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  1. 21 points

    From the album: Story Tiles

    Here are Randy and me on February 23, 2016, our eighteen year anniversary from our first date.
  2. 7 points

    From the album: Tassie Trip

    On the east coast of Tasmania there is a bay where the rocks have a bright orange type of lichen growing on them. Very striking.
  3. 6 points

    From the album: Tassie Trip

    I love dolphins and seeing wild ones so close was a total thrill.
  4. 5 points

    From the album: Tassie Trip

    Tasmania has many, many spectacular cliffs.
  5. 2 points
    I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m lying in a hard uncomfortable bed and these people keep coming up to me and talking. I don’t understand what they are saying but I watch their mouths move; open, shut, open, shut. They point to things and their voices get louder. I wince when they do that. It hurts. Sometimes I think that is all that is left to me; pain. Then again, I don’t remember anything else so maybe that’s all there really is. I don’t know. Those people don’t seem to be in pain but maybe they can hide it. Hiding. I think that’s what I’m doing. That just came to me. I’m not sure if I’m thinking really but all of a sudden I know I’m hiding. I don’t know what from, I can’t remember, but it’s bad. I hear the voices again and I panic. I’m supposed to be hiding. No one is supposed to see. Move, move, move! Pain! *** “Jesus Christ!” The doctor and nurse went running when they heard the agonized scream from Room 11. The patient was nowhere in sight. Rushing into the room they found him unconscious on the floor in a tangle of blankets and wires. “How did he even move?” Evan asked. The doctor knelt down and began examining him. “I’m not sure. The pain of his injuries should have been enough to keep him unconscious, even if we didn’t have him on enough medication to drop a horse.” Paul put his stethoscope back around his neck. “We’re going to need more x-rays to make sure he didn’t do more damage to his ribs or broken arm. We’re probably going to have to redo some stitches, damn it.” They gingerly picked the boy up and put him back on the bed. Evan and Paul quickly checked the IV’s, wires, and tubes. “I’m going to have to replace this Foley,” Evan said. He quickly got a kit and replaced the damaged catheter. “Okay, all ready. I’ll take him down to x-ray.” Paul scribbled out the orders for the chest and arm x-rays and hung the chart on the end of the bed. “Make sure they know to rush these films. I don’t want to have to take the poor kid back into surgery, much less another emergency surgery.” Evan nodded. “Will do, Dr. Michaels.” Paul sighed as he looked at the bloody stripes on the floor. The kid’s back did break open when he fell. He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. He called maintenance to get some cleaning staff up in the room to take care of the mess and then went to the doctor’s lounge. Sinking into one of the chairs there he closed his eyes. As hard as he tried he couldn’t stop the tears that leaked out. Someone needed to cry for the kid. He had seen him before the police and ambulance showed up; the horrible conditions he had been left to die in. They had tried to fix as much of the damage as they could but there was so much they couldn’t touch with a scalpel. The mental damage might be more than anyone could hope to fix. *** “Dad!” A young man went running into his house, the back door slamming. “Daniel Roberts! How many times do I have to tell you not to slam that door?” his father scolded without looking up from his paper. “It’s important Dad! It’s the kid, he needs help!” Danny was breathing hard, his chest heaving. He looked scared. “What kid needs help? What are you talking about?” Paul dropped the paper and walked over to his son, giving him a quick hug to calm him. “Now slow down. Tell me what’s going on.” Tears in his eyes, Danny shuddered and then spoke, “I saw him for the first time this morning. I… I broke a window in the house behind ours hitting my ball, or it sounded like I did. I hopped the fence and I was looking before I went to apologize. I broke a small window in the basement but when I looked inside there was this kid in there. “I tried talking to him, to ask for my ball back but he just looked at me. Then I heard a man yelling inside and he looked so scared Dad. He told me to run. The door to the basement slammed open and this big guy saw me looking in and started screaming and cussing. I was so scared I ran back here and hid in my room. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” Danny was rambling, his shock making it hard for him to think. “That’s okay son, we’ll talk about that later. Focus now, who needs help?” “The kid next door. I went over there, you know, to try and talk to him and stuff after I saw the man leave. No one answered the door and then when I went to the basement window I saw him.” Danny let out a sob, “He was laying on the floor, Dad, and he’s covered in blood. His arm looks like it’s broken and he was looking at me, I could see his eyes but he wouldn’t talk to me.” Danny was shaking and Paul eased him into a chair by the table. Handing him the cordless phone Paul said, “Call 9-1-1 and tell them to send the police and ambulance. Tell them I will be in there with him so don’t shoot me.” He ran to the cupboard and grabbed his first aid kit before charging out the back door, letting it slam behind him. The short fence was no trouble with his long legs. Running around the house he checked to make sure the car was still gone from the driveway before he burst through the front door, breaking the lock and leaving it wide open. He walked quickly through the living room, past a couch and big screen TV. The house was clean and neat but there were no pictures on the walls or any sign that a teen lived there. Paul walked into a kitchen and looked around. He headed for a door in one corner with a thick padlock on it. He had no hope of breaking that lock so he stepped back. Using the counter to balance he kicked the door repeatedly until it broke away from the hinges. Pushing it aside he rushed down into the dim basement, empty of anything but a mattress, bucket, and a baseball into one corner. The boy was lying in the middle of the bare floor on his stomach. Paul’s first reaction was one of shock and horror. The kid looked young and was extremely emaciated. His blond hair was lank and greasy, hanging in blue eyes that were open but staring at nothing. Worse was the blood splashed around him and the bloody mess of his back and legs. Paul dropped to his knees and began assessing him, checking his pulse and finding it thready. The boy was barely breathing and his skin was both cool and clammy. “Shit!” Paul took a pair of scissors out of his kit and cut off the remains of the bloody t-shirt and shorts. They smelled dirty, beyond the scent of blood. “Hold on kiddo, help is coming.” Not getting any reaction Paul kept on examining him for other wounds. ‘Broken arm, possible broken ribs, whip marks. Signs of malnutrition, dehydration,’ he shook his head. ‘This is bad’. “Police! I'm coming in!” “We’re down in the basement!” Paul yelled. “We need the ambulance here, stat!” Booted feet came thundering down the wood stairs. “Put your hands up!” Paul’s hands went into the air. "I live behind here. I'm a doctor. My son is the one who called 9-1-1." "Just keep them up!" "I understand you are doing your job but I really need to keep assessing him for the paramedics. I need to put my hands down. My name is Paul Michaels; I am a doctor at St. Mary's. I will not harm him, especially with you standing here." The officer looked at him warily but nodded. Paul began running his hands down the legs of the prone teen. Not finding any open breaks he went back to take the kid's pulse. It was even weaker. "Damn it. He has to have internal bleeding. Can you get a rush on that ambulance?" Paul asked the officer. He turned his head and spoke into his mike, "Dispatch, this is Officer Tenter, I'm on scene. I need an eta on that bus." His radio crackled and a female voice blared out in the quiet basement. "Just pulling up outside. Is the scene secure?" "Scene secure. I could use some back-up for when the homeowner gets back though. This is some bad stuff Evie." The paramedics came into the house and the officer called out to them. They came down the stairs carefully with a backboard. They hustled over to Paul and the boy. "Excuse us, sir, you're going to have to move aside so we can treat your son," one said to Paul, trying to nudge him out of the way. "He's not my son, I'm his neighbor," Paul told him as he shifted away so they could do their job. “My name is Dr. Michaels. I've assessed his initial condition as best I could. He appears conscious but unresponsive, pulse fifty and thready, respirations ten. His right pupil is blown, most likely a result of the large contusion on his temple. Obvious fracture of the right radius and ulna and possible broken ribs, again based on large contusions to the area. Multiple bruises and lacerations from his neck to his knees; mostly likely from a whip of some sort. "His pulse has been growing weaker since I got here; there isn't much blood around him so I suspect internal injuries. Apparent malnutrition and dehydration. We need to get him to the hospital right now." Paul stepped back as they carefully rolled the teen onto the backboard. His entire body flinched when it came in contact with the sheet covered plastic but he didn't make a sound. "Looks like we can add responsive to pain but still no response to other environmental stimuli," one paramedic said, jotting down notes. The other paramedic was busy attaching the belts around the thin body. He looked at the automatic cuff, "Blood pressure 100 over 60, pulse rate continuing to fall. Let's get this kid over to General." Paul interrupted, "Take him to St. Mary's." They were picking up the backboard and starting to tote him out of the room. The officer went up the stairs first to hold the door. "St. Mary's is a private hospital, doc," one of the paramedics said. "I'll be responsible. The best pediatric surgeon in the state works there and is a friend of mine. He'd do this pro bono even if I wasn't asking. Just take him. I'll call the Chief right now." Paul pulled out his cell phone and called the hospital, asking to be transferred to the Chief for an emergency call. He put his phone on speaker. The paramedics were busy trying to navigate the stairs but he could tell they were listening. "This had better be serious Paul, I'm doing an emergency appendectomy on a ten year old," an annoyed voice said, echoing through the open speaker. "Let O'Brien take it. You're going to need to get down to Emergency. I'm sending over a neighbor kid, he's in bad shape, Anton, really bad. Looks like he was abused, beaten. Long-term too." He held his breath; he knew how Anton felt about child abuse. The swearing coming through the speaker was expected but still made him blush. "O'Brien, get over here and finish this. Make sure you flush the abdominal cavity thoroughly." "Yes, sir." "What's the ETA on the kid, Paul?" Anton asked. "He's literally a neighbor, so ten minutes via ambulance. They just need to hear approval to bring him in, procedure is General. I'll foot the bill; just need some back-up and your steady hands to help do the work." "You've got it. The hospital has funds for pro bono anyway. Just have them get the kid here, I'll be waiting. Scrub in as soon as you get here." "I will." Paul hung up his phone. "Good enough for you guys?" "Sure thing. St. Mary's it is." The paramedics were quickly moving out the door. Paul went to follow them. "Could you wait a minute doc? I need to ask you some questions," Officer Tenter said, putting a hand on his arm. "We need to make it quick. I'm needed at the hospital." He nodded and held his pen and paper ready. "You said your son called? How do you know the victim?" "I don't. My son saw him this morning when he accidentally hit his ball and broke the basement window. He said he saw a big man come into the basement yelling and ran home. He went back later and saw the boy on the floor and came and got me. That's when I told him to call 9-1-1 and rushed over," Paul said. He went back into the kitchen to wash his hands; he couldn’t go home with blood on them. Danny would freak out. He didn’t need that on top of the stress he was already feeling. "Do you know the boy's name? His parent’s names or where we could find them?" The officer was scribbling in his notepad. "Mr. and Mrs. Sarcoplis. I've never been over here before. I really don't know them, I have only seen them in passing at neighborhood events; they've lived here for almost two years. We've never seen a kid here; I assumed they were childless." The officer was still scribbling as Paul dried his hands. "Look, I really need to go. I assume you'll be by the hospital after you are done. I will answer any more questions you have then." "Okay, thanks Doc. I'll definitely come by the hospital later to check on him." He handed Paul a card with his name and extension number on it. They were walking into the living room when a large, imposing man walked in the front door. "What the hell are you doing in my house?" he bellowed in surprise. "Mr. Sarcoplis?" Officer Tenter asked. "I am. What in the hell is going on?" he snapped. He glared at Paul. "I'm afraid I have some bad news. It appears your son was badly beaten. We have some questions for you and your wife and then you can go see him in the hospital." The man's entire face flushed red, "You took him out of the basement? The boy must be confined so his disease doesn't spread. He is impure, contaminated." Mr. Sarcoplis advanced on them, "Bring him back! We are not done purifying him, he's unclean, unclean!" the man screamed. "Sir, you need to calm down. Step back," Officer Tenter warned him Mr. Sarcoplis turned his anger on Paul. "You! I know you; you’re from that house behind me. You are a sinner! Your son was tempting the little bastard into sin with him just this morning. I've seen how you flaunt your devil ways. Get out! Get out!" The man shoved Paul before the officer could stop him, thrusting him back into a large bookshelf. Paul’s breath was knocked out of him as his back slammed into the shelf. He fell to the floor; books and knick-knacks raining down on him. "You’re under arrest! Hands behind your back!" The officer struggled with the incensed man. "Freeze!" A new officer stood in the door, gun trained on Mr. Sarcoplis where he fought the hold Officer Tenter had on him. Mr. Sarcoplis saw the black pistol trained steadily on his forehead and froze. His mouth didn't stop running though, even as he was handcuffed and forced to kneel on the ground. "You'll all be sorry for this. I'll have your badges." Spit sprayed from his mouth. "You'll all rot in hell with the rest of the sinners." He continued to rave as the second officer holstered his weapon. They all ignored him. "Thanks, Saul. I’m glad you showed up when you did.” The other officer nodded, “Well I’d hate to tell your wife I let you get beat up at dinner tonight.” They both grinned. Paul stood up from the mess on the floor. “I'll assume you want to press charges," Officer Tenter said to him. "Damn right!" he winced, rubbing his back. "I think we both understand exactly who hurt that boy. Lock up is the best place for him for now. I really need to get to the hospital though. Can I fill out my statement later?" Just then another person came running in, a woman this time. "Oh my god! Jerry, are you okay? What are you doing to my husband?" "Mrs. Sarcoplis?" "Yes! What is going on here?" The second officer was pulling a still raging Mr. Sarcoplis out the door but Officer Tenter stopped his wife from getting close to them. "Ma'am, we suspect your husband has beaten and severely injured your son. He's on his way to jail and the ambulance is taking your son to St. Mary’s." Paul broke in, "We'll need your consent to do surgery to save his life. He's very close to dying." She sneered. "That filthy sinner can die for all I care. Nothing more than he deserves for his perversions. My husband was doing his duty to remove the evilness staining his immortal soul." Paul flinched back and his mouth dropped open in shock. "How can you say that? He's your son! You would let him die? " "Gladly. He's a sinner. He deserves to die. At least then his debt would be paid," she said nastily. Paul looked sick. Officer Tenter was already pulling out cuffs. "Ma'am, you're under arrest. Place your hands behind your back.” Mrs. Sarcoplis' eyes went wide. She spluttered, "What... how dare you! You have no right..." Paul almost ran out the door, already on his phone to the hospital’s legal department. They would need emergency authorization to perform surgery. He hopped the fence and rushed in his house for his car keys. "Dad?" Danny said warily, shock showing on his face as he stared at the blood all over Paul’s clothes. "I'm fine. An ambulance came and took the boy to the hospital. His parents are under arrest so you don't need to worry that they'll come over here. Just lock up behind me and stay home today, okay? I don’t know when I'll be back." Paul leaned over and kissed his son on the forehead. "Okay, Dad," Danny said, blushing after Paul moved away. "Just... I love you, son. You know that right?" Paul asked softly. Danny nodded, a little confused. "I love you too," he said. Paul smiled and pulled a twenty out of his wallet. "You can order pizza for dinner if I'm not back." "Thanks Dad. Let me know how he's doing, will you? I just feel... I don't know. I guess I feel responsible." "Look son, I can't stay and talk about this with you right now, Anton needs me, but this was not your fault. Whatever happened to that boy has been going on for a long time." Danny looked sad. "That's just not right!" Paul sighed, "No son, it's not." *** More voices and clicking noises. There are bright lights behind my eyes. I don't want to open them. Please let me be dead. Please let me be dead. I lost track of time again. The voices went away for a time and I am left alone; beeping noises and dripping the only sounds I can hear. I float, adrift in a sea of fiery pain. The voices come back; hands touch me and move my body. Bursts of pain break through the barrier and a great tidal wave of agony washes over me and I feel myself just fade away under the onslaught. Let me be dead. Please let me be dead. *** "You’re going to be okay, Joseph. Can’t you try and talk with us?" Paul and Anton stood in their white coats and stared down at the scared boy in the bed. The teen stared back at them, shrinking away. Birth records showed his name was Joseph Sarcoplis. He was fourteen and his medical records stopped at age twelve, as well as his school records and any proof of his existence at all. Anton pulled Paul out of the room and into the doctor’s lounge. They hugged, both needing the comfort though they tried to hold displays of affection to a minimum at the hospital. “Why Anton?” Paul said in a small voice. “How can anyone have such a beautiful child and do that sort of thing to them?” He looked on the verge of tears and leaned into Anton, needing the embrace. “I don’t know, babe. The world is full of bad people. All we can do is try to put the pieces back together as best we can.” Anton stroked his back. “It was hard enough with Danny; do you think we would be able to help another abused teen?” “I can’t bear for him to go into the system right after something like this. He needs to be with people who are really willing and able to help him. Can we think about calling Social Services and renewing our foster parent license?” Anton leaned forward and gave Paul a quick kiss. “Yeah babe, we can think about it.” Paul looked frustrated. “He won’t even talk to us right now. Maybe he wouldn’t want to live with two gay guys. We need to talk to Danny too. This has been hard on him; he had nightmares last night again. I don’t want to push him into a relapse.” "Of course, Danny is part of our family, an important part. We couldn’t do this without him,” Anton said. “Let’s give it a day or two and then talk to him. Joseph was starved nearly to death, dehydrated, beaten and then went through surgery. That's a lot to go through and he won’t be ready to come home for a while. We have time for him to get used to us if it all works out for him to come live with us. “Right now I would be shocked if he was willing to trust us with all he’s gone through; even if he wasn't doped to the gills. He will need some time to learn that not all adults are like his parents. I've called psych down for a consult. Dr. Sanghi is the best, she helped Danny; she can help Joseph too." *** I am not as out of it as they seem to think. I hear what they say and now I remember the words. I now understand the strange people are doctors. I dart my eyes around the room now that they are gone. The pain is better. I won't trust them though. They might seem nice but once Mr. Sarcoplis seemed nice too. Back... before. Before they found out. Before they said they were no longer my parents. I don't remember much from that time, the magical 'before'. It hurts to remember; I feel so confused. Soft bed, warm showers, food that didn't come in a can with a dog on it. Before touch meant pain and I wasn’t a dirty sinner. I sometimes stared out my little window and watched. I saw the men in white coats once through a hole in the bushes. They were doing that thing; the one that my parents said was sin. The one they caught me doing in the before time. Did the kissing mean they were sinners too? Was this hell? Did God finally forgive me and let me die like I prayed for? *** "He's shut down. I don't know if he's in too much pain or just too afraid, but he won't even look at me. Do you know of anyone he's responded to in the past? A family friend or neighborhood kid he might open up to?" Dr. Sanghi asked. She and Paul were sitting at a table drinking coffee in the doctor's lounge and talking about Joseph. "The family moved in about two years ago. I never saw the kid, not even during the summer. Danny said Joseph told him to run when he saw him the morning we found him. Other than that I don't know if I've heard him make a single sound other than that scream when he fell out of bed. He doesn't trust us," Paul said sadly. "I'm not surprised. What I've seen of the police report and the old injuries his x-rays showed he's been a victim of extreme abuse for some time. I don't know what to do with him. He is most likely not going to respond to any adults but he needs help. I can see it, this great need to share his pain, but it's walled up behind a dam that I can't breach from the outside. Do you think Danny would be willing to talk to him?" Paul looked hesitant. "I don't know. He still has nightmares sometimes, even after all these years. I don't want to make him have another relapse." Dr. Sanghi patted his arm, standing up from her chair. "I understand though I think it might actually help him to use his own experiences to help someone else. At the very least he would have a good idea of where Joseph is mentally and be prepared for it. But if you think it's too much for him, I understand. I’ll try to think of something else." Paul sank back in his chair, chewing on his lip. He sighed. "I'll ask him. He's been pretty upset over this whole situation. He feels bad he didn't get help right away but he had a flashback when he saw that man screaming. It might help him feel better about that too." Dr. Sanghi looked concerned. "Do you want me to schedule him for a few sessions?" Paul thought about it. "No, not right now. I'll call you if he doesn't bounce back. He's a pretty happy kid most of the time now." He stood up and gave Dr. Sanghi a quick hug, "That's due in large part to you." "Hey, you put up with more than most people would, even if it was their own kid," she reminded him. "You took on an abused teenager that needed a lot of time and attention and turned him into a happy, loving kid. I wouldn't expect him not to have some relapses, even if it's been almost three years. But maybe these guys can help each other out." Paul nodded. "I'll see if he wants to come to the hospital later today. He has baseball practice until four." "Thanks Paul." *** Voices again. One soundd different. Softer. Wait... now it's closer. "Hi," the new voice says. It's so quiet my head doesn't hurt at all. "My name is Danny. I wanted to come and talk to you." I can't help it; the voice is too much. I opened my eyes. Sitting in the chair beside the bed is a boy. Well, he looks like a teenager with those wide shoulders and brown stubble on his face so he can’t be that young. I stared at him, I've seen him before. My head hurts too much to think of it. "I wanted to say I'm sorry." His brown eyes drilled into mine. Tears filled his eyes and he sniffled. No, that's wrong. He is meant to be happy. I know I've seen him before, smiling and laughing. He's like a sun, my sun. Memories flowed into me over the waves of pain. The window. I remember now. Watching him play with his things, talking and laughing with the men that came in wearing the white coats. He lives with the men Mr. Sarcoplis said were filthy sinners. He said they should all die. I don't want him to die and go to hell! My face scrunched up and I felt tears in my eyes. "What's the matter? Are you in pain? Do I need to get a nurse?" Danny panicked and stood up, backing toward the door. He was going to leave. "No," I croaked. "Please, don't go." Danny stopped. Oh thank god he stopped. He moved back to the chair but he still look upset. He was gripping his hands together so tight that his knuckles were bone white. He was shaking a bit but determination flowed across his face and he squared his shoulders. "Look, I can understand if you hate me. I know how you must feel right now. My last foster parent before Dad hurt me really bad. I was so mad that no one said anything. The other kids just let him do it. When I saw your dad it all just hit me again and I was afraid; so afraid. I hid in my room but you couldn't. I didn't help you; just like those kids didn't help me. I'm sorry." Tears flowed down his face. I stared at him. He had been hurt? Why do people do that? What’s wrong with them? I felt a burning rage that someone would dim the bright happy sun of his soul. I had watched him for months when I was chained to my mattress by my injuries. He had kept me sane as it got worse and worse. I didn't know what to believe anymore but I had to make the pain in him go away. "It's okay. Not mad," I forced out. "My fault." Danny shook his head gently, "No! It's not your fault. No matter what, no one should treat anyone like that. Like I was treated, like you were treated. We're human beings!" he said in a fierce whisper. "But I..." "Nothing. Nothing you could have done, Joseph. You are a good person." I couldn't help but sigh. I used to feel that way. Maybe I could again. I gave him a tentative smile. He chuckled and smiled back, "Hey, you smiled Joseph! You should do that more often!" That made me frown. I hate that name. I want this boy to call me something else, not the name they used. I want him to talk to me, the real me. I think that would be good. "Joey." Danny smiled, his natural happiness bubbling out. "Joey," he repeated. I guess he wants to talk to the real me too. Please visit the story discussion topic at: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/31484-hiding-by-cia/
  6. 1 point
    CJ travels to Australia with his dads and uncles. A story about gay men of all ages.
  7. 1 point
    Kenny Jones and his childhood friend Jeffry Cree, meet many years later when Kenny, after retiring from a successful footy career, moves to a small town in Victoria's Gippsland, to take up a teaching post at the local Marist College. Kenny has revealed that he is Gay whilst Jeffry is struggling to admit being a homosexual.
  8. 1 point
    I know, I know. No fair using a cute puppy.
  9. 1 point
    I was on my Facebook page and got a friend request from some person my husband might know—our 'friends' in common are people my husband knows. I usually put these folks right on 'acquaintance' because, frankly, we usually have nothing in common and if their crap comes up in my feed, I comment. That usually does it. I noticed someone else in my feed, non-relation, but I clicked on them and looked at one of their photos. Then, I noticed someone who commented looked like a cute kid and, since I'm always looking for character images and inspiration, I clicked and checked out the profile. The boy was adorable, 12, and I was already thinking about what a great little brother character he'd make when I discovered he'd died. I looked at the image, such a handsome kid and all the wonderful comments about him and I just...it brought me to a stop. I simply stared at photo after photo taken by a loving mom who was in such incredible pain. I was unable to simply let it lie and looked to try and find out what had happened. Why did this boy have to die? As it happens, he was bullied. I don't know what for and speculation will get me nowhere. He lived in the Carolinas and committed suicide at just 12. I didn't know this kid, but he's just become every scared kid who has taken their own life. It would be easy for me to see this family with their church's logo on their tee shirts (just like a corporate Nike or what have you) and the locale and think this kid could have been gay and could have been bullied and unaccepted at home, even though they loved him. Bullying happens for a lot of reasons but I keep looking at the photo and wondering...why?
  10. 1 point
    Chapter 18 Shawn was taken aback by Casey's question. Was that what had Casey so wound up today? He was worried about him leaving? "Casey, babe," he said gently, "I'm not planning on leaving anytime soon." Those gray eyes shot up to meet his. "But you will, won't you? You'll have to go back to your family, to your life." "No, I don't. My family knows where I am, and I'm right where I want to be, with you." Damn those eyes were expressive, Shawn mused as he took in the confusion, hope, and desire warring within them. "But--your job, your--" Shawn cut off Casey's protests. "My job I can do anywhere. All I want right now is to be able to write, which I am doing, and to be with you, which I hope you'll continue to allow." "Really?" Casey's voice was ridiculously soft, and the hopefulness in it nearly broke Shawn's heart. God, had Casey never felt wanted? Desired? Loved? Shawn squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Yes, sweetheart, that's all I want right now." "And you don't want to leave here? You'd stay here for me?" Casey seemed to have a hard time believing in Shawn's words. "At some point, I'll probably want to leave," Shawn admitted, and of course regretted it instantly when Casey looked like Shawn had just stomped on his heart. "But when I do, I'm hoping you'd come with me." "With you?" Casey looked like he couldn't comprehend leaving the island. Shawn knew that he was close to his uncle and was scared about upsetting or disappointing the man, but he'd hoped that what they had developing between them would be worth it to Casey to fight for. "I know you're not ready to think about that," Shawn said gently, "and I'm willing to wait. I'm fine here with you. But someday, I'd love to share part of my world with you. To introduce you to my family. To show you that TV can have more than three channels." Casey looked at him stunned for a moment before bursting into laughter. "I think I might like that," he finally admitted. "But I'm not sure...I mean, this is all I've ever known, and Uncle Martin he'd never--" "Case," Shawn stopped their progress along the beach to take Casey by the shoulders. "Your uncle doesn't own you. You are your own man. I know you love him very much..." Shawn couldn't help but notice a flicker of uncertainty in Casey's face as he continued, "But even he would eventually understand that you might not want to stay here forever. That you might want a life of your own." Casey was already shaking his head slightly, but Shawn wasn't sure why. Did he not believe him? Or was he just that afraid of leaving the island? "He might not like me much," Shawn admitted, "but he wouldn't deny you your happiness if you decided to come with me, would he?" "Actually, he probably would," Casey stated sullenly. "Why do you think I don't want him to know I see you all the time? Shawn frowned. "I kinda thought he was just over-protective. You know, like the dad with a shotgun on the porch kinda thing." "Except that if he even saw you coming, he'd shoot first and ask your intentions later," Casey stated. "Damn, he's worse than I thought," Shawn muttered, stunned. "Well, then we'll just elope." He grinned. "We'll just jump in my jeep and take off, whenever you're ready." "I--" Casey faltered. For a second, Shawn saw excitement flood the younger man's features, but then it faded as his hand fluttered to his neck, his fingers toying with the silver chain. "I--I can't." Shawn waited for him to elaborate, but Casey just stared past him out to the ocean. "Oookay," he drawled, not sure how to take Casey's reluctance to leave with him. "Maybe we can talk more about it later?" Casey dropped his gaze, and Shawn was sure he saw the evidence of unshed tears pooling in those smoky eyes. Casey nodded slightly, keeping his face turned from him. Shit, what the hell had he said now? Shawn thought. He tried to think of something to distract his lover's thoughts. He shifted his gaze over Casey's shoulder, eyeing the craggy rocks that the surf was pounding on. "Hey, what's that over there?" Shawn asked, pointing. "It looks like a cave or something." @@@@ Casey's head jerked around. He hadn't realized how far they had walked. They had managed to round the southern end of the island, and Shawn could now see the edge of his gated cave. "It's nothing, just a small cave, that's all," Casey said quickly. "Let's head back in. I think I need another bottle of water." "Yeah, sure, just a second. I want to see the cave," Shawn said, grabbing Casey's hand and tugging him along. "It's not that interesting." "Maybe not to you," Shawn said excitedly, "but I don't get to see that many ocean caves." There wasn't much Casey could do now that they were almost there. While it made Casey nervous for Shawn to be seeing his private cage, there was nothing that Shawn would probably find odd about it, except the gate. The brunette dropped his hand and he climbed over some rocks at the edge of the cave. Casey stood back and watched Shawn peer through the gate to see into the depths. The waves splashed over the rocks and through the bars in their gentle rhythm as Shawn gripped the bars for support. "Why is there a gate on it?" Shawn asked. Casey jumped down into the wide cove that funneled toward his cavern, floating to the other side as Shawn made his way across the gate as well to see if he could get a better view from the opposite side. It didn't take much for Casey to think of an excuse for the gate. "It keeps larger sea animals from getting marooned in there during low tide." Shawn looked at him in a bit of confusion, and Casey elaborated. "When it's high tide, the water level is much higher, obviously. And it's possible for a dolphin..." he hesitated mentioning sharks again, "... or something to get in there and then be stuck if they don't get back out before the tide goes down. So the gate keeps them out." Or something like me in, he thought to himself. Casey couldn't help but look away, embarrassed now to think about how Shawn might view him if he knew that Casey was often caged in that cavern. He realized now that it made him look more like the animal, the mutant, that he was rather than human. Shit, Shawn would freak out for sure if Casey ever let him find out. Martin was right. There was no one else Casey could trust but him. "Case?" Shawn called softly, and Casey looked up to see that Shawn was almost right next to him, apparently having given up his exploration of the gated cave. "You okay?" "Oh, yeah, I'm fine," he said, clearing his throat a bit. He rushed to fill the impending awkward silence before it could develop. "Uncle Martin had it gated and padlocked a few years ago." "Hmm, you'd think the salt and water would corrode the lock more," Shawn said as he flipped the padlock with his fingers. "It looks practically new." "Well, it is, mostly," Casey admitted. "He changes them pretty often to keep that from happening." Can't have the lock not working when he needed to cage Casey in it, could he? Casey thought ruefully, but then he fought back his new scorn for the cave. It had always been a place of peace for him before, an escape, a way to enjoy being in the crashing ocean waters on the nights of his beloved full moon. But today, seeing it as he knew Shawn would see it if he knew what Casey really was, it seemed different and he hated it. "Do you know the code?" Shawn asked. "It looks like one of those that you can put in your own code." "It is," Casey said absently, now eager to get away from it and was walking toward the dock instead. "Uncle Martin likes those so he can use the same combination each time and not have to remember a new one. I don't know what it is, though. He doesn't tell me. I guess he thinks I might play around in there or something." Casey glanced back to see Shawn scrambling over the rocks to catch up with him. "I guess that makes sense." Shawn jogged over and wrapped his arm around Casey's damp shoulders. Casey tensed, still reeling from his horrible thoughts. Shawn's arm tightened before pulling him to a stop. "Casey, wait," Shawn said softly, turning Casey to face him, holding him by the shoulders. "I'm sorry if I upset you earlier. I didn't mean to. I guess I just hope that someday... you might want to be with me." Shit, Shawn thought he was still upset about their conversation about leaving the island. Casey smiled softly, his hand sliding across Shawn's chiseled jaw before he leaned in and gently kissed him. "I'm not upset about that. And I do want that too, I just... need to figure stuff out first." The light brightened in Shawn's azure eyes, and Casey felt his heart jolt at being the cause of that happiness. Shawn dipped his head down and captured Casey's lips with his, sensuously sliding the tip of his tongue over Casey's. "I think... I think I might love you, Casey Badar," Shawn whispered against the younger man's jaw line. Casey gripped Shawn tighter, latching onto his neck and drawing their bodies closer, his voice nearly choked with emotion at Shawn's admission. He never thought he'd ever hear those words again, not after his uncle died. And this... this was so much more. "I know I already love you," Casey breathed out hoarsely against Shawn's neck, just below his earlobe. And at that moment, he didn't care what his uncle thought. Even if he practically electrocuted himself getting the perimeter collar off. One day, he'd be leaving this place with Shawn Brockton.
  11. 1 point
    Cards on the Table Chapter 17 Michael and Kendall continued to sit in the den after Carson headed off to get some rest. Kendall was quietly introspective, his partner’s presence providing him with the stability and support he’d come to rely on, to help him assimilate all the emotions running through him. Michael’s thumb gently stroked the hand clasped in his, showing he was content to let Kendall take all the time he needed. Kendall knew he understood his partner’s dilemma. In Kendall’s rattled mind, it would have almost been easier to handle the volatile, angry man he’d expected to encounter, rather than this shocking new version of the father he’d learned to resent so many years ago. He knew he should be relieved, even thankful, but it was taking a real leap for him to get there. Disbelief was warring with what he’d seen and heard with his own eyes and ears. Carson Dooley, the prick, had thrown his son for a loop when he’d shown a compellingly different side. It was difficult to integrate this new projection of a man with the one he’d known his whole life. The revelations about his grandfather had been startling. All of it had been. Sighing, Kendall thought about what Michael had just told him. It was downright shocking to think his mother had intended to leave his father… was actually going to choose her son over her husband. Things must have gotten pretty bad during his absence from the Dooley fold. His mother had obviously suffered from Kendall’s exclusion from her life, and he couldn’t allow that to happen again. His resigned acceptance of his father’s rejection had been so total, it caused Kendall to mentally close off from his mother as well. He thought her constant support of Carson throughout Kendall’s journey towards adulthood would continue in the same vein it always had. It was now apparent he’d been wrong, and he was feeling guilty about it. Another sigh got Michael’s attention. “Are you okay, Babe?” “My mom has had a very tough time, and it wasn’t fair.” “Yes, she has… but I hope you’re not thinking it’s your fault?” It wasn't hard to see where Kendall’s mind was headed. “It is in a way, though… I let what happened with my dad interfere with my relationship with my mom, and I didn’t even think about it… what it might have been doing to her, and I feel bad about that. It's kind of like I abandoned her, you know?" “Kendall, please don’t do this. I like your mom a lot, but she took a while to get where she is now, and you know it’s true; it didn’t happen overnight, but she has come a long way from the days when she supported your dad blindly. It took losing contact with her son to give her the strength she needed, and that took time. You and your mom didn’t have a relationship because of your dad, not because of you. You start blaming yourself and you’re going to piss me off.” Michael reached up and took Kendall’s head in both hands, turning his head towards him, and leaning their foreheads together. “Beating yourself up over something you had no control over, isn’t going to serve any purpose. It’s a clean slate for you and Agnes, starting today, and that’s all that matters, okay? If you can let some stuff go, maybe it can be a clean slate for you and Carson too? I know it won’t be easy, but I think it’s important for you to make the attempt… if you can get there, great, and if you can’t, you’ll at least know you gave it a shot." His words had the desired effect on his partner as the slight tension Kendall was holding, left his body. “Thank God you’re here, Sunshine. You’re right… about the whole thing. I can’t dwell on something I can’t change, and my mom was in a tough situation, caught between the two of us, so it’s not right to blame her for what’s happened. It does no good to blame me either, so all we can do is move forward. I can see that, thanks to you. I have to be thankful my mom has changed, and that my dad appears to be trying. So what do we do now?” Kendall knew he could count on Michael to keep him on the right track. “Well for starters, we need to talk about us staying here. I figure you’re probably worried about me, and whether I’ll be comfortable with it, right?” Michael gave him a knowing look. “Yeah, of course I am. You come first with me… always. We have our own hotel room already booked and paid for, and this has been a tough day for you… and for me, so I think we should tell my mom we’re going to stay at the hotel for now. I think it’s for the best. We can still visit them during the day, and it there’s any drama, this is a way to escape it; if Carson becomes Carson again, you don’t need to deal with all the bullshit that can come with it. We should go tell her now before she starts making us supper or something.” “Dammit, you have to stop worrying about me or you are going to piss me off. Do you really think I can’t handle any drama that may come up? Carson Dooley doesn’t bother me in the least, and you can’t tell Agnes we’re not going to stay here. That will really hurt her, and you know it’s true. She’s floundering right now and she needs you. We talked quite a bit when you and your dad were in here, and she’s a very fragile woman underneath all that toughness she showed earlier. Doing that almost broke her.” Michael’s voice softened. “I love that you want to put me first, so trust me when I say staying here is putting me first. You need this too, and that is the most important thing to me… this is about you and your mom, and it’s about your dad too. From what I just saw, he needs you just as much as she does. He wants to try, and he can’t do that if you’re not here. You’re like the glue that’s necessary to hold them together right now, and I will be more than fine as long as we get to sleep together. That’s enough for me... to make me comfortable and happy. Trust me on this.” “You know I love you, right?” “I don’t have a single doubt, and I kind of like you too,” Michael teased. “Really… that’s too bad, because I don’t sleep with a guy that just likes me… and I certainly don’t touch their penis, so it looks like you’re out of luck. You’ve sealed your own fate.” Michael’s pout was hilarious, and it took every ounce of Kendall’s control not to laugh. “Aww, Babe, don’t be like that. You know how I feel about you.” “Not if you don’t tell me, I don’t.” Kendall was trying his best to look serious. “I love you with all my heart and soul, and I will feel this way forever.” Leaning in, he caught Kendall’s lips with his, and they shared one of those special kisses that reaffirmed an unbreakable bond neither one had doubts about. “That’s more like it, Sunshine. I knew you had it in you.” “Does that mean you’ll touch my penis now, Babe?” A trembling Agnes Dooley was both relieved and anxious to see Kendall and Michael making their way down the hallway from the den. Kendall’s concern for Michael on his crutches caused a small smile to break through the blanket of fear that covered her. She knew love when she saw it, and these two men were definitely in love. She was struck by how beautiful her son and his partner were, and quietly allowed herself to rejoice in that feeling of pride that can take a mother back to when their child was first born… when the pride first appeared. She was on pins and needles about the outcome of Kendall’s talk with his father, afraid to know what transpired, because she knew her life would change drastically if Carson had let her down again. She would leave the very ill man she still loved deeply. If her husband forced a choice on her, it would be her son she would choose this time. Agnes Dooley saw things clearer now than she ever had before, and she wouldn’t waste the second chance her son was giving her. “Is everything okay, Kendall? Did the man act the fool again?” Kendall could sense his mother was at a breaking point. He heard the quiver in her small-sounding voice. Michael had been so right about the fragile state that struggled to hide beneath the surface. He could have made a huge mistake because of his concern for Michael. Turning quickly to his amazing guy, he whispered a thank you, which he knew was understood immediately; Michael acknowledged it with a smile that said he would always be there for Kendall. “Everything’s fine. Dad made Michael and I feel welcome here, and he said he has no issue with us as partners. I’m a little confused right now, but he seems to have changed… a lot. Did he not say anything to you about our talk?” “Oh, Kendall... I am so happy it went well. He just told me he hoped you believed him, and that he had a lot of things to make up for, to you and me; then he went straight to bed.” His mother’s remarks caused Kendall to look at Michael with a raised eyebrow. “Maybe you’re right about him, Sunshine?” “Of course I'm right. Aren’t I always?” The smug look on Michael’s face made Agnes laugh, and the boys could see the tension that was thrumming through her, begin to dissipate “Don’t encourage the man, Mom… his head is big enough already.” The twinkle in Michael’s eyes at Kendall’s words put fear into Kendall’s heart about what Michael might say in front of his mother, so he shot him a warning look. Michael just continued to smirk, finally laughing at Kendall’s discomfort. They knew each other so well. “So, we’ve decided we’re going to stay here instead of the hotel, and we’ll take the guest room, but we need to go back to the hotel at the Calgary airport and get our bags. We left them in our room before we came here.” “Oh, thank you, thank both of you. That makes me so happy. Do you think you can get a refund for your room though? I don’t want to see you lose any money.” Leave it to his mother to worry about such a thing. It brought Kendall happiness to feel like he had his mother back again, and he let himself bask in her concern for him. The way her face lit up, when he told her their decision to stay at the house, made him aware of what he’d been missing. He was capable of giving his mother joy during a really tough time, and she deserved all the support he could give her. The satisfaction of providing that for her was something he deserved as well. “Don’t worry about the money, Mom. I left it open-ended to re-book each day because I wasn’t sure if we’d be staying, so they can only charge us for the one night, and that’s not a problem.” He glanced over at Michael before continuing. “We may stay there for a couple of hours or so, and have a nap and a clean-up before we come back though. It’s been a busy couple of days and I am feeling very tired, and Michael really needs to rest his knee for a while.” Michael was watching Kendall intently but Kendall deliberately ignored him. “I understand, dear; you boys take your time. I may have a little lie-down myself. How about a late supper… around eight or so. I made some of that shallow pan lasagna you always used to bug me for. You could call me when you’re leaving to come back, and I can put it in the oven. It only takes about forty minutes. I’ll crisp the edges the way you like.” “I haven’t had that in ages… that would be good! We’ll head out now, and you can have a chance to relax. I know you’re under a lot of stress, but we’re here for you. You can relax a little more now. We’re going to be here for both you and Dad, okay?” “Och, my wee lad. It means so much to me that you’ve forgiven me for not supporting you more. I used to find it so hard to stand up to Carson, but not anymore. Being the dutiful wife cost me way too much. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve lost your only child.” Her eyes were glistening again, and Kendall wrapped her up in a big hug, letting her have her little cry, feeling the occasional tremor ripple through her. He released his mom when she’d gotten back in control of her emotions, leaning down to kiss the top of her head in a gesture of reassurance and love. Smiling at that, Agnes turned to Michael and held out her arms to him, and he pulled her into the same reinforcing kind of hug. “What I said to you earlier, you can count on. No matter what happens, Kendall and I will be there for you. We will make sure you are an important part of our lives. And just know that your husband tried hard today, and now there’s hope you will get your wish for your family.” Once again, Kendall was in awe of his partner… his capacity to understand what Agnes needed to hear, and Kendall knew he meant every word; it filled him with a special kind of joy he could only get from Michael Aceto. “Thank you, dear Michael. I am so happy you’re part of our family now.” Looking from one to the other with a heart-warming smile on her stress-lined face, she gave Michael a look of approval, like she could see with certainty he was the right one for her son. “Okay, off you go, my wee lads. The quicker you go, the quicker you’ll be back.” Back in the rental car, with a beaming but tired-looking Agnes waving from the doorway, Kendall backed out of the driveway. He liked that Michael’s steady improvement, and enough room in the front of the big SUV, allowed for him to sit beside Kendall again. He reached for his hand as soon as they were headed down the road towards Calgary. “How’s your knee? Are you comfortable?” “It feels good... almost normal. I don’t think it’s going to be much longer. I really don’t.” “Don’t you dare push it. I know how you get, so promise me you won’t.” Kendall shot Michael a forbidding look that said he would brook no argument, and Michael just sighed. “Jeez, I already promised you so please stop being a mother hen. I swear on your ass, I will be careful, and I won’t take any chances till the therapist says otherwise, okay?” “You’re swearing on my ass?” Kendall looked surprised at this new expression. “Why would you swear on my ass?” “Isn’t it obvious? You always swear on something that’s special to you, like one of the things you care about the most… and for me, that’s your mighty fine ass,” he said with a smirk. Kendall had to laugh at his partner's one track mind. “Fair enough. I can live with that,” he agreed, giving Michael a rather smug smile of his own. “Babe?” “Yeah?” “Why do you want to nap at the hotel? We could just go back and nap at your parents’ house, and then you wouldn’t have to drive when you woke up. Wouldn’t that be better for you… be more relaxing?” “I was thinking of a better way to relax, because I thought you wanted me to touch your penis, but if you’ve changed your mind, then we can just go straight back to the house?” Kendall waited for the slightly delayed reaction, staring straight ahead. “What? Seriously? No fucking way! I haven’t changed my mind, and I will never change my mind about you touching my penis, not ever. I didn’t think you’d be in any kind of mood for some of my good loving after what you’ve been through, but I’m liking the way you're thinking.” Kendall started laughing. “Michael, you’re not the only horn-dog in this relationship, you know? Let’s forget my family drama for now; I want you all the fucking time, and when your knee is back to one hundred per cent, I’m gonna prove it to you... and right now, I am one horny dude.” “Oh fuck, me too. I want you so bad, I’m getting hard right now.” “I’m halfway there too, but I have to drive so you’ve got to behave till we get there.” He smirked and wiggled his eyebrows at the man who was his world. Michael’s expressive face showed his anticipation; he was grinning from ear to ear. A half-hour later, they were in the hotel room shower, soaping away all traces of the travel grime from their busy morning. Kendall had requested a walk-in shower as opposed to the shower/tub combo, but he had neglected to ask for a bench for Michael to sit on, so they made short work of their shower, and headed to the bed with insistently eager erections bouncing in front of them. Kendall marveled all over again at how incredibly gorgeous his man was, and found himself driven by a compulsion to worship him. He proceeded to order Michael to lay on his back, and Michael willingly did as he was told. First, Kendall attacked his mouth with a ferocity that had Michael reeling from the passion of it. He cursed his knee, because he had a real strong urge to take some control from Kendall, but his physical limitation left him with no choice but to be compliant under the onslaught of Kendall’s demanding lips and tongue… not that he was complaining. When Kendall attacked his nipples, Michael had to fight to not put any pressure on his knee by rising up with the sheer power of the sensations. Instead he whimpered and writhed and accepted the jolts of pleasure that continually ran through him from head to toe. He was so fucking turned on by Kendall’s aggressive attention to his body that his cock was experiencing a delicious, almost painful ache, the head already generously coated with precum. When Kendall moved his attack to Michael’s navel, his arousal climbed even higher. Michael had never considered his belly button an erogenous zone before but Kendall was showing him it was indeed a well of nerve endings that connected straight to his weeping, throbbing dick. Kendall’s hand on his cock, keeping it out of the way while he worked on his navel, was driving Michael crazy. “Babe, please?” “What, Michael, please what?” “I need something, Babe, please?” he groaned out. “Is it my mouth on your cock… is that what you’re asking for?” Kendall rose up to look in Michael’s lust-filled eyes, very happy he was the reason Michael was in such an enraptured, almost disjointed state, with raw passion nakedly exposed on his handsome face. “Yeah, but I gotta have you too. Please? I want to feel you, and suck you, and taste your ass while you suck on me. Can we do that? I really need you… please?” he pleaded. Kendall was tempted to continue his torture but Michael’s desire to participate was written all over him, and he couldn’t deny his partner, especially when Michael’s dedicated worship of his ass felt so fucking amazing. He shifted around to give Michael his gift and heard and felt his sigh of contentment as warm breath caressed his exposed hole. The breath was followed by the slippery stroke of Michael’s tongue and Kendall purred his approval. Damn, Michael was so good at this. As his tongue worked its slow, steady invasion techniques, gripping hands softened and began to lovingly massage his ass. Kendall picked up his own considerable gift off of Michael’s hairy, ridged stomach and wasted no time slurping up the clear fluid running from the fat cockhead. Kendall lived for this. This big dick belonged to him, as part of the man it was attached to. His man. He had become very accomplished in a short period of time, and he now knew how to keep Michael on edge… when to back off to prolong the pleasure for both of them. What Michael was doing to his ass was making it hard to concentrate, and when he moved down to Kendall’s balls he groaned into the cock in his mouth, making it jerk at the vibration. He attacked Michael’s length in earnest, figuring they were both too desperate for this to be a marathon. All thoughts of edging Michael along went out the window now that Michael was performing his own brand of magic, so Kendall increased his attempts to deep throat the thick cock bumping his tonsils. Using what he had learned, his throat opened up to accommodate the full length of Michael’s dick. Kendall settled into a rhythm despite the distraction of the working over Michael was giving his ass, his cock, and his balls. He had launched his own attack on Kendall and it was effective in bringing Kendall quickly to the edge. When Michael settled on his cock, Kendall shifted to give him easier access and Michael responded by increasing his speed and suction. Kendall knew he had little time so he sank all the way down on Michael’s pulsating cock, demanding his reward. Up and down incursions into his throat gave him what he craved, and Michael unloaded with incredible force, accompanied by a groan that reverberated through Kendall’s cock. The taste of Michael’s cum was all Kendall needed to return the favor to a determined Michael, and with his own muffled groan, he let loose a torrent of cum into Michael’s mouth that he had no hope of catching entirely; it was a veritable flood downward. It spilled out the sides of Michael’s receptive mouth as Kendall’s own mouth managed to capture Michael’s entire load, swallowing quickly and savoring every ounce of it. Spinning around, once he was sure he had it all, he assisted Michael’s valiant attempt by licking what remained of his own load, from Michael’s very-pleased-with-himself face. He let Michael taste their shared offerings in a deep and tender kiss. That goofy grin Kendall loved so much, spilled across Michael’s countenance. “Babe, that was awesome. You fucking drained me completely. You’ve gotten so good at that. I don’t know if I’ll ever get hard again. Some of my brains might have shot out that time.” “I hope not,” Kendall grinned. “You don’t have any to spare.” He sighed in contentment as he snuggled in to his completely sated man. “I had enough brains to snag you and that’s all that matters to me.” The sleepiness in his voice was apparent to Kendall. “That’s all that matters to me too. I don’t know who snagged who, but you just fucking rocked my world again. That was fucking unbelievable,” a yawn escaping him. “The things you do to my ass… it sends me to another planet.” “There’s a lot more I want to do to your ass,” Michael murmured as he pulled Kendall closer. “I want that too. I don’t expect it’ll be easy, but I want you that way, inside me,” Kendall confessed to a sleepy Michael. Michael woke up a bit at that, realizing the importance of this conversation. “You know I want you the same way, don’t you? Inside me, I mean? This partnership is equal in every way, Babe.” “I wasn’t totally sure, but I’m glad to hear you say that because the thought of being inside you, making love to you, well, it would be a dream come true. Ah, Michael? I thought you said you didn’t think you’d get hard again?” “That’s what the thought of you being inside me does… and that’s my job, Babe… to make all your dreams come true. That’s one job I’m looking forward to.” Sleep claimed both exhausted but satisfied men as they settled into this new level of understanding. It didn’t get any better than this.
  12. 1 point
    Chapter 16: Confession Birds sing, breezes blow and I am in a field. Around me is mile-after-mile of golden grassland rising and falling in undulating folds of hills and hollows. Where I walk, the path leads me to a stream. Here willow trees raise branches and almost look as if their small yellow leaves are reaching across the moving ribbon of water to hold hands. I walk along the bank, and swing arms. It's then – really for the first time – that I let myself notice how battered and bruised they are. Somehow I know my limbs have been like that for quite a while, but I never wanted to look, and never wanted me to worry about them. It was like they didn’t matter, no matter how much they hurt, but here, today, I am ok with 'seeing' them. 'I did it to myself,' I think. 'Only I am to blame for my own injuries. And, so be it.' There is a sweetness in the air now; a fragrance that's dense in the way honey coats the back of the tongue. The willow trees give way to a low groundcover of plants with spear-shaped leaves growing by the water's edge. Rising from this foliage are stems with that most perfect of white flowers in full bloom – calla lilies. They grow in abundance, and soon I am in a field of them. The scent is almost too pleasant to bear, and I have a notion to stop and pluck armfuls of them, but I realize, they don’t belong to me. I did not plant them here, they grow of their own accord, and so I have no claim to take their lives. They are much too perfect to serve any other purpose than to be born, live in the fresh air and sunshine, and die – die right where and when they are supposed to. I hear music; it is carnival music accompanied by the crash of surf rolling over itself on a beach. Ahead of me is a pier, and way out at the end, a gloriously lit Ferris wheel. Suddenly, I am standing on top of it, and I'm not afraid. My hand goes up to my chest, and through my t-shirt, I can feel Linc's brass ring that I placed on a cord to wear around my neck. I glance over my shoulder and first notice the curving tent roof of the Santa Monica merry go round. 'Ah,' I think. 'That is the roof I slid down in the dream where I'm falling. Now I understand it.' Behind this antique building, the modern city twinkles as a mass of land-locked lights. Turning back, and looking straight ahead, I am much more taken by the peaceful beauty of the wide-open Pacific Ocean. A wet salt-breeze comes to stroke my face and makes me lick my lips to taste it. I glance under my feet, and the structure of the Ferris wheel is a myriad of steel beams and rods, and all these lines of support are traced out in light bulbs. They form glowing concentric circles of tracery, like an incandescent cobweb where drops of glistening color might shimmer here and there. Far above the brooding ocean water, stars frost the night sky, and add their glint to the cresting whitecaps below. These run over and under one another with their own seething blue-green phosphorescent and living light. Inside, I feel as beautiful as the sights look. A butterfly appears near me. I hold out my finger, and he settles on it with upraised wings. As I examine his orange and brown coloration, I unexpectedly think of Lincoln Oliver. "Yes," I tell myself with the easy faith of the newly converted. "He will be all right." I set the butterfly free, and he flits up amongst the stars to add his own special luster to them. Now I have wings too. I spread them, and this time – in perfect contrast to my old useless raven wings – these are of the purest white. I don’t ache anymore, I'm not pissed off, I'm not asking for more time, and I'm not sad either – I'm just free. I jump off the Ferris wheel and glide down to about the water's surface. Sea spray splashes my face, and exhilarates me. I fly with easy grace. I'm in control, and I am finally free! I'm giddy with laughter, and shout at the top of my lungs: "Yes, everything will be all right!" ˚˚˚˚˚ I wake with a jerking motion. Lincoln is above me placing a cold washcloth on my forehead. As soon as he sees that I am awake, he croons to me tenderly, "Shoosh." Oh yeah, now I remember. Dau let me have his bed last night, and Linc nursed me after he got off from work. I rotate my neck, cuz a shadow is moving by the closets. Dau rattles some clothes off hangers, stops and asks Linc, "Was I too loud? I have to get ready." "You're fine!" Lincoln assures him. "Thanks for bunking with Damien last night." "What time is it?" I ask. "Oh, he's all right. He complains a lot, but he went right to sleep. Snores, though." "Oh, I know," Lincoln chats busily. I reach out for his hand. Dau continues, "He's a big wingnut. What? He thought I'd pants him in the middle of the night…" "What time is it?" "About 7:30." "AM?" "No, Sean – at night." "…And," Dau merrily slips on his shirt. "I may or may not be in possession of some pix." "Oh?" Lincoln laughs. "Pix of a certain muscle-headed jock, asleep, but with a gorgeous Asian cock pressed against his lips." "Shit!" Linc jumps up and gives Dau a high-five. "But, you gotta share, buddy." I sit up in bed. Then it hits me. "Wait, Dau! Did you do that to me too, roomie?" "No, Sean. I only do that to guys who piss me off. You're safe." Then his mood shifts to the serious. He lowers his tone, and makes it almost sound like a warning. "Linc, I know you don’t want to…" it seemed as if he was searching for the right turn of phrase, "…go out tonight, but Daddy's not too keen on unscheduled time off." Linc shrugs shoulders. "Fuck 'em. Sean's sick. So, I'll make up for it later." "Ok." Dau pulls out a jacket. "You are grown boys, so you know what you are doing." He flings it over his shoulder, and sails out of the room. Linc comes back and sits on the bed. "Are you feeling better?" He presses his hand against my forehead. I can gauge by the relatively cool and dry pressure of his palm that I am burning up. "Here, you need Advil. I'll go get some from the bathroom." He stands and walks halfway to the door. He stops, comes back and kneels on the floor, mid-bed. He lifts my hand and runs it along his cheek. His blue-green eyes look guilty, and it breaks my heart. "It’s my fault," he says. "We should not have sat on the cold floor at the carousel. It made you sick." "It's not that. You didn’t do anything." He rises to his feet. "You need more Advil. Want anything else; more of your 'crocodile juice,' as you call it?" There's a knock on the open door. It's Daddy. Lincoln goes to him and pulls him a few feet down the hall, but I can still hear them talk. "What's this about you sending Dau on your date?" "Just for tonight, Daddy. Sean has a fever, but by morning he'll be fine. I'll work extra – set up an afternoon date – tomorrow, plus my regular one too. Ok?" "Look, Lincoln, caring in this business only goes so far. You can 'care' about a user all the way to the grave, if you're not careful." Linc protested: "Sean is not – " Daddy cut him off with an authoritative snap. "Hey, I'm just saying, that if you expect to stay an Elite boy, you – and Sean too – will have to pull your weight. Got it?" "I understand." It sounds like Daddy walks away, but I don’t hear Lincoln stir at all. A couple of moments go by, then he sticks his head around the door, and pats the frame a quick time or two. He has on a fake-ass smile for me – the most beautiful fake-ass smile anyone has ever given me in my life. "Be right back, babe," he says, and disappears. 'Oh, Lincoln,' I think to myself. 'What have I done to you?' I am going to hurt him, one way or another, and now it's too late. I grab my phone. Hum, no new texts from Dawn. That's unusual. I type out: Where U at, gurl? U have a secret 2 tell me..? LOL I hit 'send,' and plop the phone down. Lincoln comes back. In one hand is a glass of water and a pill bottle, in the other dangles a freezing-cold Popsicle. He closes the door, and comes and sits by my side. He grips the plastic wrapper of the frozen treat in his teeth, then looks down and around it as he pops the pill top and knocks two blue gel caps into my waiting palm. He relids the container, gives me the water, and after I drink, takes the glass and holds up the Popsicle. "Want this? It might cool you down. It's orange sherbet…your favorite!" His smile is so fuking beautiful, I wanna cry over it. "You eat it, ok?" "Suit yourself." He tears into it and starts coating his lips with an icy orange gloss. He tries not to act too concerned, but asks, "Sean, what are those lumps under your arms?" I shrug. "Have you had them for long?" "No," I lie. "Well, do they hurt?" "Not really. They'll go away." His attempt not to look worried fails. His Popsicle hangs lifeless in the air between us. "Maybe we should go see a doctor." "Linc, please. You don’t need to fret over me – " I suddenly can't go on. "Do you love me?" He asks out of the blue. "Don’t try to confuse me, stud. You know I love you. What I don’t know is why you seem to love an ordinary guy like me." "Ordinary?" Lincoln sounds like he can't believe my question. "Oh no. Do you want to know a little secret?" "Is it one I have to swear to keep until my dying day?" "Pretty much." He licks deep on his orange stick, LOL. "Ok." "I…I basically loved you at first sight." "What? That day in the kitchen, but you – " "Hardly said a word to you?" "Yes." "I was scared shitless, boy. Truth is, what could I say to you not to make you think I was nuts." "Um, how about 'hello?'" "Asshole." His smile glows all sherbet slick at me. "Ah, now is that any way to talk to your 'love at first sight?'" "See! I knew I shouldn't have told you." "Linc?" He acted all mad. "What." "I have a secret too. Wanna hear it? And, you can tell everybody you know, if you want to." He looks like he is about to cry. "That you loved me too, Sean, at fist sight..?" "Yes. See. I can't keep any secrets from you, can I?" He kisses the tip of my nose. "Nope. So don’t even try. I was attracted to you the first time I saw you." "Why?" Lincoln shakes his head real slow. "Don’t know. Just was." "But, I'm so ordinary." Linc pulls back a little. He forces me to hold his gaze. "You don’t really believe that, do you?" There is a long pause. Does he want me to say it..? "Yes. I do." He comes back close to me, sighing. "From now on, kid, use me as your mirror. And see that you are not ordinary in the least." Shit. I can feel the bottom my vision becoming blurry. Damn, shit, fuk – when this gorgeous jock of a guy says he 'loves' me, he means it. "Ok." I inhale and try to steady myself. "I will use you as my studly mirror." "Damn right you will." Lincoln kisses me, transfers some of his sweetness to me, and in return, I get some of my tears on his cheek. "Don't cry." He leans back and inhales deeply, then goes at the Popsicle with his teeth, and it disappears pretty quickly. Meanwhile, he starts rambling a bit about 'us' and the 'future.' "Daddy is nice, but he can be an insensitive old fart sometimes. We need to get up and running on Backpage. Hey, you know, I think we should get at least a two-bedroom apartment, cuz when you get better, we can invite Dau to come work with us, and soon, maybe you won't have to work at all, if you…" "I'm not going to get better." "What?" "Lincoln, I'm a lot sicker than I seem, and, well – I'm not going to get any better." Lincoln's shock coalesces into one of his patented smirks. "Bullshit. Little Miss Pessimism here. Come on, kid – have some hope!" He laughs and sucks on the last of his Popsicle stick. I just shake my head. This sucks. This is about the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Lincoln teases me again: "Debby Downer." "I'm fuking dying of leukemia, ok! I, I am, sorry. I, maybe should have told you earlier, before you…" "Sean, you're shittin' me, right?" Panic rises in him. "Lincoln, no. I'm not gonna be around for much longer, but, I won't burden you – " "Shut up." I start tearing up. "Linc, I know I suck as a friend, as a boyfriend – " "Sean! Shut up, please." He's crying too. "How could you not trust me enough, to, to tell me before now?" "Phew – it's not a matter of trust…" "Sean, without trust – where's the love?" "Lincoln, I do love you, God, please don’t think I don’t; think anything but that." Linc suddenly changes his attitude. I guess something in him switches. He calmly holds my gaze. "Yeah, I know that." He wipes snot from his nose, stands up and tosses the Popsicle stick out the window. "But, what do you mean 'you're dying?' Aren’t you getting treatments? Don’t you have a doctor?" "No. I ran away cuz I can't go through it again. This is the third time, and I figure my number is up, so I came out here to live a little, and not sit in a sterile hospital room with tubes in my arms, pumping poison in me and making me sick as a dog. This fever, and a few aches and pains, are 100% milder than 'the cure' that doesn't work." Lincoln comes back and sits. He grabs my hand and transfers his nervous tension to it. "Un-uh," he says, shaking his head. "Those times, you were a child. Now, you're a man, and you've got me to be there with you." "Lincoln…" "I said, no. We're gonna get you help, and Sean, you don’t have to worry about me." I feel so sad to have my fake-ass name in his pure mouth and thoughts. "It's not Sean." "Then, what is it?" "Jack. Jack Shaw." "Oh, so it's 'Jack' and not Sean." His head bounces a few times, and then he shrugs. "That's nice. It suits you. Any other secrets you wanna share?" He's acting sarcastic. "No. But, Linc, I'm not gonna get help, and – most of all – I'm not gonna put you through it." "Don’t be a selfish asshole." "I'm trying not to be. But, you don’t know what it's like to see someone wither up and die from cancer. I do. I can't put you through it." "What are you talking about? I can help – " "No, no, no you can't, and it was my dad, ok. Get it? He had pancreatic cancer when I was seven, and my mom looked after him at home, and she had to wash his ass for him, and empty his piss bags for him, and had to watch him shrivel up like a fallen leaf, and in the end, there was not a goddamn thing she could do about it, but fuking cry. Where’s the nobility in that! Get it? I ran cuz I was not going to put her through it again, and I am not going to put you through that either – I guess I love you both too much to let it happen." Lincoln appears devastated, but slowly, he lifts my hand and kisses my knuckles. His devilish smile returns. "Selfish prick. You tell me, did your mom look after your dad for money?" "Oh course not. What – " "No. Why did she do it, then? Why else? She did it for love. So, there is nobility up the wazoo, if you want my opinion." He leans in and hugs me. He squeezes me hard, and my hand falls on his upper back to soothe him. He lets go and stands. "I'm just gonna lie with you for a while, after I get my tunes, ok?" I nod. He goes to the door, opens it, but pauses. On his face is a 'this ain't over' look of determination. He leaves, and I try not to break down. But, what I have to do seems clear. My sight drifts out the window, and now, it's time for me to go. It will be best for Lincoln that I leave him as soon as I can shake this fever. My eyes half close. In a moment or two my vision of the immediate future will come true: Lincoln will return, get down to his undies, pull back the covers gently, and slide into bed next to me. He will raise his jock arm and I will use it as my pillow, while he settles and then gazes down on me. He will use his precious lapis-jade eyes to admire me, and I will be suspended in his calm self-assurance, over which I can hang weightless above my doubts and fears. I seem to remember some passage from Catcher in the Rye about Holden looking down into a puddle on the street. There he sees the iridescent sheen of a drop of gasoline floating on the surface of the water. He uses words to say how impossible it is to express the loveliness of having life; of the beauty that exists still and quietly in the possibility of the connection of two human hearts suspended in time; expressed for all time within the captured ripple of a floating moment. In my vision, Lincoln will place an earbud in my ear, and the matched one in his own. He'll select something serene to listen to, some Woodkid, if I know my man, which I do. He will pause so I can listen to it a moment, and, then he will whisper into my free ear: "It's beautiful, Jack, just like you." And in my vision, I will let go of all assumed motivations, and judgments, and maybe too the notion that the world is phony, because maybe we never know what someone else has been through. To live, beauty and hurt and all, that is what I ran away from, and now I think I have found it at my doorstep, and can be at peace. But then again, I have hurt my mom, and soon I will have to hurt Linc as well. That sucks. I open my eyes. I must run from him too, and do it because I love him. Now I am really crying, for this will probably be the last night I will ever have to spend with my beautiful Lincoln Oliver.
  13. 1 point
    “So where is home? And if you say that damn dome, I’m going to call Dr. Connor back,” I said. The shifters wanted to take care of me until I could take care of myself, however long that took. Until then, my plans to get out to my stake and start working on my future were on hold. “Oh, no. We have a nice apartment on the south edge of the city.” Moshe grinned. “Big enough for me, even.” I raised one eyebrow. “There are no nice apartments on the edge of the city. Now, apartments on the north side, by the coast… those are nice.” Trees and hills weren’t exactly considered prime view material, and it took hours to trek to the beach through the city, even using the transfer system. I’d gone to the south side, once, with my college roommate, Keon. I’d never gone back. “There are now. A lot of shifters settled in the south side. We’ve fixed it up a bit. We have plenty of room for you. Just one bed though.” Lisco winked. My face burned. I knew the shifters were courting me in their way, but Lisco was very good at coming on to me as a human too. Moshe was much quieter, but he liked to touch me. He was standing at the foot of my bed again, running his fingers over my foot that wasn’t hurt. Butterflies didn’t begin to describe the sensation in my stomach as I considered what I was about to do. I was going home with two alien shifters who’d chased me in their animal forms through their dome in the center of the city—as a courting ritual. Had I known what that was? No, of course not. I thought my idiot now ex-roommate—thank heavens—was responsible for signing me up for the popular new thrill for adrenaline junkies. Nature’s Wrath: Supplies all the fear and excitement from the knowledge you’re no longer the top of the food chain. Why in the hell would the shifters do that? I knew from my own experiences and studies that challenging the dominant predator in an ecosystem was a bad idea. Humans were the apex of our world’s predators, but now? I wasn’t so sure. Of course my shifters hadn’t been hunting me to hurt me. No, Lisco made it perfectly clear they had other things in mind. Which brought them to my mind and refueled what had to be a blazing blush. I cursed my fair skin when Moshe laughed. I would’ve hidden my face in my hands, but they picked that moment to begin spasming. “Oh, damn.” I groaned, trying not to fight the way the muscles tensed and rippled. I panted through the pain. “Shit, that hurts.” Moshe picked up my good foot and began squeezing it, his fingers deftly massaging just to the point of pain but not crossing into it. “Oh, that feels good.” The kneading pressure distracted me from my hands a little. Gradually the muscles relaxed. I sank back in the bed, carefully lowering my hands to my lap. Damn pilltock. I’d tried climbing out of the shifter’s maze, changing the rules of the ‘game’, and it cost me the use of my hands when the plant’s toxin seeped into some cuts. Not only that, but I’d almost fallen fifty feet down the side of a tiered cliff and torn up my right ankle too. “I’m here to get you fitted for a hover chair.” A short older nurse walked into the room holding a holo pad. “Hopefully this won’t take too long to process one fit to your specs.” “He doesn’t need one,” Lisco said. “Can we go now?” “Excuse me?” I shot him a look. “I can speak for myself, and yes, I do need one. How else am I going to get around?” “I’ll carry you.” Moshe smiled. “Anywhere you want to go, whenever. Promise.” His eagerness was kind of sweet. “Thank you, but I don’t want to be a burden,” I said politely. “You aren’t, Miah!” he protested. “We wouldn’t have offered—” “Excuse me, Dr. Connor said Mr. Jonahson needed a hover chair. He has said he needs a chair. Now, however else he decides to get about will be fine, but he is getting a hover chair. Now. Because I have four other patients waiting and not enough time to stand here while you argue.” The nurse had her free hand on her hip and one eyebrow raised as she split a warning glare with both shifters. “Yes, ma’am.” My mom didn’t raise a fool. I wasn’t going to gainsay the lady, even if I were inclined to object to the way she spoke to us. “Good. Let’s get started.” She walked up to my bed. Moshe moved away from the foot and stood behind Lisco. He was so big Lisco’s hair, even if it was gelled up in the nearly foot long spiked crest he’d had when I first saw him, barely came up to his chin. I was far from small, good stake stock my dad always said, but Moshe was a head bigger than me too. I’d have to see if his hand was really as big as a dinner plate. “Ahem.” Shit. “I’m sorry?” The nurse glared at me. Ouch. No wonder Moshe hid behind Lisco. That was not a look I liked aimed in my direction. “If you’re ready to pay attention?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Good. Do so.” She restarted the holo pad. A bulky chair with a sling seat appeared in the air above my bed. “We have several models of hover chairs. They go from basic to deluxe. The basic model comes equipped with limited voice command, but it has a good battery cell that charges in ten hours. The deluxe…” Great. So I was going to be sleeping a lot, at least, since it seemed I wasn’t going to be mobile very long if it took ten hours to charge. Or maybe I could sit with the chair charging in Moshe and Lisco’s apartment. I’d have to make it work. “Just the basic model,” I said, interrupting her. I sighed. Just renting that was going to eat into my credit savings. I’d lived on subsistence rations, I’d make do once I went home. “Okay. We’re going to need to do a voice sample so—” “But the other one sounds nicer,” Moshe objected. “Why not get that one?” I sighed. Nurse Cranky’s knuckles were getting white where she was holding on to the holo. The deluxe model, a sleek device with an elastiform contoured seat had been replaced by the basic model I said I wanted. “This is cheaper. I’m already stuck with this hospital bill and now the chair rental. I’m also out the price of my original tram ticket and have to buy another one when I get better. “My entire plan, everything I wanted to do on my stake, has to be put on hold.” My frustration boiled over. “I’ve been working toward starting a herd on my land next to my parents for years. I don’t have the credits or the time to argue over this.” I waved my hand at the holo and then cried out. My fingers curled into my palm, the skin drawn tight in a massive spasm. “Oh, Miah.” Moshe hurried over to me, rubbing my shoulder and arm. “Try to relax.” “You’re not going to spend a credit. We did this. We’re paying.” Lisco leaned into Moshe’s side, staring down at me. “We never wanted to get a chance to court you because you got hurt and are forced to stay with us.” “Never,” Moshe agreed. The nurse sighed. Lisco shot her a glare that amused me, even through the pain from my contorted hand. He was flirting with danger. That seemed like it fit his personality. “Look, Nurse Whatever-Your-Name-Is-Because-You’re-Too-Busy-To-Introduce-Yourself-Politely, glaring at us and making noises is not appreciated. We understand you have a job to do, but maybe you should go do it somewhere else before I call your supervisor about your unprofessional attitude and disrespect to a patient,” Lisco said. He narrowed his eyes at her, his blue crest trembling as he hissed. She jerked back from my bed. Dr. Connor would just love that. He was very professional, and prided himself on his staff holding that same professionalism. And clearly the nurse knew it. “I’ll come back when Mr. Jonahson is feeling more up to speaking with me. Just hit the call button.” She spun on her heel and stalked out the door, her back rigid. “Snooty woman.” Moshe frowned, his wide forehead wrinkling. “Though you probably shouldn’t have hissed at her, Lisco. Are you feeling better?” The cramps were gone, but now I was exhausted. I slumped against the pillow, enjoying the way he worked the muscles in my arm. “I need a nap,” I murmured. “Okay.” “Not okay,” I sighed. “I need clothes and the hover chair. And a damn holo pad to get my discharge paperwork.” Shit. I’d totally forgotten mine was packed. “Everything I own was sent ahead to my stake. I don’t have anything.” “We’ll take care of it. We want you to be with us, Miah. We’ll convince you.” Lisco reached into his pocket and pulled out a small device. “You nap. We got this.” *** They really did take care of everything. When I woke up a hover chair had been ordered—the deluxe model—and there was an assortment of comfortable, loose clothes that would be easy to put on and take off around my brace. “We also got you one of our holo pads. It’s different. You can wear it on your wrist. It also responds to voice recognized commands so you don’t have to touch anything.” Moshe pressed a small disk to my forearm. A formfitting band slid out and wrapped around my wrist. It tightened briefly, then loosened to sit snugly against my skin without pinching or moving. “Just say, ‘Holo: discharge paperwork’, and it’ll turn on and bring up your papers.” “How’d you guys set everything up to my voice patterns?” I asked, after I checked the holo worked and did a quick scan of my paperwork. They really had paid my balance already. Wow. Lisco looked up. He was repacking my things into a bag. “A speech you did at college. We simply used the voice track from the holo.” “Oh.” Well, at least I didn’t have to deal with Nurse Cranky again. “So, time to spring me, then?” “Spring you?” Moshe looked confused. “Slang. I mean, we can go.” “I get it.” Moshe smiled, then frowned. “Wait. No, I don’t.” I laughed and the frown disappeared from his face. He grinned. “I guess that’s okay.” “Yeah. I just want to get out of here.” They looked human, but they weren’t. I had to try and remember that. They’d only been on Earth for six years. People I went to school with for years hadn’t understood me sometimes—it wasn’t that unusual. I just didn’t fit in with city folk. Or alien shifters, apparently. “Okay, we need to get you up.” My muscles burned as I sat up in the bed. Moving my leg, even with a pain block they gave me after I woke up the first time, wasn’t going to be easy. “Let me move you, Miah.” Moshe slid his hand under my knees and another under my back. “Don’t move your hands,” he warned when I tried to stop him. “Darn it!” My face was on fire. Moshe was warm, and his skin felt so soft against mine. “My rear end is hanging out.” “Which is why we’re going to dress you.” Lisco slipped a pair of shorts around the brace on my leg and then up my good leg. “Let him down, Moshe.” “No underwear?” Moshe snorted. “Uncomfortable stuff. It’s silly to wear an extra layer anyway.” He squatted and rested my butt against his leg. His jeans were rough. I couldn’t believe I was sitting on him with my naked rear. And this was just the beginning. I closed my eyes and took a deep, shuddery breath. How did I let myself depend on two men, nearly strangers, and not lose it? “Hey, it’ll be okay.” Lisco squatted down in front of me and patted my knee. “Your face is really red. Is that normal?” “Do you need the doctor?” Moshe asked. He rubbed my arm. “I’m just blushing. It’s normal.” As long as my face didn’t stay that way. Staying with these guys, it just might. “Can you just pull up my shorts, please?” I was getting way too many flashes of ideas of Lisco kneeling in front of me for other reasons. I had an overactive imagination. Lisco slipped his hands under my waistband and slid my shorts up, under the gown. “Stand him up.” He rose fluidly with us as Moshe lifted me to my feet and supported me. “There. Covered. Is that better?” “Yes.” Clothes were like armor. “Now for the shirt.” The first try led to spasms curling my hands into claws and creeping up my arms. I leaned against Moshe’s comforting warmth and let him hold me as I rode out the pain. “Try… another… way.” “Be careful,” Moshe warned him. “I am!” “Be more careful, then.” I snickered, unable to hold it in. Moshe seemed like the mother hen type, totally at odds with his rough appearance and giant size. Well the term gentle giant had to come from somewhere. He growled at Lisco. “I got it. Don’t growl at me.” Lisco slid my sleeves up my hands. “Okay. I’m going to lift your arms so Moshe can pull your shirt down over your head. You let us move you.” My grandma had once shown me a puppet her dad had carved for her when she was a little girl. His limp, jointed body hung limp until she moved the cables that controlled him. All I needed were some cables to be that damn puppet. I grit my teeth but tried to remain limp as they maneuvered me into my clothes. At least I was dressed. “Your chair has an interactive command database. Address it as HC and then where you want it to move, and it’ll do whatever you need.” The holo chair melded around me. I’d never sat on anything so comfortable—it was almost like I wasn’t sitting at all as it supported and conformed to my body. It cradled my ankle and took all the pressure off my leg. Maybe I’d be able to take less drugs to control the pain, which would help reduce the fog clouding my mind and exhausting me. I had to get back on my feet. Every day I spent in the city was a day I lost on my stake. Fingers brushed over my cheek, and I opened my eyes. “Hey,” Lisco said. “Are you all right?” “Yeah.” I shifted, and the chair fluidly adjusted with me. “This feels wonderful. Thank you.” He beamed. “Good.” His happy expression slid into a leer, and he winked. “I bet I could make you feel more wonderful, though.” Wow. Yeah, he wasn’t shy at all. “Let’s go.” Moshe stood by the door holding all three bags of stuff they’d gotten for me. “I’m tired of the smell in here.” I sniffed. It was rather antiseptic. “Do you have enhanced senses in your human forms?” I asked. “Some of us. It depends on what our forms are. Not all our senses mesh up with these bodies.” Do you want me to push you out?” Lisco asked. That was weird. The idea of alien senses working in a human body… how did it work? Did they have extra parts? Shift just parts of their bodies instead of all of them? And if they only shifted parts of their bodies, what might they leave natural? Uh-uh. I had to stop that line of thinking. Immediately. I didn’t want to blush again and give Lisco an opening. Oh crap. An opening. Chair. Focus on the chair. “I got it. Gimme just a minute.” I practiced the voice controls, getting used to the maneuverability of the chair along with its automatic sensor functions. It stopped before my legs ran into the wall and before I could back into the bed. It also sensed and went around Lisco when he stood in the middle of the room as a test obstacle. “Okay, good to go.” The hallways were busy, and I sweated a little trying to not make an idiot out of myself with the new chair, but we made it outside. “Are we taking the transfer?” I cringed at the idea of the crowded platforms. “No, we have a conveyance.” Moshe pressed his thumb to the vehicle recall. Clicks and a gear grinding sound startled Lisco. “Damn. I can never get used to that. Your planet is so loud with all this technology.” Lisco scowled as their vehicle rose from the underground storage. It was huge. The hatch iris dilated open, and Moshe barely had to bend to walk inside. I blinked. “Coming?” Lisco popped his head out. “You can just come right in. There’s a spot to lock your hover chair in.” “HC forward one meter.” I reversed once I was inside the luxurious vehicle and backed into the space. “HC lock.” A click under me rocked the chair briefly, and then it was secured to the base. “Did you guys get this car just for me?” “Would that upset you, Miah?” Lisco tilted his head and watched me. “Of course it would! We barely know each other.” They’d spent so much credit on me. “No, we didn’t.” Moshe shot Lisco a warning glance. “I’m too big for your transfer system. All we did was have a lock installed for your chair while you were sleeping.” “So, your human body is big because your shifter body is?” I was still curious about shifters. I’d never given them much thought before, too busy on my parent’s farm and then at school, but when would I have the opportunity again to have two shifters who could answer my questions? “Yeah. Never been in a shape so small, though.” Moshe held up his hands and wiggled his feet. “And only having four limbs? It’s weird. I like these though.” He bent his thumbs back and forth. “You can take other shapes? Like other creatures or other people?” I didn’t like that idea. People should look like themselves. But… they weren’t human. My head started to hurt, and I leaned back in the chair, letting it cradle me. “No, no,” Lisco leaned forward and rubbed my knee. “We can’t change our bodies or faces again. We are who we are. And we can only shift into two active forms. Our true form, and one other. When we arrived on your planet our forms changed to these. Unless we leave, this is how we will always look.” “Will you stay here?” Lisco and Moshe exchanged a glance. “We’d like to.” That wasn’t a yes or no answer. I thought about it for a little while, unsure if I should ask them to explain why they might have to leave, even if they didn’t want to, but then the vehicle stopped. It didn’t take very long to get to their apartment building, way faster than a transfer would’ve taken. “This is it?” I carefully voice piloted my chair out onto the sidewalk. It was cracked, but no weeds were growing up through the fractures and there were big green planters with flowers flanking the species. Strange flowers with shapes I’d never seen before. “Non-native species outside the dome?” I raised an eyebrow. “They’re sterile,” Lisco assured me. “And non-toxic to humans.” “Well, they smell nice.” Like baking, and cinnamon, and sunshine. Wow. When I passed between them, they blocked out all scents of the city and the people packed cheek-to-jowl. “Like what?” Moshe asked. “You can smell it, can’t you? Like a late breakfast of homemade pancakes on a summer day with no chores.” I’d had a few of those growing up—just a few—but I treasured the memories of lazy mornings and afternoons filled with fun. Moshe smiled softly. “That sounds really good. I smell anolga fruit and caravys.” I tilted my head sideways. “Angola fruit?” “Anolga. It’s sort of creamy and spicy.” That didn’t sound like what I smelled at all. Lisco tapped a button on his holo pad and a lift opened in the center of the building. “The flowers smell like your favorite scent, whatever it is. I smell something different too. Qite musk and raindrops. Back home, the rain had metallic elements, so it always smelled sharp, not like here.” “So every time you walk in and out of the building you smell home? Doesn’t that make you sad?” “Sometimes,” Moshe said. He leaned against the wall of the lift. “But not remembering the best parts of our home would be sadder.” The lift dinged. “Home sweet home.” The doors opened directly into their apartment. It was huge! Bigger than my parent’s house, heck it was even bigger than the district manager’s house, and it made my dorm room seem like a storage closet in comparison. Lisco opened a door and hung up his coat, and I reconsidered. Their front storage closet was bigger than my dorm room. I hesitated in the doorway. “Come on in, Miah.” Moshe walked through the living room, with three couches, to a door across from the front door. He opened it. “Bathroom.” The door was sized for his big body, so it was more than big enough to get the hover chair inside, though I’d still need help inside. Thankfully, I could put off the humiliation for a while longer. By the entrance to the kitchen on the left of us was another giant door. “And this is our bedroom. We knocked out all the inside walls of the two apartments on this floor to make the living space, and we also doubled the size of the bedroom. It’s nice to have a bed to stretch out on after living on the ship for so long.” “A bed?” I choked out. That was not a bed. That was an ocean of mattress. “Yeah. I love it. Lisco had the floor and the frame strengthened, so I can even shift if I need to.” “How does Lisco even get on the bed?” It was so tall. Moshe grinned. “He climbs me first.” I felt my face flush as pinpricks of heat swept up my neck and face. All the blood moving back and forth as I blushed and popped a way too eager erection was killing me. My head throbbed and managed to kill some of my arousal. “Do you want to take a nap? I can put you on the bed.” Suddenly that was all I wanted to do, even though I’d already taken one nap. I nodded. Moshe set my bags down along the wall and then lifted me carefully into his arms. It was hard to remember to keep my hands limp. I wasn’t small, and no one had carried me since I was a little boy. The bed dipped under our combined weight, but it didn’t give out. I sighed and snuggled into the soft covers. “This is nice.” Warm, comfortable, and the bed smelled just like Moshe and Lisco—musky and spicy, but also fresh and sharp. “You sleep. I’ll leave the door open a crack so you can let us know if you need anything.” There wasn’t much else I could do. My cock hadn’t gone down all the way yet, but I wouldn’t be taking care of the problem for a few weeks until I finally got to my stake. Besides, pleasuring myself in their bed would be weird, no matter how good it smelled. I let the pain blocker and my exhaustion overpower all the worries crowding my mind and clamoring for attention. *** Awkward didn’t begin to cover it. I woke up, my bladder full to bursting. What proceeded to happen, as both Moshe and Lisco tried to help me, was an embarrassing debacle—and a cleanser moment if ever there was one. Some for the floor, and some for my brain. Of my course my dick got hard when Lisco touched it, even though he wasn’t coming on to me at all, and then I tried to yank away from Moshe’s grip and pee by myself. Which was a total no-go. Why, oh why, hadn’t I taken Dr. Connor up on his offer? I figured the only thing my humiliation would be good for would be completely turning Lisco off. Nobody got turned on when they’d gotten peed on. Dinner was quiet. I requested a supplement shake, so I could feed myself. It was like sucking sludge through a straw. Yum. “Is that any good?” Lisco’s gaze was fixated on my drink. I’d finished most of it and couldn’t take anymore. I shrugged one shoulder carefully. “It’s fine.” “Can I try it?” Moshe asked. I started to stop him, but he snagged my cup and sucked hard on the straw. He got a huge mouthful and choked. His cheeks puffed out and he made an awful sound in his throat. Moshe jumped up and thudded over to the sink, then bent over and spit the supplement out. “Oh, faugh. Yuck!” He spat again. “That was nasty. You drank all that crap?” “It’s not that bad. Your taste buds are probably just different.” Moshe shook his head. “That is not food.” Lisco blinked. “I think I’ll take Moshe’s word for it. No more shakes.” What the hell? “Then how am I supposed to eat?” I scowled at the shifter, wishing I could cross my arms over my chest. “I have to eat.” “Real food,” Moshe said. “That is not real food. Don’t worry, we’ll help you.” I slumped in my hover chair. “You’re already doing that. Look what happened earlier when you tried to help me.” I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad the bathroom debacle signaled a clear switch from desired man to gross burden they wished they hadn’t signed on for. “Accidents happen. I’m not into water sports or anything, but a little bodily fluid never hurt anyone. It washed right off. I’d like to try to get some of your other bodily fluids on me, though.” I goggled at Lisco, who grinned and winked at me. “Water sports? What the hell?” “You know, where someone gets sexual pleasure from being urinated on? It’s a thing.” “How in the hell do you know that?” I didn’t know that. I wasn’t sure I liked knowing it now. Just… gross. “We read up on you guys. Research.” Lisco shrugged. “About sex? Research?” Keon hadn’t called it research. I bet, if he’d thought of it, he’d have tried to get credit for the hours he watched skin holos. I only knew how many hours he’d done it because I always made sure to stay far, far away from our room when he was in the mood. “Sure. What would you do, if you were suddenly in a body and had no idea how it worked?” Huh. I’d never thought of it that way. It sort of made sense. But… still. “Can we talk about something else?” “Sure.” Lisco took his plate over to the counter. Moshe was fixing himself a drink in the server. They didn’t have monitors on theirs like all the other servers I’d seen. It was bigger too. “What gives you sexual pleasure?” Moshe asked. My jaw would’ve hit the table, if that were humanly possible. He looked at me, like it was perfectly reasonable to ask me such a thing, as if he were asking my favorite food or color. “We can smell how much you want us. Every time we touch you,” Lisco said baldly. “Why hold back? Is it because we’re shifters?” “Of course not! I don’t… I mean, I haven’t… .” My face was going to melt off. I ducked my head, staring hard at the rich grain of the table, stained so dark it was a shade off black. It was shiny, and I could almost see myself in it. “You haven’t… what?” Moshe sounded confused. I glanced up. Lisco was staring at me. Both shifters looked confused. “I’ve never done anything with anyone else,” I admitted painfully. “What?” Moshe asked. I started to say it again, louder. “I said, I’ve never—” “No, we heard you. We just don’t get it. Our culture isn’t repressed like some of yours. But, this area seems liberal. We’ve seen plenty of humans expressing their desire physically. Why would you not enjoy yourself?” It was Keon all over again. Well, at least Lisco didn’t say, “Dude, your outtie is gonna become an innie if you don’t man up!” like Keon. Like jeering at me for being busy was going to make me want to run out and find a partner. “I was busy.” Embarrassment warred with arousal, and if what Lisco said was true, they both knew it. “You’re not busy now.” Moshe crouched next to my hover chair. “We want to get to know you, court you. Our way didn’t work, but we’re willing to try the human way.” Vibrating on my wrist saved me from having to reply. “How do I answer this thing?” The holo screen was flashing for a phone call, but there weren’t any buttons like my pad. “Holo: Answer call.” Lisco crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t look like he was going to drop the conversation. “Oh, right. Holo: Answer call.” A form materialized over my wrist, and my heart began to pound. “Mr. Jonahson? This is Rekebah Smit. Can you take a call from Mr. Gorseman now?” “Yes, but just a moment.” I took a gamble and tried another command. “Holo: Hold call.” Ms. Smit’s holo form went static, her unsmiling face staring at me. Damn, damn, damn. I closed my eyes and let out a huge sigh. “I need to take this in the bedroom. I’m sorry.” I directed my chair through the living room to the bedroom and nudged the door shut with my elbow. “Holo: Resume call. I apologize, Ms. Smit. I’m ready to speak with Mr. Gorseman.” Dinner did a very uncomfortable dance in my stomach. “Hold please.” Her holo image shimmered and transformed into a heavy-set man. He wore a cowboy hat, though he wasn’t a rancher. Even as a tiny holo visible only from the chest up, he was intimidating. Or maybe that was just because he held my future livelihood in his hands. “Mr. Jonahson.” “Hello, Mr. Gorseman. Can I help you?” I tried not to speak through gritted teeth, but the man’s tone grated on me. I’d been looked down on by a lot of people in the city—but I wasn’t from the city. They weren’t my people. Gorseman called himself a rancher, but he lived in the city and worked behind a desk. He didn’t touch the land, or the animals. He tipped his hat back. “I’m glad you asked. My herd needs be split. Market price is prime now. Either you take your order at the end of the week, or our contract will be null and void. I’ll be forced to sell your cattle.” “I already paid for them!” It’d taken every scrap of money I’d ever made, but I’d paid for the start for my herd from Gorseman and another ranch. He was supplying the cows I needed. Without them, my bulls would be useless. “And your contract states they be delivered at my convenience when I split my herd. I am splitting my herd. Either you take possession of your cattle or you forfeit them and the contracted payment.” “I understand.” What the hell was I going to do? “When can I expect your arrival at my stake?” Gorseman raised an eyebrow. “I was led to understand you were not there.” “I will be ready for my cattle. A man upholds his contracts,” I said archly. The cretin was putting the squeeze on me. I’d heard he was ruthless, but I wasn’t a competing stake. I might be successful, in the future, but I hadn’t told anyone my plans to cross-breed the strains of cattle left to us. No one had managed it before, but I thought I had the digestive incompatibility licked. He must have investigated me. My accident in the dome left me vulnerable, and a man of his character wouldn’t hesitate to seek advantage. Maybe he’d been waiting for his chance. I wouldn’t let him ruin me before I even had a chance to begin. “Two days.” He cut off the holo. “Damn it!” I smacked my hands on the chair and then cursed again as my fingers curled into claws and pain lanced through my hands and up my arms. “Miah!” Moshe hurried in. “What did you do to yourself?” He picked me up out of the chair and sat on the bed with me on his lap and my back tucked against his chest. He rubbed my arms from the shoulders down to my wrists, and I struggled to breathe through the agony. I writhed, frustration and anger combining with the pain. The cramps went on and on until it felt like the muscles were ripping away from the bones of my fingers. Moshe’s deep voice rumbled against my ear as I curled into him, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Finally, minutes or ages later, my fingers straightened out of the rigid claws the spasms curled them into. Sweat dripped down my forehead, stinging my eyes. A cool cloth wiped over my face, and I sighed in relief. “Thank you.” What was I going to do? I didn’t have a backup plan. Getting hurt wasn’t part of my five year goal. “Did you grab the cubes?” Moshe asked. “Yep, all ready.” I shifted my head, staring up at Moshe. “Going somewhere?” “Yes.” He gently wiped my face with the washcloth, then folded it and laid it across my forehead. “Oh.” Well, I was leaving anyway. My last ditch vacation to get to know the shifters better wasn’t going to happen. Somehow, I’d find a way to make it work. Maybe I could holo my dad and get recommendations for someone who could act as my hands for a share of the profits. It would slow me down, cut the profit margin and growth plans, but I couldn’t take care of myself, much less a bunch of heifers. “We’re coming with you,” Lisco said in exasperation. He stopped in front of me. “Where else would we be going? We told you, we want you to be with us. We’re courting you.” “Working on a stake, scrabbling in the dirt and wrestling with cows isn’t very romantic. You’re shifters. You can do anything, have anyone.” Wait, how did they know what was going on? “You’re already packing.” There were cubes already half-full of clothes behind him. “We could hear your conversation,” Moshe rubbed my shoulders. “Did you think we’d let you leave alone?” I shrugged under the weight of his heavy palms but didn’t say that was exactly what I’d thought. I had a feeling that would piss them off. "You’re who we want. We miss the earth. We lived more naturally, in the past. Your technology is nice, but we feel confined. We can shift on your stake, right?” Moshe asked. “It’s big enough.” I’d never considered their natural state. They were so convincing as humans that the memory of their beasts, Lisco’s shiny blue form, long and thin like a snake with wings, and Moshe’s gigantic, heavy six-legged beast with blinding white fur, had faded. “Yeah, it is. As long as you don’t spook the cattle or trample the seed. But I can’t ask you to do this.” I shook my head. “It’s my problem, not yours.” Lisco sighed. “It wouldn’t be a problem, if we hadn’t taken you to the dome, right?” “You didn’t take me. I found the ident strip and chose to go.” “But we set it up. You’d have been home, already prepared for the cattle. It’s not just about making our mistake right. We. Want. You.” Moshe emphasized each word. They’d said it, both of them, several times. “What do we have to do to convince you?” “How can you want to be with me? You don’t know me, and you already have each other.” “Instinct, a sense of rightness, desire… call it whatever you want. Moshe and I care about each other, but something is missing when we are in these forms. Teach us to be human.” Lisco crouched down in front of us, his hands on my thighs. He stared up at me. “We don’t care if you’re experienced or not. I like that we can learn how to fit together, all three of us, woven into a whole. It might not work out. But we want to give it a chance. We want you to give us a chance.” Something about them going home with me, leaving the city, made it different. “It won’t be like here. My stake isn’t developed. It’s not nice.” “We don’t need much. A roof, a bed—” I snorted. “My bed will not be anywhere near big enough for all three of us.” “So we make it bigger. We have a shuttle. We can move our stuff and get your stake ready in a day. Moshe is strong, and I’m quick. All you have to do is say yes.” If they came with me, it wouldn’t be for two weeks. I didn’t know how long they’d stay, a month, a year, forever… but I wanted them. Could I have Moshe and Lisco and not give up my dream? I’d worked for years for the knowledge and degree I needed, saving every scrap of credit I could earn. But success wouldn’t keep me company or love me back. There was a chance my heart could be broken, but at least it wouldn’t wither up while I lived my life all alone. “Yes.”
  14. 1 point
    Second Chances By Andrew Todd Chapter 9 The remainder of their stay in Spain went very quickly for the boys. Soon they were back on the private jet for the return trip to America. Mr. Alvarez’s lawyers had worked quickly to have custody of Diego placed with CJ and Danny and made sure all the paperwork was in order for him to accompany them back to the States. Ace and Devon had taken Diego under their wings and he was quickly acclimating himself to being amongst so many friends after having spent so much of his life alone with his father. Mattie had helped Diego sort through his belongings before they left the rancho. Mattie told him they would need to get to a clothing store. While Diego had tons of clothes, Mattie didn’t think much of it would be worth taking. Diego’s wardrobe consisted of breeches, button-down shirts and formal wear. All he had for shoes were boots and dress shoes. Mattie was shocked a sixteen-year-old didn’t have a pair of sneakers. Mattie told Diego to pack a couple of his dressier outfits and a couple sets of riding clothes. Diego packed several pairs of boots and two pairs of shoes. There were a few personal items he wanted to take with him. Mattie and Ace helped him pack them up and they had them shipped to the States. While Diego was excited about moving to the States, he was still upset about his father. CJ and Danny had several long nights with him, helping him come to terms with the changes in his life. Mattie talked to CJ about shipping Diego’s horse, Domingo, to the States. He knew the Andalusian gelding was all that Diego really had left from his life on the ranch. CJ readily agreed. Diego was beside himself when Mattie and CJ told him they had made arrangements to send Domingo to Second Chances Ranch. CJ made the arrangements right away so that Domingo would be there when they arrived home. He knew that he would be quarantined for a few days and wanted that taken care of so Diego would have him right away. The last week in Spain was spent on day trips and relaxing around the Alvarez’s villa. Ace, Spin, Mattie and Devon took Diego into the city to shop for more casual clothes. Diego was shocked by the amount of clothing they made him buy. Mattie kept explaining that jeans and t-shirts would be the most common outfit for him at the ranch. The flight back was just like the one to Spain. The boys broke into smaller groups to talk and play games. All of them spent at least a portion of the flight sleeping, knowing they’d be back to school in another day and the next week would be a busy one for all of them. Sarge and several of the hands were there to greet them when the plane landed. Ace walked off the plane and over to his father. He tried to read his father’s face, but it was a mystery to him. “Hey, Dad.” Ace grinned as he hugged his father. Sarge hugged Ace back and growled in his ear, “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or string you up. If you ever pull another stunt like that…” Ace stepped back and looked seriously at his father. “Dad, I’m supposed to be part of the security team and you never told me about Mattie’s uncle. If I had been in the loop, I could have kept a better eye on him. We did what we had to in order to get Mattie and Dylan back. The only thing I regret is taking Jesse with us, but we didn’t have a choice.” Sarge grabbed Ace in another hug. “I am so proud of you, my son. And you’re right, if you’re going to be part of the team we need to keep you in the loop. Though hopefully, now that their uncle is taken care of things will be relatively calm.” Devon and Diego walked over to where Ace and Sarge were. Devon hugged Sarge. “Hey, Dad.” “Hey, Dev. Did you have a good time?” “It was a lot of fun, but it’s nice to be home.” Sarge laughed, “You mean it’s nice to get back to TJ?” Devon blushed and nodded. “Don’t worry, I think he feels the same way since he’s been calling me two or three times a day for the last week to see how you were doing.” Ace waved Diego over. “Dad, this is Diego Montoya. He’s going to be staying at the ranch.” Sarge offered his hand to Diego who shook it. Sarge nodded. “Nice to meet you, Diego. I take it you are my son’s accomplice in that little rescue mission.” Diego nodded shyly. “I am, sir. I apologize if I have caused Ace any trouble. I only wanted to make sure that Mattie and Dylan were safe.” “No harm, no foul, son. You two did a good job and everyone is safe and sound.” As Dylan and Jesse came off the plane, Dylan saw his parents waiting for him. Dylan’s mother came rushing over and grabbed him in a tight hug. Dylan hugged her and then stepped back. “Mom, what are you doing here?” “We had to make sure you were all right. Sarge told us that you and Mattie were ok, but we had to see it with our own eyes.” Dylan shrugged. “I’m fine. It was a little scary, but Mattie and I are great now.” He reached over and pulled Jesse to him. “Thanks to my hero.” He giggled as he kissed Jesse’s cheek. Jesse turned several shades of red, and then he felt himself being enveloped in Mrs. Summers’ arms. “Thank you, Jesse,” Mrs. Summers cried. “Ace and Diego are the real heroes,” Jesse said shyly. “I made them take me, cuz I couldn’t take the thought of losing Dylan and not having done something to save him.” Mr. Summers walked up and hugged both boys. “Are you coming home tonight?” Mrs. Summers asked hopefully. Dylan looked at Jesse who nodded. “Sure, Mom. I just want to check on Dodger and help Diego get settled. Jesse will drive us over in time for dinner.” “Well, then I guess we better get home so I make sure I have the pantry fully stocked for you boys,” Mrs. Summers said as she pulled both boys into another hug. After they had gathered all their luggage, the boys split up into the SUVs for the ride home. When they arrived at the compound the boys quickly gathered up their luggage and ran it up to their rooms. Mattie and Spin showed Diego to his room on the third floor and quickly dragged him back out to meet with the rest of the boys. Everyone headed to the main barn to check on their horses. All the boys took turns showing off their horses to Diego, who kept looking expectantly around the barn. “Diego, are you looking for something special?” Sarge grinned. Diego nodded sheepishly. Sarge put an arm around the boy’s shoulder. “C’mon, I think what you’re looking for is out here,” he laughed. Sarge led Diego out of the backdoor of the barn and pointed to a fenced in field about 100 yards away. Diego lit up when he saw Domingo grazing in the field. Diego whistled sharply and Domingo looked up and whinnied in response. Zak and Dusty had just come out of the barn. “Oh, great,” Zak moaned. “Another one who whistles.” Dusty laughed. They watched as Diego ran towards the paddock and jumped the fence. Domingo ran right up to him and Diego launched himself onto the gelding’s back and took off across the field. Sarge walked back towards Dusty and Zak. “Looks like another daredevil,” he laughed. Zak shook his head. “Not sure yet. I think right now he’s excited cuz Domingo is the only part of his old life he’s still got. He’s a terrific rider and he and Mattie are already plotting how to make Mattie’s grandfather’s ranch even bigger.” “I thought Mattie was planning to get a mare for Ash,” Sarge said. “Well, once he found out that he and CJ still owned the rancho, he decided that the horses would be more valuable in Spain. He’s going to advertise Ash for stud services here in the States. Since he knows that Ash is part of that line and there aren’t too many in the US, he figures he’ll be in demand.” “Well, speaking of baby animals, you guys may be in for a bit of a shock.” “What do you mean?” Dusty asked. “Well, there’s been a bit of spring fever around here.” Sarge grinned. He saw Mattie, Spin, Dylan, Jesse and Danny and called them over. “You all need to hear this. I hired a new hand while you were away. His name’s Brandon, he probably goes to school with some of you. He showed up one day asking if he could do any work around here. He wanted riding lessons and riding time and was willing to work for it because his dad won’t pay for it.” “His dad doesn’t want him to ride?” Danny asked. Sarge shook his head. “No, his dad said it’s ok for him to ride, but his dad thinks he’s got too much on his plate and the boy wants a horse in the worst way. So he biked over here and offered his services in exchange for lessons and riding time. At first I wasn’t sure, but he biked about three miles to get here, so I gave him a chance. That boy has been here between 5 and 5:30 every morning and he works like the devil. You boys will like him--he’s a good kid. But, he’s just learning, which brings us to the spring fever issue.” All the gathered boys listened curiously. Sarge continued, “I had explained to Brandon that when we let the horses out into the fields, the mares and geldings could go together. It’s really my fault, cuz I didn’t make sure he knew the difference between a gelding and a stallion. He simply thought geldings were ‘boy horses’ and mares were ‘girl horses’.” “Oh, shit,” Dusty moaned. “Yup, before I knew what he had done, he had put Angel and Onyx in the same paddock. It was a few hours before I realized what he had done and by that time it was too late. Apparently, no one had noticed that Angel was in heat.” He put his hands on Zak’s and Danny’s shoulders. “You boys are going to be grandparents.” He grinned. The other boys laughed as Danny and Zak just stood there trying to absorb the news. Sarge turned to Jesse and Mattie. “You two are going to be, too,” he laughed. Jesse and Mattie stopped laughing and looked at Sarge quizzically. “But Sarge, Val is a gelding,” Jesse argued. Sarge nodded. “Right, but Kaya…” “Oh, fuck, Cesar!!” Mattie exclaimed. Sarge laughed, “Exactly. Bridget was keeping an eye on them for you boys and apparently she caught them…ahem…in the act.” CJ came walking up to the crowd. “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Dusty grinned at him. “You’re going to be a grandfather and an uncle?” he said as all the boys laughed. Ace found Devon hanging out at Bullet’s stall. “Hey, Dev, where’s TJ? I’d a thought he’d have been here waitin’ on ya.” “His dad took him to tour some college campuses this weekend,” Devon explained. “They left Friday morning and won’t be back till late tomorrow night.” “Well, then you’ll just have to hang around with me and Diego for the rest of the weekend,” Ace laughed as he wrapped his arm around Devon’s neck. “I’m gonna take him around tomorrow to get him acquainted with the area. Also see if we can find him some American clothes.” Devon rolled his eyes. “We just loaded him up with clothes.” “I know, but he’s in America now, we need to get him some Levi’s and stuff.” Devon laughed. He always wondered how he, the ‘gay poster child’, ended up with Ace, the redneck, as a best friend. But however it happened, he thanked his lucky stars every day that it had. As the afternoon wore on, the boys started to go their separate ways. Dusty and Zak headed out for dinner with their moms. Jesse and Dylan took Kaya to spend the night at Jesse’s house. Mattie took Spin home. Normally, he would have spent the night, but since it was Diego’s first night in a new home, he wanted to be there for his friend. Late Saturday night, Dylan snuck down to the kitchen for a snack and found his dad sitting there. “Hey, Dylan.” Dylan grinned sheepishly. “Hey, Dad, guess I’m still on Euro-time, I’m wide awake and hungry,” he explained as he rummaged through the freezer. He grabbed a couple of ice cream bars and sat at the table across from his father. “So how are you feeling?” Mr. Summers asked. “I’m ok, Dad, really,” Dylan sighed. “Mom’s kinda driving me a little nuts.” Mr. Summers chuckled. “Well, Dyl, you’ll have to put up with it for a few days. After everything you’ve already been through and then we send you to a foreign country and you get kidnapped, that’s a bit much for a parent.” “I know. But I’m ok. Mattie and I made it through and we’re alright.” “I know, but parents can’t help but worry.” Dylan grew quiet for a moment and then spoke, “There is something I haven’t told you.” “That you shot Diego’s father,” Mr. Summers stated. Dylan looked at his hands and nodded slowly. “Sarge told you?” “Yes, he told us after we spoke to you when everything was over.” Mr. Summers moved to the seat next to Dylan, he put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Dylan, listen to me, you did what you had to do. There is very little doubt that those men took Mattie with the intention of killing him and when you got in the way and they grabbed you, chances are they were going to hurt you too. You were brave and you didn’t panic and you saved yourself and your friends.” “Then why do I feel so guilty?” “Because you’re a good person with a big heart who can’t stand the fact that he hurt anyone, even someone who would have hurt you without a second thought. That makes me even prouder of you. If you weren’t affected by the shooting I would be far more worried about you.” Dylan got out of his chair and hugged his father. “Thanks, Dad. I love you.” “Your mom and I love you, too. Now why don’t you try to get some sleep, before Jesse comes down here looking for you?” “Too late,” Jesse laughed from the doorway. *** Sunday was a lazy day, with boys constantly coming in and out of the house. Everyone was trying to finish up the school work they had been assigned since they had left a week before spring break. Several of the boys went off on trail rides or worked in the arena. Since the ranch was closed for another week, they didn’t have to worry about trail rides or lessons, but there would be plenty of work to get things ready. Dusty came down to find Erik already there and working with Rain. He was pleasantly surprised to see how far the little filly had come along in the two weeks he was gone. “Looking good, Erik,” he said as Erik rode over to him. Erik grinned and patted Rain’s neck. “She is doing so well,” he said excitedly. “I’ve been working with her every day. Either arena work or hitting the trails. I even went on the trails with Stephanie a few times.” “Stephanie?” “Yeah, she just moved here with her brother, Luka. He’s a show jumper, but she just likes to trail and take it easy.” “Oh, the twins. Ace told me about them. He said the boy was really excited to meet Danny.” Erik laughed, “Yup, Luka’s kinda intense. He works his horse every day, but all he could talk about was taking lessons with Danny. He’s a nice guy, just really focused.” Erik looked at Dusty hesitantly. “Um, I kinda let Steph ride Rain a bit, cuz you said it was good for her to get used to different riders--I hope that’s ok.” Dusty nodded. “That’s cool, as long as you were with her and she knows what she’s doing.” “Oh, I was with her the whole time and I told her what Rain could do and what her cues were. She’s a good rider, very relaxed…light hands…she and Luka are so different, she’s so mellow and fun.” “Are you getting a crush there, Erik?” Dusty laughed. Erik blushed. “Uhh,” he stammered. “It’s ok, Erik, I know you’re on our team, I’m just teasing you. I’m glad that you had someone to hang out with while we were gone and from the looks of things you’ve done a great job keeping Rain in training. Let me give her a try to see where we are at.” Erik slipped off and handed the reins to Dusty. Dusty hopped on and worked the filly for a while. He let Erik know how impressed he was. Erik was excited that Dusty was noticing him and was happy with the work he and Rain had done. *** CJ and Danny had called Kate, Zak’s mother, and asked her to stop by the house. She was the president of the school board and they wanted her opinion on what they should do about Diego. After talking with CJ, Danny and Diego and learning that he had been tutored for the last few years, Kate recommended that they continue Diego’s tutoring and online classes for the rest of the school year and then enter him in the high school in the fall. He would probably have to go through some testing to determine which grade was best for him, but Kate thought, given his age, that he would enter as a junior, which would put him in Mattie’s class. Kate knew a couple of young teachers who did tutoring until they could find permanent positions in the local school system and she offered to contact a couple and see if any were available to tutor Diego. *** Monday morning, Diego was up early. He was still on Spanish time and would probably take longer than the other boys to adjust. It was very quiet in the house. The other boys probably wouldn’t be up for another hour or so. He quickly got dressed throwing on a pair of Wranglers that Ace had insisted he buy yesterday and a t-shirt. He pulled on a pair of yard boots and grabbed a denim jacket that was also a purchase that Ace had insisted on. Diego went out to the private barn to see if there was any work he could do. He was surprised to see a light on in the barn. “Hello,” he called softly. A boy of about fourteen poked his head out a stall. “Hi,” he said cheerily. “Hi,” Diego answered. The boy came out of the stall. “You must be one of the guys in the big house. Sarge told me you would be back over the weekend. I’m Brandon; Sarge has been letting me come and help out in the mornings. “I am Diego, Diego Montoya,” Diego said. “I am actually new here too, I just moved from Spain to stay with CJ and Danny.” “Cool.” Brandon smiled. “Are you going to the high school?” Diego shook his head. “No, it’s too late in the school year to start and I am used to being tutored and taking online classes, so I am going to continue that and then hopefully go to school in the autumn. Excuse me, but are you usually here this early?” “Well, I’ve been coming out for about six the last week cuz school was out, but since school starts back today, I decided to come earlier.” “Do you live close by?” “No, I live about three miles away.” “How do you get here?” “I ride my bike.” “How long does it take you?” “About half an hour or so.” Diego looked at his watch. “You leave your house at 4:30?” “Actually, closer to four.” “You’re doing this for money?” Brandon grinned. “Nope. I’m doing it for lessons and riding time. See I really want a horse of my own, but my dad won’t get me one, cuz he says he doesn’t think I have time for it. So I’m trying to prove him wrong. I talked to Sarge and he said if I came and helped out around the ranch that I could get lessons and some riding time.” “But aren’t you going to be tired for school?” “Nah, I don’t usually sleep that much anyways. I like the work and I like to be busy.” “How are you getting to school after this?” “Well, I’m gonna use the locker room here to shower and change and then bike to school.” “But you are coming back after school?” Brandon nodded. “We should see if one of the boys can give you a ride to school.” “I don’t want to bother anyone.” “Brandon, you are here before light to do work just so you can have lessons? There are at least three drivers here; someone should be able to give you a ride. I’m sure Mattie or Jesse would be happy to and then you can get a ride back after school.” “Are you sure?” Diego smiled. “I am quite sure that they will be more than willing to help you out. They probably will not be up for another hour or so. I will help you in here and then you can shower and I will check with Mattie.” “You don’t have to help me. I’m good.” “I am used to doing work around the ranch and since I am not going to school right now, I would like to feel useful.” “Ok.” Brandon shrugged. “I’m good with these if you want start in the next hall.” Diego nodded and went to work cleaning stalls and feeding the horses according to the lists in the feed room. He had met all the horses so he knew who was who. After about forty-five minutes, Brandon poked his head into the stall Diego was just finishing. “Hey, you’re pretty fast,” Brandon laughed. Diego looked up and grinned. “I have been doing this most of my life, so I am used to just getting it done.” “I think there’s only one more stall left,” Brandon said. “It was empty, but they must have gotten a new horse over the weekend.” “Oh, you might want to wait on doing that one,” Diego warned. “That is Domingo, my horse, and he sometimes does not like new people.” Diego came out of the stall and walked with Brandon to Domingo’s stall. The gelding whinnied when he saw Diego. Diego reached up and scratched the horse’s neck. Domingo stretched his neck towards Brandon and sniffed at the smaller boy. Brandon reached out and stroked the horse’s nose. “Hey, big guy,” Brandon whispered in a sing-song voice. “You’re beautiful.” “I am impressed,” Diego laughed. “He usually does not warm up to new people this quickly.” “He’s great,” Brandon said. “He’s yours?” “Yes, I have had him since he was a baby. I trained him myself.” “I can’t wait till I can get to ride.” Diego thought a moment. “Has Sarge told you who would be giving you lessons?” he asked. Brandon shook his head. “No, he said that a couple of the boys did and he would see who was available.” “Well, I am going to have lots of free time right now and Domingo seems to like you, so why don’t I give you lessons?” Brandon’s eyes lit up. “Really?!?” Diego nodded. “Of course. I am not an instructor like some of the other boys, but I have been riding my whole life, so I can teach you. I do not ride what they consider English though, so if that was what you were interested in then someone else would have to help you.” “No, I wanna learn western, not that showy stuff,” Brandon said. Diego grinned. “Then I would be happy to teach you. We can start today after you get out of school. That way you will not have to wait for one of the others to have a space on their schedule.” “But I thought the ranch was closed this week.” “Well, it is, but I will just be teaching a friend to ride, so it would not be necessary for us to be open for business. I will check with CJ, but I am sure it is fine.” “And you’ll really let me ride Domingo?” Brandon asked hopefully. Diego nodded. “Of course. He likes you and he will be a very good teacher for you. He will challenge you. I will tell you it will not be easy--he has his own personality and he does not allow anyone to take liberties--but if you learn on him we will make you an excellent rider in no time.” “Awesome!!” Brandon exclaimed. “The boys should be up by now; you should go shower and change and I will see if I can get you a ride,” Diego said. “When you are ready come up to the house and I will introduce you.” Brandon ran off to get cleaned up and Diego finished with Domingo’s stall and headed back to the house. He ran up to take a quick shower and change and when he came back down to the kitchen, he found Mattie, Jesse, CJ, Danny and Idgie having breakfast. “Good morning,” Diego said. “Hey, Diego, you were up early,” CJ said. “I did not wake anyone did I?” “No, I went to check on you when I woke up and you were already gone.” “I am still on Spanish time, so I woke up too early and decided to do some work. I met a young boy named Brandon who was cleaning stalls in the barn.” “Oh, that must be the kid that Sarge took on when we were gone,” Danny said. “He was looking to do some work in exchange for lessons.” “Correct,” Diego answered. “He was out there that early?” Mattie asked. Diego nodded. “Yes, he goes to your school and wanted to get the work done before classes so he was here very early. I helped him out. I told him that I would see if you or Jesse could give him a ride to school.” “How does he get here?” Mattie asked. “He rides his bicycle over three miles to come here.” “You’re kidding!” “No, that is why I offered to see if he could get a ride with one of you.” “Sure, I’ll take him with me,” Jesse offered. “I just have to swing by and pick up Dylan.” “Thank you, Jesse. He is cleaning up and then I told him to come here and meet you.” “He must really want to ride if he’s going to these lengths,” CJ said. “Oh, he does,” Diego agreed. “Actually, I told him I would teach him if that was alright. Domingo took to him right away.” “You’re going to teach him on Domingo?” Danny asked. Diego grinned. “I already warned him that it would not be easy, but he is very anxious to try.” “That’s fine, Diego; it will give you a project and we won’t have to worry about scheduling lessons for him.” There was a knock at the door. Diego went to answer it and came back into the kitchen followed by Brandon. “Everyone, this is Brandon,” Diego said. “Brandon, this is Jesse, Mattie, CJ, Danny and the little one is Idgie.” “Hi,” Brandon said. “Hey, Brandon, nice to meet you,” CJ said. “Diego was telling us that he’s going to give you some riding lessons.” “Yes, sir, if that’s ok.” “That’s fine and please call me CJ. Tell me, how do you usually get to school from your house?” “Bus.” “Ok, well, Jesse’s going to give you a ride this morning. But I think from now on, you can skip coming in the morning and catch a ride with one of the guys in the afternoons. Then you can do lessons with Diego and help out with feeding and stalls in the afternoon and one of the guys can take you home afterwards.” “Are you sure? I don’t mind coming and working early.” Brandon said nervously. “Brandon, relax. Sarge has told me what a hard worker you are and I appreciate that, but it’s also important that you get enough sleep and keep up with your school work. Sarge mentioned that you were trying to show your father you were responsible enough for a horse of your own. Part of that is making sure you keep some balance in your life. Diego isn’t an instructor here, so if he is willing to give you lessons then that is between him and you. If you want to help out around the ranch that is always appreciated, but not a condition of Diego helping you. Since you are a friend of Diego’s if he wants to take you on a trail ride or use another horse that is fine as well.” “Gee, thanks.” Brandon grinned. Danny invited Brandon to join them for breakfast and then Mattie, Jesse and Brandon left for school. Mattie took his car to pick up Spin and Jesse drove to pick up Dylan. When Dylan got into the car, he saw Brandon in the back seat. “Hey, Brandon,” Dylan said with a smile. “What are you doing here?” “Hey, Dylan. I’ve been helping out at the ranch and Jesse offered to give me a lift to school.” “I take it you guys know each other,” Jesse said. “Yeah, we have a couple classes together,” Dylan explained. “Cool. Like he said, Brandon is helping out at the ranch and Diego’s giving him some riding lessons.” “Great. Which horse is he using?” “Domingo,” Brandon announced proudly. Dylan turned to look at Brandon. “Really? That’s pretty cool. I know Diego says he doesn’t often take to new people.” “That’s what he told me this morning, but we seemed to get along good, so he said we could try with him.” “Well, if you learn on Domingo, you’ll get good quickly. He’s gonna make you work though.” “That’s what Diego said. What do you mean?” “Well, Domingo is trained very well. He neck reins and has a very sensitive mouth, so Diego’s gonna teach you how to ride with your seat and your legs and how to work on leads,” Dylan explained. “Don’t worry; he’ll explain it all to you,” he said when he saw the blank look on Brandon’s face. “Just know that it’s not going to be like just hopping on any old horse. You’re gonna work, but you will learn a lot.” Dylan and Jesse invited Brandon to join their table at lunch. Their group had grown so large, that they would push a couple tables together. Spin also knew Brandon and he and Dylan introduced him to Ace, Devon, TJ and Zak. *** Ace walked up to TJ’s locker between classes. He looked around to see if Devon was nearby. “Hey, TJ.” “Hey, Ace.” “Where’s Devon?” “Guess.” “Shit, that bitch is on him already?” Ace shook his head. He was getting pissed at all the grief that Devon’s chemistry teacher was giving him. She couldn’t accept the fact that Devon was a really smart kid; she kept testing him and trying to prove that he cheated. She was judging him on his looks and not his work and Ace had had just about enough. TJ nodded. “He handed in the work he did for the week you guys missed and she is quizzing him on everything cuz she still thinks he cheats.” “This is getting ridiculous. I need to say something to my dad or Kate.” “You know Devon doesn’t want that.” “I know, but it’s just not fair; he is so smart and she is dogging him because of the way he looks. He wants to fight this himself, but she’s targeting him and that’s wrong.” “Look, let’s give it some more time; if she’s still on him I’ll go with you to whoever we need to.” Ace shrugged. “Ok, but if this ain’t the last time, I’m talking to Kate or my dad.” TJ nodded. “So, did you get everything taken care of?” Ace asked with a grin. TJ smiled. “Yup, his present is all set and ready.” “Where?” “Your dad helped me find a place. We’re all set for Friday afternoon.” “Awesome, he’s gonna be so excited,” Ace said. He looked at TJ’s grin. “You got one for yourself too, didn’t you?” TJ laughed and nodded. “Couldn’t help it.” *** After school, Jesse drove Dylan and Brandon to the ranch. Brandon ran off to search for Diego, while Dylan and Jesse went into the house to change into their riding clothes. Zak and Dusty were joining them for a trail ride since they were not doing any practices this week. “Hey, Jesse!!” Danny called from the kitchen as the boys came in. Jesse and Dylan went into the kitchen. “Danny, what’s up?” Jesse asked. “This came for you.” Danny handed a large envelope to Jesse. Jesse looked at it curiously and then tore it open and removed a booklet and some papers. Dylan rested his chin on Jesse’s shoulder as they read the papers. “Oh, it’s the information about Trevor’s camp in Florida,” Jesse explained to Danny. “He had me give his manager my address so he could send me this.” “Can I see?” Danny asked. “Sure,” Jesse said handing the packet to Danny. Danny quickly read through the papers. “This is a great opportunity, Jess, are you interested?” “I guess, but probably not this summer,” Jesse answered. “It’s my first summer here and I want to just spend it with Dylan, working and training; the rescue is opening and we told Dusty we would be helping out.” “Well, it’s your call, but this is a great opportunity, especially if you are going to make this a career.” “But they have this camp every summer, so it won’t hurt to wait a year. That way Dylan and I can plan to go together.” “I don’t know if my parents can afford something like this,” Dylan said. Danny grinned. “Don’t worry, Dyl. If you keep going the way you are, I’ll make sure you go with Jesse next summer.” Jesse and Dylan both grinned and rushed over to hug Danny. Brandon found Diego in the barn polishing a very ornate saddle. “Cool!” Brandon exclaimed. “Is that yours?” Diego grinned. “It is. My father gave this saddle to me the day I first rode Domingo. It is a Spanish saddle. I only use it occasionally as it is rather heavy and ornate, but since I had the time I decided it needed a cleaning after its journey from Spain.” “So what kind of saddle am I going to use?” Brandon asked excitedly. Diego laughed, “Eventually, you will be using a western saddle, but you have a lot to learn before you start riding.” “I thought you were going to give me riding lessons,” Brandon said suspiciously. “And I am, but in order to be a horseman, you need to learn to be a horse handler,” Diego explained. “Riding is only part of working with horses--granted it is the part that is the most fun, but there is a lot of work involved. I know you know about the feeding and cleaning of the stalls, but there is a lot more to it than that.” “Like what?” “Well, it’s not just about feeding the horses; you’ve seen the list in the feed room?” Brandon nodded. “Well, that is because each horse has specific needs and there are various factors that affect those needs. Then there is how to actually handle the horses. So far you’ve just opened the doors and let them into the paddocks, right?” “Well, sorta,” Brandon said shyly. “What did you do?” “Well, Sarge asked me to move a couple horses and I thought they went together and it was a male horse and a female and apparently they got busy.” Diego laughed, “Aha, so that was you. Zak and Danny were going on about being ‘grandparents’ when we got back.” “Are they mad?” Diego shook his head. “No, I think they were shocked, but an Arabian/Friesian cross should be a very nice horse to have around.” “So after that, Sarge told me to just open the back doors and let the horses into the small paddocks and the other hands would move them around if they had to.” “Ok, so we need to teach you how to actually handle the horses--grooming, washing, feeding, caring for your tack.” “Wait…am I going to get to ride at all?” “Yes, my friend, you will ride; it will probably take some time, but we need to take care of these things first. We will not take any short cuts. You are not just taking lessons so that you can get on a horse and just take off like a cowboy in a film. I am going to teach you to be a horseman.” “Ok, let’s get to it,” Brandon said with a grin. For the rest of the week, every afternoon Brandon would meet up with Diego and they would work for several hours. Diego started by teaching Brandon about the tack they would use. He broke down every piece of the saddle and bridle and had Brandon learn all the terms and what purpose each served. He then showed Brandon how to properly care for each piece. After Brandon had mastered tack, Diego went on to teach him about the nutritional needs of the horses. He reviewed the feed lists and the various types of grains and hays that were used and why each horse was given the feed they were given. By the end of the week, Brandon felt like his head would explode from all the knowledge that Diego was cramming into it, but he was starting to understand why Diego was teaching him this way. He knew that most students would simply be taught how to ride, but Diego was taking the time to teach him everything he would need to know to get his own horse and take care of it. *** On Thursday afternoon, a news crew from the local television station came out to do a story about the grand re-opening of the ranch and the opening of the rescue. CJ, Dusty and Danny spent most of the after showing them the facilities and explaining what they would be offering at the ranch. They also spent time explaining that the rescue would operate with mainly volunteer help and spoke of the opportunities that would exist there for people interested in helping. When the boys came home after school, the crew spent time filming them with the horses. The reporter spent a lot of time interviewing Dylan about Dodger, since he was the first horse they had rescued. Dylan was a little nervous about being interviewed, but Jesse and Danny had assured him that the reporter could not know about Cody and the rape and even if she did it would be a violation of his privacy for her to bring it up. Jesse stayed with Dylan throughout the interview. Once Dylan started talking about Dodger and his recover, he relaxed and became his cheerful self. After the interview, Dylan and Jesse saddled up Dodger and Val and the crew filmed them jumping. The reporter also spoke to Jesse about his win in the competition. After the crew had left, everyone focused on all the last minute things that needed to be finished for the Grand Re-Opening on Saturday. All the ranch trucks and trailers had been repainted and detailed with the new ranch name and logo. Devon ran around making sure all the signs were perfect and then he, Ace and TJ covered them all so they could be ‘unveiled’ on Saturday. Later Thursday afternoon, Dylan was watching television in Jesse’s room while Jesse worked on his computer. “Jess, aren’t you done with that homework yet?” Dylan asked. “I gotta get home soon.” “I’m finished with my homework, I was just writing a quick e-mail.” “To who?” “I was e-mailing Trevor thanking him for the invite to the camp and letting him know that you and I planned to attend next summer. I don’t want him to think we weren’t interested.” “Cool. I can’t believe Danny wants to pay for me to go.” Jesse turned and looked at Dylan. “Why not? You mean a lot to him. He thinks of you like a brother and he’s always going to make sure you and I are taken care of.” “I know, but I don’t want him to think he has to do this.” Jesse walked over and lay next to Dylan. “He doesn’t think he has to, he wants to. I know he’s more like a brother than a father to me, but he loves us and he’s gonna take care of us--we’ll always be family.” Dylan turned to Jesse and grinned. “What?” Jesse said. “I love you so much,” Dylan said as he leaned over and kissed Jesse. “Me, too,” Jesse said quietly. *** Friday morning after all the boys had left for school, Danny and CJ were just coming out of the barn, when they saw a brown sedan drive up. A man in a business suit got out and walked towards them. “Excuse me,” the man said. “I’m looking for…” He looked down at two envelopes in his hands. “…Daniel James and Carlos Alvarez, Jr.” “I’m Danny James,” Danny answered. “And this is CJ Alvarez.” The man smiled and handed them each an envelope. “Good day, gentlemen,” he said as he turned and got back in his car. “What the hell was that about?” CJ asked as Danny tore his envelope open. Danny scanned the paper while CJ watched the car drive off and ranted. “CJ, stop.” CJ turned and looked at Danny who had gone pale. “What is it?” “Custody papers, we’re being sued for custody…” “Sam’s suing us for custody of Idgie?” CJ asked. “Why now?” Danny shook his head and looked at CJ. “Not Idgie, Jesse…” “What?” “Jesse’s father is suing us for custody.”
  15. 1 point
    Act Two – Private Money, Public Policy Scene One: “Hard-Hearted Country” (Curtain rises on a cold white marble corridor outside the committee room. In the center of the rear wall is a large pair of doors above which is an oversized carved and gilded American eagle; spread eagle. Flanking the doors on either side are pairs of marble pilasters. Hanging from each are large banners draping down to the floor. These are large enough for various characters to ‘hide’ themselves behind. There are benches between the pilasters. Action begins with the Lady Interns milling about in post-lunch languor and bemoaning their chances of love in the Capitol) No. 11 – Chorus of Interns INTERNS: Echoing through these marble halls Waft the artless strains of our hearts. But yielding Love within these walls Wander like Cupid’s tender darts. See blind babe how your work enthralls, That even Love to these flint-hearts Finds no sympathy when it calls And sadly demurs and departs. (Dame Dam-Dam enters alone) No. 12 – Recitative and Song with Chorus DDD: Buck up, Dame Dam-Dam. I too know The stinging nettle bite of love That has long gone underground. It is like a soldier who loves A hard-hearted country that would Mock him for it, and with disgrace Force exile on him from duty – And I, I too know the same love, For beyond those doors, Burdock is. Burdock Murphy testifies now – Sweet; Forbidden; Tough – Fibrous – My own Eden-apple – Burdock! [Song] Dear Eros, I beg you guide my ways For maybe now I will beget The fondest wishes of my days To make him his reverse forget. Upside-down eyes Make of the sky a ground And in-turned sighs Bemoan louder than sound. (The interns become quietly enthralled by DDD’s song) Lion and lamb, tooth and cashmere The bite and feel of each other, But one to the next may cohere Scripture-like, to rest together. Inside-out lies Turns of heaven a hell And the soul dies In its dark citadel. INTERNS: Inside-out lies Turns of heaven a hell And the soul dies In its dark citadel. INTERNS: Echoing through these marble halls Waft the artless strains of our hearts. But yielding Love within these walls Wanders like Cupid’s tender darts. (exit Interns) DDD: See blind babe how your work enthralls, That even Love to these flint-hearts Find no sympathy when it calls And sadly demurs and departs. Scene Two: “Repression Breeds Obsession” (Same as above. Committee room doors open a crack with much noise from the other side. TT squeezes his way out, holding his Emmy, and the doors close to restored silence) [Dialogue] TT: (wiping his brow with a hankie) It’s brutal in there. Burdock Murphy is reaming out each and every Senator for being too weak and addled with Progressive leanings. They’ve plastered ‘tough on crime’ smiles on their faces for the Vixen ‘News’ cameras, but they can’t help the sweat beads be-spangling their red and white brows. Burdock’s position is so far to the right of Attila The Hun, that he’s standing on Attila’s left side, calling him a pansy. DDD: He wasn’t always so Retrogressive. (she looks around furtively) I’ll tell you a little, strictly-between-allies, secret. A long time ago, I used to be a shipboard teenage girl with Greenpeace. (astounded look from TT) Well, my father was the captain, and one of the leaders…but I dare not say too much more – however back in ’74, a certain, strapping, high-minded, young Aussie came on board ready to die for Porpoises – (sadly musing) but… We were not meant to be. I know my path in life would have been different – but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s just say, there’s more to Burdock Murphy than one single cat in the bag. (TT motions for more information) You know how they say repressed, self-hating Gays make the most virulent homophobes; well – maybe, the most repressed, self-hating liberals make the most vituperative Retrogressives. TT: But still – with the likes of him, it’s as if their retrogressive mouths have gotten scripture. The left side doesn’t know what the right side is saying! Hypocrisy is so rife and dully mundane that you have to assume immediately the mirror image of the stated thought is what is really meant. No. 13 – Duet and Dance [Chorus Section] TT and DDD: No truer thing was ever said: ‘Repression breeds Obsession!’ Told by the tell-tale signs of dread. Aha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! TT: In the Retrogressive speak of things The opposite of the truth there sings: Citation speaks of Fabrication Deliberation of Flossification Determination, Vacillation Inspiration, Alienation Cooperation, Obstination! DDD: In the backward leaning talk of things The reverse rule of the truth there sings: Refutation speaks Accusation Activation of Mitigation Adulation, Vilification Innovation, Antiquation Admiration, Recrimination! TT and DDD: (recap Chorus Section) TT: In the Retrogressive spin of things The opposite of the truth there sings: Causation speaks of Stagnation Glorification of Negation Codification, Alteration Deliberation, Confirmation Cooperation, Vexation! DDD: In the Backward leaning tout of things The reverse rule of the truth there sings: Equation speaks marginalization Abhoration of fascination Innovation, fossilization Adoraration, defamation Glomeration[1], hesitation! (together from: "Causation speaks.." and "Equation speaks…" at recapitulation) TT and DDD: No truer thing was ever said: ‘Repression breeds Obsession!’ Told by the tell-tale signs of dread. Aha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! Scene Three: “Fortune, Rack and Ruin” (Same as above. DDD and TT hear BR and BS approaching from stage left. TT and DDD make a ‘hush’ sign to each other and duck behind respective banners to hide. When DDD next appears, she has affected a costume change) [Dialogue] BR: Branders, wait – BS: My boss is in there! (wildly gesticulates towards the doors) I have to be in there to look approving-ly and loving-ly at his every contemptible and hate-filled utterance… BR: I know, it’s your job, but just hang a minute. (he takes Branders' hand. TT and DDD peek out and signal to each other – ‘ain’t it cute!’) We need to decide. I didn’t come out of the closet to live in a waiting room. (turning tender, and caressing Branders’ face) Let’s make a deal – I’ll quit the Air Force, if you quite Vixen ‘News.’ No. 14 – Ballad BR: Though we may be stretched, Like Alice in the rabbit hole, The distortion wretched Is by others and beyond control. Take carpe diem And for once seize the day today, A hero become And shove down their throats the hate they say. (Benjamin kisses Branders, then adjusted BS’ bow tie before slapping his ass and running off stage left) No. 15 – Cavatina and Three-Part Aria [Cavatina] BS: Sweet lingering kiss, Don’t betray me. Nothing’s amiss, When he is near me. Though what of me he asks, I have a hard time seeing, Of this of me he tasks: That in ‘us’ I start believing. Sweet lingering kiss, Don’t betray me. Nothing’s amiss, When he is near me. [Aria] For you, for me, I’ll be strong For with you so brave Nothing with me could go wrong. You are all I crave. Fortune, rack and ruin To hell with all of them If death comes too soon Well, then just ‘forget ‘em.’ Rip me off the air, If you think they’ll be shocked, Murphy, I don’t care If my future you’ve blocked! As long as I have What others only dream – A loved one to have, Full of hope and esteem. For you, for me, I’ll be strong For with you so brave Nothing with me could go wrong. You are all I crave. TT and DDD: For you, for him, he’ll be strong For with him so brave Nothing with you could go wrong. He is all you crave. (together from: "For you…" etc) Scene Four: “A Better American I’m” (Same as above. Suddenly the committee room doors fly open. The chorus come streaming out as audience members and the Lady interns. BME clears a path for BM, who follows like a king in court. TT quietly joins the crowd, but DDD retains her hiding place. During BM’s song, BME dance in ‘yes-man’ support) No. 16 – Divided Chorus and Song MC: Don’t you question the Sincerity Or Purity Longevity Intensity Of his Mendacity! FC: (tongue-in-cheek) Don’t we question the Sincerity Or Purity Longevity Intensity Of his Mendacity!! MC: Don’t you question he – Avaricious Or Ambitious Uningenuous Mendacious Force of his Mendacity! FC: Don’t we question he – Scurrilous Or Contritious Disingenuous Man-trocious Force of his Mendacity!! (together at recapitulation) [Song – Verse One] BM: As Burdock Murphy, We must deride, And all attempts must chide That which moves to the future, That just do not feature, A longing backwards to A perfect past that never was true. While others live on hope, I on Pride, That Progressives decide They have no will to fight me, And cannot afford me, To make them a target keen Of my slicing Media Machine. [Chorus Section] A better American I’m Than most of your Native-born And to prove it, I’ve got your dime, But to spend it, I’m foresworn ‘Cept to make your future pine – ‘Cept to make your politics mine! MC and FC: A better American He Than most of our Native-born And to prove it, he’s got our dime, But to spend it, he’s foresworn ‘Cept to make our future pine – ‘Cept to make our politics crime! [Verse Two] BM: Though Australian-born I fancy We, As American as Tea – Or at least, when I’m done here, All your tastes will be clear, And you’ll decide I was right, When my cash put-up shuts up the fight. Private money, public policy Is easy, don’t you see? Though the Devil eats his own None of them I’ll disown – Not till I’m good and ready And make of my friend an enemy. [Chorus Section] A better American I’m Than most of your Native-born And to prove it, I’ve got your dime, But to spend it, I’m foresworn ‘Cept to make your future pine – ‘Cept to make your politics mine! MC and FC: A better American He Than most of our Native-born And to prove it, he’s got our dime, But to spend it, he’s foresworn ‘Cept to make our future pine – ‘Cept to make our politics crime! [Verse Three] BM: Though I’m citizen now and free, (I bought the test handily) And when I swore my new oath My fingers crossed did loaf Behind my back and kept the faith (with tender love) To my sovereign Queen Elizabeth! And now you know all of what can be, When backward fronts see Easy pickings from the lot Who with money besot As I by degree, degree Boil the frog for all of you too see. [Chorus Section] A better American I’m Than most of your Native-born And to prove it, I’ve got your dime, But to spend it, I’m foresworn ‘Cept to make your future pine – ‘Cept to make your politics mine! MC and FC: A better American He Than most of our Native-born And to prove it, he’s got our dime, But to spend it, he’s foresworn ‘Cept to make our future pine – ‘Cept to make our politics crime! [Chorus Recap - together] MC: Don’t you question he – Avaricious Or Ambitious Uningenuous Mendacious Force of his Mendacity! FC: Don’t we question he – Scurrilous Or Contritious Disingenuous Man-Tocious Force of his Mendacity!! (exit chorus and TT reassumes his hiding place) Scene Five: “My Boss’ A Jerk” (Same as above. Checking if the coast is clear, out sneaks Toady from the committee room. He wipes his brow) [Dialogue] (TM is not sure if BM knows he is there, and demurs to touch him. Without looking at him, BM startles him by addressing his. BM disdains looking at his patsies in general. Throughout the next scene, BME is there to harangue TM and the others) BM: Are the Senators in line? TM: Yes. They all got your fruit baskets. BM: (clearing his throat disapprovingly) Don’t say ‘fruit’ so loud. People will take the wrong notion. TM: (looking around) Well, your ‘gift’ within the ‘gift’ was well received by all. Also reassuring is your promise of continued favorable ‘editorial’ policy to us and our own. Don’t worry about us. (catches himself about to slap his boss’ back) We know the drill. No. 17 – Song TM: The way it works today In our Retrogressive USA – Stall, Stymie, Delay, If only for a Day That’s the only ‘Right’ way To keep things ‘moving’ we say. Stall, Stymie, Delay, If only for a Day! The way it works today In our Retrogressive USA – That’s the only ‘Right’ way To keep things ‘moving’ we say. Stall, Stymie, Delay, If only for a Day! [Dialogue] (BS enters followed unobserved by BR. BR makes to hide behind a banner and is startled to run into DDD. He is waved off by TT from his banner and finds a third unoccupied) BS: (to BM) Have you been watching the coverage? BM: (not amused) Yes, but I’m still not convinced you really were the proper choice for this assignment. (eyeing him hostilely) I’ve got a stable-full of mouth-frothing, homo-hating zealots back at the Network – why my Philippina, Melissa Malcontent, is preparing a scoop on how (loathing to say the word) ‘Latinos’ have infiltrated janitorial positions all the way up to the top of government – (looking around) including the Capitol. TM: (eagerly interjecting) OH – Should I organize a Committee Hearing, Sir? BM: Ah – well. Let’s wait on that…But as for you, (side nod to BS) now that you are providing Network coverage on Puffs swooning about in the military, you keep to the talking points. Keep it clear…we wouldn’t want any ‘misinformation’ about you – and yours – to get out, (to Senator) would we? And remind your distinguished colleagues, what I’m sure you keep in the foremost of your own mind, that the mirror of bad press can shine on them an any given moment. No. 18 – Ensemble BS and TM[2]: *I hate my work *My boss’ a Jerk *He treats us all *With foreign gall Though why he hates All free debate I’ll never know, His nose should grow *To show his lies *Affect real lives Though it’s for him Simply a whim. Grudged of Abel So he attacked *With hateful label *And murders the fact. TT, DDD and BR: It seems no light Brightens our sight Down the tunnel Our hopes funnel Fear by the hand Grips truth’s demand And leads her on Into his con: Deeper truly In privately Funded darkness And cowardness Personal gain Informs the man Like Adam’s son Cain Who from his faults ran. BM and TM: I am so bad I can’t be had To bend the truth And wrench it loose *Is my calling *So appalling *But fraidy cats *on drop of hats run far and wide and torn inside *’For a another *Blame each other. *For in this game *I/He made the rules – Friend and foe the same, All must act like fools. (together at recapitulation) TUTTI: Do Ask, Do Tell is what we/they want to achieve Though now that day seems too far distant to conceive All we/they have our/their faint power to believe That my/his guile looses all its power to deceive. (exit all but DDD, BM and BME) Scene Six: “Like Anakin to Darth” (Same as above. Soon DDE enter, looking relieved to have found their mistress. Instantly there is hostility from BME to DDE, but DDE acts non-pulsed and ready to poke fun at their seriousness) [Dialogue] DDD: (coming forward) Well, Burdock Murphy. It’s been a long time. (BME surprised to see DDD, then more surprised that BM knows her) BM: (trying to remain nonchalant, but failing) I’m surprised you still remember me. What was it? ’73… DDD: ’74. BM: I’ve been following your career. I’m so glad to see you back on top. Your ‘break out come back’ hit is so catchy…How does it go? (sings a bit – BME appalled; DDE rocking out) ‘Damn Dame Dam-Dam, Damn, Damn, Damn…’ DDD: Yes. But, it’s all do to my Gays. (DDE gives BME the nose-finger salute) That’s why I’m here. I want you, for old time’s sake – for the sake of a budding romance clipped short by my over-protective Captain father – to ease up on The Gays. I know you have your reputation to look after, but just let your heart thaw a little, and maybe there’s still a chance for a… delayed…romance. (DDE start swooning with each other) BM: Impossible. I’m not the same man you knew. I’ve changed, irrevocably… (BME go akimbo and stick their tongues out at DDE) DDD: (moving slowly to his side) Like Anakin to Darth? BM: Yes. Like Anakin to Darth – my Retrogressive credentials are solid gold. My heart is solid coal. (aside to the audience) Yes, that Coax Brothers brand coal; guaranteed dusty and chak-full of choking carbon, for you and your kids! DDD: (making a slow arm gesture to DDE, each of whom raises a small pile of papers in the air above their heads) Then you wouldn’t want anybody to see these charity tax filings…in the name of one 'B.M.' BM: (BME pretending to be out on a stroll over to DDE) What are those…? DDD: (BME tries to grab the papers, DDE easily elude them and form a semi-circle around DDD. One places some paper into DDD’s waiting hand. DDD looks at it a moment and returns it) Let’s see. Ah. Yes. There’s one donation to ‘Sea Shepard’ – Very generous – save those whales from being made into Japanese Bacon – Very commendable. (repeat of BME trying to take the papers. Return of DDE to her side) BM: (glancing nervously around) Wait…not so loud… DDD: (open hand; looking at another paper and returning it) Here’s one – to – (accusingly) Ronald McDonald House! (BM looks stricken) Tisk, Tisk, helping sick kids – how Very UN-retrogressive…I believe your Network advocates a boot-strap approach to childhood illness? BM: And pray tell, Where did you get those? DDD: I have my sources. See, Gays work for you too, don’t they? (BME stop, and standing still, with hands at their sides, look one to another, then with bent knees, look straight out, raise a finger to their lips and bring the audience into their confidence. DDE gestures laughter) But here’s one (taking another paper and holding it high) that would sink the Unsinkable Titanic of Arch-Backwardness – a Gift – substantial Gift to President Obama’s campaign!! BM: NO! (lunging for the paper, grabbing it, but falling into DDD and resting his head wearily on her chest. She slowly begins to caress his troubled brow) I’d be ruined… (BME successfully grabs all the other papers) DDD: Those are just copies, like the ones the Lady Interns are ready to distribute to the Press and Senators, at my signal. BM: (biting his bent index finger, then looking up at DDD with profound admiration and growing attraction. Standing straight, but taking her hand) Black Mail…? The world's finest aphrodisiac. Damn, Dame Dam-Dam, where have I been all your life? No. 19 – Dance Duet [Verse One] DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME) Aesop said the Hare outran the Tortoise slow And the gentleman Skunk the Cat outwitted So the lessons that they’re teaching Congregate the hearer preaching That the Hunter by the Quarry is accosted. BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) Yes, there is something that attracts When the outwitted boob attacks When the Stalker by the Victim is accosted! DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME – they help her make a costume change) A Hummingbird may be taken with a Sloth As she flits around his upside hanging face But how can they see eye-to-eye If he makes of the ground a sky And his slow moving ways can’t keep her apace. BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) Yes, that’s the ringing in his ears As he swings when she flies too near If her fast-moving ways can’t keep him apace. [Chorus Section] DDD and BM: (they dance together as do BME and DDE) So, right hand, left hand Don’t tell the other one And spoil all the fun Of what it’s doing! Together we’ll stand Independent as one, Walking before we can run, Progress pursuing! [Verse Two] BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) I’ve heard it circumstance can have it somewhat rare A Chicken for a Fox can be all put out An Ibex with a Lynx taken And Gazelle by A Lion shaken But that only lasts until the teeth come out. DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME) Yet if those darling Deers were smart They’d dodge the Prom from the start, But that’s just till they had the teeth pulled out! BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) Take the Dung Beetle rolling back with his feet Only seeing where’s he’s been after, so too Despite the Vixen’s mournful cry The past can’t return with a sigh For only hard work makes Past’s preamble do. DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME – she spreads her arms as if ready for a costume change, but so does BM. DDE and BME go over to him a affect to remove his business suit. Under it he wears a bight Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. DDD looks with loving approval) But manure has a limited reach And the Past has but this to teach, Only the poop is cleared, only the Now will do! [Chorus Section] DDD and BM: (they dance together as do BME and DDE) So, right hand, left hand Don’t tell the other one And spoil all the fun Of what it’s doing! Together we’ll stand Independent as one, Walking before we can run, Progress pursuing! (the dance ends in celebration as DDE ‘dips’ BME, and DDD and BM tenderly kiss) Scene Seven: “Permit Me Some Truthery” (The noise of the Committee Room pours out as the Corridor set lifts. Their respective entourage pulls DDD and BM stage left and right. TT is missing, otherwise, all characters are in the same position as at the end of Act One. It seems the Senators are conferring with one another) No. 20 – Act Two Finale [Part One] INTERNS: All this fuss for a forgone conclusion – The back and forth seesaw action, But the law stays – we’re under no illusion As only one side gets traction. QB: The decision’s done, So let’s have it. And to kingdom come They must bear it. Just uphold the law Nothing’s simpler. No need to thaw Or line to blur. DDD and BM: (aside) Let’s tally the sum – Count every bit Down to the last crumb For the right fit. Cue in the guffaw Like the clincher And we’ll be in awe Like a stippler. QE: At ad nauseum Brass asses sit – As Enlisted thumb Hard fought merit. At honor they gnaw Like a crippler As they hem and haw As card dealer. (together at recapitulation) INTERNS, MC and FC: All this fuss for a forgone conclusion – The back and forth seesaw action, But the law stays – we’re under no illusion As only one side gets traction. [Part Two] TM: (banging gavel) Order Now! Cease all your derision. We Senators have made our Decision… (The lights dim from Senator and come up on BS and BR who are on opposite sides of the stage. The music fades from the crescendo of the Senator’s recitative into the quiet and rhythmic madrigal that follows. All characters are frozen in mid-action) BS: I’m sorry I couldn’t be Your hero today. Give me a tomorrow And I promise you will see. Though we can’t always agree What it is we should say, A guide-star I follow - Your expectations of me. BR: I just want us to be free Want it to start today. But we have tomorrow And many years yet to see. Though we can’t always agree What is it we should say, A guide-star I follow – Your perfect love of me. (lights fades from them and slows back to Senators) TM: (banging his gavel) Order Now! Cease all your derision. We Senators have made our Decision… [Part Three] (DDD suddenly motions to TM and steps forward. She motions to BM to reluctantly step to her side. This startles the Senators) BM: (sheepishly and with a quiet stammer) If you’ll please pardon me, And permit me some (agony?) In a moment you’ll see My utter goal is (clarity?). INTERNS and QE: (agitated) Murphy says all should wait And when this TV potentate Stammers in hesitate Big ‘News’ should be the culminate. Senators and QB: (agitated, and pulling out iPhones and Blackberries) Murphy stands to his feet. Where’s my Twitter and where’s my Tweet, Facebook update sweet To record his every bleat. (together at recapitulation) BM: (prodded by DDD, DDE and BME – still stammering) If you’ll please pardon me, And permit me some (truthery?) Released all you should be, To do what’s right – and set them – (free?) (all strain to hear BM’s softer and softer piano) (suddenly TT bursts in loudly. In his hand he holds an iPad) TT: Stop! Halt! Wait! Let’s take it Adagio. (holding up his iPad) You will all want to see this video. (gesturing to BM as if TT were a TV lawyer) Within his lofty state This highly potent potentate Has a past that can’t wait Until the end of this debate. INTERNS and SENATORS: Within his lofty state This highly potent potentate Has a past that can’t wait Until the end of this debate. TT: In this new YouTube video, (Released by ‘Dame 1-7-0’) Burdock, Greenpeace was to join – ‘Save the Whales’ he himself did coin! INTERNS and SENATORS: In this new YouTube video, (Released by ‘Dame 1-7-0’) Burdock, Greenpeace was to join – ‘Save the Whales’ he himself did coin! (BM looks aghast at DDD who only smiles and shrugs) BM and DDD: (starting piano, but growing confident) My/His credentials are ruined, My/His Retrogressive causes (dashed!) (to Senators) Revote the votes I’ve/He’s (cashed!) (to each other) As a pop star producer I’m/He’s recast! INTERNS and QE: (agitated) Murphy says all should wait And when this TV potentate Stammers in hesitate Big ‘News’ should be the culminate. SENATORS and QB: (agitated, and pulling out iPhones and Blackberries) Murphy stands to his feet. Where’s my Twitter and where’s my Tweet, Facebook update sweet To record his every bleat. (together at recapitulation) (The enlisted jubilantly hug and high five, then Branders moves to the center of the stage as the other three quietly exit. He raises his hand toward Benjamin who comes to him and takes it. The cameras follow him as he goes) [Part Four] BS: I’m sorry I couldn’t be Your hero today. Give me a tomorrow And I promise you will see. BR: I just want us to be free Want it to start today. But we have tomorrow And many years yet to be. BS and BR: (quietly slow-dancing) Though we can’t always agree What is it we should say, A guide-star I follow – Your perfect love of me. (they kiss) INTERNS, TT, BM and DDD: (BM and DDD taking hands) A guide-star they follow – Love’s expectations of we. TM: (standing and pointing at BR) Well, if that young man is Gay-ee, (to fellow Senators) We’ll all agree, that Gay’s OK-ee. As for that Branders fey, (limp-wrist) We always knew he was that way. SENATORS and QB: Well, if that young man is Gay-ee, (to fellow Senators) We’ll all agree, that Gay’s OK-ee. As for that Branders fey, (limp-wrist) We always knew he was that way. TM: No vote necessary. Armed Service is not contrary For Gays who love their country To open serve Their Military! INTERNS, SENATORS and QB: For Gays who love their country To open serve Their Military! (TM bangs his gavel decisively) [Part Five - a capella recap] BR, BS, TT, DDD and BM: I close my eyes and can imagine a time, Perhaps not far from today, When no one equal has to trail behind, For what long dead people say. I can glimpse from here time’s bright horizon, Where dawn breaks on everyone, Irregardless of others’ perception, In a time unbarred to anyone. INTERNS, MC, FC and QB: We can glimpse from here time’s bright horizon, Where dawn breaks on everyone, Irregardless of others’ perception, In a time unbarred to anyone. (suddenly QE bursts in loudly and rushes forward) QE: Stop! Halt! Wait! Let’s take it Sostenuto – A committee convenes right next door, Oh, For the Defenseless Marriage Act debate, you know. [Part Six – tutti – concluding dance and vaudeville] BR and BS (dancing together) Let us celebrate while we may – One battle at a time they say Will slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. (they kiss) TUTTI: To slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. DDD and BM: (dancing together) Let’s go and make a life for us – One that leans forward without fuss A pop star and her producer – (BM tosses BS a set of keys) Branders can have Vixen ‘Newsters.’ (they kiss) TUTTI: To slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. TM and TT: (awkwardly dancing together) Let us hold a Press Conference – Buncombe has something to confess Though try to act not too surprised – I’ve/He have/has something just realized. (TT mockingly puckers, but TM demurs) TUTTI: To slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. BR and BS (dancing together) Let us celebrate while we may – One battle at a time they say Will slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. (they high-five, then Branders jumps into his man's arms and they kiss and spin) TUTTI: (all dance jubilantly) Let’s celebrate, Joy unburdened, And contemplate Hope unbounded – (the couples kiss – one at a time, left to right, first BR an BS, then DDD and BM and lastly, TM shrugs and sweeps TT off his feet with a dip and tremendous, un-pent-up smooch) A world to come free from fear, Where Love is greeted with a Cheer! (Darkness – End of Operetta) [1] From verb, to Glom, to appropriate for ones own uses; to be conspicuously trendy; gung-ho, etc. [2] lines TM sings in the recapitulation are provided with an asterisk (*). He moves from side to side, vacillating between BS and BM.
  16. 1 point
    Double The Trouble. Chapter 29. The evening was wonderful. Andy and Colin were both made to feel very special, and the food was everything Andy could have asked for and more. Laughter rang out time after time and it felt to Peter as if everyone was saying goodnight when they’d barely arrived. After talking with his mum he had a quick shower and jumped into bed. He started reading but his thoughts returned to the happenings of the day. Wishing Matthew had stayed the night he switched the light off and pondered. God, Andy got him doing some bizarre things, and Brent was nearly as bad. The plaster of Paris thing started him smiling, and then the thought of Matthew and the hour and 38 minutes turned the smile into a soft chuckle. Mr Long was very interested in that idea and wanted him to think about it more. A click sounded across the room and Peter's heart started thudding as he abruptly emerged from his reverie. It was the noise his door made when it opened. A frisson of fear flickered at a shadowy movement then exploded when someone touched him. There was a soft laugh. Andy? The fright dissipated, replaced with relief. "Have I caught you?" "Caught me? You frightened me to death." "I mean did I catch you wanking?" "Wanking? You didn't sneak in just for that did you?" "Why not? After today I reckoned you'd be at it." "Well I was, but you’ve frightened it all out of me. What is it?" "Nothing, I just felt like talking." Talking? Peter was puzzled. It didn't seem like an Andy kind of thing. "Talking? Is there something wrong?" "No, I just felt like it. We don't talk so much these days." "Yes we do." "I mean just you and me. There's always other people round. When's the last time I gave you a treatment?" "Today." "You know what I mean." Peter did know what he meant. Exactly. "Give me one now then." "Why should I?" Peter was smiling, and even though he couldn't see in the darkness, he knew Andy was too. He reached to the back of Andy's neck and holding a tuft of hair gave it a small upwards tug. "Ouch! Hell that stings. Where did you learn that?" It was from Mr Crossman, but he didn't know if he wanted to explain that. "I looked up protection methods against bullies on the Internet." "Oh yeah? Now tell me really." How did he pick up things like that? There must have been a tiny instant of hesitation before Peter answered. "No way." "I can make you talk." "No you can't." Of course he could, but pretending he couldn't was the way this worked, followed by the wrestling with repeated escapes, the various tortures like red chest and nipple nauger, and finally the confession. Andy dragged it out at him, and loved it. "Oh my God. Twice? Does Matthew know you've got the hots for your teacher?" "Yes, I told him straight away, but it's not really the hots. It just happens." "Ha, I know you Peter. I bet you get boners in class sometimes when you look at him." Andy laughed knowingly at Peter’s non-answer. "Brat, you're so randy. What's this feel like?" The shivery warm feeling built when Andy tugged gently at the hairs on Peter's neck. "Um, it tingles." "Bull! It makes you horny. It means you've got the hots for me too." Peter didn’t really know what Andy was getting at. "You don't mind do you? I can't help it." "Do you like looking at me in my speedos or jocks?" "I already told you that." "Do that stuff to my hair without hurting. I want to see what it feels like." "Okay." Peter felt for a tuft of hair, and instead of the upwards tug, just pulled slightly and started playing with it. Andy hunched his shoulders up and after a few seconds relaxed them. "Jeez, it does tingle." Peter let go, thinking that the experiment was over. "Don't stop. It feels good." Peter started again and then there was a chuckle. "I must have the hots for you. It's giving me a bone." "Um, do I still keep going?" "Yeah, but hang on a sec. I'm too uncomfortable." Oh boy, what was this about? There was a rustle of movement in the darkness and when Andy leant back Peter had bare skin under his arm. After more movement Peter realised Andy was nude. "All right, give me more goosebumps." "Um, okay." "Mmm, that's good. Hey. Feel this, it's monumental." "What?" "My bone." Peter had felt Andy’s bone before, when Marty was holding him down and often when they practised the grabbing game, but being invited was a totally different story. "Are you serious?" "Yes, go on." Peter went on. It was quite monumental all right, and Peter felt it tauten even more in his fingers. "Do you like doing that Peter?" "Yes." "Well don't let go then." Peter did let go. He needed to know what this was about. "What are you doing Andy? It's like you're tricking me, except I know you're not." "Well I'm saying I'm gay on Wednesday aren't I?" "Fibs, tell me for real." There was quite a pause before Andy went ahead. "When I got home tonight I was thinking about you and Matthew, and Marty and Amy, and I was wondering what it’s like to have someone to do stuff with. It feels like everyone knows things I don’t." Sheba! Peter's mind whirled. Did it mean Andy wanted to do stuff with him? It almost sounded like he might be feeling lonely? "We can do stuff if you like Andy." "Um, was any of that stuff Brent said this afternoon about experimenting with other guys true?" "Yes, Matthew did find that out from Rob." "Eighty percent of guys?" "Yes, it's a lot isn't it?" "Marty’s one of the twenty percent." "I'm not." "What about Matthew?" "He's not either." "Brat, that's not what I meant." Peter knew what he meant. "It’s okay. We've talked about that, and he doesn’t mind." "Would you tell him?" "Of course I would. We tell each other everything. Hey Andy?" "What?" "Are you still monumental?" "Find out for yourself." *** "What are you smiling about?" Peter was lying on his side watching Matthew's body make a little jump each time he found a new spot to softly poke. Matthew was grabbing the offending finger then somehow losing hold so it could try again. “Andy.” "Andy's crazy isn't he?" “Yes, but it’s nice crazy. Guess what he did last night?” “Last night? After we finished eating?” “Way after that. When I was in bed he let himself in with his key and came into my room in the dark. I thought it was a burglar or something till he laughed.” “What did he want?” “I’m not exactly sure. Do you ever think he’s lonely?” “Andy? No.” “Not me either but he jumped in bed and stayed till this morning.” “Bed? What you mean?” “Well he was giving me a treatment, then he was talking about you and me together, and Marty being with Amy, next he was talking about guys experimenting with each other and when he undressed and got in with me I thought that’s what he wanted to do.” “But he didn’t?” “Not really. He kept giving me a boner but I could tell it was really to stir me more than anything else.” “So what happened?” “We talked for ages. He told me all sorts of stuff and asked about us.” “Us?” “Yes, what we do in bed and by ourselves. A bit about sex, but mostly not.” Matthew was totally interested. “What did you tell him?” “Everything. I knew you wouldn’t mind and it felt like he really wanted to know. I don’t know how to explain it but he wasn’t just being curious.” “And he was serious about it all?” “Yes, he even got me showing him how we cuddle and telling him some of the things we say to each other.” “Show you? You mean do them with him?” Peter nodded and Matthew said he wished he’d been there. “Don’t say anything to him Matthew, unless he says something first.” “Really? How come?” “I don’t know. It’s just a feeling I have.” “Okay. He’s complicated isn’t he? He seems like he’s just a muck around and he’s not.” Peter laughed. “Mum says he’s an iceberg.” “Iceberg?” “Yes, really cool on the surface, but underneath there’s lots of important things happening. “Neat. Rob thinks something like that too.” Thinking about Andy made Peter suddenly grin and shake his head at the same time. “He really is crazy.” Somehow Matthew knew what Peter was thinking about. "Yesterday afternoon?" "Yes, he knows how to embarrass people but they all liked it." "Liked it? Peter they loved it. Brian was practically begging to meet up again when he was talking to Brent on the way back to the bridge." They both started smiling as the events came back to their minds. "How was Adrian? He's nearly as bad as Kenny." "Well you can't blame him. Mr Long is pretty amazing." "Idiot, and when am I going to pay you back for the one hour 38 minute idea?" "Pay me back? What for? I didn't do anything." "Yes, but Adrian did when you and Brent wouldn't let me move." "What did you think of Colin?" "I don't know. He's hard to work out isn’t he? He hardly says anything." "He's good. He smiles all the time and he joins in everything. He looks like he can't believe Andy’s being friendly with him." "I was like that for the first few weeks after I met him. I still am a bit." "Me too. I wonder if Marty was quiet before Andy met him?" "I wouldn't even have thought of that Matthew. They've been friends for ever. Do you reckon he was? Matthew? .... Matthew? *** Coach must be wondering what was going on. Peter could see him checking his driving mirror at each new outburst of laughter. It was Andy of course and he was organising everyone to sit with their boyfriend for the day. Peter thought he might be with Matthew, and instead got Kenny. Matthew was with Andy and Marty. Kenny got into the spirit of things, and instead of holding hands for a trial moment like most of the others, planted a big kiss right on Peter's mouth. Peter didn't mind that at all, he was too busy worrying that coach might notice the grope that was accompanying it. When he protested Kenny just made him swap out of the aisle seat, then continued the grope saying it was boner time. "What? Now? On the bus? Kenny, you're impossible." "No I'm not. It's good luck for Matthew." Peter gave a laugh while Kenny kept groping. Kenny was sure putting plenty of effort in lately to make sure Matthew's luck was high. When the bus arrived the Hillston team was waiting to give the welcome that seemed to be the accepted greeting method. There were stacks of them, as Matthew had predicted, and in fact there looked to be even more than the large team at the last comp. They were lined up along the sides of the pathway towards the pool building, and the first few off the bus had a normal greeting. Matthew left with Andy and Marty and Peter followed right behind with Kenny. It only took a few steps and things started. "Fag." "Queer." "Poof." The comments weren't yelled, just directed loudly enough for Matthew to hear. If Peter hadn’t been close behind he wouldn't have known they were being said. That continued all the way along and it was really obvious it had been planned. A dark headed guy acted as if he suddenly made up his mind to cross the path and shoved Matthew to one side as if he'd accidentally bumped into him. Peter felt like cheering when Marty just as accidentally got his feet tangled and the guy went sprawling to the ground. "Hey sorry. I didn't see you." Andy stayed right next to Matthew through this and a couple of steps further on a tall guy stepped out and walked alongside. "Hey, you've got a queer on your team." He was looking directly at Matthew while he said this, but Andy acted as if he didn't notice that, and made a show of looking back at Marty who was now catching up. "Marty? Yeah. We know. He's cool but." The guy looked as if he didn't believe it. "Not him! Peck. He's the fag." "Fag? Watch your mouth mate. Matthew’s mine." To drive his point home Andy took Matthew's hand and held it as they finished the so-called welcome. The tall guy stepped to the side and just stared. More comments were directed at Matthew but Andy lifted his and Matthew’s joined hands as if to acknowledge them as a greeting. Peter's own hand had been taken by Kenny, and behind them Brad and David had seen what happened and done the same. Kenny, looking like he was loving it, took his cue from Andy and gave a wave each time he heard a comment. Peter felt like hugging him for that. In the changing room Andy's smile disappeared. "Bastards! They had it all planned. Matthew, you stay close to Marty all the time. All right we're going to lay it right on them. Justin? You got those flags?" Justin took a package out of his day pack and grinned as he handed it over. The Hillston team started coming in at that stage and Peter was conscious that a number of them were watching Matthew. More were watching Andy though. He'd made himself a centre of attention already. Justin's package turned out to be little pink triangular flags with a safety pin, and by the time Peter received his, he'd seen Justin and Marty fastening them to their speedos. Brent and Colin were out of their clothes first and that's when more things started happening. They were giving each other a fall on hug. Oh my God! They hadn't even put their speedos on. Justin took Paul's hand and dragged him towards one of the toilet stalls. Michael and Jason sat together with their hands resting on each other's thighs. Anthony and Ian stood holding hands, and Brad and David did the hugging thing. Peter looked towards the Hillston team and barely had time to notice how most of them were staring, when he nearly jumped a mile. In his eagerness to see the Hillston reaction he’d momentarily forgotten that Kenny was his partner. One arm held him tight while the other checked his bags. God, trust Kenny not to use any half measures. The grope continued and Peter heard Kenny's voice in his ear. "Come on Peter. You're meant to be loving this. Get into it." For a moment Peter plastered a dreamy look across his face and leant back against Kenny, but then he started wriggling when his boner stirred. "Let go Kenny. I've got to swim in a few minutes and you're starting my boner." "We should show it to them. They'd forget about Matthew then." He let go, thank goodness, and Peter yanked his speedos on as quickly as he could. Half of them were already looking at him after Kenny's effort. God, they were getting a show anyway, as he had to do the sideways arranging thing to fit in. Andy checked round to see if everyone was ready, and as one group, sporting the little pink flags pinned to their speedos, they all filed past the watchers. Most of them did nothing, a couple made comments about queers, and a few, who must have already figured they were being stirred, were even smiling. Best of all, not a word was directed specifically at Matthew. With all their gear, and obviously very pleased with themselves, they sat in their team area and got prepared for the racing. Starting race was the 50 m backstroke, which meant Peter, Andy and Michael, and as usual Peter was in a state of nerves, which worsened when he saw the Hillston guys. Why was everyone he swam against so much fitter and stronger looking? And why didn't any of them look nervous? Peter couldn't help smiling at Andy. Everyone else had pinned their pink flag at the side of their speedos. His was right at the front and looking very, very, obvious. "Good starts today Peter." Peter did make a good start, just as well because he only just beat the Hillston guy, but this was Andy's race and he won by a good arm's length. The cheering from the rest of the team was terrific but Peter was too busy watching the black headed guy who’d tried to shove Matthew outside, as he spat the dummy. This was a first for Peter, as at every other comp the guys had been good-natured about losing, and it was a surprise to see such as display of temper. They climbed out of the pool. What was Andy doing? It looked like he was playing with his dick as he unpinned his pink flag, and it certainly drew everyone's attention. He held it out to the black haired guy who looked at him like he was crazy. "What the hell is this for?" "Aren't you a good enough sport to take it?" It looked like he was going to refuse, but too many people had heard his sportsmanship challenged and he accepted it then walked away. Andy was happy as. "Every time we win a race we’ll give them a flag Peter. They can't say no now." And win they did, first and second every time for the 50 m events. Coach came over after the second flag had been given away to find out what was going on. "They tried to get Matthew, coach, so we're letting them know we’re supporting him." "Get him? How?" "When we got off the bus that guy we just raced shoved him, and most of them were calling him a queer." Coach’s face changed and he demanded details. He looked angry when he heard it had been an organised thing against Matthew. He then wanted even more details. "Are there any of those flags left?" Sheba, Peter watched coach pin one of the pink flags on the chest of his tracksuit top. The most exciting event of the day was the 50 m butterfly. Marty was complaining as usual that he didn't have a hope, and it almost looked that way when he lined up against the fit looking competitors from Hillston. One of them was almost as big and powerful looking. What a joke! He left them in his wake. By the time he reached the finish line nearly three metres ahead, the whole team was on their feet yelling with excitement. Peter felt his heart pounding as an amazing feeling of pride took over. "Holy hell! That is too much." There was another huge cheer when the results were announced, and then a further one when Marty reached the team area with his face all lit up. He ignored everyone though and went straight to Matthew, pulling him to his feet. "Come on Andy. We’ll show them what we think of Matthew." A stunned looking Matthew was hoisted on their shoulders. Andy beckoned everyone to join in and the whole team set off round the pool. Everything stopped. The judges, officials, Hillston swimmers, and all the spectators watched the cheering group parade in a complete circuit of the pool. Most of them wouldn't understand why, but in the way of things, the message would rapidly spread that was it Matthew who trained Marty. Past the officials, where coach was smiling happily, and another guy who turned out to be the Hillston coach, who was also smiling. Past the Hillston team area on the other side of the pool, where their cheers for “Matthew” and “Bluey” got even stronger, and then finally past the spectators, most of whom were smiling at this strange outburst, where there was even a spattering of applause. Matthew won his hundred metre events, but then Hillston gained the lead by winning all the long-distance events. They really were very good, and three or four of them looked magnificent. Matthew said they were the ones who trained the most. The relays pulled them back though. The combination of Matthew, Brent, Andy and Peter was way too powerful. The last race, the 50 m freestyle feature race, really clinched it and when Peter saw he was against the dark headed guy again, he poured in every bit of effort he could. Yes! He and Brent came first and third with only a metre between them. At least the guy didn't get angry this time. He did look rather surly though, and when he took the pink flag, the third Peter had given him, he mumbled something under his breath. The official announcements were made and amidst cheers and excitement, Peter made his way with the rest of the team to the changing room. Peter and Matthew had been given a victory walk and Marty and Andy were in the middle of theirs when the Hillston guys started coming in. By the time Marty and Andy were lowered to the floor almost their whole team must have been there. Peter wondered what would happen. There were twice as many of them, thirty-two he found out later, and the room was really crowded. The black headed guy, with the tall one next to him, fronted up to Andy. "What's this pink flag crap?" It was definitely a challenge but Andy just smiled. "Hey, great swimming you guys. You did really well." Was he being sarcastic? Peter didn't think so. "Where's your 800 metre guy? That was a fantastic swim." He knew very well which one it was, and with Marty, walked past the two guys to the wiry looking redhead who’d done so well in the distance events. To the dumbfounded looks of nearly everyone he was lifted to their shoulders and carried round the room. "Champion! Champion!" The cheers built, Hillston joining when Andy and Marty paraded through their midst, then stopped and became silent when he was lowered and Andy made a big show of unpinning the pink flag from his purple speedos and offering it. Wow! He took it, pinned it to the side of his light blue speedos, and to Peter's astonishment lifted Andy’s arm in the air and with a grin made a call. "Gays forever!" Once again Peter was astonished at how Andy could figure out what to do without seeming to think about it, as here he went again, grabbing the guy's arm and returning the action and the call. "Gays for ever!" There were a few laughs and Andy turned to another of their winning guys and went through the same procedure, this time using the flag from Marty's speedos. "Gays forever!" "Gays for ever!" There were more laughs this time and lots more smiles. Andy collected the bag of flags from Justin and offered them round to any Hillston guy who'd take one. Wow! About ten of them did. Right then, a man in a tracksuit entered the room, took a look round at everyone, gave a nod to Matthew then faced Andy and smiled pleasantly. "Better get a move on. Your bus is waiting." Sheba, he had one of the pink flags pinned on his chest. The showers were left running for quick pass through, and the team was on the bus ten minutes later. The journey home was monumental. Coach stopped the bus again to give a talk and told everyone they were no longer the ace team, instead he was calling them the top team, explaining that the win was totally unexpected by Hillston, who'd already beaten last year's winner and were expecting to be unbeaten. He didn't say anything directly about the support for Matthew but he did congratulate everyone for having the best spirit of any team he'd coached. Peter's throat was getting sore from joining in all the chants and cheers. Marty was looking almost dazed, since much of it was directed at him. The end of chapter 29. Iarwain.
  17. 1 point
    Double The Trouble. Chapter 28. Since it was Saturday Peter had a lovely sleep-in till almost eleven, and after feeding his face, went back to bed to read, which he managed happily till Andy walked in at one. This was a change of plan since they weren’t meant to meet for training till two. "Where are we going?" "We're picking up Colin now instead of after training." "Oh, right." Except that wasn't the only change. At the pool when they parked next to Brent's car everyone piled into the wagon and Peter was informed they were training out at the river. "The river? Andy, I'm meant to help mum this afternoon." "No you're not. She said for us to stay away till at least six o'clock. Rob’s helping her." So that was what her comment about having a good time meant. Except, exactly what did it mean? "What are we really doing?" "Training. We can't miss out on that, but then we can muck around." "What sort of mucking around? Everyone smiled when you said it." "Brent and I reckon those kids’ll be back again, trying to catch someone else, so we’ll catch them instead." "Are you serious?" "Peter, they embarrassed you so much. That's terrible." "Embarrassed. This from the person who organised me out of my jocks last night then got Kenny to give me about twenty boners." "Twenty? Couldn't have been. You'd be rubbed raw after that." "Well I am." Oops, wrong thing to say. Now there’d be a check-up. "Yeah, really? What d’ you reckon Brent? I saw you helping Kenny a couple of times." "It must have been a lot. There was a thing going between Kenny and Justin and Paul to keep Peter boned as much as they could." “That's what was going on? I wondered why they were hanging with Peter so much. God Peter, you must have been randy as hell when you got home. Is that why your shower-room light stayed on so long?" "What?... Um!" Tricked again. Peter blushed and the laugh went round the wagon. Andy couldn't even see the bathroom from his place. "Are we going to spend all day just talking about my boner?" "It's a pretty big topic Peter." Matthew. ...Traitor. The friendly payback digs lasted the rest of the way to the church car park. When they reached the flat rock, Andy sussed everything out. Interestingly enough, Peter found himself caught up with the intrigue as the plan to catch the kids developed. It was simple really, and for nearly an hour and a half they took it in turns of about ten minutes to keep watch from behind some shrubs right at the bend where there was a clear view, while everyone else did their training in the deep stretch of water. "Someone's coming." Sure enough, Brent was signalling from the lookout point. Everyone rushed to their positions. Peter, Colin and Matthew moved further upriver and started fooling around where they’d be easily seen. Of course they were nude, and they stayed at the shallow edge to make sure that was obvious. Andy and Marty ducked behind the spots they’d chosen and Brent was already in a good position. The bait for the trap was two piles of clothes, both in plain view, the first on the flat rock, which needed some wading to reach, and the other beside a log about ten metres past the rock. It took forever. It didn’t really, but it was an amazingly strong temptation to peek towards the rock to see if anything was happening. It could be anybody, but Brent would soon let them know that. He didn't, so it had to be Brian and his mates. There were a couple of yells and Peter's head whipped round in time to see one figure leaping into the shallow water. There was another figure on the rock, holding some of the clothes, while two were running down-river from the log. They stopped when Brent appeared and blocked their escape route. By the time Peter, Colin and Matthew arrived they’d all been herded onto the flat rock where it was awkward for them to make a sudden dash. They looked shocked but somehow they weren’t panicked. Andy, Marty and Brent were all smiling and Peter had a feeling that something had been said to set them at ease. Andy was in charge. When wasn't he? "Which one's Brian?" "Um …Me." "So what were you doing with our clothes?" Brian thought fairly quickly, but not very well. "We were.. um.. moving them over there where it's safe." Brent laughed out loud and Andy's grin got bigger. "Oh yeah, safe like they were at the bridge?" Brian didn't try another story, just gave a reluctant nod. Andy turned to the one standing near Marty. "What’s your name?" "Paul." "Was this your idea to nick our clothes?" He shook his head. "So, who’s was it then?" They were total give-aways. Three of them glanced straight at Brian, who in turn looked guilty as hell. "What d’ ya reckon Brian?" "What? ...What d’ya mean?" "You know what I mean. Fair's fair!" It took him a couple of seconds to work that out. "No way." "You'll get them back if you do." More seconds went by. "You'd keep them?" "Not really. But you might be collecting them from the bridge some time this evening." "Just me?" "All or none." Brent butted in. "Have a laugh Brian. We did last week as soon as we got our stuff back." The change in Brian was instantaneous as his reluctance became a kind of wary confidence. "Pervs." "Pay-back." It was the same interplay between Brent and Brian that had occurred at the bridge, and the grins flashed between them. Brian pulled his shirt over his head and Brent moved closer to take it. The shorts came off next to reveal some jazzy blue satin boxers. "Hey Andy. Let's give him a chance." "Like what?" "He keeps the boxers if he can race one of us." "Well it won't be me. You know what I'm like at swimming." Brent acted like it was a done deal and asked Brian who he wanted to race against. What a pair of con merchants. Brian looked from Peter to Matthew then back again. Size was obviously the criteria being used and he pointed at Peter. "Hey, that's too easy. They all have to be in it." Brian turned to the others and gave them a go-ahead look. The clothes came off and they lined up at the edge of the rock, two in boxers and two in jocks. Brent pointed to a spot twenty metres away then yelled out, “go”. They'd been conned again. Not only because they didn't have a hope against Peter, but also because in the dive both sets of boxers came off and the jocks ended up at knee level, hampering their efforts. When Peter stood up and looked back, one of the guys was still swimming, one was treading water, and the other two were holding the edge of the rock. Brent was in the water waving the boxers and when he reached the rock he tossed them to Colin. The swimming guy finally stopped, and Peter couldn't help grinning when he saw him hitching up his jocks. They floated back to the rock and there were embarrassed faces as Marty pulled each of them out of the water. It couldn’t have been too bad for them though, as there were now ten naked guys, plenty enough to be one of the crowd. The impression Peter had in his mind that they were younger kids had been way out. It must have been the way they carried on at the bridge that made him think that, with the whistling and hooting, and they’d only seen heads peering down too. They weren’t kids at all and checking them out, Peter figured them for year Tens, perhaps a year behind him. "Where's the camera Matthew? We’ll get the pictures of them shaking their dicks now." Matthew had brought the camera, but it didn't come out till later. This was just Andy stirring. Everything got all friendly and by the end of the next half hour it was just a group of guys hacking round together. Brian seemed to be on the same wavelength as Brent, the Mr Hyde end of the spectrum, and Andy's natural charisma had every one of them eating out of his hand. Brent gonked out. He'd worked the morning instead of sleeping in, so everyone else moved further up the river to one of the sandy sections while he found a spot to have a doze. Brian looked like he was having a heart attack when Marty lifted him onto his shoulders, but that started a trend which turned into one of the chaotic battles like the one in the pool the night before. Brian called them a pack of cheats when it came out that they were in a swimming team and demanded a re-run of the challenge for their clothes. "What for? You guys were going to skinny dip and hack round anyway. Let's make it interesting, if you're not chicken." “Interesting? Like how?" "You'll see. Me and Peter will show you this game we know." What game? Peter had a feeling that Andy was setting him up. They had to have a fair start of course, and when that was worked out they chose Matthew as the one they wanted to race, still hung up on their idea that the bigger guys must be faster. Again they didn't have a hope and they were goggle-eyed that their handicap had meant nothing. "Are you guys all fish or something?" "We’re all pretty good, but Matthew, Peter and Brent are champions." "Wow, who's the fastest of all of you then?" "Matthew. We call him Bluey ‘cause of his rude speedos. If he wanted to he could be in the Olympic Games." "Serious?" "Yeah, and Peter's next. Call him Big D.!" "Big D.?" "Well it's pretty big isn't it? Wait till he puts on a show for us." There were grins and nods as Peter’s dick became the focus, not that he hadn't already seen them checking him out. "It's famous too. We’ll tell you about it later, because you were so interested in it last weekend. Come on Peter. We’ll show them the game and find out how good they are." Famous? What on earth was he talking about? Matthew and Brent said that, but only between the three of them. The four guys gawked when they heard the rules for the grabbing game, gawked more when Andy and Peter started a demo, then triple gawked when two boners developed. Andy just laughed it off. "No big deal Adrian. Don't you know any growers?" "Growers? Um …Yeah. Brian is, but it's so big though." Adrian was the one looking the most fascinated. "Come on, time to pay up.” They were embarrassed all over again, but did they ever concentrate. Danny, the short wiry one, turned out to be way better than the others and Brian, as Adrian had said, most definitely was a grower. He laughed it off though, telling his mates they'd be paying for what they’d done to him. Twenty minutes later Peter knew that he was in for something. They were all relaxed, floating in the shallows or sitting on the sand talking, when he noticed Andy looking at him with evil in his eyes. He had the four guys round him, listening to something that was making them cast their own evil looks. Peter ran, then struggled, but there was no escaping four determined pursuers, and a couple of moments later he was immobile on the soft sand. "Go on, he doesn't mind and we won't let him move." Oh God No, Peter nearly died while four sets of hands tickled him mercilessly. "That's it. Now try that special trick and you'll see why he’s famous. Go on Brian." Five curious newcomers, Colin had to be included, and three grinning traitors, watched, engrossed at the effect of a finger in a belly button. Andy reached through and gave a squeeze. "Keep going. He’s nearly there. That's it. Here Adrian, check out how rodded he is." "Check it? You mean touch it?" "Like this. Come on." There was a battle between nervousness and curiosity, and curiosity won. Adrian copied Andy's action, very softly at first, but with the prompting from all sides that changed quickly. "It's enormous. It feels like it's gonna burst." He moved aside and four more sets of hands did the checking, then three more, while Peter listened to the biggest load of bull he'd yet heard from Andy. Kind of factual at the start, it rapidly became ridiculous, and Marty and Matthew backed it all up. "You can see why it's famous. Our swim team made it their mascot and he shows it off every day after training." "A mascot? As if. Who'd have someone's dong for a mascot?" "You don't believe it? Ask Brent then, Brian, and see what he says." "Brent's asleep." "No he’s not. Go on. Ask." The heads turned where Andy was looking and sure enough, Brent was walking towards them. "Hey Brent, has your swimming team got a mascot?" "Yeah, Big D.! The best ever. We haven't lost a comp since that boner showed up. It brings us luck." Andy gave them an ‘I told you so’ look. "Keep checking. You only stop when his balls pull up." "What d’you mean?" "Adrian, you know what it means. He'll blow off right over his head if you don't stop then." "Shit! Over his head?" "Feel it again. Anyone that randy’s not gonna be a dribbler." Adrian had another grope, then had his hand pushed aside by Brian who reckoned he didn't know a boner could get so hard. "Isn't it weird with everyone holding your dick?" Peter started to say yes but Andy took over again. "He's so used to it now he loves it. He bones every day for the team. Hey Peter, how many times did you say you boned at the pool party last night?" "Twenty." It was a combined call from Marty, Matthew, Colin and Brent. And it really was convincing. How could they possibly all give the same answer? Peter could see the same conclusion on all four faces. "Hey, do you guys have a medical check at your school? You know, where the doctor makes you cough?" "When he holds your nuts? Yeah." "When the doctor saw Peter this year he took measurements and photos to send away somewhere." "Ho-ly. That wouldn’t be his boner though. They don't check that." "No. Hey Brent, tell them how we got the $300." "The $300?" "For Peter's dick." Brent did the best job ever of covering his surprise involvement. "You sure? We weren't going to tell that to anyone." "Might as well. They know everything else." "All right then. They could even try it themselves if they want to." Peter nearly choked as he listened to a story of how they'd made a model of his boner with plaster of Paris and sold it to an adult shop. "That white stuff when you break your arm?" "That's it. It's tricky. We had to keep him boned for twenty minutes while it set, but he can last ages. What's his record Matthew?" "One-hour and 38 minutes. Just last week." What a lot of drivel! Brian’s eyes were darting suspiciously hither and thither, but the other three were swallowing it holus bolus. "Hey Adrian, why don't you have a try? See if you can keep him boned for an hour." "Isn't that a bit... um …gay?" "No way! It's just mucking round. That's normal. Matthew's dad’s a psychologist and he told him that 80% of young guys do it with their mates. We do, you should see Andy wanking." As if connected, the four heads swivelled from Brent across to Andy and Brian acted as the spokesman. "You wank in front of each other?" "Yeah, sometimes. Peter does it the most though, but he’s randier than the rest of us. Keep him boned for long enough and you can't stop him." With that he headed for the water and left the group to the matter at hand. Peter made as if to get up, but Brent, in a Mr Hyde move, held him in place. The hands never left him. As soon as one finished the next was waiting, ready to take its place. Adrian was particularly keen, and in his mind Peter labelled him as another Kenny when his checking got more and more adventurous. Jeez, he was way cranked up. Why was Brent getting him to stay there? Matthew was enjoying himself too by the look of the cheesy grin on his face. "Adrian, you kneel on this side and Brian on the other." "What?" "You have to join in. We always help each other. Brent, you wank with Paul and Graham." "Now?" They didn't believe what they were hearing from Peter. Well, they didn't want to believe it but they did. Brian looked towards Andy and Marty floating in the river. "I think I’ll have a swim." Ten seconds later Andy and Marty were surrounded with new company. "Just when it was getting interesting you chickened out Peter." "Very funny Brent. Where's my $300? And you just wait Matthew. You’ll find out about one hour and 38 minutes." They dived on him then carted him into the river to cool off. Five o'clock turned up before they knew it and the whole mob headed off together, the four new adventurers wheeling their mountain bikes and talking all the way, mostly with Andy who had them in the palm of his hand. Brian stuck with Brent and tried to organise the group to meet up again, but the most he got was a maybe in a couple of weeks. "Hey Andy. We never made them do the shakes for us." They were on the way to pick up Brent’s car and talking about the afternoon’s events, which everyone agreed had been very successful. "We talked them into the grabbing game Brent. That was enough." "D’you reckon they believed all the stuff we said about Peter's boner?" "Doubts about Brian, but the rest did, even the plaster of paris. That was brilliant. How did you think of it?" "He tried it on himself. That's how." "Yeah, that's right. Except I got $500. And I’ll bring the stuff round for you Andy since you're so interested." "Andy can't keep it up for five minutes. Don't waste it." "Five cents Marty. That's what you'd get." "So what do you reckon they'd pay for yours then?" "About $1000. Probably more." "Sure. In a joke shop." And so the banter continued. The end of chapter 28. Iarwain.
  18. 1 point
    Double The Trouble. Chapter 26. Sunday was a good day. They left Matthew's place in the morning and drove to a reserve in the country which had a cave where a famous bushranger called Captain Moonlight used to hide when the troopers and police were searching for him. They climbed the giant granite lookout points and explored the boulder strewn ridge. The cave itself was really a big split in the rocks and the entrance was so well hidden it was a wonder anyone ever found it. Brent dropped them at Peter’s place saying he'd had the best weekend ever and hoping they could do something like it another time. Beth gave them the biggest hugs and sat between them while they had to tell their exploits. "But what about yesterday? Rob told me you're starting a nudist colony." They went through a sanitised version, but Peter had a suspicion she’d already heard Rob's version, which included everything except the boner shows. "Peter, you're such a troublemaker. Leading your friends into such an embarrassing situation. How did Brent cope with it?" "Brent? Mum, he loved it. He was joking with those kids and had them laughing. He put on his Mr Hyde act didn't he Matthew?" "Peter's right Beth. He's been quiet lately but he likes adventures like that." After tea Matthew spent over an hour with Beth at the new notebook computer, loading software and copying data files from the desktop. Peter was getting good at that stuff himself now, and after watching Matthew he knew he'd be able to keep everything up to date till Beth could happily do it herself. They started on physics but Matthew wasn't concentrating so they stopped trying. "What do you want to do Matthew? " "Can we go to bed?" "At eight o'clock? Okay. That's a great idea. You have your shower and I'll get some snacks so we don't have to get up later." Peter went downstairs. "We’re going to bed Mum. Matthew’s worrying about tomorrow. I think he needs lots of hugs." "Well you give him a hundred from me, and a hundred from Rob." Peter received a brief but very special hug of his own. "I'll peek in to say goodnight at ten Peter." Peter rushed back upstairs to get to the bathroom before Matthew finished his shower and only just made it. "Hey, you're not allowed to go till you rub my back." "Well you have to get undressed first don't you?" "Not when I can't wait I don't." In he went, shirt, shorts, jocks and socks and straight-away had Matthew laughing at him. "You nut case Peter." "I don't see why. My clothes want you to wash them too. Come on. Get to work back-washer." The tangle of two bodies in the enclosed space and the resultant problems of trying to get Peter's clothes off kept them laughing, especially when Matthew said he was jealous of the wet shirt which was clinging so tight. "Turn round Peter." "What for?" "So I can rub your back." "No way. I can rub yours at the same time if we stay like this." That was great fun and when they were out of the shower they had to clean each other's teeth and Peter made Matthew give him a shave. "What? Am I your slave now?" It felt so nice being given a shave that Peter insisted on returning the favor. "Now, slave boy. Give me a piggyback ride to the bedroom. No towels." "No towels? What if Beth sees us?" "She won't see me will she?" "Cheat." Out of the bathroom, down the corridor and into the bedroom, the slightly damp, double bodied creature made its way. "Hey Matthew." "What?" "This is fun. You can carry me round everywhere from now on." "Okay. We'll take it in turns. Your week starts tomorrow." "A week? All right. Dump me on the bed and let me look at you." Matthew twisted sideways to let Peter down, and they ended in a tangled heap with Peter complaining an elephant was squishing him. A complaint like that could only be answered with extra squishing, and that in turn provoked the highly exaggerated groans and squawks which would make Matthew smile. That worked perfectly and the next stage was to pull him close in a big hug. "Got you now." "Aren't I squishing you?" "It's not squishing now... It's ..Um.. Interesting." That made Matthew smile again and then they both went quiet. "Aren't you worried about tomorrow Peter?" "Yes, but it’ll be all right." "I suppose. But what will we do if it's not? We haven't talked about that." "You're a duffer. You worry too much." "I can't help it." "I know. I can't either. Give me a squeeze." "It's not like last year Matthew. We won't be on our own. Brent and Andy and Marty will still be our friends whatever happens." "I wonder why Andy hasn't told us what he’s going to do?" "Ha, I don't think I want to know. Except we do know about Kenny and Mr Long." "I wonder who else he's been talking to? He hasn't said anything to Brent." "I reckon he said something to Mum. She told Mr Crossman she wasn't one bit worried about the team. She actually said to him it was the rest of the school that mattered." "Mr Crossman’s on our side isn't he?" "Absolutely. You should have heard him. He said he’d fight to make sure I was happy." "Fight? Wow. I wish there'd been someone like him at Banks Street." Peter wriggled underneath Matthew. "What is it?" "You're teasing Mr Long." Matthew slid beside Peter, and rested his head on his chest. Peter held it in place and started playing with one of the blond streaks of hair. Matthew’s free hand made patterns as it roved round the parts of Peter that were in reach. "Matthew, that's an even bigger tease." "Good." They cuddled and talked, cuddled and talked, constantly swapping positions. Neither was sleepy and both were enjoying the gentle closeness of spirit between them. "Matthew, quick. Put some shorts on." "Shorts?" "This isn't like your place. Mum’s coming in to say goodnight." Beth arrived with drinks and a tray full of crumpets, honey and cream, then laughed when they disappeared in the proverbial blink of an eye, carefully wiped a smudge of cream from Matthew’s chin, and told Peter he could make them himself if he really wanted more. She left almost straight away, touselling Peter's hair, and giving Matthew a soft kiss on his forehead. "Hey, where's my goodnight kiss? How come I miss out?" "Matthew can look after that tonight." Matthew did. Straight away and several times, while Peter watched his mum from the corner of his eye. She gave him a wink. God. She must be catching that from Rob. It wasn't something usual for her. The food seemed to bring them to life, and after Matthew demanded the return of his goodnight kisses they started playing some of their personal games. Peter was sitting on Matthew’s stomach, writing his name with his finger in different places when he was startled by the laugh and the voice. "I told you Marty. They never stop." Sheba! Not again. And both of them this time. Peter dived for the sheet but it was on the floor beside the bed and Andy's foot stomped down first. Oh well. Here goes with the stirring. "What were you doing?" "Um... Writing my name on Matthew's chest." "Cute. We saw your light on so we thought you'd probably still be studying, didn't we Marty?" "Studying? Ha. Yeah." "So, what ya been up to Peter? How did that interview go?" That was his first question? Peter settled next to Matthew, making no attempt to cover Mr Long as that would definitely provoke some sort of treatment. "Really well. You know I like him. And mum thinks the same." "Beth likes him? I thought he might be weak." "No way." "So what else happened then?" "We went out to the river on Saturday, and Brent slept over, and we went up to Captain Moonlight's cave today. What about Anglesea?" "Mate! Marty’s off with Amy all time and I'm stuck with the little brat brother." Peter knew he was stirring Marty but it sounded like there was lots to catch up on. "Hey Matthew? When's it my turn to write on your body?" "Now or never Andy. I’ve heard about that green marker." Andy picked up the sheet and tossed it at them. "I bet it's back on the floor in two minutes. See you in the morning." "You're nuts Andy." "My nuts? Marty’s you mean. Wait till I tell you." They went on their way, Andy with a cheeky grin and his arm twisted up behind his back, leaving Peter and Matthew also with large grins. "What’ll we do? Start locking the door?" "What for Matthew? He gets so much fun out of it." "Peter Hall. You show pony. You like him catching us don't you?" At first quite startled at the thought, Peter could only agree it was kind of true. *** The day passed too quickly. Rob turned up to wish everyone well which was good. There was a surprise test in chemistry and that wasn't so good, because nobody, including Peter, was ready for it. Mr Crossman gave him the Charles De Lint book he’d promised, and that was excellent. And at lunchtime there was embarrassment as Andy and Marty heard all the details of the river adventure. "What? They pinched your clothes so they could see Peter's boner? That is brilliant. I wish we'd been there." "Andy, you would have been shaking yourself under the bridge too." "Still would have been worth it. Hey, I bet they’d be there if we went back next Saturday. They'll go again for sure to see if they can catch someone else." They didn't talk long though and headed off saying they had things to do, leaving Peter and Matthew totally up in the air about the only thing they really wanted to know. "Peter, I feel like screaming." "Um. They're having a meeting after training. That's all I know, except Andy told me to leave it all to him." “A meeting? Brent, he hasn't even said if we're meant to be there." Training was normal, except for nerves, and no one said anything or gave them any unusual looks, which Peter took to mean that no one knew yet that the meeting was about them. Andy did talk to them when they asked, but still hardly said a thing. "Don't worry Matthew. Just do exactly what I say. Even if it feels bad. You too Peter." At a quarter to five there was a mass exodus as every guy on the team left the pool and entered the change room at virtually the same time. Andy took absolute charge and in seconds there were fifteen guys formed in one big circle, almost shoulder to shoulder. There was talk and jostling but that died away quickly and all eyes went to Andy. "Right you guys. We’re an ACE team. Are we gonna win this year?" Everyone yelled agreement. Almost everyone. Peter was too nervous. The attention snapped back though, and when everyone was quiet Andy spoke again. "Matthew. Go outside." He said it in such a strong voice, and when Matthew, under the mass of puzzled stares, quietly left the room, Peter felt so bad he took a step to follow him, but just in time caught Andy's slight shake of the head. "All right. This is the team from now on." Silence. Paul, one of the long-distance guys was the first to break it. "Without Matthew? Are you serious?" No one else said anything. It was their question too. "He's a queer." Peter felt like someone had sliced his heart open. It sounded so awful the way Andy said it. Eventually someone laughed, and then a few others, at what must be yet another of Andy's cons. "He'll cause trouble if he stays on the team." "Andy, get serious. Andy said it again and it was even worse this time. "He's a queer." Marty's hand had clasped on Peter's arm and he couldn't move. What? Before Andy said it? It was planned? Of course it was. It was a challenge not a statement. Realisation flowed into Peter at the same time he started to struggle away from Marty and he stopped and just stood. Heads were turning to him and back to Andy. "So what?" - it was Paul. "I told you. He'll cause trouble." There was a more prolonged silence. "You bastard Hillier. After the way he helped you. You can stuff this team. I'm going out with Matthew." Colin, a quiet year ten kid who hardly ever said anything, was storming towards the door. "You're a mongrel. You too Marty. Let Peter Go." It was Brad, and Kenny and Justin joined him, as they collected Peter and escorted him out the door. Matthew was staring towards them, but as they got closer he kept looking past. Peter glanced back and saw the crowd in the doorway. Matthew looked confused and then disbelieving when nasty comments started to fly about Andy. Peter felt excitement explode, but knew this wasn’t the time for him to say anything. Colin put his hand up to Matthew shoulder. "Colin Miles you are one gutsy kid." Everyone turned at the sound of the clear, strong voice. There was Andy at the door, flanked by Marty and Brent, the three of them with giant grins. "Matthew. I couldn't talk them out of it. They want you on the team. Come back in and we’ll tell them what's going on." Matthew moved forward, and everyone followed. They knew they'd been tricked somehow and now they'd find out why. The circle formed again with Andy’s arm draped across Matthew’s shoulder. "Okay Colin. Bluey really is a gay boy and there really is going to be trouble. Just listen to this." It took a few minutes only for Andy to first of all describe some of the things that happened to Matthew at his last school, and how it was the swimming team who were the worst of all, and then to explain how they'd be sure to pick on him at the comp. "So, he knew we'd all find out about him, but he was going to the comp anyway because he didn't want to let coach or us down. Marty and I reckoned you’d stick up for him and you all did. Colin’s right. Except they're the bastards. Not me." "Are you really gay Matthew?" Matthew nodded at Brad. The renewed silence was broken again by Andy. "Yeah. And he's after your dick Brad, so you'd better stop swingin’ it like that." Brad spread his arms as if to say come and get me and the laughter and comments briefly centred on Brad. Wow, Andy had effortlessly turned it into change-room joking. "What d’you want us to do Andy?" "We're going to shit all over them Paul. They won’t know what's hit them. They've won every comp for the last five years and their heads are swollen as big as Phillip’s dick. Hey, we'll call them the Dickheads from now on.” The grins round the circle were growing. "We've got two champions, so next week we’re going to thrash their asses." He held Matthew's arm up, yelled out “champion”, then passed him across to Brent. Right round the circle Matthew went, every guy lifting his arm and repeating the call. "Big D.! Big D.! Come on Peter." Peter thought he was to be yanked round the circle like Matthew, but that wasn't to happen yet. Andy was heading for him. What now? He could tell by Andy's grin that his time had come. Oh God. Peter's arm was lifted in the victory salute but Andy said nothing, just held it till everyone was watching, then lowered it and beckoned Matthew to take his place. "Guess what you guys. Here's our second gay-boy. Peter wants you to know he's got it bad for Matthew." By now Peter had lost track at how many times there'd been a stunned silence, but this one was going to stay in his mind for ever. What was he meant to do? Every face was staring at him, Andy, Marty and Brent with smiles, the rest not sure what to believe. "They don't believe anything I say. You'll have to show them Peter." Show them? This was freaky. How do you show you’re gay? Was he meant to do something rude? A kiss, like for Marty? That would be too much in front of all the staring faces. Matthew helped him out. Wonderful Matthew slipped an arm round Peter's waist and instantly Peter returned the gesture with a quick hug. A few of the faces were looking amazed but most of them were actually smiling. Andy looked at Matthew and raised his arm in the victory gesture. Matthew knew exactly what he meant, and lifting Peter's arm, the champion cry rang out again. Round the circle Peter went, till, flushed and relieved, he was back in his place. "Shoot Andy. What else are you going to tell us?" "Nothing. Except this is a team secret. You all know what those dorks in David’s class are like. We don't want Bluey or Big D. getting bashed if they find out." The whole team turned as one to look at David, who flushed, and promised it wouldn’t be him who said anything. Andy finished by saying there was going to be a team get-together at Marty's place on Friday, that Marty was gay and Phillips was a wanker. Except it didn't finish at all. The circle dissolved but everyone gathered close and was talking about it all. Wow, three or four guys shook Peter's hand, a couple gave him a pat on the shoulder and Matthew was receiving similar attention. Five minutes later everyone was still talking but the questions showed how curious most of them were. Andy was a nightmare and had Peter embarrassed in seconds when the topic of King Dick came up. "Of course he's still King Dick Kenny. You love being mascot don't you Peter?" What else could Peter do but agree? "See, it's perfect for him. He likes getting a boner even if he's still shy about it. The more you guys yank it for him the happier he'll be." Andy was getting the laughs he wanted and Peter left for his shower. There was another cheer and Peter turned to see Colin being carried on Andy and Marty’s shoulders. The poor guy looked totally embarrassed as a new cry rang around the room. "Gutsy! Gutsy!" Peter and Matthew dressed then waited outside for Andy, Marty, and Brad. Peter wanted to give Matthew the biggest hug but he held back. "Jeez Peter. What happened when Andy sent me out? Did he send them crazy or something?" "It was armageddon Matthew. That's what I thought anyway." Armageddon was an in word between them at the moment from one of the books they'd read. There was no chance to explain further because Marty turned up, and Brent, and walking next to Andy was Colin Miles. "Yo Matthew. We’re going to the mall." The mall? Well the maths coaching was off, which was pretty sensible as far as Peter was concerned. Brent wanted to bring his car but was overruled. They were together as far as Andy was concerned, so they all bundled into the wagon, Peter and Matthew in the back with Brent, and Colin sandwiched in the front. "What are we doing?" "Peter, I'm still shaking. We’re not doing maths and that's for sure. I thought they were gonna kill me when Colin set them off. Man, was I ready to run." He was? He hadn't looked worried to Peter, and Peter couldn't really imagine Andy running. "Andy? Why didn't you tell us what you were going to do? I felt like killing you myself." "I know. I was watching, but I had to do it that way Peter. You would have given it away otherwise. Did you notice how everyone looked straight at you? It was your reaction that got everyone thinking I meant it." "Well it sure sounded like it. You frightened me." Matthew slipped his arm round Peter's middle for a sideways hug. "Will someone please tell me what you're all talking about? I still don't know." "Andy said you were a queer and kicked you off the team because you'd cause trouble. He sounded like he hated you and they got mad at him. Colin called him a bastard and said he was quitting the team to stand up for you. He stormed out and everyone else went with him." Andy gave Colin a friendly dig in the ribs. "Yeah, you're the man Colin. You made it perfect." Colin just got embarrassed, which impressed Peter again. At the mall Andy shouted everyone to giant super milkshake kind of drinks and they talked it all over. Colin didn't say much but looked happy, though very surprised at some of the things he heard. Half an hour was all the time they had with the logistics of getting Brent back to his car and taking Colin and Matthew home. Peter asked Brent in when they drove from school, then told him he was staying to have a meal as well when it turned out he was heading for an empty house. They went straight up to the bedroom where Peter attacked. "Brent Phillips. You knew all along what Andy was going to do and you didn't say a word." Brent had succumbed to the attack and let Peter sit on him. "Um. Would you argue with Andy if he told you not to say anything?" "Excuses! Excuses! You're going to die." Brent didn't look very worried. "Brent, want to wrestle?" The end of chapter 26. Iarwain.
  19. 1 point
    Chapter 45: Seychelles The call from Egypt came at ten in the morning, Florida time, and lasted half an hour, as Colonel el-Masri told Gonzalez everything he could, including the phone number in Florida that had originated the call to the bomb. Colonel el-Masri also described the situation regarding their attempt to trace the origins of the satellite phone, and asked Officer Gonzalez to see if he could prompt the Florida distributor to hand over its records. Officer Gonzales promised to find out what he could and would call back within twenty-four hours. As requested, first thing he did after the call ended was to send an e-mail to the colonel with the full case file on Dirk Carlson, who was now Gonzalez’s prime focus. Officer Gonzalez ran the number through a crisscross directory, which told him it was a payphone and its address. Officer Gonzales knew without looking that it was within easy walking distance of the chandlery. His first thought was to arrest Dirk immediately, but after thinking it through, he reasoned that all he had at the moment was circumstantial evidence, and thus it might be better to wait. Gonzalez’s next step was to call the distributor in Miami and exact a promise that they’d check their records and get back to him that day. Officer Gonzalez then called Lisa and told her that he needed to see her and Joel immediately, insisting that she was to mention this to no one. Lisa, feeling a sudden chill, asked if it was something to do with Trevor. “All I’ll say until I see you is that, as far as I know, he’s fine. Nothing more until I see you in person – and that needs to be right away,” Gonzalez said. Officer Gonzalez’s call had caught Lisa between classes, and she managed to catch Joel before he went into his math class. Out of breath from the run, she told him that they needed to go see Officer Gonzalez immediately. Gonzalez was waiting for them in the interview room, notebook and recorder in hand. Lisa and Joel sat down on the opposite side of the stark wooden table, and Joel led off by asking, “Are you sure Trevor is okay?” Officer Gonzales looked at them both before replying, “That this interview is occurring goes no further than the three of us, for now. If I hear that you’ve leaked so much as one word to anyone, I’m going to haul you both in for interfering in a police investigation. Is that clear?” Lisa and Joel shared a worried glance before nodding silently in reply. Officer Gonzales continued, “As far as I know, he’s okay. Now, where is he; when did you last speak with him; and when will you do so again?” Joel explained about the dropped call from off Socotra, and Trevor’s anticipated arrival in the Seychelles. “Is there any way to reach him before then?” Officer Gonzalez asked, after quizzing Joelto find out where Socotra was, and the distance from there to the Seychelles. “No, my dad Fed-Ex’d him a satellite phone, or he thought he did, but when he got it in Suez, there was a rock in the box,” Joel replied, which resulted in Officer Gonzalez prompting Lisa and Joel to tell everything they knew about that. Officer Gonzalez’s eyes narrowed at the mention of the phone’s make: Iridium – the same one the Egyptians were inquiring about – but he said nothing. Officer Gonzales worked through the interview slowly, mainly questioning Joel. Fifteen minutes into the interview, Gonzales asked in an offhand way about the propane tanks, and if they had checked them since leaving the strait of Messina. Joel was about to answer when his eyes opened a bit wider. “Is this about the bomb in the canal?” he asked. “What makes you think that?” Officer Gonzales inquired, in a casual way. Joel glanced at Lisa, and looked at Gonzales before replying, “Uh, we had kind of a bomb scare in the Strait of Messina. We got worried that maybe Jim Ainsworth had put something aboard, so we searched the boat, but then we calmed down and figured we had just been paranoid. The bomb in the Suez kind of brought it to mind, but according to Trev that was on a freighter, right?” Gonzalez ignored the question. “Think carefully. Did you check the propane tanks, especially the ones that were stolen in Ismailia?” Joel slowly shrugged. “I think Trevor did... and I remember he got one or two tanks filled in Mykonos. I don’t remember if those were from the cockpit storage rack or not, though.” Lisa was becoming exasperated, and said in a firm tone, “We’ve answered your questions, so how about answering ours?” After attempting to sidestep Lisa’s demand by quizzing Joel, but finding him unresponsive, Officer Gonzalez said, “Okay, I’ll tell you as much as I can later, but you have to understand; I need to complete the interviews first. That’s necessary, because otherwise something I tell you could taint your responses, even if you don’t intend it to.” For the next hour, Officer Gonzales quizzed Lisa and Joel, and came back several times to the bomb scare in the strait and to what Trevor had said about the thefts and the chase. Finally, satisfied that he’d gotten all he could, he said, “We’re looking into the bombing of that freighter. I can’t tell you any more right now, as this is an active investigation, but it is absolutely critical that you tell no one about this interview. I’ll be in touch soon, and I’ll let you know what I can, but for now, I need to speak with Trevor first. When you hear from him, tell him to call me regardless of the hour, and make sure he understands that it is highly urgent.” “I want to know what is going on. You obviously think Trevor or his boat was involved in some way or you wouldn’t have asked so many questions about propane tanks. Do you think his father tried to blow him up?” Lisa asked, as Joel nodded in agreement. Officer Gonzalez stood up, signaling an end to the interview. “I cannot disclose information about an active case to civilians. When Trevor calls, I’ll tell him more if I can.” Officer Gonzalez had every intention of doing just that, because the evidence was piling up that someone – Dirk and Jim were at the top of Gonzalez’s mental suspect list – had tried to kill Trevor, and that meant they might do so again. Joel could tell that Lisa was about to explode, so in part to head her off, he said to Officer Gonzalez, “Too bad you didn’t ask all the right questions. Trevor noticed something very specific about what was in that phone box, and I know you’re interested in it or you wouldn’t have asked so much about that phone.” Officer Gonzalez remained standing, and asked, “What might that be?” “He’s pretty sure he knows exactly where the rock is from, and it’s somewhere here,” Joel replied. “I want to know exactly what he said,” Officer Gonzalez demanded, as he sat down again and flipped open his notebook. Joel glanced at Lisa before replying, “Not until you tell us what is going on.” “You’ll do so, or I’ll put you both in juvenile hall right now, for refusing to cooperate with a police investigation,” Officer Gonzalez said. He was bluffing, but was counting on them not knowing that. “I don’t think your parents would appreciate having to hire lawyers,” he added. He didn’t like threatening them, but at that moment they were hindering what he saw as his duty. Lisa smiled coldly. “I don’t like threats. We came in here to help, and now you’re threatening to lock us up when all we want to know is if our best friend is in danger. I don’t remember exactly what Trev said about that rock...” Lisa glanced at Joel, and asked, in a sweetly sarcastic tone, “Do you remember exactly what he said?” Joel smiled, and gave an opened handed shrug. Lisa glared at Officer Gonzalez. “My father would be furious if he has to hire a lawyer, but I do have an open offer of a very good one from Bridget Bellevue, and I’m sure that applies to Joel, too.” Officer Gonzalez felt his temper begin to rise, due to realizing that he’d out-maneuvered himself. He forced himself to smile. “I think we all want what’s best for Trevor. I hope to be able to tell you something soon... something that will be, in a way, good news for him, because it means he’ll be able to come home. However, I need to know exactly what he said, for his sake as well as the investigation, and I really can’t divulge any information to you yet. I’m... sorry about the threat; blame it on acquired habits in this job. I’ll give you my word; if I think there is, or has been, any threat to Trevor, I’ll tell him when he calls. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t, not right now.” Lisa and Joel shared a troubled glance, and then Joel gave a resigned sigh. “Trev thinks the rock could be from the front of his house; it looks like the landscaping rock there. I don’t know if he still has it.” Officer Gonzalez scribbled in his notebook, and then said, “Thank you. When you speak to him, tell him to keep it if he still has it, and then make sure he calls me at once. I’ll tell you more when I can, and I might need to speak with you both again soon. Also, remember what I said; tell no one about what we discussed today, and I’m serious, I will lock you up if you do.” “We skipped school to come here... could you square that with the attendance office?” Joel asked. Officer Gonzalez glanced at his watch, and smiled. “I’ll take care of that. You’ll be too late to make much of your last class, so it’ll be for the remainder of today.” With the long interview finally over, Lisa and Joel walked out into the hot, humid afternoon, heading for Lisa’s truck. “What do you think?” Joel asked. “I think Trev’s dad tried something, and that lawyer too... I think he planted a bomb and you missed it in your search. Officer Gonzalez seemed really interested in the propane tanks and the phone. I don’t understand about the phone, but I’m betting either Trev’s propane tanks were at the bomb site, or one or both of them was the bomb.” Joel was frustrated at the lack of information. As they reached Lisa’s truck, he tugged his shirt off and hurled it behind the seat before getting in. He thought for a few moments before replying, “The phone makes sense in one way... I saw a news article on Iraq, and it said the roadside bombs are often triggered by phone.” Lisa stared at Joel in shock. “Oh my God, that fits... And the bomb at the freighter went off before Trev was supposed to pick up his phone,” Lisa said, forgetting that Trevor had mistakenly thought the Suez Canal Yacht Club was at the north end of the canal, and that Dirk had no way of knowing where the phone would be sent to. Joel nodded, focused on the threat to Trevor. “If that phone was the trigger, and the bomb was on Atlantis, and the cops can prove it was that phone... Trev’s father is going to prison, and Trev can come home.” Lisa scowled and started her engine. “Yeah, but he kept saying that once he’s past Suez, he’d keep going, and he had a bad time there even before the bomb. Do you really think we can talk him into turning around now he’s in the Indian Ocean?” Joel stared out the window, watching the passing scenery as they drove the short distance to Bridget’s guesthouse. “From what I know about the wind patterns, the fastest way home from the Seychelles would be around South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, then up the Atlantic. But rounding the cape means he’d have headwinds... and in the Seychelles, he’s damn near halfway around the world already. He told me that the antipodal point to Ft. Pierce is in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I think he’ll keep going, no matter what.” Lisa frowned at that, and asked Joel a few questions about possible routes and times. By the time they pulled up in front of the guesthouse, she’d reluctantly accepted that Trevor would almost certainly keep going, because coming back via the Atlantic would take almost as long, if not longer. As soon as they were in the guesthouse, she asked, “What should we do... Bridget has some kind of a source inside the police department. I don’t like the way we just got jerked around there... so I’m thinking we could ask her to see what she can find out.” Joel frowned. “I don’t know. She seems pretty cool, but what if doing that somehow hurts the case against Trev’s dad? We can’t do anything until Trev gets to the Seychelles and calls, and Gonzalez did promise to let Trev know what’s going on, sort of. Why don’t we wait and see what happens when Trev calls him? Then, if we need to, we can still ask Bridget. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on the Internet and see if there’s any mention of the bomb being in a propane tank, or triggered by a satellite phone.” “That’s part of why I love you; you’re as smart as you are hot,” Lisa replied, coming up behind Joel and putting her arms around Joel’s bare shoulders, hugging him and not letting go. Joel chuckled, leaning back into Lisa, as her hands began to roam across his chest “That’s why I love you too...” Joel said, gently turning around to hug Lisa. Neither of them was in the mood to head for the bedroom. They sat down together on the sofa as Joel began a fruitless search for specific information on the bombing. They returned to their discussion about Trevor, still trying to figure out exactly what had occurred in Egypt, but firmly decided that they’d tell Trevor everything they knew as soon as he called. Officer Gonzalez received the call he’d been expecting from the satellite phone distributor. As he’d expected, the phone that had triggered the bomb had been part of a delivery to Dirk’s chandlery. And with that, the case turned from largely circumstantial to hard evidence, and Officer Gonzalez knew it was now time to bring the other officers and the prosecutor’s office fully into the loop, but first, he called Egypt, to tell them about the phone. Trevor watched as the morning sunlight brought the flat green line of tiny Bird Island – the northernmost speck of land in the Seychelles Archipelago – into view, exactly where his navigation system said it should be, three miles off Atlantis’s starboard beam. Trevor smiled, the breeze blowing in his hair, and he checked his range to Mahé, the largest island in the Seychelles, and his destination. He got a result of sixty miles to the anchorage at Victoria, and did the math in his head: fifteen hours at four knots. Using the excuse to himself of wanting to make port in daylight, and convincing himself that debris ­ – so far, he’d seen none in the Indian Ocean – were not a grave concern, Trevor hoisted full mainsail and foresail, feeling Atlantis surge ahead as she accelerated to sixteen knots. Trevor kept a constant watch for debris, thinking that he could see any in time to avoid it, even at that speed, as he raced towards port. Five miles off Victoria, with the green hills of Mahé in clear view, Trevor furled his sails and waited as Atlantis glided to a halt on the sparkling turquoise waters. He was a little premature for the shift over to engines for the run into port, but he had a task to attend to; returning his gun – which he’d kept near at hand in the Red Sea and for the transit past Somalia – to his secret compartment under the bathroom floor of his sea cabin. It was a prudent move; the port information he’d looked up for Victoria stated that all firearms and ammunition must be handed in upon arrival, and he’d been warned by his fellow yachters that they meant it. With the chrome revolver and its ammo safely stowed, Trevor fired up the engines and motored in to Victoria, thrilled to have completed the perilous passage past Somalia. After clearing customs, Trevor flipped open his phone, and dialed Lisa’s cell. As soon as she answered, he said, “Guess what? The pirates didn’t get me: I’m in the Seychelles!” “Trev! I’m so glad you called... and are safe! Joel is here, we’re at the mall. Listen, we’ve got news... the cops want to speak with you urgently. They’ve interviewed me and Joel, and the cop – Officer Gonzales – wouldn’t say exactly what’s up, but it sounds to us like he thinks the bomb on the freighter was meant for you, and may have been on Atlantis until you had that robbery. But, that’s good news; he also said this might mean you could come home.” Trevor stood staring out at the city of Victoria’s waterfront in shock. “Uh, somebody tried to kill me, and that’s the good news?” he mumbled, already wondering if it had something to do with his father. Joel joined the conversation by saying, “Trev, you’ll have to call Gonzalez to find out, but that’s the way it sounded to us. Oh, one thing... Do you still have that rock, the one from your satellite phone box?” Trevor mumbled numbly, “Uh, yeah, it’s still in the box. Why?” “Gonzalez wants to talk to you about it. Look, call him right away,” Joel read off the number, and Trevor wrote it down, “and make sure you make him tell you what’s going on. Refuse to answer questions if you have to, but make sure he tells you what’s up. Call us back as soon as you talk to him.” Trevor agreed, and with a feeling of icy dread, his mind awhirl, he ended that call and dialed Officer Gonzalez’s cell. “Gonzalez,” came the curt reply. “Uh, hi, this is Trevor Carlson, I was told that you–” “I’m very glad you called, Trevor. Good to speak with you again. Where are you, and are you safe?” Trevor hesitated a moment, and then replied, “I’m in the Seychelles, and I’m on my boat.” “Don’t accept any packages, or let anyone aboard. I have reason to believe that someone tried to kill you. Now, do you still have that rock and the packaging for the satellite phone?” “Yes to both, but who tried to kill me?” Trevor asked, hoping that his hunch was wrong. Officer Gonzales noticed that Trevor had not asked when or how, which confirmed to him that Joel and Lisa had told what they’d surmised. Not wanting to taint any of Trevor’s recollections, Officer Gonzalez said, “Trevor, I’ll tell you all I can in a few minutes, but I have to ask some questions first...” Officer Gonzales proceeded to interview Trevor about Jim’s visit, the propane tanks, the robbery of Atlantis, and finished off by asking, “Think carefully. Could a bomb have been inside one of your stolen propane tanks?” The line of questioning clearly indicated that Jim and Trevor’s father were the suspects, and Trevor felt his stomach churn. “I, uh... I don’t know. I checked the boat from stem to stern after Jim’s visit. One of the propane tanks that was stolen was refilled from empty in Mykonos, but the other... I think it’s been in the rack since I left home. I can’t remember if I moved it or not. Now, before we go any further, I really need to know what’s going on. Did my father do this, or was it Jim?” Officer Gonzales knew he had to tell Trevor something; unlike Joel and Lisa, he was directly involved by virtue of being the target. “We’re still a little vague on that. We believe that the bomb was triggered by satellite phone, one that was traced to your father’s shop, but you can tell no one that. We also think Jim placed the bomb on Atlantis, and then it was stolen and dumped when you gave chase. When they tried to blow it, it was floating next to the freighter. Now, what can you tell me about your father and Jim Ainsworth?” Trevor was still reeling, and mumbled, “I... I know Jim is dad’s lawyer, and I only met him once, but they seem to be pretty close friends. Dad gave me Jim’s number in case I needed to get ahold of Dad.” “I need to know more than that... is there a... romantic relationship there?” Trevor nearly choked. “I can pretty much guarantee there isn’t. Dad doesn’t like gays.” Trevor hesitated, but decided that he had to tell it all, and added quietly, “Or at least, he has issues having one for a son, which is a big part of why I’m out here...” Trevor explained at length what had led up to his run from Florida, feeling oddly at ease coming out to the officer he’d never met. Then he added, “I don’t think Jim is gay, or Dad wouldn’t have much to do with him.” Officer Gonzales made a note of that, appending three exclamation marks to it as he asked, “Who here knows you’re gay?” “Joel, Lisa, Joel’s parents, my dad... a couple of ex-boyfriends of mine, some guys Lisa tried to set me up with, and Julie – my former captain for Atlantis, but she moved to Tahiti a few months ago. . Maybe some of the guys on my swim team suspected, but they didn’t know... I think that’s pretty much it. I wasn’t out.” “Okay now, does anyone besides me know where you’re at?” “Joel and Lisa, and maybe my dad... he sorta guessed at my route when we were talking after I transited Suez. He didn’t mention them by name, but the Seychelles are the only place to stop at this point on my route. He’d only know it was the Seychelles, not when I was arriving or what port... but the port at Victoria, the capital, would be a pretty easy guess.” Officer Gonzalez felt a sudden chill. “Trevor, I want you to sail immediately. Right this very second. Is there somewhere you can head for?” Trevor checked his chart. “Yeah, there’s an anchorage in a big bay, on the east end of Praslin Island. It’s about thirty miles northeast of here,” Trevor said, holding the phone with his shoulder as he began casting off, his blood running cold as he again felt hunted. “Go there. I’m probably overreacting, but if he’s tried once, he might try again,” Officer Gonzalez said, as he heard the rumble of engines over the phone. “I’m pulling away now. I’m not sure I can get a phone connection there, though.” “If you see anything suspicious, anything at all, either get police protection or get out to sea. If you go to the police, give them my name, and tell them to call me collect, and that it’s official business. If they ask what, tell them you’re a key witness in a murder case and someone has tried to kill you once already, and that you are in immediate fear for your life. Now, just in case we can’t get in touch right away, I need you to do something for me: give me all the info you can from the satellite phone box. I also want you to photograph it with your phone, and the rock as well. Then, when you get to Praslin, I want you to find a post office and express mail me that box and rock.” Officer Gonzalez read off the police station address, which Trevor wrote down. As soon as Atlantis was in the channel, and hurrying in case he lost cell reception, Trevor photographed the rock and the box, and then read off the serial number from a sticker on the satellite phone’s activation card. Officer Gonzalez checked the number on his computer, finding that the one Trevor had given him was – as he’d expected – from the phone that had triggered the bomb. “Trevor, that’s a match; that phone was the trigger of the bomb, so your life is very much at risk. Your safest bet is keeping your location secret. Okay, the Egyptian police are probably going to need to talk with you, and then you’ll be needed here, to testify for the grand jury, and then at trial. Find a place to dock your boat and I’ll arrange airfare for you to Egypt, then here.” Trevor stared for a moment at his beloved Atlantis, remembering what had happened to her when he’d left her for a few hours. “No, I’m not leaving my boat here for fuck knows how long. I don’t think she’d be safe. Why can’t I go into a consulate somewhere and give testimony there?” Officer Gonzalez had never had to consider such a question. He didn’t know of any reason offhand why it would be impossible for anything short of trial, but he knew what the prosecutor would think of it. “Sorry, I’ll do what I can for you, but you may have no choice.” Trevor glanced out at the open sea, his mind made up. “I’ll be back in time for any trial. If I can find a safe place for Atlantis in Australia, I’ll fly home from there, but I’m not leaving her here.” Officer Gonzalez knew that he had no good way of forcing the issue over the phone, and he felt sympathy for Trevor’s situation, so he sidestepped. “I’ll need to be in contact with you again soon. How long will you be in the Seychelles?” “A week, but I could stay a bit longer if you need me to. My dad figured out that the island of Rodrigues – four hundred miles east of Mauritius and about eleven hundred miles south by southeast of here – is my next planned stop, and I’ve been warned that the phone system there is unreliable. After what you’ve told me, I’m thinking of bypassing Rodrigues and going to Australia non-stop from here. I should get there sometime in November.” “That won’t work; I’ll probably need you back here before then. Can’t you get to Australia sooner?” Officer Gonzalez asked. “No, I can’t. The wind patterns make a direct route impossible, so my course track is about five thousand miles. I’m also speed-limited to four knots because of the floating logs left over from the big tsunami a year and a half ago. I’ve got to go right through the Indian Ocean Gyre, which is where they’re reported to be the worst. Hitting a ten-ton log at speed would do massive damage, so I have to go slow.” “I’m having a meeting the day after tomorrow, so I’ll know a lot more about schedules then. If you can get a cell signal on Praslin, leave your cell on and I’ll call you. If not, sail back close enough to where you are now to get a signal and call me. Look, I will need to be able to get ahold of you; is there any way you can get a satphone?” Officer Gonzalez asked. “No, even if they have them here, they cost more than I can afford, and I’d have trouble getting the account set up and transferred in time... but there is a way, maybe, but it’s iffy: Atlantis has single-sideband radio. That’s how I get my weather update data files, but I can transmit, too. In the higher bands, like twenty-two megahertz, I can sometimes contact ships up to four thousand miles away. It bounces a signal off the ionosphere, so I get better reception and range at night. I know the Navy has ships in the Indian Ocean, and if the atmospherics are right maybe they could act as a relay for you. That way, we might be able to communicate while I’m at sea.” Officer Gonzalez pictured himself trying to requisition a ship from the Navy; he was sure he’d be laughed out of the building, even if it turned out to be technically possible. He hoped that a phone would be far easier. “Trevor, I really don’t think I’m going to be able to whistle that up, but I’ll look into it, and I’ll see if there’s some way I can get the department to set you up with a satellite phone. Just make sure you send me that package, and call me at this time the day after tomorrow if you can’t receive my call, okay?” “Okay, here’s my number,” Trevor read it off, and then confirmed, “I’ll keep it on if I have a signal, and call you in forty-eight hours if I don’t.” “Okay, and be careful out there, Trevor,” Officer Gonzalez said. As soon as the call ended, Trevor checked the signal, and called Lisa and Joel. He reduced speed to just steerageway in order to stay in cell range, and then waited while they called back on Bridget’s landline, which as they’d hoped reduced some of the static. Trevor was still stunned and in turmoil from what he’d learned. He told Lisa and Joel about the conversation with Officer Gonzalez in full detail, and then said in a dejected tone, “So it looks like Dad really did kill Mom, and now he’s trying to kill me so I won’t find Ares. Well, screw him, and guess what; I’m going to find Ares even if he’s in fucking prison. I owe that to Mom.” “We’re going to find Ares,” Joel said, reminding Trevor that he wasn’t alone in his quest. “And you’ve still got me and Lisa for family, don’t ever forget that.” “I know, and that’s the only thing keeping me together right now...” Trevor said softly, and then he added, “Gonzalez’s questions don’t add up. Why would he think Jim and my dad are a couple?” “When Jim took us to dinner after he found us in Italy, I noticed that he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring,” Joel said, thinking aloud. Lisa thought about that for a second, and asked, “Trev, you said your dad left you Jim’s phone numbers... could they be a couple?” Trevor was feeling a bit manic due to the repeated shocks of the day, and found himself laughing at what he felt was a preposterous notion. “I’m not that stupid, Lisa; I think I’d have noticed. Remember, a big part of why I’m out here is his reaction to me being gay. Remember all the times he tried to make me live a normal life? I think the cops are barking up the wrong tree with that one.” Trevor blinked at his own words, as the thought came, ‘If they’re wrong about that, then they could be wrong about the rest, too.’ “Yeah, Bridget said they can be pretty incompetent at times, and I’ve seen enough to believe her. What if they screw up the case?” Lisa asked. “Then I’m screwed, not that I really care right now,” Trevor said. Joel could read between the lines, and the bond between them was strong enough that he felt Trevor’s pain. “Trev... do you think your dad and Jim tried to kill you?” Joel asked, in a subdued tone. Trevor thought for almost a minute before replying, “I don’t know. It fits in a lot of ways, but the cops also think he and Jim are a couple, so I know they’re wrong about some stuff, at least... but I... I just... I can’t believe Dad would try to kill me. I don’t have a reason, I just...” Trevor’s voice faded into silence. “Trev, when we were in Capri, you said something to me... You asked me what I’d do if it was my dad... and that made me think. A lot. So, I get where you’re coming from, I really do, but we’ve got to find the truth, no matter what it is. I think it’s at least possible, based on what we know, that he killed your Mom and tried to kill you, too,” Joel said. “I think it’s possible too. I wish I didn’t, ‘cause it hurts like fucking hell, but I do. What I’m not is sure, and until I’m sure, I don’t know what to do,” Trevor said darkly. Joel knew he had to do something, so he looked at Lisa and met her eyes, saying, “Lisa and I could investigate too, to make sure the cops are on the right track, or find out if they aren’t. I don’t know where we’ll begin, but we’ll figure it out. For a start, chip a piece off that rock and save it for when I get to Australia.... and send those pics of it and the box you took to my cell.” “Thanks...” Trevor mumbled, and then he added, “Be careful. Joel, he drove by Lisa’s house, then he had a bomb put onboard Atlantis which could have killed us both. Don’t let him know you have any part of this... stay away from him.” “Will do, we’ll stay well clear. He’ll probably be in jail any day now anyway. Uh, what are you going to do now?” Joel asked. “Gonzalez wants me to leave Atlantis here and fly home, but no way... If the port of Victoria is anything to go by, it doesn’t look safe. I’m worried Gonzalez might try to have Atlantis impounded by the local police, so I’m going to get her ready and set sail for Australia in three days unless stuff changes. Dad figured out I’d stop in Rodrigues, so I won’t. I’ll come close and sail in circles waiting for a weather window if I have to, but I’ll stay out of sight of land. If I need to make port before then, I’ll detour east to Mauritius. Dad knows I was going to Fremantle, near Perth, but I’ve been thinking about it and I’ll head for the next marina north, in Hillarys, about fifteen miles north of Fremantle. I hope it’ll be safe by then, but that’ll give me a chance to get into port and call you guys and see what’s going on,” Trevor said. Then, after a glance at his navigation display, he said, “I told Gonzalez I was going to another island, Praslin, and anchoring in a bay on the east end, but I’m going to head for Grand Anse, on the south side of the island. It’s the main town so I’m more likely to find a post office and cell reception, plus if Gonzalez tries anything sneaky, he’ll be looking in the wrong place. I also don’t want anyone but you guys knowing where to find me right now. This bomb stuff has me stressed out.” They talked for a while longer, with Trevor taking solace in his friends’ voices from afar. Reluctantly, running low on daylight, he ended the call and motored to Grand Anse, a village in a tropical paradise. ~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  20. 1 point
    Chapter 44: Battle Stations Trevor sailed from Al-Quseir just after dawn, bound for the convoy rendezvous at Jabal al-Tair Island. The Talon sailed later that morning. The two catamarans would proceed separately; sailing in formation was too difficult, and there was no purpose to it so far north. At night, Trevor slept in his beanbag, in fifteen to twenty minute stretches, using radar and GPS to guide him. The winds were favorable, coming mainly from the north by northwest, which made for easier sailing. On the second day at sea, the winds proved unkind, becoming light and erratic. Trevor left his sails up but engaged the engines, motorsailing at seven knots, making use of the electrical power to run his water maker and washing machine. By the time the sun set, he had fully replenished his water supply, and had done his laundry. The evening breeze was enough to push Atlantis along at three knots, so Trevor shut down the engines. He was not yet worried about time; he had nearly a week to reach the rendezvous, and knew he could proceed on engines for the entire distance if need be, though at the cost of expensive fuel. The dawn of the third day came, with Atlantis coasting along under sail at barely three knots. The heat was intense even at that early hour. The sun beat down mercilessly, driving the temperature to over one hundred degrees. The passage down the Red Sea was proving nerve-wracking and brutal; Trevor had to remain in the cockpit, bathed in his own sweat, for almost the entire day, every day. Beset by the sweltering heat and alone on his boat, Trevor had experimented with clothing, everything from boardies to speedos to nothing at all. What he had settled on was the pair of red running shorts Joel had given him; they were light, cut like jogging shorts, and made of a very light material that didn’t hold his sweat. He’d taken to wearing them day in and day out, rinsing them out in the sink a few times each day. The days slowly passed, with Trevor keeping carefully to his plotted course, ever wary of ships and the countless reefs and tiny islands scattered throughout the Red Sea. The ships were the greatest hazard. Several times, at lonely hours in the night, the beeping of the radar’s proximity alarm ­ – which Trevor had set for four miles – woke him, and on two occasions, Trevor had to alter course to avoid collisions with massive commercial ships. Another dawn came, and a freshening breeze brought a welcome increase in speed. Trevor studied his navigational display, zooming out so that he could see both shores of the Red Sea. He was near the middle of the sea’s current one hundred forty mile width, passing seventy miles due west of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Forty miles inland from it lay Mecca. To Trevor’s west, the desolate mountains and dusty deserts of Sudan lay invisible beyond the empty horizon. Trevor checked the weather report again, noticing that the wind was forecast to increase, and swing around to come out of the west. He smiled, assuming that meant better sailing conditions. That smile soon turned to a frown, as the weather updated again, and he saw an advisory for possible dust storms in his area. The winds rose throughout the day, channeling through the Sudanese mountains and whipping across the dry sandy coastal plains, picking up countless tons of dust and sand. Trevor’s first glimpse of the maelstrom coming at him was of a dark cloud, like a roiling brown fog bank, low on the western horizon, rolling swiftly across the water. It came nearer, driven by the gusty winds, and Trevor, who had never seen a dust storm, reacted with concern and caution, furling the sails and powering up the engines, in case the onset was violent. Trevor watched the brown cloudbank approaching, sweeping across the water towards him. He began to smell it; the dry tang of dust lingering in the air, as the sun turned ochre. The first wisps of dust blew through the rigging, accompanied by thirty-knot gusts. The sky darkened as the dust shut out the sun, suffusing Atlantis in an eerie red glow. Trevor grabbed a towel and breathed though it, blinking against the driving dust. With Atlantis on engines, Trevor could easily con her from the nav desk helm station in the salon, so he dashed inside, shutting the salon door behind him, and then closing the vents. Trevor started the air conditioner, savoring the cool air as he stared out the main windows, at the baleful reddish glow. After twenty minutes, the dust storm thinned somewhat, and Trevor increased speed to six knots, motoring through the dusty onslaught. An hour become two, then more, and day turned to night. The dust storm’s unrelenting assault continued, gradually abating through the following day. When the skies finally cleared, Trevor hoisted his sails, disengaged the engines, and spent the afternoon hosing Atlantis down with seawater, trying to get rid of the cloying fine red dust that had coated nearly every external surface. For the next several days, Trevor battled inconstant winds, treacherous waters, and frequent shipping. Then, at last, the slow crawl down the Red Sea was nearing an end, marked by the graceful cone of Jabal al-Tair Island peeking over the southern horizon, glowing in the pale moonlight. Trevor had reached the convoy rendezvous point, with a day to spare. As the light of dawn lit the island in a rosy glow, Trevor anchored off the southern coast, in the agreed-upon rendezvous. Talon was already there, as were Thaddeus, Yarborough, and a dozen other yachts of all shapes and sizes. Safely at anchor, Trevor headed for his cabin, where he slept soundly for ten hours; the first solid sleep he’d had since leaving Egypt. That afternoon, Trevor pulled on a shirt and took his Zodiac to the Thaddeus, to check in and catch up on any news. He tied up at the stern and clambered up the stairs, finding the massive yacht oddly quiet. Trevor walked forward on the starboard main deck, wondering where everyone was. As he passed the front of the main superstructure and emerged onto the foredeck, Trevor’s eye caught movement, and he looked to his side to see one of the crew swabbing the teak foredeck. The crewman was shirtless; his stunning looks accented with sun-streaked brown hair. Trevor’s gaze froze on the alluring sight of muscles flexing in the sun, as Trevor walked directly into a forestay, bouncing off the heavy cable and coming to rest in a heap on the deck, his sunglasses skittering away in the direction of the shirtless crewman, who turned towards the racket. “Hey, are you okay?” the crewman asked, jogging over to offer Trevor a hand up. “Uh, yeah, I think so,” Trevor replied awkwardly, as he was hauled to his feet, trying not to stare at the bare chest in front of him. The crewman retrieved Trevor’s sunglasses and handed them to him. “What happened; did you trip?” Trevor looked at the forestay and shrugged, remembering how Julie used to tease him about walking into bulkheads whenever a hot guy was around. “I was just daydreaming, and the next thing I know, I’m in a heap on the deck,” Trevor said, smoothing his hair back into place. “I’ve done that a few times. It happens, man. There’s a lot of things to trip on aboard this boat. My name’s Craig, by the way,” the crewman said, leaning back against the rail. Trevor slipped his sunglasses on, so he could enjoy the view unobserved. Concentrating on keeping his voice casual, and hoping he didn’t make a fool of himself again, Trevor said, “I’m Trev. I was looking for Eric, to see if there’s anything new about the convoy.” “Oh, he’ll be around sooner or later; the boss is a late sleeper, rarely up before noon unless he has reason to be.” Trevor nodded, glancing around. “It’s a big boat, must take a lot of work to keep it in shape.” Craig chuckled. “Yeah, but that, as he’ll tell you himself, is what a crew is for. There’s six of us, and Mr. Rotide keeps us busy, but he’s a pretty decent boss in a lot of ways, and the pay is good.” Trevor nodded, again enjoying his close-up view of Craig’s bare, tan, sweating torso. “It looks like a great place to live and work, and at least he lets you work shirtless,” Trevor said, giving himself a mental kick as soon as the words had escaped his mouth. Craig laughed, patting his bare abs. “Let? He damn well insists. Let me clue you into something... Every member of this crew is handpicked by Mr. Rotide, and is young, male, and good looking. It’s no secret which way Mr. Rotide rolls. A few of the other crewmen... let’s just say they get some big cash bonuses that I don’t. Me, I’ve got a girl at home, or I hope I do when we get back, but that puts me in the minority on this ship.” Trevor blinked in surprise. “Wow, that’s different...” Trevor let his voice trail off, having no idea what to say next. “I better get back to work, the boss will be up soon. See ya around, Trev,” Craig said, snatching up his mop and returning to his task. Trevor turned to head astern, looking over his shoulder at Craig’s back, thinking, ‘Why the hell do I have to make a clumsy awkward ass of myself every time I see a hot guy?’ Trevor, his eyes still on Craig, had no sooner finished that thought than he walked headlong into Eric Rotide. “Whoa there Trev, my invisibility lessons must be paying off,” Eric said with a chuckle, as he disentangled himself from Trevor. “Sorry,” Trevor replied, wondering if he could be any more embarrassed. He was soon to learn that he could. Eric glanced forward, where he’d seen Trevor looking, and grinned. “There’s some good scenery around here, which can be pretty distracting.” Feeling his cheeks burn, Trevor replied quietly, “Yeah, and I guess I get distracted easy.” Eric gave Trevor a hearty laugh. “Either that, or you’re light headed from lack of food. I remember how you ate in Suez, and I think we’ve got enough vittles aboard to feed you a good meal.” Trevor followed Eric to the dining room, as a few other yachters began to arrive for lunch and a planning session convened by Eric. The lunch was sumptuous, as Trevor had been anticipating, and the conversation lively. The first piece of news was that the Thaddeus had remained at the Suez Canal Yacht Club for two days so Eric could recruit more yachts for the convoy, and was expecting as many as twenty-seven. After finishing his dessert, Eric held up his nearly empty crystal wine goblet and tapped it twice with a silver butter knife, calling for attention. “I’ve been checking the warnings, and they advise against using VHF or single-sideband anywhere in the pirate areas; the pirates apparently listen in and can home in on the signals. Satellite phones are one option. Are we all equipped with them?” Trevor was relieved to discover that he was not alone; eight other yachts reported a lack of satellite phones, a development which caused Eric to scowl. A heated discussion followed, and the phoneless yachts were detailed to communicate via signal flags and lights, and resort to VHF only in an emergency. The convoy would be effectively limited to the speed of its slowest member, roughly six knots. Trevor winced as he realized that meant he’d be in tight formation for at least eight days. Jan was the one to raise the issue. “We have at least three yachts that are singlehanding. There’s just no way a solo sailor can stay awake for eight days, or stay in tight formation while asleep, even for twenty-minute stretches.” It was an objection that had been made before, but no decision had been reached. One option – bringing the convoy to a halt for several hours each day – had been flatly rejected as too risky. Trevor looked around the room before standing up, feeling slightly ill at ease. “I think there is a way this can be done. If the yachts that are singlehanding follow tracks parallel to the convoy track, but separated from the convoy and each other by half a mile, our autopilots could keep us roughly on station, at least close enough for a fast form-up of the convoy in case of trouble. We’d sleep in fifteen to twenty minute stretches during daylight, and resume our place in the tight convoy formation at night.” Trevor’s comments sparked a heated debate, but in the end, though his plan had flaws, it remained the least-bad option and was adopted. The next day, Trevor joined the yachters for a spectacular breakfast aboard Thaddeus, and as he was leaving, Trevor caught sight of Craig, working shirtless in the rigging, who gave him a friendly wave. The yachts rode at anchor as the convoy slowly assembled. A few that had signed up had run into delays, but a total of twenty-four yachts, with a combined compliment of sixty-two people, would form the convoy. Eric was firmly in charge, and decreed that Thaddeus would operate under the call sign of ‘alpha’, with himself as alpha-one. For the sake of simplicity, he also decided that the other yachts would operate under their own names, and opined that it wouldn’t really matter due to the radio silence they would be observing. Many of the yachters noted the contradictions inherent in Eric’s statement, but none thought the issue worth arguing. On departure day, they joined for a sumptuous breakfast aboard Thaddeus, and in a melee of confusion, attempted to raise anchor and get underway. To everyone’s consternation, it took over an hour for the convoy to achieve some semblance of a tight formation. Eric’s plan was fairly simple. The rifle-armed yachts would take station on an outer ring, with Atlantis and others that carried only shotguns and pistols closer in. In the center would be the unarmed yachts. Taking the lead position was Thaddeus, which would also act as the communication center in case of emergency. The plan was a good one; rifles outrange automatic weapons – the pirates were most commonly armed with AK-47s – and so the rifles could engage first, targeting the pirates’ crew and engines. The idea was mutual defense; the pirates would most often attack in skiffs, and against a formation of rifle-armed yachts, they would stand little to no chance. Any that did succeed in entering the convoy formation would be dealt with via shotgun and pistol fire. One problem they discussed was when to open fire. They would, they knew, be encountering many fishing boats, often visually indistinguishable from pirate vessels. The agreed threshold had been decided upon after considerable debate; hold fire unless the suspected pirates brandished weapons or attacked. Trevor retrieved his revolver and ammo boxes from his secret compartment, feeling as though he was taking Atlantis into battle. He hoped that would not be the case, but he felt confident that the massed gunfire of the convoy could handily defeat any pirate attack. Another thought brought Trevor further solace; the fact that the overwhelming majority of ships and boats passing through the pirate waters transited uneventfully. Joel’s research had shown that the best university in Florida for underwater archeology resources was Florida State University. The appointment was on Wednesday, when Lisa and Joel were supposed to be in school, but they both wanted to go. Figuring that forgiveness was easier than permission, they met at Bridget’s guesthouse before school, and took Joel’s car for the five-hour drive to Tallahassee, in the Florida panhandle. They arrived well ahead of their early afternoon meeting in the administration building, so they took a walk through the campus. As they walked, hand in hand, Joel asked softly, “What do you think about this as a place for us to go to college?” Lisa looked around and smiled, more at the fact that Joel had said ‘us’ than the university. “I’ll be happy if we’re together,” Lisa said, giving Joel’s hand a squeeze. Their meeting was with a nautical archeologist, Professor Garfinkle. All he’d agreed to do was listen, and Joel felt nervous as they entered the professor’s office. As soon as they were all seated, Joel launched into his spiel, quickly describing the loss of the Ares, the reported area, and how no known trace had ever been found. He also began to describe Trevor’s search methods. Professor Garfinkle listened attentively, and interrupted Joel to mention, “I’m familiar with the back-story of that wreck. As you may imagine, I follow shipwreck news very closely. It’s an intriguing case. The area is easily accessible, but trying to search visually, as your friend is doing, is difficult at best. Do you happen to know what the hull is made of?” “It would be the same as Trevor’s boat, Atlantis; fiberglass reinforced with Kevlar,” Joel said, leaning over, phone in hand, to show the professor a few photos of Atlantis. Professor Garfinkle nodded, deep in thought. “That’s a tricky target for sonar, but the reason I agreed to meet with you is that I’m developing a towed synthetic aperture sidescan sonar. The towed unit looks a bit like a torpedo with stubby wings, and is depth-selectable. Now, you mentioned that your friend was offering his boat as the research platform, and it’s equipped as a luxury dive boat. That’s a good deal more attractive to me than the fishing trawler I’d likely be stuck with, but I need to know if your friend’s boat can handle the task. It would need a navigation system capable of following a preset grid pattern, and have power winches capable of hauling five hundred pounds out of the water, and be able to tow the transceiver at speeds up to eleven knots.” “The nav system can handle that, and Atlantis has electric winches at the aft transom rail for raising and lowering the Zodiac skiff on its davits. They can do that with people in it, so I think they could hoist your sonar. I’m not sure if Atlantis would tow it that fast; she can do fifteen knots on engines, and faster under sail, but I don’t know what she’d do with that much drag,” Joel said, hoping that it would be enough. Professor Garfinkle smiled. “That would do nicely; my unit won’t have a great deal of drag, so it, plus my heavy gear aboard, would only knock two to three knots off Atlantis’ top speed. Now, as for the wreck itself: if she’s anywhere in the area you mentioned, she’s likely on a sandy bottom, and there have been hurricanes in the area since she went down. Therefore, she may be covered in sand. I think my system could find her, and it would be a good demonstration of its capabilities. The aspect of solving a mystery would also be good publicity–” Lisa jumped into the conversation to mention, “It’s also part of an ongoing murder investigation. Trevor’s father is suspected of sinking Ares to kill Trev’s mother. The case is still open and active, and finding Ares could settle the case, one way or the other.” Professor Garfinkle’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and then his expression slowly changed as he smiled broadly. “I had no idea the case was still active... that makes this better from my point of view. Not quite good enough though... would your friend be willing to offer the services of himself and his boat for three weeks, and not just for the search for Ares? I’d like to try finding some missing aircraft if we find Ares quickly, as I expect we will.” Joel nodded eagerly. “He would. Uh, how soon would you need him back in Florida? He’s in Egypt right now.” Professor Garfinkle scratched his head. “You mentioned next spring when you called, which is what I’m still looking at. I should be ready for some test runs in February, but that will be on the Gulf Coast, and the aforementioned fishing trawler, stench and all, is booked for that. No sooner than March, but I’d say April, as the weather should be calmer, though it could be as late as summer, depending on how the final checkouts go. Make sure you, or he, gets in touch with me in December, I’ll know more on the technical side then.” Joel’s grin mirrored Lisa’s. “That would be perfect. Thanks, professor,” Joel said, getting up and shaking the professor’s hand. The long and grueling days passed, as the convoy, struggling to remain in some semblance of formation, proceeded south for two hundred miles, to the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, and turned east by northeast, staying on the Yemeni side of the Gulf of Aden. The convoy’s track was thirty miles off the coast of Yemen, which kept the Somali coast over a hundred miles to the south. This was the area of greatest danger, and they sailed blacked out at night, no lights showing, with their radars and AIS transponders remaining off. It was nerve-wracking for Trevor, made worse by his lack of sleep. The catnaps he was able to snatch during the sweltering days were simply not enough, and he fought fatigue along with variable winds and the challenge of holding place in a formation. One afternoon, while Atlantis was half a mile south of the convoy, Trevor was sweeping the horizon with his binoculars when he noticed a speck on the horizon. It was to the south – the direction of Somalia. Trevor wasn’t the only one to have seen it; so had the lookout high in the rigging on Thaddeus, and then one of the crew had confirmed it with Thaddeus’s bridge mounted telescope. Using a signal light, they flashed a warning to Atlantis, and received the acknowledging flash of Trevor’s flashlight in return. Following the plan, the crew of Thaddeus began making rapid phone calls to the other yachts, as well as flashing a danger-alert message via signal lights. The sound of engines starting rumbled across the sea, as the yachts powered up in preparation for possible emergency maneuvers. By now, Trevor could see the intruder as a dot on the horizon with his unaided eyes. He raised his binoculars again, focusing until he could discern the narrow prow of a dark wooden boat, heading in his – and the convoy’s – direction. Atlantis was the closest yacht to the approaching boat, so Trevor altered course to port, angling in towards the convoy, seeking its safety as the unknown vessel closed to five miles, making straight for the convoy. Unfurling the mainsail fully, Trevor engaged the engines but left them idling. Atlantis accelerated to twelve knots, closing the gap between herself and the main body of the convoy, which was already tightening formation and preparing for defense. Trevor withdrew his gun from the helm map pocket, checking that it was loaded. He kept looking at the approaching boat, which was boring in directly at Atlantis in spite of Atlantis’s change of course. A check of the nav screen confirmed that Trevor would reach the convoy’s main body well before he was intercepted, so he turned his attention to studying the oncoming boat, which still had its prow pointed squarely at Atlantis, just two miles south of her. Trevor had already picked out firing positions in his cockpit; places he felt would offer him some cover from which to fight, which left him little to do but watch and worry as the onrushing boat closed the gap. Atlantis reached the convoy’s outer ring, ducking inside per the plan to have the rifle-armed yachts for the outer perimeter. The yachts forming that side were sailing in line, a hundred yards apart, and Trevor matched course, slowing to the convoy’s speed of six knots. Trevor gripped his gun tightly as the approaching boat tracked Atlantis’s maneuver, keeping her bow-on, and kept boring in. The mystery boat was now a half mile from Atlantis, on a course that would take it between two of the rifle-armed yachts. Glancing to starboard, Trevor saw the Thaddeus on a course that would take her close across Atlantis’s stern. Her lookouts had seen that the approaching boat was coming straight at Atlantis, and had altered course in order to bring her firepower to bear. On the deck of the Thaddeus, Eric and five of his crew took their firing positions, each armed with handguns and scoped 30-06 bolt-action rifles, which they made no effort to conceal. Two of the crew also had pump-action shotguns. The approaching boat held course, coming to within a hundred yards of Atlantis and passing her bows close in, and Trevor got his first good look at the Somali boat. It was thirty feet long with a wood hull, but very narrow, powered by a single outboard engine. The small deckhouse and the hull looked ancient, but not as ancient as the lone occupant who sat at the outboard. To Trevor, he looked to be around ninety: frail and wizened. Trevor couldn’t see in the deckhouse, which he knew could hide several armed men, but the old man himself appeared unarmed. Trevor tensed as the Somali boat passed down his port side, turned tightly, and crossed his stern between Atlantis and Thaddeus. The Somali boat held course, heading directly away from Thaddeus and Atlantis, heading for the nearest of the rifle-armed yachts, the Yarborough, pulling in close astern and matching course. The old man began waving at the crew of Yarborough, then made a drinking motion. On the Thaddeus, the lookout got a view into the Somali’s deckhouse as the aspect changed, and called out on a megaphone to the Yarborough, “He appears to be alone and unarmed.” Trevor heard that and began to relax a little. After acquiring a few bottles of water from Yarborough’s crew ­– who now wore their rifles casually slung over their shoulders – the Somali boat turned sharply, heading straight for Atlantis, passing between her and Thaddeus, and then turned again, matching course and speed with Atlantis, closing to thirty feet of her port stern quarter. The old man began waving at Trevor, and then made a drinking motion. Thaddeus kept guard on Atlantis as the Somali boat closed, coming almost alongside, and Trevor tossed over a few bottles of water, and then the last of his cigarettes. The old man gave Trevor a friendly wave, and the Somali boat roared off towards the next yacht ahead, where he mimed similar requests. Trevor kept a close eye on the intruding boat, relaxed, but keeping his gun at his side. Aboard Thaddeus, the radio scanner picked up a rapid-fire stream of Arabic words from the small boat, and a few more-distant and brief replies. The young man who acted as Thaddeus’s captain at sea guessed correctly; the small boat was playing the role of scout. Moments later, Thaddeus raised a single flag on her signal hoist, the letter ‘B’, the agreed-upon code for ‘battle stations, attack likely’ Trevor saw the signal flag hoist and tensed. He glanced back at Thaddeus, which was just fifty feet off his starboard beam. Craig came to the rail and yelled the news to Trevor, who gritted his teeth and gave an acknowledging wave in return. Aboard the pirate mothership – a large fishing trawler – fourteen miles to the south and out of the convoy’s visual range, the captain frowned: the old man who served as his scout had reported seeing many guns and prepared ships. The four skiffs and twenty armed men the mothership could muster, its captain decided, stood little or no chance against that many armed boats evidently willing and able to put up a hard fight. The goal of the pirates was loot and ransom, not fighting losing battles, so he much preferred prey that did not fight back. He radioed his intentions to his scout, and then altered course to the west, in search of easier pickings. The convoy held formation, on alert for long after the old man had sailed away to the west. The night that followed was a tense one, with many an eye glued to flickering radar screens, as the convoy sailed on without running lights. The next day, variable inconstant winds slowed the convoy, causing many yachters to chafe at being held up by the slowest yachts, but the convoy held together, continuing along the Yemeni coast until the town of Balhaf was thirty miles off their port beams. They altered course to due east, on a direct course for the scatter point east of Socotra. The tension began to ease on the ninth day of the convoy, as they passed a hundred miles north of Cape Guardafui – the tip of the horn of Africa. From that point forward, they knew, they would be increasing their distance from Somalia with every passing mile. In the early afternoon of the tenth day, Trevor spotted the mountains of the Yemeni island of Socotra, twenty miles to his south. Thinking the attempt was likely futile, he flipped open his cell phone, and to his surprise, found that he had a weak but usable signal. He dialed Joel’s number, and as soon as Joel answered, Trevor said, “Hey, it’s me, and we might lose the connection any second. I’m past Somalia, just north of Socotra, in the Indian Ocean. I’ve got about another two hundred miles to go until the convoy reaches its scatter point, but we’re past the danger area now.” “Wow, that’s good news, Trev. I’m at home, just getting ready for school... I’ve been looking at a lot of maps, and Lisa and I have been worried sick, thinking of you being chased by pirates. Are you still heading for the Seychelles?” “Yeah, but don’t forget, it’s another twelve hundred miles from the scatter point, and I’ll be limited to about four knots due to the debris problem. There’s also the doldrums, so I might get becalmed. I’m looking at about two weeks until I get there, maybe three, but I’ll switch to engines if it’ll be much longer than that, so I guess I’ll be talking to you in a few weeks.” “That’s a long time... take care of yourself out there, man. Be safe, okay?” Joel said, and Trevor could hear the concern in his voice. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, thanks–” Joel could hear the static increasing, so he blurted out, “Trev, I’ve got good news; looks like we’re a go for the Ares search when you get back–” The call dropped, cutting Joel off, but Trevor was already grinning broadly at the news. Trevor tried the call again, but could not get a signal. In Florida, Joel’s school schedule that day meant he had almost no time to talk to Lisa, so aside from a fast mention that he was safely past Somalia, he waited until they were in the assumed privacy of Bridget’s guesthouse after school to tell Lisa about the call in detail, lamenting, “I wish I knew whether he heard the good news about the Ares search before the line went dead.” “I hope he did, but he’ll be calling from the Seychelles in a few weeks, and it’s not like the search will be soon,” Lisa said consolingly, pulling Joel into a hug. Later that same day, Bridget and George reviewed the new tapes. “Well, Joel is still working on looking for Ares. From what we’ve been hearing about the marine archeology matter, it appears that the actual search will not occur until Trevor’s return, though the caveat to that is that Joel has mentioned, in a conversation with Lisa, that he has sworn to find Ares ‘no matter what.’. The only safe assumption that we can make is that when Trevor dies, Joel would use the insurance money to launch the search on Trevor’s behalf. Therefore, though the threat is less imminent, he is still a deadly danger to us from a long term view.” George thought for a few moments before replying, “Given what you think is aboard Ares in addition to that list of your assets, I think ‘deadly danger to us’ counts as an understatement. However... no matter how careful we are, there’s always a small risk that framing him could backfire in some way. We sure as hell don’t want any official suspicion regarding drugs focused in our direction, and he and Lisa are in the guesthouse a lot, which could be enough to get a few cops curious. So, as long as we have a way of keeping tabs on what Joel is up to, why don’t we wait until the murder investigation into you dies with Trevor. Then, you can take away Lisa and Joel’s guesthouse privileges and keep them at arm’s length for a while. We’ll get the coke ready just in case he goes ahead with the search, but let’s hold off on taking Joel out of play for a few weeks.” Bridget drummed her fingers on her desk, and after several long seconds, nodded once. “I think you’re right. There’s also the known fact that money changes people, so perhaps, once he has the insurance money, greed will cause him to abandon his search plans. I earnestly hope that is the case; he’s a very personable and handsome young man, and Lisa utterly adores him. It would be a shame to ruin his life to no good purpose.” “Do you think there’s much chance that, if we take Joel out, Lisa would take on the search?” George asked. Bridget frowned as she considered that possibility. “I am unsure... but now that you mention it, I would have to say that she well might. She’s headstrong and I fear she’d believe Joel’s innocence, and embark on a crusade to prove it. She could very well become an ongoing problem, and I suppose she might also, out of loyalty, continue the search for Ares as well. I suppose it is best to be cautious... how difficult would it be to arrange for Lisa to share Joel’s charges?” George smiled coldly. “Not hard at all. If the package has both of their DNA and fingerprints on it, plus an arranged anonymous tip or two to give me and a few other officers the excuse to pull them over and bust them red-handed, they’ll both be going away for fifteen to twenty, minimum.” Bridget nodded once, showing resolve. “Then I suppose Joel has both of their lives in his hands. I hope he’ll abandon his search plans, but if not, we’ll carry through and put them both away.” Two hundred miles east of Socotra, the convoy reached its designated scatter point. With a flurry of radio calls and farewells, the boats began breaking formation, heading off to their various destinations to the north, east, and south. Trevor stood on the afterdeck, waving as the Thaddeus made the turn northward with reverent grace, and billowing sails. He caught one last glance of several of her crew, including Craig, shirtless at the rail, waving in farewell. A few hundred yards away, Trevor saw the Talon, heading east for the Maldives, speeding away. Atlantis and five monohull yachts peeled away to a southbound course, but the days of formation sailing had taken their toll in worn nerves. With Somalia nearly five hundred miles to his west, and knowing that the distance would grow with every passing day, Trevor felt safe enough to bid farewell to the other southbound yachts. On her reach across the trade winds, Atlantis proved her advantages over monohull yachts. A catamaran can sail closer to the wind than a monohull, and achieve high speed while doing so. Sailing on a close reach within forty degrees of the wind coming out of the southwest, taking advantage of his catamaran’s far greater ability, he left his monohull companions behind at ten knots, relishing the rush of speed after the slow crawl of the convoy. Trevor knew he was taking a chance with tsunami debris, but rationalized that they were mainly a problem in the eastern Indian Ocean and the Indian Ocean Gyre, far from his current position. After a few hours, he reduced speed to eight knots. Over the next five days, Trevor held that pace only during daylight hours, partially furling his sails to reduce speed to five knots at night. Four hundred miles north of the Seychelles, the wind began to lighten and shift, becoming variable and inconstant. Trevor soon found himself becalmed, in what his weather plot reported was an area between two wind zones; the northeast trades, which he was leaving, and a southerly band of winds currently south and east of the Seychelles. Trevor’s becalming there was no surprise to him; near the equator, some areas of the world’s oceans are prone to light or no winds, often for weeks at a time. This is due to the equatorial low, caused by hot air rising over the equator. These regions are referred to as the Doldrums. He had expected it. Seeing that the forecast predicted little to no wind in his area for at least several days but did include a warning for potential squalls, he settled in to await the return of the wind. The sea was glassy calm, and the heat stifling. With Atlantis motionless, Trevor furled the sails, shed his safety harness and his shorts, and then breaking into a run and cannonballing off the stern for a quick swim in the placid waters. As soon as he surfaced, barely twenty feet from Atlantis, he felt a rush of fear. Even though Atlantis could not move away, Trevor was still affected by his fall overboard in the Atlantic. Being left behind to die at sea was now one of Trevor’s deepest fears, and he broke into a fast freestyle crawl, racing back to his boat. One day became two, and then more. Trevor filled the time doing maintenance, and then reading and watching movies. Occasionally, a slight breeze, a little more than a draft, would develop in the afternoons, and Trevor was able to garner a knot or two of speed. On most days, he managed less than ten miles. His nav station informed him that Atlantis, while apparently motionless, was still doing about one knot, due to the eastbound north equatorial current. Often, Trevor saw towering cumulonimbus clouds ­– thunderstorms – partially obscured by the horizon, rising angrily in the afternoons. At night, he sometimes saw the distant flicker of lightening. Bored and lonely, Trevor resumed writing his journal; September 24th I’m becalmed, stuck in the doldrums in more ways than one. I’d heard how depressing it can be, but I didn’t comprehend it until it happened to me. I’m currently 39 miles north of the equator. When I was first becalmed, days ago, I was seven miles further north. That’s a couple of miles a day. I’m sick of not moving and seeing just the same empty horizon, day after day. Except it isn’t really empty all the time; I’ve seen a few big commercial ships and supertankers. I guess they’re doing the same as me: giving Somalia a wide berth. I’m 741 miles east of Mogadishu, which I hope is far enough. I’m getting tight on time. I’d like to leave Rodregues around November 1st, and it’s 1300 miles from here. I can do that easy at four knots, but not if I stay here much longer. In the early afternoon of his sixth day in the doldrums, the sky over Atlantis turned dark and threatening, but the wind was still absent. A sudden blue flash, followed a second later by a shattering crack of thunder, broke the silence. ‘Oh fuck, that was close,’ Trevor thought, still hearing the subsiding echoes of the thunderclap. He knew that lighting was a danger to Atlantis; her metal mast was a prime target on the open sea, and a lightning strike would fry his electronics, along with possibly starting a fire. Trevor fired up the engines and motored south at fifteen knots, until he judged that he was far enough away from the lightning, which was now playing every few seconds, miles astern. He checked the weather plot again, and seeing no change in the forecast, he made a decision, thinking, ‘I’m sick of being becalmed, and there could be more thunderstorms.’ On engines, he motored south at four knots.He did not like using costly fuel, but preferred it to drifting aimlessly for what could be weeks, in an area prone to severe squalls. Just before midnight, Trevor was staring intently at his navigational display, watching as his latitude ticked down to all zeros. Then, in an instant he’d been waiting for, the latitude changed from north to south, signaling that he’d just crossed the equator. Trevor let out a whoop, and cracked open his last bag of tortilla chips, which he’d been saving for the occasion. It wasn’t exactly a traditional line-crossing ceremony, but Trevor was thrilled; for the first time in his life, he’d crossed the equator. The Seychelles were just over three hundred miles away, which at four knots would take three days. At that speed, Atlantis had a range on engines of over fifteen hundred miles, so Trevor was content to motor all the way to the Seychelles if he had to. In Egypt, the bombing investigation was beginning to make headway. The fragments of the satellite phone had yielded a partial serial number, which led the investigators to its Egyptian cellular account. That account, which proved untraceable regarding ownership, contained the phone’s internal chip ID, which allowed the manufacturer to trace the unit as far as a distributor in Miami, Florida. That distributor would be contacted, but there would be a delay due to it being nighttime in Florida. The cellular account itself was yielding data in the form of call logs. Several were from Egyptian numbers belonging to pay phones or prepaid cell phones, but two showed an international origin, from Ft. Pierce, Florida. George’s call had in fact gone to a default voicemail for the account, and when he’d keyed in the detonation code, the tones had been recorded. The shores and surface of Lake Timsah had been thoroughly searched, yielding a wide variety of flotsam and jetsam: garbage, lost buoys, children’s toys, and other odds and ends. Amongst them was a life jacket, which had the word ‘Atlantis’ written on a strap with a marker. There was also a full propane tank. Everything was collected, tagged, and stored for the investigators. The bomb’s remains had generated some interest; few of the tank pieces were larger than a postage stamp, but the technicians had already determined that a propane tank had housed the bomb, and that the propane tank’s threaded coupling was an American gauge. The records of the investigation were kept electronically, allowing the investigators to search the entire record. The name on the life jacket sparked enough interest for an investigator to check the digital files for that name, which led to both the interview with Trevor in Suez, and Colonel el-Masri’s note about Officer Gonzalez’s inquiry. Coincidence is not beloved by police officers, and in this case they had several, all pointing to Atlantis as being in some way involved. The strongest was that Trevor had reported propane tanks amongst the stolen items, and two crewmembers of the stricken freighter had noticed a pilot boat discarding objects of some kind into the water. Trevor’s statement to the investigators, along with the report the Ismailia officer had filed, both mentioned a pilot boat. Two leading theories developed; one was that Atlantis had been knowingly transporting bombs and one had been stolen, but this was contradicted to a degree by the police report of Trevor mentioning the propane tanks, which, they reasoned, he’d be unlikely to do if he’d known that one was a bomb. The other, stronger theory was that the bomb had been intended for Atlantis and then stolen. Colonel el-Masri was informed of the developments, and was asked to get in touch with Officer Gonzalez. ~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  21. 1 point
    Chapter 31: Standing into Danger “Ready to go to Mykonos?” Trevor asked, with a big grin. Joel answered by beginning to deploy the Zodiac. “Hell yeah. How far is it, anyway?” Trevor glanced to the east. “Five miles, or just under. At ten knots, that’s under half an hour. I’m taking an EPIRB, a GPS, and the handheld VHF radio; they’ll go in the Zodiac’s locked emergency kit, plus there are oars in the Zodiac. The forecast is for the north wind to strengthen in the late afternoon, and the strait between here and Mykonos runs north to south, so it could get rough, especially in the afternoon, according to the forecast. I think we should head back if the wind picks up. The Zodiac can handle rough water, but it’d be a slow, wet, bouncy ride.” “Any reason to take shirts?” Joel asked, glancing down at the khaki shorts and deck shoes he was wearing. Trevor shook his head. “I’m not; it’s summer in a beach resort. I’ve already put on sunscreen,” he said, tossing Joel the bottle of sun block. Joel began applying sun block, and after taking care of his front and shoulders, tossed Trevor the bottle. “Make yourself useful and get my back,” he said, and then turned around. Trevor squeezed some lotion into his hand, and then paused. “Let me guess, you’re going to scream ‘sexual harassment’ as soon as I touch you?” Joel chuckled. “Of course.” Trevor laughed and began working the lotion into Joel’s back. “You’re nothing if not predictable.” They locked up Atlantis and piled into the Zodiac. As soon as they had rounded the point and set course for Mykonos, Joel asked, “Are we okay for fuel?” Trevor tapped the plastic gas tanks, one empty, and one full. “Yeah, but I want to fill up when we get there. The Zodiac’s tank holds five gallons and it’s full, but I want to top it off and fill my five-gallon auxiliary storage too.” Trevor pointed at the white cylinder up front and added, “I put the empty propane cylinder in too, so I’ll have three aboard Atlantis full and one mostly full. The stove uses ‘em, and so does the barbecue.” Joel eyed the plastic case mounted in the Zodiac’s nose, and asked, “What exactly is in the emergency kit, anyway?” “It’s like the ditch bag aboard Atlantis, which is a bag of survival gear, in case I have to abandon ship. It has a first-aid kit and some emergency food and water.” Trevor scanned the horizon, and added, “Because of the fuel tanks, I’ll need to stay near the Zodiac. I’ll moor next to the marine supply place and then the fuel dock, but I don’t want to go too far; those tanks are too easy to steal. If you want to shop, we can just set a time to meet up.” Joel nodded. “I’ll head for a grocery store and load us up with some Greek food.” Trevor arched an eyebrow. “What? No clothes shopping?” Joel shook his head. “Nah, it’s more fun when I can drag you along and make you suffer.” Trevor cracked up, and flipped Joel off. “You ass. Okay, you hit the supermarket. We’ll ask where the closest one is when we get to the dock at the boating supply place.” When they arrived in Mykonos, they tied up and got directions; there was a small grocery store open just a few blocks away. “Anything you want me to get?” Joel asked. Trevor shook his head. “Anything that looks good. We passed the fuel dock when we rounded the point; it’s about fifty yards north of us, so I’ll be either here or there.” Joel turned to head for the door. “I’ll be back in an hour or less, have fun.” At the crowded supermarket, Joel grabbed several baskets and began loading up. Several times, he asked where specific items were, and mindful of the time, he hurried, filling the four hand baskets as fast as he could, only to find himself in a long line for checkout at the single register. A woman behind Joel, with a small basket of bread and cheese, looked at his four heaped baskets, which he was guiding along with his feet. She’d heard him speak English while shopping, so to pass the time, she said, “Either there are a lot of you, you eat a lot, or you’re here for a long time.” Joel glanced back and smiled. “Just two of us, me and my friend Trev, but we’re on a boat.” “That’s the life. Did you rent it here? If so, could you please tell me where?” Joel shook his head. “It’s Trev’s, he sailed it over from Florida and I flew out to join him in Gibraltar.” “My husband Blake and I – we’re here with some friends, and my name is Barbra – were supposed to be doing that, but when we got here, we found that our charter was canceled; they’d run aground in a windstorm and holed the hull the day before. We tried to find another, but there was nothing available and our air tickets aren’t changeable. So, we checked into a resort instead. My husband is an archaeologist, so he’s very disappointed; there was a lot he’d planned to see. We did get to see Delos though, with its spectacular ruins.” Joel nodded sympathetically, his mind already racing, seeing a possibility. “Trev and I saw Pompeii and Santorini on the way here, and Santorini is only a few hours south of here. Trev’s boat, Atlantis, is fast; it’s a big catamaran. He runs it as a charter and dive service in Florida.” Barbra’s eyes narrowed. “A charter boat? How many guest rooms does it have?” “Four guest suites, each with a bathroom. It’s one hell of a boat; a fifty-five footer. Being able to see the Mediterranean from a boat like that is a dream and I’ve been having the time of my life.” Barbra gave Joel an appraising glance. “Perhaps you should come and talk to my husband. He and our friends are in the restaurant next door, having an after-lunch drink. I don’t drink so I decided to make myself useful and come in here. So, do you think your friend Trev might be willing to do a charter here? It would be for six days at most, because of our flight.” Joel gave Barbra an open-handed shrug. “He’d probably love to, but he’s not licensed here, so it wouldn’t be legal,” Joel said, hoping that Barbra would draw the needed conclusion on her own. They reached the register, and Joel loaded the baskets onto the counter as Barbra said, “Just come have a talk with Blake, I’m sure that wouldn’t be an issue.” Barbra helped Joel carry his seven bags of groceries to the sidewalk tables next door, where she introduced Joel to her husband and their friends; three other couples, all from Texas. Barbra got right down to business, and said, “Joel here is cruising around the Aegean with his friend, on his friend’s yacht. His friend ­– Trev, was it?” Barbra asked, and then after Joel nodded, she continued, “Runs it as a dive charter in Florida. It’s a four-guest-cabin fifty-five foot catamaran. Joel, could you excuse us for a few minutes? We’ll watch your groceries for you.” Joel nodded, and with a smile and a wave, walked to a small clothing store on the opposite side of the narrow pedestrian street. Barbra sat down at the table, and lowered her voice to little more than a whisper. “He thinks his friend might be interested in a charter, except for not being licensed here. This sounds to me to be as good as the one that canceled on us, or better. We were going to pay fifteen thousand, split four ways, for a week on the other one, and this one’s a bit bigger from the sound of it. As long as it doesn’t cost any more, and we can see the boat first, what do you think?” The couples shared glances amongst themselves, and after receiving a few cautious nods, Blake said, “When I put this trip together, it was supposed to be a week aboard, and we’d only have six days now. I also get the impression they’d want to be paid in cash if they agree to do this, so how about we wrangle ourselves a discount? Offer ‘em twelve grand, in euro cash, if they’re willing to do our itinerary. We’d get to see some of the islands we wanted to, and they bring us back here on the morning of our flight. We’re already dishing out a grand a night for four rooms at the resort, and this’d save that. If we can check out before one this afternoon, we’ll save tonight’s as well.” After receiving okay’s from the other three couples, Blake said, “I’ll go get him and see if we can put this deal together before one. However, just to be safe, no money changes hands until we’re on board and make sure the boat’s okay. If it’s some rusty tub, forget it, unless they’re willing to cut us one hell of a deal.” After a round of nods, Blake got up and walked over to the store. Joel spotted him as soon as he entered, and Blake said, “We’re ready for you.” Joel followed Blake back to the table, and Blake said, in a low voice, “We’d like to meet your friend Trev and see if we can arrange a six-day charter, all-inclusive, to start this afternoon. We want to see Gyaros, about thirty-five miles northwest of here, for a couple of days, and then go south sixty miles to Polyaigos and Kimolos for the remainder of our stay, and then back here. We need to be back in Mykonos by noon, six days from now, to catch a taxi to the airport. We can pay cash so there won’t be any issue with legalities, and we’re offering twelve thousand euros, firm, half when we board, half on our last day. Interested?” Joel nodded eagerly. “That sounds great, but it’s not my boat so I can’t agree to anything. Trev is only a few blocks from here, down at the port.” “Lead the way,” Barbra said, smiling. Joel began picking up he groceries, only to find several helping hands. At the fuel dock, Trevor was watching as his final propane tank was filled. He glanced up, to see Joel approaching, apparently leading a pack of eight middle-aged people. “This is Trev,” Joel said, handing a perplexed Trevor a bag of groceries. Blake handed Trevor another bag of groceries, and looked at the Zodiac for a few moments. “I sincerely hope this isn’t Atlantis?” he said with a wry smile, and then he gave Trevor, who was a lot younger than he’d expected, a searching, skeptical look. “Atlantis is anchored a few miles from here,” Joel said, with an apologetic shrug. “We just came in on the Zodiac.” After a glance back at his friends, Blake nodded once, and then leaned over to shake Trevor’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Trev.” Blake turned to face Joel. “Not one cent, unless Atlantis turns out to be what you say, understood?” Joel nodded, and then, seeing Trevor’s perplexed look, told Blake, “Can I talk to Trev for a minute, alone?” Blake shrugged. “We needed to talk, so why not? Okay, we’ll be a few yards down the dock.” As soon as Blake and his group had moved off, Trevor stared at Joel and asked, in a perplexed tone, “What the fuck is going on?” Joel grinned, looked around to be sure no one was in earshot, and puffing out his bare chest with pride, announced, “I got us a charter, dude! Six days, and they know you can’t legally do it here, so they’ll pay cash, twelve grand in euros.” Trevor blinked, tempted, but he had concerns. “Joel, do you have any idea how much trouble we could get in if we get reported?” “Yeah, but they asked me, and they’re American so they’re not Greek cops doing a sting. They had a charter that canceled on ‘em after they got here. They wanted to see some nearby islands and maybe do some diving.” Joel explained the itinerary they had in mind, and then added, “You said you were worried about money, and here’s twelve grand of it.” Joel had a point and Trevor knew it, but he decided to raise his remaining objections. “You’ve never done a charter; there’s a lot of work involved, and this would take up half your remaining trip. It won’t be like it’s been. Are you sure about this?” Joel rolled his eyes. “Trev, I set this up, remember? I want to do it, and it’d help you out, a lot.” The money was very tempting, and Trevor looked in the direction of the tourists. “How do we know they’re on the level? When I do a charter back home, the booking agency vets them, sort of. How did they approach you?” Joel explained at length how the offer had developed, and added, “They seem sincere to me; they got stood up by a charter, so they want another.” “That itinerary could be trouble; the forecast calls for rising winds out of the north, but so far it’s nothing Atlantis can’t handle. Okay, if you’re sure you want to do this...” Trevor said, and after receiving Joel’s eager nod in return, Trevor looked down the dock at the waiting group and waved for them to come back. The group of eight ambled back, and Blake squatted on the dock next to Trevor, who said, “You’ve got a charter.” Blake eyed the Zodiac. “Like I told your friend, six thousand when we board, the other half later. I’m not paying anything unless I see that your boat actually exists and is as described. Fair enough?” “I can have her here in about an hour, so you can have a look,” Trevor replied. Blake shook his head. “No can do. We have to check out of our hotel in about an hour, or they’ll sting us for another night, plus I’ve got to get to a bank. Our hotel is right on the beach, in Aghios Ioannis, about two miles down the coast from here, in a sheltered bay. You can’t miss it; the hotel is the biggest thing on the waterfront. Can you pick us up there at two this afternoon?” Trevor shook his head. “I can be there by then, but I’ll need longer than that to get Atlantis ready; I’ve got to move stuff out of the cabins–” Blake interrupted Trevor by holding up a hand. “We’d rather wait aboard than at the hotel, and don’t worry about polishing stuff; as long as it’s halfway clean, it’s better than the hotel we’re at. We can look past some clutter; I just want to be sure the boat is like Joel described.” “She’s a Lagoon 55, charter configuration, four guest cabins, air-conditioning, refrigerator, bar, dive gear, the works,” Trevor said proudly. Blake arched an eyebrow. “Air conditioning? The charter that canceled didn’t have that. If she’s what you say and you can do our itinerary, you’ve got a deal. Just be off that beach by two.” “We’ll be there,” Trevor said, smiling. With a wave, Blake, Barbra, and the three other couples took their leave. Joel passed the remaining groceries down to Trevor, and then hopped down into the Zodiac as he asked, “Did you get everything you were after?” Trevor nodded, and cast off. “Yeah, we’re all topped up and I got the fuel additive. Let’s get back quick; we’ve got a lot to do on Atlantis and not much time.” Trevor fired up the outboard and gunned it, heading back the way they had come, and Joel gave Trevor a puzzled look. “They said not to worry about it, so why the hurry?” Trevor chuckled. “Your first lesson in chartering; don’t listen to customers on stuff like that. They might say otherwise, but they like everything ship-shape when they come aboard, and for the duration of their stay. We have to pay attention to the details; it’s the small things that keep the customers happy. Chartering is a lot of work; I just hope you don’t regret this.” Joel laughed and shook his head. “It was my doing, so my problem if I do.” “Has it occurred to you that there are four couples? That means four cabins, so we have to move all the food out of the one we’re using for a pantry, and then you and I have to move our stuff out as well, then change the beds and ready the cabins and the bathrooms. We can put our stuff in my crew cabin and you can have it. I’ll need to stay in the cockpit while at sea anyway, and they’ll probably want to spend days at anchor and nights on the move. I’m used to sleeping in my beanbag; I’ve had to, when Julie and I had charters with all four of Atlantis’s passenger cabins occupied,” Trevor said. “I can help you at the con, so you won’t be stuck staying up all night. We can take turns.” Trevor laughed. “Okay, just remember to keep Atlantis on the ocean, not on land.” When they returned to Atlantis, they loaded the groceries that needed it into the refrigerators and then stowed the rest in the galley. Seeing the large amount of food Joel had purchased, Trevor said, “Looks like you set up the charter before you did the grocery shopping. We need three meals a day for ten people for six days, and this, plus what we’ve got, is close to enough even without the hot dogs and pork chili I’m saving for the Indian Ocean run.” Joel shook his head. “Nah, I was just stocking us up, and I met Barbra, Blake’s wife, while in line,” Joel said, and then asked, “Where are we going to put all the food that’s in the starboard forward cabin?” Trevor angled his head towards the salon. “We can use the storage compartments under the cushions of the sofa.” The next hour passed in frantic activity, as Trevor and Joel moved the cases of canned hot dogs and pork chili to the salon, and then they split up to gather their things and move them to Trevor’s sea cabin. Trevor retrieved clean linen, and they changed the beds and then vacuumed. Trevor glanced at his watch, and said, “Except for the bathrooms, we’re just about ready. We’re also just about out of time; we’ll need to weigh anchor in ten minutes.” “You do yours, I’ll do mine. I can get us underway, then you take over for the approach. Uh, what do we wear to get guests aboard?” Joel asked. Trevor shrugged. “I like to meet ‘em in pressed shorts and a polo shirt. We were shirtless when they met us, but in my opinion, it looks more professional to dress up a bit when they come aboard, even though we’re going to have to get ‘em in the Zodiac.” It took a lot of hard, fast work, but by the time Atlantis rounded the point and entered Aghios Ioannis Bay, the bathrooms were clean, and Trevor and Joel had tugged on matching blue polo shirts. Trevor took the con and anchored Atlantis a hundred feet off the beach, taking care to position her broadside to the shore, for the most impressive view. “Let’s go get our guests,” Trevor said, lowering the Zodiac. Joel looked ashore, and spotted the group of eight, each with a suitcase, standing near the waterline. “That’s going to be quite a load. Maybe I should wait here,” Joel said. Trevor shook his head. “No way I’ll do it in one run. We can both make the first run, then you do the second while I show the first group around. I don’t want to leave any of them aboard alone; we don’t know them.” Trevor ran the Zodiac onto the nearly waveless beach, and raised a hand in greeting to Blake, who stepped forward, suitcase in hand. Nodding towards Atlantis, which was riding at anchor on the azure blue water, Blake said, “That’s a good looking boat you’ve got there. Can you take all of us in your skiff in one go?” Trevor shook his head. “No, not with luggage. I can carry nine people, me included, maximum. Less with luggage.” Blake, who was evidently the dominant personality in the group, called back over his shoulder, “One of us will need to stay here with the bags.” Barbra shrugged, and motioned for the other three couples to go ahead. “I’ll do it, go ahead and see what you think of the boat.” Trevor loaded the passengers onto the Zodiac, and then he and Joel shoved the Zodiac off the beach, and motored it out to Atlantis. Once they were all aboard, Trevor led the way for a tour of the salon, galley, and four passenger cabins. After a cursory glance at each of the other three couples, and upon receiving nods of agreement, Blake said, “Very nice. Okay, can you do our itinerary of Gyaros, Polyaigos, Kimolos, and then back here?” Trevor powered on his navigation screen, and checked course and weather before replying, “Barring storms, which aren’t in the forecast, yes. There are high winds forecast, so we’ll need to anchor in areas sheltered from the north, but Atlantis can handle some rough seas.” Blake nodded. “I’m an archaeologist, and every island I listed except Kimolos is uninhabited, though they were inhabited in the past. I’ve always wanted to see them.” Trevor wondered what the other seven guests wanted, but kept that thought to himself. Instead, he said, “We’ll need to stop for groceries somewhere en route, otherwise we’ll run short with ten people aboard. If there are any special food preferences, I’ll need to shop here, before we sail–” Blake waved his hand dismissively and glanced around at Atlantis’s sparkling salon. “I’m well aware that this charter was arranged without adequate notice, and frankly your yacht is in far better condition than I’d assumed. I also note that you said the cabins wouldn’t be ready, yet they are. You two must have worked like madmen to get this much done in so short a time. Anyway, stopping for supplies is fine. When we’re in Kimolos we’ll probably eat ashore for most meals anyway; several of us are very fond of rural Greek cooking. You can probably find any supplies you need in Kimolos too, so as long as you’ve got food enough for three days, I want to get underway now,” Blake said, as he fished in his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of hundred-euro notes. “There’s six thousand and I’ll give you the other half on the morning of our final day, assuming things go well.” Trevor took the money and grinned. “Welcome aboard,” he said again. Blake glanced around again. “It’s nice and cool in here, so you have the air conditioning on. I’m not overly fond of heat, so leave it on for the voyage.” That, Trevor knew, would mean leaving the auxiliary generator on and use around a hundred dollars worth of diesel fuel, but expenses were part of the business. Trevor turned to Joel and said, “Could you take care of the next shore run while I get everyone settled?” As Joel motored to shore, Trevor let his guests pick their cabins, and then he went aft to help Joel, who was arriving with Barbra and the luggage. While Trevor showed the guests how to work their bathrooms, cabin audio-visual systems, and other amenities, Joel hoisted the Zodiac, weighed anchor, and took Atlantis out to sea, setting course for Gyaros. A mile off Mykonos, he unfurled and trimmed the sails, and Atlantis accelerated to seventeen knots as she reached across the rising north wind. As Blake and Trevor returned to the salon, Blake glanced out a window. “We’re really moving, but it’s a smoother ride than I expected. I’ve never been on a catamaran before. How long to Gyaros?” Trevor flicked on the main screen at the nav desk, and checked the course and weather. “Under two hours, if the wind holds.” Blake pointed at the island on the screen. “Zoom in close on the southeastern corner of the island.” Trevor did as he’d been told, and then Blake continued, “The first promontory north of the cape has a bay on its north side. Anchor there.” Trevor checked the depth chart, and then asked, “Have you been there before?” “No, but I’m an expert on the island. On the south side of the bay is an abandoned prison. Gyaros has been a place of exile since antiquity, and I want to see the prison, and some ruins that are a short walk inland. Several Roman historians, including Tacitus, wrote of Gyaros. It was populated up until sometime during the first century, because Pliny the Elder mentioned that it had a city, and there are references to it as being inhabited in classical times. But sometime shortly after Pliny the Elder wrote about it, the island became uninhabited, though no one knows why. After that time, it was notorious for its desolation and a popular place to maroon exiles.” ‘A ghost island, just great, I wonder what the other guests think about that, if he even cares,’Trevor thought. Blake tapped at the screen, over the island’s western slopes. “On aerial photos you can discern ancient terraces, indicating olive cultivation, on the far side of the island from where we will be anchored. I plan to hike across to a flat area that could well be the site of the lost city that Pliny the Elder mentioned. It probably wasn’t a large city, more of a town, due to the lack of a constant fresh water source, but rainwater collection could have supported a mid-sized settlement.” “What about diving? How many will be going down? I only have five sets of gear,” Trevor asked. Blake shrugged. “I’m certified, and so are Mike and his wife, Jane. None of the others have ever been diving. The waters around Gyaros are rough, so I doubt we’ll want to dive there unless I find something. Polyaigos, on the other hand, has some spectacular beaches, and according to the guidebooks there are some superb dive sites in the area. As they approached Gyaros, Trevor hauled down the sails and fired up the engines. Motoring into the anchorage, while Joel prepared a snack for the guests, Trevor saw the red brick ruins of the prison on a hill to his left, and that, together with the barren mountains, gave the place an eerie feel. “Pushy, isn’t he?” said an unfamiliar voice from behind, making Trevor jump. “Hi, I’m Mike Grenouille, and while Blake’s in his cabin, I can get a word in edgewise,” said a slightly balding, grinning man with a Tennessee drawl. One of Trevor’s cardinal rules was never badmouth one guest to another, so he shrugged noncommittally and looked at the barren, pockmarked hillside. “Kind of a spooky place here.” Mike leaned on the rail and nodded. “Yeah, Blake likes abandoned stuff so this is right up his alley. Last year he took us all out to New Mexico, on a ghost town tour. Blake’s okay once you get to know him; he just comes across as pushy. We’ve all known each other since college, so we’re used to him. Hey, thanks for doing this charter for us; we were all real disappointed when we arrived and found the other one let us down. Blake’s not the only one who wanted to see out-of-the-way Greek islands, we all do; we’re just not as into the uninhabited ones and ruins as he is. That’s why we made him add Polyaigos to the route; it’s right next to two inhabited islands, so while he’s exploring goat paradise, we can see some rural towns and stuff.” “Goat paradise?” Trevor asked, arching an eyebrow. Mike chuckled. “Yeah, ‘Polyaigos’ means Goat Island. It’s got goats, rocks, beaches, and a few barely visible ruins, mainly just stacked rocks. I’m a herpetologist so I’d prefer somewhere a little less arid, but there might be some things of interest there.” Puzzled, Trevor asked, “What does a herpetologist do?” Mike smiled. “Herpetologist means someone who studies amphibians and reptiles, but most are more specialized than that. In my case, I focus on amphibians, and specifically the subclass Lissamphibia, and the orders Anura and Caudata. In plain English, that means toads, frogs, salamanders, and newts.” “Are all of you scientists?” Trevor asked. Mike shook his head. “Blake and I are the only academics. By the way, I was wondering about something... Barbra said you and Joel are friends, but you guys seem really close, and you look kind of alike, so I was wondering if she has it wrong and you’re brothers?” Trevor grinned and shook his head. “We’re not related, but he’s my best friend, and so is his girlfriend, Lisa, who couldn’t come with us...” Trevor said, his voice trailing off as he brought Atlantis around, fifty feet from the beach, and said, “I’ll be right back, I’ve got to deploy the anchors.” Mike kept quiet until Trevor was done anchoring, and then continued, “The inter-island ferries only go to the major islands, so chartering a boat was the only way to see the stuff that hasn’t been overrun with tourists. I’ll bet you and Joel have been having a blast out here, going wherever you want.” Trevor smiled and nodded. “Yeah, it’s been awesome.” “How long until you guys return home?” Mike asked, not noticing the brief pained expression that crossed Trevor’s face. “Joel is flying home in just under two weeks. I’m going home the long way, via the Suez; I’m doing a circumnavigation.” Mike blinked. “All the way around? Wow, that’s some journey.” “I’ve already logged over seven thousand miles, so I’m close to a third of the way already. My best guess for a total is somewhere around thirty thousand. I’ll get home in late spring if it goes like I plan,” Trevor said, with a touch of pride. Mike gave Trevor an appraising look. In a low voice, he said, “Blake was a bit concerned about your age... you’re a lot younger than we’d expected, to be in command of a charter yacht. You’ve been doing fine so far though.” Trevor smiled; without Julie to act as captain, he’d been expecting that. “Thanks. I’ve been doing this for three years.” “You sure aren’t new to it then,” Mike said, along with an approving nod and a chuckle. It was early evening by the time they had anchored, but Blake would not be delayed. He ordered Trevor to run him ashore, where he took off on his own to have a look at the abandoned prison, while the other seven members of his party sat on deck, sipping iced cocktails served by Joel. During a trip inside to the bar, Trevor smirked and said, “At some point, they might want to raid your beer supply.” Joel’s jaw dropped open in mock horror. “Oh no, anything but that.” Then he chuckled softly. “Go ahead if they want it. I was able to buy alcohol in Santorini, so no big deal.” After Blake returned aboard, Trevor chatted with the guests while Joel grilled steaks and potatoes on the cockpit barbecue. After dinner, Trevor put on a movie in the salon, and invited the guests to make use of his DVD library on their cabin players. By eleven, as Atlantis rode at anchor in the lonely bay, the guests had turned in for the night. Trevor and Joel sat in the cockpit, enjoying the peace and quiet for a while, shooting the breeze about future plans. Just before midnight, Trevor, in his beanbag, yawned and stretched. “I think I better sack out; tomorrow is probably going to be a full day.” Joel stood up, and then he hesitated. “Trev, why do you need to sleep out here? We’re at anchor.” Trevor looked out at the moonlit sea. “Feel the boat rocking? There’s a heavy north swell. This bay is only partially sheltered, and I didn’t like the feel when I set the anchors. It’s okay, I often sleep in my beanbag on charters, especially when I’m unsure of the anchors. Any changes to Atlantis will wake me up, plus I have a GPS alarm set, so you might as well have the bed.” Joel nodded, and turned to head forward, “Wake me if you want me to take a shift. G’night, Trev.” Trevor fell into the easy, familiar routine of a charter. He woke at dawn, checked the anchor lines and the weather report, and then headed for the galley. The normal procedure on an Atlantis charter was for the guests to pick from menus before the trip, but on this charter, they were having to make do. Trevor glanced nervously around the galley, wondering if he could make a passable omelet. He retrieved the eggs from the refrigerator, and realized that at two eggs per person, an omelet would use up most of the egg supply. With that shortage in mind, he decided to wait and see what the guests actually wanted. Suddenly worried, Trevor checked to make sure they had an ample supply of sandwich ingredients, and then he set some frozen steaks and chicken to thaw, planning on a barbecue for dinner. Trevor counted the coming days in his head, and began writing in a notepad, trying to come up with menus for the coming days, more sure than ever that he would need to do a major re-supply at the earliest opportunity. Joel walked in, looking sleepy, dressed in shorts and a polo shirt. Trevor waved in silent greeting, pouring Joel a mug of coffee and using it to lure him out into the cockpit. As soon as they were outside, Trevor said quietly, “I’m glad you’re up. I’m just trying to figure breakfast out, and then a few more meals. This is so much easier with catered frozen stuff.” Joel gulped down some coffee and then gave Trevor a disgruntled shake of his head. “I tried some of those, they’re okay, but fresh cooked is better... and fortunately for you, I can cook. I saw the eggs, so I’m guessing you’re offering those for breakfast? Done how, or done to order?” Trevor shrugged. “I was thinking a big omelet and cut it up, but that’d take most of our egg supply so I figured we’d see what they want first.” Joel rolled his eyes. “You don’t have a pan big enough for that many eggs anyway. Yeah, do ‘em separate, that way they can have them how they want them... and for the sake of our guests, I’ll cook.” Trevor smiled at the jab, and pointed at his notebook. “I’m trying to figure out meals for the rest of the trip. I want to at least have some ideas before I ask the guests for requests. You’ve been in a Greek supermarket, I haven’t, so I need your help; you know what’s available.” Joel shrugged, “In a small village like where we’re going, it’ll probably be a small market store, not a supermarket, so I’m not sure. We might have to wait until we get there and figure it out then.” Shortly after dawn, Blake walked out into the cockpit, where he announced to Trevor and Joel, “For breakfast, I like cereal; basically any kind that isn’t frosted. No one has any allergies except Phil, to strawberries. For here on Gyaros, we will obviously make do with whatever you have aboard today. For tomorrow, I’d like a beach cookout; I saw enough wood ashore.” Blake looked out at the island before adding, “I’ll need a packed lunch and water for my explorations today. Any kind of sandwich will do, but I need it ready in half an hour.” Blake returned to his cabin, and Trevor chuckled at Joel’s puzzled expression. “You get all kinds of guests. He’s just kind of abrupt.” Joel shrugged, and then nodded. “I’ll go make him some sandwiches and set out some bottled water.” Trevor smiled. “Thanks. I’m going to grab a shower and some clean clothes.” A few minutes later, while Trevor was still in the shower, Blake collected the sandwiches and water, put them in a backpack, and had Joel ferry him to the beach in the Zodiac. Once ashore, Blake was focused on his task, ignoring an old, worn sign as he walked inland. He gave it only a cursory glance, but it was in Greek, a language he didn’t speak. The sign was simple and to the point; it said, “Danger: unexploded munitions.” The remaining guests finished their breakfasts, and took books to read on the beach, leaving Trevor and Joel alone on Atlantis to clean up after breakfast, and then to prepare lunch. That afternoon, while the rest of the guests went ashore, Trevor and Joel finally had some time to relax. Blake returned just before dinner, and Mike asked, “Find anything?” Blake glanced back at the island. “I reached the flat promontory on the other side of the island that I was looking for. It is mainly exposed bedrock. I noted and photographed a few indentations in the rock that might have been foundation stone courses, but they are too eroded to be sure and may be the result of natural changes. The hillsides contain clear signs of terracing for agriculture and appear to date to the classical period based on cursory examination of strata erosion.” Mike smiled and asked, “So, did you find your lost city, or not?” Blake shrugged. “Most likely not. There are clear signs that this island was inhabited in classical times, but that is already an established fact. I judge that the promontory, due to its defensible location and the adjoining sheltered anchorage would be the most likely location for a townsite, but my observations are inconclusive. My current working theory is that the promontory, which has a main elevation of about fifty feet above sea level, may have been scoured clean by a tsunami, which are hardly unknown in this area, due to its seismicity.” “What’s the next step?” Mike asked. Blake looked slightly downcast. “I was hoping to identify promising locations for a dig, but so far, nothing. I took several hundred photographs, and when I get back, I’ll see if the eggheads in the geology department can shed any light on the matter. There is a very real possibility that if a town once occupied the site, all traces are lost.” Blake glanced back at the island, helped himself to one of Joel’s beers, and sat down in the salon to read. That night, they had a barbecue of marinated steak and chicken, which Trevor cooked on the stainless steel grill on the back of the cockpit. At the helm of her twin diesel Sea-Ray 39 powerboat, which was presently wearing the name “Sea Witch,” Bridget smiled as she slowed to enter the channel off Nassau, the capitol of the Bahamas and its largest city. Bridget smiled at George and patted the helm. “You’re right; it’s been too long since I’ve been at sea. I’ll make a point of coming with you more often.” Detective George Alfred chuckled. “See that you do, but you’ve had a lot on your plate recently, thanks to Gonzalez rekindling the investigation into Arnold’s death.” Bridget smiled and then began to laugh. “He’s a persistent bastard, I’ll give him that.” “That he is. We’re lucky that he seems to be focusing on Dirk Carlson, for now.” Shrugging and looking at the approaching city of low buildings, and then at the massive resort to the left, Bridget said, “Yes, and this meeting should take care of the problem once and for all.” “Where are we meeting them?” Detective Alfred asked. Bridget pointed at the towering buildings of the resort, two miles away across the glittering sea. “The Atlantis hotel.” Detective Alfred blinked in surprise, and then broke into a hearty laugh. “Now that’s an interesting choice of names, given the target. Do you think they’ll do the hit?” Bridget nodded. “I have no doubt of it. I’ve been dealing with them for over twenty years, to the tune of tens of millions per year. Their cartel has connections worldwide, and I’ll offer well more than the going rate. Their concern will be the investigation into me; out of fear of the damage to their operations, should the investigation unearth it.” “Yeah, if Gonzalez’s investigation focuses on you again, and the cartel hears about it, we’ve both got trouble.” Smiling coldly, Bridget nodded. “This will kill two birds with one stone. There was always the risk that the young fool would find the wreck of the Ares, which is why I endeavored to convince him that the Bahamas were unsafe for him. Then, opportunity presented itself, or so I thought, in the form of the investigation into Dirk, and the possibility that he could be blamed for Arnold’s killing as well. It was, in hindsight, naive of me to send those e-mails in the hope that Dirk’s lover would kill Trevor to keep him away from Ares. I suppose one form of moral depravity does not always beget another.” Detective Alfred chuckled, and with a wicked, knowing grin, he asked, “Bridget, my dear, are you by any chance calling murder a form of moral depravity?” Bridget snorted, and then laughed. “Only when it occurs outside the bounds of holy wedlock, my dear.” Turning serious, she said, “We do need to impress upon our associates that Trevor’s death must be anonymous and resemble the loss of Ares, otherwise it won’t cast the needed suspicion on Dirk. I have a few ideas in that regard.” The next morning, with the sun rising over the Aegean, lighting the desolate landscape of Gyaros with a golden glow, Blake displayed no intention of returning to the far side of the island, and informed Trevor that he’d like to sail for their next destination just before sundown. That afternoon, a hike was organized, and Trevor and Joel found themselves included. Neither of them minded; they both were curious about the island. After a lunch of sandwiches aboard, Trevor and Joel joined their guests in exploring the abandoned prison, and from there for a short hike into the hills, following a worn trail that angled northwards up the slopes. The trail was narrow, only inches wide in places, and Joel gave it a puzzled glance before asking Blake, “This trail looks like it’s been used recently and often, but by who, if the island is uninhabited?” Blake shrugged. “It is uninhabited by humans. We are on a goat trail; like most islands in the Aegean, Gyaros has a population of feral goats. They tend to use the same routes, so they form trails over time.” They paused after a few hundred feet, stopping to take in the spectacular view and feeling the rising wind that battered them on the exposed promontory. Trevor noticed Mike approaching, holding a jagged piece of twisted rusty metal in his hands. Showing it to Trevor first, and then holding it up, he said, “I don’t want to worry anyone, but we might have a bit of a problem. I just noticed a lot of hollows in the earth, and there’s quite a lot of this,” he wiggled the metal for emphasis, “around. I was in the Marines, and my guess is we’re standing on a naval gunnery target range. I’m not too worried; it doesn’t look recent, but there might be unexploded ordinance around, and it could be unstable.” “You’re telling us we’re in a minefield?” Phil asked, a hint of panic in his voice. Mike shook his head. “Nothing that bad. I’d just suggest being careful until we get off this hill. I was part of an amphibious-assault training op in Vieques, which used to be a navy base and target range off Puerto Rico. I went into the live target range quite a few times, no big deal. It’s just a good idea to stick to worn paths, like the goat trail we’ve been following. In all likelihood, the biggest danger is stepping on some shrapnel and it cutting through our shoes.” “This island was used for target practice by the Greek Navy, but they stopped almost ten years ago,” Blake said dismissively. “Unexploded munitions can become unstable over time, so this could still be dangerous,” Mike said, while intently looking at the terrain, seeing hundreds of weathered, barely discernable shell craters pocking the hillside. Glaring at Blake, Phil said, “You knew, and you didn’t see fit to tell us?” Blake blinked in surprise. “I knew it was once a target range for their navy, but that was years ago. I had no knowledge of any remaining danger; the island is marked as open to the public.” Mike tried to defuse the budding discord by jumping in to say, “He’s an archaeologist, with no background in modern weaponry. He had no way of knowing, and the fact of the matter is; we’re probably safe. It’s not the whole island; I don’t see any sign of cratering on the other hills. In all likelihood, this hillside was the primary aim point.” “Fat lot of good that does us when we’re standing on it,” Phil said, scowling and looking around apprehensively. Trevor swallowed hard, glancing around at the suddenly ominous scenery, and said, “I think we’d better return to Atlantis, or at least get off the shelled area.” Joel looked around, preferring to be anywhere but there. Mike turned back down the narrow goat path, heading for the beach, and said in a cheerful tone, “In the Marines, we’d go single-file, just in case, about thirty feet apart.” They fell into line, with Mike leading the way and Trevor next in line behind him. In that long moment, Trevor realized the reason for Mike’s advice. ‘If one of us triggers an explosion, it won’t get all of us’, he thought, his gut turning to ice. Joel took a position near the rear of the line, doing his best to act confident and unconcerned, so as not to worry the guests. Mike glanced back, and with a reassuring smile called out, “Just a precaution, can’t hurt. There’s probably little to no danger, especially on the trail. A passing goat would have set off anything under the trail long ago.” Mike was lying, but he felt it was in a good cause. Explosives can become unstable over time, so what was inert a short time before could very well explode from the slightest touch or vibration now. Mike felt the burning sun on his neck, which only served to remind him that heat, coupled with time, was the most common cause of instability in explosives. Trevor nodded, not believing a word and not sharing Mike’s faith in goat trails. Turning, he made sure to smile as he told his guests and Joel, “We’ll be fine, and in a few minutes we’ll be back on Atlantis, having drinks.” “I’ll sure need a few,” Phil grumbled, picking his way along with extraordinary care, as the goat trail led them downhill, back towards Atlantis, and unknown to anyone, directly through the most heavily shelled area of the hillside. Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  22. 1 point
    Chapter 1: Trevor The blue flicker of lightning on the horizon lit the night, the air thick and humid, unrelieved by the offshore thunderstorm. Trevor, in his accustomed place at the end of the breakwater, sat watching. It was his favorite place, one where he could be alone with both his thoughts and the moody sea, each of which so often mirrored the other. A muted rumble of distant thunder rolled across the calm, windless waters of the Indian River Lagoon, a fitting accompaniment for Trevor's dark mood. He lolled against the harbor light's post, feeling the slightly cool touch of its painted metal against his bare back. Trevor had been coming here, to the spot he called his thinking place, more often in recent weeks, as he so often did in May. In two weeks’ time, it would be the anniversary, as his father called it, not wishing to give the date further name. This year, as he had the two years before, Trevor planned to mark the anniversary of his mother’s loss by sailing alone to the stretch of sea that he considered her grave. It was in treacherous waters and the Atlantic could be fickle in late May, with sudden squalls and thunderstorms. For Trevor, the risks gave deeper meaning to the act of his yearly pilgrimage. Staring out at the dark horizon, temporarily bereft of the lightning's glare, Trevor thought of all that he and his mother had missed. He hid his feelings well, but those that knew him best had long noticed the sadness that haunted his eyes whenever he saw a mother with her child. Listening to the soft lap of the gentle waves, Trevor let his mind wander, remembering a woman who had been gone for over half of his life. The solitude of his lonely post gave him solace, leaving Trevor singularly unprepared for the harsh, loud voice accompanied by a glaring light from behind. “Hey, handsome! There you are. Why the hell you come out here, with all these dirty rocks, to sit and stare at the smelly ocean is beyond me.” Regretting, not for the first time, that he'd chosen to share the location of his thinking place with his closest friend, he glanced over his shoulder, blinking against the harsh glare of Lisa’s flashlight. Uninvited, she plopped down on the rock next to his, and Trevor bit back a grumble as he said, “Hi, Lisa. What brings you out here tonight?” Lisa clicked off the light and sat looking at the dark sea for a few moments, before replying, “Because I figured you’d be here, moping and feeling miserable, and surprise, surprise, here you are, mister gloomy, all alone in the dark. Trev, you do this to yourself every year and have for as long as I’ve known you.” Trevor and Lisa had met in fourth grade and had soon discovered that they had three things in common; they were only children, birthday twins, and hated each other on sight. The hate had grown into a rivalry, and then, with time, to understanding, respect, and eventually friendship. Seeking to avoid the conversation that he knew was coming, Trevor tried to sidestep by asking, “So, where have you decided that we're going for our seventeenth birthday?” Lisa snorted. “It’s weeks away, and that was a clumsy try at changing the subject, Trev. I don't like seeing you like this. You've got so much to be happy about, yet here you are. Trev, it’s been nearly ten years since she died–” “Nine years,” Trevor interrupted. Ignoring the correction, Lisa pressed on. “So why, every year, do you put yourself through this downer phase of yours? Look, I know what it’s like to lose a parent. I lost my Mom when I was eleven. God... if I had any sense, I’d avoid you like the plague for the entire month of May.” They’d had this conversation before, so often that Trevor could recite it by heart. He was irritated by Lisa's intrusion but she was his best friend, a position that gave her certain prerogatives, including trespass where no others would be tolerated. The flip side of that particular coin was that Trevor could say things that, coming from others, were certain to provoke Lisa’s unbridled fury. Nodding solemnly, Trevor said, “Yeah, but your mother didn't die. She just skedaddled.” Trevor's irreverent comment elicited another snort and a punch in the shoulder from Lisa. “There is no hell. There is only France,” Lisa said in a derisive tone. “Yeah, she’s not dead but she left, Trev. She doesn't even send a card for my birthday anymore. When I visited her on the Riviera last year, she made me feel like a third wheel. She dotes on her new family and made it pretty clear that my visit was an intrusion. They've got two spare bedrooms but I had to stay at a bed and breakfast down the road.” Trevor nodded. He knew her pain; he'd been there for her through it all. Their friendship had grown in large part due to Lisa's heartbreak when her mother had suddenly departed for France. “At least you got to spend time on the French Riviera, checking out the hot guys,” Trevor said with a chuckle. After giving Trevor a harder slug in the arm, Lisa said, “Yeah, you do have a point there, Trev. I could use one or two of ’em right about now.” Lisa’s comment hit Trevor hard. “I don’t like the sound of that. Did something happen between you and Joel?” he asked, hoping he was wrong. “Yeah... I... Things were going pretty well, but there's a problem: Joel. He’s just... not fun to hang with lately. I can't really describe it; it’s just... awkward between us, since a... misunderstanding a couple of weeks ago. We talk even less than we used to. I think I'm going to have to dump him.” Joel was one of Trevor’s closest friends, and Trevor knew that Lisa could be brutal when she felt like it. “That sucks... sorry. Try and work it out, but... if you do dump him, just... be nice about it, okay? Please? He’s a good guy, even if he’s not the one for you.” “Spoilsport,” Lisa said, and then added in a defeated tone, “I guess I’ll be nice. You're no fun, you know that, right?” “You sure tell me that often enough,” Trevor said, with his first laugh of the day. He looked at Lisa, seeing her silhouette in the dark. Lisa was attractive but she had a cold and distant side that few could penetrate. Trevor was one of those few. He knew that her forceful personality was an act: a carefully constructed shell. Trevor reached out and brushed a tear that he could not see from Lisa’s cheek. “Don’t let it get to you, Lisa.” “You know me too well. It’s... damn it, Joel just doesn’t seem interested in me anymore. He’s nice and all, hot and a real sweetheart, but... I think I’ve messed it up and it hurts, Trev.” Trevor put his arm across Lisa’s shoulders, giving her a reassuring hug. “I know you don’t like talking about it, but I know you; you close up and keep people out. Maybe you’ve been keeping Joel out too?” Lisa sighed. “Maybe. Damn it Trev, why did you have to be gay? Nobody knows me like you do.” Trevor gave Lisa another hug. “Just give him a chance before you push him away, okay?” Lisa looked at Trevor and snorted. “You give great advice, which is weird considering the fact that your own nonexistent love life is a disaster of epic proportions. When was the last time you went out on a date, Trev?” ‘Damn, why did she have to bring that up again?’Trevor thought, and then replied, “Just a couple of months ago... I went out with Braden.” Lisa grunted derisively. “Him... He’s a year younger than you are and he’s kinda strange. You said so yourself, when you told me you weren’t going out with him again. Besides, that date entailed what? You went to McDonald’s for burgers and then jogging along the beach, right? Did you guys touch at all, even a handshake?” Trevor slowly shook his head. “No, but it was a date.” “When I say ‘date’, I mean more than that. A kiss at least, getting laid even better. Have you been with anyone at all since you and Pete broke up? It’s been six months Trev,” Lisa said, her voice lowering a little. Trevor shrugged. “Pete and I broke up by mutual agreement; it’s not like I need to get over him or anything. It’s just too complicated for me right now so I really don’t want a boyfriend to go sneaking around with.” “Trev, complicated should be your middle name,” Lisa said, and then they both fell silent, watching as nature’s own light show flickered on the horizon, and listening to the distant, muted rumbles of thunder. © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  23. 1 point
    We all left shortly after I became a part of the huddle. Me, Taryn, Dion, Jenna, Rain, Bryson, and Max with Kid in tow behind him as usual. Jun, while feeling a lot better after having both his legs 'burned out' from running, declined to go. I wasn't talking to anyone outside of a few phrases here and there, and that was only to answer when spoken to, so I didn't get the whole story behind it. But I got the impression that Jun had a rather bad experience with a Sun Quest once, and that made things difficult for him when even mentioning that one was coming up. So he stayed behind. As we began walking out, Trevor shouted out that he and Michael would meet us there later. It seems his 'beloved' boyfriend was getting hungry, and they were going to involve themselves in a hunt and shower up before coming to this 'living wake' that Dion was talking about. Even after all I've seen and all I've done since my crossover, I still wonder if someday all of this death and blood will become as routine and 'matter of fact' for me as it has for them. Maybe Trevor was right all along. Maybe it's just a matter of making the act common enough to desensitize myself to it. Maybe all it takes is a subtle switch in my pattern of thinking to make it right somehow. When you really sit down and think about it, you have to ask yourself, "Is it peer pressure that makes that young boy smoke dope for the first time? Or is it just the sudden realization that it is normal and accepted in your current circle...that the very 'taboo' behind it doesn't exist anymore?" And if THAT'S the case....did the taboo ever exist at all, or were the people outside of that circle the ones who have got it backwards? I can honestly say this...living life this way is guaranteed to have you thinking in circles. We all left the lot in a group, one big happy family except for me, but the group began to split up little by little along the way. With some of us walking faster to get to the celebration earlier, some straggling behind to enjoy the peace of their own thoughts. However, Taryn was trying to keep me in sight every step of the way. Wanting so badly to talk to me, and not having the courage to even look in my direction half the time. Still, he kept his pace pretty even with my own, trying hard not to let on. In spite of my attempts to hold on to my anger...I actually thought it was kinda cute. Not that I would DARE to smile visibly. "I'm glad you came." Dylan said out of nowhere, jolting me out of my thoughts. "WHY do you keep doing that?" I snapped. "Doing what?" "Jumping out of the shadows like the freaking midnight stalker." "I've been talking to you for a couple of minutes now." Dylan's eyes reflected a certain level of sadness, reinforced by the timid flutter in his voice, and I felt a sudden rush of emotion coming from inside him. A feeling of rejection that resembled this weird emotional 'pressure', pushing down on him and away from him simultaneously. Like trying to hold a large balloon underwater. I could also feel his fear, and his need to get back into my 'good graces'. All at once, the sensations flooded into me and I did my best to calm down my reaction to the stimulation. "I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't hear you." I toned it down a bit for his sake, Dylan's feelings would break as easily as a thin sheet of glass if I said the wrong thing in the wrong tone of voice. "Sigh...rats." He mumbled to himself. "My extra gets so out of hand when I get nervous. I don't understand why it does that." He said quietly to himself. "Your extra? That's what keeps making you sneak up on me like that?" I asked. "I don't mean to. It just happens. Whenever I get really shy or worried about something, it swirls up by itself and tries to protect me." He said, bashfully wiping a few of his light brown locks out of his face. Even if they fell right back into his eyes, Dylan keeping his head down so often. "What swirls up?" "Invisibility." He whispered. "You...you can become invisible?" "Well...no, not in the visual sense. But pretty much in any other sense. It's undetectable most of the time, even to me, so I don't always know whether I'm using it or not." "Well...how? I mean, how do you do it? Like, if you had to do it on purpose?" I took a great interest in something like this. Especially since Dylan was always so quiet most of the time. I guess the extra kinda fit him. "It's a bit hard to explain unless you're actually doing it. You just...find your place, your special little piece of someone's focus. Then...you just....kinda remove yourself from the picture. They won't notice you anymore." Dylan's eyes dropped even lower to his feet, "It can be a good thing sometimes...to not be noticed. There are a lot of times...when I'm feeling alone, that I wish I could just conjure it up and wear it all the time." I wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that. If maybe I should ask more questions, or take the opportunity to pay him a compliment to reverse the bad vibe I was getting from him, or if I should just...stay silent. "Dylan...I'm glad you're not invisible." I said. It was the best I could come up with on such short notice. He looked up at me, and a very small, almost unnoticeable, grin appeared on his face. His cheeks became slightly pinkish in color and he just said, "Thanks Justin." But it was so soft, there would have been no way for me to have deciphered it if I hadn't been reading his thin red lips. "We're almost there." Dion said, slowing up a bit to walk with us. And, as was to be expected, Dylan began having his own little panic attack. The last time, I thought it was unbelievably adorable the way Dylan's hormones flared up and he went running off everytime Dion came anywhere near us. But this time was different. This time, I could feel it too. Trevor's extra helped me to locate and define the desires surging through Dylan at that very moment. And Jenna's extra mirrored the emotion flawlessly in my own body. With both extras working at once beyond my control, I got hit with a huge doseage of puppy love jitters. It was almost enough to rattle me down to me knees. That shakey feeling inside that refused to go away, the tightening of every muscle in your stomach from just being near him, and that burning conflict inside that wanted you to burst forth and scream how you feel to the heavens and swallow the feelings whole to protect your sense of dignity at the same time. The impact of it hitting me so suddenly was intense. "So you ready, Justin?" Dion threw his arm over my shoulder, and my whole body shuddered uncontrollably from the contact. Not to mention that I was getting aroused amazingly fast! I had to get away from this. "Yeah, sure." I said, and slipped out from under his arm. Hopefully, he would take it as me still being upset with him and the rest and nothing more. But even though the feelings began to die down a bit as I walked faster to avoid the both of them, I couldn't help but remember the feel of his skin, the sound of his voice, the brightness of his eyes. Get a grip, Justin. Let it go...let it mellow out a little. Jesus, if THAT'S how Dylan feels about him, I don't blame him for being terrified to talk to him. We followed the street to its end, where it turned into sand and took us out to the beach. Looking ahead, I could see a few people milling around by the water, having a few laughs...but it wasn't until we got closer to the waves that I was able to see even more. Maybe about 30 different vampires, give or take. Some our age, some older...all coming out to join in the festivities. There was a large pallet on the ground, made up of many multicolored beach towels, spread out for a few 'final gifts'. Most of it was food or drinks of some sort, but there were also a few trinkets here and there as well. A small stereo was more than enough to fill the air with music, quiet to most I'm sure...but our sensitive hearing could pick it up easily. The whole idea seemed normal enough until I realized that this was an actual FUNERAL. After that point, the need for a 'party' didn't seem to make much sense at all. "Bryson! Awwww babe, you CAME!" Shouted out a young lady from the center of the crowd of people. She broke away from her friends and switched her attention over to us. She was what you would call exotically beautiful from her facial features all the way down to her toes. Her body was curved so sensually that it seemed to be above anything 'natural'. Her skin was a shade slightly darker than Dion's, like rich coffee, and yet she had eyes that sparkled brightly with a greenish golden glow. Even brighter than Taryn's did. I figured her to be about 18 or 19 from the look of her, and she had clean looking strands of thin black dreadlocks, cascading down almost to her shoulders, but not quite. Instead, hovering a half inch above them. She moved over to give Bryson a hug, and then looked to the rest of us to say "Welcome, welcome. Come on over, help yourself to whatever you want." She led Bryson by the hand and he signaled for us to follow. I was still a bit confused as to what it all meant, however. The significance was evidently over my head conceptually. As we were blended together with the other vampires and the art of 'mingling' was dropped into or laps, I figured that I might feel a bit less out of place if I knew more about what this ceremony was. I leaned over to Rain and whispered, "Is that the one that's dying?" But Rain just gave me an evil look. What else is new. "She's NOT dying, dumbass. It's a sun quest." She snarled. "Give me a break! It's my first time doing anything like this." I said in retaliation. "Yeah, well, just don't do or say anything stupid. This is a special night for her. As her friends, we're supposed to make sure that her last night on Earth is spent enjoying the moments she has left." She didn't really tell me much of anything with what she said, but I guess that's what I get for going to her for answers. "Fine. Why don't I just sit here and not say anything then? Would that make you happy?" "Extremely happy, yes." She replied, and sped up her pace to walk ahead of me and go over to the drink table. Arrrgh! Fuck her! I'M the one who's supposed to be pissed and throwing around insults afterall. "Don't mind her, dude." Taryn said, walking over to stand next to me. "You know Rain, she's always been kinda touchy." I didn't want to speak much more than a few words to him at the time, but I just couldn't bring myself to be mean to him. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to act like everything was alright either. So I just didn't say anything at all. We stood there under the veil of uncomfortable silence for minute or so, and Taryn got the nerve up to try again. "So...I guess Gyro told you about the IceZone invitations, huh?" "Yeah. He did." I answered, without making any eye contact and staring off into space. Taryn waited another few seconds and then added, "It's pretty cool. I've never been there myself, but I met somebody who got invited there a few years back. He said that it was 'absolutely undefinable'. I take that to mean that it's one hell of a good time." He looked to see if any of this was sinking in. It wasn't. "Yeah, it sounds like a blast." If I had put any LESS emotion in my reply, it wouldn't have come out of my mouth at all. "So...you gonna come with us?" "I suppose. What else is there to do?" More time, more silence, more tension. Then Taryn quietly said, "You know.....I missed you last night." Here it comes. The old 'Fall in love with me all over again so I can trick you and make you look even MORE pathetic' routine. Well I wasn't about to allow myself to be a sucker again. Not right now. "Whatever..." I mumbled, and I got up to walk away. Leaving Taryn to sit by himself. I pressed through the crowd and grabbed some concoction of alcahol off of the table. I took a healthy few gulps of it and continued until it was gone. Then, as soon as the slight sting of it had gone down a bit and the warm sensation had filled my belly, I looked for a refill. That cup was going to be my only friend tonight, it seemed. Not that it was going to get rid of any of my confusion, but it would at least make it so I didn't care about it anymore. I poured another helping into my plastic cup, and then grabbed a hold of the bottle to take it with me. To hell with this. I don't know what it is I was supposed to learn from all this anyway. I should have stayed home. If they were just trying to teach me how to willingly kill myself, I already know how to do that, thanks. "Justin...?" It was Taryn again, following me carefully so as not to force any kind of hostile reaction on my part. He sat down next to me with a drink of his own, already half full from the sips he had taken from it. I couldn't help but think, 'God he smells good. I can't believe that he can always smell this good.' "What?" I answered, almost annoyed at the fact that he was trying to settle things with me so soon. I didn't WANT to be settled already. I wanted him to wait a few days, to suffer a little, and to really take some kind of MEANING from it all. "Why aren't you talking to me? What's the matter?" He said. "I just wanna be left alone for a while, is that such a crime? To want some privacy for once?" "I want to know what I did to make you act like this. I want to..." "This isn't about what you want...not this time." I said, and he was quiet at that moment. Then he shot up to his feet and finished his drink all in one swallow. I guess he had had enough for the time being. "Fine. Have it your way." He said. Taryn threw the cup down at my feet, walking out of the crowd and going to stand out by the lake by himself. In a way, I guess I wanted to quietly provke him, to make him mad at me too so it would be easier to keep my distance. The truth is, loving him was easy...trusting him again was going to be a bit of a struggle. And I hated him, all of them, for taking that tiny piece of the puzzle away from me. I kept to myself for the next hour or so. None of the other people knew who I was, and I had purposely alienated myself from everyone at the lot. So I sat alone, brooding, occassionally wetting my lips with the numbness of the 'magic elixir' in the bottle. It felt good to escape for a while, but not as good as I was hoping it would. I'll bet money that Gyro never lets things like this dwell on his mind for longer than a few minutes. Then again, I guess he's not the sucker I am. I looked into the crowd of smiling faces, not a single one of them really showing any signs of sadness or distress at all. Except for maybe Kid, who was clinging to Max's waist and keeping his distance from the many people who wanted to reach out and pet him like the cute little chipmunk that he was. Still, if this was what we do at a funeral, I'd hate to see what we do for an execution. "Shit..." I said to myself, the bottle's empty. Time to get more. I got up and noticed a certain familiar sway in my walk, as I melted into the herd of people once again...only looking for another fix. Jenna looked over at me and smiled, but I pretended not to see her and kept moving my way to the drink table. Trevor and Michael had arrived and were easily charming the people who came to greet them. But it didn't really phase me or strike me as anything special. Nothing did. Trevor was a natural charmer anyway, no doubt about that. "Had enough to drink yet?" Came a voice from over my shoulder. It was Rain, probably looking for another chance to insult me. I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. "Fuck off, Rain." I pouted, and I walked away before she could get another shot in at my self esteem. Another healthy dose of liquid entertainment filling my cup. I doubt she cared enough to chase after me though. Something tells me I should be thankful for that. On my way back to privacy, Jenna stopped me. "So are you going to talk about this?" "What the hell is wrong with you people? I TOLD you, I'm FINE!" "You are NOT fine, Justin. And frankly I don't like what you're doing to Taryn. He's been through enough without having to deal with this too." She said. I couldn't tell if it was her own agitation or a reflection of mine as it flowed through her. But she softened a bit before speaking again. "I don't like seeing YOU like this, either. Justin please talk to me. Talk to somebody." But before I could open my mouth, Bryson walked over and we cut our conversation short. "Justin, this is Tiana. Tiana, this is the new addition to our little family at the lot." He said, and next to him was the girl that greeted us when we arrived. I turned to give her the most 'polite' smile that I could manage to keep on my face and shook her hand. "So this is Justin? Very cute. I can see why Taryn would be so crazy over you." She said. "Thanks." I wasn't quite sure what else to say. She WAS...um...dying tomorrow, afterall. "I'm...I'm sorry. About the Sun Quest and all." I stumbled for words, wondering if anything would sound even remotely comforting. "Why would you be sorry?" She asked, wrinkling her brow and smiling through a strange look of bewilderment. "Well...I thought that...I mean aren't you..." "Ohhhh...I see. This is your first time, isn't it? I can see that you and I have a lot to talk about then. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions." She said, and with that, she ruffled my hair a bit and put an arm on my shoulder. "We'll be right back. I kinda like this part." Tiana walked with me over to the lake and took a deep breath, soaking in the air around her. "I didn't mean to...offend you back there or anything..." I started, but she stopped me. "Oh please. The act of being offended was made for old nuns and priests. And I am neither one, thank God." She grinned. She was an easily approachable young woman, one who set you at ease about everything before you even had the chance to feel weird about it. "So..." She started, "...I'm assuming your first question would be...why. Am I right?" I have to admit, I felt really awkward talking to someone about their own demise, but I figured that I'd never get another chance, right? "Um...yeah, for starters. If...if you don't mind." "Simply put, I've lived my life." There was a short pause while I waited for her to go on, but she didn't. "I don't understand. That's it?" I asked. "That's it. Easy, huh?" "Actually...no." "It will be. Someday. A long long time from now for you, but someday." Tiana stared out into the lake and took another deep breath, a smile spreading across her face as though she could see something out in the darkness that I couldn't. "Do you realize...that I haven't laid eyes on the sun, in over 106 years?" "THAT LONG???" I shouted, surprised beyond belief! "Hehehe, yes, Justin. That long!" Her giggle was so pleasantly feminine. It was a beautiful thing to behold. "But in a few hours, a few short moments of time, I'm going to get to see it again. I'm going to watch it rise right over there, and I'm going to feel it's gentle warmth on me one last time. It's going to be so beautiful. Sooooo beautiful." The way she kept staring out at the waves, I was forced to look out and examine them too, wondering if I was missing some great deal of beauty that wasn't there before. "So...you're just 'done'? I mean, you just don't want to live anymore?" I certainly hoped I wasn't treading on personal feelings here, but I was finding it hard to believe that what she's doing now, and what I was doing on that night when Taryn rescued me from the same waves, are so unrelated. "I know it's a bit hard to grasp at first. Especially for one so young. Your idea of eternity is so very undeveloped at this point, Justin. It will change over time." Tiana looked in my eyes, and playfully gave me a shove. "Not for the worse, kid. It will just change. You'll learn more, understand more, things will become clear once you get to a certain age." "I don't know...it just seems kinda sad." "Oh honey, there's nothing sad about it. It's a choice based on a feeling of being complete. Do you see any tears in my eyes? Any big regrets? Any deeply guarded secrets? I'm HAPPY to have done what I've done, and seen what I've seen in the past century or so." The mention of the time period seemed so unbelievable to me. "But you could see more, right? I mean, if you decided you wanted to keep going." Tiana's smile faded slightly, and she got down on one knee, feeling the cool water pass through her fingertips as the tide crept up the shore. And she gave me a serious look, "Justin...it will be many MANY years from this night when you experience the same revelation that I've had guiding me towards this night. But I guarantee you...one day, you'll wake up, go out to your usual haunts to do your usual thing, and you'll understand that everything is different." Tiana splashed her hand in the water a bit, and brought it to her face, feeling the wetness of it against her smooth flawless skin. "When you understand that everyone you've ever known, ever loved, is dead and gone, when you realize that every actor and actress, singer and songwriter, every artist and acquaintance...have all passed away...then you'll get it. There just comes a time when you've played every game, and had every kind of sex, tried every flavor of ice cream, been to every city on the Earth, read every book, and asked every question that there is to ask. And you'll understand that it's time to go." "I can't imagine ever getting to that point. The world is always growing, isn't it?" "In some small ways, yes. I suppose it is. But I've been there, done that. I look at the world and I see reruns. The same ideas regurgitated over and over again as though they were brand new. Society's mentality stays the same. Sure the slang gets updated, fashion comes and goes, prejudices shift from one oppressed group to another, wars make the same threats and end with the same results. Sometimes I take a really good look at everything, and I see that the world hasn't changed much at all. It's just been covered and masked with different cosmetics. Same bullshit, just driven deeper into the subconscious where people can get away with it easier. After 106 years, people are still greedy, still racist, still homophobic, still cheat on their spouses, still allow their religion to arrogantly judge the people around them...it's an endless circle that will never break because nobody wants to acknowledge that they're a PART of it." She looked back out into the waves again, that look of utter peace and understanding dancing along with the sparkle in her eyes. "People are born, breed, die, and seem to get reborn again as somebody else. It's weird. The world, however, it's not going to get any evolutionary jumps anytime soon. I'm sure they'll repeat the same mistakes and give it a different name, and they might suddenly discover something that was already here but nobody paid attention to...but NEW? Nothing much ever happens in that category." ===== Did it make sense on some level that I hadn't reached yet? Perhaps. The others keep telling me that no one can really fathom the concept of eternity until after you've lived for a hundred years. I guess it's not as promising and magical as it sounds. Still, for someone I had just met, Tiana came off as an incredibly sweet person. Someone that I didn't want to just 'give in' and say 'I've lived all that I can', that's crazy! "Tiana...I just...I just wish you didn't see this as your only way out." "This isn't a way out, Justin. It's a way to move forward. I've answered the questions that I needed to answer here. If I don't move on, if I don't at least try to reach forward...then I'll just get stuck here. Never growing, never changing, getting 'comfortable' and refusing to move, just like everything else in this place." "But Tiana..." What could I say to her? She didn't seem to get what I was really asking her. "...how do you know that tomorrow won't be the day that everything changes?" "Hehehe, I did wonder about that. Everyday for the past 38, 722 days in a row approximately! Now I'm ready to leave that equation for the next person to solve." I guess she could see the frustration appearing on my face, and she ran her fingers through my hair as she lifted my head to look her in the eye. "The human body wasn't made to last forever, Justin. As vampires, we've been given eternal youth, and we've conquered that single aspect of our existence. But...the mind, the soul...THEY weren't built to last an eternity either. You do what you can, you learn what you're able, and you philosophize about all of life's little intricacies until you've touched them all...but eventually, you'll find yourself feeding a youthful and beautiful body, but existing in a life that simply doesn't want you anymore. When you've literally 'done it all', we vampires go on a Sun Quest. It's a venture forth into the next world, where a whole new set of questions are waiting for us." "What if I like it here? I mean, what if I just decide to stay?" I asked, now wondering how long it would be before I found myself out here on this beach, surrounded by these same vampires, all looking the exact same age, and wondering whether or not I'll want my life anymore either. Even if I still have Taryn to share it with. "Well it's definitely your choice. If you ever have to think twice about it, then a Sun Quest probably isn't for you. It wouldn't be your time yet. Technically, whether or not you want to have that experience should be the very last question that you ever need answered. When the answer honestly becomes yes, then that means you've become complete, and that this chapter of your life is ready to give way to a whole new one. Does that make any sense to you?" "I'm trying Tiana. I really am." I felt a pinch of sadness as I saw the night sky begin, almost invisible to the eye, to brighten up with a dawn that was maybe an hour away at the most. "Are you SURE that you want to do this?" I pleaded. "Positive. The average age for most vampires is about 120 to 130 years tops. There are some that go past that point, sure, but I've seen what living for much too long can do. I've seen vampires driven mad by it, or they become secluded in some dark cave somewhere, or they become obsessed with any promise of new information. The mind is so fragile, hon. The brain needs input in order to survive. Without new and intriguing material, the mind's proccesses break down. Even your dreams become repetitive and insane after a while. I don't want that to be me, Justin...so lost in my own insanity that I don't even realize that I NEED to move on from this place. No, that won't be me." I watched as Tiana picked up some sand and sprinkled it out into the water. "By this time tomorrow night, I'll be a part of this beach forever. And you can come visit me anytime you want." She grinned. I walked over, and gave her the tightest goodbye hug that my arms would allow as a few tears leaked from my eyes. "Will it hurt?" I sobbed. "I suppose so. There is no growth without some kind of harsh process. But whether or not it 'hurts' or whether or not it will be 'difficult' or 'wrong' or 'irreversible' isn't the point now. What matters is that I'm prepared to deal with what lies ahead of me, and that I am doing so by my own free will." I finally let her go, and she took a step back from me. "I hope you're right...and...I hope it's everything you're looking for." "Your contacts have been breached." She said, as the tears caused my eyes to glow brightly directly through them. Bright enough to reflect off of the tone of her skin. "Now then, enough of this depressing talk. This is supposed to be a party afterall." Tiana led me away from the lake with a huge smile. "So..." I asked, "You have really seen everything you've ever wanted to see, huh?" I was trying to dry my eyes when she surprised me with quite an unexpected answer. "Well, I thought I had at one time. But even after all this years, I never once thought that I'd ever get the chance to meet a Mimic. I guess there ARE one or two surprises left in the world afterall." And she winked in my direction. The shock that shot over my face made her laugh. "Hahahaha! Don't look so worried! I won't tell. It'll be a secret I take to the 'grave' with me, I promise." She giggled.
  24. 1 point
    'Why bother' was the phrase on his mind when he woke up the next morning. Why bother getting up or going to school? The only person who had ever cared where he was or what he did was gone now anyhow. His dad only cared when he wanted an excuse to beat him, not that he ever really needed one though. He lay there on his narrow bed and watched the light slowly brighten on the wall opposite the window. He jumped when pounding on the door startled him, making him shove a hand over his mouth to muffle the groan when he jerked and moved his tender body. “Get up and go to school!” came a sharp order through the door, “Hurry up, if I find out you're late to school today you will regret it,” Dane got up slowly, wincing. His legs were sore and his ankle was a puffy mess. He limped gingerly out of his room to the bathroom. After he was done cleaning up and brushing his teeth he limped back to his room and opened his dresser, picking out clothes for the day. He knew better than to try and wear jeans so he put on a pair of old khaki pants and a soft cotton shirt. He grabbed two pairs of tight socks hoping it would help with his sore ankle and then picked up his backpack from its spot on the floor. “Don't embarrass me today,” Dane's dad said through the open door of his office as Dane slowly made his way out the front door. Dane was hungry but he wasn't going to risk going into the kitchen for breakfast. If he was walking he could stop at the cafe that that guy Tap had taken him to. He had really enjoyed the coffee and the muffins looked good. Oh, well, he'd survive until lunch. “Yes, sir,” Dane said. “Come right home after school, we have to go see your grandmother. I also have to go by the funeral home and finish the arrangements for your mother's funeral,” “Okay Dad.” Dane closed his eyes, rejecting the thought of the funeral to come. He didn't want his dad to see the tears in his eyes, weakness wasn't tolerated. He was so busy trying to stay calm he forgot himself. “Excuse me?” His dad's sharp voice was a warning, one he heeded. Geez, he was just asking for it. He was trying so hard to get out the door to avoid his dad that he was going to get himself in trouble again. “Sorry sir, I mean, Yes sir.” His dad grunted. “Go to school.” Dane's dad had already turned away and walked into his home office, shutting the door behind him with a loud slam. Dane closed the front door behind him as silently as possible and took off for the bus stop. He was 17 but didn't have a car. His dad said he didn't deserve one so he rode the bus back and forth to school. At least he didn't have to walk the 3 miles today. That would be impossible in his current condition. His day was the same as it had been for the last 6 weeks, slow and boring. It was true; most of the classes were far behind where he had been in his old school. The students were finishing up the end of the year syllabus and teachers were busy preparing the typical finals. For the seniors this would be the final months of their high school lives. Most of them were busy living it up and enjoying their time with their friends as much as possible before adulthood and college started separating them. Dane sat on the sidelines of all of that. He was the new kid that came just months before graduation. Really what was the point in getting to know people when they all knew that they wouldn't see each other after high school anyhow? He was sitting alone at a picnic table eating outside in the courtyard when a heavy weight plunked down on the bench beside him. Dane nearly choked on the bite of roast beef sandwich he had been hungrily chewing. “Hey!” The deep rumbling voice rolled over him as Tap clapped a hand on Dane's shoulder and greeted him cheerfully. “How's it going?” Dane looked up at the big guy, his face surprised but he couldn't help the smile that tugged the corner of his lips up in response to the happy smile that Tap was sporting. “Uh, hi. Okay, I guess,” He said quietly. “What are you doing here?” “Well it's a game day. I thought I would come in early and work on my skills before class. Got to be ready for the baseball game tonight. You're coming right?” Tap asked eagerly. “No. My dad said I had to go home straight after school,” “Oh,” Tap's face fell. He had been hoping Dane would come to the game. “So you got grounded for yesterday?” “Not really. I think you have to be allowed to actually do things before you can be grounded from them,” “But you can't come?” Tap pressed. “No, family stuff,” Dane said shortly. He really wished he could go but he knew better than to risk disobeying his father. He didn't want to be on the brunt of his anger again. “Oh, about your mom? I'm sorry about that by the way, her dying,” Tap blushed and frowned a bit, then trying to apologize for his stupid comment, “That came out a bit wrong,” but Dane brushed it off before Tap could do more than try to pry his awkward foot out of his mouth. “Don't worry about it,” Dane refused to think about it, breaking down in the middle of lunch period really would be the final clincher in his social outcast status. “What kind of a name is Tap anyway?” he asked out of the blue. “My name is really Patrick but since I'm a junior my family always called me Pat. I had a slight dyslexia problem as a kid and for some reason I always wrote my name as Tap. I always insisted it was my name and I guess it just stuck with me,” he said with a sheepish smile. “Oh,” Dane chuckled a little as he pictured a mini Tap standing with his hands on his hips insisting he was right, just like he had yesterday with him. He had to admit that it was kind of cute. “That's a good a nickname as any I suppose,” “What about you? Any nicknames you were saddled with as a kid you're not revealing now that you are living here?” Dane thought about all the names he had been called in the last year by others his age: Danielle, wussy boy, faggot were just a few. He winced. Yeah, so not sharing those he thought sarcastically. “Well my real name is Daniel so I guess Dane is a nickname, no story behind it though my mom might have known. She never told me,” Dane looked sad so Tap tried to make a joke, “Okay, well I'll just have to give you one then,” Tap said, cocking his head as he looked at Dane. “Hmm, how about Speedy or the great Escaper?” Tap let out a big booming laugh that had the other students in earshot looking at them curiously. Tap was well known and liked, not just for his ability to focus the baseball team and bring them to State every year but because he was a genuinely nice guy that everyone either wanted to be or wanted to know. Dane scrunched up his face and stuck out his tongue, the soft sad look in his eyes replaced by a sparkle of mischief. Tap laughed again. “No? You don't like those? I guess I'll have to think about it some more. Get to know you better,” Dane's eyebrows scrunched down and he frowned a bit, he wasn't sure that he wanted anyone to get to know him better. He didn't want what happened at his last school to happen again. “I...” The warning bell chose just that moment to ring, interrupting him from trying to brush Tap off. “Got to go!” Tap said as he clapped Dane on the back before he stood up. He didn't miss the wince or the quiet indrawn breath that Dane couldn't prevent. “Oh, I'm sorry man. Sometimes I forget to watch what I'm doing. Did you hurt your back when you fell yesterday? I'm just going to be apologizing to you every few minutes aren't I? Do you need something for it? Mr. Benz has some great muscle rub down in the athletics office. I could get you some and rub it in,” “No!” Dane stood up quickly, “It's fine, it's no big deal,” He didn't want the other student to see his back or exactly what would happen if he starting rubbing his bare skin. He didn't need a beating on top of the one he got last night. Tap studied him closely but didn't say what he was thinking, “Okay,” he shrugged. If the guy didn't want help then he wouldn't force him. “Well, since I won't see you at the game I'll see you tomorrow, okay?” Dane looked at him, a bit confused at why he was being so nice but managed to mumble out something that sounded like okay before Tap took off jogging for the gym. He threw away his trash and then hurried to get his book from his locker and head off to class. Geography was boring as always but he paid attention, this was the one class that he hadn't been enrolled in before at his previous school. It hadn't taken him long to catch up though since it was mostly just memorization but he had to get a good grade so he focused. After that it was just economics and he was done for the day, not that he was exactly looking forward to going home. He put his books into his backpack at his locker and silently set off for the bus, alone and set apart from the other students around him. He wasn't included in the shouting across the halls for evening plans and goodbyes and he didn't offer any of his own. He was walking down the sidewalk about to get on the bus when he heard his name. “Hey Dane! Dane!” Dane looked up from his inspection of the cracks in the concrete, his eyes wide. “I'll see you tomorrow!” Tap called with a cheery wave as he left the locker room dressed in his practice uniform. Dane blushed at the attention the greeting got him; kids were looking from Tap to him and back again. Tap had paused, clearly waiting for something. Dane's throat closed up but he managed a nod and a wave and Tap grinned before running off toward the baseball field. Dane certainly appreciated the view but was careful to keep his look to just a quick glance. The casual goodbye actually made him feel good, even if it he did find the attention a bit awkward. It felt like the kids on the bus were talking about him, little glances coming his way off and on. To avoid them he scrunched down in his seat and balanced his Lit book on his knees, trying to get some homework done before the bus got to his stop. Getting home, he walked in quietly but his dad's car was gone from the driveway and the house was silent. He grabbed a glass of water and went up to his room and started on his homework working diligently for an hour. It was almost all review of the material he already knew but he had to show his work on the math and write out his essay for his lit homework. He was studying his geography book when he heard his father arrive. He quickly pulled a button up shirt over his t-shirt and tucked it in, wincing when his hands pressed on a particularly sensitive bruise at the small of his back. He combed back his dark black hair with his fingers and pulled on a pair of loafers. Sitting at the desk with his open book in front of him and his finished assignments laid out, he was ready when his dad stepped into his room. Mr. Kendricks frowned a bit when he took in Dane's neat appearance and went to take a look at his homework. Finding nothing out of order he snapped at Dane, “Let's go,” Dane followed his dad silently and settled into the backseat of the car. He was not looking forward to this visit; his only comfort was that his grandmother was just as nasty to his dad as she was to him, just over different things. Of course, today wasn't any different. “So, you finally decided to come and see me, Alan?” Grandma Esther said. “About time. Now that your no good wife has finally died you can show some respect and come around here to help me out like a proper son should!” Dane’s dad said nothing, grunting in a non-committal fashion as he bent down to kiss one wrinkly cheek. Grandma was seated in her recliner in the living room of her musty smelling apartment, her hair pulled back severely into a bun and a pinched look on her face. Dane had always thought it was as if every caustic phrase that came out of her mouth must have puckered it like a lemon, though she'd been a bitter old hag for so long that it was surely permanent. He knew that a certain familial duty is expected of younger generations so he figured anyone who heard that thought would be a bit shocked but if they heard her next statement they'd have totally forgiven him in the next second. “What is the matter with you boy? Standing hunched over like that? You play some of your sick perverted games with some filthy man? I bet he was old and ugly," she cackled, "About the only thing someone as worthless as you could probably do. Certainly no real man could have come from that weakling you married Alan,” Dane simply shrugged off her comment as she turned to harangue his dad, knowing it was mild compared to what could and did come later. It hurt though. By the time they left 2 hours later Dane was almost in tears he was so angry. His dad had misdirected his grandmother's frustration and misery out on him, taking turns making comments and insults. He had to excuse himself to the bathroom to grip the sharp edge of the counter and breathe slowly several times in order to prevent himself from back talking or screaming in sheer torment. That had brought questions on whether or not he stood up or sat down to take a piss. Yeah, what was left of his family was a real support in his time of grief, right. They pulled up in the driveway back at their house after another silent car ride. Dane quickly went inside and started dinner before his father could complain about being hungry. He made his dad a steak and baked potato with a cottage cheese salad. He dished up a small bowl of the cottage cheese salad, grateful for the silence as his dad ignored him. He forced himself not to gulp his food but finished it quickly. Standing up, Dane began to take his dish back into the kitchen when his dad barked out a question. “Where do you think you're going?” He asked in a huffy voice, causing Dane to jump and drop his spoon on the floor. “To do the dishes?” Dane said meekly, quickly picking up his spoon, hoping his clumsiness wouldn't set his dad off on another tirade. “Damn right. Get me a beer while you are in the kitchen too,” Alan got up, leaving his plate on the table and went into the living room where the big screen TV sat. He flounced down into his chair and turned on the golf channel. Dane sighed silently but picked up the soiled dishes and placed them gently in the kitchen sink along with his. He didn't wait until he was done with the washing up to grab his dad's beer; he knew that would get him in a lot of trouble. He took it into the living room silently, pleased that his dad didn't acknowledge him. Maybe it would be okay tonight. Dane did the dishes and carefully dried and put them away. Grabbing a cup of water he went upstairs to his room, the narrow twin bed with a single blanket and a dresser was all that had seemed to have made the move. He used to have rows and rows of books, a nice desk and chair set, and a lamp that had been his Grandpa Paul's before he died. He'd loved that lamp, a deep blue marble block that had been carved with geometric patterns that had a light set inside. It had lit the room with a blue glow and he had spent many long hours contemplating the ins and outs of his life while randomly shifting the stone shade on its base to create patterns on the walls and ceiling at his old house. But that was before. Before he came out to his parents, before his mom got cancer and got sick, before his dad started drinking and blamed him. Oh yes, as bad as he thought things had been at those times, this was so much worse. He hated living with his dad but his grandma would be no better and she was home all day! Not to mention he didn't think anyone would be willing to take in a kid almost a full year shy of his 18th birthday, even if he was close to graduating high school. He'd probably end up in some sort of DSHS facility or lock down and get raped or something. No thanks! Beatings he could deal with, the fear of being outted and having some jerk force him frightened him a lot more. Dane had just pulled out his Economics homework to finish that up when his door slammed open. “Stupid, lazy, good for nothing,” Each pause was punctuated by a hard blow to Dane's head from his father's strong fists. Dane just cowered in his chair, yelping each time his dad's hand struck his head. The blood was rushing in his head so fast and loud that he couldn't even hear the rest of derogatory insults his dad was hurling at him as he smacked him around. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” Dane cried as he tried to get away, his voice thick with snot and blood that ran down the back of his throat. He kept apologizing as he cowered away, even though he had no idea what he had done. Grabbing Dane's arm in a vice like grip so tight that his knuckles showed white Mr. Kendricks jerked Dane to his feet and dragged him painfully out of the room and downstairs to the kitchen. Dane stumbled as he tried to stay on his feet, knowing that falling would only hurt his arm and shoulder worse. “Look at that!” Dane's dad threw him against the stove and grabbed him by the back of his head. He pushed his face down over the burner until Dane could feel the heat drying out his wide eyes and tightening the skin on his face. “You left the burner on! How stupid are you? Do you want to burn my house down? Are you trying to kill me?” Dane braced his arms and struggled against the crushing force his dad was using to push him closer and closer to the burner with each screamed question. So much smaller than his dad he couldn't fight back against the force pushing him ever closer so he tried to lift his face up and ended up brushing his chin against the hot metal burner. Dane screamed in pain and jerked so hard his dad wasn't able to hold him. Alan stepped back startled at the force that Dane moved with trying to get his body away from the searing pain that blasted through him. Dane fell to the floor, curled on his side and crying. His hands cradled his chin but he only surrounded the source of his agony. Alan got a good look at the large heat blister and red mark that covered a good portion of Dane's chin. That would not heal quickly and there would be questions. He was even angrier that Dane had done that to himself and yet frightened at the same time. He drew his foot back and kicked Dane viciously in the side before he left the kitchen in a huff, slamming the front door as he took off to the bar most likely. Dane let out a choked cry when he was kicked, curling up to protect his stomach and then simply whimpered from the pain of the latest attack joining the pain of the fiery burn and the throbbing bruises on his arm and wrenched shoulder. He lay on the floor, hugging his arms to his body and tried to push it all down, trying to take the silence and isolation into his soul. The pain, the fear, and the hate all swirled inside his head until he felt like vomiting. Dragging himself to his knees he made sure to turn off the stove top before he struggled upstairs and into the bathroom. Unbuttoning his shirt and then carefully pulling off his t-shirt Dane tried to minimize the movements of his shoulder and keep the collar from brushing up against the burn that still consumed him. He dropped his pants and underwear and stepped naked into the shower. He turned the water on as cold as he could stand and just stood letting the water calm the fire that raged in his skin and muscles. He sighed in relief as the flame of the burn faded under the cold washcloth he very gingerly held to his chin. He had to think of something. It wasn't likely that anyone would notice but just in case he didn't want to have anyone wondering without having some sort of excuse. He couldn't stand in the shower long enough to come up with a solution though before the hard drumming of the icy water drove him out in search of warmth. Stepping out of the water was a relief to his shivering gooseflesh but his chin began to burn as soon as he removed the cold wet washcloth. He avoided looking in the mirror, no point in agonizing over his appearance now. Not like there was much to ruin. He dried off and then wrapped his towel around his waist to go to his room. Pausing to listen he couldn't hear anyone in the house so he opened the door and scurried down the hall. In his room he quickly shed his terry cloth covering and pulled on a pair of threadbare sweats and a v-neck shirt that had a nice loose collar. His chin was beginning to really hurt so he went downstairs to the kitchen. Hurrying he got into the cabinet above the stove and pulled out the burn cream his mother always kept on hand next to the fire extinguisher. He wasn't very hungry even after such a small dinner so he didn't worry about making anything but brought up a few slices of bread in a napkin to his room for later if it didn't hurt too much to chew. There was no help for it; Dane had to look in the mirror to put the cream on his face. He was back in his bathroom with the tube in hand. Getting a quarter sized dollop on his fingers he took a deep breath and looked at his reflection. The burn was about 2 inches long but seemed much bigger on his small face. His hazel eyes got watery before he even touched the painful area; the sight of what his father had done to him was distressing emotionally as well as physically. He took a deep breath and focused on gently putting the numbing cream on the large blister and surrounding raw flesh. Dane washed his hands and took the tube with him, hiding it in his book bag. He got clothes ready to go for the morning and set his alarm so that he would be up and out of the house before his dad typically got up. He felt a sense of impotence but the only thing he could do was try to be prepared in case he had to leave the house unexpectedly if his dad came home drunk and was looking to vent his anger on him again. He finished his economics homework, slathering more burn cream on before going to bed fully dressed. Dane didn't sleep well that night after he woke up to the sounds of his father stumbling up the stairs. He lay tense under his thin blanket, expecting him to come in but barring some mutters and a body thudding into the wall near his door he was left undisturbed. Even so he slept fitfully, waking up at the slightest sound, straining in the darkness to hear or see whatever threat jerked him awake. He got up before his alarm, turning it off and sitting up in the pre-dawn light. He visited the bathroom, creeping down the hall on feet covered only in socks, carrying his shoes and backpack. Flushing as quietly as possible Dane brushed his teeth and put more cream on his chin, trying to do it without looking at the damage like it was on his face, objectivity was the key. It was a burn, they were bruises, but they weren't a burn or bruises on his body, he tried to take care of them as if they were on someone else’s body. His plan was to say he slipped while cooking dinner, which sounded silly but honestly, who would suspect the truth? His long sleeved, collared shirt covered the bruises that smudged the back of his neck and his ribs where his dad had kicked him. Dane slunk down the stairs and out the front door, putting his sneakers on while sitting on the grainy concrete steps. Since it was so early he decided to walk the 3 miles to school despite the slight pain in his ankle; the air still damp and cool as the sun waited for the moon to relinquish its dominance of the sky before breaking over the horizon. Dane got within a few blocks of his school and still had 45 minutes before the campus opened so he decided to stop at the coffee shop most of the students patronized. His stomach rumbled so he ordered a mint tea and a bran muffin, cheap and nutritious. Dane liked the nutty flavor of the muffins, though he got a sidelong look from the older woman working the register when he ordered it. There were many more chocolate chip and blueberry muffins in the display case; they definitely catered to teenage tastes that normally ran to much sweeter choices. He was sitting quietly at a table by the window watching the sky brighten to a cerulean blue when he heard a familiar deep voice call out from the back room. “Hey Mom, I started the bread rising for the sandwiches and cleaned up in here; took out the garbage too,” Sure enough, Tap came out of the kitchen area, a floury apron around his neck and tied behind his waist. His short hair was caught up in a hairnet, the kind lunch ladies wore. Dane snickered quietly, or so he thought. Tap looked silly but he was kind of cute too. 'Gah, stop that!' Dane ordered himself as he stared into his tea cup. “Hey, you see something funny?” Tap asked, stepping around the corner of the counter. His eyes fell on Dane and widened. He grinned happily at the teen sipping his drink, “Dane! Great to see you bud! I didn't expect to run into you this morning,” He ran his hand through his hair, or at least he tried to before his fingers got tangled in the fine mesh covering it, “Oh, umm, heh heh, still have my hairnet on. I guess that would be pretty funny looking,” “Yeah,” Dane agreed. He tried to keep his sad mood from infecting his voice with gloom but his fake cheer didn't sound much more convincing. He kept his face turned down and kept studying his cup as if it held all the answers to the secrets of the ages. His empty muffin plate was in front of him so he couldn't hide behind his food but maybe his mug would work. Putting it in front of the raw ugly spot on his face he looked up, briefly meeting Tap's eyes. Tap was stunned at the almost palpable sadness and despair he could see in those hazel depths; prompting him to move closer and take a seat at Dane's table across from him. “So, anyway, what are you doing here so early?” he asked gently. Dane shrugged, “Couldn't sleep,” he answered succinctly. “Oh? Why not?” “Bad dreams I guess,” Dane said evasively. He changed the subject, “Did you say Mom earlier?” “Yeah, that's my mom Keri, she works the morning shift," Tap pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the older woman cleaning some dishes at the sink, "Tammy owns the shop but she's been pretty sick throughout her entire pregnancy, especially first part, so Mom and I open the shop and get started on the food for the day so she can sleep in a bit,” “Wait... Tammy is?” Dane looked confused. “She's my sister,” Tap said with a smirk. “Oh!” Dane said, blushing. In his embarrassment he forgot what he was holding his cup up to cover and lowered it just a fraction faster than his face turned down. Tap was reaching over the table toward him the instant he saw his chin. “What happened to you?” he demanded, his hands hovering in the air by Dane's face. Dane flinched from the near contact making Tap's mouth tighten. He was adding things up in his head, Dane's actions, his dad's, the evidence before him but he held it in, forcing him exercise the most discretion he ever had and vowing that he would not invade Dane's privacy until he was ready to trust him. Otherwise he would shut him out and Tap would never be able to get to know this wonderful guy. He already felt like that would be unacceptable. “Nothing. I slipped last night when I took the pan off the burner while I was cooking dinner,” Dane outright lied to Tap. He didn't want to, he really liked him and hated lying but he thought it was the right thing to do in this case. He knew what happened if you reported things to social services. Your parents get notified and you get a worse beating as soon as everyone's back was turned away again. No way could he handle that. “Dane,” Tap reached out and touched his upper arm gently. He'd promised himself but, c'mon, slipped? Right. “Really?” His voice was serious and soft but his face spoke his skepticism loud and clear, though he said nothing more than that. Dane didn't answer and he didn't need to. His face was twisted in a look that somehow combined impotent fury and humiliation but he just couldn't talk about it.
  25. 1 point
    Dane ran. He knew he couldn't outrun this but if all he thought of was the pound of his feet on the ground and the hitching gasp of his breath he might keep himself from screaming. The urge to do that was strong, almost overwhelming his fragile control. Dane redoubled his efforts, not feeling the scorching heat or the bright sun beating down on his lowered head as he fled. He watched the ground in front of his feet, refusing to look up or around. So when he bounced off whatever it was he ran into he flew backward quite a ways before crashing to the ground, flat on his back. “Son of a bitch!” the unmovable object said, rubbing the center of a very wide chest as he stood still in the middle of the sidewalk staring down at the prostate form on the concrete. Dane lay on the ground, fighting to breathe as he wondered if perhaps he had burst his lungs or something. 'Like I could be that lucky!' he thought. Suddenly his body gave a great gasp and without the focus running away had given him what came out after that first huge breathe was a great heaving sob. He lay collapsed on the hot concrete and fell into the pieces that he'd so desperately been trying to hold together. He couldn't stop, not even if he'd wanted to. Which he did, desperately, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Oh man, hey. I'm sorry. Are you hurt?” a deep voice said frantically. Dane pulled away, dragging himself backward with his eyes still shut tight, which granted, wasn't a good idea but by then he was pretty much gone mentally. The absence of anything under his right hand took him by surprise and Dane fell sideways only to be stopped just before his nose and now open eyes kissed the asphalt of the road. He was pulled back and into well muscled arms that gripped him tight to the big chest he had bounced off of so impressively. “Hey, don't do that. Shhh...” He was still sobbing incoherently but stopped trying to get away. The tight grip that was holding him loosened as Dane let his head rest on the soft shirt that soaked up his tears. A deep rumbling voice was the only thing Dane could hear above the sounds of misery he was making but that and the hand cautiously rubbing his back somehow eased the tight knot of pain inside him. He tried desperately to stuff his tears and weakness back down but it took several minutes before he was successful. Gulping and snuffling he stiffened when he realized that the strong arms were still holding him and now massaging his shoulders. “You okay now?” the guy said. “Uh, yeah,” Dane said in a thick voice. “You can let go of me now, I won't do that again.” “Oh. Sure.” He let Dane go but he only scooted back a little. “Sorry. So I'm guessing you weren't that upset just because of me knocking you down. Are you okay?” “I,” Dane started but paused, “I,” Dane tried again but the lump in his throat kept him from speaking. He shook his head, his shoulders slumping. He couldn't say he was okay; he wouldn't be okay ever again. “You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to but it's hotter than hell out here. Can we go inside?” the big guy stood up and offered Dane his hand as he towered over him. Dane hesitated before he took it and was pulled effortlessly to his feet. He just stood there mutely until he was guided by a hand on his shoulder into the coffee shop they were sitting in front of. “Hey Tap,” the young woman behind the counter called out, “What's up?” she looked at the pair, her head cocked to one side as she looked at Dane and then at... Tap. Dane looked up at the guy himself but didn't speak. “Well I knocked down my little friend here just outside. Thought I'd buy him a drink to make up for it. Can we get two iced mocha's, Tammy?” Tap ordered. “Sure thing sweetheart.” Tammy bustled around behind the counter. The coffee shop was deserted other than her but since it was just after 1:00 pm on a weekday in early April that was expected. The temperatures outside had to be in the lower 90s already and getting a coffee was the last thing on most people's minds, even an iced one. Still enough teenagers frequented the place before school and again on lunch breaks for the muffins, doughnuts, and deli sandwiches that it must have made it worthwhile to stay open this time of year. Tap had led Dane over to a light blue pair of comfortable chairs grouped together next to a small round black table. They sat in silence, Tap studying Dane while Dane tried to curl into a ball in his chair. Tammy came waddling out from behind the counter with the two cups and a plate. She was a tall for a woman and looked slender other than the large curve of her stomach that was echoed by the curve in her overtaxed back, making her seem all belly. Tap leapt up and took the cups from her, quickly putting them down and turning back to grab the cookies. “I could have come and got them you know!” He gave her a look as he grabbed the plate from her. Tammy laughed and patted him on the cheek. “I'm pregnant, not crippled you know,” she said sarcastically. “I still have 2 months yet.” Tap looked at her skeptically. “You sure? You don't look like you have 2 more months in you. You're really going to get even bigger?” Tammy's eyes widened in mock outrage as she slapped his shoulder. “Smartass! See if I bring you white chocolate macadamia nut cookies again.” Tap's eyes lit up. “Fresh?” “Still warm and everything.” “Then I am very sorry. You are slender as a reed and twice as beautiful as the most perfect blossom,” Tap proclaimed in a reverential tone. Tammy snorted. “Kiss-ass. Take care of your friend you goof.” She smiled gently at the boy she had seen walking past her shop a few times in the last month. “I hope you like it.” Tap sat back down at looked Dane who was still sitting in the other chair. He grabbed his coffee and a cookie, gesturing for him to do the same. Dane took the silent invitation, the cool drink soothing his sore throat still raspy from crying. He ignored the cookies though. “You don't want any?” Tap asked. “No thanks,” Dane said quietly. “Well, okay.” Tap shrugged. “I guess that means more for me then.” He grinned happily as he stuffed a second cookie in his mouth. Dane had a small smile on his face as he watched. It brightened his face, eased the look of sadness that he'd been wearing but didn't reach his desolate eyes. Tap cocked his head as he looked at him curiously. “So, what's your name? Do you go to school at Brookvern? I've not seen you around much, did you just move here?” he askedquestions in rapid-fire style. “Dane, uh, yeah, I go to Brookvern, I'm a senior. I just moved here,” Dane answered shortly. “I thought so! I'm Tap,” Tap said, though Dane already heard the woman use his name. He just nodded. “I'm a senior too but I only go to one class a day, last period so I can sleep in.” He grinned again. “I could have graduated early but I wanted to stay this spring so I could play baseball.” Dane was surprised when he heard that Tap was a senior in high school, he would have thought him older than that, maybe a college student or something. Tap was staring at him again so he buried his face in his coffee cup, taking a long drink. The sugar was helping with his shock but he was still trembling and fighting back his emotions that only grew the more difficult to handle as he sat in his soft blue chair. They sat quietly sipping for a few minutes, Tap staring at him with questions in his eyes and Dane fighting desperately not to think at all. Tap set down his cup beside the empty plate after a few minutes. “You don't need to tell me what has you so upset but do we need to get you back to the school before you get into trouble?” Tap asked in a serious voice. The tears filling Dane's eyes overflowed and slid silently down his cheeks as he nodded, gulping in sudden fear. “Well then, let's go.” Tap stood up and held out his hand. Dane grasped it and let him pull him to his feet once again; he was perfectly able to stand on his own but for some reason he kept taking the hand the bigger guy offered. He stood wobbling a little but let go of the warm hand quickly and looked down, his emotions swirling inside him like a vast maelstrom. “I'm sure whatever it is that had you running, it's going to be alright,” Tap tried to assure him as they walked outside. That comment was the last straw; thought it was unintended to hurt him that one comment made Dane snap emotionally. His eyes blazed and two spots of bright color blazed in his cheeks. He rounded on Tap with his fists clenched and practically spat his ire-filled words at the teenager towering over him. “What the hell do you know? Nothing! It's not alright; it's never going to be alright. She's dead, okay!” He was screaming at Tap who just stared at him. “Just stop, do you hear me?! Stop helping me, stop talking to me! I don't need you, I need, I need...” Dane shuddered, closing his eyes. It was all back, all the pain and the frustration, the impotent anger that he just couldn't handle. He wanted to take it out on someone, anyone, with the sole exception of this handsome guy staring at him with his mouth open in shock. He took off at a run again, desperately trying to outpace the way he felt even though he knew it was futile. He could hear the footsteps pounding behind him and redoubled his pace. 'Why can't he just leave me alone?' he wailed to himself, unwilling to accept any comfort when she lay beyond the comfort he had been giving for so long. He sped up, turning a corner only to slip on a bag that lay in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the local supermarket entrance. For the second time in less than a half hour he was on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. “Are you okay?” Tap asked in a breathless voice behind him. “Oh hell, that's a stupid question, I'm sorry, really. I mean, are you hurt anywhere?” He dropped to his knees beside Dane panting from his run chasing after him. He ignored the dirty look Dane sent him and checked his pupils to see if he hit his head and ran his eyes down Dane's arms and legs for any obvious signs of broken limbs. He breathed a sigh of relief. "You don't look like you broke anything." “You know, you're quick,” Tap observed, “Too bad you aren't on our track team! They'd win meets for sure. Well, if you could run without falling down,” Tap grinned at the lame joke. Dane just watched him, not willing to give into a smile. “Why don't you just go away?” snarled Dane he tried to get up. His grief was rapidly turning to anger and this guy who just wouldn't leave him alone was starting to seem as good a target as any. Dane's harsh independent facade lasted until he tried to get to his feet only to have his right ankle let out a vicious throb and refuse to support his weight. Crying out, he sat down hard on the ground again, cussing as he gripped the offending body part. Tap brushed his hands aside. “Because you need me,” he said shortly. “Do not,” Dane muttered. “Yes, you do.” Tap gently pushed up Dane's pant leg and pulled down on the white sock exposing an already rapidly swelling ankle that was beginning to develop a nasty purple bruise. “Do you really think you can walk on that all by yourself? I don't think so.” “Whatever. Could so.” “Well if we are going to use kindergarten type arguments how about this? I'm bigger than you so I'm not giving you a choice. You can get up and lean on me to walk or I will carry you,” Tap said in a matter of fact voice. “Fine.” Dane gave in with bad grace. The pair made slow progress back to the school, walking together. “At least you were heading back toward the school,” Tap observed. They were silent after that until they walked into the school, a big blue building that easily housed the number of students that attended. Tap steered them toward to the office where the Vice Principal exclaimed loudly at the sight of them together. “Dane! There you are. I was so worried when you took off like that. I called your father and he's on his way here,” Mr. Stephens said. Dane began to tremble but Tap was the only one who could tell. “I'm sorry, Mr. Stephens, I just...” “It's okay, son, I'm not mad. You're not in any trouble. I just think you should go home for the day, having your father and grandmother around would probably be best for you.” Dane was nodding reluctantly when a voice barked out his name, causing his whole body to lock up. “Daniel Kendricks, what have you done now?” A tall man stood in the entrance to the office with a sharp look directed at his son. He was lean and dressed in a dark suit that was tailored to fit his body. His entire body radiated impatience and annoyance, from his expression to the clenched fists at his side. “I'm sorry Dad, I...” Dane began contritely. “Now Mr. Kendricks, while we can't condone leaving school grounds unexcused, I can understand why Dane took off. Hearing that sort of news from someone who is essentially a stranger was probably not the best way to handle the situation,” Mr. Stephens interjected. His voice held a bit of unspoken censure in it. It was clear he felt the man had taken the easy way out by making someone else tell his son. Dane had known he was a nice man earlier but he had to leave, try to escape his words when he was called into the guidance counselor's office after lunch and given the bad news. “My wife had been ill for some time, it was expected. There was no reason to disrupt the boy's schooling,” he snapped. “Still, it was a shock. Dane is in no trouble but the Principal and I believe that it would be best if he went home for the rest of the day,” Mr. Stephens said firmly. “Your teachers will give you an extension on the day's work, Dane, especially since you are ahead in most of your classes anyway.” Dane just nodded at hearing this, not having spoken beyond his attempt at an apology when his father came in the room. Tap was just standing there watching everyone. “Well come along then Daniel, I'm very busy. I don't have time for this.” Tap silently began to help Dane limp over to his Dad. “Excuse me, who are you?” Dane's dad tried to look down his nose at Tap but since he was actually a little taller and much bigger than him it didn't really work well. “My name is Patrick Leeran, sir. I ran into Dane earlier. He hurt his ankle and I helped him back to the school.” “Well you can just take your hands off of him like that. He can walk just fine on his own, I'm sure it's nothing,” Tap began to protest but Mr. Stephens cut him off. “Actually Mr. Kendricks, there is a form here I need you to fill out. Dane's emergency contact information was missing from his admission paperwork and you need to sign him out of school. I bet Tap can get him to your car while you are doing that so you won't be held up by Dane's slow pace.” Mr. Kendricks sighed and pinched his nose, glaring at his son. “Fine, you had better be ready to go by the time I get there.” Dane nodded but kept his eyes on the ground. Tap didn't say a word just turned them and walked out the door. They were out of earshot of the office when Dane finally spoke. “I'm sorry about Dad,” he apologized to Tap, “and for not telling you about my, my...” “You don't have to talk about it. And you didn't make your dad act like that, so you don't need to say sorry for the way he treated me.” Tap was shaking his head, his hands gentle on Dane as he helped him walk. “Still--” Dane began. “Still nothing. C'mon, let's get you out to your car before he gets away from Mr. Stephens and blows a gasket.” “Okay.” They were silent as Tap walked slowly and Dane limped along. “Hey, can we get my backpack? I have some homework from my morning classes and my locker is by the door.” “Your mom just died and you're worried about homework?” Tap was a bit incredulous. “My dad will be mad if I don't do it. Besides, what else am I going to do?” Dane said bitterly. They stopped briefly at Dane's locker and he threw his loose books and binder into a black backpack and started to sling it over his shoulder. Tap stopped him and grabbed it before slinging it over his own shoulder. “You don't have to do that,” protested Dane. “Uh huh, but I'm going to anyway,” Dane shook his head and started toward his dad's car, still leaning on Tap. He really didn't want his dad to think he had been dawdling when he finally came out of the office. They stopped next to a red Saab and Tap whistled. “This is your dad's car?” Dane just nodded, a bit embarrassed. The rest of the lot was cheap older cars for most of the teenagers and the staff mostly drove Honda or Toyota cars, decent looking but nothing special. Dane hated standing out and his dad's car practically screamed Look At Me to everyone who saw it. Dane opened the back door, Tap assumed to put his backpack in the rear seat, but he was surprised when Dane slid in across the leather seat too. “You're going to sit in the back?” he asked confused. “Um, yeah, so I can stretch out my ankle,” He slid over behind the driver seat and stretched his sore ankle on the seat, making sure to keep his shoe off the leather. “So, um, thanks. You know, for everything.” “Sure,” said Tap easily, “I really didn't mind,” The bell rang, a shrill ringing that signaled the end of class. “I guess I need to go, I've got gym class and I need to get changed. I'll uh, see you tomorrow, right?” “I guess,” Dane said uncertainly. “Well you're coming to school right?” Tap pressed him. “I think so.” Dane was looking at his knees, his voice small and tired. It was the worst day of his life but his dad had been right; he had known this was coming. Besides, he'd rather be at school than around his dad any day. “Good, then I'll see you tomorrow.” Tap took off at a jog after shutting the door gently. Dane looked up to watch him as he ran off. He leaned his head back against the seat, a small smile on his face until his dad opened the front door and got into the driver’s seat. Dane ducked his head and made sure his face was impassive, gritting his teeth at the coming storm. “What in the hell were you thinking?” his dad asked angrily, looking in the rear-view mirror as he reversed his car out of the parking spot and left the lot. “Never mind, don't even bother to try and excuse your idiocy. I'll deal with you when we get home.” Dane started shaking as soon as his dad said that but stayed silent. Speaking would only get him in more trouble at this point. Why bother?
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