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  1. When the Sunday that the minister came to the Hamlet, I decided not to miss this service, since Florence had been distressed that we missed the last one, and when he arrived late Saturday afternoon, he brought with him a letter address to me, and it was from England. When I opened the letter, I was surprised to see that it was a telegram. “Dear Edwin stop Pa and Beatrice ill stop I am sending Martha on the next ship to South Australia stop travelling with family friends stop ship arrives in Ceduna on or about August 18th stop, love Ma”, I sat down hard on the ground forgetting that I was standing outside the Produce store in the hamlet, and Archie came rushing up to me, to help me up. “What is it? what is wrong?” Archie asked me anxiously and I handed him the telegram, which he ready quickly, “goodness me, that is just three days away, and this is dated July 24th” Archie said to me, “I know, just as well you moved out of the homestead, now Martha will have to stay in your old room, and I had better get into town quickly in case the ship had already arrived” I said. “How about you leave after church tomorrow, and you can take Reverend Forrest with you, and I will follow his horse and buggy into town, so he has a more comfortable and shorter journey” Archie suggested, and I shook my head no. “I need you here to keep an eye on everything, we have to keep the sheep close to the farm till the lambs are a bit bigger, so we don’t lose any from foxes like last year” I said to my brother. The next morning, with the motor vehicle fuelled up, I took Florence and the 4 boys into the Hamlet for the Sunday service, and Archie would take them back in the buggy after lunch, while I continue into Ceduna, hopefully arriving before dark. Parking the motor vehicle outside the community hall, we walked up to the school which today is the local church, and Archie, Daniel and Charlie joined us, as we turned onto the side street leading to the school. As usual there were the familiar buggies belonging to the D’Angelo, Barrington and Frankston families, but today there was an additional buggy that we didn’t recognise. When the O’Grady family joined us for the last part of the walk from their home, through the school playground, I asked Shamus if he knew who the other buggy belongs too, as it was certainly not Reverend Forrest’s buggy, and he said he had no idea. When we entered the school, we saw our neighbours all gathered around in small groups chatting, and we saw a new family already seated in some of the chairs, just as Reverend Forrest asked everyone to take a seat. “Good morning, it is joyful to see our whole community with us today, and I would like to welcome our new members of the community, Mr Thomas & Mrs Sarah Grantly and their three children, who have taken the lower half of the old Applegate farm” Reverend Forrest announced. When the service concluded 45 minutes later, with everyone invited to attend our monthly picnic in the community hall, I approached Reverend Forrest. “I am sorry, but I must dash, that telegram you brought with you yesterday, was news from home. My Pa and youngest sister – Beatrice are ill, and they sent our oldest sister – Martha, here to South Australia. The telegram was delayed, and the ship will be arriving any day now, so I am driving into Ceduna right away, in case the ship has already arrived” I explained to the minister. “Oh, I am sorry to hear that, travel safely and thank you for coming today, I do understand that you have a farm to run, so don’t concern yourself to much about missing the occasional service” Reverend Forrest said, and I said goodbye to him, before giving my wife a kiss and waving to my brothers, cousins and step sons, before dashing out the door. Florence had given me a list of additional supplies to buy, now that we will have an extra person to feed, and I had decided to buy some additional farm supplies while at it. I arrived in Ceduna an hour before dark, and I went to the harbour, where it was empty, so I presumed that it had not arrived yet, so I headed to the better hotel in town to check in for a few nights, while waiting for the ship to arrive. “Do you know when the ship is due from Plymouth?” I asked the desk clerk, as I signed my name in the register, “It has been and gone sir, arrived two days ago, and left just after noon today” the clerk replied, which shocked me a little. “Do you have a Miss Martha Cameron staying with you?” I asked, and the clerk looked the register to see who I was, “Your sister, sir?” he asked me, “Yes, my sister, now is she staying here?” I asked again. “No sir, but I believe she is dining in the hotel restaurant tonight with some other people” the clerk said pointing in the right direction, and I dropped my small bag on the ground and walked into the restaurant, when it was fairly crowded with dining guests. “Edwin, you came” I heard an excited voice say, moments before spotting Martha, now a beautiful young woman racing towards me, and into my arms, which made me chuckle. “Calm down sister, it is good to see you too, but please not in front of everyone” I scorned her, as she grabbed my hand and dragged me in the direction that she came from. “Dr and Mrs Phelps, this is my big brother Edwin Cameron, a farming pioneer in this region” Martha announced to the two guests seated at a table set for three. Dr Phelps stood up and shook my hand, “I have heard a great many good things from your parent’s young man, you are brave to start a new life in such a new country with unknow dangers ahead of you” the doctor said to me, and I moved around to say hello to his wife. “Mrs Phelps, it is a pleasure to meet you” I said holding her hand gently and briefly, “Please join us, no doubt you are famished” the Doctor said to me, and before I knew it a waiter arrived with a spare chair and table settings for me, returning a few moments later with a menu. “Just a steak and vegetables will do fine for me please waiter” I said to him, ignoring the menu, and he poured some water into my glass, which I drank half of it right away. “I do apologise for being not suitably dressed for dinner, I only received the telegram late yesterday afternoon, and I left home as soon as the church service was over” I explained. “My goodness, you have a church out where you are?” Mrs Phelps asked, “Well actually it is our school building, and the Methodist Minister, Reverend Forrest comes on the second Sunday of each month to hold a service for us, which is very kind of him, considering it is a two-day horse and buggy journey from here” I said. “My word, that is very nice of him, but if it is Sunday evening now, how is it that you arrived here after leaving the service?” Dr Phelps asked, which made me chuckle. “That is easy, I invested in a motor car a few months ago, and it is only a 5-hour journey, if I don’t have to stop to let the car cool down, which it does during the summer months” I answered. “So, tell us some more about your little community, you have a house and a school what else do you have up your way” Mrs Phelps asked. “Well, my brothers and I have the biggest farm in that region, a total of 20,750 acres, of which we have the western half all fenced off and we have ten medium and three large paddocks, and sheep yards built so far. We have a total of five other farms in the region, three of them border along our southern side. On our south east corner of the property, we have a community hamlet established, which was only meant to be just a school and a blacksmith workshop, but now we have a community hall, a guest cottage for the minister, when he visits, a produce store, with all of the vegetables, milk, cheese, butter and eggs coming from our farm. We also have stables and yards for the community horses when they are in the hamlet, and two houses, one is occupied by one of the near farm families, and the other is for Ma, Pa and my sisters when they come, but currently my brother Archie, and cousins Daniel and Charlie live in there. “With Martha unexpectantly arriving, we will have her stay in Archie’s old room at the homestead, I am sure my wife Florence will be pleased to have another woman in the house, as she has three sons of her own who live with us also” I said. “How many children attend the school that you have there?” Mrs Phelps asked me, “Well we had a new family just move in this past week, so now it will make it 7 from our family, including Martha, plus 12 other children, and there is only one child under school age in the community, with have one mother who is a qualified primary teacher, and another mother who assists her most mornings” I answered. “Well that is quite a community you have out there” the doctor stated, “Yes sir, now with Martha included, that makes it… 34 people that live in our community with only seven living in the hamlet” I replied. “Well young Edwin, how would you like to have a visiting doctor come to your community, say once a month, to do check-ups for everyone?” the doctor asked me. “We are mostly very poor people out our way Doctor, even with our produce, we don’t always get money, instead it is more of a trading system, with things that can be swapped in exchange for food, I have half a barn full of stuff I am not sure what to do with it” I replied, “Ok let’s say, in exchange for accommodating us and feeding us dinner for two nights, in exchange for seeing any members of your community and providing whatever medicines that they require?” the doctor said to me. “Well I think that is a very good trade and I will accept, I am sure Mrs O’Grady can feed you breakfast and lunch, and we will feed you dinners out at the homestead, which is half a mile north of Yumbarra Hamlet” I responded. “Yumbarra eh, that sounds like a nice name for a little community” Mrs Phelps replied, and I nodded my head and smiled in agreement. During dinner, I learnt that Martha was staying with the Dr and Mrs Phelps in the new home in Ceduna, where the doctor has established a practice. I let Martha know that I had some shopping to do, before I collect her at 10am tomorrow, before we set off back to Yumbarra, and I gave the Doctor directions on where to go to get to Yumbarra, which is fairly straight forward, as the track is now well used, and easy to follow. Martha chatted for the whole journey home, stopping only when we had stopped to have a meal break at around noon, and to give the car a short rest. She informed me of everything and everyone that our family knew back home, and she became a bit upset when she mentioned Pa and Beatrice getting ill. I reassured her, that she would be so busy assisting Florence with running the house, that she won’t have time to worry about other things, especially when they are so far away. When we arrived at the hamlet, school had just finished, and some of the ladies had come into the village to collect some supplies from the store, of which I was now providing some basics for the store, so that all the families didn’t need to travel into town as often. I had brought an extra amount of flour, salt, tea, sugar, plus some oranges and apples from town, to be shared with the community, and knowing that I was due to arrive this afternoon, they were waiting for my arrival for those extra supplies, and I saw our horse and buggy parked out the side of the store, with some crates of fresh produce from our gardens. “Hello brother and little sister” Archie said as he came out of the store, and he helped Martha out of the motor vehicle and gave her a hug in welcome. “It is so good to see you again Archie, and my have you grown since I last saw you” Martha said in reply.
    12 points
  2. Just before six in the morning, Nathan Fresher stood in the stairwell leading up to his family flat. Breathless from his early morning run, he stared down at the letter from Surrey University. A single drop of perspiration landed on the page. Ten minutes ago, he’d jogged past Bob Collier, one of the village's two postmen, who’d barked at him to stop and tossed him their bundle of morning post. Nathan’s heart, already racing from the exertion, had taken on a different rhythm seeing the post on top of the pack, the university name printed plainly in sight. Sprinting home, he’d barely managed to open the front door before ripping open the envelope. Three times he’d read the words on the page. Only on the final read had they sunken in. Incredible. With his meagre A level grades, they’d offered him a place on the Sport and Exercise Science degree programme. For some reason, he’d felt certain they would decline him. Otherwise he might have been more keen to check the college’s online messaging board. Or his personal emails. Good things rarely happened to Nathan Fresher. And now the world had opened up. Fees might be a challenge, came his ever-present cynical voice, although his father had agreed to help him out, should he be successful. Hell, they needed to talk. Today, everything would change. Thrusting the letter into the pocket of his hoodie, he kicked off his trainers and thundered up the stairs to their two bed apartment above Fresher’s Family Bakers. Inside the space, early morning stillness met him. “Dad. Dad, are you here?” Silence. More than likely, he’d find his father in the bakery downstairs, getting under Arthur Meade’s feet. Arthur, the true baker and talent behind Fresher and Son bakery, had been with them since before Nathan’s birth. Mixing dough and baking their daily offerings, he and his three assistants unfailingly had the daily produce displayed or delivered when they opened the doors at six-thirty. A lightness filled Nathan, knowing his life story didn’t have to end with his forefather’s legacy. Since the early part of the last century, the Fresher family had run the outfit, baking for and serving the local community. But maybe the time had come for change. Nathan hoped so, because he could think of nothing worse than being chained to the shop’s routine day after day, doing something for which he had zero passion for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d inherited that particular trait from his estranged mother. Throwing his shoulder bag down on the table, he pulled out his iPhone 5—a Christmas gift from his father—and sent a message to his best friend Polly Fischer. For a fleeting moment, he considered calling, but then thought better about waking her. Not a morning person, he’d witnessed her explosive anger once, shaking her awake from a post-pub Sunday snooze on their sofa. Never again. Besides, if she happened to be up, she’d call him straight back. Together they’d conspired to get him enrolled in the four year degree course. Polly had suggested Surrey University in Guildford, a softer sell for his father. Less than two hours’ drive away from Crumbington, he could be home weekdays when he had no lectures, and especially on Friday night to help in the shop all day Saturday, their busiest day. Mitigate the damage of him studying away, so to speak. Stepping into his single bedroom, he stripped out of his shorts, socks, vest and jockstrap, and dropped them into his laundry basket, before donning a towel and heading to the bathroom. Only then did he notice the door to his father’s bedroom was closed. Whenever his father rose, he always left his door open. Nathan smirked. Although it happened rarely, sometimes his father overslept. If so, Nathan would gently rib him all day. In the shower, he let the hot water soak into his sore body, and ran through in his mind what he would need to organise; course books, accommodation, prep dates. But first of all a formal visit to the campus. Polly would come with him, she’d love that. His stomach clenched with excitement. Polly’s college friend had heard great things about the LGBTQ community meet-ups and events at the college. Maybe Nathan would finally meet some like-minded people. Unlike his father, he was going to be something else in this world, someone who followed their dreams. At only fifty-four, his father—by far the better businessman and face of the family bakery—could carry on running the outfit for at least another ten years. With his regular help, Nathan hardly needed to be there. He refused to feel guilty about the opportunity. Beside, Nathan would still help out. And when his father was nearing retirement, well, they could have that conversation when the time came. But he wanted to travel the world first, and to work in the health and fitness sector. Polly had suggested getting a job as a fitness instructor on a cruise liner, a dream that had stuck. At six-fifteen, dressed in his shop outfit of blue shirt and navy cardigan, and noticing his father’s bedroom door still firmly closed, he prepared a mug of Assam tea with a dash of milk and knocked on the bedroom door. A creature of habit, his father would be furious when he realised he’d overslept. Opening the door wide, Nathan allowed light from the hallway to filter into the room, rather than switching on the harsh room light. “Hey Mr Sleepyhead. It’s almost opening time. Molly’s already here, I can hear her moving about downstairs. Drink some tea and take your time, I’ll go help…” Sensing something innately wrong, he placed the mug down on a coaster on the bedside table, next to the ashtray with the stubs of two cigarettes still sitting there from the night before. Even before he put a hand to his father’s forehead, he knew. By the bloodless pallor of the skin, and the eyes not quite closed, staring at the curtained window. Coldness swept through him then, accompanied by a distant ringing in his ears, or maybe the sound of someone screaming in the distance. Unable to stand, his legs gave way and he perched on the side of the mattress. Staring into the gloom, he took his father’s cold hand and squeezed. A chill dismay descended upon him, at the implications of the scene before him, earlier words floating into his mind, coming back to haunt him. Today, everything would change.
    10 points
  3. One. Would you be hurt if I were gone, my spirit fled before the dawn without a forwarding address, my life a brief phenomenon? I would not leave you in distress, ungrateful for your tenderness, yet if you sigh and turn the page, I could not love you any less. Mortality, at any stage, makes some to weep and others rage, but I seem otherwise inclined to contemplate the end of age. I know this falls to humankind, and to my fate am I resigned; I beg that you will carry on when I am dust and out of mind. Two. Across the harbor, down the sun, must race the swiftly ebbing tide with mainsail sheeted tall and wide to catch the breeze ere day is done. As toward the darkling seas we glide, I raise my hand in fond adieu to songs and seasons I once knew before the streams and rivers died. Embarked aboard with trusty crew, the far horizons hence I chart while from these green shores I depart, no more to walk in morning dew. Though joy and yearning tie the heart, I can no longer tarry here, where once I learned to laugh and fear and love with all my utmost art. Tonight my every debt will clear while ‘neath the stars I meet the wave from which no angel wings can save, nor to an island cove can steer. And though my shipmates think I rave, I see within the heavens high those bright, beloved faces nigh, their features gentle, fond and brave. Thus may I sail till morning sky and glassy ocean all are one, where every tide has ceased to run and I beneath still waters lie.
    10 points
  4. April 26, 1999 "I'd like to talk with you. Before you start on your homework." Nate's forward progress ground to a halt, one foot in the hallway and one in the living room. He preferred to scurry into his room as quickly as possible when he got home from school. The less time he had to deal with Richard, the better his evening would be. The youngster had already started thinking of his father as Richard since the man was nowhere near being a father and wasn't even in the same universe as being a dad. Sometimes he even thought of him as a roommate, a virtual stranger who just happened to live in the same house. The Fiend stood near the sofa, gesturing vaguely for his son to take a seat. He could see suspicion in Nate's eyes. That did not bother the doctor, but the hesitation did. Nevertheless he allowed his features to soften into an approximation of gentle warmth, his posture to slouch so as to give him a relaxed and friendly appearance. "Please," he said gently. Nate dropped his backpack and shuffled into the living room, thinking this wasn't going to be good. Unless he had an audience, Richard didn't really talk much to his son, and he certainly didn't make an effort to start a conversation. Unless it was about Greg. He thinks I'm too young and too stupid to notice, Nate thought, and he thinks I don't catch on to his little chats and interrogations about Greg. But I get it. I'm not dumb even if he thinks I am. Richard waited for his son to take a seat. He felt displeasure when Nate sat at the end of the sofa opposite where The Fiend stood. And that the child alighted on the edge of the cushion as if ready to make a fast escape further irritated the doctor. Everything about the brat irritates me, The Fiend considered. He knew it to be true, that Nate's very existence chafed and chapped, scraped and scratched, poked and prodded, and otherwise irked the good doctor until he felt every nerve tingling with the desire to throttle the thirteen-year-old boy. Drawing a deep breath, relaxing through the exhale, letting stress flow out and way, The Fiend plastered on a fake smile, the daunting one he used when sharing particularly painful or unpleasant news. He knew his son would welcome it as warm and understanding despite Richard knowing its foundation snarled and gnashed with biting indifference. When his father settled on the arm of the loveseat, Nate realized it was less a resting position than a perch, something like a bird of prey might use while it looked for something to kill and eat. And that's precisely how he thought of his sperm donor, like he was some kind of shadow creature stalking the dark recesses of the earth and consuming the unwary and causing pain to everyone he encountered. I don't really know if that's true, but he gives me the creeps. This fake person everyone sees and this cold, heartless thing meant just for me. The way he acts around Greg when he thinks I won't notice. Sometimes the way he looks at other boys, rarely but sometimes. He might've given birth to me, but he isn't a father. I'm not even sure he's human. "What are you scowling at?" The Fiend asked with feigned curiosity when all he felt was annoyance. "Nothing," Nate replied automatically. With frigid calculation The Fiend considered his son, measured him, evaluated his tone and nonverbal cues. Then he gently said, "If something's bothering you, Nate, you can talk to me about it." "Homework," the boy replied, a slight tremble in his voice. Which pleased Richard. Not wanting to communicate his disdain for this encounter, the doctor relaxed his shoulders slightly and lowered his gaze a bit, meeting his son's eyes and offering a slight smile, something sympathetic and reassuring. Deciding the cause of Nate's sour expression mattered little to his purpose, The Fiend promptly shifted his focus to this part of his plan. He had spoken with The Boy just a few days prior, helping Greg understand his feelings for Nate would ultimately cause pain and anguish and the destruction of their friendship. But The Fiend knew the obstacle he faced in his quest to conquer and possess The Boy stemmed not just from the object of his desire, but also from his own son. Thus it behooved Richard to attack the problem at both points of origin. The Boy had already been handled; now he would deal with Nate. "I know we don't talk like we should," The Fiend said apologetically, even abashedly. "That's my fault. I guess I'm not very good at this fatherhood thing. I spend too much time with work and patients and rounds and..." Dropping his head with a bitter shake for effect he muttered, "And the most important thing I should be doing I ignore because I'm too busy." Nate didn't say a word. Warmth from Richard? Didn't happen. Apologies? Nope. Self-deprecation? Absolutely not. So this sudden familial bonding and sorrowful soliloquy just didn't jive with his son. "You and Greg seem rather close," The Fiend said without transitional preamble, his tone inquisitive and measured, yet also neutral. Nate's reply came without thought: "He's my best friend." "Is that all?" "What?" Where's this coming from, the youngster thought, and what's he up to? "I asked if being best friends is all there is between you two." "Yeah. We're best buds. We click, you know, so we're close." His son only hesitated for a fraction of a second, yet Richard caught it. Practiced at the study of human nonverbal communication and as observant as any top predator, the doctor had no intention of allowing even a hint of diversion to beset his plan now that he had it reassembled and reestablished as the de facto path forward for all parties. Being keenly aware of his son's thoughts and emotions throughout this conversation was a prerequisite to the success of both this tactic and the overall strategy. "You think he likes you." "What? No. I mean yeah. He likes me. I'm his best friend." Nate was flustered. Was he doing this right? Was he playing Richard's game according to whatever twisted rules the doctor had? He didn't know. He didn't even know what game they were playing. But he strongly suspected he wasn't going to like the outcome. "You know what I mean, Nate," The Fiend prodded in an understanding way, as though aware his son might be uncomfortable with the intended topic of conversation. "Greg came out to you like he did with everyone else. You know he's gay. Do you think he likes you as more than a friend?" Did he? Is that what Nate thought? If he was honest, yeah, it was. He couldn't really say why, but he had the impression that maybe Greg had feelings for him above and beyond friendship. It was the little things, like touches and looks; but it was also something else, something intangible, something hidden. Still, Nate didn't know if Greg was aware of it. Hell, he didn't even know if he was imaging it. Was it wishful thinking? If Greg was interested in him, he wouldn't wind up with some other boy, which would mean Nate wouldn't lose his best friend. But it was more than that, wasn't it? Didn't Nate think it felt good to believe Greg liked him as more than just a friend? Didn't he think it made his stomach all tickly and his head all buzzy and his face all warm when he thought about it, really thought about what it would mean if Greg liked him like that? And he was closer to Greg than he'd ever been to anyone else in his life. An admittedly short life at thirteen, sure, but still... Nate always thought being the favorite friend of the biggest, best looking dude in school was a claim to fame, yet he also thought it was something else, something better, something special. Because he felt special, because Greg made him feel that way, and Nate liked the way Greg made him feel, and the doctor's son wondered if maybe he wasn't a little bit gay too, since he liked Greg a lot, maybe more than just as a friend, though in the interest of full disclosure Nate didn't have a lot of experience with feelings beyond friendship because he was this thin, scrawny, ordinary looking black kid. Mostly he had friends because kids wanted to be Greg's friend, everybody was drawn to him, all the girls wanted to date him and all the boys wanted to be him—or at least pick up some of the castoffs he left in his wake. But Nate was special, he knew he was, because Greg chose him. When he was the new kid in school fresh from D.C. and he had no friends and nobody to talk to and nobody to hang out with, Greg came to him, approached him and befriend him and made him feel like a million bucks. From that point on Nate didn't need for friends because he had Greg and Greg always had an entourage of casual friends and acquaintances and wannabe friends. By proxy Nate had all those things too. Most importantly, though, he had Greg, and that always felt like it was more than enough, like he was a best friend and he was a brother and he was... well, something else, something better, something sacred. "I guess I don't understand," Nate said, though he was pretty sure he understood Richard's point just fine. Does Greg like Nate? Yeah, Nate kinda thought so even if he couldn't say for sure. The Fiend knew his son was lying, albeit not a significant lie so much as a deception, perhaps even self-deception. Richard doubted it, however. He suspected somewhere deep inside, where Nate himself might not yet see it, his son harbored some measure of belief that his best friend felt more than friendship toward him. Rising from his perch and settling on the couch nearer his son, using the move to communicate friendly concern and support, The Fiend turned slightly and gave an impression of openness and honesty and—he hated to think it, yet he did—even of love. Using all his strength to keep accusation out of his voice, the doctor explained cordially, "Listen, kiddo, I know you're young, but you're not that young anymore. You're at the age where feelings start to pop up that you haven't had before, feelings that are pretty doggone strong and awfully confusing." Resting his hand on Nate's shoulder and giving a gentle squeeze he added, "I'm dancing around something here because it means the difference between having Greg as your friend and having him walk away from you forever." Nate's eyes bulged and his body convulsed with sudden panic. "What?" he gasped. "Why? He wouldn't... Why?" The Fiend cocked his head slightly and grimaced with superficial compassion. "Son, that's what I'm trying to help you with, what I'm trying to figure out. But I'm doing a damned terrible job at it, aren't I?" He added a self-deprecating snicker to emphasize his apparent failure, every bit of it mechanical and plotted. God, what's he up to? Nate wondered. And what if he's right? What if he knows something I don't? I'm not real sure of who's feeling what, so maybe Richard's aware of something I've missed. All I know is I can't lose Greg. That's not acceptable. Not at all. "I... Well..." Nate stammered, trying to organize his thoughts. Then: "I guess, yeah, I mean I suppose I think maybe he likes me as more than a friend. But I don't know! I'm not sure anyway." Despite the urge to wrap his hands around his son's throat and squeeze until the pitiful creature stopped stuttering and learned to speak like an adult, The Fiend gently rubbed Nate's shoulder as he told him, "I understand. Trust me, son, it wasn't that long ago that I was your age and going through the same thing. Emotions are kind of new for you, at least these emotions, and it's not always easy to understand what other people are feeling." "But what do you mean Greg might walk away from our friendship? Why would you say that?" Nate was close to whining and begging at once, but he couldn't help it. Richard's words had put a screeching fear in him that was driving up the volume of panic in his voice. "Calm down, Nate. I'm trying to help you." I doubt that, the youngster thought automatically, although he realized he wasn't so sure about that this time. Richard was hitting some pretty sensitive buttons and all sorts of alarm bells were going off in the kid's head. If Richard knew something important, damn it, Nate needed to know it. "What I need to know," The Fiend began, "is if maybe you have some similar feelings for Greg, like something more than friendship maybe, something you might not even be sure of but that makes you wonder what you might actually feel for your best friend." Nate shrugged, a bit in confusion and a bit in dismay. "I'm not really sure. You know, I guess everything's all messed up right now. It's hard to tell sometimes what's going on in my own head." The Fiend offered a chuckle and half a grin, something warm and relaxed, something unnatural on his countenance. "I hear you, kiddo. Been there and done that, I assure you." "What about Greg leaving? What do my feelings have to do with that? Why would it matter if I did or didn't like him... like him like that, I mean, as more than a friend?" "Oh, Nate..." Shaking his head and restraining his features so his sneer remained hidden, The Fiend said, "You know Greg sometimes talks to me about... well, about stuff he's confused about or stuff that requires an adult's guidance." Nate knew they sometimes talked, though he doubted it was all Richard was making it out to be. Greg was awfully smart, the smartest guy Nate had ever met, and one thing his best friend didn't seem to need was adult guidance. Or if he did, Nate would bet a million bucks that he'd ask his mom or his dad first, or maybe his uncle or his aunt. Who'd want to turn to Richard for advice? Not anyone who knows him, that's for damn sure. Still... With something so important to be lost if he fucked this up, Nate didn't think he could afford to disregard the doctor's words. At least not before he'd heard them anyway. "Yeah," the boy said, "I've noticed." After a deep breath, as if to fortify his resolve but really meant to increase his satisfaction, The Fiend told his son, "Recently... recently Greg's been worried about something, something between the two of you." "What? Why wouldn't he talk to me about it? What is it?" "He doesn't want to embarrass you if he's wrong, so he hasn't talked to you about it. Right now he's just trying to figure out if he's right and, if so, what to do about it. But he's pretty sure how he feels about it. He's adamant that if he's right, it'll tear your friendship apart." I refuse to cry, Nate thought. I won't let him bully me with this bullshit. I know Greg better than he does. "You're lying!" the youngster almost shouted. "You don't know anything about Greg or our friendship. You're lying and I don't believe you!" The Fiend felt a delicious warmth spread through him at his son's anger and defiance. And his obvious pain. He needed his son emotionally and psychologically off balance. Such a state would render him more susceptible to suggestion. To drive a wedge between the two boys and to inflict suffering on them both, one he would comfort and one he would not, Richard adhered to the new plan he had concocted in response to The Boy's surprising ability to circumvent each trap and sidestep each snare The Fiend carefully placed in his path. "Calm down, Nate. I'm trying to help you. Maybe I'm stumbling through this, but at least I'm trying. I don't want to see you get hurt." "Then tell me! Tell me why you say he'd walk away from our friendship." "Greg's worried you might be in love with him, or at least that you have feelings for him beyond friendship." Nate gasped. He wasn't sure what he thought about that. For that matter, he wasn't sure what he thought about Greg beyond friendship. He just wasn't experienced enough with all these teenager feelings. Enjoying the look of utter despair and confusion on his son's face, basking in the glow of discomfort and fear, The Fiend continued, "Greg's the tallest, best built, best looking guy in your class, maybe even in your school. He's good looking, he's smart, he's charming and charismatic, he's physically superior in every way, he's popular, he's clever and witty. And he's your best friend, closer to you than anyone else. It would be completely normal if you felt a little something more for him than friendship." Leaning down to speak more conspiratorially, The Fiend added, "But he doesn't feel that way about you. He's worried that those kinds of feelings would destroy your friendship. He loves you, sure, but only as a friend. So he's worried you might love him too much, as more than a friend, and it scares him because he knows it would ruin your friendship, it would change it until it was different, wrong." "I don't need him to love me! I don't need to love him like that! He's my friend. That's what matters." "Is it? Is it really, Nate? Are you not the least bit interested in him?" "No. He's my friend!" The Fiend could see the unshed tears welling in his son's eyes. He could also see the confusion and deception. Whether or not Nate realized it himself, he felt some measure of attraction for Greg. In the vulgar colloquialism it might well be a bromance Nate felt, or perhaps even a bit of hero worship. In a perfect world The Fiend knew it would be one of those but nothing else, not pansexual or demisexual or bisexual attraction. Yet he could not rely on perfection in an imperfect world; therefore he had to make his own perfect destiny come to pass by controlling the situation. "Here's the problem, Nate. Greg's scared that you might feel more for him that just friendship. But he doesn't feel that way about you. And he knows that if you want more from him than he can give, it'll tear apart your friendship. "He'll leave. If he ever thinks you feel that way about him, he'll leave because you're too close, because he thinks you love him too much. He'll say he feels that way because he doesn't want to embarrass you, he'll say he loves you too much and he has to get away from you, but what he's really saying is that he can't give you what you want and he can't hurt you so he has to get away from you. He doesn't want you to feel bad, so he'll say he feels that way and then he'll leave you." Doubt. The Fiend could feel it emanating from Nate in waves, building until it crashed and washed over everything his son thought and felt. Richard cared not a bit if Nate believed him; he cared only that Nate heard him, for the wellspring of the kid's emotions and thoughts would be tainted by a toxic tide of Richard's making. "What's your problem?" Nate shouted. "What the fuck is your problem? What are you trying to accomplish?" "I'm trying to protect you, Nate. I'm trying to keep you from being hurt." "Bullshit! You don't care about me." "That's where you're wrong. You're my son and I love you. I don't want to see you heartbroken and cast aside by someone like Greg when it can be prevented." "He'd never throw me aside." Nate was crying and he couldn't help it. He wasn't sure what Richard was up to, but he was sure that it hurt, that it worried him, that it made him question everything he held most dear. And that was causing panic and pain, anger and anguish. "Greg knows he can't be something other than a friend for you. He'd never be interested in that, but if you want that and he finds out, it'll break his heart because it'll tear apart your friendship. That's why you need to focus on finding a woman you can build a family with, have a home with, a woman who can satisfy you and make you happy. You need to find yourself a woman and don't give a second thought to Greg." "He wouldn't leave me..." Nate whined through sniffles and aborted sobs, tears streaking his cheeks. "Why would he ever think about leaving me?" Restraining his features so his triumphant sneer remained hidden, The Fiend said, "Greg's better than you. A lot better. Better looking, smarter, better body, taller, friendlier, more outgoing and more interesting. Greg's better than you, Nate, and if he thinks you're too interested in him, he'd have to move on because he won't string you along but he can't love you like that." Yanking away from the doctor, Nate grimaced, choked back a disgusted laugh, said, "You're lying!" He wiped his nose on his sleeve before adding, "I know you're lying. Greg doesn't think he's better than me. He'd never think that!" Why is he hurting me like this? Nate wondered. What's his goal? What the fuck's all this about? "You know I'm right," Richard told him. "Just look at yourself. Your friends are a byproduct of your friendship with him. And now that he's out of the closet, he's an interesting oddity and the most popular gay kid. But you? You're the sidekick." Sometimes Nate felt like he got sloppy seconds from Greg, it's true, but he never resented his best friend. Why would he be upset about any of that when Greg showered him with all his attention and love and friendship, focused on him all the time, spent all his time with him? No, it wasn't charity and it wasn't pity. Nate knew that deep inside, felt it in his heart, saw it whenever he looked in his friend's eyes. Richard was wrong. Wasn't he? "You straggle along in his wake hoping for a smile, a touch, a word, and it's pathetic. He'll never love you, Nate. Never. At best you'll always be just a friend. Because he's too good for you. He could never love someone like you." The Fiend almost shivered in delight. His son's face contorted with pain and worry and doubt and sorrow. His tears were like ambrosia scenting the air with victory. The more emotional turmoil Richard could cause, the more his words could seep into Nate's thoughts and feelings without notice. "Greg's gay, Nate. He'll never be happy with anyone who isn't also gay. He won't want somebody to try it out with him. He won't want somebody who isn't sure. One thing I know about you is that you don't know what in the hell you want. "You could never satisfy someone like Greg. You could never make him happy, not truly happy. That's because it's not in your nature to be happy with a man, not truly happy anyway. You might experiment, you might think otherwise, but you'll only ever be happy with a woman. And that's why you can never be what Greg needs or wants. That's why he'll never love you." "Why would you say that? Why are you doing this?" "One of these days he'll leave you. He'll leave you because he can't give you what you want. He'll leave you because you're wrong for each other. He'll leave you because he doesn't want to disappoint you. He'll leave you, Nate, and when he does you'll remember I warned you. You'll remember what I said. And you'll realize I was right all along." Nate jumped up from the couch and ran to his room, weeping openly and harshly, his backpack forgotten where he'd dropped it. Once in his bedroom, he slammed the door, leaped atop the bed, dropped his face into his hands, and cried without shame. The whole bed shook with his muffled sobs, his pillow dampened with his tears. "He can't leave me..." he muttered through sniffles and hitched breaths and mournful groans. "I can't lose him... He can't leave me..." The Fiend knew a single conversation did not a victory make, thus he would revisit these topics with Nate time and again, forcing a new truth to take root in his son's psyche, a truth of Richard's making. He did not know what the future held for the two boys, but The Fiend knew The Boy had vexed and thwarted him, and such was unacceptable. The doctor knew of his superiority to those around him, especially to a child like The Boy. To have his unfailing plan repeatedly desecrated by one so young required a punishment that would last no matter the outcome of this particular hunt. And so the predator would lay the groundwork for misery and mistrust and misunderstanding between the boys, his gift to them for their meddling and their foiling and their foolishness. For in the final analysis, knowing he would have no further use for The Boy once his appetite was sated, The Fiend wished to leave him not just used and discarded, but also unhappy and unanchored. As for his own son, the doctor wished nothing but disappointment.
    10 points
  5. Happy to hear that. You can think of me and @Thorn Wilde (a fellow Nordic person) in the future. And of course we need a SATW comic about watching a movie. Oh and for the ladies: https://satwcomic.com/girl-s-night
    8 points
  6. All good here, at least. Being stuck in the house means I've managed to get a lot of stuff done that I've been sort of 'long fingering' (no dirty comments please - it's just an expression - Google it, if you don't understand) for the past while. Currently waiting for dough to rise (that was dough, not dugh, you dirty minded people! ) before popping it in the oven. It's now over three years since I purchased shop bread. Camera club meeting this evening, so I'll need to have a shower and a shave before I head off to that. Hey, @Timothy M., by the way!
    8 points
  7. https://www.denverpost.com/2019/03/12/colorado-weather-blizzard-bomb-cyclone/ This is what I have to look forward to tomorrow.
    8 points
  8. What? It's almost spring and the bears come out of hibernation.
    8 points
  9. Very polite, Clo. My reactions were more in the line of
    8 points
  10. *swallows slowly* O!M!G! I mean okay sure I like a nice hairy man but THAT?!! THAT IS FUR! Does he hibernate in a cave in winter and catch salmon with his bare hands come spring?
    8 points
  11. Here's a little something for Marty...
    8 points
  12. Hello my faithful readers, just letting you know that I am currently in the city of Darwin, in the Northern Territory Of Australia, after completing a three day and two night.experience on the Ghan train from Adelaide in the South to the Northern capital of Darwin, which is a 2720 kilometre journey. Saw some incredible sights, and I hope to include my experiences in future stories. The Ghan train had a total of two engines and 38 carriages and it was 902 metres long. Regards Preston, aka Quokka
    7 points
  13. Well, I hope it wasn't done accidentally.
    7 points
  14. Yeah, please don't pop me in the oven.
    7 points
  15. 7 points
  16. I know I said yesterday that I have basically given up using FB... But sometimes it can be useful for getting up to date information a lot quicker than when I Google for the same information. A few minutes ago I received a text message on my phone to say that the camera club meeting planned for tonight has been put off till next week due to the "weather warning". When I checked FB I found the following message from "Metalert Ireland" (I live close to where the number 104 is on the map - that's the likely wind speed in kilometres per hour).
    7 points
  17. Hi clo! Hope the weather today is a bit calmer where you are today than it is here. It's not really a contest, more of a challenge. And it's one new photograph per week. Don't have to upload this week's until Friday, but I haven't got one yet. Tonight is more of a social meeting. I think we're going to have a talk from some (locally) famous photographer. Do you think I might be doing it on purpose?
    7 points
  18. Hey Marty I like the bake and make bread too. Do you have your shots for the contest? Okay I'll admit to it, my mind did went to some funny places but you gotta admit putting "long fingering" and "waiting for dugh to rise" (I totally read it like this the first time) in the same post with us...
    7 points
  19. Agreed! And I try to treat everyone with love. Unfortunately (?) I'm human, have preferences (whilst trying not to be prejudiced), so maybe some people just get a bigger share of my love than others...
    7 points
  20. I once read that, if you are selling your home, one way to make it seem more attractive to people viewing it is to have bread baking in the oven at the time they view. Apparently the smell of the bread can make all the difference. It has been a good day, really. Go raibh mhaith agat!
    7 points
  21. I just had a memory of my mom's bread... that smell... all through the house... sigh... Sounds like a great day to me... Slainte Mhath
    7 points
  22. I've lived in Colorado for over 25 years. I still can't get used to this shyte. https://www.denverpost.com/2019/03/12/colorado-weather-blizzard-bomb-cyclone/
    7 points
  23. Ah... no sense complaining... and the sun has come... Cookie and I had a nice walk... well... she ran and I walked. How's things with y'all?
    7 points
  24. You are a wicked, wicked man, Gary!
    7 points
  25. Um... will some rumpled plaid do?
    7 points
  26. Selling blah blah blah.... yawn... But stories about the cute young gentleman that he fits kilts to...
    7 points
  27. Uhmmm, something seems to be missing ... wasn't there a hot shirtless guy in a pair of tight worn button-fly jeans leaning against the fence post ... where'd he go? I think the night may have cooled somewhat, so Gary decided to take him home with him to warm him up again...
    7 points
  28. Uhmmm, something seems to be missing ... wasn't there a hot shirtless guy in a pair of tight worn button-fly jeans leaning against the fence post ... where'd he go?
    7 points
  29. The sleepy village of Crumbington is about to get a wake-up call. When the new chairperson of the Summer Fête Committee pushes to create a naked calendar of the Crumbington football team, mouths drop open. Her further pronouncement at having snagged a celebrity host for the fête—rising television and movie star Clifton O’Keefe, and ex-resident of Crumbington—is met with indifference. Not by Nathan Fresher, though, local baker and captain of the football team. He had been Clifton’s boyfriend in high school, until Clifton and his family disappeared into the night over ten years ago.
    6 points
  30. Going to go eat. Tikka masala has been made.
    6 points
  31. You should get those mittens with the flap that frees your fingers. Its like a half glove with a mitten top that can Velcro or button down.
    6 points
  32. Thanks to the first book of Eric's story getting the @Will Hawkins treatment (ably assisted by @droughtquake), my reputation has tipped over into 5 figures. 👍Thanks, guys. I'll reply to your plethora of comments in due course.
    6 points
  33. Yeah, stay safe, buddy.
    6 points
  34. We have like 5 different kinds of flour in this house: all purpose, white bread, whole flour, brioche, whole flour and grains. Oh and the sarrazin flour.
    6 points
  35. I use dried active yeast as well. Google gives me the following for "All-Purpose flour" .... In Canadian recipes calling for all-purpose flour, you can substitute American all-purpose flour or UK plain flour except when the recipe is a bread recipe. Canadianall-purpose is a truly all-purpose flour, being very high in gluten, and can be used for bread, but American all-purpose and UK plain flour cannot. Seems that might be your problem. Another Google search suggests that British (or Irish, in my case) Strong flour is called Bread flour in the US. https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2017/01/flour.html
    6 points
  36. The weather was nice this morning, sunny though a bit chilly but turned grey and windy this afternoon and since 7pm it's raining hell and terribly windy. Good luck on your photo challenge with the weather.
    6 points
  37. The secret to success seems to lie with (a) the kneading, (b) letting it rise twice before baking, and (c) the flour you use - I always use wholemeal. I think there are two main types of flour - cake flour and strong flour (there may be other names used your side of the pond). You need strong flour for bread making, as it has extra gluten that helps trap the gases given off by the yeast, so giving a better texture. Bread made from cake flour doesn't rise as well. You can use a bread making machine, but those only allow the dough to rise once before 'baking' it. They do produce a reasonable loaf, but I don't like the shape of the bread made by the one I have. I do sometimes use it for the initial mixing and rising if I am in a hurry, as it has a dough setting, which means it switches itself off before cooking the loaf. One thing to be aware of is that from start to finish will usually take around at least two and a half hours. You really need to be available to watch it if you are hand making it, as it's fairly critical that you don't let it rise too much. I have my own recipe that has been adapted from ones from various sources. There are numerous ones available online (Google is your friend). The one below is close to my own, although I would only use a pinch of salt (not a teaspoonful), and I just cover the dough with a clean tea towel whilst it is rising (instead of oiled cling film). https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/recipes/traditional-wholemeal-bread
    6 points
  38. Hey, Tim. Morgan and I watched Hjartasteinn last night. Just as good as I remembered. For some reason, I always think of you when I watch a movie from the Nordic countries. I love the smell of bread baking, too. Sadly, making a good loaf of bread is one of my shortcomings in the kitchen. It never seems to have the right texture. Maybe I should go back to school, and take a class or two to round out my skills.
    6 points
  39. *sneaks back in* Hi, everybody. Hope you're all well.
    6 points
  40. Doing well, thanks. I got some writing done earlier, and now I'm folding some laundry.
    6 points
  41. Yup the one should have been there
    6 points
  42. I use it to hide among the simple humans but hush
    6 points
  43. Anton and Troy arrived at the hospital to visit Molly, who seemed in good spirits. They brought her breakfast from the diner. Grateful she didn’t have to eat hospital food she enjoyed the soft scrambled eggs with toast and fruit. “Did the doctor see you yet,” Anton asked. “He came early and said they cleared me to go home,” Molly responded. “Today?” Troy asked. “This afternoon,” she said. “Wonderful, we’ll stay and take you home,” Anton said. “That won’t be necessary, I can call a cab or one of those Hitch.” “We want to take you home,” Troy cut in. “In fact, we would love it if you would come out to the farm with us to see Paul and Kyle, maybe stay for a while.” Molly stared at her brother in shock. “After what I put you through over the farm?” “I seem to remember putting you through a lot myself. We would love for you to stay and I know the boys would love to see you.” “I might take you up on that.” “Then say you’ll come,” Anton demanded, causing Molly to laugh. “Okay then yes,” “Wonderful. Once Patrick’s home you can come back with us.” “Have Adam called yet?” “No, but he’ll find Patrick.” “He will.” “So, on that note, I will get us coffee,” Anton said rising from his seat. “You’ll bring coffee back this time?” Troy asked, gaining a playful smack from Anton. “I’ll be back.” ************ Anton did as he promised and purchased coffee and pastries. He stopped at the front desk and asked about, Detective AJ Chance’s condition. They gave him his room number, it was on the same floor as Molly. When he stepped off the elevator, instead of going straight to Molly’s room he made a right to an opened door. As he peeked in he saw AJ staring at his untouched breakfast. Beside a few cuts and bruises he looked fine, his long black hair draped his left shoulder. When Adam brought AJ home to meet them, he couldn’t stop boasting about AJ’s accomplishments. AJ, embarrassed tried to tell us Adam had a part in all his advances. AJ fell into the family without a hitch. Anton thought they would get married and have kids of their own. Little did he know AJ drifted from his son’s affection to another man. It destroyed Adam, who quit the force and almost took his life in their barn. Paul and Kyle were all over their baby brother trying to get him to go out with them or play video games or work on the family’s Cosplay town. Adam bit their heads off to leave him alone so they call Damien, who came home to save his little brother. Adam spilled his heart out to Damien and left to stay with him overseas. Anton knocked, catching AJ’s attention, who stiffened from the sight of his ex’s mother. “Mr. Potter,” he said. “AJ, how many times must I tell you to call me Anton?” “Yes. Sorry.” “May I come in?” “Yes, please.” Anton walked up and looked at the tray of untouched food. A bowl of plain oatmeal with two sugar pack, toast, butter and jam on the side, a cup of orange juice, and coffee with two shots of cream. “Aren’t you hungry?” “Not really.” “You should eat something.” Anton sat his tray and bag down. “How about an oatmeal toast dip?” “You want me to dip my toast in the oatmeal?” “No, I will.” Anton went to the bathroom and washed his hands and returned to butter a piece of toast before using it as a scoop in the oatmeal. He used his palm as a tray as he brought it to AJ’s mouth who refused to open it. “You know, I had this trouble with my boys, especially Adam, who swore up and down he hated oatmeal even though he never tasted it. You know how I got him to open his mouth?” “No.” “I sang to him. AJ, I can’t sing. I’m tone deaf. Do you want me to sing AJ?” AJ opened his mouth and took a bite of the buttery toast and warm cereal. When he swallowed, he saw a bright smile on Anton’s face. “I like oatmeal, but I never ate it with toast before. It changes the taste for the better,” AJ smiled back. “Good, because I lied, I can sing like an angel. Now we’re even.” AJ wasn’t sure how to accept, ‘now we’re even’. “How are you AJ?” “The doctor said I can go home tomorrow.” “What about your partner?” AJ dropped his eyes and bit his lip. Anton watched him struggle not to cry. He reached out and grasped his clenched fist. “How serious is he?” “The doctors said he struck his head causing internal bleeding. They operated and believed he’ll recover so long as he wakes up soon.” “Have you seen him?” He nodded. “You know he’ll pull through AJ.” “I want to believe that.” “Then keep believing. I’ll believe with you.” “Thank you. Anton you didn’t have to come, but I’m glad you did.” “I’m not one to hold a grudge. Adam moved on…” “Adam, is he here?” He recuperated from his sorrow. “No,” Anton said, surprised he asked. “Does he know I’m here?” “I don’t think so…” “Can you tell him? I want to see him.” “What on earth for? You both have different lives now.” “Things changed in the past couple of days.” “Is that so, please? Tell me how they change?” ************* Anton stormed into Molly’s room holding the paper tray with the cakes and lukewarm coffee. “Well, you managed to bring coffee this time,” Troy said taking the tray. He touched the cup and found it cool. He looked at Anton, who was pacing back and forward with his arms folded. “Is everything all right Anton?” Molly asked. Anton glanced her way, huffing and shaking his head as he continued to walk. Molly looked to Troy and shrugged her shoulders. Troy stood and moved to his husband, grasping his shoulders to hold him still. “Anton, you need to calm down and tell us what happened.” “Fine Troy, I will.” Anton plopped down in his seat catching his breath. “I went to see AJ.” He rested again. “Is he well?” “Oh, he’s—fine,” he said with a condescending tone. “Well, that’s good.” “Is it Troy, is it good?” Anton said, staring at his hands. “Anton please get on with it,” Molly pleaded. “AJ told me Adam kissed him.” “What!” Troy and Molly cried out. “Don’t make me say it again.” “Anton are you sure, that’s what AJ said?” Troy asked. “He said Adam grabbed him and kissed him on the mouth.” “Maybe it was a friendly gesture,” Molly said. “Not the way AJ spins it.” “Did AJ say why Adam kissed him?” Troy asked. “Ready for this? Because their old feelings resurfaced.” “No, that can’t be true.” “That’s what I told him.” Anton shut his eyes to what he knew. “Troy we can’t let this happen, you know what Adam went through when AJ broke his heart.” “I do, but if this is true…” “It isn’t true. Adam loves Patrick and that’s that.” “We’ll just have to trust Adam knows what he’s doing.” “When I had to give Devin a talking to about coming onto Patrick I never thought I needed to do the same for his twin brother.” Molly and Troy looked at Anton confused. When he realized what he said he glanced at them. “Where should I begin?” he shrugged. “Devin came on to Patrick?” “He did, and I nipped it in the bud when Patrick told me.” “This is insane,” Troy said. “I didn’t know Devin had crossed a line with Patrick. I would have never left them alone,” Molly said. “Well don’t worry, I got through to him. Now I need to get through to AJ.” “No Anton. Adam didn’t ask for our help, so we’re staying out.” “Troy…” “No. Let your grown son handle his own problems and we’ll be here for support.” “Fine. But I won’t watch as a perfect relationship be destroyed over, old feelings.” “Anton…” “Don’t worry Troy, I’ll just be an observer.”
    6 points
  44. This made me laugh this morning.
    6 points
  45. When your parent has a computer problem and they call you as if you know how to fix it. I don't even have the same ISP as you, mum. How would I know how yours works? Call tech support, ffs!
    6 points
  46. Sweet dreams, y'all... unless you're in the Upside-down... have a great day, B.
    6 points
  47. Ruprecht remarked to himself how Gilles and Felix continued to surprise. They had been like angry children during the confrontation with Anton Vinseff, shielding the boy Ludwig and hurling vociferous abuse at the man who had sexually assaulted him, running to the nearest grown-up to get his help. In the aftermath of the challenge they were more dignified and mature than most adults would have been. He supposed it was that as adolescents they saw things in more clear and black-and-white terms than full-grown men, and were therefore decisive in their assessment of events which affected them. It was obvious to them that Captain-lieutenant Vinseff was an evil and abusive man, so he should be vilified and physically resisted. It was equally obvious to them that he must be challenged and killed for his insult to the House of Aalst. Ruprecht envied them. Having an adult knowledge of people and their motivations made things less clear-cut, and for all he was outraged by Anton’s actions, he could understand something of where they came from. A corner of his mind even tried to blame himself for denying his backside to the captain, whose sexual frustration was therefore taken out on the gardener’s boy in the way that many men of Ruprecht’s own class believed to be perfectly acceptable and for which he could not have been challenged. Anton would have got away with doing it too, had not Erwin Wenzel been keeping him under surveillance and chosen fatefully to intervene. Ruprecht’s own feelings in the affair were mixed. After the ebbing of his fierce anger at the insult to his honour, which in its way was itself an adolescent reaction, he began calculating that the death of Vinseff might solve several problems and was rather grateful that the man had put himself in a situation where his despatch could be accomplished without any negative consequences for the House of Aalst. That is, of course, should he manage not to get killed himself. He had no real idea of the degree of skill the captain possessed in the management of the sword. He assumed that as Anton was a professional soldier he ought to be a formidable master of the blade. As a man of his class Ruprecht had been thoroughly schooled in the use of arms, but for several years now he had been a scholar and civil servant. The day after the incident and the prompt expulsion of Vinseff from his house he sat with his two charges and dealt with the consequences. Erwin was currently languishing in his room with a broken and swollen jaw, attended by his solicitous staff, to whom he was now a hero after his valiant protection of little Ludwig. The boy himself was being cossetted with delicacies and mothering in the kitchen. Felix had subsequently been instructing Gilles in the etiquette and mechanics of noble affairs of honour, and was finding his lover to be a fierce disciple. ‘So Rupe,’ the Francien boy was saying, ‘he’s got to appear at the duel or be cashiered and exiled from Bernicia.’ ‘Exactly,’ Felix chimed in before his brother could reply. ‘No serving officer can refuse a challenge. It’s the same as cowardice in battle. If he runs he becomes an outlaw and anyone can kill him without penalty.’ ‘What does a second do?’ Gilles asked. ‘He’s there to prevent anyone else joining in the fight,’ Ruprecht replied, ‘and also to set up the event. If his man doesn’t turn up he has to take his place, though the fight is not to the death even if it was a mortal offence.’ ‘So we’re all off to Ostberg this evening,’ Felix announced. ‘This is me arranging things!’ he added brightly. Ruprecht raised his eyebrow. ‘So what have you forgotten?’ ‘Nothing,’ his brother stated. ‘The doctor?’ Felix grinned. ‘Sorted. I telegraphed your priest in Schwarzwald. Two birds with one stone, if you follow me. Possibly three.’ He winked. ‘You’re bringing Dr Tannerman into it?’ ‘Why not? He’s a friend of yours and a doctor. You said he was nice. I got his reply an hour ago, he said he’d be happy to assist.’ ‘Fair enough. I’ve telegraphed Hans at Groothuis myself. He’ll get special leave and be at Ostberg too.’ Gilles held up his hand like a schoolboy. ‘What about the Princess Liesbeth Maria? She has to know what we’re doing.’ Felix giggled. ‘Grossmutta will be pissed. She always told me she thought women should be able to fight affairs of honour for themselves. She won’t intervene. It’ll be all we can do to stop her attending.’ *** Gilles’s return to Ostberg was a very different occasion from his first arrival there. This time he occupied a palace landau sitting next to the prince of Ostberg, both boys handsome in formal court suits, Felix with several orders of chivalry around his neck and on his coat. The streets were lined with cheerful and vocal crowds as the prince rode in state to the Residenz of Ostberg, while a salute of twenty-one guns boomed out from the citadel above to mark the state return of the sovereign to his capital. ‘Grossmutta thought it best,’ Felix observed. ‘She says it’s about time I took on a ceremonial role at least, and lifted some of the burden from her. So from now on every time I leave and arrive in town the razorbills get scared out of their wits by cannon fire. She also tells me I have to make a state visit to Schwarzwald and say hello formally to the margrave if I’m going to be living in his dominions. Apparently it’s rude if I don’t.’ The boy prince seemed to be enjoying the occasion well enough, especially as Gilles was sitting beside him. They both beamed and waved at the charmed populace, and threw handfuls of coins to the children running alongside the carriages from a bucket of currency thoughtfully placed at their feet. The Residenz was a distinguished sixth-century mansion on the north side of the river, where a deep natural shelf allowed a great city square to be laid out. The house occupied the east face of the square, with formal gardens to the rear from which there were dramatic sea views. It was one of the finest of the great houses that the princes of that century had built. It had none of the military paraphernalia of the former noble castles, just acres of windows and forests of pillars and finials. It even had water closets. Felix raised his hat as he descended from the carriage in the inner courtyard. A band played and the guidon of the honour guard was lowered in salute to the prince. A chamberlain marshalled yellow-clad footmen to escort their lord, his party and their luggage within. Ruprecht noticed that Gilles no longer had any self-consciousness in dealing with servants. The boy expected his consequence to be observed, though with none of the nonchalant arrogance many aristocrats of his age displayed. Felix was ushered in the direction of the presence chamber through a series of dramatic antechambers lined with guards and suppliants. His grandmother was awaiting him on the steps of his throne. She kissed him and handed him into the chair, where he shot a grin at his lover. Gilles had taken station beside Ruprecht, the man’s hand on his shoulder. A buffet lunch was laid out along the wall, so Gilles and Ruprecht sidled over to fill plates, while a procession of local worthies ascended the steps to kiss Felix’s hand and be introduced by the princess regent. In the meantime Ruprecht circulated, introducing the Jonker Gilles von Aalst-Parmentier around the room, finally leaving him with three deeply-smitten teenage noble girls who fluttered madly around him like moths about a lamp, utterly charmed by his looks, seductive Francien accent and shy smile. The princess finally descended from the throne, leaving Felix engaged in conversation with three bearded state councillors. ‘So Ruprecht, you will be fighting for your life on my lawn tomorrow morning.’ ‘Yes, Grossmutta. I’ll try not to make a mess of it.’ ‘Sometimes you are very like your father, my dear child. Well, I’m sure you had good cause. Your opponent’s a captain in one of the noble regiments I believe and, from what my police agents tell me, an unsavoury character. What on earth was he doing at Blauwhaven? One of your homosexual associates I don’t doubt.’ ‘Indeed Grossmutta. Though his offence had nothing to do with that. He struck my seneschal.’ ‘You have an Antrustion? My dear, you’re growing up fast, and none too soon since you may have only a limited amount of time left to do it in. Now where is this boy you’ve adopted into the family?’ Gilles was ushered over and the princess surveyed him at length while he blushed. ‘My dear,’ she eventually pronounced, ‘you are quite the most beautiful young man I have ever met. You will feel out of place in our distinctly plain family. Here, kiss your Grossmutta.’ Gilles went to his knee and took the old woman’s hand to kiss it, a very well-judged gesture. The princess smiled warmly as she raised the boy, and she kissed him on both cheeks. Then she took him by the hand and led him to a nearby sofa, where they had a long and private conversation. She eventually led him by the hand back to Ruprecht. ‘My dear, you have chosen well,’ she said to Ruprecht. ‘I am very pleased indeed with my new grandson, especially as I may be about to lose one of the ones I already have. Now I must go off and do some ruling. I expect you both at dinner at the Farcostan Palace tonight, mind. Hans will be there. It may be the last time we see you outside a coffin, Ruprecht.’ Gilles turned to his guardian after they had made their bows, his eyes shining. ‘Rupe! She’s amazing! What a wonderful person, and she said I must call her Grossmutta!’ *** Gilles and Felix sat close together at dinner, Felix at the opposite end of the long table to his grandmother. Ruprecht had Hans at his side. His brother had the sense not to test his grandmother’s patience by coming improperly dressed to her board, and was wearing a well-cut naval mess jacket with his decorations. ‘So that’s my new brother?’ he observed, nodding towards Gilles. ‘Perhaps brother-in-law might be more accurate,’ Ruprecht replied. Hans looked more narrowly in Gilles’s direction and at the way his and Felix’s heads were close together. ‘What, him and the Kreech? So you’re not the only homo in the family? Well! A good thing maybe. Our poor little cat-monster needs someone to cuddle him at night. He’s been dealt a poor hand. And talking of poor hands, fill me in on how you got yourself into your current mess. Is this anything to do with that psychotic king we picked up at Port François?’ Ruprecht sighed. ‘No, it’s Anton Vinseff.’ ‘Anton Vinseff … hang on, I know that name. Wasn’t he the stable hand you were in love with when we were kids here? The one you wrote all those abysmal, long and soppy poems about.’ ‘Oh God! I’d forgotten them. Now I’m so embarrassed. And you read them?’ ‘No, you read them to me, you sick twerp. You were utterly obsessed with him. After seeing you in the throes of lovesickness, I almost decided to get myself castrated. Go on, tell me what happened.’ Ruprecht did his best with the complicated and somewhat embarrassing story, while Hans did his best not to laugh. It took up a whole two courses. Around the time he was finishing a vice-chamberlain materialised at Ruprecht’s elbow and bent down to whisper that his guest had arrived. Ruprecht rose, bowed low first to Felix then to his grandmother, and departed the table. He found a slight figure in black loitering in the marble entrance hall, examining the statues and trophies with great interest. He turned and smiled when he saw Ruprecht. It was quite an attractive, shy smile and lit up the man’s small face nicely when it appeared, Ruprecht noted. ‘M-m-minheer G-g-graf.’ ‘Hello Joerg. It’s very good of you to come at such short notice.’ The clergyman was in an appropriate dark suit and carrying a leather valise which looked more like a doctor’s bag than a travel case. ‘N-n-not at all, minheer. One c-c-cannot turn down an inv-v-v-itation from a S-s-serene Highness.’ ‘I apologise for my little brother’s insistence. He meant well. Perhaps you’ll come through to the drawing room and I can explain things. Now the first thing you must understand is that I’m homosexual. Is that a problem?’ The doctor burst into peals of laughter. ‘S-s-surreal, dear Graf.’ ‘I’m serious!’ ‘Of c-c-course you are, minheer. It’s j-j-just a very strange way of starting a c-c-conversation with one of my vocation.’ He wiped his eyes. ‘Not a problem then?’ ‘Of c-c-course not. Many of my c-c-colleagues are too.’ ‘Ah well, the rumours are true then it seems. The duel tomorrow morning is a matter of honour. The man, a cavalry officer and former lover of mine, deliberately struck an Antrustion of the House of Aalst zum Blauwhaven. You will realise that is a mortal offence and can be wiped out only in blood.’ ‘I d-d-deplore that of course, minheer. B-b-but I am here as a physician and I would say f-f-friend.’ ‘I would call you so, Joerg. You may call me Ruprecht. I would like that.’ ‘I too, E-e-excellency. It may just take me a while to g-g-get used to the idea.’ ‘Come with me into the drawing room. I’ve arranged a bed for you in the palace tonight. I hope you can stay longer, but of course the need for your attendance here may not last much longer than tomorrow’s dawn.’ The two men took armchairs in the otherwise empty room, and a bell summoned a servant who took orders for drinks and a cold supper for Dr Tannerman. As they were waiting the clergyman nervously brushed his blond fringe out of his eyes and began. ‘R-r-ruprecht, I know how the nobility cultivates an air of amused ind-d-difference to the world around them, but even so I’m surprised at the c-c-cold bloodedness you’re displaying to the possibility that you might well become a c-c-corpse within the next nine or ten hours.’ Ruprecht raised his eyebrows. ‘Really? Ah well, you weren’t brought up at Freiborg by my father, the Marshal-General of Hochrecht. A significant percentage of my family have never made it to the age of thirty due to our military pursuits. The possibility of a premature exit from the world is always with people like me. I thought, being a scholar and diplomat, I might escape that fate, but as you see the sins of our fathers do tend to find us out. ‘If I may, I’d like to change the subject. Not that I’m uncomfortable with it, you understand, just that I have some ideas I’d like to communicate while I’m still able, and you’re one of the few people who would understand them and could take them forward. I have brought my notes with me, and my brother the prince is aware that they must be given to you in the event of my death tomorrow. I made my will before I left Blauwhaven and you are nominated my literary executor. I hope too that you’ll interest yourself in the education of my young ward, the Jonker Gilles von Aalst, who has expressed a wish to attend university; your advice would be of great value to him, I believe.’ Dr Tannerman readily assented and put himself entirely at the minheer Graf’s disposal for the rest of the evening. So Ruprecht began an explanation of his latest ideas and theories. The clergyman listened quietly, nodding and making the odd encouraging noise. As with their previous meeting, his speech impediment gradually disappeared as he became more engaged in their mutual enthusiasm. ‘So, you believe that there was in fact an English kingdom in the south of the Mainland in the earliest days of human settlement; the kingdom of k-k-Kholnai ruled over by a succession of kings called Connor. The English were not therefore scattered outcast tribes absorbed into the rising Francien and Allemanic states but the dominant kingdom for maybe three or four generations, founders indeed of the Patriarchate and our religion, until the Francien Empire usurped their pre-eminence and spent the next two centuries systematically obliterating their memory so as to cement its historical legitimacy, especially as regards its claims on the Patriarchate.’ ‘It all fits, Joerg. How else could it be that the oldest texts of the Summarium and the earliest liturgy of the Church are in English? It also fits with the theory that The Voyagers was originally a prose English tale, not a Francien epic poem. Incidentally, next time you go looking at the work, notice how it is that when the Landing in the fireships happens, the captains and mariners all answer to an admiral called Guillaume le Rou and among his Twenty Companions is a warrior called Kevin Lengleis and a magician called Malcolm de Kholnai: English names both, and the only other reference I’ve found to Kholnai in early literature.’ Joerg Tannerman deliberated for a while. ‘Then you’ve gone as far as surviving texts will take you into prehistory, Ruprecht,’ he eventually responded. ‘The only way to cut through the mystery is by investigative excavation.’ Ruprecht beamed. ‘My thoughts exactly. I was impressed by what you could make some broken pieces of pot tell you. Maybe there’s a lot more to be found underground.’ ‘I think so, my friend. You’ve formulated some very big questions, but the answers may be down to me.’ ‘Down to us, Joerg. If I survive tomorrow, I’m determined to put my new prosperity to use. I’m ready to fund your digs, and what’s more, I have an ecclesiastical living at Blauwhaven in my gift. How would you like to be Rector of the place? You can employ an assistant priest or two to do the routine stuff. It’s quite a wealthy benefice, I’m told, and getting wealthier all the time.’ The man was startled. ‘You’d do that? You’d tempt me to murder?’ ‘What?’ ‘Well if your captain fellow is found dead in an ambush on his way to the duelling site, I would have to be the prime suspect now, wouldn’t I, Ruprecht old fellow?’ *** Ruprecht took off his coat and handed it to his second, who bundled it and passed it on to ‘his third’ as Felix called Gilles. All the palace party were in traditional duelling black, with cloaks against the dawn chill, for it was now late in autumn and Ostberg did not have the benefit of a warm ocean current to keep the temperatures mild all year round, unlike Blauwhaven. The sky was pink now in the west behind the distant peaks of the Southern Alps, and the sun would be over their crests in ten minutes or so. It was in fact dawn, within the meaning of the word. Ruprecht made some passes to warm himself up. The rumble of a carriage approaching along the woodland track to the north of them caused him to stop. The vehicle drew up and two figures alighted, also in black cloaks but with the bright yellow and green of the Bernician military beneath. They wore plumed dragoon helmets on their heads. ‘Hang on,’ declared Felix. ‘That is not the captain.’ The two figures reached them and gave a stiff military salute, which Ruprecht acknowledged with a flourish of his sabre. One of them stepped forward and introduced himself as Ensign the Jonker Felip-Emmanuel von Braunstein. He can only have been a teenager, fresh-faced and solemn under his helmet. ‘Your Excellency, I regret to tell you that Captain-lieutenant Vinseff absconded from the citadel last night and cannot be found. We must assume he has run off rather than face your sword. May I offer the apologies of my fellow-officers that you have been denied the opportunity to put the coward down.’ ‘You may, minheer Jonker. Am I to understand that he nominated you his second? This is most irregular. You ought to be of his rank.’ ‘Regrettably no other officer could be found who would second the man. He was not popular in the regiment. So for its honour I volunteered.’ ‘My dear Jonker,’ Ruprecht smiled. ‘It does you great credit. Now prepare yourself.’ The ensign removed his helmet and cloak. He took a sword from his comrade and made some passes with him in preparation, as Ruprecht did with Hans. Then both men took guard. Ruprecht clashed swords at the tip with the ensign then separated, dropped his blade, bowed to the youth and declared that honour was satisfied. He invited the officers to take breakfast at the palace. After the officers had parted with handshakes, a purse of gold and a letter of commendation from Felix to their colonel on the ensign’s behalf, the three brothers, Gilles and Dr Tannerman strolled out to the mausoleum. ‘So, Rupe,’ began Gilles, ‘what happens to the captain now?’ ‘He’s a captain no longer. He’ll be dishonourably discharged from his regiment. He won’t be able to show his face in any sort of society and my guess is that he’ll have headed east to the Montenard Republic. It’s the nearest place where his sort of military record makes little difference.’ Hans shrugged. ‘I can see why he did it. Had he fought and killed you, there wouldn’t have been much of a future in the army of Ostberg for the man who killed the prince’s brother.’ ‘But he would still have had his honour,’ Ruprecht demurred. ‘He’d have found a post in another unit in another state. Some of the noble regiments rather like that sort of reputation in their officers … the Death’s Head Uhlans of Ardhesse for instance; I believe you have to have murdered at least three widows or priests before you can get a commission. Torching an orphanage gets you a captaincy.’ Dr Tannerman baulked. ‘Are you serious!’ ‘No, Joerg. They are a rough lot though.’ Felix grinned like a happy imp. ‘You’ll learn to ignore a lot of what Rupe says. He’s very immature. I’m glad you’re coming to Blauwhaven, dear doctor. It’ll be nice to have someone around who’s even more gullible than Gillot. Ouch!’ Gilles punched him in the arm. ‘Thank you for clearing that up,’ the doctor commented. ‘I’d like a closer look at this monument of your family’s, Your Serene and Most Excellent Highness. Seventh-century, yes? The architect must surely have been Von Eisenthal.’ Felix quirked an eyebrow at his big brother. ‘I can see why you two get on.’ They laboured up the mound, and as they went Felix came to a slow stop. ‘Need a breather,’ he gasped. Gilles looked at him in concern. Dr Tannerman came over and looked in the boy’s face, which was flushed. He took Felix’s wrist and assessed his pulse, then touched his forehead. ‘How long have you been feeling feverish, Serene Highness?’ ‘It came on last night,’ Gilles replied for him, deeply concerned. Ruprecht looked in his brother’s face and noted the glitter of fever in his eyes. ‘Is this a recurrence, Joerg?’ The doctor asked Felix to breathe out. He wrinkled his nose. ‘I fear so. There is some evident inflammation in the lungs. His Serene Highness must return to the palace and rest. There is no need to aggravate his condition. I imagine the stress of the last few days has not helped.’ *** Felix’s condition worsened and a hacking cough began, though not accompanied by bloody sputum. He was confined to his apartment. Dr Tannerman proved a godsend at this point; it appeared that his interests in other intellectual spheres had not prevented his becoming an accomplished physician. He attended Felix constantly, and his air of calm knowledgeability did a lot to stifle the panic in the princely household. The Princess Regent observed to Ruprecht that the man was as good for Felix’s state of mind as for his physical well-being. ‘He treats the boy as an adult, explains things carefully and does not lie to him. I would suggest taking him on as a household physician, but it seems you’ve already retained him at no cost to me.’ ‘He’ll need to be at Blauwhaven to take up his benefice in due course, and I suggest that as soon as possible the Kreech is taken down there so he can benefit both from the climate and Dr Tannerman’s care.’ ‘I agree, my dear. I was most impressed at the treatment he offered. The little doctor’s judicious use of opiates soothed the boy’s cough, preventing it worsening which would have endangered the blood vessels in his lungs. He explained to Felix that it is the rupture of vessels which can bring on the sepsis, and the poor boy did his best to avoid hacking. Felix may get through this attack without too many consequences. But he is so pale and thin.’ She sighed. ‘I believe he’s eager to return to Blauwhaven, and if it makes the boy happier then he must go there. Young Gillot has been like an angel with him; that boy is not merely beautiful on the outside, he is a most kind and loving child. Tell me, Ruprecht, are the two boys sworn lovers?’ ‘Yes, Grossmutta.’ ‘I rather guessed so. Our Felix may have been unlucky in his health, but he is so very fortunate in those around him who care for him. Well, well. The pair have my blessing. They will sleep together here in the palace and when at the Residenz. The major-domo will be informed.’ ‘That is very gracious, Grossmutta. It will mean ever so much to them.’ ‘Of course it will cause comment, but it is hardly unprecedented in our family or in other noble houses. I don’t believe that Felix will suffer from the association. Men of his degree make their own rules in any case.’ ‘Er, will you …?’ ‘Tell your mother? My dear, she knows about Felix, just as she knew about you before anything was ever said. You should never underestimate a mother’s – or grandmother’s – sensitivity to those they love. Your father on the other hand … well, we won’t go there. He has enough breeding stock amongst the current generation of the house of Aalst to keep him happy in any case.’ *** They arrived back at Blauwhaven in a convoy of carriages for the first day of the Advent season. Felix was by now regaining some of his vitality and complaining about his confinement to bed, although, as Ruprecht observed, he was rarely alone in it. Dr Tannerman commented on the appropriateness of the day. ‘It’s about expectations, Rupe, maybe destined to be dashed but ever hopeful.’ ‘I’m sure the good folk of Blauwhaven have absolutely none where you’re concerned, Joerg, so you can hardly disappoint.’ The doctor quirked his lips. He was getting used to the Von Aalst household and its prevalent humour. Ruprecht in turn found his company very comforting after the Anton Vinseff disaster. The little man was kind and tactful, and there was a lot more to him then their joint obsession with the remote past. Felix and Gilles were devoted to him, Felix particularly so. Inevitably, if sadly, the boy had developed real hopes that his doctor could fend off his disease, for all that intellectually he must have known how unlikely that was. As he and Ruprecht sat together over wine after dinner, when Gilles had gone up to rejoin a still invalid Felix in bed, Ruprecht had to ask: ‘So what is the prognosis for my brother?’ The doctor shook his head. ‘I imagine the consultants that your parents called in must have sketched out the likely chances. He may last some years, or he may go downhill abruptly and suddenly. It’s difficult to predict with the phthisis. His chances of living till his coming of age remain good, especially situated where he is. But a young death is nonetheless certain, and regrettably there will be some suffering to go through for him and for all who love him first. ‘My reading of the journals and my hospital experience tells me that the deciding factor is the progress of the disease in the lungs, when and how sepsis affects them. That depends on how strong the boy’s underlying constitution is. The lungs can regenerate between attacks, though the inevitable scarring affects his ability to breathe and function with any energy. That phase may yet be a while off for Felix, or so I hope anyway. He’ll live to enjoy his lover a while longer.’ ‘It doesn’t bother you that we’re all queers here.’ Joerg laughed. ‘It’s normality for me,’ he said, then blushed. ‘What I mean is that presbytery houses are where homo clergy usually end up. I’ve got used to fending off unwanted advances.’ Ruprecht caught the man’s eye. ‘What about wanted advances?’ The man went redder yet, and his stutter returned with a vengeance, so much so that his reply was actually incoherent. *** Felix’s first day out of bed was the Sunday that Joerg was installed as Rector. So there were several reasons for the old church of Blauwhaven to be packed that day. The building was on a shoulder of the hills above the town, and its solid and massive tower was a prominent seamark. Indeed, it had actually been used as a lighthouse until the Confederate government had built a new one on a small and dangerous island outside the harbour which had been the destruction of several vessels over the years. A large crowd in the churchyard cheered the popular young prince of Ostberg as he alighted from the carriage that the stables of the Schloss now hosted. Felix beamed. He actually liked the public duties of his position. Gilles walked solicitously behind him with a cushion and blanket as the prince shook hands with the citizens of the town, who had gathered to meet their new pastor. Ruprecht was very much the sideshow, even though he was the Lehensherr of the town and its district. Assisted by several local clergy Joerg got through his first mass reasonably competently, and his sermon, if rather more historical than theological, was well received. The mayor and dignitaries of the town took him off for a civic dinner, which lasted well into afternoon. The Von Aalst party left early, with the excuse of the prince’s health. Joerg would join them for a light supper. As they arrived back at the manor house, the two boys made their excuses and strolled hand-in-hand down to the pool, where Ruprecht found them later, barefoot but otherwise clothed, Felix lying flat out and just soaking up the sunlight. He was looking a lot better than he had but was still too thin, being unable to eat much during his attacks. ‘We have to fatten you up, little Kreech,’ Ruprecht observed. ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Oh, it’s good just to be up and about, but down here in our special place it’s even better.’ ‘Good. Well, enjoy it for a week or two. We’re going on our travels. Meister Andrecht begins his leave the week after next, and I have a mind to witness the Christmas celebrations in the Holy City. We’ll take the coastal steam packet from the harbour. Hans and mama will join us. I’ve hired a place for a month.’ ‘I hope you’re not going to be boring and spend all your time in the library,’ Felix pouted. ‘Boring would be very welcome to me for a while, my Kreech.’
    6 points
  48. Lex took in a few short, quick breaths and said “Not here. I don’t trust myself. You deserve the truth and I can’t do this in public.” Ian got the waitress’s attention and asked for the check. She smiled and told him that Duke had taken care of it. Thanking her and leaving a generous tip on the table Ian took Lex’s hand and took him back to his truck. He drove a short distance and parked the truck in lot of a strip mall that was currently closed. Unbuckling his seatbelt he turned sideways and gently reached over and placed his hand on Lex’s cheek, turning his head towards him. “Talk to me.” Lex undid his seatbelt and turned his body and started. “I guess I need to go back to the beginning of my life so this will all make sense. I grew up with a single mom, Sarah. I never knew who my father was. My mom never told me. We found out we were backdoor neighbors with my best friend Cassie and her mom Rita, when Cassie and I started preschool . Her dad was killed in a car accident when she was just a few months old so our moms ended up raising us together. Our neighbors the Hansens, helped out as well until they passed away. Life was good for the most part, even though most people saw me as the weird kid. My mom and Cassie and her mom were the only ones who knew the truth about my ability. Cassie is my only friend. She doesn’t care and never treats me any different because of the auras. When we were nine things changed, but neither of us realized it at the time. Both of our moms started dating around the same time and at first both guys seemed OK. I could see a dark maroon color around Tim who was Cassie’s mom’s boyfriend. I had never seen that color before and couldn’t figure out what it meant. By the time I did, I wished I had never seen it. I’ll explain more later. Joey was my mom’s boyfriend. He was funny and took us to places like the zoo and aquarium and always included Cassie because he knew we were best friends. My mom ended up marrying Joey not long before I turned eleven. Two months after my birthday she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. That’s when I discovered that dark purple, like a bruise meant cancer. She managed to hang on for a year and a half, the purple turning into black threads around her gradually getting thicker as the cancer spread. I was devastated when she died. I had no other relatives that I knew of and my mom had made arrangements for Joey to be my legal guardian seeing how they were married. Cassie was having her own problems. Tim had moved in with them about the same time my mom had gotten married. Apparently dark maroon indicates abusiveness. Cassie’s mom had been protecting her for a while. She was the one who took the brunt of the verbal, emotional and eventually the physical hits. It wasn’t until we were twelve that Cassie had begun to figure it out. We both thought that her mom was just depressed because of my mom and that’s why she had become quiet and withdrawn. It was a lot for two preteens to deal with. It wasn’t long after I turned thirteen that the shit hit the fan. Joey had always had a funny, dark greenish gray color but it was always faint, but it quickly started to get more prominent and darker. I had no clue what it was and if I did I would’ve run away in a heartbeat and taken my chances with foster care. I would wake up in the middle of the night and find him standing over me just staring. Once he realized I was awake he would turn and leave without saying a word. I didn’t have a lock on my door and had no way of keeping him out. Turns out that particular shade of greenish gray is mental illness. I think he hid the fact from my Mom. Anyways, apparently he had stopped taking his meds. Joey was losing his mind, I don’t know if he was bipolar or schizophrenic or what, but he was definitely not right in the head. My ability to figure out auras was still developing. Even now, mental illness is hard to figure out. I couldn’t do it when I was 13. I was nearly fourteen when things escalated, both for me and for Cassie. Now you have to picture Cassie at the time. She was little, just over five feet tall, but she was a force of nature. Still is. Tim had moved on to yelling at her and putting her down, trying to break her spirit like he did to her mom. Cass was stronger than her mom mentally and emotionally. But physically she just didn’t have the strength to defend herself. Keep in mind we were both in the midst of puberty during all of this. Hormones and physical changes were hard to keep up with and the decision making skills of a thirteen year old are not exactly stellar. We were hiding out in the woods near our houses when she confessed that she was afraid Tim was going to rape her. He had been hitting on her, touching her and making lewd comments. She was crying when she looked at me and told me that she didn’t want him to steal her first kiss and her virginity from her. I couldn’t say no to her. We ended up giving our virginity to each other. That’s also when I figured out I was gay for sure. That’s another thing I had been grappling with. We never thought about using protection and luckily dodged a bullet. A baby would NOT have been good. A few weeks later Tim did try to rape Cassie and she managed to hit him upside the head with one of his boots that he had kicked off. It stunned him just enough to give her time to run out of the house. I was home alone and she came flying through the door hysterical. I called the cops and between the bruises she was sporting and his state of undress he was arrested. It also served as a wakeup call for her mom. She ended up in therapy and is doing alright now. The attorneys that she worked for took Cassie’s case against Tim pro bono and he ended up in jail. Still there as far as I know. Meanwhile Joey was sinking further into his mental illness, getting delusional. It was two weeks after we turned fourteen that my world turned upside down. School had just let out for summer vacation and Cassie and her mom were heading to the beach for a long weekend. Joey wouldn’t let me go with them. Turns out he had other plans. It was a Saturday night and without Cassie I had stayed in my room reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and had fallen asleep before Joey came home. I never heard him come in. I still can’t bring myself to finish that book or the rest of the series. He came into my room and grabbed me and dragged me off the bed out of a sound sleep. I was strong when I was fourteen but he was stronger. He dragged me down to the basement and I knew I was screwed. That’s the moment I figured out what color insanity was. I’m not going to go into too many details but he spent most of the next twenty-four hours pretty much torturing me. I lost track of time. He chained me to one of the rafters and cut my clothes off of me. He beat me and sodomized me with a broom handle. Repeatedly. He told me he didn’t want to be stuck with a little faggot. I have no idea how he knew. Best guess is I must’ve forgotten to erase my history or close a browser on the computer. He used my back to put out his cigarettes. It must have been sometime in the middle of Sunday night when he stumbled back down the stairs, drunk, still holding a bottle of vodka and still drinking from it. I remember him walking toward me. I could barely see him as both eyes were swollen. I heard him drop the bottle of vodka and heard it shatter. The next block of block of time is still crystal clear to me. I can still hear the whistling sound a whip makes as it cuts the air. I can still hear the crack it makes right before it hits skin. I can still feel the excruciating pain of the steel tip of the bullwhip ripping open my back. I can still hear my own screams and smell my own blood. It seemed to go on forever until I finally blacked out. Cassie had to tell me what happened next. She and her mom had gotten home really late Sunday night. She didn’t come over because my house was dark and she figured I was sleeping. It took her awhile to get over the guilt of not checking in with me that night. Monday morning she came over and let herself in. She told me that she got a really bad feeling when I wasn’t in my room. She looked for me in the kitchen and noticed the basement door open. She found me. She told me I looked like something from a horror movie. He had released me from the rafters and and I was laying in a huge pool of congealed blood and piss. My back was filleted. Strips of flesh were hanging. Hearing her cry out brought me back to semi-consciousness and I still had enough wits about me to utter one word ‘Joey’. I pieced together what happened next from what Cassie told me and the police reports. Cassie told me she ran upstairs to call 911. I remember her running up the stairs. I also remember hearing a gunshot. I have a vague recollection of people all around me, getting put on a gurney and being in an ambulance. I don’t remember much else until after I woke up in the hospital in ICU. Cassie told me that after she ran upstairs she had to check to see if Joey was still in the house. She told me he woke up when she got to his room and when he saw her he grabbed his gun off his nightstand and shot himself in the head. That was the only time she ever lied to me. I never let on to the police that Cassie had protected me and took matters into her own hands. As far as they were concerned he had shot himself. I knew better. She knew better and one of the investigating officers knew better. He never said a word, and neither did we. I spent the next ten and a half months going through several surgeries and was in and out of the hospital and rehab centers. Cassie’s mom had gotten her shit together and petitioned for custody of me. When I was finally released from care I went to live with them. Cassie’s mom had sold her house and moved across town. Her lawyers came through again and took care of my mom’s estate and put the profits from the house and the benefits of a small life insurance policy in a trust for me. I never did go back to high school. Cassie dropped out and we both got our GEDs. I had discovered an aptitude for computers while I had been cooped up recovering and enrolled in college and got a degree. The money my mom left was enough to pay for the local state college and to cover our living expenses while we went to school. Cassie and I got an apartment together when we turned 18. You asked why I was afraid to sleep and I gave you the long version. The short version would’ve been that I’m still afraid of being dragged out bed and tortured.” When Lex slowly raised his head and looked at Ian he saw tears running down his face. Lex started to turn away from him when Ian reached over and pulled him close. “You are amazing.” he choked out. “How you found the strength to survive what you did and still managed to become the beautiful person you are amazes me. Don’t try to hang your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of. That monster who hurt you, guess what? You beat him. He’s not here and you are. That makes me happy. If you could see my aura right now you would see how proud I am to know to you. How proud I am that you are here with me and have made the most difficult choice to share this part of yourself with me. You would see whatever color it is that shows how honored I am that you are here, here with me. Yes, my tears are sorrowful. I’m sorry that you had to endure all of that. But my tears are also tears of joy. I’m joyful that you survived and that I get to have you in my life. Believe me Lex, I want you in my life. I really do.” It was Lex’s turn to have the tears slide down his cheeks. He reveled in the comfort of the strong arms around him. He hadn’t ever been held by anyone other than Cassie or his mom. He was too afraid to let anyone get close. He couldn’t bear the thought of someone being horrified by the scars on his back. But from the very first day Ian hadn’t been horrified. It was the exact opposite. Lex remembered his disbelief when Ian had first laid eyes on the scars and how the first thing he remarked was how beautiful a canvas it was. His back was beautiful. Ian truly saw the beauty in the scars. Somehow even without an aura to guide him Lex knew he could trust Ian and that’s why he found himself not even hesitating to give him total control over the tattoo and why he had no desire to see it until it was done. Gently pulling himself away from the man who believed in him, Lex wiped his tears away, feeling slightly drained. Ian reached behind the seat and pulled out two bottles of water and handed one to Lex. They were both silent as they recentered themselves, both pulling their emotions under control again. After several moments Ian looked over at Lex and softly asked “You OK?” Lex nodded. Ian continued on “I still owe you an ‘explain’. You asked why I said no to kissing you. It’s because of your back.” As Lex’s eyes went wide Ian held up his hands and kept talking “Shh,shh, it’s not what you think. I’ve already told you that your scars make up the most incredible canvas that I’ve ever seen. The second I laid my eyes on it I got a picture in my head that was the most intense I had ever envisioned. When you gave me total control, Lex, you have no idea what that did to me. That night I was up for hours sketching. I knew exactly what I wanted. I just had to figure out how to do it. It truly is the most complex and intensive tattoo I have ever attempted. Your back has become an obsession for me. That is why I won’t kiss you. At least not right now. Lex, if I kissed you I wouldn’t be able to stop.” Ian looked deeply into Lex’s eyes, the sharp blue darkening with lust. His voice, already the sexiest sound Lex had ever heard, dropped an octave and the sound slid over Lex like silk. “I’ve spent the last month seeing your gorgeous face almost every day, hearing your voice glide around me. I’ve inhaled your scent. Sweet. Spicy. Musky. I’ve touched your skin, oh God I’ve touched your skin and it’s never enough. If I were to kiss you, get even just one little taste of you, I would never stop. My tongue would take over and I would need, yes NEED, to taste every damn inch of you. I’ve pictured it already. Taking those lips and devouring them like they were the sweetest, ripest strawberries. I would inhale your breath when I slid my tongue along yours and breathe you in like I was drowning and you were the only source of air for me. I’ve pictured myself sucking on the sweet spot I can see pulsing at the base of your neck near your shoulder. I would mark you. Mark you as mine. I’d strip you naked as the day you were born and let my tastebuds roam over the tangy, saltiness I’ve imagined and that I’ve jacked off to a hundred times. Oh yes Lex, for the past month it’s been you starring in my every fantasy. I’ve imagined taking hold of your prick and swallowing you whole. Letting my throat milk you dry. I’ve pictured my hands roaming over your tight ass, spreading those cheeks and I’ve dreamed of sliding my fingers into you. I’ve heard your moans as I’ve dragged my finger along your prostate and I’ve heard you scream my name as you came. I’ve dreamed of rimming you until you’re nothing more than a boneless mess begging for more. I’ve dreamed of giving you more, of sliding my cock into your tightness. I’ve felt you squeeze me until I couldn’t breathe any more. And just when I’ve dreamed that I can’t take anymore I feel you drive me over the edge and heard myself scream out your name. Lex. My sweet, sweet Lex. You want to know why I won’t kiss you? That’s why. Because I won’t stop and if I don’t stop I won’t finish your tattoo. I have to finish, I made a promise to myself, and when I’m done, THAT’s when I’m going to kiss you.” Ian leaned over close to Lex and growled in his ear. “And when I’m done doing to you everything I’ve dreamed about? You’re going to do the same to me.” Lex lost it. He stiffened up and moaned as his cock exploded in his pants. His body shuddered and his breathing came in short, rapid bursts. It felt like it would never end. He had never experienced anything so intense and he had never come without touching his dick. Ian came out from the haze that had surrounded his mind and his eyes widened “Did you just…..?” Lex turned bright red and lowered his gaze. Ian chuffed and put his finger under Lex’s chin and gently nudge it up so he could look at him. “That was the sexiest thing I have ever seen. My voice did that? Wow!” Lex got his breathing under control and looked at Ian and told him “Your voice has been driving me crazy. It’s like liquid sex. You’re like the offspring of Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones and that dude who does all those voices in the Disney movies. He was the big dude in The Emperor’s New Groove, um, Kronk!” Ian laughed “You mean Patrick Warburton?” “Yeah! That’s him!” Lex laughed back at him. Both men continued to chuckle, it quickly turning into all out gut busting laughter. It was the kind of laughter that once you start you can’t stop. Everytime it starts to fade one glance at the other person sets you off again. It’s the kind of laughter that gets so intense that no sound comes out of you, taking up all the air in your lungs until you finally burst with another explosion of sound. It’s the kind of laughter you can only do with someone you really care about. It was cathartic and dispersed the somberness that had still remained from Lex’s revelations. When they finally got themselves sober and no more spontaneous laughter burst out, Lex took Ian’s hand in his. He noted the slight shiver that ran up the other man's arm. “Thank you. Thank you for explaining. Thank you for listening to me. And thank you for still wanting me. I need you to know that I want to kiss you too. I think I’ve wanted it since the moment I laid eyes on you, but I can wait.” Ian smiled again and said “You’re welcome. So, any more questions?” With an evil grin and a gleam in his eyes Lex spoke “Only one. When are you going to finish the tattoo?” Ian just snorted.
    6 points
  49. Oh, man. Be careful and stay safe.
    5 points
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