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  1. 127 points
    KIERAN ~ BLACK JACK “FuckohfuckohfuckohFUCKOHFUCKOH.” Kieran’s body had become a gigantic active volcano, with a devastating eruption only milliseconds away. Until. “NOOoooo!” For the third time, Kennedy had brought Kieran right to the toe-curling edge of what promised to be the best orgasm of his life, caressing Kieran’s balls with one hand and drawing that talented mouth and tongue, up and down his eager, granite hard shaft—only to pull his mouth away with a pop seconds before lift-off. “What the fuck are you doing to me?” “Giving you your money’s worth,” said Kennedy, smiling up at Kieran, those cool blue eyes gazing playfully. “You’re not, you’re torturing me. I swear, Kennedy,” said Kieran, pleading. “If you don’t finish me off soon, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands. So to speak.” Just after they’d entered the cabin and Kennedy switched on the ‘do not disturb’ sign, as Kieran kicked off his shoes in the upstairs bedroom, a wave of uncertainty had hit him. But Kennedy had pulled him into a gentle kiss, which had initially calmed him before turning molten, reigniting Kieran’s arousal. Grinning hungrily, Kennedy had pushed him back onto the mattress, pulling off Kieran’s trousers and underpants completely before obliging with his promised deluxe service. Lying back on the bed, his knees hanging over the end of the mattress, Kieran had watched in awe and bliss as Kennedy had devoured him. Right now, his head bobbed up and down, mouth sucking hard combined with the snakelike tongue’s caress around his shaft, one hand gripping around the base pumping, gradually building speed. Kieran’s hands clutched handfuls of duvet as his thighs begin to tremble, his head thrown back onto the mattress, a carnal roar issuing from somewhere deep inside. Kennedy finally sent him over the precipice, swallowing the whole length into his throat, as the inevitable eruption ripped through him. Without removing his mouth, Kennedy took every drop Kieran had to offer, with Kieran moaning loudly and unashamedly, his heart thumping, dark spots flickering across his vision. Lying there, staring up unseeing, he wondered if he should be freaking out a little right now, that another man had just blown him. But he didn’t. In fact, if Kennedy offered to do him again, he’d definitely not only let him, he’d plead with him—well, maybe after resting up a little. Sex had always been a bit like going through the motions with Jennifer. And she had avoided oral sex, usually wanted to get the main deed over and done with as quickly as possible, without too much fuss or foreplay. If this was his initiation to gay sex, then he was fucked. What other incredible delights might be in store? “Are you okay?” came Kennedy’s voice. Kieran’s addled brain tried to find the words. “Feels as though you turned all the bones in my body to liquid and then sucked them out through my cock,” said Kieran, unable to move. “Eloquent,” said Kennedy, after laughing aloud. Kieran just about managed to raise his head and stare at the man between his legs. “Get up here,” said Kieran. “Next to me.” Kieran enjoyed ordering Kennedy around, and, oddly enough, every time he did, Kennedy did exactly as he demanded. When he felt Kennedy’s body land next to his, he pulled his mouth into a kiss, tasting the saltiness of himself on Kennedy’s tongue. This time, however, there was nothing rushed about the embrace, both savouring each other’s mouths. “You’re turning into a total kiss whore, Mr West,” said Kennedy, pulling his mouth away. “So, how was your first ever gay blowjob?” “If I offer to give you back the five hundred, can I get one of those every day for the rest of the trip?” Kennedy laughed aloud again, that nice rumble Kieran had come to enjoy. “How about you keep the five hundred, and I’ll still give you one of those every day, anyway? So you’re staying? For the rest of the trip?” “Fuck yeah. I always was, but I definitely am now.” Oddly enough, Kennedy let out a deep sigh then, but when Kieran turned his head, he saw him on his back, looking into the air and smiling. And then a sudden thought came to Kieran. “Shit. What about you? Don’t you need to get off, too?” Once again Kennedy chuckled, quieter this time, and placed a hand across his eyes, becoming a little sheepish. “I already did. Shot a load in my trousers when you came.” “No!” “I know. Like an over-sexed teenager,” he said, before taking his hand away and looking Kieran in the eyes. “But in my defence, watching your expression while you’re being blown is as hot as all hell.” They lay in companionable silence. Kieran almost began to fall asleep, until he became aware of his unorthodox position draped over the end of the bed. Not to mention still wearing his shirt, bow tie and black socks. Kennedy spoke before he had a chance to break the silence. “I really need to go and clean up.” “You going to grab a shower?” “Yeah, I think I’m going to have to. Get some of this gunk off me.” “Want some company?” asked Kieran, feeling unusually bold. “In the shower?” said Kennedy, startled, his gaze swinging Kieran’s way. “Are you sure?” “Almost since we boarded, you’ve been perving at me while I’ve been in the shower.” “I have not!” “Sure you have. I’m not complaining. That’s why I left the bathroom door wide open. If you’re going to put on a show, you might as well put on a good one.” Kennedy’s burst of laughter was followed by him jumping up from the bed and holding out his hand. “Come on then.” Kieran took his hand and hauled himself to standing. “But before we do,” said Kennedy, reaching for Kieran’s bow tie. “We need you to lose a few of these clothes.” Slowly and meticulously, Kennedy unclasped his bowtie and then began unbuttoning his shirt, all the while maintaining eye contact with Kieran. Intimate and erotic, Kieran could feel his breathing deepening again. With a final flourish, Kennedy lifted the shirt from across Kieran’s shoulders, and threw the garment onto the carpet. Kneeling to the floor to remove each of Kieran’s socks, Kennedy’s nose almost grazed Kieran’s renewed and straining erection. When a fully-clothed Kennedy stood and began to unfasten his own shirt, Kieran stopped him with one hand and began to return the favour. Two could play at that game. Kieran had seen Kennedy’s body a number of times on the vacation; at his parent’s when Kennedy hauled himself out of and sunned himself around the swimming pool, even on the cruise when he left the shower with a towel wrapped around him. But he had never seen him fully naked before and, although he had undressed him the same way—keeping their eyes together—he now rewarded himself by drinking in the perfect proportions and sheer muscular physique of the man, the dusting of dark chest hair trailing down to the substantial erection. Once again he marvelled at being unabashedly aroused by the body of another man. What the hell had they put in the drinking water? Thirty minutes washing each other’s body, and one more orgasm each later, they towelled themselves off in the bedroom. Kieran felt so calm and comfortable, with post-orgasmic tiredness overtaking him now. As though hearing his thoughts, Kennedy spoke. “Think I’m ready for bed. How about you?” “Yeah, I think I am, too.” Kennedy grinned, took the damp towel from him, and disappeared into the bathroom. He returned seconds later, butt naked still, and headed to his wardrobe. “Kennedy?” “Yes,” answered Kennedy, his back still to Kieran. “Can we do away with clothes in bed? I’ve always preferred sleeping in the buff.” Kennedy brought his hand away from the shelf that held his tees and sweats, and turned his head. A small devilish smile curled one corner of his mouth. “Are you sure? You’re not worried I might be tempted to take your virginity while you sleep?” Once again, Kieran met the remark face on, smiling and folding his arms. “You promised to be the perfect gentleman, remember? And anyway, if that does become an option, I’d rather be awake, if it’s all the same to you. Do we have a deal?” “If it means me having you naked and in bed with me, then yes, we have a deal.” Ten minutes later, they lay in bed together, although Kennedy still had his bedside lamp on. Kieran shuffled purposely closer to the middle of the bed, turning on his side to talk to Kennedy, who checked his phone. “I haven’t thanked you yet.” “Thank me,” said Kennedy, turning quizzically to Kieran. “For what?” “For choosing me. As your companion. I’ve seen and experienced so many things I could never even have imagined. And it’s all thanks to you.” Something fleeting flickered across Kennedy’s face then, and he looked away, before shaking his head softly. With a gentle sigh, he put his phone down on the bedside cabinet, and turned on his side to face Kieran. “We dock overnight in Okinawa tomorrow. How do you fancy us getting a hotel for the night?” “Sounds sleazy,” said Kieran, grinning. “Count me in. I didn’t think you were into doing excursions. You haven’t been on a single one yet.” “I’m not, and I won’t. But I’ve got some business to take care off in the evening, so I’m meeting a contact there. A little bar down the backstreets of Naha. Wondered if you’d want to come along. Maybe meet me there.” “I was going to go see Shuri Castle with Laurie.” “You still can. That’s during the day, isn’t it? And she’ll want to get back to the boat afterwards, to see Steph. Maybe you could come and meet me outside the bar afterwards? Around seven? Have a couple of drinks, get my business out of the way, and then we can have a nice dinner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. Just you and me. What do you say?” “Let me think,” said Kieran, frowning and tapping a finger in the middle of his lips. “I might have to charge extra for that.” Oh yes,” said Kennedy, playing along. “How much extra?” “At least one extra special technique blow job from the master. Do you think he can manage that?” “Do you know, Mr West. I think it’s time for the master to teach his student this special technique. See if he’s up to the job. How does that grab you?” Kieran hadn’t even considered the notion of reciprocating, the thought of him blowing another man having never crossed his mind. But suddenly the idea of watching Kennedy’s face while he brought him to orgasm, had his heart racing and his cock growing heavy. “The student is keen to learn.”
  2. 122 points
    KIERAN ~ SUNSET Bali had seen some difficult times since the start of the new millennium. If terrorists targeting tourist spots wasn’t bad enough, the region was all too prone to natural disasters; volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Nevertheless, Kieran had to agree with Laurie’s description of the small province of Indonesia, that Bali represented an island paradise. Lush green paddy fields with a back drop of verdant mountains contrasted with perfect beaches of white sands and azure sea, lined by tall coconut trees. Hindu pagodas and temples constructed from local stone, now moss covered and age-worn, blended naturally into the horizon whenever driving from one location to another, as though they had been grown organically rather than built. Since their talk, Kieran had given himself over to Bali’s magical spell. However much he hadn’t felt some of them, Kieran’s words had worked their charm. Kennedy’s guard had dropped, and he’d relaxed back into the holiday. They sunbathed in the nearby sandy cove the morning of their penultimate day, two short flights of steps down from the villa. Deserted except for the four of them, they lay together savouring the cloudless day in companionable silence, until Steph and Laurie cried off because of the intense midday heat. “Fancy a dip?” asked Kieran, leaning up on one elbow. Kennedy’s body glistened deliciously with coconut sun oil, applied earlier by Kieran. This morning, Kennedy wore only a pair of stylish shades and tight black and gold briefs. At Kieran’s words, he turned his head and yawned, stretching out his arms. “Mmmm. Could do.” “Skinny dip?” Kennedy sat up then, brought his knees to his hairy chest and raised his sunglasses. “I think you’ll find nude bathing’s illegal in Bali.” “Who’s going to know? Come on, old man,” said Kieran, dropping his scarlet Speedos, and showing his all. “Live dangerously for once in your life.” “You think I don’t live dangerously?” “Yep,” said Kieran, running into the sea. “Last one in’s a sissy.” “Too late for that,” laughed Kennedy, stepping out of his briefs and tossing his shades onto the towel. Within seconds he had joined Kieran in the sea, both immersed past waist height, splashing each other and laughing like school kids. Kieran really enjoyed the rare moments when Kennedy let his guard down even though he knew later on things would return to his usual formality. Taking advantage of the situation, Kieran did what he’d been wanting to do all morning and wrapped his arms around Kennedy’s neck, his legs around Kennedy’s waist. Without asking permission or even checking Kennedy’s reaction, he brought their mouths together in a salty kiss, feeling Kennedy’s arms tighten around him. For a full five minutes, they remained that way, with Kennedy twirling them slowly around in a circle in the cool waters. “See,” said Kieran, pulling his mouth away. “Nobody’s going to know whether we’re wearing cozzies or not.” “But they might, if we start having sex in the sea.” “However much the thought of that makes me hard, maybe we should save it for the bedroom.” “I can live with that,” said Kennedy, grinning, pushing away from Kieran and swimming a few strokes on his back. “Let’s just enjoy the freedom of being in the ocean.” “For one more day, at least.” Kieran hadn’t meant the remark to spoil the moment, but Kennedy’s smile dissolved. Kieran immediately dived beneath the water and came up next to Kennedy. “Hey old man, can I give you a suggestion?” said Kieran, shaking the water from his hair. “It’s a kind of take-it-or-leave-it piece of advice.” “Go on,” said Kennedy. “I understand why you couldn’t tell us everything about your meeting in LA, except that you’re no longer going for an acquisition. But reading between the lines, it sounds as though you might be considering a merger?” “No comment.” Kieran laughed, and twisted onto his back to match Kennedy. “Fair enough. But just in case you are, during my masters we looked at contemporary businesses, and one of the specialist areas I studied in depth is successful mergers, identifying the key elements that helped to make them work—particularly where companies are geographically challenged or where there are clear organisational cultural differences. One key differentiator concerns pre-merger integration. Kind of getting to know how each other’s business works. One simple, but successful way of doing that is to consider swapping one or two key talents for a period of time—pre and post merger—for them to gain insights into how the new company operates, to explain how their own company does the same, and then figure out the best way for the two to work together going forward. Of course, you’d also have to consider the needs of the individual. Do you maybe have any key members of staff who might have family connections in LA?” The slowly spreading smile transforming Kennedy’s face was better than the stunning landscape. “You’re dangerous, Kieran West.” “You have no idea.” Shortly afterwards, Kennedy insisted they dry off and put on their swimwear, before heading up to the villa for a shower. Often, Kieran had been the one to instigate sex between them, but this time Kennedy took control with a sense of urgency. Kieran enjoyed these rare moments, allowed Kennedy take his fill of him. Lying next to each other, both panting, Kieran smiled up at the slowing turning ceiling fan of teak and metal. He’d noticed Kennedy peering at him quizzically a couple of times of late; when Kieran laughed along with the girls, when he leant in playfully and pecked Kennedy on the cheek, or when he jumped up to help the villa staff bring food to the table. Kieran had decided to live by his words, to enjoy the last days of their time together unencumbered by any negative or melancholy emotions. Because, clearly, something Kennedy hadn’t realised or appreciated was how much Kieran had changed. Not only did he feel a newfound confidence in himself, but for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was looking forward to the future. On Monday morning after their return, he would be starting a new and exciting job. Not only that, but with the ten thousand—double the amount agreed—sitting in his bank account, he could not only pay his sister, pay off a chunk of his and his brother’s studies, and get himself a new suit, but have enough to put down a deposit on his own rented place. How could he possibly hate Kennedy for that? Finally he had a future—even if that future did not include Kennedy. On their final night together, they visited a restaurant recommended by the guide books, Sunset Spice, a Balinese seafood restaurant built on the beach, overlooking the sea and the sunset. While Kennedy walked barefoot out onto the sand to take a phone call, Kieran marvelled at how healthy he looked with his deep tan, accentuated by his beige chino shorts and short-sleeved white cotton shirt. “Kieran, we’ve been meaning to ask. How would you feel about sharing your swimmers with us?” asked Laurie, a little sheepishly. Kieran’s mind had been elsewhere and, with the small bottle of Bintang in his hand, he turned quizzically to them. “Which ones? The red or the gold?” Steph almost spat her cocktail out across the table, and then proceeded to cough uncontrollably. Laurie laughed too then, and patted Steph on the back. “Your sperm, Kieran. Steph and I want to start a family and, well, we think you would make the perfect donor. What do you think?” This time, Kieran dropped the bottle he had been holding to his mouth, and only just managed to catch it in time before the contents spilled all over the tablecloth. “For heaven’s sake, Laurie,” said Kieran, aghast, but catching up quickly. “Drop a bombshell, why don’t you?” “Seriously, though,” said Steph. “It would be great if you could think this over. We’re going to do it anyway—one of the reasons Laurie’s been losing weight—and we were set on using a reputable semen bank friends of ours had recommended. Even though they give you information about the history of the donors, you’re unlikely to get to meet them. If it’s any consolation, we both came up with the idea of asking you.” “What would I need to do? I mean, I’m not sure I’m ready to bring a child into the world.” “To put it bluntly, it’s only your semen we need. Usually donors in the UK don’t have any legal obligation to the child or any responsibility in how the child is brought up. Neither do they need to support the child financially and aren’t named on the birth certificate, either. But the reason we’re asking you is because we’d be more than happy for you to be a part of the child’s life, but only if that’s what you want.” “Wow, girls. That’s a lot to take on board.” “I know. We both do. But will you at least have a think about it?” “Of course I will. But why didn’t you ask Kennedy? He’s your best friend.” “I ran the idea past him months ago. In a subtle, theoretical way. If you’d seen the look of horror on his face, you’d know why I’d never consider him. Even if it’s not strictly his own, I think Kennedy would freak out about the simple notion of knowing there’s a kid out there with his genes.” “Funny, I can’t think of anything nicer,” said Kieran. Even though he had been looking at Kennedy, he didn’t miss the exchange of glances between the girls. “Don’t take too much time to think it over,” said Steph. “Clock’s ticking, as they say.” Steph reached out her almost empty glass to clink a cheers with the neck of Kieran’s bottle. “Christ! You want me to fill it now?” said Kieran, nodding at the glass, a mischievous smile on his face, which had both girls laughing aloud. “What did I miss?” came Kennedy’s voice. “Nothing,” said Kieran, smiling up at him. “Absolutely nothing.” ***** Two hours before their arrival into Heathrow, Kieran awoke to a member of the cabin crew placing a tray of breakfast in front of him, onto a tray table he hadn’t set up. When he rubbed his eyes and looked to his right, he found Kennedy smiling at him. “I know you’d never forgive me if I let you miss breakfast.” “Too right,” said Kieran, laughing and raising the chair into a sitting position. Sex on that last night in Bali had felt more like making love. Unhurried, familiar, and mutually satisfying. Not a word passed between them, like a rite of passage, as though they both felt this would be the last time. Which, in reality, it probably was. In the morning, Kieran refused to feel sad, and packed his bags while making light with Kennedy, the girls, and the villa staff, as they packed his things into the back of their airport transfer van. Even though they all arrived at the airport together, the girls had different flights, later in the day, so they bid their farewells before boarding. Heathrow’s organised chaos came as no surprise as England’s busiest airport woke to a new day. “Kieran, where are you going?” called Kennedy, about to head for the terminal’s meeting point. “I’m going to the tube station,” he said, pushing his trolley towards the main doors, but stopping once to address Kennedy. On the flight back, he had resolved to make the parting as painless as possible. But he needed to do so as soon as possible. “Ben’s bringing the car round. We can drop you off.” Unless a person knew the real man, they wouldn’t know that Kennedy’s voice sounded almost pleading. “No need,” said Kieran, plastering a smile on his face, his stomach twisting a little, but his resolve firm. “I’ve got it from here. Take good care of yourself, Kennedy. And thank you for absolutely everything. You’re really special, you know. Don’t ever forget that.” With those final, parting words, he turned and walked away, unable to look back.
  3. 121 points
    KENNEDY ~ CAPTAIN’S TABLE Kennedy fiddled with the gold cufflink on his left sleeve, and peered nervously towards the large doors to the room. Tonight’s event showcased another side of the gay community. Two nights ago, at the White Party, some of these people had been sexy Snow Queens or Marilyn Monroes, complete with platinum wigs and high heels. Others wore next to nothing; loincloths or Roman togas. Tonight, with most people dressing in either black tie or evening gown, his mother and father wouldn’t have looked out of place. Although, if you looked closer, dotted around the room, some guests had chosen alternatives; white, powder pink, or blue tuxes, some men in drag, dressed gloriously in stunning gowns. Kennedy would normally have enjoyed the splashes of non-conformity, but his mind remained elsewhere. Once again, he checked his watch, then brushed at an imaginary dust mark on his sleeve. “For goodness’ sake Kennedy, will you stop fidgeting—oh, fuckity-fuck,” said Pete, gazing over Kennedy’s left shoulder, his eyes going wide. Along with a lull in the weather, Pete had emerged from his cabin that evening. “What?” said Kennedy, spinning around, but seeing nothing through the crowd. “Fuck my old boot,” said Pete, his mouth hanging open. “Queer One scrubs up good.” And then Kennedy spied him—Kieran—with Laurie on his arm, and a sudden pride swelled in his chest like an inflating airbag. Kieran absolutely rocked the dress suit, a perfect fit with a black bow and dark red—burgundy—cummerbund. Not only that, but his hair had been trimmed and tamed with gel, and he moved with an easy confidence Kennedy had never noticed before. All heads turned as he passed, some clustering together to pass comment on this deliciously handsome male specimen. Prince Charming had arrived at the ball. Laurie stopped and looked around, before whispering something in Kieran’s ear. After finishing, she nodded towards Kennedy and Pete, before moving off. Kieran strolled over to join them, his expression unreadable. On his way, he plucked a flute of champagne from a waiter who smiled and then turned to give Kieran’s departing back a once-over. “Look at you, Mr Hottie,” said Pete, as Kieran arrived. “Licensed to kill.” “You look really good, Kieran,” said Kennedy, amazed at how shy he sounded. “These bloody shoes are killing me,” said Kieran, grimacing at his stylish black patent leather dress shoes. “Style comes at a price, kid,” said Pete, whose own dress suit had seen better days. “Where’s Laurie gone?” “To let the MC know Kennedy and Steph aren’t going to be dancing tonight.” “Yes, a shame she’s not better,” said Kennedy. “Still, maybe you and I could take a turn on the floor later? Once the contest is over?” “We’ll see,” said Kieran, his expression unreadable. Even though they’d managed to secure a table bordering the dance floor, their party size being depleted now had meant other passengers—complete strangers—joining them at their table. Kieran chose to sit away from Kennedy, between Laurie and a nice looking older man. Kennedy glanced Kieran’s way a couple of times, but he continued to engage the man in conversation— either that or he purposely ignored Kennedy. After a served meal of lobster bisque, choice of filet mignon, black cod or vegetarian pasta, followed by a selection of desserts, cheeses and coffee, the first of the dancers took to the floor. Two large bears, dressed in pink and blue tuxedos, danced the cha-cha. Although light on their feet, they came frighteningly close to Kennedy a couple of times, and at one point he thought they might crash into their table. Kennedy’s favourite came in the form of a mountain of a man, completely bald, dressed in a sleeveless, flowing dress, in sparkling electric blue, with one arm showcasing an inked sleeve tattoo. Energetically performing the Lindy-Hop, his lesbian friend, dressed in a bright red dress suit, looked like a character out of the Dick Tracy movie. They made an unlikely but mesmerising couple. Once applause died down after the final act, the announcer moved back to the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, a slight change to the programme. We were promised a final performance tonight, but due to one half of the couple being sick, tonight’s dance will instead be performed by Kennedy Grey and Kieran West.” Amid the sound of applause, Kennedy looked around shocked to find Kieran standing behind his chair, his hand held out palm upwards. “Come on, old man,” said Kieran, his voice and face stern. “Exactly the same as you practiced with Steph. Every step the same. Let me lead, and you follow. Are we cool?” Stunned, and unable to reply coherently, Kennedy allowed Kieran to take his hand and lead him away. Stood in the centre of the dance floor, with all eyes on them, Kieran adopted the same starting position Steph and he had agreed upon. As the music began—the staccato rhythm of El Tango de Roxanne—Kieran moved in perfect sync with Kennedy, their eyes glued to each other. Often, when dancing with Steph, she had been unable to maintain the fierce glare between them, usually dissolving into a fit of giggles. Kieran’s eyes never once left his and positively smouldered with sexual innuendo. Each time Kieran crushed their bodies together, at one point bending Kennedy’s body backwards while closely hovering over him, he inhaled Kieran’s unique body smell mixed with his gentle spiced aftershave lotion. At the end of the dance, with a final flourish, they ended frozen in place, their hands joined with each other’s above their heads, their hips joined at the groin, and foreheads pressed together. Around the room, the watching crowd erupted with loud cheers and applause. When Kennedy finally relaxed and peered over at their table, he noticed Laurie grinning broadly while fanning her face with her hand. Next up, the band changed gear into a gentle two-step allowing everyone to join. Kennedy had been about to head back to their table but Kieran pulled him into the dance. Within seconds the floor filled around them, with a few people—other gay couples—leaning in to congratulate the two of them on their performance. Kennedy shook his head, still stunned. “That was amazing. How the hell did you memorise those steps?” “Child’s play. Although, of course, the video helped. My cousin and I were West London under fifteen ballroom champions in our youth. Three years running. Unlike you, though, I loved dancing lessons. Still step out every now and then whenever she’s in town.” “Well, aren’t you full of surprises?” “You have no idea. There’s a lot about me you don’t know.” “Clearly. So does this mean I’m forgiven?” “For what?” said Kieran, a puzzled expression on his face. “For everything. Forcing the kiss on you. Not standing up for you in front of Patrick when he was being a royal prick. For making you smoke a cigarette.” “According to Joey, you did stand up for me. Only you did so after I’d left.” Kennedy snorted. He’d forgotten Joey came into the bar after Kieran had walked off and would have heard his heated exchange with Patrick. “And for the record. You didn’t force me to kiss you. Bribed, maybe. But nothing was forced on me. Besides, that must be the quickest monkey anyone’s ever made.” “I meant it, you know? I will honour that deal.” “Yeah, but I only really gave you about a hundred and fifty quid’s worth. How about the other three-fifty?” “You get that anyway. For having to put up with my shit.” Kennedy felt himself being twirled around until he faced the table where Richmond and Mike sat watching, probably bitching about them both. “Nah,” whispered Kieran in his ear. “Got a better idea.” In front of the whole room, Kieran brought their lips together but before they could connect, Kennedy placed his hands on Kieran’s chest, held him in place. “Kieran, you don’t have to do this. People will see us, will see you.” “Uh, that’s kind of the point. Plus, I need to test something out. So please indulge me for a minute or two.” Once again, Kieran moved forward and this time Kennedy closed his eyes, felt the full force of Kieran’s lips press against him. At first, the kiss felt tentative, a brush of lips as though exploring, but then Kieran’s tongue teased open his lips. Once their tongues collided, Kieran tilted his head, his hands weaving through Kennedy’s hair, pulling him forward. Deepening the kiss, their tongues danced their own private tango, while Kennedy pulled their bodies tightly together. When eventually they came up for air, Kennedy met the startled gaze of Kieran, his plump lips moist and reddened, his pupils dilated. “My God! I really like kissing you. What does that say about me?” “That you have good taste?” “Can we head back to the cabin?” said Kieran, ignoring the quip and instead plucking a playing card from his top pocket. “I’ve had this jack of spades burning a hole in my pocket for days now. And I think I’m finally ready to trade it in tonight.” “Huh? I don’t understand. Is that why you’re packing?” said Kennedy, confused. “But you know I can’t fly you out until the end of the cruise.” “I wasn’t packing. I was trying to find my bloody bow tie. And anyway, that’s not what I’m asking. I want to trade this baby in for its original purpose. I want to swap this for one of your famous, mind-numbing, Kennedy Grey blow jobs. Best in the northern hemisphere, according to my sources.” “Hang on, Kieran. Are you sure? You don’t have to do this.” “Fuck that. I’m the one getting the blow job, not you. You think you’re man enough?” After staring at him for a couple of seconds, Kennedy grabbed Kieran by the hand and dragged him off the dance floor back towards their cabin.
  4. 118 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 56 Again, a lull occurred in the conversation. Kellar sat in quiet contemplation. He didn’t blame his grandfather for the contentious disconnect with his mother. According to Elinor, Miss Sybil, and now her own father, Gigi was a strong, independent, and maybe even willful individual. ‘As alpha as he was,’ Fendral had said about his daughter. Her determination had most assuredly been fueled by her own mother passing down the family prophecy, and the obligation that came with it. She’d had no choice but to follow her destiny, and his grandfather understood that now. As he’d confessed to Kellar and Tobyn, fear overrode everything else at what must have been a desolate time. Fendral had lost so much. Even to this day, without copper protection, it was an extremely dangerous world out there. Back then there was no hiding from hunters, and the paranoia surrounding departures from pack lands was warranted. He could see the rift from both sides, and in the end, they’d both been right. It was doubtful he would ever know what his mother had encountered after she left Morningstar. He could only hope she’d been happy in those years. There might be some more answers back in New Brunswick, but he didn’t feel driven to search for them. He was satisfied with the ones he already had. Would this feeling change? Maybe, but for now he would enjoy the peace he enjoyed in this moment. What his grandfather had just said, about being proud of who he was and where he came from, had gotten through to him. He was the product of a long line of heroes, from his mother all the way back to Cahlar. But his father, the healer, had played a big part too. He saw that clearly now. He was no reincarnation, but if some shifters chose to think otherwise, it didn’t make him any less Kellar. “Grandfather?” “Yes?” Fendral was looking weary, but Kellar would let him decide when he wanted to rest again. “Was it coincidence, or did something else bring you to my cabin?” “Yeah, I was wondering that too,” Tobyn said. “It was not a coincidence,” the older man said with conviction. “I didn’t have a clue where my wolf was headed, but there was a purpose to our journey south. I’m not sure how to explain it, but there was a period of time… years… where it seemed like we were waiting for something. We were being guided… I’m certain of it. I’d like to think it was Esther. She once told me I would have to hang on at some point in the future, at a time when I could find no reason to. She said I had to keep going every single day no matter what, and no matter how long it took, but when I asked what she meant, she had no answer… only that I would be needed for something in my wolf form. She didn’t know for what or why, she just knew it. Your grandmother made me promise. She made me swear on our bond and the earth mother, and I did. It was a promise I didn’t break. I know it sounds cryptic, but that’s how Esther was. Like I told you, she knew things. She never doubted her ability, and neither did I.” “What does that have to do with showing up at my cabin, sir?” “It’s the only explanation I have. With the feelings I had before and after, it fits. Do you know you smell like clover most of the time?” Kellar was thrown by the question, but Tobyn reacted right away. “He’s right, doc. You do. Sometimes it’s strong, like when my wolf runs through a clover field after a rain. Other times it’s like the sunbaked red-clover hay I used to help stack every summer. We all have our subtle differences, but I’ve never smelled anything like that from another shifter.” “I have,” Fendral said. “Your mother and grandmother both carried the same one, exactly as Tobyn describes. I never would have come within a mile of you if not for that clover smell. It was such a comfort to experience that scent mixed with wolf again after all those years. It’s what drew me to you, and I didn’t want to leave it. Remember the day our wolves played?” “Of course. It was a new thing for me, and I loved it. You left when I shifted back.” “That’s right. It was a strange thing for me. I didn’t understand why I would even want to interact with you. My wolf went more on instinct than thought. Now I get it, but at the time I couldn’t fathom a connection. If you had looked like Gisla, or anyone else in our family, it might have been different, and I might have put something together because of that familiar scent. Or maybe if I could have shifted back and had a clearer mind.” “So, my scent brought you there?” “No, certainly not. As I said, my wolf took us south for whatever reason, but your scent kept me around. Every time I tried to leave the area and head back to Morningstar, I would end up making my way back because it felt wrong, and it was a good job I did.” “Why do you say that?” “Because I came across two hunters headed towards your woods, and I led one of them away. My senses were great that day, and I heard them talking from far off. After what I heard, I showed myself, and the younger one ended up taking the bait. He followed me, but the other man went to catch the two-sided one. He said that pelt would be worth a fortune, and if it took days, he’d get that monster. I think he was referring to the size of your wolf,” Fendral said, taking a second to grin. “It’s funny how much clearer my human mind was that day. I knew he was talking about you and your coat, Grandson, so he must have already seen you at some time.” “You were there?” Tobyn asked, an incredulous look on his face. “We never scented you.” “I’m not surprised with all that elk stink. But no, I wasn’t there when you killed that hunter. I arrived after you left, and as soon as I saw your tracks leading away, I hightailed it out of there. I knew you were both fine. I think that’s when I suspected you were mates. Your scents had changed… combined. It was you who finished him, wasn’t it? I could smell you on the parts you tore off him,” he directed at Tobyn. Tobyn nodded, his eyes going to a dumbfounded Kellar. “So, if you hadn’t done that, Kellar would have been facing two.” “We would have been facing two, babe. So, you saved us… is that what you meant by Esther’s message? It was what you were meant to hold on for?” “At the time, I didn’t much think about the why. I’d never done anything like it before, but it just felt right to do it. Fear is a wolf’s friend, but I felt none the whole time I played with that killer. It was satisfying. I kept the bastard moving as far and as long as I could. It worked best when I traveled well off, and then came back from a different direction. I’d make a noise he could hear. He stopped a few times, but as soon as I moved away, he’d start following again, cursing the whole time. My hearing hasn’t been that good since,” he said with another grin. “He finally picked his spot, though, and set those damn traps, but by then he was a long way from your area. I kept moving in and out of range. It didn’t matter the direction of the wind… he always reacted when I closed the distance between us. I thought they could somehow smell us, but that’s where that pulse comes in, doesn’t it?” “Yes. It’s the silver they all wear that alerted him to your presence. It can work at a fair distance too.” “Great discovery, that. I’ve got to meet this brother of yours. If he’s your brother, that would make me his grandfather too, wouldn’t it?” “Yes, it would. He’d love that. Warren will like you, and you’ll like him.” “I’m sure I will… wee Adelin’s mate, eh? I’ve missed so much. Okay, so like I was saying, at that time I was surviving more on instinct than thought, but sitting here now, it all makes sense. It has to be the reason I finally stopped thinking about my promise to Esther. I was meant to find you, and I did.” “You were meant to save us.” “That’s another way of putting it.” Fendral acknowledged, but he hung his head. “I guess I should have given more credence to my mate back then. Losing her made me… less, and I let fear for Gisla override my mate’s wishes.” He visibly struggled for a few seconds and then mustered up a small smile. “Esther and I were so good together, but that woman was a challenge. She probably would have said the same about me.” “I think you did give her credence, Grandfather. You hung on for all these years because she asked you to… way longer than any other shifter ever heard of who chooses their wolf. The entire pack is astounded by your resilience, and that includes me. We don’t know how you managed, but Tobyn and I have learned the earth mother has her ways. My mom did what she had to do, and so did you. I’d love to hear more about my grandmother when you’re up to it.” “She was the perfect mate for an alpha. When I took on my responsibilities, she shared the load. I have a thousand stories for you.” Again, he looked wistful. Kellar glanced at his own mate, and they shared a look. His grandfather had just described Tobyn as well. “Should we tell him who those hunters were, doc?” “He should know. It might give him peace to hear the truth.” “I agree. It should come from you… I hate talking about them.” “I know you do, babe.” “Grandfather?” “Yes, Grandson?” The old man squeezed out a smile, fooling no one. He’d been lost in his memories of Esther. “That hunter you led away… and the other one….” “Yes?” “They were two of the three who murdered my parents.” “My Gisla? Are you sure?” “Yes, sir. They’re all dead now. Warren shot the one you led away that day. After we discovered the protection of copper, we hunted him down on pack lands, but he was a crafty son-of-a-bitch. My brother ended up saving my mate, but that’s a story that can wait till later. And you know Tobyn killed the other one, and saved me in the process. The third one, he was an older brother, the father of the young one. The one Tobyn rescued me from said shifters had murdered his older brother, so that’s the lot of them.” “How do you know they were the ones?” “Because of Miss Sybil’s vision. My father managed to slash the face of the one Tobyn later killed. It left a huge scar over his eye and on his cheek. Miss Sybil described some other details, and it had to be them. Their name was Reznick. If the bragging the older one did was accurate, they were responsible for the deaths of close to a thousand shifters over the years.” When Kellar finished speaking, Fendral looked away. He was about to ask the man if he was okay when he turned back to face him. “I saw that scar. I was close enough I could have got one of them.” “No, sir,” Tobyn said, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have. You would have been another notch on that old one’s walking stick if you’d tried. They’d have felt your presence, and would’ve been ready for anything. They were beyond dangerous.” “He’s right,” Kellar agreed. “As good as it might have felt to try, you would have died, and none of us would be here now, talking to each other. You did the best thing possible by splitting them up and leading one away. It allowed us to defeat old Reznick, and survive. And, it allowed us to eventually take out the younger one.” “I thought Warren did that.” “He did. You could say we were a one-two punch.” Kellar tried a little grin. “Please don’t regret anything. You didn’t know, and that was a good thing. It all turned out the way it was supposed to.” “Are you all right, sir? We thought you would want to know.” “Yes, Tobyn, I’m glad you guys told me, and I’m fine. If anything, I feel more satisfaction in the part my wolf played, and in knowing those shifter-killers no longer walk the earth.” A weak smile followed before he closed his eyes. “Grandfather?” Kellar asked after a minute had passed. Fendral came back from wherever his mind had gone. “Yes?” “Can I ask you one more thing? I know you’re tired.” “Ask me anything you want.” “Okay… I was just wondering. Now that your condition is improving, do you intend to take back your responsibilities one day?” “You mean as Alpha? God, no.” Fendral reaction was strong. “It was an honor I abused, and I would never try to reclaim it.” “Sir….” “I have no regrets, Kellar. I’ve changed. I lived and survived as a wolf, and I made it through my own darkness. I’m ready to move forward, not back. I may not want to be alone anymore, but being Alpha again holds no appeal for me.” “Well, that’s good, and I’m happy you no longer want to isolate yourself. We really want you in our lives. It’s just, once the pack members find out I’m your grandson….” “They’ll expect you to become Alpha. It is your birthright.” “He doesn’t want it,” Tobyn said, reaching over and giving Kellar’s hand a squeeze. He appreciated the show of solidarity from his mate. Fendral looked first at Tobyn, and then at his grandson. It was a piercing gaze he leveled. “Care to explain why not?” Kellar swallowed. “I get that it’s an honor, sir, but I’m a healer.” “Why can’t you be both?” “That’s what Miss Sybil said, that I could be both, and I know it’s true, but I… I don’t think alphas, ah… I think the leadership council is what Morningstar needs… not me. Tobyn and I plan on searching out as many packs as we can, and set up a network of communication. We’re doing well here, but shifters could still be dying out there.” “It sounds like you’re taking on a different responsibility. A bigger one.” “Exactly,” Tobyn interjected. “How much can we expect from one person? All Kellar does is give of himself, over and over again.” Fendral sighed. A deep long one. “I know I’m missing a lot of information about the pack and all that’s been going on. I’m tired, and I want to catch up, but before I go lay down, I want to say something. If you’re looking for support from me, you have it. I barely know you, but you’re my daughter’s son, so I’m in your corner no matter what.” “Thank you, Grandfather. So, you will understand if I decline the honor? You won’t be disappointed in me?” “Are you disappointed in me, after all the mistakes I’ve made?” “No, sir. I’m in awe of the man I’ve talked to today.” “Well, there’s your answer. I’m in awe of the men I’ve talked to today.” He smiled, and Kellar felt the warmth of it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t sit up any longer. My muscles are complaining so if I could use your bed again, I’d appreciate it.” “It’s your bed now, sir,” Tobyn said as Kellar assisted the man as he rose stiffly from the chair. “And I am thankful for that. You’re not going to stop calling me sir, are you?” Tobyn grinned. “Probably not.” Fendral chuckled. “Do you know if my home is still empty? It was a few years back when I approached it.” “Nothing’s been changed. It’s been maintained ever since you left it.” They all made their way down the hall, and Kellar and Tobyn exchanged looks over the elder man’s head. “I want him to stay with us, babe.” “So do I. He doesn’t need to be rambling around that big house of his. We’re his family now.” “You’re the best.” “I am, but you’re going to need to convince him.” “Grandfather,” Kellar said as they helped the man sit on the bed. “You don’t have to decide anything now, but we‘d really like it if you’d live here with us… with your family. We just want you to know that.” Fendral laid his upper body down, and Kellar helped him swing his legs up. It was easy to see he would be out like a light in minutes, possibly seconds. “Thank you, boys. I’ll give it some thought, and we’ll talk later.” He yawned before his eyes closed, and Kellar was proven right. His grandfather may have wanted to have their conversation, and take advantage of having a voice again, but it had taken its toll. Flickering, Kellar was reasonably pleased with what he saw. There was no need to be quiet leaving the room, but they were anyway. “I sure didn’t expect to hear all that,” Tobyn said once they returned to the kitchen. “Did it shake you up like it did me?” “Crap, Tobyn. I still don’t know where the man found the will to hang on all this time. He didn’t just lose his mate… hell, that’s enough to make a shifter wolf out all by itself. On top of that, he lost his three kids, and he carried all that guilt about how he handled their wanting to search out their mates. Fuck. I hope I have half his strength one day.” Tobyn looked up from clearing the table. ‘Sometimes you really are the dumb one.” “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing… it’s not what you did… it’s how you see yourself. Sometimes you piss me off.” “Really?” “No. Yes… sometimes, yes. I just wish you would give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve gone through a lot too, with that shit childhood you had. You shifted, having no idea who you really were and what was going on, and you didn’t go bonkers. Fuck, the control you showed.” “Lots of kids lose their parents, Tobyn.” “See, there you go again. Yes, that’s true, but you’re a shifter… we’re pack animals. And you survived most of your life without one of your own.” “But….” “But, nothing. You built a life all by yourself, worked in the human world, developed your skills as a healer, and you didn’t suffer any depression. That takes strength… alpha strength.” “I only did what I had to.” Kellar didn’t like that Tobyn was so seriously annoyed. “God, you are so exasperating sometimes. You should see yourself when you’re healing. It’s like you’re giving every ounce of everything you have, and you wade in every time with no hesitation. You always do that, like you did with Vega. You accomplish miracle after miracle and act like it’s no big deal. I know how hard that was for you, to stand in front of the entire Vega pack and make that speech… that’s fucking strength.” Tobyn dropped their cutlery into the sink with a loud clatter. “Are you mad at me, babe?” “No. God, no… I just… I’m sorry. I love you so much and sometimes….” “Sometimes, what?” Kellar joined his mate at the sink. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Can we forget what I said? I didn’t mean to come off angry. What we heard from Fendral this morning was so sad, and… there’s no way I could survive losing you. I could never be that strong. As strong as you and Fendral are. I guess it’s an alpha thing.” “Tobyn, please. Don’t think like that, because it’s not true. I see you as the strongest, most determined person I know, and I’m not just saying it. Don’t worry… I get where this is coming from. Come on.” He took Tobyn’s hand. “Let’s go sit in the sunshine. This has been quite a day already.” “That’s a great idea,” Tobyn said with a sheepish smile. “I got a little carried away… sorry.” “Nothing to be sorry for. You just said you loved me so much it drove you crazy.” “I didn’t say it drove me crazy, I said you did.” “Semantics, babe. It’s the same thing,” Kellar said smugly as they walked out into the backyard. “You drive me crazy too, and it’s the best feeling ever.” Kellar led his mate to the picnic table where they sat across from each other, hands still entwined. It was a gorgeous day: peaceful, sunny, and warm. “You know what’s weird?” Kellar asked after they sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the peace only nature could bestow. “What?” “I feel content.” “Actually, that is weird. I would have thought you’d be anything but.” “You said it yourself. I had a shit childhood, and never really felt connected to anyone or any place. That’s all changed. I have you, and in any world I ever envisioned, that would be enough, but I have so much more. I’m sitting in this beautiful place with you, my grandfather is sleeping inside our house, and my brother is only a five minute walk away. I have a home, a family, a pack of amazing friends, and I have a real memory of my mother. Even if Miss Sybil is wrong, and I never recall anything of my father, it’s enough. I know he fought for my mother and me. I don’t even mind being considered the savior, not that I’m ever going to acknowledge it,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “Okay, that’s more like it. And we have a new location to search.” “Yeah, we do, but about that?” “Oh. I think I know what you’re going to say. You don’t want to leave Fendral. Am I right?” “I can’t. Not till I’m sure he’s thriving, and that could be a month or even months away.” “Okay. I agree. We can wait as long as you want. This way, we’d be here for Warren if he wants to get things started.” “I was thinking the same thing. You’re not disappointed?” “Not in the least. I love that man in there, and he comes first in my eyes too. We quite possibly wouldn’t be here without him. I was shocked to hear he deliberately led the young one away. Facing two Reznicks back then would have been difficult for us, if not impossible.” Tobyn shuddered. “That was our first experience with a hunter.” “I agree. We had enough trouble with one of them. It surprised the hell out of me too, to hear what he did, but with all the earth mother’s done for us, it makes sense he was part of her plan. We’re right aren’t we, to think it’s a plan, and not just a string of coincidences?” “With the journey we’ve had so far, and from what we’ve learned in the last few days, plus all the gifts she’s given us, how can you even ask that, doc?” “My mind still regresses sometimes. I guess it’s from not being raised in a pack. I remember when I actually believed there was no magic in the world.” He shook his head at the thought. It seemed a lifetime ago. “Speaking of the earth mother’s plan, there may have been another purpose for Fendral being around your cabin.” “Such as?” “The only reason I ran in your woods the day we met was because I picked up his scent.” “Oh, hell. That’s right. You told me about that… about scenting the old grey, after I healed your head. Holy crap. We met because of my grandfather. Wait till we tell him. We have so much to thank that man for.” “Him and the earth mother… and Esther.” “That’s right. My grandmother too.” Kellar, in that moment, realized his family may have been missing for most of his life, but they were all responsible for what he had now. It gave him a warm feeling. “You okay, doc?” “Huh? Yeah. Why?” “You went real quiet.” “Oh, yeah, I was just counting my blessings. Tobyn?” Kellar squeezed the hand under his, and stared into his mate's eyes. “Yeah? “I’ve been thinking.” “I know. I’ve been waiting.” “Oh, so you know what I’ve been thinking about then,” Kellar teased. “Yup. You’re thinking about your birthright, and what you should do.” “What… are you some kind of special seer now, like my grandmother was?” “No, doc. I just know you, so spit it out.” Kellar started tapping his fingers on the picnic table top, something he usually didn’t do. He had trouble saying what was on his mind, because once it was out there…. Tobyn reached his idle hand over and placed it on the nervous one. “Well?” Kellar sighed at his mate, and then began to let his tentatively-reached conclusions loose. “Being an alpha could come in handy when we start our search again. We have no idea what we might come up against, but other packs would surely take us seriously if an alpha was at their gate.” “Mm hmmm,” Tobyn agreed. “And our own members are going to expect it once they find out I’m Fendral’s grandson. If I don’t accept it, some, maybe all, are going to have a hard time understanding my reasons. I mean, think about your mom, Miss Sybil, and even Arthur’s reaction, when I said I didn’t want to be alpha. They thought I was nuts. I do want to respect pack traditions, I really do. Besides, my turning it down might put pressure on my grandfather, and while he’s doing all right for now, he’s far from a healthy man. He needs time.” “Right again.” “If I did it… accepted the… position… my heritage… whatever we call it, I wouldn’t want anything to change. I’d still want there to be our same leadership council, hopefully with the addition of Clarence.” “Makes sense.” “So, I would only act in an advisory role, if they needed me, like, if they were at a stalemate or something. I wouldn’t want any involvement in the day to day stuff… I’m a healer.” “Yes, you are.” “Well, how does all that sound to you? Do you think they’d all accept something like that, where I’m only partly involved now and again?” “Kellar, as Alpha, you wouldn’t be asking anyone to accept anything. You are Alpha until you say you’re not, so you’d be telling all of us the way it would work. But, if you’re asking me whether it’s a good solution, I’d say it’s about perfect.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” “Cool. You know the only reason I can even consider it is because I have you at my side.” “I know.” Kellar grinned at Tobyn’s smug look. “Okay, maybe I’ll see what my grandfather thinks about it when he wakes up.” “Another great idea. I think you’ll make the man very happy. No matter what he says, I have no doubt he’d be proud if you continued to represent his and your family in this way.” “Oh, man. I feel better already. This has been weighing on me… a lot. So, do I really smell like clover?” “Uh huh. I thought you knew that.” “It was news to me.” “Hey, what do I smell like to you?” “Heaven… pure heaven.” Tobyn chuckled. “I definitely got me a romantic one.” “And I got me a bossy one… one who lets me think I’m in charge.” “And sometimes I actually let you be in charge. I was being serious, doc. Do I smell like anything to you?” “Oh yeah. You have your own unique blend, but the closest is a plant I use for ear infections.” “Eww… you’re kidding me, right?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m not. It’s called Joe-Pye weed, and it was once used by natives who claimed it cured typhus fever.” “A weed.” Tobyn screwed his face up, making Kellar laugh harder. “It’s only called a weed because it grows wild. Its favorite place is along streams… I’ll show it to you someday, and you can smell it for yourself. It loses its aroma once I dry it. It’s also called Purple Boneset, and it smells kind of like vanilla, but better.” “Better than vanilla? I like that,” Tobyn said, finally smiling. “So, it’s purple then?” “Yup. Come to think of it, the color is identical to red clover blooms, right down to the two tones.” “Identical? See… we’re perfect for each other.” There was a seriousness behind the humor in those heart-stopping eyes, making Kellar’s breath catch. “Yes we are, babe, a match made by the earth mother. So… if I do happen to stand up in front of a crowd and make another one of those ‘alpha’ speeches, would it fire you up like last time?” Tobyn burst out laughing, eyes twinkling. “I’m not gonna lie, mountain man… there’s a good chance it would.” “I can’t ask for any more encouragement than that.” Losing himself in sunlit hazel, he leaned over the table and connected his lips to Tobyn’s. Kellar finally understood who he was, and that he was exactly where life had always meant him to be. He wasn’t some lone shifter. No, he and his mate had a destiny all their own. ~ The End of Book One? ~
  5. 117 points
    KIERAN ~ THREE YEARS ON “Where’s Kennedy?” asked Kieran, carrying a tray of pungent Indonesian appetisers to the outdoor table, followed closely by Matius, pushing a rattle-clinking drinks trolley laden with bottles of spirits and jugs of soft drinks. Kieran had spent the last hour watching—and occasionally helping—Maya prepare Indonesian dishes in the outside kitchen, mesmerised at the array of natural ingredients and spices going into the wok for each dish. Laurie and Claire sat enjoying the last of the afternoon sun, at a table beside the swimming pool. Steph sat several feet away from them, in the shade of the back porch cooled by an overhead fan, with little Polly in a crib next to her, rocking her gently from side to side. Even though Laurie had been the birth mother, their baby had brought out the maternal in Steph. “Inside. Feeding the twins,” said Laurie, enjoying a cool Singapore Sling. Kieran came over and joined them, sitting in the low two-seater rattan sofa. “He’s managed to get Link off to sleep, but Clint’s got a bit of colic, he thinks.” “Maya will go help Mr Kennedy now,” said Matius, before turning back towards the kitchen. Lincoln and Clinton had been born nine months earlier, courtesy of a surrogate mother. Neither Kieran nor Kennedy had been expecting twins, but both had been delighted. This time around, Kennedy had been the donor, but Kieran had insisted on the names, in keeping with family tradition. “I can’t believe how he is with them. I swear he has the patience of a saint.” Not much in life left Kennedy speechless and in awe, but the arrival of their twins had seen a fundamental change in him, in his priorities. Even with their full-time, live-in nanny, Kieran often drove home at the end of a long day to find Kennedy already there, helping with the boys. Usually he dismissed the event as ‘working from home’ but Kieran knew better. If Polly had brought out the maternal in Steph, then the twins had brought out the doting parent in Kennedy. “Well, he does have practice, having to live with you and Ed,” came Steph’s voice, from the shade. “I heard that,” said Kieran, joining Laurie and Claire’s laughter. “Where’s Jeff?” asked Laurie, handing Kieran a chilled glass of white wine and clinking their glasses. “Doing me a favour,” said Kieran, quietly to Laurie. “He’s on his way back from the airport right now. Friends are over for a working holiday and having dinner with us before heading to their hotel.” “And tell me again why they’re at a family gathering?” called Steph. “Bloody hell. Does your wife have super-hearing?” asked Kieran, mugging at Laurie. “Meet Wonder Woman,” said Laurie, giggling. “You know Jeff,” said Claire. “Always finding waifs and strays to bring home.” “Mum!” said Kieran, with mock outrage. “I hardly think the son of the Earl of Stratham is either a waif or a stray. Nor is his partner, Trevor. They were the ones who helped arrange our wedding in Scotland at short notice, as well as the catering, and I didn’t hear you complain then.” Everything had fallen into place so quickly over two years ago, through friends of friends. Cole’s pals from Japan, returning in January from their holiday in Scotland, had sown the seeds in Kennedy’s mind when they met for a drink. And once Kennedy got an idea in his head, there was no stopping him. They’d referred him to their friends who, through family connections, had a slim window of opportunity to host the wedding for the newly appointed global CEO of Grey Steel Global and his gay partner. They, in turn, got in touch with the famous chef, Marcus Vine, to request his help in catering—something Vine was famous for declining because of a busy career running his international restaurants. But somehow, he’d found the time, and everything had come together beautifully, with Kieran and Kennedy finally married on a glorious day in early June with Loch Arkaig, Ben Nevis, and the stunning grounds of Mortimer Hall as their backdrop. “That lovely young man, Rudolph? Why didn’t you say so. Stephanie, I know I’ve said it before but it was such a shame you and Laurie couldn’t be there. So close to Polly’s birth, and all. But the whole ceremony was like something out of a Disney movie, with this world renowned chef actually there, catering the whole event. His partner even helped set up a couple of marquees on the grounds. Did we tell you? Absolutely adorable.” “Yes,” said Steph, while Laurie rolled her eyes at Kieran. They’d hated not being there, but Polly had been a difficult pregnancy for Laurie and they didn’t want to take any chances. “We saw the photos, Claire. The official ones, as well as all those posted by guests on Kieran’s Facebook wedding page. Even saw a couple of them featured in Attitude mag.” Kieran noticed Kennedy heading out to join them. Forty-five years old and he still looked good enough to eat. As he spotted them and walked into the sunlight, when Kieran saw a flash of gold on his wedding finger, his heart swelled with pride. In the last hour he’d changed his shirt to a loose-fitting, short sleeved Indian cotton one, in aubergine, opened at the collar to reveal his chest hair. Kieran knew the shirt well, because he owned the damned thing. Seeing Kennedy wearing his clothing, he felt himself getting hard and had to adjust himself, before waving Kennedy over to his seat. “Thought I might find you here,” said Kennedy, squeezing in next to Kieran, taking the glass of wine from him and having a sip. “Leaving the old ones to do all the manual labour.” Once they’d tied the knot—and probably because he’d warmed to little Polly—Kennedy had been the one to push for kids. And, as usual, he’d taken to the project like a man with a mission. “Why are you wearing my shirt? Not that I’m complaining.” “Little Clint puked on mine.” “Ah. How is he?” “Asleep now. Maya managed to calm him down. She’s amazing with them, insisted on watching them, even though I said I’d take the baby monitor. I wonder what it would take to persuade her and Matius back to England—” “Don’t even think about it,” warned Claire, while lifting her glasses in place to checking her phone display. “Reagan, Bernie and the boys are almost here.” “And here’s Dad,” said Kennedy, nodding to the driveway. They all watched as Jefferson parked up the Toyota. Once the engine had died, he brought the two passengers straight over to where everyone sat around the pool. Considering their long flight from England, Rudy and Trevor appeared remarkably awake and alert, even though their loose, rumpled, travel clothing told a different story. Rudy’s broader build complemented the slighter frame of Trevor, his dark red hair worn almost militarily short and odds with Trevor’s wild black mop, as though the latter had just woken. Maybe the time shift would hit them later. Kieran remembered only too well his own jet lag experience the first time arriving in Singapore. Kieran warmed to see them, had really gotten on well with Trevor, had felt a bond between them both coming from humble origins. After greeting everyone, and cooing quietly over a sleeping Polly, they made their way back to one of the rattan sofas. “So how are you faring?” asked Kieran, as the guys settled in their seats. “Can we get you a drink?” asked Laurie, at the same time. “Funnily enough, Jeff just asked the same thing on the way here,” said Rudy. “How we feel. Hadn’t really thought about it.” “But we’re both great,” said Trevor. “If a little disorientated. And I’d love a drink. But I’m not sure if we’re ready for an early evening vodka and tonic—” “—or a morning mug of hot cappuccino,” finished Rudy. “In which case, how about I fix you both an Espresso Martini,” said Laurie. “Then you can have a taste of both.” “Done.” Over drinks, and while the last of the September sun bled from the cloudless sky, Trevor and Rudy brought them up to date with their lives. Although still managing the gym in the south, Rudy was spending more and more time helping to run his family business, Mortimer Whisky, while Trevor was now managing the books of a stable, profitable portfolio of clients. “Yes, we’re in a good place. Not sure we’re ready for kids just yet, but we’re definitely tying the knot next year,” said Rudy, reaching out to hold Trevor’s hand. “Where are you thinking of doing the deed? Scotland?” asked Kieran. “You know, we both want something small and non-traditional. Some place with sun and sand. We’re thinking maybe a simple commitment ceremony on a beach in this part of the world. Trevor favours Vietnam, maybe Halong Bay or Da Nang. I’d really love Bali.” Kieran exchanged a glance with Kennedy, almost certain the idea had popped into his head at the same time. Kennedy smiled and winked at Kieran before addressing the two men. “Guys, we still owe you so much for helping with our own ceremony at such short notice, so if it helps, I have a four bedroom villa in Bali which is yours whenever you want. And apart from the villa, there are plenty of other villas around, if you want to invite a number of guests to attend. There’s even a private cove linked to the villa where you could hold the ceremony. Just let me know the dates, so I can alert the staff.” “Seriously?” said Rudy, his eyes wide. Kennedy nodded, while Kieran laced his fingers into his husband’s free hand and squeezed. “And if you’re not sure about Da Nang, Halong Bay or Bali,” said Kieran. “How about doing them all? And how about adding Ho Chi Minh, Singapore and Semarang in Indonesia to the itinerary?” “Whoa. Our budget’s definitely not going to stretch to that,” said Trevor. “Bali will cost you nothing. It’ll be my wedding present to you both,” said Kennedy, grinning. “Driver pick up, villa with a pool, all food and drinks in the villa. All you’d need to do is get there and take a little spending money.” “There you are,” said Kieran. “Make Bali your last stop.” “Nice idea,” said Trevor, the accountant in him rising to the fore. “But it’s the cost of the flights to each of those other destinations and then hotel accommodation that’s the killer.” “Could you fly into Hong Kong and fly out of Bali?” asked Kennedy. Kieran smiled, knowing where Kennedy was going with his question. “I guess so.” “So what if you could still see all those other places without flying in or staying there,” said Kennedy, clearly on the same page as Kieran. “Sorry,” said Trevor. “I don’t understand.” “What my husband means is, have you considered a cruise?” said Kieran, smiling at Kennedy. “Because, let me tell you, we both highly recommend them.” “In fact,” said Kennedy, kissing Kieran on the cheek. “We might even join you.” THE END
  6. 117 points
    KENNEDY ~ HOME Early December, two months after the end of what Kennedy now considered to be the best vacation and the biggest mistake of his life, he found himself marching through an almost empty, unfamiliar office space at seven-thirty on Friday evening, with nobody except the cleaning staff most of whom stared at him suspiciously. Not that he cared. This was something he should have done weeks ago. He had been directed to the sixteenth floor and to the reception for Leonard’s office space. Standing still, he stared around himself, at the completely empty reception area, as a sinking feeling filled him. But then, beyond, in the fishbowl office, he noticed the familiar dark-haired man stand up and walk to the photocopier, prodding buttons on the display. Kennedy rarely felt unprepared, but this whim felt like walking on broken glass. Without hesitation, he marched over and tapped his knuckle on the window of the security door. After peering up, the figure frowned then moved towards the portal. “Len’s not here,” said Kieran, after opening the door for him, and before turning back to the machine. “Oh, okay,” said Kennedy, stood awkwardly in the doorway, his back propping the door open, his hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets. “So how—uh—how have you been?” “Fine. I’m doing fine.” “Okay. And the the job’s going well?” Kennedy had never been very good at smalltalk. “Loving it. Lots to do, but we’re getting there and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” “Good. That’s good. Got you working late, I see. So what’s with the suitcases?” Up against one wall, Kennedy recognised the large black case Kieran had brought with him for the holiday, plus a couple of other, smaller ones. At his remark, Kieran let out a small sigh. “I’ve been staying with Cole since I got back. Had a flat-share lined up, but it fell through at the last minute. Anyway, Cole’s friends are over from Tokyo, so I’m bunking back with my sister for the week, until I get something permanent sorted.” Kennedy stared at the sad line-up of cases, until Kieran broke the silence. “What do you want, Kennedy? I already told you Len’s not here,” said Kieran, after lifting the top of the copier, placing another sheet inside, and slamming down the lid. The question sounded so harsh and direct, Kennedy faltered for a moment, unable to speak. “I—I wanted to see you.” “Me? Oh, let me guess. You want your dad’s watch back?” “No, that’s not why I’m here at all,“ said Kennedy, rubbing a hand nervously around his chin. “At least, not unless you come with it.” “Unless…what?” “You heard me,” said Kennedy, softly. “Okay, Kennedy, what’s going on?” This time Kieran stopped his work and folded his arms. Kennedy came into the room, let the heavy security door slam closed behind him and perched himself on the edge of a desk. For someone so accomplished in his professional life, he felt in unchartered waters here. But he had never been one to back down from getting something that he sorely needed. “I’m going to say some things to you that I’ve never said to another living soul.” Kennedy waited to see Kieran’s reaction, but he simply leant back against the copier, his arms still folded. “I’m listening.” “You’ll need to be patient; this is somewhat difficult for me.” “Do I need to sit down?” “You might want to.” Kieran wheeled over an office chair and sat with the backrest to his chest, his arms draped over and his hands clasped together. “First off, I need to say I’m sorry. Sorry for not being brave enough to tell you how fond I’d grown of you. Sorry for not keeping in touch after the holiday, although, God knows, we’ve been rushed off our feet with the merger, which is all coming along nicely, by the way, with regular updates from Giorgio and Sloan. Yes, I took your advice.” “Good.” “And the second thing is—” “You mean there’s more?” “—is that as much as I feel this particular word has become bland, overused, and, in this case, is totally inadequate—I mean, for goodness’ sake, the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, so why do we only have one—sorry, getting off topic. What I mean is, Kieran, I’m falling in love with you. No, sorry, scrub that. I’m already in love with you. Have been since our tango together on the cruise. Maybe even before that, and now I’m—” “Stop,” said Kieran, softly, which caused Kennedy’s voice to break with emotion. “—I’m second guessing everything, Kieran. Every decision, which is not like me. I’m fucking asking for your opinion in the mirror every morning, asking you as though you’re standing there in the bathroom next to me. I can’t do this without you. Move in with me, not with your sister. You can have a spare room as long as you want, if that’s what you want. Hell, you can stay forever, which is what I’d prefer. But it’s your choice. I want you to do what you want.” “What if I tell you I’ve met somebody?” Kennedy’s heart sank then, all the hope he’d been storing up evaporated, and suddenly he felt a sting in his eyes. And the Greys never shed tears, his father had taught him that. Was he too late? Trying to pull himself together, he stared down at the office carpet. “Have you?” “What would you say if I told you I have?” With an effort of will, Kennedy brought his emotions into check, and eventually smiled, still unable to meet Kieran’s eyes. Something else his father had taught him was that even in defeat, an Englishman remained gracious; a gentleman above all else. “I’d say that man—or woman—is the luckiest person alive. I’d tell them they’ve just hit the jackpot with the most beautiful person in the world. Someone who lights the room up just by walking in and makes the person with him feel like they’re blessed. And I’d tell them to tell you so every day you’re together—” Kennedy hadn’t heard the soft movement from across the room, but suddenly found himself being enveloped by Kieran’s arms. While Kennedy wrapped his arms around Kieran’s waist, Kieran pulled Kennedy’s head down onto his shoulder. “For fuck’s sake, Kennedy. Why couldn’t you have told me that before?” “Because I was scared. Because I was worried I might fuck up and let you down one day. Because I’m a coward and an ass.” “No argument here.” Kennedy chuckled softly, breathed in Kieran’s unique scent, one he’d missed so much, but when he pulled his head away and faced Kieran, he saw his lover’s eyes were moist, too. “Have you really met someone else?” “Of course not. Cole took me to a couple of clubs—gay and straight. Must say, the music’s better in the gay clubs, but it’s not really my scene, neither of them are. And, more importantly, nobody looked like you.” “Thank goodness. So will you let me try again, to be your partner, or boyfriend, or whatever you want to call us. And will you come and stay with me? If I ask you nicely? You can have your own room, if you want. Or you can—you know—sleep in mine.” In response, Kieran pushed his lips gently onto Kennedy’s. Soft kissing soon became more, something Kennedy had dreamt about every night. Kieran also warmed to the connection, except before things got too heated, Kieran put his hand on Kennedy’s chest and pushed away. “If I sleep in your bed, where will you sleep?” Kennedy chuckled and pulled him back, hugged him tightly. “Heaven knows, I’ve missed you.” “Look, Kennedy. If we’re really going to be together, you may want to hear what I want.” “Anything.” “We’ll need to be open and honest with each other, especially if we’ve pissed each other off somehow.” “Okay, I deserve that.” “Not just you, me too.” “Okay.” “We’re taking ballroom classes together at least once a fortnight. And you will make the time.” “Agreed.” “And I’m sure you’ve heard Laurie’s more than likely pregnant with her first child and I was the donor. Well, I want us to have kids one day.” “Oh, wow, okay. Wasn’t expecting that. How about we start with a dog?” “Really?” “Why not. Let’s go pick one out at the dog rescue tomorrow.” “I would fucking love that.” “Thought you might. I’ve cleared my weekend in the hopes you might be free. Now are you ready to leave yet? We can pick up some Thai take-away food on the way. And in the meantime, I can take your bags down to my car if you have things you need to finish up here.” “Nope, I’m done.” Between them, they collected Kieran’s bags and headed towards the lift lobby. “Does Len always expect you to work this late?” “Len normally kicks everyone out by five-thirty.” “So what’s got you working so late tonight?” Kieran stepped into the lift, pressed the ground floor, and turned to Kennedy with a sly smile. “I was waiting for you.” ****** When Kennedy opened the burgundy front door to his house, he saw everything in a new light, nervous about having Kieran there, and badly needing his approval. The four bedroom house had always been nothing more than a space to live and sleep in for Kennedy, and also an investment in case he needed to realise the equity one day. Now, for the first time, he wanted someone to like the place as a home. “Leave the bags and let me give you the grand tour.” When he led them to the living room, he realised for the first time how spartan and functional he had made the room. When Patrick had lived there, at least they’d had some paintings on the walls, to brighten the decor. Patrick had taken them with him. Even though the furnishings were Italian and expensive—three piece navy sofas in a U-shaped arrangement, dark frosted glass coffee table and grey silk carpet—everything felt cold and formal. Kieran said nothing so Kennedy immediately took him to the place he did most of his work. “Open kitchen and dining room.” This was one space he liked because one whole windowed wall lined the back yard, and the houses overlooking. He had also bought a large table and fitted the kitchen with a range of expensive appliances—not that many of them ever got used. “A ten-seater dinner table. Impressive. And your kitchen is spotless. Does either of them ever get used?” Kennedy snorted and shook his head. Nothing got past Kieran. “Not often. Not any more. Mrs Dabrowski comes in every morning to do any household chores—cleaning, making the bed, washing, ironing—so everything is always kept looking spick and span. I’m at work most of the time, so don’t have a chance to mess things up. There’s probably not enough to keep her busy, but I know her family needs the money.” “And she’ll have a dog to care for soon, while we’re both at work.” “That she will. Shall we get your things upstairs?” “Look Kennedy. I’m not going to simply mooch off you. Somehow I need to contribute.” “Of course, but the house is bought and paid for.” “Then I’ll pay the bills.” “Contribute, maybe. Fine.” “And I’m cooking for us. At least three or four times a week. Man cannot live by takeaway alone.” “Whatever you say.” “Hang on,” said Kieran, peering curiously around. “Where’s your Christmas tree?” “I—I don’t usually bother. When it’s just me.” ‘Well, that’s going to change, too,” said Kieran, folding his arms across his chest. “You know what? We’re having the best fuck-off Christmas tree over there by the front window. So the whole world can see. And we’re having all our friends over for a fantastic Christmas party.” Kennedy laughed, and already felt a ripple of relief running through him. Life, that was what this house needed, some life. Something Kieran would provide in abundance. “Whatever you want,” said Kennedy, heading towards the stairs. “Let’s haul your things upstairs. And, by the way, Leonard’s office is on the way to mine. So as long as you don’t mind leaving early in the morning—around seven-thirty—I’ll give you a lift to work every day. So, here’s the upstairs.” Kennedy showed Kieran the three spare bedrooms, before trailing him into the master bedroom. After appraising the bed for a moment, Kieran poked his head into the adjoining bathroom, before strolling into the room that had been turned into a wardrobe. “Fuck. Your walk-in wardrobe is almost as big as my sister’s apartment. Why is it half empty?” “That side used to be Patrick’s.” “Oh, I see. Shall I hang my things there?” “You’re going to share this room with me?” said Kennedy, feeling the smile lighting his face. “Of course I am, old man.” “In which case, you can put things wherever you like. Before you come and have a shower with me. This is your home now.” Kennedy had been putting his jacket on a hanger and turned to see Kieran quickly turn his head away, and bring a hand to his eyes. This time Kennedy stopped him, gently turned him around and pulled his hand away. Kieran didn’t resist, and once again he had tears in his eyes. “Hey, what’s the matter, love? Did I say something wrong?” “No, of course you didn’t. I’m being stupid. But you don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear that single word, one that everyone I know seems to take so much for granted.” “Home?” “Yes, home.” “Kieran, you are home. This is your home now.”
  7. 116 points
    KIERAN ~ FAMILY Kieran woke to the now familiar sound of scratching at the bedroom door. Aligned warmly along his spine, Kennedy slept still, the slow rise of pressure from his chest against Kieran’s back, an arm draped protectively around his waist, his hot morning erection lined against the crack of Kieran’s backside. Despite efficient central heating, the air in the room held a crisp December coldness and Kennedy’s toasty nakedness felt too good an opportunity to waste. But as he began to turn, Kennedy’s arm tightened around him, the other squeezing down to line up his erection, before reaching around Kieran’s body and grabbing lube and a condom from the nightstand. “May I?” came Kennedy’s hot breath in his ear. Without replying, Kieran waited until the sheath had been rolled on before pushing back onto Kennedy, still loosened up from the night before, but nevertheless experiencing the initial, delicious burn as Kennedy entered him. Kennedy followed up with a low grunt before biting Kieran’s neck and shoulder, while pushing himself all the way inside, before beginning their slow dance which only got better with time. Since they’d lived together, Kieran had found out a number of things about Kennedy, and one was that he relished morning sex, loved when one of them roused the other from sleep using sex, waking them to the new day like a steam train leaving the station, gradually building speed in their bump and grind, both brought to wakefulness with fast breaths and mounting pleasure. Without losing the momentum, Kieran turned his head so he could take Kennedy’s mouth, his orgasm almost upon him. Kennedy came first, ramming hard, filling Kieran with his warmth. Instead of stopping, he kept going, hitting Kieran expertly on his sweet spot, until Kieran exploded into Kennedy’s hand, sparks and dark spots flashing across his vision. “Merry Christmas,” Kennedy managed to breathe out, after carefully withdrawing, wrapping the condom in tissue and dropping the item into the bin. “You can say that again.” Both lay still a moment, chests rising and falling as their breaths normalised, staring at the ceiling. Until the soft scratching and whimpering at their bedroom door began again. Kennedy chuckled; a deep, beautiful sound. “I wonder who that could be?” Ed, their good-natured Cockerpoo had been an instant hit with everyone. Kennedy drew the line at letting him sleep in the bedroom with them, at maintaining their modicum of privacy. But Kieran knew eventually the charms of their ginger curly-haired, sad-eyed canine rescue pup would wear him down. “Can I let him in?” asked Kieran. “It is Christmas, after all.” Kennedy gently shook his head and huffed, but a fond smile had settled on his face. “Go on, then.” Without hesitation, Kieran sprinted naked for the door, and yanked on the handle. Instantly, the fiery ball of dynamite scrambled into the room, first running rings around Kieran’s ankles before leaping onto the bed and heading straight for Kennedy. When Kieran joined them back in bed, fearless Ed had already started licking Kennedy’s face, with Kennedy laughing, helpless to restrain the excited pup. Kieran took a moment to enjoy the scene; a usually in control Kennedy allowing himself to be smothered with affection was a sight worth paying for. Something fundamental had changed in his man, he had mellowed. Yes, the hard-assed businessman still appeared, usually in the mornings when they drove to work together, but when Kennedy arrived home, he seemed to throw off that professional mantle and relax into himself. With a supreme effort of will, he’d even made a point of limiting the number of times he checked his phone over the weekend. Just as Ed calmed down and settled on the quilt, there came a knock at the door. “Are you boys decent?” came Claire’s voice, pushing the door open a crack but not entering. “As decent as we’ll ever be,” said Kennedy, laughing. “Merry Christmas, Mum.” Kennedy’s parents had kept their promise and flown over on the twenty-first of December bringing Reagan, a very subdued Bernie, and their three boys, to spend Christmas and New Year with them. At first Kennedy had balked at the idea of the full house, of accommodating seven extra souls. But they’d all been brilliant—Kennedy’s three extra bedrooms and spare bathroom helping matters—with the boys fighting over walking Ed to the park every day; his mother and sister having dinner on the table one night when they arrived home after work, leaving Bernie and Jefferson in charge of drinks. Kennedy’s house had never seen such an abundance of life. After a couple of days, Bernie had finally chilled, and one night, over beers, he and Reagan told them the story of how they’d decided to give things another go, how Bernie had quit his job in Melbourne in November to make a clean break and had taken a new one in Singapore, so he could spend more time with Reagan and the boys. From what Kennedy told Kieran, Reagan remained quietly optimistic. “Merry Christmas, Claire,” added Kieran, as an impeccably dressed Claire opened their door, and stood in the doorway. “Merry Christmas to you both. Look, I know it’s early, but I’m starting breakfast right away. After that, we can open presents, get that out the way, too. Right now, the boys are still sleeping, but I’ve no doubt they’ll be awake soon and demanding to open them. Then Kieran, Reagan and I have a whole heap of table arrangements, food preparation, and cooking to manage for lunch, so I’m going to need you to take your father, Bernie, and that little rascal who should not be on your bed, down to the local pub. Get you out of the house. I’ll set Reagan on putting the boys in front of the television to keep them occupied. What time are our guests arriving?” “Around one o’clock,” answered Kieran. “Good. In which case we’ll aim to eat at two. What are you laughing at, Kennedy?” Kieran turned to see Kennedy chuckling beside him. “Nothing, Sergeant Major Mum,” said Kennedy, before turning to Kieran with a sly grin. “My mother, the perennial organiser. Whatever you do, listen very carefully to her instructions in the kitchen and do not—I repeat—do not deviate from the plan in any way. People have died for less.” “Don’t you go listening to him, Kieran. He never did a thing he was told growing up—” “Yes, and look at me now.’ “Don’t talk back to your mother. Now go get showered and dressed. I need you downstairs in fifteen,” said Claire, before stopping and addressing Ed. “And you, young man, come down with me right now. If you want feeding and know what’s good for you.” Ed stopped licking himself and froze, staring at Claire, aware he was being addressed, before sitting up, jumping off the bed and running out past Kennedy’s mother. “See,” said Claire. “At least someone does what they’re told.” Their bedroom door closed to the pair of them laughing. ***** Kieran answered their doorbell just before one. Dressed in red silk and white furry trimming beneath their warm overcoats—in fancy dress as Santa’s little helpers—Laurie and Steph stood there with carrier bags full of goodies, Laurie almost bursting with excitement. “It’s confirmed, Kieran,” said Laurie, hugging him, unable to contain her delight. “All going well, we’re looking at a July baby.” “And we agreed to tell you, Kieran, but we’re keeping things hush hush at the moment,” said Steph, with a loaded glance at Laurie. “Just to be on the safe side. So no big announcements today, isn’t that right, Laurie?” “I know, I know,” said Laurie. “But Kennedy will suspect as soon as I refuse a drink.” “Then I’ll let him know on the quiet,” said Steph, reaching in and hugging Kieran. “In the meantime, something smells absolutely delicious.” Kieran led them through to the open kitchen and dining room. Reagan ran over and hugged the girls, they’d clearly met before. Claire waved from her sentinel position at the oven. “Oh wow,” said Steph, her mouth dropping open. “This place looks amazing. Looks like somebody gave Kennedy’s house a makeover?” And Kieran had to agree. He peered across the room to find Kennedy by the fridge door pulling out a bottle of champagne, smiling at him and nodding. Every time Kieran entered the room, his spirits lifted seeing their beautiful Christmas tree, sparkling decorations, and the tastefully decorated table overseen by Claire. And Kennedy clearly approved. “Champagne, ladies?” called Kennedy, holding up the bottle. Before Laurie could answer, Steph jumped in. “We’re both still on our special diets. So no alcohol for us today. But why don’t you put some of this sparkling ginger ale we’ve brought into a couple of champagne glasses and nobody will be any the wiser.” And so the party began. By one-thirty, as the house continued to fill with the delicious aromas of cooking, all their guests had arrived. Claire shooed them all out of the way—including Kieran—into their living room to chat, leaving Claire and Reagan to ready food for the gathering. And they certainly had a crowd. Figuring how to fit sixteen around Kennedy’s ten-seater table had been a challenge. But Kennedy had found a couple of folding trestle tables and picnic chairs, and they’d formed a large square so—in true family style—everyone faced into the centre of the table. Kieran’s mum arrived last, together with his sister Jules and Curtis, the boyfriend. At first, his mum seemed a little nervous and out of place, but after a couple of champagne cocktails she relaxed, chatting to Len, Steph and Laurie as though they were old friends. Even Kieran’s brother, Sean, made a short appearance for lunch although he had to bail at five to visit his latest fling. At one point, Kieran sat back and gazed around the table, at his old and new family and friends, and felt a swell of pride. Just then, a warm hand landed on his thigh. “Well done, love.” “Me? Thank your mum and sister, they did most of the cooking.” “You know what I mean. None of this would have happened, had it not been for you.” Kieran smiled, turned to Kennedy and pecked him on the lips. “We should make this a tradition. Your kitchen suits this kind of occasion brilliantly.” “Whatever you want, Kieran.” During dessert, Ed, who had been confined to the living room, was brought out and, in a display of rebellion, took a fancy to a particular bauble high up on the Christmas tree, managing to jump up and topple the whole thing onto Jefferson, much to the squeals of amusement from Reagan’s kids. After they’d cleared most of the table and set the dishwasher going, Jefferson and Bernie had offered to make coffee or tea for everyone. Soft Christmas tunes played in the living room, as everyone made themselves comfortable. During a lull in the various conversations, Steph, sitting the other side of the room, addressed Claire. “So come on, Claire. I think we’re all intrigued. How did you and Jefferson meet?” “Oh, shush. Nobody wants to know.” After a few encouraging noises, Claire relented. “Oh, well. If you insist. I know Kennedy’s heard this story before, but I met his father at an embassy ball. Dragged along by my mother and father, I didn’t want to be there, even though the embassy were supposed to put on something of a spectacle for their guests. I think some lower ranking member of royalty had arrived for one reason or another. Of course, Jeff’s family were well-known, his father being head of the consulate, but I’d never met any of them. So when this nice young man approached me, asked me if I could waltz—which of course, I could—we took a spin around the floor. Well, by the third dance, I knew. Jefferson was the one for me.” Everyone made pleasant noises at the end of the story, and Kieran gazed over at his mother, who caught his eye, smiled sadly and shrugged. Not everyone got to have their happy ending. Once again, small conversations hummed around the room. “When did you know?” asked Kieran, snuggled into Kennedy. “Know what?” “That you wanted me. I mean, when did you really know?” Kennedy appeared to consider this. “You know, I think it was on my stroll up the lane in Okinawa, when you were waiting for me. I saw you standing there, grinning at me as I approached, and, I don’t know, something inside me just clicked. And then, when I got to you, and you gave me a hug outside that Buddha bar—” “Outside the what?” said Kieran, turning to face Kennedy. “That bar. The Giant Buddha lounge, or something like that. The one you were standing beneath when you hugged the life out of me. Only remember because the bar light popped on just as we hugged. What about you?” But Kieran’s mind went back to that evening and later to the night in the hotel, the one branded in Kieran’s brain forever, the first time they’d made love. And all this time, he hadn’t realised he’d been standing beneath the giant Buddha bar in Okinawa waiting for Kennedy to arrive—waiting for his destiny? “Hey, Kieran. Are you okay?” “More than,” said Kieran, turning and kissing him on the cheek. “I love you, Kennedy Grey.” “Love you, too. But for the record, I said it first.”
  8. 114 points
    KENNEDY ~ LOST For the first time in his life, Kennedy felt lost. Which was odd in itself, because everything concerning the merger had come together beautifully, better than anyone could have dreamed. Erin, Karl and the rest of the management team had been stoked at the idea, had loudly voiced their approval at their first meeting on his return. In the past, Erin had often questioned why they’d not spread the wings of their expertise into the domestic security market, and now, a ready-made, successful company would be joining their ranks not as an acquisition, but as a partnership, with the company’s talent working alongside them. Even Sloan had quietly nodded his approval, although Kennedy knew him well enough to recognise the stalwart countenance of a defeated man. Before long, Kennedy would need to have the chat with Sloan. The last thing he wanted was to have the man walk and, moreover, Sloan needed to know why. With meeting after meeting happening—some at ungodly hours—he’d had little time to think about anything else. And usually work provided an excellent distraction. Not any more, though. Things had slowed. Sometimes during meetings, his thoughts would drift back two months, to a certain naked man heading for the shower after a session or two of mutually satisfying sex; or to Kieran’s body laid out on the beach, beautiful, in mouth-watering scarlet swimming briefs, soaking up the Bali sun. But more than all of those, he missed Kieran’s sparkling eyes, and incredible smile that lit up in amusement, grinning playfully either at something Kennedy had said or done, usually incorrectly. And the thought kept hitting him hard, punching a hole through his chest, especially when he arrived home late each night, when he stood for a moment in the threshold of his lonely house, knowing he could have had everything. And all he’d needed to do was ask. Ask if Kieran would like to be a part of his life. They could have stayed in touch, met up occasionally for drinks and dinner, seen how things went in the real world. But Kennedy had made his cold, plain intentions clear from the outset, something he always did in his business life, and now he felt empty; eviscerated. Mainly because Kieran had honoured the very rules Kennedy had damned himself with. Moreover, would Kennedy be happy having Kieran around occasionally, or did he want something more? Hell, who was he kidding? Could he handle casual with Kieran? Not on your life; the question didn’t even need asking. But, before he made any personal call to action, would Kieran even be interested? “What do you want, Kennedy?” came the gentle American female voice next to him, a soft hand landing on his sleeve. “You know, I have absolutely no idea,” came Kennedy’s detached voice, from somewhere inside him. “Me either. Let’s get one of each and then we can all share.” When Kennedy raised his eyes, he saw the business people around him, seated at the restaurant table, chatting amiably. Kyle Crystal, the Vice President of Cold Steel, sat opposite with his wife, Jerry; Sloan and his wife, Mary-Anne sitting next to them, and Giorgio sitting to his left. Kelly-Anne Marie Milletto sat next to him, on his right, her hand almost possessively resting on his sleeve. Only Kennedy had no significant other to bring. As usual. Probably five or six years older than Kennedy, Kelly-Anne Marie had amazing perception. Giorgio had been spot on with his assessment of her. Kennedy also made eye contact with the young, blond, perfectly sculpted waiter to Mary-Anne’s right, whose smile and prolonged eye contact with Kennedy could only mean one thing. “One of each sounds great,” said Kennedy, pulling the small laminated dessert menu up to his face, to cover his view. The over-attentiveness of the waiter had begun to rankle. “There’re only six of them, after all.” “I’m all for that,” said Mary-Anne, grinning at her mother. “Custard apple crumble, apricot layer cake, brandy creme brûlée, New York cheesecake, chocolate brownie with caramel ice cream and English spotted dick—whatever that is. Yuck. Sounds like an STD. Sloan here’s not really a dessert person.” “Yes. I’ll pass, if that’s okay? Until it’s time to order coffee.” Kennedy noticed Sloan whisper a few words to his wife, peck her on the cheek and then head for the restaurant door. No doubt he was heading outside for a cigarette. With the chill November air and the heavy rain, only an ardent smoker would brave the weather. Maybe now was Kennedy’s opportunity. He waited for desserts to arrive, for everyone to sample the delights, before making his move. Once again the young waiter stood to Kennedy’s left—in between him and Milletto—to deliver the food, subtly rubbing his thigh up against Kennedy’s arm, as he placed each dish onto the table. A year ago, Kennedy might have been flattered, might have even taken the young guy up on his advances, but that switch had been flicked off. Once everyone had sampled the sweets, Giorgio wanted to order coffee, so Kennedy excused himself from the table to go and fetch Sloan. He found his colleague stood under the restaurant canopy, overlooking the carpark. When Kennedy moved to stand next to him, Sloan nodded unsmiling before continuing to stare out at the heavy rain clattering on the regiments of cars. “Popular tonight,” said Sloan. For an amused moment, Kennedy realised he and Sloan rarely talked about anything but work issues. “Me?” said Kennedy, mystified. “You mean with our colleagues and their other halves?” Sloan snorted and simply nodded his head at somewhere past Kennedy. When Kennedy turned, he noticed the young waiter who had been flirting with him, standing twenty feet away, leaning against a wall beneath a car canopy, smoking a cigarette. On noticing them, he raised a hand in greeting. Kennedy waved back. “You were here first. Think he might be checking you out, not me,” said Kennedy. “If only I were gay, things would be so much easier,” said Sloan, puffing a plume of smoke into the night. Kennedy was not about to let that one go without a comment. “You think it’s easy?” said Kennedy, folding his arms. “So here’s a few home truths. First off, Sloan, with a face and body like yours, you’d have seen a shitload of action. But the all-you-can-eat coming out buffet soon gets old, and eventually even us gays want to settle down—most of us, anyway. And right then, gay or straight, we’re all on the same playing field. But please don’t think for one minute that being gay and in a relationship is any easier. You met Patrick. What part of our relationship looked easy to you?” Sloan laughed. One thing Kennedy liked about him was that he’d never had a problem being around Kennedy and Patrick as a couple. But even Sloan could not refrain from commenting with irritation on Patrick’s total lack of interest in their business and their significant successes. “So,” said Sloan, after a moment’s contemplation. “I suppose congratulations are in order, Kennedy. You’ve finally managed to ship off your pain-in-the-ass Chief Operating Officer. Not only to the other side of the world, but to the in-laws, no less. Bravo.” “Is that really how you see this?” “Is there any other way?” “Christ, Sloan. Wake up and smell the cinnamon bagel. You’re the one person in my office who keeps me on my toes. Everyone else does what I tell them. You’re also one of the few who understands how all the departments drive the business forward, someone who doesn’t bury themselves in their own area of specialism. Your father-in-law needs to see that, needs to witness your drive and ambition first hand. A year from now, you’ll be one of a very short list of people who has gotten beneath the skin of the new, wider company. And around that time, we’ll be ready to go public. Right then, we’re going to need someone charismatic to romance investors. I’m not giving you a prison sentence, Sloan, I’m handing you a golden ticket.” “So you’re not just getting rid of me?” “Say the word, and I’ll keep you here, send Karl instead.” Sloan peered sidelong at Kennedy, before turning back and puffing out a trail of smoke. “No. I’m in for the long haul. Besides, Mary-Anne’s looking forward to spending time with her mother.” “And the other plus is you’ll be able to fly your kids over to visit you, take them to Disneyland and Universal. That should earn you a few brownie points in the absent dad stakes. And you can do it all without the ex breathing down your neck, or turning up screaming in the office reception.” “Oh God,” said Sloan, turning to Kennedy, his expression mortified. “You heard about that?” “No, I heard it. My office backs onto reception, remember? Don’t worry, Sloan. I’ve got your back. We all have our crosses to bear. And anyway, seems like you’ve fallen on your feet with Mary-Anne.” “You know what? She’s it for me, Kennedy. Yeah, I know she’s a lot younger, but this is the woman I want to spend my life with. She’s probably the first person who actually understands me and will tell me if she thinks I’m being an idiot or can see that I’m in the wrong.” Like mother, like daughter, thought Kennedy, while Sloan continued speaking. “I know I’ve acquired something of a reputation, having married three times. But what people don’t know—not really something a man likes to admit to—is that my first wife cheated on me a year into our marriage, and her best friend who’d been the chief bridesmaid, someone who stood by me through the messy break-up and subsequent divorce, became my second wife. Total disaster. Our two kids were the only good things to come out of the catastrophe. Hindsight is a beautiful thing and only now I can see what a mistake I made. A wise soul once told me mistakes fall into three categories. Ones you simply can’t fix and have to live with; others you can if you really want to; and some you don’t want to make right, because the mistake has given you something better.” “Someone recently told me something similar about problems.” Sloan laughed and stubbed out his cigarette. “Same thing, I suppose. I’m going back inside. You coming?” “In a minute.” Kennedy needed a moment alone, staring out at the heavy sheets of rain. Maybe someone like Sloan could put problems and mistakes into one pot and call them the same. But they were not. Problems generally occur due to external factors, often beyond our control, randomly, often unpredictable and unaccountable. But we own mistakes, they are personal to each of us, and really—if we are going to be honest—they’re ours to decide whether to fix, even if we enlist the help of others to do so. And the simple truth? He’d made a terrible mistake. His dilemma? Could this one be fixed? After a deep breath, he pulled out his phone and checked the time: eight-ten. Straight afterwards, he scrolled down his list of contacts. After pushing the call option for one, he waited a few seconds until a familiar voice answered. “Hey, Leonard. You up for a drink later? I need to run something by you.”
  9. 111 points
    KIERAN ~ KENNEDY GAY No doubt at all, the suite at the Mandarin Oriental was the nicest, must luxurious hotel room Kieran had ever stayed in. Not that he’d stayed in many. Except for one huge disappointment. Kennedy was not there to share the king sized bed with him. On that first night, despite getting text messages from the girls, Kieran hadn’t felt like going out, had holed himself up in his room and binge watched HBO movies over a club sandwich room service meal, while sitting cross-legged on the bed. His only reminder of Kennedy? After the mix up with time in Okinawa, Kennedy had noticed Kieran wasn’t wearing a watch and had lent him one of his own, nothing pretentious, just a leather strapped timepiece his father, Jeff, had given him as a kid. Kieran loved wearing the device, loved smelling the navy leather strap which, every time, reminded him of Kennedy. The next day the sun shone gloriously, so with Laurie proudly clutching her Hong Kong guide book, the three of them took the ferry ride to Lantau Island and climbed the steps to the Big Buddha. Strangely, though, the air of spiritualism had disappeared for Kieran, as though that window of opportunity had passed him by, and he simply enjoyed being in the girl’s company and seeing the incredible sights. After taking photos of each other at the top, and climbing back down the tall stairway, they stopped for a vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery before taking a heart-stopping glass-bottomed cable car down to the town of Tung Chung. Laurie’s guide had promised outlet malls—a guide that had served her well—and the girls had then proceeded to shop like Vikings. By the time they all reached the hotel late in the afternoon, with the girls had also booked into the Mandarin Oriental, everyone felt pooped and ready for an afternoon nap. Len, who had finally managed to load his unsocial nephew, Leighton, onto a plane back to New York that afternoon, had invited Kieran and the girls for a relaxed dinner and drinks in his hotel in Lang Kwai Fong. Stylish and yet still retaining some old Chinese charm, the restaurant served Peking cuisine; Peking duck with paper thin pastry rolls, finely chopped cucumber and spring onion, and sticky hoisin sauce; huge tiger prawns cooked in a light chilli sauce, broth-like chicken soup, fried noodles, and various stir-fried vegetable dishes. Kieran enthused about everything having only ever sampled English style Chinese food—and then usually as a takeaway. Sitting between Len and Laurie, they all conversed genially until Len turned serious, and, while the girls chatted between themselves, lowered his voice to talk to Kieran. “My human resources manager emailed me an employment contract for your new job. Give me an email address so I can send it over to you. Ideally, I’d like you to look through over the next couple of days—don’t want to spoil your holiday, but if you could do this sooner rather than later, I’d be grateful. Let me know if there’s anything missing and if you’re happy with the package, so we can get you to sign on the dotted line and get you on board as soon as you get back. Are you okay with that?” “More than okay.” “The starting salary and bonus scheme might seem a little generous, but it’s only slightly above market rate for this kind of role, and besides, I am reliably informed by someone not here right now, that you will not only work your ass off but are worth every penny.” Kennedy. Even when he was not physically present, he still impacted Kieran’s life. He had to look away from Len’s gaze for a moment, to level his emotions. “Send it over to the email address you’ve already got for me,” he said, after a few calming breaths, “and I’ll do the honours tonight. Get everything back to you first thing tomorrow.” “Okay, that’s impressive. Are you always this efficient?” “I’ll tell you what, Len—and we can make this official if you want, write this into my contract—but I guarantee that in six months’ time, I will have increased revenues across all of your businesses by between fifteen to twenty percent at the very least. How does that sound?” “Like I should have hired you a few years ago.” After dinner, Len opted to head back to his room, while Kieran and the girls decided to explore the bustling bar scene in Hong Kong. Into the balmy evening air, they wandered Wyndham Street filled with bars and restaurants and people spilling out onto the pavement. Eventually they hit an outdoor escalator and decided to see where the moving staircase would take them. Steph spotted them before anyone else; Richmond, Mike, Patrick and Joey, with another male couple Kieran recognised from the cruise, standing just inside a bar called Staunton's on Staunton Street. “Should we go and say hello?” asked Laurie, unsure. “Kieran?” asked Steph, always sensitive to his feelings. “Honestly, I don’t mind,” he said, staring down at the group. “Looks like Joey might need saving.” “Let’s grab a quick drink. And if it gets too much, tonight’s time-to-escape word is douchebag. If anyone uses the word douchebag, then it’s time for us all to get the hell out of there.” “Since when did we have a time-to-escape word?” asked Kieran. “Since tonight.” “And why douchebag?” asked Laurie, frowning. “English people don’t use that word.” “Exactly.” When they approached the group, Patrick spotted them first and waved them over. After kissing each of the girls, he even shook Kieran’s hand and smiled. Would wonders never cease? Richmond and Mike simply nodded their hellos. Joey’s face, however, positively lit up when he saw Kieran and he came over to say chat. Once Patrick had bought them all drinks, Joey and Kieran excused themselves to move away from the group to a quieter part of the bar to catch up. To begin with, they shared stories about their night and what they’d seen of Hong Kong. After a while, Joey’s face became serious. “So, listen. I need to fess up. I talked to my sister, Chloe. She’s still friends with your ex-girlfriend, Jennifer. They catch up every other week. I hope I didn’t drop you in it, but I told her about you being on the cruise with your new boyfriend.” Oh, hell, thought Kieran. That should go down like a heavily loaded depth charge. “What did she say?” “She said I must have you mixed up with someone else. Until I forwarded a photo of you and Kennedy dancing, and then she went quiet. I have to ask you, Kieran. Are you really gay, or are you putting on a show here? Richmond seems to think you’re not the real deal.” Kieran laughed at the question. Three weeks ago, he would have confessed to Joey about the whole thing being a sham. But now? No fucking way was he denying what was so obviously true. “I am one hundred percent the real deal. Steph and Laurie were grilling me about the same thing over lunch today. How could I be with Jennifer for so many months and now be with a man, and not be freaking out? I suppose some men might. And I don’t have a perfect answer except, objectively, I’ve always seen the beauty in both forms; male and female. You know, like in the James Bond movies where Halle Berry comes out of the sea in her tangerine bikini. Do I appreciate the sexiness? Hell, yes, I do. And then, when Daniel Craig does the same in his light blue briefs, can I appreciate his sex appeal. Sure I can.” “So you’re bi?” “To be honest, I hate labels. But if I had to label myself right now, I’d say I’m Kennedy Gay.” Joey laughed at that, a nice infectious laugh that had Kieran grinning. “Can I ask—and you don’t have to answer—what’s he like in bed? Kennedy?” “You can ask,” said Kieran, his voice lowered. “You ever been to Oxford Street at Christmas when they turn on the Christmas lights?” “Nope.” “One minute the street is normal, dull street lamps and dark pavements. The next—wham—above the road lights of all colours, shapes and sizes, sparkle and shine everywhere, bringing everything to life. That’s what sex is like with Kennedy.” “So Kennedy’s your Christmas, then?” “Yep, except he definitely does not come just once a year.” Once again Joey laughed aloud and clinked his glass with Kieran’s bottle of beer. “Cheers for that. You know, I had a girlfriend in college, too. Felt such a fraud, as though I was cheating on her every time we went out, especially when I checked out another guy. Coming out was such a relief. At medical school nobody gives a flying fuck whether you’re into guys, girls, or both, including girls who used to be guys, or guys who used to be girls. It’s so liberating.” At that moment, Steph and Laurie appeared in front of them, both looking excited, and Kieran wondered if they were about to use the douchebag word. “Kieran, we’re just going to have a quick browse through that cute little shop opposite. Mike says they’re selling these darling Chinese bowls and plates and other pottery items at absolutely bargain prices. Can we leave our drinks with you and Joey for a couple of minutes?” “Of course you can,” said Kieran, laughing. Kieran and Joey watched them disappear into the small store “A few minutes, my ass,” said Kieran. “Those two can’t resist a bargain. Dragged me kicking and screaming around an outlet mall today. Bet you ten quid they’ll be gone at least half an hour, and then come back with a couple of shopping bags full of goodies.” In their absence, Kieran and Joey chatted happily together, and with no Kennedy by his side, he was grateful for the distraction, to be able to talk about their own favourite parts of the cruise. From time to time, both of them peered over the heads of the other patrons in the crowded bar, to where Richmond held court. Patrick was not there, must have excused himself to use the toilet, but Richmond’s voice could be heard even above the hubbub in the bar, and a few people nearby had begun to give him annoyed stares. Richmond appeared to be addressing his comments to the gay couple they had met on the boat. “S’like it’s become some kind of fucking holiday competition, who can bring the prettiest, dumbest, barely-above-the-age-of-consent, sidekick to parade around on a leash with them, like they’re showing their pedigree puppies off at Crufts Dog Show.” “Okay, Rich,” came Mike’s placating voice. Richmond had clearly knocked back a few drinks too many, and both he and Joey could hear the tirade clearly across the other voices in the bar. “Have you had to put up with that all holiday?” asked Kieran. Joey huffed out a sigh and shook his head. “They go way back, him and Patrick. So I try to ignore him most of the time. But honestly, sometimes I’d like to punch the guys lights out.” “…freeloading off their fucking sugar daddies. Makes me want to puke.” “Okay, dial it down, Rich,” came Mike’s softer voice, with hand on Richmond’s arm. Joey looked away, but the hurt in his eyes said everything. “I’m not freeloading, you know,” he said. “I’ve paid my way. I do have my own money.” “Why does Mike put up with that jerk?” “No idea. Maybe Richmond’s dick is as big as his mouth.” Both of them chuckled at that quip, until their attention was drawn back across the bar. “An’ you know what sickens me most? Paddy’s now playing catch-up, bringing his own fucking useless little piece of shit cocksucker along with him, just so’s he can rub it in Kennedy’s face—” Kieran put down his bottle of lager, readying to go over and confront Richmond. But before he had a chance, a loud crack followed by a few screams and shouts of consternation, the smashing of glass and something else being overturned brought the bar to silence. When Kieran turned around, he saw Richmond on the floor, with Patrick standing over him, his face red with rage, his finger pointing at a shocked and bloody-mouthed Richmond. “If you ever refer to Joey that way again, so help me God I will end you. Joey is a catch, by anyone’s standard. And I am not competing with anyone. I’m the one who’s lucky to have him, not the other way around. If you can’t deal with that, then you are no longer my friend.” “It’s okay, Pat,” said Mike, helping a shocked Richmond up from the floor. “He’s had a bit too much to drink. I’ll take him back to the hotel.” But Richmond hadn’t finished. While Mike set the small table upright and apologised to the people sitting around, Richmond confronted Patrick. “I’m on your fucking side, remember?” he said. “If that’s how you’re going to behave, I don’t want you on my side. Not if you’re going to be disrespectful of my friends,” said Patrick, about to turn away, but then spotting Joey and Kieran standing together in stunned silence. Turning Richmond to face their way, Patrick pointed to Kieran across the bar. “And, for the record, do you honestly think Kieran’s just a decoration? Did you see him and Kennedy on the dance floor? I have never seen two men so coordinated. Yes, men. They are both men, Richmond, and I really hope Kennedy realises how lucky he is to have Kieran. Because I sure as hell know how lucky I am to have Joey.” With that, Patrick pushed Richmond towards Mike, and then turned his attention back to Joey. “Come on, babe, let me pay up and then we’ll get out of here.” While Patrick disappeared into the depths of the bar, and Mike loaded Richmond and himself into a taxi, a broadly smiling Joey quickly finished his drink. “Sorry to leave you alone, Kieran, but looks as though I’m going to get lucky tonight.” “You’re not sorry at all,” laughed Kieran. “No, I’m not. And Patrick’s amazing when he’s in this kind of mood. So I’m going to make the most of it.” “Hey, we’re off to Bali tomorrow, so I probably won’t see you before we go. Let’s arrange to catch up when we’re both back in London.” “You’re on. You know, I wasn’t really looking forward to Hong Kong, but I wouldn’t have missed that little show for the world. Enjoy the rest of your holiday, and safe flight home.” “You too,” said Kieran, shaking Joey’s hand, and waving at a departing Patrick, who actually smiled and seemed ready to leave, but then relented and came over. “Kieran, I owe you an apology. I was rude to you on the cruise and, in hindsight, that was unacceptable. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, so I hope you’ll accept my apology. I think you might be good for Kennedy. I just hope he appreciates you.” “Thank you, Patrick.” Joey and Patrick left in the next red taxi, leaving Kieran standing there, stunned and alone. Straight away, Kieran wanted to call Kennedy, but had no idea whether he would be in the air right now on his way back to Hong Kong. Fortunately, right then, the girls returned from their forage, laden down as anticipated with bags of goodies. “We’ve saved so much money,” said Steph, holding up one of the carrier bags. “I think you mean spent,” said Kieran. “Where is everyone?” asked Laurie, putting her bag down and getting her drink. “Did we miss anything?” asked Steph, putting her bags down and also looking around. “Nope,” said Kieran, grinning happily. “Apart from watching one serious douchebag go down in flames—metaphorically speaking—you missed nothing at all.” “Okay, Kieran,” said Steph, hands on hips. “Hand me my drink, and then spill the beans.” ******* In Kieran’s mind, Hong Kong airport appeared to have been designed to resemble a giant modern cathedral with high vaulted ceilings and huge windows showcasing regimented rows of airplanes from all over the world, waiting to be boarded or disembarked, and distant planes taking off and landing. Moving walkways ran through the centre of the main terminal, lined either side by departure gates and a few last minute shops or eateries. Kieran stood at the departure gate, staring over the heads of those around him and shuffling from one foot to the next. Passengers were already boarding and still no sign of Kennedy. “Will you calm done, Kieran,” said Steph, for the third time. “He texted that he’s on his way.” Nothing could placate Kieran. He’d spent the whole three days wanting Kennedy by his side, and now, finally, the man had arrived back in Hong Kong just as they were about to depart for Bali. “If he’s not here, I’m not getting on the—” “Here he is now,” said Laurie, pointing past Kieran. Kieran turned and his heart gave a lurch, a fixed grin forming on his face. As he approached too, Kennedy could not help the small smile that slipped onto his tired face. Wearing his travel attire—baggy and creased beige chinos and wrinkled Indian cotton shirt, he still looked good enough to eat. With him, he had only a carry-on bag, all he had taken to Los Angeles, the rest of their luggage checked in by Kieran. When he reached them, he first gave the girls a quick hug and then came over to Kieran and hugged him tightly. “I really missed you,” said Kieran, but Kennedy said nothing in return. Steph then hurried them onto the plane, both girls being stopped as they boarded, something beeping on the scanning machine, and them both being told that they had been upgraded. All of them would be in business class. Kieran knew Kennedy had somehow worked his magic, and simply gave him a sly smile. As they marched down the ramp towards the plane door, Kieran put his hand on Kennedy’s arm and stopped him. “Sorry, I didn’t ask. Did everything go to plan in LA?” asked Kieran. “No,” said Kennedy, an odd, bewildered expression on his face. “Everything did not go to plan. Everything did not go to plan at all. But I’ll explain everything when we’re on the plane.
  10. 111 points
    KENNEDY ~ PATRICK The sudden loss of warmth from Kieran’s body with his departure, from having him pressed up against his back, took Kennedy by surprise. During the molten kiss—from a supposedly straight man, no less—something strange had happened inside, a simple truth had come to light, something that had been so obvious, so fundamental, that he had been blind to it all these years. “We need to talk,” came the voice of his ex-lover. Nine years, to be precise. He had spent nine years of his life with the man in front of him. Pretty much all of his thirties. And in all that time, they had never been in love. Not really, if they were both going to be honest. Maybe they loved each other, in a brotherly kind of way. Kennedy provided a financial security blanket while Patrick brought domesticity and continuity. But what they had was a partnership of convenience, nothing more. “Kennedy! Are you listening to me?” “Yes, Patrick,” he replied calmly, peering up at Patrick instead of looking through him. No doubt about it, his ex still looked good, a little heavier of frame perhaps, but still handsome and in good shape. Over Patrick’s shoulder, he noticed Joey rush into the room, but on seeing them together, move to one side of the room, not far away. “First of all, what’s with snogging the rent boy? Was that show just for me?” “Okay, enough, Patrick. Let’s put a few things straight, shall we?” “Straight? Fine. Let me start. In case you didn’t know, your boy’s got a girlfriend back in England.” “Yes, I know he had a girlfriend. Just like you and I had girlfriends back in college.” “You don’t get it, do you? Just like the last one, this little cocksucker moron’s taking you for a ride, too—” “No!” said Kennedy, standing and meeting Patrick’s gaze. “You do not get to slag off Kieran! Have a pop at me all you want, but leave Kieran alone. He’s been nothing short of heroic for standing by me and putting up with this whole stupid charade. Yes, Richmond told me in no uncertain terms what everyone thinks of me, but Kieran deserves none of it. Only one man on this ship has stood by my side and defended me through all of this, and that’s Kieran.” “Yeah, because you’re paying him to.” “Not true. I’m paying him to be a companion, not a defender. The lot of you managed to turn Ewan against me last year, and I was paying him, too. But unlike the rest of you evil queens, Kieran has a good heart. And he’s the first person who has ever got me. Understands why I do what I do, what I’ve achieved despite everything. Someone who sees the things I’ve accomplished without being jealous or judgmental.” “Like me, you mean?” “If we’re going for honesty, then, yes.” “Fucking unbelievable,” Patrick spat out, turning his head away. “Still reinventing history much? You always did put your work before us. Never put any time aside for me. You alone were the one responsible for ruining us.” “Takes two, Patrick. I admit I spent a lot of time getting one deal after another off the ground. I was single-handedly trying to salvage my uncle’s company from going under. You knew that. But you never gave me any encouragement or support. All you ever did was either whinge endlessly or nitpick everything I did, especially when I got home dog tired. Berating me for where I put my jacket, or if I slept the night on the sofa, or what channel I watched on the television. You made life in that house unbearable. And now Richmond tells me you thought I was cheating on you all that time, while I was away at weekends working my ass off. That is not only untrue, but monumentally unfair and, frankly, unforgivable. You know what? The day you stormed out, I felt as though I could finally breathe again.” Patrick stood unspeaking then, but a change occurred in him, his eyes glassy, clearly hurt. Kennedy didn’t want that. From the start, he had only wanted to clear the air, but not at the expense of hurting Patrick’s feelings. When he looked around, he noticed Joey had left, had probably heard enough. “It’s been five years, Pat. You need to let this go. For both our sakes.” Patrick unfolded his arms and thrusted his hands into his pockets. “Richmond told me you’ve barely left the cabin the whole cruise,“ said Kennedy, “Is that true?” Oddly enough, Patrick smiled at that comment. “Rich tends to over-exaggerate. Of course we’ve left the room for meals. But Joey can be very demanding in the bedroom.” Unexpectedly, Kennedy’s laughter finally broke the stalemate. “We’re never getting back together, are we?” asked Patrick, as though he already knew the answer. Kennedy smiled and shook his head very gently. “Joey’s nice, Pat. And he clearly adores you. You two suit each other.” “He’s young, and messy. And a bit of a scatter brain where finances are concerned.” “Which is why he needs someone like you.” ******* Kennedy passed only a handful of fellow passengers on his way back to the cabin, everyone else undoubtedly getting dressed up for the captain’s dinner that evening. When he reached the double doors, he took a deep breath before swiping his keycard. Things needed to be said—damage limitation—and he had let sleeping dogs lie with Patrick for far too long. Neither liked to apologise. Even so, trepidation unsettled his stomach now. He had meant what he said to Patrick, about Kieran being a decent guy. But Kennedy had forced that kiss on him and overstepped the very boundaries he had set. If Kieran was pissed off at him, he had every right to be. Inside the room, lights blazed but nobody appeared to be there. When he walked into the bedroom, Kieran’s case sat open on top of the bed. Why was he packing? They weren’t due in Hong Kong for four days. Had Kennedy succeeded in scaring him away? “Kieran?” he called out. No answer. For the next thirty minutes, after checking with his friends, he searched all the places on the boat Kieran had liked to hang out; the coffee shop, the bowling alley, the cinema. Eventually, he headed up onto the rain-glistened deck where the bad weather had finally cleared, to the relaxing spot along the sea rail with the row of chairs and sun loungers. “Kieran?” The familiar figure pressed up against the deck railing made no sign of acknowledgment. Perhaps a slight movement of the head or a stiffening of the body. Hard to tell by the dimness of twilight. There was most definitely an exhalation of smoke from a cigarette Kieran had been nursing. Just as Kennedy thought, the damage had been done, maybe too late to salvage anything—but he had to try. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and joined the ‘Hate Kennedy’ party. Stood there companionably for a while, following Kieran’s gaze out to sea, he gathered the right words to say. On the horizon, the last vestiges of the day’s light tinted the sky, shimmering an orange and purple melange across the tips of the waves. A couple of times Kennedy chanced a sidelong glance but Kieran kept his gaze trained on the ocean, taking an occasional puff from the cigarette. “Beautiful isn’t it? Did you know that twilight has three phases? Civil twilight is what we’re seeing now. Starts right after sunset, once the sun’s lost from view and drops to around six degrees below the horizon. The second is called nautical twilight, between six and twelve degrees, and the third is astronomical twilight, between twelve and eighteen. On a good day, like today, twilight is accompanied by a spectacular light show.” “So what’s dusk?” “Officially, dusk is the transition from the darkest phase of twilight, just before night kicks in.” “What is it about the human race that we have to categorise something as lovely and natural as sunset.” “Twilight.” “Sunset. Twilight. What-the-fuck ever.” “Back before television and the internet, people had a lot of time to kill. Man had to do something with all those spare hours. Apart from reading, writing, and masturbation.” A snort of laughter next to him lightened Kennedy’s mood. “What I asked of you earlier, in the club, was wrong. I panicked and I’m—I regret that. What I should have done was to grow some balls and deal with the situation on my own. A few years ago, actually. The way I’ve had to all my life. If I made you uncomfortable, that was unintentional.” “Are you apologising?” “I don’t apologise, remember? Look Kieran, we have another four days on the boat. I can’t do anything about that. But if you want, I can rearrange your flight so that you can fly back home from Hong Kong. I’ll still honour the deal. Make sure you get the full amount plus the additional money for the—umm—extra service I asked you to perform. You’ve been a trooper—I truly mean that—and you’ve put up with more shit than anyone else in your place would have done. More than I ever would have. And I respect you for that.” Kennedy fell silent then, hoping that Kieran would say something, anything. Nothing came. “And if you don’t want to come with me to the captain’s table dinner tonight, I’ll also understand—“ “Are you fucking kidding me?” said Kieran, turning to him and stubbing out the remains of the cigarette on the sea rail. “What kind of message would that send to the assholes you used to call friends? Fuck that, I’m coming. And I’m bringing my best game.” “Okay.” As a businessman, Kennedy had learned to deal with a fair amount of bravado. Kieran’s fierce tone and somewhat veiled threat made him a little nervous. “But I’ll be getting changed in Steph and Laurie’s cabin. Even though she’s still sick, Steph’s insisting on adjusting the length of my dress suit trousers and then pressing them. And Laurie’s going to give my hair a quick trim. So I’ll be coming with Laurie and I’ll see you there.” “Understood,” said Kennedy, disappointment filling his stomach like concrete. Part of his enjoyment over the evenings on the cruise had been in getting dressed for dinner together, at assessing each other’s choice of evening wear. “And will you be joining us for pre-dinner drinks?” “Might be a little late, but I’ll be there. Okay?” “Thank you. Are we good, then?” “We’re getting there, Kennedy. We’re getting there.”
  11. 110 points
    KIERAN ~ DATE NIGHT Even with the five star status, the Naha hotel room didn’t hold a candle to their luxury cabin on the ship. Significantly smaller bed—probably queen size—the room had simple but stylish furnishings, the one saving grace being the floor to ceiling windowed panorama over the whole of nighttime Naha. Even the bathroom had a tiny shower cubicle only big enough for one. At dinner, Kieran had opted for a simple and quick dinner, Italian fare, aching to get Kennedy back to the room. “I know I already mentioned this over dinner, but what you heard tonight is strictly between us,” Kennedy said, as they both prepared for bed. “And as I said already,” said Kieran, removing his shirt, and heading into the bathroom to shower. “You don’t need to worry, Kennedy. You can trust me. I promise.” “Yes, I know. And thank you,” came Kennedy’s voice. Dried and with only a towel around his waist, Kieran passed Kennedy as he headed for a shower. “And are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” he asked. “To LA? For moral support?” “It’s a turnaround trip. In and out,” called Kennedy, above the sound of running water. “I’d rather you make the most of your time in Hong Kong. Mandarin Oriental’s already booked and paid for, and it’s a beautiful city with some great attractions; the Peak and the Peak Tram, various local markets, Ocean Park, colourful temples, the Big Buddha, and, if you really must, Disneyland—” “They have a giant Buddha in Hong Kong?” called Kieran, his interest piqued. “They do, indeed. On Lantau island. It’s next to a Buddhist monastery. You can get a cable car up from a town called Tung Chung. You should take Steph and Laurie. People say it’s spectacular.” After his disappointment in Koh Samui, he wondered if he should simply give up on his whim. But then, maybe he could go on the premise of simply sight-seeing. Not wanting to make any decision right then—he had bigger concerns on his mind—he put the idea to the back of his mind until they reached Hong Kong. Without answering, he clambered naked beneath the covers but sat up with his back against the headboard, his knees pulled into his chest. Even now, here in the room with Kennedy, he was unsure how to broach the next subject. Of course, by now the man knew him well enough to realise something was up. “What’s the matter, Kieran?” said Kennedy, coming back into the room and sitting in just his underwear on Kieran’s side of the bed. “You seem nervous. Have I done something wrong?” “No, of course not.” “We don’t have to do anything tonight, if you don’t want to.” “Are you kidding? Of course I want to. I’ve been waiting all day—” Kennedy kissed him tenderly at first, letting the embrace gradually become hungry, and Kieran felt himself relax. After a few moments, he gently pushed Kennedy’s face away. “All day long, I’ve been reliving you pushing your tongue into my ass. And every time I do, my ass cheeks clench together and my insides turn to jelly. So as long as you promise to show me what to do and to go slow—and I know I can trust you—I’d like you to fuck me.” Kennedy’s eyes went wide, his face still hovering near Kieran’s. “Are you sure?” “Of course not. But I keep having this vision of you inside me, of your face as you come in me. And I need to know if what I’m imagining is as good as the real thing.” “But I didn’t bring any—” “I did,” said Kieran, silently sending his friend Cole a thank you. He reached for the small bag beside the bed, unzipped the top and pulled out the contents. Condoms and lube. “Actually, this was a joke from a friend. I almost threw it back at him.” “I’m glad you didn’t.” “Yeah, me too.” Once Kennedy had shed his briefs and climbed into bed next to Kieran, they began to fool around. Kieran enjoyed his newfound freedom to touch Kennedy’s body, running a hand across the hard planes of his chest, his nipples, trailing down to his genitals, making him gasp and tremble when he cupped his balls and squeezed them. To show Kennedy he meant business, he kissed his body from mouth, throat, chest, all the way down to his groin, and, after a moment’s hesitation, took Kennedy’s cock into his mouth. In his mind, he tried to remember the things Kennedy had done to excite him, and attempted to do the same. Kennedy clearly enjoyed the attention, because his hands weaved into Kieran’s hair and he pushed his hips up to meet Kieran’s bobbing head. Not for long, though. “Stop,” gasped Kennedy, pulling Kieran’s mouth away. “Okay, so full marks for paying attention. But the way we’re getting carried away, it’s going to be over before it’s even begun. And I’m thinking maybe it’s my turn, that you let me try a little—uh—ass play before deciding on the main event. See how comfortable you are. If it feels too much, then we can put off the deed to another day. How does that sound?” “I’m in your hands, Kennedy.” Much to Kieran’s delight, Kennedy rolled Kieran onto his back and took the lead, sucking the head of his shaft into his mouth, slowly working his already hardened cock artfully with his tongue. After a few minutes, while still sucking, Kieran felt a lube-coated finger touch his hole. For a moment his body stiffened, but Kennedy worked him unhurriedly, moved in a circular motion, allowing him to relax before occasionally dipping inside. When Kennedy raised his head from Kieran’s cock and captured him in a fierce kiss, Kieran hardly noticed the digit smooth all the way inside him. This time when Kennedy returned to blowing him, his finger twisted, working him, until he touched a sensitive spot deep inside. A bolt of electricity sizzled through him, and Kieran hiked in a breath before muttering aloud an expletive. “Ah. The ‘on’ switch,” said Kennedy, after releasing Kieran’s cock from his mouth, and grinning up at him. “Fuck. Do that again.” This time, Kennedy pushed in a second finger, and started to loosen Kieran up, while sucking him relentlessly. When both fingers scooped over the spot, Kieran almost blew his load. “Kennedy,” he breathed, barely audibly, his hands grabbing Kennedy’s hair and pulling his head away. “I’m here.” “You need to fuck me. Soon.” But instead, Kennedy worked another finger and more lube into him, until the hot pain, the stretch, had begun to subside. By now, Kieran’s body had started to push back onto the fingers, hungry for the sensation. When simultaneously, Kennedy’s talented mouth and fingers retreated, a moan of abandonment escaped him. But Kennedy’s face promptly appeared over him, kissed him before bringing Kieran’s knees up towards his chest. “Condom?” said Kieran. “Already on. With plenty of lube, too,” said Kennedy, smiling, and lining himself up with Kieran’s body. “I’m pretty good at multitasking. Look, this might feel a little uncomfortable at first, so I’ll go easy, but take a deep breath and hold on for ten seconds.” “Two miles,” said Kieran, softly, feeling Kennedy’s cock nudge his entrance. “How’s that?” said Kennedy, stopping. “Ten seconds between the lightning and the thunder, means the storm’s two miles away.” Kennedy chuckled. “Whatever works for you. Ready?” “Give it to me.” Kennedy had been right. Even after he had been loosened up, the first breach of Kennedy’s cock past Kieran’s anal muscles burned painfully. Instantly, Kennedy’s mouth covered one of Kieran’s stiff nipples and he bit firmly, before returning to attack his neck and then his mouth. The distraction worked, and with each tiny diversion, he pushed a little further inside. Suddenly Kennedy stopped, his eyes hovering over Kieran’s. “I’m in. All the way.” “So what are you waiting for?” Kennedy chuckled, and started pulling out slowly, just a little, before sinking back inside. For what seemed like an eternity, he continued this way, until Kieran almost begged for more. But Kennedy must have read the signs in his face, and began longer strokes, this time plunging in and hitting Kieran right on target, nailing the tiny goldmine inside him. When Kennedy not only brought their mouths together, but also pinched Kieran’s left nipple, Kieran almost fell to pieces. Panting heavily now, he began to reach for his own cock, needing to speed his release only to have Kennedy swat his hand away and begin pumping his shaft in time with his own rhythm. Kieran didn’t stand a chance. Already the orgasm had begun to form, causing his toes to scrunch up, and when Kennedy began thrusting harder, erratically, Kieran exploded in Kennedy’s hand, spraying semen all the way to their chins, the nerve endings in his body going off like a New Year’s firework display. Distantly, he felt Kennedy filling him with warmth in the condom, gradually stilling and collapsing on top of him. Glistening with sweat, Kieran’s body vibrated from head to toe, but then so did Kennedy’s. They both remained unmoving, Kennedy’s head buried in Kieran’s neck, both breathing heavily, both unable to speak. Kieran didn’t want to move, wanted their bodies to remain glued together forever. Eventually one muffled word escaped Kennedy. “Fuck.” Slowly and carefully, Kennedy withdrew from Kieran. Even so, Kieran experienced the loss of heat and substance from inside him like an amputation. Kennedy rolled off and lay next to him, both of them staring at the ceiling, while Kieran waited for his thoughts and sensations to settle. “Is it always this intense?” he whispered. “Not for me. Not in the past, anyway. Maybe this is simply what it’s like between you and me.” Kieran thought about that remark for a minute. “In which case, I am well and truly fucked.” Kennedy laughed aloud. “I think we can both safely agree to that.” Kieran watched Kennedy stand, remove the condom, and head for the bathroom. Still Kieran felt unable to move. But fortunately, Kennedy came and lay next to him again. Once more, they lay in companionable silence, each with their own thoughts. Kieran’s soreness would be interesting, but something else was on his mind. “Kennedy.” “Yes?” “Does this mean I’m gay?” “If it did—even just a little bit—does that bother you?” Kieran thought about the question. “No, not at all. What would bother me immensely, was if we never got to do that again.” Kennedy laughed aloud, before rolling on his side and addressing Kieran directly. “And with such an excellent scholar showing clear promise, the master might even let the student take charge next time.” “Really?” asked Kieran, amazed. He had unfairly assumed Kennedy would always want to be the one in charge. While they both got comfortable, with Kieran’s head resting on Kennedy’s shoulder, Kieran recounted the day he had spent, visiting historic and not-so-historic sites in Okinawa, making Kennedy laugh when recounting their trip to a tourist market where one of the items on display was variously flavoured tins of Spam. When Kieran mentioned Leonard, he noticed Kennedy quieten, waiting for him to finish. “Forgot to tell you. Leonard phoned me today, just before I met up with you. I should have mentioned earlier but it slipped my mind. He asked me if I thought you were reliable. Sounds like he’s impressed. Something to do with you giving him advice on his websites.” “At lunchtime today. An Okinawa noodle restaurant they took us to, between attractions. Yes, he’s using outdated formats. I put him right over a couple of Asahi beers. Could do so much better, even if only by consolidating a few of them. No big deal, really.” “Well, apparently it is, for him. He loves your energy and enthusiasm. Something I can definitely vouch for, especially after tonight.” Kieran peered sidelong at Kennedy and they shared a mutual grin. But Kennedy hadn’t finished. “And he’s about to offer you a job. As his head of marketing in their London office. His current person’s about to retire and he needs someone with fresh ideas to take the helm. Thinks you have great potential and I agreed. Told him I think he’d be a fucking moron not to offer you the job.” Kieran stared at Kennedy for a moment, his mouth gaping open, unable to speak, before turning his gaze away. He had learned, especially from a professional perspective, to suppress his emotions where potential work was concerned, mainly because of late—apart from this trip to Asia with Kennedy—all news tended to be bad news. Tears welled in his eyes, something that rarely happened, something Kennedy noticed immediately because he squeezed his arm around Kieran’s shoulders. “Shit, Kieran. Did I say something wrong? Should I have told him no?” “No,” he replied, swiping at his eyes. “Fuck, no, Kennedy. Exactly the opposite. Head of marketing? That’s my idea of a dream job. I have no clue what’s happening to me right now, everything is so crazy. In a good way. Sorry, what I meant to say is everything is amazing. All thanks to you.” “You undersell yourself, Kieran.” “Now, you know that’s not true. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here right now.” “Point taken,” laughed Kennedy. “Point taken. And for the record, I’m glad it’s you that’s here.” Me too, thought Kieran. Even though it’s only for the next two weeks.
  12. 110 points
    Waking up early on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, Robert looked around the room he had chosen and wondered where he was. It took a couple minutes for his brain to kick in, and he sighed when realization dawned on him that this was his new home. Robert was only in foster care for a little over a month, but in that time he had been in three different houses, including a group home, and was physically assaulted twice by other teens for being gay. He looked out the window into the backyard and across to the other island. That’s a view to wake up to. I think that’s the Tampa Yacht Club, across from us over on Davis Islands. And that up there is the Hospital. Not a lot of fancy houses on that side of the channel from what I can see, but Dad says it’s one of the wealthiest places in Tampa. I wonder if my grandparents live over there. Are they as rich as Dad? I don’t know if I have any other uncles, cousins, or other family here in the city. Davis Islands, across the channel, was indeed one of the wealthiest areas of the City of Tampa, filled with old money families, and it held several restaurants down its central strip. It also held Tampa General Hospital at its northern point and a small private plane airport at its southern tip. Robert realized he had started to feel like he was safe, and home, in what was less than a day. That realization scared him. Shit. Can this all be real? What if DCF here says Adam can’t keep me. What if they send me back to foster care? I don’t think I can handle that, especially if they are like the group home in Boston. He shivered and pulled his blanket tighter around himself. Something smells good. Dad must be cooking, but he said he couldn’t cook. He rolled out of bed and stretched, letting out a big yawn. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he walked into the bathroom to relieve himself. In short order, he was out of his bedroom suite and walking through the short hallway that opened up into the family room and open kitchen. He was wearing just his loose boxers, which he slept in. His smooth athletic body was on display, which also featured a tribal style phoenix tattoo on his right shoulder and chest. There were also some healing bruises on his torso and biceps. The right side of the house consisted of an ample open space that made up the gaming room, family room, and a large open kitchen. Two islands dominated the kitchen, one with bar seating, and the other a central island used for prep and storage. A short hallway led off the family room to three bedroom suites, and another hallway off the kitchen led to the last bedroom suite, the wine closet, and wet bar. Further down were the laundry room and garage access. “Who are you?” Robert asked as he looked at the man who stood in the kitchen. The aroma of pancakes, bacon, and eggs filled the air, and stirred in was the scent of freshly-ground and brewed coffee. The man was tall and slender with sea-green eyes and a mop of curly black hair, and appeared to be the same age as his father. He too was in his underwear and a plain t-shirt. “I’m Duncan. You must be Robert,” he said with a smile. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m cooking. There’ll be enough for all three of us.” He stepped over to the coffee pot and looked at Robert. “Have a seat. Do you drink coffee? What do you take in it?” Robert sat at the island and nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Cream and sugar please.” Duncan poured and passed him his cup of coffee, with cream and sugar as requested, and went back to the stove to finish making the breakfast. “I came in late last night, and you two were already in bed. Your dad gave me the week off, but I was closer to here than to my brother’s place. So, I decided to crash here.” “I don’t think Dad will mind. He seems like a very caring person.” “He is. Adam and I go back a long time. We went to high school together, and he offered me the job being his steward after he found out I was getting a divorce.” He continued to fix the food and looked over his shoulder at Robert. “How do you like your eggs?” “Scrambled, or fried hard. But I’ll take them scrambled today.” Duncan laughed a bit and fixed up a plate of the hot food for Robert. He sat it on the counter in front of him, and quickly slid silverware, butter, and syrup over to him as well. “Just like your dad.” “What about me?” Adam asked as he walked into the kitchen. He was wearing track shorts and sat down at the island next to his son. “Good morning, both of you. I wasn’t expecting you back so soon, Duncan.” “As I said to Robert, I was closer here than to my brother’s place, so I decided to crash in my bed. I didn’t think you would mind.” He slid a plate of food, utensils, and a cup of coffee over to Adam. “The part about you was your son likes his eggs the same way.” He chuckled and grabbed his plate and coffee, and headed for the last bar-stool at the island. Adam nodded and swallowed his bite of pancake. “This is good. Thanks for cooking.” “Yeah, thanks, Duncan. It is good.” “You’re welcome. I woke up hungry and thought I would make some for all of us. I’m assuming you guys have a full day planned, and it’s the least I can do.” The conversation went silent as the three men ate their food and sipped their coffee. Robert was the first to finish and went to clean up his dishes. He rinsed off the white ceramic plate and silverware before putting them in the dishwasher. He then started cleaning the skillets that Duncan used. “You don’t have to do that. I was about to grab it all when I was done.” “It’s cool man. I’m used to cleaning the kitchen back at home. It was how Mom and I worked things out. She cooked, and I cleaned up.” Adam watched his son and nodded his approval of his initiative of cleaning up the kitchen. He noted the tattoo, bruises, and a nasty looking scar he had on his left shoulder blade. “I see you got ink! And that is a wicked looking scar on your back, and what’s up with the bruises?” “Mom paid for the tat when I turned sixteen last November. The scar was from a car accident we were in when I was twelve. A piece of rebar shot through the roof and caught my back. I was pinned to the seat until the fire rescue got me out.” Robert’s tone was subdued, but he worked with diligence. He finished up the dishes and walked over to the island. “So, Duncan said you guys went to school together?” Adam noted the abrupt subject change and made a mental note to look into the accident, and how he got the bruises. “Yeah, Duncan and I went to Jefferson High School, and we were in the Scouts together.” He looked over at Duncan, and just shook his head. “Oh, the stories we could tell,” Duncan said, sitting back and sipping his coffee. “Were you two a couple?” Duncan shook his head no. “Nah, just good friends. I knew he was gay before he officially came out, and I didn’t care if he was or not. Always thought Adam was a good guy.” “It wasn’t for lack of trying,” Adam said with a laugh. “I had misread Duncan, and one night on a campout when we were alone, I offered to give him a blowjob. While he turned me down, we spent the night talking about what guys in the troop I liked, and he steered me towards Marvin, who was gay. Still not sure how you knew and I didn’t.” “Because he made a pass at me,” Duncan laughed heartily. “It seems I give off false positives on the gaydar. I still do, but I’m cool with it. I consider it a compliment.” He smiled and finished off his coffee. He stood up, grabbed his and Adam’s dishes, and put them in the dishwasher. “So… Dad offered you a job working as a steward for him. Do you like this sort of work?” Duncan nodded, “I do. It was also the family business. Cleaning that is. My family owns a local cleaning company that does both houses and businesses. Even your dad worked for us, for a couple of summers during high school.” Robert looked over at his dad and caught Adam smiling and nodding in agreement. “Word of advice son…If the guy you plan on marrying refuses to clean a toilet, then he’s not the one for you.” “Where did you learn to cook?” “Partly from my mom, and I took a culinary course for two years at Hillsborough Community College.” Duncan finished up wiping down the counters and started the dishwasher. He topped off all three cups of coffee and sat back down next to Adam at the island. “I found out that while I love to cook, staying in a kitchen all day is not in me. Plus my soon to be ex-wife is a lot better chef than I am. She refused to let me cook.” Adam shook his head, “Her loss.” He looked over at Robert and smiled. “We’ll head out about 9:30 am, and hit the Verizon store first to get your phone setup, and then we’ll go shopping. We’ll get the electronics I mentioned, and we need to discuss school options later. I don’t want to bombard you all at once with stuff. Also, my mother wants to know when she can meet you. There’s a hockey game tonight, Lightning vs. the Panthers, at Amalie. I figured we’d stay home and watch it unless you want to go to the arena.” Robert looked a little stunned but nodded. “Sounds…,” he coughed and cleared his throat. “Sounds good, Dad. We can stay in tonight if you want.” He smiled and walked off towards his room. “He seems like a good kid, but he has some fear in him,” Duncan said when Robert was out of earshot. “If you want some unsolicited advice, I’d suggest counseling. For both of you.” “I noticed, and Sylvia suggested the same thing. I’m planning on scheduling a family session for next week,” Adam said. His face showed the worry he had been hiding from Robert. “Thanks for cooking breakfast, my friend. You didn’t have too.” “Least I could do. I think I’ll add it to my workload.” “Are you sure? You don’t have too.” Adam said while he laid a hand on Duncan’s shoulder giving him a quick squeeze. “Yeah, I’m sure. You have a lot to worry about with your son now. Not to mention with your new business venture, you won’t have the time.” Adam sighed some, “I know. Thanks, Duncan. You’re heading out?” “Leaving with my brother this afternoon, and won’t be back ‘till Saturday. We’re headed down to Key West. Going to do some fishing over in Bahia Honda, and some drinking along Duval St. I wanted to take Jeremy with us, but Debbie said no, he has to stay for school.” “I hope you and Ian enjoy yourselves, and be careful.” Adam gave him a little grin. “Jeremy is a nice kid. You’ve got a good nephew there.” They talked a little more before going their separate ways. ~.~ “Where would you like to go shopping for clothes?” Adam asked as he shut the door to his Acura RDX. The SUV was perfect for his needs and stylish enough to fit in his neighborhood. While Adam didn’t care about appearances, there was a certain level he needed to maintain to live on the island. They had finished up at Verizon Wireless, where they got Robert a new Galaxy S9+ phone, transferred the data from his old phone, and Adam bought him a Galaxy Book as well. The two-in-one tablet/laptop would help in Robert’s schooling, and it was tied to the mobile account. “Um… Mom bought my stuff from Target or Walmart, so that’s fine with me.” Adam nodded and pulled out of the parking spot. “If that’s what you want, that’s fine. But, you can go anywhere you want. Is there any place you wanted to go?” “Seriously, Dad?” Robert looked astonished. “You’ve dropped close to two-thousand dollars on me, just here.” “Robert. First off, you’re my son and only child. I see myself spending money on you, a lot. Second, you had two small suitcases, and neither was that heavy. So, I’m assuming you didn’t bring much clothing. And what you did might be too warm for Florida. You did come out of a Nor’easter down to what would be summer to you.” He paused as he looked at Robert, and got them on the road. “I was left some money when my grandfather, your great-grandfather, died. I invested it and used it to go to M.I.T. when I was accepted there. I worked hard after graduation, and sold off the patents I had, and made more than enough to retire at age thirty-seven. I’m not trying to brag about this. Let me spoil you a little before I have to be a stingier father. Okay?” Robert sat stunned in the passenger seat and looked at his dad, and then back out onto the road. He wasn’t sure when they started, but tears began to flow freely down his cheeks. He was too overcome with emotion to talk and just turned away from Adam to look out the window. Noticing his son’s change in demeanor, Adam pulled into the parking lot of a small strip mall . He unbuckled his and Robert’s seat belts and held onto his son the best he could in the car. “It’ll be fine son. It will all work out.” “I… I… don’t know Dad… it feels right, but I feel so bad… I feel like I’m betraying Mom…,” Robert said as he sobbed. Adam comforted his son and held him for a few minutes. “You’re not betraying your mom. Don’t feel that way. Sylvia suggested that we go to family counseling, and I was going to schedule it for next week. Would you rather we do it sooner if I can get us in?” “If you can, please.” “Alright… Now, let’s finish what we need to do today, okay?” “Okay.” “So, let’s head to International Plaza, go look at the stores and get lunch, and if you see something you want, we’ll get it there. If not, we can hit a Target or Walmart on the way home. Sound like a plan to you?” Adam smiled at Robert, while he took a spare napkin from the center console and wiped the tears from his son’s face. “Sounds good, Dad.” ~.~ Shopping at the mall went better than Adam had expected. After Robert got over his inhibitions, they ended up at several stores buying different fashionable clothes suited for life in Florida, and a new desktop PC for Robert’s room from the Microsoft Store. A late lunch at the Cheesecake Factory rounded out the father and son shopping trip, and they were soon home. Adam assisted Robert in putting his clothes away and setting up the desktop, letting Robert lead the way in it all. It was still early in the afternoon when Adam’s mom called. He excused himself to take the call in his bedroom. “Heya, Mom. How are you doing?” Adam asked as he walked over to the sitting area he had set up in his master retreat bedroom. The master retreat was large, almost as big as the family room and game room on the other side of the house combined, and he had decorated it as two different zones. The king-sized bed sat on the south wall, near the center of the room. On each side of the bed sat a square bedside table made of yew, with two drawers apiece. They matched the headboard and footboard of the bed. Across from the bed was the fireplace, a forty-inch flat screen 4K Ultra High Def TV was mounted above it. Two armchairs and a small table made up the sitting area, along with a small computer desk with chair and a desktop PC on the western wall, overlooking Davis Islands. Other furniture dotted the room, along with more artwork on the walls. The retreat was designed with a ‘safe room,’ located in the massive walk-in closet, but Adam had turned it into a server room, which ran the whole house smart system. “I’m doing fine. How’s my grandson?” She asked. “He’s doing fine. We spent the day shopping for clothes and getting him some electronics for school, but I’m wondering what happened to him back in Boston. He said he feels like he’s betraying his mom.” Adam let out a long sigh. “This morning, Duncan fixed breakfast for us, and we were all mostly still in our night clothes. Robert was wearing boxers, and that’s when I saw he has a tattoo on his right shoulder and chest, and a scar on his left shoulder blade. He’s also covered in bruises... deep bruises that are healing on his chest, back, and arms. He refused to talk about any of them.” “Oh, honey. It’s been barely a month since his mother died, so I can see where he feels like that. It sounds to me like he’s scared to talk about what happened in foster care. That’s the only place where the bruises could have come from. If it happened prior, they would have healed by now. How’s he handling the rest?” “He seems to like it here. We’ve not had any fights at all, and no drama, aside from him tearing up a couple of times. Either he’s hiding it very well, or he’s being completely genuine and has one of the most level heads I’ve ever seen.” Adam exhaled. “Mom, I don’t think I could have gone through what he has in the past two months, and be as composed. I… I’m going to talk to Sylvia to see what happened when he was in Massachusetts DCF’s custody.” “You’ll need to. If he was assaulted, there could be some issues there. That needs to be addressed pretty damn quickly.” They spoke a little bit more and hung up after making plans. Adam used the desktop PC to look up his medical plan’s mental health providers. He called a few of them to find one accepting new patients and to schedule an appointment for that week. Adam left his room to find Robert in the exercise and gaming room. When Adam was decorating the house, he wanted this room to be partly for exercise and partly for gaming. A PS4 and an Xbox One were both connected to another flat screen 4K Ultra High Def TV mounted over the fireplace that both separated and was shared with the family room. A small sitting area, consisting of a couch and coffee table, was right in front of it. Behind the sitting area were a weight machine, an exercise bike, a treadmill, and some free weights. Robert had stripped down to athletic shorts and was on the treadmill running. He was barely breathing hard as he ran at a leisurely pace. He nodded to his dad and focused back on his form. “Don’t stop running, but I made some plans for us later. We’ll stay home, eat some pizza, and if you want we can watch the game together. Also, my mom and dad will be coming over for the game. They want to meet you.” Robert nodded again, “Sounds good. I like everything but anchovies on my pizza.” He kept running and started to show some sweat on his brow. Adam chuckled. “I don’t think I know anyone who likes anchovies on their pizza.” He paused to watch his son a bit and nodded at the discipline he showed in working on his running form. “Let me know if you use the free weights, and I’ll spot you.” Robert nodded and kept running. ~.~ “I’m nervous,” Robert said. He sat at the island bar eating pizza while the Lightning Live! Pregame Show played in the background in the family room. He was munching on a Meat Lover’s pizza, and Adam had let him have one of the Bud Lights that he had in the wet bar. “They’re going to love you. Trust me.” “Will… will they care if I’m gay?” “No, they won’t, and they already know,” Adam smiled, and then chuckled shaking his head. “Here’s a funny story for you. I came out to my parents when I was your age, and I was scared to death. Well, that Christmas, Dad bought me my first dildo. Oh, it was more of a gag, it was a Great American Dildo. But Mom… well, she bought me a selection of lubes, some ‘how to’ videos from the gay bookstore Tomes and Treasures, and ordered me a variety pack of a thousand condoms from Adammale.” Robert couldn’t help but laugh at the story. “They did that? And what’s a Great American?” “A Great American Dildo is a gag gift, but I’ve heard of people using them. They’re as thick as your calf, and about as long as your arm.” Adam cringed as he thought about it. “No, way. I’m not a size queen.” “So, are you a top or a bottom, Dad?” “Versatile, but I prefer to bottom,” Adam said honestly. It wasn’t lost on him he was talking to his teenage son about sex. “What about you? Have you had sex yet?” Robert nodded. “I have. I’m versatile as well, but I topped mainly with the guys I’ve been with.” He paused a moment and blushed as he realized whom he was talking to. “I'm not used to talking about this with anyone in the family.” “I’m an open book, Rob. I’m happy to talk about it with you, even buy you stuff if you need it. Just keep it in your bedroom, and I’ll keep my partners and me in mine.” They ate more of the pizza in silence while watching the pregame show. The doorbell rang. Adam, got up and answered it, and greeted his parents. They walked in and went to the kitchen. Robert stood up when they walked in and hugged his grandmother and grandfather. “Rob, this is my mom Samantha Smith, and my dad Derrick Smith. Mom, Dad… this is my son, Robert Turner. Don’t call him Bob or Bobby.” “A pleasure to meet you, Robert,” Samantha said and hugged her grandson. “Likewise,” Derrick said and shook his hand. He squeezed his shoulder with a smile. “A fine looking young man. Adam, you’re gonna have to knock the boys off with a stick when he starts school.” That brought a round of laughter from everyone. “Thanks, and it’s nice to meet you both,” Robert managed to get out. “So, your dad hasn’t told me when your birthday is. When is it? I have a lot of catching up to do!” Samantha said. She went to the family room and sat on a couch dragging Robert with her. Derrick sat on the other side of Robert, sandwiching him in place. Adam fetched drinks from the wet bar for his parents and handed the two beers to them before sitting on the other couch. He gave Robert a small apologetic smile and nodded to the seat next to him, for Robert to move to when he got a chance. “I was born on November 25th.” “A Christmas season baby,” Samantha pondered. “Well, don’t worry. We’re not the type to buy one present and say it’s both Christmas and your birthday.” “Thanks…” Robert said in a puzzled voice. He started to get a 'deer in the headlights' look. “Rob, come on over and sit here. And give them some room. The game is about to start.” Adam interjected. While Robert was changing seats, Adam stood up and grabbed their drinks from earlier. “Mom, Dad, there’s pizza on the counter if you want some.” He handed Robert his Bud Light and sat back down. Robert sat stunned waiting for one of his grandparents to say something about the beer, but when they didn’t, he took a drink of it. “Have you decided on a school yet?” Derrick asked. “Not yet, Dad. I was going to talk about it in the morning with Rob, and give him the options.” Adam smiled at his son. “Though we already have supplies depending on where he wants to go. His caseworker Sylvia said to wait a week so that she could get the records from Boston for us.” Talk turned towards hockey, as the game started with the Lightning vs. the Panthers. Robert was amazed that for two people who never left Florida, his paternal grandparents sure knew a lot about the game. He was surprised to learn that his dad made the team for M.I.T. when he was there, as a fourth-line right-winger for one season. As the game wound down, Robert found himself tired from the day’s events. “Good night, Grandma and Granddad. I’ll see you all around.” “Come over here and give me a hug,” Samantha said and stood up. Robert walked over to her, and they hugged quickly. “Good night, Rob. Sleep well, and welcome to the family,” Derrick said. He quickly hugged his grandson. Adam smiled at his son and hugged Robert as well. It lingered a bit longer than with the grandparents, and Adam placed a kiss on the top of his head. “Good night. I love you, Robert.” “I love you, too,” Robert said and quickly went to his room. He didn’t want anyone to see the fresh batch of tears that were threatening to flow. Adam put the empty bottles and boxes into the trash and recycling, as the three adults talked about family issues in the kitchen. “That was nice. Robert seems like a good boy. You said you are going to counseling?” Samantha said as she leaned on the central island. “Yes, I called today, after our talk. They are supposed to call back tomorrow. It’s going to be tough, but they may have time on Friday.” Derrick listened to the two for a bit and nodded along. “You’ll do well son. I’ve got faith the two of you will pull through this.” “Thanks. I’ll be honest… I’m scared shitless over this. I go from single gay man, looking for a new boyfriend, and getting a start-up going, to instant father of a sixteen-year-old son I didn’t know I had. Hell, today he questioned the amount I was spending on him, and the only thing I could think of was I was trying to spoil him some.” “Did you mean what you said to him? That you love him?” Samantha said, in a neutral tone. “Of course,” Adam said. He exhaled a long breath. “When Sylvia told me about him, I felt a little weird and worried if I could love him. Especially seeing what Michelle did to me. However, once I saw him yesterday,” he paused and shook his head. “There is no doubt I love him, and I would die for him.” He laughed a little. “I know that sounds cheesy.” “Nonsense... It’s what every true parent would do for their child.” After talk had wound down, Adam escorted his parents out and went back into the house. After making his way to the library, he sat at the desk with his laptop open. Adam looked over at the family picture sitting in the corner of the desk. It was an older photo, taken at the photo studio on a trip to Walt Disney World. Adam was 14 at the time and hadn’t come out of the closet yet. His parents were in the background, with a fake park scene on the screen behind them. Adam stood in front of his mom, while another person, a couple of years younger than him, stood in front of his dad. The person was Tibot, Adam’s estranged brother. For the last fifteen years, they had been in contact only via email. Adam opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of whiskey he kept there. Opening his laptop and letting it boot up, he thought about what he was going to tell his brother. Adam took a swig from the bottle as the email program fired up, and with liquor-fueled courage, he typed up and sent the email. He didn’t expect a response - he rarely got a reply back. He went to work looking at real estate properties his business partner had sent him. Twenty minutes into looking at Google Street View, Google Earth, and the properties his partner wanted him to see, Adam was engrossed in his work. The return notification surprised him, and he sent the remaining mouthful of whiskey sloshing up the sides of the glass bottle. Adam stopped and watched the liquor run down the sides. Then after a deep breath, he picked up the container, swallowed the contents, and clicked open the reply. His eyes widened as he read, "Call me."
  13. 109 points
    It was Monday, February 5, 2018, when Adam Smith opened the door and let the woman in. He had spoken with her earlier that morning and had been on an emotional roller coaster since. “Please come in. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, water?” “No thank you, but I appreciate the offer,” Sylvia Cramer said. She smiled as he shut the door behind them. She looked around the house, taking in the sights. It was her job as a social worker for the Florida Department of Children and Families. “The living room is located to the left. It’s a five-bedroom, six-bath house, and I’m still settling in,” Adam said as he led her into the living room. The house had a Tuscan feel on the exterior that continued inside. A stone façade and cobblestone driveway led to the front entryway in the front center, and a three-car garage to the right. Immediately one stepped into living space, with the front room on the left and dining room to the right. Two-story ceilings with wood beams gave the place an open and massive feeling. Off the living room were a powder room, the door to the master retreat, and a library. The rest of the house was off of to the right past the dining room. The warm cream color on the walls was carried on throughout the house. Adam sat down in a comfortable chair, while Sylvia made herself comfortable on the couch. Adam took his mug from the coffee table. He'd made coffee just before Sylvia's arrival. He noticed his hands were shaking. In addition to the couch, two armchairs, and coffee table, all facing a fireplace, paintings hung on the walls. They were tasteful art in an impressionist style. “It’s a nice place you have here. Is it new construction?” “Yes, it is. They just finished building it about two weeks ago, and I’m slowly adding my personal touches. I’ve got lots of things to buy to furnish the place fully.” Adam replaced the mug. He drew in a deep controlled breath and let it out slowly. Calm down and slow down. He smiled and spoke to Sylvia. “Sorry, I’ve been a nervous wreck since you called earlier. It’s not every day you learn you’re a father.” “No worries. I can understand the situation,” Sylvia said, giving him a reassuring smile. “Now, I’m doing the formal home inspection. There are some questions I need to ask as well.” “Go ahead. I’m an open book.” Sylvia smiled and took out a voice recorder and a file folder from her bag. “Do you mind if I record this?” “I’m fine with that.” She clicked the recorder on, and began with the questions, “So, can I get your full name and age, for the record?” “Adam Smith, and I just turned thirty-eight years old a week ago.” “What do you do for a living?” “I’m retired. I went to M.I.T. and into business shortly after. I patented a new medical device I designed. I did quite well when I sold it to a pharmaceutical company. I’m now looking into starting a new business here in town. It’s going to be a microbrewery and restaurant.” She nodded and jotted down the answer. “I’m not going to ask for your finances, but the judge may want tax records before everything is finalized. You said earlier you were single. Are you seeing anyone?” Adam shook his head. “No, I’m not seeing anyone currently. My last boyfriend didn’t want to move when I decided it was time to come back home.” “So, you’re gay?” Sylvia said in a neutral tone. “I am. Is that going to be a problem?” Adam asked, getting a bit defensive. “No… not at all. However, I do need to let you know your son, Robert Turner, is gay too.” Adam was speechless. That morning he had received the call from Sylvia Cramer, informing him that he was the father of a sixteen-year-old boy who was placed into foster care after the death of his mother. The child’s mother turned out to be a college friend named Michelle Turner. Adam and Michelle were inseparable during those first years at M.I.T. when Adam was coming out of the closet and sowing his oats. Michelle stood by him the whole time. They had a falling out when, for his twenty-first birthday, his friends took him out drinking at a local bar. He and Michelle ended up in bed together and had sex. Adam regretted it the next morning. Regret turned to hatred when he learned the truth. Michelle had planned it. She had fallen in love with Adam, and hoped by sleeping with him he would accept her. It had the opposite effect. He pushed her away and lost track of her when she left M.I.T. a few weeks later. “That… that’s not going to be a problem is it?” Adam stammered. “I mean with the Judge or Michelle’s family? I know not everyone would be thrilled about a single gay man raising a teenage gay son.” He took another deep breath, and let it out in a long sigh. “Damn, I can hear the accusations now. Some perverted incest is going on in this house.” Sylvia shook her head and gave him a small smile. “You have nothing to worry about. There is case law that protects you, and the Family Court Judge, in this case, is very fair. She will handle this with a sensitive hand, and she usually takes the cases dealing with GLBT youth. Normally cases are assigned first come, first served, but they do trade offs. As for his maternal family… no need to worry about them. They signed away custody once they found out he was gay. I think that hurt the boy a lot.” “Those bastards,” Adam said while shaking his head. “Oh, sorry…” He blushed realizing what he had said. “No worries. I’ve said the same a few times, both during and after talking with them.” She put the file away and turned off the recorder. “Let me check the rest of the house, and then we can call the visit done.” Adam showed her the rest of the house, starting with the library and master bedroom; then the other side where the kitchen, a family room, gaming room, and the four bedrooms were. Adam said that the one immediately off the kitchen would be for a live-in butler he was hiring, while the remaining three would be guest rooms. Of course, his son would get one. All were spartanly decorated, as he was still in the process of furnishing the rooms. “Well, that will do it. I’ll file my report, and make my recommendation that your son be given to you,” Sylvia said with a grin. They stood at the front door and talked a bit. “Off the record, let me give you two pieces of advice.” “Please do,” Adam said while hoping he didn't sound apprehensive. “I don’t trust his maternal family, so I would get a lawyer, for the very reason you said earlier. A gay man, with a gay teen… I’ve seen it before. They are going to go ballistic. Also, you may want to put locks on the wine closet, and the wet bar.” Adam nodded listening to her. “I’ll retain a lawyer tomorrow. When… when should I expect Robert?” “After the paperwork is submitted and he’s transferred from Boston, Massachusetts to Tampa, Florida. I feel it shouldn’t be more than two or three days.” “Thank you, Sylvia.” “You’re welcome, Adam,” she said. She turned and headed to her car while Adam shut the door. ~.~ Over the next three days, Adam was in a whirlwind of activity. He retained a lawyer the following day, a cousin of his who worked with Family Law. After that, he contacted the contractor who had built his house and paid for a rush job to add locks to the wine closet and the cabinets for the wet bar. They were able to schedule for the next day. He spent the remainder of the three days interviewing potential butlers and shopping to finish furnishing the bedrooms. He decided to hold off on getting anything else for Robert until he arrived and they could take stock of what he still had. Sylvia called the third day after the home visit to say there was an issue. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had placed a hold on the case pending review, and a paternity test. Adam agreed to one and contacted his cousin for legal help. Working with Sylvia and his cousin they got all the necessary paperwork done, blood work, and Adam even paid for the airfare to have Robert transferred. He purchased first-class seats for both him and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families chaperon. Finally, the end was in sight, after a month of legal filings. Robert’s plane was set to arrive at noon, at Tampa International Airport. Sylvia, per protocol, was picking him up. The Florida Department of Children and Families would need to do their intake, which meant Robert wouldn’t be arriving at the house until later in the afternoon. ~.~ Robert Turner sat in the passenger seat of the car, staring out the window at the buildings in Downtown Tampa. Sylvia was driving; she had music playing low, and was chatting about life in Tampa in general. Robert wondered if one of the high-rise condos would be his father’s place. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, on Monday, March 5, 2018, with barely a cloud in the sky. The temperature outside was in the high 80s, and the sun shone in all its brilliance. Robert felt like he could get used to Florida. Well, perhaps not the heat, but he was determined to fit in. Over the past month, Robert finally had accepted the fact his life had changed. He wasn’t sure if it was for the better, or for the worse. He was surprised by the first-class accommodations on the flight to Tampa, and to learn that it was his father who had paid for it. His mother had told him his father had died in a car accident when he was two-years-old, and had even given him a false name when he was older and wanted to look for grandparents. He was starting to resent her for that. He loved her, however, and missed her so much it pained him to think of her poorly. He was hurt deeply when his grandparents and aunt rejected him for being gay. That was when the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families got involved, and he had to come out of the closet. He never thought his family would be bigots, with their Democratic values. As they took a detour and passed by Amalie Arena along Channelside, he looked at the bridge crossing over to an island in the bay. They were driving over it when he asked, “My dad lives on an island?” “Yes. This is called Harbour Island. It used to have a retail mall, but now it’s some businesses, some condos, and a gated upscale housing community,” Sylvia said in a pleasant tone. “So, not only an island but he, well… I mean, we also live in a gated community?” Robert asked a bit stunned. “What does he do for a living?” “Didn’t the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families go over this with you?” “No, they didn’t. They only told the foster care facility things, and I was left in the dark. The only thing I know for sure is that Adam Smith is my biological dad.” Sylvia let out a long sigh but didn’t respond immediately. They had pulled up to the gate’s guard post, and she was dealing with that to get on the island. The guard had just opened the gate for them to pass when she responded. “I’m sorry you went through that Robert. I can tell you the basics, but it's best you learn from your father. He was just as much in the dark about you as you were about him. “I will say this about Adam. After he found out about you, he’s done everything in his power to get you here with him. If Massachusetts hadn’t denied him visitation over the past month, I dare say he would have been in Boston, seeing you every day. He wants this to work out between you two.” Robert nodded but remained silent; he didn’t know what to expect from moving down to live with a stranger who had proven to be his biological father. They approached a house that overlooked the water, and towards Davis Islands and Seddon Channel. It was a massive two-story Tuscan design that Robert couldn’t help but be in awe over. They pulled into the cobblestone driveway and stopped facing the front door. Sylvia turned off the car and was stepping out when the front door opened. Adam stepped out and waved to her. “That’s Adam, your father,” she said through the open door. “Go on up to him, and I’ll get your suitcases out of the trunk.” Adam stood near the front door and waited for Sylvia and Robert to move. He’d been waiting in his library working when he saw the car pull up. Adam was very nervous, and his palms were sweating. He brushed them off on his pants and took a few calming breaths. When the passenger door opened and Robert stepped out of the car, he knew this was his son, and in his heart he felt the first stirrings of love a father has for his child. He couldn’t help but smile looking at Robert, and started to walk to him. Robert nodded to Sylvia as she shut the door and went to the trunk. He was also nervous; he was shaking and couldn’t open the door at first. He then realized it was locked, and quickly unlocked it before getting out. He grabbed his backpack that was in the floorboard and shut the door, looking towards Adam. There was an instant connection. He could sense it was true that Adam was his father, and he was home. He shivered as Adam moved towards him, standing frozen in his spot. He wanted to go to him, but he couldn’t make his legs move. He was overcome with emotion. When Adam stepped up to Robert, he stuck his hand out to shake. “Robert… it’s good to meet you, Son, finally.” Robert looked at the offered hand and finally reached up with a trembling hand. After a moment, he dropped his backpack to the ground and embraced his father in a bear hug. He didn’t know how it started, but the tears began to flow down his face as he began to sob into his father’s chest. Sylvia stood at the back of the car and watched the scene unfold in front of her. She looked at both men, and you couldn’t deny they were father and son. Adam stood six-foot-two-inches and was built like a lumberjack. Powerful chest and arms, and well-defined legs, brown curly hair, and sea green eyes. Robert was his spitting image - same hair and similar build, but a little shorter at five-foot-ten-inches. He had his mother’s eyes of crystal blue though. She watched as the two embraced. Adam rubbed Robert’s back comforting him, as he cried into his father’s chest. ~.~ The emotional meeting lasted a few minutes. After Robert got control of himself, Adam took him inside and left him in the living room, and told him he could look around if he wanted. He returned outside to talk to Sylvia and invited her inside. She politely declined so that the family could have some bonding time. After finishing up all the paperwork DCF needed, she excused herself while Adam took Robert’s bags in. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Friday that week. Adam sat the two suitcases by the door and looked over at Robert who was looking at the paintings in the living room. He smiled watching his son. “They are by a local artist. I found them at the street market in Ybor City over one weekend.” “They're nice,” Robert said, looking back at his father. “You have a nice place.” “We have a nice place. It’s now your house as well. Come, let me give you the tour, and I’ll let you choose which bedroom you want.” They left the bags, and the pair of them walked the house off. They talked briefly about things concerning the house while they looked around. Robert chose the back bedroom overlooking the small backyard and the water. He liked the furniture Adam had already placed in there. They wound up in the kitchen, where Robert sat at the island bar, and Adam went to fix himself a coffee. “Would you like something? We have coffee, and I got different K-Cups you can have. We have some ice tea in the fridge, some OJ or milk, and I didn’t know if you drink soda, but there’s a 12-pack of Pepsi, Coke, and Mountain Dew in the pantry.” Robert smiled, “I’ll take some ice tea. Is it sweet?” “Of course,” Adam said with a laugh. He fetched a glass of ice tea for Robert and passed it to him, then fixed his coffee. He stood across leaning on the center island, looking at Robert. The silence stretched between them, as they sipped their drinks and looked at each other. Robert cleared his throat, “Um, what time is dinner? I haven’t eaten since before we left Boston this morning.” “Oh shit… Sorry, I hadn’t thought about that. I was planning on going out. There’s a place over in Hyde Park, called the 'Goody Goody,' and they have some of the best burgers in the bay area. You eat meat, right?” Robert laughed. “I do eat meat, err… Adam… Dad… Father… Sorry, I’m not sure what to call you?” “Dad is cool, Adam if you don’t feel like it yet. I was going to ask you the same thing. What do you want me to call you?” “Anything but Bob or Bobby, I hate being called that. My friends and mom…” he got quiet a moment, then continued, “called me Rob. My boyfriend, Martin, used to call me Stark, because I looked like Rob Stark from Game of Thrones.” He paused a moment and went white as a sheet. He realized he’d just outed himself absentmindedly. Adam smiled and moved to stand next to Robert. He laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, as Robert jumped from the touch at first. He was still shaken when Adam spoke. “You have nothing to worry about. Sylvia told me you were gay the first day she told me I had a son. Now… My ex and I used to go to Halloween Parties, wearing nothing but whitey-tighties with fake cardboard leaves glued to the front and back. As a couple, we were Adam and Steve.” “You’re gay too?” “Yup… I guess it runs in the family. There is the gay gene, they’ve discovered. I don’t know all the research behind it.” Robert was speechless, shaking his head with the revelation. “Wow… This is getting weird like I’m in a dream.” “It’ll be fine, son. I’m here for you. Just let me know if you need anything or are having any issues. Speaking of which…” He walked over to a counter drawer and grabbed some paper and pen. He passed them to Robert. “Here you go, Rob. Make out a list for me of what you use, like deodorant, shampoo, that sort of stuff, and anything else you need. After we snag dinner, we can hit a store, and get your toiletries at least.” Robert nodded and started writing out his list. Adam went and fetched his bags from the living room and took them to his bedroom for him. “If you want a shower before we head out, I have some spare stuff in the linen closet in my bedroom you’re welcome to have.” “Thanks, Dad. I have a small travel case of stuff in my bags that’ll do me for now. Give me twenty minutes?” Robert finished his list, and slid it over to Adam, then headed to his bedroom. “Sounds good,” Adam said to the departing Robert. “I’ll be in the library when you’re ready.” Robert walked into his new bedroom and over to his suitcases. He retrieved his toilet kit and a change of clothes, and walked into the bathroom, snagging a towel from the linen closet. He turned the water on in the shower, letting it get hot while he stripped off, and stepped into the water. Lord, I needed this, Robert thought to himself. Dad seems like an okay guy, and damn, he’s gay too. Finally, someone that understands me. He soaped himself, cleaned the day’s travel dust off of his body, and rinsed. Adam stepped into his room and grabbed a fresh outfit. He went into his bathroom and quickly showered off. Well, Rob seems like a good kid. So much we need to talk about, and he needs to meet the family. Also, I need to tell him about our steward Duncan. I’m glad I gave him a couple of days off. I hope I’m doing this right. Adam stepped out of the shower drying off, and put the new outfit on: a pair of black jeans, some tennis shoes, and Brayden Point’s Tampa Bay Lightning Home Jersey. The Goody Goody diner had a special on Mondays for those wearing Lightning gear, even in the off-season. Adam left his room and went to the library to wait for Robert. He was shutting his laptop down when his son walked in. Adam looked his son over, and couldn’t help but to chuckle. Robert stood at the door, wearing black jeans, tennis shoes, and a hockey jersey as well… for the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron. “Like Father, like son…” Adam said, shaking his head. Robert laughed as well, seeing his dad in the Lightning gear. “Well I have to admit, Brayden Point is doing a great job for the Lightning, and your team is killing it this year.” “Yeah, they are. I would be surprised if they don’t make the finals.” “Same here.” “Please tell me you’re not a fan of Rat-boy?” “Who?” Robert asked before he got the reference. “Nah. I’m not a fan of Marchand.” Adam grabbed his wallet and keys from the desk, and the two headed out for dinner. ~.~ Dinner and shopping at Walgreens went well for Adam and Robert. They did idle chit-chat while they were out, bonding more over their shared love of Hockey. Adam, being a season ticket holder for the Tampa Bay Lightning, called and added another season ticket for Robert to his package. More common interests were found in similar tastes in music, and they both loved outdoor sports. Adam let Robert know about their live-in Steward, Duncan Isen. The trip home from Walgreens was peaceful. They arrived home in short order, and after Robert put his stuff away, they sat in the family room, each with a soft drink, and talked for a while. “Okay. So, I think we need to cover the rules of the house, and I welcome your input on them. Alright?” Adam asked, his tone was pleasant and authoritative. “That’s fine with me Dad.” “The first rule is no raiding the liquor cabinet. I’m also not stupid, and I know you may drink when you’re out with friends and such. So, I propose this. I will allow the occasional glass of wine, or even a beer, here at home. No hard liquor. Keep it on the weekends, and if you ever come home drunk, you’ll lose this privilege. If you are too drunk to drive or with someone who is, call. I will come to get you, no questions asked, but we will talk about it in the morning.” “That’s more than fair. Yeah, I’ve had a beer before with some friends, but I’ve never been drunk.” Robert said with a grin. He’s gonna let me drink, here! Damn, Mom never allowed that. “Well, this would get me in a world of shit if DCF found out. I would appreciate you keeping it on the down low until this custody case is done.” “I understand.” Adam took a drink of his ice tea and smiled some. “Second rule, no drugs. I have zero tolerance for the hard stuff, and weed isn’t legal in Florida, yet. If and when it does become legal, we’ll discuss it.” “I don’t do drugs. I’ve tried weed before, but didn’t like it,” Robert said, his voice sincere. “Cool. That leads to cigarettes. I don’t know if you smoke. I don’t because I have asthma, but if you do, take it outside. Seeing you can’t legally buy them, if you do smoke, write your brand down, and Duncan or I will make sure you get it.” “Wow. Are you serious?” “Yes. I did smoke when I was in high school. Lots of stress, and other stuff, and I got hooked on the nicotine. But, after far too many asthma attacks, it took me about eight months on patches, right before I went to M.I.T., to get off them,” he smiled at Robert and sipped his drink again. “So I can understand needing them.” “Well, I don’t smoke anymore, but I do vape. I’ll need stuff for that.” “That’s doable. In that case, as long as it not stinking up the place, I’m cool with it in the house. But, I would encourage you to give it up.” Robert nodded to him. “Thirdly…,” Adam paused and took a long drink. He let out a short sigh, “Thirdly. I’m gay. You’re gay. Duncan is straight. I’m normally running around the house in just boxers, or running shorts, especially in the mornings, and will toss a t-shirt on if I’m in the kitchen and cooking. I’ll get more dressed up if I’m heading out, or we have people coming over. I’m telling you this so you’re not surprised. You can wear whatever you want around the house. I only ask that you don’t go stark naked unless you’re in your room.” “I can agree with that. I used to run around the house like that too. Mom didn’t care.” “My family is fairly open-minded, and nudity is not something to be ashamed of. As a kid, I used to run around the house most of the day in just underwear. Well, until mom yelled at me to get some clothes on. But with this custody case, Sylvia said we might have an issue with Michelle’s family. Just be mindful. I don’t want to give anyone a cause for concern, ya know?” Robert sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I know.” “Alright, last couple of rules. Dinner, Monday through Friday, is at 7:00 pm; be home for dinner unless we have something else already planned. Duncan only cooks dinner during the week and may fix breakfast or lunch if you ask him. It’s not his main priority, so if you want him to prepare for you, you’ve got to let him know in advance. Weekends, it’s fend for yourself. I’m a horrible cook, so I tend to eat leftovers or go out. If I order out, I’ll get you something. We’ll decide what to get at that time. “Duncan only works Monday through Friday, but he lives here. I gave him the week off so we can get to know each other. His job is to keep the house clean, stocked, and make dinner during the week. You are responsible for keeping your room and your private bathroom clean. I’m cool with clutter, but this isn’t an ‘80s comedy frat house. Don’t make his life hell. If it’s in the fridge more than 24 hours, it’s free game. If it’s special, let everyone know, and we’ll respect it. The whole house is wired as a smart house, and I have an app that keeps track of home supplies. If you get low on something or want to change up, put it on the list. Does that sound good to you? Do you have anything to add?” “It sounds good to me, Dad,” Robert said, and then shook his head no. “I’ve got nothing to add.” “Okay,” Adam smiled as he nodded to Robert. “Well, you’re welcome to watch TV out here, or you can use my tablet for tonight unless you got one in your bags. Tomorrow, be up before 9:00 am, and we’ll head out for breakfast and more shopping. I’m gonna set you up with a phone, and get you a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop for gaming and schoolwork. If you need anything else, let me know, and we’ll get it.” “Sounds good, Dad,” Robert said, and they both stood to go their separate ways. “Dad?” Robert stopped and turned towards Adam. “Yes, son?” “Thank you, for taking me in.” Rob stepped over to Adam and gave him a long lingering hug. Adam held his son and rubbed his back. “If I had known, I would have been in your life before this.” “I can tell, Dad. I can tell,” Robert said in a shaky voice. They stepped away from each other to go their separate ways. After one or two steps they both stopped and turned. As they caught each other's eyes, they smiled and were comforted knowing they were together; they were family.
  14. 109 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 55 “I think he fell out of his shift,” Kellar said in response to Tobyn’s question. “Is he all right?” Kellar flickered as Fendral, laying on his side in human form, curled up into an almost fetal position. “He’s dead to the world, and he’s by no means healthy yet, but his colors are in balance. His aura is quite pale,” he mused. “I have no doubt the man is suffering from the malaise. He’s been isolated a long time, so whatever residual benefits there were from years of having an earth mate are long gone.” “So that’s why he shifted? The malaise?” Tobyn asked from behind him, his warm breath floating along Kellar’s neck. The moon was directly above, full and bright. He leaned back into his mate and sighed. Weariness was letting itself be known. “Now that he has no excess burnt umber, his body’s not strong enough to hold a shift. Human form is back to being the dominant one, so yeah, the malaise is the reason.” “Cool. Right?” “Yeah, I think so. I hope he feels it’s a good thing, when he comes out of his sleep.” “Is he going to wake up like Connor did… all of a sudden?” “No. No way. He’s in a deep state, and he’s way too weak to do what Connor did. That still freaks me out. Fendral keeps sucking up our mate energy, though. I’m surprised we still have any.” “Why? I feel fine.” “Really? You’re not tired?” “Well, yeah. But not exhausted the way I’ve been in the past. So, what now?” “We carry him into the house. He can’t weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds.” “There’s not much to him, is there? He used to be such a big guy.” “No, he doesn’t look like the man in his photos. But, we’ll get him back to the way he was.” “I knew you would do it. I could tell it was working because you were different when you began drawing energy from me again. It was smoother… steadier.” “I’m not surprised, because I was in a way better state of mind the second time. You were the reason it was successful. Not only did you calm me down, but your idea about getting the process started first, and then reversing it, was exactly right. It worked like a charm. I was about ready to give up.” “No you weren’t. You were frustrated, but you’d have figured it out. I’m your sounding board, doc, that’s all.” They both stood, staring down at the wizened old man. Kellar turned to face his mate, pulling him into a tight embrace. “You are so much more than a sounding board. Don’t ever say that again, okay?” “Okay.” “I’m being serious. I couldn’t face any of these healings without you.” “I know you’re being serious. I won’t say anything like that again. I promise.” “Good. Now let’s get my grandfather into a comfortable bed. I should be able to carry him by myself. Lead the way.” A hand on his arm stopped Kellar as he went to pick the frail man up. “I’ll do it. You’re exhausted.” “No, I can do this.” “Kellar, stop! I said I’ll carry him. You’re practically staggering. Let me do my part, all right? You’ve already done yours. You lead the way and open the door.” “Yes, dear.” “That’s more like it.” “Did he wake at all?” “No, just like you said, he stayed asleep.” “How long was I out for?” “Four hours. I napped a couple of times sitting up.” Tobyn proceeded to rub Kellar’s sock clad feet as he sat on the end of the couch. “Four hours? You were supposed to wake me after an hour.” “I didn’t see the point. You were worn out. How do you feel now?” “Fantastic. Damned hungry, though.” “Grilled cheese coming right up.” Tobyn stood. “You want coffee… or tea?” Kellar swung his feet onto the floor. “Sure. Tea would be good. I’ll help. Aren’t you tired?” “Nope. I told you I catnapped. I feel energized, and the sun will be up in a couple of hours.” “I’ll just check on my grandfather first.” Kellar went to the spare room, stopping at the doorway. The only light was from the hallway, but Kellar could see the still-sleeping man clearly. He looked small in his curled up position on the big bed. Flickering, he was satisfied with what he saw. His aura was about the same as those he’d seen at Morningstar upon his arrival. This man needed lots of mate energy, but physically, everything was back in order. How he’d be mentally, once he woke up, might be another story. Kellar was beginning to think Fendral had slept long enough. The sun had made its appearance, and he was getting antsy. His grandfather needed to eat and drink. As far as they knew, it’d been many years since he’d last been in human form, and the healer in him wanted to be assured all his systems were functioning. Should he go in there and…? Tobyn stirred, his head shifting in Kellar’s lap. His body went into a full-on stretch before his eyes opened. He smiled. “Hey, doc.” “Hey, yourself. Did I wake you?” “No, I don’t think so. I did feel your fingers in my hair, though, so maybe,” he answered, stretching once more. “I feel awesome. How is he?” “The same. I heard him shift around once, but his breathing hasn’t changed. I’m itching to wake him up, to be honest. If he was in a hospital, he’d be on an IV to counteract his depletion.” “You know I love when you talk all doctory.” Tobyn sat up, leaning against the back of the couch. “He needs fluids, and some food. I’d feel better if he got up and moved around.” “So, wake him then. The man’s been sleeping for ages. You started the healing in the afternoon.” “Yeah, but sleep is good too. All his vitals are strong. I’m just impatient because I want to talk to him and find out what he thinks about stuff.” “Like falling out of his shift and being in human form again?” “That’s the biggie. What if he didn’t understand what was going to happen with the healing? What if he’s pissed off, and freaks out? Oh, I think he’s awake. Yup, he is.” Kellar practically flew to the spare room, and Tobyn was close behind. “Good morning… Grandfather.” Fendral was sitting up, his weight braced on his arms. His eyes traveled from his stretched out legs under the thin sheet to the two men now just inside the door. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Frowning, his hand went to his throat. “Are you having trouble speaking,” an anxious Kellar asked. Fendral dropped his hand and stared at it, as if the sight of it was something alien. He turned it over and back before looking toward Kellar. He slowly nodded. “I’ll get you some cool water, sir,” Tobyn said before rushing away. Kellar found himself shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and willed himself to stop. “I don’t know if you remember our conversation, but the healing went well. I told you I would fix you up, and I have. Your colors… ah… I’ll explain all that later… so, yeah, your colors are back in balance, which is why you could regain your human form. Okay, I guess I should give you the basics. Every living thing has a signature pattern made up of hundreds of colors, and they’re all different, except for mates. They have matching patterns. That means, because I never forget a pattern once I’ve seen it, I can visit a pack and find mates for our own members, and that’s what happened with Vega, and why we have so many fated pairs now. There’s more, but it can wait.” Fendral’s jaw opened and closed, but no words came out. “It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Ah, you might not be able to find your wolf any time you want for a week or two, and you probably won’t be able to stay shifted for long periods just yet, but it’ll come, I promise. Each day you’ll get healthier because of mate energy. Okay, so that’s an energy earth mates produce when they’re near someone who needs it, and other shifters absorb it. I can see it as well. It’s like a mist made up of hundreds of colors. It’s what cures our malaise and keeps us healthy.” Fendral gave no clue as to what he was thinking, but he was definitely listening. “I’m sorry. This is probably too much to get into right now.” What was going on in the old shifter’s mind right now? Tobyn appeared at Kellar’s back and handed him the water. He took it and walked slowly to the bed. “Do you want me to hold the glass while you drink?” Fendral nodded once more, his face still expressionless. When Kellar sat on the edge of the mattress, the elder man struggled to sit up straighter. Kellar was tempted to assist, but held off, raising the glass to his grandfather’s lips. He was thankful Tobyn had chosen a wide-rimmed, plastic one. The old man began choking right away, but when Kellar went to pull it away, he reached for it. Trembling hands grasped the glass, so Kellar let it go, and supported Fendral’s back with one hand. It was slow going, with water dribbling from his mouth onto the white sheet, but he managed to get more and more of the water down. Eventually he had his fill, and Kellar took the glass back from the heavily breathing man, pleased Fendral was now somewhat hydrated. He was also relieved there had been, as yet, no freak-out. He glanced up at his mate, who was standing next to him with eyebrows raised, concern quite evident. He gave him a reassuring smile he didn’t quite feel. “Would you like to sit back? I can pile the pillows up behind you?” Fendral’s breathing was calming down. He opened his mouth and this time a sound came out, but it was half-bark, half-croak. Swallowing a few times, his Adam’s apple bobbing, he tried again. “Piss,” turned out to be the first word he’d spoken in years, and Kellar’s little grin was met with a curl of his grandfather’s lip. It was a strange attempt at a smile, but Kellar knew what it meant. Mentally, his grandfather was doing just fine. There was no need to worry. “We’re over the hump, babe. There’ll be no episode like with Arthur’s wolf.” “That’s a relief.” Kellar fought the urge to laugh at the sigh Tobyn expelled. They both supported Fendral as he rose and walked to the bathroom, but he was essentially moving under his own steam. Other than a weakness one might associate with an elderly person, he had no real trouble, despite his shuffling gait. As with all shifters, nakedness didn’t bother Fendral, but the sight of his leanness in motion did affect Kellar. This man needed nourishment, sustained and healthy nourishment. A feeling of protectiveness washed over him. He wanted so much for his grandfather to survive and thrive; he was family, and represented his strongest connection to his mother. Not for the first time since learning of Miss Sybil’s vision, he wondered how his father must have felt the moment he realized he couldn’t save his own family. Roland died knowing his son was hidden in a ditch, alone and vulnerable. Kellar pushed the unsettling thought away. Moving over to wash his hands, Fendral seemed momentarily intrigued by the process, bringing the soap bar up close to his nose. Clearing his throat. “Still can’t smell much,” came out in a painful-sounding rasp, but he was easily understood. “Were your senses diminishing?” Fendral stopped his movements. “Was getting tough to hunt… Kellar.” “Is that why you’re so thin? How did you manage to survive?” Tobyn asked “Mice”—he cleared his throat again—“mice were about all I could catch, and they weren’t staying down most of the time.” Fendral looked at him, and his real smile made its first appearance. “Still with the questions, eh, Tobyn?” Tobyn smiled too. “I guess I used to ask a lot of them. Your voice is sounding way better.” “Just needed some oil. Good working order now. It sounds damn weird to my ears, though.” Tobyn laughed and Fendral grinned before his eyes focused on the mirror in front of him. He held up the copper necklace, rolling it in his fingers. “That’s for protection against hunters. Kellar’s brother figured out that silver—pure silver—pulses when a shifter is in the vicinity of it. If a human is paying attention, they can feel it against their skin, but wearing copper keeps the signal from happening. It’s the reason hunters could always find us so easily. Knowing this changes everything, sir. We all wear them now, so make sure you always have it on. That one should be the right size to fit your wolf.” Fendral grabbed the edges of the sink, looking stunned. “Gigi had two sons?” His gaze met Kellar’s in the mirror. Apparently he had taken news of the copper in stride. “Oh, no.” Kellar responded. “Sorry. Warren is my foster brother. He’s human, and it turned out he is Adelin’s earth mate.” “I see,” came out with a note of disappointment. “Little Adelin?” Kellar nodded, handing his grandfather a towel. “There’s a lot more to tell you, but it can wait. You need some clothes next, and then we have to figure out what to feed you.” “Eggs,” he responded immediately. “I miss scrambled eggs.” Tobyn chuckled. “Coming right up. I’ll go get us some breakfasts from the lodge. What else can you eat, sir?” “Sausage. I’d love some greasy sausage, and you’re too old now to call me sir.” Kellar nodded when Tobyn gave him a questioning look regarding the sausage. He was just happy to see the man had an appetite. It was a great sign about his state of mind. “It will do him good, babe.” “You’re the boss.” “Since when?” Tobyn ignored the smirk Kellar gave him, and turned his attention back to Fendral. “It might be a hard habit to break, but I’ll try, sir.” He returned the man’s little smile before he headed down the hallway. Alone with his grandfather again, Kellar swallowed down some nervousness. “We’ll have to figure out something for you to wear, sir, something that will fit you.” “Now you’re doing it.” “Ah, sorry. Fen… ah, what should I call you?” “You’re my grandson, aren’t you?” “Yes… I am.” “Then call me grandfather. Never been called that before.” He peered at Kellar’s face. “You don’t look like my Gisla. You don’t look like any of my relatives.” Despite realizing it was ridiculous, Kellar felt a little defensive. “I know. I mean, I’ve been told, and I’ve seen pictures of your family.” “It’s your family too, boy. You must take after your father’s side.” “Miss Sybil says in the vision she had, I look exactly like my dad. Grandfather? Are you happy about being back in your human form?” “I forgot how cold it can get wearing skin. Find me a robe or something, and I’ll think about whether I am or not.” “Is all this good food going to come back up on me?” Fendral was sitting at the kitchen table in a too-big tee-shirt, and a pair of Tobyn’s oversized sweat shorts that only stayed up because of the string ties tightly cinched at the waist. At least the socks fit. His grandfather had rebelled at the idea of covering his feet at first, but gave in when Kellar insisted. “No, Grandfather. Those cysts you had in your intestines are gone. They, and the inflammation they caused, were the reason for the vomiting. You should eat slow and stop before you feel full, though.” The man sighed after he swallowed the first forkful of fluffy scrambled eggs. He wasn’t long in putting a second one into his mouth, and a third…. Tobyn and Kellar shared a pleased look as they dug into their own food. “Did anyone ask who the extra breakfast was for?” “Nope,” Tobyn answered after he swallowed a mouthful. “Nobody knows Fendral’s here, but they’ll scent he’s around, for sure.” “Not up to that, just yet. Let me get my bearings first.” Fendral’s eyes stayed on his plate and his fork kept moving. “We expected that would be the way you would want it,” Kellar said, nodding his agreement. “It won’t hurt for you to rest a few days.” “Suppose a lot of members aren’t too happy with me anyway.” “You couldn’t be anymore wrong, Fendral. All the members….” The elder man stopped eating and looked up, cutting Tobyn off. “Just leave it alone, son. I’m not proud of what I’ve done, no matter what others feel about me. I’ve faced that I let a lot of people down, including those closest to me. Besides, I need to wrap my head around not being stuck in my wolf form. It’s like riding a bike but it’s still strange.” He put down his fork. “It’s not easy for me to eat slowly either. I’ll answer that question now, Kellar. I think I am… happy to be a man again. So, not that I’m in a hurry, but if I was to try to shift, I wouldn’t be able to?” “Not necessarily. But, you are suffering from the effects of the malaise, so that is sometimes one of the symptoms as you probably already know… not being able to shift anytime you want to, or not being able to hold it. The longer you’re in the presence of earth mates, like Tobyn and I, the sooner you’ll get better. Your senses will return to optimum, and shifting will become matter-of-fact again.” Tobyn smiled. “He’s talking all doctory now. You’ll get used to it. He gets like this at least once a day.” “Fine by me,” Fendral said, pushing away his plate. “My grandson is a smart one.” Kellar couldn’t help being pleased at the comment. “You’re finished eating?” “I’m hungry as hell, but my stomach feels full.” “I’m not surprised. Do you want to lay down for a while?” “Not really. I’d rather talk.” He squirmed in his seat and then settled. “It’s been a long time since I was able to, and I didn’t think I’d see much past today. Never expected I’d have a grandson either.” “You weren’t too far off in your assessment. Is that why you came back here… to say your goodbyes?” “Goodbyes? No, I couldn’t say any of those. I was looking for a place to curl up for the last time. Somewhere on these lands where I was born. My brain’s been getting foggy lately, but when I caught a hint of your scent, I thought I’d check on you boys first. Doesn’t feel foggy today, though. “And yes, Tobyn, in answer to your question yesterday, I suspected you two were mates with the way your scents are combined, so I wasn’t surprised when you confirmed it. I wasn't all that confident of my nose, though. I only planned on a quick look before I picked out my spot. I thought it was right that it be known what happened to me, and I knew my old carcass would be found eventually.” “So you were giving up,” Tobyn said softly. He put his fork down and pushed his breakfast away. “No, son. I wasn’t giving up… I was dying, and my wolf knew it. I guess you could say I gave up once, but I would never do it again. I had a promise to keep, and wolfing out made that more difficult. I had to fight every day.” Kellar wondered about the promise, but left it alone when his mate spoke. “Why did you give up, sir, the first time? Sorry, that wasn’t fair,” Tobyn muttered, looking slightly ashamed. “I understand why you chose your wolf.” “I’m sure everyone thinks they understand, but I’m not sure they do. They all thought I was depressed over losing my family, right?” Tobyn appeared startled… and unsure. “I… that’s what was said. Weren’t you?” “Hell, yes, I was. But I was angry too, so angry that it even eclipsed the sadness. My wolf felt rage most of the time, and instead of controlling it, I let it take me over… first the anger, and then my wolf. It was easier, because then I could escape from what I’d done, at least for some of the time. Mistake after mistake after mistake. I certainly didn’t deserve to be alpha anymore.” “Why not? What do you mean, Grandfather?” Fendral studied the pair before looking away. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said in a tone that caused Kellar some concern. “It was a long time ago. I finally stopped hating myself, but by then it was too late.” “Too late?” Fendral had lowered his head, so Kellar answered for him. “I think he means he lost his ability to return to this form.” There was no response from his grandfather. “Am I right?” The old man reengaged with a startling, unexpected smile, and it took Kellar a second to recognize the bitterness in it. “Exactly right. It was a fitting punishment for alienating all my children, one after the other. First, I couldn’t save their mother, and then I couldn’t save them... and the pack was dying. I tried… for years I tried, but I lost faith. Regret ate away at me. I was a damn fool.” “You had a lot of things happen to you,” Tobyn said with compassion. “I’ve never heard anyone call you a fool, sir.” “What would you call a man who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his sons because he tried to control them? Because he tried to bully them. What would call an alpha who didn’t learn from that, and then did the same thing with the only child he had left?” “My mother?” Kellar hated seeing the man upset, but he was curious about what he meant. “That’s right. My little girl. My Gisla. I don’t blame her now… for leaving me, or for not forgiving me. She had no choice, and she was right to go. You’re the proof of that. I ignored what her mother asked of me, and deep down I knew how wrong I was. It’s why I fought to keep going… I couldn’t let my Esther down again.” He held up his hand when Tobyn started to speak. The man was fighting some inner battle. “Do you know what he’s talking about?” “I have no clue. Should we stop this, doc? What if he gets depressed again?” “I won’t tell you I’m not worried, but he wanted to talk. Maybe he needs to get this out.” “Okay. At least he trusts us.” “I look at him and feel my mom. Maybe he looks at me and feels the same.” It was as if Fendral had heard their silent conversation when he spoke again. “No one controlled your mother, Kellar. And the truth of it is, of my three children, she was the real alpha.” This time, the smile he gave held no bitterness. “She was a lot smarter than her father was.” “Why do you say that?” “Because she didn’t listen to me. She didn’t let me keep her from her destiny. Now, that makes me proud. So, tell me about Miss Sybil’s vision.” “Okay, but first can you answer something for me?” “If I can.” “Why didn’t my mother keep in contact with the pack? I mean, I was four and a half years old when she died, so she was gone a lot of years. She must have had opportunities to call in all that time. Did you ever talk to her after she left?” A pained expression took over Fendral’s face. “It’s my fault she didn’t keep in touch. She didn’t call because I disowned her.” “You what?” Tobyn blurted out the question, but Kellar had the same reaction. “Why would you do that, Grandfather?” He tried to keep the accusation from his voice, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. “I already told you. I was a fool. I knew she wasn’t safe out there, away from the pack, a young girl I still saw as a child. It terrified me that she wanted to go out in the world all by herself… a world filled with hunters. I was angry and desperate, so I went on the offensive. Nothing could convince me she wasn’t going to die if she went on a search for her mate, but none of the arguments I made got through to her. Her brothers had disappeared doing the same thing she planned to do. She was the only family I had left, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. I ordered my daughter, as her alpha, to stay. I told her if she left, she would be turning her back on Morningstar, and we’d no longer be her pack. I insisted she obey me, and I actually thought it had worked, my forbidding her. I was a fool to think I’d won.” He suddenly seemed to age ten more years. “She left anyway,” Kellar said. “Of course she did. If you knew her—her pride and her stubbornness—I should have gone with her, but alphas don’t desert their packs.” The words were bitter. “Ironic, isn’t it, because I did it anyway in the end.” Kellar, flickering, became alarmed at the paleness of his aura. “We don’t have to talk about this now, Grandfather. If you’d rather, we can do it another time. You should rest now.” “No, you asked me a question, and you need to hear this.” Taking a deep breath, he rallied. “Gigi left without a word. She was just gone one morning. We hadn’t spoken in days. She left me a message, though, on the kitchen table. It was a note that said ‘I have to do this.’ That’s it… nothing else. She always left me notes, practically every day, and they all were addressed to ‘Dad’ and she’d draw little pictures on them, like hearts and flowers and stick figures. And she always signed them as ‘your favorite daughter, Gigi.’ She’d done it since she was a little girl, well, except she used to sign them with ‘Gisla’ back then. Not this time, though. Just that one damn line. She disowned me too.” He took another deep breath. “I can’t say I blame her. I thought of her as defiant and impulsive after she left, but the truth is, she was only being herself. I gained nothing with my threats… all I did was hurt us both. I would have given anything to be able to take back some of those words to your mother. Anything.” The remorse on his face echoed in his tone. “That’s when I started relying more on my wolf. I went through the motions after that… the pack needed their alpha. Each year that went by, my hope I would hear from her, or see her, got smaller, until I reached the point it disappeared altogether.” Fendral stalled for a few moments, and his hand rubbed at his eyes. “The malaise got worse, our pack numbers kept decreasing, and I held onto my anger. The anger wasn’t at Gisla, though. It was at myself.” “So, you wolfed out….” “Yes. I didn’t really intend to. I fought, but every day, it beckoned. The only way to control my guilt and my shame was to shift and run. My wolf didn’t feel the pain the way I did, and that became my only relief. It’s an unbearable thing to face every day, believing your last child had died hating you.” “My mother didn’t hate you.” “You don’t know that, Kellar. You said it yourself when you asked why she didn’t keep on touch. She was alive all those years and she never called.” “I do know that. She and my dad were bringing me to meet my Grandpa Fendral. That’s what she said to me just before she was killed.” “By hunters, right?” “Yes. Three of them. They rammed her car, and she hit her head. She died instantly, from what Miss Sybil saw, and then they torched the Jeep my parents were driving. My father… he tried to fight, but he was trapped. Look, Grandfather, I don’t know why she never contacted you. Maybe she was angry, or maybe she was in danger and didn’t want to worry you, or give you hope… I’m certainly no expert on families.” Kellar hesitated, trying to calm himself. “I know my father was a healer, and he had some connection to a prophecy about a savior. They named me after the guy… a variation of it anyway. So, maybe they were in hiding because of that connection. All I know is my mother wanted me to meet my grandfather. She wouldn’t want that if she hated you.” Kellar felt out of breath when he was done. Maybe talking about this stuff would send his grandfather into a tailspin, and that thought scared the hell out of him. Silence settled in around the table. “Does anyone want tea?” Tobyn asked. “Tea can be a diuretic, babe, if you haven’t had caffeine for a long time. Fendral needs to keep drinking water to combat any dehydration.” “More doctory talk. I told you,” Tobyn said with a grin, but it seemed to go unnoticed by the old man. “You’re wrong,” the old man uttered. It took a few seconds for Kellar to clue in to what he must be referring to. “I don’t think so,” he responded. “You let go of being angry at my mom a long, long time ago. Why wouldn’t you believe she’d do the same?” “I don’t mean about that. I already knew about her wanting us to meet from what you said yesterday. It’s what made me change my mind about leaving. I’m sitting here for her… and for me… because this is what she would have wanted. You were right, and I couldn’t let her down again. And maybe you’re right about her not hating me. No, Grandson, I’m talking about you thinking your father had a connection to Cahlar. You’re mistaken about that.” Kellar raised his eyebrows in both surprise and question. “I am? You know about Cahlar… the prophecy?” Fendral sighed. “I should. My mate was the many times great granddaughter of the man… the savior.” “Esther? Holy crap! Why didn’t Morningstar know about the prophecy?” Tobyn asked. Fendral sighed again. “I can only tell you what Esther told me. It was spoken of by some, here and there as a part of our folklore, but the identity of Cahlar’s line was kept a closely guarded secret. It was a family pact passed down from the savior’s first daughter, to each successive daughter. She didn’t even tell me until we started having children, and neither of our sons were aware of their mother’s lineage. Esther had some… abilities… she knew things. She wasn’t a seer because she didn’t have visions, but she had… something. She knew from their early ages that neither of our sons were the one. “According to her, every daughter had to have a daughter until the prophecy was fulfilled. Some revered seer from the old highlands had a vision, and traveled far to reveal it to Cahlar. He was told he must send his daughter to the new world, and from her maternal line, he would be reborn when shifters needed him once more. But, the vision never said why he would be needed, or when it would be… only that the existence of our race would depend on it. That was the beginning of the prophecy, and his line took it very seriously. “Esther said it was Cahlar’s biggest sacrifice, to send his only child away, because his duty was to stay in the old world. She insisted it was her duty to have a daughter like all the daughters before her. She wasn’t satisfied until Gisla was born. To be honest, I found it hard to put much faith in the whole prophecy idea, because things had been bad for a long time. Hunters were picking us off every time we left pack lands, the birth rate getting lower and lower, and the malaise was kicking our ass. But Esther believed, and I believed in Esther. I was never comfortable with her saying Gisla had to search out her mate, though. I wanted to do right by my mate’s memory, but after our sons disappeared, I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter going anywhere.” The man groaned, and Kellar expected he might have had enough, but he continued after mere seconds. “If Esther had lived, I would have handled it better, but she didn’t, and every single shifter who left to search out their mate, including our own sons, never returned. I thought if the prophecy was true, Gigi’s mate could just as well show up here. I was wrong to expect her to stay here and wait. I know that now, but losing your mate changes you. It… it distorts your whole world. If I hadn’t had our kids, I never would have survived losing Esther. I needed them, but I’m glad now that Gigi never listened to me, and I hope Esther somehow knows it was her daughter who produced the new savior.” “Please don’t call me….” “Doc, don’t even go there. No one is saying you are him, but you are his descendant.” “Everything points to it, though, doesn’t it,” he said with some resignation. “And everyone believes I’m him. The prophecy says he would be reborn. My grandfather just said he heard it from Cahlar’s descendant, my grandmother, and in that painting our wolves were identical. You saw it same as I did, Tobyn. So has all of Vega, and now I'm sure most of Morningstar has heard about it.” “You are not a reincarnation, so what does it matter what others think? In human form you look exactly like your dad—we know that now—so don’t take reborn so literally.” “There’s a painting? I’ve never seen a painting.” “Yes, Delia has it. She’s Vega’s keeper, now ours, and Hutch’s earth mate. You’ll like her. Anyway, it belongs to her pack, and it was one of their members who painted it from memory after he arrived in the new world. It shows a huge wolf with Kellar’s coat colors watching over an exodus of shifters who were boarding ships. It’s how we learned about Cahlar. About shining a bright light….” “Into the darkness,” Fendral finished. “Yes.” “So, Cahlar had that same strange pelt?” “Identical,” Kellar repeated in a tone that drew his grandfather’s curious gaze. “That cannot be a coincidence. I don’t think Esther knew about the coat. She would have told me something like that. Does it bother you, Grandson, to be considered the savior?” “I don’t know… yes… I’m just me. I accept I’m part of the prophecy, but every time I hear the reborn part... well, it doesn’t sit so well. Shifters treat me differently, especially Vega members, and they even call me Cahlar. I can handle that for the most part, but I really wish it would stop. All I want is to be thought of as a healer.” “Like your father.” “Yes.” “What’s the difference?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, what’s the difference who you take after? Cahlar is your many times great-grandfather, and your mother sacrificed God knows how much to make sure you were born. I see now, the burden of responsibility she bore… how much all the daughters bore. I don’t know all you’ve done, but from what I gather, you are the culmination of all that responsibility carried by generations of your ancestors.” Fendral took a few gulps of water, and Kellar noticed a slight tremble in his hands as he set the glass down. “Would you like to rest for a little while? We could continue this later if you want?” “No. I am making a point I think you need to hear, if you don’t mind?” “No, sir. I love talking to my grandfather. I just don’t want you to tax yourself.” “Being able to speak again is a blessing. Allow me to enjoy it.” Fendral smiled, picking up another sausage and taking a bite. “I want to hear whatever you have to say,” Kellar reassured him, relieved the man no longer seemed in anguish. “Good.” He chewed the rest of the sausage and swallowed. “You are a healer like your father. Maybe even a better one, because I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never heard of one seeing colors before. Anyway, that’s not the point here. Being a descendant of Cahlar doesn’t take away from who you are. It only adds, and you should be as proud of that as your mate appears to be… as your grandfather is. “You have given this old man new purpose. I lost everything, but it wasn’t for nothing. You’ve cured the malaise, and figured out how to keep shifters healthy, and my daughter gave me a grandson who appears to have saved us all… one I want to get to know. I lost and I gained. We both did, don’t you think so?” “I… yes. We both lost and we both gained.” “And my daughter giving you your name tells me she knew who you were… who you would turn out to be. She would have died knowing she was right in her decision to leave Morningstar. I’m thankful for that.” Kellar nodded. He pictured his mother running away from him, disappearing in the tall grass. Yes, she knew who her son was, and she had protected him at the ultimate cost. “Here’s something else for you to think about. Did this Vega keeper, Delia, tell you Cahlar was a healer?” “No, sir, she didn’t. She told us his story, but she never mentioned that.” “And neither did Esther. Not to me, she didn’t. She referred to him as a leader and a warrior... not once did she say he was a healer. So, maybe you should stop being hung up on this reborn stuff, and see that you’re a combination of both your parents’ lines. Could you have accomplished all the things you have without being this new and improved healer?” “No.” His gaze went to his mate. “It’s been the key to all of this, doc." “I guess it has.” “Well, that about says it all then, doesn’t it?” “Yes, Grandfather, it does.”
  15. 108 points
    KIERAN ~ SAMUI SUNSET Even without the rainbow flags and pink feather boas streaming out of a couple of the coach windows, nobody on the street could have been in any doubt as to the orientation of the passengers inside—well, the majority of them. Kieran had never seen so much colourful spandex or leather harnesses, so much glitter and makeup, and so many tight vests, shorts, and half-naked muscled bodies in one place. Whether the local coach driver had been warned or not, he had no idea, but the man smiled broadly each time the holidaymakers boarded and re-boarded the bus. Two minutes away from the previous stop, and the crowd—most a little the worse for wear after discovering a gay-friendly bar selling cheap Singha beer—began a rousing chorus of Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’. Three of them, dressed in boas as Meryl, Christine and Julie, even provided a coordinated dance show down the narrow aisle between the seats. Kieran enjoyed the coach entertainment almost as much as the trip itself. Almost, but not quite. Sitting in the luxury air-conditioned coach, he felt entranced by the stunning coastline of calm, aquamarine sea, the almost white sands bordered by lush green vegetation, his mind blown away by the natural beauty of Koh Samui. The next and final stop on their island tour would be the Big Buddha, viewed at sunset. Butterflies had set up shop in his stomach. If he was going to be honest with himself, he wished Kennedy had joined him, missed not having him there to share the experience. Twice in the past few days, he’d noticed Kennedy ogling him naked in the shower. Not that he minded. To be perfectly honest, he left the door to the bathroom open on purpose now, found the attention strangely flattering. But as usual Kennedy had work to finish, and wanted to give Kieran time on his own. Today, though, for once he wished Kennedy had come along. Steph had Laurie with her, and Pete had his dad. Leonard had brought Leighton, who turned out to be his gay nephew, his sister’s kid over from Rockdale, Texas. Kieran had grown to like Leonard on the short excursion—had even been asked to call him Len—glad he’d spent time to get to know him, especially as Leighton made no bones about voicing his aversion to being seen hanging with ‘y’all old folk.” Leonard sat next to Kieran right now, playing with his tablet computer, while Leighton sat with a younger crowd in another part of the bus. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” came Len’s voice. “Stunning. I could happily retire here.” “Got a few good years before that happens, buddy.” Next to him, Len chuckled, before cursing softly under his breath. Kieran turned and noticed him repeatedly brushing his finger across the display of the tablet computer. He’d been playing with the device, and intermittently huffing, ever since they’d boarded the bus after leaving the Thai silk market. “You okay there?” he asked. “I’m trying to get to the next page of this bloody site, but the damned thing keeps freezing. It’s driving me nuts.” “Can I take a look?” “Be my guest,” said Len, thrusting the device at Kieran. Kieran already knew Leonard had no problem accessing the internet, because his own wifi dongle made sure of that. But the site on the display—for what appeared to be antique furniture—had frozen. Kieran copied the URL, closed the browser down and tried again. This time the page opened to the main page of the site, and Kieran selected the one Leonard had been trying to reach. After a minute, he handed the device back. “Not your fault, Len. Looks to me as though that site was put together in the nineties. I realise they’re selling antiques but the home page shouldn’t have to work like one. Heavens, a twelve year old could build something better these days. Surprise they manage to sell anything at all.” When he turned to Len, the man had a grim smile on his face. “We don’t. At least not much.” “Oh, shit,” said Kieran, mortified. “Foot meet mouth. A bad habit of mine. I’m so sorry.” “No, no,” said Len. “You’re right, of course, and you’re honest. All my sites were built by the same developer a couple of decades ago, who subsequently disappeared off the face of the earth. Since then I’ve thrown money at simply trying to keep them up and running.” “Kennedy told me your businesses are doing really well.” “We’re making good money. But not as much as we could be.” “Well, if there’s anything I can help with, let me know. This is my area of expertise.” “Seriously? You could help with this?” “Absolutely. Tell you what, why don’t you give me the details of all your websites—including any backdoor passwords—and I’ll check them out while I’ve got some time free on the cruise. Then we’ll get together one afternoon, you can buy me a cocktail, and I’ll give you my recommendations.” “I can’t ask you to do that on your holiday.” “You’re didn’t. I’m offering. Plus, to be honest, this is the kind of thing I get a kick out of, much more than I do trying to find space to swim in that tiny tub on the boat they call a swimming pool.” “Chip—sorry—Leighton loves to hang around the pool. Says that’s where you find all the young hot guys with the ripped bodies.” “Does nothing for me.” “Me neither,” said Len, before his curious gaze turned to Kieran. “You wouldn’t look out of place there, though. Glad to see Kennedy’s made a good choice this year—for once. Can I ask you a question?” “Um, yes, I think.” Len laughed at that. “Do you work for Kennedy? As well as being together.” “What? No. Why would you ask that?” “It’s just, I heard you talking to Steph about his company, and you sounded really well informed. You were talking about the pros and cons of becoming a public listed company. And some of the steps involved in setting the wheels in motion. Just sounded as though you might already be working for him” “Well I’m definitely not working for him, but my degree course covered the steps businesses need to take in becoming publicly listed in the UK, so the information is fairly fresh in my head. Although my real interest is in e-commerce. Sorry if I come across as a smart aleck. That wasn’t my intention.” “Are you kidding. Kennedy’s last squeeze seemed more obsessed with Kylie Jenner and some show called Riverdale. So, did Kennedy give you his signature blow-job card?” said Leonard, his voice lowering, which, considering the noise on the coach was completely unnecessary. “His what?” “Black Jack. BJ. Did he give you the black jack card, yet?” Kieran threw himself back in his sat, unable to stop the loud laugh bursting from him. Even though they’d not heard Len’s comment, a couple of other passengers, turned their heads and grinned at Kieran’s reaction. In fairness, Kennedy did tell him the card usually held another meaning. “I take that as a yes. Don’t tell me you’ve used it already.” “No,” said Kieran, wiping at his eyes. “No, I haven’t used the card.” “You will, though. Kennedy gives mind boggling blow jobs.” “Oh, yes,” said Kieran, eyeing Len suspiciously. “And just how would you know that?” “No, no,” said Len, grinning. “Not me. God, Kennedy is not my type at all. But let’s just say, the boyfriend after Patrick, Ollie, the one he brought on the first two post-Patrick cruises was not particularly discreet. Demanded a minimum of four cards on the second cruise. And, if you’ll excuse the expression, he gave us all a blow-by-blow account, one evening at the bar.” Once again, Kieran laughed aloud. ***** When they pulled up in the temple carpark, the sun hung low in the sky illuminating everything in bright golden sunlight. Ten or so other tourist coaches parked there. Most of their busload seemed eager to climb the stairs to the golden Buddha and the panoramic lookout point beyond. Kieran excused himself from his small group, citing a headache caused by mild dehydration, and wandered off to buy a bottle of water, which was a ruse, of course, because he wanted to be alone. Returning to the heart of the temple, he stopped, swigged at his water, before taking in the view. Terracotta coloured tiles on the pavilions either side of the stairs up to the Buddha appeared freshly laid, as though only recently constructed. Even the three staircases leading up to the Buddha, two of white ceramic or marble each bordering another of deep burgundy, with gleaming golden handrails, appeared too clean, too pristine considering the large number of daily tourists that must climb them. Maybe he was being unfair, had visited too many sombre, musty churches in England, but the place felt less like a religious temple, and more like a custom-built tourist attraction. As he perched in a pavilion’s shade by one of the four cross-legged golden Buddha’s at the foot of the staircase, he watched the world go by, the words of the old fortune teller coming back to him. “You are on an island in Asia standing beneath a giant buddha. You are waiting to meet your destiny.” Fleetingly, he thought about climbing the steps to the statue, but then figured that everyone heading up there via the only staircase, had to pass him. Nearby, a Thai guide talked to a small group of English speaking tourists. “In Thai, this called Wat Phra Yai, mean Big Buddha temple. This real working temple, with real Buddhist monk worship here. Buddha statue is twelve meter tall. Here we are on small island named Koh Farn, connected to mainland Koh Samui by causeway. Either side of stairway is half human, half serpent cobra called Naga, which lead up to Buddha. Not many year ago, a Dhamma wheel representing the Buddha’s teachings to the path of enlightenment, was added to the image.” Kieran stared at the group of fifteen or so tourists, four of them girls, all pretty, all with partners; two good looking guys, clearly a couple. Nobody really stood out. Every now and again, small groups or couples moved past him, either to scale the staircase or descend from the top. No lightning bolts, no epiphanies, no swelling orchestral music. Half an hour passed like a life sentence and, very slowly, very gradually, a sinking feeling filled him. Until he finally saw the funny side. What the hell was he doing, he asked himself, standing there moping, because of a comment made to him as a kid by somebody’s grandmother pretending to be a fortune teller? At twenty-nine, he really ought to grow up and learn to let some things go. After finishing off his water, he dragged himself to his feet and decided to find the others. Blood red clouds illuminated the skies now, and, right on cue, Steph appeared before him. “Come on, you,” she said, grinning fondly, and slipping her arm into his. “Let’s get back to the ship. Kennedy’s probably missing us, and you most of all.” And, funnily enough, that throwaway remark lifted his spirits and put a smile back on his face.
  16. 106 points
    KIERAN ~ UNDERDECK CLUB Kieran took a hesitant step through the club’s main door—a circular aluminium frame designed like a ship’s portal—into the kaleidoscopic room. Mid-afternoon and The Underdeck Club had only a scattering of shadowy figures, most preferring fun elsewhere. Like the aftermath of an all-night party, nobody danced. Few moved even, and those that did, did so in slow motion. Most languished around tall bar tables or lounged against the club’s mirrored walls trying to perfect nonchalance or practiced boredom. Like bookends two silhouettes of similar height stood together leaning back on their elbows against the pink backlit long bar, legs crossed at the ankles, staring out at the empty dance floor. Light chill-out music oozed from the speakers, repetitive and hypnotic, ethereal synthesisers with an ever-present and underlying beat. Mirror balls rotated slowly, sending multi-coloured constellations onto every surface. Combined with the gentle rolling motion of the ship, Kieran felt like throwing up. Even in the gloom, he finally spotted Kennedy. Sat hunched forward on the bottom step where three shallow stairs dropped to the vinyl frosted dance floor, he held his head stiffly aloft, elbows on knees, hands pressed together in front of his mouth as though in silent prayer. Kieran could tell by the tense shoulders and the way he glared angrily out across the open space that his mood had not improved. Laurie had texted him about the argument after being tipped off by Joey, but she’d given him no details. A bottle of Heineken sat beside Kennedy. For a moment he thought he saw him talking to himself, but decided instead that he was chewing the inside of his mouth, a nervous habit Kieran had noticed a couple of times. He caught himself when a sudden wave of pity mixed with affection flooded him. Kennedy would hate both. A few single guys stood or sat nearby but none seemed interested. Or perhaps they also sensed his turmoil. Then again, maybe someone his age needed to make the first move. Kieran had no idea how the whole gay hook-up thing worked. But for a bloke in his early forties, Kennedy was definitely in good shape. Kieran thought about his Uncle Angelo, his father’s brother, at forty-nine. Couch potato boozer with bald head, saggy arse, swollen belly and multiple blancmange chins. Thank goodness he had his mother’s genes. Kennedy Grey was an inspiration, an aspiration even. For a second, he thought about turning around, heading back to the cabin and leaving the man to his pain. Any attempt at sympathy would be snubbed, that much he knew for sure. But whatever had been said in the cabin had taken its toll and to ignore the man now would be wrong. And after all, Kennedy had paid him for his companionship, so companionship he would get—whether he liked it or not. Kieran stopped on the top step to Kennedy’s right, waiting until he noticed him. “What do you want, Kieran?” muttered Kennedy, harshly, after quickly glancing around, grimacing and turning back again. “Thought you might like some company, old man.” “Well, I don’t,” he said, pushing a hand through his hair while glaring out across the half empty dance floor. “If I’m lucky I might get laid. And you looming over me will only cramp my style.” Kieran ignored him and perched himself down on the top step to Kennedy’s right. “Style? What style? You don’t have any.” “Fuck off, Kieran.” “No. Don’t think I will. You never know, I might get lucky myself.” “If it’s the blonde behind the bar with the red bow tie you’re ogling, then don’t waste your time. Belinda’s a lipstick lesbian, and you don’t have a vagina.” Kieran glanced over at the woman, currently wiping a glass and chatting to one of the spectres at the bar. A little old for Kieran, he could nevertheless appreciate her Scandinavian beauty. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.” “Actually, she does. Before meeting her partner Janine, she was married to a man for six years. Got two kids.” Kieran mulled that over for a while before responding. “You ever been with a woman?” “Of course. College years. Even had a girlfriend for six months. Didn’t really float my boat. Obviously. Have you ever been with a guy?” “No!” Kieran went quiet then, remembering back to his high school days when he and his mate, Robbie Menden, had jerked each other off in Kieran’s bedroom. Admittedly they had been poring over Robbie’s older brother’s straight porn mag at the time, but Kieran still remembered the intense orgasm as though it was yesterday. They had purposefully avoided each other after that. But even though it had not been full-blown sex, no way was he going to share that little titbit with Kennedy. Nor the fact that, on the day Kennedy offered him the job, he had googled gay sex and started to get a hard-on when one guy gave the other a blow job. “Then it’s you who doesn’t know what he’s missing. I’m sure any one of these chaps would be up to giving a good looking bloke like you a good time.” “I’ll pass, thanks.” “Suit yourself. I, on the other hand, desperately need a shag.” For some unexplainable reason, that statement sent a quiver of anxiousness through Kieran. Maybe because he wondered if Kennedy would still want him around if he managed to shack up with someone. “What about Simple Simon—?“ “Simeon.” “I prefer my version. You do realise he fancies you, don’t you?” “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Oh, come on, Kennedy. You’re not blind and deaf. The way he can’t do enough for you, that loud fake laugh when you make a frankly not very funny wisecrack about something. The way he checks out your ass every chance he can get. And especially the way he looks at me.” “How does he look at you?” “Molten. As if he’d like to stab me in the throat with the butter knife, then throw my body over the sea rail. Because he wants to be the one sitting next to you. Why don’t you ring for him? I bet he’d be up for a shag.” “Not my type.” “So? Neither am I, as most of your friends have told me repeatedly. Despite me reaching down into the deepest darkest teachings from the one term of acting classes I took in high school. Honestly, it’s beginning to get on my tits, the way they keep casually dropping the fact into every conversation.” When Kieran looked over, Kennedy’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. “Sorry about that. But they know I have a type.” “You don’t say. So pardon me for not being an emaciated, dumb, blond elf and actually having an informed opinion about things.” Kennedy laughed again. “They’re right, though,” said Kennedy, gently shaking his head. “God, I really can be shallow at times.” “No argument from me.” “Fuck off.” “You want a drink? I’ll put it on the room.” “Cabin. Yeah, go on. If I’m not going to get laid, I might as well get drunk. Get me a Long Island Iced Tea.” “Done.” Kieran returned and sat down next to Kennedy before handing over his drink. When Kennedy saw the two rainbow coloured umbrellas sticking out of his tall glass, he huffed loudly and rolled his eyes, but a corner of his mouth lifted. “D’you want to talk about it? You and Patrick?” As soon as the words left Kieran’s mouth he regretted them, for instantly dampening Kennedy’s improved mood. He glared sidelong at Kieran before shaking his head and exhaling a long sigh. Kieran thought that meant he didn’t, but after a few moments Kennedy started talking softly. “I really didn’t know he was going to be here. Pete says they booked at the last minute. If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to come.” “Why?” “Because it’s not worth the aggravation. And if you’d heard Richmond’s delightful comments, you’d know I’m the super villain in all of this. Took nine good years of his life. And then I went and ruined everything.” “You cheated on him?” “Of course not. Unless you call prioritising work over social life cheating.” “He broke up with you because you worked too hard?” “In his defence I did fuck up a lot. Often at the last minute. Dinner dates, birthday parties, Christmases, a number of holidays. But even though it was a nuisance, I assumed he was okay with that, thought he knew I had to work hard to make a success of the business. Meant we could also afford the luxury apartment, nice cars, dog, lifestyle. The bloody cruises, for Christ’s sake.” “I see.” “He broke up with me, you know? Not the other way round.” “You still have feelings for him?” Kennedy thought about that for a long moment before responding. “Yes, but not in the way you think. More like disappointment really. And sadness, I suppose. He’s still bitter at me, otherwise he wouldn’t be telling every new partner those unpleasant things. Don’t even know what he has to gain. You should have heard what Richmond said about me in their cabin. In front of everyone. Accused me of cheating on him, even when we were together, which is a barefaced lie. And he as good as called you my paid whore.” “Well I am, really. Without the sex. Shit, maybe we should get married.” Kieran warmed inside when Kennedy laughed aloud. Putting the straw to his lips, he sucked at the cocktail before becoming serious again. “Same sort of thing happened the last time we all met up. Leonard’s birthday party, I think it was. He had some new guy with him then, too. Ben or Bob. Remember this new guy holding court in the kitchen, going on very loudly in front of everyone about how I fuck with people’s lives. And how I would probably die alone and single—a sad, lonely old man, with no friends and nobody to take care of me.” “Boo-hoo.” “Exactly. I’d been standing outside, but barged in at that point and told them all that when that particular eventuality comes along, at least I’ll be able to afford the best drugs and hire a drop dead gorgeous gay male nurse to suck my cock and wipe my arse, or vice versa. While the lot of them will be left to dribble in their bibs and soil their incontinence pants in some filthy rundown NHS hospice--” “Kennedy,” Kieran interrupted. “Don’t want to pee in your iced tea, but Patrick just walked in.” “Where?” said Kennedy, sharply, his head darting up and peering around like a frightened ferret. “Ten o’clock. Side door.” “Shit. Sit in front of me.” “What?” “Sit in front of me. You’re supposed be my bloody boyfriend, remember?” Rather than sitting in front, Kieran perched himself behind Kennedy, squashed up against the man’s back, his knees either side. For a second Kennedy froze and then released an exasperated sigh, before shaking his head. Peering over Kennedy’s right shoulder, Kieran could see Patrick clearly across the room, trying to get accustomed to the dim lighting. Kieran had no doubt he had come looking for someone, and he probably knew who. “Quick,” Kennedy hissed over his shoulder. “Kiss me.” “What? I am not fucking kiss—“ “Five hundred. I’ll give you an extra five hundred pounds. Please!” “Shit. Turn your face to me, then.” Kennedy turned halfway, while Kieran craned forward and closed the distance between them, crushing their lips together. When Kieran first leaned in he had expected the man’s lips to be firmer, solid even, certainly not so soft and pliable. Before the thought had a chance to coalesce, Kennedy opened his lips and…whoa. Moist warmth filled his mouth as their tongues collided, Kieran tasting the sweet cola and sharp bite of spirits in Kennedy’s mouth. Part of his brain knew they were faking, but the sudden contact fired up his synapses, tingling his nerve endings, stoking his heart beat and reaching all the way down to his groin. Within seconds he was no longer pretending, but throwing himself into the kiss, hungry after days of zero physical contact, his body on sexual autopilot. When he tilted his head to take in more of Kennedy’s mouth, the man beneath him rumbled with pleasure, the most simple yet carnal of sounds which set Kieran’s blood hammering through his veins and his erection straining against his shorts, nudging Kennedy’s back. He barely heard the angry voice growing louder and repeating over and over, the same mantra that kept pace with the blood pounding through his brain: ken, ken, ken. “Ken! For fuck’s sake!” Kennedy pulled his face away and, for a split second, stared startled at Kieran before slowly turning his attention to the voice. “No idea what game you’re trying to play,” said Patrick, towering over them, his hands on his hips. “But you're not fooling anyone.” Kieran could see the anger in Patrick’s face but barely acknowledged the words coming out of the mouth. Thoughts of the kiss and the reaction of his body still shimmered through his slowing calming body, confusing the hell out of him. “We need to talk. But not in front of that,” said Patrick, nodding at Kieran. Finally his conscious mind and body began to come together, his annoyance sharpening to this man who had just reduced him to something inanimate. “You want me to stay?” Kieran whispered into Kennedy’s ear. Kennedy said nothing, continued to stare up at the man. “No, he wants you gone, you little prick. Go up on deck and play with the other children. Leave the grown-ups to talk grown-up things.” “Kennedy?” asked Kieran, a little louder. Still no reaction. “Don’t you know when to take a hint, kid? Just get the fuck away and leave us alone, will you?” “Kennedy!” barked Kieran, angry now, shaking Kennedy’s shoulder and startling him out of whatever reverie had taken him. “Go back to the cabin,” said Kennedy, his voice soft and odd. Then over his shoulder. “Please. I’ll come and join you soon.” When Kieran peered up, Patrick stood leaning back slightly with his arms folded, a smug smile of satisfaction on his face. Cold anger and embarrassment swept through Kieran as he struggled to his feet. Stood still a moment, staring at the top of Kennedy’s head, he had been about to fire back something caustic at Patrick. But what was the point? He’d been dismissed. Instead, he turned around and headed out the door without a backwards glance. Enough already.
  17. 105 points
    KENNDY ~ CHECKMATE Dressed down in navy cargo shorts and a lemon Ralph Lauren polo shirt, Kennedy rested an elbow on the counter as he checked into the five star hotel in Naha, around the corner from the bar district. At his feet, he had a small bag containing toiletries with a change of clothing for him and Kieran, plus a small gift bag. While waiting for the clerk to photocopy his passport, he mulled over his conversation with Steph. What he still couldn’t fathom was why Kieran hadn’t told him about Richmond warning him off. Why keep that to himself? Although, in all fairness, Richmond hadn’t been wrong. Kennedy’s companions came with a short lease of life. But using the word disposable had not only been brutal, but unnecessary. Kieran didn’t deserve that and if he saw Richmond again on the cruise, he’d confront him. And then, just at the thought of his name, Kennedy’s mind replayed the events of the morning. He had woken to a warm body aligned along his own, opened his eyes to find Kieran leaning over him and grinning. After a brief good morning, Kieran had satisfied his appetite with a deep kiss. Tasting of minty toothpaste, and smelling of orange shower gel, he had obviously been awake for some time, had already showered and done his other ablutions before coming back to bed. Sporting a substantial morning wood, Kennedy’s lust had skyrocketed, and he’d rolled a sniggering Kieran onto his back, silencing him by tasting every inch of his body from neck to groin, before swallowing his cock whole again. This time, emboldened by the gasps and moans coming from above, Kennedy not only sucked on each of his balls, but then pushed both of Kieran’s thighs up and swiped his tongue along his crack. No sound had come from Kieran, just a sharp intake of breath. Kennedy looked up then, saw Kieran watching him with wonder, and a fair amount of shock. Kennedy wondered if he’d gone too far. “Do that again,” said Kieran. Kennedy smiled and wasted no time. This time, not only did he repeatedly moisten Kieran’s hole but then probed with his tongue, feeling Kieran’s body shiver with each invasion. When he’d finally returned to the task in hand, sucking on Kieran’s erection, he pushed a fingertip into him, only up to the first joint, to get him used to the invasion. Finally, he used Kieran’s pre-cum to moisten their erections, and, while feeling the muscles tighten around his digit, he'd gripped both of their erections—Kieran’s introduction to frottage—until they both came to a shuddering climax. ***** At ten past seven darkness had already begun to fall, and he spotted the silhouette on the right side of the up-sloping lane, leaning against a wall. As was customary, most of the bar signs had been illuminated in florescent colours, and opposite the man, at the top of the stairs, stood 036 bar. As Kennedy approached, a tall shadow plucked himself away from the wall. Kieran. Kennedy felt a smile tug at his face. “Kennedy.” Just the sound of Kieran’s voice made his heart dance a little tango. “You made it. How long have you been here?” “Ten minutes max. The sign went on only a few moments ago. What’s in the bag?” Kieran nodded to the carrier bag Kennedy had brought with him. “Presents for Tim and Hiro.” With a quick check along the empty lane, Kennedy stepped towards Kieran and began to pull him in for a kiss, but Kieran stopped him. “You said we need to be discrete.” “In the bar, yes.” “In the gay bar?” “Correct. It’s a cultural thing. Although they probably wouldn’t say anything to us, most Japanese don’t do public displays of affection. It’s not homophobic or anything, simply cultural, and something we have to respect. The same thing goes for straight couples.” “But in a gay bar?” “The bars here aren’t like England. Most are well lit and similar to sitting around in someone’s living room. Some have karaoke and others have theme nights. A few years ago, I walked into one that had a fundoshi night, kind of like a traditional Japanese jockstrap. All the men sat around in nothing but these items of underwear. Talking politely to each other, but no touching and definitely no kissing. We walked out pretty much immediately.” “No PDAs?” “Not that I’ve seen.” “Then why are you trying to snog me in the street?” “Because there’s nobody watching, dummy.” Kieran laughed, but only long enough for Kennedy to pull him into a kiss. Something had begun to feel incredibly familiar in his kisses with Kieran, almost like a drug he had become addicted to. Before things got too intense, Kieran pushed them apart when spotting an elderly Japanese couple strolling their way. While they stood staring at each other, waiting for the couple to shuffle past, Kennedy’s eye was drawn to the bar signs on the building opposite the one housing 036, behind Kieran’s head. On the ground floor a bar called Gents with what appeared to be a sign for the toilet, except the sign had two men instead of a man and a woman; on the next floor up, something in Japanese with a red fluorescent dragon; and then, flickering to life at that very moment on the top floor, Giant Buddha lounge. Tacky, he thought, but at least a name he could decipher. When another person appeared on the lane, Kennedy breathed out a sigh and led them up the steps to their destination; the 036 bar. Inside the small room, they found only the bar master, and his two associates seated at the counter. Kennedy had expected as much. They joined them, and were provided cold towels by the bar master, who introduced himself as Kazuki. Kennedy had so much to say, but wanted to let Tim—his English friend who now lived with his partner in Tokyo, and moreover, his private investigator—get some friendly banter out of the way before getting down to business. “Tim and I went to college together, best mates,” said Kennedy, mainly to Kieran, who sat nursing an Asahi beer, whereas Kennedy had opted for the local Awamori with a plum-type of soft drink. “Where I went into the family business, Tim went into the metropolitan police, before meeting his Japanese partner, and is now living in Tokyo. He’s a highly resourceful private investigator. Hiro-san works privately for me in a research and development capacity. He’s a technical wizard and, hopefully, has brought some samples of the latest security devices to show me.” Hiro nodded his welcome to Kieran, and then nodded to Kennedy, adding a thumbs up sign. “So anyway, before we begin, I brought small gifts. A metal remote-controlled model of a London bus for Hiro’s son. And for you, Tim, a few things from home that you might be missing,” said Kennedy, handing over his carrier bag. Tim rifled through the bag, pulled out Hiro’s toy first of all, and then his eyes widened as he placed each additional item on the counter. “Marmite. Branston pickle. Cadbury’s cream eggs. Rich tea biscuits. Tetley tea bags. You are a superstar. Hang on, what’s this?” “Small bottle of mouthwash. They gave it to us on the plane.” “You think we don’t have this in Tokyo?” said Tim, before throwing the bottle to the bar master. “Toss that into the trash for me, please, Kazuki-san. And for the record, Kennedy, that stuff is useless. Honestly, the things people waste their money on these days.” Kennedy had forgotten about Tim’s quirks. Aside from that, however, he was a scrupulous investigator. Before Kennedy took over the conversation, Tim began. “So did you read everything I sent you?” “I did. Very interesting. Sounds like Milletto is not only a smart businessman, but a competitive one, who has made a name for himself in the industry. Cold Steel is in good shape because of him. What I don’t completely understand is why he wants out. It’s not as though he needs the money. And he’s clearly good at what he does.” “And what did you make of the information in the FYEO?” asked Tim. “That Sloan Williamson has a vested interest in the sale.” “Milletto stands to make a lot of money selling off his company, even though, as you say, he’s already nicely off. But from what our inside sources tell us, he plans on gifting the proceeds to his only daughter, Mary Jane Milletto. Who also happens to be the third wife of one—” “Sloan Williamson.” “Correct. At the moment, Sloan is paying child support to two ex-wives, so doesn’t have much spare money left in the bank each month. But with his wife’s windfall, he’ll be able to buy up a substantial amount of shares in Grey Havens once you go public. Probably hoping for a preferential offering for existing employees.” “Is Giorgio Milletto aware of any of this?” “No, I’m sure he’s unaware of Sloan’s intentions. Digging around, sounds as though Giorgio Milletto wasn’t particular pleased about his only daughter marrying a man almost twice her age, and also twice divorced. From what we’ve heard, he simply wants to give her a safety net when things go south.” “When, not if?” said Kennedy, chuckling. “Milletto’s words, not mine,” said Tim. Kennedy mulled this information over. Karl had voiced his concerns about Cold Steel being overpriced, but Sloan and his finance guy—someone Sloan had cherry picked—had argued to the contrary. Of course Sloan would want the highest price possible, if he was going to end up with the money, Kennedy’s money. “So. What do we do about Sloan?” “Saru mo ki kara ochiru,” said Kazuki, who had been listening in, and which had both Hiro and Tim laughing. “What did he just say?” asked Kieran. “It’s an old Japanese proverb, which translates as ‘even monkeys fall from trees’.” Both Kennedy and Kieran laughed. “Problem is,” said Kennedy, “I don’t have time to spare, waiting for this one to fall.” “Maybe you push him out of the tree,” said Kieran. “Or you take the tree away. I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and I may have found a solution,” said Tim. “I attended a course on problem solving recently, and they classified all problems into three categories. First, the problem that has already happened and now needs to be fixed. Secondly, the problem you can foresee that lies ahead. And third, problems you want to prevent from happening in the first place. The way I see things, you are viewing this as the second stage, something that lies ahead. But what if you prevent the problem from happening in the first place, take away Sloan’s leverage.” “And how do you suggest I do that?” “There are a number of ways. You could tell them all you’re delaying or postponing the decision to take your privately owned company to a public limited one. Of course, then you lose out as well.” “Agreed.” “So, as is my wont, I’ve been going through your private investment portfolio. Did you know you own twenty percent shares in Securiton? They’re another domestic security company in the US.” “I didn’t. And to be honest, I’ve never heard of them. They were probably my late uncle’s shares, transferred to me when he passed away. How are they performing?” “Historically, good. Of late, appallingly. Even though they have great potential, they’re currently being mis-managed. The point is, after doing a bit of digging, I found out that someone else has a thirty-five percent stake in the company.” “Go on.” “Giorgio Milletto. So imagine if you were to sell him your twenty. He’d have controlling interest—” “—in a business area he’s already familiar with and performing in.” “And if he has any sense, he’ll merge the two companies and make a lot of investors very happy. Moreover, he’ll need to keep working, need to keep his interest going, after he pulls out of our deal.” “Tim, you’re a bloody genius.” “You want me to set up a call with him?” “Yes and no,” said Kennedy. “Call him to set up a private meeting in his LA office for next Tuesday. Might be best not to use my name, but make something up that’ll grab his interest. I’ll fly straight from Hong Kong and meet him in their office. This needs to be done face to face. Kieran, are you okay to keep yourself amused in Hong Kong without me for a couple of days? Steph and Laurie will be with you.” “When will you get back?” “I’ll fly straight back on Wednesday, which means arriving Thursday. So I’ll probably meet you at the airport for our flight to Bali.” “Are you sure?” said Kieran. “You’ll be shattered.” “I’ll be fine. More than fine. And besides, we’ll have the final eight nights in Bali together.” “So are you going to cancel the meeting in London?” asked Tim. “With Milletto and your management team?” “On the contrary. If all goes well, I’m going to insist Giorgio flies in and listens to everything they have to say. Before dropping his bombshell. Fuck, I’ll even offer to pay for his flight.” “I don’t get it,” said Kieran. “This Williamson guy sounds like a royal pain in the arse. Surely the simplest solution would be to sack him? Stop him from creating problems in the first place.” “That’s an easy one,” said Tim. “Sloan keeps Kennedy on his toes. And having somebody who desperately wants a piece of the pie once the company goes public, can’t do any harm. He’s going to be working his backside off to make sure what’s being offered to the public is in top form. Am I right, Kennedy?” “On all counts.” “Besides,” said Tim, grinning wickedly. “There’s a whole caseload of dirt on the man, just in case he does go one step too far.” Kennedy laughed and noticed Kieran looking between the two of them. “You two are dangerous.” “I wouldn’t say that, exactly,” said Kennedy. “But we’re good people to have on your side. Now, Hiro-san, what new toys have you got to show me?” While Kennedy sat at one table with Hiro, listening to him explain some of the features of the new micro security devices he had been working on, Kennedy occasionally peered over and saw Tim and Kieran chatting amiably together and occasionally laughing. Funny how watching Kieran filled him with a warm shimmer, but at the same time, scared the hell out of him. What the fuck was he supposed to do with that?
  18. 104 points
    KENNEDY ~ ALMOST Kennedy was woken by a loud ping from his phone. In all honesty, as he fell asleep, he’d been worried about waking to find Kieran—always the early riser—having a panic attack, or a crisis of heart or conscience, or complaining about new and inevitable soreness in parts where this kind of thing had never happened. What he hadn’t expected was to find Kieran fast asleep, his warm body and stiff cock pressed up against Kennedy’s back, his arm draped around his midriff. Kennedy lay there savouring the moment. Lazily, he reached out a hand and brought the phone to his face, to check the messages on the display. Steph 10:10: You’re not answering your cabin door. Steph 10:30: Are you onboard? Simeon says he hasn’t seen you. Missed call. Steph 11:00: Where the fuck are you? The boat leaves at midday. Panic rippled through him when he checked the time—eleven-ten. He threw the phone down. “Shit,” he said, jumping into action and waking a sleep-ruffled Kieran with a shoulder shake. “We’ve overslept. Get dressed. We have to check out.” “I need to use the ‘loo,” said Kieran, leisurely sitting up naked on the side of the bed, and pushing his hands through his locks. “And grab a shower. And what about breakfast?” “No time for shower and food,” said Kennedy from the other side of the bed, yanking on his underwear and trousers. “We can do that back on the boat. If we manage to make it.” “What do you mean?” “The boat leaves port in forty-five minutes.” Finally the words managed to sink in and the two of them hurried around the hotel room, trying to avoid bumping into each other, taking turns to use the toilet, dressing hastily, packing the little they had brought, and then racing down to the reception. While Kennedy checked out, he sent Kieran to arrange a taxi with the concierge and explain the need for haste. Fortunately, taxis were lined outside the hotel ready for guests, so they were soon on their way. At eleven-forty-five, the port appeared before them with the mammoth Diamond Princess still sitting there against the quay. Kennedy breathed an audible sigh of relief. With minutes to spare, they both boarded, showing their cruise passes to the crew members before heading to their cabin. All the way from the hotel, the two had hardly spoken. Finally, Kennedy asked Kieran what he needed first; shower or food. A trooper to the last, he opted for the latter. Kennedy rang Simeon to request an all-day breakfast brought to their cabin. Professional as ever, Simeon responded instantly; but when he pushed the trolley into their cabin, Kennedy could make out a slight change in attitude, the friendliness dialled down a notch or two. Kieran noticed too, because when Simeon served them both coffee—Kennedy his usual espresso, which he downed in one gulp—Kieran winked at Kennedy and grinned. “How was the coffee, darling?” asked Kieran, reaching across the table to take hold of Kennedy’s hand. “Would you like Simon to bring you another?” “One's enough,” said Kennedy, attempting to glare at Kieran through his grin. “Thank you, Simeon. You can clear the table later.” “More importantly, how are you feeling?” asked Kennedy, once Simeon had departed. “Better, now we made the boat in time. What would we have done, if we hadn’t?” “Not a real issue. We’d have caught a flight to Hong Kong. Just over two hours away. And spent an extra couple of nights in Hong Kong waiting for the boat to arrive.” “My God, you think of everything.” “What I meant earlier was, how do you feel after last night?” Kieran considered Kennedy’s meaning, then got up from his chair and slapped down his napkin. Like a hunter stalking his prey, he came around Kennedy’s side of the table and straddled his lap, placing his arms around the back of Kennedy’s head. “If you’re asking whether my ass is still sore, then the answer is yes,” he said, rubbing his backside into Kennedy’s groin before leaning in and pecking Kennedy on the lips and neck. “If you’re asking whether I still want to do the same thing again, then the answer is—oh fuck yes. But right now, I’m ready for a shower. So hurry up and finish your breakfast. Because my cock isn’t going to wash itself.” For the next three days and two nights before they reached Hong Kong, Kieran’s appetite for sex became voracious, often keeping Kennedy in bed until mid-morning, and dragging him away in the afternoon, to try out one new position or another. If Pandora had ever had a brother, then his box had been well and truly opened. The first time Kennedy allowed him to take the lead—something Patrick had never wanted—Kieran took his time, making sure Kennedy felt relaxed, always observing and trying to sense any discomfort Kennedy might be feeling. When midway through the first exchange of roles, he insisted Kennedy roll over and straddle him, ride him at his own pace, the ploy worked perfectly and allowed Kennedy’s hands the freedom to explore Kieran’s body, helping to bring him home. For the first time in his life, Kennedy found concentrating on work impossible. Kieran knew exactly which buttons to push. On the final cloudless day on deck, as Kennedy relaxed sleepily in the sun on loungers with the girls around the bustling swimming pool after lunch, purposefully ignoring Patrick’s posse gathered together on the other side of the pool, Kieran turned up sporting only gold lamé Aussiebum swimming briefs—brief being the optimum word—a pair Kennedy had bought him. Tanned now, with his trim muscles and flat stomach, the tight briefs outlined his beautiful dick, and he’d developed a new confidence, sexy as hell. When he sat astride Kennedy and bent down for a deep kiss, all heads turned their way. And when Kieran whispered three words into his ear—swim or sex?—Kennedy bolted up from the lounger and pulled him away, back toward the cabin. Now, when Kieran bottomed? He had become an insatiable maniac—what his friends would have labelled a power bottom—hungry for everything Kennedy could give him and more; hard and fast, wrapping his legs tightly around Kennedy’s back, pulling him as far inside him as he could, and coming with wild abandonment, loudly vocal, and often hands-free, like an express train bursting from a tunnel, or a New Zealand geyser bursting hotly from the ground. Whatever happened to mild mannered Kieran? All his friends noticed. At meal times—the few moments all the friends spent together—Kieran took every opportunity to put a hand on Kennedy’s knee, or lace his fingers with the hand lying next to his, or to lean across Kennedy to reach for the salt or pepper, accidentally placing a hand on his upper thigh, a thumb stroking the bulge in his trousers. Intended to be discreet—but so bloody obvious—every time Kennedy’s friends noticed, not only the smitten reaction of Kieran, but the fake dispassion of Kennedy. All too soon, Hong Kong harbour loomed. As soon as Kennedy had installed Kieran into the luxurious suite of the Mandarin Oriental, he packed his bag ready to head to the airport. The hotel had organised a taxi to take him. Twice Kieran asked if he wanted him to come, to see him off, but Kennedy just wanted to get the trip out of the way. Kieran’s sullenness made Kennedy feel mean, and he almost had a change of heart, but instead pulled him up from the bed into an embrace. “I need to do this, Kieran.” After a tender kiss, he held Kieran’s face in his hands and stared into his eyes. “Yes, I know you do.” “And I’ll be gone two days only, as long as there are no delays.” “I know.” “And then it’s just you and me in Bali. For eight nights. To try anything that enters your filthy mind.” Kennedy managed to get a small smile out of Kieran then, which quickly fell away when Kieran’s gaze dropped to the small case Kennedy had packed. “What’s the matter, Kieran?” “It’s just—we’ve been together every day and night for the past eighteen days,” said Kieran, trying to make light, but his eyes telling a different story. “And I’ve begun to think of you as my lucky charm. So forgive me if I’m getting a little nervous about not having you here. What I’m trying to say is it feels so good when we’re together. And I’m going to miss you. Sorry, I’m getting a bit gushy here, aren’t I?” “No you’re not. I appreciate the sentiment, Kieran. And I promise I’m coming back soon. Okay?” “Okay.” “Now will you do something for me?” “Anything.” “Go and enjoy yourself.” ***** While sitting at the boarding gate, Kennedy received a couple of messages on his phone; one from Tim about the meeting that he had been expecting—and one from Reagan. Reagan: Me and the kids are moving in with our parents for now. Bernie admitted to having an affair. Will let you know more soon. Kennedy stared out of the airport window, to his plane being readied for the flight. Although the news didn’t take him by surprise, his sudden reaction did. What saddened him more than he could have imagined with its plain but obvious truth, was that he and his sister had failed at relationships. How could he forget the defeated expression on Reagan’s face when he’d said goodbye? Never would he forget his own sense of futility when Patrick had walked away. Maybe he should be looking to blame their parents, but most of all, he wanted to protect his own heart. And the reason for this conflict? Kieran had woken something inside him, had made him begin to feel things again. Could he dare take another chance? As the airline official checked his passport and scanned his ticket, Kennedy kept replaying in his mind the text from his sister. Why the hell would he want to expose his heart again? Stupid. The idea was simply stupid. Besides, he was about to go into battle. Right now he needed no distractions. Heading down the ramp to the plane door, he checked the messages from Tim, to make sure there were going to be no surprises. Tim: All arranged as planned, everything lined up including transfer documents sent to your email account. Milletto thinks you are an international investment analyst with particular specialism in his sector. Let me know how things go. Safe travels. Head down, he boarded the plane bound for Los Angeles and turned left.
  19. 104 points
    KENNEDY ~ KENNEDY’S ASSASSINATION On the morning of their ninth day at sea, the day after leaving Hanoi, Vietnam, the weather took a turn for the worse. Torrential rain lashed the deck as the ship skirted a typhoon. Colossal cruise ships such as the Diamond Princess had decent stabilisers, but still the constant rolling motion of the ship had a number of passengers holed up in their cabins. Steph and Leonard went to ground for another reason. They’d both made a point of sampling street food on each of their trips ashore. In Hanoi, however, both had come down with mild cases of food poisoning, according to the ship’s doctor, who had prescribed loperamide to help reduce bouts of diarrhoea and oral rehydration sachets to mix with water and keep them hydrated. Apart from that, both were advised to drink plenty of room temperature water, take plenty of bed rest, and stay confined to their cabins. Kennedy sat at lunch with only Kieran and Laurie. Pete, who suffered from seasickness, had also barricaded himself in his cabin. Eric, his father, had stayed to keep him company. “Are we going to bail?” asked Laurie, who had stepped out from their cabin for half an hour to grab some lunch. They had been chatting about Patrick’s cocktail party. “I really need to look after Steph.” Laurie had been with them in Hanoi, and would usually have sampled the street fare, but her strict diet meant abstaining—lucky for her. Kieran had declined the excursion, had stayed onboard to keep Kennedy company. Kennedy sighed. Not only had they all been invited to the drinks party in the early afternoon, but this was the evening of the exclusive captain’s table event, where he and Steph were supposed to strut their stuff across the dance floor. Now everything had gone to pot. “We can still go to Patrick’s,” said Kieran, leaning into Kennedy. “If you want.” Something had crystallised in Kieran since Koh Samui. Kennedy felt the change, but assumed he’d had high expectations of the island and, perhaps, had been disappointed. When Kennedy questioned him, he said nothing. Whatever the reason, he’d been really calm and had stayed close to Kennedy ever since. “Shame, I was really looking forward to the dinner and dance. You don’t think Steph might feel better by tonight?” He’d watched the video Kieran had recorded a number of times, memorising the steps. Now their moment in the spotlight had been snatched away. “I think it’s doubtful, Kennedy,” said Laurie, worry creasing her brow. “She can barely get out of bed, except for the occasional rush to the ‘loo—” “I know, I know. Sod’s law,“ he said, before checking his watch. “In which case, one of us ought to make an effort to attend the cocktail party. We did get a gentle reminder, after all.” Patrick, who had been pretty much invisible the whole cruise, had sent Joey to Steph and Laurie’s cabin the day before they arrived in Ho Chi Minh—the port before Hanoi—to remind them about the get-together. “Kieran,” said Kennedy, his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Would you mind if I do this on my own? Might give me a chance to get Patrick alone and clear the air.” A brief frown flickered across Kieran’s face, replaced quickly by a sad smile. But Laurie answered before Kieran had a chance. “Why do you feel you have any air to clear? I don’t, and neither does Steph,” she said, her quiet anger sounding so much like her partner’s. “He’s the one that caused the pollution. How about you get him to do some apologising? Fucking free-loader.” “Okay, Laurie,” said Kennedy, a little surprised. Of the two, Laurie usually let Steph take the lead. “Play nicely. I wasn’t talking about apologising for anything—apologising is not something I do. But we do need to have words. Besides, my question was for Kieran.” He turned and watch Kieran mull over the words a moment, before answering. “As long as you’re sure,” he said, with a gentle smile that tugged at Kennedy’s heart. “Do what you need to, Kennedy. But I’m also happy to come with you, to stand by your side in case you need me.” And there it was again. Simple words of support. Nobody in his life offered him that, not even the staff to whom he paid significant wages, not even the partner of nine years who now hated his guts. And until recently, not even his own parents. But really, he needed to get Patrick alone and have the talk. What better opportunity? “In which case,” said Laurie, her annoyance completely out of character. “If it’s okay with you, Kieran, I’ll go with him. Maybe just for half an hour. They know me, so they won’t start anything. But you’re not going alone, Kennedy. Fuck that. You’re not throwing yourself to those fucking wolves. Anyone picks on you, I’ll sit on them.” Kieran laughed aloud beside him. Something in his posture changed too, a slight relaxation. Odd really. Was he in favour of Laurie joining Kennedy to the party? “Okay. Then let’s head there now,” said Kennedy, standing to make his point. “I know it’s bit early, but let’s get this over with now. But please, let’s keep things civil, Laurie.” “Fine,” said Laurie, rising too. One single word and she sounded anything but fine. “Let me quickly text Steph. Make sure she knows what’s happening.” Kennedy felt bad about leaving Kieran behind. Like a trooper, he smiled and said he’d go back to the cabin to catch up on emails and messages, maybe read a little. Laurie led the way, into the elevator, down a couple of floors, until they emerged into a long corridor. Halfway down, they stopped outside the door to Patrick’s cabin, which stood open. Four steps inside the living space of the two bedroom cabin—a narrow area with a dining table against one wall, a three seater sofa, and a small bar—and Kennedy realised how grateful he felt to have Laurie by his side. Looking at her face, she also tensed at the drop in temperature at their arrival, metaphorically speaking. Instantly, the truth hit home from the expressions on the familiar faces of Mike and Richmond. Clearly, neither had expected them to turn up. Fortunately, the four other faces in the cabin were unknown and, apart from a quick once over, paid them no heed. Patrick and his new partner did not appear to be in the cabin. But Richmond and Mike stood together at the bar like judge and jury. Kennedy approached them with Laurie steadfastly by his side, both adopting their game faces. “You guys are early,” said Mike, pleasantly enough. “Yes, sorry. Thought we’d get here before the masses arrived,” said Laurie, trying hard to mask her sarcasm. “You enjoying the cruise?” “So far, so good,” said Richmond, sombrely, the older of the two. Until Kennedy’s split with Patrick, Kennedy had always respected Richmond, had always found his common sense refreshing, his business observations insightful. “Where are the others?” “Disaster. Steph and Leonard have food poisoning—” began Laurie. “And let me guess,” said Mike. “Pete’s got a bout of seasickness?” “Bingo. His dad’s taking care of him.” “They do have seasick pills on the boat,” said Richmond. “He won’t take them, Rich,” said Mike. “Says they make him nauseous.” Strange really, thought Kennedy, that these people, friends, used to be in each other’s pockets. Now, because of one simple act—him and Patrick splitting—sides had been taken. Over glasses of wine, they chatted amiably mainly with Mike, reliving old holidays and laughing together. Kennedy had just started to relax when Laurie’s phone beeped. Her face dropped when she peered down at the display, a simple message from Steph, requesting her help. After thanking Mike and Richmond, and a quick apologetic and guarded nod to Kennedy, she excused herself. In her absence, Kennedy continued chatting until he peered around the room once more. “Where’s Patrick?” asked Kennedy. “I was hoping to have a chat with him.” Something in Richmond’s eyes hardened then. “As I said, you’re early. Joey persuaded him to get a massage before the main party. Tension relief. They went together,” replied Richmond. “They’ll be back any minute. Lay off him though, Kennedy, will you?” “Rich,” said Mike, softly, touching his partner’s arm. “Let it go.” “What you mean?” said Kennedy, frowning. “You know exactly what I mean,” said Richmond. “Look, we need to talk, that’s all. The two of us.” Richmond folded his arms, a grimace transforming his face. “What you need to do is leave him the fuck alone. Everyone sees what you’re doing. Hard not to. Still flaunting your pretty boys in front your friends year after year. How do you think that makes Patrick feel? I’ll tell you how. He’s now second guessing himself, about whether you were doing the same thing when you were together—” Kennedy felt heat rising in his face. Is that really what people—what Patrick—thought of him? “That’s unfair. I never once—” “Maybe not, but try convincing him of that. You froze him out. How often did you guys have sex the last six months you were together?” What the fuck? Had Patrick told his friends about that last, dreadful, year they’d spent together? Peripherally, he noticed the room had gone still and quiet around him. “That’s private—” “I’ll tell you how often. Not once. And now he’s fucking torturing himself, because he believes you were getting your kicks elsewhere, because unlike him, you could afford to buy as many tricks as your dick desired. All those times you were away on working weekends, or business trips. What little piece of ass did you have along with you—bought and paid for—to fill your bed?” Richmond’s voice resonated throughout the cabin. Blood had drained from Kennedy’s face, he could feel the transformation. “I did nothing of the sort,” said Kennedy, regaining some control. “Whoever’s spreading those lies needs to check their facts.” “So are you denying the fact that you pay these rent boys to come away with you on vacation?” “They’re not rent boys. And that’s nobody’s business—” “Oh, come on, Kennedy. People talk. Ewan told us all about your arrangement last year. So no doubt this year’s plaything is on your payroll. Can you really blame Patrick for hating you? You fucked him up royally.” Everyone’s eyes were on them then, boring into him, relishing every accusation coming out of Richmond’s mouth. By now, Mike had turned away, neither able to listen not defend. “I did nothing of the sort—” “You treated him like a piece of shit when you were together. Did you even know he was seeing a counsellor for depression when you dumped him? No, because you never bothered to ask, never gave a shit, would rather turn a blind eye if it didn’t concern you. Even on this trip, he’s barely left the cabin, because he’s worried about bumping into you parading this year’s top model. You are a sad, pathetic excuse for a man, Kennedy Grey.” Patrick’s exit from their relationship had taken Kennedy by surprise. Had he not been paying attention? Why had none of his so-called friends told him? Apart from Steph and Laurie, did they all feel this way about him? “I don’t fucking need this,” said Kennedy, slamming his glass down on the bar and heading for the exit. As he ripped the door open wide, Patrick and Joey stood there, a look of genuine shock on both their faces. “Yeah, go on,” called Richmond, from somewhere behind. “Run away. It’s what you do best.” Kennedy didn’t stop, but pushed past them. Enough of this shit, he thought. I need a fucking drink.
  20. 104 points
    KIERAN ~ HIJACKED Kieran recognised Patrick immediately from the online photograph he’d seen of Kennedy and another man at a social function. Both dark-haired, Kennedy always appeared well turned out, with wisps of grey at the temples of his well groomed cut, chiselled features, and those stunning deep Atlantic blue eyes, whereas Patrick’s hair sat in tight curls on his head like a helmet, and his almost black eyes burned into Kieran like accusations. Three other men stood with him, a younger one who appeared a little uncomfortable and two others standing unsmiling behind Patrick like personal bodyguards. Perhaps they were. But what the hell was Patrick doing on the cruise? And more importantly, why would he want to gatecrash this party? Unless he was invited or here to make trouble? Kieran could feel the blood had drained from his face. How was he supposed to deal with this? “It’s okay,” came Kennedy’s voice, as he approached the door, stopped next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let them in. They’re friends too, and—even if unexpected—more than welcome.” Kieran could hear an immediate change in the tone of Kennedy’s voice, a cold businesslike formality. That alone irked Kieran, who had noticed that before this intrusion, Kennedy—the real Kennedy—had finally surfaced, had started to relax, laugh, and enjoy himself. Patrick and Kennedy shook hands like heads of state, the stern gaze between them unfathomable. Kieran wanted to intervene, to say something, but no words came. “You know Richmond and Mike,” said Patrick, indicating the henchmen dwarfing him, and then turned to the nice looking guy, a few years younger than Kieran. Something in his discomfort told Kieran he’d also been an unwitting bystander in the decision to invade the party. “This is Joey. He’s accompanying me this year.” “And this is Kieran, my plus one,” said Kennedy. “Everyone else here you know. Oh, except for Leonard’s—uh—friend, Leighton. Come in and make yourselves at home.” Kieran’s twinge of pleasure at the label ‘plus one’ was short lived. On their way in, only Joey made an effort to smile and shake hands with him. The other three ignored him, one of them actually brushed into him. Without a word, Kennedy escorted the four new guests over to the bar, leaving Kieran standing alone. He looked around for Steph and Laurie, but they were nowhere to be seen. Finally, Pete came to his rescue and dragged him over to where his rosy-cheeked father sipped on a large glass of wine. Considering they were father and son, they could not have looked more different; chubby Pete with his wild chestnut hair exploding from his pear-shaped head, Eric, carefully groomed with a full head of straight white hair and matching handlebar moustache. The perfect double act. “Don’t worry, Kieran. None of this has anything to do with you. I asked Patrick if he wanted to join us this year, wanted me to book him a cabin, and he categorically declined, after what happened last year. As did Richmond and Mike, which was no biggie. They’re like the three musketeers, joined at the codpiece. And now they even have a fourth, their very own d'Artagnan, the young handsome hero. Although I’ve no idea who he’s supposed to be here with.” “Patrick. Accompanying him.” “Whatever that means. You know, even after they split, both Kennedy and Patrick used to come on the cruises—separately, of course. Until last year. Did Kennedy tell you what happened?” “No, he didn’t mention anything.” “So a word of warning. Don’t get sucked into being sweet-talked by Richmond and Mike—I call them Rich and Poor, by the way, because Mike's last name is Porter—unless you want Kennedy to throw a wobbly. Last year, they had a three-way with Kennedy’s then boyfriend, Ewan. Caused one hell of a scene, I can tell you. Honestly, I still believe Patrick put them up to it, to get back at Kennedy. So, you know, just watch yourself around them.” “Trust me, Pete, that is not going to be a problem.” “Yeah,” said Pete, assessing Kieran. “I believe you. Can’t quite make you out yet. You are so not like his usual vacuous twink type. Is our man over there finally moving on?” When Kieran joined Pete’s gaze, peering at Kennedy over at the bar. Kieran’s heart wrenched a little to see his discomfort, even though he appeared to be putting on a brave face. The moment Leonard and Leighton joined them, they noticed Steph and Laurie descending the staircase from the bedroom mezzanine level. They’d clearly been having a sneak peek around the cabin. Steph’s face was a picture when she noticed the group at the bar. Frozen mid staircase, with Laurie almost bumping into her back, her mouth dropped open. Looking over at Pete, she mouthed the words ‘what the fuck’ which even had Kieran grinning. But troopers to the last, they descended and went straight over to the new guests, liberally providing theatrical hellos, hugs and kisses. “What do you make of Leonard’s friend, Leighton?” said Kieran, absently. “He’s probably a relative or something.” “Really? But he’s young and quite good looking.” “Not Leonard’s type, dear. Leonard’s into daddies” “He’s—what?” “Yes, I know. The man’s forty-four. But his late partner was twenty years older. Passed away fifteen years ago. We all just assumed it was one of those things; they met young, connected, stayed together. Until the first time I brought dad along on the cruise four years ago, and Leonard tried to jump his bones.” “No!” said Kieran, stifling a laugh. “Flattered,” slurred Eric. “But I’m afraid I like bouncy boobies and moist beavers.” “Christ, Dad!” chastised Pete, looking disgusted. “Gross, or what?” After Pete offered to refill his drink, Kieran made a point of circumventing Patrick and his minders, and escaped to the safety of the outside balcony. Only now, as he stood there, did he realise the ship had left the port and headed to the open seas. After ten minutes, standing at the sea rail, he sensed someone come and join him, and turned to see Joey standing there. More than likely, he too wanted to get away from the tension in the room. After nodding a welcome, they chatted about each other. Interestingly, they both lived south of the Thames river in different towns in London. Joey worked for the NHS, doing his foundation training on the way to becoming a doctor. Kieran found him entirely genuine and explained candidly about his own work-study situation before asking how Joey knew Patrick. “We met a couple of months back, at a bar round the back of Charing Cross. This holiday is totally last minute. Richmond and Mike booked a two bedroom suite and friends of theirs dropped out. Sorry about coming along today but they insisted. How long have you known Kennedy?” “About the same time.” “He seems okay. But from the way Richmond describes him, you’d think he was a mass murderer.” Interesting, thought Kieran. Richmond, not Patrick, is bad-mouthing Kennedy. “You know Patrick and Kennedy used to be an item?” said Kieran. “Every bloody day we’re together. Feels like I’m competing with the ghost of Kennedy Grey. And I can’t compete, of course. I’m two years into my postgraduate training and scraping by. But I really like Patrick. I just can’t give him the material things Kennedy could. Not right now, anyway. And on top of that, Patrick has a lot of baggage.” “How do you mean?” Before he answers, he turns and gives Kieran his full attention. “Tell me about you and Kennedy, first of all. What is it you like about him?” “A lot of things. He’s smart, works bloody hard, treats people he loves really well and, if you want my honest opinion, deep down he has a good heart.” “You really like him?” Kieran stared out to sea and mulled over the question, but the answer came instantly. “Someone else recently asked me the same question. And I’ll tell you the same thing I said to him. I admire Kennedy. I think he’s an inspiration.” “Wow, man. You’ve got it almost as bad as me,” said Joey, smiling and following Kieran’s gaze out to sea. “Patrick had issues with Kennedy and his family. Said they all looked down on him. Made him sleep in a separate bedroom in their house when he visited. Complained that Kennedy cared more about his work than being in a relationship.” “Kennedy certainly works hard, that much I know. You don’t become successful in this day and age without putting the hours in. I’m sure you know all about that if you’re working to becoming a doctor.” Peripherally, Kieran noticed Joey slowly nodding. “Did they make you sleep in a different bedroom? His parents?” “Yeah, they did. Loved it. My own ensuite bathroom and a huge bed.” “But you’re sleeping together here?” Kieran paused for a moment, wondering how to answer that question truthfully. “Yep. You win some, you lose some.” Joey laughed at that, before asking. “Which estate agency did you work for?” “Landreal Properties, based in Croydon.” “Shut the fuck up!” said Joey, aghast. “Then you must know my sister. She’s still the Surrey regional manager, Chloe Drinkwater?” Kieran froze. He knew Chloe well, she had been the one pushing to keep him when voices from the top began to let a whole raft of salespeople go. The trouble was, Chloe also knew his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, got on really well with her. Chloe and her husband had been out for drinks and dinner with Kieran and Jennifer three or four times. What the hell should he say to Joey? Right then, the balcony door slid open. Laurie poked her head out and rolled her eyes. “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve all been summoned. Patrick has something he wants to say.” Back inside, everyone either sat on sofas or stood awkwardly, looking towards the bar where a slightly uncomfortable Patrick stood at the bar counter, about to give a speech, obsessively rubbing his left forearm. “Look, we didn’t want to hijack your welcome celebration. But sometimes one needs to take the bull by the horns. So I just have a few words I want to say and then we’ll bugger off to dinner. We’re here on the cruise last minute, so I’m sorry you weren’t forewarned. I’m also truly sorry last year’s holiday didn’t end well, but this is a big boat, with a hell of a lot of people, and we can easily lose ourselves amongst the sea of other holidaymakers. At the end of the day, true friendship can withstand a few knocks, don’t you think?” Kieran thought the words sounded heartfelt, but when he peered at Kennedy he noticed him glaring sadly at the floor. A couple of people around the room murmured their agreement, while others simply nodded. “And if anyone’s interested, we’re having our own afternoon drinks party. On the eighth day at sea, after Vietnam. A small gathering before the captain’s table banquet in the evening. Our cabin’s a little cosier than this one, but you’re all very welcome to join.” “A toast,” said Pete, who had stood the whole time with his arms crossed, but now raised his flute of champagne. “Here’s to having fun and adventures on the high seas.” “Hear, hear,” said Eric, his father, topping his glass with red wine and taking a gulp. Maybe Kieran imagined the reaction, but everyone appeared to join in half-heartedly. Straight afterwards, Patrick and his friends filed out of the cabin, Joey smiling a farewell at Kieran. Hopefully he had forgotten his earlier question. Almost as soon as the door closed, the room breathed a collective sigh of relief. “What the fuck just happened?” said Pete, almost the same time as Steph took over. “Oh my God, Kennedy,” she said, turning on Kennedy. “I totally forgot to mention. There’s a ballroom dance competition the night of the captain’s table. I’ve already entered us.” Kieran noticed that Kennedy’s mind had been elsewhere, but she now had his full attention. “Shiply Ballroom. And people, me and sex god Kennedy here are going to wow everyone with our signature tango to the latin version of Roxanne—El Tango de Roxanne. Not exactly the same dance but the same song as the Moulin Rouge movie version. So we’ll need you there to support.” “Yeah, I don’t think so,” said Kennedy. “You dance?” asked Kieran, incredulous. “Darling,” said Pete. “These two have moves you would not believe. They’ve been dancing since college. Kennedy, you have to say yes. Just to fuck Patrick off.” “You do,” said Laurie, who initially appeared unsure, but kept nodding her head. “That bastard needs to be shown that you’re still fun to be around.” Kieran could not imagine Kennedy dancing to anything, let alone ballroom. But maybe the man he had come to like had hidden depths. “Let’s at least have a practice run,” said Steph. “Find an empty space and go through the moves. What do you say?” ****** That night, after Kennedy had finished in the bathroom, Kieran took his turn to get ready for bed. If he’d felt any apprehension about sharing the huge bed with Kennedy, everything melted away when he saw Kennedy sitting up in bed, arms folded, glaring dejected into space. “Look at us,” said Kieran, as he slipped beneath the covers, trying to make light off the situation. “In bed together with absolutely no intention of having sex. We ought to be married.” Kennedy had no reaction, still lost in thought staring at the foot of the bed. “Sorry, I’m talking nonsense. Nervous, I guess. It’s the first time I’ve shared a bed with a guy.” Finally, Kieran got a response, a soft snort from Kennedy. “I told you I’d be a gentleman.” “I know, I know. Sorry. Are you okay?” Kennedy turned his head to Kieran and attempted a smile. “Go to sleep, Kieran.” Kieran snuggled beneath the quilt, his head on the pillow, staring at the ceiling. Kennedy had been right, he barely noticed him moving on his side of the bed as he did the same. “So—er—what happened? With you and Patrick?” “We’re not going there.” “Okay then, but tell me if I’m fucking up here? Give me something I can work with.” Kennedy sighed loudly. “You're not doing anything wrong. In fact, I’m really glad you’re here. There are just things between Patrick and I that are unresolved. And I think I’m going to have to grow a pair and put that right. Something I’m not looking forward to.” “I see,” said Kieran, even though he didn’t. “You want to know something I’m looking forward to?” “What’s that?” said Kennedy, sounding a little guarded. “Seeing your moves on the dance floor.” Finally Kennedy chuckled next to him. “Goodnight, Kieran.” “Night, Ned.”
  21. 104 points
    KENNEDY ~ AU REVOIR Kennedy stood hidden from view inside the shade of the open air kitchen, mug of fresh coffee held against his chest, watching in wonderment at his family and Kieran as they chatted amiably around the breakfast table. Over the past few days, Reagan had rearranged her plans, had even booked them all into the St Regis for Sunday champagne brunch—much to his mother’s delight—and had taken Kieran and her kids to Universal Studios on Monday—the day a public holiday—while his mother and father played golf, allowing Kennedy time to catch up on work and make some urgent calls. Just as well, too, because he’d heard from Karl how, just that morning, Milletto had once again requested a change of dates for the meeting, now in the middle of the last week of Kennedy’s holiday when he would be in Bali. More worryingly, Karl had an urgent meeting with their financial auditors that particular day, one he could not shrug off. At ten in the morning GMT, Kennedy got his team on a conference call to find out more, and ended by telling them he would most likely be dialling in for the meeting and to please use their main conference room. He had his reasons. Let’s see what Sloan’s next move would be. When he put the phone down, he checked his private email to see if Tim had sent him anything, but nothing had yet arrived. Determined not to let this development spoil his holiday, he finished his work and went for a punishing swim. Now, Tuesday, their last morning together, Reagan had turned up alone for breakfast to see them off, having dropped the boys off to school. Four days into the holiday and Kieran had already proven his worth. Kennedy watched Kieran talking animatedly, envied his easy nature, the way he comfortably chatted to anyone. Reagan’s kids, who rarely engaged Kennedy, already referred to him as Uncle Kieran. What the hell was he supposed to do with that when all this was over? Something in Kennedy had changed, too. He could feel as much deep down. Rarely had he enjoyed visiting his parents. Most other times he would have ended up arguing with his father about one thing or another—or with Patrick—and usually couldn’t wait to get the fuck gone. Maybe they had all mellowed with age, but seeing his sister laughing now reminded him how much he loved and missed her. “Your friend. He very nice man,” came Matty’s voice, beside him. When Kennedy turned, Matty held a tray with toast, butter, and assorted pots of Maya’s homemade fruit jam. “He come this morning to thank me and my wife for everything, said she is very, very good wife and cook—and probably much too good for me.” Matty’s laughter had Kennedy grinning, too. Yes, that sounded like Kieran. “I tell him, sorry, she not understand English.” Kennedy laughed along with Matty, which had Kieran and his sister looking over and smiling at them. Today they embarked on the next part of their journey and he wondered how Kieran would fare with his friends. “Here, let me take that,” said Kennedy, putting his mug on a counter top and taking the tray. “I need to be the good son and rejoin them. I’ll come and say goodbye before we leave.” As he approached the table, his mother singled him out. “Your father’s offered to drive you to the port.” Kennedy placed the tray in the middle of the table and gave his sister a quizzical look. All of them knew only too well not to arrange things for his father on Tuesdays, when he attended his old boy’s club—held sacrosanct in his retirement—the one day of the week he spent with his ex-consulate and other male buddies. “There’s no need. We can call a taxi.” “I’ll take you. No point wasting money,” said his father, turning a page of his newspaper. “What about club day?” “There’ll be plenty more of those. Family comes first.” Kennedy sat down heavily. Had he shifted into another dimension overnight? When he looked at Reagan, she shrugged, also looking bewildered. “In which case,” said Reagan, standing. “I need to go home, tidy up, and do some urgent chores.” She came around the table, giving each of her parents a hug, before stopping at Kieran, he stood up from his seat and hugged her. Kennedy had no idea what she said, but she whispered something in his ear, which had him grinning broadly and nodding. When she reached Kennedy, she grabbed his arm and pulled him up. “Come on. You can walk me to the car.” In comfortable silence, arms linked, they strolled towards the car canopy and stopped to face each other at the front grille of her black SUV. “Was great to see you and the boys, Reagan. Send my love to Bernie when he gets back. Tell him I’m sorry we missed him.” When they hugged, she clung on tightly, not wanting to let go. When she did, an odd expression transformed her face, part affection, part sadness, as though she wanted to tell him something. “What’s the matter?” Instead, she looked away for a moment, collected herself, and then met his gaze with a more stoic expression. “Bernie’s having an affair.” “What? Are you sure?” Finally, the undercurrent of sadness he had observed in her made sense. “The night before he left for Cape Town, while he was in the shower, a couple of pretty explicit text messages popped up on his phone. From someone called Shirl. I think it’s his secretary in Melbourne, Shirlene.” “Did you confront him?” “Honestly, I was too stunned at the time. Didn’t know what to say.” “Shit, Reagan. Why didn’t you call me? What are you going to do?” At that, a small, sad smile crept onto her face. “I know I’m a Bennett now—by marriage—but I’m also still a Grey at heart. And we don’t take things lying down. So I’m not going to ignore this. But I also have the boys to think about. Fortunately, I had the sense to snap a photo of the display on my phone, in case he tries to deny anything. He’s due back Friday, so I’ve asked mum to take the boys that night so Bernie and I can go out to dinner together. Haven’t told her anything else. But anyway, I’ll confront him then.” “If there’s anything you need from me, I mean anything, let me know.” “I don’t like to worry you—” “But you must, Reagan. Something that’s hit home for me this visit, is that I’ve been absent from your lives for too long. And that’s not healthy for any of us. Of course, I can’t be physically here to baby-sit for you or hold your hand, but I can offer both emotional and financial support, if that’s what you need. I’m your brother. I promise I’ll be there for you, okay?” “Okay, thank you,” she said, grinning broadly. “Hey, Kieran’s a catch. You fell on your feet with that one. Do you think you’ve finally found a keeper?” “We’ll see,” said Kennedy, thrown off guard by the change of subject, and looking away. “Come on, Kennedy, he’s nice,” she said, before tugging on his sleeve and getting his full attention. “What’s wrong with him?” Kennedy sighed and shook his head. How the hell did he explain to his sister that Kieran was nothing more than paid help, straight help, come to that? “Nothing’s wrong with him, I just—” “You think you’re not good enough, think he’ll leave you, too, don’t you?” “Eventually.” “That bastard ex well and truly fucked you up, didn’t he? If I ever run into him, so help me, I’ll—” Kennedy started laughing, then, stopping his sister in her tracks. “What?” “You remember what dad always told us? One battle at a time. Take on too many, you dilute your attention, and are more likely to lose them all. Sort your own shit out first.” They laughed together then, his sister finally pulling him into a final hug. “Talking of which, are you going to say anything to them, mum and dad?” he asked. “Let’s see what happens first. I’ll keep you posted, too. Enjoy the rest of your holiday. I know you don’t do social media, but email or text me some photos.” “Will do.” After she had driven away, he and Kieran spent the rest of their morning packing and readying themselves for the next leg of the vacation. Bang on ten, Matty arrived at his bedroom door, insisting once again to take his bags down to the car. After his mother bid them both a teary farewell, they drove out to the port, where The Diamond Princess towered over every other vessel. Impressive did not even begin to describe the sheer size and structure of the cruise liner. Seven stories of cabin balconies sat between other floors of restaurant or cafes or gyms—difficult to discern from the exterior. Kennedy had almost become immune to the sight, had done cruises so many times, but in the rear view mirror, he could see Kieran sitting open mouthed and enchanted. “Good heavens,” said Jeff, pulling up at the drop off point. “Looks like a floating city.” “She pretty much is,” said Kennedy. “Built to accommodate up to around four thousand passengers not including crew.” “And they’re all—you know—like you? The passengers?” “More or less, yes,” said Kennedy. He decided not to try to explain that the organisers aimed the cruise at the full range of LGBTQ, as well welcoming older guests, thin or more full bodied, and all races. Which made for a far more friendly crowd. One of the other cruises had been more exclusive, just for men, and if you weren’t ripped, in your twenties, and hot, you were essentially invisible. Without too much ceremony, Jeff helped them get their bags out of the trunk. This time around, however, instead of the formal handshake, he pulled Kieran into a hug and, just like his sister had, said something to him that Kennedy couldn’t hear. Finally he turned his attention to Kennedy. “Come and see us again soon, son. Your mother and I aren’t getting any younger.” “You know, you can always jump on a plane and come see me.” “With your work schedule? Would we ever get to see you?” “Fair point. But I’d make the time.” “Let me talk to your mother. You know how she feels about travelling and especially about cold weather. But it might be nice to spend Christmas in England.” Kennedy fully expected his father to shake his hand in farewell, and was surprised when his father almost pulled him off his feet into a fierce hug. “Look, son,” he said, still holding tight. “I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I want you to know how immensely proud I am of you, of everything you’ve accomplished. I see now that you’ve done everything single-handedly, which can be very hard on a person. So take time out for yourself every now and then. And take care of that lovely boy. He’s—he’s very special. I’d be honoured to have him part of our family.” When his father finally let them go, turning quickly and getting in the car so Kennedy could not see his face, he realised his own eyes had misted over. Something that hadn’t happened for years. Yes, he thought, things had definitely changed.
  22. 104 points
    KIERAN - SINGAPORE SWELTER Kieran could not believe the experience of flying business. After completing his landing card, he’d managed to sleep a full seven hours of the thirteen hour flight, woken only three short times; once by rough turbulence, another to use the rest room, and the last to collect and stow his duty-free purchase. After weeks on his sister’s soft couch, the bed’s firm comfort came as a welcome relief. And he woke now to coffee aromas floating out from the galley. Next to him, Kennedy sat up still, a folder open on his chest, but his sleeping head lolled to one side. Somewhat endearingly, he appeared vulnerable in sleep, his face unlined and at peace, not the hard ass persona he gave off when awake. Kieran liked him, didn’t feel threatened by him at all, but needed to keep in mind that at the end of the day, this was simply a job; a means to an end. Theirs was never going to be a lasting friendship. After unclipping his seatbelt, and resetting his seat into a sitting position, Kieran crept to the toilet to freshen up. Even there, he smiled to himself at the opulence, finishing off by spraying an Evian mist into his face, followed by one of the array of citrus colognes. Yes, he could certainly get used to this. But was he ready to meet the Kennedy clan, he asked his reflection? And what would they make of him? From what Kennedy said, he’d never brought any of those vacuous Ken doll kids with him. But surely his ex-partner had visited? So should just be himself, or melt into the background, make himself scarce. No, he thought, standing tall in front of the mirror, he would follow the advice of Hamlet’s Polonius: To thine own self be true. When he finally returned, Kennedy had awoken. “Morning, sleepyhead,” said Kieran. “What time is it?” While sitting back down in his seat, he checked his wristwatch. “Eight in the morning.” “In London, maybe. What’s that in Singapore time?” “No idea. Shall I call one of the cabin—” “No need. It’s on the monitor. Almost three in the afternoon. Two hours until we land. Singapore’s seven hours ahead, in case you want to reset your watch.” Afternoon, mused Kieran, refastening his seat belt. Cole had warned him about jet lag, about getting used to different time zones. Jules told him that if you sleep on the flight, you can work through the change and not experience jet lag at all. Time would tell. Right then, however, he felt fresh and awake. More importantly, the cabin crew had begun to set up his table for breakfast. “Breakfast at three o’clock in the afternoon. Haven’t done that since college.” “Don’t think about it. Might take a couple of days to get acclimatised, but my advice is don’t fight tiredness. If you find yourself needing an afternoon nap, just go for it.” “I feel fantastic.” “You do now. But jet lag has a way of creeping up on you.” “Ah, but you see, I have youth on my side.” Kieran didn’t miss Kennedy’s raised eyebrow and smirk. But to be honest, right then, with his stomach full of fresh fruit, omelette and coffee, he felt ready to conquer the world. Landing and disembarking happened so leisurely—memories of fighting to get his luggage from the overhead, and being crushed and jostled off a low cost carrier flight in Ibiza still haunted him—that they were in the carpeted bowels of trendy Singapore’s Changi airport within minutes. Immigration passed in a well organised and well orderly blur until they reached the luggage claim, their bags already having arrived. Even in that short time, Kieran sensed Kennedy getting tense, noticed him peering at his phone and then looking around outside the big glass wall separating luggage claim from airport arrivals. Eventually he understood why. “Is someone picking us up?” “My father. Grab your bags and let’s go. Don’t want to piss him off before we’ve even said hello. He hates to be kept waiting.” Unsurprisingly, Jefferson Grey turned out to be an older, smaller, broader version of Kennedy. Dressed casual, as though he had been interrupted from a game of golf, he wore a grey polo shirt, grey tartan trousers, white belt and white sports shoes. Unsmiling, he gave his son a handshake followed by a perfunctory hug, the words ‘son’ and ‘dad’ being the only endearments passing from one to the other. Kieran almost smirked at the formality. After a few further banal pleasantries, Kennedy turned to introduce Kieran. When Jefferson’s face registered a flicker of disgust followed by an ensuing visual inspection, Kieran decided to go into action. “Good afternoon, sir,” he said boldly, stepping forward and holding out a hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Jefferson took his hand and Kieran provided a firm handshake. “Can I say what a pleasure it is to be here and how grateful I am to you and your wife for allowing me to stay with you. Kennedy’s told me so much about Singapore, and I’m delighted to be here.” Peripherally, he noticed Kennedy turn to stare at him, but the effect on Grey senior was instant. Very slightly, his left eyebrow lifted and his head nodded. “Uh, you’re more than welcome. Any friend of—uh—my son’s, as they say.” While Kennedy’s father flustered a reply, Kieran reached into his small backpack. “And I’ve bought you a gift of thanks, a bottle of cognac.” Kieran handed over the duty free bag to Jeff, once again to Kennedy’s astonishment. “Kennedy told me you enjoyed a tipple every now and then. Hope you like Hennessy XO, sir?” “Um, yes, I do indeed. Very much so. That’s very kind of you. And please call me Jeff.” Jeff began to lead them off towards the external doors. “Jeff it is. So Jeff, is the weather always this hot in Singapore? Or do you have distinct seasons?” “Well, we’re almost right on the equator, so it’s pretty hot all the year round. Ask most Singaporeans and they’ll tell you we only have two seasons; hot and wet. Come Christmas, there’s not a snowflake in sight, except polystyrene ones in the shopping malls. Follow me now, I’ve parked up in the short stay. How was the flight?” Kieran nodded to Kennedy then, allowed him to take over the smalltalk. As they passed through the automatic doors of the air-conditioned arrivals hall, out into the day, the humidity hit hard. Kieran had experienced nothing like the wall of damp heat that enveloped him, as though walking into a sauna. Together, they trailed their luggage into the nondescript inside of the carpark until Jeff reached a white Toyota Camry. Comfortable again in the air-conditioned car, Kieran relaxed on the back seat behind Kennedy, peering out the window of a sun bleached afternoon. Singapore appeared more like home than anywhere he had seen in Europe. Clear road signage in English, vehicles driving on the left side of well-maintained roads or three lane expressways, all bordered by lush green vegetation, exotic looking but equally well maintained. Before long, simple high-rise apartment blocks appeared on their right, Jeff explaining that on their left they followed the coastline. Fifteen minutes later and they crested a hill with Jeff pointing out a handful of the landmarks; Marina Bay Sands hotel resort and casino with what looked like a barge balanced on top of three giant blocks, the futuristic Gardens by the Bay with Martian-like tree structures, the Singapore flyer, similar to, but bigger than, the London Eye. Kennedy’s father appeared to enjoy being the tour guide, and probably did so only for Kieran’s benefit, because Kennedy must have seen the sights many times before. Eventually, they turned into a more residential neighbourhood—exclusive by the number of landed houses—until they came to a black iron gate. After picking up and pressing a small device from the dashboard, the door swung inwards, allowing them to drive up a short lane. Before them, the two-storey house lay in its own grounds, surrounded on all sides by metal fences and tall trees. “In Singapore, they call these kind of houses ‘black-and-whites’ because of their distinctive Tudor style. My father bought this one back in the sixties and we’ve had her updated a lot since them. Kennedy, you have your old room and I’ve put Kieran in the room at the back, above the pool.” Impressive did not even begin to describe the house. Set amid perfectly trimmed lawns, the front of the house jutted out on columns so that the open space below fell in shade. At one time, this must have been where vehicles drove up to the house. Now the space beneath had been fitted with striped blinds which leant themselves perfectly to the colonial feel of the structure. “You have your own swimming pool?” “We do. A fifty foot lap pool. A blessing, if like me, you favour an early morning swim.” Kieran leant forward and spoke into the back of Kennedy’s head. “Kennedy, you never told me you were descended from royalty.” Although Kennedy didn’t say a thing, next to him, Jeff chuckled. “Hardly royalty, son. But I have mixed with some famous people over the years. Come along, let’s park up, get you settled, showered and changed. Then you can come and meet the rest of the family.” They parked around the back of the house under a long canopy next to a large black four wheel drive. An older man and a young boy—Indonesian perhaps, and maybe household staff—came out of a two storey building at one side of the grounds and headed towards their car. “Reagan’s here?” asked Kennedy, peering at the Mitsubishi family car, his sister’s pride and joy. “It’s the only time she had free. As you’ve only deigned to stay for three nights.” “We’re on a tight schedule—” “Which is clearly more important than family.” Kennedy didn’t reply, but sat stiffly in his seat. And right there, Kieran sampled the initial signs of familial frostiness. Shit, he thought to himself, if they were going to survive the next few says intact, the time had come to ramp up the old West family charm. Let the show begin.
  23. 103 points
    KIERAN ~ WORK IN PROGRESS While Laurie stood behind him, snipping at his hair, a wildfire of thoughts and feelings swept through Kieran. After brushing his teeth twice, he could still taste tobacco, something he hated. Steph, who had improved remarkably—colour having returned to her cheeks—plied him with breath mints, which helped. But the anger and confusion unsettled him most of all. Ask any of his friends or family, and they would tell you Kieran West doesn’t do angry. Calm and even-tempered, his mother and teachers had called him. Cold and unemotional, had been Jennifer’s spin. So why had Kennedy’s dismissal lit such an angry fire in him? Jennifer had dismissed him from her home and her life, and he had accepted without question, had almost welcomed the chance to escape. Kennedy’s rejection had ripped a hole in him. “Are you okay, Kieran?” asked Laurie, once again. Standing in front of him. “I’m fine, I just…” began Kieran, but decided not to elucidate. He’d told them both what happened in The Underdeck Club—an abridged version—and Kennedy’s later attempt at an apology. “Patrick’s a prick,” said Laurie, snipping at a lock. “Always has been, always will be. Don’t take anything he said to heart, he’s not worth the effort.” She was right. If he ought to be angry with anyone, that person should be Patrick, not Kennedy. But Joey had turned up at the girl’s cabin earlier after texting to find out where Kieran was, and explained what had happened after he’d left, and especially how Kennedy had defended him to Patrick. And just like that, his anger had turned to confusion. And the one thing that should right now be confusing the hell out of him—the kiss—seemed to be the only thing that made sense. Nothing about that embrace felt wrong. He’d kissed a man and he’d liked it, he thought, almost humming along to the words of the Katy Perry cover. He’d kissed a number of girls, some passionately, but as far as he could remember, nothing—nothing—had compared to that explosive lip lock with Kennedy. Fuck. The mere visualisation of Kennedy’s lips and mouth brought a salacious smile to his face. He’d almost been tempted to text Cole and ask whether the reaction between two men kissing was normal. “What’s with you tonight?” said Laurie, stopping and placing her hands on her hips. “One minute you’re grimacing like a grizzly, the next you’re smirking like a smurf.” “Very poetic,” grinned Kieran. “Leave him be, Laurie,” said Steph, watching from the ironing board where she carefully pressed his suit trousers. On their wardrobe, his white shirt, and jacket already hung there, waiting to be worn. “He’s had enough drama for one day.” Right then, there came a knock at the cabin door. Laurie turned to look at Steph, who merely shrugged. Being the nearest to the door, Steph went to answer. After a few moments, her tone began to sound irritated, and when she came into the room, the anger showed clearly on her face. “It’s Richmond.” “What does that bastard want?” said Laurie, before Kieran could voice the same thing. “He wants to talk to Kieran. Privately. Said I’m not letting him in here. Do you want me to tell him to piss off, Kieran? I will, if you say so.” Interesting, thought Kieran. Why does he want to speak to me? And why alone? “Give me just a second,” he said, getting up, the towel still around his shoulders to show he meant his words. “Let me get this out of the way.” Richmond stood in the corridor, ill at ease, but brought his attention to Kieran as soon as he appeared. “Look, I’m not here to make trouble,” he said, holding his palms up in front. “I just have one thing to say. A lot of us think Kennedy and Patrick belong together, that they always have. But ultimately, if that’s going to happen, it’s between the two of them. I don’t know what kind of hold you think you have over Kennedy, but whatever it is, you should know that as soon as this holiday is done, you’ll be history. That is not meant to unkind, nor a reflection on who you are as a person, but simply his style and the way it is. In case you begin to think of him as anything more than a holiday fling.” “Do you even like him? Kennedy?” “I used to. When he made my friend happy.” “Which was rarely, as far as I can tell.” A dour Richmond nodded then, not agreeing, but assessing Kieran. “You’re certainly not like the others. But don’t be deceived. You’re still disposable.” “We’ll see,” said Kieran, deciding not to rise to any bait. “Thanks for the—err—advice. See you at dinner.” Richmond frowned and shook his head—Kieran had no idea what he expected, an argument perhaps—before turning and heading back along the corridor. When Kieran backed into the apartment and closed the door, Steph and Laurie waited frozen to the spot, wanting to know everything. After giving a brief lowdown, both of them punctuating his summary with words such as ‘prick’ and ‘asshole’ and other suitable expletives, they got back to the business at hand. “You know, I ought to be paying you two, for doing all this for me,” he said, sat back down again. Steph had clambered from her sick bed to iron his clothes, Laurie to get him looking fresh, and the both of them to help him dress in the kind of attire he’d never worn before. Not only that, but time away from Kennedy in their caring company had been good for him, giving him time to assess himself. “Maybe I can buy you a meal when we reach Okinawa tomorrow afternoon.” “Ugh,” said Steph, placing the iron back in the holder. “Not sure I’ll be ready for solids for a few more days.” “Although there might be something else you could help us with—” began Laurie. “Later, dear,” said Steph, cutting her off with a short glance. “In which case, do me a favour by joining me on the excursion,” said Laurie. “They’re going to be visiting Shuri Castle—something I’ve always wanted to see, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So you can be my companion.” Kieran liked that idea. Kennedy hadn’t done any of the excursions, so most probably wouldn’t want to step off the boat at Okinawa. “Of course. But we’d be really doing each other a favour. I’ll still like to buy you both a meal when Steph feels better.” “Then let’s save it for Hong Kong,” said Laurie, brushing something from his ear. “Maybe you can treat us to dim sum.” “Deal,” said Kieran, even though he had no idea what that was. “Are you going to be joining us tonight, Steph?” “Sorry, doll. Not tonight. Even the thought of food makes me want to barf.” “Plan B, then?” “Plan B,” said Steph, with a smile. “Right, Mr West. I think you’re about ready,” said Laurie, after finally raking a comb through his locks and then removing the towel from around his shoulders. “Go to the bathroom mirror and take a look.” “Should I shave?” he said, feeling the slight roughness around his chin. Usually he shaved once every three days, especially when not working. But wondered if clean shaven should be the order of the evening. “I don’t think so,” said Steph, and Laurie agreed. “But let’s wait until you’ve showered and then tried on the suit before we decide. Go and check your hair first.” Unlike Kennedy, the girls had a humble living area and their bathroom was a little cramped, with every surface holding some kind of cosmetic product or device. Jennifer’s bathroom had been the same. At first, seeing his hair shorter made him grimace. But then, Laurie had left enough stylish twists and tufts to make his hair appear less conformed. Yes, he thought, maybe he could get used to this style. Locking the bathroom door and undressing, he climbed into their shower and let the warm waters drench him, cleaning himself with the girls’ vast selection of products. Dried and back in the room, Laurie had already changed into her outfit, a stylish, lilac pants suit deftly showing off her weight loss. Earlier on, he’d observed Steph applying Laurie’s make-up, complete with purple blended eye shadow and deep purple lipstick. Now Steph applied the finishing touches as well as fixing Laurie’s hair. “Don’t just stand there ogling. Get dressed,” said Laurie, pointing at the wardrobe. “You and I are supposed to be meeting the men for drinks in fifteen minutes.” Kieran set to work, sitting on the edge of their bed, removing his track bottoms and pulling on the trousers. Next came the wing tip shirt which, fortunately, was fitted and tucked nicely beneath the waistband. By the time he got to the bowtie and cummerbund. Steph had finished and came over to help. Finally he shucked into the jacket, before squeezing into the tight shiny black shoes. After brushing something from his shoulder then pinning in place a pink rose buttonhole, Steph got him to back up a few steps, so that she and Laurie could survey their handiwork. Like proud mothers, they smiled and nodded, before looking at each other and pecking each other on the lips. “Heavens above, Mary Shelley,” said Steph, her arms around Laurie’s waist, carefully studying Kieran from head to toe. “What kind of beautiful monster have we created?”
  24. 103 points
    KENNEDY ~ FLASH DANCE Kennedy woke late the next morning to an empty bed. After using the bathroom, he descended the stairs into the main living area. Only then did he notice the curtain billowing softly into the room. Out on the sun drenched terrace, Kieran sat at a beautifully arranged breakfast table, complete with pristine white tablecloth and laden with a mouth-watering assortment of breakfast victuals; basket of Danish pastries and croissants, jug of fresh orange juice, fruit bowl, rack of golden toast, and two plates covered by silver domes. In sunglasses and white bathrobe, his feet crossed at the ankles up on the chair seat, a knee on either armrest, Kieran sat texting on his smartphone. “Morning dear,” he said, looking up and grinning. “You looked so peaceful, I didn’t have the heart to wake you. Hope you don’t mind I’ve started breakfast without you. Simeon brought you a double espresso—just now, so it’s still hot—said to ring if you needed anything else. And I mean, anything Mr Grey needs.” As he moved around the table to take a seat opposite, Kennedy’s face tugged into a smile at Kieran’s impression of Simeon. The night before, after the party had finished, they’d all headed to the restaurant, but Kennedy’s appetite had evaporated, thanks to Patrick’s stellar performance. Steph’s suggestion that they end the evening with a couple of potent cocktails at the bar on deck had worked to soften his mood and help him sleep. “What’s my laptop doing here?” he said, noticing his computer sitting on his placemat. “I put it there,” said Kieran. “Is that okay? I noticed how you always checked emails first thing in the morning at breakfast at your parents' place. So I saved you the effort of fetching it.” “Thank you, but you didn’t need to.” Kieran shrugged nonchalantly before reaching for his coffee cup. To be honest, Kennedy appreciated the gesture, liked the fact that Kieran had noticed his habit of keeping abreast of things first thing in the morning. “Steph’s managed to blag a member of the cruise staff to let you two use one of the nightclubs this afternoon to practice your routine. Between two and three. They don’t open to the rest of the passengers until four-thirty, so they can let you use the space for an hour. Shall I tell her yay or nay?” “You’re texting Steph?” “We organised a chat group last night. Pete, Steph, Laurie and me. Shall I add you?” “No, thank you.” “How about this afternoon?” Kennedy’s mood hadn’t improved overnight, but he needed to lighten up around his friends, otherwise he was going to bring them all down. “What the hell. Tell her, yes.” “Excellent. This I cannot wait to see.” “You’re not going to be there.” “The hell I’m not. I want to see everything you’ve got, Kennedy Grey.” “We’re sharing a bed now. I’d be careful how you phrase things like that around me.” This time Kieran tilted his head back and laughed into the morning. Kennedy chuckled along with him. Pouring coffee for himself, he realised how lucky he was to have chosen Kieran. Already he felt better. “Can I say,” said Kieran, grinning playfully. “And please don’t take this the wrong way—but, at a stretch, I could imagine you having interests outside work; squash, chess, tennis, swimming, art collecting—big game hunting, maybe. But ballroom dancing?” Once again, Kennedy found himself smiling. Funny how Kieran had correctly nailed him as being someone who enjoyed individual as opposed to team sports. Steph, who also grew to love ballroom dancing as a kid, had been astonished about him being able to dance when they’d first met up at college. “Mum and dad. Every Saturday morning for two years, my sister and I were dragged off to dance lessons. I think he thought I’d follow in his footsteps later in life, you know, diplomacy. And because he—they—had to attend a number of formal occasions and social functions throughout the year, being able to do the basics, like the waltz, quickstep, foxtrot, tango, went with the territory. At first I hated it—I’d have been eight at the time stuck in a hall with a bunch of soppy girls—but there’s a discipline to dancing, a strategy to the dance, and even within that strict control, there’s a feeling of freedom, of letting go.” Kennedy had been staring out to sea, the rim of the coffee cup held against his lip. When he turned his head, Kieran had an odd look on his face, something Kennedy hadn't seen before. “Hidden depths?” “Hey, I’m not saying I’m any good. But Steph and I usually move well together, and if things go wrong, we’re pretty good at faking it.” He noticed Kieran’s face drop then. “Shit. Talking of faking it, I need to confess to something. Yesterday, when I spoke to Joey, Patrick’s boyfriend, I was probably a little more candid about myself than I ought to have been. And you know the old expression ‘small world? Turns out it is. I know his sister, who also knows Jennifer, my ex-girlfriend.” “I don’t see the problem.” “If he talks to her about me, he’ll find out I’m not really gay.” “Are you and Jennifer still together?” “Of course not. Not for three months. I told you already.” “Then what you are now is anything you want to be. And, more importantly, nobody’s business but your own.” While Kieran mulled over his words, he pulled the silver dome off the plate to reveal scrambled egg and smoked salmon on toasted muffins. After taking a spoonful, he flipped up the top of his laptop and booted up the machine. “What are you planning to do today?” “I thought I’d explore. Steph and Laurie are swinging by at ten. How about you?” Kennedy peered down at his desktop and noticed a few emails had arrived in his private account. When he opened to his inbox, he noticed one from Tim with a couple of attachments. “Working. Just this morning. How about I meet you guys for lunch?” “Sounds like a plan. And then we can all head straight to your rehearsal.” ***** Despite Steph’s size—since he’d first met her she’d always hovered around size twenty-six and been proud of the fact—she was amazingly light on her feet. Truth be told, she was the better dancer of the two. Their routine included both of them wearing dinner suits, Steph in white, Kennedy in black. Steph would take the lead, traditionally the man’s role. Typical of her, since the last time they’d danced this particular tango, she’d changed a couple of the moves, to keep things fresh. Over the following hour, they began by walking through the steps, practising and re-practising the new ones, until Kennedy felt comfortable. Of course, their first full run with the music was a train wreck. Every now and again, he glanced over to where Kieran and Laurie sat at a lounge table, observing them, and chatting amiably together. Kieran had also agreed to video them on his phone to keep as a reminder of the steps, in case they had no further opportunity to rehearse. When they managed to run through three times in succession without stopping or making a mistake, they agreed to call it a day, and went over to join Laurie and Kieran. As they approached, the pair burst into applause, Kieran grinning broadly at Kennedy. “Are you are full of surprises or what, Kennedy Grey? That was frigging awesome.” When Kennedy threw himself down, Kieran put his arm around Kennedy’s shoulders, pulled his head towards him and kissed him on top. Not only did Kennedy feel a warm twinge of pleasure at the praise and the contact, but his cock also began to sit up and take notice. He knew why. That morning, as they’d both taken turns to use the bathroom, Kieran had left the door open, and Kennedy had glanced at his naked figure getting into the shower cubicle. Like a good gentleman, at first he had turned away, but then he could not help stealing a peek at Kieran’s body. Beautiful, long, lean but not skinny, he had light skin with very little hair except for the dark patch of pubic hair around a generously sized cock. All morning, with Kieran gone, the image kept floating into his head and interrupting his work. Only the message from Tim, and another from Karl, managed to keep his mind fixed in place. Karl wrote that the meeting date was still the same, but that they would need to use a local hotel, because their conference room had suffered water damage from the offices above. Kennedy smiled to himself. Sloan either knew or suspected Kennedy had installed his own security devices around the room, knew his boss would be able to watch and hear everything going on. Another piece moved. Tim had managed to find reams of information on Milletto, and had included something he liked to call an ‘FYEO’ file—For Your Eyes Only—which always drew Kennedy’s attention, and where the crucial information would sit. Milletto’s file had nothing much he didn’t already know, except that, at fifty-eight, Milletto was essentially in his prime as a businessman, had pretty much done the same for Cold Steel as Kennedy had for Grey Havens. Why then would he want to sell? Even though he would remain in an advisory capacity—part of the deal—he would essentially hold no power, have no share of the pie. Of course, Tim must have known Kennedy would look at the attachments in sequence, because as soon as he typed in his private password to open the FYEO file, the truth jumped out at him. Very clever, Sloan. Very clever.
  25. 102 points
    KIERAN ~ SHADES OF GAY Ever since Kieran returned to England, and came out to Cole with a confession about his first time with Kennedy—almost two months ago to the day—peppered with enough detail to convince his friend of the authenticity, Cole appeared comfortable to strut around his apartment in only Armani underwear. And it was not that Cole didn’t get more than his fair share of admirers, more than a few. But Kieran definitely preferred the carved lines and hairiness of Kennedy’s body “So listen up, Q1,” said Cole, thumping his mug of coffee onto the table. Every since he’d mentioned Pete’s nickname for him on the cruise—Queer One—Cole had been hooked, calling him either Q1 or plain Q. “Gay friends of mine are coming over from Tokyo to stay with me at the beginning of December—Jon and Takamori—on their way up to Scotland to spend Christmas with gay friends. Apparently a whole bunch of them get together each year and they missed out last year. Staying at some kind of castle owned by friends of theirs. Why can’t I have friends like that? Sounds like a perfect antidote to Christmas. Anyway, can you stay with your sister for a couple of weeks while they’re here?” Kieran lowered the screen of his laptop and forced a smile. “Of course I can. Sorry, I should’ve had my own place by now.” “Not your fault, Q. Our female brethren are famous for their fussidom. Besides, it’s been nice having you here.” Two days ago, the promise of a flat share with a lesbian couple had fallen through when the two had finally decided they wanted another woman sharing their space, but especially their bathroom and kitchen. Kieran’s holiday money from Kennedy hadn’t stretched to him being able to put down a deposit to rent his own apartment, although now the second month’s salary from Leonard had hit his bank account, he was in a better position. But the whole process took so much time. Now he’d need to call on his sister’s goodwill again after finally giving her and her boyfriend back their space. “I’ll call her later.” “What are you doing on your laptop? Better be gay porn, or pervy chat rooms, and definitely not study. Our next module isn’t due until after Christmas. Shit, don’t tell me you’re working? On a Saturday morning?” Cole knew how much he loved his new job. Len had instigated a regular weekly meeting with him—usually in the morning informally over cappuccinos and chocolate muffins—to go through his achievements. Much of the technical detail went over Len’s head, so Kieran had learnt to show rather than tell; the redesigned antique furniture website, fast and slick, allowing browsers to view the pieces in three dimensions, and rotate them on the screen; the site selling listed or character buildings, which now had a handful of three-sixty degree tours of properties online and direct links to Len’s other complementary sites; the antique store, specialised building insurance; the tasteful draper and haberdashery—plus a link to Steph and Laurie’s furniture renovation service. He always saved the figures until last, knowing Len’s main concern. The most recent spreadsheet showed not only the exponential rise in hits on each of his sites, over four hundred percent, but figures indicated an initial five percentage increase in sales across all sites in the last month alone. And Kieran had only just begun. “Nah, just browsing media sites. Nothing in particular,” he lied. Once again, he had been checking the photograph of Kennedy and Giorgio Milletto on the announcement of their merger. Kennedy had maintained his amazing tan and, looking into the camera, Kieran felt as though he was staring straight at him. And he knew just what that felt like. Every time, the sight gave his heart a tiny squeeze of regret. In his phone, he still had Kennedy’s number plugged in, and a couple of times had even been tempted to call. But each time he managed the urge and resisted. Kennedy needed to make the next move. “Q, honey. Not only is it the weekend, but it’s the end of the month. So not only do we have time, but we also have money. Let’s head up to polluted London and do something gay. You have any plans for brunch?” “Heck, don’t remind me. I’m meeting mother up in Waterloo. And coming out to her.” “Oh shit, yes, I’d forgotten. Good luck with that. Even if the weather turns shite, I’m not sitting in watching more episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. So let me know if you need emergency cocktails afterwards. I’ll be at The Nipple Clamp in Soho for happy hour from four ’til nine. Gerard, Nob, and Lickme are joining.” “Let’s see how things go.” “It’s just a chill-out bar, Q. No deafeningly loud music, no pungent aroma of poppers, no sweaty bodies wrapped around each other, sliding down the walls—more’s the pity. I’ve learnt my lesson. Say you’ll come.” Cole had taken Kieran to Pulse, a club beneath Waterloo Bridge. From the moment he walked down the steep stairs and through the door, Kieran had disliked the crush and backstage darkness. Two men had stumbled up to him, clearly off their faces on either alcohol or recreational drugs, both had spoken to him in their usual voices as though he could even hear anything. Even the next morning, his ears rang with pain. Although he never openly complained, Cole knew he hadn’t really enjoyed the experience, and vowed that before he took Kieran into such a club again, he would first ensure his friend mastered the art of sign language. Cole must have taken Kieran’s silence for denial, because he continued his case. “Look darling. Despite the world painting us fabulous people onto one easy to point to billboard, we’re different shades of gay. I am flaming pink and you are more of a darker red, like burgundy, into daddies—” “—I am not into daddies—” “With beer bellies, man boobs, bald heads, and hair on their bums—” “Okay, okay. I’ll come and join you afterwards. Give you the mum download.” “Oooh, goss? Priceless. Now we’re talking.” At midday, Kieran met his mother at the Skyline restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Their table for two sat right next to the window, the whole space located above the walkway below, overlooking of The Thames and Waterloo Bridge. Every now and again, Kieran enjoyed treating his mother to a special meal, even though she would inevitably make a point of commenting on the exorbitant prices. Living in Hove on the south coast, she rarely came into London, so when she did, he’d spoil her with lunch and a movie or a trip to the theatre. Unfortunately, she needed to get back by six o’clock for dinner at one of her friend’s houses. A few years off sixty, she still looked good; happy and settled. She’d dyed her hair recently, a deep red which covered up the persistent grey. Not really one for make-up—something Kieran admired about his mum—she came fresh faced and red cheeked courtesy of the chill weather. Over the past years, she’d had a number of boyfriends but nothing she’d ever referred to as a relationship. Over a glass of wine each, they caught each other up on their lives, Kieran enthusing about his new job much to his mother’s delight, but never mentioning his month as a paid travel companion. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he’d taken the month out to travel the country with his friend, Cole. Nice and general, not too much detail, nothing more. Besides, he had bigger things to discuss with his mother. Two glasses of wine later and now on desserts, Kieran finally found a pause in the conversation to bring up the topic foremost in his mind. “Mum, I’m gay.” For a few seconds she stared at him, before smiling and nodding. After a moment, she turned her gaze out the scene beyond the window. “I thought you might be. Even in your early twenties, you were never really into girls, not like your brother. And, let’s face it, you and Jennifer were hardly love’s young dream. Even though you told me otherwise, I never saw her making you happy, never saw that spark between you.” “You knew? Why didn’t you say anything?” “Oh, honey. What would I have said? And, more importantly, what would you have said to me? I don’t think you even knew yourself. But a mother knows. Of all my children, you were the sensitive one; the worrier, always fretting about me, worrying if we’d be able to make ends meet. Half the time your worrying helped to stop mine, if that makes sense?” “But how does that make me gay?” “It doesn’t, but—I don’t know—I just saw something special in you. Of all my children, you are most like my oldest brother, Peter.” Uncle Peter. Or gay Uncle Peter, as most of the family had come to refer to him. Kieran liked him and Uncle Gino a lot. Along with his grandparents, they’d helped care for Kieran and his siblings as kids. Both men had been low key and fun, sharing a tiny bungalow in the country which had a huge garden backing onto a farm. So Kieran had the family gay gene? His mother must have sensed his confusion, because she went on to clarify. “Don’t get me wrong, love. I think you’d have made a brilliant husband for Jennifer. But she’d have been the one ordering you around, getting you to do what she wanted, when she wanted it done. There would’ve been no give and take. She’s that kind of woman. And I know you, dear. Eventually you’d have walked away. So better it happened sooner rather than later, when you’d have had far more to lose. Do you have someone?” “Sorry?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” Kieran blanched. His mother had actually used the word ‘boyfriend’ with him. As natural as breathing. No drama, no tears, no accusations. For a moment, he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. “I did. That’s where I was in September.” “And what’s he like?” How the heck did he explain Kennedy to his mother? “He’s amazing, mum. Smart, successful, handsome, funny.” “Sounds like somebody’s smitten.” “No, we’re not together anymore. Just travelled as companions for the month.” “Then he’s not as smart as he thinks. My son is a catch.” Kieran laughed and he enjoyed the sound, loved seeing his mother’s approval. After coffee arrived, both of them fell quiet again, until his phone beeped with a message. Even before he pulled the phone out, he was sure the reminder was from Cole. But the display announced something different altogether. Steph: Not counting our chicks just yet, but doctor says we’re likely going to be a mother. Kieran felt his face redden. “Oh heck, mum. There’s something else I need to tell you.
  26. 102 points
    KENNEDY ~ BALI HIGHS AND LOWS Once they were airborne, Kennedy accepted a glass of water from the member of cabin crew and settled back in his seat. After the two long haul flights with very little rest in between, he felt shattered and looked forward to down time in Bali. Kieran got him up to date on their exploits in Hong Kong, but afterwards Kennedy suggested he save the tale of his meeting with Milletto until they were somwhere less public. Besides, he said, he wanted to get his head down for a few hours. Despite a brief quizzical look, Kieran nodded his agreement. Relieved, Kennedy closed his eyes and thought back on the past thirty-six hours. During his trip—and despite how much he’d missed having Kieran by his side—he’d decided to call time on their closeness. To do anything different would inevitably hurt Kieran once they returned to their normal lives and he could not live with himself if that happened. Even without taking into consideration their age difference, Kieran deserved someone fun and reliable, someone who would not eventually disappoint him. Kennedy knew all about the pain of losing something you’d come to rely on and would not let that happen again. People were eventually let down by him, that seemed to be the rule in his life. Except the business trip had proven the exception to any rule. Yes, he had been taken by surprise during his meeting with Giorgio Milletto. When he’d first met the unsurprised Milletto, he’d told himself that someone, somewhere must have leaked his visit. Milletto had sworn to the contrary, that his arrival, however fortuitous, had come out of the blue. Rather than working to his detriment, the information meant there had been no subterfuge when Milletto turned up in person, to meet him in Cold Steel’s tasteful reception area. “Mister Kennedy Grey. Thank the Lord,” said Milletto, a smirk on his face, as Kennedy rose to his feet and matched the man’s warm handshake. “This is a pleasant, if slightly unexpected, surprise—you son of a gun. I saw this guy sitting here from the CCTV in my office and thought ‘heck, it can’t be, can it?’ Seems like it is.” Kennedy laughed, and, within a matter of seconds felt comfortable, as though he knew he could talk freely to the man. For someone in his late fifties, he gave off a sense of alertness while still being friendly and welcoming; probably a long-cultured charismatic charm. Dressed in a stylish light grey suit and pale blue open-necked shirt, his full head of hair was almost white, his smiling brown eyes behind stylish silver framed glasses almost giving him the air of a scholar. “I know this is a little unorthodox,” said Kennedy, following him along a corridor, towards a large conference room. “But I wanted us to talk off the record, face to face, so to speak. We’ve only ever conversed by telephone or on video conference. We should have done this long before now, but when you kept changing our meeting—” “The hell I did. Your end kept changing the goddamn…oh,” said Milletto, his smile slipping. “Sloan. You know, we both need to keep a careful eye on that SOB.” Kennedy sighed then. They were on the same page. Instead of leading Kennedy to the conference room, they turned right into another corridor and entered Milletto’s huge corner office, the semi-circular windows arrangement overlooking the whole of downtown Los Angeles. After his smiling personal assistant had brought Kennedy an ‘emergency’ double espresso, and been put on alert for more, the two of them had opened up. From the word go, Milletto had been an inspiration; funny, insightful, and more importantly, someone Kennedy felt he could trust to do business with. Of course, Milletto knew the score with his son-in-law, had seen through his plans. And during their six-hour meeting—stopping only for lunch in a stylish restaurant on the top floor of the building—Kennedy had listened to Milletto’s counter proposal. Instead of them running with the acquisition—which in his experience had been like one bigger country invading a smaller one, and rarely without casualties—that instead they join forces; make this a merger of two powerhouse companies in the security sector, a meeting of minds and talents. This made total sense to Kennedy, when Milletto—call me Giorgio—meticulously explained his reasoning. Giorgio and his team had even considered a new name, Grey Steel Global. Having expertise in all areas of surveillance, both domestic and corporate markets, on both continents, they would become unstoppable. Once they had opened up in different markets they could float on both the FTSE and the NASDAQ, and would become one of top five players in the global market. Milletto’s eyes flashed with a mixture of excitement and pride at the idea. At one point, Kennedy sat back and tried to absorb the overwhelming information. Throughout the meeting, he kept tapping into his natural business wariness, tried to look for a catch, to look beyond the words and see if Milletto—Giorgio—might be trying to play him. But everything Giorgio said made complete sense. At some point, he’d need to speak to Tim. “Why didn’t you suggest a merger in the first place, why offer to sell the business?” Giorgio sat back in his plush leather chair, grinned sadly, and stared out the window. “That is exactly the question I’d have asked you, if you’d suggested the same thing. And I think it’s only fair you have all the information, if you’re going to agree to a partnership.” Giorgio kept his gaze out to the skyline and shook his head very slightly. “A year ago, I had a stroke. Collapsed right here in this office, thank the Lord, because they got to me quickly. Touch and go for a time, but my guys took me to the hospital in record time. We managed to keep it out of the press, didn’t want to worry clients, but let me tell you, for me it was a wake-up call. Afterwards, doctors told me to take it easy, hand over the reins of the business. You probably know that anything I make from this business goes to my daughter. I wanted to make sure she’d be well taken care of.” Right then, Giorgio swung his chair to face Kennedy. “But you know what else I learnt this past year? You can’t live your life scared, however much time you have. Sure, I had to learn to let a few things go, but give up? No freaking way. When your boys first put the offer on the table, I thought that’d be a perfect solution. But you know, the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind. And that’s when my wife came up with the idea.” “Unlike my son-in-law, I’ve only been married once, and trust me, when you eventually get to meet her you’ll understand why once was enough. Kelly-Anne Marie. She’s ten years younger, and the only person who ever stood up to me, while standing up for me, if you know what I mean. She’s the one told me to go find out more about you and maybe go speak to you privately. See if you might at the very least want someone to stay on as what you Brits call a sleeping partner—not that I’d have done much sleeping. But I could certainly have kept an eye on your managers for you—if you know what I mean? And then it just hit me about three weeks ago. Why don’t we go into business together?” Kennedy had been listening but his jet-lag addled brain was having a hard time taking everything onboard. “Look, I ain’t going to lie to you, Kennedy. This is going to be a whole helluva lot of work for both of us if we’re going to pull it off. Mergers don’t come cheap and a lot crash and burn. But I think we got a shot. We’re complementary—and I don’t mean that in the free-of-charge way. Together our businesses are halves of something that could be something great. And, I guess, the clincher for me is I feel as though you’re someone I could work alongside. How about you?” Kennedy talked about his own idea, about bringing him his shares in Securiton so that maybe he’d consider calling off the acquisition. George’s suggestion made far more sense, and the fact that they both had significant shares in Securiton made the deal even sweeter. There would be a lot of things to hammer out, lawyers talking to each other across the pond, probably months of negotiating, but in essence at least, Kennedy approved of the idea wholeheartedly. “So, should we still hold the meeting in London?” he asked. “Hell, yes,” said Milletto, folding his arms and raising his eyebrows. “Don’t go spoiling my fun, now. I want to be there to see faces when we announce the counter-proposal. I know you broke your holiday to be here today, but can you be on the call. It’d be better coming from the two of us united.” “I agree,” said Kennedy. Somehow he’d find a reliable business centre in Bali and teleconference into the meeting. Hell, he wouldn’t miss it for the world. “And one way or another, I’ll be there.” ****** After the four plus hour flight from Hong Kong to Bali, they had another four hour drive from the airport in the south to Kennedy’s seafront villa in a small town in the north near Pulaki. During the journey, Kieran and the girls listened attentively to Kennedy’s edited down tale. Funnily enough, not once did Kieran query why Kennedy had decided to invite the girls to join them in Bali. In truth, he wanted someone to keep Kieran company while he worked during the day. They reached the villa in time for sunset, met by the villa staff carrying ice cold glasses of lemon tea. During the year, Kennedy often let out the four bedroom villa to friends or close business associates, but ensured the villa staff maintained the premises, grounds and swimming pool all year round. Built essentially on two floors, a shaded carport stood on the basement level. On what Kennedy considered the true ground level, the pool ran the length of the villa, which housed the dining room, kitchen, lounge and one bedroom. The other three bedrooms sat on the first level, overlooking the pool and the sea. Two features he had always loved were the two person shaded cabana on one side of the pool, and the outdoor terrace on the first floor, where his guests usually enjoyed breakfast together. Over the next four days, they relaxed together, although on most of those, Kennedy remained behind when the three went out on day excursions. Tim had vetted Giorgio’s proposal and given him the golden thumb—Tim’s way of saying that everything had been legitimate. At night, Kennedy and Kieran continued to have sex, Kennedy trying his damnedest to make sure Kieran enjoyed himself. Even so, a couple of times, Kieran asked him if something was wrong, and Kennedy sensed the storm brewing. At midnight, on the fourth day, while Kieran slept, Kennedy managed to web conference from his computer into the meeting with London and Los Angeles. Giorgio handled the call brilliantly, had up-talked the merger and then handed over to Kennedy. Although early days, they made a point of telling everyone—including Giorgio’s staff—the acquisition was firmly off the table. Kennedy knew he would have to deal with a flood of emails from his staff, but decided to leave them until the morning. On the morning of the fifth day, Kennedy spotted Kieran talking to Steph on one of the sun beds beside the swimming pool. After a second, she pointed up to where Kennedy sat, at the breakfast table with his laptop open. Kieran looked amazing in shiny scarlet Speedos, a sight he used to relish but now one that tugged at his heart, as though he had no right to look. Without hesitation, he came towards Kennedy, bounded up two stairs at a time until he stood the other side of the table. Even with his shades on, Kennedy could tell he meant business. “Kennedy, we need to talk.” Kennedy had been wondering when this conversation would happen. Kieran would be asking what was going to happen when they returned, maybe even ask if they could stay close. Ollie had done the same, and everyone knew what a disaster that had been. Not wanting to spoil the rest of the holiday, Kennedy would need to let Kieran down gently, so best have the conversation now. He had been rehearsing the speech in his head, to make sure he got the words right. But before he had a chance to speak, Kieran spoke first. “Shut the laptop down and give me ten minutes,” said Kieran, decisively. “So I can say what I need to say.” Kennedy breathed out a sigh, and did as requested. “I’ve paid the money I promised into your bank account, by the way,” said Kennedy. “With a little extra.” “I—thank you. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.” “Go on, then,” said Kennedy, his hands clasped together on top of the laptop. “We go home in three days.” Kennedy remained silent, but nodded. “I just—I don't want a dark cloud hanging over us as the deadline looms. So let's clear the air right now and that way we can enjoy the next few days the way we've enjoyed these last few weeks. Are we agreed?” Okay, thought Kennedy, that had not been what he’d expected. “Agreed,” he replied, cautiously. “Because I want us to have fun these last couple of days, now your important business meeting is out of the way. Let’s go to the beach or sunbathe together, or swim in the sea or in that amazing pool. Let’s have sex in the afternoon, if you want to. And I know you do, the way you’re trying so hard not to stare at my cock right now.” Despite himself, Kennedy chuckled and looked away, but when he brought his gaze back round, Kieran’s face had turned serious again. “Look Kennedy, I know things between us probably haven't turned out the way you'd expected, and certainly not how we’d both planned. Believe me, that much I do understand. But a deal’s a deal. And when we get on that plane in three days’ time, when we set foot back in England and you head off on your way, it ends there. I knew that much coming into this arrangement. I’m not going to gush about how great a time I've had—the things I've seen and done, the new and incredible experiences—because you already know that, you've been with me the whole way. But I am true to my word. So I give you my honour—and you certainly know enough about me by now to know that counts for something—that I will not attempt to contact you again, as stated in our agreement, once we’re back home. Are we on the same page?” “We are.” And yet, for the first time in as long as he could remember, Kennedy had no idea which page he was on.
  27. 102 points
    KENNEDY ~ LAST CHANCE When the final candidate left at four-thirty—bisexual Leon who had been drawn to the idea of a cruise but had not realised the vacation entailed long-haul flights and admitted to suffering from an acute fear of flying—Kennedy sat back and mulled over in his head who he should select. As shortlists went, this one could easily be labelled concise. Two choices actually, between the 23-year-old quiet but good looking and gym fit blond Francis who spoke very little but looked cute and would fit the bill fine; and the 21-year-old ginger Ed Sheeran lookalike called Steven—call me Ven. Unlike Ed, he came across as talentless, camp, and over-groomed, but could chat incessantly about media fluff and other mindless trivia, and had an infectious if slightly immature sense of humour. So the choice fell to two very different twinks, one of whom would fill the quiet moments with mindless banter, or the other who would say little, but look good by his side. Kennedy pushed his laptop lid down, to find the guy from across the coffee shop—Keegan?—sitting in the chair opposite him, his jacket and bag hung over the back, which did not bode well. If Kennedy was going to be brutally honest, this older man—yes, he was definitely a man compared to the non-shavers he’d interviewed so far—was easy on the eye. With palpable discomfort, the poor guy squirmed in his seat wearing an earnest, if anxious, expression. “I’m in,” he said, decisively, tossing the single sheet of paper containing the advert onto the top of the laptop, the document landing face down. Kennedy noticed that, on the back, he had written out a number of answers to questions in neat handwriting. “You’re in…what?” “I’d like to apply for the role.” “You’re…” Kennedy reached down, flipped the paper over, and spun the advert around on the table. “Can you read the headline back to me?” “Gay vacation companion required.” “Gay vacation companion. Gay. We’ve already established you don’t qualify.” “Not necessarily. I read that as Gay Vacation.” For effect, the guy produced air quotes around the two words and then paused. “Companion Required. What I mean is, it’s not clear whether you’re asking for a companion, someone to accompany you on a gay vacation, in which case surely I’m still eligible. Or whether you’re asking for a gay companion to go on vacation with you.” Actually, the guy had a point. Had he shown them, Kennedy’s marketing and legal managers would have had a field day with the wording. “I told you already. The person needs to be gay.” “You do realise that’s discrimination.” “What?” “Just because I’m not gay, doesn’t mean I can’t do the job.” What was with this man? No fear, no hesitation. Assertive and straight to the point. Kennedy liked those traits in work colleagues. Just not in his fake beaus. “Anyway, just how gay would you want this person to be? My college friend is gay and he’s neither blond nor muscular.” “Get him to apply then.” “He has a boyfriend. And anyway, he doesn’t need the job. I do.” “Look Keegan…” “Kieran.” “Kieran, then. I’m sure there are other jobs out there for you—” “There aren’t. And I don’t care, anyway. I want this one.” “Look—“ “No, you look. I’m reasonably good looking. I am sociable with all kinds of people in all sorts of situations. I am not homophobic—far from it. Yes, I might be older than your stated requirement—which is a bit ageist, by the way—but if you want someone to pass as a legitimate companion, then I am a way better choice than that queue of blond Justins you’ve just seen. How old are you, anyway?” “I’m forty-two.” “As far as contemporary age gaps is concerned, twenty-nine and forty-two could be deemed acceptable. Anything under twenty-four could be seen as questionable, and twenty-one is just plain creepy. Does the contract include these guys having to have sex with you?” Kennedy paused a second. Was this guy trying to catch him out? “Of course not. Sex would be by mutual consent only.” “Excellent. So instead of worrying about whether this companion is going to put out or not, hire me and you can be sure right from the start that I won’t.” “And how exactly do you intend to convince my friends that you’re gay?” “I’m not. I’m guessing they know you wouldn’t bring along a straight guy. So if you’re asking whether I’ll adopt a lisp or culture a walk, then apart from accusing you of stereotyping, I’d say you’re clearly out of sync with the new generation of gay men. Anderson Cooper, Tom Daley or Keegan Hirst, for example.” Not many people had Kennedy Grey at a loss for words, but this young man certainly had a way about him. Trouble defined him. Kennedy gave him his usual business smile and decided to run with the path of least resistance. “Leave me your number and I’ll get back to you by the end of the week.” “You won’t though, will you?” said Kieran, folding his arms. “Not if you don’t give me your number,” said Kennedy, slapping a pen on top of the advert before fishing for his wallet in his jacket pocket. “Here’s my business card. If I haven’t called you by Friday at four o’clock, feel free to ring my direct line.” Kieran scrawled his number on the sheet, then leant back and studied the business card. “Kennedy Grey, CEO. Grey Havens Security Systems? The Kennedy Grey? Get out of here! You run the family business that installs digitalised commercial security systems? We covered your company in our master’s programme, successful businesses of the new millennium. In the recent edition of Business Week your operations guy—Sloan something—didn’t rule out the possibility of you going public next year. You’ve pretty much got that niche area of the market sewn up.” The first thought that crossed Kennedy’s mind was why he hadn’t been told about the article in Business Week. Had his Chief Operating Officer, Sloan Williamson, pulled another fast one behind his back? Not that he would be surprised given the man’s ruthless ambition—one of the reasons Kennedy had hired him. But even so, Kennedy’s marketing team would normally have sanctioned the interview with him. And Sloan should not be speculating publicly about plans for a stock market launch. The second thing that struck him was that this man, Kieran, was clearly both informed and intelligent. And as far as travelling companions were concerned, that would never do. “One and the same,” said Kennedy, and then sat back wide-eyed as an impressively-sized Kieran rose and leant across the table. “An absolute pleasure to meet you, Mr Grey,” he said, holding a large hand out. “And can I say, you are much better looking in the flesh.” Still seated, Kennedy leant forward awkwardly and shook the offered hand. Kieran gripped a little too long, squeezing a couple of times, while maintaining almost uncomfortably consistent eye contact. “Gay enough for you?” Kennedy smirked then and rolled his eyes. Yes, this one would certainly cause a stir. “Thanks for your time, Kieran. I’ll be in touch.” “And I’ll very much look forward to hearing from you,” said Kieran, grinning, before collecting his jacket and satchel from the chair and heading for the door. Kennedy put his hands behind his head and stared at the long, lean legs of the confident figure striding out of the cafe. On the plus side, this guy was definitely easy on the eye with his shaggy brown mop, sad eyes and beautiful full lips. And despite what Kennedy had stated in his very specific demands, he could deal with companionship without sex for three weeks. Well, without sex with the companion, at least. Last year’s recruit, Kalvyn, had seemed really keen the first week, but then, when push came to shove—so to speak—had been so unemotional in the sack Kennedy wondered if he’d missed an inflate nozzle somewhere. Besides, if he did pick straight Kieran, he could legitimately slip away for some anonymous sex on the gay cruise without upsetting anyone, something generally acknowledged as being as available as the twenty-four-hour sushi bar—not that Kennedy had ever partaken of either. Moreover, for the three days in Singapore, his father might actually be able to tolerate this one. He certainly enjoyed being challenged on his political ideology, something Kennedy had never found of any interest. And the gay cruise? Kieran would have to fend for himself, but he didn’t seem the faint of heart type, more like the sort of man who could brave any storm—metaphorically speaking. And it was obvious he really needed the money. Stop, Kennedy told himself, shaking his head. What the hell was he thinking?
  28. 101 points
    KIERAN - CABIN CLASS Inside the bowels of the The Diamond Princess, despite the spotlessness, and attempt at wood panelling and plush carpet opulence, the corridors felt oppressive. Kieran kept having flashbacks to the scenes in the movie Titanic where Kate and Leo tried desperately to escape the sinking ship through one identical corridor after another. Kennedy walked in front, trailing behind the white-suited Asian steward, who had insisted on carrying his bags. Kieran had been left to bring his own. Stopping outside a large white double-door, the steward brought out the small cardboard pocket containing key cards. Before he had a chance to step inside, Kennedy put a hand on the man’s shoulder to get his attention. Taking the cards with one hand, he stuffed a banknote in the steward’s top pocket with the other. “Thanks, Simeon. We can take it from here. I’ve stayed in this room before. I know where everything is.” “As you wish, Mr Grey,” he said, his smile obsequious. “Everything is arranged for tonight as requested. They’ll come by at five-thirty to set up. But if there’s anything you need, sir. And I mean anything, day or night. Just call. I’ll be your personal attendant for the whole journey. Have a wonderful voyage with us.” His gaze barely grazed Kieran as he backed away from them. When Kennedy turned back to the open door, Kieran was sure he rolled his eyes. Without a second thought, he followed after Kennedy when he stepped across the cabin threshold and moved inside, but immediately stopped, a gasp escaping him. “Yeah, nice isn’t it? One of the ship’s six loft suites. Had to book this baby up early,” said Kennedy, dropping his bag at the door and critically assessing the space. Stately hardwood panels lined the room, opening into a two storey space with floor to ceiling windows running along one side and a bedroom with a huge super king-sized bed on the mezzanine level—the loft, Kieran supposed—overlooking the spacious living area. In the middle of the room, he did a quick three-sixty. Wall-to-wall bookcases, three double settees, a fully stocked bar in walnut, an eight-seater dining table and— “No fucking way. A baby grand? Are you yanking my chain?” “Comes with the cabin. And tonight, we’re having a cocktail party. Complete with cocktail waiter and piano player. Friends only.” Kieran didn’t want to think how much this lot had set Kennedy back. “Fuck, am I going to have to put out for all of this?” Kennedy laughed aloud, a sound Kieran was really starting to enjoy hearing. Seemed as though the man didn’t laugh enough, according to his father and sister. Funny how both had whispered parting words with almost the same intent, to come back soon with Kennedy, because he brought out the best in him, in all of them. “Nope,” came Kennedy’s voice, bring him back to the scene. “A deal’s a deal. And although I may be a ruthless bastard when it comes to business, I am an honest one. But there is one drawback. Only one bedroom and only one bed,” said Kennedy, turning and scrutinising Kieran. “Now I’m happy to get the settee here made up for you each night, if you want. But upstairs will be a lot more comfortable and I promise be a complete gentleman. And apart from me sleeping in sweat pants and tee, that mattress is huge, so there’ll be no accidental rolling over and brushing up against each other in the night. So I suggest we give it a try and, if you’re not happy, you can have the couch. Unless, of course, I get lucky, in which case those curtains will be nailed tight and you’ll be on the couch anyway.” Kieran peered up at the loft and gulped. A waist height glass balcony and heavy white curtain—currently opened—partitioned the bedroom from the living room. If Kennedy pulled someone, Kieran would be able to hear everything. “For all your bravado, you are quite gullible at times,” laughed Kennedy, heading towards the window. “Relax, I’m only kidding. The last time I got lucky Tony Blair was still Prime Minister.” Not for the first time, Kieran took in the man, and had a hard time believing he’d have difficulty getting laid. Classically handsome, and someone who clearly looked after his body, the man screamed sophistication and style, from his designer jeans to his perfectly fitted white flannel jacket. “Okay. Now it’s just you and me, I need to ask you something,” said Kennedy, turning at the window and thrusting his hands into his jeans pockets. “What did you say to my father?” Kieran felt himself redden. “About?” “You tell me.” “I’m not sure what you want me to say. We chatted about a whole heap of things.” Kennedy stared for a moment, but didn’t seem angry. After a moment of silence between them, he smiled. “Well, whatever you said, the father I just said goodbye to is not the same one I remember as a kid. And if that’s because of you, I need to thank you. But I also need you to know I didn’t hire you to fight my battles. So please, on the cruise, be yourself, enjoy yourself. I have nothing to prove in front of my friends. Agreed?” “Agreed.” “Now a few house rules,” began Kennedy, his back leaning against the window. Kieran perched on a stool by the bar. “Each day we’re onboard, we’ll have breakfast brought to the room. Part of the deal. After that, I’m not expecting you to be glued to me all day, you can go and get up to whatever you want until dinner time. But we’ll always dine together, is that understood?” “Of course.” “And if there are any special events going on—costume party, captain’s pleasure dinner, even other guests’ private parties—then you’ll accompany me as my plus one. We’ll decide on the port stops whether either or both of us want to join the excursions ashore, as and when they happen. When we’re together, I’m not expecting any touching or other displays of affection, but I do expect you to remain by my side and not flirt obviously with any other guests. And I include the female ones in that. Are we clear so far?” “Crystal.” “Any questions?” “What the hell am I supposed to do between breakfast and dinner?” “Seriously? This is a gigantic floating holiday resort. And there’ll be a lot of people your age. Okay, admittedly most of them will be gay and trying to get into your pants, but you could always hook up with a couple of nice lesbians,” said Kennedy, before pointing to the bar counter. “Right next to you, on the bar top, there’s a guide with a rundown of the whole fourteen days, with a list of excursions—if we’re docked in port—or other activities; gyms, fitness classes, cinemas, casino, swimming pools, live bands. Or you can chill and sunbathe up on deck.” Kieran peered down at the itinerary where the first port of call after Singapore jumped out at him: Koh Samui. Not only that, but a trip was offered for passengers to visit the Big Buddha Temple. “What will you be doing?” he heard himself say. “Most of the time? Probably working a little, but I’ll also hang out with my friends.” “Leonard?” Why had the name of that particular friend started to grate? “And others.” “What if I want to be glued to you? Do you have any objection if I tag along?” “Of course not. I—I just thought you’d want the freedom to explore. On your own.” “And during the fourteen days, I probably might, from time to time. But—and you may want to sit down to hear this—I enjoy your company, Kennedy. And I have a feeling I’ll like your friends, too.” Kieran had come to get a little twinge of pleasure every time Kennedy smiled, this time almost shyly. Without replying Kennedy turned and reached for a spot at the window, before sliding open a glass door and letting the floor-to-ceiling lace curtains billow into the room. “Come look at this.” Only then did Kieran realise he still had hold of his luggage handle. After propping the case against a chair, he followed Kennedy, who stood with a hand on the door. When Kieran stepped out onto the deck, once again his breath was taken away. Another eight-seater table, wooden-topped this time, had matching chairs placed around. Stunning views of the Port of Singapore met his gaze, with high rise buildings from the city centre rising beyond. “Okay, this is too much,” muttered Kieran, moving to the railing and shaking his head. “You know what? I get one holiday a year. One. The rest of the time I spend working damned hard. So if I do splash out while I’m away, if I do enjoy a little bit of luxury, it’s nobody’s fucking business but my own.” “I wasn’t criticising,” said Kieran softly, his gaze trailing out to sea. “I’m dazzled, that’s all. Never in my life did I think I’d see something as incredible as this, let alone experience it. Things like this just don’t happen to me.” After a few moments of quiet contemplation, he sensed Kennedy join him at the sea rail. When he glanced sidelong, he flushed slightly but saw Kennedy grinning fondly at him. “Welcome to the ball, Cinderella.”
  29. 100 points
    KIERAN ~ SLEEPLESS IN SINGAPORE 3:10am. Kieran sat up in bed, wide awake, hands clasped behind his neck, listening to the gentle hum of the air-conditioner and the distant, but constant nighttime sizzle of cicadas from outside. Just as he had predicted, he'd plunged into a deep sleep the moment his head hit the pillow, but found himself waking, fresh as a snowflake a few hours later. He’d already checked his phone, read and answered his messages and emails, had even tried Kennedy’s suggestion and watched television, but nothing really caught his attention. Of course, he had texted Cole and Jules about the past twenty four hours; the flight—he had kept the menu as a souvenir—the amazing house Kennedy’s parents lived in with five bedrooms and its own private swimming pool, and the amazing banquet they’d served up to welcome them. Even though they seemed formal with each other, the family had been friendly and civil to him. So much so that Kennedy’s earlier belittling of his family felt brutal and unwarranted. But then what did he know? Maybe they were putting on a show for the sake of him. Eventually he got up, went to the window and pulled aside one of the heavy blinds. Below, lights illuminated the pool still. Would he disturb anyone, he thought, if he got up and had a swim? Kennedy’s parents’ bedroom stood at the far end of the house, while Kennedy’s own bedroom was next to them. What the hell, he told himself, who would even know? In the bathroom, he squeezed back into his damp swimming shorts and grabbed one of the plump white bath towels. With the addition of a plain white tee and flip flops, he collected his laptop and headphones on the way out and made his way quietly back to the pool. For half an hour, he swam freestyle up and down without stopping, enjoying the freedom, the release of energy, and the water cooling and caressing his body. When he finally stopped, panting heavily, he hauled his dripping body out, ready to dry himself and relax alone at the small table where he’d left his things. Except someone else sat there, puffing blue smoke into the night air. “When I mentioned an early morning swim,” said Jefferson Grey, with good humour. “I was thinking more along the lines of six or seven in the morning. Couldn’t sleep, young man?” “What can I say?” said Kieran, towelling his hair. “Turns out jet lag’s real. So I thought I’d use the time to exercise. What’s kept you awake?” “Insomnia. Comes with age, I’m afraid. And then I heard someone swimming. Either my son or you, I figured. So here I am.” Jeff blew a cloud of smoke into the air and wiggled his cigar. “Which also gives me the opportunity to smoke one of these babies without being badgered. Do you smoke?” “I don’t,” said Kieran, taking a seat at the table. “Well, actually I did once—cigarettes—but label myself a non-smoker now. Sometimes I have the occasional puff—if I’m stressed. Not very often. Don’t say anything to Kennedy. He thinks I’ve never smoked.” “You’ve only just met. I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t know about each other.” “I know he can be very particular.” “Just like his mother,“ said Jeff, nodding and flicking ash into a plastic saucer. “You know, you’re a lot different to Patrick.” Kieran sat back then, wanting to take advantage of the opportunity. “Kennedy doesn’t talk about him. What was he like?” Jeff sat quiet for a moment. He appeared to be considering Kieran’s question. “Did Kennedy tell you what I used to do for a living?” “You worked for the British High Commission.” “For forty-two years. And, let me tell you, in all that time thousands of souls passed through our offices—not just dignitaries—people from all walks of life, from all nations. Something my wife will tell you about me—one of the nicer things—is my ability to sum up a person’s character. Within a short space of time, I can tell whether someone is open, honest and trustworthy. She calls it intuition, but I think it’s more a skill one builds over the years working as a public servant. Patrick was—he came across as—sullen and distant. Both times he stayed here, he barely left his room. If we managed to get a ‘good morning’ out of him over breakfast, it was cause for celebration. Not once did he thank us for our hospitality, the way you did when I met you at the airport yesterday. But they lived together, had known each other for nine years, so we assumed they were content. Their last time here, he and Kennedy argued constantly. Maybe the writing was on the wall. What I’m trying to say is, when they were here I sensed no happiness between them. I’m sure Kennedy told you we weren’t exactly thrilled with our son’s lifestyle choice, but parents still want to see their children end up happy. Five years ago, just after they broke up, Kennedy came here alone. He never told us exactly what happened between them, but I could tell that my son was changed, had put up a wall around himself. I can only assume the break-up did that to him. The whole week he was here, I don’t remember seeing him smile once, let alone laugh.” “He laughs now. Usually at me. He has a pretty cool sense of humour.” Key West, indeed, thought Kieran, remembering and smirking. “He’s different with you.” “Is he?” Why did that observation send a small thrill through Kieran? “How do you mean?” “Calmer. As though he has less to prove. As though he can trust you, I suppose.” Kieran deflated. Of course Kennedy would be calmer, Kieran was being paid to be there, a little snippet he would definitely not share with Jefferson. “And I get the impression you like him, too,” added Jeff. “I admire him.” “Admire? For what?” Kieran sighed, grabbed his laptop and flipped the top open. Within seconds he had opened a browser and brought up a number of windows showcasing Kennedy’s achievements. He’d already saved many to his personal favourites. When Jeff explained he couldn’t make out the text in the articles without his glasses, Kieran obliged by reading them out loud to him. Twenty minutes later, Jeff sat in quiet contemplation. “You know, when people ask me about my son, I have no idea what to tell them, because he’s never let me into his life. I know I was a strict father—like my father was with me—but I was equally strict with Reagan, and she never shut me out. Thank you for showing me this. We knew he ran the business capably, but had no idea he’d been this successful. And he did all this without my help, financially or otherwise.” “Hope you don’t mind me saying this, Jeff, having only just met you. But I sense that all he ever wanted from you was your approval.” “Sounds to me as though he doesn’t need it, or that it’d be too late, anyway.” Kieran tilted his head back and stared into the night sky. “I had this English Lit teacher at school, tough as nails and as straight as they came, teaching my least favourite topic. But I needed to get a good grade to get into the college of choice. For me, Shakespeare was like trying to understand a foreign language, and kept dragging my overall grade in the subject down. I could never get past a B minus. Didn’t help that I thought she didn’t like me, but at least she was consistent, because everyone else in my class thought she hated them, too. So I threw myself at the main problem—Hamlet, of all bloody plays—read everything I could get my hands on, studied weekends, evenings, saw multiple remakes of the film, and even sat through a couple of performances at the Old Vic. Kind of got to love the story in the end, got to see so many human flaws in Hamlet, the man, and so many subtle themes running through the play. And when she read out the class results of the mock exam, announced that not only had I got an A, but that my essay was something everyone in the class should aspire to, I almost burst with pride. Managed to get A stars in four other subjects, but that was the one I was most proud of. What I’m trying to say is; it’s the people we least expect to hear praise from, whose praise we value the most. Does that make sense?” Jeff stared at Kieran for a moment, before his gaze dropped to Kieran’s shoulder, and became unfocused. “For someone so young, you are wise beyond your years. Yes, what you say makes perfect sense. My father preferred to point out our shortcomings and ignore our successes—said that’s what makes a man—and I suppose I adopted the same method with my children. Looking back now, I almost feel as though they’ve both succeeded in their own way, in spite of me, not because of anything I said or did.” “You’re proud of them both?” “Of course I am.” “So I guess the only question you need to ask yourself is, do they know?” After a final toke, Jeff stubbed his cigar out repeatedly, his gaze trained on the saucer. Even though he said nothing, Kieran could tell he’d processed the question. Maybe Kieran had gone too far. “On that note, young man, I’m heading back to bed. See if I can grab a couple more hours before breakfast. I suggest you do the same.” “I will. After I’ve dried off a little.” Jeff stood and went to leave, but then hesitated and turned back. “I never asked about your own father. What does he do?” “No idea. He walked out on us when I was seven, just before my brother was born.” Jeff said nothing then, just raised his head to the heavens, gently shaking his head. “What kind of man would do that to his children?” “You see, Jeff? You’re already well ahead in the fatherhood stakes.” Jeff sighed deeply, and began to walk away, but once again, faltered. “Kieran?” “Jeff?” “I’m glad you’re here. Good to see my boy finally finding someone sociable and genuine. And I get the feeling he needs you by his side right now. To bring a little sunshine back into his life. Good night, son.” “Night, Jeff.” After Jeff departed, Kieran sat staring at the ash filled saucer, feeling like a total fraud.
  30. 100 points
    Chapter 9 Brady “That’s cool Dad! Congratulations!!” Novy said with a mouthful of Cornflakes. “Don’t…” “What’s cool,” Mum asked as she sauntered into the dining room, followed by my brother Cameron. Mum sat down at the opposite end of the table to my Dad. Cameron walked to the buffet and made himself a coffee at the pod machine. “…speak with your mouth full.” Thanks for letting me finish. “Dad got a job,” my son spoke with his mouth full again. “Don’t…” “Yes. I’m surprised Ember even gave you the opportunity,” she gave me that Mum glare, the one you get when you know you're in trouble for something but not quite sure you're ready to admit guilt for anything just in case it’s not what you think. Cam raised an eyebrow at me as he took his mug away from the machine then sat down next to Novy. “Hey, Uncle Cam,” Novy greeted his Uncle with a mouthful of cornflakes. “D…” “Dude, don’t speak with a mouthful of food! Were you raised in a barn?” Cam smirked at me. “Huh?” Novy looked up at his Uncle. “Thank you,” I said sweeping my arm in front of me. “Finally!” “Huh?” My son looked over at me. “Don’t speak with your mouth full,” Cam and I said at the same time. “Oh,” Novy said sheepishly, then shoved more food into his gob. “Sorry.” Cam cuffed Novy on the back of the head. Hang on, did Mum just say Ember! “What do you mean Ember? I know Ember works there, but Justin offered me a job,” I said confused. Mum snorted ever so ladylike, flicking her wrist in my direction, “…which he wouldn’t have been able to do without Ember’s okay.” “Oh yeah, why’s that?” I asked knowing I wasn’t going to like the answer. “Because it’s his business. Ember, owns ‘The Chop Shop.’” Dad grunted for confirmation while he read the newspaper and my loving brother was silently laughing his arse off across the table. Big Help! “Shouldn’t you be at home, polishing your crotch rocket or at work?” I said to Cam. “Nah, polished it yesterday, and I don’t work again until tomorrow. Besides this is way more fun,” said my brother smirking and rocking on his chair. Novy’s eyes were passing around the table from adult to adult trying to work out what was happening. I’m sure I looked like one of those boggle-eyed goldfish in a panic. FUCK ME! Could things get any worse? <>-<>-<> The one good thing about small towns is that there isn’t much traffic. Even in peak hour, the roads get busy but not congested. Lucky for me. It’s not like my mind was really on the task at hand. Driving to my first day of work, my brain wouldn’t switch off. I have that deep gnawing in the pit of my stomach. As if I wasn’t nervous enough, now I have to go to work knowing that Ember himself had given me a job. I swear I don’t remember Justin ever saying anything about November owning the mechanic shop. I remember the conversation clear as day: We had all finished eating. A server was clearing the empty dishes and glasses from the table. I was talking to the guy next to me - what was his name, he came with the big guy in the tow truck - P-something, Poco, Pippy, Pix, that was it Pix. He is a Pediatric Nurse, bright and bubbly, intelligent, a nice kid. Anyway, we were interrupted by Justin. “Hey Brady, you got a minute,” asked Justin nodding towards an empty booth to the side. We walked over and sat away from the celebrations for Novy and AJ. My face dropped as soon as Justin spoke. I was happy, almost lit up, talking with the young nurse until Justin called me over. I dreaded what he wanted - probably to tell my family and me to get the hell out. “Hey no, Brady, relax,” Justin told me trying to calm me down. I must look like he wanted to steal my pet puppy or something. I really do have to learn a poker face, steel my reactions so to speak. I used to have one until I came out. Now my life is such a mess, and I’m so insecure, people can read me like a book. “Look I just wanted to tell you that I’ve spoken to the boss about your application at work.” I felt the blood drain my face, my head started to go light, I reached out, grabbing Justin’s bicep in case I passed out again. When I realised what I’d done, my hand dropped from his arm like a hot potato. “Sorry,” I muttered. “It’s all good buddy,” Justin chuckled, I looked around nervously. Cameron was watching us with a frown. When I looked at him he cocked his eyebrow at me in concern. It was nice to know my brother had my back even if he does want to get into Justin’s pants. “The boss said you can have a four-week trial. Don’t stuff it up, else I’m going to get it in the neck too.” My gaze flicked back to Justin, ‘What did he say,’ I thought. “I can start a four-week trial,” I said incredulously, “I got the job.” Justin chuckled, “Yes, but there is one thing, a word of advice - do not mess with Ember in any way.” Now I was a little annoyed and probably shouldn’t have said what I said next, but it just flew out. I know I definitely deserved the skepticism from everyone, but seriously that was twenty years ago. “When is everyone going to see that I’m not the asshole I was twenty years ago.” Justin tapped my forearm from underneath, “Look, Brady, just persevere. I’m starting to see it. Ember will come around eventually. At some point he’ll recognise you for who you are now. You and your friends did a real number on his self-esteem and confidence back in high school. Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to ride it out.” “Thanks, Justin, for the opportunity, and going to bat for me. I assure you I’m not here to mess with November. I just want to move on from the mess I’ve made of my life,” I answered a little less excited than I felt. “I GOT A JOB!” I mouthed to my brother. Cam grinned giving me the thumbs up. Ember looked over, lifting an eyebrow, smirking away. He was sitting with my mother - god knows what was going on in that conversation. I had finally made it to ‘The Chop Shop,’ parking next to November’s truck, sitting in my car and trying to steel my nerves. Thankfully, I still had ten minutes before they were expecting me. I took a couple of deep breaths and hopped out of the car ready to be put to work. Making my way through the office door, I felt the urge to about-face and run like hell, but my fight or flight response seems to be heavily leaning toward fight at the moment. I need to make things right with November. This seems like the perfect opportunity for that to happen, plus I needed to earn money so I could get Novy and me the hell out of my parent's house. I don’t know what was said between my Mum and November on Saturday, but she has been plain snarky to me ever since. Again, my own fault. So much for being civil to each other for the sake of the kids, I guess. The reception area was empty when I entered through the front door. There was a bell on the counter, so I gave it a ding. Mags entered from a door behind reception. “Ah, Brady,” she said coming forth and opening the gate which was to stop customers entering the work area. “Come on through - we are about to start the Monday meeting.” Mags took me back to what I assume is the break room. It had a long table and chairs that would seat about ten people. It looked like it was where it should be, grease marks, ripped corners on some chairs - it had seen better days, but what you’d expect at a workshop - a fridge against one of the walls, and a bench with a sink, cupboards underneath, and a kettle off to the side, which also looked like a health hazard. Perfect! The room was full of men: November, Justin, a young bloke not much older than my son, a man older than my Dad, and a Gigantor. Mags cleared her throat, and all the men shut up. “Guys, this is Brady Douglass. He’s starting here today working with Justin.” The woman turned to me. “Brady, I assume you know Justin,” she pointed him out, then moved clockwise around the table after I nodded. “Next to him the old fella is Jim - he’s our go-for man; then there’s Troy - he’s the Boss’s mechanical apprentice; the big fella is Basher - he runs tyres and suspension, he’s also my son.” She put her hand over her heart. “And this is the Boss, Ember. Everything runs through him. We all call him Boss, you should do the same. If you need or want anything, he’s the man for you.” Okay, I’ll take him. November scoffed, my stomach dropped. “Mags, there hasn’t been a decision made at this workshop that you didn’t have to give your okay since the day you walked through the door.” Everyone laughed. “Yeah, well, none of you can be trusted to wipe your own arse properly, so there you have it!” Mags turned back to me. “Have a seat.” then indicated to me, so I took the first one available which happened to be next to Basher. Scary name, scary man. Gigantor grunted when I sat down. November and Justin shot him a look to say ‘behave.’ The man leant back diagonally in his seat crossing his arms and stretching his legs out just past mine, just to let me know I was on probation with him as he took up my personal space. Message received. “Okay enough of the bullshit. We’ve got a busy week ahead guys,” Mags announced picking up her clipboard. “Ember, you and Troy are doubled on bookings until Wednesday, Jim I’ve put you on the schedule through to Thursday, Thursday is a half day. Let me know if you can’t. Justin, you’re lucky Brady is here. You are solidly booked for the entire week, with a waiting list if any availability comes up.” Justin sighed and dropped his head. Ember chuckled and cuffed him on the shoulder. Basher, you’re also pretty busy and a lift-kit, Tuesday, and Thursday.” “Sure Mama,” he said. “I’ve saved the best for last,” Mags’ smile was evil, scary family, “Ember, the red Torana will be here tomorrow – blew his clutch.” Ember threw his head back, “Mother F… that kid I swear,” he let out in frustration. Troy, the apprentice, sighed and shook his head. “Someone needs to show that F-wit how to look after a sweet ride like that,” Troy said sadly. “And Basher…” Mags started, and Basher waved his hand at her. “Yeah, yeah, new back tyres, and a spare. I’ve always got a set for the Torana in stock,” Basher said shaking his head. “Great,” she said looking around the table, “well what are you waiting for, a bloody invitation? Get to work you bunch of lazy lay-abouts. Move your arse!” <>-<>-<> The week has gone fairly smoothly. I mostly worked outside Justin’s workshop. I installed car stereo’s, back up camera’s, and CB radios. Justin worked on a bunch of solar panel jobs for caravans. He was easy to work with - he only hung around over my shoulder for half of my first day. Once he could see I was able to do without his help he left me to it. Every now and then he would yell out for me to pass him something up a ladder. By close of business Thursday, we had managed to whittle Justin’s waiting list down to next to nothing. Each day Mag’s was able to ring a few on the list and get them to book their cars in. They seemed impressed by my work and dedication to getting things done. It was great working in the fresh with the vehicle’s parked outside the workshop. Every now and then I was able to catch a glimpse of November while he was moving a car or talking with a customer. The man still gets to me - everything about him, the way he moves, talks, laughs, everything the man does is smooth and graceful. The way November looks in his work overalls invites various naughty mechanic fantasies. Unfortunately, I only get to play them out in my head at night in bed alone or the shower. We have had very little interaction since I started, mainly in the office if I am dropping paperwork off to Mag’s. His workshop is attached to the office, so I have to walk through to get to it. Now that it’s Friday, with a whole week of work and glimpses of November under my belt, I’m ready for a break from him. “Hey Brady,” Justin said from behind the bonnet of a Commodore as I entered our workshop, “would you mind taking my paperwork up to Mags, I have my hands full here.” “Yeah, sure. Did you need a hand?” I asked. “Uh…” Justin popped his head around the bonnet, “Nah, I’m almost done. If I don’t get this paperwork up to her by three, she’ll have my balls hanging from my earlobes.” I let out a laugh, “The woman runs a tight ship alright.” “That she does,” Justin said with a smile and a roll of the eyes. I grabbed the clipboards that held paperwork and wandered to the office. I entered through the back door of November’s workshop to get to the office. His work bay was clear and he was sweeping the floor. Looking around his work area made me wonder what his home looked like. There is nothing out of place - it’s always clean and clear of any clutter, well for a mechanic’s work area anyway. Everything seems to have a place and everything in its place. “Brady!” My name was roared angrily. My head snapped toward the opening of the workshop. Paul was storming at me. Fuck me! “What do you want, Paul? I’m working.” I turned toward him. “I heard you were working here. What the fuck are you doing?” Paul huffed, then reached out for my arm. I pulled back surprised, “What the hell is your problem?” I spat angrily. Paul leaned in, his mouth practically foaming, “You can’t possibly want to work here with these fairies. The whole town will know and think you’re a fag too. They know we’re friends - they’ll think I’m one, how can you do this?” I studied Paul for a second - he had been drinking I could smell the booze on him. “If you mean gay, then that’s fine by me, I am.” I studied the arrogant prick for a quick moment. “You’re drunk, and you’re irrational. Go home and sleep it off,” I waved my hand dismissively, moving toward the office. Paul grabbed my arm angrily and twisted me around. I nearly fell to the ground. November stepped between me and Paul in a second flat. “LEAVE! NOW!” November firmly stated. “Ha! You fucking him?” Paul asked with a psychotic laugh. He stepped to the right so he could see me, “This your boyfriend now, letting him plow you up the ass?” SMACK! Paul stumbled backward after November punched him in the face, then stalked after him. Dropping the clipboards, moving quickly I put myself between Paul and November, my arms stretched between them. Paul’s eyes were on fire, “You’ll regret this, fucking fag,” he yelled while he held his jaw. “Don’t fucking call him that,” I said through gritted teeth. “Oh, that’s right you’re a fairy too,” Paul spat. “Fucking go, NOW!” I moved toward Paul, as he backed away. Paul spun on his heel going to his car screaming over his shoulder, “This ain’t over.” After I watched him get in his car and speed away, I took my phone out of my pocket and rang the cops to let them know Paul was driving under the influence. Turning around, November was glaring at me. “What the fuck was that about?” November shouted at me. “Don’t bring your fucking shit to my business. I’ve devoted my life to this business. I won’t let you fucking destroy it. Maybe you working here isn’t a good idea.” November then turned and walked away from me, I hurried after him, getting in his face. “November, firstly I don’t know why he was here,” I said panicked, “I haven’t spoken to him since the day after the reunion. Which by the way, I kicked him out. Paul is an asshole. Besides the reunion, I hadn’t spoken to him in twenty years. Not since I left school for university.” “Don’t fucking play me asshole…” Ember stepped around me to storm off. “I wouldn’t do that, when are you going to accept…” Ember spun around, pinning me to the workbench. His hand fisting my shirt against my chest powerfully holding me in place. I searched his face, his pupils were blown, signalling something, it was lust or maybe anger. I don’t know. Something stopped him, he hesitated while his eyes were drinking me in. Ember’s hand moved from my chest, wrapping around the back of my neck, he slid his thumb along my jawline. My heart was racing. I could feel my neck starting to flush, somehow, I just knew he wasn’t going to hurt me. In one swift movement, he lifted me onto the workbench, his lips crashed into mine. My legs lifted up and wrapped around his waist. As if by some external control. I pulled him towards me. I felt Ember’s groan vibrate through me, as I pushed my hardness into his. “Fuck!” Ember whispered. His hands came up my body and ending with a tight grip of my hair – it almost hurt - it was incredible. He held my head in place, biting my bottom lip, I relaxed a small amount, his tongue speared into my mouth, starting the deepest, most passionate, earth-shattering kiss I’ve ever had. We pulled apart breathless, panting like we had just run a marathon, staring at each other. I reached out wrapping my hands around the back of his neck pulling him back to me, plunging into his mouth. Our teeth clashed. If anything, it made it even hotter. Our tongues colliding, wrestling - it was almost like a dance. I could feel his heart pounding against my chest. I’m not going to last long if this continued. I heard a door slam, we finally broke apart. Ember backed away, not even looking to see who came through the door and disappeared out the back. I looked up to see Basher with a stunned look on his face. He frowned. Neither of us could look each other in the eye. I subconsciously brought my fingers up to my mouth. I could still feel Ember’s lips on mine. His smell lingered - it was intoxicating. Basher was looking between me and the door that Ember had just gone through.
  31. 100 points
    “Call me.” Those two simple words sent a chill down Adam’s spine. After staring at the open email, he glanced at the now empty bottle of whiskey. “I’m not drunk enough to call him yet.” Adam stood up and walked across the house. He tossed the empty bottle into the recycle bin. The sound of the glass bottles, as they clinked on each other, was deafening in the still silent air of the pantry. He walked over to the wine closet and took out a bottle of wine. Popping the cork and grabbing a wine glass, he let it breathe while he headed back to the library. “Call me.” Adam’s eyes caught the phrase as he sat back down. He stuck the Bluetooth receiver in his ear, synced it with his phone, and then dialed the number he hadn’t used for over fifteen years. He poured himself a glass of wine and took a sip while the phone rang. “Hello?” Tibot’s voice was warm. “You wanted me to call you, Tibot,” Adam said. He sipped the wine and adjusted the chair so he could lean back in it. “Adam. It’s good to hear your voice. I didn’t recognize the number at first with the 813 area code, and hadn’t realized you moved back to Tampa.” Adam sat with a pained expression on his face. He remembered the fight, fifteen years ago, like it was yesterday. “You would have, had you read the last email I sent you.” “I don’t want to fight with you, Adam. I… I want to talk.” Adam picked up the remorse in his brother’s voice. “Sorry. Please go on. I’m listening.” Adam’s anger dissipated. “Thank you.” Tibot paused as he cleared his throat. Adam assumed his brother was drinking, having heard ice ring in the glass. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for the past month, and even tried to call the number I have for you in Cambridge. It’s hard not being close to family, or having to contact people via email. Only Mom and Dad talk to me when I call. I’m in a twelve-step program, and I want to make amends.” “You burned a lot of bridges. Dad’s family won’t talk to us anymore, because of what you did to them, and Mom’s, well, they still talk to us, but you’re not mentioned.” Adam paused. He hadn’t wanted to turn this into a rehash, but here they were. “You hurt me. I could have forgiven you for the drug use. I could have forgiven the theft of money, my property, and my car. But then you bold-faced lied to our family, my friends, and to the authorities. Some things can never be forgiven, and that lie you told was one of them.” He paused again, calming down. “How long have you been sober?” “It’s been two years and six months. Not one drug or a drop of alcohol. I’m living in a halfway-house over here in Clearwater for recovering addicts, and they’re getting me the help I need.” “I applaud you for seeking help. I hope it works out for you…” The unspoken, ‘this time’ hung in the silence. However, the sincerity of Adam’s voice conveyed the honesty of his statement. "Well for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I did a lot wrong. Stealing from you and the family was bad, but it's the rest…." Adam waited in silence while Tibot paused. "Sorry, it's the rest I can't forgive myself for. I was mad at you refusing to help. I … wanted you to feel as shit as I did. So, I told them you raped me." Adam sat silently. He thought back to the incident some fifteen years ago. Tibot had gotten into drugs during high school, and when he turned eighteen, he squandered the inheritance he got on them. He was in and out of recovery programs for years, and Adam did everything he could for his brother. Even when Tibot alienated himself with their extended family, Adam stood by his brother. After Adam graduated from M.I.T. and was setting himself up in Boston, he let Tibot move in with him. For a year, little things went missing, and cash was taken out of his accounts. Then on a drug-fueled binge weekend, Tibot stole Adam’s car and ended up in a robbery. It was his first offense, so the DA went lenient with him, and suggested a pre-trial intervention program. However, Adam was done with Tibot. He refused to let him back into his apartment, and he was done paying for his rehab. Tibot was mad and hurt, so he accused Adam of raping him as a fourteen-year-old. Because the statute of limitations hadn’t expired, the State of Florida had to investigate the six-year-old accusation. If it hadn’t been for records supplied by Duncan’s family showing Adam was working on the day of the alleged rape, and staying over at their house for the duration of the summer, the case might have progressed further than it did. The fallout from Tibot’s years of drug use and the rape accusation splintered the family. Adam disowned his brother and refused to have any contact with him, except through email. “Are you still there, Adam?” “I am.” Adam let out a long sigh and downed the first glass of wine. He poured himself a second one. “I forgive you, Tibot, for everything but the lie. I can’t forgive that. Not right now.” “I understand. So, you have a son? Does that mean you’re not gay? Or are you bisexual?” “No, I’m gay. This happened on my twenty-first birthday. You remember I told you what Michelle did to me?” “I do. She basically raped you on your birthday.” “Well, it was questionable consent by today’s standards. I may have been drunk, but I said yes. She did take advantage of me, though. It turns out she ended up pregnant. When she left college voluntarily, she never mentioned to me she was carrying my child, nor did she get an abortion. If you remember, her family is Catholic. Fast forward to two-thousand and eighteen, and I get a call from Florida DCF, saying I have a son. Under Massachusetts law, because Robert was born out of wedlock, the father isn’t listed on the birth certificate. Michelle named me as the father in her will and confessed to what she did to me in it as well. I’m not sure if Rob has heard that part or not.” He paused taking a drink of the wine. “So, Florida’s DCF was contacted by Massachusetts’ DCF, to contact me about taking him after he went into foster care. This is because Michelle’s parents and sister refused to take him in. They signed away custody to the state when they learned he was gay.” “Why did they do that for?” “I don’t know fully, except that they’re homophobes.” “It’s a load of bullshit. You don’t turn away family for being gay. For all my faults, Adam, I’ve always loved you, even when you came out. I would love any gay family member we have.” “Thanks,” Adam said. He took another drink of the wine, finishing off the second glass, and pouring a third. “Truth-be-told, Tibot, I’ve never stopped loving you. I can’t deal with the lies, drugs, and everything else negative you brought to my life. I also have a son now to worry about.” “I know, and I understand.” Tibot took a drink of his own. “So is it permanent custody?” “Not yet. The case has been transferred to Florida and is in Family Court here. I have temporary custody of him, pending judicial review. But his maternal grandparents are fucking with the case. They did something to make Massachusetts delay sending him to Florida, and required me to get a paternity test. Now they are trying to make me pay sixteen years of back child support and half of the health insurance payments for Robert to a dead woman. ” “Well, I’m glad you got him, and I hope I can meet him someday.” “Someday,” Adam said. “Do you have any kids?” “No. One of my girlfriends did get pregnant, but she had an abortion. Would not have been my choice, but it was her body. She told me after the procedure. If there are any kids out there, I don’t know about them. I’m normally really good about using protection, and not just to keep my girl from getting pregnant.” “How did you end up in the shelter?” “Court ordered. I was busted dealing and did a couple of years before getting parole. That’s why I didn’t respond to your last few emails. Mom and Dad didn’t know either, before you ask.” The two brothers talked for another hour, catching up on significant events in each other’s lives. When Adam finally disconnected the call, he looked at the now-empty wine bottle. Feeling more than a little buzzed, he shut down the laptop and stumbled his way to bed. ~.~ Robert awoke from a nightmare. His heart raced, and he panted trying to catch his breath. As he calmed down, he sat up in bed against his headboard and drew his knees in. Tears started to slide down his cheeks, as the last visions of the terrible dream left him. What the hell was that? Why is this happening to me? I’m scared, but I know I shouldn’t be. Why am I feeling like I’m betraying Mom? If anything, she betrayed me. She’s the one who lied about my father. She’s the one who kept me from him. I wish… this didn’t have to happen. He checked the time on his phone: almost 7:30 am on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Instead of going back to sleep, Robert decided to stay up. He walked into his bathroom and started the shower to get the water warm. Robert stripped out of his boxers, tossed them into a laundry hamper, and looked at himself in the mirror. The bruises from his time in foster care had turned a lighter shade of black and blue. I should tell Adam the truth about what happened. He ran his hand over the stubble of a beard on his face. It was a patchy affair and grew slowly, but he felt he would need to shave it off soon. He stepped into the steamy hot shower and let the water wash away his worries. Taking the soap and washcloth, he lathered himself up. When he washed his manhood, it reacted to his touch, growing to its full length. How long has it been? I haven’t nutted a load since the group home before I was beaten by those two boys. The memory of the assault deflated him some, but the warm water and sensation of stroking himself got him back to hardness. Robert quickly stroked himself to a release, sending a torrent of semen across the shower. He used the handheld shower to rinse himself and the shower stall clean. ~.~ Adam woke up with a throbbing headache and a massive need to piss. He stumbled out of his bed and groaned all the way to the bathroom. After a quick trip through the shower, he stopped at what the builder called a morning bar - a simple wet bar with a built-in coffee maker, small microwave, sink, and mini-fridge - in his bedroom and grabbed a bottle of Pedialyte. Adam wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he liked to keep a few bottles around just for this type of occasion. A quick glance at the clock told him it was 8:15 am. He slid on a fresh set of boxer-briefs and track shorts and left the master retreat. He stopped briefly in the library to grab the empty wine bottle and glass from the night before, along with his phone. Adam sipped from the Pedialyte as he went. Smells like something’s burning. What is Rob up to? Adam made his way to the kitchen on the other side of the house. He rounded the small corner and stopped, looking at the state the kitchen was in. The center island had flour on it from where Robert had rolled out dough, which still sat there. Dirty bowls, measuring cups, and spoons littered several of the cabinets, some still containing ingredients. The aroma of brewing coffee was mixed with the smell of burnt beef. He had left the water running in the prep sink and stood in front of the stove---where he had just put out a small grease fire. “Fuck… Had to be a gas stove,” Robert said softly to himself. He was wearing his boxers and a t-shirt and was covered in flour. “Would you like some help?” Robert jumped and nearly dumped the skillet of hamburger meat all over the stove. “Shit… you scared me, Dad!” “Oops, sorry… I should have made more noise.” Adam placed the dirty wine glass in the main sink, turned the water off at the prep sink, and then tossed the wine bottle into the recycling. “Please, I could use some help. I never used gas before, and I think I burned stuff,” Robert said sheepishly. “Okay. Tell me what to do, and I’ll help. What were you trying to make?” “Biscuits and country gravy, but I didn’t find any sausage. So I was using the small packet of hamburger I found in the freezer. After I quick-thawed it in the microwave.” “Your grandma fixes it with hamburger too, and calls it ‘shit on a shingle’ when she uses toast instead of biscuits.” Robert told Adam how to finish the biscuits, while he salvaged the ground beef. As the biscuits baked in the oven, Adam cleaned the counters, did the dishes, and swept the floor while Robert finished the gravy. After the food was done, the two sat at the island bar and ate the meal. “This is good, Son. Where did you learn to make it?” “Home Economics back in school. It’s what I was taking this year as an elective. Plus, Mom and Granny had been teaching me.” Robert became sullen at the mention of his mother and grandmother. “I just never used gas before.” He looked down and away. “Sorry I made a mess.” “Don’t worry about it. Making a mess is half of the fun. Besides, we tagged-teamed it, and it’s almost all clean now. I mean it… this is perfect. You’re much better than me.” Adam gave him a smile and rubbed his back quickly. “If you want to keep learning, I know Duncan will teach you a few things. Don’t let him fool you, he’s an excellent chef, and has made some fantastic dinners for us and a few others. His soon-to-be-ex is out of her mind.” Robert smiled at the praise and glanced over at his dad. This was the second morning he’d seen his dad with just shorts on, but it was the first time he really looked at him. He was impressed with what he saw of his father. Unlike him, Adam didn’t have any tattoos. Damn, my dad is a gorgeous man. No wonder Mom wanted to be with him. “Thanks,” he said with a blush. “I’ll ask Duncan when he gets back.” The two men finished eating and cleaned the rest of the kitchen together. “I’m gonna hit the machines and do my Wednesday workout if you want to join.” Adam smiled and went to the exercise bike. He mounted it and fired up a program to work his legs and cardio. “Sure, Dad… just give me a moment to change, and I’ll hit the treadmill.” “Great. When you come back, can you bring a couple of towels, and that bottle of Pedialyte, please?” Robert nodded and went to change. He came back with the requested items, keeping one towel for himself, and hopped on the treadmill. “What’s the Pedialyte for Dad? Is it a good workout drink?” Adam chuckled. “Not sure about workouts, but it’s great for hangovers.” Adam paused to swallow some of the drink. “Had a call last night with my brother, your uncle, Tibot… and ended up going through a bottle of wine.” “Really? Why?” Adam paused in thought. “I’ll be honest with you Rob. He did something to me, years ago, that I haven’t forgiven him for, not yet anyway, and it’s caused me not to speak to him for fifteen years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tibot, but I still can’t be around him right now.” “It must have been nasty,” Robert said and went silent. If Dad can’t forgive his brother for something, then what does that mean for Mom and me? Does that mean I’ll never forgive her? Robert used the towel to wipe his face off, to hide the tears that had started. “It was… hurtful, and it got the Tampa Police and Florida Department of Law Enforcement involved in my life,” Adam paused and looked over to his son. Are his eyes red? “Tibot got addicted to heroin, cocaine, meth, and was in and out of rehab for years. It’s why I have zero-tolerance for drug use. After I graduated from college, I had him move in with me, up in Boston. He stole from me and then was arrested for a strong-arm robbery. The rest of our family was done with him before this, but I stayed with him… until this time. The jewelry he stole was my grandmother’s wedding ring, and some other stuff I got from her, and he pawned it for drugs. I never got it back." Adam paused, remembering the painful experience again. “I had stood by him for years, but now I was done. I refused to help him, so he told the District Attorney I raped him when he was fourteen. Since he was twenty at the time, and the statutes of limitations had not expired here in Florida, they opened a case against me. But I was working with Duncan and his family and stayed over there during that summer, so I had an alibi. Charges were dropped, and it was deleted from my records. After that, I only had contact with him via email. We’ve talked a couple of times, and saw each other on a holiday when I came home from Boston once, but never really talked. Well, until last night. We were on the phone for over an hour, and I drained a bottle of wine.” Robert was silent, listening to his father. He shook his head some and looked off. “Perhaps this is something you can discuss with the therapist… like why I’m starting to feel like Mom betrayed me… I love her, but I’m starting to hate her for keeping us apart.” There was no denying or hiding the tears now. They streaked Robert’s cheeks as he ran on the treadmill. “I… I really don’t know how to feel about that.” Adam was torn. He slowed down and stopped pedaling while watching his son for clues. He wanted to hold Robert, but at the same time he wanted to wait and see how it played out. “Don’t blame Michelle. She was doing what she felt was right. If I had to guess, she didn’t want her parents to know I was your father.” “It doesn’t excuse it…,” Robert said. He ran faster. It looked like he was trying to run away from his problems. “There’s more, Dad… you… you saw the bruises. I got them at the group home. Word got out I was gay, and two of the boys cornered me in the shower. They beat me with wet towels that had bars of soap in them…” Adam was stunned. Fury like he had never known boiled in him. He slid off the exercise bike and stepped over to his son. Adam pressed the stop button on the treadmill and extended a hand to Robert who took it. Adam pulled the two of them into a sweaty embrace, as he held his son close to his chest. “I’m sorry that happened to you. Did… did you report it?” “I did. I don’t think anything happened, as all they did was take an incident report. I didn’t speak with police or anything. But they moved me to a single temp home before I came here. I… I took a copy of the report. I had a bad feeling, and made a copy of it.” Adam didn’t want to let go. He held onto his son and tried to lend him his strength and love through the embrace. “We’ll get this sorted out. I’m glad you took a copy of the report.” He kissed the top of his son’s head. “I love you, Robert, and I’m going to make this right.” “Thanks, Dad.” Adam’s phone rang, and he excused himself to take the call. It turned out to be the family therapist confirming they had an opening for Friday morning. He accepted the appointment and went to the library. He sat down at the desk and started his laptop. With reminders set for the therapist appointments, he looked at the rest of his to-do list for the day. ~.~ “There was nothing about an assault in the file they sent us,” Sylvia said. “But if he got a copy of the incident form, then we can use that.” “What can we do about this? Is it too late? Am I going to have to file a lawsuit?” Adam asked. He’d called Sylvia, immediately after scheduling the appointment, to make arrangements for the Friday visit with her. “I’m really not sure. My advice is to call the Boston Police Department and file a report, and have your lawyer file a motion with the judge. I would start a negligence lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts.” Sylvia paused a moment. “I’ll see what we can do from here. But get me a copy of that incident report, and anything else Robert has copies of. … I’m sorry this happened, Adam. It’s sad, but it’s common that gay youth are targeted for assault in the system. Most often it’s sexual assault.” “Oh, my God… he didn’t say if he was or not… just physically beaten,” Adam let out a long sigh, and held his head in his left hand, while his right held his phone. “How do I ask if he was?” “Ask him directly, and go from there. Don’t put words in his mouth, or suggest that he was. If he wasn’t, thank God. If he was, it’s too late to do any sexual assault kit, but add it to the report.” “Thank you, Sylvia.” “Good luck.” ~.~ Adam knocked on Robert’s bedroom door about an hour later, after getting off the phone with his cousin, Carol Smith, the family court lawyer. “Hey Robert, are you decent?” “Um, give me a moment Dad,” Robert’s reply was nearly a squeak. “Alright, son.” Adam chuckled, shaking his head. Oh, to be a teenager again. “Alright, come in.” Adam opened the door and stepped inside. There was a little bit of steam coming out of the bathroom, and Robert had wet hair and a towel around his waist. “Hey… sorry. I didn’t think you were in the shower. I can come back after you’re dressed.” “Yeah, I finished running while you were on the phone. You don’t have to leave. What’s up?” “I was going to ask for the incident report, and any other paperwork you might have gotten. Sylvia needs it, and Carol, our cousin and the lawyer for our custody case, does too.” Robert nodded and went over to his backpack. Adam watched as his son moved across the room, and felt a pang of guilt and hurt. I missed so much with him. His first word, first step, first day at school… Fuck, I even lost the experience of being there for his first love. I’m here now, and I’m not going to leave him. “Here you go, Dad.” Robert handed him the file folder. “That’s the incident report and other things that were in the file. Emma, the admin assistant, copied the whole thing. Anything else?” “Yeah… one last thing Rob.” Adam held the file in his hand and sat down in the desk chair. “Have a seat.” “I’d rather stand. I don’t have underwear on…” His voice trailed off. “Ah… okay.” Adam cleared his throat. “I have one question, which Sylvia asked me. When you were beaten by those boys… did they sexually assault you?” “Oh, God no…” Robert sucked in air. He sat down, not caring about modesty now. “It wasn’t the only time either. They tried earlier that day, one did at least, and I kicked his ass. But that night, in the group shower, he and his friend cornered me… They weren’t supposed… to be in there, and I was already being transferred because of the earlier fight… One of the male social workers happened to check the showers… and they bolted out the side door. It’s… it’s all in the report.” He rubbed his face several times and hugged himself at the end. As Adam listened, he felt his fury from earlier return. He grumbled to himself, which solicited a look from Robert. “Sorry son. It just pisses me the fuck off that it happened to you. If your grandparents hadn’t interfered, you would have been here sooner.” “They… they interfered with the custody case?” Adam nodded, and let out a long calming breath. “Yeah, they did. It’s the reason we had to do a paternity test, and why the state of Massachusetts is now seeking sixteen years of back child support, and medical insurance payments.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…” “You have nothing to be sorry about, Rob.” Adam sighed again. “You didn’t harden their hearts. They did that to themselves.” The pair grew silent and looked down, each uncomfortable for his own reasons. Robert stood quickly, pulling his towel around, and tucking it more securely. Adam rose also. “Well, I think I will let you tend to things… and I’ll get this to Carol and Sylvia.” He held up the folder as he left the room and returned to the library. ~.~ The day passed with the two men busy running all over town. More calls to Sylvia, Carol, the Boston Police Department, and looking for a lawyer to handle the lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts. Copies of the file were delivered to the appropriate offices, and certified copies were sent to Boston PD. A late lunch and a return trip home rounded out their day together. Adam’s business partner called, and they discussed plans to meet up Thursday to talk about the project. ~.~ Adam and Robert sat on the family room couches and chilled after a hectic day. Robert lay stretched out on his couch, on his side, with his eyes closed. I hate today. So many things I didn’t want to talk about. He glanced up at his dad, who sat across from him flipping through the stations, looking for some program to watch. I don’t think I could have asked for a better father. He’s placed his life on hold for me, and we’ve only been together for three days now. I heard the worry in his voice when he talked about the properties earlier. I hope Dad can figure it out. Adam was preoccupied. Shit. Fourteen billion channels and I can’t find anything on. He glanced over at his son on the other couch. With his eyes closed, he seemed to be sleeping. He’s such a good kid. He’s handling this a thousand times better than I ever would. For his sake, I hope all of this gets done soon, so he can put it all behind himself and move on. He finally settled on NHL Network and watched the On the Fly updates. Who would have thought I would have a son that loved hockey as much as I do. Too bad it’s the Bruins. I guess I can add on the NHL Center Ice package for him so that he can watch their games. Okay, more stuff to make a note of. So, I’ve got to meet Jace tomorrow about the restaurant and brewery project. I don’t know what to do now. I could go silent partner on that, or pull out altogether… will need to talk to Jace about this tomorrow. If all else fails, I can find some other business to get into. I have a son now, and I… need to think about that tomorrow. Adam stretched out on his couch and looked over at Robert who snored a little. He has the right idea. It wasn’t long before both men were napping on the couches.
  32. 99 points
    KIERAN ~ TURNING LEFT Skipping his studies on the Friday of their flight to Singapore, Kieran’s whole body buzzed with a combination of excitement and trepidation. Cole had arranged for him to shower at his place after finishing packing away the last of his own personal things in the large case; wash bag, beach towel, swimming shorts, sunblock, a huge bottle of aftersun, and a couple of different factor suntan lotions. Except that, while packing, something unfamiliar inside caught his eye. “What the hell’s this?” he asked, holding up a small zipped up pouch. “A holiday gift. From me to you. Emergency kit, of sorts,” said Cole, leaning against the door jamb and grinning mischievously. Despite Cole’s earlier warning, Kieran’s gay-for-pay temp job had been an endless source of amusement, and he had become Kieran’s co-conspirator and confidante. On Cole’s advice, he had told Jules the absolute minimum about the short-term contract, told her he would be an assistant to a CEO, travelling abroad, nothing more. Even storing the huge new suitcase full of holiday items at Cole’s place had been his friend’s brainwave. Had he brought the colossal thing back to the apartment, there was no way Jules wouldn’t have been curious, would probably have sneaked a peek inside when he wasn’t around. Intrigued, Kieran unzipped Cole’s gift and pulled out two packs of condoms and a tube of lube. Tilting his head to one side he raised both eyebrows at Cole. “Seriously? I hope you kept the receipt. You’re more likely to use these than me,” said Kieran, zipping the bag closed. “In fact, why don’t you keep them?” “Do your uncle Cole a favour and take them. You never know, you might get lucky.” Once he had dried his curly locks and dressed in the new black track suit and trainers Kennedy had provided—something casual for the long haul flight—he collected his case and backpack from Cole’s bedroom. In his life, he had flown less than a handful of times and then only within Europe, but remembered how cramped the seats could be, especially with his long legs, his knees usually crushed against the seat in front. Apart from the track suit, the other clothes he and Kennedy had shopped for two weeks ago already sat packed inside the case. Far too many really, but Kennedy had insisted, telling him they would be away for twenty-eight nights and he didn’t want to rely on the cruise ship laundry service. Kieran had washed and ironed the items at Cole’s, and packed them away immediately despite Cole urging him to give a couple of the CK tees or Armani shirts a test run. The only item of clothing he had baulked at was the black dress suit ensemble which included wing tip shirt, bow tie, burgundy cummerbund, and shiny patent leather shoes. Still unsure about wearing anything so formal, he had tried none of those items on in the hope that he wouldn’t actually need to showcase them when the time came. But Kennedy had insisted on the last minute purchase. Every cruise offered a formal evening at the captain’s pleasure, he had told him, and no companion of his would look out of place. He had even thrown in the huge new designer suitcase on wheels to pack everything in. After getting a text message from Kennedy, he gave Cole a hug and peck on the cheek, before heading out to the road. On the pavement outside the tenement block opposite Wandsworth Common, he stood waiting, more than a little anxious, wondering if he had done the right thing. But the Saturday they had spent together had been surprisingly pleasant. At one point, laden down with shopping bags, Kennedy had asked him if he was enjoying his Pretty Woman experience. When Kieran looked blank, Kennedy rolled his eyes and told him he really needed to brush up on gay trivia if he hoped to survive a gay cruise. That had prompted a diversion, a trip to the movie section of one of the few surviving HMV stores, and the purchase of a dozen or so DVDs which Kennedy had called compulsory viewing. Kieran half suspected that Kennedy road tested the day to see if they would be able to get along, whether they could spend time together without getting on each other’s nerves. He had booked their medical tests at a private clinic on Carnaby Street first thing so they could shop nonstop throughout the day, have lunch in a humble Italian restaurant at the back of Piccadilly, before finishing off shopping and heading back for their test results. Both had a clean bill of health, and Kennedy had dropped him off by taxi on his own way home later that afternoon. Since then they had barely been in contact and then only by text message. Ten minutes later than their agreed meeting time, he began to get concerned, wondering if he had misunderstood any of the instructions. Until Kennedy sent him a message saying he was on his way. Twenty minutes later, distracted by messages on his phone, he barely noticed as a black Bentley pulled up at the kerb, and a driver, complete with black uniform and chauffeur’s cap, stepped out. “Mr West? Let me take your bags for you, sir,” said the tall man, opening the back door and gesturing inside. “Mr Grey’s waiting for you.” Unsure how to respond, and looking around quickly to see if anyone had seen the spectacle, Kieran slipped into the back seat. Kennedy sat there in his business suit, phone clamped to his ear. Almost dismissively, he turned and nodded to Kieran while continuing to talk to someone. As they drove off, Kieran listened in on some of the conversation. “—if you could be in Okinawa on the twenty-first? We dock there overnight in Naha. Perfect. Let me know where? I’d suggest one of those small bars tucked away down the back streets. Anonymous and quiet enough to chat. Bring along whatever you have ready. Also, find out everything you can about Giorgio Milletto of Cold Steel Security, doesn’t matter how personal or insignificant. Send everything to my private account, yes? And what’s that talented techie guy’s name who works for you? Hiro, yes. Bring him with you to Okinawa. Take business class, if you have to, and bill me privately. Okay Tim. See you soon.” Once he had ended the call and slipped the device away, he turned to Kieran. “We’re running late. Been trying to clear up a few issues before the flight.” “Is this an Uber?” “Hardly,” snorted Kennedy. Without clarifying more, Kennedy pressed a button on the centre console and a disconnected voice sounded. “Yes, Mr Grey?” “Just a guesstimate will do, but how long to Heathrow?” “I’m checking the traffic cams and route master. Rough estimate, an hour and ten.” “Thanks.” Without another word, Kennedy thumbed through his phone and dialled a number. “Gina? Hello, this is Kennedy Grey from Grey—yes, the same. Look, I wonder if you might be able to help. We’re on our way to the airport, flying to Singapore tonight at 8:50pm, but we’re running late and the traffic is—well you know what Friday night traffic is like. According to the driver, we’ll probably be at the terminal around eight fifteen. Anyway, I wondered if there was anything you could do to help get us through? Sorry, say that again. Yes, we both have luggage, but I’ve already checked us in online. It’s really just bag drop and security. Two persons. Yes, of course. I see. Excellent. That would be perfect, thank you so much for your help.” Once again, Kennedy pressed the comms button on the console. “Ben, when you reach terminal two, look out for someone who’ll be waiting with an airport buggy.” “Roger that, Mr Grey.” Smooth. Efficient. Polite. No fuss. Not afraid to call in a favour. Kennedy Grey, the man. Kieran smirked out of the tinted window, wondering if this man could even request the plane to be delayed. They arrived at Heathrow airport late, with thirty minutes to spare. Outside the departure terminal, the driver—Ben—found the small enclosed airport buggy and loaded their bags. After a few private words, Ben the chauffeur headed off. When the buggy driver began to take them into the underbelly of the terminal, Kieran realised the route must be there for dignitaries or celebrities. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Kennedy Grey could pull strings. Apart from both of them being scanned at an internal security post, they did not step off the buggy until the boarding gate. By the time they reached the impossibly large plane—via a stairway to the upper deck—all other passengers had already boarded. Once again, Kennedy led the way and Kieran hurried to keep up. He marvelled at the sheer size of the plane’s body, had only ever flown small jet planes around Europe. As they stood at the cabin door, Kieran once again witnessed the Grey charm, as he smiled professionally and chatted with the cabin attendant. When she personally accompanied them to their seats, turning left towards the front of the plane, Kieran did his best not to gasp when they stopped at two huge luxurious seats. “Business class?” he asked, as Kennedy settled into the seat next to his. “Naturally. What? You think I’d ever turn right on a plane?” “Not for you, no, but I thought maybe—” “You thought I’d stick you in the back? No, not my style. And we’ve got background work to do before we reach Singapore. Get you up to speed not only about my family, but also about my friends.” Kieran had just placed his bag in the overhead compartment and taken the huge comfortable chair, when a male voice sounded from the aisle beside him. “Something to drink, Mr West, Mr Grey? Champagne?” With a friendly smile, the handsome cabin attendant indicated the tray of drinks he held. Kieran turned concerned to Kennedy, and shook his head slightly. In turn, Kennedy raised a critical eyebrow at Kieran before plastering on his executive smile and addressing the cabin crew member. “We’ll take two champagnes, please. One each.” After placing them carefully down in front of each of them, the man picked something else up from his tray. “And here are your landing cards and menus,” he said, placing them next to the drinks, before straightening up. “My name’s Eric, by the way, and if there’s anything you need throughout the flight, just call me.” When Kieran peered up, he noticed Eric had singled Kennedy out with his dazzling smile. Kennedy simply nodded professionally in return. Mildly embarrassed, Kieran remained quiet, pretending to study the menu. “I’m not sure what type of airlines you’re used to,” said Kennedy, leaning a fraction across the divider, his voice lowered. “But on this one, food and drink are included in the ticket price. And up here, the food’s generally well above average. So relax and enjoy yourself, and more importantly, order anything you want. After we’ve finished our work, you might want to check out the entertainment system. Or if you’re feeling tired, you could ask them to help make up your bed.” “Bed?” “Your chair doubles as a flat bed. The controls are on the armrest.” Kieran’s cheek reddened. Less than five minutes on the plane and already he felt out of his depth. “Don’t worry, Kieran,” said Kennedy, his head in the menu. “There’s a first time for everything.”
  33. 99 points
    KENNEDY ~ HOBSON’S CHOICE Nothing seemed to be going right that day. In Kennedy’s absence, COO Sloan Williamson had rescheduled an important meeting without consulting him, one that now sat slap bang in the middle of his planned vacation. On the other hand, Sloan had been the one to orchestrate the whole merger with Cold Steel Security, something that made total sense on paper. Cold Steel remained one of the top five brand leaders in home security in the States and Canada, and had begun to branch out into the UK. “Who asked for the change?” “Giorgio Milletto,” said Erin, his marketing director. So the CEO of CSS himself had requested the change. Interesting that he hadn’t contacted Kennedy directly. But if the merger went ahead—more of an acquisition for Grey Havens really—his company would consolidate their position as number one global security provider, even though CSS’s main focus was home security and only recently had they stepped into the corporate arena. “I see.” “We can’t ask them to reschedule again.” “I know that, Erin. And we’re not going to.” “Are you going to cancel your vacation?” Many of his top managers continued to voice their concerns about him being away from the business for a whole month, even though he’d done so for the past seven or eight years. Being essentially a family business, Kennedy worked early mornings and late nights, seven days a week, including public holidays. Sleeping three or four hours a day, he was essentially on-call twenty-four-seven. If he could not leave the company safely in the hands of his professional, well-paid, highly-skilled and respected managers for a month, what the hell was the point in having them? In truth, he knew he’d created the problem himself, because of his tendency to micro-manage, adopting an outdated paternalistic style of management. Of course they would always be nervous without him around, but then wasn’t that how people grew? And if push came to shove, he was always at the end of a phone or an online conferencing system. “No.” “So will you dial in? From wherever you are? Surely they’ll have wifi?” Of all his staff, Erin probably clung to him the worst. “You know that’s not an option. With something this important, I like to watch all of the faces of the people on the other side of the table, see the whites of their eyes, especially those who are not speaking. So important when we’re negotiating.” “Skype?” “Not the same.” “Then what, boss?” As though prompted, Sloan Williamson chose that moment to stride into the room. Kennedy had chosen him well. Charismatic in a movie star kind of way, he oozed confidence and sex appeal and had the staff at Grey Havens eating out of his hands. Singularly straight, at only forty-one, he was already on his third wife. Sometimes his good looks fooled those he did business with, fooled them into believing that he had no business acumen. Not a mistake they ever made twice. If you scrutinised his history, really scrutinised—and Kennedy had—you would discover a trail of broken businessmen along the way who had made the mistake of underestimating him. Publicly, they presented a united front. Privately, Kennedy had a suspicion that Sloan wanted his job. “Ah, Mr Chief Operating Officer. Your ears must be burning.” Without missing a beat, the man propped his backside on the end of Kennedy’s desk and undid a button on his Armani suit jacket. Even though Kennedy could not deny the man’s attraction, his brand of slick handsomeness did absolutely nothing for him. Erin had a different reaction, rose from her chair and smiled, her cheeks flushed, and gazed in awe as she clutched her folder against her bosom. “My ears burn all the time. What have I done this time?” “This meeting with CSS.” “Ah yeah, sorry about that,” said Sloan, pushing a lock of blond hair back over one ear. “Milletto asked for the change.” “So Erin said. Reason?” “Didn’t say.” Sloan’s stare didn’t waver as he responded to Kennedy. “Do I need to change my plans?” “Up to you,” said Sloan, with a shrug. “Or can I rely on you to deliver the goods?” “You already know the answer to that. Merger’s already in the bag. It’s just the minutiae that needs hammering out, something me, Karl and Erin here can deal with.” “Good, that’s what I want to hear. And you know if you need me urgently, I’ll have my phone on day and night.” Both of his staff members remained unmoving in his office. “Anything else?” he asked, spreading his hands out palms upwards. “Otherwise this is the part where you both get back to work.” “No boss,” said Erin, and, gathering up her things, she headed for the door. Sloan remained, clearly needing something more, but waited until the door closed. “Why do you rate Karl?” asked Sloan. Kennedy had personally headhunted Karl McDonagh, his head of legal, because the man could smell a bad deal a mile away. A wealth of experience in both finance and law, he was also loyal to a fault. Of all Kennedy’s senior staff, only Karl stood up to Sloan. Kennedy enjoyed watching the pair of them try to outplay each other, but where Sloan used his charisma and opportunism to climb the ladder, Karl relied on watertight facts and figures. Even though they hated each other, they made for a damned good management team. “You know why. He’s solid and dependable. He’s our goalkeeper.” “He’s a pen pusher. Without an original idea in his brain.” “That’s not what I employ him for, that’s why I employ you. He’s there to keep the company on track.” “By holding us back.” “By ensuring we don’t make rash decisions.” “I don’t need him there at the CSS meeting. Erin and I can deal with Milletto.” “Sorry, Sloan. Either Karl’s there, or the meeting doesn’t go ahead. Are we clear?” Sloan’s poker face remained unchanged. He nodded once and left the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, Kennedy buzzed his secretary and told her to hold his calls and appointments for the next hour. Even though he had no idea what, he knew instinctively that Sloan had a personal plan of action in mind, but as with all things in business, Kennedy had to be patient until the man showed his hand. On his laptop, he opened his personal email and scrolled down to a message he had received earlier in the day, from red-headed Ven telling him he needed to pull out of the vacation companion role for ‘personal reasons.’ Not a huge loss, because Kennedy had decided to go with Francis. Checking the contacts in his mobile phone, Kennedy scrolled down and thumbed the number. After several rings, Francis answered—on a high street somewhere by the sound of traffic noises in the background. Never one to mince words, Kennedy gave the good news in simple words and waited for Francis to speak. “Can’t go.” “What do you mean, you can’t go?” “I can’t go, can I?” came the affronted voice. “Why not?” “Ollie won’t let me.” “Ollie? Who the hell’s Ollie?” “He’s my boyfriend, isn’t he? Changed his mind. Won’t let me go on me own.” Kennedy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why on earth did you apply for this position as companion if you already had a partner?” “We both thought of it as a part-time job. Saw no harm in trying. But Ollie changed his mind. Gets a bit jealous. He’s like that sometimes. Unless you’d consider paying for both of us to come?” “Goodbye, Francis.” Kennedy scratched the back of his head and looked down at his ‘possible’ list. Two of them would drive him crazy before they even joined the cruise. For some reason, his eye kept getting drawn back to the straight guy, Kieran. Things would be different with him. There would be no pretence at anything sexual between them. What the hell, he thought, at least this one didn’t have a whole list of demands and, more importantly, needed the job. Before he second guessed himself, he picked up the phone and called the number. “I want to offer you the job, but clearly with certain conditions. You’ll still need to play the part of companion but I wouldn’t expect anything else from you.” “Sex, you mean?” “No, I mean any public displays of affection. Sex was never a part of the deal. So are you interested?” Silence breathed from the other end of the phone. Irritation started to rise in Kennedy again, but just as he started to speak, Kieran cut in. “Look, Mr Grey, I truly am interested. I was just—I was going through your clothing requirements and, well, I don’t have half of the items listed there. And rather than waste your time, I was going to call to say I’m afraid that financially I’m not exactly in a position—” Kennedy had already begun to chuckle, which brought Kieran to a halt. “What?” “Don’t you have a module on law in your management programme?” “Yes, of course.” “Then maybe you should read the fine print. The first two lines on the beginning of page six.” Down the line, Kennedy could hear a mouse clicking a couple of times and then silence. “You’ll provide the clothes for me?” came the confused voice. “Why would you do that?” “Think of these items as your uniforms. I can hardly expect an employee to pay for clothes which, let’s face it, might not be to his taste, and some he’s unlikely to wear again. That would hardly be fair. Which is why, if you look further down, you’ll see that I need your key measurements, to make sure we get you the right sizes. Or if you’d prefer, we can go shopping together on a day you have free. Maybe the same day you get your health check done.” “Our health checks,” said Kieran, firmly. “If I’m suffering the indignity of getting tested, then so are you.” Kennedy inhaled a breath. This companion would be a challenge, but what choice did he have? “Our checks, then. And once the holiday is over, you get to keep whatever clothes you want or give them away. You decide. So I guess the only question that remains is; are you in or not?” “Yes. Yes, I’m in. Thank you very much for the opportunity, Mr Grey.” “Oh, and Kieran. That’s the last time you call me Mr Grey. It’s Kennedy from now on. Are we clear?” Kieran chuckled down the phone. “Crystal clear. Although, can’t I call you Ned? I had a hamster called Ned when I was a kid. Loved him to bits.” Kennedy found himself enjoying the banter and struck back immediately. “If you’re going to reduce Kennedy to Ned, then I’m sure you won’t mind if I refer to Kieran as Key. Can’t wait to see my friends’ faces when I introduce them to Key West.” The burst of laughter coming down the phone was unexpected, and Kennedy felt a smile tug at his face. “I think that’s your way of telling me no, so let’s keep to our original names.” “Smart boy.” “And that, Kennedy Grey, is the last time you get to call me a boy. Deal?” The comment caught Kennedy off guard and he laughed aloud. “Touché.” At the close, they agreed to meet on a Saturday for tests and shopping, before signing off. When Kennedy put down the phone he grinned happily for the first time that day.
  34. 99 points
    Exes and Ohs Chapter 1 It'll Be Fun “Damn it! Thanks a lot, you jerk!” Drake tossed his phone on the desk, wincing at the thud as it hit the hard surface. He really had to stop doing that. “You okay?” Jimmy’s voice, from the next cubicle in line, caused him to lift his head off his hands. He pasted on a smile, but it faded under the scrutiny of the man staring at him over the padded, fabric-covered divider. “No, not by a longshot.” The silent perusal continued with one raised eyebrow. “It was Dean, okay? He just texted me and canceled for the weekend. Didn’t even give a reason why.” “Am I missing something?” Jimmy’s frown showed confusion, and something suspiciously like annoyance. “I thought you guys were done, like, months ago?” “We were… we are. We definitely are, but he agreed to still go home with me for my cousin’s wedding, and now he’s reneged. I should have fucking known,” Drake said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Don’t worry, Sandra left for lunch while you were on the phone doing that last authorization… no one in here but us. So, just go by yourself. It’s family, right, so what’s the big deal?” “Yeah, my family, which means it’s not that simple.” “Okay, but why would you want to go with Dean anyway? It’s not like you guys ended up buddies or anything.” “True, but we’ve been talking, and decided to give the friendship thing a try. At least we were, but now I’m not so sure. This really pisses me off. The very day we’re supposed to leave for Ottawa.” “Still don’t get it.” “Why? You and I are friends.” “No, I don’t mean trying to be buds with the guy.” “Get what, then? “Why it matters. Who cares whether you show up alone or with someone? I never pegged you to be someone who cares about appearances.” Drake groaned. “Normally I don’t, but….” He reclaimed his phone and searched for a particular series of texts from his sister. Finding them, he held the screen up. Jimmy took the phone and started reading. “Preston’s your older brother, right?” “Yes. And Callie’s—” “Your awesome kid sister… I know. What an asshole. Where does he get off saying something like that about gays? You’re the farthest thing from slutty. He said that to your sister? Fuck!” “Yeah, well, precious Preston thinks all fags are promiscuous sex fiends, and that we don’t have legitimate relationships. He is the master of snide remarks, and when he finds out Dean and I broke up, he’s going to have a field day.” “Still don’t get it. Oh, wait. Were you guys going to pretend you were still together?” His disapproving tone made Drake falter. “Ah, well… yeah, something like that.” “Wow. You’d do that just because your brother’s a homophobic ass hat?” “Hey, don’t judge me. He’s the one who bet Callie fifty bucks I wouldn’t be with Dean by the time the wedding happened.” “So… he knows Dean?” Jimmy smiled tightly, with his lips closed, deepening his dimples. “Not funny. And no, he doesn’t, but he knew of him, because my mouthy sister told him she thought he was the one.” Jimmy made a snorting sound. “Seriously? Him? Why would she think that? Obviously she didn’t meet the guy.” “No, she didn’t, smartass. Don’t you have some work to do?” “Nope. I have a friend in need.” His grin irked Drake, but he couldn’t help returning it. “Can’t help getting your shots in, can you?” “What can I say? The guy’s all about himself and he just proved it again.” Drake faltered. “Yeah, I guess. He has his reasons, I suppose.” “Sure he does. Probably had his head turned by some pretty little thing last night. Your brother isn’t so wrong about guys like him.” “Jimmy, come on. That’s not fair. Dean isn’t that bad, and I was the one who kept him at arm’s length and wouldn’t commit, so I can’t blame him… not really. I never should have asked him to do this in the first place, though.” “Here we go again. He shouldn’t have agreed to go in the first place if he was just going to turn around and cancel. It’s called following through, like a good friend does. I say you’re better off anyway. Just ignore your brother.” “You don’t understand.” “I don’t, eh? Seems pretty clear to me.” Drake studied the kind, concerned face. It belonged to someone who, in other circumstances…. “My ex—my first ex—will be there… with his wife… his pregnant wife.” “Oh.” “Yeah, oh. I know I shouldn’t care, not about what Preston thinks, or what Richard thinks. You’re right. I’ll just suck it up and face the music.” “You could always cancel.” “No, I can’t. I won’t do that to my cousin. I want to see her get married, and it wouldn’t be right not to be there for her. My family’s fucked up, but Rachel and Callie are the two people I can always count on.” “What about your mom and dad? I thought you told me they were fine with you being gay.” “Fine? Yes. Supportive? Not so much. Ever since their divorce, they’re too busy playing stupid games with each other to worry about the rest of us. That’s why Callie and I are so close.” “Then you should go.” “I am. I need to grab something to eat.” Drake wanted to be done with this conversation. “So, none of your family has met Dean?” “Ah, no. You know I don’t go home very often. If it wasn’t for this wedding, I wouldn’t make the trip until Thanksgiving, or maybe even Christmas. Did you bring your lunch or—” “No, I’ll head down with you. I didn’t mean to make light of what you have to deal with, Drake. Sorry about that. I get it now.” “No worries. You were right. I need to stop avoiding all the garbage my family creates. ‘In and out’ has been my approach since college. And Richard… well… it had to happen sooner or later that we’d come face to face.” “Nah, I was wrong. I needed to think about it. I remember what it was like to feel outnumbered in my own family. It’s good now—great even—but it wasn’t the easiest road at first. Your ex… that’s the guy you were talking about when you freaked out at me… back then?” “That’s the one, yeah.” He tried not to think about how he’d reacted, but ‘freak out’ was a good way to describe it. Even he hadn’t realized he was still that raw over something he’d thought dealt with. “Anyway, I can handle Preston’s abuse. I only put myself through it once or twice a year, and Richard was a long time ago, so I should be able to handle that too. Are you ready?” “Yeah, hold on a second, though. I want to propose something.” Drake scooped up his wallet and phone, and then donned his suit jacket before giving Jimmy his full attention. “Propose what?” “I could go with you.” “To the wedding?” “Yeah. Be Dean.” “You want to pretend to be Dean?” Drake grimaced and shook his head, emphasizing his incredulity. “Well, no, not that Dean. I’d be me.” “Okay, now I don’t get it. You want to go with me as Jimmy? You just said you’d be Dean. The whole point was I didn’t want to let Preston know he’d been right, that Dean and I had broken up. Now you’re suggesting I show up with a new guy?” “Yeah… I mean no. Look, we used to date before Dean—” “For three and a half weeks. I don’t see what that has to do with—” “Let me finish, would you? I would go as Dean, because I am Dean. That’s my middle name.” “Seriously? You told me you didn’t have a middle name.” “No, I said it was ‘just Jimmy’ when you asked. It’s what I tell everyone, because it’s easier than putting up with the James Dean jokes. I swear, the guy’s been dead for sixty years yet every gay guy knows who he was.” “That’s because he’s an icon, like Marilyn or Rock.” “No kidding, and who in their right mind would name their kid Marilyn Monroe or Rock Hudson? My mom still watches his movies and fangirls. It’s gross, and she’s always telling people how she named me after him. I would have told you eventually if things had turned out differently. Anyway, so what do you think?” But they didn’t turn out differently. “So, you’re suggesting we lie to everyone.” “You’d have been lying to everyone anyway.” “Not about who Dean was.” “True, but I am Dean, and I dated you before him. I did go by Dean for a while in high school because I thought it sounded more grown up, but my friends kept calling me Jimmy, so I gave up. James wouldn’t stick either. Does any of your family know his last name?” “No.” “Well, there you go. You’d be introducing me as Dean Calloway, which is the truth. We’d just be skipping the part about you and me breaking up, and there’s been no one in between me and that other Dean, right?” “No.” “Can’t believe I got replaced by that douche.” “Jimmy—” “I know, I know. I’ll stop.” “And you weren’t replaced.” “Whatever.” Jimmy flashed that lopsided smile that’d intrigued Drake in the first place. “Anyway, if we did this, you wouldn’t be alone when you see the Richard guy, and nobody wants to be single when they see their married ex for the first time. Convinced?” Drake hesitated, studying Jimmy’s earnest face. “I don’t understand why you’d even want to do this.” “Because we’re friends.” “And nothing more? You’ve made it pretty clear you’d like to give us another chance, and that’s not—” “Hey, you’ve made it clear that ship has sailed, and I’ve accepted it. Look, I have zero plans for the weekend, outside of doing laundry, and I’m giving you an option. None of your family has met Dean, and to be honest, what Preston texted to your sister pisses me off too. We don’t all flit from guy to guy, and we’re not all sluts. So what do you say?” “I don’t know, man. I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I don’t want there to be any mixed messages between us. We’re at a good place now, and we have to work together.” “Up to you, but I’m telling you there won’t be… promise.” “Fair enough. Let me think about it over some food, okay, Jimmy?” “Dean.” “What?” “The name’s Dean.” His grinned amusement was infectious. “Yeah, right,” Drake said with a grin of his own. The idea was growing on him, and the truth was he much rather spend time with this Dean than the other one. There never would have been the other Dean in the first place if Jimmy hadn’t pulled the rug out from under him, but enough time had passed that he… they… should be able to handle this. Shouldn’t they? “I just realized something,” Jimmy said around a mouthful of his BLT. Drake gave him a questioning look, but continued chewing his own Turkey and Havarti Melt sandwich. “My suits. They’re all at the cleaners except for the green one. Is green suitable for a wedding?” Drake swallowed and took a sip of his diet Coke. Then he groaned at the pun. “That was cringe-worthy.” “Hey, it was clever and you know it.” “If you say so”—he rolled his eyes—“but yeah, of course. You mean that grayish-green one you only wear about once a month?” Jimmy nodded. “That’s the one. Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure. That suit looks great on you… brings out your eyes.” “Oh yeah?” Drake could feel himself blushing slightly, so didn’t answer, returning his attention to eating. He could feel the other man’s gaze on him. “You said that about the sweater I wore on our first date.” “Did I? I don’t remember.” But he did remember. Surprisingly, he’d been a nervous wreck that evening, until Jimmy worked his magic and put him at ease. It was like something suddenly clicked in place, and he’d seen the evidence of it in those sparkling green eyes at the time. It had been a wonderful first date. Unfortunately, three weeks and three dates later, the promise of a possible future for them was gone, just when he’d been ready to plunge all the way in for the first time since Richard. “What are you thinking?” “Oh… nothing. Just about whether it’s a good idea.” “Don’t sweat it, Drake. If you don’t think it is, then we won’t do it. No big deal.” He’d been staring past Jimmy as he spoke, focusing on the people walking past the front windows of the main floor bistro. He recognized a lot of them as fellow workers in the building. What was the big deal, exactly? He really didn’t want to show up solo, and Jimmy was only being supportive. What was he afraid of? He allowed his attention to return to the man now working on consuming his fries. “Let’s do it.” “Yeah? You sure?” Drake took in the sudden beaming smile. “I am. Going alone this weekend was the last thing I wanted to do, so yeah. You’re a good friend.” “I am, aren’t I? Dean the douche could learn from me.” “Would you stop picking on the guy?” “No can do,” he said with a smirk. “Hey, don’t worry. It’ll be fun.” Was he worried? He supposed he was—a lot could go wrong whenever he dealt with his family. “Yeah, it’ll be fun,” he agreed, doing his best to look convincing. “Man, you got here fast. That’s it. I think I’ve got everything. I didn’t have much time to pack, so I—” Jimmy’s voice cut off as he closed the hatch on Drake’s SUV. It resumed as he opened the passenger door. “Nice and cool in here. Woo hoo! Road trip!” Drake laughed. “It’s only a four hour drive to Ottawa… be there about nine if traffic isn’t too bad.” “Yeah, well, it’ll be the longest trip I’ve taken in years.” “Really? Aren’t you forgetting the one to Vancouver?” It had just slipped out, and Drake silently cursed himself for mentioning it. Two stop lights later, Drake maneuvered his way into the heavy eastbound traffic of the 401 highway. Not a word had been said, and Drake was feeling uncomfortable. The sound of Jimmy clearing his throat broke the silence. “I was talking about road trips.” “Yeah, sorry. I don’t know why I brought that up.” Again, silence, but much shorter this time. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I made a promise, and that’s the only reason I went.” “It’s fine. It’s in the past and there was no commitment between us anyway, so let’s not go there again.” “I wanted one, though. You’re the one who—” “Jimmy, come on. You said this wouldn’t happen.” “Right, I did. Talking about us is off the table. Got it,” Jimmy said in an exasperated tone, his head facing the passenger window. Drake needed to keep his focus on edging along with the traffic, but he couldn’t help thinking this had been a colossal mistake. Why did he ever think being in a car for four hours together was even remotely a good idea, never mind a whole damn weekend? It was minutes later, after traffic started to move at a decent pace, that Jimmy finally spoke. “So, what’s the plan?” “The plan? Well, we’re staying at Mom’s house, even though Dad’s would mean less chance for drama”—he turned his head and grinned tentatively—“because Mother would have a fit if we chose his house over hers.” “Don’t you just love family?” Jimmy asked sarcastically. “Makes me never want to go home, and they act all hurt that I don’t. It’s all bullshit. My sister’s the only one who misses me. We’re like four islands when I’m there… there’s my mom, my dad, Preston and his wife Cathy, and me and Callie. It’s depressing as hell.” “Sounds it. Why do you think that is?” “That’s the million dollar question?” “Any ideas?” “The only thing I know for sure is, as a family, we’re broken. Jimmy? Are you sure you want to talk about this family crap?” “You better get in the habit of calling me Dean, and yes, I do. I want to help you get through this weekend, and it’ll help to know what the deal is.” “Good point, Dean. Ugh, I’m going to slip up at some point.” “No worries. I won’t let you.” The sincerity coming from the man had its effect, and he smiled… a real one. He was glad the tension of a few minutes ago had left. “Well, the deal is, I don’t talk much with anyone but Callie. With my mother, I usually listen politely, and seldom disagree, and Dad never has much to say other than playing host, even at my mom’s. Preston is the challenge. He loves to goad me, and he’ll say anything—and I do mean anything—to get under my skin.” “Oh really? Why?” “Because he can, plain and simple. He was never very nice to me… a lot of big brother garbage, but it got way worse after I came out. There was a time when my parents would have shot him down, but that was a long, long time ago. They’re too wrapped up in themselves now, so the gay brother continues to be his favorite target.” “I don’t get that. My parents have never stopped being parents.” “Well, mine didn’t change overnight, but it was close. My dad’s affair started the whole thing. And then Mom had hers, and it’s been a mess ever since. I thought the divorce would change things, but no such luck. It was hardest on Callie and me. Preston never seemed to be affected as much. He plays them one against the other all the time, and for some reason, they kiss his ass. I guess it pays to be the oldest.” “Preston is going to be a challenge for me too, isn’t he?” “Oh, yeah. You’re probably going to want to punch him in the face at some point, but you can’t. He would hold that over me forever. It would be a satisfying thing to see, though,” he said with a grin. “He’s such a pompous ass.” Jimmy chuckled, but soon became serious again. “So why don’t your mom and dad go their separate ways? Like, have nothing to do with one another. That’s usually what divorced people do.” “Another great question. The only thing I come up with is that as much as they hate each other, I think they might still love each other too, in a really twisted way.” “Jeez, that’s all kinds of sad. Why do you think that?” “Because of the fact they’re still so involved in each other’s lives, and neither one has a partner. My dad had a girlfriend for a while, which drove my mother crazy, according to Callie…but for the most part, they’ve stayed single. It’s fucked up—you’d almost think they were still a couple at family gatherings—you’ll see. I used to get really confused, but anyway, it is what it is.” “You’re making me feel my family isn’t so bad after all. Is it depressing every time you visit?” “Not going to lie. I can get pretty agitated, by Preston especially, but Callie and I usually escape somewhere and talk each other down. I don’t know how much she’ll be around this weekend, though, because she’s Rachel’s maid of honor. I expect that means she’ll be busy.” “Well, it’s a good thing you have me then. I won’t let you jump off any bridges.” Drake laughed outright. The feeling this had been a mistake was losing ground. Jimmy really was a great friend, and his heart was a good one. “Thanks.” “You’re welcome.” “So that green suit looks good on me, eh?” “I already told you what I thought.” “I know, but I wanted to hear you say it again.” Drake rolled his eyes at the lopsided grin. “Yes, Dean, it does.” He wasn’t lying. The guy looked hot as hell in that perfectly tailored suit, but, then again, the guy looked hot as hell in anything. *
  35. 99 points
    I sat there hoping, no, praying, Troy was going to come. I was after all a Christian as the cross on the chain round my neck implied. While I didn’t think God could actually help me now, maybe he could ensure nothing happened to Troy on his way here. He’d said he would come and to be fair he’d never let me down, but he was late and so I worried. In all honesty if he didn’t come I thought I might kill myself. As far as I was concerned he was the only person who made life worth living. We’d sort of paired up during the previous semester at school. We weren’t in the same homeroom but shared several classes, one of which was World Geography. Our teacher, Mr Edgar, set us a project about seismology and when he did so decided that he was going to make us work in pairs. ‘Collaboration is good for you; Plagiarism is not’ he said. For all sorts of reasons I was a bit of a loner at school – not at all the popular kid whereas Troy had a big circle of friends. At least that was how it seemed to me when I sat on my own eating lunch nearly every day while he was at a noisy table with several other boys and girls. So when after Mr Edgar had made his announcement Troy picked up his chair, walked round the classroom, put it down next to mine and said, “You wanna work with me on this Adam?” I nearly fell off my own chair in shock. He’d never really spoken more than a couple of words to me previously. He was more or less the typical jock. He was tall for a fifteen year old– just under six feet, slim but with a good muscular body that came from all the swimming and athletics he did – he was on both school teams. His clothes were always fashionable and usually bore the logo of one of the major brands whereas if mine had a logo it was of a brand nobody knew. My parents couldn't afford to buy expensive clothes for me, but at least they were in reasonable condition and always clean. He had blond hair that he kept cut fairly short, blue eyes and a spot free skin with a great tan all year round. I was about the same height as him, but I was thin without any decent muscles as I didn’t do any sport unless I had to – for me gym class was an endurance trial which I hated every time as I had no real coordination. At least I didn’t wear glasses so my green eyes could be seen when they emerged from the shock of black hair that normally fell down over my forehead and partially covered them. “Why me, Troy?” I sort of stuttered back to him when my brain had recovered. “’Cos I need a good partner for this as Edgar told me I’ve gotta get good marks on this project if I want a good grade at the end of the semester. You’re the one to make sure I get it – class brain!” He laughed as he said the last two words, but I knew he was right. Hard as I tried to conceal my brightness in class it slipped out on occasions. I’d learned long ago not to raise my hand when a teacher asked a general question to a class, but I couldn’t help it if I always gave the right one if the question was asked directly to me. At least I didn’t get bullied over it. I guess being tall helped and perhaps had I been shorter things might have been different. “Well, I’m not going to do all the work Troy. You heard what he said – collaboration not plagiarism.” “Yeah, I heard and maybe if I knew what it meant I’d not do it.” As he said that a big grin spread across his face showing his dimples to the full while his eyes sparkled. I decided to take a chance, “So that’s something else I’ve gotta teach you is it?” Now he laughed and fist bumped me on the arm. “I’m gonna like you, Adam. Come and join my table at lunch – please?” So I did and he introduced me to his friends, both boys and girls. Nearly all of them were the sporty types or cheerleaders and at first I felt very much like an interloper, but they all seemed prepared to accept me and within a couple of weeks I felt I belonged. But I very much suspected that if and when Troy no longer needed me, they would also go back to ignoring me. As lunch came to an end Troy suggested that I come home with him after school so we could have an initial discussion about our project. Nobody had ever asked me to go home with them before, so I was hesitant about doing so. When I asked where he lived and found out that it was in one of the richer areas of town I started to get worried. My Pa worked in a factory and we lived in a small house in the poorer end of town. If I went to his house then I’d have to invite him to mine and then what? He’d be certain to make an unfavorable comparison. I decided this wasn’t going to work. “I can’t tonight. Mom’s expecting me home.” “Call her and tell her you’ve been invited to mine – you can stay for dinner too if you like.” Oh lord, this was getting worse. If I had dinner with him and his folks then I’d have to offer the same for him and my mom wasn’t much of a cook. In fact I did a lot of our cooking myself. But there was an even bigger problem necessitating a big admission. “I can’t call her – I don’t have a phone.” Troy laughed. “No problem – use mine” he said fishing it out of his backpack and handing it to me after switching it on. We were allowed to have cells at school but they had to be switched off during classes or they’d be confiscated, although that wasn’t a worry for me! I went to take it from him when another problem occurred to me. ”How do you get to school, on the bus?” “No – I’ve got my own chauffeur,” Troy replied, laughing, “Mom picks up and delivers.” “I come by bike, so you’ll have to give me instructions on how to get to your place.” He thought for a moment. “No – when you’ve okayed it with you mom then I’ll call mine and tell her to bring the pick-up rather than the car. We can put your bike in the back of that and if after dinner you’re too drunk to ride home, mom will take you back. That’s a joke.” he quickly added when he saw the expression on my face. So I called my mom and Troy called his and that was how I made my first visit to his home. I was surprised when his mom arrived in the pick-up as she looked quite a lot older than mine. She was still good looking and well dressed, but I could tell she hadn’t had Troy just after leaving school like my mom had me. Mrs Connelly was friendly and welcoming enough and included me in the conversation as she drove us to their house. I knew when Troy had given me the address earlier it was going to be a nice place, but it was even better than I’d expected – set back from the road with its own drive and large grounds. When we went inside Mrs Connelly led us into the kitchen and offered us some cookies and a choice of milk, juice or cola to drink. We sat at the table and talked for a little while longer before she told Troy to take me up to his room and get on with whatever we were here to do while she got dinner ready. Troy led me upstairs and into his room; I was knocked over by what I saw. It was so large for a start – well over twice the size of mine. He had a queen size bed, a computer desk, wardrobe and a couple of chests of drawers. There were posters on the walls mainly of swimmers and athletes – I noticed all were male, although one especially stood out. It was of that British diver, Tom something or other; I can’t remember his surname, looking amazing in just a very tiny white speedo with red and blue stripes. The room itself was a mess with clothes, books and goodness only knows what lying on the floor and most available surfaces. I’d grown up under orders to keep my room tidy and it was how I now liked things to be. This looked so sloppy, but somehow went with Troy’s laid back attitude to life which was evident even from a distance at school. “Ah, shit!” he said. “I should’ve tidied up but I wasn’t expecting visitors.” “Why don’t you just clear the desk so we can sit there and plan what we are going to do?” I suggested as I walked towards it picking up a chair as I did so and pushing onto the floor the items of clothes that were lying on it. His desk stood in front of a large window that I guessed overlooked the backyard and as I got to the desk I naturally looked out of the window and saw in the middle of the lawn a swimming pool! It was a small pool, but nevertheless a pool. I really was on the other side of the tracks I decided. I sat down, pulled a couple of notepads out of my backpack and told Troy to sit next to me and switch on his computer which he did. Once he’d logged in I searched out some sites that I thought might be useful for our research and bookmarked them. I had a feeling I was very much going to be leading on our project. We’d only been there for a couple of minutes when Troy announced that he needed to be comfortable. He got up, went over to one of his chests of drawers and pulled out a pair of shorts. I’d turned to see what he was doing and with a smile directed at me he undid his jeans, sat on the edge of his bed and pulled them off and also took off his polo shirt before standing up clad only in his red boxer briefs and white socks before putting on a pair of black sports shorts to which he then added a black t-shirt. I’d suspected for the last couple of years that I was gay. I had no interest in girls and no wish to see their bodies. Boy’s bodies was another thing altogether and I loved the glimpses I’d get in the locker rooms before and after gym, but at the same time fearing my dick would give me away. I was a loner at school whom everyone ignored which suited me fine, but if it was discovered that I was gay then I was sure to be picked on. Bullying might be forbidden at school, but it went on, usually in subtle, but sometimes much less subtle, ways. There was no doubt my dick had reacted to seeing Troy in his boxers. I turned away from him and tried to adjust things inside my own boxers, hopefully without being seen. He made no comment when he resumed his seat and we went back to trying to decide on the basis of our project. I soon discovered that Troy was a fidget and found it hard to concentrate on one thing for any length of time, which I was sure went some way to explaining why his grades weren’t ever that good. But we made some progress and I outlined a few things that I wanted him to research and cover. I couldn’t help notice though that his right upper leg was now rubbing up against my left one and I was sure it hadn’t been when he’d sat down. After a while I heard a knock on his bedroom door and his mom poked her head round to say that dinner would be ready shortly if we wanted to wash up. That was when I got another shock as I’d wondered where a second door from Troy’s bedroom led and now found out that he had his own bathroom complete with shower! When we got downstairs I was introduced to his father who also seemed to me to be older than my own, but I decided that it was logical he’d be of similar age to his wife. Mrs Connelly apologised for the meal saying it was only chicken fried steak because she’d not been expecting a visitor, but it was the best chicken fried steak I’d ever eaten with a delicious gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and soft rolls. I’m afraid I stuffed myself, but so did Troy and we both had space left for a large slice of homemade apple pie and ice cream. When we’d finished Troy and I cleared the dishes before we went back up to his room. He asked if I wanted to play an x-box game but I had to confess I didn’t have one of my own so wouldn’t know what to do. He still got one loaded though and explained to me how it was played – but I was pretty bad, no, make that very bad. I suddenly realized what the time was and said that I needed to go home, so we went downstairs and out to the pick-up with Mrs Connelly. When we got to my house Troy also got out to help me get my bike out of the back and as we were doing so he asked me if I wanted to come for a sleepover on Friday. If I’d been hesitant about his invitation to come to his house this evening an invite for a sleepover was on a far more scary level. Partly because I’d never had one before but also because now having been in his house I knew exactly how far apart our two families stood on the social scale. If I accepted it was an invite I could surely never return. “Err, thanks Troy but I don’t think I can. I have this Saturday job at the supermarket stacking shelves and bagging purchases.” It was true and I needed that job to top up the little allowance I got from my Pa. “Oh, that’s a shame – but what time do you start?” Without thinking I blurted out the honest answer of 2pm. Another kid did 8 ‘till 2 and I worked 2 ‘till 8. “So that’s not a problem then. We ain’t gonna get up early on Saturday but we can be up in time for you to get to the store by two. Mom’ll pick us up after school on Friday in the pick-up so you can stow your bike in there and if neither she nor my Pa is around when it’s time for you to go you can bike to the store like you normally would. How’s that sound?” To be honest it sounded great, but scary too. Why was Troy suddenly being this friendly towards me? Was it just that he needed a good grade in this class or was I like a little mouse being drawn towards a trap by a metaphorical piece of cheese? Was Troy hoping to get me to out myself as gay so he could announce it to all his friends and then very quickly, the entire school? But if that was the case why him and why pick on me? -------- When we got to Troy’s after school on Friday I insisted that we do our homework first, which pleased his mom no end. I always made a point of doing mine then to leave the weekend free, although with my normal weekend activities there wasn’t really any point. However, Mrs C was pleased saying that Troy always left his to do on Sunday night which meant he was as grumpy as hell when it came to getting up on Monday mornings. So that was what we did and by the time we’d finished Mr C was home from work and firing up the grill on the back patio. I’d brought a pair of navy blue sports shorts I’d changed into along with a white t-shirt while Troy was in red sports shorts and a blue t-shirt. Of course he had a basketball hoop on the side of house so we played ‘horse’ for a time while Mr C was taking care of the food. As I expected Troy ran rings round me, but he didn’t seem to mind and gave me a few pointers along the way. After that we sat down to these enormous steaks that simply melted in your mouth as you ate them – I’d never tasted anything like it – with various salads. That was followed by ice cream and some sort of meringue desert that Mrs C called a Pavlova. I’d never had one of those either, but it was delicious. By the time we’d finished eating it was getting a bit cool and nearly dark so when we went indoors his parents said they were going to watch TV, wished us goodnight and suggested that we didn’t stay up all night. So Troy and I went up to his room. Earlier he’d asked me if I was happy to sleep with him or if I wanted to use the guest bedroom. I‘d told him I was happy to share as long as he didn’t either snore or fart which had got me a fist on the upper arm in reply. I forgot to mention when I described his bedroom earlier that he had a 42 inch TV on the wall opposite the foot of his bed, so when we got into his room now he pulled out a selection of DVDs and asked me to choose which I wanted to watch. Of course they were all sci-fi or horror movies. He suggested that although it was still quite early it would make sense if we got ready for bed so we could watch the movies in bed. This was another luxury not available at my house where I had to make do with the screen of my laptop. Having no idea how he slept I’d brought a pair of pj bottoms with me, although I usually slept in my boxers or sometimes naked. I was thus glad when he suggested he use the bathroom first and when he emerged wearing just a pair of paly grey tight fitting Calvin Klein boxer briefs I knew the pjs weren’t going to be used! My only problem was that I had only a pair of cheap check pattern boxers to wear – our budget didn’t permit my mom to buy me other than basic underclothes and thus far in my life I’d seen no need to spend my own money on them. But seeing how good Troy looked in his I had a feeling that could soon change. We got into bed and Troy turned off the lights and switched on the DVD player and the TV, but before doing so he locked his bedroom door. We started off each well on our own side of the bed on our backs, but it wasn’t long before we’d moved closer to each other – I’m sure beds have a dip towards the middle – although we weren’t touching. Suddenly there was a real scary bit of the film and I jumped and let out a little noise of surprise. I now found that Troy had intertwined the fingers of his right hand in my left. I’d never had contact with another boy like this and it felt good so I squeezed his fingers to try and tell him I was happy. We stayed like that for a few minutes before he lifted our intertwined hands and placed them on top of his dick inside those CK briefs. I’d now gone hard myself and could feel his warm dick inside his briefs. I wasn’t sure where this was heading; I didn’t know what would happen next and whether I should be active or passive but I did know that I didn’t want to withdraw my hand! My other hand was also now engaged inside my boxers gently rubbing round my own dick and balls. Having let my left hand lie on his dick for a couple of minutes Troy began to move it gently up and down massaging his dick until I could feel a dampness on his briefs. “Adam, do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to do this with you?” “No.” I sort of stuttered in reply. “I’ve wanted to be alone with you for the last couple of years, but you are so much of a loner that I couldn’t see a way to do this. You’re so damn sexy to look at with your hair and your half hidden eyes and you don’t seem to need anybody. God, you’re gorgeous.” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. It didn’t make sense – he was the one who was damn sexy to look at, not me. “I just hope I’ve judged you right and my gaydar is working” he said as he pulled his hand apart from mine and moved. Next thing I knew he was kneeling astride my thighs before gently lowering his upper body to rest partly on his hands and partly on my chest. I felt his breath on my face as his moved towards mine and I shivered slightly in response to the feel of the air he exhaled. Then I felt the lightest of touches on my lips, followed shortly by a sight dampness from what I realized must be his tongue sliding back and forth across them. I opened my lips slightly and his tongue found its way inside; as I opened my mouth further so his tongue moved further inside. I could hear little noises of a type I’d never heard before, but was I making them or was Troy- or were we both? Now I found my hands were around his back with my fingers moving in strange patterns around it. Patterns he seemed to approve of as the noises increased. Did he pull or did I push, or did we act together, but now Troy was no longer on top of me and we were on our sides face to face allowing his hands to also roam over my back moving lower and lower until they came to the waistband of my boxers, inside which was my dick now, I was sure, harder and longer than it had ever been. I was circumcised and pre-cum didn’t come easily, but tonight it was. His hands slipped inside the waistband and moved lightly across my butt before withdrawing slightly and pushing my boxers down sufficiently to allow my dick to spring free. Meantime my own hands had reached the waistband of his CKs which were much tighter fitting than my fairly old and worn boxers making it hard to get more than the tips of my fingers inside, but I liked what I was feeling – soft smooth skin. When Troy removed his hands from me I momentarily wondered if he’d decided this was enough or even that we had gone too far, but it was only to move them to his CKs and with a quick pull and a bit of wiggling they were down on his thighs allowing me unfettered access to what had lain beneath. Our hands now searched and quickly found their hidden targets. We did so at the same moment and almost together let out exclamations of surprise. “You’re circumcised!” came from Troy followed a second later by my “And you’re not!” “This I’ve gotta see properly” said Troy as he rolled away from me to his side of the bed and switched on the light that stood on his nightstand before he scooted back to gaze at my five and half inches that was now perhaps six, standing erect and proud with a damp and shiny red head. I looked at his - the same as mine in that it was very erect, but also so very different, with the head now extended beyond the foreskin and glistening with his pre-cum. It looked so beautiful, so complete and I knew for sure in that moment what I had suspected for the last couple of years – I was gay. Over that period I’d found some sites on line, downloaded a few pics that were stored in the depths of my computer which I could view in the safety of my bedroom at night. I’d go to the pool in the summer and take in the view as unobtrusively as possible. I’d even gone to a couple of swim meets at school in order to view the guys in their speedos. It had always been mainly Troy that my eyes had feasted on wondering what his hid, imagining what it looked like when I lay in bed at night afterwards slowly stroking myself to a climax and ensuring that my emission was fired into a sock so my ma didn’t discover it when washing the sheets. I’d never thought that I’d ever find out - even more not expecting something so beautiful, now just a few inches from me. “Jeeze, your dick is so amazing. I’ve never seen a cut one up close. That head is …..just great.” Troy whispered and as he did so he leaned forward and touched it. It twitched in response which caused him to touch it again and obtain the same reaction as well as produce a drop of pre-cum at the slit. He carefully wiped it off with his fingertip and then taking his finger towards his mouth, stuck out his tongue and licked it off, smacking his lips as he pulled his tongue back into his mouth. What could I do but follow suit and there was more than a single drop of pre-cum around his head to finger off and then savor. I’d never considered tasting my own semen. For some reason I’d thought it would taste gross, but Troy’s wasn’t unpleasant with a slightly salty taste mixed with a flavor that somehow seemed to be him. Now he put three fingers of his right hand into his mouth and when they were sufficiently lubricated, pulled them out and wrapped them round my dick. I gasped at the feelings that resulted as those fingers slid first up and then down. He removed them to add more lubrication and went to work again, his other hand alternately caressing and squeezing my balls. With everything that had gone on it seemed only seconds before I felt my body taughtening and I was shooting high up my stomach and chest where Troy had aimed me. He looked down admiringly. “You been saving that for a while?” As it happened I hadn’t tossed off for a couple of days, but I wasn’t going to admit that. “Nope – that’s normal” I replied with a grin. “We’ll have to see about that, but I’ve almost got a case of blue balls. You gonna help me out?” Oh boy, did I want to, but how did I handle an uncircumcised dick? I was afraid of hurting him. Troy sensed my problem. “Ah, the foreskin. It can be a problem sometimes, but there’s a lot of lube there already so you can just gently move the foreskin up and down with no worry.” He proceeded to demonstrate which gave me some confidence to put my fingers round it. The feeling was amazing, so different to my own and yet so soft and silky. I was entranced as the head emerged from and then disappeared back into the foreskin all so different to stroking my own. As with me it didn’t take long before I could sense his body going rigid and I was aiming his dick to shoot up his body. Now I felt really brave and scooped some from where it had landed onto my fingers and took them into my mouth, sucking them. Troy giggled. “Take some more and share it with me.” I scooped some more onto my fingers and raised them to his mouth which he opened and licked them with his tongue. My own cum was still drying on my body and Troy now fed me some of that before taking some more for himself. “Time to mix” he declared as he moved forward and adjusted his body so that our mouths could meet and our tongues explored and mingled our juices together. After that Troy put out the light and we snuggled spooned together, me with my butt resting in his lap and he holding me tightly to him. I awoke to the feeling of something prodding in between my legs and to find a hand lying gently on my hard dick. The room was light and I needed a piss. I disentangled myself to groans from Troy as he wakened, but as I padded into the bathroom he followed me. We stood somewhat bleary eyed on either side of the john and both pissed a strong stream into it. I finished first and walked back into the bedroom when as I neared his bed I felt a smack on my butt. Not over hard but sufficient to create a tingle there, and for some reason, in front of me too. “Jeeze, you’ve got a great ass Adam. How do you manage it considering you don’t do any sport. I know mine’s good from the swimming and track I do, but you – how come?” “Dunno. Guess it must be from all the cycling I do. I spend time at the weekend and in the summer riding my bike round the country. Suppose it builds up the muscles.” “So why’d you keep it hidden. If you’ve got it – flaunt it like me.” He was referring to the fact that he always wore very skinny jeans to school and under those I now knew, tight boxer briefs whereas I always wore loose fitting jeans that showed nothing. “My folks wouldn’t let me wear that sort of jeans and you’ve seen what boxers my mom buys. I only got out of tighty whities last year.” In fact I asked my ma about buying me a pair of skinny jeans a few months back only to be told that there was no way she was going to have her son parading round the streets dressed in a pair of those and adding that if I thought of buying a pair with my own money I could take them straight back as soon as I got them home. No, I got cheap utility clothes and fashion didn’t come into it. “We’ll have to see if we can’t do something about that…..” I cut him off. “Please don’t Troy. If my folks had any idea of what we did last night, I’d never be allowed to see you again, so if you want to see me again this has to be a secret.” Troy pulled me to him and kissed me hard. When we ended the kiss he looked into my eyes and said, “Of course I want to see you again, and again, and again. But yes, we’ll keep it secret, although my folks are gonna know by the state and smell of this room, not to mention how happy I’m gonna be this morning. Now, how about a shower before mom comes knocking on the door announcing that it’s the last call for breakfast?” So we went and showered and, wonder of wonders, his shower was big enough for both of us. I now discovered the pleasure that can be had from showering with someone else, from having them wash you from head to toe – every square inch - and from being able to return the favour to them. I also learned how to properly wash an uncircumcised dick, although it has to be admitted that the washing of it did produce side effects that were soon washed down the drain along with my own. We dried each other off, becoming more familiar with each other’s bodies as we did and as we were dressing Mrs C did indeed knock on the door to announce that it was last call for breakfast – not surprising really as it was nearly noon. I was presented with a veritable feast of cereals, juices, pancakes, bacon, waffles and eggs. We stuffed ourselves but soon it was time for normality to return as Troy and I went out to the pick-up and Mrs C drove me to the supermarket while the two of us sat holding hands, saying nothing, but for me at least, thinking plenty. ------- After my initial visit to and subsequent sleepover at Troy’s, we more or less settled into a routine in that I’d go over to his house once a week after school to work on the project. He did come over to mine twice but that was more or less for the sake of appearances and so my folks could meet him. He pitched himself to them just right as polite but not snobby, which he wasn’t - but I think my folks expected him to be. On one of those visits he was invited to stay to dinner and I cringed when I heard mom say we were having chicken fried steak and apple pie to follow. Of course the main course was nowhere near as good as Mrs C had served while the pie was store bought! Troy though cleared his plate and complimented mom on her cooking. But it made sense to work on the project at his house as there was so much more room and his Internet was a lot faster than mine. The project didn’t have to be turned in until almost the end of the semester, so we made sure it lasted – at least as far as my folks were concerned although we’d actually completed it well before it was due. To be fair Troy contributed quite a bit towards it which surprised me at first until I realized he had a good brain but was just reluctant to display it. I was also invited to have a sleepover alternate Fridays. I thought my folks would object, but they seemed to consider it was a good thing for me to have a friend, plus which I suspect not having to feed me appealed and it meant they could go out to a bar in town those evenings. Luckily they didn’t seem to have any suspicion of how friendly Troy and I became during those weeks. Troy sprang a surprise on me when I went for the second sleepover. After we’d gone up to his bedroom and he’d locked the door he peeled down the skinny jeans he was wearing and then took of his polo shirt to stand before me wearing only a pair of black CK boxer briefs. “There’s a new rule for sleepovers, Adam,” he announced with a somewhat evil grin on his face, “While in this room we wear only boxers.” I grinned back at him, took off my polo and t-shirt and then stepped out of my jeans, leaving me in a pair of navy blue check loose fitting boxers. He sighed deeply, “Adam those things are so non sexy. Go and open the drawer in the nightstand on your side of the bed.” I did as I was told and found inside a pack of three colored American Eagle boxer briefs. I pulled the pack out, turned and looked at him to find he was licking his lips and rubbing his dick in anticipation. “Put one of them on. I like the red and black ones, but your choice.” “But I can’t take them home, Troy. Mom would know I’d not bought them and questions would be asked.” “I know that – I’m not that stupid. But there’s no reason why you can’t wear them here and they can go in with my washing when you leave.” Quickly I ripped the pack open, selected the pair he’d suggested and very soon was fitting myself into my first ever pair of boxer briefs. Damn, they felt good as they clung to my package and butt. I walked over to look at myself in the full length mirror on Troy’s wardrobe and decided they looked as good on as they felt. Troy evidently agreed judging by the wolf whistle he let out as I did a pirouette in front of the mirror. It wasn’t long though before both they and his boxer briefs were off as we snuggled together on his bed. The only downside came when I had to change back into my drab old boxers on Saturday before I left to go to the supermarket. It was later that night that Troy introduced me to the joys of a blow job. On the following sleepover he showed me how we could blow each other at the same time; something we very quickly decided was the best thing going. And from that night on, when in his room we either wore boxer briefs or nothing. One evening Troy had forgotten to lock the door; his Mom knocked and because we had music playing we didn’t hear her. She came in, said what she wanted to say and then left without seemingly blinking an eye at the sight of the pair of us lying on the bed holding hands and clad in only our boxers. After she’d gone I asked him what she would have done had we been there naked or kissing, to which his response was along the lines of ‘nothing other than apologise.’ Yes, it was a very different environment to the one in which I lived – one where I had to keep my sexual orientation hidden as I was sure my parent’s would be very unhappy to find out I was gay. As the semester progressed and our relationship deepened I started to become more and more worried about being found out at school. We’d discussed the situation on one of my sleepovers. I told Troy that I just couldn’t risk being found out as gay before I was eighteen and could leave home – which now seemed a lifetime away. Not that I was sure that would help. I hoped I might get into college but I’d need a scholarship of some sort for that and I wasn’t confident I was bright enough to achieve one. Or I could find a job, but was I likely to find one that would pay enough? That was well ahead though and for now we had to keep our relationship confined to only his house – hard as that might be. And boy was it hard in more than one sense of that word seeing that we saw each other five days a week at school. I’d only have to glimpse him and I’d feel my dick starting to rise but fortunately the loose baggy jeans I always wore usually concealed that or some books could be positioned strategically. In Troy’s case oddly the opposite appeared to work. The skinny jeans he always wore meant the outline of his dick was often visible, so people didn’t take any notice of what caused that. Sitting at his table at lunch was the worst though; we wanted to sit next to each other but if we did we’d start playing footsie or rubbing our legs together, hoping all the time that the other occupants were so involved in their conversations they wouldn’t notice. We couldn’t avoid getting the occasional glance, especially from Mike Daubney, who I learned had once been Troy’s closest friend, but now seemed to be on the same level as everyone else at the table. By the time the semester ended, I was convinced that I was in love with Troy. Sexually we had gone no further than our sixty nines, but we both knew the point was getting nearer, especially on the occasions I’d wake up feeling his dick nestling in my crack, wondering what it would be like to wake up feeling it inside me. I also had no doubts that Troy was in love with me. I could see it in his smile, his eyes and his general approach to life. I was looking forward to the vacation and the chance it gave us to, hopefully, spend more time together. ==============
  36. 99 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 53 The light reflected off the lake in glittering displays as the water parted before them. Everywhere Kellar looked, there was beauty from this new perspective. When they’d first left the marina, the sun was freshly up, but two hours later it was bathing their shirtless, trunk-clad bodies in sublime and welcomed warmth. Kellar was learning a lot about boating from his mate, from the rules of the water, to the handling of the eighteen-foot craft. The steering part was easy, and it quickly became his favorite thing. The hand throttle of the outboard motor was amazingly sensitive, and controlling their direction and speed became addictive as he lounged in comfort on the padded bench seat. He’d just finished maneuvering them into a small granite-walled inlet as if he’d been doing so for years. As they’d advanced into it, ripples disturbed the watery sheet, creating continual circles before fading to nothing once the boat came to a halt. Silence assaulted them after the motor shut off. Tobyn, tossing out the compact anchor, informed him today was as calm as the lake ever gets, and that boating in rough water was a totally different experience. “I think I’ll prefer this. I’m not sure I’d like being thrown around in bad weather.” “Yeah, even in a twenty-four-foot inboard, the waves can be tough to handle when you’re out in the middle. This is perfect for your first time on water… don’t want to scare you off coming out here.” “I’m already hooked. What’s an inboard?” “It means the motors are inside the boat. They don’t hang off the back like this one, and you control the boat from a captain’s seat. All those bigger-hulled boats out there on the lake are twin inboards, meaning they have two motors in the stern that work in unison.” “So, it’s a size thing?” Tobyn chuckled. “Pretty much, size and power, yeah. Ready to fish? There’s a deep spot on the left where I’ve caught smallmouth before.” He pointed to a shady area. “That’s the best place to cast your line.” “Smallmouth? “Bass. They usually put up a better fight than largemouth do. So, ready to catch one of those feisty suckers?” “You bet. I used to pester Don to take me fishing, but he never did.” “He sounds like such an ass.” “Maybe he was. I used to think he was okay, but I guess I never really knew him. I gave up expecting him to be a certain way because I had no clear idea what a dad was supposed to be like back then. He was always in his office, or at a church function, or doing something Karen wanted. He never took Warren fishing either, not that I remember.” “You are too forgiving. We should bring your brother out with us one day.” “That would be awesome. Hey, my line won’t move… it’s stuck.” “Here, give me that.” Tobyn sat down beside Kellar, their splayed legs touching, and took the fiberglass rod from him. “It’s not stuck. See. You have to slide this little thing on the side. That’s the lock. This is a good reel, but it’s an older design, and it should be Kellar-proof,” Tobyn teased. “Here’s your pole back. Try not to get your line tangled.” “I’ll try not to,” he said with a roll of his eyes as he fiddled with the lock. “Okay, cool. That’s more like it.” “Do you want me to put your worm on for you?” Tobyn asked with a smirk as he opened the Styrofoam carton of wrigglers. “What do you want to do with my worm?” Kellar raised his eyebrows and returned the smirk. “Well, now that you ask… I’d say screw the fishing, and take care of your big worm, but that’s not what we came out here for.” Kellar nodded, taking in his mate’s almost naked body. He couldn’t help the stirring. “You’ve fished lots of times before, right?” “Oh, heck yeah. Hundreds of times. Why?” “I was just thinking.” Tobyn looked up from baiting Kellar’s hook. “What about?” “I was thinking we could kill two birds with one stone.” He wiggled his eyebrows and Tobyn laughed. “You mean two worms, don’t you?” He stared down at Kellar’s now tented trunks. “Well, there’s no reason I can’t still fish while you look after other stuff.” Now Tobyn really laughed. “It’s only been a few hours. What’s got you all fired up again? “Jeez… all this talk about smallmouths and largemouths and feisty suckers and handling my worm and holding my rod. Not to mention you’re almost naked. What did you expect?” Kellar whined. “I think you’ve been trying to get me horned up.” “That was just fishing talk, you bonehead.” Tobyn’s eyes traveled back to Kellar’s groin, the tip of his tongue showing itself as he licked his lips. “Here, you’re baited and ready to go. Start fishing… I have something else I need to take care of.” “Are you sure? I was just kidding… don’t you want to fish?” “Nope, I already caught me a big one and I’m not throwing it back.” Kellar groaned as Tobyn gave his trunks a sharp tug and reeled him in with a deft touch. Yeah, this fishing thing was awesome. The boat was due back at one in the afternoon, and they made it with fifteen minutes to spare. Kellar was close to euphoric after his first outing on a body of water. Following Tobyn’s short but intense fishing expedition inside Kellar’s trunks, they’d settled down to actually fish. Kellar had a blast hooking and landing the first one, a two-and-a-half-pound smallmouth that cleared the water a few times as it fought the line. Tobyn sat back and watched, cautioning him more than once not to move around so much. Kellar was in awe when he finally had the little warrior in the boat. “He’s a beauty. Do you want to keep him?” Kellar looked from the iridescent, gasping prize to his mate. It didn’t take him long to shake his head. “Good. We practice catch and release on the lake system as much as we can, and we encourage all our clients to as well, unless they are actually catching dinner. We’ve maintained a healthy fish population for centuries by only taking what we need for our own food stores. Do you want me to take the hook out? I’ll show you how to remove it with pliers so there’s little damage to the fish.” “Yeah, I want to learn everything. Now I see why so many enjoy doing this. The little guy put up a heck of a fight.” He watched his mate closely, and after that, he was able to do it for himself. Between them they’d caught seven fish with Kellar catching four, earning him bragging rights for the day. Kellar was looking forward to telling his fish stories to Warren, and at some point, having them share in new ones together. “Thanks, Tobyn. That was awesome. Man, I’m starving.” “We’ll get you filled up in a few minutes. I'm hungry too.” They were in the process of getting in the truck and leaving the marina. “It’s a lot different when you’re out there, isn’t it?” Kellar was taking a last look at the lake as Tobyn drove out of the parking area. “It is. We’re lucky here, that’s for sure. Vega only had the forests, but Morningstar has the water as well. One day, we’ll take a boat up the river. I know of some good fishing spots that are very private.” He wiggled his eyebrows, causing Kellar to chuckle. “When the time comes, I imagine it will be hard for a lot of our new members to leave this place. It gets inside your soul.” “That’s for sure. How many do you think Morningstar could support on a regular basis?” “Good question. We’re a wealthy pack, you know that, right?” “Yeah, I pretty much figured it out.” “As a member, you can see the financials anytime you want. Anyway, Mom says one day she’d like to see a hundred-and-twenty members at Morningstar, so I guess that’s the best answer I can give you. I never thought it was a big deal before, but we own another tract of land to the northeast on a two-lake system. It was bought a long time ago. I think Fendral might have made the decision, but I could be wrong. Maybe one day we’ll put it to use in the same way we have here.” “Wow. I didn’t know that. How big is it?” “Not sure, exactly. It’s a large parcel… a thousand acres, or thereabouts, surrounding one end of the bigger lake, but we can ask Mom to be sure. I know it’s accessible by road, but it’s remote. I remember her saying it wasn’t serviced. That was years ago, though, so maybe it is by now.” “There’s always solar, or wind generators, so power lines aren’t a requirement.” “True, and satellite phones if there’s no cell service, and satellite internet. What are you thinking? You want to homestead, mountain man?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m happy where we are. Morningstar is perfect, and we have our cabin to escape to. I was only thinking positive, about one day outgrowing this place with new members. We could have a population explosion in the coming years, and Elinor and Denver are getting it started.” “We could,” Tobyn said wistfully. They arrived at the lodge, and he shut off the engine. “I promise you one day we’ll have children of our own.” A startled Tobyn turned to him. Hazel eyes examined his face for a few seconds. “I have you, and that’s all I need. Besides, you can’t promise something like that, nor do you need to.” “You’re all I need too, and maybe you’re right that I can’t promise, but it’s a feeling I have… don’t ask me why because I have no idea… I just know I do. The earth mother has done right by us so far, hasn’t she?” Tobyn smiled. “Yes, she has. And so have you. I want to believe it could happen, but….” “Stop. We have a lot of life to live yet, Tobyn. Have faith, and trust me. We are going to be dads someday. Now, come on. Let’s go eat.” Only a few stragglers were left in the dining room when they arrived. Sitting down facing the entrance, Kellar watched as Elinor escorted Denver to the front door. There was no missing their happy contentment, and he flickered to see all was in good order. Morningstar’s new hope had grown substantially since the day before. The progression of life in its infancy had always fascinated him. “Wave goodbye to Denver, babe. I’m assuming he’s about to head back to the garage.” Tobyn twisted, waved to the couple, and turned back. “He looks proud as a peacock. How’s my mom?” “Mother and child are doing great.” “Awesome. I wonder when they’re going to make the announcement.” “It’s just a guess, but I know a lot of human women wait until the fetus is three month’s old.” Tobyn screwed up his face. “Fetus? Ugh. Can’t you just say baby?” Kellar laughed. “Well, officially it’s an embryo for about eight more weeks, and then it’s a fetus until it’s born, but for you, I’ll refer to it as your brother.” “Brother? Oh my God… are you serious?” “No. Gotcha!” he whispered. “I already told you I couldn’t be sure for a couple of months yet, not until it’s eleven weeks or so, and even then I won’t tell you. That’s for your mother to decide, if she even wants to know what the sex is.” “My mate’s a jerk,” Tobyn muttered. “But you love me, right?” Kellar couldn’t help grinning. “Yes. Even when you’re mean.” Without having to order, Heather brought them the special of the day. Two huge helpings of a beef and noodle stroganoff, along with a plate of warm homemade rolls. They dug in, and conversation gave way to more important matters. After a few food-shoveling minutes, Kellar slowed down, and took in the healthy glow the sun had left on Tobyn, who was continuing to take his meal seriously. It was one of those moments where he let his feelings surface, and gave thanks this handsome man had turned out to be his mate. He was the luckiest of shifters. “So are you ready to hit the road?” “What?” Kellar’s musings had him lost as to Tobyn’s meaning. Where were they going? “You know… continue our search. Have you been thinking about us maybe putting it off?” “Oh, sorry. No. Why? Have you?” “Not at all, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Warren.” “Oh, really?” Kellar tried to look alarmed. “Shut up. You know what I mean. His wedding and his change.” “I’ve thought about it too, but we’ve already decided it’s best to wait until the fall, and I know Warren really is fine with it. Don’t worry… he’s not pretending.” “Cool. Just checking.” Tobyn grinned. “So, what do you think? Mom says Arthur remembers Dryden and Sioux Lookout now. Those places aren’t that close to Thunder Bay.” “It is a lot of area to cover. I wonder if Thunder Bay has another significance for him. Maybe the conclave was near there, and that’s why he remembered it first.” “Makes sense. His old pack grounds may turn out to be between those other two places. There’s a little highway that runs between them.” “Only one way to find out, and the earth mother will help us.” “I know. I don’t mind the uncertainty… it’s an adventure.” Tobyn looked like a little kid as he finished spooning up the last of his lunch. “Speaking of Arthur, there he is with his beloved.” Kellar gestured with a chin motion toward the entrance, waving as he stood to greet the advancing couple. “Are we interrupting, dear?” Miss Sybil asked as she neared the table. “Absolutely not, ma’am. I always look forward to seeing you and Arthur.” “We always look forward to seeing you,” Tobyn corrected as he stood and kissed Miss Sybil’s cheek in greeting. “Hello, Arthur.” “Good afternoon, Tobyn. Good afternoon, Cahlar.” After copying Tobyn’s greeting to one of his most favorite people, he turned to her mate. “Good day, Arthur. You look well.” “I am well. I remember Auriga pack. Sybil says I’m right. She remembers too.” “Are you saying that’s where you came from originally?” “Yes.” “That’s great,” Tobyn interrupted enthusiastically. Kellar gave his mate a grin before refocusing on the elder man. “Do you recall anything else?” “Not about the pack, but there was a town called Valora. I liked to go to Valora for penny candy. I had a brother, but I don’t know his name… he might have been younger than me. I’ve tried, but….” “Hey, that’s enough. You can’t rush these things, and you’ve given us all we need.” Miss Sybil was standing beside her mate, and she wasn’t smiling. In fact, her forehead was creased with frown lines. “Would you like to join us?” “I’d like to talk to you, Kellar, to both of you, but not in the dining room.” “Is something wrong, Miss Sybil?” Tobyn asked. “No, dear. It’s about visions I’ve had. Littles ones which, early this morning, became one bigger one.” There was a reticence to her tone. It was almost a dread that Kellar picked up on. He noticed the whiteness of her knuckles as she gripped her mate’s hand. Arthur’s demeanor gave away no clues. “Well, we’re finished lunch now. Would you like to go elsewhere… our house, or yours?” “Either would be fine. Tobyn, do you know if your mother is busy?” “I don’t think so. She’s in her office. Denver left right after we got here. Have you seen anyone else go back there?” he asked Kellar. “Nope. No one has come or gone.” “Good,” the seer said, looking away. “I would like her to hear what I have to say. It’s something she’ll be interested in.” “Let’s go get her,” Tobyn said, standing up with his eyes on Kellar. “She’s making me nervous, doc.” “Me too. Have you ever seen her like this?” “No. It’s not like her to avoid eye contact.” Kellar quickly copied his mate and stood, wondering if their mission was going to be affected in some way. Did Miss Sybil foresee a problem, or danger? “I’m ready. Maybe we could talk in Elinor’s office?” “That would be fine,” Miss Sybil responded, still not meeting their eyes. They all took seats inside the roomy office. A slight breeze stirred papers on Elinor’s desk. She literally glowed, but only Kellar and Tobyn knew the reason. It was possible, though, the seer could have her own insights. “I hope we’re not interrupting your day, Elinor. I suppose I could have waited until the evening, but….” “Of course you’re not, Miss Sybil. Paperwork gets boring and I welcome any excuse to avoid it. I had a lovely lunch with Denver earlier, and I’ve just been going over some ancient accounting ledgers and jotting down any trends I see… a tedious and boring way to spend time.” She smiled as she looked curiously around the room. “What is it you think I should hear?” Miss Sybil glanced from Elinor to Kellar, and her gaze settled there, apparently with some effort. “I have a story to tell, so I’ll just get on with it. My visions have become quite reliable lately, and I believe one I had as the sun was rising, was quite accurate.” “Was it about our search?” an impatient Tobyn asked. Kellar felt the grip on his hand tighten. “No, dear. This one was about the past. Your mate’s past.” “Mine?” “Yes.” She glanced down and up, and again Kellar saw the reluctance in her. “It was revealed to me what happened to your parents. I know how they died.” Kellar’s throat dried out as he absorbed her words. His parents? Their death? Only the contact of his mate kept him sitting. “Do you want to know?” was asked softly, with a note of uncertainty. Not yet trusting his voice, he nodded, getting a measuring look from the seer. “I fear this could be difficult to hear, but I believe it’s important for you to know. My visions can be random, but they’re are never frivolous. By that, I mean they always serve a purpose. Would you like for us to talk alone? In private?” This time Kellar shook his head. “All right. Good. It’s best for all of you to hear this at the same time.” She hesitated, looking even less composed, but she continued. “Your mother… her name was Gisla… is that right?” The sudden squeak of Elinor’s chair startled him, but he kept his gaze focused on the seer. He sat up straighter, the fear that had been threatening to suffocate him, suddenly dropping away. He needed to know. “Yes, ma’am. Gisla and Roland were my parents. You actually heard my mother’s name in your vision? You hear sound?” “Sound accompanies some of them, yes, but I didn’t need to hear her name. I recognized her. I could never forget that beautiful face.” A choking sound came from Elinor, and he glanced over to see a woman stunned. He returned his gaze to Miss Sybil. “What’s going on? You recognized her? You… you knew her?” His eyes darted back to Elinor, wondering at the pained look on her face. “Your mother was my best friend’s daughter. Esther and Fendral were her parents, and before you ask, I’m sure of what I’m saying. I saw you as a young boy, and there was no mistaking that face either.” Kellar slumped back in his seat. Slowly, he rotated his head, needing to see Tobyn’s face. His mate appeared just as blown away as he was. “Fendral is your grandfather? How is this possible? I’ve never heard of Gisla….” “Gigi,” was uttered by his own mother as he focused on her. “Mom? Gigi is Gisla? She is Kellar’s mom?” “Yes. If Miss Sybil says it was Gisla, I believe her. I’m just as shocked as you all are. Gigi was my best friend.” “Why are you calling her Gigi?” Kellar asked, trying hard to control the anxiety rising in him. Tears were beginning to roll down Elinor’s cheeks. A short laugh choked its way out, sounding as much like a sob as anything. “Your mother hated her name. She thought Gisla was awful, especially after a few boys started calling her Geezer. She did not think it was funny.” Tobyn handed her Kleenex so she could blow her nose. “I can’t believe you’ve been her son all along. I’m so happy a part of her has survived. It was hard to give up hope she was alive, but I did. I knew she would never have left me wondering for so long if she had a choice.” A new batch of tears poured out. “I must say, you don’t look at all like her.” Kellar wiped at his own eyes. “What… what did she look like?” Elinor faltered, and then rose, turning to the tall filing cabinet behind her. The top drawer contained an old cardboard photo folder she took out and handed to Kellar across the desk. He flipped it open and found himself staring at two teenage girls, arm in arm, smiling at the camera. The one on the left was so obviously Tobyn’s mother. The one on the right hit him like a sledgehammer. That tantalizing memory that had slipped beyond his grasp for years and years, coalesced as he stared at the old photo, and he grabbed at the thread of it. He was staring at his mother as a young girl, but like a specter before him, he slowly envisioned her more mature face. It snapped into focus, and Kellar was struck by how pretty she was with her hair floating around her face. He was strapped into a car seat, surrounded by strands of waving oat grass, and he could see her place the end of her finger on her lips, and he could hear her ‘shush.’ Her cautionary words followed. ‘You must be quiet for Mommy, Kellar. Not a peep, no matter what you hear. Daddy and I will come back as soon as we can, and we’ll take you to meet your grandpa Fendral like we promised… be our brave little man… I have to go away for a little while… remember… you must stay quiet. You must stay quiet.’ Kellar’s eyes refocused, and he was no longer that little boy. He was a grown man staring at a photograph of his long-dead mother. Where had that memory been all these years? Was it some kind of vision? An urge to run came over him… to let his wolf free and run till he dropped. He fought it, gaining strength from the warm hand that was now on his arm. He turned his head and stared into emotional hazel eyes. “I remember her,” Kellar whispered to his mate. “I remember that day. I remember her leaving me in the ditch where the police reports said I was found, and I can hear her words as if it was yesterday... she mentioned my grandpa Fendral... and I can see the tall grass swaying above me.” He turned his attention back to the seer, who was busy wiping at her eyes. “How could I remember that? I was only four-and-a-half. I could never remember any of it before.” “The photograph… it triggered it, and yes you were young, but you’re a shifter, dear… a very special one who can remember the pattern of every living thing you see. Keepers are born with some memories, and seers can glimpse the past, so I’m not surprised you could recall your last moments with your mother. You encompass so much of our race, and I have no doubt you are guided by the earth mother. Maybe at some point you’ll experience a memory of your father.” Kellar was too overloaded to examine Miss Sybil’s speculation. “What happened to her? Who stopped her from coming back for me like she promised?” One stifled sob, and the woman visibly steeled herself. “She couldn’t. I’m sorry, Kellar. Gigi and your father did what they could to protect you, but they couldn’t save each other.” “Was it hunters?” The woman nodded. Her expression was resolute, but Kellar sensed her turmoil at having to confirm who was responsible. He owed it to her to make it easier. He turned his gaze to a sniffling Elinor. The mention of hunters had hit her hard, and it showed in the compassion of her words. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. I’d always hoped those horrible men hadn’t gotten to her. Gigi was a light in all our lives.” “It’s all right, Elinor,” he said soothingly. “It was a long time ago, and it was something I suspected once I learned about hunters. The explanation of my parents hitting a moose never made sense, because how could I have ended up so far away, sitting unscathed in a car seat? And the police couldn’t come up with an answer for why the car burned, other than the gas tank exploding and feeding an electrical fire. It all sounded stupid, and the reports said I didn’t have a mark on me, and neither did the seat.” He didn’t like that her shoulders were shaking. His thoughts went to her coming child. This was a pivotal time for the new embryo. “Finish telling me about why you call her Gigi.” It worked, and he got a smile out of her. He waited while she blew her nose again. “Your mother was such a character, Kellar.” One short bark of amusement escaped before she began her recollection. “We went to town one afternoon—Fendral drove—so she could pick out something with her birthday money. She ended up choosing some old movies from a bin at the video store. She loved movies, and she loved musicals.” Elinor dabbed at her eyes, but her voice was strong again. “One of those movies was a Best Picture winner from the fifties or sixties called Gigi. It starred Leslie Caron, and as soon as we started watching it, there was no denying your mother’s resemblance to her. “Anyway, after it was over, she declared she wanted to be called Gigi from that moment on. We all went along with the idea, and while Fendral and Esther frowned on it at first, even they started calling her Gigi. Your mother always got her way.” “Yes, she did. It took me a while to come around because I thought her name enchanting, but how could I not?” Miss Sybil said, also smiling now. “What was that song she used to sing from the movie?” “Oh… it was sung by Maurice Chevalier… yes—‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’—she would even sing it with the same French accent he did.” “That’s right, I remember now. Your mother had a beautiful voice, Kellar, and she was such a captivating child, strong-willed and determined. She was a leader… never a follower.” The room went suddenly quiet. Tobyn took the picture from his mate. “I’ve seen this so many times and I had no idea Gigi was your mother. You were always sad when you looked at this, Mom,” he said, looking at Elinor before he returned his attention to Kellar. “Mom’s right. You look nothing like her.” “Yeah, I can see that. What color was my mother’s wolf?” Elinor answered the question after sighing. “The same color as the hair on your head. It was the richest, chestnut brown. I never thought of the similarity until now, because her hair itself was a dark honey blond. Her wolf was a most unusual color, and Esther’s wolf was the same.” It was strange to suddenly learn these things. He needed to know more. All of it. “Did you see my father, Miss Sybil?” Kellar had to swallow the extra saliva that came from nowhere after he asked the question. He knew nothing of his father other than he was likely a healer. “There is much more to my vision, but I can tell you that looking at your face is the same as looking at his. I saw him as a young, brave man, not so much older than you are now, and your features are identical. His hair was a darker brown, almost black, but that was the only difference. Even if I had not recognized Gigi, I would have known that man was your father.” “His wolf… I guess you didn’t see his wolf?” Miss Sybil dropped her head at the question. “I did see his wolf, I’m afraid. He was white, and from what I saw, he was powerful… and ferocious.” Her words were whispered, and her head stayed lowered. “Miss Sybil? I need to hear what happened. Don’t worry about how it will affect me, okay? Not knowing has left a hole in me. I know this is hard for you, and I understand what’s coming has to do with their death.” The seer raised her head and stiffened her spine. “You are a remarkable young man. You should know your father fought, but there were three hunters, and your parents were trapped.” “Trapped?” “In their vehicle. I’m not an expert on cars, but it was square like a jeep.” “Yes, it was a 1988 Jeep Cherokee. I remember reading about it being completely burned out in a file I peeked at. Sorry… go on,” Kellar said. Miss Sybil hesitated, but she kept her eyes on Kellar. “What I have to say next is not easy.” “It’s okay. I’m fine, really.” The seer nodded after pulling Arthur’s hand closer. “Once your mother hid you, she ran back to their car. Your father was waiting and as soon as she got in, he changed directions, doing a U-turn and driving away. It was obvious they were trying to put as much distance between you and them as they could, but they didn’t get very far at all. A huge pickup truck rammed into them. I don’t know where it came from, but it hit them so hard the Jeep spun around before it rolled to a stop. Your dad’s door was crushed, but he was alive. Your mother wasn’t moving… I’m so sorry.” “I know you are. I feel bad putting you through this, ma’am.” Kellar felt numb, but what he was hearing played into what he already knew. “The police reports said my parents were burned beyond recognition.” He couldn’t bring himself to use the same words the investigator had. “That’s because one of them threw something into the back seat that exploded. I believe it’s called a Molotov cocktail. It was a bottle with a burning rag stuffed in it. Your father tried to open his door, but it was badly dented. He was screaming at those men… but he couldn’t get out. One of the hunters was laughing, taunting your father—that’s when I saw his wolf—he shifted and came partway out the window at the man, and he managed to slash his face with a paw before the other older one hit him repeatedly with this club thing. It was awful, but it was over quickly. Your father shifted back and gathered your mother in his arms. The younger one threw another one of those things in the Jeep from your mother’s side—he was the one with a rifle—and another explosion filled the car with flames. That was the end of my vision.” “My father slashed the hunter in the face?” “Yes, he did, and it was an effective one. He caught the man by surprise, and left him bleeding and cursing. He called your father an unholy demon.” Kellar turned to his mate and they both said Reznick at the same time. “Could it be? That bastard killed my parents?” “I don’t know, doc. It would be a hell of a coincidence. That scar fit with shifter wolf claws.” “What can you tell me about these hunters, ma’am?” “There were three of them, and they were big men. One was probably in his late twenties, and the other two were around fifty to sixty. One was definitely older than the other. They looked alike… I would say they were definitely related… and they looked Slavic. That’s all I can tell you, I’m afraid.” “You said one had a club?” “Actually, two of them did. Long ones, with metal rings around them… three or four metal rings.” “So, they were more like thick staffs than clubs.” “Yes. That’s a better word. Am I right in thinking these were the hunters you dealt with recently?” “They have to be”—he looked at Tobyn, who nodded with certainty—“and if that’s the case, they’re all dead now. Ma’am, are you sure my mom was… gone… before the flames touched her?” “She never stirred after the Jeep came to a stop. Not once. She must have hit her head because your father was wiping away blood as he held her.” “Thank you… for telling me this.” “Are you all right, dear?” Kellar looked at his mate, bringing Tobyn’s hand over with his own, and holding them tight to his chest. He took a deep breath. “I will be. It’s a relief to finally have answers, and now I have a real memory of my mother. I’ve always felt it there, but this was the first time I was able to grab hold of it.” “I have so many little stories about Gigi I can tell you if you ever want to hear them,” Elinor said, her voice full of sympathy, “and I have more pictures of her at the house you’re welcome to take and keep.” Kellar mustered up a smile. “I’d like that.” His thoughts had traveled to Fendral. He had a living relative, but one he couldn’t talk to. It was time to find the man… the old grey wolf. He sighed loudly. “What are you thinking?” Tobyn asked with a note of expectation in his voice. Kellar’s gaze moved from his mate to the other people in the room. Arthur had stayed quiet, but he too had a look of compassion. “That this is so ironic. I have found a family here… something I never thought I’d have. My mother was taking me to meet my grandfather. I remember her words clearly now. She was bringing me to this very place. This was always meant to be my home, at least some of the time. I’m guessing that was the purpose of this vision.” His eyes returned to Tobyn. “Doc, isn’t it obvious? Morningstar isn’t just your home, it’s your pack.” “I know.” Kellar sighed again. “And I’m thankful. I already felt like I belonged, but now, even more so.” “I don’t think you get what I’m saying. The purpose isn’t what you think… it has to be to reveal your birthright. As Fendral’s only living relative, you are the rightful alpha of Morningstar. The bloodline remains unbroken.” It took seconds for Tobyn’s words to sink in, with all Kellar’s thoughts and emotions going every which way. Did he just hear his mate right? His questioning gaze fell on Elinor, and she was nodding in agreement. Miss Sybil was nodding too. Holy fuck.
  37. 98 points
    Chapter 23 --Bailey— "Woohoo! Go! Go! Go!" Cameron practically yelled in his ear as the Heritage receiver took off down the field. Bailey had no idea who it was. He only remembered that Lachlan was the quarterback, and Declan was number 24. He hadn't had a chance to learn everyone's numbers or what position they played. "Jeez, Cam, you just about broke my ear drum," Luke complained, rubbing his finger in his ear. Bailey chuckled as he yanked a few times at the collar of his shirt, trying to cool down in the unusually warm humid air, made worse by the crush of people around him. The receiver had made it to the six yard line, so now everyone was chanting for a touchdown. Bailey's eyes were on the broad back of number 24, as it had most of the game. Yeah, he enjoyed watching the three touchdowns and two field goals Heritage had made, but he was focused on Declan—who had helped hold the Lancers to only two field goals. At the beginning of the game, he'd felt a little pang of longing, wistfully wanting to be the one chasing down the Lancer's receiver. His team had been shocked when they'd learned he was going to the game and staying in the dorm. In the past, Justin and the guys had boycotted the football games on general 'Chris' principle, but tonight was different. Things had changed. The animosity between the teams had begun to dissipate when Declan had stood up for Bailey against Chris. And the fact that several of the guys had shown up to their gymnastics meet had solidified the tentative peace. So his team had joined him at the game, although Bailey suspected Justin had already been considering going after his connection with Ben on the bus. While Bailey had received several greetings from fellow classmates when he'd arrived at the game—many, again, of surprise—he didn't really know any them, he wasn't friends with them. His team—they were his only friends. And now Declan. He'd been so alone since coming to Heritage, not wanting to let anyone in, shying away from everyone. Justin, Luke, Mateo, Cameron and Owen hadn't given up on him, even though he'd given them every reason to. But it had taken Declan—the huge, obnoxious linebacker—to break his barriers down. Now there was only a few minutes left in the game, and Bailey was anxious for it to be over. The crowd around him surged to their feet in an uproar, and Bailey realized he'd missed the play that had earned them another touchdown. He absently clapped as they kicked the extra point. The last few minutes wound down on the clock as the Lancers struggled valiantly to score before time ran out. Declan and the defensive line didn't let them. As the last cheers of victory died out, Bailey watched Declan whip off his helmet. He couldn't help the smile that came when he realized Declan was searching the stands, his hand raising when he spotted Bailey. Bailey rose with the rest of the crowd, hefting up his school backpack that he'd filled with a change of clothes instead of books, and slinging it over his shoulder before following Justin down to the field. Spectators filtered out the gates, several heading to their cars, others towards the dorms. Several students descended on the football team, offering their congratulations. Bailey watched Justin find Ben as he himself hovered on the outskirts of the congratulatory crowd. Nick was praising Lachlan on his awesome first game as lead quarterback. Several others that Bailey recognized—Jose, Alex, Jaime—were also thumping the younger teen on the back. "Hey." Bailey jumped, startled to find Declan next to him, looking even bigger in his shoulder pads and uniform. Sweat dripped down his temples, and Bailey thought he shouldn't find that so alluring. "Hey. Great game." Bailey smiled up at Declan, who just grinned back. "Yeah, Lachlan did a great job." "You all did a great job," Bailey corrected. Declan laughed. "Yeah, it was definitely a different atmosphere in the locker room before the game tonight. There was nervousness, of course, especially for Lachlan, but really... it was just more relaxed. Nick is an awesome captain." Bailey nodded shyly, unsure of what else to say. "So," Declan finally broke the silence, "we have to head back to the locker room, of course. You know, to shower and change and listen to coach for a bit. You can just come with me and wait until we're done." Bailey wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, no, I don't think so. I'll just wait outside the locker room." Declan laughed. "Yeah, okay—" A whistle cut the air, and they turned to see Coach Reed waving for the team to head in. "Gotta go. See you in a few." When Declan leaned in and hugged him, Bailey nearly flinched back, shock and surprise stunning him to silence. Declan was halfway across the field before Bailey even fully realized what had happened. Bailey lifted his hand to his cheek, feeling the dampness of where Declan's head had brushed the side of his face. It was a little gross, to be enamored of Declan's sweat clinging to him, but Bailey still felt a tiny smile forming as he wiped his jaw dry. *** "What the hell are you doing out here?" a voice jerked his attention from the game Bailey had been playing on his phone. Eddie had shoved his way out of the locker room along with his sidekick, Tripp. They were the first to emerge while Bailey sat waiting outside the locker room for Declan. Neither one had showered, apparently just planning on heading to their dorm room first. "Come to gloat about Chris and Eric being gone?" Tripp added. Bailey pushed himself to his feet from where he'd been sitting against the wall, not wanting to be caught at the significant disadvantage of being on the ground should the two become physically aggressive. "No, don't see that I'd need to do that. I think the team showed it's obvious they don't need Chris and his lapdog to rock it. You guys can win just fine without him. You had an awesome game." Eddie opened and closed his mouth as if searching for some retort, but there really wasn't anything he could say to that. The team had done just fine without Chris Vasser leading it, and Bailey made sure to include Eddie and Tripp in his compliment—knowing it would catch them off guard. Before they could come up with anything else to say, the locker room door opened again and several team members spilled out into the hall, laughing and joking, still high from the win. "Hey! Bailey!" Bailey tore his eyes from Eddie at Jose's call. "What a day, huh, man? Two wins for Heritage! Woohoo!" "Two?" someone asked, but Bailey wasn't sure who. Jose grinned and wrapped an arm around Bailey's shoulders. "Yeah. The gymnastics team crushed it today. You guys should have seen it." "You crushed it," Bailey countered with a grin. "Ben told me about that," someone else said. "I wish I'd known we could go." "Next time," Jose promised. A shout erupted, and Bailey turned to the doors as Lachlan emerged. "Oh! And here's the man of the hour!" "Lachlan! Lachlan! Lachlan!" a chant went up. The new quarterback flushed, ducking his head as his team cheered again. The guy was practically being shoved with pats on the back toward the exit. Bailey noticed in the crush of football players streaming from the locker room, Eddie and Tripp had made their escape. Alec and Jaime stopped next to him as well. "We're going to the student union. The coach had pizza delivered. You want to come?" Alec asked. "Maybe. I'm, uh, waiting for Declan," Bailey explained. "I'm not sure if he's planning on going." Jaime chuckled. "Oh, he's planning on going. That guy can put away some pizza." "Then I guess I'll be there." The flow of students from the locker room slowed to a trickle after the huge rush. He watched through the window as they made their way over to the student union for an after-game pizza party. With the dining hall closed, he supposed it made sense that the school would need to feed the team after a game. "Hey, sorry I took so long." Bailey turned to see Declan striding towards him, and Bailey smiled up at him. "No problem. I'm not going anywhere." "You okay if we stop by the student union? They have some—" "Pizza. I know." Bailey laughed, picking up his backpack. "I'm sure you're a little hungry." Declan grinned. "I could use a slice or two." *** --Declan— "Okay, maybe I should have grabbed another slice," Declan grumbled. Bailey rolled his eyes as he took the towel Declan handed him. "I told you we could have stayed longer. You didn't have to just grab a couple slices and run." Declan flopped on his bed. He'd finished his real shower, having only done a quick rinse in the locker room, and he'd asked Bailey if he wanted to shower after spending the evening in the unusually warm air watching the game. Bailey was about to take him up on the offer and had pulled his pajamas and toothbrush from his backpack. "I know, but I'm tired. And I just wanted to get back here and hang out, you know. Watch a movie or something." "Yeah, yeah." "Yo! Dec!" a voice sounded from the other side of the bathroom. "You done in here?" Micah peeked his head in the room. Declan yawned. "Bailey was going to take a shower." Declan's suitemate looked Bailey up and down briefly. "Evan went home, huh?" "Yeah. Bailey's gonna hang out. His mom didn't want him walking back home in the dark, so I offered him Evan's bed." "Evan's bed, right..." Micah winked with an evil grin. Declan flushed bright red, noticing that Bailey had bitten his lip and turned away to hide his own scarlet cheeks. "You ass..." Declan snapped, throwing a pillow across the room that Micah easily dodged. Micah just laughed before nudging Bailey's shoulder playfully. "Don't let him fool you. After all his mooning over you... Bailey this and Bailey that... you could totally join him and he wouldn't mind. You know, if you get cold or something." Bailey ducked his head and stifled a laugh. "I'll keep that in mind." "Micah!" Declan roared, diving across the room to tackle his suitemate, but the little golfer had already darted back through the bathroom to his own room, slamming the door on the other side. Declan could hear him and Logan laughing hysterically. "Bastards." Declan stepped back into his own room, evading Bailey's gaze. "Hey, sorry about him, you know, just..." Bailey's hand landed on his forearm. "It's okay. He's just joking around." "Yeah, yeah, he's, well..." Declan was still stammering from embarrassment. Bailey squeezed harder on Declan's arm. "Hey. How about I get that shower, then we watch the movie. Maybe you can even invite Micah and Logan over to join us." Declan nodded, grateful Bailey had swept away the tension threatening to stifle their night. As much as Declan liked Bailey, he hadn't wanted Bailey to think that's why he wanted him to stay over. And now that Micah had opened his stupid mouth... well, he couldn't get that image out of his mind. After Bailey stepped into the shower cubicle of the bathroom, Declan made his way to Logan and Micah's room. Surprisingly, Micah hadn't actually locked it to keep Declan from storming through. "Hey guys..." He knocked once before opening it. Declan saw Micah duck behind his much larger roommate, causing Logan to teeter as Micah grabbed him. "You." Declan pointed at Micah, who just erupted into peals of laughter. Logan crossed his arms, trying to look stern and not laugh, but wasn't being very successful. "You're an ass," Declan declared. "Oh, we already know that," Logan agreed. They all heard the water turn on in the bathroom. Declan's attention flickered briefly to the open bathroom door before he let his shoulders sag. Damn he was tired. He didn't even have the energy to continue berating Micah. "So Bailey's staying overnight, I hear," Logan said. "Yeah." Declan raised his hand defensively. "Purely platonic. So he could enjoy the game and not have to walk home so late." The quirked eyebrows and pursed lips on his suitemates told him they didn't believe him. "Whatever." He waved a dismissive hand at them. They'd tease and joke no matter what he told them. "We do want to get to know each other and spend time together, but..." He shrugged. "No like that yet." Of course, Micah picked up on the 'yet.' "Yet, huh? So soon?" Declan only had the energy to flick him off. "So we're going to watch Age of Ultron in a few minutes. Did you guys want to join us?" Declan finally offered. "Oooh, well, wouldn't we be intruding on your cuddle time?" Micah apparently just couldn't let up. Declan rolled his eyes, ignoring him as he stepped back towards the bathroom. "I guess that's a no." "No! No! I want to see it!" Micah burst out from behind Logan. "I'm just teasin'." "You're just an ass," Declan retorted. "I think we've already covered that," Logan chuckled. "Knock when you're ready to start. We'll bring some popcorn." Declan perked up at the mention of the snack. "Popcorn?" "Yeah, my mom sent the good stuff in her last care package," Logan said, already digging around in a crate under his bed. "Great. Thanks." Declan stepped back through the bathroom. Hearing Bailey in the shower brought indecent images to his mind that he had to stamp down before his cock decided to show Bailey just how interested he was. Imagining the water and soapy bubbles sluicing down Bailey's firm muscles was not helping. He looked down at the knee-length athletic shorts he had on for bed. Already he could see a bulge trying to thicken in his underwear. Normally, he wouldn't have even bothered with the underwear, but he knew Bailey's presence might incite a physical response and hoped the boxer briefs would help contain the evidence. Damn things weren't doing a very good job. "Grandma. Church. The president. Stinky sweat socks," he mumbled to himself, trying to come up with other images to keep his libido under control. The bed. He could make up Evan's bed for Bailey, that might help. Declan headed to his closet to pull down an extra set of sheets. For some reason, his mom thought he needed three sets—two regular and one flannel—for when it got cold, she said. He thought Bailey might like the softer blue flannel, so he pulled that set down. The process of putting the bed together helped get his mind off other things. He finished about the time he heard Bailey turn off the water. A few minutes later, Bailey leaned out of the bathroom doorway. "Hey, do you have some toothpaste I can use?" Declan turned. "Uh, yeah sure." He moved into the bathroom to dig out his tube from his basket of toiletries, ignoring the fall of Bailey's sleep pants over his hips, glad that Bailey had decided to wear a t-shirt to bed. As he handed over the toothpaste, his stomach let out a loud rumble. For a second they both just stared at Declan's stomach like an alien was about to claw its way out. Then they burst in to laughter. Declan rubbed his belly. "Sorry about that." Still laughing, Bailey pointed at his book bag on the floor by Declan's desk. "I have a couple protein bars in the front pocket of my bag. Why don't you eat those?" Declan's brows shot up into his hairline. "Really? Thanks. Logan said he'd bring over some popcorn, but a protein bar would be even better." As he lifted the backpack and put it on the desk, it occurred to him that he should have prepared better for company and bought some extra snacks. As it was, all he had was a bunch of bottles of water and three orange juice bottles in their tiny fridge. There were actually three pockets on the front of the backpack, so he started with the smallest. After unzipping it, digging his hand in and scooping out the contents, it was obvious that wasn't the right pocket. The handful of school supplies—pens, pencils, a six-inch ruler, a tiny stapler, a protractor, a compass, erasers, even a tiny tape roll—got dumped on the desk. "Damn, man, how many pens and pencils to you need?" Declan chuckled as he sorted through the different colors. He got a grunt from Bailey, who had a toothbrush in his mouth. "...frong focket," came Bailey's mumbled response. "And what the hell is this?" Declan held up the object, examining it. It had a slide lever on the side and he pushed it. As a sharp blade slid free of its casing, a memory tugged at his brain... another razor... somewhere... recently... "Wrong pocket," Bailey repeated. "Don't think any of that would taste very good." Bailey had finished rinsing and was staring at Declan from the bathroom doorway. For a second, Declan was sure he saw a flash of fear in Bailey's soft gray eyes. "Why do you need this in your backpack?" Declan held it up, genuinely curious, even as something nagged at the back of his brain. The look in Bailey's eyes disappeared almost instantly as he shrugged and smiled. "It came as part of the set of supplies my mom got, along with the compass, ruler, tape, stapler and stuff. I just dumped it all in there. Never know what you might need. Can't say I've ever needed the tape either." "Huh." Declan huffed as Bailey came over and started repacking his school supplies. After they were put away, he unzipped the medium size pocket and pulled out five protein bars. "Geez, what are you, a boy scout? Always be prepared?" Declan laughed at the number of bars Bailey held, different flavors too. Bailey cocked a thin hip. "Fine, don't take 'em..." He started to drop them back in the bag. "No! No, no," Declan cried out, dropping to his knees in front of Bailey, hands clasped together. "Please, sir, may I have more to eat?" Bailey laughed, shaking his head at Declan's antics. He dropped all five bars on the desk, leaving them there for Declan to pick at them as he wanted. The pizza at the student union had been enough for him, since he'd also grabbed a hot dog during the game. Declan climbed to his feet, laughing as well, before tearing into one of the protein bars—mint chocolate chip. Declan tore off a bite with his teeth before offering Bailey some water or juice from the fridge. Bailey took a bottle of water since he'd already brushed. They could smell the popcorn being prepared in the other room. "I guess I should have told you about Logan and the popcorn before you brushed. You could just brush again, if you want some..." Bailey waved the bottle of water. "This is fine. I'm not really hungry. A little tired is all." As Declan fiddled with the TV and DVD player, he noticed Bailey eyeing the two beds, wringing his water bottle in his hands. After he had the DVD ready, he turned to Bailey, wondering what was wrong. "You okay?" "Yeah... it's just..." Bailey trailed off with another look at Evan's bed. "Are you sure he said it was okay? I feel weird him not knowing I'm taking over his bed." "Yeah, he'd be fine with it. But if it bothers you that much, you can take mine, and I'll sleep in Evan's," Declan suggested. Bailey visibly relaxed. It was obvious he'd been nervous imposing on Evan's things without hearing Evan's express permission himself. "Yeah. That... that might be good. Thanks." "No problem." Declan grinned. "Let me just..." he trailed off as he moved to yank the sheets off his own bed. He was suddenly glad to have that extra set of sheets waiting in the closet. Thank you, mom. Bailey helped him, and as they finished making the bed, Logan and Micah tromped through the bathroom, wafting the buttery smell of popcorn with them. "Movie ready?" Logan asked, tossing popcorn into his mouth. "Yeah, just a min." Declan finished tucking the comforter in before grabbing the pillows from Evan's bed and propping all the pillows up against the wall. "It'll be easier to see the screen from here," Declan told Bailey, indicating for him to climb on to the make-shift couch. Micah was lugging a leather gaming chair into the room, placing it in front of Declan's bed and settling himself down on it. Logan just took Declan's desk chair and flipped it around, leaning on the back of it like he always did. "Okay, here we go." Declan settled on the bed with Bailey and pressed play on the remote. There was over a foot of distance between them, but it wasn't awkward either—like they were trying to keep their distance. It was just how each had settled against the pillows. The movie was more than half over before Declan realized that Bailey had moved. Bailey had shifted, curling his legs and leaning more to the side on the pillows—closer to Declan. Declan could almost feel wisps of Bailey's hair tickling his arm. He looked down to see Bailey's eyes drifting closed, like he was fighting to stay awake. Declan smiled to himself before carefully pulling a pillow free and laying it over his leg. Then he wrapped an arm around Bailey, tugging, startling him for a moment, before indicating for Bailey to lay down. Bailey hesitated for only a moment before resting his head on Declan's thigh. Bailey wriggled a little, his hand tucking up to land on Declan's knee. Declan sucked in a breath at the touch, so innocent and yet... not. He dropped his own hand to Bailey's shoulder, rubbing up and down. He leaned down, whispering. "Is this okay?" "Mmmhmm." Bailey's response was muffled as Declan suspected he was drifting off to sleep already. Sitting back, he grinned as a giddy warm spread through his body. His body and mind buzzed with excitement, fear, contentment, and trepidation, all vying for supremacy. As the movie wore on, Declan wasn't sure what was happening anymore. His thoughts strayed to one thing: did he now have a boyfriend and how did he feel about it? While he wasn't certain about the answer to the first question, he was coming to realize that giddy happiness was beginning to trample his fear of being more out at school. His fingers trailed over Bailey's soft skin. And it was because of Bailey. **** Declan jerked awake, unsure of what had awoken him. He stared around in the dark, confused by the different angle of the room. Then he remembered—he was in Evan's bed, and Bailey was nestled in his. The bang and yell had him shooting upright. "No! No, stop! Don't go!" Bailey was scrabbling blinding at the wall with his hands, sometimes hitting it hard enough to cause a resounding thump on the wall. Declan jumped out of the bed, calling Bailey's name softly and shaking his shoulder, hoping to wake him before the loud knocks woke up Micah or Logan on the other side of the wall. "Bailey, man, come on. Wake up. You're having a nightmare," Declan urged. Unfortunately, Declan's touch only caused Bailey to get more violent and insistent about pounding through the wall. A couple more loud punches, and Declan instinctively threw himself around Bailey, pulling the thrashing arms into his body. Declan was practically spooned behind the smaller teen, holding him tight while offering shushing noises of comfort. It belatedly occurred to him that restraining someone in the throes of a nightmare could put him in danger of being hit himself, but Bailey was a lot smaller than he was so maybe it would be okay, as long as he didn't freak Bailey out. "It's okay, Bailey. You're safe..." "...nnnuh... nnuh... no! Dad!...no... no," Bailey's voice trailed off, becoming more of a sob as his struggles lessened. "What the hell is going on?" Logan's sleepy voice asked from the bathroom door way. "You guys... you guys aren't having sex, are you?" he stammered as he apparently took in Declan laying next to Bailey. "If you thought we were having sex, why the hell did you come in here?" Declan snapped irritably, glaring over his shoulder at his suitemate while Bailey's body slowly sagged under his. Logan stared at him for a long moment, obviously not quite awake, before shrugging. "Good point. I guess I heard the banging... didn't know what was going on. And well... " He shrugged again, too tired to put more coherent thought into it. "Anyway, you guys okay?" Declan sighed. "Yeah. Bailey was just having a nightmare. I was trying to hold him to keep him from continuing to hit the wall, get him to calm down." Declan felt Bailey shudder, and moved a hand to stroke over Bailey's hand. "We're good now, I think," he told Logan without looking at him. "Sorry it woke you." Logan waved away the apology. "No problem. It happens. Just making sure everything was okay." "Thanks. 'Night." Declan heard Logan leave, closing the connecting bathroom door behind him. Declan focused on Bailey. "Bailey..." he whispered, loosening his grip now that Bailey was calmer, but Bailey didn't move, didn't fight to be free. "Bailey... are you okay? Are you awake?" Slowly, Bailey's hand came out from where Declan hand tucked it against his body, and Declan felt Bailey's tentative touch on his forearm. "Declan?" "Yeah," he sighed, relieved that Bailey was free of the wrath of his nightmare. "It's me. You... you were having a nightmare, banging on the walls. I... I wasn't sure what to do, so I kinda just held you to keep you from hurting yourself—and waking up the guys next door." Bailey groaned, turning to bury his face in the pillow. "Oh God. I'm so sorry. Did I wake them? Did I hurt you?" "No," Declan lied, started to pull away and give Bailey some room. "No, don't." Bailey's hand caught his arm. Declan froze, unsure of what Bailey meant. Don't what? Bailey sniffled, and Declan realized he'd been crying. Based on what Declan had heard, he could guess Bailey's nightmare had to do with his father. And Declan could only imagine what Bailey must be feeling. Declan had never lost anyone close to him yet, so he had no idea what kind of pain Bailey must be dealing with every day, or how he even dealt with it to be so functional. Declan knew if he lost one of his parents he'd be devastated. "Bailey?" The unasked question lingered tenuously between them. "Don't go." Bailey's response was so soft Declan almost didn't hear him, but Bailey curled himself into the bed, dragging Declan's arm around him as he did. "Please. I need to feel something... other than... other than the ache of..." "Shhhh...." Declan soothed, wrapping his arms tighter around the smaller body. If holding Bailey helped him to sleep, to feel something other than the deep void his father's loss had created, then Declan would do his best to absorb as much of Bailey pain as he could by holding him in his arm. Bailey snuffled again, apparently trying to chase away the last visages of the nightmare, and settled into Declan's arms. Bailey wriggled a little, burrowing himself closer, seeking as much contact as possible. Declan felt Bailey's body slowly relaxing, evidently taking comfort in Declan's nearness. "Thank you," Bailey whispered. "I... I hope it's... it's not too much to—" "Shush." Declan hushed him, drawing the blanket Bailey had thrashed off to the side over both of them and settling himself down. "I'm exactly where I want to be. With you." Bailey's fingers tightened on the hand that Bailey had pulled to his chest. "Me too."
  38. 98 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 52 “So, what are your plans?” “We’re not sure yet, Mom. Arthur has given us the name of that town, Dryden, northwest of Thunder Bay, so we have something to go on. Everyone has settled in nicely, so we’re not really needed here now, are we?” “Needed, no, but Tobyn, you and Kellar haven’t had any chance to catch your breath. Don’t you want to take it easy for a while? My goodness, you’ve just found Hugh’s mate, and….” “Hugh found his own mate, Elinor.” “You know what I mean, Kellar. From what you’ve told me, you two were there for Hugh in every way when he needed you, and don’t try to tell me it was easy. So, back to my question. What’s the rush?” “The rush is that shifters are still dying, Mom, and we want to cover as much ground as we can before the weather changes and winter sets in. That’s when we’ll stick close to home.” “Close to home?” “You don’t miss anything, do you? Yeah, Morningstar most of the time, but we plan to spend a lot of days at the cabin too. We like it there, and you’ve seen how much work my mate has put into it.” Tobyn turned to Kellar and winked. “It’s best to prepare her now.” “Good thinking.” Elinor sighed deeply, leaning back in her chair. “It is a lovely place. You know I worry when you’re gone.” “We do. All we can tell you is we’ll be careful, and before you say it, just because we’ve said we think the hunters’ numbers have shrunk considerably, we know the threat is still there. Kellar and I will never be caught unawares.” “We could spare a couple of members to go with you now. I’m sure Percy would love to go with you, and he’s already faced a hunter….” “Mom, please. We’ve been through this already. Yes, Percy has come face to face with a hunter, but it was Ian who pulled the trigger, and there’s no way in hell we’re going to ask him to leave Joanne. Look, we understand your concerns, but this is a time for the pack to jell. I have no doubt we’d get a lot of volunteers if we asked, but we honestly think we’d be better off continuing to do this on our own. Remember, being able to communicate without others knowing is a powerful advantage.” “Good job, babe.” “Thanks. She’ll never be completely on board with us going off by ourselves, though.” “Okay, okay. I’ll stop being mom… for the time being,” she said unconvincingly, “and don’t think I’m not aware you do that ‘talking amongst yourselves thing’ with me.” Both Kellar and Tobyn stayed quiet, but grins slipped onto their faces. “Stop looking so smug, the pair of you,” Elinor said with detectable amusement. “Oh, did I tell you I’ve almost talked Clarence into joining our council? He’s thinking it over. Ingram and Maynard really like him, and so do I.” “Ingram just wants more time out on the lake.” Elinor laughed. “True, but the poor man. Did you know Dot got queasy when he took her on a boat ride for the first time? She says the water’s not for her. He didn’t show it, but I’m sure Ingram was disappointed. If anything could keep him on solid ground, it’ll be his mate.” “Maybe she’ll get used to it,” Tobyn said, chuckling at the man’s luck. “But you’re right about Clarence. He’s an impressive man, and he’s learned from his mistakes. He’s without ego, and he puts his members first.” Elinor nodded her agreement. “I’ve seen that in him—we’ve had some good talks—and that’s exactly why I’d like to involve him in the day to day running of Morningstar.” “He’s a great fit,”Kellar agreed. “I hope all the alphas we meet are as fair and welcoming as Clarence was.” When a frown creased Elinor’s face, he regretted his words. The mother in her was resurfacing, and he could picture the scenarios she was imagining. “That’s the thing about shifters, though. After not knowing any for most of my life, I haven’t met a single one I didn’t like.” Hopefully, that helped. “Well, there was Logan for a while there,” Tobyn pointed out with an exaggerated shudder. “God, he was a jerk, wasn’t he? Unfortunately, we met his tumor before we met him.” Kellar grimaced at the memory, and then smiled. “I love watching him with Tilly. He expresses himself, but only after Tilly has. It’s cute.” “He’s a man in love, doc. I expect there will be a wedding there soon too. Probably right after Adelin’s.” Elinor snickered. “Just between us, Logan showed up here after breakfast, before he went off to the marina—says he loves working there and doesn’t care if he ever sees lumber again—and asked me about weddings at Morningstar.” “Really? Wow. That was fast.” “Don’t misunderstand, Toby. He was wanting to know if his dad would be allowed to perform a wedding ceremony here, if he doesn’t join the council. I told him of course Clarence could do it no matter what he decided. He’ll still be an alpha even if he doesn’t take a leadership role. He was pretty happy after we talked, but asked me not to mention our conversation to Tilly.” “So, he’s thinking about it,” Tobyn said thoughtfully. “He probably got a wistful vibe from his mate over Adelin’s upcoming wedding. She’s not easy to read sometimes, but Logan’s a pretty smart cookie. He showed as much in the challenge of getting Vega over the hump. He was in tune with the members, which was pretty impressive to witness considering he spent years suffering constant pain and mood swings. He was the one who called for a vote, and remember his talk at the table, doc, about setting aside logging and concentrating on what makes Morningstar strong?” “Yeah, I remember. There’s nothing wrong with his brain now, that’s for sure. He’s his father’s son, babe, with the same talent for diplomacy you have, and that got hidden for a while because of the tumor, but it never disappeared.” Elinor had gone quiet, looking from one to the other. “We’ve added so many good people. It’s been ages since I’ve felt I could relax, and not worry about our future every waking minute.” “All this responsibility has to weigh a person down,” Kellar mused. “You should start taking it easier now… you’ve earned it.” “Thank you, dear. All these new members have changed the atmosphere of Morningstar so much. I don’t feel the pressure I used to. It gives me more time to enjoy life. Me and Denver. He can leave later and get home earlier now, and I’m going to try to do the same. I would like more family time,” she said, wearing the tiniest of smiles. “You know, don’t you?” Kellar gave Tobyn’s mother a direct look. For a second, Elinor looked like a deer caught in headlights, and then she relaxed. “I didn’t, not for certain. It’s awfully early.” Her gaze went to Tobyn. “What are you two talking about? Mom?” A smile grew on Elinor’s face. “I believe Kellar just verified what I’d only hoped until now. You can tell already?” Kellar nodded, his attention focused on his mate. “Are you saying…?” “That you’re finally going to be a brother? Yes, it would appear so.” Elinor was beaming. “Holy crap. A brother? I… I always wanted to be a brother.” He turned to Kellar. “You can see it?” “Yes, I can see it.” “Can you tell what it is?” “Yup. It’s a baby. That’s all I can tell you. It’s a tiny little thing right now, but it’s made a home.” Elinor leaned forward, her arms reaching across the desk. “Are you happy about it, Tobyn?” “Are you?” “Oh, my, yes.” “Then so am I. It’s kind of a shock, but Kellar predicted it a while ago. Hell, yeah, I’m over the moon. A baby. Wow. Does Denver know?” “No, he doesn’t. I didn’t know until just this moment, but I had a feeling, and of course there was a physical sign indicating I could be. My cycle has always been reliable. I was dying to ask if you could detect whether I was, Kellar, but at the same time, I’ve been afraid to get my hopes up.” “I saw it right away, Elinor.” “Right away? What do you mean, right away? Like, the day we got back from Vega?” Tobyn asked. “Yup. I can see a pregnancy from the time the egg is fertilized and the cells start to divide.” “And you didn’t tell me?” “Nope.” “How could you keep that a secret?” “What… do you think you should know before your mom does? That wouldn’t be right. Besides, it hadn’t made it to the womb yet.” Tobyn looked at his mother and grinned. “I guess my mate is your physician now, and he’s invoking some doctor confidentiality thingy.” Elinor giggled, but then she gave Kellar a penetrating look. “Does everything look okay so far?” Kellar didn’t miss the apprehension the question held. Years of stillborn children could not be forgotten overnight… probably never. “All I can say is nothing appears wrong. There is no color there that shouldn’t be, and the zygote’s aura is strong. You can relax, Elinor.” “Thank you.” She let go of the breath she’d been holding as she said the words. “Zygote?” Tobyn asked. “The beginning of your brother or sister, babe. It’s really early yet, but it’s becoming an embryo as we speak. It has just attached itself to the uterine wall, which means it’s about two weeks old, give or take. No more than three.” “Oh, okay. Does it have a pattern already?” “No, but it has a glow that’s an opaque white. It’s the reason I noticed it.” “Cool. How do you know all this stuff?” “All I used to do, night after night, was read those journals. You’ve seen them at the cabin. And to be honest, I’ve studied it in human women whenever I flickered and saw a pregnancy. I’ve seen babies at every stage. It’s fascinating,” Kellar said with a shrug. “You’re definitely hired.” Tobyn stood and walked around the desk. “My head is spinning, but I’m stoked as heck and I need to hug my amazing mom.” Instant tears formed in Elinor’s eyes at her son’s words, and she giggled again. “That’s another sign. My emotions have been all over the place the last few days, and I knew it had nothing to do with Vega.” She stood up and walked into her son’s arms. The sight of them sharing the moment had Kellar experiencing some emotions of his own. Finally, the payoff for defeating the malaise was beginning, even sooner than expected, and it was fitting Elinor was starting it off. Come hell or high water, this baby would be born alive and healthy. Kellar would ensure it. And yeah, he was Elinor’s doctor. He was every members’ doctor, and that was fine with him. It was what he was born to do. The timing of Clarence’s arrival, an experienced alpha, was even more fortuitous given this new and important pregnancy. The earth mother at work again? It was ten-thirty in the morning, and this time they were determined to get out on the lake. Tobyn was practically vibrating from hearing of a new sibling on the way, and a new baby for the pack. Kellar had to caution his excited mate not to let anything slip as they walked through the sparsely-populated dining room and out the front entrance of the lodge. They didn’t even make it to their vehicle before a strange truck pulled into view, moving slowly. “Who the heck is that? There are signs to direct the tourists.” “I can’t see through the glare on the windshield,” Kellar said. A scent reached him through the open windows. “Hey, that’s Connor.” At the same time, they heard the heavy rumble of a big dually coming from the farm road, still a fair distance away. “And that must be Hugh,” Tobyn said, his attention still on Connor’s progress. He waved the man forward, and the truck responded, edging up its crawl and pulling in next to them. Kellar walked over to the driver’s side, with Tobyn in the lead. “Hugh’s supposed to have met me here… well, at the road down there”—Connor pointed back from where he came—“but, he wasn’t there.” He looked extremely agitated. “Hi, Connor. Good to see you. No worries. He’s on his way. We can hear his truck, and it’ll be about a minute before he drives around the corner.” Tobyn’s words seemed to calm Connor enough that he visibly relaxed. “Oh good. I was worried something had happened to him. I, ah… I thought it would be busier around here.” Kellar reached around Tobyn and put a hand on the relieved man’s shoulder. “It will be when lunch starts. Are you guys doing okay? We didn’t see Hugh on the grounds yesterday.” “Oh, yeah, he was with me. He called someone named Charles and took the day off. I brought him back before first light this morning and dropped him off at the marina road. That’s where he said….” “Speak of the devil. There’s your mate, looking just as stressed as you do. Not easy being separated, is it?” “Fuck, no.” Connor blew out a huge breath. “It’s hell. Is it always going to be like this?” Kellar chuckled. “It gets worse, and then it settles down. No complaints from us though, right, babe?” “No, but we’re never apart, except the one time, and I don’t even want to think about what that was like,” Tobyn said, stepping out of the way as Hugh hurried over from where he’d parked. “Sorry, Connor. I got caught up in something and I couldn’t leave until it was finished. A stupid cow got out of the pasture when I let go of the gate… I was having trouble keeping my mind on the job,” he said sheepishly as he finally acknowledged the other two men. “Hi Kellar. Hi Tobe.” He returned his attention to his mate. “Are you coming out of there?” “Don’t you have to ask permission first?” Hugh shook his head and chuckled. “Permission? No. I guess I didn’t explain it right. I only meant I wanted to ask one of our leaders for their approval to show you around. It’s a courtesy thing for your first time here. Humans aren’t allowed in the private areas as a rule… it’s for our safety and security. Once you’re introduced as my mate, we’re all good. You’ll be one of us.” Hugh seemed to be out of oxygen when he finished. “Hugh, calm down and breathe,” Tobyn teased. “Mom’s in there, and she can’t wait to meet Connor.” Connor was in the process of stepping out. “She knows? You told her about me? What did she say?” Hugh didn’t answer at first. Instead, he pulled his mate close, and they held the embrace for half-a-minute. Kellar could hear the deep inhales of each other’s scent, and moved closer to his own mate, waiting for both men to have their fill. Yeah, hours of separation will do that. “No, I didn’t get the chance, and I wanted to get my work done so I could meet you. I figured we’d tell her together.” “Kellar and I told her, Connor. You can’t keep anything from my mother. So, you guys spent the whole of yesterday together? I’ll take that as a good sign,” Tobyn uttered to the still entangled men. Hugh snickered as they finally let go of each other, except for clasped hands. His breathing was much calmer. “You could say that. He’s smarter than me, but we have so much in common it’s scary.” “Hey, I’m not smarter than you,” Connor objected. “I’m just an idiot savant when it comes to computers. You figured out why my one stove burner wasn’t working in two minutes, and it stymied me for two months.” “That’s true. I guess I’m the smart one then.” “That’s not what I said.” His smile was brilliant as he stared upward at his mate. “We’re equally smart.” “Works for me. Are you ready to be introduced?” “As your mate? Yeah, I’m ready.” “You guys are so cute. Connor, it’s a good job you didn’t meet this guy when he was a kid. He was so goofy looking, you would have run away.” “I highly doubt that. He’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, and just look at him now.” He wore his own goofy look as he locked eyes with his mate. Kellar flickered and watched their colors interact. Things had changed. “You guys started the joining, didn’t you?” “Doc! That’s none of our business.” Tobyn gave him a wink they all could see. “Sorry, but it’s pretty obvious, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “We are guilty of a few lip locks… okay, a lot of lip locks,” Connor said unabashedly. “That’s it, though. Hugh wanted to wait for even that—give myself time—but I didn’t see the point, because I’m not going anywhere.” “Yup. Those lip locks will do it, and there’s no turning back now. I’m happy for you both. Everyone will be… you’ll find nothing but a warm and genuine reception here, Connor. Tobyn and I will say it first. Welcome to Morningstar. Where are you going after you see Elinor?” “I’m going to show this guy everything, but first he’s going to meet my mom,” Hugh said with a big smile on his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud in my entire life.” Connor groaned at the other two. “I’ve never met a mom before.” “You’ll love her. I guarantee it,” Tobyn said. “She’s an absolute sweetheart, and she always has cookies.” “See. Nothing to worry about, and you’ll get sweets as a bonus.” Hugh slid a hand up his back and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “She’ll love you, I promise.” “How do you know that? She hasn’t met me yet, and she doesn’t even know you’re gay.” Hugh laughed. “Well, she’s going to find out, isn’t she? Don’t worry. My mom only cares about my happiness, and you make me happy. It’s only been her and I for so long, and now she’ll have you to dote over… fair warning, but I don’t think you’ll be complaining. I still can’t believe how you’ve handled me being a shifter. I’m so lucky.” Connor sighed and smiled at the same time. “What’s to handle? The earth mother picked you for me, and all I have to do is look at Kellar and Tobyn to see she knows what she’s doing. I don’t just get you… I get your beautiful wolf. You’re an animal lover’s dream,” he teased. “You’re not the only one who’s fortunate here.” “See how amazing he is, guys. He’s been saying stuff like this since we went on our first walk. I thought it would be me having to reassure him, but it’s the other way around.” Tobyn chuckled. “You don’t have to convince us, bud. We’re Connor fans already. So, if you don’t mind me asking, how are you going to handle the being apart situation? You were both freaked out when you got here.” “Yeah, we can’t keep doing this. Once was enough, right?” Hugh’s lips grazed his mate’s forehead. “This morning was five hours of hell.” “Same for me, and I didn’t like it, no. It’s hard to concentrate, but Kellar said it gets easier after it gets worse.” “I did say that, but it’s something you two have to work out, and the sooner the better if you’re anything like Tobyn and I.” “We just had our first taste of separation, Connor, and while I would do anything for you, all our talk about taking this slow just isn’t going to fly. Working in two different places, miles apart, is going to be torture.” “Do you guys want to talk about this in private?” Kellar asked after Hugh’s impassioned words. “Doc, come on. They need us right now. They need a nudge. Connor needs a nudge.” “I don’t like interfering.” “What are you talking about? That’s all we do. We have our noses in everything.” Tobyn did a quick eye roll. “No. We need your insight. You’ve been through this,” Hugh said with a plea in his voice. “See?” “Yes, dear. You’re right.” Kellar returned the eye roll. “Do you know what I was thinking about all morning, while we were so far apart?” Connor searched his mate’s face before nodding. “Brian.” “Yes, Brian. I know you think you’re safe at Davidson’s by yourself, but tell that to my wolf when all he wants to do is run back to you. If you were on pack grounds, we’d both relax, and I wouldn’t be scared out of my mind and imagining all kinds of awful stuff. We have plenty of work for you here, the same as you’re doing now if that’s what you want. And your dividend check would be way more than what that cheap bastard pays you.” Connor snorted. “You should be in sales. You do make good points, but we’ve only been together a couple of days. Don’t worry about Brian. I’m not… and I really don’t like to be pushed. I’ve been there and done that.” Hugh sputtered. “I’m sorry if it seems like I’m pushing… God, I would never try to bully you. I’m having a hard time after this morning, but I’ll go along with whatever way you want.” “I know that. I do. But, I don’t do well with pressure, and you’re talking about me uprooting my life after two days… everything’s moving too fast.” “But you’ve started the joining,” Kellar said softly. “This is part of that ‘something more’ we talked about. When Hugh says his wolf wants to run back to you, he’s downplaying it. It’s like being clawed from the inside. It hurts, and it hurts bad. If we think our mate could be in any kind of danger, even if it’s only a chance, well… it’s not fun. I think you might be downplaying something too. You say Brian isn’t crazy, but that’s not what your injuries say. He twisted your wrist after it was broken, didn’t he? And he did something to make your ankle worse after it was almost healed. Am I right?” Connor’s jaw had literally dropped. “You can tell that?” “Yes.” Suddenly, eye contact was impossible for the dark-haired man. Even Hugh’s eyes were avoided. Tobyn stepped in front of the two of them. “I look at you guys, and I see something strong… something great. Nothing from the past matters now you’ve found each other. You’re earth mates, and not wanting there to be distance between you is one of the best things about that, once you accept it. My advice, Connor”—the man met his gaze—“and maybe I’m out of line, but I truly believe you should move onto pack grounds as soon as possible. Make picking a house part of your day here if you don’t want to move in with Hugh just yet, but can you honestly see yourselves sleeping in different places at night? Kellar and I never could, even when we thought we were just friends.” “He’s right. You can’t fight the fact you need to be together. It’s a losing battle. And yes, it’s moving fast, but that’s part of being earth mates. We have more than enough help, so maybe an option is for you, Hugh, to take some time off and spend it at Davidson’s with Connor,” Kellar suggested, in an effort to help. “I would gladly stay there. Just say the word.” Hugh’s gaze was on his mate. “I can’t ask you to do that.” “You can ask me to do anything, and I will. You’re my mate.” “I believe you mean that, but… let’s talk about it later, okay? Shouldn’t we go meet the leader now?” “Good idea. Are you all right? I didn’t push you too hard, did I, because….” “Stop, Hugh. I’m fine, and no you didn’t. I needed to hear all this. You’ll figure out I can get stubborn for no reason.” “Boy, that sounds familiar,” Kellar said, grinning at his mate. “Shut up, mountain man. I got there, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did.” “I love you, Kellar.” “My beloved.” Kellar winked. “Can you guys come in with us?” Connor asked. “Ah, safety in numbers?” Kellar asked with a grin. “Yes. I’m pretty nervous about today. I don’t want to let Hugh down.” Tobyn laughed. “Look at him”—he pointed to the attentive man—“as if you could ever let him down. I understand, though. We’ll go in with you, and if it helps any, my mom happens to be in a really good mood.” A wide-eyed Connor shook hands with Elinor. The surprise on his face caused smiles from the other three when she moved in and hugged him. “Welcome to Morningstar, Connor. I’m so happy Hugh has found his mate. He spent as much time at my house as he did his own, growing up. Frankly, I’ve never seen him look so happy.” Elinor had another fan. Connor melted into the embrace. “Thank you, ma’am. I’m just as happy as he is.” “Good. You should be. That boy has become a wonderful man. My goodness, you’re so handsome. No wonder he looks like a cat that swallowed the canary.” Hugh was standing back, grinning like a fool. “I lucked out, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did,” She agreed, stepping back while still holding onto Connor’s hands. “Tobyn tells me you’re good with computers. We need someone with expertise as we go forward. He and Kellar want to set up a safe way to communicate with any packs we find in the future, while keeping our existence a secret. Could you do something like that?” “Absolutely, ma’am. That’s a pretty simple thing to do.” “Wonderful. Now, what are your plans? Will you be picking out a house today? We still have some very nice ones available. Tilly’s frame two-bedroom would be worth a look. It’s bright and cheery, and it’s available in the next few days. And there’s a stunning, older log home that’s in great shape. It’s not big, but it has amazing views and a wonderful setting. Do either of those sound interesting to you?” “Ah, yes, they do, but… no, ma’am. I won’t be looking at homes today”—he glanced over at his mate, whose brave face fooled nobody—“unless Hugh wants to move. I haven’t seen it yet, but his house sounds really nice. I’ll be moving into that one with him, but thank you for the offer, and the suggestions.” A strange noise came from Hugh, but Connor kept his eyes on Elinor. “Good choice. What are you waiting for, Hugh? Take your mate to see his new home. Make sure you’re back here for lunch so he can meet our rowdy group,” she said, smirking. “Yes, Elinor. We’ll be back after Connor meets Mom. And after he sees our house.” Hugh stepped up beside his mate and took his hand. “She’s kidding. The pack members aren’t rowdy, but they will be excited to meet you. Did you mean it?” “Mean what?” Connor asked innocently. “You know what. Did you?” Connor sighed before he nodded. “Yes, I meant it. I just needed a few minutes to work things out in my head. I will gladly move in with you here at Morningstar. You were right about everything, and I can’t fight it. I don’t want to fight it because I don’t want to be away from you either. But, I can’t desert Lorne. I need to be there until he comes back. He’s supposed to be back tomorrow or the day after, so I think I need to give him one week’s notice after he gets home. How do we handle that?” Hugh wrapped his arms around the smaller man, lifting Connor’s feet off the ground and spinning him around. “You’re incredible with how generous and accepting you’ve been with this whole thing. Thank you.” “Could you put me down and stop embarrassing me, please? We aren’t the only ones in the room, you know. People are watching us,” he attempted a scowl but laughter burst out when Hugh shook his head ‘no.’ “Elinor, I need to take some time off from my responsibilities here.” He did set Connor back down, but didn’t take his eyes off those pale blue ones. Kellar, holding hands with Tobyn, was captivated by what had taken place in front of them. “I guess you were right. Our nudges did some good.” “I usually am, aren’t I?” “Yup. It’s kind of cool there’s another gay couple living at Morningstar.” “Two more, doc. One couple just doesn’t know it yet.” “Take whatever time you need, Hugh,” Elinor responded, looking equally mesmerized by the scene before her. “Look after this new member of ours. He’s a delightful young man.” “Yes, he is, and I will. I definitely will.”
  39. 97 points
    Adam was the first to wake up and was in the kitchen brewing up a pot of coffee when Robert walked out. The weather forecast was for a sunny Thursday, March 8, 2018. “Good morning, sleepyhead. What do you say about us going out for breakfast?” Adam poured himself and Robert each a cup. He passed Robert his and leaned against the counter. “Sounds good, Dad,” Robert added cream and sugar to his coffee and sat down at the island bar. “Do we have anything planned for today?” “I have my meeting with Jace, my business partner, this afternoon. You don’t have to go if you don’t want too, but I would like for you to go. There’s a game tonight, Lightning vs. the Rangers. I was planning on going to the arena for the game. You’re more than welcome to come, I already added you on to my season ticket account.” “I’ll go to both the meeting and to the hockey game tonight. Neither are my team, but hell, live hockey is always good.” Robert paused a moment. “Would you be mad if I asked you to buy me a Lightning Jersey?” “It’s part of the season ticket package.” Adam grinned at his son. “They have a chip sewn into the sleeve that you swipe, and it goes to your season ticket member account. Who do you want on it? Or do you want your own name?” “Stamkos or Hedman.” “That’s doable. We can head to the arena after breakfast and get your jersey.” They sipped their coffees in silent contemplation. I wonder why Dad wants me to go to the business meeting with him. Robert let out a long sigh. “Um, Dad… the other night, you and Grandpa, talked about school… when do I have to go back, and which one?” Adam cleared his throat and sipped his coffee, giving himself some time to think. “Hmm, that is a good question. Let me ask you one. Were there any sports you were active in?” “I did some lacrosse and hockey for my school in Boston. I could do without either if they are not played here.” “It seems that you’re in luck. First, we need to wait for Sylvia. She’s been trying to get your school records from Massachusetts, so we can enroll you here. It should take a few more days, so you’re stuck with your old man for a bit longer.” He chuckled, and Robert smiled and laughed as well. “Second, we have a few options. If you want to play lacrosse and hockey, then the public high school we are zoned for, H. B. Plant, has both. They are also a pure team in the Lightning High School Hockey League, meaning all players come from that school. If you want to stay home and be home-schooled, that is an option for you. You can also stay home and go to the Hillsborough County Virtual School, where it’s work at your own pace and all online. Or we can find a private school for you. I don’t know if you’re religious, and if you follow the Catholic faith, but Jesuit High School is an all-boys private school, and they have a pure team.” Adam paused a moment to take a drink of his coffee. “I’m leaving the choice up to you, Rob.” Robert shook his head stunned. “I… I… don’t get you, Dad.” “What do you mean?” “You've done so much already. You've changed things and included me in everything, and now you're saying I can choose my education?” Robert shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t get it. Mom wasn’t like this.” Adam nodded and walked over to his son. He reached over and squeezed his shoulder lovingly. “Ah…” He took another swallow of his beverage. “This is how I see it. Rob, I love you. We’re still getting to know each other, and all our little quirks. “Now, you are sixteen-years-old. You’re old enough to drive with a restricted license here in Florida. You can get a part-time job if you want to. You’re a couple of years from being able to vote or go into the military. Hell, right now you’re physically capable of fathering your own child, if you were straight and seeing a girl.” Adam paused. “What I’m getting at, Rob, is this. You’re a young adult. So, instead of treating you like a child who doesn’t have his own opinions, likes/dislikes, and his own agency, I decided to treat you like an adult. Yeah, I’m the dad, I have to enforce the rules, be there to give you guidance, but it would be a mistake to treat you like a child instead of an adult. That’s how I see, and feel, about it. Does it make sense to you?” Robert nodded. “It does Dad. I… I’m still trying to get used to all this.” He let out a long calming breath. “Let me think about the school choices, and I’ll let you know later. But… why do you want me at the business meeting?” Adam sat down facing Robert at the island bar. “Two reasons, really. It could be yours one day if it becomes successful, and I thought it could be something we could do as a father and son project. I’ll be honest. Yesterday afternoon I was considering pulling out of the deal. However, after our naps, I thought better of it, and got to thinking that we could do it together.” “You… you’re serious. You want me as a partner?” Robert sat dumbfounded. I can’t believe this. Am I dreaming? “Yes, I’m serious. Granted there are some legal things we need to consider, but it’s not something we can’t work out.” Adam tilted his head and gave his son a smile. “What do you say? Want to give it a shot?” “Sure… sure, Dad… I’ll try.” Adam smiled proudly. “Good. Now, go get dressed, and let’s get today started. I’m thinking ‘First Watch’. Unless there’s a place you want to go?” “What’s ‘First Watch’?” “It’s a breakfast, brunch, and lunch place. They have a spot here in Downtown Tampa, and several more around the Bay.” “That sounds good. Mom used to take me to ‘IHOP’ or ‘South Street Diner’.” Adam laughed a little. “There were many times that your mom and I went to both of those places, more often to South Street. Drunk as a skunk. They were good times.” Adam sighed with the happy memory. “We could go ‘IHOP’ if you want?” Robert shook his head no. “Nah. I’d rather try this new place.” Robert looked away sheepishly. “I know we’ll go there eventually, but I’d rather go someplace different with you.” “I get it. You want to keep the special memories of the two of you there.” “Yeah.” Adam gave his son a reassuring hug. “Alright… go get ready, and I’ll meet you in the library.” He kissed Robert on the top of his head, and they both left to shower, change, and get ready to go. ~.~ Adam and Robert met up in the library before heading out. They each dressed separately, but somehow managed to match again. They both wore black jeans shorts, and black tennis shoes. Robert wore a grey “Hockey is for Everyone”, Boston Bruins GLBT Pride shirt, while Adam wore a Lightning Blue t-shirt that read “On Point” with Lightning player Brayden Point’s name and number, 21, right above it. They shared a chuckle. “I thought you were in the closet up north?” He pointed at Robert’s gay pride shirt. “I wasn’t at school, and Mom knew I liked guys. She asked me not to tell anyone else in the family, as she thought I was just going through a phase. I kissed a girl once, and I didn’t like it.” Adam nodded. “And now we know why; she didn’t want anyone else to know.” “My Uncle Seth, he’s married to Mom’s sister, Aunt Kimberly... he knew about me being gay. He… kinda... walked in on me and my boyfriend Martin… in the middle of… um.” Robert’s face had turned into a shade of red. “You don’t need to say any more, Son. I get the picture. Have you talked to your Uncle Seth since this happened?” “A couple of times. He wanted to take me in, but the bitch wouldn’t let him.” Robert hung his head. “I should talk to him more. He… was the closest I had to a father growing up. I’m sorry if that makes you mad.” “It doesn’t make me mad. I’m glad he was there for you. Call him, text him, email him, stay in contact with Uncle Seth. I bet he misses you as much as you miss him. I’d like to meet him.” He gave Robert a reassuring hug and grabbed his wallet and keys. “Let’s walk, and grab a downtowner. You got your wallet, watch, testicles, and socks?” “What?” Adam chuckled and clasped his son’s shoulder. “Something my dad loves to say. He got it in the Army.” “Oh… yeah, I do. Not sure why, no cash.” “Here… we’ll work something out for an allowance.” Adam passed him over a couple of $20’s. Shit… Didn’t think about if he had cash, and he’ll need some if he wants to go out by himself. The pair walked out of the house and up the sidewalk to the northern section of the island. They talked and joked around as they went, and Robert spotted a teen boy coming out of the house down the way and getting into the car in front of the house there. He looked to be the same age and height as Robert, with bushy shoulder length dirty blond hair and a copper suntan over an athletic frame, but it was the shirt he was wearing that caught Robert’s attention. The teen was wearing a Lightning PRIDE T-shirt. Damn, he’s gorgeous. I hope the shirt means he’s gay, and not just a supporter. The car with the teen in it backed out, and they waited for it to pass. Adam waved to the driver, a woman, who shot him back a smile. While Robert and the teen locked eyes with each other. The teen pointed at Robert’s shirt and gave him a thumbs up before the car was put into gear and drove off. “Dad, did you know there was another gay boy over here?” “Yup.” “Are there a lot of gay guys around?” “Average for any area, but we are close to Ybor City. It’s also called Gaybor, because of all the GLBT activity down there. Stores, bars, and Hamburger Mary’s.” “Hamburger Mary’s?” “Bar, restaurant, and drag show. They do a lot of special events, some for charity. Their Drag-Bingo is awesome.” Adam smiled and pulled Robert into a one-armed hug. “So, I saw you got a thumbs up from him. What did you think?” “Um… he was cute.” Robert blushed deeply. “Are you trying to set me up?” He pulled out of the hug with a smile on his face. “Not really. I didn’t know what time they headed out. Although… I know he is single, and he’s sixteen-years-old.” “How do you know that?” He perked a brow, looking at his dad. “They came by last week, him and his mom. A fundraiser for a GSA club at his school, and we started talking. His mom is the Homeowner’s Association President and wanted to invite me to the next Homeowners meeting. Because we are new to the neighborhood and hadn’t been to one yet, she felt the need to personally invite us.” Adam laughed. “Half the neighborhood knows I’m gay now, and I have a gay son.” They walked on and crossed the fence-line into the business area of the island. Adam took out his phone and used the app to order a downtowner. The downtowners were a fleet of open-air electric cars that were free to use in the limited area in which they operated. They didn’t wait long for it to arrive. ~.~ The pair arrived at First Watch and were seated at a table just as the morning rush was starting. Breakfast went well; they both ended up ordering the Floridian French toast. “This is a nice place, Dad. Kind of busy.” “That it is. Lots of the downtown-based city and county workers eat here.” He pointed at one lady sitting at a wall table. “That’s the judge in our custody case.” Robert nodded, speared a bite of French toast, a slice of banana, a slice of kiwi, and dipped it in some syrup. That woman holds the fate of my life in her hands. I… I… don’t know what I’ll do if she strips me from Dad. I don’t want to leave him. He ate the bite and speared himself another one. There is a way out if that happens. Just end it all... Where the fuck did that come from?!? They finished breakfast in silence. Afterward, they took another downtowner from the restaurant over to Amalie Arena. They walked in past the McDonald’s Ticket Office, turned right underneath the main staircase, and into the Tampa Sports shop. They ordered Robert’s Lightning Jersey with Victor Hedman’s name and number, 77, on it. They made arrangements to pick it up in a couple of hours, with the Season Ticket Member account chip sewn in. With time to kill, Adam and Robert grabbed the TECO Streetcar Line and took it over to The Florida Aquarium. Adam showed his sponsor card and got them inside. After a brief stop at the Guest Services desk to add Robert to the account, the father and son pair made their way upstairs to the exhibits. They paused walking into the ‘Florida Wetlands’ zone, a large atrium area that was hot, humid, and filled with animals and plants from the Everglades, to watch the river otters play. “This is wonderful, Dad.” Their path through the exhibits took them from the large atrium into a cooler part where small aquariums were located before they got to the more massive ones. “Would you believe, Dad, I want to go to school for Marine Biology?” Robert’s face shone with childlike wonder. “I just don’t know where.” “There are a couple of schools here that are really good. Eckerd College across the Bay, the University of Tampa right around the corner from us, and the University of South Florida here in town, they all have programs.”’ “That’s cool.” They walked further and entered the massive coral reef exhibit. Robert stopped and stared at the hundreds of fish, turtles, and sharks that swam around. “Amazing…” Adam smiled as he watched his son. “Just so you know, I come here at least once a week. I find it’s very relaxing and helps me focus, and I started doing volunteer work while I was waiting for our house to be built. I also pledge money for sponsorship for the aquarium. We could come here every day if we wanted.” “That’s awesome, Dad.” Robert smiled. I’ll be here all the time! They finished their trip a little before noon, went back to Amalie to pick up Robert’s jersey, and caught a downtowner to take them home. ~.~ Having gone to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles to get Robert his license, Adam and Robert now sat at a table inside Starbucks in the business district of Harbour Island. It was little after 3:00 pm, and they were waiting for Jace to show. Jace had called to inform them he was stuck in downtown traffic behind an accident near the island’s bridge. Father and son sat in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Adam sipped on a freshly brewed cup of regular coffee, while Robert drank a Caramel Frappuccino. Adam smiled and got Robert’s attention. He made a wiping motion on his nose and pointed at him. Blushing Robert wiped off the spot of whipped cream that was on the tip of his nose. “There he is.” Adam stood up as Jace approached. “Heya, man… Welcome.” He shook the man’s hand, and they both sat down. “Sorry, I’m late. Traffic was murder coming across Channelside. Some guy got hit by a cab.” He took the coffee Adam slid over to him. “No worries man… shit happens. I hope that guy is alright…” Adam sipped his coffee. “Jace this is my son Robert Turner. Rob, this is Jace Stratton. He’s my business partner in the brewery project, and a cousin of ours on your Grandma’s side of the family.” “Nice to meet you, Mr. Stratton.” “Likewise, but please call me Jace.” Robert nodded to him. “So, down to business then?” They sat and talked about business plans. Adam and Jace discussed the properties and the benefits of leasing over building and buying outright. The trio settled on two locations for the business. One for the microbrewery and the other for the brewpub. They included Robert in the conversation as well, with Adam explaining to Jace why he wanted his son involved. Robert excused himself and went to the men’s room. “So, Jace… do you have any issues with Rob being involved?” “No, I don’t. You’re the controlling partner, so it’s your choice. He’s thoughtful, and has some good ideas.” “Thanks. I’m hoping that it helps him acclimate to Florida, and helps him get over his troubles.” “Have you thought how you’re going to handle it?” “Well, we’re already in a 60/40 partnership. I’m thinking I’ll give Rob 10%, out of my share. Then we’ll be 50/40/10. However, Jace, I might need to lean heavily on you. I spoke with Carol earlier when we were out, and there’s an issue developing in the custody case.” “I’m sorry to hear that. Just let me know what you need me to do.” “Will do. Thank you for being understanding.” “You’re welcome. I can sympathize with you… You know how my sister went through custody issues with her kids. It’s a hardship I don’t ever want to experience.” His phone chirped. “Now, if you will excuse me, I need to head back to my day job and get some paperwork done.” “If you want to go full time on this project, we can file the articles of incorporation now, and I can pay you to take care of everything.” Adam smiled with sincerity in his voice. “It wouldn’t take long for my financial advisor to work up the accounts.” “I don’t need to think about it, I’ll take that offer. It will take a couple of weeks to get everything ready.” They shook hands, and Jace was packing up when Robert walked back over. They said their goodbyes. “Well, it’s a quarter after four… I think we have enough time to head home and get ready for the game. We can eat at the arena - food and drinks are included in our Lexus Lounge package. Plus we can get in at 5:30.” “Alright, Dad…” Robert paused. “Is something wrong?” “Hmm? What do you mean?” “Well, you look troubled…like something is weighing on you.” Adam sighed. “Nothing that can’t wait for tomorrow, and right now is really not the place to discuss it.” Robert nodded, and they left Starbucks and headed for home, and then for the game. ~.~ Robert and Adam sat on the couches in the family room. They still wore their game attire, and Robert was buzzing from the experience. The Lightning had defeated the New York Rangers 5-3, and after the game, they had walked home from the arena. “Jesus, Dad... I never thought I would be able to experience something like that. The seats you have, the club experience, and then Thunderbug showed up with… with that gift for me.” His smile lit up his face. Robert still held the certificate that read ‘My First Lightning Home Game’, and the signed game puck, autographed by #86 Nikita Kucherov. “I’ve been to games before, and had some autographs from the Bruins, but this was different!” “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. What was your favorite part?” “When the Tesla coils went off. That was a blast. The food was awesome.” Robert rattled off a few more moments from the game he enjoyed. “I love how Tyler Johnson has his own goal song.” “Johnny B. Good… Stamkos has one as well. They play MC Hammer’s ‘Hammer Time’ for him. You know, ‘It’s Stammer Time.’” They both shared a laugh. “Wait till the playoffs. They do an ice projection before the game. You can see an old one on YouTube from the last season when they played the Pens.” They talked a bit more about the game, just chilling before talk turned to different subjects. “So, Dad… I think I made up my mind about school.” “Alright, which option did you want to go with?” “I want to go with the public high school. You said it was Plant High School? I was a sophomore in school back in Boston, so that’s two years I should be able to play hockey and lacrosse.” “If that’s what you want, we’ll get you enrolled as soon as I get your records from Sylvia.” Robert nodded. “So, um… about earlier today, you said it wasn’t the right place to talk… so, what’s up, Dad?” Adam let out a long breath as he stood up, and went to the kitchen. “I’m grabbing a Bud Light.” He grabbed himself a beer from the fridge, and another for Robert. “You’ll find that being an adult, Rob, involves a lot of alcohol.” He passed Robert his and sat across from him. He took a long pull from the bottle and watched as Robert sipped his. Robert’s face took on a worried look. “While we were at the aquarium, when you were over looking at the sharks, I got a call from Carol. Your Grandpa Turner is contesting the custody, and is acting in his role as the executor of your mother’s estate to try and contest the will as well.” “What the fuck, does that mean?” There was heat to Robert’s voice, and he was visibly shaking. “I don’t want to go back to foster care! I won’t go back… I’ll run away…” “Rob, settle down…” He got up, and moved to Robert’s couch and sat down next to him. “You’re in Florida now, and under our laws. You’re protected here.” He put an arm around his son and pulled him to cuddle on his chest. “Carol is working on it. We also have a solution for the back child support as well.” “But… but… what is he contesting?” “Your mom left you the house, most of her possessions, and in the will stipulated that I was your father, and her wish was that you would come to me. With the exception of your material items, the house and contents were to be sold, and the money entered into a trust fund for you until you were eighteen. After I was granted temporary custody, I acted as your guardian to secure the house. Carol sent one of her partners to do all the paperwork, and... well... they found that your mother’s family had already ransacked the house.” “What the hell… do they really hate me, to do all that?” “I don’t know… I do know that they hate me, and are trying to find anything they can to use against me in this case…” Adam paused and drank a large portion of the bottle. “Including using the rape case that Tibot started. The records were sealed, not expunged like I was lead to believe, and that’s what they are using. They think I might molest you.” “Holy shit, Dad… what are we going to do?” Robert's tears stained his cheeks, as he leaned into his father’s chest. “We’re going to do what we must do. As I said, we’re in Florida and playing by Florida’s rules. So, don’t fret. Tomorrow, we’ll go to our therapy session, and we’ll do our home visit with Sylvia. Then from there we’ll do what we have to do. I am not letting you go. Wild horses will not pull us apart.” They sat on the couch, cuddled together for a few more moments. After Robert calmed down, Adam took Robert to his room, wishing him a good night before retiring himself. ~.~ Robert gathered some night clothes and went to his bathroom. He stood under the shower head letting the water run down his body. Why do they hate me so much? Is being gay that bad for them? He rinsed his soap and shampoo off and got out of the shower. After drying off, Robert slipped on boxers and lay down on his bed, covering up. He was tired, but his brain wouldn’t shut down. Eventually, a fitful sleep brought him good dreams, filled with experiences of the day, and capped with the gorgeous dirty blond haired boy in the Lightning PRIDE T-shirt. ~.~ Adam stepped out of his shower and stood naked before the mirror drying off. The worried look on his face stared back at him, and he threw the towel across the room in a burst of anger. “Damn it. Damn it all.” He grabbed the towel from the floor, hanging it up to dry, and slipped on some boxer-briefs before heading into the bedroom proper. Turning on a small desk lamp to read by, Adam sat down in the sitting area of his bedroom with a cup of hot tea and a Jim Butcher novel. The book and tea were soon forgotten as he stared off into nowhere. I will not lose him. I can’t believe his grandfather would do this. The law is on our side. The paternity test, our plan for the back child support, and the fact they signed away custody, all help my case. Not to mention the assault Rob suffered in the Massachusetts foster system. He let out a long sigh and took up his phone. He switched on Grindr and started looking for someone he could hook up with. He had scrolled through a few profiles when the notification tone went off, and he went over to the messages. Adam stopped and stared at his phone. If I go on a booty-call, who’s going to be here for Rob? Do I even want to bring back a one-night-stand to the house? He looked at the message he was about to send and deleted it. He shut the app down and put his phone away. Well, I have my hand for now… He let out another long sigh and sipped his herbal tea. He picked up the book and started reading, and soon was lost in a story about Harry Dresden.
  40. 96 points
    The sweep of events had carried CJ aloft to heights uncommon for someone his age. His ethos helped propel him into the limelight more than once. A reluctant public figure at first, in time he settled into a grudging acceptance of his soaring popularity. CJ was the highest-ranking, elected member of the Georgetown University Student Association in the 2020 Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service graduating class. Invited to sit on the dais during commencement exercises, he declined. Wanting to be with his classmates, not above them, was the explanation he offered campus newspaper reporters. He did not bother to share his other reason when he confirmed he would be speaking to the assembled graduates nonetheless. That other reason was the cause for the applause and cheering aimed at him, as he climbed the raised platform’s steps after his introduction. Wearing noise-canceling earmuffs, Liebe clung to his gown, snug inside a papoose against his chest. “Yeah, see? I knew this would happen. Y’all are just paying attention to Liebe and no matter what I say, you’re not gonna care.” Laughter rippled through the audience. “Although today is a momentous occasion, the most important day in my life was about a month ago when my daughter was born. I’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Liston Abelló. Georgetown University class of 2042.” While most of the crowd applauded, and some cheered, he walked to the edge of the riser and handed the baby to Owen. CJ watched him walk away for a moment before returning to the podium and extracting a sheaf of papers from his blazer. “By the way, the good-looking, blond dude I just handed the most important person in my life to is her other father.” He paused for a fraction of a second to allow his comment to sink in. “He happens to be the second most important person in my life. My husband, Owen Liston.” The reaction from the audience was a tad more sedate than when he introduced his daughter. If nothing else, he had everyone’s attention. He had them hooked; it was time to reel them in. “The tapestry of my life is about the size of one of my daughter’s diapers right now.” Laughter was his goal, and the audience delivered. “As I grow older, that fabric will expand. But I am certain my family, my friends, my classmates—heck, even the Jesuits—will always be bright threads woven throughout.” The Jesuits reference earned him a few chuckles from the religious order members sitting behind him. “A huge component of the charmed life I’ve led to date has been my experience at Georgetown University. Coming to the Hilltop was a difficult decision. I’m not a believer and attending a Catholic university was the furthest thing from my mind. You just met one of the reasons I decided to attend college one block away from home. I didn’t want to endure all that time away from Owen. “Growing up so close to the school, I spent plenty of time on this campus during my high school years. Tossing Frisbees on Healy Lawn or lifting weights at Yates Field House fostered interactions with students not many kids get an opportunity to enjoy. Those men and women I met convinced me if I attended, interesting, bright individuals would surround me. And let’s face it, it’s not like I would be at a second rate institution. “So, here I am, some four-plus years after making one of the smartest decisions I’ll ever make.” The pause was a chance to catch his breath and allow the audience to ruminate his comments. “I have enjoyed my time at GU more than I could have ever imagined. I have met fascinating people. I’ve argued with some, and I’ve agreed with others. I’ve laughed with friends, and I’ve cursed professors a few times too.” They were still paying attention; the chuckles confirmed people were listening. “I felt a school that gave us President Bill Clinton and the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia had to be a place where differing outlooks and opinions would be welcome. I was right.” CJ paused again while shifting speech pages. “Those two men at opposite ends of the political spectrum shared a desire to serve their country and did so to the best of their ability following their graduation. I have come to realize their dedication was in part molded by their time here. By being Jesuit educated. “I do not know who said it, but I read a quote that expresses the concept best: ‘Being Jesuit educated means setting the Earth on fire. It means going out of your way, taking that extra step each and every day to help others. Even if it’s just holding a door for a stranger. In addition, one major part of being Jesuit educated is giving back. We all live in the same world, and we owe it to ourselves and others to make it a better place.’ “Call me a cockeyed optimist as a friend of mine has done more than once. However, like President Barack Obama, I believe in the promise of America. I also believe we, the best and the brightest, have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. I’m not talking about American citizens but about the global citizens we share Planet Earth with. Regardless of nationality, or any other trait that may differentiate us. Whether you are an American or not, the responsibility is the same. “I just referenced someone from the left side of the political spectrum I alluded to earlier. Allow me to cross the aisle and paraphrase the late Senator John McCain: Do not despair during setbacks. Believe in yourselves and in the promise of our country. Of our world. “At a time when technology permeates our lives. When advances in communication have shrunk said world and brought us contact with others all over the planet. When some have sought to divide us by building walls instead of bridges. I’m here to tell you they will not succeed. “I believe human interaction will help us challenge and conquer this brave new world. I believe we should celebrate our differences, and we should embrace humanity. I believe we can make Georgetown, America, and Mother Earth a better place by extending a hand to our neighbors. I believe there is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth and enjoying its benefits. However, I also believe—as my parents taught me—that we have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us. “As we venture out on our own, let us not forget what we learned here. Service to our communities should be part of our life-plan. Volunteer, give money, participate, speak up. Be the last to accept the world we inherit can’t be improved. It’s up to us to make things better. Live and let live… But also, live and help live. Because believe me, it does get better. “Finally, I encourage all of you to not be afraid to fail when you attempt something new. Instead, be afraid not to try. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish when you set your mind to it. “It’s been a wonderful four years. A time of learning and growth. That period of my life is over but the future beckons. I plan to carry on Georgetown’s tradition of public service. Look me up at the State Department if you’re in the hood. “Hoya Saxa!” Owen beat the rest of them to his feet by a fraction of a second. The rousing, standing ovation enveloped them as he hugged Liebe a little closer to his heart. CJ’s vociferous cheering section tossed decorum aside as they stomped and shouted. He saw Owen give him a smile and a wink. Next to him, Ritchie’s enthusiasm was unparalleled. Owen took a step away from the high school senior when Ritchie kept jumping and pumping his fist in the air. As CJ reclaimed his seat on the lawn, he could still hear his brother cheering. “It took your dad a lot longer to become famous, Liebe. I think you’re going to be all over social media today.” The baby slept against Owen’s chest, but he spoke to her as if she was listening. Those walking near them down Thirty-Seventh Avenue chuckled. Once the ceremony was over, countless of CJ’s classmates—some he knew well, others were casual acquaintances, and a few were complete strangers—clamored to have their picture taken with their fellow graduate and his daughter. It was a familiar crowd surrounding them now. Owen’s mother flew to the United States after the birth with plans to spend a month with her first grandchild. His father would visit the following month, making a stopover in Washington during a business trip to France. Sebastián and Rosario Abelló did the same; they traveled to Washington after their great-granddaughter’s birth with plans to stay for CJ’s graduation. The upcoming completion of work at the Capitol Hill house was further enticement for Randy, Tyler, and Silas to visit DC. They arrived in time for the commencement and planned on furniture shopping with CJ and Owen the following week. Because CJ was a local, he had more guests at the ceremony than others. The Squad and the Elite were all invited, and most now strolled toward the Prospect Street townhouse. It was a chance to grab a drink, use the bathroom, and for Liebe to get a fresh diaper. “I never imagined my daughter would end up wearing it.” CJ removed the gold and jade grape-bunch brooch affixed to Liebe’s Georgetown University onesie. He had bought the trinket as a present in Hong Kong during his layover between Tel Aviv and Sydney, on his way to visit Owen’s ill sister. Liz did not survive, but she provided the greatest gift CJ would ever receive. “Mom told me about it but asked me not to say anything. She wanted to surprise you.” Owen wrinkled his nose when CJ handed him the soiled diaper. “Damn, this is as bad as your farts!” “Bullshit! My farts smell like roses.” “Rotting, dead roses, maybe.” “Asshole!” Back upstairs, the dads served mimosas and bloody marys before they all moved to their next destination. César and Brett had reserved the entire restaurant for a banquet to celebrate their oldest son’s achievement. It would be the first time Abuela’s was not open to the public for Saturday lunch. While Owen headed toward his mother so she could hold Liebe, CJ gravitated toward his grandfather and cousins. “Somebody give me a drink. I’m off daddy duty for the next twenty-four hours.” The mischievous tone suggested CJ was ready to play. Randy looked somewhat confused as he poured from the pitcher. “What are you talking about off duty? Dads don’t take the day off.” “Yummm!” CJ wiped his tomato juice-coated lips with the back of his hand. “Owen and I don’t have a choice, cuz. What with three grandparents and three great-grandparents around, the clamoring for Liebe-time has been deafening,” “Plus, the dads insist CJ go out partying tonight. We have a couple of get-togethers.” Owen had wrapped his arms around CJ when he joined the group. “Can I get one of those bloodys? What were you guys talking about?” Rod replied from across the counter where he sat next to Sebastián. “We wanted to ask Abuelo what he was getting CJ as a graduation present. He’s given fountain pens to all of us when we graduated from high school. Dad, César, Randy, and I got cars or the money to buy one when we finished college. But you guys have the Tesla, and you don’t use it all that much—” “It’s being used a heck of a lot since Liebe was born. CJ and I think that will continue when we move to our house this summer.” “Yeah, but you guys use the motorcycles and public transit much more.” Rod shifted his attention to their grandfather. “So, Abuelo, what did you get CJ?” CJ did not trust his grandfather’s grin. “Hey! I said no presents. And I said if you felt compelled to get me something, a donation to Heroes Haven would suffice.” “Compelled? Suffice? What? You think now you’ve graduated you get to toss quarter words around all the time?” Brett’s butt slap jolted CJ; he shook his head while smiling—college graduate or not, Brett was still going to give him crap. “Day’s not over, boys.” Sebastián’s grin grew. “You’ll have to wait. Maybe we got him a present… maybe we didn’t.” The Uber and Lyft caravan stopped in front of the restaurant and disgorged passengers. When CJ and Owen arrived in the last vehicle, they found their family and friends milling outside. While everyone had gathered in a loose circle around something, Harley faced the street and raised an arm in greeting. “Bruh! About time you guys got here. I’ve been waiting like for hours.” “Oh, shut up, Harley. I just saw you at the graduation. How come you didn’t stop by the house like everyone else?” “I had to go get your present. The one from your grandfather.” The man bubbled with excitement, even more so than usual. “Come on, come on. You’re gonna love it!” “What the hell? I told him no presents. If he bought me a car—FUCK!” The group parted when they heard CJ’s voice to reveal a motorcycle parked on the restaurant’s plaza. “Do you like it? It’s the new electric one! I couldn’t believe it when Cap called me and said your grandfather wanted my help with something.” Harley sounded proud of himself. “If you wanna get rid of Hunter, I’ll buy it off you. Wait ’til you get on this one. It sounds like a jet engine. Maybe you can leave the baby with your grandmother one day, and we can go for a ride? I know you been talking about getting a big one, but I think this is better. You can always borrow Cap’s or Mr. A’s when we go on a long trip. Or you can rent like you did when you went to Key West. I think—” “HARLEY!” CJ knew everyone expected him to tell his friend to shut up. Instead, he spread his arms out. “Bring it in, brother. Thank you! As for Hunter, I’m not sure what I want to do. I need to discuss it with Ozzie, but I don’t think we need three motorcycles. At least not until Liebe can ride on her own.” “Three is one too many.” Owen followed his husband as they walked around the 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire. “We’re definitely keeping this one. An electric motorcycle is an excellent match for an electric car. And Hunter’s going nowhere. Sorry, Harley. But if you want, you can have Rosebud.” “You’re gonna get rid of yours?” Harley sounded surprised. “Sure, why not? When we move, a Metro station will be a couple of blocks from home and another one a few from the office. If I ever need a vehicle, I’ll take one of the electric ones.” CJ was in a playful mood. “Hold your horses, son. Who said you could ride my motorcycle?” “Our motorcycle. DC’s not a community property state. So, I’ll be changing the registration on this one to make it joint ownership. If you ever divorce me, I’ll make sure it hurts.” Owen’s grin had a malevolent twist. “Asshole!” CJ turned 360 degrees to scan the faces of the crowd surrounding him. “Thank you, Abuelo. I know I said no presents, but I think I’ll keep this one. Let’s get inside, people. I need a cocktail, and I want food.” Chipper skipped his own graduation from the University of Miami due to his involvement in a project in Los Angeles. He decided to fly into Washington for CJ’s and to meet Liebe. His sister, Cristina, traveled from New York with her daughter, Carolina, for the same reasons. Brother and sister stood with Thiago, watching his son, Fabricio and the little girl play. CJ elbowed his husband. “Check it out, Oz. Those two will be friends with Liebe in no time. Come on, let’s borrow our daughter and join them.” “Give.” Chipper’s one word was accompanied by outstretched arms. “Remember, no baby talk.” CJ handed Liebe over. “That crap rots brains.” “I got, I got it. You and Cristina must have read the same book.” The man shook the bangs off his forehead and cuddled the infant closer. “Don’t you worry, Liebe, Uncle Chipper will take good care of you. Have you met Fabricio and Carolina? I have a feeling the three of you are gonna be hanging out a lot.” Thiago picked up his son and allowed him to grasp Liebe’s foot. “This is your new girlfriend, Lollipop.” “Oh, yeah? What if she turns out to be a lesbian?” CJ earned himself an elbow from his husband. “Don’t start, homie. The Elite and the Squad may be all men, but I can see the Juniors are definitely gonna be co-ed.” Chipper’s eyes swept over his friends before returning his attention to the girl in his arms. “You know something, Liebe? There’s this singer named Adam Levine your dads and I like a lot. He put out this music video with a bunch of women in it. ‘Girls Like You’ is a tribute to female-empowerment. I look at you and Carolina, and I’m convinced you’ll both grow up strong.” Chipper took liberties with the lyrics when he sang. “Spent 24 hours I need more hours with you You spent the weekend Burpin’ poopin’, ooh ooh We spent the late nights Changing diapers, cleaning booties But now it's all good baby Roll that booty baby And stay real close ’Cause girls like you Run around with guys like me ’Til sundown, when I come through I need a girl like you, yeah yeah” Moments later, Owen reclaimed his daughter. He and CJ stepped away, intent on returning her to her grandparents. “I reckon the three of them and Chatri’s two will be close. Too nad he and Helen are out of town today. Pretty cool seeing the upcoming generation. I wonder who’ll be the next one to have a kid.” “Not, Ritchie. I think he’s so scared he’ll be keeping the condom companies in business for the foreseeable future.” “Poor kid. I feel bad for him. Have you noticed the way he sometimes looks lost? It’s good to see him happy today.” “The real happy one’s Brad.” The man had asked that someone pick him up at Heroes Haven in Delaware so he could attend the graduation; Ritchie volunteered, saying he was going to miss driving once he entered the Air Force Academy. “I thought the smile was gonna break his face when he found out Cristina was in Washington.” “So, what are you naming the new bike?” CJ looked his husband up and down, smiling. “Wow! You’re asking? With Sparky, you didn’t even bother.” “Yeah, but that was a present for both of us. Technically, this one’s for you.” “Technically, eh? Lightning! How about that? Kinda fits with it being electric.” “Mint! I like it, mate. I like it. Lightning it is.” Owen leaned into CJ and whispered. “Be discreet when you look, but check out Lincoln. He sat next to Silas during the ceremony and hasn’t left his side since.” “Well, those two won’t be the next ones getting pregnant for sure.” “Asshole!” The gathering brought to mind the wedding reception; CJ again spent most of the time floating between tables, visiting with each of the guests. When dessert was served, he sat next to Owen while holding Liebe in his arms. The clinking of a utensil against glass captured his attention as Brett stood up. “It’s usually my husband or my son who give the speeches at events like this. Today, it’s my turn.” Brett sipped his mojito while the crowd quieted. “Life isn’t worth living if you don’t have passion. I’m easily distracted, so I’ve had a few different ones drive me in my years.” Self-deprecation was a sure way to capture the group’s attention. “Growing up, it was surfing. I was happiest on the beaches of California or Hawaii during frequent trips to the islands with my parents. “When they died, and I went to live with my grandfather, he turned me on to motorcycles. Straddling a big hunk of American steel gave me an adrenaline rush similar to what a big wave did, but I was able to enjoy the high even when there was no beach around. “My parents were travelers, and I caught the bug from them. Deployed overseas, I was able to visit countries I might never have otherwise. Back in the US after taking a couple of bullets, I met César. Yeah, the good looks drew me in—so sue me for having a thing for tall, dark, and handsome—the personality and brains hooked me. The shared love of exploring and riding was but icing on the cake. “Then CJ stuck his nose in my life.” “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?” With Liebe in his arms, CJ tried not to shout. “It means the last thing I expected was to become a father at the tender age of twenty-nine.” “We beat you, Captain.” Owen fisted CJ, making sure not to jostle the sleeping baby. “CJ and I are both younger.” “So am I, Cap.” Thiago lifted one of Fabricio’s arms and wiggled the kid’s hand. “Okay, enough from the peanut gallery. As I was saying, CJ showed up and turned my world upside down. Gave me a new passion. I wanted to be the best possible parent, and I can’t thank the gods enough for his arrival. “CJ turned out to be an extraordinary man trying to lead an ordinary life.” Brett’s grin grew as he scanned the room. “He’s utterly failed.” While he looked proud of his comment, CJ shook his head, and the guests laughed. “I’m proud of both my sons for choosing careers in the public sector. Ritchie’s about to graduate from high school, so I’ll talk more about him then. One day, he’ll be doing his part to keep America safe as an Air Force officer. I always thought CJ was the wilder one, but instead of jets, or ships, or tanks, he chose to join the State Department. He’ll help protect us as a member of the Diplomatic Corps. For now. I have a feeling there’ll be much more from him in the future. Brett paused while signaling a waiter for another cocktail. Several others echoed his request and there was a momentary lull. Once fresh drinks were delivered, he carried on. “Humor, often inappropriate, has been a coping mechanism most of my life. I’m trying to be serious here. CJ impacted my life more than I would have ever expected. And it’s not just him but also the people he surrounded himself with. Primarily the Squad. The way these young men have stood by one another in good and bad times is an inspiration. “Recent years have been leavened with a multitude of fascinating individuals he’s met and charmed. César and I have benefitted from our son’s outgoing personality. We’ve enjoyed meeting politicians, singers, actors and actresses, and countless ordinary yet intriguing men and women. I expect more of the same in the future. “We encouraged CJ to travel every chance he got. To experience new things and meet new people. Traveling and mingling with locals has a way of expanding your mind to acknowledge and accept differences. We’ve seen the effect those trips have had. CJ’s matured into a loving man who cares for others.” Brett’s solemnity was a sharp divergence from his typical demeanor. “I’ve seen an angry teen beat the crap out of a burly biker who bullied someone for being gay and in the process earn the respect of complete strangers. I’ve heard a fouled-mouth young man eloquently speak in front of thousands—millions if you count the TV audience—and earn the respect of politicians and reporters decades older than him. “I’ve been lucky to have had a front row seat as CJ grew from a scared boy into a confident man. A thoughtful student, a loving husband, and now a doting father. But all that doesn’t mean his farts don’t smell. Contrary to what I heard him say a little while ago.” Chuckles, giggles, and snickers served as background to the loud groan escaping César and CJ. “He’s a royal pain-in-the-butt at times. His other dad and I have clashed and locked horns with him more than once. “My son’s almost as astute as I am.” Brett ignored the derisive catcalls. "At some point, he figured out obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." He paused, allowing the words to simmer. “For those of you who don’t recognize the phrase, I stole it from Michael Jordan. “Let me quote someone else. My grandfather used to ask ‘What have you done today to make the world a better place?’ I’m sorry he never got to meet CJ. He would have been proud his great-grandson answered the question with a litany of gestures destined to accomplish just that.” Brett paused and sipped his cocktail again. “A few months back, the two of us took a bike ride by ourselves. It’s something we’ve been doing since he moved to DC. First, he rode behind me as a passenger. These days, I’m the one in back as he leads on his beloved Hunter. It’s a monthly ritual with us, even if sometimes it ends up being a nighttime ride for ice cream because we’re too busy for much more. “During last month’s ride, I finally realized he was man enough to teach me. As he licked melting chocolate from the sides of his sugar cone, he said something I’ll always remember. I may have his words turned into a poster or something. He told me, ‘You have to realize where you come from is gone and focus on where you’re going.’ “Those words, that belief, the vehemence with which he spoke convinced me he was ready to take his place in the world. His place as a leader. The State Department’s lucky to get him. The CIA tried to and failed. The wealthiest man in the world wanted to snatch him and failed. Hell, César and I suggested he join the family business, and we failed too. “The winner’s our country. At a time when our leaders have lost their way. When they quarrel and ignore the needs of our nation. I have faith my son will be a shining star amongst those serving our country.” The momentary pause this time was to wipe away a stray tear. He turned to CJ, smiled, and raised his glass. “So, what all my rambling leads me to is pride. Pride in my son and in the great things I know he’ll accomplish. “Please join me.” Brett waved a hand, inviting everyone to stand. “Raise your glasses with me and toast my son. To his future and ours. “To CJ!” The End
  41. 96 points
    “Hey Troy,” I said approaching him, he had his head under the bonnet of a 2007 Commodore Ute. “Yeah Boss?” “Give it up for the day mate, come grab a beer. The customer doesn’t want it back until Monday.” “I don’t mind.” He smiled. “Nah, don’t worry about it mate. Aaron just got here, it’s been a hard week; we’ve earned a beer.” I slapped Troy on the shoulder, then directed him to where everyone had gathered. As we approached Aaron tossed both me and Troy a beer. “Mate, what have I told you about throwing glass around in the workshop?” I asked tersely. Aaron chuckled and pointed to the corner where we kept our cleaning equipment. “You told me the broom’s over there.” “Smartarse,” I grumbled. The Basher laughed and cuffed Aaron on the back of the head, “Dickhead!” “Basher!” Mags shouted from the office, “You better not be drinking out there, you’re driving me to see Nanna tonight.” “No Ma!” He downed the rest of his beer in three gulps, putting the bottle on the bench behind Aaron so Mags wouldn’t see it. His Mum came into the workshop from the office. “Have a good weekend gentleman,” she saluted us, “Tell AJ I wish him luck for tomorrow Aaron.” “Yes Ma’am,” Aaron answered, “will do. Thanks Mags.” Basher walked off to follow his Mum, then turned around lifting his chin looking at Aaron. “Ask Justin who came in for an interview today,” Basher said laughing raucously and winked before he ran to catch up with Mags. Aaron looked at Justin, then Troy, followed by Jim, finally setting his sights on me since no one was forth coming and all looked uncomfortable. “Who?” he asked energetically, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Troy looked between all of us looking confused. “Who came in?” he asked quizzically. “Brady Douglass,” I said through clenched teeth. “What? Wait… seriously?” Aaron said wincing. His beer bottle slipped from his hands, Aaron went to catch it and knocked it further from his body. The bottle smashed on the floor of the workshop. We all pointed toward the broom. Aaron hung his head, sliding his feet along the floor to get the broom. “Nobody move,” Aaron said sullenly returning with the broom, dragging the dustbin behind him. <>-<>-<> Justin broke up with his boyfriend Dean – finally and had been staying with me in the interim. Since it was Friday and the week had been all around shit, neither of us wanted to cook so we decided to go to “The Yard”, a local pub, to get dinner. We were sitting side by side at the bar having a well-earned beer while we waited for our order to arrive. “What are you going to do about your house?” I asked Justin. He’d moved out because his boyfriend wouldn’t leave. The house was Justin's, but he hadn’t wanted to stay while his boyfriend was still there. If it had been me, I would have thrown the guy out the door with his belongings following him. But Justin is nicer than I am, they’d been in an on again off again relationship for a long time, so I guess it was hard to let go. He shrugged his shoulder, “Sell it probably.” “It’s your house, Justin, have him removed… I’ll do it if you like,” I said chuckling into my beer. Justin smirked, “Too much drama, I’ve come to hate the place anyway. Too many bad memories now, it will never feel like just my place. It’s not like I owe that much to the mortgage.” He tipped his beer in appreciation to the heavens, “thanks to the inheritance from my Grandad. I could probably use a little bit of an upgrade. Something with space for me to build a workshop or maybe I’ll find a place with one. I used to love tinkering with stuff; Dean was too clingy, always whining I didn’t put in enough effort…” Justin trailed off watching the cricket on the television behind the bar. “Sounds fair, but while you have the opportunity why don’t you rent the place out and use the equity to buy a house you want to get the upgrade. Then you’ll also have an investment property, maybe wait until the market goes up a little,” I shrugged. Justin's eyes shifted to me while he nodded his head like he was considering it, “What do I do about Dean?” “Simple, he won’t move right?” “Nope,” Justin said popping the ‘p’ like he was bursting a balloon, “he thinks I’m coming back.” “He’s a dick,” I scoffed, “Anyway talk to him about renting the place, put it through a real estate. You won’t have to deal with him. I mean the guys an ass, but he’s not that much of an ass that he’d do any damage to your place. He’d have to move anyway, this way he can stay put.” “I can always help him move out if that doesn’t work.” I added – in my head. Justin nodded again. I could see the wheels turning. Our food was laid in front of us at the bar, the bartender replaced our beers, we thanked him and ate quietly while we watched the cricket. Until Justin brought up the subject, I’d been avoiding – the interview with Brady Douglass. Justin cleared his throat, “So about Brady,” “What about him, I’m eating my dinner, you’ll spoil my beer.” My eyes turned to daggers on Justin, “there’s no way in hell I’m employing that asshole…” “Just hear me out for a second,” he put his hand up to stop me, “look I’m with you about the Douglass family, but our only dealings with them were twenty-years ago. His interview was a disaster,” Justin chuckled, “but he was nervous as hell, but geez Ember, you’ve got to admit it would have looked funny as on YouTube, maybe interview fails of the year.” That at least made me grin. “Good, then I won’t have to worry about any backlash for not hiring him,” I grumbled, then shoving food in my mouth. Justin gave me that look, the one that says you’re being a Jackass. “What?” I asked disgruntled. “Come on mate, that’s not fair. I really felt bad for him. No sooner had you stormed out, he’d knocked the water all over the table and into poor Mags’ lap. We didn’t even get to interview him, I swear if you’d have seen his face… poor guy. Nothing seems to be going right for him.” Justin said sympathetically. “Yeah well, it’s not really my problem is it.” I tried to concentrate on my dinner and the cricket on the television behind the bar. “But–” Justin said. I rolled my eyes. “There’s always a but…” “–Short of getting another auto-electrician or mechanic, he’s going to be the best we can get. Brady is an electrical engineer, he’ll be able to keep up with me, and he’ll be a fast learner with the mechanical crap. My guess is he’s desperate for work, he knows the history you two have, that shows some balls or utter stupidity to interview with us; he and his son are living at his parent's place. You could see in his face, he’s in a bind; it’s not likely he’ll get a job doing anything with his degree around here. All I’m asking is we give him a shot, maybe a four-week probation or something. If it doesn’t work, we cut him loose.” “You can’t be serious Justin?” I asked incredulously, pointing my fork at him. “The way I see it, if we don’t, we are just as bad as he and his cronies were in high school. A bunch of bullies throwing our weight around because we can.” Justin sighed. “I’m not wild about this either Ember, but I need help. Brady will be able to hit the ground running, and I won’t have to turn away work.” He went back to eating his dinner. Well it’s hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it? But seriously Brady freakin’ Douglass… “Also, if I turn away work, it’s money out of your pocket, and one less potential customer in the future,” Justin said with half a mouth full. Ugh! Damn logic. Justin swallowed then continued, “Brady’s grown up Ember, he was humble and almost begging for the job. He’s guaranteed Mags and me he’s not here to cause any trouble…” “And what if it was Cameron Douglass, would you be asking me to do it then?” I knew I was snarky and being a royal pain. Justin paused and really thought about it. “Yes, if it were Cameron, and he was in this situation, and his demeanour was the same as Brady’s today. I’d say definitely considerate it, and do you know why?” he asked pointing his fork at me to emphasize his point this time. I snorted, “So you could lore it over him, get your thrills bossing him around?” Justin chortled, cutting his steak, “No…Yes, What? No, I wouldn’t do that.” I raised my eyebrow at him. “Okay maybe a bit of that, but mostly because we are friendly people and we give others a chance Boss.” Justin gave me a confident nod and shoveled in another mouthful of food to his wide open logical trap. “I hate you right now Justin,” I sighed, “fine have it your way, you can give him a go. But the second he’s out of line, says, does, breathes, even sweats one homophobic asshole thing his ass is out of there. With a black eye and broken nose from yours truly. You can have your four-week paid trial.” Justin smiled, “Thanks, Boss.” “I still hate you, keep him away from me, or I’m going to be bitching all over your ass the whole time,” I grumbled moving the food around on my plate. I really do hate him right now. I was looking forward to my steak. Jackass and his logic. “Uncle Ember?” I heard my nephew say from behind me. I swiveled on my bar stool, so I could see AJ, donning a smile by the time he could see my face. Justin did the same. “Oh, hi Justin.” He gave him a small wave. “Hey Bud, where are your folks?” I asked looking past him to see if I could see my sister April or his Dad. “Oh, um, I’m here with a friend from school,” AJ waved his friend over, and he quickly moved and stood next to my nephew smiling. “Uncle Ember this is my friend Novy; Novy this is my Uncle Ember,” he pointed to Justin, “this is Justin, he works with my Uncle, Justin this is my friend Novy.” The kid looked a little familiar, but I couldn’t place him, “Nice to meet you.” I shook his hand. He gave a good solid handshake. Novy did the same with Justin, he politely greeted us both shaking our hands. “You guys here by yourself? We can move to a table if you want.” “Oh no, it’s okay we are with Novy’s Dad for dinner.” My nephew pointed toward the door. “Cool, so Novy, are you in year twelve like AJ?” I asked curiously. They looked the same age, you can never tell these days. I sized up the kid a little, he was dressed well in designer clothes and very polite, not too polite it was sickly or fake, but like he was naturally a nice kid, good manners, he wasn’t stand-offish, he seemed relaxed around adults, his parents should be proud. “Yes, we just moved here from the city. It’s my first week at school. AJ has been kind enough to show me around and stuff.” He put his hand on AJ’s shoulder and pushed it gently, my nephew smiled. It would be just like him to take the new kid under his wing. The kid is liked and likes everyone, he is friendly and laid back, there’s not a malicious bone in that boy’s body. I smiled fondly at my nephew, AJ gave me a bashful smile, and I winked at him, so he knew I was proud of him. “Are you guys coming to watch AJ and me tomorrow? We are entered in the Moto over at The Oaks.’” “Uncle Ember and Dad are my mechanics.” AJ grinned proudly. “Yep, I’ll be there. Otherwise, this knucklehead would never get to race, he’s not really mechanically inclined are ya?” I ruffled AJ’s hair laughing. “I’m alright, I’m just… slow is all. I like to take my time, so I know it’s right,” my nephew whined while shooting daggers at me with his eyes and trying to fix his hair. “Oh Princess, your hair is fine.” I laughed and messed with it again. AJ swatted my hands away and tried to fix his hair. “Stop it.” his friend Novy by his side laughing. “Since you just moved here, do you have a mechanic for tomorrow, Novy?” Justin asked. “Ah, no. I have my Dad. He’s okay, but he’s better with electrical stuff than mechanical.” The kid shrugged his shoulder, he looked a little dejected for a second and recovered quickly. I looked at Justin, and I saw everything click into place, I had an awful feeling I knew who this kid’s Dad was. He just moved here, and his Dad is good at electrical stuff, I wonder who that could be? I internally rolled my eyes, oh for the love of god no way... “Well I’ll be there tomorrow if you need a mechanic so just yell, I’ll give you a hand. I’ll go over your bike in the morning before you race too if you like?” Justin offered, I could see he was trying to hold back a smirk. Asshole! He’d pieced together who his Dad was too. “You wouldn’t mind?” Novy asked excitedly, pumping his fist, the kids face lit up like a Christmas tree. Justin chuckled shaking his head, “No problem, any friend of AJ’s…” Justin smirked and tilted his head at the kid, “So Novy,” Justin cleared his throat, trying to compose himself, “that’s an unusual name, is it a nickname?” The kid shrugged his shoulder, “Kind of, it’s short for November. I found out recently, I’m apparently named after someone my Dad was in love with in high school, my dad’s gay and my mom doesn’t live with us now…” the boy prattled on with his story. I didn’t hear a word he said, it took every piece of energy I had to stay seated on the stool after being hit right between the eyes with a piece of four by two. What the fuck? Fuck I feel dizzy, my head was spinning, like one of those bad 80’s movie effects. At that moment, Brady Douglass walked through the door with Ricky Cummings deep in conversation; Ricky had a smile on his face, while Brady looked - intense. They’d been friends in high school, and Ricky was the quiet but friendly one of their crowd, never a dick like his buddy next to him. Ricky waved to us and turned toward the tabled area, and Novy called out, “Dad, come here a sec.” Brady stopped and looked at the boy and then saw us and the colour drained from his face and he froze, like a deer in the headlights. I could hear Justin bust out laughing and reached over to squeeze my shoulder. AJ shook my shoulder gently. “You okay Uncle E?” “Huh?” I looked up at AJ dazed, “What?” My nephew's eyes were as big as saucers. Brady ‘fucking’ Douglass was in love with me in high school. WHAT. THE. FUCK?
  42. 96 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 20 Tobyn was terrified in a way he’d never been before. It wasn’t from the words Kellar had spoken. No. It was that resignation in his voice. He wasn’t expecting to survive the poison. Despite his reassurance, it was something he couldn’t hide, and Tobyn ran like the wind to prove him wrong. Kellar’s descriptions and directions were spot-on. He immediately located the three plants, placing them in a plastic bag and sealing it. Shifting back, he lifted the precious package carefully with his teeth and bolted out the open door, forgoing the steps entirely. He set a blistering pace as he raced through the forest, maneuvering the trails with more instinct than thought. As quickly as he ran, it didn’t seem fast enough. What would he do if…? No, he couldn’t go there. He had another bunch of miles to cover and needed to concentrate on reaching the man relying on him, in one piece with the herbs intact. He threw caution to the wind as he sprinted through what used to be friendly territory. Now, he wasn’t so sure… another hunter could be around the next bend. Only one thing mattered, though… Kellar… and that was who he focused on. Finally bursting into the small clearing, Tobyn’s heart felt ready to explode from his mouth. He shifted, let out a gasping sob, and dropped to his knees in front of the big guy whose hands were clamped to his wound. Staring at a motionless Kellar, Tobyn caught and held what little breath he had until the man slowly opened weary, pain-etched eyes. Kellar smiled weakly and Tobyn breathed again. “You made it. I’m so… you need to do the chewing for me… I… can’t.” “Okay, how much? Show me.” Tobyn tried to keep the panic from his voice, but knew he failed miserably. His fear kept escalating despite his effort to calm himself. Seeing the state of this guy who meant so much to him ensured that. “Hey? It’s okay. We have time.” Kellar smiled again as he continued in a frighteningly feeble voice. “We’ll try equal amounts of the two with the dried flowers… just leaves and buds… no stems… wait… upper stems of the darker one. Put as much as will fit comfortably in your mouth and use all the saliva you can generate. Do not swallow it. Spit it in the bag if you can’t hold it. I’ll need every bit of it.” He closed heavy-lidded eyes after the effort of speaking, and Tobyn worried that his mate… his mate… might not have enough strength left to get this done. He was already chewing for all he was worth, turning the plants into a mushy mass. “That’s enough. Spit it all into my mouth, and try not to lose any. These poisons are potent.” The words came out in a whisper. God, he sounded so drained. Tobyn leaned close, putting his lips against Kellar’s, and transferred the clump and all the liquid as slowly as he thought necessary, careful not to cause him to choke. He kept his lips in place to ensure none of the precious medicine escaped. A sickly Kellar managed the few measured swallows before sucking more from the mushed-up mass. He surprised Tobyn by pushing the clump back into his mouth before pulling away. “It’s powerful. You did good. Really good, Tobyn. If you could just chew it a bit more and then squeeze the rest of the liquid out of the herbs and drip it in, I should have enough. Then you can return the clump to me. We have to hurry now. Make sure you spit out anything left. It won’t hurt you, I promise, but it could make you retch.” Tobyn did as he was asked, pleased at the amount of liquid he was able to squeeze out before inserting and positioning the herbs against the inside of Kellar’s cheek. “Okay….” Kellar was beginning to pant in little breaths. “I really need your energy for this. Put your hands over mine.” Tobyn did, and felt even more warmth build than he’d experienced with Adelin’s healing. He tried desperately to calm his still-racing heart, but the fear had too strong a hold on him. This had to turn out well… he couldn’t face the alternative. “Is it working?” “Too soon,” was all Kellar said, keeping his eyes closed. Tobyn rested his forehead lightly on Kellar’s pulled-up knee before realizing it was his fractured leg. He immediately removed it, but Kellar stopped him with a plea. “No… please keep your head there, just like you were.” “But, it’s your broken one. I don’t want to put any pressure on it.” “It’s fine. The bone is in the right spot, and that touch feeds me more energy. You’re stronger than I am.” It sounded like such an effort to talk Tobyn felt guilty. “It’s the poison we need to worry about... not the fracture.” “Okay.” As soon as Tobyn’s head was back in place, he noticed the familiar warmth present there as well. Maneuvering in increments, he placed his foot against the side of the same leg, and again there was heat. Kellar soon whispered, “Better.” Time passed as shadows deepened and winds built, and Tobyn was aware, but only barely. He stayed stock-still, and felt the slow and steady drain on his being. It was as if their four hands were fused together, and in a way they were, with the blood seeping from the large and grotesque leg wound. The first few rain drops startled him, but he didn’t waver. He had no concern for a spine feeling like it would soon snap. Nor did he care about his butt and knees protesting their positions. It only mattered that the poison was defeated. More rain came, and while cold, it was also cleansing. He lost all sense of time, and put total concentration into staying conscious. Tobyn’s eyes sprung open when he felt movement beneath his hands, and found himself staring into an exhausted but smiling face. “What’s going on? Do we need more liquid?” His throat had never felt drier, and his voice cracked as he asked the questions. Kellar turned his hands over and gripped Tobyn’s. “No, the poison is gone. Thanks to you, we did it. I must admit I had some doubts, but it has all disappeared.” “Really? That’s the best news I’ve ever heard.” His eyes filled with water and he swiped it away, but it was only a temporary fix. “What about your broken leg?” “Stop worrying.” Kellar reached out and brushed more tears from Tobyn’s cheeks. “It’s already started to knit together. Let’s just rest a bit, and then I can chew some of the other plant. It won’t take much longer until I’ll be able to shift and walk. You’re… you're much stronger than the last time you leant me your energy.” “What’s wrong?” “What? Nothing. What do you mean?” “There’s something bothering you. I felt it when you said I was stronger.” Kellar’s eyes widened. “Well, I guess that’s another sign then. I’m sorry, man. I wasn’t thinking straight, but I’m pretty sure... fuck... there's no other way to say it. Tobyn, we likely started the joining.” It was Tobyn’s turn to widen his eyes in comprehension. “My saliva?” “And mine. Right after I gave you back the clump, I could sense your heartbeat. It was going like a freight train, wasn’t it? I didn’t hear it… I felt it, like it was a part of me.” “Yeah, it was… it definitely was. I was terrified of losing you.” Kellar winced, and Tobyn knew what was behind it when Kellar continued. “Ms. Sybil said the joining is about exchanging bodily fluids… I guess I should have realized saliva could be one of them. I’m really sorry. If I'm right, this will make it harder for us to handle separation.” Tobyn moved up beside the big man, feeling such peace that he was going to be okay. His mate was going to live. “It wasn’t very much saliva.” He leaned back against the same giant tree, not minding the scratchiness of it. The rain had stopped and a sliver of sunshine had made its way through the branches, caressing them with a welcomed touch. “Maybe you didn’t get enough to matter. I got much more of it.” “That hardly seems fair. How does your leg feel now? You’ve stretched it out a little.” Kellar turned his head, a questioning look on his face, and Tobyn smiled at him. “What did you mean when you said it hardly seems fair?” The intensity of his eyes burned into Tobyn’s, and he could swear his whole body heated. “I think you owe me some saliva. It should be equal, shouldn’t it? I’m not going to be some subservient mate, just because you’re the size of a mountain. Now, are you going to give me some more saliva or not?” He grinned at Kellar’s expression. “Do… do you mean it? I think you still have a choice, Tobyn.” “Jeez, are you always going to be this slow? I thought I was the dense one in this pair. Kiss me for God’s sake.” As Kellar opened his mouth to speak again, Tobyn took the initiative and leaned in, brushing against lips that soon responded. Blood-stained hands came up to touch unshaven cheeks, but Tobyn didn’t care. He let Kellar take the lead, delivering more saliva with a tentative tongue, as requested. He didn’t have a lot of previous experience to go on, but as far as kisses were concerned, their first one was a doozy. Tobyn actually felt a little faint as they slowly, oh so slowly, drew apart. “Wow,” Kellar muttered before finally opening his eyes. “Did you feel that?” “If you mean that there were fireworks in my head and it was like it was meant to be, then yeah, I felt it,” he replied a little breathlessly. “Yeah, that’s what I meant.” The wondrous smile that followed almost prevented Tobyn from seeing the tiredness in his mate’s eyes, but not quite. “Okay, we need to get you healed enough to get you home because we need to get out of here. Are you ready to do some chewing?” “Maybe after one more of those kisses.” “That can come later, mountain man. Another one of those and I might lose my ability to walk,” he said with a shy grin. “We need to get this done.” “But, I was serious. That kiss fed me some energy… don’t make that face… it really did, so stop arguing and pucker up.” Tobyn laughed. “Okay, but don’t even think about bossing me around,” he murmured as he leaned back in for an encore. This one was soft, gentle, and oh so fulfilling. Tobyn was reluctant for such sweetness to end. “Better now?” “Oh, hell yeah. You can be my battery charger from now on. Tobyn? I’m not dreaming, right? You really want this?” Tobyn caught and held the light blue gaze. He could see the need residing there. “I really want this. I want you… I have since I first saw you. Kellar, I might be slow, but I’m not entirely stupid. And now it’s your turn to stop stalling. I’ve done enough of that for both of us.” He raised an eyebrow and smirked. “We have some healing to do… among other things.” “Yes, we do. And I just figured out why there was more energy mist from your mom and Denver than from us yesterday.” “Always the healer,” Tobyn said with a cheeky grin. “So… are you going to tell me why?” “Yup. Saliva. They started their joining before they met the pack together, and we hadn’t. I saw them kiss a couple of times.” “Ewww. Way to spoil the mood,” he said with a snicker. “Can we not talk about my mother exchanging saliva with someone? Anyway, so now that we’ve traded spit, we’ll produce more mist?” “Well, I won’t be certain till we’re around shifters who need the energy, but yeah, it makes perfect sense it was the reason for the difference.” “Awesome. Kellar?” The big man hesitated in filling his mouth with the third herb. “Yeah?” “What are we going to do with the hunter’s body?” “I think we should leave it where it is. Thank God it fell over after you left, but it startled the shit out of me,” he said ruefully. “It’ll look like an animal attack if someone finds him. This is crown land, and it’s a long way from my property. I’ve never seen or smelled anybody in these woods at any time since I moved here, so don’t worry, okay?” Tobyn nodded, trying to appear unaffected by the dead man. He took a nervous look through the trees around them. “We’ll clean up any sign of humans being around, though, and there’s already wolf hair and flesh in the trap so we’ll spring it again. It’ll look like an animal was barely caught, and was able to pull free and attack him before he could use his rifle. We need to remove your fingerprints from when you took it away from him, and I want to check to see if he has any I.D. before we leave. He has a nephew out there somewhere hunting shifters, so a name would be good to have. “Tobyn, look at me. You did a great thing for Morningstar, and every other pack, not to mention saving my ass. Like I said, the brute was a fucking murderer, and if you hadn’t done what you did, I have no doubt he’d have killed a lot more of us.” Tobyn felt and loved the concern flowing out of Kellar for him and his state of mind. He understood it was the right thing, the only thing he could have done, but still, it was hard to take a life. His wolf had been up to the task, though, and for that he was grateful. “Thanks. I’m fine now… stop worrying about me and get chewing.” “Now, who’s being bossy?” Kellar raised an eyebrow, and Tobyn was struck by how sexy that little gesture looked on the big shifter. “Maybe we can take turns?” That earned him one of those belly laughs he loved so much. Something he’d worried he might never hear again. “Sounds good to me.” Kellar filled his mouth and chewed, swallowing every couple of minutes until he gave Tobyn the thumbs up. Less than an hour later, it was done, and Kellar could stand. He was obviously sore, but the bone was healed and the wound closed. Tobyn felt pride when his mate insisted his energy had played a huge part. They stood and embraced for the first time as mates who understood what it meant. Tobyn let himself relax into it, and the handsome man. The feel of him in his arms, pressed against him, healthy once again, brought a lot of emotion to the surface. “I was so scared. I didn’t know if I’d be fast enough.” He squeezed Kellar harder, afraid to pull back because his tear ducts were betraying him. “I wouldn’t have been able to handle losing you.” “Knowing you came after me is what kept me going, Tobyn. I held onto that, and it let me slow the poison down. I didn’t know for sure what it meant, but it was enough no matter how we ended up. As long as I knew you didn’t hate me.” “Jesus, man. Why would you think I could hate you?” “Because I kept things back until I was sure, and you got blindsided twice as a result. I’m sorry for not telling you everything I was thinking.” Tobyn really had to fight the tears now. “You did nothing wrong. Please don’t think you did. It was a weird day for sure, and I had the rug pulled out from under me, but it was what I needed. I was so damn focused on having a family and building up the pack, I wouldn’t let myself adapt. That’s on me, not you.” He finally pulled away enough to look into those attentive eyes, and saw the shimmer of them. Lowering his own eyes, he continued in a soft voice. “I’m sorry I took off. I didn’t think that through either. I didn’t think about what it would look like to you… to my mate. I let my wolf take over, and I ran. He wasn’t very happy about leaving you, but I couldn’t think straight, so he did it. When I realized what I’d done… it was too late. You’d already left.” He tried to smile, but still felt the shame. “I caught hell from my mom, and from Tilly, who feels terrible about what she did by the way, and even from Miss Sybil. Man, was she mad at me. She said I was a fool for not learning our histories like I should have, and that I should start paying better attention because it might have cost me the best thing that could ever happen to me.” He looked back up into his mate’s eyes and managed a grin this time. “I deserved it… she was right… and you sure are a popular guy with the ladies.” Kellar snorted, and followed up with that deep laugh of his. “Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” His laughter became a chuckle. “I’m thankful for whatever or whoever brought you to me.” “You brought me here. All it took was you. It didn’t matter what they said because I already knew what I had to do. I tried to wait until morning, but I couldn’t. Thank the earth mother I didn’t wait. We can talk about all this later, though, because you been through hell and we need to get you home. We’ll just ignore what’s going on ‘down there’ for now.” His wet eyes twinkled and he received another dose of the big man’s laughter. “For now,” Kellar agreed. “I’m going to search that creep’s clothes for information, if you want to grab one of those fallen pine branches and sweep away our footprints… leave our paw prints though, and don’t go near the parts of him you spit out.” “It’s a deal. I don’t want to touch him ever again.” Tobyn’s eyes were drawn to Kellar’s swaying erection as they parted, shaking his head at the size of it. His mind went to their joining, and his anticipation was mixed with just a little apprehension. He raised his eyes to see he was being observed. “I know what you’re thinking. We’ll be fine. There are different ways to join. We could even do the blood-brother thing where we cut our fingers and mingle the blood.” “Oh, hell no. Not a chance, mate. We’re going to do it the right way, and that means making love. If you can sense my heart, you should already know that. I look forward to the challenge… might need a little time, though.” He smirked at the big man as he went off to find a branch. That booming laugh followed him. “I think I like you being bossy. I’m sure as hell not going to argue with you.” His laughter ended and he became serious. “Tobyn?” “Yeah?” “I would do anything for you.” “I know. Me too.” His eyes swept over the toppled corpse before he turned away, looking for a suitable broom.
  43. 95 points
    KENNEDY - UP IN THE AIR As the plane taxied out to the runway, Kennedy switched his phone off, sat back and indulged in the simple pleasure of flying undisturbed by clients or employees. Quiet moments focusing purely on the business came along so rarely, and flights gave him precious time to think ahead and strategise. Without question, Sloan had moved his first pawn—or at least that’s what Kennedy’s intuition told him. But then he enjoyed these challenges; they kept him alert, focused and firmly on his feet. No typical CEO in his right mind would ever have allowed his or her senior managers to hold a potential merger meeting without being present themselves, but then Kennedy was no typical CEO. Moreover, he would be present—even if they couldn’t see or hear him. A person who not only survives but thrives for over eighteen years in a tough business environment dealing with cutting edge security systems, does not do so without picking up a trick or two along the way. A piece of advice came back to him from his late uncle. Be generous with the rope you hand out to those ambitious souls who surround you. Just make sure to keep a firm grip on one end. Not long after take-off, wanting to get the chore out of the way as soon as possible, Kennedy began to give Kieran the low-down on his family and friends. “If he bothers to talk to you at all, my father will probably ask you to call him Jeff. He’s a pompous, miserable old bastard by nature and rarely smiles, so don’t take his rudeness personally. He’s spent practically his whole life in Singapore. Our grandfather worked for the British Government before Singapore gained independence, and continued to do so afterwards. My father only left the country once for any extended period of time and that was to go to university in Cardiff, Wales. He hated being wet and cold, and couldn’t wait to get back to the humidity and sunshine that is Singapore. Following in grandfather’s shoes, he also worked for the consulate as Assistant High Commissioner until the day he retired. Personality wise, he’s a snob, still acts as though Singapore is a colony, and thinks he should be treated like royalty. Although he’s never said as much, his disdain for me is, I think, because his only son is gay. Thinks he’s been robbed of the chance of another Grey male heir to carry forward the family name. Once you’ve finally met the rest of the Grey clan, you’ll understand what a blessing that is for the world.” “Surely he’s impressed with what you’ve achieved?” “As far as I’m aware, he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.” “How about your mother?” “Claire Hamilton Grey nee Havens. Unless there’s been an article about me in Cosmopolitan that I don’t know about—which seems to be more and more likely these day—she doesn’t keep tabs on my career. Ridiculous really, because I took the family business over from her late brother, my uncle. These days she’s a typical ex-pat trophy wife. Bridge club and coffee mornings. Although, according to my sister, she’s more partial to jugs of afternoon cocktails with the rest of the ex-pat wives these days. Can’t say I blame her. Having to live with that old sod every day of her life, who wouldn’t choose insobriety. She deserves an OBE.” “Brutal. Your father doesn’t drink?” “Of course he does. Cliché to a fault, he’s a cognac and cigar man, the latter of which my mother hates.” “Will she like me?” “They’ll both be polite. Dad will probably ignore you most of the time. Mum’s fine. She’s a fan of royal family trivia, if you know any.” “Hmm. Not really my thing. Is that it?” “There’s my sister Reagan.” “Named after King Lear’s daughter?” “Guess again. But if it helps, my father’s full name is Jefferson, and he named his kids Kennedy and Reagan.” “American presidents?” “Correct. One of his interests is global political history.” “Do they have a bulldog called Trump?” “Not yet,” said Kennedy, smirking. “But I’ll mention the idea to mum.” “So what’s your sister like?” “We get on okay. She’s three years younger. Graduated in textile design and could have done really well in fashion but she married an Australian guy called Bernie, and decided to spend her time bringing up babies. They’ve got three boys, Adam, Glenn and Dennis. Can’t remember their ages. My secretary diarises their birthdays, so they get a card and a handout from their uncle each birthday and Christmas. They split their time between Singapore and Melbourne, so no doubt you’ll get to meet them." “Is Bernie a fan of cricket?” Kennedy peered quizzically at Kieran. “Funny you should ask, he is, actually. Huge. Works as a freelance writer for a couple of sports magazines. Why did you ask that? Because he’s an Aussie?” “No, because their kids have the names of famous Aussie cricketers: Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee.” Once again Kennedy smiled. He’d never made the connection. Not that the given names of his nephews were in any way unusual, but he had always assumed they were picked at random. Which reconfirmed the sharp intelligence of this year’s companion. “You’ll have to ask him, if he’s around. Apparently he’s often travelling. Okay, so onto my friends on the cruise. Easy enough, because there are only five coming this year. Steph and Laurie are a couple I’ve known since college. Well Steph, anyway. They have their own little shop down in Sussex which specialises in antique furniture renovations and doubles as a hairdresser's. Yes, I know, an odd combination but you’ll get along fine with both of them. Then there’s Pete and Eric who are permanent fixtures. Eric’s retired and Pete is—actually, I have no idea what Pete does for a living. But he’s the one who brings us all together, so do your best to endure his irritating and persistent sense of humour. And finally there’s Leonard.” Kennedy fell quiet for a second, remembering Leonard’s kind words when he and Patrick had parted ways. “Go on,” prompted Kieran. “Last time we talked, Len had a number of companies—early on, he developed a knack for juggling a lot of businesses—and does really well. Specialist real estate, holiday rental properties, vintage cars, among other things. Of all my friends, he’s the entrepreneur, the smart, successful businessman.” “Wow, is that faint praise I hear? So he’s single, too?” “Yes, but unlike me, his partner died. Don’t think he ever really recovered, so he threw himself into his work.” “You had a partner, too?” “Patrick, yes.” “And what happened to him?” “He left me. But fortunately, he’s not going to be there, so you don’t need to know anything about him.” Thankfully Kieran had the sense not to push the subject. Kennedy did not want to talk about Patrick. “So why only five this year?” “Because the others tend to side with my ex. So if he doesn’t come, neither do they.” “Wow, sounds really grown up. Okay, is that everyone?” “That’s everyone,” said Kennedy, before turning to Kieran. “Now how about you? I suppose I ought to know something about your family. In case anyone asks.” For a moment, Kieran appeared a little uncomfortable, shifting in his seat. After taking a sip of his champagne he sighed deeply and started speaking. “Not much to tell. Got a younger brother and an older sister. Julie’s 31. Sean is 22. On the day mum announced to us all that she was expecting Sean, our father checked out. Disappeared off the face of the planet. Although we suspect he went to Argentina. He has family there. Mum was left to bring up a newborn and two young kids. Jules and I had to step up, but thank goodness we also had mum’s parents to help. Couldn’t afford to send Julie to college, but I went and Sean’s there now, finishing up his degree in Leeds. I help with his fees where I can.” “That’s got to have been tough.” “We survived. I had a couple of jobs since leaving college, but the last one in real estate started out good—lasted four years—but when times are tough nobody wants to buy or sell. So I was let go three months ago. Not long after, I split with my girlfriend who also kicked me out. So I’ve been sleeping on my sister’s couch since then. Which is why I desperately needed this sick and depraved job. Am I allowed to say that, now we’ve reached cruising altitude?” “What? About this sick and depraved job that has you sitting in business class sipping vintage champagne?” “Okay, point taken. There is that.” “Now, before I let you watch movies or sleep or whatever, I have a couple of small items for you.” Kieran appeared a little uncomfortable. “Honestly, you don’t need to—” “Hear me out. These are things I’ve given to all my travelling companions at the outset of a vacation.” First of all, Kennedy took out a small brown envelope from his pocket. “Inside here, there’s a nominal sum of different currencies for all our Asian destinations. Yes, I know this may feel as though I’m giving you pocket money, but it’s mainly because I want you to have funds in case of emergencies; if you need a taxi, something to eat or drink, or see anything you want to buy. I don’t want you to feel as though you need to rely on me to pay for everything.” “I do have some money of my own that I can change up.” “Of course you do, but I thought this might be more convenient.” Although he didn’t appear entirely happy, Kieran placed the small envelope into his track suit pants pocket. “Thank you.” “Everything on the cruise is either included, or can be signed to the cabin. Okay?” “Okay.” Finally, Kennedy took a playing card out of his shirt pocket and handed the item over. After hesitating for a moment, a quizzical frown between his eyebrows, Kieran took the card. “I don’t understand. What am I supposed to do with this?” “What card is it?” “Jack of spades.” “Otherwise known as a Black Jack. Yes?” “Yes. But why do I need it?” “Usually I hand these out for a very different reason. But for you, let’s say that if things are getting a bit too much and you need time out, or help—or as a last resort, to quit and come home, or…whatever. Just hand me the card and I will sort things out.” “Like a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” “If you like,” said Kennedy, before staring pointedly at Kieran, concern in his eyes. “But please tell me you’ll do your best to stay away from foreign prisons.” After that they barely spoke. From time to time, Kennedy noticed Kieran marvelling at the delights of business class; discovering the functions of his seat by pushing buttons to make the chair contort into a variety of positions; sitting up, eyes wide, as the pick of four choices of main course rolled up on a trolley; large headphones perched on his head, laughing a little too loud at a movie on the entertainment system. When finally the cabin lights dimmed, Kennedy switched on his reading light to continue scanning the financial reports Karl had provided. Every now and again, in between research, he peered over at Kieran who lay curled on his side in the bed, sleeping soundly. Without thinking, a tiny smile tugged at his mouth. Immediately he shook his head, and mentally stamped on the tiny bud of affection. This holiday partnership would be strictly business, Kennedy reminded himself. Strictly business.
  44. 95 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 50 Two full days had passed since their arrival back at Morningstar. There would be travel back and forth for some, over the next few days, but for now the newly combined pack had all its members in one place. It had been a hectic transition in many ways, but exciting as well. Morningstar had an infusion of new blood, and no one took it for granted. They all knew what it meant to the now hope-filled future of shifters. “I love your hair when it’s wet,” Tobyn said when Kellar exited the master bath. “Sweaty wet or shower wet?” “I’ll take either. Sweaty wet usually means you’ve been working hard at making me happy, and shower wet means you’re all ready to do it again.” Kellar belly-laughed. “I’m at your service anytime, wet or dry. Should I forget about getting dressed?” Tobyn grinned as he finished pulling a tee shirt over his own wet hair. “While I prefer you naked, I’ll have to take a raincheck. Duty calls.” “So, duty means lunch with Warren?” “Among other things. I’m sure there’s a million things to take care of—hey, maybe we should try to avoid my mom… nah, that’ll never work—and your Vega fans need to see their Cahlar.” Kellar first chuckled, then pouted, and then rolled his eyes. “Yes, master.” “That’s my mountain man. Now, get a move on before I change my mind and confine you to the bedroom.” Tobyn deliberately brushed his body against Kellar’s as he left, causing goosebumps to rise. “Damn! Fine. I’ll be ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” Kellar called after him. “Down, boy,” he muttered to his penis. “Hey, bro. Sorry I’m late. Hey, Tobyn. I had to give Dougal a hand with a transmission before I could get away. Those suckers are heavy.” “No worries, man.” Kellar and Tobyn both stood for quick one-armed hugs. “Sit. I ordered the burger and fries for all of us. How’s Dougal fitting in?” Kellar asked, once they were seated in the busy, sun-filled dining room. “He’s a character… it’s a lot more fun at the garage now that the pressure’s off, and Denver and him keep going down memory lane. Some interesting stories for me to listen to. I’m glad I finally get a chance to sit down and talk with you guys, though. It’s been insane around here, hasn’t it?” “Yeah, but a good kind of insanity,” Tobyn remarked. “Everyone has a house picked now—without any real arguments—and, for the first time in decades, we have enough members for all the work… more than enough.” “Yeah, Adelin and I went for a walk at dusk last night, and it was cool to see lights on in so many homes. There can’t be that many empty ones left, are there?” “Mom says there’s fourteen in good shape, and a few older ones that need work, but that number will increase by a couple, once all the mates are living together. I guess we could soon be looking at organizing a building crew.” Conversation stopped as their food was delivered. “Isn’t it great how many shifters are in here? I just love it,” Marjorie exclaimed as she fussed over their table. “Hey, what about me?” Warren asked. “Oh, sweetie, you’re considered one of us, you know that,” she said, giving his arm a pat. “Anyway, Joanne is much easier to deal with because she has lots of help in the kitchen… well, that’s one of the reasons. That Ian is a delicious drink of water.” A giggle erupted before she continued. “Heather can serve fulltime now, instead of going back and forth, so everyone is happy. We can’t thank you boys enough… yell if you need anything else. Oh, Warren, sweetie, I’ll be right back with your drink. Sorry, I forgot it. Coke?” “Yes, please, Marjorie. That would hit the spot.” Kellar watched her walk away, and thought about how everywhere you looked in the dining room, people were smiling and laughing. His eyes settled on Joanne’s ex, Dolan, pleased that he looked as engaged and happy as everyone else. “Back to the mates moving in together… that’ll probably happen in a couple of days at the most. Watching Dirk and Sarah the last day and a half, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already given up his place. The man can’t wipe the grin off his face. I don’t think I ever saw him smile before he met her.” “Yeah, no one can describe him as taciturn now. He was even talking at dinner last night, and, I actually heard him laugh,” Tobyn said with an amused head shake. “I love too, how involved the kids are. They’re like a little pack of their own, running all over the place and helping everyone get settled.” “And the Vega shifters love having them around,” Kellar added. “Their faces light up whenever they see a kid. Bertram’s a little star.” They all chuckled at the thought of the irrepressible little fellow who seemed to have springs for legs. “The new members are a nice bunch of people, that’s for sure, and it doesn’t faze them one bit that I’m human. I’ve never thought much about kids before, but I couldn’t imagine a place without them,” Warren mumbled around a mouthful of food. “That must have been a tough situation to live with every single day. No wonder they keep saying how much they like it here. Speaking of which, you guys realize you’re everyone’s heroes, right? It’s all Tobyn this, and Kellar that. You’ve rescued two packs now. And what’s all this stuff about a prophecy, anyway?” he asked with a poorly concealed smirk. “Oh, jeez. Is that going around?” “You bet it is. I had to ask why some of the Vega members were mispronouncing your name, and was told about how you resembled some famous dude’s wolf in a painting. They call you the savior. Good job on the healings, man. Do I need to start bowing when I see you?” “Don’t take this too personally, Warren, but fuck off.” “Oh, touchy, are we?” “Don’t push your luck,” Tobyn warned with a grin. “Kellar thinks all the talk will disappear, but between you and me, not a chance. Your brother may hate attention, but he’s become a bit of a legend.” “Oh, come on, babe. Not you too,” Kellar said with a groan. “Sorry. Okay, let’s talk about something else.” “Hey, not before I say how proud I am of you, bro. I get cred when I introduce myself as the exalted one’s brother.” “Not as good as being the savior’s consort,” Tobyn said smugly, and Warren laughed. Kellar almost choked on his french fry. “Okay, you’ve had your fun. Can we stop now? Please?” “What do you think, Warren? Remember, I’m the one who has to live with him.” “I say, okay… for now.” Warren grinned, and Kellar had the urge to throw something at him. Instead, he said, “Thank you for small favors.” It was time to change the subject. “Where’s Adelin, dude? You guys are usually glued at the hip.” “You’re one to talk. Someone could tie your and Tobyn’s hands together and you wouldn’t even notice.” “True that,” Kellar said around a mouthful of burger. “So, Adelin?” “Oh yeah… she worked at the store this morning, training Millie and Ulrich. Right now she should be at Logan’s house helping Tilly go through it.” “Which house did he end up picking?” “The three bedroom across from Miss Sybil’s and Arthur’s place, one down from the school. The girls think it’s great, and apparently Logan likes being close to the old guy.” “I thought Tilly loved her house,” Kellar said. “She does, but it’s only a two bedroom.” Tobyn wiped some ketchup off the corner of Kellar’s mouth with a napkin. “The times, they are a changing.” “That, they are.” Warren was watching the two of them, and his expression was serious. “What?” Kellar asked. “Nothing. Okay, something. I need to ask you a favor… actually two favors.” “All right. Ask away.” “Would you consider being my best man?” “You’re getting married? Awesome! When?” “Well, that depends on you guys. We know you’ll be traveling, so it‘ll have to be when you’re home. Maybe after your next adventure?” “For sure, I’ll do it, but don’t you have to pick a date and do a lot of planning and stuff? Hell, I don’t want to hold you back, or….” “Doc, take a breath. Weddings are pretty casual for us. There’s not a lot to plan. We don’t do the flower thing, other than a bouquet of wildflowers sometimes, and there’s no venue, because weddings are held outside, at night, usually during a full or almost-full moon. There are old stories of weddings for our pack being performed a few hours before sunrise when Venus, the morning star, shines brightest, but that was centuries ago. It’s not a thing anymore.” “Oh. I didn’t know any of that. Will I need fancy clothes?” Tobyn snorted. “Just your finest pelt. Our tradition is those who stand with the couple do so as wolves if they can shift. Everyone in the pack is invited, from kids to adults, in whatever form they choose, so there’s no guest list, and of course there’s no photographer.” “Dude, it’s the smartest thing ever. If I was a shifter, we’d go for a run right after the ceremony, which brings me to the other favor.” “Wait… who performs the ceremony?” “An alpha or his designate always did in the past, but in our situation, weddings are done by my mom, Maynard or Ingram. Vows are whatever the couple want them to be. There’s this nice verse about the blessings of the earth mother which usually gets recited. It’s a pretty simple event, but it means just as much to us as human weddings.” “Doesn’t it sound cool, bro? I don’t even have to sweat over picking out the right ring.” Kellar grinned at his brother. He’d always hated weddings… all that fuss in a stuffy church. As a kid he’d thought them stupid, but something like this sounded… right. “Very cool. I’m in for sure, Warren. I’d be honored.” “Awesome. What about you, bro-in-law? Will you stand up with me too… on your four feet?” he asked with a chuckle. “I’d be honored too, Warren. Count my four paws in. Who are you asking to preside over it?” “Elinor… and we already did. Well, Adelin did the asking, and your mom said she’d be happy to. She mentioned there hasn’t been a wedding here in a really long time.” “No, I guess there hasn’t, come to think of it.” Kellar caught the momentary frown on Tobyn’s face before it dissipated. “I think we’ll have a flood of them soon, right, babe?” A smile lit his mate’s face. “Yup… to quote Bob Dylan one more time… the times, they are a changing.” “So, what’s the other favor?” Warren wiped his mouth with a napkin before speaking. “You remember me saying I was going to do the blood exchange and become a shifter?” Why did his brother look sheepish? Kellar nodded. “I remember. Are you having any second thoughts?’ “No, that’s not it. Adelin and I have talked at length about it, and I have no reservations at all, but… I don’t trust myself.” Kellar leaned forward slightly. “What are you talking about?” “When I become a wolf for the first time. Denver told me there can be a lot of anger the first few minutes, until a shifter gets used to it.” “He’s right… there is. So?” “Well, I remember yours… your first shift… and bro, seriously… I’ve done a whole whack of drugs. What if my brain’s screwed up from all those chemicals? No way do I want Adelin there—just in case I go loopy—but she wants to be. She’s insisting.” “She is your mate, Warren. Do you honestly think you could hurt her?” “I… I don’t know. I do know I don’t want to take the chance. She’s really adamant about being at my side, but the only way I could have her be there is if you are too… your big wolf. I want you there to kick my ass if you have to. Stomp on my head if I get out of line.” Warren’s expression held a plea in it, but there was also embarrassment at having to ask. “I wish you could sit on this side of the table and hear yourself. There’s nothing wrong with your brain, and there’s not a chance in hell you would hurt anyone, especially Adelin, but I’ll gladly be there if you want me. Not because I’m worried, but because you’re my brother, and I would love to share that moment with you.” Kellar smirked. “After all, you shared my first shift.” Warren smiled, and then started laughing. “I sure as hell did. You were one scary fucker. I was such an ass back then. I’m lucky you didn’t….” Warren’s laughter ended and his words trailed off as a different emotion showed on his face… regret? Shame? “That’s the past. We’re in a different place now,” Kellar said softly. “Right?” Warren cleared his throat. “Right.” “So when are you planning to do this? Before the wedding or after?” “It doesn’t matter, not to either of us, but we’ve been told it can take as long as a couple of weeks for me to become a shifter. So it’ll have to be when you’re here for at least two weeks.” Kellar gave Tobyn a questioning look. “What do you think, babe?” “It’s up to you. We talked about heading out in a week, but it could wait. We know from Mom that Arthur remembers something about the Thunder Bay area, so we only have a vague destination anyway.” “He might remember something more specific in the next day or two.” He turned back to Warren. “You know you can’t miss a day of blood exchange once you start?” “Yeah, we’ve been told the change won’t take if we do, and apparently we only have one chance. We’re not going to screw it up, but like I said, there’s no hurry. We know you’re under pressure to find more mates, so leave when you were going to, and we’ll wait until you guys get back.” He could tell his brother was sincere, and they did feel a lot of pressure, from guys like Dougal and Percy especially. Even Dolan, who’d lost the most in their first search for earth mates, made a remark yesterday about not forgetting him. Kellar, too, had picked up on Maynard’s wistful looks as he’d watched the closeness of Ingram and Dot. He was now the only leader without a mate. “Let’s see what happens in the next few days. It’ll be easier to travel and cover more ground in the summer, so fall makes more sense. I doubt we’ll be traipsing off anywhere in the winter. Who’s to say it won’t take three weeks of blood exchanges, so I want us to have plenty of leeway. I would hate to miss it because of some timing issue.” Warren beamed. “Thanks, bro… I would hate it too. I’m counting on you to be there, and fall sounds good to me.” They waved goodbye to Warren as he drove away, and proceeded over to Tobyn’s vehicle. It was a perfect day to be on a boat, according to Tobyn, and he wanted to check if one was available at the marina. Kellar was excited at the possibility of his first ever outing on water. They had just opened their doors when one of the big dually farm trucks pulled in beside theirs. It had a large wooden pen on the back, and in it, a horned sheep was visible. The musky odor of the animal assaulted Kellar’s sensitive nostrils. Hugh was the driver, and he hopped out and walked around to their side. “Hey, guys.” “Hey, bud,” Tobyn said. “Stopping in for some lunch?” Hugh shook hands with them both. “No, I’m not hungry… had a big breakfast, and there’s, ah… something I have to take care of first.” “Does it have anything to do with that critter in the back of your truck?” Hugh chuckled. “Kind of. That critter is a Canadian Arcott ram we’ve traded to a local farmer so he can improve his meat production. Today’s as good a day as any to deliver him… the horny bugger’s already primed for the fall breeding season, and he’s annoying the hell out of our ewes.” Kellar was watching Tobyn’s friend, and it was plain he was nervous about something; his words were coming out in a hurried ramble. Another one anxious for them to find his mate? He sensed a request coming. “It is a beautiful day, isn’t it? We’re just headed over to the marina. Kellar’s never been out on a boat before. Can you believe it?” Tobyn shook his head in mock disgust. “Oh… okay… ah… okay. Well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Kellar. There’s nothing like being out on the lake on a warm, sunny day. You guys sure have earned some relaxation time after all you’ve done for us. I’ll leave you to it, then. See ya later. Have fun.” He turned back to his truck with shoulders slumped. Kellar didn’t know him well, but his body language showed disappointment. “Something on your mind, Hugh?” he called out. “Yeah, what’s up with you, man?” Tobyn asked. “Is anything wrong? Did you want to ask us about looking for your mate?” Hugh turned back, his expression clouded. “No… it’s nothing like that… I… shit… I think I might have found my mate.” It certainly wasn’t what Kellar was expecting to hear. Mate? He knew every shifter pattern here, and none matched Hugh. “Why do you think that?” “Ah, I’m not sure… look, I don’t want to hold you guys up. We all have stuff to do. Don’t worry about it.” He went to turn away again. “Hold on, bud. If you think you’ve found your mate, Kellar can verify it. The lake can wait, right, doc?” “Absolutely. It’s no one on pack lands, though. You know that, don’t you?” Hugh nodded. “I do… it’s… he’s not a shifter… he’s human,” he uttered quietly. Tobyn glanced quickly at his mate with eyes widened. “He?” “Yeah, he. That’s why I believe he has to be my mate. I’ve never been attracted to a guy before. That stuff we did as kids doesn’t count.” “What?” escaped before Kellar could prevent it. “Cool your jets, doc. It isn’t what you think.” “I’m not thinking anything.” “Aren’t you?” Tobyn asked with a smirk. “So, you’re attracted to this guy? Maybe it’s love, Hugh.” “I don’t think so… but hell, I don’t know. He’s taken over my whole brain. I can’t sleep, and I can’t eat. I lied about having a big breakfast. I’m on my way there now, and the last thing I want to do is eat.” “On your way there, where?” Kellar asked. “Davidson’s farm. It’s a few miles from here. He lives and works at the place.” Kellar saw now, just how tired Hugh was. “When did you first see him?” “Ah… that would be a couple of months ago, but he was fixing a fence way up behind the barn when I went to pick out a couple of young ewes as payment for Bob. My eyes hadn’t improved yet back then, so I didn’t get a good look at him, but I felt… like… a pull. I thought I was just curious, so we marked the ewes and I left. I had this weird feeling when I drove away, but it wasn’t a big deal; after a few days it wasn’t as noticeable. I didn’t know much about mates back then.” “Who’s Bob?” Hugh jerked his head toward the back of the big dually. “Him.” “Oh, right. So, what happened to change things to where you couldn’t eat or sleep? Did you finally talk to the guy?” Hugh winced, and then nodded at Kellar. “I went back to Davidson’s a couple of weeks ago with the small trailer so I could pick up those ewes, but he wasn’t there. I could have waited until I delivered the ram, but….” “Who wasn’t there?” “Old man Davidson. His name’s Lorne, but no one calls him that. He was in the hospital for a knee replacement, and apparently he’s recuperating at his sister’s, so Connor, that’s his name, is in charge of everything. That’s when we officially met.” He groaned, looking dismayed. “I think I may have freaked him out.” “Why do you think that?” Tobyn asked. “Because I held onto his hand too long for starters. I don’t know what happened… he had to pry his hand away. He asked me what the fuck was wrong with me.” “Shit.” “Yeah, shit. You know me, Tobe. That’s not me. I freaked myself out too, but I told him ‘sorry,’ and said I was preoccupied with something, and had a brain freeze moment. He kept looking at me weird. I didn’t know what was happening, so I chattered on like an idiot. I asked him a bunch of questions about sheep… stuff I already knew… and I don’t even know what else. He probably thought I was on drugs or something.” “Relax, bud. I’m sure it’s not that bad. So, you really believe he’s your mate?” “Yeah… I tried to convince myself it wasn’t possible, but after I went a few days without sleep or food, yeah. It’s the only explanation, right? What the hell am I going to do?” Hugh rubbed his face in exasperation. He didn’t look all that far away from collapse, and when Kellar flickered, he saw a pale aura that backed his impression up. “We are going to see if you’re right. All I need is a glimpse of Connor and we’ll go from there.” “You’ll do that for me? What about your plans?” “What plans? Of course, we’ll do this for you. You can’t go on like this, not knowing. I take it he’ll be there now?” “Yeah, he will. Well, he should be… thank you. You’re right that I need to know, although I’m not sure what I’ll do if he is my mate.” “One step at a time,” Tobyn said. “Is he from the area?” “No, he moved up from the Lake Simcoe area… somewhere around Orillia, if I remember right. He’s kind of skittish, and he doesn’t say much, but that could be my fault. He’s the only worker Davidson has, and he has sheep, cattle and poultry to look after. Kellar?” “Yeah?” “Why would the earth mother give me a human male earth mate? I don’t see any sense in that.” “Seriously, Hugh? You’d ask such a question when you know what earth mates mean to our survival? The energy we all need?” “But a man? Why not a woman… at least then we could have children?” “Dig yourself a little deeper, Hugh,” Tobyn interjected with an edge to his voice. “Kellar and I can’t have children either, and I never question the earth mother. I just figure she knew my heart better than I did.” “I didn’t mean….” Tobyn cut him off. “Tell me something. Have you ever been seriously interested in a woman?” “Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. It was a stupid thing to say. I’m sorry, Kellar.” “No worries, but why don’t you answer my mate’s question. He’s only trying to help you understand something.” “I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” Tobyn added, with a little less edge this time. “You’re asking because you’re saying I’m gay?” “I’m saying if Connor is your mate, it means you stand the best chance of being happy with a man. I’m saying the earth mother knows this, just like she knew it for me and for Kellar. And if this guy isn’t your mate, then chances are you’re gay as hell.” Kellar snorted, and a contrite Hugh followed suit. “Yeah, I guess that’s what it will mean alright. I hope you guys aren’t mad at me for being such an idiot.” “It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for me either, bud. I fought the idea for a while, but I know now I never would have been happy with a woman. Kellar’s my mate because he’s everything I want. Now get in the damn truck and let’s go.” Tobyn grinned at Kellar. “You think we got him straightened out?” “I don’t think straightened out is the right choice of words, babe.” The little bit of tension left disappeared in the laughter that followed from all of them. Kellar winked at Tobyn before he slid in next to him and yanked the door closed. Hugh turned into a leafy lane and drove for about a hundred feet. He came to a stop at a standard wire farm gate chained shut to a sturdy post. On the other side, the hard-packed driveway continued through pasture land up to a huge barn and numerous outbuildings, with sheep-wire fence bordering each side. Tobyn’s childhood friend took a deep breath before laying on the horn for a good five seconds. Kellar noticed the sign nailed to a tree that said Davidson Farm: Lorne Davidson-Proprietor. It looked to have been put there recently, the painted letters fresh. His roving gaze took in cattle grazing in the fields ahead, to the right, while sheep dotted the opposite side. Movement from between two of the smaller buildings caught his attention. He squeezed Tobyn’s hand at the sight. Walking, or more accurately, limping towards them was a rangy, lean, dark-haired man. A quick flicker verified the pattern was an exact match for Hugh’s, except for the lack of burnt umber. He’d been right. Connor was definitely his mate. Kellar turned his head to look past Tobyn, and the movement drew Hugh’s attention away from the advancing man. Curious, apprehensive eyes met his, and he nodded. Tobyn sighed, and Hugh groaned. “You should be happy, bud. There’s nothing in this world better than finding your mate.” “I know, Tobe. I am, but… what the hell do I do now? How do I tell him he’s my mate, and oh, by the way, I can turn into a wolf whenever I want? Are you absolutely sure, Kellar? Forget that. Of course you are.” Kellar gave him a sympathetic smile. “Relax. The last thing you want to do is scare him off. It might not be easy, but it’ll be worth it, I promise you. Remember, if he doesn’t already, at some point he’s going to feel the same pull you do, so just concentrate on getting to know him. In the whole scheme of things, don’t forget he has free will, though. You can’t just rely on the fact you’re fated.” “Yeah. I hear you. I have to do this right, or the rest of my life will be miserable.” Hugh opened his door and jumped out of the tall, still-running truck, shutting the door quickly to stop the door ajar alarm from chiming. Kellar watched him move to the locked gate and wait. “He’s right. There’s a lot at stake, and it’s not going to be easy.” “Hell no, it isn’t. Warren had three years and a lot of drugs to get used to the idea. We must seem like aliens to humans when they first find out our secret,” Tobyn muttered, staring at the man as he came closer. “He’s cute. Really cute.” “Hey!” “What? He is. They look like a good match, don’t they?” “Uh huh, they do. Connor could use some meat on his bones. It looks like he’s been through a lot.” “What do you mean?” “He’s had a bunch of broken bones… some recent. A broken leg, broken ankle, broken wrist, three broken ribs… wow… I wonder what the hell happened to him. He’s upset about something too.” “I can see that.” Connor had arrived at the gate, and after peering into the truck, began a conversation with Hugh, who looked back at the truck as well. Now he looked upset. “Something’s wrong, babe. I heard Connor say someone had a broken leg. Someone named Alice.” As Connor unlocked the huge padlock on the gate chain, Hugh opened the truck door to get in. “Sorry. I need to help him with something. One of Davidson’s best ewes broke her front leg, and Connor’s freaking out.” “Ah, so that’s who Alice is.” Hugh nodded, his attention still on Connor. The gate swung open and he drove the big vehicle through. The young man certainly looked distressed when his eyes passed over them as they went by. Tobyn turned to Kellar. “You could heal her, doc.” “I could, but how do we explain it to Connor?” “Tell him the truth. That you can heal with plants and a touch.” “I probably won’t need plants… not for a simple break… not anymore.” “Okay. We’ll tell him that. Is that okay with you, Hugh?” “Absolutely. Anything you can do would be great. I don’t like seeing him like this. He’s really worried about disappointing Davidson.” “Is his boss a jerk?” “I think he can be… Davidson comes across as gruff any time I’ve talked to him, and he got real pissed when I refused to budge on one of the ewes I’d picked out in the trade for Bob.” Hugh was watching through his side mirror. “Here he comes.” The rear door opened on the driver’s side, and Connor got in. Introductions were made, and it became obvious Hugh’s mate was painfully shy. Eye contact was fleeting and his words came out in mumbles. “Do we put Bob right into the pasture?” “Um… no. Behind the barn is a pen with a few older ewes in it.” “You want him in there?’ “Yes, please. I don’t want him fighting with the younger ram. I’ll give them a few days to get used to one another before I put him in with the flock.” “Sounds smart,” Hugh said, a little breathlessly. “Breeding season isn’t here yet, but they’re sure to go at each other if you put them together now.” “So, Connor, Hugh says you have an injured sheep,” Tobyn said, turning partway around. “How bad is it?” “Leg’s broke, and it’s my fault,” he said with head down. “She’s an escape artist and she got in with the cattle. One of them must have kicked her.” “Kellar’s a healer. He could help her.” “Healer?” The man's head came back up. The truck lurched on the uneven ground as Hugh turned and backed up to the pen Connor had pointed to. “Yup. He has a magic touch.” Tobyn smiled at the guy who had half his attention on him, and half on the positioning of the vehicle. “That’s good, Hugh,” he said, and the truck stopped. Turning to Tobyn, he asked, “Are you saying he can heal a broken leg?” “That’s what I’m saying. My mate is a special guy.” Connor’s gaze shifted to Kellar. “Your… mate?” “Yup… my partner. Kellar and I are a couple.” “Oh… ah… cool.” He opened the door and hopped out. Hugh, with a quick glance at them, pursed his lips, blew out a long breath, and did the same. “Was I too in your face?” Kellar chuckled. “No. There’s no other way to say I’m a healer.” “I meant the mate thing.” “Oh. No. There’s no wrong way to say that. You caught him by surprise, but mate, couple, partner… it all means the same to him, and judging by the way he looks at Hugh, I doubt he’s giving us much thought at all.” “True. I noticed that too. Should we help them out there?” “Nah, let’s stay here until they’re finished. The more time they spend together, the better it’ll be for Hugh. For Connor too. He’s feeling the pull as well; maybe not as strong, but there’s definitely something there.” Hugh opened Kellar’s door a few minutes later, after Bob was safely ensconced with his own little flock. “Connor would appreciate it if you could take a look at Alice. Would you mind?” “Not at all. Lead the way.” The black-faced, black-legged ewe was standing forlornly in the corner of a large wire pen inside one of the smaller outbuildings. One front leg was held awkwardly, with only a minimum of weight on it. With a quick flicker, Kellar saw the clean break in the front cannon bone. Nothing was out of position, but inflammation surrounded the fracture itself. “This will be easy,” Kellar stated as he glanced over at a kneeling Connor. “It will?” “Trust him. I’ve seen him heal people, and he really does have a magic touch,” Hugh said in a soothing tone. “We’d like it if you kept his ability to yourself, though,” Tobyn said with a direct look. “Oh, for sure. I would never tell anyone,” Connor said in earnest. “If you can do anything at all, I would be so thankful.” His voice carried more strength than it had previously. He really cared about this animal. “What kind of sheep is this one? She looks different from Bob.” “She is different. She’s a Suffolk. They grow really fast…,” Connor stammered out, his countenance showing how upset he was. “I hope you can help her. She can’t survive with a broken leg, so Lorne will want me to put her down and harvest her. I promise I won’t mention anything about any healing you can do.” Kellar nodded. “I believe you. Don’t worry—you won’t have to do that—she’ll be able to put weight on her leg in about half an hour. I just need her out of the corner. I need some space around her so I can put her to sleep.” Connor gaped at his confident words, but then shuffled closer to Alice, nudging her gently out of the corner; she acquiesced reluctantly, on three legs. He gaped again when Kellar touched the ewe and she dropped immediately to her side on the clean-smelling straw. The actual healing felt easier than it ever had, and required no deep trance at all. It was soon apparent how effective his talents had become when Kellar flickered to assess his progress. Not ten minutes had passed, and the bone was already knitting together. If he stopped right then it would continue to heal on its own, but there was no reason not to finish the job. As he worked, he divided his attention between Alice and Connor. Studying the man’s numerous healed injuries, he soon reached the conclusion these fractures had occurred over time. They were not from one catastrophic event. No, these had to be signs of drastic abuse. Who had done this, and why? Something else caught his attention. Something tiny that put Hugh’s mate in peril. Crap. Why did the earth mother keep doing this to him? It was fixable, but how was he supposed to explain what he saw to the young man? Hugh was sitting cross-legged beside Connor, a few feet off from Kellar and Tobyn. His gaze ran over the fated pair whose shoulders and knees were in close contact, and knew he had no choice in the matter. He was a healer above all else, and this was the earth mate of a shifter and a friend. “We have a problem, babe.” “With Alice?” “No. With Connor. He’s in serious trouble.”
  45. 94 points
    KIERAN ~ RESEARCH Friday, opening the front door to his home, his temporary home, Kieran looked around the shoebox one-bedroom apartment. Out of respect for Jules and Terry, his sister and her boyfriend, he always rose early from his bed on the two-seater sofa, tidied away his bed covers, put fresh coffee on—the only sign to him being there—showered and left the apartment before either of them had awoken. Usually, he would breakfast at the corner cafe and return around ten, once they had both left for work. As much as he could, he minimised the evidence of him even being there, of him relying on their goodwill. Having lived with his ex-girlfriend Jennifer for the past seven months, life right now felt more like a scraped existence; lonely, desperate, living constantly on edge. Although he knew his sister wouldn’t throw him out, he wanted to make sure neither of them had any reason to even consider the idea. Signs of their morning ritual remained; cereal bowls and mugs left unwashed on the sideboard, the coffee pot almost empty, clothes dotted around the room. Jules knew he would clear up after them, would even make their bed without her asking, basically because not only did he dislike any kind of mess, but because he felt indebted to them both. After putting his laptop on the table, he hung his bag on a coat hook, before setting about tidying up. With only one bedroom, the apartment didn’t take long to clean. After he had finished, he put a fresh load of laundry in the washing machine which included some of his own clothes. A drawback to staying with them and having no bedroom of his own was that he had nowhere to store his clothes. Jules had emptied out one of the drawers in the living room cabinet, beneath the television. She had also allowed him to hang his interview suit and a couple of pairs of trousers in their small wardrobe. However unlikely, he desperately needed this one-off job with Kennedy Grey, which would mean he could give them back their apartment for the whole of September. And if he could land a permanent job—the job centre had gone quiet again—he might be able to use part of the money to put a deposit down on an apartment of his own. One thing was for sure, he couldn’t keep living like this. Unemployment benefits barely covered the cost of bills and food. What he needed right now was a healthy dose of luck. Sitting at the small table, he clicked on the attachment to the email Kennedy Grey had sent him yesterday. Once displayed, he opened a browser and googled the man himself. Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised, but Kennedy had a Wikipedia page dedicated to him, not with a photo or much information, barely two paragraphs—but still. From the small amount online, Kieran learnt that Kennedy had salvaged the company originally run by his uncle—his mother’s brother—Ashwood Havens. Clinging to old VHS technology and unable or unwilling to embrace the digital age, Havens had pretty much run the company into the ground before Grey came on board and started turning things around. Success began shortly afterwards. Grey Havens pretty much introduced the first fully-integrated digital surveillance system—an industry standard—something adopted by major hotel chains around the world. Never one to rest on his laurels, Kennedy made sure they refined and upgraded their offering, as well as expanding into other commercial areas; shopping malls, airports, exhibition halls, until becoming the number one player in the market. On various other searches Kieran found photographs of Kennedy, usually speaking at conferences or in business conversations, rarely at anything social. Incredibly photogenic, one rare social photo had him standing with another man—dark haired, good looking, but unsmiling—both of them looking dapper. Before his next search, he took a few deep breaths. Even with nobody else in the apartment, he still looked around before typing the words ‘gay sex’ and then hitting the search button. Maybe he shouldm't have been surprised by the number of sites that popped up but some of the descriptions had him mystified. What the heck was BBC, slurping, rimming and edging? Selecting one site, he searched a couple of video clips until he found two reasonably good looking guys around his age. Clicking on the clip, he waited to see how much he could stand to watch. At first they just spoke to the camera. After a while, however, they began to make out. Two men kissing didn’t faze Kieran at all. Having said that, neither did the sight push any buttons. But when they started to get naked, and one went down on the other, going to town with a blow job, he noticed his heart began to beat faster. As though someone had flicked a switch inside him, his breath began to quicken, and his cock became swollen. Shit, he thought, what does that mean? About to slam the top down, a pop up message appeared on his screen telling him his friend, Coleridge, was online. Fumbling the touchpad, as though he had just been caught doing something illicit, he shut the browsers down and cleared the history. Coleridge ‘Cole’ had taken a couple of the classes Kieran attended for his master's. More importantly, Cole was gay. After taking a few steadying breaths, he clicked onto the pop-up and asked if they could talk. Within seconds the grinning face of Cole popped into view. “K, my man. How’s it hanging?” “Not bad. I’ll be pleased to get this assignment out the way. Listen, do you mind if I run something by you?” “As long it’s got nothing to do with Russian bloody communism. I can’t get my head around it.” “No, this is—uh—a gay thing.” “Gay thing, eh? Then you’ve arrived at your destination, buddy. Fire away.” Kieran told the story about meeting Kennedy in the coffee shop, about the man searching for a companion for his holiday. While chatting, he sent Cole a copy of the attachment and asked him for his thoughts. Somewhat out of character, Cole listened without once interrupting. “So what do you think?” “What do I think? I think you’re pig shit crazy to even be considering the idea. You know what my people call this kind of thing?” “No.” “Gay-for-pay. Straight guys who do all kinds of things with gay guys for money. Jerk off on camera, play around with sex toys, some even have sex with men. They either get addicted to the money, or the drugs the money buys. And one cute tattoo turns into a whole body covered in ink, because they can’t bear to look at themselves. Most of them eventually fuck up their lives.” “This is nothing like that.” “This is exactly like that. Shit man, how does Jennifer feel about this?” “Jennifer and I are done. Or at least having a cooling off period. I’m staying with my sister right now.” “She kicked you out?” “No, she—well, yeah.” “She kicked you out, man? After you’d lost your job? After you’d spent those weekends decorating her place from top to bottom? She fucking kicked you out?” “She wanted more, Cole. And I wasn’t ready to—” “Of course you weren’t ready! What a prize fucking bitch! Good riddance. Who in their right mind would want to dive into that kind of commitment without a stable job with prospects in their pocket. Or at least with your master’s under your belt... Woah! Did you read this bit on the travel requirements page?” “Which bit?” “Page five. There’s a whole list of stuff you need for the holiday.” Page five had a long inventory of all the items of clothing Kieran would need to bring including a tuxedo. His heart sank. All he had was the one work suit which—if he was going to be perfectly honest—had seen better days. Kennedy wouldn’t even need to tell him he hadn’t got the job, because he couldn’t afford to take it anyway. “Ah well. That solves that little quandary.” “Trust me, K, you’re much better off.” Just then his phone rang with an unknown number. “Another call coming through. Talk to you later, Cole. Thanks for the advice.” “Any time,” said Cole, before dropping the link. “Hello?” “Can I speak to Kieran West?” Kieran recognised the voice instantly. Kennedy Grey.
  46. 94 points
    KIERAN ~ EAVESDROPPING Four o’clock in the afternoon and Kieran West tapped out a rhythm on a textbook with the rubber end of his pencil, trying to distract himself from the whiny voice across the room. If he didn’t get his postgrad social science essay on Perestroika and Glasnost in by Friday, there was no way the lecturer who had already been more than lenient, would give him another stay of execution. Thursday afternoon in Sam’s Coffee House had been his haven, his little slice of peace and quiet away from home where he could concentrate. Not today, though. Despite efforts to tune them out, he found tasty snippets of the interview held by the smart-looking businessman across the room far more interesting than the transcript of Gorbachev’s 1986 speech at the 27th Congress of the Communist Party. However, the inane responses for some kind of personal assistant role, by either effeminate or muscled—but all essentially clueless—men, had begun to irritate. Four candidates in and Kieran had managed to surmise that the man needed an assistant to join him on a business trip to Southeast Asia. Phrases like ‘all expenses paid’ and ‘five thousand pounds cash in hand’ had really piqued his interest. What with his recent redundancy from the estate agent, and still trying to support his own as well as his brother’s studies, and funds were running desperately low. Across the coffee shop the loud whiny voice once again rose above everything. “I don’t know, do I?” “Do you at least have an up-to-date passport? With seven months outstanding.” The question seemed reasonable enough, but the girlishly pretty blond appeared to have an issue with this. Sharp nose and lips constantly pouting, his over-blond hair had been styled almost mohican style, not shaved, but both side rising into an untidy ridge in the middle from front to back. More like a blond chicken. “Seven month’s what outstanding?” “Before expiration.” “What?” “When’s the expiry date? The date the passport runs out?” “How should I know?” “In order to travel, you need to have at least six months remaining on your passport, plus an extra month to cover the four weeks away. I explained all of this in the advert. Did you bring your passport with you as I asked?” “No.” “Why not?” “‘Cos I bought a photocopy, didn’t I?” said the skinny blond, getting a little hostile. By now, Kieran would have told the little shit to take a hike. The older man appeared to have the patience of a nursery school teacher. “Can I take a look?” Almost reluctantly, the blond pulled out a piece of paper from his trouser pocket and tossed the crumpled mess across the table. Calmly, the man unravelled the sheet and peered at the information. Satisfied, he nodded once and jotted something down in his notepad. “Do you get seasick?” “How should I know?” This time the man squeezed his eyes shut, pinched the bridge of his nose, paused and inhaled deeply, before continuing. “If you’re going to be on a cruise ship for fourteen days, you really ought to consider getting some seasick pills, just in case. There’s nothing worse than having seasickness on a rocking boat with nowhere to hide.” “Can’t I skip the boat part? Just meet you in Bali.” “The job is for a vacation companion, for the whole vacation. Either all the way, or none. Are you in, or are you out?” “In, I suppose.” As soon as the interview ended and the candidate sashayed out of the coffee shop, Kieran decided to make his move. Dumping himself into the recently vacated seat startled the man who had been busy on his phone, although, credit where due, he recovered quickly. After ending the call, he stared quizzically at Kieran, who began speaking before the man could remark on his sudden appearance. “My name’s Kieran. Kieran West. I know this might sound a little unorthodox—or maybe even a little presumptuous—but I couldn’t help but overhear you interviewing for a personal assistant. I just wondered if I might be considered. I have a ten year passport which has nine years outstanding and I can travel at any time.” That wasn’t strictly true. He would need to check with his tutor, to defer the next module of his masters, as well as with his brother and mother to make sure they could do without him for four weeks. But he tucked those thoughts away and continued to smile. “And I have never suffered from seasickness.” While the man began to process Kieran’s words, his face went through a series of expressions starting with incredulity, to irritation, and ending with what Kieran assumed to be humour. “Do you know what I’m advertising for?” “I think so. A personal assistant, isn’t it?” “Yes. But a very specific type of personal assistant. More of a specialised travelling companion.” “I’m not sure I understand.” “Maybe if I ask you a few questions first, to determine your suitability?” “Fire away,” said Kieran, grinning and leaning back in his seat. “Smoker or non-smoker?” “Non-smoker.” “Good. Do you drink? Alcohol?” “Occasionally, but not to excess.” “Excellent. Hold old are you?” “Twenty-nine.” “Hmm, I see. How tall are you?” “Six-one.” “Okay. And how long have you been out of the closet?” “I—I’m sorry?” stuttered Kieran. “How long have you known you’re gay?” “I’m not gay,” said Kieran, quietly. Folding his arms, the man let out a sigh and leaned back. At first he appeared to be waiting for Kieran to clarify, until something across Kieran’s shoulder caught his attention. “I believe my four o’clock has just arrived,” he said, pulling a document from a file. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you take this printed copy of the advertisement and this list of other requirements. I’m sure you’ll find it helps clarify certain critical elements about the role.” While Kieran stood, the man signalled the new arrival to join him. Next to him, a buff beautiful candidate came to a halt but this one had curly golden hair—clearly dyed—and looked to be a mix of Caucasian and West Indian. Kieran moved back to his seat and began to skim the details, starting with the advertisement. Even before the end of the first paragraph, he let out a huff, knowing he didn’t fit the bill. The problem was, once Kieran West made up his mind to go for something, nothing short of an alien invasion could stop him. Besides, his funds had all but dried up. Five thousand pounds would keep the wolves from the door for a good while. He might even, finally, be able to offer his sister something for allowing him to doss down on her couch for the past three weeks. Not perfect, but rather that than being on the streets. His girlfriend, Jennifer, kicked him out of her apartment because he would not—could not—commit to anything more serious. Ring or road, had been her mantra. Wisely or not, he had chosen the road. As he scanned the last page—details of the cruise and places they’d be visiting along the way—the cold trickle of premonition stopped him. The ship would be docking at the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. Although he would never tell another living soul about the experience, would never admit to being intrigued by such fanciful things, when he was twelve his group of four friends had taken turns to see the fortune teller at a school fete. Even now he remembered the old woman’s crinkled face, the grandmother of one of the friends, the red silk scarf around her head, silver hoops like curtain rings in her ears, the upturned fishbowl doubling as a crystal ball. He remembered sitting patiently opposite as she spouted a lot of vague nonsense until she stopped, took a surprised intake of breath, before looking up, deep into his eyes. “I know this may sound strange and might not make sense right now, but there is something you must always remember. It doesn’t happen often, but I have just glimpsed an image of you from the future. You are on an island in Asia standing beneath a giant buddha. You are waiting to meet your destiny.” One way or another, he had to get this job.
  47. 94 points
    Chapter 21 --Bailey— Bailey woke up the next morning confused as to what day it was. It took him several moments to remember it was Friday, and he had only spoken to the Headmaster about Chris and Eric yesterday morning. It seemed like it had been days ago with how worn out he was feeling. Last night, he had suffered through his mom's scolding for not telling her about the bullying, as well as Daniel's advice for handling any repercussions. He had had to relive the assault again for the second time that day as he'd told his mother and their lawyer—if that's what Daniel Kirsch even was anymore—all that had happened. "Why didn't you tell me?!" His mother paced the living room, throwing her hands out. Bailey dropped his head back on the couch. "It was done. Over. A. Week. Ago. At least, I figured it was over. If Chris could have let it go. Well, and Declan." "You know bullies don't stop! Have you not learned anything from the last few years?!" His mother's agitation grated on his nerves. She hadn't known all of what had happened. What right did she have to lecture him on it? "If your father were here right now, you know he'd have a few words to say about this!" Bailey jerked as if he'd been punched. "Michelle," Daniel's even voice stopped his mother's tirade, "It sounds as if Bailey did what he thought was best. He tried not to antagonize this Chris boy, except for maybe showing off a little in football..." Bailey caught Daniel's small smile and nod before the man continued. "I don't know that I would have done much different in his situation. He obviously thought once Chris got what he wanted, the guy would back off. Right, Bailey?" Bailey blinked at the man. Was he really defending him? "Um, yeah, right." "Your father moved us here, to this new school, so this kind of thing wouldn't happen. And now I'm having to go to the principal's office. Your father always handled all of this." His mom was staring tearfully at the picture on the mantle, the folded flag, the shrine of his father's life and death. "I don't know how... I can't do what he..." "Mom, " Bailey sat up, "it'll be fine. You don't have to go see the Headmaster. I'm sure they can just send you a letter if you don't want to go in. Shit happens everywhere—" "Watch your language!" Daniel chuckled next to him at his mother's outrage. Bailey just sighed. "My point is... stuff happens anywhere. But this school, mom, this one—I believe everything will be okay. Just like they promised dad this summer. Things are different here. I still don't know what's going to happen, but I know Dr. Lansing isn't sweeping it under the rug like other schools have tried to do." "Are you sure, sweetheart? I don't know if I can trust—" "I believed him. Them. Even the football coach was there and said the same thing. And I did believe him. If I didn't, I wouldn't have told them anything, even though Declan already had." "If you'd like," Daniel cut in, his eyes soft as he smiled at Bailey's mother, "I can help if you want me to go with you to the school." Bailey glared at the lawyer. "I'm sure that won't be necessary," he bit out. You're not my father, don't try to act like it. She stared at him for several long moments before releasing a long exaggerated sigh. "No, I think I need to go in and talk to the principal—" "Headmaster, mom," Bailey corrected. "Yeah, right, Headmaster. How about we eat and call it an early night?" "I'll just grab some leftovers and eat in my room." Bailey darted to the kitchen. He heard his mom flop on the couch, and Daniel say something about getting her a glass of wine. Bailey dug in the fridge as Daniel walked in behind him and reached for a red wine from the cabinet. "You sure you're okay?" Daniel asked as he edged by Bailey to the drawer with the corkscrew. "I'm fine." He didn't know how many times he'd have to say it before they believed him. Maybe it would help if he believed it himself. "So..." Daniel tugged at the stubborn drawer. "The boy who was here..." He yanked a little harder before it gave and he could retrieve the bottle opener. "He's..." Bailey rolled his eyes at the man's obvious fishing. "He's a friend. He's on the football team, and he's in my math class." "Your mom seemed surprised to see him. Has he not been over to visit before?" Daniel worked the cork from the wine bottle. Bailey glared over his shoulder at the overt attempt to get Bailey to talk about his friendship with Declan. He grabbed some leftover lasagna, dumped some on a plate and stuffed it in the microwave before turning to face the man intruding on his life. "Not that it's any of your business, but Declan hasn't been over here before, none of my friends have." "Why not?" Unbelievable. Bailey shook his head. "Because I wasn't ready to have anyone here. This is my home. Mine and my mom's." He let the unspoken implication that Daniel wasn't welcome either hang between them. "And you didn't want to open it up to anyone else after your father died?" Daniel's voice was soft, sympathetic as he tilted his head questioningly, pointedly ignoring Bailey's slight. The microwave beeped as Bailey glared. "Fuck you." He yanked open the microwave door, grabbed his plate and stormed up the stairs. He slammed the door shut before dropping his plate on his desk and falling onto his bed. The man had no right to pry into his life. Bailey's fingers twitched, ghosting to his hip. God, how had his life gotten so messed up in such a short time? He pressed, itching for a little relief, but found none. Those cuts were too healed. His other hand drifted to his chest but fisted before he could dig into the barely scabbed over slice. That one was a mistake. He should never have used a place too hard to conceal. Bailey lay there, staring at the ceiling, trying to gain control of his spiraling thoughts. His mother upset with him for it happening again. The look on Chris's face as Bailey had left the conference room. The worry in Declan's eyes when he'd arrived. The shouts from students as he'd taken off. His mom still wanting his father to take care of everything, wanting to hide away and not deal with anything real. His dad for not being here to ask for advice. Hating Daniel for being here instead. He reached for his nightstand, lifting his book, and peering at the empty spot looking for it. Where was it? He needed it. Now. He was sure he'd slipped it under there after the last time. He rolled to his side, searching frantically. Had his mother found it? No, she never came in his room anymore. Then where—? He froze. Declan. Declan had been holding the book when Bailey had come back from the bathroom. Shit. Had Declan found it? If he had, why didn't he say something about it? Bailey leaned over the edge of the bed, eyes searching. He sighed in relief when he saw the sweet sliver of metal on the floor between his bed and nightstand. Maybe it had fallen there before Declan had even come over. At least, he hadn't stepped on it. A cool rush of anticipation washed over him as he shifted back on his bed. He grabbed a couple of tissues before lifting his shirt and unzipping his pants. He peeled back the edge of his black uniform trousers, barely sliding the waistband of his boxer briefs aside. The prick of the blade gave him the sweet jolt he needed to drench the fires of self-hate, grief, and anger threatening to consume him. He dropped the razor back onto his nightstand before dabbing at the wound with the tissues. He lay there just breathing, feeling the pull on the cut with each rise and fall of his stomach as he breathed. This one wasn't very big or deep, not like some of his others. Just enough to pull him through to the other side of his panic. His mind sought something to hang onto, something to keep him from falling back into the abyss. He needed something... His phone vibrated from his backpack. He'd shoved it there after speaking with his mom earlier—it seemed like forever ago, but was just this morning. He'd been vaguely aware of it making noise throughout the day but had been too upset to even look at it. Bailey finally rolled up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and reached his backpack. He dug out his phone, shocked to see so many text messages and even a few missed calls. It's not like many people even had his phone number, so who...? Justin. Of course. And Mateo, Cameron, Owen, and Luke. The team had apparently heard about his abrupt exit from school. And of course, he hadn't been at practice, so they were naturally worried about what was going on. The texts escalated in concern and urgency, wanting him to text back as soon as possible to let them know if he was okay. There were a couple voice mails from the several missed calls as well. And then the last few texts were interspersed with a new name. Declan. Declan. He thought of Declan asking to kiss him. Of Declan's lips against his. Of Declan's huge hand against his jaw. Of his breath as he whispered in his ear. And he smiled. He quickly texted his team back, letting them know he was all right, just tired now, and he'd talk to them tomorrow. Then he opened Declan's last text. D: <hope you're doing okay. enjoyed our talk... and after... > B: <thanks for coming. Sorry I was such a shit to you at first, but it was nice to talk. And of course, after was really nice too > D: < see you tomorrow, good night > B: <night> With his mind finally at ease, for the time being, he grabbed a pair of pajama pants, holding the bloody tissues to the new cut, and headed to the bathroom. He could still hear his mom and Daniel down in the living room, the TV on faintly in the background. He vaguely wondered how much of the wine his mom had drunk this time. Maybe sharing it with Daniel would cut the amount of her own consumption. Bailey locked the bathroom door. Bailey glanced down, lifting the bloody tissues. It was a little higher than he'd thought, more near his abdomen, but his pants would easily hide it. Flushing the evidence of his latest break and watching the tissues disappear in the swirl of water, he thought about how Declan had reacted to the blood earlier. He'd been worried. About Bailey. Bailey smiled to himself. Declan cared about him. And he'd kissed him, twice technically. His hand ghosted to the back of his neck where Declan's lips had been. His body tingled with the memory, of the hope... He'd spent the rest of the night wrestling with his thoughts, waking more tired than he usually did. He rolled out of bed, dressing for his morning run. A smile curled his lips as he wondered if Declan would be there today. He carefully folded his slacks and polo shirt and shoved an extra pair briefs and socks in his duffle bag for school as well as his gym gear. Hefting his backpack over his shoulder, he headed quietly down the stairs. "Good morning." The greeting was soft, a hushed whisper, but Bailey still nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice coming from the living room. "Jesus!" His back slammed into the wall as he whirled around, dropping his duffle bag. Daniel. Fuck. Bailey pressed his hand to his thundering heart, as if that would stop it from bursting out of his chest from fright. "Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you," Daniel said softly. Bailey finally focused on the man sitting in the living room, sprawled awkwardly on the end of the couch. Bailey's mom was stretched across the sofa with her head pillowed on Daniel Kirsch's lap. The man looked rumpled, grimacing a little as he shifted, probably stiff from sleeping in such an awkward position. "What are you still doing here?" Bailey accused. Daniel stroked his hand down Bailey's mom's arm. "She fell asleep, and I didn't have the heart to move her. She was exhausted last night... worried and..." "Yeah, well, there's nothing to worry about. I told her that. It's fine." "Bailey, she's just—" "Mhmm, Bailey?" his mom's sleepy voice interrupted Daniel. "Morning, mom." Bailey started to turn into the kitchen as his mom struggled to find her bearings and sit up. "Daniel, you're still here," she sighed. Bailey heard what he thought sounded like a kiss and nearly stumbled. He heard Daniel's deep voice speaking softly to her, but he couldn't make out any of the words. He was pretty sure he didn't want to hear them. "Bailey, sweetheart." He turned to see his mom walking into the kitchen as he rummaged in the pantry for his power bars. "Yeah?" he grunted, wanting her to just send Daniel away and go back to bed. "Michelle," Daniel's voice interrupted, "I'm going to run out to my car and get my change of clothes. Do you mind if I use the bathroom down here to freshen up before we go?" "No, no, of course not." Bailey froze. Change of clothes? Before we go? He turned, narrowing his eyes at Daniel before the man smiled and disappeared back out toward the front door. "Where are you going with him?" Bailey asked acidly, crossing his arms over his chest. "Sweetheart, he's going with us to your school. I asked him to come, just in case." "In case of what?" Bailey nearly yelled. "I told you already, the Headmaster and Dean were taking care of it!" "In case I need him," his mother admitted. "In case you need him." "I don't need him!" "Bailey! Stop it!" his mother snapped. "Daniel is just trying to help. And I need it. I thought we'd all have breakfast then head over to the school together." Bailey's jaw dropped. Breakfast? "So please, go get dressed in your school clothes," she added as the front door closed and Daniel's heavy footsteps tread across the floor. "I'm going running," Bailey said stubbornly. "Not today." His mom lifted her brow, daring him to disobey. "We need to do take care of this. Together. Now." Bailey stared her down for a long moment, wondering what made her suddenly care so much about his life now when she'd basically disappeared after his father's death. "Fine." He slammed the pantry door shut and stormed out of the kitchen, practically running into Daniel. "So why are you carrying a change of clothes around anyway?" Bailey snarled, not feeling the least bit amicable. Daniel blinked at his tone, but then cleared his throat, holding up the suit covered in plastic. "I had picked up my dry cleaning yesterday before coming over here to help your mom, and I always keep my gym bag in the car in case I have time to workout after I leave the office." "Yeah, sure," Bailey grumbled, reaching down to snatch up his own duffle and stomp up the stairs to change. "Bailey..." Daniel caught his arm. "Really. I'm just here to help. Both of you. I'm not... I'm not trying to replace your father. I just..." He paused, glancing down. "I want to be there for you, for both of you." "You just want my mom," Bailey accused. "Bailey—" his mom's sharp tone interrupted, but Daniel shook his head at her, stopping her rebuke. Daniel took a deep breath, glancing at Bailey's mom, before turning back to Bailey. "I do like your mom. I can't deny that. We knew each other in school, and it's been nice getting to know her again. Do I hope there might be more between us? Yeah. Eventually. Maybe..." Bailey's eyes widened at the man's admission, his mouth opening. "But," Daniel stopped any argument he might have said, "but I know we're not ready for that right now. You're not ready for it. I'm only hoping to have a chance to be a friend right now. For both of you." Tears pricked at the corners of Bailey's eyes at the words of the man in front of him. Bailey didn't want another man in his mother's heart. He didn't want someone to replace his dad, and no matter what Daniel said, that's what he was trying to do. Wasn't he? But Bailey couldn't find the words to say right now, so he turned stiffly and headed back to his room to change. **** "Bailey, it's good to see you looking well. We were worried yesterday, especially when Mr. Carter called up from the gate." The Headmaster smiled as he advanced from his office to where Bailey, his mom, and Daniel Kirsch waited. Bailey nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'm sorry I left. I just wasn't feeling very well." A sympathetic frown fell across Dr. Lansing's features. "Yes, I understand. Normally, leaving campus like that would not be acceptable; however, the circumstances were unusual. When Mr. Foster returned, he reported you were better and that your mother had arrived." "Yes, sir. Declan helped a lot. Thanks for letting him come check on me." "Somehow, I think he would have gone with or without permission," the Headmaster chuckled softly before turning to Bailey's mom. "Mrs. McIntyre, I'm so glad you were able to come," Dr. Lansing greeted, gesturing for all of them to head into his office. "Thank you," his mother said stiffly. Dr. Lansing smiled genuinely as he waved to the seats in front of his desk. Bailey watched the Headmaster turn to Daniel, his gaze curious as he held out his hand. "Hello, I'm Dr. Lansing, the Headmaster of Heritage Academy." Daniel immediately clasped the outstretched out. "Daniel Kirsch. I'm Bailey and Mrs. McIntyre's lawyer and friend. Mrs. McIntyre asked me to join her this morning." Bailey blinked. Had the man just said he was Bailey's lawyer, not just his mom's? Dr. Lansing only reacted the tiniest bit to the fact that they'd brought a lawyer to the meeting. "Of course. Nice to meet you, Mr. Kirsch." Dr. Lansing smiled as he moved to pull a third chair over so all three of them could sit down. After his mom and Daniel sat down, Bailey slunk into the third chair as the Headmaster rounded the desk to his own chair. "I want you to know that we are very sorry about what Bailey has been through," Dr. Lansing began. "Heritage has very strict policies about acceptance, tolerance, and of course, bullying. This is certainly not what we expect of our students, and I assure you Mr. Vasser and Mr. Olander's conduct is no exception." "I..." Bailey was surprised at the squeaky tone of his mom's voice. "I know my husband chose this school because of its reputation. This is... it is... We expected Bailey to be safe here. And then this..." She waved her hand, unable to finish. Dr. Lansing was nodding. "Yes, ma'am. You are absolutely correct—" "Mom, I told you, it happened off campus," Bailey interrupted, not liking the idea of her blaming the school for what had happened. "Sh—stuff can happen anywhere." "But," Dr. Lansing continued with a quick look at Bailey, "it shouldn't happen, and we work very hard to see it doesn't happen here at Heritage Academy. Mr. Vasser and Mr. Olander understood this clearly from the first day they set foot on campus." "I just need... How can I know..." his mom began brokenly, and Bailey suddenly realized just how close to tears she was. "Mom, I'm—" "Dr. Lansing," Daniel cut in, and Bailey watched his hand slide over his mother's which was gripping the arm of the chair. "What Mrs. McIntyre, and of course Bailey, need to know is, what is being done to ensure Bailey's safety going forth?" Bailey gaped at the man, so strong and poised, staring down the Headmaster. Dr. Lansing smiled and folded his hands on his desk. "Of course. Well, both boys have been expelled from Heritage for their clear violation of major school rules and community expectations..." Bailey sucked in a breath at the confirmation of their punishment. He'd known it was a possibility, but for some reason he still didn't think football stars like Chris and Eric would ever be punished so severely. He felt slightly guilty for the warm rush of relief that overcame him knowing that he wouldn't have to suffer Chris and Eric's snide remarks or furtive assaults anymore. He sat up straighter. This school was sticking up for him. "... Bailey won't have to worry about facing either one of them in school going forth," Dr. Lansing was saying. "Eric Olander will be picked up today by his parents. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Vasser were out of the country when we contacted them. We expect them to pick up Chris on Monday morning." Bailey saw his mom frown. Daniel sat forward, a look of consternation on his face. "Does this mean Bailey shouldn't be on campus as long as this other boy is still here?" "Oh, no, of course not. Chris Vasser was moved yesterday to an empty room in the faculty residence. His meals will be brought to him there, and he will not be allowed to leave the building until his parents arrive to pick him up. I expect they will arrive sometime mid-morning on Monday, and Mr. Zamora and I will have a meeting with them before they leave campus. Bailey's studies and activities will not be impacted any further by either of them." "What about off-campus?" Daniel asked. "Could either of these boys try to seek revenge on Bailey, especially now that they are not under Heritage's supervision?" Bailey twisted in his seat, a twinge of pain sparking on his abs from it. Revenge. That was pretty much inevitable, wasn't it? There was nothing the school could do after this, and he was sure Chris would want it. Dr. Lansing spread his hands. "Well, of course, we won't have any direct influence over their actions after they leave. However, I can say with some confidence that they should not be a problem, but if you are worried, you could consider contacting the police." "Why won't they be a problem?" his mother finally spoke up, cautiously hopeful. "Well, Eric Olander lives about four hours away in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And Chris Vasser lives in New Haven, Connecticut, over seven hours away." "Oh!" his mother gasped in surprise. Bailey's jaw dropped as well. Over seven hours away? "I had no idea students came from that far away." His mother's hand fluttered at her throat. "I mean, I know my husband told me how prestigious Heritage was but I... I didn't know just how..." Dr. Lansing smiled. "Quite alright, Mrs. McIntyre. A lot of our students are from much closer, but Heritage does have students from all over the world." "Well," Daniel smoothed down the front of his suit, "that is good to know. I'm sure it will be a relief to not have to worry about these boys going forward." "I believe you have nothing to be concerned about. We will certainly keep an eye on things here on campus, but we feel strongly that Bailey will continue to flourish here at Heritage. We certainly look forward to his first competition this weekend." Dr. Lansing smiled pleasantly. "Are there any other concerns or questions I can help you with?" Bailey turned to his mom and Daniel. The lawyer seemed to talk to Bailey's mother with his eyes before they both shook their heads, rising. "No, I think we are good," Daniel stated, taking Bailey's mom's elbow. "Yes, thank you, Dr. Lansing," his mother agreed. "I feel much better. You have handled this situation much better than I expected, considering other schools we've dealt with." "Well, I'll take that as a compliment, Mrs. McIntyre. We appreciate the trust you put in us." Dr. Lansing came around the desk, and Bailey followed behind them all as they exited the office. "Bailey, I believe first class will be starting in a few minutes, if you'd like to head over to the academic hall," Dr. Lansing stated. Bailey took the hint, having no desire to stay in the Headmaster's office any longer than necessary. "Thank you, sir." He hesitated as he turned, his mom was still clutching Daniel's arm. "Um, bye, mom." "Bailey..." she called as he shifted for the door. "Have a good day, sweetheart. What class do you have now?" "Uh, English." He edged further toward the door. Her eyes brightened. "Oh, maybe you'll get your paper back today, and he'll post grades online." Bailey swallowed thickly. The stupid English paper. "Yeah, maybe." Hopefully, not, he thought to himself, but it obviously it was inevitable. "Bye, Bailey. We'll see you later," Daniel Kirsch added. Bailey managed a cordial wave in front of Dr. Lansing before darting out the door, hoping to make it to class before the bell rang. "Thanks." **** Bailey managed to avoid students wanting to corner him with questions as he feigned being busy reading on his phone between classes, pretending he hadn't heard his name called until it was too late and class had started. He didn't want to deal want to deal with anyone upset that he'd gotten the star quarterback kicked out of school. Justin and Cameron caught up to him on his way to lunch, crowding around him protectively, practically escorting him to the dining hall. It was at least effective at preventing others who Bailey hardly knew from accosting him with questions. He kept his head down as he walked not wanting to see accusing eyes blazing at him. "Bailey, you okay? You're... well, even quieter than usual," Cameron asked. "Yeah, I'm fine." It seemed like he was constantly saying that. "You know you can talk to us, right?" Justin added. "We're here for you." "I know. I just—" He sighed heavily. "You know everyone is going to be pissed, right?" Justin blinked at him, stunned, before laughing. "Is that what you think?" Bailey frowned. His teammates broke out into huge grins. "Bailey, most of the school thinks you're a god for standing up to Chris and Eric. Chris been an egotistical asshole since he's been here, but his parents are loaded and he thinks he can do whatever he wants because he's God's gift to football." Bailey stared at Justin like he had two heads. That didn't make any sense. "Yeah," Cameron added, "I think even most of the football team is glad to be rid of him from what I heard last night." Bailey was stunned into silence as they walked into the dining hall, dropping their bags at their usual table before getting in line. This time Bailey cautiously surveyed the students flowing around him. No one was glaring at him. No one was sneering. Curious looks. Some smiles. Even a couple waves. Cameron nudged him as he absently put his food on his tray. "See? I told ya." A tiny smile tipped the corners of Bailey's mouth. Maybe it would be okay. He relaxed his shoulders, unaware that he'd been so tense they were nearly up to his ears. He breathed a little easier as he followed slowly behind Justin and Cameron back across the dining hall. He saw Declan dropping his backpack at the table next to theirs along with several guys he recognized from the football team—Nick, he thought, and Jose, Ben, and... was it Jaime? Declan was laughing at something one of his friends said when he looked up and met Bailey's eyes. The change on his face was instant. The softening of his eyes, the genuine smile. The flirtatious wink. Bailey's shoulder was suddenly jerked back as a passing student slammed into it. He nearly fumbled his tray, the plate sliding precariously. He struggled to right it as he looked up to apologize. Damn, he should have been paying attention to where he was going instead of fawning over Declan. "Sor—" "Couldn't fucking let things alone, could ya?" Bailey flinched at the vicious whisper, stepping back from the blatant anger staring down at him. "What?" he stammered, stunned. "You just had to run to the Headmaster and cry like a little girl." The guy poked Bailey's shoulder forcibly, causing Bailey to lose control of the tray. The crash silenced the dull roar that normally permeated the dining hall. Bailey's cheeks flushed bright red as the guy smirked down at him. He dropped down, immediately attempting to clean up the mess. Declan was suddenly next to him. Cameron and Justin were right behind him. Justin had leaned in threateningly, opening his mouth, when Declan beat him too it. "Eddie, what the hell is going on?" "Nothing. Just asking a question is all." Bailey looked up to see Eddie shrugging. "And what question is that?" Declan demanded. "You know what," Eddie hissed back. Bailey vaguely registered Mr. Bassinger jogging across the dining hall, his walkie-talkie up to his mouth, obviously concerned about potential trouble. Another student had stepped up behind Eddie, his arms crossed as he backed up his friend. Bailey's hands shook as he gathered up the fallen silverware. "Yeah, well, you know what?" Declan leaned forward into Eddie's face, his voice rising. "Bailey didn't turn Chris in. I did. And he fucking deserved it." Eddie jerked as if Declan had slugged him. "What?" Declan looked like he was going to say something more, but Mr. Bassinger was suddenly there, pushing between the two. "Back up. Now. Everyone calm down. What's going on?" Declan immediately stepped back, his fists unclenching, Justin and Cameron hovering at his back, letting Declan deal with the asshole. "Eddie is just jumping all over Bailey for something he didn't do." Bailey slowly stood, most of the mess of his lunch back on the tray, as Eddie and his friend stared disbelievingly between him and Declan. "But I thought—" "Yeah, you fucking thought," Declan spat out. "Maybe if you had more brain cells, and thought for yourself instead of following Chris like a damn puppy, you'd know better." Bailey stared open-mouthed at Declan, who stared down Eddie along with Justin. Cameron turned and took the tray from him, apparently satisfied that Declan and Justin could handle Eddie and his friend. "You okay?" Cameron asked, causing Declan to glance over at Bailey, those hazel eyes raking over him worriedly. Bailey nodded automatically. "Mr. Bowman—" Mr. Bassinger started but stopped at the sharp, rapid click of dress shoes. They all turned to see Headmaster Lansing striding purposefully towards them with Dean Zamora and one of the security guards on his heels. The furrowed brow and tight jaw had every boy in the dining hall involuntarily hunching in dread. "Is this about what I think it is?" Dr. Lansing stopped in front of them, his hands on his hips. For a moment, no one spoke. Mr. Bassinger was obviously giving the boys a chance to answer first. Bailey noticed that the Headmaster had barely glanced at him, his eyes boring into Eddie and Declan, demanding answers. "Yes, sir," Declan finally said. "Eddie was talking shit to Bailey because of what happened to Chris." Dr. Lansing stared at Eddie for so long, Eddie visibly cringed. "I didn't know. I—" "Stop with the excuses, Mr. Bowman. It is obvious this needs to be addressed here and now, once and for all." The Headmaster turned to Bailey, Declan, Justin and Cameron. "You boys, go sit." "Yes, sir," they both murmured automatically. Bailey turned, ready to take the tray back from Cameron to go dump it, when one of the custodians took it from his teammate. Bailey hadn't realized the man had arrived behind him with a mop at the ready. Bailey ducked quickly out of the way, Declan and his teammates following at his back, glaring at Eddie and Tripp. Dr. Lansing slowly surveyed all the students sitting in rapt attention, lunch forgotten. The Headmaster's voice rose as he addressed the whole dining hall. "These are the facts as we know them: Chris Vasser and Eric Olander physically assaulted another student. There is video footage that is not in dispute. This is a clear violation of a major Academy rule. What they did works against everything we stand for. You need to understand this. It cannot be tolerated. It will not be tolerated. As of yesterday, Chris and Eric have been expelled and will not be returning to this school. I'm telling you this so that you know exactly what happened, and what is going to happen. Do not speculate or get involved in rumors and gossip. This is not your affair, and not your business. Don't insert yourself into this situation." His tone brooked no chance for argument. "Mr. Bowman, you can come with me to my office." With that, the Headmaster strode back out of the dining hall, Eddie slinking behind him. Tripp had edged away from Eddie, but the Dean was still watching him closely. "Alright! Everyone, finish your lunch. If anyone feels the need to say anything more about this, they can come tell me. Otherwise, this is done." Mr. Zamora inclined his head to Mr. Bassinger, who nodded back, slipping his walkie-talkie back onto his hip. Silence still reigned for several minutes as Mr. Zamora spoke in a hushed whisper to the security guard before heading towards Bailey. "Mr. McIntyre, Mr. Foster, please go get your lunches." Bailey nodded numbly, still dumbfounded by all that had just happened. He glanced at Declan, who jerked his head for Bailey to follow after the dean had exited the dining hall. "Holy shit," someone whispered. The chattering noise slowly rose around them as Declan and Bailey headed to the lunch line, making their way past the custodian mopping up the remnants of Bailey's first lunch. Declan turned and grinned back at Bailey as they grabbed trays. Bailey heard other students behind him, those who hadn't gotten lunch yet either. "Man, Dec, can't believe you said that to Eddie," someone behind them said. "And Bailey, man... so sorry Eddie was being a jerk." Declan edged next to him, and Bailey felt Declan's hand slid to his back, nudging him forward. It was strange how it felt protective, as if Declan were shielding him from everyone. "Thanks," Bailey muttered, abstractedly moving food to his tray. "You okay?" Declan's whisper was so close, he nearly jumped. Bailey looked up into worried hazel eyes, a smile tipping his lips. "Yeah, I think I am."
  48. 94 points
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 54 “The bloodline is unbroken,” Kellar uttered, trying to comprehend what those words meant for him. Surely they couldn’t expect him to actually…. “Yes, doc. We thought the bloodline ended with Fendral, but we were wrong. Talk to me. Are you all right?” “No.” “No?” “I have a birthright?” “Yes, you do, and it means you are Morningstar’s alpha.” “I… I heard that, but, I can’t be.” “Yes, you can. You are.” “No, I’m a healer.” “You can be both, Kellar,” Elinor said. “This is great news for the pack.” Kellar couldn’t help it. He was horrified at the thought of that kind of birthright. “I don’t want this.” “You don’t want to be alpha? Why in heck not?” Tobyn asked. “I already told you. I’m a healer. I am not a leader.” “That’s not what I see, young man,” Miss Sybil interjected. “I’ve always seen the leader in you, and now we know why. You were born to it.” “I have a grandfather.” “Yes, you do.” “An alpha grandfather I can’t talk to, who’s nowhere to be found.” “Yes, but we’ll find him again. He always comes back.” Tobyn said, staring intently into Kellar’s face. “He was here a little more than a week ago. I caught his scent for a moment in the evening,” Elinor said with concern in her voice. Kellar focused his attention on that voice. “We caught an old scent of his too. Because I’m his grandson, I’m an alpha? Just like that?” “Just like that,” Elinor said. “It’s our tradition for a reason, Kellar. Alphas possess different qualities… qualities passed down that a pack needs. Think of Clarence, and what you’ve seen in him. The same things you’ve seen in Logan.” Kellar was slowly getting over the shock, and part of that statement helped. “I don’t agree.” “Why not?” “I don’t mean about Clarence or Logan, necessarily. Elinor, think about it. It was a decision made by alphas that had packs isolating themselves in the first place. How was that kind of leadership something packs needed? It almost caused our extinction.” “Alphas aren’t perfect, Kellar. They make mistakes like anyone else, but they learn from them.” “That may be, but it doesn’t change what happened, or what it cost us. Alphas shouldn’t make arbitrary decisions like they do. I’m sorry. I don’t see it the way you all do.” Kellar forced himself to calm down. He could see his little outburst had thrown them. “Look, Elinor, you’re a proven leader, and Maynard and Ingram and you make a good team. I might have alpha blood in me, but I know I could never do what you do.” “Yes, you could, doc. Do you remember the speech you gave when we took Arthur over to the Vega meeting and introduced him as who he really was for the first time? I know you do. You were pure alpha then, and the whole room felt it.” “They thought I was Cahlar’s reincarnation.” “It wasn’t what they thought, it was what they saw. The dominance and strength of an alpha. I saw it too. Look, I know this takes some getting used to—I get that—but the pack will be ecstatic to learn we have an alpha again.” Again, Elinor nodded her agreement, obviously perplexed by his attitude towards the news. Kellar looked each person in the eye before speaking. “I’m sorry. I hope you all understand… I can’t be alpha. I don’t want this. For starters, if I’m alpha, how will we continue our search? And it doesn’t make sense to fool with what has been so successful. Morningstar has adapted like it should have, and I’m not going to help it go back to some old ways that almost destroyed us.” He turned his focus to the woman he saw as a consummate leader. “Try to see it my way, Elinor, without the tradition coloring your view. For God’s sake, you were going over old ledgers when we got here, trying to spot trends… that’s why Morningstar is a success, and it’s just one example of why you’re what this pack needs. They might want an alpha, but they don’t need one… and they don’t need me.” He stood, facing the shocked scrutiny of four shifters. He didn’t care. They thought he would be honored to learn about his heritage, but there was no way in hell he was going to accept the role his lineage supposedly dictated. He hadn’t grown up in a pack, and he didn’t see their customs the same way. He was a healer. “I need to... go for a walk or something... and think. Can we not mention any of this to anyone… please? I just found out about my family—my mom and dad, and my grandfather—I don’t want to deal with anything else right now.” He turned to a still sitting Tobyn when he got to the door. “Are you coming?” “Oh, I thought you wanted to be by yourself for a while?” Kellar shook his head and mustered up a smile for his mate. “Don’t be ridiculous. How am I going to think if you aren’t with me? Come on.” Tobyn was at his side in an instant, and after thanking Miss Sybil again, they walked out the door. “I’m sorry if I disappointed you back there. I’m sorry I don’t see alphas in the same way as the rest of you.” It was the first words spoken since they’d entered the truck. “What are you talking about? Disappointed? Is that what you thought?” “You looked shocked when I said I didn’t want to be alpha.” “I was surprised, yeah… I was blown away by a lot of things today. To find out Gigi was your mom? I mean, I never knew her because she had left years before I was born. But, her name was spoken every once in a while, like so many we lost were… and I did know how special she was to my mom. And Fendral? Jeez, man, he’s your grandfather! I always thought of him as mine, and here he turns out to be my mate’s. Wow. So yeah, I was shocked, but no way was I disappointed. “Okay, I admit I was confused at first. I was happy about your heritage… about your connection to our pack, and I did assume you’d want what was your right, but I get it. You’re a healer, and if you don’t want to be alpha, then I don’t want you to be either.” “Don’t you want the cred of being the alpha’s consort?” Kellar said with eyebrows raised. “Shut up. Being the healer’s mate is good enough for me.” Tobyn smiled as he pulled into their driveway, but the smile faded right away. “I’m not going to ask you if you’re better now, because I know you’re not. Just tell me what I can do to help.” “You’re doing it already. I trust you’ll back me in any decisions I make, and I believe you get that I see some stuff differently because of being raised outside the pack. I’m on emotional overload to be honest, and I’m starting to feel guilty about not wanting to take on something my grandfather might expect me to. I know you understand, but I wonder if he would. I wonder if my parents would. They died to save me.” “They died to save their son, doc. Not to save a future alpha. And if they knew about the prophecy of Cahlar, you’ve already succeeded in shining that light into our darkness. You’ve figured out the malaise, saved two packs, and given us the ways to save more. It’s been fulfilled, and you don’t owe anyone anything. And, as far as your grandfather goes, while he was sad much of the time, he still managed to be kind and caring, especially to us kids. I’m not sure he would expect anything, but maybe when he comes back you’ll be able to ask him for yourself.” “If he comes back, and if I can undo the damage of years of wolfing out. I was able to increase the burnt umber in Arthur, but does that mean I’ll be able to reduce it in Fendral? I can take from plants, and I can take from metals, but I’ve never tried to give anything back to them.” Kellar hung his head, fighting to ignore his fear. He could feel Tobyn’s concerned gaze. After a few seconds, he met it, and forced a smile he didn’t feel at the moment. “We have to keep extra copper necklaces with us in case we come across him. Come on. Let’s go inside. Would you be adverse to laying down with me, and maybe having a nap? I’m feeling too tired for a run… probably from all that sun out on the lake.” “Now who’s being ridiculous? I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than to crawl into bed with my mate. I’m tired too. Kellar?” “Yeah?” He had his hand on the door handle. “Your mother was really pretty. We should watch that ‘Gigi’ movie one day.” “Thanks. I would like that.” Kellar felt a sting behind his eyes as he opened the truck door and got out. Yes, his mother was beautiful… he could picture her, finally, and he could hear the sound of her voice. The memory was locked in and he would never lose it again, just like a signature pattern. He looked over and gave his mate a genuine smile this time. It was two days later when Kellar caught Fendral’s scent through the open window of their truck. They were just coming back from having lunch with Adelin, Warren, Tilly, and Logan. It had been their first time socializing with anyone since he’d had learned the truth about his family. Tobyn had picked up some old photographs of Kellar’s mother, grandparents, and his two missing uncles from Elinor the day before. Kellar had perused the images for hours, going back to them over and over again. He hadn’t seen himself in any of his relatives, but he’d memorized every picture. He still felt unsettled enough to want to continue to keep his lineage under wraps, and his wish was being respected by those who knew the truth. “Do you…?” “Yes,” Kellar answered before Tobyn’s question was complete. “He’s a few miles from here… maybe six or seven.” “Are we going after him?” “Let’s get home and see how close he comes. If he starts to get farther away, we’ll go searching, okay?” “Yeah, good idea. We don’t want to spook him, and he’s come right up to our house before. I’m just relieved he’s still… still around.” “Me too, babe, me too. I hope he’ll stay on pack lands, but I can’t force him to listen to me, or let me try to help him.” “You’re his grandson, but he knows me best. If we get close, maybe I should be the one to talk first. I honestly think he feels a kinship with you, but he doesn’t know why.” “You think?” Kellar was pleased with that thought. So, he hadn’t imagined it. Tobyn felt it too. “I do. I’ve always wondered why he ended up down at your cabin. That’s a long way from here.” “Not for a wolf, it’s not. You’re right, though. It’s a heck of a coincidence, isn’t it?” “Uh huh. It seems like something drew him there.” “The work of the earth mother?” “We’re beginning to think each other’s thoughts,” Tobyn said with a chuckle. “She’s our go to.” He pulled the truck into the shady driveway and turned the engine off. “Why don’t you go sit in the back yard, and I’ll bring us out some cold drinks? I don’t know how sharp his senses are, but maybe your grandfather will scent where we are and make his way closer. You have the copper?” “Yeah, they’re in my pocket. Let’s hope he wants to find us.” For two hours they sat at the picnic table, sometimes conversing, sometimes silent. The breezes were cooperating, making it easy to follow Fendral’s movements with their noses as he meandered on the outer edges of pack lands to the west. Kellar was somewhat concerned his movements were erratic, as if they had no purpose. Their place was eventually one of the closest to the old grey, though. Kellar was getting antsy, but then the scent became noticeably stronger. Fendral was now moving faster, trotting along the well-worn path that, if he stayed on it, would lead him to their private backyard. A tension Kellar had been enduring for hours, released its grip when a big grey head poked out through the line of clumped-together pines. Intelligent eyes met theirs. “Hello, Fendral. We haven’t see you in a while. Would you like a drink of water?” Tobyn asked nonchalantly. Fendral stepped further out, and Kellar saw he was lean to the point of alarming. He flickered and evaluated the wolf’s condition, fear rising at what he saw. Tobyn rose from the bench and walked to the outside tap. Turning over an upside down stainless steel pail, he rinsed it out and filled it. Kellar had been thinking for days of what he wanted to say, but he sat there uncertain, staring at a wolf whose days appeared numbered. He’d seen the old grey on a number of occasions, but this time he knew their connection, and it changed everything. Had he come for one last goodbye to Tobyn? To him? As much as he didn’t know how to begin, there was no lull in conversation. While the wolf drank, with a curious break between each small lap of his tongue, Tobyn talked a blue streak. Kellar stayed sitting, observing his grandfather as Tobyn explained about the new pack members, and how they came from Vega, and did Fendral remember Vega? Not pausing for a reaction, he went on to talk about how his mate had figured out the malaise, and he did know Kellar and him were mates, right? And how much healthier they all were now? He proclaimed Kellar the most incredible healer there had ever been in the shifter world, and would Fendral like him to ease any of his aches or pains? Kellar watched as the wolf’s ears constantly moved in all directions. It appeared he was listening to every word as his mate rattled on in an impressive display of one-sided conversational skills. Another time, Kellar would have been chuckling. It was only when Tobyn touched on his mate’s opinion Fendral didn’t shift back anymore because he couldn’t, that the old grey started retracing his steps. Tobyn had obviously touched a sore spot, and Kellar stood up, panic filling him. This might be his last chance to connect with his only living relative on his mother’s side. His father’s side was a big unknown, and he had filed it away for possible future investigation. If he had a connection to Cahlar, it must lay there. Fendal had reached the edge of the yard, his nose pointed to the forest ahead when Kellar found his voice. “Grandfather?” The big head, its size accentuated by the emaciated body, turned at the same time Fendal came to a halt. He stared at Kellar as if waiting for an explanation. “Gisla… she was my mother. I… we just found out. Miss Sybil had a vision, and it’s true. I’m your grandson. Tobyn’s right. I’m a healer, and I think there’s a chance I can help you. I know you have arthritis in all your joints. I can see it because I can see colors. I know that sounds strange, but I can also see the cysts in your intestines. It’s painful to eat and to defecate, isn’t it? You have trouble holding down food, and it’s why you’re so thin. I can fix all that, and I think there may be a way to reduce a color that’s preventing you from shifting. Will you let me try? If I don’t do something, you won’t have much time left….” Kellar stalled after the last words, hearing his own despair. Fendral stood motionless for a time, his eyes still focused on his grandson. There was no way to tell what he was thinking, or even how much he could grasp of the words spoken. Kellar’s heart sank when the old grey pointed his head back to the woods and disappeared. The disappointment of watching him slip through the trees was immense. If he left, Kellar knew he would never see him again… not alive. “Don’t go,” Kellar called out in desperation. “Please don’t. I haven’t had a real family since I was four years old. Please, Grandfather. My mother… your daughter… Gigi… what would she think of you walking away from me when I need you? She died saving me when we were on our way here. She said she wanted me to meet my grandpa Fendral… she was bringing me to you. All I’m asking is that you let me help you.” Kellar was distraught, and Tobyn moved closer. He accepted the offered hand without acknowledging his mate because all his attention was concentrated on the other side of the thick stand of pine and spruce. Fendral had stopped moving, and he was standing no more than fifty feet away. Kellar waited. His grandfather had to come to him. It was the only way with the wolf’s instincts at the fore. It was likely a battle of wills at times, but the man was still in there. He’d seen it in those eyes. The wait was interminable. Tobyn finally asked softly, “Should we go through the trees?” Kellar shook his head. There was nothing to be gained from trying to force his grandfather into a decision. It could, and most likely would, backfire. It did cross his mind how easy it would be to overpower the severely weakened old wolf, but he hated the idea of disrespecting him in such a way. Fendral moved a few feet farther from them, and Kellar’s hope plunged. Should he? The question didn’t need to be answered as, seconds later, the whispering brush of branches preceded the old grey’s head coming back into view. Stiff-legged, he advanced toward them both, one hesitant step at a time. Kellar sensed the possibility of flight was not out of the question, so he allowed Fendral to decide where they went from here. The silver wolf sat tentatively when he got within a few feet of them. “Will you let me help you, Grandfather? Will you allow me to touch your wolf… trust me to put you to sleep until the healing is finished?” Eyes, so dark they were almost black, studied him. Fendral started to lay down, and then stopped. There really was a war going on. Finally, he yawned and sank to the ground, licking his muzzle in a sign of submission. He was assenting, and Kellar let out a held breath. Tobyn did too. “I’m guessing doing the healing inside the house is out of the question?” Tobyn asked, his question directed at both of them. Fendral’s response was to lay his head on his paws and close his eyes. It was apparent he wasn’t budging. “Here is fine,” Kellar said as he sat down on the grass. An ear flickered toward him, but there was no other movement. How hard was Fendral fighting to override his strong instincts and stay vulnerable? He wasn’t going to wait to find out. He felt a slight stiffening beneath his hand before the old grey succumbed to the blast of energy, rolling easily on his side. Kellar slumped in relief as Tobyn joined him on the ground. Strong arms wrapped around his waist from behind, and a chin rested on his shoulder. “Fuck. That was touch and go. He looks terrible, doc. How sick is he?” “He’s in rough shape, but he’s sucking up our mate energy like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s good, though, because he needs it. I honestly think he came back to say good bye. There’s almost no flesh left on him.” “Are you in time? Should we start now?” “Already have. Working on him in wolf form is different. I’m healing his whole body with my hands on his neck. Don’t worry, babe. I’m not going to let anything happen to him… he’s a tough old wolf just to have made it here in his condition. He hasn’t eaten for a while, though, not anything solid anyway.” “What about his burnt umber? Are you working on reducing it?” “No, I want to give him some time… get rid of his cysts, and all the joint inflammation first, before I attempt the other. The more mate energy he soaks up, the better. I’ll probably need to draw from your strength when I get to that point.” “I’m here when you need me, and I’m not going anywhere. You know, you don’t zone out the way you used to.” “I will when I get into trying to reduce the burnt umber. I’m not sure how that’s going to go, but I don’t expect it will be easy. Doing this other stuff is a breeze now.” He leaned back into his mate, needing more contact. “I’m worried I’ll fail,” he admitted. “Have you failed yet?” “Well….” “Answer the question, doc.” Tobyn’s breath on his neck had the power to soothe the fear and give him welcomed reassurance. “No, I guess not.” “Damn right… doesn’t matter what it is… cancer, tumors, deadly mixed poisons that were killing you… whatever. You always come through. Look what you did for Arthur. Don’t doubt yourself, Kellar Haylan. You are your name, and you’ve proven it over and over again. You’re scared because he’s your grandfather, but I’m not. I have enough faith in you for the both of us.” “Thank you, babe. I don’t know what I would do without you, and I never want to find out.” “You’ll never have to. How’s he doing now?” “Good. The two biggest cysts causing the most blockage are almost gone, and that’s the last of them. Getting rid of tissue growth is a lot easier than working on bones. His kidneys have suffered, but they’re still working. He was likely doing a lot of vomiting, so there would have been dehydration, and that’s hard on them. Another twenty minutes for the inflammation in his joints, and I’ll be ready to start the next step. Can you put the copper necklaces on him please?” “All of them?” “Put six on for now. That should be plenty.” Hours later, Kellar was truly doubting Tobyn’s faith in him. It wasn’t working. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the copper to accept the excess shifter color. He forced with everything he had, but he couldn’t lessen the dark strand of burnt umber. He rose out of his trance, feeling defeated. Sweat was pouring off him despite the shade of the late afternoon. “Kellar? It’s been hours. Are you done?” “No. I can’t do it. It won’t work no matter what I do. I can only draw from plants and metals… I can’t add to them. God, it hurts to say that.” “I’m sorry, doc. Take a breather… you looked exhausted. So, was there any change?” Tobyn got up off the grass with a groan, and removed his tee shirt. He walked over to the pail of water and dipped the corner of it in. Kellar flickered and viewed his patient’s colors before he answered. “No change at all. I couldn’t even establish a connection between the copper and the shifter strand.” He gave his mate a thankful smile when Tobyn returned and wiped the sweat from his face and neck. “I felt the drain on me, so I thought it was working,” he said as he returned to his position on the grass behind Kellar. “No, I was hammering away at the copper, but it turned out to be a waste of time.” His smile at Tobyn’s caring gesture faded. “Is that the same way you did it with Arthur?” Kellar snorted. “No. That was a lot simpler. I already knew how to draw from raw materials, so the connection was easy once I got his strands rejoined.” “So, do that again.” “Do what?” “I don’t know… get the connection started and draw from the copper, and then, like, reverse it, maybe?” Kellar sat dead still. What Tobyn said made sense. He knew how to both slow and speed up, and increase or decrease the materials he took from plants. Fine tuning was something he did all the time during the course of a healing, once the healing began. Was that the key? He needed to start the process before he could control it? Feed the copper into the burnt umber first? He could hear Tobyn’s voice, but he was already back in his trance. Tentatively, he pulled from the copper as if he was coaxing a fish in closer to the boat, gently drawing and directing like he’d done for years. He was in a different frame of mind now, no longer wrapped up in who his patient was… no longer were his hopes clouding his abilities. He was pure healer, examining, gauging, and letting those special instincts guide him. There was no ramming or trying to force this time, and he watched the thread form and build between the strand and the metal. Without thought, he slowed the pull from the copper until it stopped, and gently nudged the other way. It was like one of those little waves out on the lake, hitting the boat and sliding off in another direction. Soon, the flow was steady. The entwined necklaces were accepting one of the earth mother’s elements… slowly, very slowly, but surely. Not for the first time, Kellar was struck by the magical aspect of what he did… how connected living things were to the natural world around them. Aware his mate had his back in every way, he settled in and allowed his energy to do its thing. The drain was constant—dealing with metals was more challenging, and took more of his reserves—but this time it wasn’t wasted. He drew from his mate in small increments, before his own levels dipped too low, knowing this part would take them well into darkness. It looked more and more like he would get to know his grandfather after all, and he owed it all to his mate. With the reversal going well, he allowed his mind to wander. It wasn’t just Tobyn’s faith, his lent strength, or his ability to calm him. No, it was the deep thought he put into everything, even when it seemed he wasn’t. His mate never looked for the easy way. It was part of his stubbornness… his determination, and it used to stymie and sometimes frustrate Kellar. Now, though, he saw just how much it contributed to his own development as a healer. His musing went to the day he’d fought Reznick’s dual poison, and how ready he’d been to give up and accept his advancing death. Tobyn wouldn’t let him… he’d pushed him out of his conceived limits, insisting he could find a way. His mate saw something in him Kellar had never seen for himself. His mate was still doing it. Each and every day. Kellar, as contented as he’d ever been, and with confidence now brimming, continued the job of healing his grandfather.
  49. 93 points
    Justice moves slowly. For each action Adam took, three more obstacles would pop up before him. To satisfy the back child support, permission was granted from the court in Florida to set up a Trust Fund for Robert in the amount Massachusetts was charging: $276,672.00 based on an average cost of $1013 a month in child support, and $423 in monthly medical insurance. However, a petition to the court in Massachusetts fought the jurisdiction of the case. Ultimately Adam won the jurisdiction, and it was settled by a Federal Appeals court judge. Because the case had been transferred to Florida’s Department of Children and Families, Florida had the jurisdiction for the case. After a month of fighting in the courts, a time-frame that was both painfully long and terrifyingly short, Adam felt something was greasing the wheels of justice to move more quickly than he was prepared for. ~.~ Adam slammed the side door as he came in from the garage. “God damn it!” Duncan rounded the corner from the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” He walked over to Adam and pulled him into a hug. “Matthew ‘fucking’ Turner,” Adam growled, as he leaned into Duncan’s support. Over the past month, their relationship had changed. They kept things professional for the most part. There had not been any sex, and Duncan still slept on the other side of the house, but things were different. There were more hugs, lingering touches, and a few stolen kisses. They were hanging out and talking about each other’s lives. However, now that Duncan’s divorce was final, they were a couple in many ways and loved each other wholeheartedly. “What has the son of a bitch done now?” They parted from each other and headed for the kitchen. “I was fixing myself some hot tea, would you like some? It’s the apricot stuff Rob sent over.” Adam smiled. “Please…” He sat down at the island bar and sighed heavily. “I just got off the phone with Carol on the way home from talking with Tibs. It seems Mr. Turner, as the executor of the will for Michelle, is challenging my securing of Michelle’s and Rob’s house in Massachusetts. Because it hasn’t been sold yet, he’s trying to get it pulled from our control.” “Rob hasn’t been there in months. He hasn’t even removed his stuff from up there.” “I know. The judge in the case is saying I have twenty calendar days to comply with the will, or it will go back to the estate.” He took the cup of tea from Duncan and smiled. He inhaled the aroma of the tea, a sweet scent of fruitiness, and sipped it. “What are you going to do about it?” “Buy it at a fair market value, with everything in the house, and then go through it with Rob.” “Can you afford that? I mean you got this house, you’ve bankrolled the brewpub, and all the legal filings and court costs.” Duncan looked worried and sipped his tea while rubbing Adam’s back. “I can… I still have more than enough to live comfortably with you, me and Rob here for years without any other income. But this shit has got to stop.” Adam let out a long breath. “I get to see Rob today, so that is a positive.” “‘You, me, and Rob?’ Are you planning on popping the question?” “Duncan… aside for the sex, you living across the house, and me paying you to work here, we’re already past the stage of becoming a couple. I want to be with you until we grow grey and die. I love you, and I want the honor of being your husband…” “But we need to wait until this is all over.” Duncan finished for him. “You know, I already consider us engaged. I don’t need a ring, or the question to make it real. I already feel it.” “I do as well. However, I want to ask you out on a proper date, so I can wine and dine you and then pop the question in the middle of the restaurant. It all rests on tomorrow.” “I would love that.” Duncan gave his love a smile. “Hopefully you won’t have to do the visitations after tomorrow, and Rob can finally come home.” Their eyes met as they looked deep into each other’s soul. “Do you want me to go to court with you?” “Please. I don’t know if I would be able to get home if they terminate my parental rights.” The pair hugged. Duncan leaned in and kissed Adam passionately. It lingered for several minutes. Duncan maneuvered his tongue into Adam’s mouth, slowly flicking the tip of his partner’s tongue. When they broke apart Adam nipped at Duncan’s bottom lip. “I want you so bad right now. I’ve waited years, so I can wait a few more days.” “Soon, my dearest. Now, you need to get ready to go see Rob, and I’m going to start supper.” Adam smiled as he took his hot cup of tea, and left for his bedroom. ~.~ Visitation with Robert happened three times a week. After a minor dispute with DCF, they agreed to have the visitations at the Florida Aquarium, and they would meet inside at the café, the ‘Café Ray.’ Adam arrived early for his Wednesday, April 11th, visitation and waited for Robert and Sylvia to show. He bought himself a cup of coffee and sat at the usual table waiting for them. Café Ray was a bit more than what you would expect for a snack bar type place. Fresh-made individual pizzas, salads, grilled items, and several types of drinks were available. Outside was a kids’ play area with a more formal snack-bar and an adult full-service liquor bar in a more relaxed area. Adam stood and waved to Robert and Sylvia as they walked in through the door. He gathered Robert in a bear hug. “I’m so happy to see you.” “Me too, Dad.” They walked over to the counter to get a drink for Robert, and then walked back over to the table and sat down. “How’s school going? Are you getting used to the classes?” “It’s going fine. Some things I was ahead on, some I’m a little behind, but I’m catching up. Giles is helping me.” “Giles?” “He’s the gay teen that lives a couple of doors down from us. Well, when I get back home he will. Right now, we’re meeting at the library after school. He’s on the Hockey Team, too.” “Oh? So, are there any sparks?” Robert blushed a little. “Some, but it’s only been a few days. I’m out at school, and a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance club, and have met some good friends. Like Chandon and Brayon, an out couple.” “Well, I hope they become good friends of yours. When you’re done, let’s go up and see the otters.” “Okay… Oh, Dad? Grammy, your mom, I call her Grammy, well, she’s going to sign the permission release for the school, but the Lightning High School Hockey League will be having tryouts the end of the month. I need gear to train in, and I was hoping to get some money from you for it.” “Done… I’ll make sure ‘Grammy’ gets the cash.” Adam smiled reached over and held Robert’s hand for a moment. “I love you son. All you have to do is ask, and I’ll make sure you have what you need.” “Thanks, Dad.” Robert stood up and walked around the table to hug his father. He placed a kiss on his cheek. They finished up their drinks, as they chit-chatted briefly. They stood up, waved at Sylvia and left the café, with Sylvia following in their wake. The trip upstairs to the Florida Wetlands exhibit where the River Otters were was uneventful. They stopped to look over the otters while they played in the water. “You’re still interested in Marine Biology?” “Yeah, I am, Dad. I’ve been looking at the colleges you mentioned, to see what they’re like.” Robert paused. “I’m thinking about University of Tampa.” “University of Tampa is a good college, and I know a few of the trustees.” Adam smiled at his son. “I’m not going to pull any strings to get you in, you have to earn that, but I’ll see about getting you some face time with the department chair for the school of biology. Let you ask any questions you may have.” “That would be awesome! I wouldn’t want you to pull anything to get me in. I want to do it myself. But, I would love to talk to someone about the program.” He smiled, as one of the otters tackled another, and wrestled around some before taking off. “They’re beautiful creatures.” Adam nodded in agreement and rubbed the small trimmed beard on his chin. “That they are. Now, Rob… we’re going to head into one of the conference rooms here. Sylvia doesn’t know, yet… but we’re about to be interviewed for the nightly news, for tonight. It’s about time for us to head that way, and for us to tell our story. You cool with this?” “If it means I can go home, Hell yeah, I am!” Adam smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. He led Robert from the exhibit to Sylvia and told her to follow. En route to the conference room, he explained what was going on and that Robert was going to be interviewed, and it was already cleared with his guardian ad litem, who was there as well. The pair walked into the conference room, followed shortly behind by Sylvia. The local stations of NBC, FOX, and Bay News 9, were already set up and ready for the interviews. ~.~ Adam sat at the island bar and was eating the dinner Duncan had prepared. He had made beef stew with cornbread, and it was wonderful. Playing in the background was the FOX13 5:00 pm News, and they were recapping the day’s events. “You sure they will air the interview?” “I’m fairly certain they will.” Adam sopped up some of the stew with the cornbread and ate the bite. “This is really delicious, babe.” He pointed at the stew. “Oh, as far as the news is concerned, Tibot arranged it. That’s why I’m certain it will get aired.” “Ah… stuff we shouldn’t question then.” “Exactly.” Adam paused and turned on the barstool to face the T.V. in the family room. “Oh, it’s on now.” The news anchor was leading in the story while showing shots of Adam and Robert in the conference room. With them were Robert’s guardian ad litem and Carol Smith, their attorney. “In local news, a single father and his son are facing hardship. This is in part due to two politicians from Massachusetts, who are the son’s maternal grandparents. This is their story.” The footage of the interview rolled, and the story of the Turners and their campaign to keep Adam and Robert from each other played out. Questions were answered by Adam and Robert about the hardship of being apart after having just met each other. Other questions were directed at Carol about the legal ramifications of the custody case. Documents were presented showing the actions of the Turners, and in separate footage, the private investigator explained he had doctored the photos at Massachusetts State Attorney Matthew Turner’s insistence. Pictures of Robert’s bruises from the assault in foster care were shown to the press. “This assault is not an isolated incident. According to the CDC, as recently as a 2016 study, GLBT youth are more likely to be assaulted in the foster care system nationwide than non-GLBT youth at a ratio of 4 to 1.” The news anchor then passed the segment over to sports. “Wow… they played it.” Duncan was a little stunned as he turned back towards his food. “I admit, I had my reservations… but Tibs came through.” “That he did.” Adam’s phone rang, and lit up. “Speak of the devil… You’re on speaker Tibs.” He placed the phone between him and Duncan. “Heya bro. I think you should turn on the cable news.” “What’s up?” “Let’s just say… never fuck with someone who knows where the bodies are buried. CNN or FOX, either one will have coverage in the next five minutes. The idiots at MSNBC will eventually cover it.” He said his goodbyes and hung up the phone. Adam turned on CNN and caught the report as they were starting. On the split screen next to the CNN anchor was a video of Matthew Turner and his wife Beverley Turner being escorted from their home in handcuffs. They were doing a “Perp Walk” before all the media. “In a shocking investigation, FBI raided the home and offices of Massachusetts State Attorney Matthew Turner, and his wife Massachusetts House Representative Beverley Turner. Court documents, unsealed before going live this hour, show the Turners aided and abetted several members of the Five Families crime organization. They used their positions to cover up serious allegations of homicide, money laundering, and racketeering. Evidence has also come to light that after they signed away custody rights of their grandson for being gay, they were interfering with the custody case. In addition to the Turners, three state judges are also under indictment.” More footage was shown of the Turners and the judges who were snared in the investigation. “It is also reported that the FBI and DOJ have frozen their assets, and they were made to surrender their passports.” Adam and Duncan sat stunned. Adam reached over and flipped the T.V. to mute. “Did I just see that? And they did a perp walk, an actual perp walk. I didn’t think it was common to parade accused people in front of the press!” “Yes. Yes, you did.” Duncan took a sip of his drink. “I guess Law and Order had to get perp walks from somewhere.” “Holy shit… They are going down for a very long time.” “Yeah, they are. Did you catch the screen where it said Matthew is being investigated as an accessory to three murders?” “No, I didn’t!” Adam turned on his barstool back towards the counter and finished his meal. “Holy shit…” “Yeah…” He took a bite of his stew and made a nonchalant gesture. “Looks like Tibs came through.” “That it does.” Duncan finished his bite of stew and glanced at Adam. He smiled, leaned in, and kissed his cheek. “Have I mentioned how much I love you today?” They smiled at each other and returned to their dinners. ~.~ Thursday, April 12th came early for Adam. He was already awake when his alarm went off. He couldn’t sleep the night before, as today would be the day the Judge either gave Robert back to him or ruled that his parental rights would terminated. He reached over to his phone, shut the alarm off, and sat up on the edge of the bed. After a quick shower and getting dressed, he was in the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee Duncan had handed him. “You’re looking good, Adam. Very fatherly, in that three-piece suit.” “Thanks. From what I understand, two reporters will be in the gallery.” They finished their coffees and got ready to leave. It was a short trip to the courthouse, and they were escorted into the assigned courtroom by the Bailiff. There were four dark wooden pews on each side of an entrance walkway. A short wooden wall of the same dark wood separated the gallery from the trial area. Three tables sat near the wall, and a raised dais contained a witness stand and the judge’s bench. Tan walls and industrial grade grey carpet were throughout the room. A jury pool of fourteen chairs sat off to the side. It was chilly in the courtroom, only sixty-five degrees. Carol Smith, Adam’s attorney, sat at the far left table and waited for Adam to sit. Sylvia Cramer and a State’s Attorney sat at the far right, and the central table was where Robert sat with his Guardian ad Litem. Duncan sat in the gallery with Samantha and Derrick Smith. Near them sat Tibot. A court reporter sat at a desk in front of the judge’s dais, while a clerk sat near them. In the gallery, two reporters sat taking notes. Adam squeezed Robert’s shoulder as he passed him to his seat. “Soon.” “I’m praying, Dad.” Robert’s tenseness could be felt through his shoulder. Adam sat and gave Robert a smile before he turned towards Carol. They spoke softly, waiting for the session to start. The clerk of the court had them stand and swear to tell the truth. “All rise.” The Bailiff opened a side door. “The Honorable Judge Martha Stone, presiding for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Unified Family Court. The court is now in session.” The judge sat down in her chair. “You may be seated.” “Let’s get to business. Announce the first case, please.” “Your Honor, the first case is the matter of State vs. Adam Smith. All parties are accounted for and have been sworn in.” The clerk quickly responded. “Thank you.” The room was silent as the judge looked at a few pieces of paper. “Ms. Smith, I understand you have a witness that you would like to produce.” Carol stood up at the table where she and Adam sat. “I do Your Honor. He’s the owner of the private investigation firm that sent in photos to the Department for Children and Families.” “Does the State have any objections?” “No objections Your honor.” The State’s Attorney rose and sat back down. “Call your witness.” “The defense calls Ryan Young.” The Bailiff stepped out the door and fetched Mr. Young. He was a nondescript middle-aged man, with plain features and brown hair and eyes. Young walked in and was escorted to the witness stand. After a few moments, he was sworn in by the clerk. “You may proceed with questioning Ms. Smith.” “Thank you, Your Honor.” Carol approached the podium that sat in front of the three tables and adjusted the microphone. “Mr. Young, before we proceed, can you state your name and occupation for the record please.” “I’m Ryan Young, and I own and operate the Young Detective Agency of Massachusetts.” “And why are you involved in this case?” “I was hired by Massachusetts State Attorney Matthew Turner to investigate Adam Smith and his family. The goal was to turn up some sort of evidence that would interfere in the custody case.” “And did you find any?” “No, we did not.” Carol reached down and produced some printouts of photos. “Your Honor, may I approach the witness?” “You may.” “Then can you explain these photos?” She handed the printouts to Mr. Young. Ryan nodded and started with the first photo. “This one shows the subject, Adam Smith, and his son Robert shortly after a Lightning hockey game. In the original picture, we couldn’t tell what he handed him. So, we photoshopped into it what we thought it was, a bottle of Budweiser Beer. In the second series of shots, these are undoctored and show Mr. Smith crossing from his room to his son’s in the middle of the night. We had a laser refraction microphone on the house and heard Robert Turner yell in his sleep, it was loud enough to reach the other side of the house. We heard them talk, and the yelling was a night terror.” “Objection Your honor, hearsay about the cause of the yelling.” “One question before I pass judgment on the objection. Mr. Young, did you hear the audio yourself?” “I did Your Honor. I was running the microphone, and the cameras, while my team was moving to get pictures of the inside of Robert Turner’s bedroom.” “Overruled. Please continue Ms. Smith.” “Mr. Young, can you please describe the last photo.” “The last one shows Mr. Smith in bed with Mr. Turner.” “And is this the original?” “No, it is not.” “Please explain.” “With context, Your Honor. From the audio I was listening to, Mr. Smith, in an effort to comfort his son from the night terror, decided to stay and lay down with his son. In the original photos Mr. Smith is on top of the covers, and there was no sexual contact between them. We altered the photo, to show Mr. Smith under the covers engaging in a sex act with his son.” “And why did you do that?” “Before you answer, Mr. Young, you are under oath, and what you say can be used against you.” The judge shuffled some papers around while she waited for an answer. “I understand, Your Honor.” He nodded when the Judge motioned for him to proceed. “As part of the terms of our contract, with Mr. Turner… if we did not find any proof of wrongdoing, we were to fabricate the evidence.” “So, you are admitting you took photos, you doctored them, sent them to your client, and they were used in this custody case in order to remove Robert Turner from his Father’s custody?” “I am.” “And why are you doing so?” “As part of my plea deal. After it was investigated by the FBI, I and my team were arrested for fraud. I plead guilty, and part of that deal was to be honest in this case about the photoshopped evidence. I can only hope that is one step forward towards making amends to Mr. Smith and his son.” “No more questions, Your Honor.” Carol sat back down. “Does the State have any questions?” “No Your honor.” “The witness is dismissed.” Mr. Young was escorted from the room by the Bailiff. “Well then… In light of this new evidence, I see no reason to terminate your parental rights, Mr. Smith. Does the State have any other evidence to show why this family cannot be united?” “We do not, Your Honor.” “Then it’s settled. Mr. Smith, I hereby award you permanent custody of Robert Turner. It is with my sincere apologies that you were made to go through these unnecessary judicial proceedings and visitations. If there is anything the court can do to address this wrongdoing, please inform my clerk, and we will do what we can. It is so ordered that Robert Turner is given back to Adam Smith and the Department of Children and Families will conclude their case. I am also directing an order that the charge of serving a minor alcohol is dropped, and will be expunged due to the photoshopped evidence. We are adjourned, and in my customary closing for these types of cases… Mr. Smith, congratulations, it’s a boy.” The Bailiff wasn’t finished with dismissing the parties before Robert was out of his seat, and jumped into Adam’s arms. The father and son pair hugged and held on tightly to each other, secured in the knowledge that neither would be separated from the other. ~.~ The party on the night of Friday, April 13th, had finished, and only Adam, Duncan, Robert, and Giles were left in the house. It had been a bit more than a family affair, as Samantha, Derrick, Tibot, and Carol were there, and Robert had invited his friends from school, Giles, Brayon, and Chandon. The family, Brayon, and Chandon had left, and Adam and Duncan were busy cleaning up. Robert and Giles sat in front of the 4KHD TV and the PlayStation®4 taking turns playing a video game in the exercise portion of the main room, with the remains of a Sally O’Neals pizza sitting on the coffee table before them. “Careful, you got something sneaking up on you Rob.” “Thanks, man.” He grinned at Giles and took out the raider coming up on him in Skyrim. “We make a good team.” “That we do… I’ve been meaning to ask you… would you like to go out tomorrow? We can check out someplace here you’ve not been to, and get something to eat somewhere.” Robert was speechless. “Um… okay.” He cleared his throat. “Sure, man… I’d love to.” He was not paying attention, and his character was killed by a dragon. “Damn it… so, does this mean you want to start dating?” “Yeah, it does.” Giles scooted closer to Robert, took the controller from him, and leaned in for a kiss. It was a tentative small kiss between the two of them, just barely a peck on the lips. They broke apart and grinned at each other. “Can you show me your room?” “Sure… come on, before they say something.” The boys turned off the PS4 and TV, headed around the fireplace, and down the hall to Robert’s room. “Did…” Adam coughed some. “Did I just hear my son get asked out on a date, and he’s now in his bedroom with the same boy that asked him out?” “I do believe so. Are you going to go cock-block them?” “No… I don’t want to know that much about my son’s love life. I’ll be there for him if he wants to talk and needs advice on stuff. Besides, I think it’s sweet.” “It is sweet. I’m not as experienced as you, but Rob can come to me too. I want him to know that I’m here for him.” “Thanks, hun. I think he would like that. Stuff to discuss in the morning.” He paused a moment in thought. “Remind me to order a sampler pack of condoms from Adammale, for Robert. I wonder if they still have the one that has a thousand in it?” “Isn’t that what your mom bought you?” “Yes it was. But I’m not buying Robert a Great American Dildo. A normal one maybe, but not that monstrosity.” They shared a laugh as Duncan went and cleaned the mess the boys left behind them. When he got back, he had a grin playing across his face. “So, why don’t you show me your room?” “I can’t… I got to do one thing first.” “What’s that?” “Duncan, I hate to say this, but you’re fired.” “Huh?” “Well, it wouldn’t be proper to pay someone that I want to have as my husband one day.” “Ah… I got it… how are we going to handle this?” “We can work that all out tomorrow when we talk to Rob about us being a family. Right now, I just want to kiss you.” He took Duncan into his arms and planted a deep kiss on him. “Hey, Adam…you big stud. Take me to bed, or lose me forever.” “Top Gun? You’re quoting Top Gun to me?” “Yup, I did.” “Then show me the way home.” They shared a quick laugh, and another passionate kiss, as Adam stood up and took Duncan by the hand. He led his love to his bedroom and closed the door behind them. A few seconds later the hurricane shutters activated on the French doors and closed off the room to prying eyes. Robert stood in the hallway and watched as his father and Duncan walked off. “Did I just see that? I thought Duncan was straight.” “I don’t know. Your dads are weird.” “Dads?” “Yeah man. That kiss… they are in love.” “I guess it’ll be alright for you to stay over tonight. I’m not sure I want to disturb them. Awkward to see, but I think it was sweet.” They shared a laugh and went back to Robert’s room. ~.~ Sometime later that night, Adam walked into the kitchen to find Robert sitting at the island bar drinking a glass of water. They were both in the customary night clothing, with Adam looking freshly showered. “You alright, Son?” Adam grabbed his own glass of water, a slice of leftover pizza, and sat down next to his son. “I am. Just wanted some water, and needed to think.” Adam took a bite of his pizza and swallowed, looking a little pensive. “When did Giles go home?” “Um… well, no he’s still here… I wanted to ask you if it was okay for him to sleep over, but when we walked out, you and Duncan… well, you guys were kissing and groping each other, and headed for your bedroom. I didn’t want to interrupt, so I assumed it was okay for him to stay. He’s asleep on my bed.” Adam coughed and spewed water on the counter. He grabbed a paper towel and cleaned up his mess. “You saw that?” A touch of red could be seen on Adam’s cheeks. “I’m not mad at you, Son. But next time, ask me first.” He coughed. “Did… did you at least use protection?” It was Robert’s turn to blush. “We didn’t do anything like that. Honestly. We decided to take it slow.” He sipped his water to get rid of the frog in his throat. “I won’t lie to you Dad, we did watch porn and jacked off together, and I’ve got Giles in bed with me.” “Awkward. Well, just be sure before you two start something, that you’re both ready for it.” “I will, Dad. Now about you and Duncan?” “Well… Duncan is divorced. He’s actually bisexual, and we’re in love with each other. Last night was our first time. We were waiting for us to be a family again before we proceeded. I love him Rob. He makes me happy.” “You two looked happy.” “Thanks, Son.” There was silence between them. “I think I’m going to head back to bed. We’ll talk in the morning about what this all means for the three of us.” “Alright, Dad. I need to get back to Giles too.” He stood up and hugged his father. “I love you, Dad.” He kissed Adam tenderly on the cheek before he turned to head to his room. “I love you too, Son.” They each went their separate ways, to the ones asleep in their respective beds, and paused long enough for a look back at one another. It had been over a month of hell, but they both knew they were family, and had each other. The End.
  50. 93 points
    Chapter 22 The day felt surreal. Bailey had left early that morning to meet up with his team for the trip to the gymnastics meet. Coach Richards was already waiting by the activity bus, even though Bailey thought he was early. What surprised him was the appearance of another adult, Mr. Kirkland, looking a little tired and holding a large cup of coffee. The sight of his English teacher triggered a bout of panic. Had he finished grading the essays? Would he say anything about it? How badly had Bailey fucked up the essay? Was he here to tell Coach Richards how he was failing English? The two men were talking and laughing quietly. They both glanced in his direction, nodding a greeting before returning back to their easy conversation. Bailey sighed, feeling stupid for thinking his English teacher would show up here to berate him for a poor essay. He wondered why the other teacher was there though. Maybe he'd just been out walking and stopped to talk to Coach Richards. Bailey glanced around. A few students were around; Bailey suspected most were still in the dining hall or their rooms. A few moments later, he saw Owen and Cameron making their way across the lawn from the Rotunda where they'd probably just finished breakfast. As he approached the bus, the doors to the residential hall across the parking lot opened. Justin and Mateo appeared among a few other students spilling out into bright sunlight. Bailey dropped his bag beside him, leaning against the side of the bus. He glanced at his phone. There was a text from his mom telling him 'they'd see him at the meet'. They. Daniel Kirsch. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. The guy did sound interested in coming, and Bailey felt a tiny craving to show off for the guy. Yet that felt like betraying his father's memory as well, allowing someone else to nudge his way into his life. His phone vibrated in his hand, and he looked down to see another message. Declan: <Ready for your meet?> Bailey: <Yeah, just waiting by the bus. You ready for your game tonight?> Declan: <Yeah. But I'm heading out to ogle a hot guy for a few hours first> Bailey froze, fingers hovering over the phone's mini keyboard. A frown creased his brow, his heart cracking in his chest. He blinked several times, re-reading the text, just in case he'd misread it. Fuck. He'd thought... Damn. How could he be so stupid to think Declan might only be interested in him? "Where's Luke?" Bailey heard Coach Richards call out. "He's coming. Just ran back to the bathroom," Owen answered. "All right. As soon as he's here, we'll load up." Bailey ignored all the voices gathering in the parking lot. The team sounded louder and more gregarious than usual, but Bailey couldn't tear his eyes from his phone. He started to just ignore it. Surely, Declan didn't expect a response to that. Finally, he just typed a simple text back. Bailey: <have a good game> He sensed someone approaching. Justin always tried to drag him into the team's conversations. Bailey wasn't in the mood right now. He snapped his head up, ready to tell Justin to back off, but stopped abruptly, his mouth just hung open. "Is that all you have to say? Have a good game?" Declan smirked down at him, looming into his space, blocking out the sun. Bailey could only stare, dumbfounded. "What--?" His eyes flitted past Declan, noticing for the first time the larger crowd of teens. Ben, Alex, Jose, Ian... and more. "I don't—. You said—" He tried a couple times to get out some sort of coherent sentence. "That I was going to check out a hot guy?" Declan supplied, a cocky grin on his face at Bailey's confusion. "Well, Justin is pretty good looking, but we don't exactly see eye-to-eye." Bailey still couldn't fathom what was going on. "What—what are you doing here?" Declan chuckled, smiling wider. "Told you. I'm going to ogle a hot guy for a few hours." He leaned in closer, his mouth right next to Bailey's ear, and Bailey held his breath. "You." "I'm coming!" a shout rang out across the lawn as Luke raced toward the bus. "Not in public! Do that in your room!" Mateo shouted back, causing a mass of hoots and laughter. Luke just flipped him off as he stopped near the coach. Coach Richards shifted, and as if by silent command, everyone quieted. "As you can see, we have a few extra students riding with us." Bailey looked around again, noticing that while some of the guys were part of the football team, not all of them were. "A couple students asked if they could come along as spectators, so Mr. Kirkland here agreed to come along to help chaperone, since obviously I'll be on the floor with the team." He paused to glance at the twelve extra teens. "Obviously, a few more decided to join us." Laughter rumbled through the group. Coach Richards quickly checked off everyone on the clipboard, adding the names of the additional students as everyone filed onto the bus. With their numbers tripled, the noise on the bus was significantly higher. Bailey smiled shyly at Declan as he settled his huge body next to him. Strangely, rather than feeling confined and restricted squished against cool metal, a sense of calm and security washed over him. "Can I sit here?" he heard a voice ask. Bailey looked up to see Ben hovering next to the seat where Justin had settled. The team captain looked up in surprise. "Uh, sure." Justin quickly swept his bag from the seat to the floor at his feet. Bailey felt Declan lean closer. "Ben's kinda had a crush on Justin for a while." Bailey's eyes shot wide open. "Really?" "Yeah, he's really shy though. And with Chris being such a jerk about things, he wouldn't have dared approach Justin before. Now though..." Declan shrugged, letting the thought hang in the air. Bailey could just barely see Ben wiping his hands nervously on his pants as Justin started jabbering away. He smiled. It was probably a good thing that Justin could talk enough for the both of them. "I'm surprised Coach Reed didn't decide to chaperone," Bailey commented. "It seems like half his team is here. Are you sure he's okay with you all coming?" "He has stuff to prepare for the game, but, yes, I asked him if it'd be all right if I came. A few of the guys heard me ask last night after practice and wanted to tag along too. Then my suitemates joined, and Ian, and well..." He gestured around with his hands. "Here we are. Evan would have come too, if he wasn't going home for the weekend." "Maybe you'll enjoy the quiet, with your room all to yourself." Declan shrugged. "I guess. I'd catch up on school work, except I don't have any." "I have to do the yard tomorrow," Bailey grumbled. Declan's eyes lit up. "Maybe I can come help." Bailey cast him a dubious look. "You want to mow and weed?" Declan just grinned, nudging him with his shoulder. "If I get to hang out with you." Bailey couldn't help the flush that ran up his neck to his cheeks. It looked a lot like the one Ben wore as Justin leaned into him, gesturing and grinning wildly. Bailey cleared his throat. "Um, yeah, that would be great then." --Declan— Declan had to admit, the gymnastics meet was nothing like he'd expected. There were actually several competitions happening at the same time. The huge convention center was divided into three competition areas—two were set up for girls and one was arranged for the boys' gymnastics. One of the girls' competitions was just finishing as they came in, the other had girls competing on all the equipment at the same time. Waiting for the boys' competition to start, many of the guys watched the girls. Declan suspected several would continue to watch them, even after the guys' competition started. He was a little disappointed to realize that people would be competing at the same time on each of the apparatus. From what little he'd seen, namely the Olympics on TV, he'd somehow thought each person would compete individually, one event at a time. Of course, he realized now that would be ridiculous. The competition would take forever. He just had to keep an eye on the Heritage team and follow them to each event. It was hard because he often found his eyes drifting to other competitors, wondering how their routines stacked up to Bailey's. After the anthem, the teams were able to do a short warm-up before competing. Declan watched the Heritage team as they moved to the parallel bars first. However, other gymnasts were lined up to compete first, while Bailey and his team lingered to the side adjusting their grips and chalking their hands before watching their competitors. His eyes drifted over all the events, finding it hard to stick to watching one even when the Heritage team was competing. Declan also found his eyes flicking to the electronic scoreboard, unable to help himself. Scores started flowing in from all the apparatus—high eights and nines, a couple sixes and sevens, but really Declan was surprised at how high they were, someone even had a 9.8. His eyes returned back to the parallel bars where Mateo was preparing to start. He was the first of the team to compete. Declan nudged Ben before calling out to the others. "Hey, guys, our team's getting ready to go." "Cool," Ian answered distractedly, his eyes still watching the girl competing on the floor across the center. Declan rolled his eyes. He really couldn't really blame them for looking. "What the hell?" Jaime suddenly exclaimed, pulling Declan's attention. The others looked over at him, then to where he was pointing. "How the hell did someone get an 11.4 on the vault?" Declan frowned at the scoreboard. "Maybe it's a mistake?" Just then a 10.7 popped up on the board for a ring score. "What..." Mr. Kirkland leaned down towards them from where he was sitting on the bleachers behind them. "Guess you guys haven't watched too many gymnastics meets lately, huh? The scoring isn't based on a simple ten-point scale anymore. There's extra points for the difficulty of the skills as well. Scores for perfect routines could be as high as fifteen or sixteen, especially at the higher levels. Here, most scores average between high eights to twelvish." Declan, as well as several of the others, stared at him for a long moment. "Huh. Well, learn something new..." "See?" Mr. Kirkland pointed at the scoreboard. "Mateo just got an 11.2 on the parallel bars." "Wow," someone whispered from behind him, probably Jaime. "And I thought the guy who got the 9.8 was doing good." Mr. Kirkland leaned in conspiratorially. "I suspect most of our guys will score at least in the tens and elevens. I've come to their meets before, and they tend to average pretty well." And then Bailey mounted the bars, and Declan tuned everyone out. He still couldn't get over the fluid way Bailey's body moved up and around the bars, twisting and flipping, holding rigid poses that made his small body look even longer and leaner. On the dismount, Bailey took a small step before he turned and saluted at the judges with a smile before walking over to his team who was jumping and high-fiving him. Chalk dust clouds were erupting around them. Coach Richards seemed immune to it as he waded right in to pat Bailey on the back, leaning in to whisper something. Justin stepped from the cluster quickly to compete next, and Declan saw Ben straighten up a little, his hands clenched nervously. Declan had to grin at his friend. Ben and Justin would be an odd couple, total opposites in personality, yet would probably complement each other very well. Ben's quiet unassuming nature would blend with Justin's boisterous gregariousness. "Holy cow..." Alex whispered next to him, along with collective murmur from a good portion of the crowd. "What?" Declan looked around, wondering what he'd seen. "Bailey's score. Look." Declan noticed several others around him pointing and whispering frantically too at the scoreboard. Declan glanced up. A 13.1. "That's good, right?" "Oh, yeah," Mr. Kirkland agreed, his voice awed. "It's very good. It might end up being the highest score of the meet." Declan grinned. "You haven't seen him on the rings yet." Mr. Kirkland gave him an amused smile. "Maybe. Then again, scoring at this level tends to be lower than that." "Well, you said it was based on difficulty, right? So, if Bailey can do more difficult skills, wouldn't that mean he'd score higher than most?" "Assuming his execution is perfect as well, no faults or falls..." Declan just grinned and nodded, knowing that Mr. Kirkland hadn't seen what Bailey could do yet. Declan had. The whole football team had. And now that he was here watching him and the rest of the gymnastics team competing, he had an even better appreciation of just how skilled they were. Justin, Mateo, Cameron, Luke, Owen, and Bailey were showing themselves to be the top. "Man, I wish that Heritage team hadn't come." Declan caught someone saying, and turned to glare at the mom who'd said it. "Maybe then Mitch would have a chance. And now they have some new kid that just scored a freaking thirteen! Can you believe that?" Her companions nodded sagely in agreement, and Declan had to hide his satisfied smirk. Guess Heritage Gymnastics had a better reputation than they'd realized. **** They'd been there over two hours, and Heritage Academy had completed rotations on the parallel bars, horizontal bar, floor, and pommel horse. There were only two events left, and Declan kept finding his eyes darting from the competitors to the scoreboard, trying to make sense of how they were faring. Bailey had consistently earned scores in the twelves for the other three events. Even Justin and the others averaged high elevens most of the time. He'd seen a few elevens and twelves from other teams mixing in there as well, but many seemed to average in the nines and tens. Damn, he'd never felt so tense, except before his first game. "Go Bailey!" someone shouted from nearby. Declan whipped his head around to see Bailey's mom and that guy—Daniel somebody—sitting a few rows back and to the left. He wasn't sure how he missed them before. The guy was the one who had yelled and was currently grinning and pumping his fist, while Bailey's mom clutched anxiously at his arm, eyes glued forward. Declan turned to see Bailey waiting to mount the still rings, his body rigid. This was Bailey's event. Coach Richards stood off to his side. As soon as the judges lifted a flag, Bailey saluted and stepped up under the rings. The Coach grabbed Bailey's waist, helping him up, as Bailey made a small jump to grab the rings. He levered himself up, making it look like he was just floating on air. His muscles bulged as he held himself still in a cross, before dropping and swinging up to a handstand, his body practically snapping to a stop even with ring straps. The routine was the same one he'd done for the football team that day of the mixed practices. While Declan and the team had been impressed by it then, he hadn't realized just how incredible it really was in comparison. When Bailey dropped into his Maltese cross, the collective gasps and whispers around him, told him that skill was not something usually done here. As Bailey landed a solid dismount, cheers erupted around him. "Damn," Mr. Kirkland whispered in awe. Declan and Ben turned amused stares back at him. "Mr. Kirkland! Such language!" they teased, considering the English teacher chastised them endlessly for murdering the English language. The man just pursed his lips and cocked a brow at them. Declan turned to watch for Bailey's score—everyone seemed to be doing the same thing, even as eyes tried to focus on their own teams' events, they couldn't help straying to the scoreboard. The judges were conferring, something they didn't usually do, and that made Declan nervous. Others were commenting on the oddity as well. And poor Owen had to follow Bailey on the rings, so he stood there waiting for the judges to be ready for him. Finally, the judges finished, passed a card over to the person entering scores, and waved a little flag for Owen to start. Owen was mid-routine when Bailey's score popped up. And Declan knew it because cheers and exclamations of shock erupted around him. "Oh, my god." "Do you see that?" "I've never seen a score like that a high school meet." Declan looked. 14.0. "Yeah!" Declan shot his fist in the air. "Way to go, Bailey!" he yelled, even though he knew he wouldn't be heard amid the rest of the noise. Then, of course, he felt bad for Owen and hoped it didn't mess him up. Watching the rest of the redhead's routine, Declan was sure it hadn't. Apparently, gymnasts had a way of tuning everything out when they competed. After that, the rest of the meet seemed uneventful. Heritage Academy finished on the vault, earning fairly average scores. In fact, it was Bailey's lowest at 11.8. The awards ceremony followed quickly after the last gymnast finished on the floor. The organizers of the meet simply dragged out five wooden podium stands of increasing heights, numbered one to five and arranged them on the floor. All the gymnasts sat on the floor in front of it, as they waited for scores to be finalized. It wasn't very surprising when the name Bailey McIntyre was called for first place on most of the apparatus. He actually took third place on vault behind Cameron in first and a guy from Jackson High in second. All of the Heritage guys placed in the top five at one point or another. For the final all-around scores though, Heritage took the top two spots: Bailey in first, Justin in second. The others helped round out the top ten. No one was shocked when Heritage took first place in the team awards. Now Declan understood the comment by the mom about not wanting Heritage Academy at the meet. They guys were a force to be reckoned with. As soon as the awards were over, everyone was up and milling around, trying to reach their gymnasts, offering congratulations and "good-jobs." Coach Richards herded the team to the side as Mr. Kirkland guided the rest of the guys towards them. "Man, you can certainly hear you guys from a mile away," Alex joked as the team's medals clanked with every move. "Congratulations, boys," Mr. Kirkland said. It was funny to watch Justin and the others' faces as Declan and the guys mobbed them. They were stunned at first, but then their grins were stretched so wide Declan was sure their cheeks must hurt. They were reveling in the praise, and Declan realized suddenly that they usually didn't get all this. No one usually came to the meets with them. No one but their own teammates and Coach usually congratulated them. Maybe a teacher here or there might come—Mr. Kirkland indicated he'd attended one or two in the past. Maybe if a parent was in town visiting; however, most of the Heritage Academy residents didn't have family nearby, so it wouldn't be often. And certainly none of their fellow students had come. Declan felt a sudden wash of guilt at how much this team had been deprived of the recognition, and hell, just the camaraderie of celebrating with your fellow students. He knew what it felt like—felt it after every game, reveled in the cheers and excitement of the fans watching him play, the adrenaline rush their frenzied enthusiasm would give him. And now these guys got to enjoy it too, for once. Maybe forever, because Declan sure as hell was planning on making a point to go again if he could to support the team. Hell, these guys came to their football games all the time. He'd been to other team's games of course—like baseball and basketball and lacrosse, and even track, and once a swim meet. But gymnastics... golf... it never even occurred to him before, to none of them. Maybe it would now. Declan wrapped an arm around Bailey in a guy-clench. "Great job! That was awesome! You all were," he enthused, his voice mixing in with everyone else shouting their accolades. They were just one big jumble of congratulatory hugs, fist bumps and high fives. Coach Richards and Mr. Kirkland watched with widely amused expression from the side. "Bailey! Bailey, honey!" Declan turned with Bailey at the voice. Bailey's mom was finally making her way through the crowd over to them. Bailey stepped away from the muddle of Academy students towards her and into her outstretched arms. "Oh, honey, I'm so proud of you! You did great!" she gushed. Bailey's cheeks pinked. "Thanks, mom. I'm really glad you came," he added softly as he finished hugging her. "It really was impressive," Daniel Kirsch agreed once Bailey had stepped out of his mother's arms. "You're an excellent gymnast, Bailey. Congratulations." The man held out his hand. For a second, Bailey only stared at offered hand. He finally reached out and accepted Mr. Kirsch's hand with a small smile. "Thank you." Declan knew it was hard for Bailey to accept the man's presence here. It probably reminded him more of his father's absence in his life. Having a new man, standing here, where his father should be, would have been if he hadn't been killed... had to be more than difficult. Declan stepped closer to offer his support, yet ready to back away if Bailey gave any indication he didn't want it. Instead, Bailey turned slightly toward him, inviting him closer. "I saw you guys had your own little cheering section," Daniel laughed. Bailey ducked his head shyly. "Yeah, Declan and a few of the guys from school decided to come along this time. It was pretty cool, especially since most of them have a game tonight." "Oh?" his mom lifted a brow. "Football?" Declan nodded. "Yes, ma'am. The game isn't until seven, so we had the morning free to come here." "That's so nice. I'm so glad you all were able to come." She smiled sincerely before turning to Bailey again. "How about we go out to dinner tonight to celebrate? You get to pick the restaurant." Declan froze. What? Wait. Bailey wasn't coming to his game? He'd just assumed... "Actually, mom, some of the team was talking about going to the game, and... well, I'd like to go with them. I can eat at the dining hall before the game—" "Oh, Bailey, I don't know about that." Bailey mom frowned, biting her bottom lip. "It'll be so late when the game lets out, and I don't want you walking home in the dark that late. Especially after what happened with that Chris boy." Bailey rolled his eyes. "Chris is basically locked up, and Eric isn't even in town anymore." "I could walk him home," Declan piped up eagerly, earning himself a raised brow from Bailey. Bailey's mom exchanged looks with Daniel, neither one of them appearing to like that idea any better. "Then you'll be walking back alone in the dark," she retorted. "No, I can't allow that, and I'm not sure the dean would either." "Maybe we could just pick him up after the game?" Daniel finally suggested. "He could just call as the game is ending..." Declan frowned. Then he wouldn't get to see much of Bailey at all if he had to leave before Declan got changed out. Then it hit him. "Could he just stay overnight?" All three looked at him. "What?" Bailey croaked out. Declan practically ignored him as he pleaded his case to Bailey's mother. "My roommate is out of town. Bailey could just sleep in the dorm for the night. Evan wouldn't mind if Bailey used his bed. That way he could come hang out after the game and celebrate with the rest of us... you know, socialize and stuff... without having to worry about walking home in the dark." "I don't know..." Mrs. McIntyre hummed, eyeing Declan narrowly. "Or maybe he could bunk with Justin or one of the other guys too... " Declan suggested, guessing that she might be worried about Bailey being alone with Declan. Mrs. McIntyre still looked hesitant. "Maybe you, uh, maybe you and Mr. Kirsch can have a night out together," Bailey haltingly suggested, his eyes pleading, and Declan could see her softening. Daniel Kirsch's lips twitched into a small smile as Bailey's mom lit up at the idea. "Really? You'd think that was okay?" Bailey bit his lip but nodded. "Yeah. That might be okay." Declan squeezed Bailey's shoulder, silently offering comfort, knowing how hard it was for Bailey to make that gesture. Mrs. McIntyre's eyes started to mist as she glanced between Bailey and Daniel. She finally nodded. "Okay. Just... just..." She pointed at Bailey then Declan. "Separate beds, okay?" "Mom!" Bailey cried out, burying his face in his hands, mortified at her insinuation. Declan felt his own face flush as well. Daniel Kirsch was trying to hide his laughter behind his hand. Mrs. McIntyre held up her hands. "Just saying. You know, it's a mom thing." Bailey rolled his eyes. "We'll just be hanging with the guys, then maybe watch some TV before crashing. After the game, we'll both be beat." Declan announced, trying to break the embarrassed tension. "It'll be a good night. I promise."
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