’s good to meet you, Son, finally.” Robert looked at the offered hand and finally reached up with a trembling hand. After a moment, he dropped his backpack to the ground and embraced his father in a bear hug. He didn’t know how it started, but the tears began to flow down his face as he began to sob into his father’s chest. Sylvia stood at the back of the car and watched the scene unfold in front of her. She looked at both men, and you couldn’t deny they were father and son. Adam stood six-foot-two-inches and was built like a lumberjack. Powerful chest and arms, and well-defined legs, brown curly hair, and sea green eyes. Robert was his spitting image - same hair and similar build, but a little shorter at five-foot-ten-inches. He had his mother’s eyes of crystal blue though. She watched as the two embraced. Adam rubbed Robert’s back comforting him, as he cried into his father’s chest. ~.~ The emotional meeting lasted a few minutes. After Robert got control of himself, Adam took him inside and left him in the living room, and told him he could look around if he wanted. He returned outside to talk to Sylvia and invited her inside. She politely declined so that the family could have some bonding time. After finishing up all the paperwork DCF needed, she excused herself while Adam took Robert’s bags in. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Friday that week. Adam sat the two suitcases by the door and looked over at Robert who was looking at the paintings in the living room. He smiled watching his son. “They are by a local artist. I found them at the street market in Ybor City over one weekend.” “They're nice,” Robert said, looking back at his father. “You have a nice place.” “We have a nice place. It’s now your house as well. Come, let me give you the tour, and I’ll let you choose which bedroom you want.” They left the bags, and the pair of them walked the house off. They talked briefly about things concerning the house while they looked around. Robert chose the back bedroom overlooking the small backyard and the water. He liked the furniture Adam had already placed in there. They wound up in the kitchen, where Robert sat at the island bar, and Adam went to fix himself a coffee. “Would you like something? We have coffee, and I got different K-Cups you can have. We have some ice tea in the fridge, some OJ or milk, and I didn’t know if you drink soda, but there’s a 12-pack of Pepsi, Coke, and Mountain Dew in the pantry.” Robert smiled, “I’ll take some ice tea. Is it sweet?” “Of course,” Adam said with a laugh. He fetched a glass of ice tea for Robert and passed it to him, then fixed his coffee. He stood across leaning on the center island, looking at Robert. The silence stretched between them, as they sipped their drinks and looked at each other. Robert cleared his throat, “Um, what time is dinner? I haven’t eaten since before we left Boston this morning.” “Oh shit… Sorry, I hadn’t thought about that. I was planning on going out. There’s a place over in Hyde Park, called the 'Goody Goody,' and they have some of the best burgers in the bay area. You eat meat, right?” Robert laughed. “I do eat meat, err… Adam… Dad… Father… Sorry, I’m not sure what to call you?” “Dad is cool, Adam if you don’t feel like it yet. I was going to ask you the same thing. What do you want me to call you?” “Anything but Bob or Bobby, I hate being called that. My friends and mom…” he got quiet a moment, then continued, “called me Rob. My boyfriend, Martin, used to call me Stark, because I looked like Rob Stark from Game of Thrones.” He paused a moment and went white as a sheet. He realized he’d just outed himself absentmindedly. Adam smiled and moved to stand next to Robert. He laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, as Robert jumped from the touch at first. He was still shaken when Adam spoke. “You have nothing to worry about. Sylvia told me you were gay the first day she told me I had a son. Now… My ex and I used to go to Halloween Parties, wearing nothing but whitey-tighties with fake cardboard leaves glued to the front and back. As a couple, we were Adam and Steve.” “You’re gay too?” “Yup… I guess it runs in the family. There is the gay gene, they’ve discovered. I don’t know all the research behind it.” Robert was speechless, shaking his head with the revelation. “Wow… This is getting weird like I’m in a dream.” “It’ll be fine, son. I’m here for you. Just let me know if you need anything or are having any issues. Speaking of which…” He walked over to a counter drawer and grabbed some paper and pen. He passed them to Robert. “Here you go, Rob. Make out a list for me of what you use, like deodorant, shampoo, that sort of stuff, and anything else you need. After we snag dinner, we can hit a store, and get your toiletries at least.” Robert nodded and started writing out his list. Adam went and fetched his bags from the living room and took them to his bedroom for him. “If you want a shower before we head out, I have some spare stuff in the linen closet in my bedroom you’re welcome to have.” “Thanks, Dad. I have a small travel case of stuff in my bags that’ll do me for now. Give me twenty minutes?” Robert finished his list, and slid it over to Adam, then headed to his bedroom. “Sounds good,” Adam said to the departing Robert. “I’ll be in the library when you’re ready.” Robert walked into his new bedroom and over to his suitcases. He retrieved his toilet kit and a change of clothes, and walked into the bathroom, snagging a towel from the linen closet. He turned the water on in the shower, letting it get hot while he stripped off, and stepped into the water. Lord, I needed this, Robert thought to himself. Dad seems like an okay guy, and damn, he’s gay too. Finally, someone that understands me. He soaped himself, cleaned the day’s travel dust off of his body, and rinsed. Adam stepped into his room and grabbed a fresh outfit. He went into his bathroom and quickly showered off. Well, Rob seems like a good kid. So much we need to talk about, and he needs to meet the family. Also, I need to tell him about our steward Duncan. I’m glad I gave him a couple of days off. I hope I’m doing this right. Adam stepped out of the shower drying off, and put the new outfit on: a pair of black jeans, some tennis shoes, and Brayden Point’s Tampa Bay Lightning Home Jersey. The Goody Goody diner had a special on Mondays for those wearing Lightning gear, even in the off-season. Adam left his room and went to the library to wait for Robert. He was shutting his laptop down when his son walked in. Adam looked his son over, and couldn’t help but to chuckle. Robert stood at the door, wearing black jeans, tennis shoes, and a hockey jersey as well… for the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron. “Like Father, like son…” Adam said, shaking his head. Robert laughed as well, seeing his dad in the Lightning gear. “Well I have to admit, Brayden Point is doing a great job for the Lightning, and your team is killing it this year.” “Yeah, they are. I would be surprised if they don’t make the finals.” “Same here.” “Please tell me you’re not a fan of Rat-boy?” “Who?” Robert asked before he got the reference. “Nah. I’m not a fan of Marchand.” Adam grabbed his wallet and keys from the desk, and the two headed out for dinner. ~.~ Dinner and shopping at Walgreens went well for Adam and Robert. They did idle chit-chat while they were out, bonding more over their shared love of Hockey. Adam, being a season ticket holder for the Tampa Bay Lightning, called and added another season ticket for Robert to his package. More common interests were found in similar tastes in music, and they both loved outdoor sports. Adam let Robert know about their live-in Steward, Duncan Isen. The trip home from Walgreens was peaceful. They arrived home in short order, and after Robert put his stuff away, they sat in the family room, each with a soft drink, and talked for a while. “Okay. So, I think we need to cover the rules of the house, and I welcome your input on them. Alright?” Adam asked, his tone was pleasant and authoritative. “That’s fine with me Dad.” “The first rule is no raiding the liquor cabinet. I’m also not stupid, and I know you may drink when you’re out with friends and such. So, I propose this. I will allow the occasional glass of wine, or even a beer, here at home. No hard liquor. Keep it on the weekends, and if you ever come home drunk, you’ll lose this privilege. If you are too drunk to drive or with someone who is, call. I will come to get you, no questions asked, but we will talk about it in the morning.” “That’s more than fair. Yeah, I’ve had a beer before with some friends, but I’ve never been drunk.” Robert said with a grin. He’s gonna let me drink, here! Damn, Mom never allowed that. “Well, this would get me in a world of shit if DCF found out. I would appreciate you keeping it on the down low until this custody case is done.” “I understand.” Adam took a drink of his ice tea and smiled some. “Second rule, no drugs. I have zero tolerance for the hard stuff, and weed isn’t legal in Florida, yet. If and when it does become legal, we’ll discuss it.” “I don’t do drugs. I’ve tried weed before, but didn’t like it,” Robert said, his voice sincere. “Cool. That leads to cigarettes. I don’t know if you smoke. I don’t because I have asthma, but if you do, take it outside. Seeing you can’t legally buy them, if you do smoke, write your brand down, and Duncan or I will make sure you get it.” “Wow. Are you serious?” “Yes. I did smoke when I was in high school. Lots of stress, and other stuff, and I got hooked on the nicotine. But, after far too many asthma attacks, it took me about eight months on patches, right before I went to M.I.T., to get off them,” he smiled at Robert and sipped his drink again. “So I can understand needing them.” “Well, I don’t smoke anymore, but I do vape. I’ll need stuff for that.” “That’s doable. In that case, as long as it not stinking up the place, I’m cool with it in the house. But, I would encourage you to give it up.” Robert nodded to him. “Thirdly…,” Adam paused and took a long drink. He let out a short sigh, “Thirdly. I’m gay. You’re gay. Duncan is straight. I’m normally running around the house in just boxers, or running shorts, especially in the mornings, and will toss a t-shirt on if I’m in the kitchen and cooking. I’ll get more dressed up if I’m heading out, or we have people coming over. I’m telling you this so you’re not surprised. You can wear whatever you want around the house. I only ask that you don’t go stark naked unless you’re in your room.” “I can agree with that. I used to run around the house like that too. Mom didn’t care.” “My family is fairly open-minded, and nudity is not something to be ashamed of. As a kid, I used to run around the house most of the day in just underwear. Well, until mom yelled at me to get some clothes on. But with this custody case, Sylvia said we might have an issue with Michelle’s family. Just be mindful. I don’t want to give anyone a cause for concern, ya know?” Robert sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I know.” “Alright, last couple of rules. Dinner, Monday through Friday, is at 7:00 pm; be home for dinner unless we have something else already planned. Duncan only cooks dinner during the week and may fix breakfast or lunch if you ask him. It’s not his main priority, so if you want him to prepare for you, you’ve got to let him know in advance. Weekends, it’s fend for yourself. I’m a horrible cook, so I tend to eat leftovers or go out. If I order out, I’ll get you something. We’ll decide what to get at that time. “Duncan only works Monday through Friday, but he lives here. I gave him the week off so we can get to know each other. His job is to keep the house clean, stocked, and make dinner during the week. You are responsible for keeping your room and your private bathroom clean. I’m cool with clutter, but this isn’t an ‘80s comedy frat house. Don’t make his life hell. If it’s in the fridge more than 24 hours, it’s free game. If it’s special, let everyone know, and we’ll respect it. The whole house is wired as a smart house, and I have an app that keeps track of home supplies. If you get low on something or want to change up, put it on the list. Does that sound good to you? Do you have anything to add?” “It sounds good to me, Dad,” Robert said, and then shook his head no. “I’ve got nothing to add.” “Okay,” Adam smiled as he nodded to Robert. “Well, you’re welcome to watch TV out here, or you can use my tablet for tonight unless you got one in your bags. Tomorrow, be up before 9:00 am, and we’ll head out for breakfast and more shopping. I’m gonna set you up with a phone, and get you a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop for gaming and schoolwork. If you need anything else, let me know, and we’ll get it.” “Sounds good, Dad,” Robert said, and they both stood to go their separate ways. “Dad?” Robert stopped and turned towards Adam. “Yes, son?” “Thank you, for taking me in.” Rob stepped over to Adam and gave him a long lingering hug. Adam held his son and rubbed his back. “If I had known, I would have been in your life before this.” “I can tell, Dad. I can tell,” Robert said in a shaky voice. They stepped away from each other to go their separate ways. After one or two steps they both stopped and turned. As they caught each other's eyes, they smiled and were comforted knowing they were together; they were family.
  17. 109 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 55 “I think he fell out of his shift,” Kellar said in response to Tobyn’s question. “Is he all right?” Kellar flickered as Fendral, laying on his side in human form, curled up into an almost fetal position. “He’s dead to the world, and he’s by no means healthy yet, but his colors are in balance. His aura is quite pale,” he mused. “I have no doubt the man is suffering from the malaise. He’s been isolated a long time, so whatever residual benefits there were from years of having an earth mate are long gone.” “So that’s why he shifted? The malaise?” Tobyn asked from behind him, his warm breath floating along Kellar’s neck. The moon was directly above, full and bright. He leaned back into his mate and sighed. Weariness was letting itself be known. “Now that he has no excess burnt umber, his body’s not strong enough to hold a shift. Human form is back to being the dominant one, so yeah, the malaise is the reason.” “Cool. Right?” “Yeah, I think so. I hope he feels it’s a good thing, when he comes out of his sleep.” “Is he going to wake up like Connor did… all of a sudden?” “No. No way. He’s in a deep state, and he’s way too weak to do what Connor did. That still freaks me out. Fendral keeps sucking up our mate energy, though. I’m surprised we still have any.” “Why? I feel fine.” “Really? You’re not tired?” “Well, yeah. But not exhausted the way I’ve been in the past. So, what now?” “We carry him into the house. He can’t weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds.” “There’s not much to him, is there? He used to be such a big guy.” “No, he doesn’t look like the man in his photos. But, we’ll get him back to the way he was.” “I knew you would do it. I could tell it was working because you were different when you began drawing energy from me again. It was smoother… steadier.” “I’m not surprised, because I was in a way better state of mind the second time. You were the reason it was successful. Not only did you calm me down, but your idea about getting the process started first, and then reversing it, was exactly right. It worked like a charm. I was about ready to give up.” “No you weren’t. You were frustrated, but you’d have figured it out. I’m your sounding board, doc, that’s all.” They both stood, staring down at the wizened old man. Kellar turned to face his mate, pulling him into a tight embrace. “You are so much more than a sounding board. Don’t ever say that again, okay?” “Okay.” “I’m being serious. I couldn’t face any of these healings without you.” “I know you’re being serious. I won’t say anything like that again. I promise.” “Good. Now let’s get my grandfather into a comfortable bed. I should be able to carry him by myself. Lead the way.” A hand on his arm stopped Kellar as he went to pick the frail man up. “I’ll do it. You’re exhausted.” “No, I can do this.” “Kellar, stop! I said I’ll carry him. You’re practically staggering. Let me do my part, all right? You’ve already done yours. You lead the way and open the door.” “Yes, dear.” “That’s more like it.” “Did he wake at all?” “No, just like you said, he stayed asleep.” “How long was I out for?” “Four hours. I napped a couple of times sitting up.” Tobyn proceeded to rub Kellar’s sock clad feet as he sat on the end of the couch. “Four hours? You were supposed to wake me after an hour.” “I didn’t see the point. You were worn out. How do you feel now?” “Fantastic. Damned hungry, though.” “Grilled cheese coming right up.” Tobyn stood. “You want coffee… or tea?” Kellar swung his feet onto the floor. “Sure. Tea would be good. I’ll help. Aren’t you tired?” “Nope. I told you I catnapped. I feel energized, and the sun will be up in a couple of hours.” “I’ll just check on my grandfather first.” Kellar went to the spare room, stopping at the doorway. The only light was from the hallway, but Kellar could see the still-sleeping man clearly. He looked small in his curled up position on the big bed. Flickering, he was satisfied with what he saw. His aura was about the same as those he’d seen at Morningstar upon his arrival. This man needed lots of mate energy, but physically, everything was back in order. How he’d be mentally, once he woke up, might be another story. Kellar was beginning to think Fendral had slept long enough. The sun had made its appearance, and he was getting antsy. His grandfather needed to eat and drink. As far as they knew, it’d been many years since he’d last been in human form, and the healer in him wanted to be assured all his systems were functioning. Should he go in there and…? Tobyn stirred, his head shifting in Kellar’s lap. His body went into a full-on stretch before his eyes opened. He smiled. “Hey, doc.” “Hey, yourself. Did I wake you?” “No, I don’t think so. I did feel your fingers in my hair, though, so maybe,” he answered, stretching once more. “I feel awesome. How is he?” “The same. I heard him shift around once, but his breathing hasn’t changed. I’m itching to wake him up, to be honest. If he was in a hospital, he’d be on an IV to counteract his depletion.” “You know I love when you talk all doctory.” Tobyn sat up, leaning against the back of the couch. “He needs fluids, and some food. I’d feel better if he got up and moved around.” “So, wake him then. The man’s been sleeping for ages. You started the healing in the afternoon.” “Yeah, but sleep is good too. All his vitals are strong. I’m just impatient because I want to talk to him and find out what he thinks about stuff.” “Like falling out of his shift and being in human form again?” “That’s the biggie. What if he didn’t understand what was going to happen with the healing? What if he’s pissed off, and freaks out? Oh, I think he’s awake. Yup, he is.” Kellar practically flew to the spare room, and Tobyn was close behind. “Good morning… Grandfather.” Fendral was sitting up, his weight braced on his arms. His eyes traveled from his stretched out legs under the thin sheet to the two men now just inside the door. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Frowning, his hand went to his throat. “Are you having trouble speaking,” an anxious Kellar asked. Fendral dropped his hand and stared at it, as if the sight of it was something alien. He turned it over and back before looking toward Kellar. He slowly nodded. “I’ll get you some cool water, sir,” Tobyn said before rushing away. Kellar found himself shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and willed himself to stop. “I don’t know if you remember our conversation, but the healing went well. I told you I would fix you up, and I have. Your colors… ah… I’ll explain all that later… so, yeah, your colors are back in balance, which is why you could regain your human form. Okay, I guess I should give you the basics. Every living thing has a signature pattern made up of hundreds of colors, and they’re all different, except for mates. They have matching patterns. That means, because I never forget a pattern once I’ve seen it, I can visit a pack and find mates for our own members, and that’s what happened with Vega, and why we have so many fated pairs now. There’s more, but it can wait.” Fendral’s jaw opened and closed, but no words came out. “It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Ah, you might not be able to find your wolf any time you want for a week or two, and you probably won’t be able to stay shifted for long periods just yet, but it’ll come, I promise. Each day you’ll get healthier because of mate energy. Okay, so that’s an energy earth mates produce when they’re near someone who needs it, and other shifters absorb it. I can see it as well. It’s like a mist made up of hundreds of colors. It’s what cures our malaise and keeps us healthy.” Fendral gave no clue as to what he was thinking, but he was definitely listening. “I’m sorry. This is probably too much to get into right now.” What was going on in the old shifter’s mind right now? Tobyn appeared at Kellar’s back and handed him the water. He took it and walked slowly to the bed. “Do you want me to hold the glass while you drink?” Fendral nodded once more, his face still expressionless. When Kellar sat on the edge of the mattress, the elder man struggled to sit up straighter. Kellar was tempted to assist, but held off, raising the glass to his grandfather’s lips. He was thankful Tobyn had chosen a wide-rimmed, plastic one. The old man began choking right away, but when Kellar went to pull it away, he reached for it. Trembling hands grasped the glass, so Kellar let it go, and supported Fendral’s back with one hand. It was slow going, with water dribbling from his mouth onto the white sheet, but he managed to get more and more of the water down. Eventually he had his fill, and Kellar took the glass back from the heavily breathing man, pleased Fendral was now somewhat hydrated. He was also relieved there had been, as yet, no freak-out. He glanced up at his mate, who was standing next to him with eyebrows raised, concern quite evident. He gave him a reassuring smile he didn’t quite feel. “Would you like to sit back? I can pile the pillows up behind you?” Fendral’s breathing was calming down. He opened his mouth and this time a sound came out, but it was half-bark, half-croak. Swallowing a few times, his Adam’s apple bobbing, he tried again. “Piss,” turned out to be the first word he’d spoken in years, and Kellar’s little grin was met with a curl of his grandfather’s lip. It was a strange attempt at a smile, but Kellar knew what it meant. Mentally, his grandfather was doing just fine. There was no need to worry. “We’re over the hump, babe. There’ll be no episode like with Arthur’s wolf.” “That’s a relief.” Kellar fought the urge to laugh at the sigh Tobyn expelled. They both supported Fendral as he rose and walked to the bathroom, but he was essentially moving under his own steam. Other than a weakness one might associate with an elderly person, he had no real trouble, despite his shuffling gait. As with all shifters, nakedness didn’t bother Fendral, but the sight of his leanness in motion did affect Kellar. This man needed nourishment, sustained and healthy nourishment. A feeling of protectiveness washed over him. He wanted so much for his grandfather to survive and thrive; he was family, and represented his strongest connection to his mother. Not for the first time since learning of Miss Sybil’s vision, he wondered how his father must have felt the moment he realized he couldn’t save his own family. Roland died knowing his son was hidden in a ditch, alone and vulnerable. Kellar pushed the unsettling thought away. Moving over to wash his hands, Fendral seemed momentarily intrigued by the process, bringing the soap bar up close to his nose. Clearing his throat. “Still can’t smell much,” came out in a painful-sounding rasp, but he was easily understood. “Were your senses diminishing?” Fendral stopped his movements. “Was getting tough to hunt… Kellar.” “Is that why you’re so thin? How did you manage to survive?” Tobyn asked “Mice”—he cleared his throat again—“mice were about all I could catch, and they weren’t staying down most of the time.” Fendral looked at him, and his real smile made its first appearance. “Still with the questions, eh, Tobyn?” Tobyn smiled too. “I guess I used to ask a lot of them. Your voice is sounding way better.” “Just needed some oil. Good working order now. It sounds damn weird to my ears, though.” Tobyn laughed and Fendral grinned before his eyes focused on the mirror in front of him. He held up the copper necklace, rolling it in his fingers. “That’s for protection against hunters. Kellar’s brother figured out that silver—pure silver—pulses when a shifter is in the vicinity of it. If a human is paying attention, they can feel it against their skin, but wearing copper keeps the signal from happening. It’s the reason hunters could always find us so easily. Knowing this changes everything, sir. We all wear them now, so make sure you always have it on. That one should be the right size to fit your wolf.” Fendral grabbed the edges of the sink, looking stunned. “Gigi had two sons?” His gaze met Kellar’s in the mirror. Apparently he had taken news of the copper in stride. “Oh, no.” Kellar responded. “Sorry. Warren is my foster brother. He’s human, and it turned out he is Adelin’s earth mate.” “I see,” came out with a note of disappointment. “Little Adelin?” Kellar nodded, handing his grandfather a towel. “There’s a lot more to tell you, but it can wait. You need some clothes next, and then we have to figure out what to feed you.” “Eggs,” he responded immediately. “I miss scrambled eggs.” Tobyn chuckled. “Coming right up. I’ll go get us some breakfasts from the lodge. What else can you eat, sir?” “Sausage. I’d love some greasy sausage, and you’re too old now to call me sir.” Kellar nodded when Tobyn gave him a questioning look regarding the sausage. He was just happy to see the man had an appetite. It was a great sign about his state of mind. “It will do him good, babe.” “You’re the boss.” “Since when?” Tobyn ignored the smirk Kellar gave him, and turned his attention back to Fendral. “It might be a hard habit to break, but I’ll try, sir.” He returned the man’s little smile before he headed down the hallway. Alone with his grandfather again, Kellar swallowed down some nervousness. “We’ll have to figure out something for you to wear, sir, something that will fit you.” “Now you’re doing it.” “Ah, sorry. Fen… ah, what should I call you?” “You’re my grandson, aren’t you?” “Yes… I am.” “Then call me grandfather. Never been called that before.” He peered at Kellar’s face. “You don’t look like my Gisla. You don’t look like any of my relatives.” Despite realizing it was ridiculous, Kellar felt a little defensive. “I know. I mean, I’ve been told, and I’ve seen pictures of your family.” “It’s your family too, boy. You must take after your father’s side.” “Miss Sybil says in the vision she had, I look exactly like my dad. Grandfather? Are you happy about being back in your human form?” “I forgot how cold it can get wearing skin. Find me a robe or something, and I’ll think about whether I am or not.” “Is all this good food going to come back up on me?” Fendral was sitting at the kitchen table in a too-big tee-shirt, and a pair of Tobyn’s oversized sweat shorts that only stayed up because of the string ties tightly cinched at the waist. At least the socks fit. His grandfather had rebelled at the idea of covering his feet at first, but gave in when Kellar insisted. “No, Grandfather. Those cysts you had in your intestines are gone. They, and the inflammation they caused, were the reason for the vomiting. You should eat slow and stop before you feel full, though.” The man sighed after he swallowed the first forkful of fluffy scrambled eggs. He wasn’t long in putting a second one into his mouth, and a third…. Tobyn and Kellar shared a pleased look as they dug into their own food. “Did anyone ask who the extra breakfast was for?” “Nope,” Tobyn answered after he swallowed a mouthful. “Nobody knows Fendral’s here, but they’ll scent he’s around, for sure.” “Not up to that, just yet. Let me get my bearings first.” Fendral’s eyes stayed on his plate and his fork kept moving. “We expected that would be the way you would want it,” Kellar said, nodding his agreement. “It won’t hurt for you to rest a few days.” “Suppose a lot of members aren’t too happy with me anyway.” “You couldn’t be anymore wrong, Fendral. All the members….” The elder man stopped eating and looked up, cutting Tobyn off. “Just leave it alone, son. I’m not proud of what I’ve done, no matter what others feel about me. I’ve faced that I let a lot of people down, including those closest to me. Besides, I need to wrap my head around not being stuck in my wolf form. It’s like riding a bike but it’s still strange.” He put down his fork. “It’s not easy for me to eat slowly either. I’ll answer that question now, Kellar. I think I am… happy to be a man again. So, not that I’m in a hurry, but if I was to try to shift, I wouldn’t be able to?” “Not necessarily. But, you are suffering from the effects of the malaise, so that is sometimes one of the symptoms as you probably already know… not being able to shift anytime you want to, or not being able to hold it. The longer you’re in the presence of earth mates, like Tobyn and I, the sooner you’ll get better. Your senses will return to optimum, and shifting will become matter-of-fact again.” Tobyn smiled. “He’s talking all doctory now. You’ll get used to it. He gets like this at least once a day.” “Fine by me,” Fendral said, pushing away his plate. “My grandson is a smart one.” Kellar couldn’t help being pleased at the comment. “You’re finished eating?” “I’m hungry as hell, but my stomach feels full.” “I’m not surprised. Do you want to lay down for a while?” “Not really. I’d rather talk.” He squirmed in his seat and then settled. “It’s been a long time since I was able to, and I didn’t think I’d see much past today. Never expected I’d have a grandson either.” “You weren’t too far off in your assessment. Is that why you came back here… to say your goodbyes?” “Goodbyes? No, I couldn’t say any of those. I was looking for a place to curl up for the last time. Somewhere on these lands where I was born. My brain’s been getting foggy lately, but when I caught a hint of your scent, I thought I’d check on you boys first. Doesn’t feel foggy today, though. “And yes, Tobyn, in answer to your question yesterday, I suspected you two were mates with the way your scents are combined, so I wasn’t surprised when you confirmed it. I wasn't all that confident of my nose, though. I only planned on a quick look before I picked out my spot. I thought it was right that it be known what happened to me, and I knew my old carcass would be found eventually.” “So you were giving up,” Tobyn said softly. He put his fork down and pushed his breakfast away. “No, son. I wasn’t giving up… I was dying, and my wolf knew it. I guess you could say I gave up once, but I would never do it again. I had a promise to keep, and wolfing out made that more difficult. I had to fight every day.” Kellar wondered about the promise, but left it alone when his mate spoke. “Why did you give up, sir, the first time? Sorry, that wasn’t fair,” Tobyn muttered, looking slightly ashamed. “I understand why you chose your wolf.” “I’m sure everyone thinks they understand, but I’m not sure they do. They all thought I was depressed over losing my family, right?” Tobyn appeared startled… and unsure. “I… that’s what was said. Weren’t you?” “Hell, yes, I was. But I was angry too, so angry that it even eclipsed the sadness. My wolf felt rage most of the time, and instead of controlling it, I let it take me over… first the anger, and then my wolf. It was easier, because then I could escape from what I’d done, at least for some of the time. Mistake after mistake after mistake. I certainly didn’t deserve to be alpha anymore.” “Why not? What do you mean, Grandfather?” Fendral studied the pair before looking away. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said in a tone that caused Kellar some concern. “It was a long time ago. I finally stopped hating myself, but by then it was too late.” “Too late?” Fendral had lowered his head, so Kellar answered for him. “I think he means he lost his ability to return to this form.” There was no response from his grandfather. “Am I right?” The old man reengaged with a startling, unexpected smile, and it took Kellar a second to recognize the bitterness in it. “Exactly right. It was a fitting punishment for alienating all my children, one after the other. First, I couldn’t save their mother, and then I couldn’t save them... and the pack was dying. I tried… for years I tried, but I lost faith. Regret ate away at me. I was a damn fool.” “You had a lot of things happen to you,” Tobyn said with compassion. “I’ve never heard anyone call you a fool, sir.” “What would you call a man who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his sons because he tried to control them? Because he tried to bully them. What would call an alpha who didn’t learn from that, and then did the same thing with the only child he had left?” “My mother?” Kellar hated seeing the man upset, but he was curious about what he meant. “That’s right. My little girl. My Gisla. I don’t blame her now… for leaving me, or for not forgiving me. She had no choice, and she was right to go. You’re the proof of that. I ignored what her mother asked of me, and deep down I knew how wrong I was. It’s why I fought to keep going… I couldn’t let my Esther down again.” He held up his hand when Tobyn started to speak. The man was fighting some inner battle. “Do you know what he’s talking about?” “I have no clue. Should we stop this, doc? What if he gets depressed again?” “I won’t tell you I’m not worried, but he wanted to talk. Maybe he needs to get this out.” “Okay. At least he trusts us.” “I look at him and feel my mom. Maybe he looks at me and feels the same.” It was as if Fendral had heard their silent conversation when he spoke again. “No one controlled your mother, Kellar. And the truth of it is, of my three children, she was the real alpha.” This time, the smile he gave held no bitterness. “She was a lot smarter than her father was.” “Why do you say that?” “Because she didn’t listen to me. She didn’t let me keep her from her destiny. Now, that makes me proud. So, tell me about Miss Sybil’s vision.” “Okay, but first can you answer something for me?” “If I can.” “Why didn’t my mother keep in contact with the pack? I mean, I was four and a half years old when she died, so she was gone a lot of years. She must have had opportunities to call in all that time. Did you ever talk to her after she left?” A pained expression took over Fendral’s face. “It’s my fault she didn’t keep in touch. She didn’t call because I disowned her.” “You what?” Tobyn blurted out the question, but Kellar had the same reaction. “Why would you do that, Grandfather?” He tried to keep the accusation from his voice, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. “I already told you. I was a fool. I knew she wasn’t safe out there, away from the pack, a young girl I still saw as a child. It terrified me that she wanted to go out in the world all by herself… a world filled with hunters. I was angry and desperate, so I went on the offensive. Nothing could convince me she wasn’t going to die if she went on a search for her mate, but none of the arguments I made got through to her. Her brothers had disappeared doing the same thing she planned to do. She was the only family I had left, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. I ordered my daughter, as her alpha, to stay. I told her if she left, she would be turning her back on Morningstar, and we’d no longer be her pack. I insisted she obey me, and I actually thought it had worked, my forbidding her. I was a fool to think I’d won.” He suddenly seemed to age ten more years. “She left anyway,” Kellar said. “Of course she did. If you knew her—her pride and her stubbornness—I should have gone with her, but alphas don’t desert their packs.” The words were bitter. “Ironic, isn’t it, because I did it anyway in the end.” Kellar, flickering, became alarmed at the paleness of his aura. “We don’t have to talk about this now, Grandfather. If you’d rather, we can do it another time. You should rest now.” “No, you asked me a question, and you need to hear this.” Taking a deep breath, he rallied. “Gigi left without a word. She was just gone one morning. We hadn’t spoken in days. She left me a message, though, on the kitchen table. It was a note that said ‘I have to do this.’ That’s it… nothing else. She always left me notes, practically every day, and they all were addressed to ‘Dad’ and she’d draw little pictures on them, like hearts and flowers and stick figures. And she always signed them as ‘your favorite daughter, Gigi.’ She’d done it since she was a little girl, well, except she used to sign them with ‘Gisla’ back then. Not this time, though. Just that one damn line. She disowned me too.” He took another deep breath. “I can’t say I blame her. I thought of her as defiant and impulsive after she left, but the truth is, she was only being herself. I gained nothing with my threats… all I did was hurt us both. I would have given anything to be able to take back some of those words to your mother. Anything.” The remorse on his face echoed in his tone. “That’s when I started relying more on my wolf. I went through the motions after that… the pack needed their alpha. Each year that went by, my hope I would hear from her, or see her, got smaller, until I reached the point it disappeared altogether.” Fendral stalled for a few moments, and his hand rubbed at his eyes. “The malaise got worse, our pack numbers kept decreasing, and I held onto my anger. The anger wasn’t at Gisla, though. It was at myself.” “So, you wolfed out….” “Yes. I didn’t really intend to. I fought, but every day, it beckoned. The only way to control my guilt and my shame was to shift and run. My wolf didn’t feel the pain the way I did, and that became my only relief. It’s an unbearable thing to face every day, believing your last child had died hating you.” “My mother didn’t hate you.” “You don’t know that, Kellar. You said it yourself when you asked why she didn’t keep on touch. She was alive all those years and she never called.” “I do know that. She and my dad were bringing me to meet my Grandpa Fendral. That’s what she said to me just before she was killed.” “By hunters, right?” “Yes. Three of them. They rammed her car, and she hit her head. She died instantly, from what Miss Sybil saw, and then they torched the Jeep my parents were driving. My father… he tried to fight, but he was trapped. Look, Grandfather, I don’t know why she never contacted you. Maybe she was angry, or maybe she was in danger and didn’t want to worry you, or give you hope… I’m certainly no expert on families.” Kellar hesitated, trying to calm himself. “I know my father was a healer, and he had some connection to a prophecy about a savior. They named me after the guy… a variation of it anyway. So, maybe they were in hiding because of that connection. All I know is my mother wanted me to meet my grandfather. She wouldn’t want that if she hated you.” Kellar felt out of breath when he was done. Maybe talking about this stuff would send his grandfather into a tailspin, and that thought scared the hell out of him. Silence settled in around the table. “Does anyone want tea?” Tobyn asked. “Tea can be a diuretic, babe, if you haven’t had caffeine for a long time. Fendral needs to keep drinking water to combat any dehydration.” “More doctory talk. I told you,” Tobyn said with a grin, but it seemed to go unnoticed by the old man. “You’re wrong,” the old man uttered. It took a few seconds for Kellar to clue in to what he must be referring to. “I don’t think so,” he responded. “You let go of being angry at my mom a long, long time ago. Why wouldn’t you believe she’d do the same?” “I don’t mean about that. I already knew about her wanting us to meet from what you said yesterday. It’s what made me change my mind about leaving. I’m sitting here for her… and for me… because this is what she would have wanted. You were right, and I couldn’t let her down again. And maybe you’re right about her not hating me. No, Grandson, I’m talking about you thinking your father had a connection to Cahlar. You’re mistaken about that.” Kellar raised his eyebrows in both surprise and question. “I am? You know about Cahlar… the prophecy?” Fendral sighed. “I should. My mate was the many times great granddaughter of the man… the savior.” “Esther? Holy crap! Why didn’t Morningstar know about the prophecy?” Tobyn asked. Fendral sighed again. “I can only tell you what Esther told me. It was spoken of by some, here and there as a part of our folklore, but the identity of Cahlar’s line was kept a closely guarded secret. It was a family pact passed down from the savior’s first daughter, to each successive daughter. She didn’t even tell me until we started having children, and neither of our sons were aware of their mother’s lineage. Esther had some… abilities… she knew things. She wasn’t a seer because she didn’t have visions, but she had… something. She knew from their early ages that neither of our sons were the one. “According to her, every daughter had to have a daughter until the prophecy was fulfilled. Some revered seer from the old highlands had a vision, and traveled far to reveal it to Cahlar. He was told he must send his daughter to the new world, and from her maternal line, he would be reborn when shifters needed him once more. But, the vision never said why he would be needed, or when it would be… only that the existence of our race would depend on it. That was the beginning of the prophecy, and his line took it very seriously. “Esther said it was Cahlar’s biggest sacrifice, to send his only child away, because his duty was to stay in the old world. She insisted it was her duty to have a daughter like all the daughters before her. She wasn’t satisfied until Gisla was born. To be honest, I found it hard to put much faith in the whole prophecy idea, because things had been bad for a long time. Hunters were picking us off every time we left pack lands, the birth rate getting lower and lower, and the malaise was kicking our ass. But Esther believed, and I believed in Esther. I was never comfortable with her saying Gisla had to search out her mate, though. I wanted to do right by my mate’s memory, but after our sons disappeared, I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter going anywhere.” The man groaned, and Kellar expected he might have had enough, but he continued after mere seconds. “If Esther had lived, I would have handled it better, but she didn’t, and every single shifter who left to search out their mate, including our own sons, never returned. I thought if the prophecy was true, Gigi’s mate could just as well show up here. I was wrong to expect her to stay here and wait. I know that now, but losing your mate changes you. It… it distorts your whole world. If I hadn’t had our kids, I never would have survived losing Esther. I needed them, but I’m glad now that Gigi never listened to me, and I hope Esther somehow knows it was her daughter who produced the new savior.” “Please don’t call me….” “Doc, don’t even go there. No one is saying you are him, but you are his descendant.” “Everything points to it, though, doesn’t it,” he said with some resignation. “And everyone believes I’m him. The prophecy says he would be reborn. My grandfather just said he heard it from Cahlar’s descendant, my grandmother, and in that painting our wolves were identical. You saw it same as I did, Tobyn. So has all of Vega, and now I'm sure most of Morningstar has heard about it.” “You are not a reincarnation, so what does it matter what others think? In human form you look exactly like your dad—we know that now—so don’t take reborn so literally.” “There’s a painting? I’ve never seen a painting.” “Yes, Delia has it. She’s Vega’s keeper, now ours, and Hutch’s earth mate. You’ll like her. Anyway, it belongs to her pack, and it was one of their members who painted it from memory after he arrived in the new world. It shows a huge wolf with Kellar’s coat colors watching over an exodus of shifters who were boarding ships. It’s how we learned about Cahlar. About shining a bright light….” “Into the darkness,” Fendral finished. “Yes.” “So, Cahlar had that same strange pelt?” “Identical,” Kellar repeated in a tone that drew his grandfather’s curious gaze. “That cannot be a coincidence. I don’t think Esther knew about the coat. She would have told me something like that. Does it bother you, Grandson, to be considered the savior?” “I don’t know… yes… I’m just me. I accept I’m part of the prophecy, but every time I hear the reborn part... well, it doesn’t sit so well. Shifters treat me differently, especially Vega members, and they even call me Cahlar. I can handle that for the most part, but I really wish it would stop. All I want is to be thought of as a healer.” “Like your father.” “Yes.” “What’s the difference?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, what’s the difference who you take after? Cahlar is your many times great-grandfather, and your mother sacrificed God knows how much to make sure you were born. I see now, the burden of responsibility she bore… how much all the daughters bore. I don’t know all you’ve done, but from what I gather, you are the culmination of all that responsibility carried by generations of your ancestors.” Fendral took a few gulps of water, and Kellar noticed a slight tremble in his hands as he set the glass down. “Would you like to rest for a little while? We could continue this later if you want?” “No. I am making a point I think you need to hear, if you don’t mind?” “No, sir. I love talking to my grandfather. I just don’t want you to tax yourself.” “Being able to speak again is a blessing. Allow me to enjoy it.” Fendral smiled, picking up another sausage and taking a bite. “I want to hear whatever you have to say,” Kellar reassured him, relieved the man no longer seemed in anguish. “Good.” He chewed the rest of the sausage and swallowed. “You are a healer like your father. Maybe even a better one, because I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never heard of one seeing colors before. Anyway, that’s not the point here. Being a descendant of Cahlar doesn’t take away from who you are. It only adds, and you should be as proud of that as your mate appears to be… as your grandfather is. “You have given this old man new purpose. I lost everything, but it wasn’t for nothing. You’ve cured the malaise, and figured out how to keep shifters healthy, and my daughter gave me a grandson who appears to have saved us all… one I want to get to know. I lost and I gained. We both did, don’t you think so?” “I… yes. We both lost and we both gained.” “And my daughter giving you your name tells me she knew who you were… who you would turn out to be. She would have died knowing she was right in her decision to leave Morningstar. I’m thankful for that.” Kellar nodded. He pictured his mother running away from him, disappearing in the tall grass. Yes, she knew who her son was, and she had protected him at the ultimate cost. “Here’s something else for you to think about. Did this Vega keeper, Delia, tell you Cahlar was a healer?” “No, sir, she didn’t. She told us his story, but she never mentioned that.” “And neither did Esther. Not to me, she didn’t. She referred to him as a leader and a warrior... not once did she say he was a healer. So, maybe you should stop being hung up on this reborn stuff, and see that you’re a combination of both your parents’ lines. Could you have accomplished all the things you have without being this new and improved healer?” “No.” His gaze went to his mate. “It’s been the key to all of this, doc." “I guess it has.” “Well, that about says it all then, doesn’t it?” “Yes, Grandfather, it does.”
  18. 108 points
    KIERAN ~ SAMUI SUNSET Even without the rainbow flags and pink feather boas streaming out of a couple of the coach windows, nobody on the street could have been in any doubt as to the orientation of the passengers inside—well, the majority of them. Kieran had never seen so much colourful spandex or leather harnesses, so much glitter and makeup, and so many tight vests, shorts, and half-naked muscled bodies in one place. Whether the local coach driver had been warned or not, he had no idea, but the man smiled broadly each time the holidaymakers boarded and re-boarded the bus. Two minutes away from the previous stop, and the crowd—most a little the worse for wear after discovering a gay-friendly bar selling cheap Singha beer—began a rousing chorus of Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’. Three of them, dressed in boas as Meryl, Christine and Julie, even provided a coordinated dance show down the narrow aisle between the seats. Kieran enjoyed the coach entertainment almost as much as the trip itself. Almost, but not quite. Sitting in the luxury air-conditioned coach, he felt entranced by the stunning coastline of calm, aquamarine sea, the almost white sands bordered by lush green vegetation, his mind blown away by the natural beauty of Koh Samui. The next and final stop on their island tour would be the Big Buddha, viewed at sunset. Butterflies had set up shop in his stomach. If he was going to be honest with himself, he wished Kennedy had joined him, missed not having him there to share the experience. Twice in the past few days, he’d noticed Kennedy ogling him naked in the shower. Not that he minded. To be perfectly honest, he left the door to the bathroom open on purpose now, found the attention strangely flattering. But as usual Kennedy had work to finish, and wanted to give Kieran time on his own. Today, though, for once he wished Kennedy had come along. Steph had Laurie with her, and Pete had his dad. Leonard had brought Leighton, who turned out to be his gay nephew, his sister’s kid over from Rockdale, Texas. Kieran had grown to like Leonard on the short excursion—had even been asked to call him Len—glad he’d spent time to get to know him, especially as Leighton made no bones about voicing his aversion to being seen hanging with ‘y’all old folk.” Leonard sat next to Kieran right now, playing with his tablet computer, while Leighton sat with a younger crowd in another part of the bus. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” came Len’s voice. “Stunning. I could happily retire here.” “Got a few good years before that happens, buddy.” Next to him, Len chuckled, before cursing softly under his breath. Kieran turned and noticed him repeatedly brushing his finger across the display of the tablet computer. He’d been playing with the device, and intermittently huffing, ever since they’d boarded the bus after leaving the Thai silk market. “You okay there?” he asked. “I’m trying to get to the next page of this bloody site, but the damned thing keeps freezing. It’s driving me nuts.” “Can I take a look?” “Be my guest,” said Len, thrusting the device at Kieran. Kieran already knew Leonard had no problem accessing the internet, because his own wifi dongle made sure of that. But the site on the display—for what appeared to be antique furniture—had frozen. Kieran copied the URL, closed the browser down and tried again. This time the page opened to the main page of the site, and Kieran selected the one Leonard had been trying to reach. After a minute, he handed the device back. “Not your fault, Len. Looks to me as though that site was put together in the nineties. I realise they’re selling antiques but the home page shouldn’t have to work like one. Heavens, a twelve year old could build something better these days. Surprise they manage to sell anything at all.” When he turned to Len, the man had a grim smile on his face. “We don’t. At least not much.” “Oh, shit,” said Kieran, mortified. “Foot meet mouth. A bad habit of mine. I’m so sorry.” “No, no,” said Len. “You’re right, of course, and you’re honest. All my sites were built by the same developer a couple of decades ago, who subsequently disappeared off the face of the earth. Since then I’ve thrown money at simply trying to keep them up and running.” “Kennedy told me your businesses are doing really well.” “We’re making good money. But not as much as we could be.” “Well, if there’s anything I can help with, let me know. This is my area of expertise.” “Seriously? You could help with this?” “Absolutely. Tell you what, why don’t you give me the details of all your websites—including any backdoor passwords—and I’ll check them out while I’ve got some time free on the cruise. Then we’ll get together one afternoon, you can buy me a cocktail, and I’ll give you my recommendations.” “I can’t ask you to do that on your holiday.” “You’re didn’t. I’m offering. Plus, to be honest, this is the kind of thing I get a kick out of, much more than I do trying to find space to swim in that tiny tub on the boat they call a swimming pool.” “Chip—sorry—Leighton loves to hang around the pool. Says that’s where you find all the young hot guys with the ripped bodies.” “Does nothing for me.” “Me neither,” said Len, before his curious gaze turned to Kieran. “You wouldn’t look out of place there, though. Glad to see Kennedy’s made a good choice this year—for once. Can I ask you a question?” “Um, yes, I think.” Len laughed at that. “Do you work for Kennedy? As well as being together.” “What? No. Why would you ask that?” “It’s just, I heard you talking to Steph about his company, and you sounded really well informed. You were talking about the pros and cons of becoming a public listed company. And some of the steps involved in setting the wheels in motion. Just sounded as though you might already be working for him” “Well I’m definitely not working for him, but my degree course covered the steps businesses need to take in becoming publicly listed in the UK, so the information is fairly fresh in my head. Although my real interest is in e-commerce. Sorry if I come across as a smart aleck. That wasn’t my intention.” “Are you kidding. Kennedy’s last squeeze seemed more obsessed with Kylie Jenner and some show called Riverdale. So, did Kennedy give you his signature blow-job card?” said Leonard, his voice lowering, which, considering the noise on the coach was completely unnecessary. “His what?” “Black Jack. BJ. Did he give you the black jack card, yet?” Kieran threw himself back in his sat, unable to stop the loud laugh bursting from him. Even though they’d not heard Len’s comment, a couple of other passengers, turned their heads and grinned at Kieran’s reaction. In fairness, Kennedy did tell him the card usually held another meaning. “I take that as a yes. Don’t tell me you’ve used it already.” “No,” said Kieran, wiping at his eyes. “No, I haven’t used the card.” “You will, though. Kennedy gives mind boggling blow jobs.” “Oh, yes,” said Kieran, eyeing Len suspiciously. “And just how would you know that?” “No, no,” said Len, grinning. “Not me. God, Kennedy is not my type at all. But let’s just say, the boyfriend after Patrick, Ollie, the one he brought on the first two post-Patrick cruises was not particularly discreet. Demanded a minimum of four cards on the second cruise. And, if you’ll excuse the expression, he gave us all a blow-by-blow account, one evening at the bar.” Once again, Kieran laughed aloud. ***** When they pulled up in the temple carpark, the sun hung low in the sky illuminating everything in bright golden sunlight. Ten or so other tourist coaches parked there. Most of their busload seemed eager to climb the stairs to the golden Buddha and the panoramic lookout point beyond. Kieran excused himself from his small group, citing a headache caused by mild dehydration, and wandered off to buy a bottle of water, which was a ruse, of course, because he wanted to be alone. Returning to the heart of the temple, he stopped, swigged at his water, before taking in the view. Terracotta coloured tiles on the pavilions either side of the stairs up to the Buddha appeared freshly laid, as though only recently constructed. Even the three staircases leading up to the Buddha, two of white ceramic or marble each bordering another of deep burgundy, with gleaming golden handrails, appeared too clean, too pristine considering the large number of daily tourists that must climb them. Maybe he was being unfair, had visited too many sombre, musty churches in England, but the place felt less like a religious temple, and more like a custom-built tourist attraction. As he perched in a pavilion’s shade by one of the four cross-legged golden Buddha’s at the foot of the staircase, he watched the world go by, the words of the old fortune teller coming back to him. “You are on an island in Asia standing beneath a giant buddha. You are waiting to meet your destiny.” Fleetingly, he thought about climbing the steps to the statue, but then figured that everyone heading up there via the only staircase, had to pass him. Nearby, a Thai guide talked to a small group of English speaking tourists. “In Thai, this called Wat Phra Yai, mean Big Buddha temple. This real working temple, with real Buddhist monk worship here. Buddha statue is twelve meter tall. Here we are on small island named Koh Farn, connected to mainland Koh Samui by causeway. Either side of stairway is half human, half serpent cobra called Naga, which lead up to Buddha. Not many year ago, a Dhamma wheel representing the Buddha’s teachings to the path of enlightenment, was added to the image.” Kieran stared at the group of fifteen or so tourists, four of them girls, all pretty, all with partners; two good looking guys, clearly a couple. Nobody really stood out. Every now and again, small groups or couples moved past him, either to scale the staircase or descend from the top. No lightning bolts, no epiphanies, no swelling orchestral music. Half an hour passed like a life sentence and, very slowly, very gradually, a sinking feeling filled him. Until he finally saw the funny side. What the hell was he doing, he asked himself, standing there moping, because of a comment made to him as a kid by somebody’s grandmother pretending to be a fortune teller? At twenty-nine, he really ought to grow up and learn to let some things go. After finishing off his water, he dragged himself to his feet and decided to find the others. Blood red clouds illuminated the skies now, and, right on cue, Steph appeared before him. “Come on, you,” she said, grinning fondly, and slipping her arm into his. “Let’s get back to the ship. Kennedy’s probably missing us, and you most of all.” And, funnily enough, that throwaway remark lifted his spirits and put a smile back on his face.
  19. 108 points
    Happily Ever After. Well, 'ever after' hasn't happened quite yet. It has been seven years since your last entry in that journal. We were given beautiful matching bound books as wedding gifts, and you've been writing in a series of those ever since. Mine have become sketchbooks. After seven years, we're still together and still very much in love. But 'ever' isn't here yet. We have a lot of life together left to live. As for happily? Yeah. Happy. Definitely happy. We've met plenty of people who are going through life unhappily for a lot of reasons. Some are victims of terrible misfortune, some suffer from their own bad decisions. Some choose unhappiness, over and over again. Marilyn O'Shea told us that we could choose happiness, and I think we did, seven years ago. This isn't to say every day since our wedding has been hearts and flowers. The world still has bigots and hopelessly small-minded fools. And, like any couple, we have had our trials and arguments from time to time. The summer between junior and senior year in high school turned out to be pretty stressful. You insisted that I go to an architecture program at the University of Miami. It was important for me to do it, and the experience was really helpful. I learned a lot. But I didn’t want to go, because I'd be leaving you behind. We'd be apart, and I didn't want that. When I got back, I would be going directly to swim camp – and we'd be apart for two more weeks. Those five weeks were brutal for both of us – we tried to use our cell phones to see each other every day, but you were working for Eustace again that summer, and cell service at the farm was pretty sketchy. It still is. You discovered that there were two places with a reliable signal: up at the pond, and up in the hayloft. Phone sex with you in the hay? Oh, boy. When swim camp was finally over, I expected mom or dad to pick me up, but you surprised me and came to do it yourself. You'd gotten your driver's license while I was away and never told me. I'll never forget how I jumped into your arms in front of everyone in the lobby when I found you waiting for me at the dorm. And then you helped me pull a prank worthy of Frank on a couple of the guys who'd actually been hitting on me while I'd been there. But that's another story. Best of all, Eustace decided that you were perfectly capable of watching the farm and handling the list of tasks that needed to be done for about a week. He figured it was time to take his grandkids on a fishing trip. He left us together at the farmhouse for a whole week. Yes, we worked very hard; you wanted everything to be perfect when Eustace came back. But we also played – and not just in bed, either. We wrestled in the hayloft getting the hay in, discovered an icy swimming hole deep in the woods, and threw weeds at each other in the garden. You took me up to the pond for a starlight skinny dip. I will never forget making love to you on the grass under the stars for as long as I live. We came back to the farm in the fall at Thanksgiving that year. Eustace invited us – all of us, mom, dad, you and me, along with Ambrose and his family, and Allan Walker and his family, and your grandmother Walker – to the farmhouse. The place was packed. Eustace put all the younger children in a fixed-up space in the far back of the house, while the adults got sorted out in all the various bedrooms; you and I got the hunting cabin. I get a blissful, warm feeling thinking about that, still. I'd forgotten that you'd never seen a Thanksgiving before; never lived through the smells, the excitement, the anticipation, the joy, and, of course the taste of such a holiday. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I can remember a meal like that one, either. To watch you experience those days was a gift to add to the huge pile of things we had to be thankful for that year. After the meal, we had to lean on each other for support as we staggered back to the cabin under skies so clear and cold that every star in heaven must have been visible. Living at home while being married and in high school was weird. Hell, the situation challenged almost everyone. Our friends seemed unsure of how to treat us until we made it clear we weren't any different than we had been. At home, mom and dad had to learn how to talk to us as people who weren't quite adults, but pretty close. Chores and coordinating life got to be much more cooperative and less dictated. On the other hand, I had to learn to keep my voice down during what mom discreetly chose to call "playtime." Now that was seriously embarrassing. Mom and dad kept their promise to help us learn how to be a married couple. Dad gave me instructions on how to "fight fair," instructions that sounded a lot like Father Brewer's counsel. Nonna Costanza came back up to teach you how to cook Italian. Their advice and example really helped when we applied to college, because we were both so tense and anxious that we wouldn't both get into the same university – me for architecture, you for agricultural engineering. You were absolutely adamant that if I got in and you didn’t, you weren't going to school. We got the best deal at State. I got a swimming scholarship, and you got a full ride from a little-known scholarship fund for victims of violent crime. At first, it was me all the coaches and admissions people were after; later, it was you. And it was you who supported me through some pretty dark times after my shoulder got injured in my junior year, and I lost my scholarship. You never wavered even when I wanted to quit and let myself go. You never, ever wavered, not then, and not when I had to take an internship year in San Francisco two years ago. More time apart. You went to work while I went off to study and apprentice for a year. I was miserable until you were able to come out and rescue me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We had our fights, too. One big disagreement was over money. Specifically, the money your father's estate left to you, once all the legal dust had settled. With the sale of your old house and everything in it, the amount turned out to be pretty impressive. And it turned out there was a rather large, mysterious savings account your father had maintained – it had thousands of dollars in it. Your Uncle Ray cleared up that mystery for us, eventually. It was blackmail money. Your father had been setting it aside, month by month, to hand over to your uncle once he was released from prison. But your father, greedy, tight-fisted and cheap as he was, found excuse after excuse to put your uncle off once he got out. Of course, they fought over it, and your dad was murdered. But your uncle never found the account number, so he never touched the money. You wanted nothing to do with any part of it. You called it "filthy money," and refused every attempt by my dad to get you to deal with the cash at all. At one point, you wanted to give every penny away. I argued that you ought to keep it, use it to go to college with, or use it to do something that your father would surely have denied you as a way of posthumous spite. Eventually, you gave in, once I suggested a way for you to clean up the money from the estate by giving some away – you chose a charity for runaway kids – and letting my dad invest the rest for a while. In the end, we were both right. Because you kept the money, we could use it for something really important; because it didn't go to college payments, we have a home of our own now. And not just any home. When Eustace decided it was time to get out of farming completely, you worked out a way for us to buy the farm. It's ours, now, with no debt. We just finished moving yesterday, and we're unpacking all this week. I'll be able to travel on short trips for most of my work, and we're turning one of the rooms upstairs into my studio. My wedding present to you – that portrait of you I did when I first got you to pose for me the fall we met – that's going to hang in the living room. I had it framed right before our wedding, and it still suits you perfectly. We'll have a library downstairs, but these journals had to go on a shelf in the bedroom where I can see them every day. I don't think I'll ever want to leave. Everyone congratulated us on making this move to the farm – our parents, Kaz and Terry, Ambrose, all our friends and family. And I think there may be a little bit of envy there, too. But I watch your face whenever you receive a compliment from someone. You always reply that you've just been very lucky. In a way, that's true. You have. Good fortune let you survive eight years of brutal horror with your father. Luck brought you to Eustace; more luck brought you to me. But that's only part of the story. You’re the most courageous, persistent and energetic person I know. It took bravery to walk away from Carlsberg, courage to take to the road on your own. It took guts and persistence to stay on the road, day after day, in the rain, in the heat, hungry and weak and vulnerable. It took fantastic audacity to pretend – for a whole semester – to be a normal kid, while living a dual life as a homeless boy, hiding in the library closet. And it took courage to take me on as your husband, even though so many people didn't think it very wise. You have been the great constant in my life. Your love for me, and mine for you, only seems to get better and stronger. More than this place, more than this house, you are home for me. (Undated addition – written on the inside back cover) I smile whenever I read this. I sometimes sneak into the house while you're working, Zander, or when it's lunchtime and you're traveling, and I re-read your final note in this journal. You wrote it five years ago, and it still makes me happy. To anyone who reads this: I want everyone to know that Zander still makes me happy, even after twelve years. A lot has changed in the five years we've been here. The farm is expanding – the flock is bigger and healthier now than when we took over. I've made some great contacts that get me better prices for both wool and meat than Eustace got, which means there's money for improvements. I'm thinking about how we can branch out, try other things. I want to try fruit trees; Zander wants to build three or four rental cottages for vacationers. Architectural gems, by the look of their design sketches. They'll attract aficionados who might pay to stay in something stylish or offbeat. Maybe you're onto something, Z. We might have the money to buy some more acreage soon, so we'll see. Some things you forgot to include, Zander: how did you forget Terry and Kaz's wedding the summer after we graduated? Their kids – twins! – call us uncles, as if they don't have enough of relatives of their own. Or the time you just about got into a fistfight because some guy in college was flirting with me? I had to drag you away, but deep down, I felt thrilled at your protectiveness. Or what about our trip to Africa? You joked that the only scenery I looked at were the shepherds and their flocks. You left out a couple of trips south to see Delia Walker. Do I have to remind you how I felt about all those beach boys ogling my husband? Or remember how you got me out of my self-conscious funk and into the surf, where nobody cared what I looked like, and all I could do was take joy in your abundant happiness? Remember? Maybe you're right. Maybe I am too focused on how lucky I've been. Fine. Maybe I should say that I've been blessed. Is that better? Every day God sends is a blessing when I wake up next to you. Tonight, we've had another blessing which has me taking notes again. Right after the supper dishes were put away, someone came rapping on the kitchen door. There stood a thin, wiry boy, maybe fourteen. Tangled red hair, searching green eyes. I didn't need to ask his last name – it was obvious. He had cuts on his cheek, chin and forehead. Bruises were going to blossom elsewhere on his face, I could see. He stood there a moment. "My name's Reed. Reed Anderson, and I'm looking for work. Do you got any?" The teenage voice just about cracked. His lip trembled. I wanted to wrap the kid in a hug, but you were more sensible. "Nope, no work tonight," you said cheerfully, "but we've got some leftover supper, if you need, and a table to eat it on. Come on in." Food lit the boy's eyes right up. I put together some supper really fast, while you peppered the kid with questions. Turns out little Reed got caught sucking off one of his cousins in the tool shed. His daddy decided to 'beat that gay shit right out of him.' Didn't work; daddy's been beating on Reed for about a month now. There's a room upstairs for Reed. You're upstairs with him right now, helping him shower and getting his cuts cleaned. He's staying. I took some pictures, and I'm calling Ambrose in about fifteen minutes. We'll fix Reed's daddy if I have to take on the whole damn Anderson clan. And we're keeping his boy. See what happens? I spend a few minutes writing in the old journal, trying to calm down and think rationally, and I'm just getting angry again. But there isn't any backing down on this. Reed isn't going back to Andersonville. You're right, Zander: you are my love and my hope and faith; we're home for each other. And I think we're about to discover that there's room in our home for someone new. But that's going to be another story.
  20. 106 points
    KIERAN ~ UNDERDECK CLUB Kieran took a hesitant step through the club’s main door—a circular aluminium frame designed like a ship’s portal—into the kaleidoscopic room. Mid-afternoon and The Underdeck Club had only a scattering of shadowy figures, most preferring fun elsewhere. Like the aftermath of an all-night party, nobody danced. Few moved even, and those that did, did so in slow motion. Most languished around tall bar tables or lounged against the club’s mirrored walls trying to perfect nonchalance or practiced boredom. Like bookends two silhouettes of similar height stood together leaning back on their elbows against the pink backlit long bar, legs crossed at the ankles, staring out at the empty dance floor. Light chill-out music oozed from the speakers, repetitive and hypnotic, ethereal synthesisers with an ever-present and underlying beat. Mirror balls rotated slowly, sending multi-coloured constellations onto every surface. Combined with the gentle rolling motion of the ship, Kieran felt like throwing up. Even in the gloom, he finally spotted Kennedy. Sat hunched forward on the bottom step where three shallow stairs dropped to the vinyl frosted dance floor, he held his head stiffly aloft, elbows on knees, hands pressed together in front of his mouth as though in silent prayer. Kieran could tell by the tense shoulders and the way he glared angrily out across the open space that his mood had not improved. Laurie had texted him about the argument after being tipped off by Joey, but she’d given him no details. A bottle of Heineken sat beside Kennedy. For a moment he thought he saw him talking to himself, but decided instead that he was chewing the inside of his mouth, a nervous habit Kieran had noticed a couple of times. He caught himself when a sudden wave of pity mixed with affection flooded him. Kennedy would hate both. A few single guys stood or sat nearby but none seemed interested. Or perhaps they also sensed his turmoil. Then again, maybe someone his age needed to make the first move. Kieran had no idea how the whole gay hook-up thing worked. But for a bloke in his early forties, Kennedy was definitely in good shape. Kieran thought about his Uncle Angelo, his father’s brother, at forty-nine. Couch potato boozer with bald head, saggy arse, swollen belly and multiple blancmange chins. Thank goodness he had his mother’s genes. Kennedy Grey was an inspiration, an aspiration even. For a second, he thought about turning around, heading back to the cabin and leaving the man to his pain. Any attempt at sympathy would be snubbed, that much he knew for sure. But whatever had been said in the cabin had taken its toll and to ignore the man now would be wrong. And after all, Kennedy had paid him for his companionship, so companionship he would get—whether he liked it or not. Kieran stopped on the top step to Kennedy’s right, waiting until he noticed him. “What do you want, Kieran?” muttered Kennedy, harshly, after quickly glancing around, grimacing and turning back again. “Thought you might like some company, old man.” “Well, I don’t,” he said, pushing a hand through his hair while glaring out across the half empty dance floor. “If I’m lucky I might get laid. And you looming over me will only cramp my style.” Kieran ignored him and perched himself down on the top step to Kennedy’s right. “Style? What style? You don’t have any.” “Fuck off, Kieran.” “No. Don’t think I will. You never know, I might get lucky myself.” “If it’s the blonde behind the bar with the red bow tie you’re ogling, then don’t waste your time. Belinda’s a lipstick lesbian, and you don’t have a vagina.” Kieran glanced over at the woman, currently wiping a glass and chatting to one of the spectres at the bar. A little old for Kieran, he could nevertheless appreciate her Scandinavian beauty. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.” “Actually, she does. Before meeting her partner Janine, she was married to a man for six years. Got two kids.” Kieran mulled that over for a while before responding. “You ever been with a woman?” “Of course. College years. Even had a girlfriend for six months. Didn’t really float my boat. Obviously. Have you ever been with a guy?” “No!” Kieran went quiet then, remembering back to his high school days when he and his mate, Robbie Menden, had jerked each other off in Kieran’s bedroom. Admittedly they had been poring over Robbie’s older brother’s straight porn mag at the time, but Kieran still remembered the intense orgasm as though it was yesterday. They had purposefully avoided each other after that. But even though it had not been full-blown sex, no way was he going to share that little titbit with Kennedy. Nor the fact that, on the day Kennedy offered him the job, he had googled gay sex and started to get a hard-on when one guy gave the other a blow job. “Then it’s you who doesn’t know what he’s missing. I’m sure any one of these chaps would be up to giving a good looking bloke like you a good time.” “I’ll pass, thanks.” “Suit yourself. I, on the other hand, desperately need a shag.” For some unexplainable reason, that statement sent a quiver of anxiousness through Kieran. Maybe because he wondered if Kennedy would still want him around if he managed to shack up with someone. “What about Simple Simon—?“ “Simeon.” “I prefer my version. You do realise he fancies you, don’t you?” “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Oh, come on, Kennedy. You’re not blind and deaf. The way he can’t do enough for you, that loud fake laugh when you make a frankly not very funny wisecrack about something. The way he checks out your ass every chance he can get. And especially the way he looks at me.” “How does he look at you?” “Molten. As if he’d like to stab me in the throat with the butter knife, then throw my body over the sea rail. Because he wants to be the one sitting next to you. Why don’t you ring for him? I bet he’d be up for a shag.” “Not my type.” “So? Neither am I, as most of your friends have told me repeatedly. Despite me reaching down into the deepest darkest teachings from the one term of acting classes I took in high school. Honestly, it’s beginning to get on my tits, the way they keep casually dropping the fact into every conversation.” When Kieran looked over, Kennedy’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. “Sorry about that. But they know I have a type.” “You don’t say. So pardon me for not being an emaciated, dumb, blond elf and actually having an informed opinion about things.” Kennedy laughed again. “They’re right, though,” said Kennedy, gently shaking his head. “God, I really can be shallow at times.” “No argument from me.” “Fuck off.” “You want a drink? I’ll put it on the room.” “Cabin. Yeah, go on. If I’m not going to get laid, I might as well get drunk. Get me a Long Island Iced Tea.” “Done.” Kieran returned and sat down next to Kennedy before handing over his drink. When Kennedy saw the two rainbow coloured umbrellas sticking out of his tall glass, he huffed loudly and rolled his eyes, but a corner of his mouth lifted. “D’you want to talk about it? You and Patrick?” As soon as the words left Kieran’s mouth he regretted them, for instantly dampening Kennedy’s improved mood. He glared sidelong at Kieran before shaking his head and exhaling a long sigh. Kieran thought that meant he didn’t, but after a few moments Kennedy started talking softly. “I really didn’t know he was going to be here. Pete says they booked at the last minute. If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to come.” “Why?” “Because it’s not worth the aggravation. And if you’d heard Richmond’s delightful comments, you’d know I’m the super villain in all of this. Took nine good years of his life. And then I went and ruined everything.” “You cheated on him?” “Of course not. Unless you call prioritising work over social life cheating.” “He broke up with you because you worked too hard?” “In his defence I did fuck up a lot. Often at the last minute. Dinner dates, birthday parties, Christmases, a number of holidays. But even though it was a nuisance, I assumed he was okay with that, thought he knew I had to work hard to make a success of the business. Meant we could also afford the luxury apartment, nice cars, dog, lifestyle. The bloody cruises, for Christ’s sake.” “I see.” “He broke up with me, you know? Not the other way round.” “You still have feelings for him?” Kennedy thought about that for a long moment before responding. “Yes, but not in the way you think. More like disappointment really. And sadness, I suppose. He’s still bitter at me, otherwise he wouldn’t be telling every new partner those unpleasant things. Don’t even know what he has to gain. You should have heard what Richmond said about me in their cabin. In front of everyone. Accused me of cheating on him, even when we were together, which is a barefaced lie. And he as good as called you my paid whore.” “Well I am, really. Without the sex. Shit, maybe we should get married.” Kieran warmed inside when Kennedy laughed aloud. Putting the straw to his lips, he sucked at the cocktail before becoming serious again. “Same sort of thing happened the last time we all met up. Leonard’s birthday party, I think it was. He had some new guy with him then, too. Ben or Bob. Remember this new guy holding court in the kitchen, going on very loudly in front of everyone about how I fuck with people’s lives. And how I would probably die alone and single—a sad, lonely old man, with no friends and nobody to take care of me.” “Boo-hoo.” “Exactly. I’d been standing outside, but barged in at that point and told them all that when that particular eventuality comes along, at least I’ll be able to afford the best drugs and hire a drop dead gorgeous gay male nurse to suck my cock and wipe my arse, or vice versa. While the lot of them will be left to dribble in their bibs and soil their incontinence pants in some filthy rundown NHS hospice--” “Kennedy,” Kieran interrupted. “Don’t want to pee in your iced tea, but Patrick just walked in.” “Where?” said Kennedy, sharply, his head darting up and peering around like a frightened ferret. “Ten o’clock. Side door.” “Shit. Sit in front of me.” “What?” “Sit in front of me. You’re supposed be my bloody boyfriend, remember?” Rather than sitting in front, Kieran perched himself behind Kennedy, squashed up against the man’s back, his knees either side. For a second Kennedy froze and then released an exasperated sigh, before shaking his head. Peering over Kennedy’s right shoulder, Kieran could see Patrick clearly across the room, trying to get accustomed to the dim lighting. Kieran had no doubt he had come looking for someone, and he probably knew who. “Quick,” Kennedy hissed over his shoulder. “Kiss me.” “What? I am not fucking kiss—“ “Five hundred. I’ll give you an extra five hundred pounds. Please!” “Shit. Turn your face to me, then.” Kennedy turned halfway, while Kieran craned forward and closed the distance between them, crushing their lips together. When Kieran first leaned in he had expected the man’s lips to be firmer, solid even, certainly not so soft and pliable. Before the thought had a chance to coalesce, Kennedy opened his lips and…whoa. Moist warmth filled his mouth as their tongues collided, Kieran tasting the sweet cola and sharp bite of spirits in Kennedy’s mouth. Part of his brain knew they were faking, but the sudden contact fired up his synapses, tingling his nerve endings, stoking his heart beat and reaching all the way down to his groin. Within seconds he was no longer pretending, but throwing himself into the kiss, hungry after days of zero physical contact, his body on sexual autopilot. When he tilted his head to take in more of Kennedy’s mouth, the man beneath him rumbled with pleasure, the most simple yet carnal of sounds which set Kieran’s blood hammering through his veins and his erection straining against his shorts, nudging Kennedy’s back. He barely heard the angry voice growing louder and repeating over and over, the same mantra that kept pace with the blood pounding through his brain: ken, ken, ken. “Ken! For fuck’s sake!” Kennedy pulled his face away and, for a split second, stared startled at Kieran before slowly turning his attention to the voice. “No idea what game you’re trying to play,” said Patrick, towering over them, his hands on his hips. “But you're not fooling anyone.” Kieran could see the anger in Patrick’s face but barely acknowledged the words coming out of the mouth. Thoughts of the kiss and the reaction of his body still shimmered through his slowing calming body, confusing the hell out of him. “We need to talk. But not in front of that,” said Patrick, nodding at Kieran. Finally his conscious mind and body began to come together, his annoyance sharpening to this man who had just reduced him to something inanimate. “You want me to stay?” Kieran whispered into Kennedy’s ear. Kennedy said nothing, continued to stare up at the man. “No, he wants you gone, you little prick. Go up on deck and play with the other children. Leave the grown-ups to talk grown-up things.” “Kennedy?” asked Kieran, a little louder. Still no reaction. “Don’t you know when to take a hint, kid? Just get the fuck away and leave us alone, will you?” “Kennedy!” barked Kieran, angry now, shaking Kennedy’s shoulder and startling him out of whatever reverie had taken him. “Go back to the cabin,” said Kennedy, his voice soft and odd. Then over his shoulder. “Please. I’ll come and join you soon.” When Kieran peered up, Patrick stood leaning back slightly with his arms folded, a smug smile of satisfaction on his face. Cold anger and embarrassment swept through Kieran as he struggled to his feet. Stood still a moment, staring at the top of Kennedy’s head, he had been about to fire back something caustic at Patrick. But what was the point? He’d been dismissed. Instead, he turned around and headed out the door without a backwards glance. Enough already.
  21. 106 points
    The massive auburn-brown colored wolf stopped and scented the air. Nearly twice the size of a natural gray wolf, he was a born and bred predator. He was in his element, stalking through the forest, hunting for his prey. The animal’s nostrils flared and his ears twitched as he patiently waited for instruction. His eyes scanned the trees, searching. The hint of a scent followed by the tiniest of sounds drew his attention to the left. Another large wolf, black as pitch, slowly, stealthily, emerged from the trees. He was strong and powerful, the king of this forest. Alpha. The alpha wolf’s intelligent eyes caught the moonlight, glowing a bright amber in the dark. Behind him, a small wolf with fur as white as snow stepped from the trees to stand by his side. The black wolf moved in a step, instinctively taking a protective stance in front of his little mate. Alpha turned and met the auburn wolf’s eyes. He tipped his head and motioned with his snout, drawing a circle. Jed nodded in acknowledgment at the order, then scented the air again. The other pack members were close. And so was their prey. With the alpha’s blessing, Jed took off, his auburn fur a blur as he ran through the woods, darting amongst the trees. He felt the wind against his face, against his fur and he was exhilarated. He scented the pack beta nearby and closing in, but ignored him. Trey would catch up, or he would miss out. Jed tuned out all other distractions, concentrating solely on the deer. Swinging around the frightened buck, Jed steered the animal toward the middle of his pack-mates, attempting to box it in. As he turned on his paws, a sharp stab of pain bit through Jed’s back, reminding him of that fight from months past. And his failure. Anger and frustration tore through Jed, and he leapt without thinking, funneling all of those feelings into the kill. He took down the buck, cleanly snapping its neck with his powerful jaws and massive teeth. His stood over his kill and snarled triumphantly. Only when Colton’s black wolf approached did Jed realize his error. The alpha always made the kill, and the alpha-mate was always the first to eat. As soon as he caught Colton’s narrowed gaze and lip curled in a snarl, Jed dropped his eyes and tilted his head, baring his neck in deference. He slowly retreated away from the deer, moving backwards until he stood in the shadow of a large tree. He watched as Colton grabbed the buck in his powerful jaws and dragged it to his mate as an offering. Parker’s white wolf sniffed at the carcass, and once he found just right spot, tore off a chunk of meat with his jaws. Once he swallowed down a couple of bites, he moved to allow Colton to eat. After Colton got his fill, Parker then dragged the deer as best as he could to the center, signaling the others to join in. Jed knew it was now his turn to enjoy the kill, but he stayed back and watched. Trey, Curtis, and Stan all moved in. Stan’s mate, the Kodiak bear shifter named Buck, watched with interest as he usually did, but he never joined in the feast. As a bear, he wasn’t much interested in animal meat, though you could often find him snagging fish from the river when he was in this form. A sharp twinge in his back made the anger surge in Jed again. His failure with the rogue wolf had left him damaged. Scarred. Broken. Now he carried the scar on his back between his shoulder blades where that crazy fucker Ethan had stabbed him with a silver knife, poisoning his blood. When he shifted to wolf, the scar became a white patch of fur, where it currently throbbed and itched like a motherfucker. Jed threw his furred back against the nearest tree and rubbed against the bark, bringing temporary relief. Aware the others were now watching him, Jed turned and ran deep into the woods. The last thing he needed was their curiosity. Or worse, their pity. He needed to be alone right now. A good run would help. It was the only thing that did. * * * * Jed Stone emerged from the trees naked and dirty, his muscles tired and aching. The muscles surrounding the scar on his back throbbed with every movement. It was always the worst just after a shift, which was infuriating. Usually an injury felt better after a shift, when the body magically reconfigured and repaired itself. Unfortunately, a shift couldn’t repair extensive silver damage. Despite the scar in the middle of his back, the rest of Jed’s nude human shape was a sight to see: well-muscled and well-hung. His hard muscles were covered in a dark auburn fur in all of the right places. Standing at six feet plus six inches tall, wide as a tank, his body was built for the job he was bred for. He may have been only nineteen years old, but he had the body of a fully developed man. Jed was the enforcer for Timber Pack. He acted as the pack’s lead soldier and bodyguard. It was also his responsibility to keep the pack members in line. There wasn’t much to do with a pack of only eight, but Jed took his duty seriously. Hell, protecting Parker, the Alpha’s mate, was how he ended up with silver poisoning in the first place. He may have saved Parker’s life by keeping the rogue busy until Colton and Trey arrived, but he couldn’t help but feel like he had failed. He should have killed that psychotic wolf. Jed froze in his steps when he heard the unmistakable sounds coming from the first cabin. Parker’s whimpers and moans were intermingled with Colton’s rhythmic growls and grunts. Skin slapping against skin. The bed thumping against the wall. Jed looked down between his legs. His cock hung limp, completely disinterested in the sounds of the couple fucking. He’d accidentally seen Colton and Parker fucking on more than one occasion. The odds were better than not; they were still in that newly mated phase, and they went at it like goddamned rabbits. The monthly hunt always seemed to push Colton’s libido into overdrive. Parker was lucky he was able to walk the next day. Jed had watched Parker suck Colton off in the back of a school bus once after one of their away games. It was damn hot, and he beat off to the memory on more than one occasion. Of course, he would never share that with Colton. He wanted to keep his balls and his dick right where they were, thank you very much. Jed understood, though. A good run or hunt was a powerful aphrodisiac. Not that a young lycan male needed much to get going. Hell, the wind blowing across his cock used to be enough to give Jed a hard-on. Not anymore. Not since the stabbing. Jed swallowed the lump in his throat, and walked back to his own cabin with his head hung in shame. * * * * The next morning Jed had an appointment with Doc. He normally hated going to the doctor, but he was eager to go this time, hoping for good news for once. The veterinarian worked out at the national forest’s ranger station. While officially a wild animal vet who worked with the park service, Doc was in reality a medical doctor who specialized in lycan medicine. Doc was a member of the neighboring Forest View Pack, but he was obligated to help any who needed him, despite pack affiliations. Doc was a friend of Buck’s, which made Jed a little nervous. The two men tended to gossip like hens, which was how Buck knew pretty much everything that went on with the Forest View Pack. “You’re not gonna mention any of this to anyone, right?” Jed asked through clenched teeth as he buttoned up his shirt. The scar on his back throbbed from Doc’s prodding. “Of course not,” Doc replied. The man with salt-and-pepper hair smiled warmly. “I protect all of my patients’ confidentiality. Even your alpha won’t know what we discussed here.” “Thanks,” Jed muttered. “So… um… about the other thing I told you about? You know…” Jed let his eyes drift down to his crotch momentarily, then back up to Doc. Doc’s smile slipped away as his face took on a sympathetic look Jed had seen way too many times now. “It’s a side effect of the silver poisoning. Give your body time to heal, Jed.” Doc stopped to make some notations in Jed’s medical file before he turned back to him. “I’m pleased to see you’re gaining back some of the weight you lost. It tells me your body is healing itself. Things are on the right track. Just be patient.” “Right. Patient.” Doc patted Jed’s shoulder. “There’s a good lad.” Jed left Doc’s and got into his truck. He wanted to fucking punch someone. Starting with Doc. He drove, not really thinking about where he was going. Jed ground his back teeth as his hands gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. His mind was busy alternating between feeling anger and wallowing in self-pity. He had swallowed his pride and told Doc his cock was broken, and what did the man do? Not a goddamned thing. Fuck that shit. Didn’t they make pills to fix that? But no, Doc just said to give it time. The man sounded like a broken record. Before Jed knew it, he was pulling his monster of a pickup truck in front of his parents’ house. While their pack had an unspoken treaty of sorts with the Forest View Pack, a lot of the Forest View wolves didn’t like it when they came into the city. Especially Alpha Forrest’s son, Seth. Too damn bad. It wasn’t like he planned on running into any of them anyway. After he dropped in to say “hello” to his folks, he’d be heading back home. He shut the engine off, jumped out of the truck, and walked toward the open garage. A pair of legs stuck out from underneath the old candy apple red Dodge Charger that seemed to be up on blocks inside the garage more than it was out on the streets. Jed didn’t need to draw in the scent to know who it was. He kicked at one of the boots. “Hey, Zef.” Jed’s younger brother pushed his wheeled mechanic’s cart out from under the car and sat up. He rubbed his forearm across his sweaty brow, leaving behind a smear of grease. “Hey, bro. What’s up?” At seventeen, Zef was younger than Jed. He was still living at home of course, and was going to be a senior at Forest View High School in the fall. Like all of the Stone boys, he was built big and wide, a chip off the old Stone block. All of the boys looked alike and some people had trouble telling them apart if they didn’t know them. Zef was not quite as tall as Jed, and he still had a bit of a boyish face, accentuated with pink cheeks and the inability to grow a full beard. Zef was damn proud of the patch of auburn hair on his chin though, so Jed didn’t tease him about it. Well, not too much anyway. Unlike Jed, Zef didn’t play football. He was on the wrestling team. Too bad. He would have made a great lineman with a body built for blocking. Jed strongly suspected his brother got a kick out of rolling around on the floor with other dudes. Whenever Jed teased him about it, Zef adamantly denied it was sexual and got pissed off. He denied it maybe a little too strongly. “You get this piece of shit running yet?” Jed joked. Jed was good with cars and trucks, but his brother was good too. “Fuck you, man.” Zef laughed. “She purrs like a kitten.” He reached back and lovingly stroked his hand across the fender. “She just needs a tune up is all.” “Right. A tune up. If you need help, let me know. Mom and Dad around?” “Mom’s making dinner, but Dad’s out. Pack business. You staying for dinner?” “Nah, I gotta head back to Timber.” “Oh. Okay.” Jed didn’t miss the disappointment in his brother’s voice, even though Zef tried to shrug it off as if it wasn’t a big deal. He and Zef had always been tight. Being the closest in age, they shared a bedroom for most of their childhood. Since Jed had moved out to the camp with the others, Zef was stuck at home with their annoying little brothers, Asher and Duggar. At least he had his own bedroom now. “I’m gonna go talk to Mom. I’ll see you around.” “Cool. Maybe we can go mudding or something soon.” “Yeah. Of course. Maybe after I get back from Conclave?” “Cool.” Zef lay back down on his cart and pushed himself under his car. Jed went through the side door, ending up in the mudroom. “Hello?” Jed called as he wiped his boots on the welcome mat. His mother, Martha Stone, called out from the kitchen. “Jed? What are you doing here?” Her red hair was pulled back from her round face to hang at her shoulders. Though she had six kids, you couldn’t tell by looking at her. Jed knew it was because she stayed active, going for regular runs and just keeping up with her crazy family. Martha and John Stone were true soul mates and the love between them was apparent when they were together, by the way they looked at each other, by the way they were always touching. Maybe it was because of the silver poisoning, but Jed’s thinking had changed. Jed never really gave any thoughts of mating before. He was fine playing the field, loved it actually. After that fight, things changed for him. Instead of getting sick, he could have died. Now he saw how his parents were when they were together, and one day Jed hoped maybe he would have what they did. But the way his body was broken like it was, what kind of man would even want him? Jed accepted a warm hug from his mom. Closing his eyes, he held on for as long as he could, basking in her warmth, and the comfort of her scent. He probably looked like a big baby clutching her the way he did, but he didn’t care. When they finally broke apart, he shrugged. “I was in town and wanted to say ‘hi.’” Martha frowned with concern. Reaching up to Jed’s face, she brushed her fingers across her son’s cheek. “What is it? What’s wrong?” Jed shook his head. “Nothing, Mama.” She studied him for a moment, and Jed had to avert his eyes out of guilt. He didn’t want to lie to her, but it wasn’t really something he wanted to talk to his mom about. “It’s quiet in here.” “Ash took Dug to the beach.” Jed lifted a brow. “Yeah?” He couldn’t imagine his bratty sixteen-year-old brother wanting to hang out with the equally bratty twelve-year-old. “How’d that happen?” “Ash just got his driver’s license.” “Oh.” Jed nodded in understanding. When he first got his license, he drove his little brothers all over the place just to get to use the car. “You staying for supper?” Jed shook his head. “I have to be heading back.” “You sure? There’s plenty.” “Yeah, I really gotta get going. I just wanted to say ‘hi’ since I was in the area.” “Before you go…” She disappeared into the kitchen and returned carrying a large, deep-dish pie. “Apple. Your favorite.” Through the lattice crust, Jed could see the chunks of apple. The smell of cinnamon made his mouth water. “Thank you, Mama.” “You don’t be a stranger. I don’t care what Alpha Forrest says. You are welcome here any time. You’re family. You hear me?” “Yes, Mama. Say ‘hi’ to Dad for me.” Martha pulled her son close for one last hug, and then pressed her lips to his cheek. “You take care of yourself.” “I will.” After one final squeeze and a quick kiss on his mother’s cheek, Jed left the house with an apple pie in his hands and a smile on his face. * * * * After arriving back home at Camp Timber, Jed parked his truck next to Trey’s car. Getting out of the truck, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he took in the place that had become his home. The pack had taken over the abandoned camp after Colton had been exiled from the Forest View Pack. Colton somehow managed to talk Alpha Forrest into selling him the land. The little town of Timber, Oregon was also included in Colton’s territory. Colton had taken their pack name from the camp and the town. Jed didn’t regret it for a second when Colton asked him to join his pack. Of course Jed would. He’d follow Colton anywhere. Situated along a river, near the edge of the Tillamook State Forest, the land was prime real estate to a small pack of lycans, just starting out. The camp’s boarded up cabins were a disaster, and it took some time to get them habitable, but now the place looked great. The cabins that could be easily salvaged had been refurbished. The grounds were neat, and the common building had been repainted. Parker had planted flower boxes along the common building’s walkway, giving the area a bright splash of color, and creating a fragrant floral scent. The pack-mates spent most of their free time in the common building. It housed a restaurant-grade kitchen and a dining hall big enough to seat the entire camp. A lounge area had been carved out of a corner of the dining hall, with sofas and chairs, as well as a big TV and a gaming system. Walking into the common building, Jed headed straight for the kitchen to put the pie away. For just a second, he debated putting it in his own cabin’s mini fridge, and keeping all of the yummy goodness to himself, but he decided to share it. Everyone loved his mom’s pies, and they didn’t get them often enough as far as Jed was concerned. On the way back to his cabin, Jed could hear noises and voices coming from the back, down toward the river that ran behind the camp. He cut between two of the run-down cabins that hadn’t been renovated yet and leaned against the back corner to watch his pack-mates. Shell and Curtis were sitting on a blanket by the water’s edge. Shell was holding the swell of her enormous belly with one hand and the base of her spine with the other, looking downright uncomfortable and miserable. She looked like she was ready to bust. Curtis desperately tried to soothe her with some ice cream and other snacks from a basket. It didn’t look like it was working. Curtis Lakewood was Shell’s mate. Shell Wilson was Parker’s best friend, and they were the last pair to join Timber Pack, after Buck the bear and his wolf mate, Stan McCoy. Jed liked Curtis. They played on the football team together in high school. Even though he was new to the school his senior year, Curtis worked well with the team and turned out to be a good wide receiver. Jed had helped the expecting father build an addition onto their cabin. They would definitely need the extra room with the baby coming soon. Even though Curtis had turned Shell with a mating bite, she still hadn’t shifted due to the fact she was pregnant. With each cycle of the moon, she got crankier and crankier. Having suffered through his mom’s pregnancies, Jed knew exactly how crazy a woman denied her shift got as the months progressed. Jed tried to give her as wide a berth as he could. There was an unexpected change in the air. Jed smelled Colton before he even walked up. He turned to look at his alpha. Colton had come straight from his training class, still wearing his deputy training uniform: navy blue cargo-style pants, and a white polo shirt with the county sheriff’s emblem and “trainee” stitched on the left breast. His beard was trimmed close, and his black hair was styled neatly. He looked quite professional. Grown up even. In that moment, Colton reminded Jed of a young Carlton Butler. Colton’s father was also a sheriff’s deputy, as well as the first beta of the Forest View Pack. “Everything okay?” Colton asked as he clapped his hand on Jed’s shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. Jed nodded, steeling his features. Colton knew Jed had a doctor’s appointment today. Jed couldn’t lie to his alpha, but a little sugar coating never hurt anybody. “Great. He says my body is healing very well.” “That’s good to hear. What else did he say?” Shell smacked Curtis’s hand away from her as she mumbled a curse, thankfully drawing Colton’s attention. Colton looked back at Jed and shook his head. “Be right back.” The alpha walked up and squatted down next to Shell, and put a hand on her shoulder. The calm that washed over her was visible even from where Jed stood. Colton didn’t even have to say anything. She looked up at Colton and smiled, then turned to her mate. “I think I’ll have some of the chocolate raspberry.” Curtis nodded, pulled the top of the pint off and gave his mate a spoon. When he leaned in and kissed her cheek, she turned to nuzzle her cheek against his. “I love you,” Curtis whispered, and she returned the sentiment. Parker and Trey stood on the wooden boat dock Jed had rebuilt, watching Colton’s interaction with Shell. Parker had a proud grin on his face. Trey jumped into the water with a loud “whoop,” and then Parker did the same. “Colton,” Parker called out. “Come race with me.” With a grin on his face, Colton stood up and yanked his boots off, then stripped down to his underwear. Before he took off, he looked over at Jed and tipped his head, indicating for Jed to come join them. Jed shook his head and gave what he hoped was a reasonable facsimile of a smile before turning to walk back to his cabin.
  22. 105 points
    KENNDY ~ CHECKMATE Dressed down in navy cargo shorts and a lemon Ralph Lauren polo shirt, Kennedy rested an elbow on the counter as he checked into the five star hotel in Naha, around the corner from the bar district. At his feet, he had a small bag containing toiletries with a change of clothing for him and Kieran, plus a small gift bag. While waiting for the clerk to photocopy his passport, he mulled over his conversation with Steph. What he still couldn’t fathom was why Kieran hadn’t told him about Richmond warning him off. Why keep that to himself? Although, in all fairness, Richmond hadn’t been wrong. Kennedy’s companions came with a short lease of life. But using the word disposable had not only been brutal, but unnecessary. Kieran didn’t deserve that and if he saw Richmond again on the cruise, he’d confront him. And then, just at the thought of his name, Kennedy’s mind replayed the events of the morning. He had woken to a warm body aligned along his own, opened his eyes to find Kieran leaning over him and grinning. After a brief good morning, Kieran had satisfied his appetite with a deep kiss. Tasting of minty toothpaste, and smelling of orange shower gel, he had obviously been awake for some time, had already showered and done his other ablutions before coming back to bed. Sporting a substantial morning wood, Kennedy’s lust had skyrocketed, and he’d rolled a sniggering Kieran onto his back, silencing him by tasting every inch of his body from neck to groin, before swallowing his cock whole again. This time, emboldened by the gasps and moans coming from above, Kennedy not only sucked on each of his balls, but then pushed both of Kieran’s thighs up and swiped his tongue along his crack. No sound had come from Kieran, just a sharp intake of breath. Kennedy looked up then, saw Kieran watching him with wonder, and a fair amount of shock. Kennedy wondered if he’d gone too far. “Do that again,” said Kieran. Kennedy smiled and wasted no time. This time, not only did he repeatedly moisten Kieran’s hole but then probed with his tongue, feeling Kieran’s body shiver with each invasion. When he’d finally returned to the task in hand, sucking on Kieran’s erection, he pushed a fingertip into him, only up to the first joint, to get him used to the invasion. Finally, he used Kieran’s pre-cum to moisten their erections, and, while feeling the muscles tighten around his digit, he'd gripped both of their erections—Kieran’s introduction to frottage—until they both came to a shuddering climax. ***** At ten past seven darkness had already begun to fall, and he spotted the silhouette on the right side of the up-sloping lane, leaning against a wall. As was customary, most of the bar signs had been illuminated in florescent colours, and opposite the man, at the top of the stairs, stood 036 bar. As Kennedy approached, a tall shadow plucked himself away from the wall. Kieran. Kennedy felt a smile tug at his face. “Kennedy.” Just the sound of Kieran’s voice made his heart dance a little tango. “You made it. How long have you been here?” “Ten minutes max. The sign went on only a few moments ago. What’s in the bag?” Kieran nodded to the carrier bag Kennedy had brought with him. “Presents for Tim and Hiro.” With a quick check along the empty lane, Kennedy stepped towards Kieran and began to pull him in for a kiss, but Kieran stopped him. “You said we need to be discrete.” “In the bar, yes.” “In the gay bar?” “Correct. It’s a cultural thing. Although they probably wouldn’t say anything to us, most Japanese don’t do public displays of affection. It’s not homophobic or anything, simply cultural, and something we have to respect. The same thing goes for straight couples.” “But in a gay bar?” “The bars here aren’t like England. Most are well lit and similar to sitting around in someone’s living room. Some have karaoke and others have theme nights. A few years ago, I walked into one that had a fundoshi night, kind of like a traditional Japanese jockstrap. All the men sat around in nothing but these items of underwear. Talking politely to each other, but no touching and definitely no kissing. We walked out pretty much immediately.” “No PDAs?” “Not that I’ve seen.” “Then why are you trying to snog me in the street?” “Because there’s nobody watching, dummy.” Kieran laughed, but only long enough for Kennedy to pull him into a kiss. Something had begun to feel incredibly familiar in his kisses with Kieran, almost like a drug he had become addicted to. Before things got too intense, Kieran pushed them apart when spotting an elderly Japanese couple strolling their way. While they stood staring at each other, waiting for the couple to shuffle past, Kennedy’s eye was drawn to the bar signs on the building opposite the one housing 036, behind Kieran’s head. On the ground floor a bar called Gents with what appeared to be a sign for the toilet, except the sign had two men instead of a man and a woman; on the next floor up, something in Japanese with a red fluorescent dragon; and then, flickering to life at that very moment on the top floor, Giant Buddha lounge. Tacky, he thought, but at least a name he could decipher. When another person appeared on the lane, Kennedy breathed out a sigh and led them up the steps to their destination; the 036 bar. Inside the small room, they found only the bar master, and his two associates seated at the counter. Kennedy had expected as much. They joined them, and were provided cold towels by the bar master, who introduced himself as Kazuki. Kennedy had so much to say, but wanted to let Tim—his English friend who now lived with his partner in Tokyo, and moreover, his private investigator—get some friendly banter out of the way before getting down to business. “Tim and I went to college together, best mates,” said Kennedy, mainly to Kieran, who sat nursing an Asahi beer, whereas Kennedy had opted for the local Awamori with a plum-type of soft drink. “Where I went into the family business, Tim went into the metropolitan police, before meeting his Japanese partner, and is now living in Tokyo. He’s a highly resourceful private investigator. Hiro-san works privately for me in a research and development capacity. He’s a technical wizard and, hopefully, has brought some samples of the latest security devices to show me.” Hiro nodded his welcome to Kieran, and then nodded to Kennedy, adding a thumbs up sign. “So anyway, before we begin, I brought small gifts. A metal remote-controlled model of a London bus for Hiro’s son. And for you, Tim, a few things from home that you might be missing,” said Kennedy, handing over his carrier bag. Tim rifled through the bag, pulled out Hiro’s toy first of all, and then his eyes widened as he placed each additional item on the counter. “Marmite. Branston pickle. Cadbury’s cream eggs. Rich tea biscuits. Tetley tea bags. You are a superstar. Hang on, what’s this?” “Small bottle of mouthwash. They gave it to us on the plane.” “You think we don’t have this in Tokyo?” said Tim, before throwing the bottle to the bar master. “Toss that into the trash for me, please, Kazuki-san. And for the record, Kennedy, that stuff is useless. Honestly, the things people waste their money on these days.” Kennedy had forgotten about Tim’s quirks. Aside from that, however, he was a scrupulous investigator. Before Kennedy took over the conversation, Tim began. “So did you read everything I sent you?” “I did. Very interesting. Sounds like Milletto is not only a smart businessman, but a competitive one, who has made a name for himself in the industry. Cold Steel is in good shape because of him. What I don’t completely understand is why he wants out. It’s not as though he needs the money. And he’s clearly good at what he does.” “And what did you make of the information in the FYEO?” asked Tim. “That Sloan Williamson has a vested interest in the sale.” “Milletto stands to make a lot of money selling off his company, even though, as you say, he’s already nicely off. But from what our inside sources tell us, he plans on gifting the proceeds to his only daughter, Mary Jane Milletto. Who also happens to be the third wife of one—” “Sloan Williamson.” “Correct. At the moment, Sloan is paying child support to two ex-wives, so doesn’t have much spare money left in the bank each month. But with his wife’s windfall, he’ll be able to buy up a substantial amount of shares in Grey Havens once you go public. Probably hoping for a preferential offering for existing employees.” “Is Giorgio Milletto aware of any of this?” “No, I’m sure he’s unaware of Sloan’s intentions. Digging around, sounds as though Giorgio Milletto wasn’t particular pleased about his only daughter marrying a man almost twice her age, and also twice divorced. From what we’ve heard, he simply wants to give her a safety net when things go south.” “When, not if?” said Kennedy, chuckling. “Milletto’s words, not mine,” said Tim. Kennedy mulled this information over. Karl had voiced his concerns about Cold Steel being overpriced, but Sloan and his finance guy—someone Sloan had cherry picked—had argued to the contrary. Of course Sloan would want the highest price possible, if he was going to end up with the money, Kennedy’s money. “So. What do we do about Sloan?” “Saru mo ki kara ochiru,” said Kazuki, who had been listening in, and which had both Hiro and Tim laughing. “What did he just say?” asked Kieran. “It’s an old Japanese proverb, which translates as ‘even monkeys fall from trees’.” Both Kennedy and Kieran laughed. “Problem is,” said Kennedy, “I don’t have time to spare, waiting for this one to fall.” “Maybe you push him out of the tree,” said Kieran. “Or you take the tree away. I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and I may have found a solution,” said Tim. “I attended a course on problem solving recently, and they classified all problems into three categories. First, the problem that has already happened and now needs to be fixed. Secondly, the problem you can foresee that lies ahead. And third, problems you want to prevent from happening in the first place. The way I see things, you are viewing this as the second stage, something that lies ahead. But what if you prevent the problem from happening in the first place, take away Sloan’s leverage.” “And how do you suggest I do that?” “There are a number of ways. You could tell them all you’re delaying or postponing the decision to take your privately owned company to a public limited one. Of course, then you lose out as well.” “Agreed.” “So, as is my wont, I’ve been going through your private investment portfolio. Did you know you own twenty percent shares in Securiton? They’re another domestic security company in the US.” “I didn’t. And to be honest, I’ve never heard of them. They were probably my late uncle’s shares, transferred to me when he passed away. How are they performing?” “Historically, good. Of late, appallingly. Even though they have great potential, they’re currently being mis-managed. The point is, after doing a bit of digging, I found out that someone else has a thirty-five percent stake in the company.” “Go on.” “Giorgio Milletto. So imagine if you were to sell him your twenty. He’d have controlling interest—” “—in a business area he’s already familiar with and performing in.” “And if he has any sense, he’ll merge the two companies and make a lot of investors very happy. Moreover, he’ll need to keep working, need to keep his interest going, after he pulls out of our deal.” “Tim, you’re a bloody genius.” “You want me to set up a call with him?” “Yes and no,” said Kennedy. “Call him to set up a private meeting in his LA office for next Tuesday. Might be best not to use my name, but make something up that’ll grab his interest. I’ll fly straight from Hong Kong and meet him in their office. This needs to be done face to face. Kieran, are you okay to keep yourself amused in Hong Kong without me for a couple of days? Steph and Laurie will be with you.” “When will you get back?” “I’ll fly straight back on Wednesday, which means arriving Thursday. So I’ll probably meet you at the airport for our flight to Bali.” “Are you sure?” said Kieran. “You’ll be shattered.” “I’ll be fine. More than fine. And besides, we’ll have the final eight nights in Bali together.” “So are you going to cancel the meeting in London?” asked Tim. “With Milletto and your management team?” “On the contrary. If all goes well, I’m going to insist Giorgio flies in and listens to everything they have to say. Before dropping his bombshell. Fuck, I’ll even offer to pay for his flight.” “I don’t get it,” said Kieran. “This Williamson guy sounds like a royal pain in the arse. Surely the simplest solution would be to sack him? Stop him from creating problems in the first place.” “That’s an easy one,” said Tim. “Sloan keeps Kennedy on his toes. And having somebody who desperately wants a piece of the pie once the company goes public, can’t do any harm. He’s going to be working his backside off to make sure what’s being offered to the public is in top form. Am I right, Kennedy?” “On all counts.” “Besides,” said Tim, grinning wickedly. “There’s a whole caseload of dirt on the man, just in case he does go one step too far.” Kennedy laughed and noticed Kieran looking between the two of them. “You two are dangerous.” “I wouldn’t say that, exactly,” said Kennedy. “But we’re good people to have on your side. Now, Hiro-san, what new toys have you got to show me?” While Kennedy sat at one table with Hiro, listening to him explain some of the features of the new micro security devices he had been working on, Kennedy occasionally peered over and saw Tim and Kieran chatting amiably together and occasionally laughing. Funny how watching Kieran filled him with a warm shimmer, but at the same time, scared the hell out of him. What the fuck was he supposed to do with that?
  23. 104 points
    KENNEDY ~ ALMOST Kennedy was woken by a loud ping from his phone. In all honesty, as he fell asleep, he’d been worried about waking to find Kieran—always the early riser—having a panic attack, or a crisis of heart or conscience, or complaining about new and inevitable soreness in parts where this kind of thing had never happened. What he hadn’t expected was to find Kieran fast asleep, his warm body and stiff cock pressed up against Kennedy’s back, his arm draped around his midriff. Kennedy lay there savouring the moment. Lazily, he reached out a hand and brought the phone to his face, to check the messages on the display. Steph 10:10: You’re not answering your cabin door. Steph 10:30: Are you onboard? Simeon says he hasn’t seen you. Missed call. Steph 11:00: Where the fuck are you? The boat leaves at midday. Panic rippled through him when he checked the time—eleven-ten. He threw the phone down. “Shit,” he said, jumping into action and waking a sleep-ruffled Kieran with a shoulder shake. “We’ve overslept. Get dressed. We have to check out.” “I need to use the ‘loo,” said Kieran, leisurely sitting up naked on the side of the bed, and pushing his hands through his locks. “And grab a shower. And what about breakfast?” “No time for shower and food,” said Kennedy from the other side of the bed, yanking on his underwear and trousers. “We can do that back on the boat. If we manage to make it.” “What do you mean?” “The boat leaves port in forty-five minutes.” Finally the words managed to sink in and the two of them hurried around the hotel room, trying to avoid bumping into each other, taking turns to use the toilet, dressing hastily, packing the little they had brought, and then racing down to the reception. While Kennedy checked out, he sent Kieran to arrange a taxi with the concierge and explain the need for haste. Fortunately, taxis were lined outside the hotel ready for guests, so they were soon on their way. At eleven-forty-five, the port appeared before them with the mammoth Diamond Princess still sitting there against the quay. Kennedy breathed an audible sigh of relief. With minutes to spare, they both boarded, showing their cruise passes to the crew members before heading to their cabin. All the way from the hotel, the two had hardly spoken. Finally, Kennedy asked Kieran what he needed first; shower or food. A trooper to the last, he opted for the latter. Kennedy rang Simeon to request an all-day breakfast brought to their cabin. Professional as ever, Simeon responded instantly; but when he pushed the trolley into their cabin, Kennedy could make out a slight change in attitude, the friendliness dialled down a notch or two. Kieran noticed too, because when Simeon served them both coffee—Kennedy his usual espresso, which he downed in one gulp—Kieran winked at Kennedy and grinned. “How was the coffee, darling?” asked Kieran, reaching across the table to take hold of Kennedy’s hand. “Would you like Simon to bring you another?” “One's enough,” said Kennedy, attempting to glare at Kieran through his grin. “Thank you, Simeon. You can clear the table later.” “More importantly, how are you feeling?” asked Kennedy, once Simeon had departed. “Better, now we made the boat in time. What would we have done, if we hadn’t?” “Not a real issue. We’d have caught a flight to Hong Kong. Just over two hours away. And spent an extra couple of nights in Hong Kong waiting for the boat to arrive.” “My God, you think of everything.” “What I meant earlier was, how do you feel after last night?” Kieran considered Kennedy’s meaning, then got up from his chair and slapped down his napkin. Like a hunter stalking his prey, he came around Kennedy’s side of the table and straddled his lap, placing his arms around the back of Kennedy’s head. “If you’re asking whether my ass is still sore, then the answer is yes,” he said, rubbing his backside into Kennedy’s groin before leaning in and pecking Kennedy on the lips and neck. “If you’re asking whether I still want to do the same thing again, then the answer is—oh fuck yes. But right now, I’m ready for a shower. So hurry up and finish your breakfast. Because my cock isn’t going to wash itself.” For the next three days and two nights before they reached Hong Kong, Kieran’s appetite for sex became voracious, often keeping Kennedy in bed until mid-morning, and dragging him away in the afternoon, to try out one new position or another. If Pandora had ever had a brother, then his box had been well and truly opened. The first time Kennedy allowed him to take the lead—something Patrick had never wanted—Kieran took his time, making sure Kennedy felt relaxed, always observing and trying to sense any discomfort Kennedy might be feeling. When midway through the first exchange of roles, he insisted Kennedy roll over and straddle him, ride him at his own pace, the ploy worked perfectly and allowed Kennedy’s hands the freedom to explore Kieran’s body, helping to bring him home. For the first time in his life, Kennedy found concentrating on work impossible. Kieran knew exactly which buttons to push. On the final cloudless day on deck, as Kennedy relaxed sleepily in the sun on loungers with the girls around the bustling swimming pool after lunch, purposefully ignoring Patrick’s posse gathered together on the other side of the pool, Kieran turned up sporting only gold lamé Aussiebum swimming briefs—brief being the optimum word—a pair Kennedy had bought him. Tanned now, with his trim muscles and flat stomach, the tight briefs outlined his beautiful dick, and he’d developed a new confidence, sexy as hell. When he sat astride Kennedy and bent down for a deep kiss, all heads turned their way. And when Kieran whispered three words into his ear—swim or sex?—Kennedy bolted up from the lounger and pulled him away, back toward the cabin. Now, when Kieran bottomed? He had become an insatiable maniac—what his friends would have labelled a power bottom—hungry for everything Kennedy could give him and more; hard and fast, wrapping his legs tightly around Kennedy’s back, pulling him as far inside him as he could, and coming with wild abandonment, loudly vocal, and often hands-free, like an express train bursting from a tunnel, or a New Zealand geyser bursting hotly from the ground. Whatever happened to mild mannered Kieran? All his friends noticed. At meal times—the few moments all the friends spent together—Kieran took every opportunity to put a hand on Kennedy’s knee, or lace his fingers with the hand lying next to his, or to lean across Kennedy to reach for the salt or pepper, accidentally placing a hand on his upper thigh, a thumb stroking the bulge in his trousers. Intended to be discreet—but so bloody obvious—every time Kennedy’s friends noticed, not only the smitten reaction of Kieran, but the fake dispassion of Kennedy. All too soon, Hong Kong harbour loomed. As soon as Kennedy had installed Kieran into the luxurious suite of the Mandarin Oriental, he packed his bag ready to head to the airport. The hotel had organised a taxi to take him. Twice Kieran asked if he wanted him to come, to see him off, but Kennedy just wanted to get the trip out of the way. Kieran’s sullenness made Kennedy feel mean, and he almost had a change of heart, but instead pulled him up from the bed into an embrace. “I need to do this, Kieran.” After a tender kiss, he held Kieran’s face in his hands and stared into his eyes. “Yes, I know you do.” “And I’ll be gone two days only, as long as there are no delays.” “I know.” “And then it’s just you and me in Bali. For eight nights. To try anything that enters your filthy mind.” Kennedy managed to get a small smile out of Kieran then, which quickly fell away when Kieran’s gaze dropped to the small case Kennedy had packed. “What’s the matter, Kieran?” “It’s just—we’ve been together every day and night for the past eighteen days,” said Kieran, trying to make light, but his eyes telling a different story. “And I’ve begun to think of you as my lucky charm. So forgive me if I’m getting a little nervous about not having you here. What I’m trying to say is it feels so good when we’re together. And I’m going to miss you. Sorry, I’m getting a bit gushy here, aren’t I?” “No you’re not. I appreciate the sentiment, Kieran. And I promise I’m coming back soon. Okay?” “Okay.” “Now will you do something for me?” “Anything.” “Go and enjoy yourself.” ***** While sitting at the boarding gate, Kennedy received a couple of messages on his phone; one from Tim about the meeting that he had been expecting—and one from Reagan. Reagan: Me and the kids are moving in with our parents for now. Bernie admitted to having an affair. Will let you know more soon. Kennedy stared out of the airport window, to his plane being readied for the flight. Although the news didn’t take him by surprise, his sudden reaction did. What saddened him more than he could have imagined with its plain but obvious truth, was that he and his sister had failed at relationships. How could he forget the defeated expression on Reagan’s face when he’d said goodbye? Never would he forget his own sense of futility when Patrick had walked away. Maybe he should be looking to blame their parents, but most of all, he wanted to protect his own heart. And the reason for this conflict? Kieran had woken something inside him, had made him begin to feel things again. Could he dare take another chance? As the airline official checked his passport and scanned his ticket, Kennedy kept replaying in his mind the text from his sister. Why the hell would he want to expose his heart again? Stupid. The idea was simply stupid. Besides, he was about to go into battle. Right now he needed no distractions. Heading down the ramp to the plane door, he checked the messages from Tim, to make sure there were going to be no surprises. Tim: All arranged as planned, everything lined up including transfer documents sent to your email account. Milletto thinks you are an international investment analyst with particular specialism in his sector. Let me know how things go. Safe travels. Head down, he boarded the plane bound for Los Angeles and turned left.
  24. 104 points
    KENNEDY ~ KENNEDY’S ASSASSINATION On the morning of their ninth day at sea, the day after leaving Hanoi, Vietnam, the weather took a turn for the worse. Torrential rain lashed the deck as the ship skirted a typhoon. Colossal cruise ships such as the Diamond Princess had decent stabilisers, but still the constant rolling motion of the ship had a number of passengers holed up in their cabins. Steph and Leonard went to ground for another reason. They’d both made a point of sampling street food on each of their trips ashore. In Hanoi, however, both had come down with mild cases of food poisoning, according to the ship’s doctor, who had prescribed loperamide to help reduce bouts of diarrhoea and oral rehydration sachets to mix with water and keep them hydrated. Apart from that, both were advised to drink plenty of room temperature water, take plenty of bed rest, and stay confined to their cabins. Kennedy sat at lunch with only Kieran and Laurie. Pete, who suffered from seasickness, had also barricaded himself in his cabin. Eric, his father, had stayed to keep him company. “Are we going to bail?” asked Laurie, who had stepped out from their cabin for half an hour to grab some lunch. They had been chatting about Patrick’s cocktail party. “I really need to look after Steph.” Laurie had been with them in Hanoi, and would usually have sampled the street fare, but her strict diet meant abstaining—lucky for her. Kieran had declined the excursion, had stayed onboard to keep Kennedy company. Kennedy sighed. Not only had they all been invited to the drinks party in the early afternoon, but this was the evening of the exclusive captain’s table event, where he and Steph were supposed to strut their stuff across the dance floor. Now everything had gone to pot. “We can still go to Patrick’s,” said Kieran, leaning into Kennedy. “If you want.” Something had crystallised in Kieran since Koh Samui. Kennedy felt the change, but assumed he’d had high expectations of the island and, perhaps, had been disappointed. When Kennedy questioned him, he said nothing. Whatever the reason, he’d been really calm and had stayed close to Kennedy ever since. “Shame, I was really looking forward to the dinner and dance. You don’t think Steph might feel better by tonight?” He’d watched the video Kieran had recorded a number of times, memorising the steps. Now their moment in the spotlight had been snatched away. “I think it’s doubtful, Kennedy,” said Laurie, worry creasing her brow. “She can barely get out of bed, except for the occasional rush to the ‘loo—” “I know, I know. Sod’s law,“ he said, before checking his watch. “In which case, one of us ought to make an effort to attend the cocktail party. We did get a gentle reminder, after all.” Patrick, who had been pretty much invisible the whole cruise, had sent Joey to Steph and Laurie’s cabin the day before they arrived in Ho Chi Minh—the port before Hanoi—to remind them about the get-together. “Kieran,” said Kennedy, his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Would you mind if I do this on my own? Might give me a chance to get Patrick alone and clear the air.” A brief frown flickered across Kieran’s face, replaced quickly by a sad smile. But Laurie answered before Kieran had a chance. “Why do you feel you have any air to clear? I don’t, and neither does Steph,” she said, her quiet anger sounding so much like her partner’s. “He’s the one that caused the pollution. How about you get him to do some apologising? Fucking free-loader.” “Okay, Laurie,” said Kennedy, a little surprised. Of the two, Laurie usually let Steph take the lead. “Play nicely. I wasn’t talking about apologising for anything—apologising is not something I do. But we do need to have words. Besides, my question was for Kieran.” He turned and watch Kieran mull over the words a moment, before answering. “As long as you’re sure,” he said, with a gentle smile that tugged at Kennedy’s heart. “Do what you need to, Kennedy. But I’m also happy to come with you, to stand by your side in case you need me.” And there it was again. Simple words of support. Nobody in his life offered him that, not even the staff to whom he paid significant wages, not even the partner of nine years who now hated his guts. And until recently, not even his own parents. But really, he needed to get Patrick alone and have the talk. What better opportunity? “In which case,” said Laurie, her annoyance completely out of character. “If it’s okay with you, Kieran, I’ll go with him. Maybe just for half an hour. They know me, so they won’t start anything. But you’re not going alone, Kennedy. Fuck that. You’re not throwing yourself to those fucking wolves. Anyone picks on you, I’ll sit on them.” Kieran laughed aloud beside him. Something in his posture changed too, a slight relaxation. Odd really. Was he in favour of Laurie joining Kennedy to the party? “Okay. Then let’s head there now,” said Kennedy, standing to make his point. “I know it’s bit early, but let’s get this over with now. But please, let’s keep things civil, Laurie.” “Fine,” said Laurie, rising too. One single word and she sounded anything but fine. “Let me quickly text Steph. Make sure she knows what’s happening.” Kennedy felt bad about leaving Kieran behind. Like a trooper, he smiled and said he’d go back to the cabin to catch up on emails and messages, maybe read a little. Laurie led the way, into the elevator, down a couple of floors, until they emerged into a long corridor. Halfway down, they stopped outside the door to Patrick’s cabin, which stood open. Four steps inside the living space of the two bedroom cabin—a narrow area with a dining table against one wall, a three seater sofa, and a small bar—and Kennedy realised how grateful he felt to have Laurie by his side. Looking at her face, she also tensed at the drop in temperature at their arrival, metaphorically speaking. Instantly, the truth hit home from the expressions on the familiar faces of Mike and Richmond. Clearly, neither had expected them to turn up. Fortunately, the four other faces in the cabin were unknown and, apart from a quick once over, paid them no heed. Patrick and his new partner did not appear to be in the cabin. But Richmond and Mike stood together at the bar like judge and jury. Kennedy approached them with Laurie steadfastly by his side, both adopting their game faces. “You guys are early,” said Mike, pleasantly enough. “Yes, sorry. Thought we’d get here before the masses arrived,” said Laurie, trying hard to mask her sarcasm. “You enjoying the cruise?” “So far, so good,” said Richmond, sombrely, the older of the two. Until Kennedy’s split with Patrick, Kennedy had always respected Richmond, had always found his common sense refreshing, his business observations insightful. “Where are the others?” “Disaster. Steph and Leonard have food poisoning—” began Laurie. “And let me guess,” said Mike. “Pete’s got a bout of seasickness?” “Bingo. His dad’s taking care of him.” “They do have seasick pills on the boat,” said Richmond. “He won’t take them, Rich,” said Mike. “Says they make him nauseous.” Strange really, thought Kennedy, that these people, friends, used to be in each other’s pockets. Now, because of one simple act—him and Patrick splitting—sides had been taken. Over glasses of wine, they chatted amiably mainly with Mike, reliving old holidays and laughing together. Kennedy had just started to relax when Laurie’s phone beeped. Her face dropped when she peered down at the display, a simple message from Steph, requesting her help. After thanking Mike and Richmond, and a quick apologetic and guarded nod to Kennedy, she excused herself. In her absence, Kennedy continued chatting until he peered around the room once more. “Where’s Patrick?” asked Kennedy. “I was hoping to have a chat with him.” Something in Richmond’s eyes hardened then. “As I said, you’re early. Joey persuaded him to get a massage before the main party. Tension relief. They went together,” replied Richmond. “They’ll be back any minute. Lay off him though, Kennedy, will you?” “Rich,” said Mike, softly, touching his partner’s arm. “Let it go.” “What you mean?” said Kennedy, frowning. “You know exactly what I mean,” said Richmond. “Look, we need to talk, that’s all. The two of us.” Richmond folded his arms, a grimace transforming his face. “What you need to do is leave him the fuck alone. Everyone sees what you’re doing. Hard not to. Still flaunting your pretty boys in front your friends year after year. How do you think that makes Patrick feel? I’ll tell you how. He’s now second guessing himself, about whether you were doing the same thing when you were together—” Kennedy felt heat rising in his face. Is that really what people—what Patrick—thought of him? “That’s unfair. I never once—” “Maybe not, but try convincing him of that. You froze him out. How often did you guys have sex the last six months you were together?” What the fuck? Had Patrick told his friends about that last, dreadful, year they’d spent together? Peripherally, he noticed the room had gone still and quiet around him. “That’s private—” “I’ll tell you how often. Not once. And now he’s fucking torturing himself, because he believes you were getting your kicks elsewhere, because unlike him, you could afford to buy as many tricks as your dick desired. All those times you were away on working weekends, or business trips. What little piece of ass did you have along with you—bought and paid for—to fill your bed?” Richmond’s voice resonated throughout the cabin. Blood had drained from Kennedy’s face, he could feel the transformation. “I did nothing of the sort,” said Kennedy, regaining some control. “Whoever’s spreading those lies needs to check their facts.” “So are you denying the fact that you pay these rent boys to come away with you on vacation?” “They’re not rent boys. And that’s nobody’s business—” “Oh, come on, Kennedy. People talk. Ewan told us all about your arrangement last year. So no doubt this year’s plaything is on your payroll. Can you really blame Patrick for hating you? You fucked him up royally.” Everyone’s eyes were on them then, boring into him, relishing every accusation coming out of Richmond’s mouth. By now, Mike had turned away, neither able to listen not defend. “I did nothing of the sort—” “You treated him like a piece of shit when you were together. Did you even know he was seeing a counsellor for depression when you dumped him? No, because you never bothered to ask, never gave a shit, would rather turn a blind eye if it didn’t concern you. Even on this trip, he’s barely left the cabin, because he’s worried about bumping into you parading this year’s top model. You are a sad, pathetic excuse for a man, Kennedy Grey.” Patrick’s exit from their relationship had taken Kennedy by surprise. Had he not been paying attention? Why had none of his so-called friends told him? Apart from Steph and Laurie, did they all feel this way about him? “I don’t fucking need this,” said Kennedy, slamming his glass down on the bar and heading for the exit. As he ripped the door open wide, Patrick and Joey stood there, a look of genuine shock on both their faces. “Yeah, go on,” called Richmond, from somewhere behind. “Run away. It’s what you do best.” Kennedy didn’t stop, but pushed past them. Enough of this shit, he thought. I need a fucking drink.
  25. 104 points
    KIERAN ~ HIJACKED Kieran recognised Patrick immediately from the online photograph he’d seen of Kennedy and another man at a social function. Both dark-haired, Kennedy always appeared well turned out, with wisps of grey at the temples of his well groomed cut, chiselled features, and those stunning deep Atlantic blue eyes, whereas Patrick’s hair sat in tight curls on his head like a helmet, and his almost black eyes burned into Kieran like accusations. Three other men stood with him, a younger one who appeared a little uncomfortable and two others standing unsmiling behind Patrick like personal bodyguards. Perhaps they were. But what the hell was Patrick doing on the cruise? And more importantly, why would he want to gatecrash this party? Unless he was invited or here to make trouble? Kieran could feel the blood had drained from his face. How was he supposed to deal with this? “It’s okay,” came Kennedy’s voice, as he approached the door, stopped next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let them in. They’re friends too, and—even if unexpected—more than welcome.” Kieran could hear an immediate change in the tone of Kennedy’s voice, a cold businesslike formality. That alone irked Kieran, who had noticed that before this intrusion, Kennedy—the real Kennedy—had finally surfaced, had started to relax, laugh, and enjoy himself. Patrick and Kennedy shook hands like heads of state, the stern gaze between them unfathomable. Kieran wanted to intervene, to say something, but no words came. “You know Richmond and Mike,” said Patrick, indicating the henchmen dwarfing him, and then turned to the nice looking guy, a few years younger than Kieran. Something in his discomfort told Kieran he’d also been an unwitting bystander in the decision to invade the party. “This is Joey. He’s accompanying me this year.” “And this is Kieran, my plus one,” said Kennedy. “Everyone else here you know. Oh, except for Leonard’s—uh—friend, Leighton. Come in and make yourselves at home.” Kieran’s twinge of pleasure at the label ‘plus one’ was short lived. On their way in, only Joey made an effort to smile and shake hands with him. The other three ignored him, one of them actually brushed into him. Without a word, Kennedy escorted the four new guests over to the bar, leaving Kieran standing alone. He looked around for Steph and Laurie, but they were nowhere to be seen. Finally, Pete came to his rescue and dragged him over to where his rosy-cheeked father sipped on a large glass of wine. Considering they were father and son, they could not have looked more different; chubby Pete with his wild chestnut hair exploding from his pear-shaped head, Eric, carefully groomed with a full head of straight white hair and matching handlebar moustache. The perfect double act. “Don’t worry, Kieran. None of this has anything to do with you. I asked Patrick if he wanted to join us this year, wanted me to book him a cabin, and he categorically declined, after what happened last year. As did Richmond and Mike, which was no biggie. They’re like the three musketeers, joined at the codpiece. And now they even have a fourth, their very own d'Artagnan, the young handsome hero. Although I’ve no idea who he’s supposed to be here with.” “Patrick. Accompanying him.” “Whatever that means. You know, even after they split, both Kennedy and Patrick used to come on the cruises—separately, of course. Until last year. Did Kennedy tell you what happened?” “No, he didn’t mention anything.” “So a word of warning. Don’t get sucked into being sweet-talked by Richmond and Mike—I call them Rich and Poor, by the way, because Mike's last name is Porter—unless you want Kennedy to throw a wobbly. Last year, they had a three-way with Kennedy’s then boyfriend, Ewan. Caused one hell of a scene, I can tell you. Honestly, I still believe Patrick put them up to it, to get back at Kennedy. So, you know, just watch yourself around them.” “Trust me, Pete, that is not going to be a problem.” “Yeah,” said Pete, assessing Kieran. “I believe you. Can’t quite make you out yet. You are so not like his usual vacuous twink type. Is our man over there finally moving on?” When Kieran joined Pete’s gaze, peering at Kennedy over at the bar. Kieran’s heart wrenched a little to see his discomfort, even though he appeared to be putting on a brave face. The moment Leonard and Leighton joined them, they noticed Steph and Laurie descending the staircase from the bedroom mezzanine level. They’d clearly been having a sneak peek around the cabin. Steph’s face was a picture when she noticed the group at the bar. Frozen mid staircase, with Laurie almost bumping into her back, her mouth dropped open. Looking over at Pete, she mouthed the words ‘what the fuck’ which even had Kieran grinning. But troopers to the last, they descended and went straight over to the new guests, liberally providing theatrical hellos, hugs and kisses. “What do you make of Leonard’s friend, Leighton?” said Kieran, absently. “He’s probably a relative or something.” “Really? But he’s young and quite good looking.” “Not Leonard’s type, dear. Leonard’s into daddies” “He’s—what?” “Yes, I know. The man’s forty-four. But his late partner was twenty years older. Passed away fifteen years ago. We all just assumed it was one of those things; they met young, connected, stayed together. Until the first time I brought dad along on the cruise four years ago, and Leonard tried to jump his bones.” “No!” said Kieran, stifling a laugh. “Flattered,” slurred Eric. “But I’m afraid I like bouncy boobies and moist beavers.” “Christ, Dad!” chastised Pete, looking disgusted. “Gross, or what?” After Pete offered to refill his drink, Kieran made a point of circumventing Patrick and his minders, and escaped to the safety of the outside balcony. Only now, as he stood there, did he realise the ship had left the port and headed to the open seas. After ten minutes, standing at the sea rail, he sensed someone come and join him, and turned to see Joey standing there. More than likely, he too wanted to get away from the tension in the room. After nodding a welcome, they chatted about each other. Interestingly, they both lived south of the Thames river in different towns in London. Joey worked for the NHS, doing his foundation training on the way to becoming a doctor. Kieran found him entirely genuine and explained candidly about his own work-study situation before asking how Joey knew Patrick. “We met a couple of months back, at a bar round the back of Charing Cross. This holiday is totally last minute. Richmond and Mike booked a two bedroom suite and friends of theirs dropped out. Sorry about coming along today but they insisted. How long have you known Kennedy?” “About the same time.” “He seems okay. But from the way Richmond describes him, you’d think he was a mass murderer.” Interesting, thought Kieran. Richmond, not Patrick, is bad-mouthing Kennedy. “You know Patrick and Kennedy used to be an item?” said Kieran. “Every bloody day we’re together. Feels like I’m competing with the ghost of Kennedy Grey. And I can’t compete, of course. I’m two years into my postgraduate training and scraping by. But I really like Patrick. I just can’t give him the material things Kennedy could. Not right now, anyway. And on top of that, Patrick has a lot of baggage.” “How do you mean?” Before he answers, he turns and gives Kieran his full attention. “Tell me about you and Kennedy, first of all. What is it you like about him?” “A lot of things. He’s smart, works bloody hard, treats people he loves really well and, if you want my honest opinion, deep down he has a good heart.” “You really like him?” Kieran stared out to sea and mulled over the question, but the answer came instantly. “Someone else recently asked me the same question. And I’ll tell you the same thing I said to him. I admire Kennedy. I think he’s an inspiration.” “Wow, man. You’ve got it almost as bad as me,” said Joey, smiling and following Kieran’s gaze out to sea. “Patrick had issues with Kennedy and his family. Said they all looked down on him. Made him sleep in a separate bedroom in their house when he visited. Complained that Kennedy cared more about his work than being in a relationship.” “Kennedy certainly works hard, that much I know. You don’t become successful in this day and age without putting the hours in. I’m sure you know all about that if you’re working to becoming a doctor.” Peripherally, Kieran noticed Joey slowly nodding. “Did they make you sleep in a different bedroom? His parents?” “Yeah, they did. Loved it. My own ensuite bathroom and a huge bed.” “But you’re sleeping together here?” Kieran paused for a moment, wondering how to answer that question truthfully. “Yep. You win some, you lose some.” Joey laughed at that, before asking. “Which estate agency did you work for?” “Landreal Properties, based in Croydon.” “Shut the fuck up!” said Joey, aghast. “Then you must know my sister. She’s still the Surrey regional manager, Chloe Drinkwater?” Kieran froze. He knew Chloe well, she had been the one pushing to keep him when voices from the top began to let a whole raft of salespeople go. The trouble was, Chloe also knew his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, got on really well with her. Chloe and her husband had been out for drinks and dinner with Kieran and Jennifer three or four times. What the hell should he say to Joey? Right then, the balcony door slid open. Laurie poked her head out and rolled her eyes. “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve all been summoned. Patrick has something he wants to say.” Back inside, everyone either sat on sofas or stood awkwardly, looking towards the bar where a slightly uncomfortable Patrick stood at the bar counter, about to give a speech, obsessively rubbing his left forearm. “Look, we didn’t want to hijack your welcome celebration. But sometimes one needs to take the bull by the horns. So I just have a few words I want to say and then we’ll bugger off to dinner. We’re here on the cruise last minute, so I’m sorry you weren’t forewarned. I’m also truly sorry last year’s holiday didn’t end well, but this is a big boat, with a hell of a lot of people, and we can easily lose ourselves amongst the sea of other holidaymakers. At the end of the day, true friendship can withstand a few knocks, don’t you think?” Kieran thought the words sounded heartfelt, but when he peered at Kennedy he noticed him glaring sadly at the floor. A couple of people around the room murmured their agreement, while others simply nodded. “And if anyone’s interested, we’re having our own afternoon drinks party. On the eighth day at sea, after Vietnam. A small gathering before the captain’s table banquet in the evening. Our cabin’s a little cosier than this one, but you’re all very welcome to join.” “A toast,” said Pete, who had stood the whole time with his arms crossed, but now raised his flute of champagne. “Here’s to having fun and adventures on the high seas.” “Hear, hear,” said Eric, his father, topping his glass with red wine and taking a gulp. Maybe Kieran imagined the reaction, but everyone appeared to join in half-heartedly. Straight afterwards, Patrick and his friends filed out of the cabin, Joey smiling a farewell at Kieran. Hopefully he had forgotten his earlier question. Almost as soon as the door closed, the room breathed a collective sigh of relief. “What the fuck just happened?” said Pete, almost the same time as Steph took over. “Oh my God, Kennedy,” she said, turning on Kennedy. “I totally forgot to mention. There’s a ballroom dance competition the night of the captain’s table. I’ve already entered us.” Kieran noticed that Kennedy’s mind had been elsewhere, but she now had his full attention. “Shiply Ballroom. And people, me and sex god Kennedy here are going to wow everyone with our signature tango to the latin version of Roxanne—El Tango de Roxanne. Not exactly the same dance but the same song as the Moulin Rouge movie version. So we’ll need you there to support.” “Yeah, I don’t think so,” said Kennedy. “You dance?” asked Kieran, incredulous. “Darling,” said Pete. “These two have moves you would not believe. They’ve been dancing since college. Kennedy, you have to say yes. Just to fuck Patrick off.” “You do,” said Laurie, who initially appeared unsure, but kept nodding her head. “That bastard needs to be shown that you’re still fun to be around.” Kieran could not imagine Kennedy dancing to anything, let alone ballroom. But maybe the man he had come to like had hidden depths. “Let’s at least have a practice run,” said Steph. “Find an empty space and go through the moves. What do you say?” ****** That night, after Kennedy had finished in the bathroom, Kieran took his turn to get ready for bed. If he’d felt any apprehension about sharing the huge bed with Kennedy, everything melted away when he saw Kennedy sitting up in bed, arms folded, glaring dejected into space. “Look at us,” said Kieran, as he slipped beneath the covers, trying to make light off the situation. “In bed together with absolutely no intention of having sex. We ought to be married.” Kennedy had no reaction, still lost in thought staring at the foot of the bed. “Sorry, I’m talking nonsense. Nervous, I guess. It’s the first time I’ve shared a bed with a guy.” Finally, Kieran got a response, a soft snort from Kennedy. “I told you I’d be a gentleman.” “I know, I know. Sorry. Are you okay?” Kennedy turned his head to Kieran and attempted a smile. “Go to sleep, Kieran.” Kieran snuggled beneath the quilt, his head on the pillow, staring at the ceiling. Kennedy had been right, he barely noticed him moving on his side of the bed as he did the same. “So—er—what happened? With you and Patrick?” “We’re not going there.” “Okay then, but tell me if I’m fucking up here? Give me something I can work with.” Kennedy sighed loudly. “You're not doing anything wrong. In fact, I’m really glad you’re here. There are just things between Patrick and I that are unresolved. And I think I’m going to have to grow a pair and put that right. Something I’m not looking forward to.” “I see,” said Kieran, even though he didn’t. “You want to know something I’m looking forward to?” “What’s that?” said Kennedy, sounding a little guarded. “Seeing your moves on the dance floor.” Finally Kennedy chuckled next to him. “Goodnight, Kieran.” “Night, Ned.”
  26. 104 points
    KENNEDY ~ AU REVOIR Kennedy stood hidden from view inside the shade of the open air kitchen, mug of fresh coffee held against his chest, watching in wonderment at his family and Kieran as they chatted amiably around the breakfast table. Over the past few days, Reagan had rearranged her plans, had even booked them all into the St Regis for Sunday champagne brunch—much to his mother’s delight—and had taken Kieran and her kids to Universal Studios on Monday—the day a public holiday—while his mother and father played golf, allowing Kennedy time to catch up on work and make some urgent calls. Just as well, too, because he’d heard from Karl how, just that morning, Milletto had once again requested a change of dates for the meeting, now in the middle of the last week of Kennedy’s holiday when he would be in Bali. More worryingly, Karl had an urgent meeting with their financial auditors that particular day, one he could not shrug off. At ten in the morning GMT, Kennedy got his team on a conference call to find out more, and ended by telling them he would most likely be dialling in for the meeting and to please use their main conference room. He had his reasons. Let’s see what Sloan’s next move would be. When he put the phone down, he checked his private email to see if Tim had sent him anything, but nothing had yet arrived. Determined not to let this development spoil his holiday, he finished his work and went for a punishing swim. Now, Tuesday, their last morning together, Reagan had turned up alone for breakfast to see them off, having dropped the boys off to school. Four days into the holiday and Kieran had already proven his worth. Kennedy watched Kieran talking animatedly, envied his easy nature, the way he comfortably chatted to anyone. Reagan’s kids, who rarely engaged Kennedy, already referred to him as Uncle Kieran. What the hell was he supposed to do with that when all this was over? Something in Kennedy had changed, too. He could feel as much deep down. Rarely had he enjoyed visiting his parents. Most other times he would have ended up arguing with his father about one thing or another—or with Patrick—and usually couldn’t wait to get the fuck gone. Maybe they had all mellowed with age, but seeing his sister laughing now reminded him how much he loved and missed her. “Your friend. He very nice man,” came Matty’s voice, beside him. When Kennedy turned, Matty held a tray with toast, butter, and assorted pots of Maya’s homemade fruit jam. “He come this morning to thank me and my wife for everything, said she is very, very good wife and cook—and probably much too good for me.” Matty’s laughter had Kennedy grinning, too. Yes, that sounded like Kieran. “I tell him, sorry, she not understand English.” Kennedy laughed along with Matty, which had Kieran and his sister looking over and smiling at them. Today they embarked on the next part of their journey and he wondered how Kieran would fare with his friends. “Here, let me take that,” said Kennedy, putting his mug on a counter top and taking the tray. “I need to be the good son and rejoin them. I’ll come and say goodbye before we leave.” As he approached the table, his mother singled him out. “Your father’s offered to drive you to the port.” Kennedy placed the tray in the middle of the table and gave his sister a quizzical look. All of them knew only too well not to arrange things for his father on Tuesdays, when he attended his old boy’s club—held sacrosanct in his retirement—the one day of the week he spent with his ex-consulate and other male buddies. “There’s no need. We can call a taxi.” “I’ll take you. No point wasting money,” said his father, turning a page of his newspaper. “What about club day?” “There’ll be plenty more of those. Family comes first.” Kennedy sat down heavily. Had he shifted into another dimension overnight? When he looked at Reagan, she shrugged, also looking bewildered. “In which case,” said Reagan, standing. “I need to go home, tidy up, and do some urgent chores.” She came around the table, giving each of her parents a hug, before stopping at Kieran, he stood up from his seat and hugged her. Kennedy had no idea what she said, but she whispered something in his ear, which had him grinning broadly and nodding. When she reached Kennedy, she grabbed his arm and pulled him up. “Come on. You can walk me to the car.” In comfortable silence, arms linked, they strolled towards the car canopy and stopped to face each other at the front grille of her black SUV. “Was great to see you and the boys, Reagan. Send my love to Bernie when he gets back. Tell him I’m sorry we missed him.” When they hugged, she clung on tightly, not wanting to let go. When she did, an odd expression transformed her face, part affection, part sadness, as though she wanted to tell him something. “What’s the matter?” Instead, she looked away for a moment, collected herself, and then met his gaze with a more stoic expression. “Bernie’s having an affair.” “What? Are you sure?” Finally, the undercurrent of sadness he had observed in her made sense. “The night before he left for Cape Town, while he was in the shower, a couple of pretty explicit text messages popped up on his phone. From someone called Shirl. I think it’s his secretary in Melbourne, Shirlene.” “Did you confront him?” “Honestly, I was too stunned at the time. Didn’t know what to say.” “Shit, Reagan. Why didn’t you call me? What are you going to do?” At that, a small, sad smile crept onto her face. “I know I’m a Bennett now—by marriage—but I’m also still a Grey at heart. And we don’t take things lying down. So I’m not going to ignore this. But I also have the boys to think about. Fortunately, I had the sense to snap a photo of the display on my phone, in case he tries to deny anything. He’s due back Friday, so I’ve asked mum to take the boys that night so Bernie and I can go out to dinner together. Haven’t told her anything else. But anyway, I’ll confront him then.” “If there’s anything you need from me, I mean anything, let me know.” “I don’t like to worry you—” “But you must, Reagan. Something that’s hit home for me this visit, is that I’ve been absent from your lives for too long. And that’s not healthy for any of us. Of course, I can’t be physically here to baby-sit for you or hold your hand, but I can offer both emotional and financial support, if that’s what you need. I’m your brother. I promise I’ll be there for you, okay?” “Okay, thank you,” she said, grinning broadly. “Hey, Kieran’s a catch. You fell on your feet with that one. Do you think you’ve finally found a keeper?” “We’ll see,” said Kennedy, thrown off guard by the change of subject, and looking away. “Come on, Kennedy, he’s nice,” she said, before tugging on his sleeve and getting his full attention. “What’s wrong with him?” Kennedy sighed and shook his head. How the hell did he explain to his sister that Kieran was nothing more than paid help, straight help, come to that? “Nothing’s wrong with him, I just—” “You think you’re not good enough, think he’ll leave you, too, don’t you?” “Eventually.” “That bastard ex well and truly fucked you up, didn’t he? If I ever run into him, so help me, I’ll—” Kennedy started laughing, then, stopping his sister in her tracks. “What?” “You remember what dad always told us? One battle at a time. Take on too many, you dilute your attention, and are more likely to lose them all. Sort your own shit out first.” They laughed together then, his sister finally pulling him into a final hug. “Talking of which, are you going to say anything to them, mum and dad?” he asked. “Let’s see what happens first. I’ll keep you posted, too. Enjoy the rest of your holiday. I know you don’t do social media, but email or text me some photos.” “Will do.” After she had driven away, he and Kieran spent the rest of their morning packing and readying themselves for the next leg of the vacation. Bang on ten, Matty arrived at his bedroom door, insisting once again to take his bags down to the car. After his mother bid them both a teary farewell, they drove out to the port, where The Diamond Princess towered over every other vessel. Impressive did not even begin to describe the sheer size and structure of the cruise liner. Seven stories of cabin balconies sat between other floors of restaurant or cafes or gyms—difficult to discern from the exterior. Kennedy had almost become immune to the sight, had done cruises so many times, but in the rear view mirror, he could see Kieran sitting open mouthed and enchanted. “Good heavens,” said Jeff, pulling up at the drop off point. “Looks like a floating city.” “She pretty much is,” said Kennedy. “Built to accommodate up to around four thousand passengers not including crew.” “And they’re all—you know—like you? The passengers?” “More or less, yes,” said Kennedy. He decided not to try to explain that the organisers aimed the cruise at the full range of LGBTQ, as well welcoming older guests, thin or more full bodied, and all races. Which made for a far more friendly crowd. One of the other cruises had been more exclusive, just for men, and if you weren’t ripped, in your twenties, and hot, you were essentially invisible. Without too much ceremony, Jeff helped them get their bags out of the trunk. This time around, however, instead of the formal handshake, he pulled Kieran into a hug and, just like his sister had, said something to him that Kennedy couldn’t hear. Finally he turned his attention to Kennedy. “Come and see us again soon, son. Your mother and I aren’t getting any younger.” “You know, you can always jump on a plane and come see me.” “With your work schedule? Would we ever get to see you?” “Fair point. But I’d make the time.” “Let me talk to your mother. You know how she feels about travelling and especially about cold weather. But it might be nice to spend Christmas in England.” Kennedy fully expected his father to shake his hand in farewell, and was surprised when his father almost pulled him off his feet into a fierce hug. “Look, son,” he said, still holding tight. “I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I want you to know how immensely proud I am of you, of everything you’ve accomplished. I see now that you’ve done everything single-handedly, which can be very hard on a person. So take time out for yourself every now and then. And take care of that lovely boy. He’s—he’s very special. I’d be honoured to have him part of our family.” When his father finally let them go, turning quickly and getting in the car so Kennedy could not see his face, he realised his own eyes had misted over. Something that hadn’t happened for years. Yes, he thought, things had definitely changed.
  27. 104 points
    At Jed’s side, Buzz followed their alpha. They darted through the trees, following the river line. His heart raced, his senses on high alert. Since Shell’s kidnapping, they had stepped up their training and exercise routines. With the threat of the hunters on them, it was more important than ever that they be at one with their alpha. Especially with the little ones they now had in the pack. Buzz looked up into the sky, letting the moon’s rays wash over him. He turned to his mate. Even though Jed was in his wolf shape, Buzz could have sworn he had a smile on his face. Buzz understood. There was nothing better than running with your pack at night under the light of the moon. With his new brothers and sisters, he was no longer afraid to be himself. They embraced him as one of their own. Even Jed’s parents had taken him in, insisting he call them “Mama” and “Dad.” He felt strange doing so at first, but the love they showed him even from the start made it easy. He was free, mated to Jed Stone. He would never be scared, never be alone. Not with Jed and his pack-mates at his side. They were his family. They would die for him, and Buzz would do the same. Not just because of duty, but because of respect. Because of love. Buzz now knew the difference. Colton came to a stop and Buzz stopped with him. He stared at Colton, watching his body language, waiting for an instruction. The alpha wolf’s dark eyes sought out each of his pack-mates before he turned and ran, ramping up to full speed in mere seconds. Buzz gave chase, his eyes never straying from Colton. All of his other senses were on high alert, searching for anything that might be out of place around him. Jed was at his side, but Parker was there too, and Trey on the other side of the alpha-mate. The wolf pack burst from the forest, skidding to a halt in the clearing of Camp Timber: Colton, Parker, Trey, Jed, then Buzz. The rest of the pack stood around the bonfire, waiting to greet them. Buzz looked around the camp and took it all in. He was home. End of Book II
  28. 103 points
    KIERAN ~ WORK IN PROGRESS While Laurie stood behind him, snipping at his hair, a wildfire of thoughts and feelings swept through Kieran. After brushing his teeth twice, he could still taste tobacco, something he hated. Steph, who had improved remarkably—colour having returned to her cheeks—plied him with breath mints, which helped. But the anger and confusion unsettled him most of all. Ask any of his friends or family, and they would tell you Kieran West doesn’t do angry. Calm and even-tempered, his mother and teachers had called him. Cold and unemotional, had been Jennifer’s spin. So why had Kennedy’s dismissal lit such an angry fire in him? Jennifer had dismissed him from her home and her life, and he had accepted without question, had almost welcomed the chance to escape. Kennedy’s rejection had ripped a hole in him. “Are you okay, Kieran?” asked Laurie, once again. Standing in front of him. “I’m fine, I just…” began Kieran, but decided not to elucidate. He’d told them both what happened in The Underdeck Club—an abridged version—and Kennedy’s later attempt at an apology. “Patrick’s a prick,” said Laurie, snipping at a lock. “Always has been, always will be. Don’t take anything he said to heart, he’s not worth the effort.” She was right. If he ought to be angry with anyone, that person should be Patrick, not Kennedy. But Joey had turned up at the girl’s cabin earlier after texting to find out where Kieran was, and explained what had happened after he’d left, and especially how Kennedy had defended him to Patrick. And just like that, his anger had turned to confusion. And the one thing that should right now be confusing the hell out of him—the kiss—seemed to be the only thing that made sense. Nothing about that embrace felt wrong. He’d kissed a man and he’d liked it, he thought, almost humming along to the words of the Katy Perry cover. He’d kissed a number of girls, some passionately, but as far as he could remember, nothing—nothing—had compared to that explosive lip lock with Kennedy. Fuck. The mere visualisation of Kennedy’s lips and mouth brought a salacious smile to his face. He’d almost been tempted to text Cole and ask whether the reaction between two men kissing was normal. “What’s with you tonight?” said Laurie, stopping and placing her hands on her hips. “One minute you’re grimacing like a grizzly, the next you’re smirking like a smurf.” “Very poetic,” grinned Kieran. “Leave him be, Laurie,” said Steph, watching from the ironing board where she carefully pressed his suit trousers. On their wardrobe, his white shirt, and jacket already hung there, waiting to be worn. “He’s had enough drama for one day.” Right then, there came a knock at the cabin door. Laurie turned to look at Steph, who merely shrugged. Being the nearest to the door, Steph went to answer. After a few moments, her tone began to sound irritated, and when she came into the room, the anger showed clearly on her face. “It’s Richmond.” “What does that bastard want?” said Laurie, before Kieran could voice the same thing. “He wants to talk to Kieran. Privately. Said I’m not letting him in here. Do you want me to tell him to piss off, Kieran? I will, if you say so.” Interesting, thought Kieran. Why does he want to speak to me? And why alone? “Give me just a second,” he said, getting up, the towel still around his shoulders to show he meant his words. “Let me get this out of the way.” Richmond stood in the corridor, ill at ease, but brought his attention to Kieran as soon as he appeared. “Look, I’m not here to make trouble,” he said, holding his palms up in front. “I just have one thing to say. A lot of us think Kennedy and Patrick belong together, that they always have. But ultimately, if that’s going to happen, it’s between the two of them. I don’t know what kind of hold you think you have over Kennedy, but whatever it is, you should know that as soon as this holiday is done, you’ll be history. That is not meant to unkind, nor a reflection on who you are as a person, but simply his style and the way it is. In case you begin to think of him as anything more than a holiday fling.” “Do you even like him? Kennedy?” “I used to. When he made my friend happy.” “Which was rarely, as far as I can tell.” A dour Richmond nodded then, not agreeing, but assessing Kieran. “You’re certainly not like the others. But don’t be deceived. You’re still disposable.” “We’ll see,” said Kieran, deciding not to rise to any bait. “Thanks for the—err—advice. See you at dinner.” Richmond frowned and shook his head—Kieran had no idea what he expected, an argument perhaps—before turning and heading back along the corridor. When Kieran backed into the apartment and closed the door, Steph and Laurie waited frozen to the spot, wanting to know everything. After giving a brief lowdown, both of them punctuating his summary with words such as ‘prick’ and ‘asshole’ and other suitable expletives, they got back to the business at hand. “You know, I ought to be paying you two, for doing all this for me,” he said, sat back down again. Steph had clambered from her sick bed to iron his clothes, Laurie to get him looking fresh, and the both of them to help him dress in the kind of attire he’d never worn before. Not only that, but time away from Kennedy in their caring company had been good for him, giving him time to assess himself. “Maybe I can buy you a meal when we reach Okinawa tomorrow afternoon.” “Ugh,” said Steph, placing the iron back in the holder. “Not sure I’ll be ready for solids for a few more days.” “Although there might be something else you could help us with—” began Laurie. “Later, dear,” said Steph, cutting her off with a short glance. “In which case, do me a favour by joining me on the excursion,” said Laurie. “They’re going to be visiting Shuri Castle—something I’ve always wanted to see, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So you can be my companion.” Kieran liked that idea. Kennedy hadn’t done any of the excursions, so most probably wouldn’t want to step off the boat at Okinawa. “Of course. But we’d be really doing each other a favour. I’ll still like to buy you both a meal when Steph feels better.” “Then let’s save it for Hong Kong,” said Laurie, brushing something from his ear. “Maybe you can treat us to dim sum.” “Deal,” said Kieran, even though he had no idea what that was. “Are you going to be joining us tonight, Steph?” “Sorry, doll. Not tonight. Even the thought of food makes me want to barf.” “Plan B, then?” “Plan B,” said Steph, with a smile. “Right, Mr West. I think you’re about ready,” said Laurie, after finally raking a comb through his locks and then removing the towel from around his shoulders. “Go to the bathroom mirror and take a look.” “Should I shave?” he said, feeling the slight roughness around his chin. Usually he shaved once every three days, especially when not working. But wondered if clean shaven should be the order of the evening. “I don’t think so,” said Steph, and Laurie agreed. “But let’s wait until you’ve showered and then tried on the suit before we decide. Go and check your hair first.” Unlike Kennedy, the girls had a humble living area and their bathroom was a little cramped, with every surface holding some kind of cosmetic product or device. Jennifer’s bathroom had been the same. At first, seeing his hair shorter made him grimace. But then, Laurie had left enough stylish twists and tufts to make his hair appear less conformed. Yes, he thought, maybe he could get used to this style. Locking the bathroom door and undressing, he climbed into their shower and let the warm waters drench him, cleaning himself with the girls’ vast selection of products. Dried and back in the room, Laurie had already changed into her outfit, a stylish, lilac pants suit deftly showing off her weight loss. Earlier on, he’d observed Steph applying Laurie’s make-up, complete with purple blended eye shadow and deep purple lipstick. Now Steph applied the finishing touches as well as fixing Laurie’s hair. “Don’t just stand there ogling. Get dressed,” said Laurie, pointing at the wardrobe. “You and I are supposed to be meeting the men for drinks in fifteen minutes.” Kieran set to work, sitting on the edge of their bed, removing his track bottoms and pulling on the trousers. Next came the wing tip shirt which, fortunately, was fitted and tucked nicely beneath the waistband. By the time he got to the bowtie and cummerbund. Steph had finished and came over to help. Finally he shucked into the jacket, before squeezing into the tight shiny black shoes. After brushing something from his shoulder then pinning in place a pink rose buttonhole, Steph got him to back up a few steps, so that she and Laurie could survey their handiwork. Like proud mothers, they smiled and nodded, before looking at each other and pecking each other on the lips. “Heavens above, Mary Shelley,” said Steph, her arms around Laurie’s waist, carefully studying Kieran from head to toe. “What kind of beautiful monster have we created?”
  29. 103 points
    KENNEDY ~ FLASH DANCE Kennedy woke late the next morning to an empty bed. After using the bathroom, he descended the stairs into the main living area. Only then did he notice the curtain billowing softly into the room. Out on the sun drenched terrace, Kieran sat at a beautifully arranged breakfast table, complete with pristine white tablecloth and laden with a mouth-watering assortment of breakfast victuals; basket of Danish pastries and croissants, jug of fresh orange juice, fruit bowl, rack of golden toast, and two plates covered by silver domes. In sunglasses and white bathrobe, his feet crossed at the ankles up on the chair seat, a knee on either armrest, Kieran sat texting on his smartphone. “Morning dear,” he said, looking up and grinning. “You looked so peaceful, I didn’t have the heart to wake you. Hope you don’t mind I’ve started breakfast without you. Simeon brought you a double espresso—just now, so it’s still hot—said to ring if you needed anything else. And I mean, anything Mr Grey needs.” As he moved around the table to take a seat opposite, Kennedy’s face tugged into a smile at Kieran’s impression of Simeon. The night before, after the party had finished, they’d all headed to the restaurant, but Kennedy’s appetite had evaporated, thanks to Patrick’s stellar performance. Steph’s suggestion that they end the evening with a couple of potent cocktails at the bar on deck had worked to soften his mood and help him sleep. “What’s my laptop doing here?” he said, noticing his computer sitting on his placemat. “I put it there,” said Kieran. “Is that okay? I noticed how you always checked emails first thing in the morning at breakfast at your parents' place. So I saved you the effort of fetching it.” “Thank you, but you didn’t need to.” Kieran shrugged nonchalantly before reaching for his coffee cup. To be honest, Kennedy appreciated the gesture, liked the fact that Kieran had noticed his habit of keeping abreast of things first thing in the morning. “Steph’s managed to blag a member of the cruise staff to let you two use one of the nightclubs this afternoon to practice your routine. Between two and three. They don’t open to the rest of the passengers until four-thirty, so they can let you use the space for an hour. Shall I tell her yay or nay?” “You’re texting Steph?” “We organised a chat group last night. Pete, Steph, Laurie and me. Shall I add you?” “No, thank you.” “How about this afternoon?” Kennedy’s mood hadn’t improved overnight, but he needed to lighten up around his friends, otherwise he was going to bring them all down. “What the hell. Tell her, yes.” “Excellent. This I cannot wait to see.” “You’re not going to be there.” “The hell I’m not. I want to see everything you’ve got, Kennedy Grey.” “We’re sharing a bed now. I’d be careful how you phrase things like that around me.” This time Kieran tilted his head back and laughed into the morning. Kennedy chuckled along with him. Pouring coffee for himself, he realised how lucky he was to have chosen Kieran. Already he felt better. “Can I say,” said Kieran, grinning playfully. “And please don’t take this the wrong way—but, at a stretch, I could imagine you having interests outside work; squash, chess, tennis, swimming, art collecting—big game hunting, maybe. But ballroom dancing?” Once again, Kennedy found himself smiling. Funny how Kieran had correctly nailed him as being someone who enjoyed individual as opposed to team sports. Steph, who also grew to love ballroom dancing as a kid, had been astonished about him being able to dance when they’d first met up at college. “Mum and dad. Every Saturday morning for two years, my sister and I were dragged off to dance lessons. I think he thought I’d follow in his footsteps later in life, you know, diplomacy. And because he—they—had to attend a number of formal occasions and social functions throughout the year, being able to do the basics, like the waltz, quickstep, foxtrot, tango, went with the territory. At first I hated it—I’d have been eight at the time stuck in a hall with a bunch of soppy girls—but there’s a discipline to dancing, a strategy to the dance, and even within that strict control, there’s a feeling of freedom, of letting go.” Kennedy had been staring out to sea, the rim of the coffee cup held against his lip. When he turned his head, Kieran had an odd look on his face, something Kennedy hadn't seen before. “Hidden depths?” “Hey, I’m not saying I’m any good. But Steph and I usually move well together, and if things go wrong, we’re pretty good at faking it.” He noticed Kieran’s face drop then. “Shit. Talking of faking it, I need to confess to something. Yesterday, when I spoke to Joey, Patrick’s boyfriend, I was probably a little more candid about myself than I ought to have been. And you know the old expression ‘small world? Turns out it is. I know his sister, who also knows Jennifer, my ex-girlfriend.” “I don’t see the problem.” “If he talks to her about me, he’ll find out I’m not really gay.” “Are you and Jennifer still together?” “Of course not. Not for three months. I told you already.” “Then what you are now is anything you want to be. And, more importantly, nobody’s business but your own.” While Kieran mulled over his words, he pulled the silver dome off the plate to reveal scrambled egg and smoked salmon on toasted muffins. After taking a spoonful, he flipped up the top of his laptop and booted up the machine. “What are you planning to do today?” “I thought I’d explore. Steph and Laurie are swinging by at ten. How about you?” Kennedy peered down at his desktop and noticed a few emails had arrived in his private account. When he opened to his inbox, he noticed one from Tim with a couple of attachments. “Working. Just this morning. How about I meet you guys for lunch?” “Sounds like a plan. And then we can all head straight to your rehearsal.” ***** Despite Steph’s size—since he’d first met her she’d always hovered around size twenty-six and been proud of the fact—she was amazingly light on her feet. Truth be told, she was the better dancer of the two. Their routine included both of them wearing dinner suits, Steph in white, Kennedy in black. Steph would take the lead, traditionally the man’s role. Typical of her, since the last time they’d danced this particular tango, she’d changed a couple of the moves, to keep things fresh. Over the following hour, they began by walking through the steps, practising and re-practising the new ones, until Kennedy felt comfortable. Of course, their first full run with the music was a train wreck. Every now and again, he glanced over to where Kieran and Laurie sat at a lounge table, observing them, and chatting amiably together. Kieran had also agreed to video them on his phone to keep as a reminder of the steps, in case they had no further opportunity to rehearse. When they managed to run through three times in succession without stopping or making a mistake, they agreed to call it a day, and went over to join Laurie and Kieran. As they approached, the pair burst into applause, Kieran grinning broadly at Kennedy. “Are you are full of surprises or what, Kennedy Grey? That was frigging awesome.” When Kennedy threw himself down, Kieran put his arm around Kennedy’s shoulders, pulled his head towards him and kissed him on top. Not only did Kennedy feel a warm twinge of pleasure at the praise and the contact, but his cock also began to sit up and take notice. He knew why. That morning, as they’d both taken turns to use the bathroom, Kieran had left the door open, and Kennedy had glanced at his naked figure getting into the shower cubicle. Like a good gentleman, at first he had turned away, but then he could not help stealing a peek at Kieran’s body. Beautiful, long, lean but not skinny, he had light skin with very little hair except for the dark patch of pubic hair around a generously sized cock. All morning, with Kieran gone, the image kept floating into his head and interrupting his work. Only the message from Tim, and another from Karl, managed to keep his mind fixed in place. Karl wrote that the meeting date was still the same, but that they would need to use a local hotel, because their conference room had suffered water damage from the offices above. Kennedy smiled to himself. Sloan either knew or suspected Kennedy had installed his own security devices around the room, knew his boss would be able to watch and hear everything going on. Another piece moved. Tim had managed to find reams of information on Milletto, and had included something he liked to call an ‘FYEO’ file—For Your Eyes Only—which always drew Kennedy’s attention, and where the crucial information would sit. Milletto’s file had nothing much he didn’t already know, except that, at fifty-eight, Milletto was essentially in his prime as a businessman, had pretty much done the same for Cold Steel as Kennedy had for Grey Havens. Why then would he want to sell? Even though he would remain in an advisory capacity—part of the deal—he would essentially hold no power, have no share of the pie. Of course, Tim must have known Kennedy would look at the attachments in sequence, because as soon as he typed in his private password to open the FYEO file, the truth jumped out at him. Very clever, Sloan. Very clever.
  30. 103 points
    KIERAN - SINGAPORE SWELTER Kieran could not believe the experience of flying business. After completing his landing card, he’d managed to sleep a full seven hours of the thirteen hour flight, woken only three short times; once by rough turbulence, another to use the rest room, and the last to collect and stow his duty-free purchase. After weeks on his sister’s soft couch, the bed’s firm comfort came as a welcome relief. And he woke now to coffee aromas floating out from the galley. Next to him, Kennedy sat up still, a folder open on his chest, but his sleeping head lolled to one side. Somewhat endearingly, he appeared vulnerable in sleep, his face unlined and at peace, not the hard ass persona he gave off when awake. Kieran liked him, didn’t feel threatened by him at all, but needed to keep in mind that at the end of the day, this was simply a job; a means to an end. Theirs was never going to be a lasting friendship. After unclipping his seatbelt, and resetting his seat into a sitting position, Kieran crept to the toilet to freshen up. Even there, he smiled to himself at the opulence, finishing off by spraying an Evian mist into his face, followed by one of the array of citrus colognes. Yes, he could certainly get used to this. But was he ready to meet the Kennedy clan, he asked his reflection? And what would they make of him? From what Kennedy said, he’d never brought any of those vacuous Ken doll kids with him. But surely his ex-partner had visited? So should just be himself, or melt into the background, make himself scarce. No, he thought, standing tall in front of the mirror, he would follow the advice of Hamlet’s Polonius: To thine own self be true. When he finally returned, Kennedy had awoken. “Morning, sleepyhead,” said Kieran. “What time is it?” While sitting back down in his seat, he checked his wristwatch. “Eight in the morning.” “In London, maybe. What’s that in Singapore time?” “No idea. Shall I call one of the cabin—” “No need. It’s on the monitor. Almost three in the afternoon. Two hours until we land. Singapore’s seven hours ahead, in case you want to reset your watch.” Afternoon, mused Kieran, refastening his seat belt. Cole had warned him about jet lag, about getting used to different time zones. Jules told him that if you sleep on the flight, you can work through the change and not experience jet lag at all. Time would tell. Right then, however, he felt fresh and awake. More importantly, the cabin crew had begun to set up his table for breakfast. “Breakfast at three o’clock in the afternoon. Haven’t done that since college.” “Don’t think about it. Might take a couple of days to get acclimatised, but my advice is don’t fight tiredness. If you find yourself needing an afternoon nap, just go for it.” “I feel fantastic.” “You do now. But jet lag has a way of creeping up on you.” “Ah, but you see, I have youth on my side.” Kieran didn’t miss Kennedy’s raised eyebrow and smirk. But to be honest, right then, with his stomach full of fresh fruit, omelette and coffee, he felt ready to conquer the world. Landing and disembarking happened so leisurely—memories of fighting to get his luggage from the overhead, and being crushed and jostled off a low cost carrier flight in Ibiza still haunted him—that they were in the carpeted bowels of trendy Singapore’s Changi airport within minutes. Immigration passed in a well organised and well orderly blur until they reached the luggage claim, their bags already having arrived. Even in that short time, Kieran sensed Kennedy getting tense, noticed him peering at his phone and then looking around outside the big glass wall separating luggage claim from airport arrivals. Eventually he understood why. “Is someone picking us up?” “My father. Grab your bags and let’s go. Don’t want to piss him off before we’ve even said hello. He hates to be kept waiting.” Unsurprisingly, Jefferson Grey turned out to be an older, smaller, broader version of Kennedy. Dressed casual, as though he had been interrupted from a game of golf, he wore a grey polo shirt, grey tartan trousers, white belt and white sports shoes. Unsmiling, he gave his son a handshake followed by a perfunctory hug, the words ‘son’ and ‘dad’ being the only endearments passing from one to the other. Kieran almost smirked at the formality. After a few further banal pleasantries, Kennedy turned to introduce Kieran. When Jefferson’s face registered a flicker of disgust followed by an ensuing visual inspection, Kieran decided to go into action. “Good afternoon, sir,” he said boldly, stepping forward and holding out a hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Jefferson took his hand and Kieran provided a firm handshake. “Can I say what a pleasure it is to be here and how grateful I am to you and your wife for allowing me to stay with you. Kennedy’s told me so much about Singapore, and I’m delighted to be here.” Peripherally, he noticed Kennedy turn to stare at him, but the effect on Grey senior was instant. Very slightly, his left eyebrow lifted and his head nodded. “Uh, you’re more than welcome. Any friend of—uh—my son’s, as they say.” While Kennedy’s father flustered a reply, Kieran reached into his small backpack. “And I’ve bought you a gift of thanks, a bottle of cognac.” Kieran handed over the duty free bag to Jeff, once again to Kennedy’s astonishment. “Kennedy told me you enjoyed a tipple every now and then. Hope you like Hennessy XO, sir?” “Um, yes, I do indeed. Very much so. That’s very kind of you. And please call me Jeff.” Jeff began to lead them off towards the external doors. “Jeff it is. So Jeff, is the weather always this hot in Singapore? Or do you have distinct seasons?” “Well, we’re almost right on the equator, so it’s pretty hot all the year round. Ask most Singaporeans and they’ll tell you we only have two seasons; hot and wet. Come Christmas, there’s not a snowflake in sight, except polystyrene ones in the shopping malls. Follow me now, I’ve parked up in the short stay. How was the flight?” Kieran nodded to Kennedy then, allowed him to take over the smalltalk. As they passed through the automatic doors of the air-conditioned arrivals hall, out into the day, the humidity hit hard. Kieran had experienced nothing like the wall of damp heat that enveloped him, as though walking into a sauna. Together, they trailed their luggage into the nondescript inside of the carpark until Jeff reached a white Toyota Camry. Comfortable again in the air-conditioned car, Kieran relaxed on the back seat behind Kennedy, peering out the window of a sun bleached afternoon. Singapore appeared more like home than anywhere he had seen in Europe. Clear road signage in English, vehicles driving on the left side of well-maintained roads or three lane expressways, all bordered by lush green vegetation, exotic looking but equally well maintained. Before long, simple high-rise apartment blocks appeared on their right, Jeff explaining that on their left they followed the coastline. Fifteen minutes later and they crested a hill with Jeff pointing out a handful of the landmarks; Marina Bay Sands hotel resort and casino with what looked like a barge balanced on top of three giant blocks, the futuristic Gardens by the Bay with Martian-like tree structures, the Singapore flyer, similar to, but bigger than, the London Eye. Kennedy’s father appeared to enjoy being the tour guide, and probably did so only for Kieran’s benefit, because Kennedy must have seen the sights many times before. Eventually, they turned into a more residential neighbourhood—exclusive by the number of landed houses—until they came to a black iron gate. After picking up and pressing a small device from the dashboard, the door swung inwards, allowing them to drive up a short lane. Before them, the two-storey house lay in its own grounds, surrounded on all sides by metal fences and tall trees. “In Singapore, they call these kind of houses ‘black-and-whites’ because of their distinctive Tudor style. My father bought this one back in the sixties and we’ve had her updated a lot since them. Kennedy, you have your old room and I’ve put Kieran in the room at the back, above the pool.” Impressive did not even begin to describe the house. Set amid perfectly trimmed lawns, the front of the house jutted out on columns so that the open space below fell in shade. At one time, this must have been where vehicles drove up to the house. Now the space beneath had been fitted with striped blinds which leant themselves perfectly to the colonial feel of the structure. “You have your own swimming pool?” “We do. A fifty foot lap pool. A blessing, if like me, you favour an early morning swim.” Kieran leant forward and spoke into the back of Kennedy’s head. “Kennedy, you never told me you were descended from royalty.” Although Kennedy didn’t say a thing, next to him, Jeff chuckled. “Hardly royalty, son. But I have mixed with some famous people over the years. Come along, let’s park up, get you settled, showered and changed. Then you can come and meet the rest of the family.” They parked around the back of the house under a long canopy next to a large black four wheel drive. An older man and a young boy—Indonesian perhaps, and maybe household staff—came out of a two storey building at one side of the grounds and headed towards their car. “Reagan’s here?” asked Kennedy, peering at the Mitsubishi family car, his sister’s pride and joy. “It’s the only time she had free. As you’ve only deigned to stay for three nights.” “We’re on a tight schedule—” “Which is clearly more important than family.” Kennedy didn’t reply, but sat stiffly in his seat. And right there, Kieran sampled the initial signs of familial frostiness. Shit, he thought to himself, if they were going to survive the next few says intact, the time had come to ramp up the old West family charm. Let the show begin.
  31. 102 points
    KIERAN ~ SHADES OF GAY Ever since Kieran returned to England, and came out to Cole with a confession about his first time with Kennedy—almost two months ago to the day—peppered with enough detail to convince his friend of the authenticity, Cole appeared comfortable to strut around his apartment in only Armani underwear. And it was not that Cole didn’t get more than his fair share of admirers, more than a few. But Kieran definitely preferred the carved lines and hairiness of Kennedy’s body “So listen up, Q1,” said Cole, thumping his mug of coffee onto the table. Every since he’d mentioned Pete’s nickname for him on the cruise—Queer One—Cole had been hooked, calling him either Q1 or plain Q. “Gay friends of mine are coming over from Tokyo to stay with me at the beginning of December—Jon and Takamori—on their way up to Scotland to spend Christmas with gay friends. Apparently a whole bunch of them get together each year and they missed out last year. Staying at some kind of castle owned by friends of theirs. Why can’t I have friends like that? Sounds like a perfect antidote to Christmas. Anyway, can you stay with your sister for a couple of weeks while they’re here?” Kieran lowered the screen of his laptop and forced a smile. “Of course I can. Sorry, I should’ve had my own place by now.” “Not your fault, Q. Our female brethren are famous for their fussidom. Besides, it’s been nice having you here.” Two days ago, the promise of a flat share with a lesbian couple had fallen through when the two had finally decided they wanted another woman sharing their space, but especially their bathroom and kitchen. Kieran’s holiday money from Kennedy hadn’t stretched to him being able to put down a deposit to rent his own apartment, although now the second month’s salary from Leonard had hit his bank account, he was in a better position. But the whole process took so much time. Now he’d need to call on his sister’s goodwill again after finally giving her and her boyfriend back their space. “I’ll call her later.” “What are you doing on your laptop? Better be gay porn, or pervy chat rooms, and definitely not study. Our next module isn’t due until after Christmas. Shit, don’t tell me you’re working? On a Saturday morning?” Cole knew how much he loved his new job. Len had instigated a regular weekly meeting with him—usually in the morning informally over cappuccinos and chocolate muffins—to go through his achievements. Much of the technical detail went over Len’s head, so Kieran had learnt to show rather than tell; the redesigned antique furniture website, fast and slick, allowing browsers to view the pieces in three dimensions, and rotate them on the screen; the site selling listed or character buildings, which now had a handful of three-sixty degree tours of properties online and direct links to Len’s other complementary sites; the antique store, specialised building insurance; the tasteful draper and haberdashery—plus a link to Steph and Laurie’s furniture renovation service. He always saved the figures until last, knowing Len’s main concern. The most recent spreadsheet showed not only the exponential rise in hits on each of his sites, over four hundred percent, but figures indicated an initial five percentage increase in sales across all sites in the last month alone. And Kieran had only just begun. “Nah, just browsing media sites. Nothing in particular,” he lied. Once again, he had been checking the photograph of Kennedy and Giorgio Milletto on the announcement of their merger. Kennedy had maintained his amazing tan and, looking into the camera, Kieran felt as though he was staring straight at him. And he knew just what that felt like. Every time, the sight gave his heart a tiny squeeze of regret. In his phone, he still had Kennedy’s number plugged in, and a couple of times had even been tempted to call. But each time he managed the urge and resisted. Kennedy needed to make the next move. “Q, honey. Not only is it the weekend, but it’s the end of the month. So not only do we have time, but we also have money. Let’s head up to polluted London and do something gay. You have any plans for brunch?” “Heck, don’t remind me. I’m meeting mother up in Waterloo. And coming out to her.” “Oh shit, yes, I’d forgotten. Good luck with that. Even if the weather turns shite, I’m not sitting in watching more episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. So let me know if you need emergency cocktails afterwards. I’ll be at The Nipple Clamp in Soho for happy hour from four ’til nine. Gerard, Nob, and Lickme are joining.” “Let’s see how things go.” “It’s just a chill-out bar, Q. No deafeningly loud music, no pungent aroma of poppers, no sweaty bodies wrapped around each other, sliding down the walls—more’s the pity. I’ve learnt my lesson. Say you’ll come.” Cole had taken Kieran to Pulse, a club beneath Waterloo Bridge. From the moment he walked down the steep stairs and through the door, Kieran had disliked the crush and backstage darkness. Two men had stumbled up to him, clearly off their faces on either alcohol or recreational drugs, both had spoken to him in their usual voices as though he could even hear anything. Even the next morning, his ears rang with pain. Although he never openly complained, Cole knew he hadn’t really enjoyed the experience, and vowed that before he took Kieran into such a club again, he would first ensure his friend mastered the art of sign language. Cole must have taken Kieran’s silence for denial, because he continued his case. “Look darling. Despite the world painting us fabulous people onto one easy to point to billboard, we’re different shades of gay. I am flaming pink and you are more of a darker red, like burgundy, into daddies—” “—I am not into daddies—” “With beer bellies, man boobs, bald heads, and hair on their bums—” “Okay, okay. I’ll come and join you afterwards. Give you the mum download.” “Oooh, goss? Priceless. Now we’re talking.” At midday, Kieran met his mother at the Skyline restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Their table for two sat right next to the window, the whole space located above the walkway below, overlooking of The Thames and Waterloo Bridge. Every now and again, Kieran enjoyed treating his mother to a special meal, even though she would inevitably make a point of commenting on the exorbitant prices. Living in Hove on the south coast, she rarely came into London, so when she did, he’d spoil her with lunch and a movie or a trip to the theatre. Unfortunately, she needed to get back by six o’clock for dinner at one of her friend’s houses. A few years off sixty, she still looked good; happy and settled. She’d dyed her hair recently, a deep red which covered up the persistent grey. Not really one for make-up—something Kieran admired about his mum—she came fresh faced and red cheeked courtesy of the chill weather. Over the past years, she’d had a number of boyfriends but nothing she’d ever referred to as a relationship. Over a glass of wine each, they caught each other up on their lives, Kieran enthusing about his new job much to his mother’s delight, but never mentioning his month as a paid travel companion. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he’d taken the month out to travel the country with his friend, Cole. Nice and general, not too much detail, nothing more. Besides, he had bigger things to discuss with his mother. Two glasses of wine later and now on desserts, Kieran finally found a pause in the conversation to bring up the topic foremost in his mind. “Mum, I’m gay.” For a few seconds she stared at him, before smiling and nodding. After a moment, she turned her gaze out the scene beyond the window. “I thought you might be. Even in your early twenties, you were never really into girls, not like your brother. And, let’s face it, you and Jennifer were hardly love’s young dream. Even though you told me otherwise, I never saw her making you happy, never saw that spark between you.” “You knew? Why didn’t you say anything?” “Oh, honey. What would I have said? And, more importantly, what would you have said to me? I don’t think you even knew yourself. But a mother knows. Of all my children, you were the sensitive one; the worrier, always fretting about me, worrying if we’d be able to make ends meet. Half the time your worrying helped to stop mine, if that makes sense?” “But how does that make me gay?” “It doesn’t, but—I don’t know—I just saw something special in you. Of all my children, you are most like my oldest brother, Peter.” Uncle Peter. Or gay Uncle Peter, as most of the family had come to refer to him. Kieran liked him and Uncle Gino a lot. Along with his grandparents, they’d helped care for Kieran and his siblings as kids. Both men had been low key and fun, sharing a tiny bungalow in the country which had a huge garden backing onto a farm. So Kieran had the family gay gene? His mother must have sensed his confusion, because she went on to clarify. “Don’t get me wrong, love. I think you’d have made a brilliant husband for Jennifer. But she’d have been the one ordering you around, getting you to do what she wanted, when she wanted it done. There would’ve been no give and take. She’s that kind of woman. And I know you, dear. Eventually you’d have walked away. So better it happened sooner rather than later, when you’d have had far more to lose. Do you have someone?” “Sorry?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” Kieran blanched. His mother had actually used the word ‘boyfriend’ with him. As natural as breathing. No drama, no tears, no accusations. For a moment, he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. “I did. That’s where I was in September.” “And what’s he like?” How the heck did he explain Kennedy to his mother? “He’s amazing, mum. Smart, successful, handsome, funny.” “Sounds like somebody’s smitten.” “No, we’re not together anymore. Just travelled as companions for the month.” “Then he’s not as smart as he thinks. My son is a catch.” Kieran laughed and he enjoyed the sound, loved seeing his mother’s approval. After coffee arrived, both of them fell quiet again, until his phone beeped with a message. Even before he pulled the phone out, he was sure the reminder was from Cole. But the display announced something different altogether. Steph: Not counting our chicks just yet, but doctor says we’re likely going to be a mother. Kieran felt his face redden. “Oh heck, mum. There’s something else I need to tell you.
  32. 102 points
    KENNEDY ~ BALI HIGHS AND LOWS Once they were airborne, Kennedy accepted a glass of water from the member of cabin crew and settled back in his seat. After the two long haul flights with very little rest in between, he felt shattered and looked forward to down time in Bali. Kieran got him up to date on their exploits in Hong Kong, but afterwards Kennedy suggested he save the tale of his meeting with Milletto until they were somwhere less public. Besides, he said, he wanted to get his head down for a few hours. Despite a brief quizzical look, Kieran nodded his agreement. Relieved, Kennedy closed his eyes and thought back on the past thirty-six hours. During his trip—and despite how much he’d missed having Kieran by his side—he’d decided to call time on their closeness. To do anything different would inevitably hurt Kieran once they returned to their normal lives and he could not live with himself if that happened. Even without taking into consideration their age difference, Kieran deserved someone fun and reliable, someone who would not eventually disappoint him. Kennedy knew all about the pain of losing something you’d come to rely on and would not let that happen again. People were eventually let down by him, that seemed to be the rule in his life. Except the business trip had proven the exception to any rule. Yes, he had been taken by surprise during his meeting with Giorgio Milletto. When he’d first met the unsurprised Milletto, he’d told himself that someone, somewhere must have leaked his visit. Milletto had sworn to the contrary, that his arrival, however fortuitous, had come out of the blue. Rather than working to his detriment, the information meant there had been no subterfuge when Milletto turned up in person, to meet him in Cold Steel’s tasteful reception area. “Mister Kennedy Grey. Thank the Lord,” said Milletto, a smirk on his face, as Kennedy rose to his feet and matched the man’s warm handshake. “This is a pleasant, if slightly unexpected, surprise—you son of a gun. I saw this guy sitting here from the CCTV in my office and thought ‘heck, it can’t be, can it?’ Seems like it is.” Kennedy laughed, and, within a matter of seconds felt comfortable, as though he knew he could talk freely to the man. For someone in his late fifties, he gave off a sense of alertness while still being friendly and welcoming; probably a long-cultured charismatic charm. Dressed in a stylish light grey suit and pale blue open-necked shirt, his full head of hair was almost white, his smiling brown eyes behind stylish silver framed glasses almost giving him the air of a scholar. “I know this is a little unorthodox,” said Kennedy, following him along a corridor, towards a large conference room. “But I wanted us to talk off the record, face to face, so to speak. We’ve only ever conversed by telephone or on video conference. We should have done this long before now, but when you kept changing our meeting—” “The hell I did. Your end kept changing the goddamn…oh,” said Milletto, his smile slipping. “Sloan. You know, we both need to keep a careful eye on that SOB.” Kennedy sighed then. They were on the same page. Instead of leading Kennedy to the conference room, they turned right into another corridor and entered Milletto’s huge corner office, the semi-circular windows arrangement overlooking the whole of downtown Los Angeles. After his smiling personal assistant had brought Kennedy an ‘emergency’ double espresso, and been put on alert for more, the two of them had opened up. From the word go, Milletto had been an inspiration; funny, insightful, and more importantly, someone Kennedy felt he could trust to do business with. Of course, Milletto knew the score with his son-in-law, had seen through his plans. And during their six-hour meeting—stopping only for lunch in a stylish restaurant on the top floor of the building—Kennedy had listened to Milletto’s counter proposal. Instead of them running with the acquisition—which in his experience had been like one bigger country invading a smaller one, and rarely without casualties—that instead they join forces; make this a merger of two powerhouse companies in the security sector, a meeting of minds and talents. This made total sense to Kennedy, when Milletto—call me Giorgio—meticulously explained his reasoning. Giorgio and his team had even considered a new name, Grey Steel Global. Having expertise in all areas of surveillance, both domestic and corporate markets, on both continents, they would become unstoppable. Once they had opened up in different markets they could float on both the FTSE and the NASDAQ, and would become one of top five players in the global market. Milletto’s eyes flashed with a mixture of excitement and pride at the idea. At one point, Kennedy sat back and tried to absorb the overwhelming information. Throughout the meeting, he kept tapping into his natural business wariness, tried to look for a catch, to look beyond the words and see if Milletto—Giorgio—might be trying to play him. But everything Giorgio said made complete sense. At some point, he’d need to speak to Tim. “Why didn’t you suggest a merger in the first place, why offer to sell the business?” Giorgio sat back in his plush leather chair, grinned sadly, and stared out the window. “That is exactly the question I’d have asked you, if you’d suggested the same thing. And I think it’s only fair you have all the information, if you’re going to agree to a partnership.” Giorgio kept his gaze out to the skyline and shook his head very slightly. “A year ago, I had a stroke. Collapsed right here in this office, thank the Lord, because they got to me quickly. Touch and go for a time, but my guys took me to the hospital in record time. We managed to keep it out of the press, didn’t want to worry clients, but let me tell you, for me it was a wake-up call. Afterwards, doctors told me to take it easy, hand over the reins of the business. You probably know that anything I make from this business goes to my daughter. I wanted to make sure she’d be well taken care of.” Right then, Giorgio swung his chair to face Kennedy. “But you know what else I learnt this past year? You can’t live your life scared, however much time you have. Sure, I had to learn to let a few things go, but give up? No freaking way. When your boys first put the offer on the table, I thought that’d be a perfect solution. But you know, the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind. And that’s when my wife came up with the idea.” “Unlike my son-in-law, I’ve only been married once, and trust me, when you eventually get to meet her you’ll understand why once was enough. Kelly-Anne Marie. She’s ten years younger, and the only person who ever stood up to me, while standing up for me, if you know what I mean. She’s the one told me to go find out more about you and maybe go speak to you privately. See if you might at the very least want someone to stay on as what you Brits call a sleeping partner—not that I’d have done much sleeping. But I could certainly have kept an eye on your managers for you—if you know what I mean? And then it just hit me about three weeks ago. Why don’t we go into business together?” Kennedy had been listening but his jet-lag addled brain was having a hard time taking everything onboard. “Look, I ain’t going to lie to you, Kennedy. This is going to be a whole helluva lot of work for both of us if we’re going to pull it off. Mergers don’t come cheap and a lot crash and burn. But I think we got a shot. We’re complementary—and I don’t mean that in the free-of-charge way. Together our businesses are halves of something that could be something great. And, I guess, the clincher for me is I feel as though you’re someone I could work alongside. How about you?” Kennedy talked about his own idea, about bringing him his shares in Securiton so that maybe he’d consider calling off the acquisition. George’s suggestion made far more sense, and the fact that they both had significant shares in Securiton made the deal even sweeter. There would be a lot of things to hammer out, lawyers talking to each other across the pond, probably months of negotiating, but in essence at least, Kennedy approved of the idea wholeheartedly. “So, should we still hold the meeting in London?” he asked. “Hell, yes,” said Milletto, folding his arms and raising his eyebrows. “Don’t go spoiling my fun, now. I want to be there to see faces when we announce the counter-proposal. I know you broke your holiday to be here today, but can you be on the call. It’d be better coming from the two of us united.” “I agree,” said Kennedy. Somehow he’d find a reliable business centre in Bali and teleconference into the meeting. Hell, he wouldn’t miss it for the world. “And one way or another, I’ll be there.” ****** After the four plus hour flight from Hong Kong to Bali, they had another four hour drive from the airport in the south to Kennedy’s seafront villa in a small town in the north near Pulaki. During the journey, Kieran and the girls listened attentively to Kennedy’s edited down tale. Funnily enough, not once did Kieran query why Kennedy had decided to invite the girls to join them in Bali. In truth, he wanted someone to keep Kieran company while he worked during the day. They reached the villa in time for sunset, met by the villa staff carrying ice cold glasses of lemon tea. During the year, Kennedy often let out the four bedroom villa to friends or close business associates, but ensured the villa staff maintained the premises, grounds and swimming pool all year round. Built essentially on two floors, a shaded carport stood on the basement level. On what Kennedy considered the true ground level, the pool ran the length of the villa, which housed the dining room, kitchen, lounge and one bedroom. The other three bedrooms sat on the first level, overlooking the pool and the sea. Two features he had always loved were the two person shaded cabana on one side of the pool, and the outdoor terrace on the first floor, where his guests usually enjoyed breakfast together. Over the next four days, they relaxed together, although on most of those, Kennedy remained behind when the three went out on day excursions. Tim had vetted Giorgio’s proposal and given him the golden thumb—Tim’s way of saying that everything had been legitimate. At night, Kennedy and Kieran continued to have sex, Kennedy trying his damnedest to make sure Kieran enjoyed himself. Even so, a couple of times, Kieran asked him if something was wrong, and Kennedy sensed the storm brewing. At midnight, on the fourth day, while Kieran slept, Kennedy managed to web conference from his computer into the meeting with London and Los Angeles. Giorgio handled the call brilliantly, had up-talked the merger and then handed over to Kennedy. Although early days, they made a point of telling everyone—including Giorgio’s staff—the acquisition was firmly off the table. Kennedy knew he would have to deal with a flood of emails from his staff, but decided to leave them until the morning. On the morning of the fifth day, Kennedy spotted Kieran talking to Steph on one of the sun beds beside the swimming pool. After a second, she pointed up to where Kennedy sat, at the breakfast table with his laptop open. Kieran looked amazing in shiny scarlet Speedos, a sight he used to relish but now one that tugged at his heart, as though he had no right to look. Without hesitation, he came towards Kennedy, bounded up two stairs at a time until he stood the other side of the table. Even with his shades on, Kennedy could tell he meant business. “Kennedy, we need to talk.” Kennedy had been wondering when this conversation would happen. Kieran would be asking what was going to happen when they returned, maybe even ask if they could stay close. Ollie had done the same, and everyone knew what a disaster that had been. Not wanting to spoil the rest of the holiday, Kennedy would need to let Kieran down gently, so best have the conversation now. He had been rehearsing the speech in his head, to make sure he got the words right. But before he had a chance to speak, Kieran spoke first. “Shut the laptop down and give me ten minutes,” said Kieran, decisively. “So I can say what I need to say.” Kennedy breathed out a sigh, and did as requested. “I’ve paid the money I promised into your bank account, by the way,” said Kennedy. “With a little extra.” “I—thank you. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.” “Go on, then,” said Kennedy, his hands clasped together on top of the laptop. “We go home in three days.” Kennedy remained silent, but nodded. “I just—I don't want a dark cloud hanging over us as the deadline looms. So let's clear the air right now and that way we can enjoy the next few days the way we've enjoyed these last few weeks. Are we agreed?” Okay, thought Kennedy, that had not been what he’d expected. “Agreed,” he replied, cautiously. “Because I want us to have fun these last couple of days, now your important business meeting is out of the way. Let’s go to the beach or sunbathe together, or swim in the sea or in that amazing pool. Let’s have sex in the afternoon, if you want to. And I know you do, the way you’re trying so hard not to stare at my cock right now.” Despite himself, Kennedy chuckled and looked away, but when he brought his gaze back round, Kieran’s face had turned serious again. “Look Kennedy, I know things between us probably haven't turned out the way you'd expected, and certainly not how we’d both planned. Believe me, that much I do understand. But a deal’s a deal. And when we get on that plane in three days’ time, when we set foot back in England and you head off on your way, it ends there. I knew that much coming into this arrangement. I’m not going to gush about how great a time I've had—the things I've seen and done, the new and incredible experiences—because you already know that, you've been with me the whole way. But I am true to my word. So I give you my honour—and you certainly know enough about me by now to know that counts for something—that I will not attempt to contact you again, as stated in our agreement, once we’re back home. Are we on the same page?” “We are.” And yet, for the first time in as long as he could remember, Kennedy had no idea which page he was on.
  33. 102 points
    KENNEDY ~ LAST CHANCE When the final candidate left at four-thirty—bisexual Leon who had been drawn to the idea of a cruise but had not realised the vacation entailed long-haul flights and admitted to suffering from an acute fear of flying—Kennedy sat back and mulled over in his head who he should select. As shortlists went, this one could easily be labelled concise. Two choices actually, between the 23-year-old quiet but good looking and gym fit blond Francis who spoke very little but looked cute and would fit the bill fine; and the 21-year-old ginger Ed Sheeran lookalike called Steven—call me Ven. Unlike Ed, he came across as talentless, camp, and over-groomed, but could chat incessantly about media fluff and other mindless trivia, and had an infectious if slightly immature sense of humour. So the choice fell to two very different twinks, one of whom would fill the quiet moments with mindless banter, or the other who would say little, but look good by his side. Kennedy pushed his laptop lid down, to find the guy from across the coffee shop—Keegan?—sitting in the chair opposite him, his jacket and bag hung over the back, which did not bode well. If Kennedy was going to be brutally honest, this older man—yes, he was definitely a man compared to the non-shavers he’d interviewed so far—was easy on the eye. With palpable discomfort, the poor guy squirmed in his seat wearing an earnest, if anxious, expression. “I’m in,” he said, decisively, tossing the single sheet of paper containing the advert onto the top of the laptop, the document landing face down. Kennedy noticed that, on the back, he had written out a number of answers to questions in neat handwriting. “You’re in…what?” “I’d like to apply for the role.” “You’re…” Kennedy reached down, flipped the paper over, and spun the advert around on the table. “Can you read the headline back to me?” “Gay vacation companion required.” “Gay vacation companion. Gay. We’ve already established you don’t qualify.” “Not necessarily. I read that as Gay Vacation.” For effect, the guy produced air quotes around the two words and then paused. “Companion Required. What I mean is, it’s not clear whether you’re asking for a companion, someone to accompany you on a gay vacation, in which case surely I’m still eligible. Or whether you’re asking for a gay companion to go on vacation with you.” Actually, the guy had a point. Had he shown them, Kennedy’s marketing and legal managers would have had a field day with the wording. “I told you already. The person needs to be gay.” “You do realise that’s discrimination.” “What?” “Just because I’m not gay, doesn’t mean I can’t do the job.” What was with this man? No fear, no hesitation. Assertive and straight to the point. Kennedy liked those traits in work colleagues. Just not in his fake beaus. “Anyway, just how gay would you want this person to be? My college friend is gay and he’s neither blond nor muscular.” “Get him to apply then.” “He has a boyfriend. And anyway, he doesn’t need the job. I do.” “Look Keegan…” “Kieran.” “Kieran, then. I’m sure there are other jobs out there for you—” “There aren’t. And I don’t care, anyway. I want this one.” “Look—“ “No, you look. I’m reasonably good looking. I am sociable with all kinds of people in all sorts of situations. I am not homophobic—far from it. Yes, I might be older than your stated requirement—which is a bit ageist, by the way—but if you want someone to pass as a legitimate companion, then I am a way better choice than that queue of blond Justins you’ve just seen. How old are you, anyway?” “I’m forty-two.” “As far as contemporary age gaps is concerned, twenty-nine and forty-two could be deemed acceptable. Anything under twenty-four could be seen as questionable, and twenty-one is just plain creepy. Does the contract include these guys having to have sex with you?” Kennedy paused a second. Was this guy trying to catch him out? “Of course not. Sex would be by mutual consent only.” “Excellent. So instead of worrying about whether this companion is going to put out or not, hire me and you can be sure right from the start that I won’t.” “And how exactly do you intend to convince my friends that you’re gay?” “I’m not. I’m guessing they know you wouldn’t bring along a straight guy. So if you’re asking whether I’ll adopt a lisp or culture a walk, then apart from accusing you of stereotyping, I’d say you’re clearly out of sync with the new generation of gay men. Anderson Cooper, Tom Daley or Keegan Hirst, for example.” Not many people had Kennedy Grey at a loss for words, but this young man certainly had a way about him. Trouble defined him. Kennedy gave him his usual business smile and decided to run with the path of least resistance. “Leave me your number and I’ll get back to you by the end of the week.” “You won’t though, will you?” said Kieran, folding his arms. “Not if you don’t give me your number,” said Kennedy, slapping a pen on top of the advert before fishing for his wallet in his jacket pocket. “Here’s my business card. If I haven’t called you by Friday at four o’clock, feel free to ring my direct line.” Kieran scrawled his number on the sheet, then leant back and studied the business card. “Kennedy Grey, CEO. Grey Havens Security Systems? The Kennedy Grey? Get out of here! You run the family business that installs digitalised commercial security systems? We covered your company in our master’s programme, successful businesses of the new millennium. In the recent edition of Business Week your operations guy—Sloan something—didn’t rule out the possibility of you going public next year. You’ve pretty much got that niche area of the market sewn up.” The first thought that crossed Kennedy’s mind was why he hadn’t been told about the article in Business Week. Had his Chief Operating Officer, Sloan Williamson, pulled another fast one behind his back? Not that he would be surprised given the man’s ruthless ambition—one of the reasons Kennedy had hired him. But even so, Kennedy’s marketing team would normally have sanctioned the interview with him. And Sloan should not be speculating publicly about plans for a stock market launch. The second thing that struck him was that this man, Kieran, was clearly both informed and intelligent. And as far as travelling companions were concerned, that would never do. “One and the same,” said Kennedy, and then sat back wide-eyed as an impressively-sized Kieran rose and leant across the table. “An absolute pleasure to meet you, Mr Grey,” he said, holding a large hand out. “And can I say, you are much better looking in the flesh.” Still seated, Kennedy leant forward awkwardly and shook the offered hand. Kieran gripped a little too long, squeezing a couple of times, while maintaining almost uncomfortably consistent eye contact. “Gay enough for you?” Kennedy smirked then and rolled his eyes. Yes, this one would certainly cause a stir. “Thanks for your time, Kieran. I’ll be in touch.” “And I’ll very much look forward to hearing from you,” said Kieran, grinning, before collecting his jacket and satchel from the chair and heading for the door. Kennedy put his hands behind his head and stared at the long, lean legs of the confident figure striding out of the cafe. On the plus side, this guy was definitely easy on the eye with his shaggy brown mop, sad eyes and beautiful full lips. And despite what Kennedy had stated in his very specific demands, he could deal with companionship without sex for three weeks. Well, without sex with the companion, at least. Last year’s recruit, Kalvyn, had seemed really keen the first week, but then, when push came to shove—so to speak—had been so unemotional in the sack Kennedy wondered if he’d missed an inflate nozzle somewhere. Besides, if he did pick straight Kieran, he could legitimately slip away for some anonymous sex on the gay cruise without upsetting anyone, something generally acknowledged as being as available as the twenty-four-hour sushi bar—not that Kennedy had ever partaken of either. Moreover, for the three days in Singapore, his father might actually be able to tolerate this one. He certainly enjoyed being challenged on his political ideology, something Kennedy had never found of any interest. And the gay cruise? Kieran would have to fend for himself, but he didn’t seem the faint of heart type, more like the sort of man who could brave any storm—metaphorically speaking. And it was obvious he really needed the money. Stop, Kennedy told himself, shaking his head. What the hell was he thinking?
  34. 101 points
    KIERAN - CABIN CLASS Inside the bowels of the The Diamond Princess, despite the spotlessness, and attempt at wood panelling and plush carpet opulence, the corridors felt oppressive. Kieran kept having flashbacks to the scenes in the movie Titanic where Kate and Leo tried desperately to escape the sinking ship through one identical corridor after another. Kennedy walked in front, trailing behind the white-suited Asian steward, who had insisted on carrying his bags. Kieran had been left to bring his own. Stopping outside a large white double-door, the steward brought out the small cardboard pocket containing key cards. Before he had a chance to step inside, Kennedy put a hand on the man’s shoulder to get his attention. Taking the cards with one hand, he stuffed a banknote in the steward’s top pocket with the other. “Thanks, Simeon. We can take it from here. I’ve stayed in this room before. I know where everything is.” “As you wish, Mr Grey,” he said, his smile obsequious. “Everything is arranged for tonight as requested. They’ll come by at five-thirty to set up. But if there’s anything you need, sir. And I mean anything, day or night. Just call. I’ll be your personal attendant for the whole journey. Have a wonderful voyage with us.” His gaze barely grazed Kieran as he backed away from them. When Kennedy turned back to the open door, Kieran was sure he rolled his eyes. Without a second thought, he followed after Kennedy when he stepped across the cabin threshold and moved inside, but immediately stopped, a gasp escaping him. “Yeah, nice isn’t it? One of the ship’s six loft suites. Had to book this baby up early,” said Kennedy, dropping his bag at the door and critically assessing the space. Stately hardwood panels lined the room, opening into a two storey space with floor to ceiling windows running along one side and a bedroom with a huge super king-sized bed on the mezzanine level—the loft, Kieran supposed—overlooking the spacious living area. In the middle of the room, he did a quick three-sixty. Wall-to-wall bookcases, three double settees, a fully stocked bar in walnut, an eight-seater dining table and— “No fucking way. A baby grand? Are you yanking my chain?” “Comes with the cabin. And tonight, we’re having a cocktail party. Complete with cocktail waiter and piano player. Friends only.” Kieran didn’t want to think how much this lot had set Kennedy back. “Fuck, am I going to have to put out for all of this?” Kennedy laughed aloud, a sound Kieran was really starting to enjoy hearing. Seemed as though the man didn’t laugh enough, according to his father and sister. Funny how both had whispered parting words with almost the same intent, to come back soon with Kennedy, because he brought out the best in him, in all of them. “Nope,” came Kennedy’s voice, bring him back to the scene. “A deal’s a deal. And although I may be a ruthless bastard when it comes to business, I am an honest one. But there is one drawback. Only one bedroom and only one bed,” said Kennedy, turning and scrutinising Kieran. “Now I’m happy to get the settee here made up for you each night, if you want. But upstairs will be a lot more comfortable and I promise be a complete gentleman. And apart from me sleeping in sweat pants and tee, that mattress is huge, so there’ll be no accidental rolling over and brushing up against each other in the night. So I suggest we give it a try and, if you’re not happy, you can have the couch. Unless, of course, I get lucky, in which case those curtains will be nailed tight and you’ll be on the couch anyway.” Kieran peered up at the loft and gulped. A waist height glass balcony and heavy white curtain—currently opened—partitioned the bedroom from the living room. If Kennedy pulled someone, Kieran would be able to hear everything. “For all your bravado, you are quite gullible at times,” laughed Kennedy, heading towards the window. “Relax, I’m only kidding. The last time I got lucky Tony Blair was still Prime Minister.” Not for the first time, Kieran took in the man, and had a hard time believing he’d have difficulty getting laid. Classically handsome, and someone who clearly looked after his body, the man screamed sophistication and style, from his designer jeans to his perfectly fitted white flannel jacket. “Okay. Now it’s just you and me, I need to ask you something,” said Kennedy, turning at the window and thrusting his hands into his jeans pockets. “What did you say to my father?” Kieran felt himself redden. “About?” “You tell me.” “I’m not sure what you want me to say. We chatted about a whole heap of things.” Kennedy stared for a moment, but didn’t seem angry. After a moment of silence between them, he smiled. “Well, whatever you said, the father I just said goodbye to is not the same one I remember as a kid. And if that’s because of you, I need to thank you. But I also need you to know I didn’t hire you to fight my battles. So please, on the cruise, be yourself, enjoy yourself. I have nothing to prove in front of my friends. Agreed?” “Agreed.” “Now a few house rules,” began Kennedy, his back leaning against the window. Kieran perched on a stool by the bar. “Each day we’re onboard, we’ll have breakfast brought to the room. Part of the deal. After that, I’m not expecting you to be glued to me all day, you can go and get up to whatever you want until dinner time. But we’ll always dine together, is that understood?” “Of course.” “And if there are any special events going on—costume party, captain’s pleasure dinner, even other guests’ private parties—then you’ll accompany me as my plus one. We’ll decide on the port stops whether either or both of us want to join the excursions ashore, as and when they happen. When we’re together, I’m not expecting any touching or other displays of affection, but I do expect you to remain by my side and not flirt obviously with any other guests. And I include the female ones in that. Are we clear so far?” “Crystal.” “Any questions?” “What the hell am I supposed to do between breakfast and dinner?” “Seriously? This is a gigantic floating holiday resort. And there’ll be a lot of people your age. Okay, admittedly most of them will be gay and trying to get into your pants, but you could always hook up with a couple of nice lesbians,” said Kennedy, before pointing to the bar counter. “Right next to you, on the bar top, there’s a guide with a rundown of the whole fourteen days, with a list of excursions—if we’re docked in port—or other activities; gyms, fitness classes, cinemas, casino, swimming pools, live bands. Or you can chill and sunbathe up on deck.” Kieran peered down at the itinerary where the first port of call after Singapore jumped out at him: Koh Samui. Not only that, but a trip was offered for passengers to visit the Big Buddha Temple. “What will you be doing?” he heard himself say. “Most of the time? Probably working a little, but I’ll also hang out with my friends.” “Leonard?” Why had the name of that particular friend started to grate? “And others.” “What if I want to be glued to you? Do you have any objection if I tag along?” “Of course not. I—I just thought you’d want the freedom to explore. On your own.” “And during the fourteen days, I probably might, from time to time. But—and you may want to sit down to hear this—I enjoy your company, Kennedy. And I have a feeling I’ll like your friends, too.” Kieran had come to get a little twinge of pleasure every time Kennedy smiled, this time almost shyly. Without replying Kennedy turned and reached for a spot at the window, before sliding open a glass door and letting the floor-to-ceiling lace curtains billow into the room. “Come look at this.” Only then did Kieran realise he still had hold of his luggage handle. After propping the case against a chair, he followed Kennedy, who stood with a hand on the door. When Kieran stepped out onto the deck, once again his breath was taken away. Another eight-seater table, wooden-topped this time, had matching chairs placed around. Stunning views of the Port of Singapore met his gaze, with high rise buildings from the city centre rising beyond. “Okay, this is too much,” muttered Kieran, moving to the railing and shaking his head. “You know what? I get one holiday a year. One. The rest of the time I spend working damned hard. So if I do splash out while I’m away, if I do enjoy a little bit of luxury, it’s nobody’s fucking business but my own.” “I wasn’t criticising,” said Kieran softly, his gaze trailing out to sea. “I’m dazzled, that’s all. Never in my life did I think I’d see something as incredible as this, let alone experience it. Things like this just don’t happen to me.” After a few moments of quiet contemplation, he sensed Kennedy join him at the sea rail. When he glanced sidelong, he flushed slightly but saw Kennedy grinning fondly at him. “Welcome to the ball, Cinderella.”
  35. 101 points
    Ethan Scott tires of life in the city after several years of living on the streets and decides a trip to the mountains is the change he needs. Little does he know what direction that change will take.
  36. 101 points
    “Have you been able to identify the cause yet?” Jean-Pierre reviewed the report his lieutenant handed him. “Did the prisoners start the fire trying to escape?” “There was no escape attempt as far as we can tell. We don’t know yet what caused the fire. The report is preliminary, and I still have people working to figure out what happened.” The newly appointed first lieutenant knew his boss hated incomplete information. “Security says the DVR was damaged by a power surge, so we don’t have a complete picture of what was going on. The tech team only recovered a few seconds of video so far. The cameras at both ends of the corridor caught a flash as the flames raced through the space and then nothing. Whatever it was appears to have blown through the hallway outside the cells, and killed any of the men there. We’re not even sure what the fuel source was, but it burned out almost as quick as it started. By the time more guards responded to the alarm, it was out. According to the computer logs, one of the men used the prisoner control system to shock one or more cells just prior to the fire.” The facilities maintenance chief spoke for the first time. “Our best guess is gas from a line in the adjacent service corridor was leaking, and something sparked it. We’ve checked the line several times since the fire, but can’t detect any evidence of a leak. So, like he said, we just don’t know.” He paused to scratch his head. “Possibly when they tried to stun one of the prisoners, that gave the spark to ignite whatever the fuel source was.” “When will you know if the facility is safe from additional fires?” Jean-Pierre was annoyed at the silence. “How many of our people were injured or killed? And how many of the prisoners?” “We lost ten. All our people down in there died. None of the prisoners were harmed.” The lieutenant passed his boss a list of the casualties. “This list is preliminary from a camera in a corridor leading to the cells. It’s all we have unless we manage to verify the men by their DNA. If any records for them exist.” “Why were there so many down there at that time of night if the cells were secured?” He looked over the list of names before returning his glare to the lieutenant. “Why do I have a feeling that fire saved me from killing them myself? Because I’m dealing with business my standing orders to leave the prisoners alone are ignored? None of those men were on the approved list of guards. Who had the duty watch last night?” “Johnston did, sir.” “So how much was he charging, and which cell did they actually go into?” “I’m not sure what was being charged. I did hear rumors, but not enough to act on. They went into cell ten.” “Six women? No honor amongst thieves. Which cell did they use the shock system on?” “Number three, sir. Deputy Jacobs’ cell.” “His condition?” “Unconscious on the floor when they found him, but otherwise unharmed.” “When you find Johnston, bring him to me. Preferably alive, but that’s not a requirement.” “I understand, sir.” “I wonder if it isn’t time for a few significant changes around here. Have Deputy Jacobs brought up. I missed talking to him while I was gone. Unlike most of you, he can actually hold a conversation. And make sure you apologize to him for what happened to him and his people while you were in charge” “Yes, sir.” ****** The community hall was full as families took their customary seats while friends chatted before the alpha began the weekly meeting. Everyone mourned those lost in the attack, and a single mass memorial for those killed was scheduled for the following day. Families of those kidnapped tried to remain hopeful they might see their loved ones again. Everyone knew Parker Valley would not pay a ransom to the rogues. If demands were made, negotiations could at least buy time for a rescue to be mounted. Once the general business portion of the meeting concluded, John invited two special guests to join in the remainder of the assembly. The alpha updated everyone on what was known about the attack and on the casualties from the other packs. The leaders from both Ember Moon and Morning Star expressed their deepest thanks for the sacrifice Parker Valley’s warriors made in helping defend its neighbors. John’s eyes settled on Ethan. He hated putting the young man on the spot, but it had become a necessity. He felt it was a risk sharing the information with the neighboring alphas, but decided it was in their mutual interests to do so. “Rumors have been circulating for some time now, especially after the recent change in one of our council members. Many of you have wondered about what brought on our shift in policy regarding ferals, and the apparent breakthrough in our ability to cure them so they can return to a normal life.” This caused the other two alphas present to really take notice as they had not heard anything of a cure. “From the look on the faces of our guests, I see they are unaware of this development. I hope they’ll understand why I chose a cautious approach with regards to this news. I still view this as a matter of security for us, which is why I haven’t directly spoken of this yet. It has reached the point where enough people know at least a portion of the truth, and it can no longer remain in the shadows. I would prefer it be brought into the open here before you all, instead of persistent rumors and half truths circulating. Whatever forces there are to assist with someone finding their destiny, they saw fit to bring Ethan Tucker to us. Prior to his turning, he was already the most powerful being this pack has ever encountered.” All eyes in the hall focused on the newest Tucker, before attention returned to the alpha. “This young man we originally believed was human has been gifted with a unique ability that has only shown itself a few times throughout history. This gift allows Ethan to control the very elements of nature. There are many names for those like him who have appeared over time. The more classical name seems to apply most directly to him. Our young brother is an Elemental. Among his gifts is the ability to heal far greater than anything a lycan can do on our own. He is able to correct whatever it is within a feral that prevents their human minds from returning to us.” There were notable gasps from around the hall, including the visiting alphas, as people processed what they heard. “When Jonas and Anthony found their way to us, their behavior appeared unprecedented for a feral. Not only did they show they could communicate, but willingly surrendering to our hunters. It was obvious to all who witnessed the event they were trying to reach Ethan. “The following day, this young man followed his instincts calling to him, telling him he needed to see the two wolves. He visited the medical center, and was able to heal them. We believe a feral can sense Ethan is able to help them, and they seek him out, or others who might lead them to him. At least it’s our theory for the dramatic increase in ferals coming here. Since then, every feral that’s entered our territory has been cured. Except for those killed in the fighting of the recent attack. “I share this knowledge with my counterparts in Ember Moon and Morning Star in the hopes the safe recovery of ferals can be extended into their packs as well. We will freely share what information we can on the techniques we’ve employed to herd the unpredictable wolves into a safe capture. The only thing I ask of you all is discretion be used regarding this information with all three packs. It is possible at some point, as news of this passes beyond our respective borders, someone will try to take Ethan from us in an attempt to pervert his gifts for their own gain. His life is in our hands, and I for one will protect him as I would all our pack to my last breath.” Every lunis in the hall stood and moved to stand behind Ethan. Their arms crossed and faces etched in resolute determination they would allow no harm to come to their friend. All the lupus he had healed followed suit as others looked on. One by one, people stood until everyone was on their feet. John’s eyes scanned the room, seeing his entire pack standing, showing their support and resolve to protect Ethan. “Every one of you, on every day of my life, makes me proud to be your alpha.” After John dismissed the meeting, he went to speak to his counterparts about the issue he had brought up. His father, Garratt, joined the conversation as an observer and advisor. “John, are you serious about what you said regarding that boy and a cure for ferals?” Dave Redmond of Ember Moon thought the claim was dubious at best. Maxx Collins from Morning Star was equally skeptical. “The best doctors in the Council have worked for years trying to find a way to cure them with no luck. I don’t care how many legends I read, the thought someone can control the elements in any form is ludicrous.” “Gentlemen, Ethan’s ability to help a feral has nothing to do with science. It’s just part of his nature, as it’s ours to shift into wolves. He can draw on the forces of nature as he needs. To us it appears fanciful, but to an open minded human, our abilities would as well. The lunis population we now have living with us, as well as several new lupus, are a result of that cure. I understand your doubt, and you can either take me at my word or not. Ethan is still struggling with his mate being one from our pack that was taken, so I don’t think it fair to ask him to perform parlor tricks as evidence of what he can do.” Garrett cleared his throat. “John, I understand you not wanting to put the boy on display, but it might help for those who haven’t seen what he can do first hand.” Dave nodded his agreement. “I respect he’s suffering with the separation from his mate, but if you’re going to lay this on us, there has to be some way of showing this isn’t just BS. You’re a good and trustworthy neighbor, and we have no reason to doubt you, but it all sounds a little farfetched. Come on, John, Elementals?” John nodded since he knew this was needed. He waved Rafe over. “Would you ask Ethan to join us please?” Moments later, Rafe returned with his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Alphas, I want to respectfully remind all this is my son, and he’s been through a lot lately.” “And he’s my grandson.” Weylin’s arms crossed as he joined the group. There was a general nod of understanding from all the alphas. “Perhaps we should go to the courtyard behind my office.” Everyone followed John the short distance to the garden designed around a central fountain. “Ethan, I’m sorry to ask this, but I’d like you to give our guests a little demonstration so they can better understand what I’m telling them is the truth. Whenever you’re ready, and only as much as you feel like doing.” “Why do I sometimes feel like I’m just a circus act? Have they paid admission to the freak show?” The Alpha placed his hand on the teen’s shoulder. “I know that’s how it must seem when I ask you to put on these demonstrations for people, but I hope you believe me when I say I only ask when it’s absolutely necessary.” Ethan nodded and really did understand, though he didn’t like performing for these other two alphas. At least with the pack council it was people he had seen regularly. “John, this has gone far enough. I’m not going to say bullshit to this, but those old legends are just bedtime stories and nothing more.” Maxx scoffed. Not happy with someone, especially another alpha implying his own leader was a liar, Ethan made sure no one was next to him. His eyes were slightly brighter than normal, but nowhere near the intensity of when he really put his gifts to work. Just loud enough to be heard, Ethan whispered, “Flame on.” In seconds, his body became enveloped by fire, yet he was unharmed by the flames. He watched the others, and raised his hands slightly. “Well? Good enough?” All the men stared in disbelief. Several took a step back to escape the heat. John had never seen him do anything like this before, and looked on in astonishment. Given the boy’s mood, he had to smile at the control the blond had gained. “Ethan, amusing, but not nice. Behave yourself.” The teen snapped his finger, and the flames disappeared as quickly as it started. “Someone was watching Fantastic Four with Ryan and Zach last night.” Weylin joked to ease the tension. Ethan knelt beside the fountain, and dipped his finger into the cool water. He let his mind wander to his missing mate, and this time his eyes glowed bright. As he had done many times before, a cloud of mist formed in front of him, coalescing into the shape of a wolf. As the lupus began to run, flames appeared to mix with the ghostly mist animal. No one paid attention to the water in the fountain freezing, until it broke and formed into particles the size of a grain of sand. Behind the ghostly wolf, the ice shards fashioned additional animals, making up the small pack of their friends, with wolves, a tiger, bear, lion, and coyote. The mist eventually dissipated, and the flame took over with the wolf morphing into Aiden’s human form, while the ice animals slowly melted away. Ethan held the image for a few moments before letting the flame burn out. A few tears ran down his cheeks as a light rain fell due to his sadness. Where the tears hit the ground, wild flowers popped up. A gentle breeze blew through the courtyard as his tears continued to flow. All those present looked on in amazement. Rafe placed his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Come on, Son. You’ve done enough. Let’s get you home.” Dave stopped them for a moment. “I’m sorry for what you’re going through, but thank you for helping us understand the truth about you.” Once Ethan left, Maxx spoke up. “You have my support. We’ll work with you as best we can on starting a capture program, or at least let them pass through to your territory. If any cured feral wants to settle in our territory, we’ll do what we can to assist them.” Dave nodded his agreement. “Same here, my pack will do what it can for any who wish to settle. I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it. You have our full support as well.” “I know neither of you have shown any prejudice in the past towards other species, and I know you don’t have any lunis in your territories like we didn’t. Will your packs have any issue accepting a lunis settling there? I mean nothing by that, but I’m looking out for all parties.” John watched his counterparts carefully. “I can’t speak for everyone in my pack, but we’ll do our best to make any lunis feel welcome.” Maxx assured. “If someone has a problem with it, they can keep the issue to themselves.” “Seeing the lunis who have come to your pack, you have my word we won’t turn away any wolf.” Dave promised. The three leaders and former alpha discussed several other issues. They started laying the ground work for eventually dealing with the rogues once the information Parker Valley had was confirmed. Maxx suggested they contact some of the packs in Quebec and New York who had suffered multiple attacks to build a regional coalition to deal with the problem. Once the strategic portion of their meeting was complete, John took the men on a tour of the housing under construction to help with the new lycan influx. The other alphas met with some of the former ferals, as well as the pack wolves who shared the new building. ****** Verifying the information provided by Gaelan was ongoing. John had teams pouring over reports of rogue groups that matched what the captive spy described. Even information from Ethan’s dreams of Aiden was considered, and evaluated for any possible intelligence that could be gained. The reported location of the gang was in the middle of a dark zone the Lycan Council recommended any wolf stay clear of. It was on the border of New York State and Quebec. Other species of lycan also stayed clear since most who ventured into the region never returned. For whatever reason, it was not an area the Lycan Council wanted to expend time and resources in cleaning up, and making safe for all shifters. Instead, the Council offered meager support to nearby packs in bolstering their defenses against potential raids as long as council dues were up to date. Ethan was chomping at the bit to head out, and find his mate. It took the combined efforts of his family and friends to keep him put. John promised him he would be part of the recovery effort. It was never stated, though everyone knew Ethan was their greatest asset and their most powerful weapon in the coming fight. The fact his mate was one of those being held made him and his abilities particularly dangerous. It took the better part of a week just to negotiate the proper agreements with the different packs needed for the upcoming assault. Working out temporary treaties with some for logistical support and with others for troops. Setting up communications between everyone involved was a day-long project on its own. Building a command structure, let alone deciding who would be in overall charge of the warriors involved almost derailed the entire coalition. While plans were made with the various packs, Ethan received a crash course in wolf combat. He had been in plenty of fights on the streets; a few against people with a knife or some other weapon, when he had nothing but his speed and agility. Now he had the wolf living in his mind with the added abilities of an alpha to guide him during the fight. His natural instincts made him a formidable foe in any sparring match in his lupus form. When he shifted to his hybrid, he was unbeatable even without using his gifts. Darius and Casey did their best, along with a few of the more advanced warriors. Garrett helped him understand and use his alpha abilities to enhance the lethality of his attacks. Ethan also spent time practicing with his gifts, to make use of them in a fight. He had to be careful not to direct them anywhere near his trainers. Ethan was set loose in the area used to train the pack warriors. He shifted into his hybrid at the start of the exercise, and went on the attack. Using his experience and his wolf instincts, he also called upon all the elements at his disposal to attack the dummy targets, and defend against those working with him. The results were devastating. He was able to effectively use fog, ice shards, fire, and extreme wind to throw around debris. He surprised everyone by calling on trees and other plants to grab or attack with roots and branches. He even managed to create lightning by combining multiple elements, though that was more by accident than anything. When the practice session was complete, the training course needed rebuilding. People rushed to put out the last of the fires while trying to not slip and fall on fields of ice. ****** A group of lycan numbering close to four hundred had gathered at staging locations in the countryside surrounding the rogue-controlled town. They patiently waited, many already in their wolf form, for orders to attack. There were warriors from seven packs in addition to Parker Valley. They would be mostly used for containment of the area to prevent escape of any fleeing rogues, and cleanup once the hostages had been rescued. Their ranks formed a wide circle around the town. No matter if in wolf or human body, everyone had a blue cloth wrapped around their left arm or front leg to identify them as a friend. Although Alpha Stockdale was against it, it was finally decided a small group led by Darius would attempt to recover the hostages. A single SUV drove into the rogue’s stronghold, and headed for a bar. The town looked like any other you might find in the northeast, except like Silver Pines, it was the exclusive home of shape shifters. A neon sign on the front of the building read Underworld in dark blue lettering with a curled lunis paw dripping blood over the last two letters. In front, two dozen motorcycles and several trucks were parked, indicating there was a fair number of customers inside. Ethan reached out with his senses, and could feel every molecule of water and each plant or tree for a good distance around them. He knew how many people were in the bar, as he felt the blood running through their bodies. He let his friends know just how badly outnumbered they were. When he finally got out of the truck, he scented the air for any trace of Aiden. Hoping his mate was somewhere nearby gave him hope they would soon be together again. Approaching the door with more determination than anyone in his situation would reasonably do, Ethan’s eyes took on their characteristic glow. His fists clinched tight a few seconds before a blast of tornado strength wind was unleashed. The doors ripped clear of their hinges as they blasted in, flattening anyone in their path. Debris flew through the bar injuring several more patrons. The small-framed boy casually entered to find the clientele diving for cover and grabbing any nearby weapon. Ethan scented the air again, but the combined smell from all the other shifters made it impossible for him to detect if his mate was near. He stood in the center of the bar with Casey and Trevor at his side in their wolf forms. They were flanked by Cody and Darius with their guns drawn. As he took in the faces of those in the bar, he did not see the man who appeared in so many of his dreams, the one who was always talking to Aiden. Ethan focused on the people nearest him. “Some of your friends recently gave me an invitation to come here for a visit. They even sent a driver to bring me here. Unfortunately for my driver, he didn’t survive. I thought it only polite I come here to say thank you for the invite.” There had been a somewhat playful tone to his voice. It suddenly dropped and the ominous overtones could not be missed. “Now that I’m here, I want to see Jean-Pierre. I also know my mate’s being held here, and I want him back now, or not one of you will leave here alive. I will kill every person in this town, and level every building if that’s what it takes.” The scene of this small, boyish lycan making demands would have been considered comical any other time. His eyes glowed an extremely bright and fierce shade of blue as he waited to see who would act first. One person raised the gun in his hand. The pop of Cody’s pistol firing was heard a fraction of a second before the man dropped to the floor, dead from a head shot. From the other side, two wolves charged them only to receive the same treatment from Darius. The glow in Ethan’s eyes grew more intense as he scanned the room, challenging anyone else to make a move. Fear set in; they had no clue what he was. Amber eyes were well-known to all lycan, though only a quick flash. Eyes glowing blue was something they had never seen or heard of before. “You have ten seconds for someone to speak up before I kill everyone here and move to the next building.” About half the people decided to rush the five. After all, the intruders were outnumbered six to one. No one got close as their bodies froze solid. Another bullet from Cody’s pistol shattered one of the bodies like a hammer to an ice cube. Ethan’s body morphed, his alpha hybrid standing tall as he scented the air, trying to pick up traces of Aiden’s trail. The remaining patrons of the bar huddled in a corner unable to escape whatever this creature was. On a stage at the far end of the bar were two cages, each holding someone. Ethan stalked to the end of the room near the cowering group, his eyes zeroed in on the occupant of one cage. His first thought was to kill the one lying in the confined space. A single word came out in the deep, gravelly voice of his wolf. “Michael.” Roots from a nearby tree crashed through the wall beside the cage, passing through the bars and wrapping themselves around his former pack mate, holding him tight. Growling to the rest in the room, his ears dropped and eyes narrowed as their color changed from blue to red as his anger built. His body erupted into flames that poured off his untouched fur. “You made a deal with the devil when you joined this gang, and harmed those I care about. I’m here to collect what’s mine, and your souls will make a nice trophy. Now, WHERE IS JEAN-PIERRE?” One of the she-wolves, a cocktail server in the bar, screamed out in terror at the white wolf’s demonic appearance. “Jean-Pierre isn’t here.” “WHERE IS HE?” Ethan’s booming voice growled as his eyes pulsed with power. The heat from the flames intensified; nearby tables and chairs ignited. “He had business to attend to in Canada. He left early this morning.” One of the men shouted out, trembling in fear. No one attempted to pick up a weapon, shift into their animal form, or even move; they had no idea what they were dealing with. The white wolf’s appearance was something out of their worst nightmares, and he stood before them in the fiery flesh. Ethan made quick work of dealing with them. He formed a wall of ice to trap the surviving rogues in the corner of the bar. Darius radioed their command staff. “Bar secured. Move unit two in to hold the bar. You can start moving troops into the town. Sweep each building. There are twelve rogues to take into custody behind an ice wall in the bar. White Wolf and group moving to phase two of search and rescue.” The red eyes returned to their natural blue as Ethan let the flames fade away while extinguishing the fires he started. A few minutes later, the second team arrived to take control while his group searched for the hostages. The Tucker brothers sniffed around to see if they could find the door leading underground that Gaelan had told them about. Cody shifted into his coyote while Darius transformed into his lion. The white wolf found the hidden door in a storeroom and smashed through it with ease. He picked up the faintest hint of Aiden’s scent as the air rose from below them. Down a flight of stairs, the small group made their way into a large room configured like a combination office and skybox. There was a desk at one end, a conference table, and theater chairs faced a window overlooking an arena. He saw the chair from his dreams. A chain attached to the floor hung from the chair rung. He knew it was the one that had been attached to the shackles. Aiden’s scent was strong on the chair. Ethan raised his massive, pawed foot, and smashed the chair that had held his mate. Casey followed his best friend’s scent to another locked door. The white wolf broke through it, leading them down to the arena. Several rows of stadium seating surrounded a caged pit. Through yet another set of doors, they entered a huge space with cages holding more ferals than Ethan could pick out by scent, or count. Both he and Casey held onto Aiden’s trail with Trevor, Darius, and Cody covering them from behind. ****** Aiden woke to a commotion outside his cell. It was difficult to hear exactly what was happening, but it sounded like people running around yelling. He thought there was the faint sound of an alarm. It was much the same as when the prisoners were attacked. Jean-Pierre had said he might not be able to hold it off indefinitely as the men were getting restless. If their leader could no longer control his men, they were all in great danger. The guards had no issue talking in front of Aiden as they led him around. Several had suggested some might remove their leader, and finally get a turn at the prisoners. They made sure he knew as Jean-Pierre’s favorite, he would bear the brunt of it. The louder things became outside his cell, the more he feared there had been an uprising among the rogue leadership. His patience ran out, and given what he heard, Aiden felt it was time to act no matter the consequences. For the second time since his captivity started, he shifted into his hybrid form and listened to his wolf guiding him. With all the strength he could manage, he smashed his paws into the door. It held, but the door and wall visibly shook. Again and again he hit the door, ignoring the burning from the traces of silver in it. On the sixth try, the door and a good portion of the concrete wall gave way. Stepping into the corridor, he swung his left arm, hitting a man running towards him. The body flew back in the direction it had come from. He felt a sharp pain as a knife stabbed his back. He spun around, dragging his claws deep through the midsection of his attacker. His eyes glowed red in rage as he ripped open the door of the nearest cell, freeing its occupants. The prisoners worked to open more cells as Aiden continued to fight. Additional guards entered the corridor, and concentrated their attack on the large wolf. When the prisoners could not open a cell, the black, alpha wolf would rip the door off its hinges. As their numbers grew, some shifted into their wolves to help Aiden in the fight, while others continued to free their fellow prisoners. Once all their people were free, Aiden pushed forward towards a group of guards. He had no clue if he was going in the right direction, but it was movement away from the cells. His huge alpha wolf filled the passageway protecting any who were behind him, and those at the rear protected their flanks. The more doors he broke through, the fiercer the fighting became. Rogues in both animal and human form fought with claws, firearms, and even axes, trying to stop their advance and escape. As the red glow of the black wolf’s eyes intensified, his body felt warmer. He continued to slash away and bite at his attackers, ignoring any pain he felt from the random bullet, silver, or other metal that hit him in the fray. The agony caused by the precious metal drove him to fight harder. Aiden swung his right claw at someone in front of him who moved out of reach at the last second. On the back swing, it was not his claws that severed the body, but a sword of fire extending from his paw. Flames covered his shoulders, chest, back, and head, forming armor to block what bullets did come towards him. His fiery appearance terrified all who saw him. A group of men at the far end of the corridor attempted to setup a barricade to shoot the prisoners as they approached. Throwing his left hand in front of him, the gang’s position burst into flames, incinerating both the rogues and their barricade. ****** Ethan and the others worked their way into the complex of passages beneath the town. They encountered increasing resistance the further they traveled. Although he had never fought as a wolf beyond his training, his animal instincts took over completely. He slashed out with his dagger-like claws at anyone within reach, taking on shifters in both human and animal shape. The few that got close suffered their fate at his teeth. He grabbed one man who unloaded an entire clip of silver bullets into him at close range. A primal bloodlust took hold, further pushing his human mind to the background. He bit down on the man’s neck, severing the body, which he threw to take out several more attackers. Blood dripped from his claws and maw giving a gruesome appearance to the once pristine white wolf. One enemy wolf managed to get close to Ethan, and latched onto his left forearm with its jaws. Trevor attacked the wolf, biting down as hard as he could, breaking its neck. On Ethan’s other side, Casey took on a bear and wolf that emerged from a side passage. He raked his claws across the wolf’s face while trying to avoid the bear doing the same to him. Cody ran under the bear and bit hard on its rear leg to distract if from his friend. Thanks to the nimble coyote, Casey was able to go for the bear’s throat while Cody turned his attack on the partially blinded wolf. Behind them, Darius fought just as ferociously. He would pounce on men or animal, dismembering them with teeth or claws. Others faced a hit from his massive paws. The power of his swings left anything he hit as a bloody mess against the wall. Casey and Trevor took position at the white wolf’s side as they moved forward. The pair took on as many attackers as they could. Ethan grabbed both wolves by the head and shoved them behind him. Seconds later, someone opened fire with a spray of bullets. As the weapon stopped firing, the man dropped it, and ran to escape the pain filled roar. Rage filled the white wolf from the sting of each hit. Ice formed across his chest, shoulders, upper legs, and arms, where some of the attacking wolves had aimed for. In his right hand, a sword of the bluest ice formed, and cut through his nearest enemy like the finest katana ever made. Bullets could be heard impacting the ice which simply reformed stronger each time. Those not in range of his claws or blade were frozen in place only to be cut down when Ethan reached them. Any who turned and ran, he ignored. Breaking through one final door into a cavernous space, there was a fevered battle taking place. Fighting a cluster of rogues was another group led by a black, alpha wolf in flaming armor. The white wolf let out a deafening roar at seeing his mate under attack. The faction fighting Aiden momentarily turned their attention to the second massive wolf. The sight of his ice armor and blood-dripping sword was just as terrifying. The black wolf called out, “Give up now, or die.” A few threw down their arms and laid face down while others quickly took aim at both wolves. The two alphas hit them at the same time with ice and fire. Those who surrendered were untouched, those who did not would have no need of a casket. With the fighting finished for the moment, Aiden ordered the rogues who surrendered to lead the way out. Ethan wanted to run and jump into his mate’s arms, but his wolf refused to relinquish control. “I want to be with our mate as much as you, but we must see to the others safety first.” There were sporadic clashes on the way out, but for the most part the remaining gang members they encountered had lost the will to fight under the onslaught of both alphas. Once back inside Underworld, Darius shifted to human, and radioed base camp. “All hostages accounted for, and secure in the bar. Request the vans to evacuate them as soon as possible.” The troops who had held the bar provided first aid to the wounded. The ice and flame armor of the two alphas began to dissipate with the battle over. The blood covered white wolf sniffed his mate’s wounds and could pick up the foul scent of silver burning flesh. He placed one paw on the black wolf’s chest and the other on his back. The wounds started to heal from the inside, and slowly pushed the offending metal out. One by one, the bullets embedded in Aiden’s body dropped to the floor as the wounds completely healed. Ethan concentrated on himself next as silver, brass, and lead was pushed from his own body. Aiden stalked over to Michael’s cage and ripped it open. Reaching in, the roots holding their captive let loose. He tossed the exile across the room to land at the feet of Darius. “Cuff him and keep him under guard. The other one in the cage is supposedly responsible for ordering the attack against us.” The vans arrived, and were quickly loaded to take all hostages to safety. Aiden and Ethan remained in their hybrid forms as everyone was evacuated. Although their human sides wanted nothing more than to hold each other, the wolf within put their feelings aside for the safety and defense of others. Only after the last pack member had climbed into a van, and it pulled away, did the pair shift. Darius and Casey rushed them out to the waiting SUV with Trevor and Cody providing additional cover. In the relative safety of the moving vehicle, Aiden pulled Ethan to him, holding him tight. Both their eyes were filled with tears. Aiden breathed in deep, taking in the scent of his pup. Even through the blood on both of them, their individual scent brought them peace. In each other’s arms, they were home at last.
  37. 101 points
    Rory's mom just died and soon after the funeral his life is turned upside down when he finds out that his mom has contacted the father that he never knew. Now, he's forced to live in the desert with a family he doesn't know, a father he doesn't want to know, and to top it all off, Rory's gay and no longer has anyone to confide in. Friends will be made and the meaning of family will be found as Rory discovers that everything isn't so bad in the desert.
  38. 100 points
    KIERAN ~ SLEEPLESS IN SINGAPORE 3:10am. Kieran sat up in bed, wide awake, hands clasped behind his neck, listening to the gentle hum of the air-conditioner and the distant, but constant nighttime sizzle of cicadas from outside. Just as he had predicted, he'd plunged into a deep sleep the moment his head hit the pillow, but found himself waking, fresh as a snowflake a few hours later. He’d already checked his phone, read and answered his messages and emails, had even tried Kennedy’s suggestion and watched television, but nothing really caught his attention. Of course, he had texted Cole and Jules about the past twenty four hours; the flight—he had kept the menu as a souvenir—the amazing house Kennedy’s parents lived in with five bedrooms and its own private swimming pool, and the amazing banquet they’d served up to welcome them. Even though they seemed formal with each other, the family had been friendly and civil to him. So much so that Kennedy’s earlier belittling of his family felt brutal and unwarranted. But then what did he know? Maybe they were putting on a show for the sake of him. Eventually he got up, went to the window and pulled aside one of the heavy blinds. Below, lights illuminated the pool still. Would he disturb anyone, he thought, if he got up and had a swim? Kennedy’s parents’ bedroom stood at the far end of the house, while Kennedy’s own bedroom was next to them. What the hell, he told himself, who would even know? In the bathroom, he squeezed back into his damp swimming shorts and grabbed one of the plump white bath towels. With the addition of a plain white tee and flip flops, he collected his laptop and headphones on the way out and made his way quietly back to the pool. For half an hour, he swam freestyle up and down without stopping, enjoying the freedom, the release of energy, and the water cooling and caressing his body. When he finally stopped, panting heavily, he hauled his dripping body out, ready to dry himself and relax alone at the small table where he’d left his things. Except someone else sat there, puffing blue smoke into the night air. “When I mentioned an early morning swim,” said Jefferson Grey, with good humour. “I was thinking more along the lines of six or seven in the morning. Couldn’t sleep, young man?” “What can I say?” said Kieran, towelling his hair. “Turns out jet lag’s real. So I thought I’d use the time to exercise. What’s kept you awake?” “Insomnia. Comes with age, I’m afraid. And then I heard someone swimming. Either my son or you, I figured. So here I am.” Jeff blew a cloud of smoke into the air and wiggled his cigar. “Which also gives me the opportunity to smoke one of these babies without being badgered. Do you smoke?” “I don’t,” said Kieran, taking a seat at the table. “Well, actually I did once—cigarettes—but label myself a non-smoker now. Sometimes I have the occasional puff—if I’m stressed. Not very often. Don’t say anything to Kennedy. He thinks I’ve never smoked.” “You’ve only just met. I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t know about each other.” “I know he can be very particular.” “Just like his mother,“ said Jeff, nodding and flicking ash into a plastic saucer. “You know, you’re a lot different to Patrick.” Kieran sat back then, wanting to take advantage of the opportunity. “Kennedy doesn’t talk about him. What was he like?” Jeff sat quiet for a moment. He appeared to be considering Kieran’s question. “Did Kennedy tell you what I used to do for a living?” “You worked for the British High Commission.” “For forty-two years. And, let me tell you, in all that time thousands of souls passed through our offices—not just dignitaries—people from all walks of life, from all nations. Something my wife will tell you about me—one of the nicer things—is my ability to sum up a person’s character. Within a short space of time, I can tell whether someone is open, honest and trustworthy. She calls it intuition, but I think it’s more a skill one builds over the years working as a public servant. Patrick was—he came across as—sullen and distant. Both times he stayed here, he barely left his room. If we managed to get a ‘good morning’ out of him over breakfast, it was cause for celebration. Not once did he thank us for our hospitality, the way you did when I met you at the airport yesterday. But they lived together, had known each other for nine years, so we assumed they were content. Their last time here, he and Kennedy argued constantly. Maybe the writing was on the wall. What I’m trying to say is, when they were here I sensed no happiness between them. I’m sure Kennedy told you we weren’t exactly thrilled with our son’s lifestyle choice, but parents still want to see their children end up happy. Five years ago, just after they broke up, Kennedy came here alone. He never told us exactly what happened between them, but I could tell that my son was changed, had put up a wall around himself. I can only assume the break-up did that to him. The whole week he was here, I don’t remember seeing him smile once, let alone laugh.” “He laughs now. Usually at me. He has a pretty cool sense of humour.” Key West, indeed, thought Kieran, remembering and smirking. “He’s different with you.” “Is he?” Why did that observation send a small thrill through Kieran? “How do you mean?” “Calmer. As though he has less to prove. As though he can trust you, I suppose.” Kieran deflated. Of course Kennedy would be calmer, Kieran was being paid to be there, a little snippet he would definitely not share with Jefferson. “And I get the impression you like him, too,” added Jeff. “I admire him.” “Admire? For what?” Kieran sighed, grabbed his laptop and flipped the top open. Within seconds he had opened a browser and brought up a number of windows showcasing Kennedy’s achievements. He’d already saved many to his personal favourites. When Jeff explained he couldn’t make out the text in the articles without his glasses, Kieran obliged by reading them out loud to him. Twenty minutes later, Jeff sat in quiet contemplation. “You know, when people ask me about my son, I have no idea what to tell them, because he’s never let me into his life. I know I was a strict father—like my father was with me—but I was equally strict with Reagan, and she never shut me out. Thank you for showing me this. We knew he ran the business capably, but had no idea he’d been this successful. And he did all this without my help, financially or otherwise.” “Hope you don’t mind me saying this, Jeff, having only just met you. But I sense that all he ever wanted from you was your approval.” “Sounds to me as though he doesn’t need it, or that it’d be too late, anyway.” Kieran tilted his head back and stared into the night sky. “I had this English Lit teacher at school, tough as nails and as straight as they came, teaching my least favourite topic. But I needed to get a good grade to get into the college of choice. For me, Shakespeare was like trying to understand a foreign language, and kept dragging my overall grade in the subject down. I could never get past a B minus. Didn’t help that I thought she didn’t like me, but at least she was consistent, because everyone else in my class thought she hated them, too. So I threw myself at the main problem—Hamlet, of all bloody plays—read everything I could get my hands on, studied weekends, evenings, saw multiple remakes of the film, and even sat through a couple of performances at the Old Vic. Kind of got to love the story in the end, got to see so many human flaws in Hamlet, the man, and so many subtle themes running through the play. And when she read out the class results of the mock exam, announced that not only had I got an A, but that my essay was something everyone in the class should aspire to, I almost burst with pride. Managed to get A stars in four other subjects, but that was the one I was most proud of. What I’m trying to say is; it’s the people we least expect to hear praise from, whose praise we value the most. Does that make sense?” Jeff stared at Kieran for a moment, before his gaze dropped to Kieran’s shoulder, and became unfocused. “For someone so young, you are wise beyond your years. Yes, what you say makes perfect sense. My father preferred to point out our shortcomings and ignore our successes—said that’s what makes a man—and I suppose I adopted the same method with my children. Looking back now, I almost feel as though they’ve both succeeded in their own way, in spite of me, not because of anything I said or did.” “You’re proud of them both?” “Of course I am.” “So I guess the only question you need to ask yourself is, do they know?” After a final toke, Jeff stubbed his cigar out repeatedly, his gaze trained on the saucer. Even though he said nothing, Kieran could tell he’d processed the question. Maybe Kieran had gone too far. “On that note, young man, I’m heading back to bed. See if I can grab a couple more hours before breakfast. I suggest you do the same.” “I will. After I’ve dried off a little.” Jeff stood and went to leave, but then hesitated and turned back. “I never asked about your own father. What does he do?” “No idea. He walked out on us when I was seven, just before my brother was born.” Jeff said nothing then, just raised his head to the heavens, gently shaking his head. “What kind of man would do that to his children?” “You see, Jeff? You’re already well ahead in the fatherhood stakes.” Jeff sighed deeply, and began to walk away, but once again, faltered. “Kieran?” “Jeff?” “I’m glad you’re here. Good to see my boy finally finding someone sociable and genuine. And I get the feeling he needs you by his side right now. To bring a little sunshine back into his life. Good night, son.” “Night, Jeff.” After Jeff departed, Kieran sat staring at the ash filled saucer, feeling like a total fraud.
  39. 100 points
    Chapter 9 Brady “That’s cool Dad! Congratulations!!” Novy said with a mouthful of Cornflakes. “Don’t…” “What’s cool,” Mum asked as she sauntered into the dining room, followed by my brother Cameron. Mum sat down at the opposite end of the table to my Dad. Cameron walked to the buffet and made himself a coffee at the pod machine. “…speak with your mouth full.” Thanks for letting me finish. “Dad got a job,” my son spoke with his mouth full again. “Don’t…” “Yes. I’m surprised Ember even gave you the opportunity,” she gave me that Mum glare, the one you get when you know you're in trouble for something but not quite sure you're ready to admit guilt for anything just in case it’s not what you think. Cam raised an eyebrow at me as he took his mug away from the machine then sat down next to Novy. “Hey, Uncle Cam,” Novy greeted his Uncle with a mouthful of cornflakes. “D…” “Dude, don’t speak with a mouthful of food! Were you raised in a barn?” Cam smirked at me. “Huh?” Novy looked up at his Uncle. “Thank you,” I said sweeping my arm in front of me. “Finally!” “Huh?” My son looked over at me. “Don’t speak with your mouth full,” Cam and I said at the same time. “Oh,” Novy said sheepishly, then shoved more food into his gob. “Sorry.” Cam cuffed Novy on the back of the head. Hang on, did Mum just say Ember! “What do you mean Ember? I know Ember works there, but Justin offered me a job,” I said confused. Mum snorted ever so ladylike, flicking her wrist in my direction, “…which he wouldn’t have been able to do without Ember’s okay.” “Oh yeah, why’s that?” I asked knowing I wasn’t going to like the answer. “Because it’s his business. Ember, owns ‘The Chop Shop.’” Dad grunted for confirmation while he read the newspaper and my loving brother was silently laughing his arse off across the table. Big Help! “Shouldn’t you be at home, polishing your crotch rocket or at work?” I said to Cam. “Nah, polished it yesterday, and I don’t work again until tomorrow. Besides this is way more fun,” said my brother smirking and rocking on his chair. Novy’s eyes were passing around the table from adult to adult trying to work out what was happening. I’m sure I looked like one of those boggle-eyed goldfish in a panic. FUCK ME! Could things get any worse? <>-<>-<> The one good thing about small towns is that there isn’t much traffic. Even in peak hour, the roads get busy but not congested. Lucky for me. It’s not like my mind was really on the task at hand. Driving to my first day of work, my brain wouldn’t switch off. I have that deep gnawing in the pit of my stomach. As if I wasn’t nervous enough, now I have to go to work knowing that Ember himself had given me a job. I swear I don’t remember Justin ever saying anything about November owning the mechanic shop. I remember the conversation clear as day: We had all finished eating. A server was clearing the empty dishes and glasses from the table. I was talking to the guy next to me - what was his name, he came with the big guy in the tow truck - P-something, Poco, Pippy, Pix, that was it Pix. He is a Pediatric Nurse, bright and bubbly, intelligent, a nice kid. Anyway, we were interrupted by Justin. “Hey Brady, you got a minute,” asked Justin nodding towards an empty booth to the side. We walked over and sat away from the celebrations for Novy and AJ. My face dropped as soon as Justin spoke. I was happy, almost lit up, talking with the young nurse until Justin called me over. I dreaded what he wanted - probably to tell my family and me to get the hell out. “Hey no, Brady, relax,” Justin told me trying to calm me down. I must look like he wanted to steal my pet puppy or something. I really do have to learn a poker face, steel my reactions so to speak. I used to have one until I came out. Now my life is such a mess, and I’m so insecure, people can read me like a book. “Look I just wanted to tell you that I’ve spoken to the boss about your application at work.” I felt the blood drain my face, my head started to go light, I reached out, grabbing Justin’s bicep in case I passed out again. When I realised what I’d done, my hand dropped from his arm like a hot potato. “Sorry,” I muttered. “It’s all good buddy,” Justin chuckled, I looked around nervously. Cameron was watching us with a frown. When I looked at him he cocked his eyebrow at me in concern. It was nice to know my brother had my back even if he does want to get into Justin’s pants. “The boss said you can have a four-week trial. Don’t stuff it up, else I’m going to get it in the neck too.” My gaze flicked back to Justin, ‘What did he say,’ I thought. “I can start a four-week trial,” I said incredulously, “I got the job.” Justin chuckled, “Yes, but there is one thing, a word of advice - do not mess with Ember in any way.” Now I was a little annoyed and probably shouldn’t have said what I said next, but it just flew out. I know I definitely deserved the skepticism from everyone, but seriously that was twenty years ago. “When is everyone going to see that I’m not the asshole I was twenty years ago.” Justin tapped my forearm from underneath, “Look, Brady, just persevere. I’m starting to see it. Ember will come around eventually. At some point he’ll recognise you for who you are now. You and your friends did a real number on his self-esteem and confidence back in high school. Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to ride it out.” “Thanks, Justin, for the opportunity, and going to bat for me. I assure you I’m not here to mess with November. I just want to move on from the mess I’ve made of my life,” I answered a little less excited than I felt. “I GOT A JOB!” I mouthed to my brother. Cam grinned giving me the thumbs up. Ember looked over, lifting an eyebrow, smirking away. He was sitting with my mother - god knows what was going on in that conversation. I had finally made it to ‘The Chop Shop,’ parking next to November’s truck, sitting in my car and trying to steel my nerves. Thankfully, I still had ten minutes before they were expecting me. I took a couple of deep breaths and hopped out of the car ready to be put to work. Making my way through the office door, I felt the urge to about-face and run like hell, but my fight or flight response seems to be heavily leaning toward fight at the moment. I need to make things right with November. This seems like the perfect opportunity for that to happen, plus I needed to earn money so I could get Novy and me the hell out of my parent's house. I don’t know what was said between my Mum and November on Saturday, but she has been plain snarky to me ever since. Again, my own fault. So much for being civil to each other for the sake of the kids, I guess. The reception area was empty when I entered through the front door. There was a bell on the counter, so I gave it a ding. Mags entered from a door behind reception. “Ah, Brady,” she said coming forth and opening the gate which was to stop customers entering the work area. “Come on through - we are about to start the Monday meeting.” Mags took me back to what I assume is the break room. It had a long table and chairs that would seat about ten people. It looked like it was where it should be, grease marks, ripped corners on some chairs - it had seen better days, but what you’d expect at a workshop - a fridge against one of the walls, and a bench with a sink, cupboards underneath, and a kettle off to the side, which also looked like a health hazard. Perfect! The room was full of men: November, Justin, a young bloke not much older than my son, a man older than my Dad, and a Gigantor. Mags cleared her throat, and all the men shut up. “Guys, this is Brady Douglass. He’s starting here today working with Justin.” The woman turned to me. “Brady, I assume you know Justin,” she pointed him out, then moved clockwise around the table after I nodded. “Next to him the old fella is Jim - he’s our go-for man; then there’s Troy - he’s the Boss’s mechanical apprentice; the big fella is Basher - he runs tyres and suspension, he’s also my son.” She put her hand over her heart. “And this is the Boss, Ember. Everything runs through him. We all call him Boss, you should do the same. If you need or want anything, he’s the man for you.” Okay, I’ll take him. November scoffed, my stomach dropped. “Mags, there hasn’t been a decision made at this workshop that you didn’t have to give your okay since the day you walked through the door.” Everyone laughed. “Yeah, well, none of you can be trusted to wipe your own arse properly, so there you have it!” Mags turned back to me. “Have a seat.” then indicated to me, so I took the first one available which happened to be next to Basher. Scary name, scary man. Gigantor grunted when I sat down. November and Justin shot him a look to say ‘behave.’ The man leant back diagonally in his seat crossing his arms and stretching his legs out just past mine, just to let me know I was on probation with him as he took up my personal space. Message received. “Okay enough of the bullshit. We’ve got a busy week ahead guys,” Mags announced picking up her clipboard. “Ember, you and Troy are doubled on bookings until Wednesday, Jim I’ve put you on the schedule through to Thursday, Thursday is a half day. Let me know if you can’t. Justin, you’re lucky Brady is here. You are solidly booked for the entire week, with a waiting list if any availability comes up.” Justin sighed and dropped his head. Ember chuckled and cuffed him on the shoulder. Basher, you’re also pretty busy and a lift-kit, Tuesday, and Thursday.” “Sure Mama,” he said. “I’ve saved the best for last,” Mags’ smile was evil, scary family, “Ember, the red Torana will be here tomorrow – blew his clutch.” Ember threw his head back, “Mother F… that kid I swear,” he let out in frustration. Troy, the apprentice, sighed and shook his head. “Someone needs to show that F-wit how to look after a sweet ride like that,” Troy said sadly. “And Basher…” Mags started, and Basher waved his hand at her. “Yeah, yeah, new back tyres, and a spare. I’ve always got a set for the Torana in stock,” Basher said shaking his head. “Great,” she said looking around the table, “well what are you waiting for, a bloody invitation? Get to work you bunch of lazy lay-abouts. Move your arse!” <>-<>-<> The week has gone fairly smoothly. I mostly worked outside Justin’s workshop. I installed car stereo’s, back up camera’s, and CB radios. Justin worked on a bunch of solar panel jobs for caravans. He was easy to work with - he only hung around over my shoulder for half of my first day. Once he could see I was able to do without his help he left me to it. Every now and then he would yell out for me to pass him something up a ladder. By close of business Thursday, we had managed to whittle Justin’s waiting list down to next to nothing. Each day Mag’s was able to ring a few on the list and get them to book their cars in. They seemed impressed by my work and dedication to getting things done. It was great working in the fresh with the vehicle’s parked outside the workshop. Every now and then I was able to catch a glimpse of November while he was moving a car or talking with a customer. The man still gets to me - everything about him, the way he moves, talks, laughs, everything the man does is smooth and graceful. The way November looks in his work overalls invites various naughty mechanic fantasies. Unfortunately, I only get to play them out in my head at night in bed alone or the shower. We have had very little interaction since I started, mainly in the office if I am dropping paperwork off to Mag’s. His workshop is attached to the office, so I have to walk through to get to it. Now that it’s Friday, with a whole week of work and glimpses of November under my belt, I’m ready for a break from him. “Hey Brady,” Justin said from behind the bonnet of a Commodore as I entered our workshop, “would you mind taking my paperwork up to Mags, I have my hands full here.” “Yeah, sure. Did you need a hand?” I asked. “Uh…” Justin popped his head around the bonnet, “Nah, I’m almost done. If I don’t get this paperwork up to her by three, she’ll have my balls hanging from my earlobes.” I let out a laugh, “The woman runs a tight ship alright.” “That she does,” Justin said with a smile and a roll of the eyes. I grabbed the clipboards that held paperwork and wandered to the office. I entered through the back door of November’s workshop to get to the office. His work bay was clear and he was sweeping the floor. Looking around his work area made me wonder what his home looked like. There is nothing out of place - it’s always clean and clear of any clutter, well for a mechanic’s work area anyway. Everything seems to have a place and everything in its place. “Brady!” My name was roared angrily. My head snapped toward the opening of the workshop. Paul was storming at me. Fuck me! “What do you want, Paul? I’m working.” I turned toward him. “I heard you were working here. What the fuck are you doing?” Paul huffed, then reached out for my arm. I pulled back surprised, “What the hell is your problem?” I spat angrily. Paul leaned in, his mouth practically foaming, “You can’t possibly want to work here with these fairies. The whole town will know and think you’re a fag too. They know we’re friends - they’ll think I’m one, how can you do this?” I studied Paul for a second - he had been drinking I could smell the booze on him. “If you mean gay, then that’s fine by me, I am.” I studied the arrogant prick for a quick moment. “You’re drunk, and you’re irrational. Go home and sleep it off,” I waved my hand dismissively, moving toward the office. Paul grabbed my arm angrily and twisted me around. I nearly fell to the ground. November stepped between me and Paul in a second flat. “LEAVE! NOW!” November firmly stated. “Ha! You fucking him?” Paul asked with a psychotic laugh. He stepped to the right so he could see me, “This your boyfriend now, letting him plow you up the ass?” SMACK! Paul stumbled backward after November punched him in the face, then stalked after him. Dropping the clipboards, moving quickly I put myself between Paul and November, my arms stretched between them. Paul’s eyes were on fire, “You’ll regret this, fucking fag,” he yelled while he held his jaw. “Don’t fucking call him that,” I said through gritted teeth. “Oh, that’s right you’re a fairy too,” Paul spat. “Fucking go, NOW!” I moved toward Paul, as he backed away. Paul spun on his heel going to his car screaming over his shoulder, “This ain’t over.” After I watched him get in his car and speed away, I took my phone out of my pocket and rang the cops to let them know Paul was driving under the influence. Turning around, November was glaring at me. “What the fuck was that about?” November shouted at me. “Don’t bring your fucking shit to my business. I’ve devoted my life to this business. I won’t let you fucking destroy it. Maybe you working here isn’t a good idea.” November then turned and walked away from me, I hurried after him, getting in his face. “November, firstly I don’t know why he was here,” I said panicked, “I haven’t spoken to him since the day after the reunion. Which by the way, I kicked him out. Paul is an asshole. Besides the reunion, I hadn’t spoken to him in twenty years. Not since I left school for university.” “Don’t fucking play me asshole…” Ember stepped around me to storm off. “I wouldn’t do that, when are you going to accept…” Ember spun around, pinning me to the workbench. His hand fisting my shirt against my chest powerfully holding me in place. I searched his face, his pupils were blown, signalling something, it was lust or maybe anger. I don’t know. Something stopped him, he hesitated while his eyes were drinking me in. Ember’s hand moved from my chest, wrapping around the back of my neck, he slid his thumb along my jawline. My heart was racing. I could feel my neck starting to flush, somehow, I just knew he wasn’t going to hurt me. In one swift movement, he lifted me onto the workbench, his lips crashed into mine. My legs lifted up and wrapped around his waist. As if by some external control. I pulled him towards me. I felt Ember’s groan vibrate through me, as I pushed my hardness into his. “Fuck!” Ember whispered. His hands came up my body and ending with a tight grip of my hair – it almost hurt - it was incredible. He held my head in place, biting my bottom lip, I relaxed a small amount, his tongue speared into my mouth, starting the deepest, most passionate, earth-shattering kiss I’ve ever had. We pulled apart breathless, panting like we had just run a marathon, staring at each other. I reached out wrapping my hands around the back of his neck pulling him back to me, plunging into his mouth. Our teeth clashed. If anything, it made it even hotter. Our tongues colliding, wrestling - it was almost like a dance. I could feel his heart pounding against my chest. I’m not going to last long if this continued. I heard a door slam, we finally broke apart. Ember backed away, not even looking to see who came through the door and disappeared out the back. I looked up to see Basher with a stunned look on his face. He frowned. Neither of us could look each other in the eye. I subconsciously brought my fingers up to my mouth. I could still feel Ember’s lips on mine. His smell lingered - it was intoxicating. Basher was looking between me and the door that Ember had just gone through.
  40. 100 points
    “Call me.” Those two simple words sent a chill down Adam’s spine. After staring at the open email, he glanced at the now empty bottle of whiskey. “I’m not drunk enough to call him yet.” Adam stood up and walked across the house. He tossed the empty bottle into the recycle bin. The sound of the glass bottles, as they clinked on each other, was deafening in the still silent air of the pantry. He walked over to the wine closet and took out a bottle of wine. Popping the cork and grabbing a wine glass, he let it breathe while he headed back to the library. “Call me.” Adam’s eyes caught the phrase as he sat back down. He stuck the Bluetooth receiver in his ear, synced it with his phone, and then dialed the number he hadn’t used for over fifteen years. He poured himself a glass of wine and took a sip while the phone rang. “Hello?” Tibot’s voice was warm. “You wanted me to call you, Tibot,” Adam said. He sipped the wine and adjusted the chair so he could lean back in it. “Adam. It’s good to hear your voice. I didn’t recognize the number at first with the 813 area code, and hadn’t realized you moved back to Tampa.” Adam sat with a pained expression on his face. He remembered the fight, fifteen years ago, like it was yesterday. “You would have, had you read the last email I sent you.” “I don’t want to fight with you, Adam. I… I want to talk.” Adam picked up the remorse in his brother’s voice. “Sorry. Please go on. I’m listening.” Adam’s anger dissipated. “Thank you.” Tibot paused as he cleared his throat. Adam assumed his brother was drinking, having heard ice ring in the glass. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for the past month, and even tried to call the number I have for you in Cambridge. It’s hard not being close to family, or having to contact people via email. Only Mom and Dad talk to me when I call. I’m in a twelve-step program, and I want to make amends.” “You burned a lot of bridges. Dad’s family won’t talk to us anymore, because of what you did to them, and Mom’s, well, they still talk to us, but you’re not mentioned.” Adam paused. He hadn’t wanted to turn this into a rehash, but here they were. “You hurt me. I could have forgiven you for the drug use. I could have forgiven the theft of money, my property, and my car. But then you bold-faced lied to our family, my friends, and to the authorities. Some things can never be forgiven, and that lie you told was one of them.” He paused again, calming down. “How long have you been sober?” “It’s been two years and six months. Not one drug or a drop of alcohol. I’m living in a halfway-house over here in Clearwater for recovering addicts, and they’re getting me the help I need.” “I applaud you for seeking help. I hope it works out for you…” The unspoken, ‘this time’ hung in the silence. However, the sincerity of Adam’s voice conveyed the honesty of his statement. "Well for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I did a lot wrong. Stealing from you and the family was bad, but it's the rest…." Adam waited in silence while Tibot paused. "Sorry, it's the rest I can't forgive myself for. I was mad at you refusing to help. I … wanted you to feel as shit as I did. So, I told them you raped me." Adam sat silently. He thought back to the incident some fifteen years ago. Tibot had gotten into drugs during high school, and when he turned eighteen, he squandered the inheritance he got on them. He was in and out of recovery programs for years, and Adam did everything he could for his brother. Even when Tibot alienated himself with their extended family, Adam stood by his brother. After Adam graduated from M.I.T. and was setting himself up in Boston, he let Tibot move in with him. For a year, little things went missing, and cash was taken out of his accounts. Then on a drug-fueled binge weekend, Tibot stole Adam’s car and ended up in a robbery. It was his first offense, so the DA went lenient with him, and suggested a pre-trial intervention program. However, Adam was done with Tibot. He refused to let him back into his apartment, and he was done paying for his rehab. Tibot was mad and hurt, so he accused Adam of raping him as a fourteen-year-old. Because the statute of limitations hadn’t expired, the State of Florida had to investigate the six-year-old accusation. If it hadn’t been for records supplied by Duncan’s family showing Adam was working on the day of the alleged rape, and staying over at their house for the duration of the summer, the case might have progressed further than it did. The fallout from Tibot’s years of drug use and the rape accusation splintered the family. Adam disowned his brother and refused to have any contact with him, except through email. “Are you still there, Adam?” “I am.” Adam let out a long sigh and downed the first glass of wine. He poured himself a second one. “I forgive you, Tibot, for everything but the lie. I can’t forgive that. Not right now.” “I understand. So, you have a son? Does that mean you’re not gay? Or are you bisexual?” “No, I’m gay. This happened on my twenty-first birthday. You remember I told you what Michelle did to me?” “I do. She basically raped you on your birthday.” “Well, it was questionable consent by today’s standards. I may have been drunk, but I said yes. She did take advantage of me, though. It turns out she ended up pregnant. When she left college voluntarily, she never mentioned to me she was carrying my child, nor did she get an abortion. If you remember, her family is Catholic. Fast forward to two-thousand and eighteen, and I get a call from Florida DCF, saying I have a son. Under Massachusetts law, because Robert was born out of wedlock, the father isn’t listed on the birth certificate. Michelle named me as the father in her will and confessed to what she did to me in it as well. I’m not sure if Rob has heard that part or not.” He paused taking a drink of the wine. “So, Florida’s DCF was contacted by Massachusetts’ DCF, to contact me about taking him after he went into foster care. This is because Michelle’s parents and sister refused to take him in. They signed away custody to the state when they learned he was gay.” “Why did they do that for?” “I don’t know fully, except that they’re homophobes.” “It’s a load of bullshit. You don’t turn away family for being gay. For all my faults, Adam, I’ve always loved you, even when you came out. I would love any gay family member we have.” “Thanks,” Adam said. He took another drink of the wine, finishing off the second glass, and pouring a third. “Truth-be-told, Tibot, I’ve never stopped loving you. I can’t deal with the lies, drugs, and everything else negative you brought to my life. I also have a son now to worry about.” “I know, and I understand.” Tibot took a drink of his own. “So is it permanent custody?” “Not yet. The case has been transferred to Florida and is in Family Court here. I have temporary custody of him, pending judicial review. But his maternal grandparents are fucking with the case. They did something to make Massachusetts delay sending him to Florida, and required me to get a paternity test. Now they are trying to make me pay sixteen years of back child support and half of the health insurance payments for Robert to a dead woman. ” “Well, I’m glad you got him, and I hope I can meet him someday.” “Someday,” Adam said. “Do you have any kids?” “No. One of my girlfriends did get pregnant, but she had an abortion. Would not have been my choice, but it was her body. She told me after the procedure. If there are any kids out there, I don’t know about them. I’m normally really good about using protection, and not just to keep my girl from getting pregnant.” “How did you end up in the shelter?” “Court ordered. I was busted dealing and did a couple of years before getting parole. That’s why I didn’t respond to your last few emails. Mom and Dad didn’t know either, before you ask.” The two brothers talked for another hour, catching up on significant events in each other’s lives. When Adam finally disconnected the call, he looked at the now-empty wine bottle. Feeling more than a little buzzed, he shut down the laptop and stumbled his way to bed. ~.~ Robert awoke from a nightmare. His heart raced, and he panted trying to catch his breath. As he calmed down, he sat up in bed against his headboard and drew his knees in. Tears started to slide down his cheeks, as the last visions of the terrible dream left him. What the hell was that? Why is this happening to me? I’m scared, but I know I shouldn’t be. Why am I feeling like I’m betraying Mom? If anything, she betrayed me. She’s the one who lied about my father. She’s the one who kept me from him. I wish… this didn’t have to happen. He checked the time on his phone: almost 7:30 am on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Instead of going back to sleep, Robert decided to stay up. He walked into his bathroom and started the shower to get the water warm. Robert stripped out of his boxers, tossed them into a laundry hamper, and looked at himself in the mirror. The bruises from his time in foster care had turned a lighter shade of black and blue. I should tell Adam the truth about what happened. He ran his hand over the stubble of a beard on his face. It was a patchy affair and grew slowly, but he felt he would need to shave it off soon. He stepped into the steamy hot shower and let the water wash away his worries. Taking the soap and washcloth, he lathered himself up. When he washed his manhood, it reacted to his touch, growing to its full length. How long has it been? I haven’t nutted a load since the group home before I was beaten by those two boys. The memory of the assault deflated him some, but the warm water and sensation of stroking himself got him back to hardness. Robert quickly stroked himself to a release, sending a torrent of semen across the shower. He used the handheld shower to rinse himself and the shower stall clean. ~.~ Adam woke up with a throbbing headache and a massive need to piss. He stumbled out of his bed and groaned all the way to the bathroom. After a quick trip through the shower, he stopped at what the builder called a morning bar - a simple wet bar with a built-in coffee maker, small microwave, sink, and mini-fridge - in his bedroom and grabbed a bottle of Pedialyte. Adam wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he liked to keep a few bottles around just for this type of occasion. A quick glance at the clock told him it was 8:15 am. He slid on a fresh set of boxer-briefs and track shorts and left the master retreat. He stopped briefly in the library to grab the empty wine bottle and glass from the night before, along with his phone. Adam sipped from the Pedialyte as he went. Smells like something’s burning. What is Rob up to? Adam made his way to the kitchen on the other side of the house. He rounded the small corner and stopped, looking at the state the kitchen was in. The center island had flour on it from where Robert had rolled out dough, which still sat there. Dirty bowls, measuring cups, and spoons littered several of the cabinets, some still containing ingredients. The aroma of brewing coffee was mixed with the smell of burnt beef. He had left the water running in the prep sink and stood in front of the stove---where he had just put out a small grease fire. “Fuck… Had to be a gas stove,” Robert said softly to himself. He was wearing his boxers and a t-shirt and was covered in flour. “Would you like some help?” Robert jumped and nearly dumped the skillet of hamburger meat all over the stove. “Shit… you scared me, Dad!” “Oops, sorry… I should have made more noise.” Adam placed the dirty wine glass in the main sink, turned the water off at the prep sink, and then tossed the wine bottle into the recycling. “Please, I could use some help. I never used gas before, and I think I burned stuff,” Robert said sheepishly. “Okay. Tell me what to do, and I’ll help. What were you trying to make?” “Biscuits and country gravy, but I didn’t find any sausage. So I was using the small packet of hamburger I found in the freezer. After I quick-thawed it in the microwave.” “Your grandma fixes it with hamburger too, and calls it ‘shit on a shingle’ when she uses toast instead of biscuits.” Robert told Adam how to finish the biscuits, while he salvaged the ground beef. As the biscuits baked in the oven, Adam cleaned the counters, did the dishes, and swept the floor while Robert finished the gravy. After the food was done, the two sat at the island bar and ate the meal. “This is good, Son. Where did you learn to make it?” “Home Economics back in school. It’s what I was taking this year as an elective. Plus, Mom and Granny had been teaching me.” Robert became sullen at the mention of his mother and grandmother. “I just never used gas before.” He looked down and away. “Sorry I made a mess.” “Don’t worry about it. Making a mess is half of the fun. Besides, we tagged-teamed it, and it’s almost all clean now. I mean it… this is perfect. You’re much better than me.” Adam gave him a smile and rubbed his back quickly. “If you want to keep learning, I know Duncan will teach you a few things. Don’t let him fool you, he’s an excellent chef, and has made some fantastic dinners for us and a few others. His soon-to-be-ex is out of her mind.” Robert smiled at the praise and glanced over at his dad. This was the second morning he’d seen his dad with just shorts on, but it was the first time he really looked at him. He was impressed with what he saw of his father. Unlike him, Adam didn’t have any tattoos. Damn, my dad is a gorgeous man. No wonder Mom wanted to be with him. “Thanks,” he said with a blush. “I’ll ask Duncan when he gets back.” The two men finished eating and cleaned the rest of the kitchen together. “I’m gonna hit the machines and do my Wednesday workout if you want to join.” Adam smiled and went to the exercise bike. He mounted it and fired up a program to work his legs and cardio. “Sure, Dad… just give me a moment to change, and I’ll hit the treadmill.” “Great. When you come back, can you bring a couple of towels, and that bottle of Pedialyte, please?” Robert nodded and went to change. He came back with the requested items, keeping one towel for himself, and hopped on the treadmill. “What’s the Pedialyte for Dad? Is it a good workout drink?” Adam chuckled. “Not sure about workouts, but it’s great for hangovers.” Adam paused to swallow some of the drink. “Had a call last night with my brother, your uncle, Tibot… and ended up going through a bottle of wine.” “Really? Why?” Adam paused in thought. “I’ll be honest with you Rob. He did something to me, years ago, that I haven’t forgiven him for, not yet anyway, and it’s caused me not to speak to him for fifteen years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tibot, but I still can’t be around him right now.” “It must have been nasty,” Robert said and went silent. If Dad can’t forgive his brother for something, then what does that mean for Mom and me? Does that mean I’ll never forgive her? Robert used the towel to wipe his face off, to hide the tears that had started. “It was… hurtful, and it got the Tampa Police and Florida Department of Law Enforcement involved in my life,” Adam paused and looked over to his son. Are his eyes red? “Tibot got addicted to heroin, cocaine, meth, and was in and out of rehab for years. It’s why I have zero-tolerance for drug use. After I graduated from college, I had him move in with me, up in Boston. He stole from me and then was arrested for a strong-arm robbery. The rest of our family was done with him before this, but I stayed with him… until this time. The jewelry he stole was my grandmother’s wedding ring, and some other stuff I got from her, and he pawned it for drugs. I never got it back." Adam paused, remembering the painful experience again. “I had stood by him for years, but now I was done. I refused to help him, so he told the District Attorney I raped him when he was fourteen. Since he was twenty at the time, and the statutes of limitations had not expired here in Florida, they opened a case against me. But I was working with Duncan and his family and stayed over there during that summer, so I had an alibi. Charges were dropped, and it was deleted from my records. After that, I only had contact with him via email. We’ve talked a couple of times, and saw each other on a holiday when I came home from Boston once, but never really talked. Well, until last night. We were on the phone for over an hour, and I drained a bottle of wine.” Robert was silent, listening to his father. He shook his head some and looked off. “Perhaps this is something you can discuss with the therapist… like why I’m starting to feel like Mom betrayed me… I love her, but I’m starting to hate her for keeping us apart.” There was no denying or hiding the tears now. They streaked Robert’s cheeks as he ran on the treadmill. “I… I really don’t know how to feel about that.” Adam was torn. He slowed down and stopped pedaling while watching his son for clues. He wanted to hold Robert, but at the same time he wanted to wait and see how it played out. “Don’t blame Michelle. She was doing what she felt was right. If I had to guess, she didn’t want her parents to know I was your father.” “It doesn’t excuse it…,” Robert said. He ran faster. It looked like he was trying to run away from his problems. “There’s more, Dad… you… you saw the bruises. I got them at the group home. Word got out I was gay, and two of the boys cornered me in the shower. They beat me with wet towels that had bars of soap in them…” Adam was stunned. Fury like he had never known boiled in him. He slid off the exercise bike and stepped over to his son. Adam pressed the stop button on the treadmill and extended a hand to Robert who took it. Adam pulled the two of them into a sweaty embrace, as he held his son close to his chest. “I’m sorry that happened to you. Did… did you report it?” “I did. I don’t think anything happened, as all they did was take an incident report. I didn’t speak with police or anything. But they moved me to a single temp home before I came here. I… I took a copy of the report. I had a bad feeling, and made a copy of it.” Adam didn’t want to let go. He held onto his son and tried to lend him his strength and love through the embrace. “We’ll get this sorted out. I’m glad you took a copy of the report.” He kissed the top of his son’s head. “I love you, Robert, and I’m going to make this right.” “Thanks, Dad.” Adam’s phone rang, and he excused himself to take the call. It turned out to be the family therapist confirming they had an opening for Friday morning. He accepted the appointment and went to the library. He sat down at the desk and started his laptop. With reminders set for the therapist appointments, he looked at the rest of his to-do list for the day. ~.~ “There was nothing about an assault in the file they sent us,” Sylvia said. “But if he got a copy of the incident form, then we can use that.” “What can we do about this? Is it too late? Am I going to have to file a lawsuit?” Adam asked. He’d called Sylvia, immediately after scheduling the appointment, to make arrangements for the Friday visit with her. “I’m really not sure. My advice is to call the Boston Police Department and file a report, and have your lawyer file a motion with the judge. I would start a negligence lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts.” Sylvia paused a moment. “I’ll see what we can do from here. But get me a copy of that incident report, and anything else Robert has copies of. … I’m sorry this happened, Adam. It’s sad, but it’s common that gay youth are targeted for assault in the system. Most often it’s sexual assault.” “Oh, my God… he didn’t say if he was or not… just physically beaten,” Adam let out a long sigh, and held his head in his left hand, while his right held his phone. “How do I ask if he was?” “Ask him directly, and go from there. Don’t put words in his mouth, or suggest that he was. If he wasn’t, thank God. If he was, it’s too late to do any sexual assault kit, but add it to the report.” “Thank you, Sylvia.” “Good luck.” ~.~ Adam knocked on Robert’s bedroom door about an hour later, after getting off the phone with his cousin, Carol Smith, the family court lawyer. “Hey Robert, are you decent?” “Um, give me a moment Dad,” Robert’s reply was nearly a squeak. “Alright, son.” Adam chuckled, shaking his head. Oh, to be a teenager again. “Alright, come in.” Adam opened the door and stepped inside. There was a little bit of steam coming out of the bathroom, and Robert had wet hair and a towel around his waist. “Hey… sorry. I didn’t think you were in the shower. I can come back after you’re dressed.” “Yeah, I finished running while you were on the phone. You don’t have to leave. What’s up?” “I was going to ask for the incident report, and any other paperwork you might have gotten. Sylvia needs it, and Carol, our cousin and the lawyer for our custody case, does too.” Robert nodded and went over to his backpack. Adam watched as his son moved across the room, and felt a pang of guilt and hurt. I missed so much with him. His first word, first step, first day at school… Fuck, I even lost the experience of being there for his first love. I’m here now, and I’m not going to leave him. “Here you go, Dad.” Robert handed him the file folder. “That’s the incident report and other things that were in the file. Emma, the admin assistant, copied the whole thing. Anything else?” “Yeah… one last thing Rob.” Adam held the file in his hand and sat down in the desk chair. “Have a seat.” “I’d rather stand. I don’t have underwear on…” His voice trailed off. “Ah… okay.” Adam cleared his throat. “I have one question, which Sylvia asked me. When you were beaten by those boys… did they sexually assault you?” “Oh, God no…” Robert sucked in air. He sat down, not caring about modesty now. “It wasn’t the only time either. They tried earlier that day, one did at least, and I kicked his ass. But that night, in the group shower, he and his friend cornered me… They weren’t supposed… to be in there, and I was already being transferred because of the earlier fight… One of the male social workers happened to check the showers… and they bolted out the side door. It’s… it’s all in the report.” He rubbed his face several times and hugged himself at the end. As Adam listened, he felt his fury from earlier return. He grumbled to himself, which solicited a look from Robert. “Sorry son. It just pisses me the fuck off that it happened to you. If your grandparents hadn’t interfered, you would have been here sooner.” “They… they interfered with the custody case?” Adam nodded, and let out a long calming breath. “Yeah, they did. It’s the reason we had to do a paternity test, and why the state of Massachusetts is now seeking sixteen years of back child support, and medical insurance payments.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…” “You have nothing to be sorry about, Rob.” Adam sighed again. “You didn’t harden their hearts. They did that to themselves.” The pair grew silent and looked down, each uncomfortable for his own reasons. Robert stood quickly, pulling his towel around, and tucking it more securely. Adam rose also. “Well, I think I will let you tend to things… and I’ll get this to Carol and Sylvia.” He held up the folder as he left the room and returned to the library. ~.~ The day passed with the two men busy running all over town. More calls to Sylvia, Carol, the Boston Police Department, and looking for a lawyer to handle the lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts. Copies of the file were delivered to the appropriate offices, and certified copies were sent to Boston PD. A late lunch and a return trip home rounded out their day together. Adam’s business partner called, and they discussed plans to meet up Thursday to talk about the project. ~.~ Adam and Robert sat on the family room couches and chilled after a hectic day. Robert lay stretched out on his couch, on his side, with his eyes closed. I hate today. So many things I didn’t want to talk about. He glanced up at his dad, who sat across from him flipping through the stations, looking for some program to watch. I don’t think I could have asked for a better father. He’s placed his life on hold for me, and we’ve only been together for three days now. I heard the worry in his voice when he talked about the properties earlier. I hope Dad can figure it out. Adam was preoccupied. Shit. Fourteen billion channels and I can’t find anything on. He glanced over at his son on the other couch. With his eyes closed, he seemed to be sleeping. He’s such a good kid. He’s handling this a thousand times better than I ever would. For his sake, I hope all of this gets done soon, so he can put it all behind himself and move on. He finally settled on NHL Network and watched the On the Fly updates. Who would have thought I would have a son that loved hockey as much as I do. Too bad it’s the Bruins. I guess I can add on the NHL Center Ice package for him so that he can watch their games. Okay, more stuff to make a note of. So, I’ve got to meet Jace tomorrow about the restaurant and brewery project. I don’t know what to do now. I could go silent partner on that, or pull out altogether… will need to talk to Jace about this tomorrow. If all else fails, I can find some other business to get into. I have a son now, and I… need to think about that tomorrow. Adam stretched out on his couch and looked over at Robert who snored a little. He has the right idea. It wasn’t long before both men were napping on the couches.
  41. 100 points
    Chapter 2 Michael couldn't move. He'd heard everything Kendall had said, and saw him leave, but it felt like he was listening and watching from a distance. Wrapping his mind around what had just happened was an excruciating process as the pain he was feeling slowed it, almost to a standstill. Kendall loved him, really loved him. and that confession was slowly seeping in. To hear the words was one thing, but the feelings that came with that revelation were quite another. What did he feel? There was something there he couldn't identify. He wasn't sure, but it was almost a good feeling. Yet, this wasn't something to feel good about. It ruined everything. Didn't it? Kendall thought Michael was angry... he'd said so. Was he pissed off at Kendall? No, he was pretty sure he wasn't. Thinking about him didn't bring him any anger. Yet, the more he thought about it, the more he could feel a rage building. Oh God, he was angry. Like a bolt of lightning, it hit him hard. He was so fucking angry. He wanted, no, he needed to hit something. As the anguish grew in him, he thought he might break apart from the strength of it. How could this be happening? How could he lose the one person in this world who he truly connected with? It wasn't just their mutual love of sports... the same interests and long history. It was something a lot more than that, like they shared something deep... something no one else could touch. He was losing his friend because he couldn't love him back? How fucking unfair was that? He did love him, and he needed him. He didn't know about others' friendships, but for him, it felt like Kendall was his other half... his best half. Tears of pain were morphing into tears of fury, and he had to get out of here. A surge of energy went through him that couldn't be ignored. He bolted out of the booth to run smack into Candy. Oh fuck... Candy. "Not now, Candy," he choked out, not giving a shit how he looked to her. "Baby, what's going on? What's the matter? Jesus, look at you... are you crying?" Her look of concern changed to one of calculation. "Where did your boyfriend go?" She appeared to find her own words amusing, and Michael's rage escalated. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to wipe the smirk off her face. "I said not now." It came out as a growl as he wiped his eyes and glared at her. Watching this young woman paste a fake concerned look back on her face, Michael wondered what he'd ever seen in her. He could see clearly that under the mask Candy had slipped on, she was actually enjoying this. "Why are you being such a bitch? Kendall's not my boyfriend, but he is my best friend, so watch your mouth." The lack of truth in that statement hit him intensely, feeding his rage. According to Kendall, he had no best friend anymore. "Oh, come on, Michael," she whined as she put her hand on his arm. He experienced revulsion at her touch, but controlled the urge to yank his arm away. "You can't tell me you don't notice the way Kendall stares at you. If you ask me, I think he's a fag, and he wants your ass." She was stupid enough to giggle. The urge was back and this time he followed through, jerking his arm back and away from her. The anger he directed towards her at that comment was unmistakable, even to an idiot like Candy. "Nobody asked you, and no one, and I mean no one, gives a shit what you think." He had to force himself to remember he was talking to a woman. If it had been a guy, he would have been on the floor by now. Surprisingly, his turmoil receded enough to allow him to deal with this, as the man his parents raised took over. He looked around the pool hall end of the bar until he spotted the person he was seeking. "Hey, Dave, can you come over here for a sec?" The short man nodded, and ambled over towards the two of them. Glancing at Candy, Michael saw the confused look on her face. He then looked over at Dave, who was obviously trying to be nonchalant as he assessed the situation. It wasn't difficult to tell something was very wrong here. He was sure he appeared on the edge of violence, but attempted to cover it as he addressed his friend. "Dave, something's come up and I need someone to take Candy home... any chance you could do that for me?" As expected, he watched Candy go from confused to livid as she realized she was being pawned off. It was time to try a new tactic, so she made a wasted attempt at damage control. Flicking her pretty blond hair and giving him what she thought was a captivating smile, she reached up to touch his cheek. The revulsion he'd felt was still there, and he stepped back from the gesture. Her inclination to be self absorbed prevented her from getting the message. "I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean it like that. I was just joking with you. Let's just go out like we planned, and have some fun, or we can just go back to your place and have a different kind of fun." Michael wanted to puke as he watched her try to give him her most provocative look. As she ran her fingers along the edge of the lacy fabric only partially concealing her cleavage, she whispered seductively, "You know you want to." Biting her lower lip and peering up at him through lowered lashes, she had no inkling how pathetic Michael was finding her. "Actually, I don't. As a matter of fact, it's the last thing I want to do right now. You did mean what you said, and I realize now you and I are a mistake, and I don't want to be around you anymore." His words caused Candy's jaw to drop, but he didn't give a shit. "So, Dave, if you could do this for me, I would really appreciate it... the lady," he hesitated before he continued. "The lady needs a ride home." Dave, looking mortified, nodded in somewhat reluctant agreement and Michael started heading for the front door. He knew it was coming, and the bitch didn't disappoint. "Michael," she wailed. "Why are you being like this? I'm sorry. Please take me with you. I... I love you, Michael." It was the second time someone had said those words to him tonight, and the difference was startling. He turned around at the door to look at her, fake tears streaming down her face, ruining her perfectly made up face. She even managed to pout while pretending to cry. He wondered for a split second why he had never seen her face without makeup, even in the mornings. "I'm sorry too, Candy, and no, you don't love me... I know what someone in love looks like, and it doesn't look like that." Going out the door, he heard the real Candy. "Go ahead. Run after your faggot boyfriend, you fucking prick. You're a bastard, Michael Aceto." The door closed to block out the rest of her words and for a second he felt bad. Not for her, but for what he'd done to Dave. The relief he experienced at getting out of there was short-lived, however, as waves of despair washed over him. Kendall walking away from him was all his mind could focus on as he let the sorrow wash back over him, the momentary respite from tears having ended. He searched for the rage that had encompassed him to the point of frightening him, but it had dissipated for the time being. Candy, while leaving a vile taste in his mouth, had proved to be good for something. Dealing with her had allowed him to become a little more aware, and somewhat more able to process his new reality. As much as he didn't want to accept it, he knew he had to. The picture of the man spilling his heart out, wreathed in agony, superimposed itself over everything else in the forefront of his brain. That was what mattered most to Michael as some clarity asserted itself. Actually, it was the only thing that mattered. Kendall needed this from him. His feeling of loss was secondary to what he'd witnessed his friend go through. The sheer guts it must have taken started to make him feel ashamed about wallowing in what he was losing. As Kendall had said to him earlier... it was his loss too. He should have said something . Why didn't he tell his friend he understood, and wasn't pissed at all. He should have gone after him. Oh, God... he let him leave like that. He'd let Kendall drive away thinking he didn't want to talk to him. Shit, shit, shit. He hadn't even said goodbye. Hoping the distraught man had made it home okay, Michael reached into his pocket for his phone. All ready to call him to make sure, he stared at the lit up screen showing the photo of the two of them at the Vancouver Olympics, all smiles over the hockey Gold Medal win. It was his favorite picture of them out of probably a thousand taken over the last six years. The memory of such a happy day was tempered now by the fact he couldn't make the intended call. Kendall needed him to keep his distance. Dropping the phone down beside him in defeat, he started up his truck and pulled out. There was almost no traffic tonight, which suited his mood to a tee. Lost in a numbness that blunted thought, Michael tried to concentrate on the road ahead of him. It was no easy task as his mind kept wandering. If it wasn't for his police training, distracted as he was, he might not have even noticed the vehicle pulled over to the side, just ahead. He slowed, and as it came into closer view, Michael's heart thumped with the realization he was looking at Kendall's black Ford F150. All the clouds lifted from his mind as sharp trepidation took over. Fearing for Kendall's safety, he pulled over, right up behind his truck. Nothing looked amiss, but he could see his friend's head slumped over the steering wheel, and fear crawled up his stomach to his throat. He barely remembered to check for traffic as he swung open his door and jumped out. All he could think of was, 'please, God, let him be okay.' He was relieved see that blond head head lift slightly as he made his way along the side of the truck, stepping in what he immediately recognized as vomit. Knocking gently on the window, Kendall's head slowly swiveled towards him, but there was no sign of recognition as Michael took in the swollen eyes, and wet and dry tear streaks. Opening the door, he searched the face he knew better than his own for clues as to what was going on. He was shocked at how vulnerable and sad this normally vital man looked. He appeared nothing like the man he'd always been in awe of... the one who belonged on the covers of health and fitness magazines. "Are you okay, Deuce? Are you sick?" Kendall seemed to come alive as he looked at Michael, and then down at the vomit at his feet. "You shouldn't be here, Ace. I'm okay... I was just sick to my stomach but I'm fine now, so don't worry. You can go, and I'll leave in a couple of minutes. I just need to rest for a bit." Kendall turned his head away, staring straight ahead. Michael struggled to understand him. His voice sounded so hoarse and raspy, it made it difficult to decipher his words. It didn't take much to figure out he'd cried hard enough to lose much of his voice. His hands were gripping the steering wheel so tight it made all the veins in his hands stand out. Without that support, he looked like he might collapse. "What the fuck, man, are you dismissing me? Don't be such an idiot. You are not all right, so stop bullshitting me. I'm not either, but I will be... and so will you. I am not leaving you like this." He waited for Kendall's reaction but there was none. Kendall put his head down for a minute as if to hide. When he looked back up, he still showed a vulnerability, but there was also determination there. That determination was something Michael had seen many times, and no matter what it meant, it was good to see it back. "We need to talk anyway." Michael could be just as determined. "Wait here. I'll be right back." He hurried back to his Chev, grabbed a bottle of water from the floor of the rear seat, and ran back. Kendall's head was back to resting on the steering wheel. Michael spoke gently. "Here, drink this." He handed him the water. "Just sips. You don't want to throw up again." The water seemed to help, and a more direct Kendall turned to look him in the eye. He returned the look before taking the water back from him. "We've already talked, Ace. There isn't anything more to say so can we just leave it alone? Can you just leave me alone? Please? It's not up to you to take care of me. I can do that myself." His gaze was not exactly steady. Michael could feel anger rising up, and struggled to keep a lid on it. He looked straight into Kendall's tortured, red-rimmed eyes, about to blast him, but that anger just up and disappeared. "Listen to me. You talked and I heard everything, and I understand... but there is stuff I didn't say, because I was an idiot and couldn't get anything to come out of my mouth. Don't worry. I promise I will respect your wishes, but not right now. I'm taking you home because you can't drive like this. I know you can take care of yourself... but you don't need to, okay?" Kendall whipped his head back towards him and started to object, but Michael stared him down. "Do you really want to challenge an officer of the law on this?" It felt good, just for a second, to play that trump card again. Normally, Kendall would have smirked, but this time he just sighed. Michael knew then he was resigned to his fate, and he felt relief there wasn't a battle to be fought. He certainly didn't feel up to one after seeing his friend like this. "My truck. What about my truck?" Kendall's concern was typical. He loved his 'Black Beauty' and Michael was pleased to see a normal reaction from the man he still thought of as his best friend. "Don't worry about your little toy. I'll call Dispatch and ask them to get someone to pick it up and take it to 51 Division. They'll do that for me, no problem. You can get Beauty in the morning. Is that all right? Deuce... is that okay?" Kendall seemed deflated again and it made Michael worry. Finally, he nodded to indicate his agreement. "Okay, let's go then. Do you need anything from your truck?" All Michael got was a head shake, so he reached in and removed the keys from the ignition, putting them on the roof of the cab after detaching them from the others, for whoever came for the truck. He handed Kendall the remaining ones, but the man just sat there. Michael gave his shoulder a little shake to get him moving, earning him a valiant effort at a small smile. After getting out of the truck, he stood looking at Michael, obviously getting ready to say something. Michael motioned them away from the messy pavement. "Let's wipe our feet on the grass before we get in my truck. I don't care if that piece of shit Ford smells, but my Chev deserves better." It was good to see a glimmer of the old grin appear on Kendall's face, and for a few seconds, he could pretend that their friendship wasn't ending. "Listen, Ace, I appreciate what you are trying to do here... for me." The croaking sound of his voice was hard to listen to. Michael handed him the water he was holding, and he took a couple of big gulps. After a few deep breaths, he tried again. "I know you must be pissed at me...," he trailed off as Michael held up his hand for him to stop. "Just get in the truck, please. No more talking for a while. Your voice sounds like shit. I'll get you some lozenges, but let's get one thing clear, okay? I am not the least bit pissed off at you. I might be angry because sometimes the world just sucks, but I am not angry at you. So, let's get you something for your throat and get you home, and we will talk then, all right?" Kendall looked skeptical, but nodded as he got in the truck, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. Michael called Dispatch about the need for a pick up, letting them know where it was, and where he'd left the keys. The drive to Kendall's apartment was quiet. He didn't stir when he stopped for lozenges, but Michael knew he wasn't sleeping. He pulled up in front of the ground floor unit and turned off the vehicle. Looking over, he was met by those turquoise eyes staring back. "Is it okay to come in... or do you just want me to leave?" Now that they were here, he felt really nervous, wondering if he was welcome anymore. Up until yesterday he practically lived here, but things were different now. Yup, he was back on the roller coaster and it felt plain awful. "If you rather I just left, it's okay... I don't want to make you uncomfortable." He couldn't help swallowing a few times when all moisture deserted his mouth. "Are you uncomfortable being here, knowing how I feel about you?" Kendall croaked out the question, revealing his own uncertainty. Michael looked over, the query catching him completely off guard, but Kendall was now looking away, out the side window, as if he dreaded the answer. He surprised himself when he realized he didn't have to think about the answer. "No, Deuce, knowing how you feel doesn't make me uncomfortable, not in the slightest." The man's head swung back, and Michael watched while Kendall searched his face. All there was to see was the truth and certainty he felt. He held out his hand and offered Kendall a lozenge, pleased to see it offered instant relief. "Come on, let's go in. You wanted to talk and I want to hear what you have to say." Walking the short distance to his apartment, Kendall unlocked the door, and left it open for him to follow just like always... only now it felt very different, knowing this was probably his last visit to his second home. Unbidden, tears welled up, but he willed them away almost immediately. Still, It was obvious Kendall had noticed. Emotion started to fill the living room where they had both taken their usual seats. "God, I am so tired, Ace, but I need to know something." "Okay. What do you want to know?" "Why doesn't it make you uncomfortable, the way I feel, I mean?" "I know what you meant, and the answer is, I don't know, it just doesn't. Sometimes it seems like we're the same person." He hesitated... wanting to get it right. "I mean, it's like you know everything about me and I know everything about you. At least now I do." That was said with a smile that was answered by one from Kendall. The tension in the room seemed to lighten a little after that. "It may sound strange to you because it does to me, but I almost feel honored a person like you could love someone like me." Kendall's eyebrows rose briefly, before frowning, as if he was trying to figure out what he'd meant. Michael tried again to explain what he really didn't understand himself. "Candy told me tonight that she loved me." Kendall's eyebrows rose again, but he didn't say anything. "Her saying those words made me think of you saying them, and I realized I'd rather hear them from you than from her. Her saying it was a game, and complete bullshit. When you said it, it wasn't... a game, I mean. It was real, and in a way, it made me feel good, you saying you loved me. Fuck, that sounded stupid and cruel, didn't it? And selfish. Shit." He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. "That's... that's not how I meant it to sound. I am not making light of your feelings. You asked me a question and I thought I could explain it, but I fucked it up." He lowered his head, feeling truly disgusted with himself. "Slow down, Ace. Relax. You didn't fuck it up at all. I actually kind of understood what you were saying. I know you care about me and respect my feelings, and I know you would never toy with them. It's a better answer than I expected from... a person like you." It was Michael's turn to raise his eyebrows as Kendall threw that phrase back at him. "Well, you're always such a word butcher. Eloquence is not your strong suit." The indignant look Michael put on his face had the desired effect, because Kendall burst out laughing. Seeing that broad beautiful smile, despite the ordeal they were going through, made Michael realize just how important it, and that face, were to him. The love he felt for the man in that moment was pretty strong. Kendall wasn't just a part of his life. He was most of it. Again, the thought of him not being in it was pretty sobering, and a pall was cast on the room once again. "You know that laugh of yours sounds more like geese honking than anything else." Michael wanted that lighter mood back. "Maybe you should drink some more water. He got up and went to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of Perrier for Kendall, and, on second thought, got one for himself. "Here you go... maybe the bubbles will help your throat." Kendall thanked him, making eye contact, and Michael felt that connection again... the one that had clicked into place the first time they'd met. "So what did you want to say to me?" Kendall's question was tinged with something that could have been fear... maybe even returning anguish. "Oh." Michael was guilty of zoning out for a bit as he struggled to gather his thoughts, while Kendall sat quietly and waited. "Okay, well, first I want to apologize for the way I acted at Sticks." He was looking straight at his friend. "I was an insensitive jerk to be thinking about how this affected me, and not you. Fuck, man, I tried but I couldn't get my brain to work, and I am so sorry. I should have said something when you were talking to me. I heard everything you said, and I just sat there thinking poor me after you laid yourself wide open, and I feel ashamed of myself for that." He had to hesitate for a moment in order to get a grip on his shame. "I let you down at the worst possible time. I should have seen what you were going through all these years, and I didn't. I don't feel like I was a very good friend to you." Kendall's eyes began to glisten, but he didn't look away as Michael continued. "I let you walk out of there thinking I was pissed off because I couldn't snap out of my own misery and be there for you. I was an asshole, man, a real dipshit asshole. I really need you to forgive me, Deuce. I promise you I will respect your wishes because I want you to be happy. I didn't know how miserable you were, and I should have seen it." A choking sound escaped before he resumed speaking. "So, I'm asking you to forgive me? Can you do that?" Those last words came out as little more than a whisper... one more plea for an evening filled with them. Kendall slowly stood, and took a step forward. Blue eyes locked with blue eyes as he quietly uttered, "Come here." Michael stood and Kendall held his arms open. He walked into the slightly taller man's arms and they hugged each other tightly. He was acutely aware this was a goodbye hug. They held on for a couple of minutes, and Michael pulled in his friend's scent as their heads leaned against one another. The only words uttered were said into Michael's ear. "There is nothing to forgive, Ace." A minute later, Michael silently walked out of the apartment, pulling the door closed behind him. He walked slowly to his beloved Chevy, got in and drove away, taking one last look at his once best friend. Kendall was watching him from the other side of the living room window.
  42. 99 points
    KIERAN ~ TURNING LEFT Skipping his studies on the Friday of their flight to Singapore, Kieran’s whole body buzzed with a combination of excitement and trepidation. Cole had arranged for him to shower at his place after finishing packing away the last of his own personal things in the large case; wash bag, beach towel, swimming shorts, sunblock, a huge bottle of aftersun, and a couple of different factor suntan lotions. Except that, while packing, something unfamiliar inside caught his eye. “What the hell’s this?” he asked, holding up a small zipped up pouch. “A holiday gift. From me to you. Emergency kit, of sorts,” said Cole, leaning against the door jamb and grinning mischievously. Despite Cole’s earlier warning, Kieran’s gay-for-pay temp job had been an endless source of amusement, and he had become Kieran’s co-conspirator and confidante. On Cole’s advice, he had told Jules the absolute minimum about the short-term contract, told her he would be an assistant to a CEO, travelling abroad, nothing more. Even storing the huge new suitcase full of holiday items at Cole’s place had been his friend’s brainwave. Had he brought the colossal thing back to the apartment, there was no way Jules wouldn’t have been curious, would probably have sneaked a peek inside when he wasn’t around. Intrigued, Kieran unzipped Cole’s gift and pulled out two packs of condoms and a tube of lube. Tilting his head to one side he raised both eyebrows at Cole. “Seriously? I hope you kept the receipt. You’re more likely to use these than me,” said Kieran, zipping the bag closed. “In fact, why don’t you keep them?” “Do your uncle Cole a favour and take them. You never know, you might get lucky.” Once he had dried his curly locks and dressed in the new black track suit and trainers Kennedy had provided—something casual for the long haul flight—he collected his case and backpack from Cole’s bedroom. In his life, he had flown less than a handful of times and then only within Europe, but remembered how cramped the seats could be, especially with his long legs, his knees usually crushed against the seat in front. Apart from the track suit, the other clothes he and Kennedy had shopped for two weeks ago already sat packed inside the case. Far too many really, but Kennedy had insisted, telling him they would be away for twenty-eight nights and he didn’t want to rely on the cruise ship laundry service. Kieran had washed and ironed the items at Cole’s, and packed them away immediately despite Cole urging him to give a couple of the CK tees or Armani shirts a test run. The only item of clothing he had baulked at was the black dress suit ensemble which included wing tip shirt, bow tie, burgundy cummerbund, and shiny patent leather shoes. Still unsure about wearing anything so formal, he had tried none of those items on in the hope that he wouldn’t actually need to showcase them when the time came. But Kennedy had insisted on the last minute purchase. Every cruise offered a formal evening at the captain’s pleasure, he had told him, and no companion of his would look out of place. He had even thrown in the huge new designer suitcase on wheels to pack everything in. After getting a text message from Kennedy, he gave Cole a hug and peck on the cheek, before heading out to the road. On the pavement outside the tenement block opposite Wandsworth Common, he stood waiting, more than a little anxious, wondering if he had done the right thing. But the Saturday they had spent together had been surprisingly pleasant. At one point, laden down with shopping bags, Kennedy had asked him if he was enjoying his Pretty Woman experience. When Kieran looked blank, Kennedy rolled his eyes and told him he really needed to brush up on gay trivia if he hoped to survive a gay cruise. That had prompted a diversion, a trip to the movie section of one of the few surviving HMV stores, and the purchase of a dozen or so DVDs which Kennedy had called compulsory viewing. Kieran half suspected that Kennedy road tested the day to see if they would be able to get along, whether they could spend time together without getting on each other’s nerves. He had booked their medical tests at a private clinic on Carnaby Street first thing so they could shop nonstop throughout the day, have lunch in a humble Italian restaurant at the back of Piccadilly, before finishing off shopping and heading back for their test results. Both had a clean bill of health, and Kennedy had dropped him off by taxi on his own way home later that afternoon. Since then they had barely been in contact and then only by text message. Ten minutes later than their agreed meeting time, he began to get concerned, wondering if he had misunderstood any of the instructions. Until Kennedy sent him a message saying he was on his way. Twenty minutes later, distracted by messages on his phone, he barely noticed as a black Bentley pulled up at the kerb, and a driver, complete with black uniform and chauffeur’s cap, stepped out. “Mr West? Let me take your bags for you, sir,” said the tall man, opening the back door and gesturing inside. “Mr Grey’s waiting for you.” Unsure how to respond, and looking around quickly to see if anyone had seen the spectacle, Kieran slipped into the back seat. Kennedy sat there in his business suit, phone clamped to his ear. Almost dismissively, he turned and nodded to Kieran while continuing to talk to someone. As they drove off, Kieran listened in on some of the conversation. “—if you could be in Okinawa on the twenty-first? We dock there overnight in Naha. Perfect. Let me know where? I’d suggest one of those small bars tucked away down the back streets. Anonymous and quiet enough to chat. Bring along whatever you have ready. Also, find out everything you can about Giorgio Milletto of Cold Steel Security, doesn’t matter how personal or insignificant. Send everything to my private account, yes? And what’s that talented techie guy’s name who works for you? Hiro, yes. Bring him with you to Okinawa. Take business class, if you have to, and bill me privately. Okay Tim. See you soon.” Once he had ended the call and slipped the device away, he turned to Kieran. “We’re running late. Been trying to clear up a few issues before the flight.” “Is this an Uber?” “Hardly,” snorted Kennedy. Without clarifying more, Kennedy pressed a button on the centre console and a disconnected voice sounded. “Yes, Mr Grey?” “Just a guesstimate will do, but how long to Heathrow?” “I’m checking the traffic cams and route master. Rough estimate, an hour and ten.” “Thanks.” Without another word, Kennedy thumbed through his phone and dialled a number. “Gina? Hello, this is Kennedy Grey from Grey—yes, the same. Look, I wonder if you might be able to help. We’re on our way to the airport, flying to Singapore tonight at 8:50pm, but we’re running late and the traffic is—well you know what Friday night traffic is like. According to the driver, we’ll probably be at the terminal around eight fifteen. Anyway, I wondered if there was anything you could do to help get us through? Sorry, say that again. Yes, we both have luggage, but I’ve already checked us in online. It’s really just bag drop and security. Two persons. Yes, of course. I see. Excellent. That would be perfect, thank you so much for your help.” Once again, Kennedy pressed the comms button on the console. “Ben, when you reach terminal two, look out for someone who’ll be waiting with an airport buggy.” “Roger that, Mr Grey.” Smooth. Efficient. Polite. No fuss. Not afraid to call in a favour. Kennedy Grey, the man. Kieran smirked out of the tinted window, wondering if this man could even request the plane to be delayed. They arrived at Heathrow airport late, with thirty minutes to spare. Outside the departure terminal, the driver—Ben—found the small enclosed airport buggy and loaded their bags. After a few private words, Ben the chauffeur headed off. When the buggy driver began to take them into the underbelly of the terminal, Kieran realised the route must be there for dignitaries or celebrities. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Kennedy Grey could pull strings. Apart from both of them being scanned at an internal security post, they did not step off the buggy until the boarding gate. By the time they reached the impossibly large plane—via a stairway to the upper deck—all other passengers had already boarded. Once again, Kennedy led the way and Kieran hurried to keep up. He marvelled at the sheer size of the plane’s body, had only ever flown small jet planes around Europe. As they stood at the cabin door, Kieran once again witnessed the Grey charm, as he smiled professionally and chatted with the cabin attendant. When she personally accompanied them to their seats, turning left towards the front of the plane, Kieran did his best not to gasp when they stopped at two huge luxurious seats. “Business class?” he asked, as Kennedy settled into the seat next to his. “Naturally. What? You think I’d ever turn right on a plane?” “Not for you, no, but I thought maybe—” “You thought I’d stick you in the back? No, not my style. And we’ve got background work to do before we reach Singapore. Get you up to speed not only about my family, but also about my friends.” Kieran had just placed his bag in the overhead compartment and taken the huge comfortable chair, when a male voice sounded from the aisle beside him. “Something to drink, Mr West, Mr Grey? Champagne?” With a friendly smile, the handsome cabin attendant indicated the tray of drinks he held. Kieran turned concerned to Kennedy, and shook his head slightly. In turn, Kennedy raised a critical eyebrow at Kieran before plastering on his executive smile and addressing the cabin crew member. “We’ll take two champagnes, please. One each.” After placing them carefully down in front of each of them, the man picked something else up from his tray. “And here are your landing cards and menus,” he said, placing them next to the drinks, before straightening up. “My name’s Eric, by the way, and if there’s anything you need throughout the flight, just call me.” When Kieran peered up, he noticed Eric had singled Kennedy out with his dazzling smile. Kennedy simply nodded professionally in return. Mildly embarrassed, Kieran remained quiet, pretending to study the menu. “I’m not sure what type of airlines you’re used to,” said Kennedy, leaning a fraction across the divider, his voice lowered. “But on this one, food and drink are included in the ticket price. And up here, the food’s generally well above average. So relax and enjoy yourself, and more importantly, order anything you want. After we’ve finished our work, you might want to check out the entertainment system. Or if you’re feeling tired, you could ask them to help make up your bed.” “Bed?” “Your chair doubles as a flat bed. The controls are on the armrest.” Kieran’s cheek reddened. Less than five minutes on the plane and already he felt out of his depth. “Don’t worry, Kieran,” said Kennedy, his head in the menu. “There’s a first time for everything.”
  43. 99 points
    KENNEDY ~ HOBSON’S CHOICE Nothing seemed to be going right that day. In Kennedy’s absence, COO Sloan Williamson had rescheduled an important meeting without consulting him, one that now sat slap bang in the middle of his planned vacation. On the other hand, Sloan had been the one to orchestrate the whole merger with Cold Steel Security, something that made total sense on paper. Cold Steel remained one of the top five brand leaders in home security in the States and Canada, and had begun to branch out into the UK. “Who asked for the change?” “Giorgio Milletto,” said Erin, his marketing director. So the CEO of CSS himself had requested the change. Interesting that he hadn’t contacted Kennedy directly. But if the merger went ahead—more of an acquisition for Grey Havens really—his company would consolidate their position as number one global security provider, even though CSS’s main focus was home security and only recently had they stepped into the corporate arena. “I see.” “We can’t ask them to reschedule again.” “I know that, Erin. And we’re not going to.” “Are you going to cancel your vacation?” Many of his top managers continued to voice their concerns about him being away from the business for a whole month, even though he’d done so for the past seven or eight years. Being essentially a family business, Kennedy worked early mornings and late nights, seven days a week, including public holidays. Sleeping three or four hours a day, he was essentially on-call twenty-four-seven. If he could not leave the company safely in the hands of his professional, well-paid, highly-skilled and respected managers for a month, what the hell was the point in having them? In truth, he knew he’d created the problem himself, because of his tendency to micro-manage, adopting an outdated paternalistic style of management. Of course they would always be nervous without him around, but then wasn’t that how people grew? And if push came to shove, he was always at the end of a phone or an online conferencing system. “No.” “So will you dial in? From wherever you are? Surely they’ll have wifi?” Of all his staff, Erin probably clung to him the worst. “You know that’s not an option. With something this important, I like to watch all of the faces of the people on the other side of the table, see the whites of their eyes, especially those who are not speaking. So important when we’re negotiating.” “Skype?” “Not the same.” “Then what, boss?” As though prompted, Sloan Williamson chose that moment to stride into the room. Kennedy had chosen him well. Charismatic in a movie star kind of way, he oozed confidence and sex appeal and had the staff at Grey Havens eating out of his hands. Singularly straight, at only forty-one, he was already on his third wife. Sometimes his good looks fooled those he did business with, fooled them into believing that he had no business acumen. Not a mistake they ever made twice. If you scrutinised his history, really scrutinised—and Kennedy had—you would discover a trail of broken businessmen along the way who had made the mistake of underestimating him. Publicly, they presented a united front. Privately, Kennedy had a suspicion that Sloan wanted his job. “Ah, Mr Chief Operating Officer. Your ears must be burning.” Without missing a beat, the man propped his backside on the end of Kennedy’s desk and undid a button on his Armani suit jacket. Even though Kennedy could not deny the man’s attraction, his brand of slick handsomeness did absolutely nothing for him. Erin had a different reaction, rose from her chair and smiled, her cheeks flushed, and gazed in awe as she clutched her folder against her bosom. “My ears burn all the time. What have I done this time?” “This meeting with CSS.” “Ah yeah, sorry about that,” said Sloan, pushing a lock of blond hair back over one ear. “Milletto asked for the change.” “So Erin said. Reason?” “Didn’t say.” Sloan’s stare didn’t waver as he responded to Kennedy. “Do I need to change my plans?” “Up to you,” said Sloan, with a shrug. “Or can I rely on you to deliver the goods?” “You already know the answer to that. Merger’s already in the bag. It’s just the minutiae that needs hammering out, something me, Karl and Erin here can deal with.” “Good, that’s what I want to hear. And you know if you need me urgently, I’ll have my phone on day and night.” Both of his staff members remained unmoving in his office. “Anything else?” he asked, spreading his hands out palms upwards. “Otherwise this is the part where you both get back to work.” “No boss,” said Erin, and, gathering up her things, she headed for the door. Sloan remained, clearly needing something more, but waited until the door closed. “Why do you rate Karl?” asked Sloan. Kennedy had personally headhunted Karl McDonagh, his head of legal, because the man could smell a bad deal a mile away. A wealth of experience in both finance and law, he was also loyal to a fault. Of all Kennedy’s senior staff, only Karl stood up to Sloan. Kennedy enjoyed watching the pair of them try to outplay each other, but where Sloan used his charisma and opportunism to climb the ladder, Karl relied on watertight facts and figures. Even though they hated each other, they made for a damned good management team. “You know why. He’s solid and dependable. He’s our goalkeeper.” “He’s a pen pusher. Without an original idea in his brain.” “That’s not what I employ him for, that’s why I employ you. He’s there to keep the company on track.” “By holding us back.” “By ensuring we don’t make rash decisions.” “I don’t need him there at the CSS meeting. Erin and I can deal with Milletto.” “Sorry, Sloan. Either Karl’s there, or the meeting doesn’t go ahead. Are we clear?” Sloan’s poker face remained unchanged. He nodded once and left the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, Kennedy buzzed his secretary and told her to hold his calls and appointments for the next hour. Even though he had no idea what, he knew instinctively that Sloan had a personal plan of action in mind, but as with all things in business, Kennedy had to be patient until the man showed his hand. On his laptop, he opened his personal email and scrolled down to a message he had received earlier in the day, from red-headed Ven telling him he needed to pull out of the vacation companion role for ‘personal reasons.’ Not a huge loss, because Kennedy had decided to go with Francis. Checking the contacts in his mobile phone, Kennedy scrolled down and thumbed the number. After several rings, Francis answered—on a high street somewhere by the sound of traffic noises in the background. Never one to mince words, Kennedy gave the good news in simple words and waited for Francis to speak. “Can’t go.” “What do you mean, you can’t go?” “I can’t go, can I?” came the affronted voice. “Why not?” “Ollie won’t let me.” “Ollie? Who the hell’s Ollie?” “He’s my boyfriend, isn’t he? Changed his mind. Won’t let me go on me own.” Kennedy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why on earth did you apply for this position as companion if you already had a partner?” “We both thought of it as a part-time job. Saw no harm in trying. But Ollie changed his mind. Gets a bit jealous. He’s like that sometimes. Unless you’d consider paying for both of us to come?” “Goodbye, Francis.” Kennedy scratched the back of his head and looked down at his ‘possible’ list. Two of them would drive him crazy before they even joined the cruise. For some reason, his eye kept getting drawn back to the straight guy, Kieran. Things would be different with him. There would be no pretence at anything sexual between them. What the hell, he thought, at least this one didn’t have a whole list of demands and, more importantly, needed the job. Before he second guessed himself, he picked up the phone and called the number. “I want to offer you the job, but clearly with certain conditions. You’ll still need to play the part of companion but I wouldn’t expect anything else from you.” “Sex, you mean?” “No, I mean any public displays of affection. Sex was never a part of the deal. So are you interested?” Silence breathed from the other end of the phone. Irritation started to rise in Kennedy again, but just as he started to speak, Kieran cut in. “Look, Mr Grey, I truly am interested. I was just—I was going through your clothing requirements and, well, I don’t have half of the items listed there. And rather than waste your time, I was going to call to say I’m afraid that financially I’m not exactly in a position—” Kennedy had already begun to chuckle, which brought Kieran to a halt. “What?” “Don’t you have a module on law in your management programme?” “Yes, of course.” “Then maybe you should read the fine print. The first two lines on the beginning of page six.” Down the line, Kennedy could hear a mouse clicking a couple of times and then silence. “You’ll provide the clothes for me?” came the confused voice. “Why would you do that?” “Think of these items as your uniforms. I can hardly expect an employee to pay for clothes which, let’s face it, might not be to his taste, and some he’s unlikely to wear again. That would hardly be fair. Which is why, if you look further down, you’ll see that I need your key measurements, to make sure we get you the right sizes. Or if you’d prefer, we can go shopping together on a day you have free. Maybe the same day you get your health check done.” “Our health checks,” said Kieran, firmly. “If I’m suffering the indignity of getting tested, then so are you.” Kennedy inhaled a breath. This companion would be a challenge, but what choice did he have? “Our checks, then. And once the holiday is over, you get to keep whatever clothes you want or give them away. You decide. So I guess the only question that remains is; are you in or not?” “Yes. Yes, I’m in. Thank you very much for the opportunity, Mr Grey.” “Oh, and Kieran. That’s the last time you call me Mr Grey. It’s Kennedy from now on. Are we clear?” Kieran chuckled down the phone. “Crystal clear. Although, can’t I call you Ned? I had a hamster called Ned when I was a kid. Loved him to bits.” Kennedy found himself enjoying the banter and struck back immediately. “If you’re going to reduce Kennedy to Ned, then I’m sure you won’t mind if I refer to Kieran as Key. Can’t wait to see my friends’ faces when I introduce them to Key West.” The burst of laughter coming down the phone was unexpected, and Kennedy felt a smile tug at his face. “I think that’s your way of telling me no, so let’s keep to our original names.” “Smart boy.” “And that, Kennedy Grey, is the last time you get to call me a boy. Deal?” The comment caught Kennedy off guard and he laughed aloud. “Touché.” At the close, they agreed to meet on a Saturday for tests and shopping, before signing off. When Kennedy put down the phone he grinned happily for the first time that day.
  44. 99 points
    Exes and Ohs Chapter 1 It'll Be Fun “Damn it! Thanks a lot, you jerk!” Drake tossed his phone on the desk, wincing at the thud as it hit the hard surface. He really had to stop doing that. “You okay?” Jimmy’s voice, from the next cubicle in line, caused him to lift his head off his hands. He pasted on a smile, but it faded under the scrutiny of the man staring at him over the padded, fabric-covered divider. “No, not by a longshot.” The silent perusal continued with one raised eyebrow. “It was Dean, okay? He just texted me and canceled for the weekend. Didn’t even give a reason why.” “Am I missing something?” Jimmy’s frown showed confusion, and something suspiciously like annoyance. “I thought you guys were done, like, months ago?” “We were… we are. We definitely are, but he agreed to still go home with me for my cousin’s wedding, and now he’s reneged. I should have fucking known,” Drake said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Don’t worry, Sandra left for lunch while you were on the phone doing that last authorization… no one in here but us. So, just go by yourself. It’s family, right, so what’s the big deal?” “Yeah, my family, which means it’s not that simple.” “Okay, but why would you want to go with Dean anyway? It’s not like you guys ended up buddies or anything.” “True, but we’ve been talking, and decided to give the friendship thing a try. At least we were, but now I’m not so sure. This really pisses me off. The very day we’re supposed to leave for Ottawa.” “Still don’t get it.” “Why? You and I are friends.” “No, I don’t mean trying to be buds with the guy.” “Get what, then? “Why it matters. Who cares whether you show up alone or with someone? I never pegged you to be someone who cares about appearances.” Drake groaned. “Normally I don’t, but….” He reclaimed his phone and searched for a particular series of texts from his sister. Finding them, he held the screen up. Jimmy took the phone and started reading. “Preston’s your older brother, right?” “Yes. And Callie’s—” “Your awesome kid sister… I know. What an asshole. Where does he get off saying something like that about gays? You’re the farthest thing from slutty. He said that to your sister? Fuck!” “Yeah, well, precious Preston thinks all fags are promiscuous sex fiends, and that we don’t have legitimate relationships. He is the master of snide remarks, and when he finds out Dean and I broke up, he’s going to have a field day.” “Still don’t get it. Oh, wait. Were you guys going to pretend you were still together?” His disapproving tone made Drake falter. “Ah, well… yeah, something like that.” “Wow. You’d do that just because your brother’s a homophobic ass hat?” “Hey, don’t judge me. He’s the one who bet Callie fifty bucks I wouldn’t be with Dean by the time the wedding happened.” “So… he knows Dean?” Jimmy smiled tightly, with his lips closed, deepening his dimples. “Not funny. And no, he doesn’t, but he knew of him, because my mouthy sister told him she thought he was the one.” Jimmy made a snorting sound. “Seriously? Him? Why would she think that? Obviously she didn’t meet the guy.” “No, she didn’t, smartass. Don’t you have some work to do?” “Nope. I have a friend in need.” His grin irked Drake, but he couldn’t help returning it. “Can’t help getting your shots in, can you?” “What can I say? The guy’s all about himself and he just proved it again.” Drake faltered. “Yeah, I guess. He has his reasons, I suppose.” “Sure he does. Probably had his head turned by some pretty little thing last night. Your brother isn’t so wrong about guys like him.” “Jimmy, come on. That’s not fair. Dean isn’t that bad, and I was the one who kept him at arm’s length and wouldn’t commit, so I can’t blame him… not really. I never should have asked him to do this in the first place, though.” “Here we go again. He shouldn’t have agreed to go in the first place if he was just going to turn around and cancel. It’s called following through, like a good friend does. I say you’re better off anyway. Just ignore your brother.” “You don’t understand.” “I don’t, eh? Seems pretty clear to me.” Drake studied the kind, concerned face. It belonged to someone who, in other circumstances…. “My ex—my first ex—will be there… with his wife… his pregnant wife.” “Oh.” “Yeah, oh. I know I shouldn’t care, not about what Preston thinks, or what Richard thinks. You’re right. I’ll just suck it up and face the music.” “You could always cancel.” “No, I can’t. I won’t do that to my cousin. I want to see her get married, and it wouldn’t be right not to be there for her. My family’s fucked up, but Rachel and Callie are the two people I can always count on.” “What about your mom and dad? I thought you told me they were fine with you being gay.” “Fine? Yes. Supportive? Not so much. Ever since their divorce, they’re too busy playing stupid games with each other to worry about the rest of us. That’s why Callie and I are so close.” “Then you should go.” “I am. I need to grab something to eat.” Drake wanted to be done with this conversation. “So, none of your family has met Dean?” “Ah, no. You know I don’t go home very often. If it wasn’t for this wedding, I wouldn’t make the trip until Thanksgiving, or maybe even Christmas. Did you bring your lunch or—” “No, I’ll head down with you. I didn’t mean to make light of what you have to deal with, Drake. Sorry about that. I get it now.” “No worries. You were right. I need to stop avoiding all the garbage my family creates. ‘In and out’ has been my approach since college. And Richard… well… it had to happen sooner or later that we’d come face to face.” “Nah, I was wrong. I needed to think about it. I remember what it was like to feel outnumbered in my own family. It’s good now—great even—but it wasn’t the easiest road at first. Your ex… that’s the guy you were talking about when you freaked out at me… back then?” “That’s the one, yeah.” He tried not to think about how he’d reacted, but ‘freak out’ was a good way to describe it. Even he hadn’t realized he was still that raw over something he’d thought dealt with. “Anyway, I can handle Preston’s abuse. I only put myself through it once or twice a year, and Richard was a long time ago, so I should be able to handle that too. Are you ready?” “Yeah, hold on a second, though. I want to propose something.” Drake scooped up his wallet and phone, and then donned his suit jacket before giving Jimmy his full attention. “Propose what?” “I could go with you.” “To the wedding?” “Yeah. Be Dean.” “You want to pretend to be Dean?” Drake grimaced and shook his head, emphasizing his incredulity. “Well, no, not that Dean. I’d be me.” “Okay, now I don’t get it. You want to go with me as Jimmy? You just said you’d be Dean. The whole point was I didn’t want to let Preston know he’d been right, that Dean and I had broken up. Now you’re suggesting I show up with a new guy?” “Yeah… I mean no. Look, we used to date before Dean—” “For three and a half weeks. I don’t see what that has to do with—” “Let me finish, would you? I would go as Dean, because I am Dean. That’s my middle name.” “Seriously? You told me you didn’t have a middle name.” “No, I said it was ‘just Jimmy’ when you asked. It’s what I tell everyone, because it’s easier than putting up with the James Dean jokes. I swear, the guy’s been dead for sixty years yet every gay guy knows who he was.” “That’s because he’s an icon, like Marilyn or Rock.” “No kidding, and who in their right mind would name their kid Marilyn Monroe or Rock Hudson? My mom still watches his movies and fangirls. It’s gross, and she’s always telling people how she named me after him. I would have told you eventually if things had turned out differently. Anyway, so what do you think?” But they didn’t turn out differently. “So, you’re suggesting we lie to everyone.” “You’d have been lying to everyone anyway.” “Not about who Dean was.” “True, but I am Dean, and I dated you before him. I did go by Dean for a while in high school because I thought it sounded more grown up, but my friends kept calling me Jimmy, so I gave up. James wouldn’t stick either. Does any of your family know his last name?” “No.” “Well, there you go. You’d be introducing me as Dean Calloway, which is the truth. We’d just be skipping the part about you and me breaking up, and there’s been no one in between me and that other Dean, right?” “No.” “Can’t believe I got replaced by that douche.” “Jimmy—” “I know, I know. I’ll stop.” “And you weren’t replaced.” “Whatever.” Jimmy flashed that lopsided smile that’d intrigued Drake in the first place. “Anyway, if we did this, you wouldn’t be alone when you see the Richard guy, and nobody wants to be single when they see their married ex for the first time. Convinced?” Drake hesitated, studying Jimmy’s earnest face. “I don’t understand why you’d even want to do this.” “Because we’re friends.” “And nothing more? You’ve made it pretty clear you’d like to give us another chance, and that’s not—” “Hey, you’ve made it clear that ship has sailed, and I’ve accepted it. Look, I have zero plans for the weekend, outside of doing laundry, and I’m giving you an option. None of your family has met Dean, and to be honest, what Preston texted to your sister pisses me off too. We don’t all flit from guy to guy, and we’re not all sluts. So what do you say?” “I don’t know, man. I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I don’t want there to be any mixed messages between us. We’re at a good place now, and we have to work together.” “Up to you, but I’m telling you there won’t be… promise.” “Fair enough. Let me think about it over some food, okay, Jimmy?” “Dean.” “What?” “The name’s Dean.” His grinned amusement was infectious. “Yeah, right,” Drake said with a grin of his own. The idea was growing on him, and the truth was he much rather spend time with this Dean than the other one. There never would have been the other Dean in the first place if Jimmy hadn’t pulled the rug out from under him, but enough time had passed that he… they… should be able to handle this. Shouldn’t they? “I just realized something,” Jimmy said around a mouthful of his BLT. Drake gave him a questioning look, but continued chewing his own Turkey and Havarti Melt sandwich. “My suits. They’re all at the cleaners except for the green one. Is green suitable for a wedding?” Drake swallowed and took a sip of his diet Coke. Then he groaned at the pun. “That was cringe-worthy.” “Hey, it was clever and you know it.” “If you say so”—he rolled his eyes—“but yeah, of course. You mean that grayish-green one you only wear about once a month?” Jimmy nodded. “That’s the one. Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure. That suit looks great on you… brings out your eyes.” “Oh yeah?” Drake could feel himself blushing slightly, so didn’t answer, returning his attention to eating. He could feel the other man’s gaze on him. “You said that about the sweater I wore on our first date.” “Did I? I don’t remember.” But he did remember. Surprisingly, he’d been a nervous wreck that evening, until Jimmy worked his magic and put him at ease. It was like something suddenly clicked in place, and he’d seen the evidence of it in those sparkling green eyes at the time. It had been a wonderful first date. Unfortunately, three weeks and three dates later, the promise of a possible future for them was gone, just when he’d been ready to plunge all the way in for the first time since Richard. “What are you thinking?” “Oh… nothing. Just about whether it’s a good idea.” “Don’t sweat it, Drake. If you don’t think it is, then we won’t do it. No big deal.” He’d been staring past Jimmy as he spoke, focusing on the people walking past the front windows of the main floor bistro. He recognized a lot of them as fellow workers in the building. What was the big deal, exactly? He really didn’t want to show up solo, and Jimmy was only being supportive. What was he afraid of? He allowed his attention to return to the man now working on consuming his fries. “Let’s do it.” “Yeah? You sure?” Drake took in the sudden beaming smile. “I am. Going alone this weekend was the last thing I wanted to do, so yeah. You’re a good friend.” “I am, aren’t I? Dean the douche could learn from me.” “Would you stop picking on the guy?” “No can do,” he said with a smirk. “Hey, don’t worry. It’ll be fun.” Was he worried? He supposed he was—a lot could go wrong whenever he dealt with his family. “Yeah, it’ll be fun,” he agreed, doing his best to look convincing. “Man, you got here fast. That’s it. I think I’ve got everything. I didn’t have much time to pack, so I—” Jimmy’s voice cut off as he closed the hatch on Drake’s SUV. It resumed as he opened the passenger door. “Nice and cool in here. Woo hoo! Road trip!” Drake laughed. “It’s only a four hour drive to Ottawa… be there about nine if traffic isn’t too bad.” “Yeah, well, it’ll be the longest trip I’ve taken in years.” “Really? Aren’t you forgetting the one to Vancouver?” It had just slipped out, and Drake silently cursed himself for mentioning it. Two stop lights later, Drake maneuvered his way into the heavy eastbound traffic of the 401 highway. Not a word had been said, and Drake was feeling uncomfortable. The sound of Jimmy clearing his throat broke the silence. “I was talking about road trips.” “Yeah, sorry. I don’t know why I brought that up.” Again, silence, but much shorter this time. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I made a promise, and that’s the only reason I went.” “It’s fine. It’s in the past and there was no commitment between us anyway, so let’s not go there again.” “I wanted one, though. You’re the one who—” “Jimmy, come on. You said this wouldn’t happen.” “Right, I did. Talking about us is off the table. Got it,” Jimmy said in an exasperated tone, his head facing the passenger window. Drake needed to keep his focus on edging along with the traffic, but he couldn’t help thinking this had been a colossal mistake. Why did he ever think being in a car for four hours together was even remotely a good idea, never mind a whole damn weekend? It was minutes later, after traffic started to move at a decent pace, that Jimmy finally spoke. “So, what’s the plan?” “The plan? Well, we’re staying at Mom’s house, even though Dad’s would mean less chance for drama”—he turned his head and grinned tentatively—“because Mother would have a fit if we chose his house over hers.” “Don’t you just love family?” Jimmy asked sarcastically. “Makes me never want to go home, and they act all hurt that I don’t. It’s all bullshit. My sister’s the only one who misses me. We’re like four islands when I’m there… there’s my mom, my dad, Preston and his wife Cathy, and me and Callie. It’s depressing as hell.” “Sounds it. Why do you think that is?” “That’s the million dollar question?” “Any ideas?” “The only thing I know for sure is, as a family, we’re broken. Jimmy? Are you sure you want to talk about this family crap?” “You better get in the habit of calling me Dean, and yes, I do. I want to help you get through this weekend, and it’ll help to know what the deal is.” “Good point, Dean. Ugh, I’m going to slip up at some point.” “No worries. I won’t let you.” The sincerity coming from the man had its effect, and he smiled… a real one. He was glad the tension of a few minutes ago had left. “Well, the deal is, I don’t talk much with anyone but Callie. With my mother, I usually listen politely, and seldom disagree, and Dad never has much to say other than playing host, even at my mom’s. Preston is the challenge. He loves to goad me, and he’ll say anything—and I do mean anything—to get under my skin.” “Oh really? Why?” “Because he can, plain and simple. He was never very nice to me… a lot of big brother garbage, but it got way worse after I came out. There was a time when my parents would have shot him down, but that was a long, long time ago. They’re too wrapped up in themselves now, so the gay brother continues to be his favorite target.” “I don’t get that. My parents have never stopped being parents.” “Well, mine didn’t change overnight, but it was close. My dad’s affair started the whole thing. And then Mom had hers, and it’s been a mess ever since. I thought the divorce would change things, but no such luck. It was hardest on Callie and me. Preston never seemed to be affected as much. He plays them one against the other all the time, and for some reason, they kiss his ass. I guess it pays to be the oldest.” “Preston is going to be a challenge for me too, isn’t he?” “Oh, yeah. You’re probably going to want to punch him in the face at some point, but you can’t. He would hold that over me forever. It would be a satisfying thing to see, though,” he said with a grin. “He’s such a pompous ass.” Jimmy chuckled, but soon became serious again. “So why don’t your mom and dad go their separate ways? Like, have nothing to do with one another. That’s usually what divorced people do.” “Another great question. The only thing I come up with is that as much as they hate each other, I think they might still love each other too, in a really twisted way.” “Jeez, that’s all kinds of sad. Why do you think that?” “Because of the fact they’re still so involved in each other’s lives, and neither one has a partner. My dad had a girlfriend for a while, which drove my mother crazy, according to Callie…but for the most part, they’ve stayed single. It’s fucked up—you’d almost think they were still a couple at family gatherings—you’ll see. I used to get really confused, but anyway, it is what it is.” “You’re making me feel my family isn’t so bad after all. Is it depressing every time you visit?” “Not going to lie. I can get pretty agitated, by Preston especially, but Callie and I usually escape somewhere and talk each other down. I don’t know how much she’ll be around this weekend, though, because she’s Rachel’s maid of honor. I expect that means she’ll be busy.” “Well, it’s a good thing you have me then. I won’t let you jump off any bridges.” Drake laughed outright. The feeling this had been a mistake was losing ground. Jimmy really was a great friend, and his heart was a good one. “Thanks.” “You’re welcome.” “So that green suit looks good on me, eh?” “I already told you what I thought.” “I know, but I wanted to hear you say it again.” Drake rolled his eyes at the lopsided grin. “Yes, Dean, it does.” He wasn’t lying. The guy looked hot as hell in that perfectly tailored suit, but, then again, the guy looked hot as hell in anything. *
  45. 99 points
    I sat there hoping, no, praying, Troy was going to come. I was after all a Christian as the cross on the chain round my neck implied. While I didn’t think God could actually help me now, maybe he could ensure nothing happened to Troy on his way here. He’d said he would come and to be fair he’d never let me down, but he was late and so I worried. In all honesty if he didn’t come I thought I might kill myself. As far as I was concerned he was the only person who made life worth living. We’d sort of paired up during the previous semester at school. We weren’t in the same homeroom but shared several classes, one of which was World Geography. Our teacher, Mr Edgar, set us a project about seismology and when he did so decided that he was going to make us work in pairs. ‘Collaboration is good for you; Plagiarism is not’ he said. For all sorts of reasons I was a bit of a loner at school – not at all the popular kid whereas Troy had a big circle of friends. At least that was how it seemed to me when I sat on my own eating lunch nearly every day while he was at a noisy table with several other boys and girls. So when after Mr Edgar had made his announcement Troy picked up his chair, walked round the classroom, put it down next to mine and said, “You wanna work with me on this Adam?” I nearly fell off my own chair in shock. He’d never really spoken more than a couple of words to me previously. He was more or less the typical jock. He was tall for a fifteen year old– just under six feet, slim but with a good muscular body that came from all the swimming and athletics he did – he was on both school teams. His clothes were always fashionable and usually bore the logo of one of the major brands whereas if mine had a logo it was of a brand nobody knew. My parents couldn't afford to buy expensive clothes for me, but at least they were in reasonable condition and always clean. He had blond hair that he kept cut fairly short, blue eyes and a spot free skin with a great tan all year round. I was about the same height as him, but I was thin without any decent muscles as I didn’t do any sport unless I had to – for me gym class was an endurance trial which I hated every time as I had no real coordination. At least I didn’t wear glasses so my green eyes could be seen when they emerged from the shock of black hair that normally fell down over my forehead and partially covered them. “Why me, Troy?” I sort of stuttered back to him when my brain had recovered. “’Cos I need a good partner for this as Edgar told me I’ve gotta get good marks on this project if I want a good grade at the end of the semester. You’re the one to make sure I get it – class brain!” He laughed as he said the last two words, but I knew he was right. Hard as I tried to conceal my brightness in class it slipped out on occasions. I’d learned long ago not to raise my hand when a teacher asked a general question to a class, but I couldn’t help it if I always gave the right one if the question was asked directly to me. At least I didn’t get bullied over it. I guess being tall helped and perhaps had I been shorter things might have been different. “Well, I’m not going to do all the work Troy. You heard what he said – collaboration not plagiarism.” “Yeah, I heard and maybe if I knew what it meant I’d not do it.” As he said that a big grin spread across his face showing his dimples to the full while his eyes sparkled. I decided to take a chance, “So that’s something else I’ve gotta teach you is it?” Now he laughed and fist bumped me on the arm. “I’m gonna like you, Adam. Come and join my table at lunch – please?” So I did and he introduced me to his friends, both boys and girls. Nearly all of them were the sporty types or cheerleaders and at first I felt very much like an interloper, but they all seemed prepared to accept me and within a couple of weeks I felt I belonged. But I very much suspected that if and when Troy no longer needed me, they would also go back to ignoring me. As lunch came to an end Troy suggested that I come home with him after school so we could have an initial discussion about our project. Nobody had ever asked me to go home with them before, so I was hesitant about doing so. When I asked where he lived and found out that it was in one of the richer areas of town I started to get worried. My Pa worked in a factory and we lived in a small house in the poorer end of town. If I went to his house then I’d have to invite him to mine and then what? He’d be certain to make an unfavorable comparison. I decided this wasn’t going to work. “I can’t tonight. Mom’s expecting me home.” “Call her and tell her you’ve been invited to mine – you can stay for dinner too if you like.” Oh lord, this was getting worse. If I had dinner with him and his folks then I’d have to offer the same for him and my mom wasn’t much of a cook. In fact I did a lot of our cooking myself. But there was an even bigger problem necessitating a big admission. “I can’t call her – I don’t have a phone.” Troy laughed. “No problem – use mine” he said fishing it out of his backpack and handing it to me after switching it on. We were allowed to have cells at school but they had to be switched off during classes or they’d be confiscated, although that wasn’t a worry for me! I went to take it from him when another problem occurred to me. ”How do you get to school, on the bus?” “No – I’ve got my own chauffeur,” Troy replied, laughing, “Mom picks up and delivers.” “I come by bike, so you’ll have to give me instructions on how to get to your place.” He thought for a moment. “No – when you’ve okayed it with you mom then I’ll call mine and tell her to bring the pick-up rather than the car. We can put your bike in the back of that and if after dinner you’re too drunk to ride home, mom will take you back. That’s a joke.” he quickly added when he saw the expression on my face. So I called my mom and Troy called his and that was how I made my first visit to his home. I was surprised when his mom arrived in the pick-up as she looked quite a lot older than mine. She was still good looking and well dressed, but I could tell she hadn’t had Troy just after leaving school like my mom had me. Mrs Connelly was friendly and welcoming enough and included me in the conversation as she drove us to their house. I knew when Troy had given me the address earlier it was going to be a nice place, but it was even better than I’d expected – set back from the road with its own drive and large grounds. When we went inside Mrs Connelly led us into the kitchen and offered us some cookies and a choice of milk, juice or cola to drink. We sat at the table and talked for a little while longer before she told Troy to take me up to his room and get on with whatever we were here to do while she got dinner ready. Troy led me upstairs and into his room; I was knocked over by what I saw. It was so large for a start – well over twice the size of mine. He had a queen size bed, a computer desk, wardrobe and a couple of chests of drawers. There were posters on the walls mainly of swimmers and athletes – I noticed all were male, although one especially stood out. It was of that British diver, Tom something or other; I can’t remember his surname, looking amazing in just a very tiny white speedo with red and blue stripes. The room itself was a mess with clothes, books and goodness only knows what lying on the floor and most available surfaces. I’d grown up under orders to keep my room tidy and it was how I now liked things to be. This looked so sloppy, but somehow went with Troy’s laid back attitude to life which was evident even from a distance at school. “Ah, shit!” he said. “I should’ve tidied up but I wasn’t expecting visitors.” “Why don’t you just clear the desk so we can sit there and plan what we are going to do?” I suggested as I walked towards it picking up a chair as I did so and pushing onto the floor the items of clothes that were lying on it. His desk stood in front of a large window that I guessed overlooked the backyard and as I got to the desk I naturally looked out of the window and saw in the middle of the lawn a swimming pool! It was a small pool, but nevertheless a pool. I really was on the other side of the tracks I decided. I sat down, pulled a couple of notepads out of my backpack and told Troy to sit next to me and switch on his computer which he did. Once he’d logged in I searched out some sites that I thought might be useful for our research and bookmarked them. I had a feeling I was very much going to be leading on our project. We’d only been there for a couple of minutes when Troy announced that he needed to be comfortable. He got up, went over to one of his chests of drawers and pulled out a pair of shorts. I’d turned to see what he was doing and with a smile directed at me he undid his jeans, sat on the edge of his bed and pulled them off and also took off his polo shirt before standing up clad only in his red boxer briefs and white socks before putting on a pair of black sports shorts to which he then added a black t-shirt. I’d suspected for the last couple of years that I was gay. I had no interest in girls and no wish to see their bodies. Boy’s bodies was another thing altogether and I loved the glimpses I’d get in the locker rooms before and after gym, but at the same time fearing my dick would give me away. I was a loner at school whom everyone ignored which suited me fine, but if it was discovered that I was gay then I was sure to be picked on. Bullying might be forbidden at school, but it went on, usually in subtle, but sometimes much less subtle, ways. There was no doubt my dick had reacted to seeing Troy in his boxers. I turned away from him and tried to adjust things inside my own boxers, hopefully without being seen. He made no comment when he resumed his seat and we went back to trying to decide on the basis of our project. I soon discovered that Troy was a fidget and found it hard to concentrate on one thing for any length of time, which I was sure went some way to explaining why his grades weren’t ever that good. But we made some progress and I outlined a few things that I wanted him to research and cover. I couldn’t help notice though that his right upper leg was now rubbing up against my left one and I was sure it hadn’t been when he’d sat down. After a while I heard a knock on his bedroom door and his mom poked her head round to say that dinner would be ready shortly if we wanted to wash up. That was when I got another shock as I’d wondered where a second door from Troy’s bedroom led and now found out that he had his own bathroom complete with shower! When we got downstairs I was introduced to his father who also seemed to me to be older than my own, but I decided that it was logical he’d be of similar age to his wife. Mrs Connelly apologised for the meal saying it was only chicken fried steak because she’d not been expecting a visitor, but it was the best chicken fried steak I’d ever eaten with a delicious gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and soft rolls. I’m afraid I stuffed myself, but so did Troy and we both had space left for a large slice of homemade apple pie and ice cream. When we’d finished Troy and I cleared the dishes before we went back up to his room. He asked if I wanted to play an x-box game but I had to confess I didn’t have one of my own so wouldn’t know what to do. He still got one loaded though and explained to me how it was played – but I was pretty bad, no, make that very bad. I suddenly realized what the time was and said that I needed to go home, so we went downstairs and out to the pick-up with Mrs Connelly. When we got to my house Troy also got out to help me get my bike out of the back and as we were doing so he asked me if I wanted to come for a sleepover on Friday. If I’d been hesitant about his invitation to come to his house this evening an invite for a sleepover was on a far more scary level. Partly because I’d never had one before but also because now having been in his house I knew exactly how far apart our two families stood on the social scale. If I accepted it was an invite I could surely never return. “Err, thanks Troy but I don’t think I can. I have this Saturday job at the supermarket stacking shelves and bagging purchases.” It was true and I needed that job to top up the little allowance I got from my Pa. “Oh, that’s a shame – but what time do you start?” Without thinking I blurted out the honest answer of 2pm. Another kid did 8 ‘till 2 and I worked 2 ‘till 8. “So that’s not a problem then. We ain’t gonna get up early on Saturday but we can be up in time for you to get to the store by two. Mom’ll pick us up after school on Friday in the pick-up so you can stow your bike in there and if neither she nor my Pa is around when it’s time for you to go you can bike to the store like you normally would. How’s that sound?” To be honest it sounded great, but scary too. Why was Troy suddenly being this friendly towards me? Was it just that he needed a good grade in this class or was I like a little mouse being drawn towards a trap by a metaphorical piece of cheese? Was Troy hoping to get me to out myself as gay so he could announce it to all his friends and then very quickly, the entire school? But if that was the case why him and why pick on me? -------- When we got to Troy’s after school on Friday I insisted that we do our homework first, which pleased his mom no end. I always made a point of doing mine then to leave the weekend free, although with my normal weekend activities there wasn’t really any point. However, Mrs C was pleased saying that Troy always left his to do on Sunday night which meant he was as grumpy as hell when it came to getting up on Monday mornings. So that was what we did and by the time we’d finished Mr C was home from work and firing up the grill on the back patio. I’d brought a pair of navy blue sports shorts I’d changed into along with a white t-shirt while Troy was in red sports shorts and a blue t-shirt. Of course he had a basketball hoop on the side of house so we played ‘horse’ for a time while Mr C was taking care of the food. As I expected Troy ran rings round me, but he didn’t seem to mind and gave me a few pointers along the way. After that we sat down to these enormous steaks that simply melted in your mouth as you ate them – I’d never tasted anything like it – with various salads. That was followed by ice cream and some sort of meringue desert that Mrs C called a Pavlova. I’d never had one of those either, but it was delicious. By the time we’d finished eating it was getting a bit cool and nearly dark so when we went indoors his parents said they were going to watch TV, wished us goodnight and suggested that we didn’t stay up all night. So Troy and I went up to his room. Earlier he’d asked me if I was happy to sleep with him or if I wanted to use the guest bedroom. I‘d told him I was happy to share as long as he didn’t either snore or fart which had got me a fist on the upper arm in reply. I forgot to mention when I described his bedroom earlier that he had a 42 inch TV on the wall opposite the foot of his bed, so when we got into his room now he pulled out a selection of DVDs and asked me to choose which I wanted to watch. Of course they were all sci-fi or horror movies. He suggested that although it was still quite early it would make sense if we got ready for bed so we could watch the movies in bed. This was another luxury not available at my house where I had to make do with the screen of my laptop. Having no idea how he slept I’d brought a pair of pj bottoms with me, although I usually slept in my boxers or sometimes naked. I was thus glad when he suggested he use the bathroom first and when he emerged wearing just a pair of paly grey tight fitting Calvin Klein boxer briefs I knew the pjs weren’t going to be used! My only problem was that I had only a pair of cheap check pattern boxers to wear – our budget didn’t permit my mom to buy me other than basic underclothes and thus far in my life I’d seen no need to spend my own money on them. But seeing how good Troy looked in his I had a feeling that could soon change. We got into bed and Troy turned off the lights and switched on the DVD player and the TV, but before doing so he locked his bedroom door. We started off each well on our own side of the bed on our backs, but it wasn’t long before we’d moved closer to each other – I’m sure beds have a dip towards the middle – although we weren’t touching. Suddenly there was a real scary bit of the film and I jumped and let out a little noise of surprise. I now found that Troy had intertwined the fingers of his right hand in my left. I’d never had contact with another boy like this and it felt good so I squeezed his fingers to try and tell him I was happy. We stayed like that for a few minutes before he lifted our intertwined hands and placed them on top of his dick inside those CK briefs. I’d now gone hard myself and could feel his warm dick inside his briefs. I wasn’t sure where this was heading; I didn’t know what would happen next and whether I should be active or passive but I did know that I didn’t want to withdraw my hand! My other hand was also now engaged inside my boxers gently rubbing round my own dick and balls. Having let my left hand lie on his dick for a couple of minutes Troy began to move it gently up and down massaging his dick until I could feel a dampness on his briefs. “Adam, do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to do this with you?” “No.” I sort of stuttered in reply. “I’ve wanted to be alone with you for the last couple of years, but you are so much of a loner that I couldn’t see a way to do this. You’re so damn sexy to look at with your hair and your half hidden eyes and you don’t seem to need anybody. God, you’re gorgeous.” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. It didn’t make sense – he was the one who was damn sexy to look at, not me. “I just hope I’ve judged you right and my gaydar is working” he said as he pulled his hand apart from mine and moved. Next thing I knew he was kneeling astride my thighs before gently lowering his upper body to rest partly on his hands and partly on my chest. I felt his breath on my face as his moved towards mine and I shivered slightly in response to the feel of the air he exhaled. Then I felt the lightest of touches on my lips, followed shortly by a sight dampness from what I realized must be his tongue sliding back and forth across them. I opened my lips slightly and his tongue found its way inside; as I opened my mouth further so his tongue moved further inside. I could hear little noises of a type I’d never heard before, but was I making them or was Troy- or were we both? Now I found my hands were around his back with my fingers moving in strange patterns around it. Patterns he seemed to approve of as the noises increased. Did he pull or did I push, or did we act together, but now Troy was no longer on top of me and we were on our sides face to face allowing his hands to also roam over my back moving lower and lower until they came to the waistband of my boxers, inside which was my dick now, I was sure, harder and longer than it had ever been. I was circumcised and pre-cum didn’t come easily, but tonight it was. His hands slipped inside the waistband and moved lightly across my butt before withdrawing slightly and pushing my boxers down sufficiently to allow my dick to spring free. Meantime my own hands had reached the waistband of his CKs which were much tighter fitting than my fairly old and worn boxers making it hard to get more than the tips of my fingers inside, but I liked what I was feeling – soft smooth skin. When Troy removed his hands from me I momentarily wondered if he’d decided this was enough or even that we had gone too far, but it was only to move them to his CKs and with a quick pull and a bit of wiggling they were down on his thighs allowing me unfettered access to what had lain beneath. Our hands now searched and quickly found their hidden targets. We did so at the same moment and almost together let out exclamations of surprise. “You’re circumcised!” came from Troy followed a second later by my “And you’re not!” “This I’ve gotta see properly” said Troy as he rolled away from me to his side of the bed and switched on the light that stood on his nightstand before he scooted back to gaze at my five and half inches that was now perhaps six, standing erect and proud with a damp and shiny red head. I looked at his - the same as mine in that it was very erect, but also so very different, with the head now extended beyond the foreskin and glistening with his pre-cum. It looked so beautiful, so complete and I knew for sure in that moment what I had suspected for the last couple of years – I was gay. Over that period I’d found some sites on line, downloaded a few pics that were stored in the depths of my computer which I could view in the safety of my bedroom at night. I’d go to the pool in the summer and take in the view as unobtrusively as possible. I’d even gone to a couple of swim meets at school in order to view the guys in their speedos. It had always been mainly Troy that my eyes had feasted on wondering what his hid, imagining what it looked like when I lay in bed at night afterwards slowly stroking myself to a climax and ensuring that my emission was fired into a sock so my ma didn’t discover it when washing the sheets. I’d never thought that I’d ever find out - even more not expecting something so beautiful, now just a few inches from me. “Jeeze, your dick is so amazing. I’ve never seen a cut one up close. That head is …..just great.” Troy whispered and as he did so he leaned forward and touched it. It twitched in response which caused him to touch it again and obtain the same reaction as well as produce a drop of pre-cum at the slit. He carefully wiped it off with his fingertip and then taking his finger towards his mouth, stuck out his tongue and licked it off, smacking his lips as he pulled his tongue back into his mouth. What could I do but follow suit and there was more than a single drop of pre-cum around his head to finger off and then savor. I’d never considered tasting my own semen. For some reason I’d thought it would taste gross, but Troy’s wasn’t unpleasant with a slightly salty taste mixed with a flavor that somehow seemed to be him. Now he put three fingers of his right hand into his mouth and when they were sufficiently lubricated, pulled them out and wrapped them round my dick. I gasped at the feelings that resulted as those fingers slid first up and then down. He removed them to add more lubrication and went to work again, his other hand alternately caressing and squeezing my balls. With everything that had gone on it seemed only seconds before I felt my body taughtening and I was shooting high up my stomach and chest where Troy had aimed me. He looked down admiringly. “You been saving that for a while?” As it happened I hadn’t tossed off for a couple of days, but I wasn’t going to admit that. “Nope – that’s normal” I replied with a grin. “We’ll have to see about that, but I’ve almost got a case of blue balls. You gonna help me out?” Oh boy, did I want to, but how did I handle an uncircumcised dick? I was afraid of hurting him. Troy sensed my problem. “Ah, the foreskin. It can be a problem sometimes, but there’s a lot of lube there already so you can just gently move the foreskin up and down with no worry.” He proceeded to demonstrate which gave me some confidence to put my fingers round it. The feeling was amazing, so different to my own and yet so soft and silky. I was entranced as the head emerged from and then disappeared back into the foreskin all so different to stroking my own. As with me it didn’t take long before I could sense his body going rigid and I was aiming his dick to shoot up his body. Now I felt really brave and scooped some from where it had landed onto my fingers and took them into my mouth, sucking them. Troy giggled. “Take some more and share it with me.” I scooped some more onto my fingers and raised them to his mouth which he opened and licked them with his tongue. My own cum was still drying on my body and Troy now fed me some of that before taking some more for himself. “Time to mix” he declared as he moved forward and adjusted his body so that our mouths could meet and our tongues explored and mingled our juices together. After that Troy put out the light and we snuggled spooned together, me with my butt resting in his lap and he holding me tightly to him. I awoke to the feeling of something prodding in between my legs and to find a hand lying gently on my hard dick. The room was light and I needed a piss. I disentangled myself to groans from Troy as he wakened, but as I padded into the bathroom he followed me. We stood somewhat bleary eyed on either side of the john and both pissed a strong stream into it. I finished first and walked back into the bedroom when as I neared his bed I felt a smack on my butt. Not over hard but sufficient to create a tingle there, and for some reason, in front of me too. “Jeeze, you’ve got a great ass Adam. How do you manage it considering you don’t do any sport. I know mine’s good from the swimming and track I do, but you – how come?” “Dunno. Guess it must be from all the cycling I do. I spend time at the weekend and in the summer riding my bike round the country. Suppose it builds up the muscles.” “So why’d you keep it hidden. If you’ve got it – flaunt it like me.” He was referring to the fact that he always wore very skinny jeans to school and under those I now knew, tight boxer briefs whereas I always wore loose fitting jeans that showed nothing. “My folks wouldn’t let me wear that sort of jeans and you’ve seen what boxers my mom buys. I only got out of tighty whities last year.” In fact I asked my ma about buying me a pair of skinny jeans a few months back only to be told that there was no way she was going to have her son parading round the streets dressed in a pair of those and adding that if I thought of buying a pair with my own money I could take them straight back as soon as I got them home. No, I got cheap utility clothes and fashion didn’t come into it. “We’ll have to see if we can’t do something about that…..” I cut him off. “Please don’t Troy. If my folks had any idea of what we did last night, I’d never be allowed to see you again, so if you want to see me again this has to be a secret.” Troy pulled me to him and kissed me hard. When we ended the kiss he looked into my eyes and said, “Of course I want to see you again, and again, and again. But yes, we’ll keep it secret, although my folks are gonna know by the state and smell of this room, not to mention how happy I’m gonna be this morning. Now, how about a shower before mom comes knocking on the door announcing that it’s the last call for breakfast?” So we went and showered and, wonder of wonders, his shower was big enough for both of us. I now discovered the pleasure that can be had from showering with someone else, from having them wash you from head to toe – every square inch - and from being able to return the favour to them. I also learned how to properly wash an uncircumcised dick, although it has to be admitted that the washing of it did produce side effects that were soon washed down the drain along with my own. We dried each other off, becoming more familiar with each other’s bodies as we did and as we were dressing Mrs C did indeed knock on the door to announce that it was last call for breakfast – not surprising really as it was nearly noon. I was presented with a veritable feast of cereals, juices, pancakes, bacon, waffles and eggs. We stuffed ourselves but soon it was time for normality to return as Troy and I went out to the pick-up and Mrs C drove me to the supermarket while the two of us sat holding hands, saying nothing, but for me at least, thinking plenty. ------- After my initial visit to and subsequent sleepover at Troy’s, we more or less settled into a routine in that I’d go over to his house once a week after school to work on the project. He did come over to mine twice but that was more or less for the sake of appearances and so my folks could meet him. He pitched himself to them just right as polite but not snobby, which he wasn’t - but I think my folks expected him to be. On one of those visits he was invited to stay to dinner and I cringed when I heard mom say we were having chicken fried steak and apple pie to follow. Of course the main course was nowhere near as good as Mrs C had served while the pie was store bought! Troy though cleared his plate and complimented mom on her cooking. But it made sense to work on the project at his house as there was so much more room and his Internet was a lot faster than mine. The project didn’t have to be turned in until almost the end of the semester, so we made sure it lasted – at least as far as my folks were concerned although we’d actually completed it well before it was due. To be fair Troy contributed quite a bit towards it which surprised me at first until I realized he had a good brain but was just reluctant to display it. I was also invited to have a sleepover alternate Fridays. I thought my folks would object, but they seemed to consider it was a good thing for me to have a friend, plus which I suspect not having to feed me appealed and it meant they could go out to a bar in town those evenings. Luckily they didn’t seem to have any suspicion of how friendly Troy and I became during those weeks. Troy sprang a surprise on me when I went for the second sleepover. After we’d gone up to his bedroom and he’d locked the door he peeled down the skinny jeans he was wearing and then took of his polo shirt to stand before me wearing only a pair of black CK boxer briefs. “There’s a new rule for sleepovers, Adam,” he announced with a somewhat evil grin on his face, “While in this room we wear only boxers.” I grinned back at him, took off my polo and t-shirt and then stepped out of my jeans, leaving me in a pair of navy blue check loose fitting boxers. He sighed deeply, “Adam those things are so non sexy. Go and open the drawer in the nightstand on your side of the bed.” I did as I was told and found inside a pack of three colored American Eagle boxer briefs. I pulled the pack out, turned and looked at him to find he was licking his lips and rubbing his dick in anticipation. “Put one of them on. I like the red and black ones, but your choice.” “But I can’t take them home, Troy. Mom would know I’d not bought them and questions would be asked.” “I know that – I’m not that stupid. But there’s no reason why you can’t wear them here and they can go in with my washing when you leave.” Quickly I ripped the pack open, selected the pair he’d suggested and very soon was fitting myself into my first ever pair of boxer briefs. Damn, they felt good as they clung to my package and butt. I walked over to look at myself in the full length mirror on Troy’s wardrobe and decided they looked as good on as they felt. Troy evidently agreed judging by the wolf whistle he let out as I did a pirouette in front of the mirror. It wasn’t long though before both they and his boxer briefs were off as we snuggled together on his bed. The only downside came when I had to change back into my drab old boxers on Saturday before I left to go to the supermarket. It was later that night that Troy introduced me to the joys of a blow job. On the following sleepover he showed me how we could blow each other at the same time; something we very quickly decided was the best thing going. And from that night on, when in his room we either wore boxer briefs or nothing. One evening Troy had forgotten to lock the door; his Mom knocked and because we had music playing we didn’t hear her. She came in, said what she wanted to say and then left without seemingly blinking an eye at the sight of the pair of us lying on the bed holding hands and clad in only our boxers. After she’d gone I asked him what she would have done had we been there naked or kissing, to which his response was along the lines of ‘nothing other than apologise.’ Yes, it was a very different environment to the one in which I lived – one where I had to keep my sexual orientation hidden as I was sure my parent’s would be very unhappy to find out I was gay. As the semester progressed and our relationship deepened I started to become more and more worried about being found out at school. We’d discussed the situation on one of my sleepovers. I told Troy that I just couldn’t risk being found out as gay before I was eighteen and could leave home – which now seemed a lifetime away. Not that I was sure that would help. I hoped I might get into college but I’d need a scholarship of some sort for that and I wasn’t confident I was bright enough to achieve one. Or I could find a job, but was I likely to find one that would pay enough? That was well ahead though and for now we had to keep our relationship confined to only his house – hard as that might be. And boy was it hard in more than one sense of that word seeing that we saw each other five days a week at school. I’d only have to glimpse him and I’d feel my dick starting to rise but fortunately the loose baggy jeans I always wore usually concealed that or some books could be positioned strategically. In Troy’s case oddly the opposite appeared to work. The skinny jeans he always wore meant the outline of his dick was often visible, so people didn’t take any notice of what caused that. Sitting at his table at lunch was the worst though; we wanted to sit next to each other but if we did we’d start playing footsie or rubbing our legs together, hoping all the time that the other occupants were so involved in their conversations they wouldn’t notice. We couldn’t avoid getting the occasional glance, especially from Mike Daubney, who I learned had once been Troy’s closest friend, but now seemed to be on the same level as everyone else at the table. By the time the semester ended, I was convinced that I was in love with Troy. Sexually we had gone no further than our sixty nines, but we both knew the point was getting nearer, especially on the occasions I’d wake up feeling his dick nestling in my crack, wondering what it would be like to wake up feeling it inside me. I also had no doubts that Troy was in love with me. I could see it in his smile, his eyes and his general approach to life. I was looking forward to the vacation and the chance it gave us to, hopefully, spend more time together. ==============
  46. 99 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 53 The light reflected off the lake in glittering displays as the water parted before them. Everywhere Kellar looked, there was beauty from this new perspective. When they’d first left the marina, the sun was freshly up, but two hours later it was bathing their shirtless, trunk-clad bodies in sublime and welcomed warmth. Kellar was learning a lot about boating from his mate, from the rules of the water, to the handling of the eighteen-foot craft. The steering part was easy, and it quickly became his favorite thing. The hand throttle of the outboard motor was amazingly sensitive, and controlling their direction and speed became addictive as he lounged in comfort on the padded bench seat. He’d just finished maneuvering them into a small granite-walled inlet as if he’d been doing so for years. As they’d advanced into it, ripples disturbed the watery sheet, creating continual circles before fading to nothing once the boat came to a halt. Silence assaulted them after the motor shut off. Tobyn, tossing out the compact anchor, informed him today was as calm as the lake ever gets, and that boating in rough water was a totally different experience. “I think I’ll prefer this. I’m not sure I’d like being thrown around in bad weather.” “Yeah, even in a twenty-four-foot inboard, the waves can be tough to handle when you’re out in the middle. This is perfect for your first time on water… don’t want to scare you off coming out here.” “I’m already hooked. What’s an inboard?” “It means the motors are inside the boat. They don’t hang off the back like this one, and you control the boat from a captain’s seat. All those bigger-hulled boats out there on the lake are twin inboards, meaning they have two motors in the stern that work in unison.” “So, it’s a size thing?” Tobyn chuckled. “Pretty much, size and power, yeah. Ready to fish? There’s a deep spot on the left where I’ve caught smallmouth before.” He pointed to a shady area. “That’s the best place to cast your line.” “Smallmouth? “Bass. They usually put up a better fight than largemouth do. So, ready to catch one of those feisty suckers?” “You bet. I used to pester Don to take me fishing, but he never did.” “He sounds like such an ass.” “Maybe he was. I used to think he was okay, but I guess I never really knew him. I gave up expecting him to be a certain way because I had no clear idea what a dad was supposed to be like back then. He was always in his office, or at a church function, or doing something Karen wanted. He never took Warren fishing either, not that I remember.” “You are too forgiving. We should bring your brother out with us one day.” “That would be awesome. Hey, my line won’t move… it’s stuck.” “Here, give me that.” Tobyn sat down beside Kellar, their splayed legs touching, and took the fiberglass rod from him. “It’s not stuck. See. You have to slide this little thing on the side. That’s the lock. This is a good reel, but it’s an older design, and it should be Kellar-proof,” Tobyn teased. “Here’s your pole back. Try not to get your line tangled.” “I’ll try not to,” he said with a roll of his eyes as he fiddled with the lock. “Okay, cool. That’s more like it.” “Do you want me to put your worm on for you?” Tobyn asked with a smirk as he opened the Styrofoam carton of wrigglers. “What do you want to do with my worm?” Kellar raised his eyebrows and returned the smirk. “Well, now that you ask… I’d say screw the fishing, and take care of your big worm, but that’s not what we came out here for.” Kellar nodded, taking in his mate’s almost naked body. He couldn’t help the stirring. “You’ve fished lots of times before, right?” “Oh, heck yeah. Hundreds of times. Why?” “I was just thinking.” Tobyn looked up from baiting Kellar’s hook. “What about?” “I was thinking we could kill two birds with one stone.” He wiggled his eyebrows and Tobyn laughed. “You mean two worms, don’t you?” He stared down at Kellar’s now tented trunks. “Well, there’s no reason I can’t still fish while you look after other stuff.” Now Tobyn really laughed. “It’s only been a few hours. What’s got you all fired up again? “Jeez… all this talk about smallmouths and largemouths and feisty suckers and handling my worm and holding my rod. Not to mention you’re almost naked. What did you expect?” Kellar whined. “I think you’ve been trying to get me horned up.” “That was just fishing talk, you bonehead.” Tobyn’s eyes traveled back to Kellar’s groin, the tip of his tongue showing itself as he licked his lips. “Here, you’re baited and ready to go. Start fishing… I have something else I need to take care of.” “Are you sure? I was just kidding… don’t you want to fish?” “Nope, I already caught me a big one and I’m not throwing it back.” Kellar groaned as Tobyn gave his trunks a sharp tug and reeled him in with a deft touch. Yeah, this fishing thing was awesome. The boat was due back at one in the afternoon, and they made it with fifteen minutes to spare. Kellar was close to euphoric after his first outing on a body of water. Following Tobyn’s short but intense fishing expedition inside Kellar’s trunks, they’d settled down to actually fish. Kellar had a blast hooking and landing the first one, a two-and-a-half-pound smallmouth that cleared the water a few times as it fought the line. Tobyn sat back and watched, cautioning him more than once not to move around so much. Kellar was in awe when he finally had the little warrior in the boat. “He’s a beauty. Do you want to keep him?” Kellar looked from the iridescent, gasping prize to his mate. It didn’t take him long to shake his head. “Good. We practice catch and release on the lake system as much as we can, and we encourage all our clients to as well, unless they are actually catching dinner. We’ve maintained a healthy fish population for centuries by only taking what we need for our own food stores. Do you want me to take the hook out? I’ll show you how to remove it with pliers so there’s little damage to the fish.” “Yeah, I want to learn everything. Now I see why so many enjoy doing this. The little guy put up a heck of a fight.” He watched his mate closely, and after that, he was able to do it for himself. Between them they’d caught seven fish with Kellar catching four, earning him bragging rights for the day. Kellar was looking forward to telling his fish stories to Warren, and at some point, having them share in new ones together. “Thanks, Tobyn. That was awesome. Man, I’m starving.” “We’ll get you filled up in a few minutes. I'm hungry too.” They were in the process of getting in the truck and leaving the marina. “It’s a lot different when you’re out there, isn’t it?” Kellar was taking a last look at the lake as Tobyn drove out of the parking area. “It is. We’re lucky here, that’s for sure. Vega only had the forests, but Morningstar has the water as well. One day, we’ll take a boat up the river. I know of some good fishing spots that are very private.” He wiggled his eyebrows, causing Kellar to chuckle. “When the time comes, I imagine it will be hard for a lot of our new members to leave this place. It gets inside your soul.” “That’s for sure. How many do you think Morningstar could support on a regular basis?” “Good question. We’re a wealthy pack, you know that, right?” “Yeah, I pretty much figured it out.” “As a member, you can see the financials anytime you want. Anyway, Mom says one day she’d like to see a hundred-and-twenty members at Morningstar, so I guess that’s the best answer I can give you. I never thought it was a big deal before, but we own another tract of land to the northeast on a two-lake system. It was bought a long time ago. I think Fendral might have made the decision, but I could be wrong. Maybe one day we’ll put it to use in the same way we have here.” “Wow. I didn’t know that. How big is it?” “Not sure, exactly. It’s a large parcel… a thousand acres, or thereabouts, surrounding one end of the bigger lake, but we can ask Mom to be sure. I know it’s accessible by road, but it’s remote. I remember her saying it wasn’t serviced. That was years ago, though, so maybe it is by now.” “There’s always solar, or wind generators, so power lines aren’t a requirement.” “True, and satellite phones if there’s no cell service, and satellite internet. What are you thinking? You want to homestead, mountain man?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m happy where we are. Morningstar is perfect, and we have our cabin to escape to. I was only thinking positive, about one day outgrowing this place with new members. We could have a population explosion in the coming years, and Elinor and Denver are getting it started.” “We could,” Tobyn said wistfully. They arrived at the lodge, and he shut off the engine. “I promise you one day we’ll have children of our own.” A startled Tobyn turned to him. Hazel eyes examined his face for a few seconds. “I have you, and that’s all I need. Besides, you can’t promise something like that, nor do you need to.” “You’re all I need too, and maybe you’re right that I can’t promise, but it’s a feeling I have… don’t ask me why because I have no idea… I just know I do. The earth mother has done right by us so far, hasn’t she?” Tobyn smiled. “Yes, she has. And so have you. I want to believe it could happen, but….” “Stop. We have a lot of life to live yet, Tobyn. Have faith, and trust me. We are going to be dads someday. Now, come on. Let’s go eat.” Only a few stragglers were left in the dining room when they arrived. Sitting down facing the entrance, Kellar watched as Elinor escorted Denver to the front door. There was no missing their happy contentment, and he flickered to see all was in good order. Morningstar’s new hope had grown substantially since the day before. The progression of life in its infancy had always fascinated him. “Wave goodbye to Denver, babe. I’m assuming he’s about to head back to the garage.” Tobyn twisted, waved to the couple, and turned back. “He looks proud as a peacock. How’s my mom?” “Mother and child are doing great.” “Awesome. I wonder when they’re going to make the announcement.” “It’s just a guess, but I know a lot of human women wait until the fetus is three month’s old.” Tobyn screwed up his face. “Fetus? Ugh. Can’t you just say baby?” Kellar laughed. “Well, officially it’s an embryo for about eight more weeks, and then it’s a fetus until it’s born, but for you, I’ll refer to it as your brother.” “Brother? Oh my God… are you serious?” “No. Gotcha!” he whispered. “I already told you I couldn’t be sure for a couple of months yet, not until it’s eleven weeks or so, and even then I won’t tell you. That’s for your mother to decide, if she even wants to know what the sex is.” “My mate’s a jerk,” Tobyn muttered. “But you love me, right?” Kellar couldn’t help grinning. “Yes. Even when you’re mean.” Without having to order, Heather brought them the special of the day. Two huge helpings of a beef and noodle stroganoff, along with a plate of warm homemade rolls. They dug in, and conversation gave way to more important matters. After a few food-shoveling minutes, Kellar slowed down, and took in the healthy glow the sun had left on Tobyn, who was continuing to take his meal seriously. It was one of those moments where he let his feelings surface, and gave thanks this handsome man had turned out to be his mate. He was the luckiest of shifters. “So are you ready to hit the road?” “What?” Kellar’s musings had him lost as to Tobyn’s meaning. Where were they going? “You know… continue our search. Have you been thinking about us maybe putting it off?” “Oh, sorry. No. Why? Have you?” “Not at all, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Warren.” “Oh, really?” Kellar tried to look alarmed. “Shut up. You know what I mean. His wedding and his change.” “I’ve thought about it too, but we’ve already decided it’s best to wait until the fall, and I know Warren really is fine with it. Don’t worry… he’s not pretending.” “Cool. Just checking.” Tobyn grinned. “So, what do you think? Mom says Arthur remembers Dryden and Sioux Lookout now. Those places aren’t that close to Thunder Bay.” “It is a lot of area to cover. I wonder if Thunder Bay has another significance for him. Maybe the conclave was near there, and that’s why he remembered it first.” “Makes sense. His old pack grounds may turn out to be between those other two places. There’s a little highway that runs between them.” “Only one way to find out, and the earth mother will help us.” “I know. I don’t mind the uncertainty… it’s an adventure.” Tobyn looked like a little kid as he finished spooning up the last of his lunch. “Speaking of Arthur, there he is with his beloved.” Kellar gestured with a chin motion toward the entrance, waving as he stood to greet the advancing couple. “Are we interrupting, dear?” Miss Sybil asked as she neared the table. “Absolutely not, ma’am. I always look forward to seeing you and Arthur.” “We always look forward to seeing you,” Tobyn corrected as he stood and kissed Miss Sybil’s cheek in greeting. “Hello, Arthur.” “Good afternoon, Tobyn. Good afternoon, Cahlar.” After copying Tobyn’s greeting to one of his most favorite people, he turned to her mate. “Good day, Arthur. You look well.” “I am well. I remember Auriga pack. Sybil says I’m right. She remembers too.” “Are you saying that’s where you came from originally?” “Yes.” “That’s great,” Tobyn interrupted enthusiastically. Kellar gave his mate a grin before refocusing on the elder man. “Do you recall anything else?” “Not about the pack, but there was a town called Valora. I liked to go to Valora for penny candy. I had a brother, but I don’t know his name… he might have been younger than me. I’ve tried, but….” “Hey, that’s enough. You can’t rush these things, and you’ve given us all we need.” Miss Sybil was standing beside her mate, and she wasn’t smiling. In fact, her forehead was creased with frown lines. “Would you like to join us?” “I’d like to talk to you, Kellar, to both of you, but not in the dining room.” “Is something wrong, Miss Sybil?” Tobyn asked. “No, dear. It’s about visions I’ve had. Littles ones which, early this morning, became one bigger one.” There was a reticence to her tone. It was almost a dread that Kellar picked up on. He noticed the whiteness of her knuckles as she gripped her mate’s hand. Arthur’s demeanor gave away no clues. “Well, we’re finished lunch now. Would you like to go elsewhere… our house, or yours?” “Either would be fine. Tobyn, do you know if your mother is busy?” “I don’t think so. She’s in her office. Denver left right after we got here. Have you seen anyone else go back there?” he asked Kellar. “Nope. No one has come or gone.” “Good,” the seer said, looking away. “I would like her to hear what I have to say. It’s something she’ll be interested in.” “Let’s go get her,” Tobyn said, standing up with his eyes on Kellar. “She’s making me nervous, doc.” “Me too. Have you ever seen her like this?” “No. It’s not like her to avoid eye contact.” Kellar quickly copied his mate and stood, wondering if their mission was going to be affected in some way. Did Miss Sybil foresee a problem, or danger? “I’m ready. Maybe we could talk in Elinor’s office?” “That would be fine,” Miss Sybil responded, still not meeting their eyes. They all took seats inside the roomy office. A slight breeze stirred papers on Elinor’s desk. She literally glowed, but only Kellar and Tobyn knew the reason. It was possible, though, the seer could have her own insights. “I hope we’re not interrupting your day, Elinor. I suppose I could have waited until the evening, but….” “Of course you’re not, Miss Sybil. Paperwork gets boring and I welcome any excuse to avoid it. I had a lovely lunch with Denver earlier, and I’ve just been going over some ancient accounting ledgers and jotting down any trends I see… a tedious and boring way to spend time.” She smiled as she looked curiously around the room. “What is it you think I should hear?” Miss Sybil glanced from Elinor to Kellar, and her gaze settled there, apparently with some effort. “I have a story to tell, so I’ll just get on with it. My visions have become quite reliable lately, and I believe one I had as the sun was rising, was quite accurate.” “Was it about our search?” an impatient Tobyn asked. Kellar felt the grip on his hand tighten. “No, dear. This one was about the past. Your mate’s past.” “Mine?” “Yes.” She glanced down and up, and again Kellar saw the reluctance in her. “It was revealed to me what happened to your parents. I know how they died.” Kellar’s throat dried out as he absorbed her words. His parents? Their death? Only the contact of his mate kept him sitting. “Do you want to know?” was asked softly, with a note of uncertainty. Not yet trusting his voice, he nodded, getting a measuring look from the seer. “I fear this could be difficult to hear, but I believe it’s important for you to know. My visions can be random, but they’re are never frivolous. By that, I mean they always serve a purpose. Would you like for us to talk alone? In private?” This time Kellar shook his head. “All right. Good. It’s best for all of you to hear this at the same time.” She hesitated, looking even less composed, but she continued. “Your mother… her name was Gisla… is that right?” The sudden squeak of Elinor’s chair startled him, but he kept his gaze focused on the seer. He sat up straighter, the fear that had been threatening to suffocate him, suddenly dropping away. He needed to know. “Yes, ma’am. Gisla and Roland were my parents. You actually heard my mother’s name in your vision? You hear sound?” “Sound accompanies some of them, yes, but I didn’t need to hear her name. I recognized her. I could never forget that beautiful face.” A choking sound came from Elinor, and he glanced over to see a woman stunned. He returned his gaze to Miss Sybil. “What’s going on? You recognized her? You… you knew her?” His eyes darted back to Elinor, wondering at the pained look on her face. “Your mother was my best friend’s daughter. Esther and Fendral were her parents, and before you ask, I’m sure of what I’m saying. I saw you as a young boy, and there was no mistaking that face either.” Kellar slumped back in his seat. Slowly, he rotated his head, needing to see Tobyn’s face. His mate appeared just as blown away as he was. “Fendral is your grandfather? How is this possible? I’ve never heard of Gisla….” “Gigi,” was uttered by his own mother as he focused on her. “Mom? Gigi is Gisla? She is Kellar’s mom?” “Yes. If Miss Sybil says it was Gisla, I believe her. I’m just as shocked as you all are. Gigi was my best friend.” “Why are you calling her Gigi?” Kellar asked, trying hard to control the anxiety rising in him. Tears were beginning to roll down Elinor’s cheeks. A short laugh choked its way out, sounding as much like a sob as anything. “Your mother hated her name. She thought Gisla was awful, especially after a few boys started calling her Geezer. She did not think it was funny.” Tobyn handed her Kleenex so she could blow her nose. “I can’t believe you’ve been her son all along. I’m so happy a part of her has survived. It was hard to give up hope she was alive, but I did. I knew she would never have left me wondering for so long if she had a choice.” A new batch of tears poured out. “I must say, you don’t look at all like her.” Kellar wiped at his own eyes. “What… what did she look like?” Elinor faltered, and then rose, turning to the tall filing cabinet behind her. The top drawer contained an old cardboard photo folder she took out and handed to Kellar across the desk. He flipped it open and found himself staring at two teenage girls, arm in arm, smiling at the camera. The one on the left was so obviously Tobyn’s mother. The one on the right hit him like a sledgehammer. That tantalizing memory that had slipped beyond his grasp for years and years, coalesced as he stared at the old photo, and he grabbed at the thread of it. He was staring at his mother as a young girl, but like a specter before him, he slowly envisioned her more mature face. It snapped into focus, and Kellar was struck by how pretty she was with her hair floating around her face. He was strapped into a car seat, surrounded by strands of waving oat grass, and he could see her place the end of her finger on her lips, and he could hear her ‘shush.’ Her cautionary words followed. ‘You must be quiet for Mommy, Kellar. Not a peep, no matter what you hear. Daddy and I will come back as soon as we can, and we’ll take you to meet your grandpa Fendral like we promised… be our brave little man… I have to go away for a little while… remember… you must stay quiet. You must stay quiet.’ Kellar’s eyes refocused, and he was no longer that little boy. He was a grown man staring at a photograph of his long-dead mother. Where had that memory been all these years? Was it some kind of vision? An urge to run came over him… to let his wolf free and run till he dropped. He fought it, gaining strength from the warm hand that was now on his arm. He turned his head and stared into emotional hazel eyes. “I remember her,” Kellar whispered to his mate. “I remember that day. I remember her leaving me in the ditch where the police reports said I was found, and I can hear her words as if it was yesterday... she mentioned my grandpa Fendral... and I can see the tall grass swaying above me.” He turned his attention back to the seer, who was busy wiping at her eyes. “How could I remember that? I was only four-and-a-half. I could never remember any of it before.” “The photograph… it triggered it, and yes you were young, but you’re a shifter, dear… a very special one who can remember the pattern of every living thing you see. Keepers are born with some memories, and seers can glimpse the past, so I’m not surprised you could recall your last moments with your mother. You encompass so much of our race, and I have no doubt you are guided by the earth mother. Maybe at some point you’ll experience a memory of your father.” Kellar was too overloaded to examine Miss Sybil’s speculation. “What happened to her? Who stopped her from coming back for me like she promised?” One stifled sob, and the woman visibly steeled herself. “She couldn’t. I’m sorry, Kellar. Gigi and your father did what they could to protect you, but they couldn’t save each other.” “Was it hunters?” The woman nodded. Her expression was resolute, but Kellar sensed her turmoil at having to confirm who was responsible. He owed it to her to make it easier. He turned his gaze to a sniffling Elinor. The mention of hunters had hit her hard, and it showed in the compassion of her words. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. I’d always hoped those horrible men hadn’t gotten to her. Gigi was a light in all our lives.” “It’s all right, Elinor,” he said soothingly. “It was a long time ago, and it was something I suspected once I learned about hunters. The explanation of my parents hitting a moose never made sense, because how could I have ended up so far away, sitting unscathed in a car seat? And the police couldn’t come up with an answer for why the car burned, other than the gas tank exploding and feeding an electrical fire. It all sounded stupid, and the reports said I didn’t have a mark on me, and neither did the seat.” He didn’t like that her shoulders were shaking. His thoughts went to her coming child. This was a pivotal time for the new embryo. “Finish telling me about why you call her Gigi.” It worked, and he got a smile out of her. He waited while she blew her nose again. “Your mother was such a character, Kellar.” One short bark of amusement escaped before she began her recollection. “We went to town one afternoon—Fendral drove—so she could pick out something with her birthday money. She ended up choosing some old movies from a bin at the video store. She loved movies, and she loved musicals.” Elinor dabbed at her eyes, but her voice was strong again. “One of those movies was a Best Picture winner from the fifties or sixties called Gigi. It starred Leslie Caron, and as soon as we started watching it, there was no denying your mother’s resemblance to her. “Anyway, after it was over, she declared she wanted to be called Gigi from that moment on. We all went along with the idea, and while Fendral and Esther frowned on it at first, even they started calling her Gigi. Your mother always got her way.” “Yes, she did. It took me a while to come around because I thought her name enchanting, but how could I not?” Miss Sybil said, also smiling now. “What was that song she used to sing from the movie?” “Oh… it was sung by Maurice Chevalier… yes—‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’—she would even sing it with the same French accent he did.” “That’s right, I remember now. Your mother had a beautiful voice, Kellar, and she was such a captivating child, strong-willed and determined. She was a leader… never a follower.” The room went suddenly quiet. Tobyn took the picture from his mate. “I’ve seen this so many times and I had no idea Gigi was your mother. You were always sad when you looked at this, Mom,” he said, looking at Elinor before he returned his attention to Kellar. “Mom’s right. You look nothing like her.” “Yeah, I can see that. What color was my mother’s wolf?” Elinor answered the question after sighing. “The same color as the hair on your head. It was the richest, chestnut brown. I never thought of the similarity until now, because her hair itself was a dark honey blond. Her wolf was a most unusual color, and Esther’s wolf was the same.” It was strange to suddenly learn these things. He needed to know more. All of it. “Did you see my father, Miss Sybil?” Kellar had to swallow the extra saliva that came from nowhere after he asked the question. He knew nothing of his father other than he was likely a healer. “There is much more to my vision, but I can tell you that looking at your face is the same as looking at his. I saw him as a young, brave man, not so much older than you are now, and your features are identical. His hair was a darker brown, almost black, but that was the only difference. Even if I had not recognized Gigi, I would have known that man was your father.” “His wolf… I guess you didn’t see his wolf?” Miss Sybil dropped her head at the question. “I did see his wolf, I’m afraid. He was white, and from what I saw, he was powerful… and ferocious.” Her words were whispered, and her head stayed lowered. “Miss Sybil? I need to hear what happened. Don’t worry about how it will affect me, okay? Not knowing has left a hole in me. I know this is hard for you, and I understand what’s coming has to do with their death.” The seer raised her head and stiffened her spine. “You are a remarkable young man. You should know your father fought, but there were three hunters, and your parents were trapped.” “Trapped?” “In their vehicle. I’m not an expert on cars, but it was square like a jeep.” “Yes, it was a 1988 Jeep Cherokee. I remember reading about it being completely burned out in a file I peeked at. Sorry… go on,” Kellar said. Miss Sybil hesitated, but she kept her eyes on Kellar. “What I have to say next is not easy.” “It’s okay. I’m fine, really.” The seer nodded after pulling Arthur’s hand closer. “Once your mother hid you, she ran back to their car. Your father was waiting and as soon as she got in, he changed directions, doing a U-turn and driving away. It was obvious they were trying to put as much distance between you and them as they could, but they didn’t get very far at all. A huge pickup truck rammed into them. I don’t know where it came from, but it hit them so hard the Jeep spun around before it rolled to a stop. Your dad’s door was crushed, but he was alive. Your mother wasn’t moving… I’m so sorry.” “I know you are. I feel bad putting you through this, ma’am.” Kellar felt numb, but what he was hearing played into what he already knew. “The police reports said my parents were burned beyond recognition.” He couldn’t bring himself to use the same words the investigator had. “That’s because one of them threw something into the back seat that exploded. I believe it’s called a Molotov cocktail. It was a bottle with a burning rag stuffed in it. Your father tried to open his door, but it was badly dented. He was screaming at those men… but he couldn’t get out. One of the hunters was laughing, taunting your father—that’s when I saw his wolf—he shifted and came partway out the window at the man, and he managed to slash his face with a paw before the other older one hit him repeatedly with this club thing. It was awful, but it was over quickly. Your father shifted back and gathered your mother in his arms. The younger one threw another one of those things in the Jeep from your mother’s side—he was the one with a rifle—and another explosion filled the car with flames. That was the end of my vision.” “My father slashed the hunter in the face?” “Yes, he did, and it was an effective one. He caught the man by surprise, and left him bleeding and cursing. He called your father an unholy demon.” Kellar turned to his mate and they both said Reznick at the same time. “Could it be? That bastard killed my parents?” “I don’t know, doc. It would be a hell of a coincidence. That scar fit with shifter wolf claws.” “What can you tell me about these hunters, ma’am?” “There were three of them, and they were big men. One was probably in his late twenties, and the other two were around fifty to sixty. One was definitely older than the other. They looked alike… I would say they were definitely related… and they looked Slavic. That’s all I can tell you, I’m afraid.” “You said one had a club?” “Actually, two of them did. Long ones, with metal rings around them… three or four metal rings.” “So, they were more like thick staffs than clubs.” “Yes. That’s a better word. Am I right in thinking these were the hunters you dealt with recently?” “They have to be”—he looked at Tobyn, who nodded with certainty—“and if that’s the case, they’re all dead now. Ma’am, are you sure my mom was… gone… before the flames touched her?” “She never stirred after the Jeep came to a stop. Not once. She must have hit her head because your father was wiping away blood as he held her.” “Thank you… for telling me this.” “Are you all right, dear?” Kellar looked at his mate, bringing Tobyn’s hand over with his own, and holding them tight to his chest. He took a deep breath. “I will be. It’s a relief to finally have answers, and now I have a real memory of my mother. I’ve always felt it there, but this was the first time I was able to grab hold of it.” “I have so many little stories about Gigi I can tell you if you ever want to hear them,” Elinor said, her voice full of sympathy, “and I have more pictures of her at the house you’re welcome to take and keep.” Kellar mustered up a smile. “I’d like that.” His thoughts had traveled to Fendral. He had a living relative, but one he couldn’t talk to. It was time to find the man… the old grey wolf. He sighed loudly. “What are you thinking?” Tobyn asked with a note of expectation in his voice. Kellar’s gaze moved from his mate to the other people in the room. Arthur had stayed quiet, but he too had a look of compassion. “That this is so ironic. I have found a family here… something I never thought I’d have. My mother was taking me to meet my grandfather. I remember her words clearly now. She was bringing me to this very place. This was always meant to be my home, at least some of the time. I’m guessing that was the purpose of this vision.” His eyes returned to Tobyn. “Doc, isn’t it obvious? Morningstar isn’t just your home, it’s your pack.” “I know.” Kellar sighed again. “And I’m thankful. I already felt like I belonged, but now, even more so.” “I don’t think you get what I’m saying. The purpose isn’t what you think… it has to be to reveal your birthright. As Fendral’s only living relative, you are the rightful alpha of Morningstar. The bloodline remains unbroken.” It took seconds for Tobyn’s words to sink in, with all Kellar’s thoughts and emotions going every which way. Did he just hear his mate right? His questioning gaze fell on Elinor, and she was nodding in agreement. Miss Sybil was nodding too. Holy fuck.
  47. 98 points
    Chapter 23 --Bailey— "Woohoo! Go! Go! Go!" Cameron practically yelled in his ear as the Heritage receiver took off down the field. Bailey had no idea who it was. He only remembered that Lachlan was the quarterback, and Declan was number 24. He hadn't had a chance to learn everyone's numbers or what position they played. "Jeez, Cam, you just about broke my ear drum," Luke complained, rubbing his finger in his ear. Bailey chuckled as he yanked a few times at the collar of his shirt, trying to cool down in the unusually warm humid air, made worse by the crush of people around him. The receiver had made it to the six yard line, so now everyone was chanting for a touchdown. Bailey's eyes were on the broad back of number 24, as it had most of the game. Yeah, he enjoyed watching the three touchdowns and two field goals Heritage had made, but he was focused on Declan—who had helped hold the Lancers to only two field goals. At the beginning of the game, he'd felt a little pang of longing, wistfully wanting to be the one chasing down the Lancer's receiver. His team had been shocked when they'd learned he was going to the game and staying in the dorm. In the past, Justin and the guys had boycotted the football games on general 'Chris' principle, but tonight was different. Things had changed. The animosity between the teams had begun to dissipate when Declan had stood up for Bailey against Chris. And the fact that several of the guys had shown up to their gymnastics meet had solidified the tentative peace. So his team had joined him at the game, although Bailey suspected Justin had already been considering going after his connection with Ben on the bus. While Bailey had received several greetings from fellow classmates when he'd arrived at the game—many, again, of surprise—he didn't really know any them, he wasn't friends with them. His team—they were his only friends. And now Declan. He'd been so alone since coming to Heritage, not wanting to let anyone in, shying away from everyone. Justin, Luke, Mateo, Cameron and Owen hadn't given up on him, even though he'd given them every reason to. But it had taken Declan—the huge, obnoxious linebacker—to break his barriers down. Now there was only a few minutes left in the game, and Bailey was anxious for it to be over. The crowd around him surged to their feet in an uproar, and Bailey realized he'd missed the play that had earned them another touchdown. He absently clapped as they kicked the extra point. The last few minutes wound down on the clock as the Lancers struggled valiantly to score before time ran out. Declan and the defensive line didn't let them. As the last cheers of victory died out, Bailey watched Declan whip off his helmet. He couldn't help the smile that came when he realized Declan was searching the stands, his hand raising when he spotted Bailey. Bailey rose with the rest of the crowd, hefting up his school backpack that he'd filled with a change of clothes instead of books, and slinging it over his shoulder before following Justin down to the field. Spectators filtered out the gates, several heading to their cars, others towards the dorms. Several students descended on the football team, offering their congratulations. Bailey watched Justin find Ben as he himself hovered on the outskirts of the congratulatory crowd. Nick was praising Lachlan on his awesome first game as lead quarterback. Several others that Bailey recognized—Jose, Alex, Jaime—were also thumping the younger teen on the back. "Hey." Bailey jumped, startled to find Declan next to him, looking even bigger in his shoulder pads and uniform. Sweat dripped down his temples, and Bailey thought he shouldn't find that so alluring. "Hey. Great game." Bailey smiled up at Declan, who just grinned back. "Yeah, Lachlan did a great job." "You all did a great job," Bailey corrected. Declan laughed. "Yeah, it was definitely a different atmosphere in the locker room before the game tonight. There was nervousness, of course, especially for Lachlan, but really... it was just more relaxed. Nick is an awesome captain." Bailey nodded shyly, unsure of what else to say. "So," Declan finally broke the silence, "we have to head back to the locker room, of course. You know, to shower and change and listen to coach for a bit. You can just come with me and wait until we're done." Bailey wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, no, I don't think so. I'll just wait outside the locker room." Declan laughed. "Yeah, okay—" A whistle cut the air, and they turned to see Coach Reed waving for the team to head in. "Gotta go. See you in a few." When Declan leaned in and hugged him, Bailey nearly flinched back, shock and surprise stunning him to silence. Declan was halfway across the field before Bailey even fully realized what had happened. Bailey lifted his hand to his cheek, feeling the dampness of where Declan's head had brushed the side of his face. It was a little gross, to be enamored of Declan's sweat clinging to him, but Bailey still felt a tiny smile forming as he wiped his jaw dry. *** "What the hell are you doing out here?" a voice jerked his attention from the game Bailey had been playing on his phone. Eddie had shoved his way out of the locker room along with his sidekick, Tripp. They were the first to emerge while Bailey sat waiting outside the locker room for Declan. Neither one had showered, apparently just planning on heading to their dorm room first. "Come to gloat about Chris and Eric being gone?" Tripp added. Bailey pushed himself to his feet from where he'd been sitting against the wall, not wanting to be caught at the significant disadvantage of being on the ground should the two become physically aggressive. "No, don't see that I'd need to do that. I think the team showed it's obvious they don't need Chris and his lapdog to rock it. You guys can win just fine without him. You had an awesome game." Eddie opened and closed his mouth as if searching for some retort, but there really wasn't anything he could say to that. The team had done just fine without Chris Vasser leading it, and Bailey made sure to include Eddie and Tripp in his compliment—knowing it would catch them off guard. Before they could come up with anything else to say, the locker room door opened again and several team members spilled out into the hall, laughing and joking, still high from the win. "Hey! Bailey!" Bailey tore his eyes from Eddie at Jose's call. "What a day, huh, man? Two wins for Heritage! Woohoo!" "Two?" someone asked, but Bailey wasn't sure who. Jose grinned and wrapped an arm around Bailey's shoulders. "Yeah. The gymnastics team crushed it today. You guys should have seen it." "You crushed it," Bailey countered with a grin. "Ben told me about that," someone else said. "I wish I'd known we could go." "Next time," Jose promised. A shout erupted, and Bailey turned to the doors as Lachlan emerged. "Oh! And here's the man of the hour!" "Lachlan! Lachlan! Lachlan!" a chant went up. The new quarterback flushed, ducking his head as his team cheered again. The guy was practically being shoved with pats on the back toward the exit. Bailey noticed in the crush of football players streaming from the locker room, Eddie and Tripp had made their escape. Alec and Jaime stopped next to him as well. "We're going to the student union. The coach had pizza delivered. You want to come?" Alec asked. "Maybe. I'm, uh, waiting for Declan," Bailey explained. "I'm not sure if he's planning on going." Jaime chuckled. "Oh, he's planning on going. That guy can put away some pizza." "Then I guess I'll be there." The flow of students from the locker room slowed to a trickle after the huge rush. He watched through the window as they made their way over to the student union for an after-game pizza party. With the dining hall closed, he supposed it made sense that the school would need to feed the team after a game. "Hey, sorry I took so long." Bailey turned to see Declan striding towards him, and Bailey smiled up at him. "No problem. I'm not going anywhere." "You okay if we stop by the student union? They have some—" "Pizza. I know." Bailey laughed, picking up his backpack. "I'm sure you're a little hungry." Declan grinned. "I could use a slice or two." *** --Declan— "Okay, maybe I should have grabbed another slice," Declan grumbled. Bailey rolled his eyes as he took the towel Declan handed him. "I told you we could have stayed longer. You didn't have to just grab a couple slices and run." Declan flopped on his bed. He'd finished his real shower, having only done a quick rinse in the locker room, and he'd asked Bailey if he wanted to shower after spending the evening in the unusually warm air watching the game. Bailey was about to take him up on the offer and had pulled his pajamas and toothbrush from his backpack. "I know, but I'm tired. And I just wanted to get back here and hang out, you know. Watch a movie or something." "Yeah, yeah." "Yo! Dec!" a voice sounded from the other side of the bathroom. "You done in here?" Micah peeked his head in the room. Declan yawned. "Bailey was going to take a shower." Declan's suitemate looked Bailey up and down briefly. "Evan went home, huh?" "Yeah. Bailey's gonna hang out. His mom didn't want him walking back home in the dark, so I offered him Evan's bed." "Evan's bed, right..." Micah winked with an evil grin. Declan flushed bright red, noticing that Bailey had bitten his lip and turned away to hide his own scarlet cheeks. "You ass..." Declan snapped, throwing a pillow across the room that Micah easily dodged. Micah just laughed before nudging Bailey's shoulder playfully. "Don't let him fool you. After all his mooning over you... Bailey this and Bailey that... you could totally join him and he wouldn't mind. You know, if you get cold or something." Bailey ducked his head and stifled a laugh. "I'll keep that in mind." "Micah!" Declan roared, diving across the room to tackle his suitemate, but the little golfer had already darted back through the bathroom to his own room, slamming the door on the other side. Declan could hear him and Logan laughing hysterically. "Bastards." Declan stepped back into his own room, evading Bailey's gaze. "Hey, sorry about him, you know, just..." Bailey's hand landed on his forearm. "It's okay. He's just joking around." "Yeah, yeah, he's, well..." Declan was still stammering from embarrassment. Bailey squeezed harder on Declan's arm. "Hey. How about I get that shower, then we watch the movie. Maybe you can even invite Micah and Logan over to join us." Declan nodded, grateful Bailey had swept away the tension threatening to stifle their night. As much as Declan liked Bailey, he hadn't wanted Bailey to think that's why he wanted him to stay over. And now that Micah had opened his stupid mouth... well, he couldn't get that image out of his mind. After Bailey stepped into the shower cubicle of the bathroom, Declan made his way to Logan and Micah's room. Surprisingly, Micah hadn't actually locked it to keep Declan from storming through. "Hey guys..." He knocked once before opening it. Declan saw Micah duck behind his much larger roommate, causing Logan to teeter as Micah grabbed him. "You." Declan pointed at Micah, who just erupted into peals of laughter. Logan crossed his arms, trying to look stern and not laugh, but wasn't being very successful. "You're an ass," Declan declared. "Oh, we already know that," Logan agreed. They all heard the water turn on in the bathroom. Declan's attention flickered briefly to the open bathroom door before he let his shoulders sag. Damn he was tired. He didn't even have the energy to continue berating Micah. "So Bailey's staying overnight, I hear," Logan said. "Yeah." Declan raised his hand defensively. "Purely platonic. So he could enjoy the game and not have to walk home so late." The quirked eyebrows and pursed lips on his suitemates told him they didn't believe him. "Whatever." He waved a dismissive hand at them. They'd tease and joke no matter what he told them. "We do want to get to know each other and spend time together, but..." He shrugged. "No like that yet." Of course, Micah picked up on the 'yet.' "Yet, huh? So soon?" Declan only had the energy to flick him off. "So we're going to watch Age of Ultron in a few minutes. Did you guys want to join us?" Declan finally offered. "Oooh, well, wouldn't we be intruding on your cuddle time?" Micah apparently just couldn't let up. Declan rolled his eyes, ignoring him as he stepped back towards the bathroom. "I guess that's a no." "No! No! I want to see it!" Micah burst out from behind Logan. "I'm just teasin'." "You're just an ass," Declan retorted. "I think we've already covered that," Logan chuckled. "Knock when you're ready to start. We'll bring some popcorn." Declan perked up at the mention of the snack. "Popcorn?" "Yeah, my mom sent the good stuff in her last care package," Logan said, already digging around in a crate under his bed. "Great. Thanks." Declan stepped back through the bathroom. Hearing Bailey in the shower brought indecent images to his mind that he had to stamp down before his cock decided to show Bailey just how interested he was. Imagining the water and soapy bubbles sluicing down Bailey's firm muscles was not helping. He looked down at the knee-length athletic shorts he had on for bed. Already he could see a bulge trying to thicken in his underwear. Normally, he wouldn't have even bothered with the underwear, but he knew Bailey's presence might incite a physical response and hoped the boxer briefs would help contain the evidence. Damn things weren't doing a very good job. "Grandma. Church. The president. Stinky sweat socks," he mumbled to himself, trying to come up with other images to keep his libido under control. The bed. He could make up Evan's bed for Bailey, that might help. Declan headed to his closet to pull down an extra set of sheets. For some reason, his mom thought he needed three sets—two regular and one flannel—for when it got cold, she said. He thought Bailey might like the softer blue flannel, so he pulled that set down. The process of putting the bed together helped get his mind off other things. He finished about the time he heard Bailey turn off the water. A few minutes later, Bailey leaned out of the bathroom doorway. "Hey, do you have some toothpaste I can use?" Declan turned. "Uh, yeah sure." He moved into the bathroom to dig out his tube from his basket of toiletries, ignoring the fall of Bailey's sleep pants over his hips, glad that Bailey had decided to wear a t-shirt to bed. As he handed over the toothpaste, his stomach let out a loud rumble. For a second they both just stared at Declan's stomach like an alien was about to claw its way out. Then they burst in to laughter. Declan rubbed his belly. "Sorry about that." Still laughing, Bailey pointed at his book bag on the floor by Declan's desk. "I have a couple protein bars in the front pocket of my bag. Why don't you eat those?" Declan's brows shot up into his hairline. "Really? Thanks. Logan said he'd bring over some popcorn, but a protein bar would be even better." As he lifted the backpack and put it on the desk, it occurred to him that he should have prepared better for company and bought some extra snacks. As it was, all he had was a bunch of bottles of water and three orange juice bottles in their tiny fridge. There were actually three pockets on the front of the backpack, so he started with the smallest. After unzipping it, digging his hand in and scooping out the contents, it was obvious that wasn't the right pocket. The handful of school supplies—pens, pencils, a six-inch ruler, a tiny stapler, a protractor, a compass, erasers, even a tiny tape roll—got dumped on the desk. "Damn, man, how many pens and pencils to you need?" Declan chuckled as he sorted through the different colors. He got a grunt from Bailey, who had a toothbrush in his mouth. "...frong focket," came Bailey's mumbled response. "And what the hell is this?" Declan held up the object, examining it. It had a slide lever on the side and he pushed it. As a sharp blade slid free of its casing, a memory tugged at his brain... another razor... somewhere... recently... "Wrong pocket," Bailey repeated. "Don't think any of that would taste very good." Bailey had finished rinsing and was staring at Declan from the bathroom doorway. For a second, Declan was sure he saw a flash of fear in Bailey's soft gray eyes. "Why do you need this in your backpack?" Declan held it up, genuinely curious, even as something nagged at the back of his brain. The look in Bailey's eyes disappeared almost instantly as he shrugged and smiled. "It came as part of the set of supplies my mom got, along with the compass, ruler, tape, stapler and stuff. I just dumped it all in there. Never know what you might need. Can't say I've ever needed the tape either." "Huh." Declan huffed as Bailey came over and started repacking his school supplies. After they were put away, he unzipped the medium size pocket and pulled out five protein bars. "Geez, what are you, a boy scout? Always be prepared?" Declan laughed at the number of bars Bailey held, different flavors too. Bailey cocked a thin hip. "Fine, don't take 'em..." He started to drop them back in the bag. "No! No, no," Declan cried out, dropping to his knees in front of Bailey, hands clasped together. "Please, sir, may I have more to eat?" Bailey laughed, shaking his head at Declan's antics. He dropped all five bars on the desk, leaving them there for Declan to pick at them as he wanted. The pizza at the student union had been enough for him, since he'd also grabbed a hot dog during the game. Declan climbed to his feet, laughing as well, before tearing into one of the protein bars—mint chocolate chip. Declan tore off a bite with his teeth before offering Bailey some water or juice from the fridge. Bailey took a bottle of water since he'd already brushed. They could smell the popcorn being prepared in the other room. "I guess I should have told you about Logan and the popcorn before you brushed. You could just brush again, if you want some..." Bailey waved the bottle of water. "This is fine. I'm not really hungry. A little tired is all." As Declan fiddled with the TV and DVD player, he noticed Bailey eyeing the two beds, wringing his water bottle in his hands. After he had the DVD ready, he turned to Bailey, wondering what was wrong. "You okay?" "Yeah... it's just..." Bailey trailed off with another look at Evan's bed. "Are you sure he said it was okay? I feel weird him not knowing I'm taking over his bed." "Yeah, he'd be fine with it. But if it bothers you that much, you can take mine, and I'll sleep in Evan's," Declan suggested. Bailey visibly relaxed. It was obvious he'd been nervous imposing on Evan's things without hearing Evan's express permission himself. "Yeah. That... that might be good. Thanks." "No problem." Declan grinned. "Let me just..." he trailed off as he moved to yank the sheets off his own bed. He was suddenly glad to have that extra set of sheets waiting in the closet. Thank you, mom. Bailey helped him, and as they finished making the bed, Logan and Micah tromped through the bathroom, wafting the buttery smell of popcorn with them. "Movie ready?" Logan asked, tossing popcorn into his mouth. "Yeah, just a min." Declan finished tucking the comforter in before grabbing the pillows from Evan's bed and propping all the pillows up against the wall. "It'll be easier to see the screen from here," Declan told Bailey, indicating for him to climb on to the make-shift couch. Micah was lugging a leather gaming chair into the room, placing it in front of Declan's bed and settling himself down on it. Logan just took Declan's desk chair and flipped it around, leaning on the back of it like he always did. "Okay, here we go." Declan settled on the bed with Bailey and pressed play on the remote. There was over a foot of distance between them, but it wasn't awkward either—like they were trying to keep their distance. It was just how each had settled against the pillows. The movie was more than half over before Declan realized that Bailey had moved. Bailey had shifted, curling his legs and leaning more to the side on the pillows—closer to Declan. Declan could almost feel wisps of Bailey's hair tickling his arm. He looked down to see Bailey's eyes drifting closed, like he was fighting to stay awake. Declan smiled to himself before carefully pulling a pillow free and laying it over his leg. Then he wrapped an arm around Bailey, tugging, startling him for a moment, before indicating for Bailey to lay down. Bailey hesitated for only a moment before resting his head on Declan's thigh. Bailey wriggled a little, his hand tucking up to land on Declan's knee. Declan sucked in a breath at the touch, so innocent and yet... not. He dropped his own hand to Bailey's shoulder, rubbing up and down. He leaned down, whispering. "Is this okay?" "Mmmhmm." Bailey's response was muffled as Declan suspected he was drifting off to sleep already. Sitting back, he grinned as a giddy warm spread through his body. His body and mind buzzed with excitement, fear, contentment, and trepidation, all vying for supremacy. As the movie wore on, Declan wasn't sure what was happening anymore. His thoughts strayed to one thing: did he now have a boyfriend and how did he feel about it? While he wasn't certain about the answer to the first question, he was coming to realize that giddy happiness was beginning to trample his fear of being more out at school. His fingers trailed over Bailey's soft skin. And it was because of Bailey. **** Declan jerked awake, unsure of what had awoken him. He stared around in the dark, confused by the different angle of the room. Then he remembered—he was in Evan's bed, and Bailey was nestled in his. The bang and yell had him shooting upright. "No! No, stop! Don't go!" Bailey was scrabbling blinding at the wall with his hands, sometimes hitting it hard enough to cause a resounding thump on the wall. Declan jumped out of the bed, calling Bailey's name softly and shaking his shoulder, hoping to wake him before the loud knocks woke up Micah or Logan on the other side of the wall. "Bailey, man, come on. Wake up. You're having a nightmare," Declan urged. Unfortunately, Declan's touch only caused Bailey to get more violent and insistent about pounding through the wall. A couple more loud punches, and Declan instinctively threw himself around Bailey, pulling the thrashing arms into his body. Declan was practically spooned behind the smaller teen, holding him tight while offering shushing noises of comfort. It belatedly occurred to him that restraining someone in the throes of a nightmare could put him in danger of being hit himself, but Bailey was a lot smaller than he was so maybe it would be okay, as long as he didn't freak Bailey out. "It's okay, Bailey. You're safe..." "...nnnuh... nnuh... no! Dad!...no... no," Bailey's voice trailed off, becoming more of a sob as his struggles lessened. "What the hell is going on?" Logan's sleepy voice asked from the bathroom door way. "You guys... you guys aren't having sex, are you?" he stammered as he apparently took in Declan laying next to Bailey. "If you thought we were having sex, why the hell did you come in here?" Declan snapped irritably, glaring over his shoulder at his suitemate while Bailey's body slowly sagged under his. Logan stared at him for a long moment, obviously not quite awake, before shrugging. "Good point. I guess I heard the banging... didn't know what was going on. And well... " He shrugged again, too tired to put more coherent thought into it. "Anyway, you guys okay?" Declan sighed. "Yeah. Bailey was just having a nightmare. I was trying to hold him to keep him from continuing to hit the wall, get him to calm down." Declan felt Bailey shudder, and moved a hand to stroke over Bailey's hand. "We're good now, I think," he told Logan without looking at him. "Sorry it woke you." Logan waved away the apology. "No problem. It happens. Just making sure everything was okay." "Thanks. 'Night." Declan heard Logan leave, closing the connecting bathroom door behind him. Declan focused on Bailey. "Bailey..." he whispered, loosening his grip now that Bailey was calmer, but Bailey didn't move, didn't fight to be free. "Bailey... are you okay? Are you awake?" Slowly, Bailey's hand came out from where Declan hand tucked it against his body, and Declan felt Bailey's tentative touch on his forearm. "Declan?" "Yeah," he sighed, relieved that Bailey was free of the wrath of his nightmare. "It's me. You... you were having a nightmare, banging on the walls. I... I wasn't sure what to do, so I kinda just held you to keep you from hurting yourself—and waking up the guys next door." Bailey groaned, turning to bury his face in the pillow. "Oh God. I'm so sorry. Did I wake them? Did I hurt you?" "No," Declan lied, started to pull away and give Bailey some room. "No, don't." Bailey's hand caught his arm. Declan froze, unsure of what Bailey meant. Don't what? Bailey sniffled, and Declan realized he'd been crying. Based on what Declan had heard, he could guess Bailey's nightmare had to do with his father. And Declan could only imagine what Bailey must be feeling. Declan had never lost anyone close to him yet, so he had no idea what kind of pain Bailey must be dealing with every day, or how he even dealt with it to be so functional. Declan knew if he lost one of his parents he'd be devastated. "Bailey?" The unasked question lingered tenuously between them. "Don't go." Bailey's response was so soft Declan almost didn't hear him, but Bailey curled himself into the bed, dragging Declan's arm around him as he did. "Please. I need to feel something... other than... other than the ache of..." "Shhhh...." Declan soothed, wrapping his arms tighter around the smaller body. If holding Bailey helped him to sleep, to feel something other than the deep void his father's loss had created, then Declan would do his best to absorb as much of Bailey pain as he could by holding him in his arm. Bailey snuffled again, apparently trying to chase away the last visages of the nightmare, and settled into Declan's arms. Bailey wriggled a little, burrowing himself closer, seeking as much contact as possible. Declan felt Bailey's body slowly relaxing, evidently taking comfort in Declan's nearness. "Thank you," Bailey whispered. "I... I hope it's... it's not too much to—" "Shush." Declan hushed him, drawing the blanket Bailey had thrashed off to the side over both of them and settling himself down. "I'm exactly where I want to be. With you." Bailey's fingers tightened on the hand that Bailey had pulled to his chest. "Me too."
  48. 98 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 52 “So, what are your plans?” “We’re not sure yet, Mom. Arthur has given us the name of that town, Dryden, northwest of Thunder Bay, so we have something to go on. Everyone has settled in nicely, so we’re not really needed here now, are we?” “Needed, no, but Tobyn, you and Kellar haven’t had any chance to catch your breath. Don’t you want to take it easy for a while? My goodness, you’ve just found Hugh’s mate, and….” “Hugh found his own mate, Elinor.” “You know what I mean, Kellar. From what you’ve told me, you two were there for Hugh in every way when he needed you, and don’t try to tell me it was easy. So, back to my question. What’s the rush?” “The rush is that shifters are still dying, Mom, and we want to cover as much ground as we can before the weather changes and winter sets in. That’s when we’ll stick close to home.” “Close to home?” “You don’t miss anything, do you? Yeah, Morningstar most of the time, but we plan to spend a lot of days at the cabin too. We like it there, and you’ve seen how much work my mate has put into it.” Tobyn turned to Kellar and winked. “It’s best to prepare her now.” “Good thinking.” Elinor sighed deeply, leaning back in her chair. “It is a lovely place. You know I worry when you’re gone.” “We do. All we can tell you is we’ll be careful, and before you say it, just because we’ve said we think the hunters’ numbers have shrunk considerably, we know the threat is still there. Kellar and I will never be caught unawares.” “We could spare a couple of members to go with you now. I’m sure Percy would love to go with you, and he’s already faced a hunter….” “Mom, please. We’ve been through this already. Yes, Percy has come face to face with a hunter, but it was Ian who pulled the trigger, and there’s no way in hell we’re going to ask him to leave Joanne. Look, we understand your concerns, but this is a time for the pack to jell. I have no doubt we’d get a lot of volunteers if we asked, but we honestly think we’d be better off continuing to do this on our own. Remember, being able to communicate without others knowing is a powerful advantage.” “Good job, babe.” “Thanks. She’ll never be completely on board with us going off by ourselves, though.” “Okay, okay. I’ll stop being mom… for the time being,” she said unconvincingly, “and don’t think I’m not aware you do that ‘talking amongst yourselves thing’ with me.” Both Kellar and Tobyn stayed quiet, but grins slipped onto their faces. “Stop looking so smug, the pair of you,” Elinor said with detectable amusement. “Oh, did I tell you I’ve almost talked Clarence into joining our council? He’s thinking it over. Ingram and Maynard really like him, and so do I.” “Ingram just wants more time out on the lake.” Elinor laughed. “True, but the poor man. Did you know Dot got queasy when he took her on a boat ride for the first time? She says the water’s not for her. He didn’t show it, but I’m sure Ingram was disappointed. If anything could keep him on solid ground, it’ll be his mate.” “Maybe she’ll get used to it,” Tobyn said, chuckling at the man’s luck. “But you’re right about Clarence. He’s an impressive man, and he’s learned from his mistakes. He’s without ego, and he puts his members first.” Elinor nodded her agreement. “I’ve seen that in him—we’ve had some good talks—and that’s exactly why I’d like to involve him in the day to day running of Morningstar.” “He’s a great fit,”Kellar agreed. “I hope all the alphas we meet are as fair and welcoming as Clarence was.” When a frown creased Elinor’s face, he regretted his words. The mother in her was resurfacing, and he could picture the scenarios she was imagining. “That’s the thing about shifters, though. After not knowing any for most of my life, I haven’t met a single one I didn’t like.” Hopefully, that helped. “Well, there was Logan for a while there,” Tobyn pointed out with an exaggerated shudder. “God, he was a jerk, wasn’t he? Unfortunately, we met his tumor before we met him.” Kellar grimaced at the memory, and then smiled. “I love watching him with Tilly. He expresses himself, but only after Tilly has. It’s cute.” “He’s a man in love, doc. I expect there will be a wedding there soon too. Probably right after Adelin’s.” Elinor snickered. “Just between us, Logan showed up here after breakfast, before he went off to the marina—says he loves working there and doesn’t care if he ever sees lumber again—and asked me about weddings at Morningstar.” “Really? Wow. That was fast.” “Don’t misunderstand, Toby. He was wanting to know if his dad would be allowed to perform a wedding ceremony here, if he doesn’t join the council. I told him of course Clarence could do it no matter what he decided. He’ll still be an alpha even if he doesn’t take a leadership role. He was pretty happy after we talked, but asked me not to mention our conversation to Tilly.” “So, he’s thinking about it,” Tobyn said thoughtfully. “He probably got a wistful vibe from his mate over Adelin’s upcoming wedding. She’s not easy to read sometimes, but Logan’s a pretty smart cookie. He showed as much in the challenge of getting Vega over the hump. He was in tune with the members, which was pretty impressive to witness considering he spent years suffering constant pain and mood swings. He was the one who called for a vote, and remember his talk at the table, doc, about setting aside logging and concentrating on what makes Morningstar strong?” “Yeah, I remember. There’s nothing wrong with his brain now, that’s for sure. He’s his father’s son, babe, with the same talent for diplomacy you have, and that got hidden for a while because of the tumor, but it never disappeared.” Elinor had gone quiet, looking from one to the other. “We’ve added so many good people. It’s been ages since I’ve felt I could relax, and not worry about our future every waking minute.” “All this responsibility has to weigh a person down,” Kellar mused. “You should start taking it easier now… you’ve earned it.” “Thank you, dear. All these new members have changed the atmosphere of Morningstar so much. I don’t feel the pressure I used to. It gives me more time to enjoy life. Me and Denver. He can leave later and get home earlier now, and I’m going to try to do the same. I would like more family time,” she said, wearing the tiniest of smiles. “You know, don’t you?” Kellar gave Tobyn’s mother a direct look. For a second, Elinor looked like a deer caught in headlights, and then she relaxed. “I didn’t, not for certain. It’s awfully early.” Her gaze went to Tobyn. “What are you two talking about? Mom?” A smile grew on Elinor’s face. “I believe Kellar just verified what I’d only hoped until now. You can tell already?” Kellar nodded, his attention focused on his mate. “Are you saying…?” “That you’re finally going to be a brother? Yes, it would appear so.” Elinor was beaming. “Holy crap. A brother? I… I always wanted to be a brother.” He turned to Kellar. “You can see it?” “Yes, I can see it.” “Can you tell what it is?” “Yup. It’s a baby. That’s all I can tell you. It’s a tiny little thing right now, but it’s made a home.” Elinor leaned forward, her arms reaching across the desk. “Are you happy about it, Tobyn?” “Are you?” “Oh, my, yes.” “Then so am I. It’s kind of a shock, but Kellar predicted it a while ago. Hell, yeah, I’m over the moon. A baby. Wow. Does Denver know?” “No, he doesn’t. I didn’t know until just this moment, but I had a feeling, and of course there was a physical sign indicating I could be. My cycle has always been reliable. I was dying to ask if you could detect whether I was, Kellar, but at the same time, I’ve been afraid to get my hopes up.” “I saw it right away, Elinor.” “Right away? What do you mean, right away? Like, the day we got back from Vega?” Tobyn asked. “Yup. I can see a pregnancy from the time the egg is fertilized and the cells start to divide.” “And you didn’t tell me?” “Nope.” “How could you keep that a secret?” “What… do you think you should know before your mom does? That wouldn’t be right. Besides, it hadn’t made it to the womb yet.” Tobyn looked at his mother and grinned. “I guess my mate is your physician now, and he’s invoking some doctor confidentiality thingy.” Elinor giggled, but then she gave Kellar a penetrating look. “Does everything look okay so far?” Kellar didn’t miss the apprehension the question held. Years of stillborn children could not be forgotten overnight… probably never. “All I can say is nothing appears wrong. There is no color there that shouldn’t be, and the zygote’s aura is strong. You can relax, Elinor.” “Thank you.” She let go of the breath she’d been holding as she said the words. “Zygote?” Tobyn asked. “The beginning of your brother or sister, babe. It’s really early yet, but it’s becoming an embryo as we speak. It has just attached itself to the uterine wall, which means it’s about two weeks old, give or take. No more than three.” “Oh, okay. Does it have a pattern already?” “No, but it has a glow that’s an opaque white. It’s the reason I noticed it.” “Cool. How do you know all this stuff?” “All I used to do, night after night, was read those journals. You’ve seen them at the cabin. And to be honest, I’ve studied it in human women whenever I flickered and saw a pregnancy. I’ve seen babies at every stage. It’s fascinating,” Kellar said with a shrug. “You’re definitely hired.” Tobyn stood and walked around the desk. “My head is spinning, but I’m stoked as heck and I need to hug my amazing mom.” Instant tears formed in Elinor’s eyes at her son’s words, and she giggled again. “That’s another sign. My emotions have been all over the place the last few days, and I knew it had nothing to do with Vega.” She stood up and walked into her son’s arms. The sight of them sharing the moment had Kellar experiencing some emotions of his own. Finally, the payoff for defeating the malaise was beginning, even sooner than expected, and it was fitting Elinor was starting it off. Come hell or high water, this baby would be born alive and healthy. Kellar would ensure it. And yeah, he was Elinor’s doctor. He was every members’ doctor, and that was fine with him. It was what he was born to do. The timing of Clarence’s arrival, an experienced alpha, was even more fortuitous given this new and important pregnancy. The earth mother at work again? It was ten-thirty in the morning, and this time they were determined to get out on the lake. Tobyn was practically vibrating from hearing of a new sibling on the way, and a new baby for the pack. Kellar had to caution his excited mate not to let anything slip as they walked through the sparsely-populated dining room and out the front entrance of the lodge. They didn’t even make it to their vehicle before a strange truck pulled into view, moving slowly. “Who the heck is that? There are signs to direct the tourists.” “I can’t see through the glare on the windshield,” Kellar said. A scent reached him through the open windows. “Hey, that’s Connor.” At the same time, they heard the heavy rumble of a big dually coming from the farm road, still a fair distance away. “And that must be Hugh,” Tobyn said, his attention still on Connor’s progress. He waved the man forward, and the truck responded, edging up its crawl and pulling in next to them. Kellar walked over to the driver’s side, with Tobyn in the lead. “Hugh’s supposed to have met me here… well, at the road down there”—Connor pointed back from where he came—“but, he wasn’t there.” He looked extremely agitated. “Hi, Connor. Good to see you. No worries. He’s on his way. We can hear his truck, and it’ll be about a minute before he drives around the corner.” Tobyn’s words seemed to calm Connor enough that he visibly relaxed. “Oh good. I was worried something had happened to him. I, ah… I thought it would be busier around here.” Kellar reached around Tobyn and put a hand on the relieved man’s shoulder. “It will be when lunch starts. Are you guys doing okay? We didn’t see Hugh on the grounds yesterday.” “Oh, yeah, he was with me. He called someone named Charles and took the day off. I brought him back before first light this morning and dropped him off at the marina road. That’s where he said….” “Speak of the devil. There’s your mate, looking just as stressed as you do. Not easy being separated, is it?” “Fuck, no.” Connor blew out a huge breath. “It’s hell. Is it always going to be like this?” Kellar chuckled. “It gets worse, and then it settles down. No complaints from us though, right, babe?” “No, but we’re never apart, except the one time, and I don’t even want to think about what that was like,” Tobyn said, stepping out of the way as Hugh hurried over from where he’d parked. “Sorry, Connor. I got caught up in something and I couldn’t leave until it was finished. A stupid cow got out of the pasture when I let go of the gate… I was having trouble keeping my mind on the job,” he said sheepishly as he finally acknowledged the other two men. “Hi Kellar. Hi Tobe.” He returned his attention to his mate. “Are you coming out of there?” “Don’t you have to ask permission first?” Hugh shook his head and chuckled. “Permission? No. I guess I didn’t explain it right. I only meant I wanted to ask one of our leaders for their approval to show you around. It’s a courtesy thing for your first time here. Humans aren’t allowed in the private areas as a rule… it’s for our safety and security. Once you’re introduced as my mate, we’re all good. You’ll be one of us.” Hugh seemed to be out of oxygen when he finished. “Hugh, calm down and breathe,” Tobyn teased. “Mom’s in there, and she can’t wait to meet Connor.” Connor was in the process of stepping out. “She knows? You told her about me? What did she say?” Hugh didn’t answer at first. Instead, he pulled his mate close, and they held the embrace for half-a-minute. Kellar could hear the deep inhales of each other’s scent, and moved closer to his own mate, waiting for both men to have their fill. Yeah, hours of separation will do that. “No, I didn’t get the chance, and I wanted to get my work done so I could meet you. I figured we’d tell her together.” “Kellar and I told her, Connor. You can’t keep anything from my mother. So, you guys spent the whole of yesterday together? I’ll take that as a good sign,” Tobyn uttered to the still entangled men. Hugh snickered as they finally let go of each other, except for clasped hands. His breathing was much calmer. “You could say that. He’s smarter than me, but we have so much in common it’s scary.” “Hey, I’m not smarter than you,” Connor objected. “I’m just an idiot savant when it comes to computers. You figured out why my one stove burner wasn’t working in two minutes, and it stymied me for two months.” “That’s true. I guess I’m the smart one then.” “That’s not what I said.” His smile was brilliant as he stared upward at his mate. “We’re equally smart.” “Works for me. Are you ready to be introduced?” “As your mate? Yeah, I’m ready.” “You guys are so cute. Connor, it’s a good job you didn’t meet this guy when he was a kid. He was so goofy looking, you would have run away.” “I highly doubt that. He’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, and just look at him now.” He wore his own goofy look as he locked eyes with his mate. Kellar flickered and watched their colors interact. Things had changed. “You guys started the joining, didn’t you?” “Doc! That’s none of our business.” Tobyn gave him a wink they all could see. “Sorry, but it’s pretty obvious, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “We are guilty of a few lip locks… okay, a lot of lip locks,” Connor said unabashedly. “That’s it, though. Hugh wanted to wait for even that—give myself time—but I didn’t see the point, because I’m not going anywhere.” “Yup. Those lip locks will do it, and there’s no turning back now. I’m happy for you both. Everyone will be… you’ll find nothing but a warm and genuine reception here, Connor. Tobyn and I will say it first. Welcome to Morningstar. Where are you going after you see Elinor?” “I’m going to show this guy everything, but first he’s going to meet my mom,” Hugh said with a big smile on his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud in my entire life.” Connor groaned at the other two. “I’ve never met a mom before.” “You’ll love her. I guarantee it,” Tobyn said. “She’s an absolute sweetheart, and she always has cookies.” “See. Nothing to worry about, and you’ll get sweets as a bonus.” Hugh slid a hand up his back and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “She’ll love you, I promise.” “How do you know that? She hasn’t met me yet, and she doesn’t even know you’re gay.” Hugh laughed. “Well, she’s going to find out, isn’t she? Don’t worry. My mom only cares about my happiness, and you make me happy. It’s only been her and I for so long, and now she’ll have you to dote over… fair warning, but I don’t think you’ll be complaining. I still can’t believe how you’ve handled me being a shifter. I’m so lucky.” Connor sighed and smiled at the same time. “What’s to handle? The earth mother picked you for me, and all I have to do is look at Kellar and Tobyn to see she knows what she’s doing. I don’t just get you… I get your beautiful wolf. You’re an animal lover’s dream,” he teased. “You’re not the only one who’s fortunate here.” “See how amazing he is, guys. He’s been saying stuff like this since we went on our first walk. I thought it would be me having to reassure him, but it’s the other way around.” Tobyn chuckled. “You don’t have to convince us, bud. We’re Connor fans already. So, if you don’t mind me asking, how are you going to handle the being apart situation? You were both freaked out when you got here.” “Yeah, we can’t keep doing this. Once was enough, right?” Hugh’s lips grazed his mate’s forehead. “This morning was five hours of hell.” “Same for me, and I didn’t like it, no. It’s hard to concentrate, but Kellar said it gets easier after it gets worse.” “I did say that, but it’s something you two have to work out, and the sooner the better if you’re anything like Tobyn and I.” “We just had our first taste of separation, Connor, and while I would do anything for you, all our talk about taking this slow just isn’t going to fly. Working in two different places, miles apart, is going to be torture.” “Do you guys want to talk about this in private?” Kellar asked after Hugh’s impassioned words. “Doc, come on. They need us right now. They need a nudge. Connor needs a nudge.” “I don’t like interfering.” “What are you talking about? That’s all we do. We have our noses in everything.” Tobyn did a quick eye roll. “No. We need your insight. You’ve been through this,” Hugh said with a plea in his voice. “See?” “Yes, dear. You’re right.” Kellar returned the eye roll. “Do you know what I was thinking about all morning, while we were so far apart?” Connor searched his mate’s face before nodding. “Brian.” “Yes, Brian. I know you think you’re safe at Davidson’s by yourself, but tell that to my wolf when all he wants to do is run back to you. If you were on pack grounds, we’d both relax, and I wouldn’t be scared out of my mind and imagining all kinds of awful stuff. We have plenty of work for you here, the same as you’re doing now if that’s what you want. And your dividend check would be way more than what that cheap bastard pays you.” Connor snorted. “You should be in sales. You do make good points, but we’ve only been together a couple of days. Don’t worry about Brian. I’m not… and I really don’t like to be pushed. I’ve been there and done that.” Hugh sputtered. “I’m sorry if it seems like I’m pushing… God, I would never try to bully you. I’m having a hard time after this morning, but I’ll go along with whatever way you want.” “I know that. I do. But, I don’t do well with pressure, and you’re talking about me uprooting my life after two days… everything’s moving too fast.” “But you’ve started the joining,” Kellar said softly. “This is part of that ‘something more’ we talked about. When Hugh says his wolf wants to run back to you, he’s downplaying it. It’s like being clawed from the inside. It hurts, and it hurts bad. If we think our mate could be in any kind of danger, even if it’s only a chance, well… it’s not fun. I think you might be downplaying something too. You say Brian isn’t crazy, but that’s not what your injuries say. He twisted your wrist after it was broken, didn’t he? And he did something to make your ankle worse after it was almost healed. Am I right?” Connor’s jaw had literally dropped. “You can tell that?” “Yes.” Suddenly, eye contact was impossible for the dark-haired man. Even Hugh’s eyes were avoided. Tobyn stepped in front of the two of them. “I look at you guys, and I see something strong… something great. Nothing from the past matters now you’ve found each other. You’re earth mates, and not wanting there to be distance between you is one of the best things about that, once you accept it. My advice, Connor”—the man met his gaze—“and maybe I’m out of line, but I truly believe you should move onto pack grounds as soon as possible. Make picking a house part of your day here if you don’t want to move in with Hugh just yet, but can you honestly see yourselves sleeping in different places at night? Kellar and I never could, even when we thought we were just friends.” “He’s right. You can’t fight the fact you need to be together. It’s a losing battle. And yes, it’s moving fast, but that’s part of being earth mates. We have more than enough help, so maybe an option is for you, Hugh, to take some time off and spend it at Davidson’s with Connor,” Kellar suggested, in an effort to help. “I would gladly stay there. Just say the word.” Hugh’s gaze was on his mate. “I can’t ask you to do that.” “You can ask me to do anything, and I will. You’re my mate.” “I believe you mean that, but… let’s talk about it later, okay? Shouldn’t we go meet the leader now?” “Good idea. Are you all right? I didn’t push you too hard, did I, because….” “Stop, Hugh. I’m fine, and no you didn’t. I needed to hear all this. You’ll figure out I can get stubborn for no reason.” “Boy, that sounds familiar,” Kellar said, grinning at his mate. “Shut up, mountain man. I got there, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did.” “I love you, Kellar.” “My beloved.” Kellar winked. “Can you guys come in with us?” Connor asked. “Ah, safety in numbers?” Kellar asked with a grin. “Yes. I’m pretty nervous about today. I don’t want to let Hugh down.” Tobyn laughed. “Look at him”—he pointed to the attentive man—“as if you could ever let him down. I understand, though. We’ll go in with you, and if it helps any, my mom happens to be in a really good mood.” A wide-eyed Connor shook hands with Elinor. The surprise on his face caused smiles from the other three when she moved in and hugged him. “Welcome to Morningstar, Connor. I’m so happy Hugh has found his mate. He spent as much time at my house as he did his own, growing up. Frankly, I’ve never seen him look so happy.” Elinor had another fan. Connor melted into the embrace. “Thank you, ma’am. I’m just as happy as he is.” “Good. You should be. That boy has become a wonderful man. My goodness, you’re so handsome. No wonder he looks like a cat that swallowed the canary.” Hugh was standing back, grinning like a fool. “I lucked out, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did,” She agreed, stepping back while still holding onto Connor’s hands. “Tobyn tells me you’re good with computers. We need someone with expertise as we go forward. He and Kellar want to set up a safe way to communicate with any packs we find in the future, while keeping our existence a secret. Could you do something like that?” “Absolutely, ma’am. That’s a pretty simple thing to do.” “Wonderful. Now, what are your plans? Will you be picking out a house today? We still have some very nice ones available. Tilly’s frame two-bedroom would be worth a look. It’s bright and cheery, and it’s available in the next few days. And there’s a stunning, older log home that’s in great shape. It’s not big, but it has amazing views and a wonderful setting. Do either of those sound interesting to you?” “Ah, yes, they do, but… no, ma’am. I won’t be looking at homes today”—he glanced over at his mate, whose brave face fooled nobody—“unless Hugh wants to move. I haven’t seen it yet, but his house sounds really nice. I’ll be moving into that one with him, but thank you for the offer, and the suggestions.” A strange noise came from Hugh, but Connor kept his eyes on Elinor. “Good choice. What are you waiting for, Hugh? Take your mate to see his new home. Make sure you’re back here for lunch so he can meet our rowdy group,” she said, smirking. “Yes, Elinor. We’ll be back after Connor meets Mom. And after he sees our house.” Hugh stepped up beside his mate and took his hand. “She’s kidding. The pack members aren’t rowdy, but they will be excited to meet you. Did you mean it?” “Mean what?” Connor asked innocently. “You know what. Did you?” Connor sighed before he nodded. “Yes, I meant it. I just needed a few minutes to work things out in my head. I will gladly move in with you here at Morningstar. You were right about everything, and I can’t fight it. I don’t want to fight it because I don’t want to be away from you either. But, I can’t desert Lorne. I need to be there until he comes back. He’s supposed to be back tomorrow or the day after, so I think I need to give him one week’s notice after he gets home. How do we handle that?” Hugh wrapped his arms around the smaller man, lifting Connor’s feet off the ground and spinning him around. “You’re incredible with how generous and accepting you’ve been with this whole thing. Thank you.” “Could you put me down and stop embarrassing me, please? We aren’t the only ones in the room, you know. People are watching us,” he attempted a scowl but laughter burst out when Hugh shook his head ‘no.’ “Elinor, I need to take some time off from my responsibilities here.” He did set Connor back down, but didn’t take his eyes off those pale blue ones. Kellar, holding hands with Tobyn, was captivated by what had taken place in front of them. “I guess you were right. Our nudges did some good.” “I usually am, aren’t I?” “Yup. It’s kind of cool there’s another gay couple living at Morningstar.” “Two more, doc. One couple just doesn’t know it yet.” “Take whatever time you need, Hugh,” Elinor responded, looking equally mesmerized by the scene before her. “Look after this new member of ours. He’s a delightful young man.” “Yes, he is, and I will. I definitely will.”
  49. 97 points
    Adam was the first to wake up and was in the kitchen brewing up a pot of coffee when Robert walked out. The weather forecast was for a sunny Thursday, March 8, 2018. “Good morning, sleepyhead. What do you say about us going out for breakfast?” Adam poured himself and Robert each a cup. He passed Robert his and leaned against the counter. “Sounds good, Dad,” Robert added cream and sugar to his coffee and sat down at the island bar. “Do we have anything planned for today?” “I have my meeting with Jace, my business partner, this afternoon. You don’t have to go if you don’t want too, but I would like for you to go. There’s a game tonight, Lightning vs. the Rangers. I was planning on going to the arena for the game. You’re more than welcome to come, I already added you on to my season ticket account.” “I’ll go to both the meeting and to the hockey game tonight. Neither are my team, but hell, live hockey is always good.” Robert paused a moment. “Would you be mad if I asked you to buy me a Lightning Jersey?” “It’s part of the season ticket package.” Adam grinned at his son. “They have a chip sewn into the sleeve that you swipe, and it goes to your season ticket member account. Who do you want on it? Or do you want your own name?” “Stamkos or Hedman.” “That’s doable. We can head to the arena after breakfast and get your jersey.” They sipped their coffees in silent contemplation. I wonder why Dad wants me to go to the business meeting with him. Robert let out a long sigh. “Um, Dad… the other night, you and Grandpa, talked about school… when do I have to go back, and which one?” Adam cleared his throat and sipped his coffee, giving himself some time to think. “Hmm, that is a good question. Let me ask you one. Were there any sports you were active in?” “I did some lacrosse and hockey for my school in Boston. I could do without either if they are not played here.” “It seems that you’re in luck. First, we need to wait for Sylvia. She’s been trying to get your school records from Massachusetts, so we can enroll you here. It should take a few more days, so you’re stuck with your old man for a bit longer.” He chuckled, and Robert smiled and laughed as well. “Second, we have a few options. If you want to play lacrosse and hockey, then the public high school we are zoned for, H. B. Plant, has both. They are also a pure team in the Lightning High School Hockey League, meaning all players come from that school. If you want to stay home and be home-schooled, that is an option for you. You can also stay home and go to the Hillsborough County Virtual School, where it’s work at your own pace and all online. Or we can find a private school for you. I don’t know if you’re religious, and if you follow the Catholic faith, but Jesuit High School is an all-boys private school, and they have a pure team.” Adam paused a moment to take a drink of his coffee. “I’m leaving the choice up to you, Rob.” Robert shook his head stunned. “I… I… don’t get you, Dad.” “What do you mean?” “You've done so much already. You've changed things and included me in everything, and now you're saying I can choose my education?” Robert shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t get it. Mom wasn’t like this.” Adam nodded and walked over to his son. He reached over and squeezed his shoulder lovingly. “Ah…” He took another swallow of his beverage. “This is how I see it. Rob, I love you. We’re still getting to know each other, and all our little quirks. “Now, you are sixteen-years-old. You’re old enough to drive with a restricted license here in Florida. You can get a part-time job if you want to. You’re a couple of years from being able to vote or go into the military. Hell, right now you’re physically capable of fathering your own child, if you were straight and seeing a girl.” Adam paused. “What I’m getting at, Rob, is this. You’re a young adult. So, instead of treating you like a child who doesn’t have his own opinions, likes/dislikes, and his own agency, I decided to treat you like an adult. Yeah, I’m the dad, I have to enforce the rules, be there to give you guidance, but it would be a mistake to treat you like a child instead of an adult. That’s how I see, and feel, about it. Does it make sense to you?” Robert nodded. “It does Dad. I… I’m still trying to get used to all this.” He let out a long calming breath. “Let me think about the school choices, and I’ll let you know later. But… why do you want me at the business meeting?” Adam sat down facing Robert at the island bar. “Two reasons, really. It could be yours one day if it becomes successful, and I thought it could be something we could do as a father and son project. I’ll be honest. Yesterday afternoon I was considering pulling out of the deal. However, after our naps, I thought better of it, and got to thinking that we could do it together.” “You… you’re serious. You want me as a partner?” Robert sat dumbfounded. I can’t believe this. Am I dreaming? “Yes, I’m serious. Granted there are some legal things we need to consider, but it’s not something we can’t work out.” Adam tilted his head and gave his son a smile. “What do you say? Want to give it a shot?” “Sure… sure, Dad… I’ll try.” Adam smiled proudly. “Good. Now, go get dressed, and let’s get today started. I’m thinking ‘First Watch’. Unless there’s a place you want to go?” “What’s ‘First Watch’?” “It’s a breakfast, brunch, and lunch place. They have a spot here in Downtown Tampa, and several more around the Bay.” “That sounds good. Mom used to take me to ‘IHOP’ or ‘South Street Diner’.” Adam laughed a little. “There were many times that your mom and I went to both of those places, more often to South Street. Drunk as a skunk. They were good times.” Adam sighed with the happy memory. “We could go ‘IHOP’ if you want?” Robert shook his head no. “Nah. I’d rather try this new place.” Robert looked away sheepishly. “I know we’ll go there eventually, but I’d rather go someplace different with you.” “I get it. You want to keep the special memories of the two of you there.” “Yeah.” Adam gave his son a reassuring hug. “Alright… go get ready, and I’ll meet you in the library.” He kissed Robert on the top of his head, and they both left to shower, change, and get ready to go. ~.~ Adam and Robert met up in the library before heading out. They each dressed separately, but somehow managed to match again. They both wore black jeans shorts, and black tennis shoes. Robert wore a grey “Hockey is for Everyone”, Boston Bruins GLBT Pride shirt, while Adam wore a Lightning Blue t-shirt that read “On Point” with Lightning player Brayden Point’s name and number, 21, right above it. They shared a chuckle. “I thought you were in the closet up north?” He pointed at Robert’s gay pride shirt. “I wasn’t at school, and Mom knew I liked guys. She asked me not to tell anyone else in the family, as she thought I was just going through a phase. I kissed a girl once, and I didn’t like it.” Adam nodded. “And now we know why; she didn’t want anyone else to know.” “My Uncle Seth, he’s married to Mom’s sister, Aunt Kimberly... he knew about me being gay. He… kinda... walked in on me and my boyfriend Martin… in the middle of… um.” Robert’s face had turned into a shade of red. “You don’t need to say any more, Son. I get the picture. Have you talked to your Uncle Seth since this happened?” “A couple of times. He wanted to take me in, but the bitch wouldn’t let him.” Robert hung his head. “I should talk to him more. He… was the closest I had to a father growing up. I’m sorry if that makes you mad.” “It doesn’t make me mad. I’m glad he was there for you. Call him, text him, email him, stay in contact with Uncle Seth. I bet he misses you as much as you miss him. I’d like to meet him.” He gave Robert a reassuring hug and grabbed his wallet and keys. “Let’s walk, and grab a downtowner. You got your wallet, watch, testicles, and socks?” “What?” Adam chuckled and clasped his son’s shoulder. “Something my dad loves to say. He got it in the Army.” “Oh… yeah, I do. Not sure why, no cash.” “Here… we’ll work something out for an allowance.” Adam passed him over a couple of $20’s. Shit… Didn’t think about if he had cash, and he’ll need some if he wants to go out by himself. The pair walked out of the house and up the sidewalk to the northern section of the island. They talked and joked around as they went, and Robert spotted a teen boy coming out of the house down the way and getting into the car in front of the house there. He looked to be the same age and height as Robert, with bushy shoulder length dirty blond hair and a copper suntan over an athletic frame, but it was the shirt he was wearing that caught Robert’s attention. The teen was wearing a Lightning PRIDE T-shirt. Damn, he’s gorgeous. I hope the shirt means he’s gay, and not just a supporter. The car with the teen in it backed out, and they waited for it to pass. Adam waved to the driver, a woman, who shot him back a smile. While Robert and the teen locked eyes with each other. The teen pointed at Robert’s shirt and gave him a thumbs up before the car was put into gear and drove off. “Dad, did you know there was another gay boy over here?” “Yup.” “Are there a lot of gay guys around?” “Average for any area, but we are close to Ybor City. It’s also called Gaybor, because of all the GLBT activity down there. Stores, bars, and Hamburger Mary’s.” “Hamburger Mary’s?” “Bar, restaurant, and drag show. They do a lot of special events, some for charity. Their Drag-Bingo is awesome.” Adam smiled and pulled Robert into a one-armed hug. “So, I saw you got a thumbs up from him. What did you think?” “Um… he was cute.” Robert blushed deeply. “Are you trying to set me up?” He pulled out of the hug with a smile on his face. “Not really. I didn’t know what time they headed out. Although… I know he is single, and he’s sixteen-years-old.” “How do you know that?” He perked a brow, looking at his dad. “They came by last week, him and his mom. A fundraiser for a GSA club at his school, and we started talking. His mom is the Homeowner’s Association President and wanted to invite me to the next Homeowners meeting. Because we are new to the neighborhood and hadn’t been to one yet, she felt the need to personally invite us.” Adam laughed. “Half the neighborhood knows I’m gay now, and I have a gay son.” They walked on and crossed the fence-line into the business area of the island. Adam took out his phone and used the app to order a downtowner. The downtowners were a fleet of open-air electric cars that were free to use in the limited area in which they operated. They didn’t wait long for it to arrive. ~.~ The pair arrived at First Watch and were seated at a table just as the morning rush was starting. Breakfast went well; they both ended up ordering the Floridian French toast. “This is a nice place, Dad. Kind of busy.” “That it is. Lots of the downtown-based city and county workers eat here.” He pointed at one lady sitting at a wall table. “That’s the judge in our custody case.” Robert nodded, spear