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  1. The anxiety was so thick that Matt could hardly breathe. He had one eye on his brother, who was playing with colored blocks, and one eye on Seamus who, like a caged lion, was pacing the room nervously as he waited for a call. “We could take Aidan for a walk.” “It’s too cold outside.” “Movie?” Seamus shook his head. “What about going to get a bite to eat?” “I’m not hungry.” Matt sighed from a distance. “It’s possible they won’t call today.” “I know.” Matt moved until he was standing in front of Seamus. “You’re agitated.” “I’m angry.” “And?” “Anxious.” “Why?” “Because he could get away with it.” “He won’t get away with it.” “The lawyer said it could be a book and release situation. Sounds like he’s getting away with it.” “They’re charging him. But based on the charges, he might not serve time until after the hearing. That’s not the same thing as him getting away with it. He will get what’s coming to him. It’s just going to take time.” “What if we don’t get enough to prosecute?” Matt snaked his arms around his boyfriend's waist. “The evidence for payroll fraud is the reason for the arrest warrant and it’s more than enough for a conviction. I’m not saying he’s going to spend a lot of time in jail, he may not even serve six months, but he will be convicted. Probably on felony charges, and he’ll have to pay you restitution. But we’re not there yet. Focus on what’s in front of you and let everything else fall into place.” “You’re right.” Seamus kissed Matt’s cheek, then slapped his ass. “No need to waste time on that prick.” Matt’s butt stung as Seamus strutted across the house. He much preferred that over Seamus sulking around. Matt understood where he was coming from. Mike represented a part of Seamus’s life that wasn’t easy to deal with. The temptation to turn a blind eye was strong. Seamus could’ve easily continued down that path for years. Matt was proud that he was doing something about it instead of assuming it was too late to do anything at all. **** Seamus wanted Mike to get arrested as he deboarded the plane. He deserved it after what he did. That’s not how it happened. Maybe if Mike had embezzled from the government or something, but the charges weren’t big enough, yet, to warrant such extravagance. Mike was arrested the next morning at his home by two police officers. It was a quiet affair but surely the neighbors noticed. Seamus got a call when it was over. Matt was so busy watching Seamus talk on the phone, trying to hear what was being said, that he missed Aidan’s plate and dropped the pancake on the floor. Matt picked the pancake up, inspected it for dirt, and tossed it back on the plate. Aidan wouldn’t notice. Matt saw the things Aidan put in his mouth. The conversation seemed to take forever. Seamus asked a couple of questions but mostly, he listened. When he hung up, Matt was on him. Seamus sighed. “Well, he’s locked up for now.” “For now?” “He’ll probably get out on bail.” Matt frowned. He knew it was possible but it still sucked. “Did he admit to anything?” Seamus shook his head. “No. He didn’t deny it either. He immediately asked for a lawyer. That’s all we know.” “How long until we can get into court?” “I don’t know. Our case for payroll fraud is pretty clear cut. So that could move quicker. The actual embezzlement could take longer. Roger said we should consider waiting until the audit is finished. If we can build everything into one case, it will be stronger.” “How do you feel about that?” Matt asked. “I hate that he could be out in a matter of days, but I want do it right the first time. If we have to wait longer to see him in court, then we wait.” “Do you know how the official audit is going?” Seamus sat down next to Aidan and ripped the pancake into smaller pieces. They were already small, but Matt knew Seamus needed a distraction. “I won’t know anything until she’s finished and we get her full report. Which could take a while.” Matt drummed his fingers on the table. “I guess we have nothing to do but wait.” **** The next week was total chaos. If Matt hoped life would be calm or go back to normal, he was sorely mistaken. Seamus was up to his neck in work stuff. With Mike out of the picture, he had to find someone to keep things rolling. The thing about being your own boss is that you’re allowed a flexibility other people don’t have, but that flexibility comes at a cost. When things hit the fan, you’re the one working 24/7 to fix it. The first thirteen days of December were brutal. Since Seamus was going nonstop with his own crap, Matt found himself juggling school, work, and Aidan all on his own. Not great timing as he was knee deep in finals, but this was life and what he had asked for. He and Seamus talked every day but didn’t see each other but a moment here and there. As much as he missed Seamus to pieces, Matt couldn’t afford the distraction. He was up with Aidan every morning, toting him to daycare, off to class, then work, then home. Aidan was with him more than he wasn’t. Thank God for that third day of daycare that Seamus hadn’t talked him out of. So, no, he couldn’t be around Seamus. The second Aidan was asleep, Matt needed to focus on homework or risk poor marks. Seamus wasn’t offended. He was in the middle of a crash course of his own. Learning the basics of Mike’s job on the go. Matt’s professor not only hooked him up with someone who was doing what Matt had done, but better, he also referred someone to help Seamus through until he found a permanent replacement. The problem was, the job wasn’t something menial that could be filled on the fly. It would take time. Seamus spent a lot of their calls picking Matt’s brain about this and that. Matt still had so much to learn, but it was flattering nonetheless. As much as he wished their conversations could’ve been about a hundred other things, he loved being needed by Seamus and would answer any question Seamus threw at him. **** Exhaustion was part of Matt now—embedded deep into the fiber of his bones. Even as he walked out of his class, having completed his last final, he knew he wasn’t done. He picked up a giggling and ever happy Aidan from daycare and together they walked home. The weather was dreary. It wasn’t even five, yet it was dark with a light misting. Instead of heading to the apartment, they walked a few extra blocks to the loft. As they neared the building, Aidan was like a horse after a long ride. There was no stopping that kid when he wanted his Moose. The doorman smiled and pushed the door open just as Aidan slipped by. Matt smiled and thanked the man. Aidan didn’t even care that Seamus wasn’t home, he was just happy to be there and quickly made himself at home. The loft was a wreck. Seamus was usually a neat person, but he’d been busy and stressed because of work. Matt wanted to do something nice, so he changed Aidan and himself until they were wearing something more comfortable. Then they got to work. Aidan was happy to follow Matt around and he did a pretty good job of picking up dirty clothes and throwing them in the laundry basket—along with the remotes, magazines, toys, dirty plates. Matt laughed. Oh, to be eighteen months old. They stripped the beds and replaced the sheets, started laundry, cleaned the bathroom from top to bottom, straightened the living room, vacuumed the couch cushions. Matt loaded the dishwasher and wiped the counters down while Aidan used the new but unused toilet scrubber to clean the floors and cabinet doors. He even whacked the dining chairs and a few of the table legs for good measure. They were on their hands and knees. Matt was cleaning the baseboards while Aidan dusted the wall with his rag. They were both cleaning when Seamus came in. Aidan ran, rag in hand, to greet Seamus at the door. He stuck his rag out to show Seamus what a good job he was doing, then ran back to the wall and started cleaning again. Aidan kept looking to see if he was being watched. Seamus looked around the loft. “Did you clean my house, Aidan?” Aidan screeched with joy, then ran to the kitchen where his toilet scrubber had been long forgotten. He held the scrubber up in one hand and the rag in the other. Victorious. He ran to Seamus and handed him the cleaning tools. Still crouched on the floor in the back corner, Matt watched as Seamus knelt down, took Aidan’s offerings, kissed him, and praised him for being such a good helper. The best helper. Then Seamus looked at Matt, and the world stopped. Matt was sure of it. There was no way the world could continue like normal when Seamus looked at him like that. Seamus came at him like a man on a mission. He grabbed the back of Matt’s legs and lifted him until Matt was wrapped around his waist. “What are you doing? You have finals.” “Had finals,” Matt corrected. “I finished today.” “And then you came straight here and cleaned my place?” With Matt’s ankles locked in place, Seamus let go and cupped his face. “You’re amazing.” Matts smiled, kind of cocky like. “So I finished my last final, came straight here, and started cleaning so you could come home and relax. It’s not that big of a deal.” “It’s a huge deal.” “You need a break.” “So do you.” Matt kissed Seamus. “You stepped in and helped me with Aidan when I really needed it. This is the least we could do.” Seamus ran his fingers through Matt’s hair and looked at him like he was something special. Then he kissed him and Matt melted into the wall behind him as he softly wrestled Seamus’s tongue. Seamus broke the kiss and looked down, Aidan was pulling on his pant leg. Matt laughed. “Looks like someone is feeling left out.” With one arm anchoring Matt, Seamus carefully picked Aidan up with the other. It was a little awkward at first, but they maneuvered until Aidan and Matt were both comfortably being held up by Seamus. Seamus used the wall to brace Matt up and he used Matt to keep Aidan up. They watched Aidan as he smiled brightly. The little guy loved being the center of their attention, and it wasn’t every day you got to be perched in a fortress of your favorite people. “I love you,” Seamus told Aidan. He rubbed his beard on Aidan’s face, making him giggle. Next, he turned to Matt and kissed him gently. “And I love you.” Before Seamus could pull away, Matt caught the back of his head and hauled him back in for another kiss. “And I love you.” They stared at each other like idiots. Then Matt turned and kissed Aidan. “I love you, too.” Matt hadn’t planned on saying it. It just happened. He loved Seamus. If there was a time to say it, it was now. He needed to say it, and Seamus needed to hear it. They hung out like that for a minute longer until Aidan was tired of being loved on. He wiggled around until Seamus let him down. The tyke quickly wandered off to bigger and better things. Seamus shifted his weight until he had a better grip on Matt. With Aidan out of the way, Seamus stared at Matt. “Say it again.” “I love you.” Seamus rested his forehead on Matt’s for a moment as he soaked in the words. Then he kissed him, properly. They made out against the wall for a while. “I’m gross and sweaty,” Matt said when they finally broke apart. “And hot as hell.” Seamus mauled the side of Matt’s neck. He didn’t care that Matt was gross. “Do you know how hot you are when you’re cleaning?” “Not as hot as you,” Matt said, moaning, Seamus snaked a hand under Matt’s shirt and across his belly. It wasn’t toned but Seamus loved it all the same. “Careful, Aidan's right over there.” They both looked across the room where Aidan was playing with blocks and the toilet scrubber. Seamus’s face soured as he watched the toddler bang the scrubber on the ground. “Don’t worry,” Matt laughed. “It’s clean.” Satisfied, Seamus gripped Matt’s ass and carried him into the bathroom. Matt frowned and glanced out the door, not willing to leave his brother unattended. They never messed around when Aidan was awake. He was too young and taking your eye off a baby for even a second was dangerous. Seamus watched with a smirk as he undressed Matt. Matt’s brain ran a mile-a-minute trying to justify what was about to happen. Which wasn’t much. As much as Seamus wanted to ravage Matt for being sexy and professing his love, they couldn’t leave Aidan. But he could watch Matt shower. Knowing Seamus was watching. Matt played music on his phone and swayed a little as he cleaned himself. By the time he finished, he’d worked Seamus up. The door was cracked enough that Seamus could see into the living room but not enough for Aidan to be scandalized when Matt dropped to his knees and took Seamus in his mouth. Or five minutes later when Seamus came in his mouth. When Seamus tried to reciprocate, Matt declined. “I want to save that for tonight.” Seamus attacked him, shoving him against the wall and kissing him until he couldn’t tell up from down or left from right. Aidan walked in, all innocently curious as to where his people were. He didn’t care that Matt was naked or Seamus’s pants were bulging. He just wanted attention. Seamus begrudgingly let Matt go and picked Aidan up as Matt sauntered to the bedroom. “Your dad is so infuriating.” Matt laughed when he heard Aidan babble something that sounded like agreement. That kid would always side with Seamus. **** “I’ll clean more often if this happens.” It was nearing two in the morning and they’d been in bed since the moment Aidan’s door closed for the night. It wasn’t just sex, though there was plenty of that. It was emotional intimately. A month of stress and being busy had made those moments more fleeting than ever. Seamus nuzzled into Matt’s neck as he ran his hands over Matt’s body. “And I’ll let you clean more if this is what happens.” Matt chuckled and wrapped his arms around Seamus. He could feel his lover's breath against his skin and relished the feeling of fingers grazing his hip. “How did this start?” Matt asked. “How did what start?” “This. Us.” Seamus’s laugh vibrated. “As I recall, me checking out your ass wasn’t enough, so you went to Ironworks looking for more. If you remember, I rescued you, and the rest is history.” Matt laughed. “I guess I should be more specific.” He rolled Seamus on to his back and hovered over him. “Why on earth did you take this on?” Seamus studied Matt as he tried to figure out exactly what Matt was asking. “You did so much more than help me with Aidan. You went above and beyond in a way that borders insane. No person in their right mind would do what you did. So why did you?” Seamus spread his legs and let Matt settle between them. “I admit, I didn’t spend much time at the cafe, Denise does such a good job it wasn’t necessary. She emailed me and asked if I could stop by. It had been a while since we last met. That’s when you and I ran into each other, literally. I swear on all things holy I had never seen someone as hot as you. You had these intense blue eyes and the way you scowled at me made me weak in the knees. It would’ve stopped there, but when I came back to the cafe, you had Aidan. If you were hot before, well, fuck me, I was downright catatonic seeing a baby strapped to you. The more I watched you, the more I saw how amazing you were. You were more than some smoking hot guy. You were hard working and great with people. The way you made your friends laugh and how you smiled without trying made you captivating. When I saw you struggling with Aidan, I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted a tiny reason to be a part of your life. “Then I spent time with Aidan. He filled this whole other part of me. I always wanted to be a dad. It was something I always, always wanted. My parents made it clear it wasn’t a possibility since I was gay. When you have no money, things like adoption and surrogacy are not possible. So, in their head, it really wasn’t an option. Then I met Kelly. He had the means, but not the motivation. Technically, he wanted a family. He actually had things ready to go. He’d created embryos a year before we met. He wanted one kid; a boy, a namesake, an heir. Whatever you want to call it, it broke my heart. I’m glad it never panned out. That poor kid. “Don’t get me wrong, I never thought of Aidan as my mine or anything. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my motivation. But I had given up on that dream and Aidan was a balm on that part of my soul. “Everything snowballed after that. The more time I spent with Aidan, the more I loved him. He was so easy and melded into my life. I wasn’t the only one enamored by him, there’s not a single employee that wouldn’t take a bullet for him. But then I’d come back from spending the day with him to find you being…you. Perfect in every way.” “Yeah right,” Matt scoffed at the compliment. “Hey, don’t be mean to my boyfriend.” “It’s hard. We have very different views of reality. You’re the perfect one.” “I’m glad you see it that way.” “I do.” Matt shifted, he was still between his legs but also laying on Seamus’s chest. “So, you were telling me you came back to find me being all perfect and shit. What happened after that?” Seamus laughed. “Nothing. As much as I liked you, and I was already pretty in love with you, I honestly thought nothing would happen between us. I was just happy that I had somehow manipulated you into letting me be your live-in nanny.” “Oh, I see. I’m on to your evil plan now.” “Yes, well, not so evil. I really just wanted you and Aidan to have whatever you needed and for you to be happy with or without me. Though, you would’ve had a hard time getting rid of me by that point. I wouldn’t have given either of you up without a fight. But it wasn’t until you sat on my lap at the bar that I thought—I wondered, what if things were mutual?” “They were.” “Ehh,” Seamus seesawed his hand. “I’ve always been a few steps ahead, but we’re getting there.” “Where are you now? What do you see for the future?” Matt asked, curious about what Seamus would say. There weren't a lot of steps left. Seamus smiled and shook his head. “No way. I already sound kind of psycho after sharing all that. No need to keep going.” Matt hovered again. “Tell me. Communication is key, remember?” Seamus took a breath. He was a sucker for Matt and couldn’t deny him. “Obviously, I love you and Aidan. You know I want you both back in the loft, permanently.” Matt playfully rolled his eyes. “You may have hinted.” When Seamus said nothing else, Matt pressed. “What else?” Seamus groaned. “You’re going to freak out.” “I’m not going to freak out,” he promised. Seamus fidgeted. “Marriage,” he admitted. “I plan things, in my head, about us being married.” “And?” Seamus groaned and looked away. Matt wouldn’t have that and quickly brought his gaze back. “Adopting Aidan.” Matt said nothing, he let Seamus squirm for a minute. Eventually, Seamus grew tired of the scrutiny and grew a pair of balls. Maybe he realized Matt didn’t think he was crazy. “I want everything with you, okay? I want to get married, I want Aidan, and I want another kid—maybe two, I don’t know,” he said with an exasperated sigh. “I want to work together. I want you to take over Mike’s job at some capacity. The role might look a little different, but I see you there. I haven’t said anything because you’re still in school and I don’t want to completely freak you out, but, yeah.” Seamus finally looked at Matt, then glanced down when he felt Matt hard against his leg. “Are you actually—” he shifted his hips and laughed. “You’re hard right now?” “Sue me for thinking it’s hot that the sexiest guy on the planet can’t get enough of me. It’s good for my ego.” “You’re not freaking out because I’m ten steps ahead of you?” “Nah. There will be times when one of us will need to lead the other. As long as you can be patient and hold my hand along the way, I’m here.” Seamus let out a long, relieved breath and kissed Matt. “I can do that.” **** Matt had to work the day before and the day after Christmas. He didn’t mind. He had gotten a week off for Christmas the previous year and had just taken two weeks off to help Seamus. The least he could do was pull his weight so others could enjoy their holiday. Matt’s dad surprised him by calling and asking if he could come stay a few days. Matt didn’t have an extra room but Seamus did. Which meant they were cleaning the guest room less than twenty-four-hours later. “You know you won the dad lottery, right?” Seamus asked as he whipped the sheet across the bed. “Do I ever.” “I’m serious. I don’t know many parents that do as much as your dad does. Most have to pull teeth to get their parents to babysit, let alone come to them for a holiday.” “My dad is chill like that. Always has been.” “Just as long as you know how lucky you are.” Matt knew exactly how lucky he was but he also knew how quick things could change. He was doing everything in his power to not take it for granted and to cherish the moments they had. When his dad showed up two days before Christmas, he was even more blessed to see the way Brad treated Seamus. Yes, they’d spent time together before, over the summer, but there’s something different about Christmas. It’s a family holiday and Brad treated Seamus the same way he treated Matt. Like a son. None of them were big on gifts, but they each got a little something. Brad bought Seamus and Matt a year’s worth of a monthly charcuterie and wine subscription. Matt thought it was cool but not nearly as cool as Seamus thought it was. Matt wasn’t sure if it was the gift itself or the thought behind it. Either way, Seamus’s reaction made it the best gift ever. Aidan got lots of gifts, none of which he cared too much about. He sure loved the wrapping paper, though. And he loved his grandpa. Aidan’s hardest decision was choosing between the three men who were all hopelessly lost on the little boy. He didn’t even have to make a decision, he just rotated through them to his heart's content before passing out on the sofa, at which point Grandpa carried him to bed. They could still hear Brad’s quiet footfalls when Seamus pushed Matt backward on the sofa and peppered his face with kisses. Matt coughed in surprise when his crotch was squeezed. He expected Seamus to scurry away when they heard Brad coming back from putting Aidan down but that wasn’t the case. Other than letting go of Matt’s dick, Seamus stayed on top of Matt. Matt was nervous as he caught his dad’s eye as he walked by. He had never been this blatantly physical with a boyfriend in front of him before and he wasn’t sure how he’d react. Brad just smiled. Everything Matt needed from his dad was in that smile. It was the smile of a happy dad, a proud dad, a dad that wanted nothing more than a happy son. Seamus tilted his head toward Brad and Brad’s gaze shifted. Matt couldn’t say for sure what passed between the two. Judging by the way Seamus relaxed on top of him, it was good. Brad walked past them. “I’m going to clean the dishes and head to bed. It’s been a long day.” “You’ve done enough, we’ll take care of the dishes,” Seamus said. Brad spun on his heel and went back the way he came, towards Matt’s old room. “I won’t argue with that.” When he was gone, Matt nudged Seamus. “What has gotten into you.” “What?” Seamus smiled, real coy like. “You’ve just been a lot more—” “More what?” Seamus slipped his hand down and squeezed Matt’s ass. Matt laughed. “That’s exactly what you’ve been more of.” “More ass grabbing? Are you complaining?” Seamus shifted again, covering Matt even more, if that was even possible, and making him laugh. “I’m not complaining, not at all. You’ve just been more—” “I’m happy, Matt. That’s all.” “Have you not been happy the whole time we’ve been together?” Seamus looked at Matt seriously. “I’ve been happy since day one, you know that.” “Not like this.” “I can’t remember a time when I was free to say what was on my mind or to do what I wanted to do without repercussion. My parents were never supportive. Not because I was gay. They were just shitty people. And Kelly, well, we clearly had a different view on relationships. Even when things were great between us, it was a thin veil. Telling Kelly the truth was always a recipe for disaster. Even between us. I wasn’t being open with you. I was afraid of saying too much or being too much.” “How would you be too much?” “Too affectionate, too physical, too invested.” Matt laughed loud enough to wake the house. “You definitely should’ve worried about being too physical. You damn near made my dick fall off from all the sex.” Seamus smiled proudly at that. “Well, sex is good with you. It was also the only outlet I had. Guys want sex, I could safely channel everything I felt through sex without raising suspicion.” “I like that you’ve been handsy and kind of insatiable the last few weeks. I know I’ve been shaky in the past, but I want you to feel you can say and do whatever you want.” “I’m still terrified that I’m going to push you too far.” Matt thought about it for a second. “Well, if you tell me the truth and I freak out, or vice versa, and it’s something we can’t work through, then we’re clearly not right for each other. But I don’t think that’s the case.” “Yeah, but I’m ahead of you in every way.” “Ehh, so you got a head start blowing up your party balloon. Doesn’t mean I won’t catch up. Mine is getting bigger by the day.” “Are you saying my party balloon is bigger than yours?” Matt laughed. He really loved the more playful Seamus. “Don’t turn my metaphor into something dirty.” “But I could help you blow your balloon up.” Matt was already hard from Seamus pressing him into the couch. The temptation of a blowjob was not needed. He looked down the hall, then at Seamus. Green light. They scrambled off the sofa. Going straight to bed would’ve been nice, but they had to lock up, and Seamus had to do the dishes, which irritated Matt. “I told your dad we’d do it. If it’s not done in the morning, he’ll suspect.” Matt threw his head back and laughed. “That would imply Dad has no idea what goes on behind closed doors, and that’s just not the case. Now let’s go.” Matt closed the dishwasher and pressed the start button. When they got to the room, Matt stripped, then crawled into bed and leaned against the headboard. He watched Seamus make a show of taking his socks off because, you know, heaven forbid he left them on. A few minutes of riding Matt with his mouth, and then his ass, Seamus grabbed the lube and condom. Matt took the former and made quick work of opening Seamus up. Holding himself with one hand, he guided Seamus’s hips with the other. Seamus jolted when he felt Matt nudging for entrance. Because, holy hell, Matt wasn’t wearing a condom. “Don’t look so shocked. I told you I was a few steps behind, but I’m catching up. I already told you I was in love with you. Now I’m ready for this.” Seamus fisted his nuts. “My balls are tingling and you’re not even inside me yet.” Leaning forward, Matt kissed Seamus then pushed himself inside his lover. “Is this what you want? Just you and me?” “Yeah,” Seamus moaned with his eyes closed. “Yes.” Matt set the pace until Seamus was good and stretched. Seamus took over, rolling his hips in a way that drove Matt crazy. Matt couldn’t do much but sit with his head lulled to the side and try to stop from cumming. Feeling nothing around him but Seamus was a sensation he was not prepared for. It was good. Too good. Then Seamus squeezed his thighs and flipped them over. Matt tried to take it slow—to make it last, but that wasn’t going to happen. Seamus stared at Matt. “You’re going to cum in me, right?” “Yes, god yes. I won’t hold back.” Seamus made Matt ride him hard. “Fuck, that’s good. I want to feel you in me.” That brought Matt closer, and with a few bucks of his hips, he started releasing inside Seamus. It was a forever orgasm, the kind that won’t stop. Seamus kept going, kept moving, drawing every ounce of life from Matt. When he finally finished, Seamus looked as wrecked as Matt felt. “I’ve never not used a condom before,” Seamus admitted. “I can’t say that. But this is the first time I’ve done it and knew it was right.” Seamus used one of their discarded shirts to do a quick cleanup. “Good enough for me.” Once they caught their breath, they found their underwear. They both felt weird with Brad just a few walls away. “You seemed a lot more comfortable around my dad.” A wave of affection rolled off his Seamus. He was positively radiating. Matt didn’t need to see his face to know he was smiling from ear to ear. “When I tell you you’re the whole package, I mean it. You and Aidan are amazing, but when you grow up with very conditional parents like mine, or even Kelly’s, experiencing a parent love you the way Brad does is incredible.” “He is awesome.” “No, awesome isn’t—it’s so much more. There’s no judgement when you and I hold hands or kiss. We don’t have to hide anything when he’s around.” “Is that why you’ve been mauling me in front of him all week?” Seamus laughed. “Kind of. I mean, I had a theory. I needed to test it.” “A theory, huh? What was your theory? That Dad is cool?” “No,” Seamus shook his head then stared at the ceiling. “Erm, it’s stupid.” Matt looked at Seamus. “Tell me.” Seamus slowly looked at Matt with apprehension. “I thought, maybe, that he might love me—the way he loves you.” Matt saw everything clearly. The realisation went straight to his bones, making his blood tingle and his eyes swell with emotion. Seamus was a boy who had never, not once, felt loved by parents. Matt looked up and found Seamus with the same watery eyes. It angered Matt that Seamus was twenty-nine and feeling the love of a parent for the first time. Matt swallowed the lump in his throat. “And does he?” “Yeah, I think he does.” He knew his dad wouldn’t disappoint. Brad would love Seamus to the moon and back. Matt had to admit, his party balloon was gaining momentum at an incredible rate.
    133 points
  2. Four Years Later - Mexico - Annual Bro Trip **** “Dad! Dad! Daaaaaaad!” Aidan shouted from the pool. All the waving and yelling would’ve sent the kid straight to the bottom if Kase wasn’t standing there, making sure he stayed on his back. Aidan wouldn’t stop hollering until Seamus acknowledged him, so Seamus paused his conversation with Will and Scott and waved. It doesn’t matter how many times a parent says ‘can’t you see I’m talking?’. Yes, they can see you. No, they don’t care. At some point it becomes easier to just give the kid what he wants. Seamus grinned at Aidan’s too tight goggles and hilariously adorable nose clip. Could the poor kiddo even breathe? Must have because he smiled just fine, waved enthusiastically, and went back to learning to swim like he hadn’t just made a scene just for a little attention. The proud dad couldn’t help but watch as Aidan mastered his swim skill. The kid was a natural. That wasn’t a statement made lightly or out of bias. Kase, who might have played football in college but he had been swimming competitively since he was eight, agreed. So much so, he was spending his entire vacation in the water with Aidan because he knew Aidan had a gift that needed nurturing. Aidan switched to the front stroke, and Seamus was all but forgotten. He made his way to the other side of the pool where Jay was lounging, waiting for him to return with his refill. “Thanks!” he said as he took his iced coffee and offered his knuckles for a bro tap. “Where’s Matt? I haven’t seen him for a while.” Seamus took a sip of his iced tea and settled into the lounge chair. It was hot. Really hot. Lucky for them it wasn’t too humid, making it the best time of year to vacation. “He’s napping. I imagine he’ll be up soon.” Jay grinned and made some weird grabbing motion with his hands. He looked like a gremlin plotting to steal something valuable. Seamus laughed. “What the fuck are you doing? You look like an idiot.” “I’m getting ready.” “He won’t want to be around you if you’re weird.” “Whatever,” the giant scoffed. “He loves me. I’m his favorite.” “Not in those shorts you’re not.” Jay looked at his neon floral shorts, then at Seamus, totally offended. “These are amazing.” “They’re terrible.” “Loren likes them,” he rationalized. “Loren gets paid to show the world he’s wearing them. Extra points if his famous boyfriend is matchy matchy.” Jay eyed Seamus, then smirked. “You’re jealous.” “Of what?” “Of how cute Loren and I are in our matchy matchy outfits. You want to be matchy matchy with Matt. Don’t deny it.” “Did you call me over here to annoy me? If so, I’ll go back to Will and Scott. They were being nice.” “Don’t be lame. I actually wanted to talk to you about something important.” Jay conveniently paused and took a drink of his iced coffee just to annoy Seamus. But Seamus didn’t give in, which annoyed Jay. “We’ve decided to move here,” he finally said. A bit bummed at that lack of want from his friend. Where was the joy in holding juicy information if the person would not beg? “What! Really?” Seamus couldn’t hold back his grin. “Don’t seem so surprised. With the business getting ready to launch, it was a no brainer. I need to be here. And more than that, I want to be here.” There was nothing but conviction in his voice. He had made up his mind and there was no changing it. “What about Loe? Is he onboard?” Jay’s eyes flashed over to his lover. “Yeah, he sees the advantages. It makes sense from a business perspective.” “And from a personal perspective. Did he turn you down again?” Jay shot him a look that said ‘stop’. Seamus couldn’t let it go. Jay was his best friend. “Is he really so against marriage?” “You’ve seen him turn me down more than once.” “It’s not like you were serious when you asked him.” Jay turned his head and looked at Seamus, one brow reaching the sky. “I’ve been dead serious since day one. You know it, he knows it, everyone knows it.” It was crazy to Seamus. Why would anyone be hesitant when it came to Jay? The guy was the platinum package. Seamus sometimes wondered if Loren was even good enough. Matt seemed to think so, but Seamus wasn’t convinced. “Loe and I talked a lot about the future and what that looks like. It doesn’t involve kids of our own and that was hard for me. It was also a willing sacrifice for the man I love. But I need to be an uncle. I want sleepovers and car rides and ice cream trips. So, as much as moving closer to you is for the business, it’s for me. It’s for us.” “And Loren’s okay with that?” he asked. “I know he was pretty set on staying.” Jay grinned. It was cocky, a little smug, like he had the most desirable secret. “He has a hard time admitting it, but Loren loves being an uncle. He loves being part of a family.” “Why would that be hard to admit?” “Because foster care can mess with a kid. He might not want a kid of his own, but you should see him every time you drop the boys off. He transforms. He wants what I want. He wants nephews to love on. So we’re both putting our houses on market in Washington and looking for something here.” Seamus reached over and squeezed Jay’s hand. His friend had always wanted the American dream with the spouse, the picket fence, and the two-and-a-half kids. Giving up a big part of that had to be devastating, but it was no surprise he’d do it for the man he loved. Truth be told, Seamus couldn’t be happier. He wanted his friend near. And since Matt and Loren had become close friends, the proximity could only enrich their lives. “Well, you won’t find me trying to talk you out of it. We’d love having babysitters that live right down the street.” “Speaking of—” Jay nodded toward the house with a larger-than-life grin. Matt was standing behind the wall-to-floor glass door, holding Carson. The pair had deep creased lines from the hard afternoon nap and were rocking the same not-quite-awake look. Matt caught his eye and smiled. It was lazy and sleepy and did all sorts of things to Seamus’s stomach. Matt pointed to Seamus and said something to Carson. He grabbed the one-year-old’s hand and made him wave at his dad. Having barely been awake for two minutes, Seamus’s little doppelganger couldn’t handle the attention and bashfully burrowed his face into Matt’s chest, making all three men smile. Seamus rubbed his chest. His heart was beating funny as Matt brought their newest addition over. Jay was doing that creepy-gremlin-hand-grabbing thing again. It looked less creepy now that Carson was in view. The way the retired football player looked at his nephew was akin to hero-worship. Strange how roles can change so easily. He couldn’t take his eyes off the tiniest redhead. “C’mere my sleepy tater tot,” he cooed. Like he couldn’t bear to look away, he kept watching the incoming duo as he spoke to Seamus. “I still can’t get over how much he looks like you. It’s freaky. Did you pay extra for a carbon copy?” Seamus laughed. “That’s not how it works, dumbass.” Carson grinned and leaned toward Jay with gusto. The move was so swift that Matt almost lost his grip. Jay lunged forward, just in case. Even though he was safe, Jay still took him. As happy as Carson was to be with his uncle, he had just woken up and was still sleepy and not ready to people. Carson was quick to lay across Jay’s chest and watched everyone. There was certainly plenty to watch. Vacation had transformed drastically over the years. It went from just the boys to a whole out-of-control situation. It started with the addition of Matt and Aidan, then Will's girlfriend. It tumbled downhill after that. They were at the point where they stopped keeping track of how many people were there, but Kase was in the pool with Aidan, Hilary was in the house prepping dinner, Brad was on his third round of volleyball, Jay’s closest friends/teammates were scattered with their kids, and Loren’s friends were milling around with theirs. “If you guys are set, I’m going to sneak off. I need a break,” Matt said. “I’m exhausted.” “You just woke up.” Oh Jay. Seamus leaned back with a grin and sipped his iced tea. He loved his front row tickets to the Jay and Matt show. “Don’t start. Last time you took the boys, you had bags under your eyes that rivaled the Kardashian’s luggage,” Matt deadpanned, trying to drop Jay with a look as well. “Carson was six-weeks old and Aidan had allergies. He was up all night snoring!” Matt made a face, mocking Jay for his line of excuses. Blah blah blah, kids are so hard, blah blah blah. When the two got together, they acted like twelve-year-olds. Seamus lived for it. Carson smiled. The banter was not new. He and Aidan found it funny. Mostly Aidan. He loved it when Matt and Jay battled it out. Since Jay was bickering with Matt, Seamus stole Carson and laid him across his chest. Matt was quick to notice the change and, without breaking from their back-and-forth, rolled the giant umbrella from Jay to Seamus. “Are you serious?” Jay whined. “There’s five other yardbrellas and you steal mine? Right there!” he pointed to an umbrella that sat less than ten feet away. “There’s one right there and you took mine?” “These two are redheads, they obviously need it more than you. Don’t be selfish, Jay. It’s not cute.” “Hello, I’m blonde. Blondes have fair skin. Just ask Shawn. Where’s Shawn?” He looked around for his uber smart teammate that had stats on literally everything. “He’ll back me up.” Matt adjusted the umbrella so Seamus and Carson were protected from the sun. “Sure, some blondes have fair skin but you don’t. Just a fair personality that needs protecting.” Seamus burst out laughing and Jay’s mouth dropped at the betrayal. “What? That was funny.” Jay grumbled his displeasure as he settled back in the chair. Matt kissed Seamus and Carson then left for his alone time. He didn’t go far, just the other side of the pool where Kase would end up when he finished with Aidan. Speaking of, Aidan looked up at that moment and spotted his dad and brother. He was quick to break away from Kase to the pool ladder. He climbed out quickly, water rushing off his shorts and onto the hot concrete. Seamus braced himself for impact. When Aidan came at him, he came hard. No consideration for things like his baby-maker. Heaven forbid they want a third or a fourth down the road. He shifted Carson out of the danger zone. Sure enough, Aidan flew onto Seamus’ lap, making him double over with a loud ‘ooofph’. Carson started whining. Not only had he been jostled from his rest, but his older brother was wet and cold. Not something he wants to deal with after a leisurely afternoon nap. “Hi Brother!” He said with a pinch too much enthusiasm. He wrapped one arm around his little brother and peppered his face with kisses. Aidan had been waiting hours for Carson to wake up. “You want to go swimming with me? I can teach you. I can back swim and hold my bwef!” Aidan kept talking to his brother and touching his face and his cheeks and his nose. Carson’s grumpies instantly disappeared and he smiled and giggled at the affection. Sometimes, Aidan lacked the Midas touch but Carson never seemed to mind, not even when Aidan wanted to carry him around like a sack of potatoes. Where Aidan was in the ninetieth percentile, Carson was in the tenth. The kid was tiny. Perfect life-size toy for Aidan. Will and Scott pulled their chairs over and joined in. They were both married but Seamus was the only one of the board members with kids. It was quiet for a few minutes as the boys settled into a cute snuggle ball as everyone watched with great fondness. Eventually, Will broke the calm silence. “Aren’t you glad you never gave up?” Seamus chuckled to himself as he looked at the mop of wet brown hair and the mop of messy red sleep-toussled hair. Was he glad he hadn’t given up? It wasn’t that he’d given up, he just knew the legal system wasn’t likely to favor him. Not when the Jacobson’s had so much money and clout. It was Matt who pushed the issue. It was Matt who had fought when Seamus wasn’t sure if it was worth it. When things kept dragging on and the first year passed and then the next, and things still were in turmoil, it was Matt who made Seamus want to fight. Was he glad he had Matt by his side? Was he glad he trusted Matt after being burned so hard? Was he glad that Matt knew how to push without making Seamus feel like a failure? “So glad,” he responded. “I still think Mike got off easy,” he said, then growled something that sounded like pansy ass under his breath. Scott shrugged. He wasn’t a lawyer but he worked at a law firm and had helped Matt and Seamus flesh out the options when it was time to discuss the dreaded plea deals. “Here’s the thing, as I’ve told you before, Mike could’ve gotten fifteen years but likely would’ve been out in half that. In the meantime, Seamus wouldn’t have seen much, if any, restitution. Once Mike got out and found a job, not making nearly what he was before because he’s a felon, he’d have his wages garnished and Seamus would get four to six hundred dollars a month if he was lucky. Basically, Seamus would never see the money that was stolen. Especially if Mike decided to file bankruptcy, which is likely. Does it suck that Mike is only serving seven? Yes. But in exchange for a reduced sentence, he had to liquidate literally everything within a year to pay Seamus back.” Will stood up. It was his turn. He carefully snatched Carson from Seamus’s chest then sat back down. Carson was more awake now, sitting up and smiling. “Yeah, but Mike stole over $1 million and Seamus only got back $750,000. That doesn’t seem fair.” “Would you rather Mike be in jail for fifteen but Seamus only gets back $6k a year with the possibility of nothing? Not only that, Mike would never fully be out of his life because the restitution would go on forever? At least Seamus got a bulk of the money back and he doesn’t have to think of Mike again because everything is done.” Jay held out his phone and smiled when Aidan was quick to ditch his dad. “I agree with Scott,” he said as Aidan settled on his lap and effortlessly opened the phone, quickly finding his favorite app. “A perfect situation is one where none of this happened. But it did. I think if you factor in all the outcomes, Seamus came out ahead.” “And if you go one step further,” Scott added. “The $1.1 million that he’s owed, includes what was stolen with the help of Gale and Richard. I think I speak on behalf of every law firm in the country when I say we were shocked when the judge made the Jacobson’s transfer their business and all related assets to Seamus.” “The business was started and funded directly from the money they stole from him. Therefore it should be his,” Will huffed, rather indignantly. Scott lifted his hands to calm his friend. Will had been, by far, the most emotional one during the whole ordeal. He was quick to react and slow to reason. “I don’t disagree. It was just a unique verdict. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a judge make a call like that. And I’m not complaining, it’s in Seamus’s favor. It’s an established business that will grow quickly now that he and Jay have a plan for it.” Gale and Richard used the stolen money to start a wholesale coffee business. The ironic part was, they managed to sell the product back to Seamus. The grounds he used at Coffee|Bar was their product. Only now it was Seamus’s. Well, Seamus, Matt, Jay, and Loren. They were converting the Coffee|Bar into the flagship of what would become a popular coffee house franchise. Loelife Cafe The grand opening was slated in three weeks time and was already generating an insane amount of publicity. It was going to be big. Epic. Seven more locations were already in the planning stages. Some further along than others. With Loren and Jay’s branding fame, Seamus’s business degree, and Matt’s eye for finances, they would be unstoppable. Gale and Richard were sentenced to four years but would probably serve two. Not only had they suffered a public trial where they had to give the business back to the ex-son-in-law that they loathed, but several businesses, including their coveted country club, cut ties with them. Turned out, very few of the elite wanted to rub elbows with sleazy felons. “It turned out the way it turned out,” Seamus finally said. It seemed everyone else had more opinions on the outcome than he did. “All I care about is building something so big that when they get out of jail, they lose sleep knowing that everything I have—everything I built—is a direct result of what they tried to take away.” **** Dinner was a grand affair. A surprise grand affair that had thrown Seamus off guard. He was pretty sure Matt was behind it, but really, it could’ve been anyone. They celebrated their victory over evil and rejoiced that everything was finished. After years, things were finally resolved and moving forward in a big way. Afterward, everyone migrated to the patio. It was late but not dark. Giant tiki torches were stationed around the patio and pool area. Loren set up a large table for drinks which he personally made while his friend filmed. Toffee nugget martini, a peach sour whiskey bomb, and a mexican coffee with a twist. Don’t ask Seamus what the twist was but people were loving it. Maybe it was coconut. That could be good. Aidan was carrying Carson the way a kid carries a cat—seconds from slipping out of his arms. Matt was milling around the group, talking to everyone, smiling. Oh god was he smiling. He had a killer smile that never got boring. Matt was clueless as Seamus watched him; his eyes tracking every move. Matt spotted Aidan holding Carson and quickly made his way over and rescued his youngest. Aidan pouted and followed his dad, stomping. He loved his brother so much it was a problem sometimes. One that had gotten Aidan into a lot of trouble, especially when Carson was much smaller and oh so fragile. Aidan fancied himself a strong and capable brother. Now that everyone had drinks and Loren could relax, Matt was quick to give Loren a gift in return. Carson. The once reluctant-to-hold-babies had really come into his role as an uncle. And thanks to him, the kids were semi famous. They even had their own hashtags #aidopotato and #littlecarsontot because he was their little tater tot. Aidan crossed his arms and hrmp’d when Carson got handed off. “Uncle Lowen! I want to be held too!” And so Loren picked him up. A kid on each hip was a move Seamus was very familiar with. Aiden was almost too big to be carried, but Seamus treasured every strained muscle. Kids grew up too fast. Seamus was happy. Things were good. Great. There was nothing he would change if he could. He had a great husband, two happy kids, a wonderful father-in-law, and the best group of friends anyone could ask for. If only he could freeze time and keep it right where it was. He watched his perfect life. His husband, his kids, his friends. He watched as Aidan ran and jumped into Jay’s arms while Matt bopped Carson’s nose. He and Loren talked for a minute before the pair took the kids and disappeared.Then Matt looked at Seamus and smiled. He crooked his finger, summoning Seamus. The look was one Seamus was familiar with, one he lived for, one that turned his bones to liquid. It absolutely did not matter that he was mid conversation with his friends. He’d been in Mexico for a week, sharing a room with their two kids. Sharing a room. With two kids. His friends would understand. In fact, they’d insist. They’d kick his ass towards his husband in a heartbeat. “What did you do?” Seamus asked as he neared his husband. Matt was grinning. Proud of his handy work. He pulled Seamus away from the group and toward their room. “We have until eight tomorrow morning.” He followed willingly. Eagerly. Excitedly. Hornily. “How’d you convince them?” “Jay needed very little convincing and Loren owes me.” “For what?” Matt looked back and smirked. “You’ll find out.” They might’ve had ten hours to themselves but they undressed like they had ten minutes. Matt whipped Seamus’s shirt off and then pushed his pants down like a man starving. The heat in his eyes set a fire in Seamus. To be needed, wanted, and desired by Matt was an all consuming experience. When he was focused, there was nothing you could do to stop it. Not that Seamus wanted to stop Matt when he was the aggressor. It was hot. Matt shoved him on the bed then quickly undressed. “I know I don’t need to tell you this but I want to give you a courtesy warning. I’m not going to last long. Maybe if you weren’t such a hot dad being all cute with the kids, but you were, and now I need to cum.” The years had definitely softened the fucks given. Not the actual fucking fucks, but the romance leading to the fucking. Matt dropped his clothes and walked to the duffle bag where he packed the lube. He dug through it, mumbling as he went. Seamus laughed. Good thing he didn’t need to be wined and dined...just sixty-nined. Matt stood, victoriously. “Found it!” He hustled back to the bed, tossing the lube and jumping on the bed sideways. Seamus flinched, then sighed, then moaned when Matt took him all the way down. He was good like that. Very generous. When Seamus tried to move Matt’s hips so he could have some of his own, Matt growled. “Don’t do that. I won’t last.” Too bad. Seamus wanted him in his mouth. They had nine hours and fifty-five minutes left. They could cum three times by then. Maybe four. Probaby four. Definitely four. The first round was over embarrassingly fast. But the second round was better. The third round happened at dawn and the last round was at seven thirty-five, leaving them no time to shower before rushing to breakfast. “Fuck, you made me late. I needed to be there five minutes ago. That was the deal. Loe’s gonna be pissed.” Seamus was hot on Matt’s tail, speed walking down the hall and sliding around the corners. “What do you need to do?” he asked. “It’s not like Loren’s not on breakfast duty today.” Seamus knew his husband heard him but was suspiciously quiet in reply. As they neared the dining room, Matt glanced back. It was an apology look. A sorry-not-sorry kind of look. Him and Loren were famous for those. “Go sit with Jay.” There was no point in arguing so he went and found a spot by Jay. He was about to ask Jay if he wanted coffee or something to drink but Loren beat him to it. “Do you want a red velvet latte?” Jay eyed Loren then Seamus. It wasn’t that Loren didn’t do special things for Jay, but the way he was doing it, so publicly, was a little out of character. It was hard to explain. “Do you want one or not?” he asked, not impatiently. Teasingly. There was a regular and ongoing joke between them that started the first day they met. Jay had essentially announced that Loren would marry him. It was just a matter of time. Loren had rolled his eyes, of course. But then Jay was being all sweet and, after bringing him a speciality drink, Loren had looked at Jay with a humorous expression and asked, “Are you proposing to me?” “Are you saying yes?” It was the answer that would become his standard, each and every time this scenario played out. Loren simply shook his head and laughed at the crazy guy he’d just met. And that’s how it went. Here and there, now and again, whenever Jay was especially sweet, Loren would tease him, asking Jay if he was proposing. Jay would ask if Loren was saying yes and Loren would laugh it off. But now the tables were turned and it was Loren who was being ridiculously attentive. To the point where everyone was taking notice. Jay smiled. “Sure, I’d love one.” Loren wasn’t gone for two minutes before he came back with the drink—for which Jay was the one and only recipient. Jay looked at Loe and smirked, enjoying the way their long running joke was now playing out. It was rare, afterall, that the tables turned. He took the drink and eyed it with intent, then at Loren. “Are you proposing to me?” Loren grinned. “Are you saying yes?”
    125 points
  3. Matt moved through the lobby of Seamus’s building with a little extra pep. The remix of early 2000 pop songs was a definite plus. Imagine Vanessa Carlton at a poetry reading where everyone’s on ecstasy. The lobby clerk laughed as Matt shuffled his way across. What could he say? It had been a good week. Scratch that, a good month. He didn’t care how geeky it made him look; he was having so much fun learning the ropes from Roberta. Matt was incredibly nervous the first day. The fear of sounding dumb had stopped him from giving input. Roberta noticed almost immediately and put a stop to it. She was encouraging and gracious and everything a mentor should be. She let Matt shine and allowed him room to prove just how intuitive he was. Matt set his stuff by the front door. Aidan was playing in the living room while Seamus sat at the table with his laptop. That wouldn’t do. “By all means,” Seamus smirked as Matt pushed the laptop out of reach and straddled his lap. Once Matt was comfortable, Seamus rested his hands on Matt’s hips and leaned back in the chair. “You’re happy.” “It was a good day.” “Class was good?” “Yeah.” “Work was good?” “Definitely.” Seamus grinned and his eyes gave away just how happy he was that Matt was enjoying the job. The two men enjoyed a private moment at the kitchen table, smiling and kissing. Matt wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s neck and shifted his hip just, so Seamus knew exactly what would be happening later when Matt was hit in the back by a certain spiky, brown-haired baby raged toddler. “Ow!” Matt threw his hands up. “Oh, c’mon! You need to get over this.” To prove he was an adult and could do what he wanted, Matt kissed Seamus again. Matt’s little stunt didn’t go unpunished. Aidan grabbed a fist of Matt’s side flesh and squeezed. Those little fingers packed some serious PSI. It was the equivalent of a baby alligator bite. “No,” Matt gently slapped his hand away. “That’s owie.” The brothers stared at each other. When neither backed down, Seamus hefted Aidan with one arm until he was at eye level with the adults. “Do you want to go to Grandpa’s house tomorrow? For a long weekend?” The jealous, demon-possessed kid vanished, and the cute blue-eyed boy returned. He was all smiley and wiggly at the mention of his favorite grandpa. As much as Matt wanted to boot Aidan and his jealous ways to the curb, Seamus should’ve asked him first. What if his dad was busy? “I should call Dad before we get Aidan’s hopes up. Or my hopes for that matter,” He whispered. “I already talked to Brad. We’re dropping Potato-for-brains off on the way to the airport.” Aidan giggled when Seamus peppered his cheek with kisses. Matt leaned back and eyed Seamus. “Airport?” “For the playoff game. Brad said he would take Monday and Tuesday off so we could make a weekend out of it.” “What about school? Work?” “You don’t have class on Monday and we’ll make it back in time for your Tuesday class. Your boss is fine with you taking a few days off,” Seamus winked. He was his boss. “And Denise?” “She loves you. You were off the schedule before we finished talking.” Matt rolled with it. He hadn’t had a real getaway since he started at the university. A weekend away was the most exciting thing to happen in over a year. “What game is it anyway? What are they playing off for?” “Where is Jay when you need him?” Seamus looked around the room and laughed. “It’s the game that determines if the Seahawks make it to the Superbowl.” Even Matt knew what the Superbowl was, and he knew that was a big game. “I thought those tickets were hard to get?” “Not when your best friend is Jay Petermeyer.” Matt grabbed his phone and texted Kase right away. As he was texting, Seamus stole one more kiss, inciting an ugly sound from Aidan. “Hey there,” he soothed. “I give you kisses too, see?” Seamus kissed Aidan, then Matt, then Aidan, again. “We share kisses.” Matt had to admit that this was a far better tactic than provoking Aidan, so Matt joined in. He went back and forth a few times, kissing Seamus then Aidan until Aidan was nothing but smiles. “I can’t wait until this jealous phase is over,” Matt mumbled under his breath as he got off Seamus’s lap. **** Kase was good and jealous. Hilary, too. Pretty much everyone was green with envy. Kase was even a little upset. How could Matt, the one person who didn’t care about football, score tickets to a semi big game? Matt almost felt bad about it, but, nah. Jay was his friend by proxy and Matt wanted to support him. Or make fun of him. Both options worked. Matt had never met a famous person, but Jay broke every stereotype. He was hilarious, down to earth, and genuinely humble. Even when he pretended otherwise. When they dropped Aidan off at Brad’s, it was Matt who was feeling anxious about the separation. His anxiousness didn’t go unnoticed and Matt glared at Seamus when he caught him smirking. How rude. “What?” “You’re pouting. You never pout when we drop Aidan off.” “Well, you always pout when we drop him off so I guess we’re even.” “I didn’t say it was a bad thing. It’s cute.” “Why aren’t you freaking out more?” Matt asked. “You always get weird when you’re away from Aidan.” “He’s in good hands.” “He’s always in good hands.” “I know.” “So, what gives?” Seamus looked over at Matt and gave him a gentle smile. “The days aren’t numbered anymore.” “What does that mean?” “Just my own bullshit. I was always worried things might be temporary. That you and Aidan would leave.” “You’re not worried anymore?” Seamus looked at the road. “Nah. You and I are going to spend the weekend together, we’re going to have a great time, we’re going to grab Aidan on the way home, and life will pick up where we left off.” “And Aidan and I won’t disappear?” Seamus intertwined their fingers and shot Matt a look—it would be in their best interest if they didn’t disappear. “Fine.” Matt tried to pout but the corner of his lip curled, giving him away. “We’ll stick around.” His heart beat a little faster. **** Jay had offered to fly them private but the flight was only two hours and it seemed like a waste, so they flew commercial instead. It was Matt’s first time. He’d only ever driven. You’d think he’d be more excited or maybe nervous, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Seamus helped him navigate airport, security, and the terminals. By the time they finished and called for a cab, Matt was ready to do it again. When they got to the small private motel conversion Jay had booked for everyone, Jay was waiting outside like an unsocialized puppy. He was quick to greet his friends with big, welcoming hugs. “Excited about making it to the Rose Bowl?” Matt asked. Jay glared at an overly innocent looking Seamus. “You coached him.” “What? Psff. No.” “I don’t think your boyfriend knows what the Rose Bowl is. I can’t help but think this is a coup against my ego.” Matt’s mouth opened. He was offended. “I happen to know lots about football games. There’s the Tangerine Bowl, Rayon Bowl, La Hacienda Bowl, Aspartame Bowl—” “Aspartame Bowl?” Jay groaned. “I know you’re pulling my leg now. Try Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Sugar. Those are college bowls, anyway. Good God, I need to get out of here.” As punishment for trying to knock Jay down a few pegs, the athlete grabbed one of their bags and tossed it out of reach as he stormed off. Seamus and Matt laughed then grabbed their bags and checked in. The room was nice. It was very California boho, if that was a thing. Either that or the designer was on some serious psychedelics during the remodel. Once they settled, they headed downstairs. Everyone in a large gathering room. There were fifteen people including them. Jay was quick with the introductions. There were the board members—Will, Scott, and Trevor. A few of Jay’s teammates—the famous “Sack Pack”, and the guys they met at a bar back in Seattle. Matt quickly gathered that the sole purpose of the ladder group’s attendance was in hopes to lure Jay’s crush. Matt was so far out of his league. There were caterers, for christ’s sake. This was so not Matt’s life. Social and economic statuses aside, he had to admit; it was pretty cool being part of the elite affair. He didn’t know any of the players so he was far from starstruck, but they seemed nice. A lot like Jay. The more Matt hung around Jay, the more he liked him. He was a seriously cool guy. Pretty funny, too. He had the entire room cracking up. But as dinner drew nearer, his easy demeanor changed slightly. Jay was watching the time more often and glancing at the door. His was still the life of the party but there was another, more subtle, look in his eyes. After dinner when Matt had Jay alone, he called him out. “What’s going on? Are you on drugs or something?” Jay was stunned. “What? No. Why would you ask that?” “You’re acting weird and fidgety.” The blonde tried to release tension by shaking his hands and rolling his neck. When he was good and calm, he pulled Matt to the side. “Loren is coming. I didn’t expect him to, but he did.” “And that’s the guy you like, right?” “Yeah, a lot.” “Have you talked to him yet? Does he know who you are?” “Yes. He knows who I am. In fact, he knows where I stand.” “So, what’s the problem?” “I don’t know where he stands.” “Have you asked him?” “Very directly.” “And?” Matt pressed. “I have no answers. He’s a very complex man.” Matt was about to respond when someone mentioned that Loren’s car had arrived. Corey was heading toward the door to greet his best friend. He never stood a chance against Jay, a guy who spent his life chasing men on a professional level. Everything happened in slow motion. Jay was off. His feelings were the football, Loe was the end field, and everyone in the room were his enemies. He darted left, faked right, then spun around some guy who had no clue what was happening, and sprinted to the door. Just as Corey was about to exit, Jay slipped in front of him, vicariously beating him out the door. Loren’s best friend stood frozen. He slowly turned and smirked at his friends, who were quick to laugh. Jay’s action hadn’t phased them. If anything, they’d been waiting for it. Matt made his way to Seamus as he watched Jay make his way across the room in a very over-the-top manner. “What just happened?” “I don’t know.” Seamus laughed. “I’ve never seen him act like that before. Don’t get me wrong, Jay’s outgoing and goes after what he wants, but not like that.” “You’ve never done anything like that to me,” Matt frowned playfully as Seamus rolled his eyes and wrapped his arms around Matt. “No, I can’t say I went Heisman on a room full of people but I did drop everything to be your nanny. I think that counts for something.” Matt bit his lip and smiled. Yeah, that counted for something. They were still wrapped up in each other when Loren walked in with Jay trailing behind, a bag in each hand. Matt’s jaw dropped. Jay hadn’t talked about Loren much but he’d left out one enormous piece of information. His crush was Loren Patrick. As in, livingtheloelife’s Loren Patrick. One of the few social media influencers that he actually followed. Good for Jay. He really knew how to pick ‘em. Loe was hot on social media. In fact, he had a couple of black and white photos that could boil blood. Between filters and preferable angles, real life never held up. Wasn’t that the point of social media? Making life seem better than it really was? Except in Loren’s case. He hotter in person, like, tenfold. He was also shorter. Matt had assumed he was at least six-foot when actually he was maybe five-seven. Regardless, the guy was a work of art. He was everything Matt expected and more. Matt shamelessly but discreetly snapped a photo and shot it off to his friends. They would never believe it. ‘Seriously? First Jay and now livingtheloelive? You undeserving prick.’ Kase responded. ‘That man is fine as hell. Send shirtless pic. Please and thank you’. ‘Nooooo, I see enough shirtless men online!’ Kase cried. ‘Get him to make you a drink or better yet, name a drink after you!’ ‘yasssssssssss’ Between those two, his phone was blowing up all night. Despite their nonstop messaging, Matt ignored them during dinner. Mostly because he got seated next to the mega manfluencer himself. He didn’t try. He sat down next to Seamus and bam, Loren sat down on his other side. Matt was nervous the whole time and struggled to come out of his shell. Everyone was older and had their life together. He was in a room of professional athletes, business owners, and influencers. It was hard not to compare. Food could cure all. He didn’t know what he was eating, but it was delicious. By the time his belly was full, he was talking and laughing with everyone like they were old friends. The whole evening Seamus kept one hand on Matt; his knee, his thigh, his back. It was incredibly comforting. Every time Matt looked at Seamus, he was greeted with the kindest, most admiring smile in return. It was the first time Matt had ever been to a party with a boyfriend and not felt insecure. Seamus made Matt feel so loved. You’d think being in a room with famous players and hunky men, Matt would’ve been distracted. He wasn’t. Seamus was far and beyond the hottest guy in the room, not to mention the humblest. Catching Seamus looking at him—the way he slyly smiled when no one was looking and how he pulled Matt away from Corey and his crew because he was tired of sharing—those little things made his chest swell. They stood in the bathroom, brushing their teeth. The night had been a total success and Matt could barely contain his smile. “Did you have fun?” Matt looked at Seamus through the reflection in the mirror. “I sat by Loren Patrick at dinner. Yeah, I had a great time.” “You know who else you sat by at dinner? Me. But I guess that’s not nearly as exciting.” Matt grabbed Seamus’s hand and pressed it to his crotch. “I find you plenty exciting.” “Prove it.” He did. Twice. **** As cute as the hotel was, the walls were thin. Matt and Seamus woke as the players got ready for the day. They had to leave early for practice or meeting or something. Sport routines were foreign to Matt. Who knew or cared what they did? Once they left, it was quiet again. It wasn’t until they headed for breakfast that they heard chatter. Seamus’s friends were sitting at a large round table, waiting patiently, whispering amongst themselves. Never in a million years would Matt’s friends back home have waited. They would’ve been on their second helping. Hell, they wouldn’t have waited for the Queen herself. The guys even stood when Matt and Seamus neared and greeted them as if they hadn’t spent the entire evening together. At best, Matt’s friends would’ve given a nod as they stuffed their face. It was a glaring contrast of community, respect, and maturity. It said a lot about closeness Seamus and his friends had and why they were so well respected. When you radiate respect, you earn respect. It’s an Alpha thing. It was hard not to be jealous about the endearingly wholesome connection. Matt would probably never have this with his friends back home. Maybe Kase and Hilary, but not with his friends from high school. “Fuck.” Will grabbed a plate for breakfast. “Did you guys sleep as good last night or what? Those mattresses are something else.” Seamus nodded. “Best night sleep in a while. Helps when you don’t have a toddler coming in at all hours.” “Isn’t that what cribs are for?” “Not when your kid is Houdini.” Everyone laughed and slapped his back with sympathy. Matt’s chest felt tightened as Seamus so effortlessly claimed Aidan as his own. Seamus loved that kid, no two ways about it. Matt knew it and so did everyone else. They finished loading their plates and made their way back to the table just as Loe and his friends came in and claimed the table next to theirs. Conversation stretched between the two groups. Every single one of them was out going, even Seamus was louder and more vocal than normal. Somewhere between conversations, Will looked at Matt and his face softened. “We never congratulated you for your badassary.” “For what?” “For being all Super Spy Accountant.” Matt blushed. “Well, it wasn’t that big of a deal.” The group scoffed. They’d known for a while that Seamus suspected something was going down. They’d pushed him to investigate time and time again and argued when Seamus continued to do nothing. They were also glad to see the issue coming to head and they praised Matt for his part. The other table joined in. In fact, Loe offered to make some celebratory drinks. There really wasn’t a way to play it cool but Matt thought he managed well enough. One of Loe’s friends filmed the whole thing. Matt was content. It was nuts. They made Matt stand there while Loren talked about the drink, a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie mocha. Matt was drooling. How could he have known it would be Matt’s favorite? They had to do a couple of takes because Matt wasn’t ‘camera friendly’. Which was code for awkward. They wanted him to interact more and stand like a statue less. After the fifth coaching run, Matt felt like he was getting the hang of it. He was nowhere near as comfortable in front of the camera as some of the others, but he wasn’t a scared rabbit anymore. Heck, maybe he had a future in the biz. Nah. He almost texted his friends but decided against it. Having them find out on their own would be far more satisfying. Having livingtheloelife make him a drink that would be shared with millions of followers wasn’t even the best part of the day. After breakfast they hung out by the pool until Jay and the other players got back. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the day, it was just, good. The best part, of course, was Seamus. The man totally shined with his friends. They brought out a different—and absolutely wonderful side that Matt wished he saw more of. Seamus was outgoing; singing, joking, dancing with his friends around the pool. Seamus even had his phone out and was taking pictures and videos then uploading it on his Instagram. Heck, he even willingly let himself get roped into doing some Tik Tok videos. Matt sat on the lawn chair and watched with tears rolling down his face as Seamus tried—and failed miserably—to follow the dance montage. Everyone teased him relentlessly but Seamus took it in stride. He just laughed and tried again. Well, the literal best part was when Matt got up from the lawn chair, casually strolled across the pool to where they were struggling with the dance routine, and nailed it on the first try. He left the group stunned. But seriously, watching Seamus in his element made Matt warm and mushy inside—and a little hard on the outside. As they went to bed that night, Seamus had a new energy. Matt promised himself that he’d do whatever it took to make sure his boyfriend had that energy, that spark, more often. A lot more often. **** The next day was the big game. Matt expected Jay and his friends to be gone before they got up. It seemed logical that they needed to be at the field before dawn to get ready. That wasn’t the case. Jay and the Sack Pack stayed at the hotel until an hour and a half before the game. They spent the morning together. Matt was getting to know everyone and genuinely enjoying their company. Loe made coffees for everyone. Once again filming. He had the players on camera this time. They did a better job than Matt did. They knew how to interact with Loe and make it a fun segment. They really hammed it up on camera, especially Jay—who flirted a little without being too obvious. Both were open about their sexuality and the speculation would probably drive-up viewership. How Loe felt about the flirting would forever be unknown. He showed no reaction whatsoever. The lack of interest didn’t go unnoticed. Jay walked it off the best he could, but he was a bit sullen the rest of the day. They lounged around and bullshited until the players left, then got ready themselves. It was Seahawk merch from head to toe. Matt wore whatever he was given, courtesy of Jay. Then they took a car service to the stadium, also courtesy of Jay. No tailgating for them, but who needed that when you were bunking with the players? The whole weekend was better than tailgating. Matt assumed. Walking through the halls of the stadium was like trying to claw your way out of a sardine can. It was packed. The energy was so alive the walls were vibrating. Matt never experienced anything like it. They had a block of seating. Matt started out sitting between Seamus and Will but that didn’t last long as people mingled around. After the halftime show, which left Matt smiling, Loe plopped down next to him. Neither of them was diehard sport fans, so they easily shared their common disinterest. “What’s the story with you and him,” Loe pointed at Seamus. “Who, by the way, is really fucking hot. Did I mention before how cute he was?” Matt smiled proudly. Loe wasn’t wrong, Seamus was damn hot. But at the game? Whoa. He was hotter than ever with his football jersey and backwards hat that covered his little-too-long hair that curled under the bottom—he was a walking jock wet dream if Matt ever had one. The only thing that looked better on the guy than the jock look was being happy. And damn was he happy. “When my mom and her boyfriend died unexpectedly, I ended up with my three-month-old brother. I was drowning trying to raise him, going to school full time, and working. Seamus kind of swooped in and saved the day. He was my super nanny.” “Where the hell did you find a nanny like that? Nanny.com? Because damn, he can nanny for me anytime.” Matt laughed. “God, no. He’s actually my boss. Well, my boss’s boss. He owns the cafe I work at. My friend, Kase, dubbed him Boss Nanny.” Matt looked at Seamus in the distance with pure affection. “I didn’t like him much when we first met, but I was desperate for help so I let it slide when he stole Aidan while I was working. Then he was just, there, all the time, watching Aidan so I could work and study and whatever else I needed to get done.” “How’d you get from that to dating?” Matt thought back. “It was all Seamus. I had a crush on him. I mean, duh. But he was so far out of my league that it never crossed my mind that he might be interested. Looking back, there were signs. I mean, he watched Aidan all the time and even asked us to move in. My rational brain couldn’t see it, though. Seamus got tired of beating around the bush and told me what was up.” Matt laughed as he recalled the memory. “He came to the club I was at and dragged me back to the loft.” Loe tossed his head back and laughed. “Oh man, I believe it. He’s got this super possessive way about him when he watches you. It’s not the crazy-psycho look some guys have, it’s sweeter, but terrifying nonetheless. He’s had me inching away from you more than once.” Matt’s jaw dropped as he looked at Loe like he was crazy. “Seamus? No way. I’ve seen him look at me. He’s definitely sweet on me but not possessive.” “That’s because when you look at him, he gets this dopey-melty look, like he’s staring at a winning lottery ticket.” Matt laughed again. Loe was being absurd. Completely ridiculous. Matt reached across the table and took the beer from his hand. “I think you’ve had enough. You’re seeing things that aren’t there.” Loe snatched his beer back. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’d kill for someone to look at me the way he looks at you, both possessively and like the winning lottery ticket.” Jay did nothing but look and act like Loe was his lottery ticket. He waited on the guy hand and foot and almost never took his eyes off him. Loe was a smart guy. There was no way Loe didn’t know. “Seriously?” The manfluencer sipped his beer. Behind his non-existent interest in the game, there was a sliver of longing. Barely noticeable, but there. He shrugged. “Maybe one day.” “What about Jay? Loe’s eyes flickered. “What about Jay?” “Oh,” Matt rolled his eyes. “Don’t play stupid. He likes you. He waits on you and looks at you like you’re the winning lottery ticket you so desperately want to be.” Loe glanced at the jumbotron just as Jay’s play was being highlighted in the replay. “He wants someone who can dedicate more time to him. I’m too busy. I can’t drop my life for him.” “He said he wants someone who is willing to dedicate all their time to him?” Matt was confused, this didn’t sound like Jay at all. “No, but someone of his magnitude needs someone like that and I’m not that person.” “By that logic, I wouldn’t be with Seamus. I get where you’re coming from, though. I felt that way about Seamus. I convinced myself I knew what he wanted or what was best for him. I have a list of reasons why it would never be. A word of advice? Don’t be me.” Loe smiled and sipped his beer but didn’t say anything else. The game passed in a blink of beers and cheers. They were still sitting there, talking about high school and how their similar experiences when they noticed everyone was packing up. Matt looked at Seamus, making the hot jock chuckle at his total cluelessness. “Hawks won,” Seamus teased. “Oh cool.” Scott and Will burst into laughter. “Please, please say it just like that to Jay. And make sure we’re there to watch it,” Scott mocked Matt’s unimpressed tone. “You won the playoff game and now you’re off to the Superbowl? Oh cool.” The teasing never relented. Not when they packed their stuff, or when they were shuffled like cattle out of the stadium, not even in the car. All the while, Matt sat in the back, smiling. **** The after party was at a local sports bar. It was a tight fit and Jay and his friends weren’t even there yet. When they arrived, it was the entrance of kings. The four guys came in with their hands in the air as the bar roared. The noise was deafening yet exhilarating. Matt loved it. They didn’t have the hometown advantage but they still got nothing but love. At the end of the day, it was about the sport and they were surrounded by good old fashion fans who were excited to be in the same place as the team heading for the Superbowl. As a non-sports fan, Matt’s only exposure to post game parties were the tabloid covers he saw near the check-out line. He expected the night to be a total circus but it turned out that famous people had parties that didn’t involve lines of paparazzi or fans throwing themselves at them. They were just normal people celebrating a job well done. Matt drank a little but not enough to make a foolery of himself. He watched with fascination as fans congratulated the players and got pictures. Some were even bold enough to stay for a drink. After Loe’s comment about wanting to be looked at the way Seamus looked at Matt, Matt paid extra close attention. Poor Jay. Discreet wasn’t in his nature. He was bold in his affections and wasn’t shy about making himself known. Still, Loren pretended not to notice. Matt watched the dejection build as the night wore on. Jay made sure Loren always had a drink, food, whatever he wanted. Still, nothing. As the night wore on, Jay gave Loe the space he seemed to want and sulked off. Matt knew differently and catching Loe as he watched Jay laugh with a couple of fans only confirmed it. After spending the entire weekend ignoring Jay, Loren was jealous. Matt slipped out from under Seamus’s arm and pointed at Mr. Brooding. “I’m just going to see what he’s up to. I’ll be back.” Loe was sitting at a pub table, alone. Matt slipped in and waited. Loe frowned. “What?” “What’s your deal?” “My deal?” “Jay.” Loe straightened and tried hard not to glance at said person. “What about Jay?” he asked innocently. Matt scoffed. “Let’s skip the bullshit and tell me why you’re still playing games. You spent all night ignoring him and now you look like a beaten puppy because he gave up.” They looked across the bar. Jay was with two guys, both sporting lime green and blue jerseys and were happy as hell to have Jay’s attention. There were definite vibes happening. The two guys were interested in more than just an autograph. “Looks like he moved on just fine.” It was a lie. The vibes were mostly from the two fans. But Matt played along. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Loe said nothing, just sipped his beer and tried not to watch Jay. Matt sighed. When the dust settled, Loe was just a normal guy fighting the same demons as any other person. He was just as prone to making stupid, self-sabotaging choices. “You don’t get to sit here and pout. He won a big game tonight and was thirsty for a little acknowledgement. All you had to do was congratulate him and tell him he played well. Instead, those two cleat chasers are doing it.” Loe looked absently ahead as he slowly spun his glass around in his hand. “There will be cleat chasers at every single game.” Matt nodded. Yeah, there probably would be. “That doesn’t mean anything.” “I know what goes on behind the scenes. I’ve heard enough stories to know that being in a relationship doesn’t mean anything.” “Then they’re in the wrong relationships.” “Maybe…” Matt waited for more but it was clear Loe was done talking. After a while, he snapped out of his mood and was laughing freely. Matt leaned across the table, showing Loe the scar he’d gotten on his wrist when he was twelve. He’d twisted a rope around his wrist and propelled off the roof of the house. Loe turned Matt’s wrist over and looked at the damage. “That’s impressive. Besides a scar, how’d it end?” Matt rotated his wrists. “Good. I mean, the goal was to land on the ground, and that’s where I ended.” Loe laughed, then something caught his eye and his smile faded. He dropped Matt’s arm like a hot potato and leaned back in his chair. “I’m too young to die.” “What?” “Your boyfriend. You should move away, like, across the room.” Seamus was watching them. He didn’t look angry, if anything, his eyes were heated. Matt was getting lucky tonight. Loren threw his hands in the air. “Oh sure, the second you look at him he gets all gooey eyed. I swear he was just shooting daggers at me.” Matt held Seamus’s eye for a moment longer. He saw nothing but love. “I think you’re seeing things. He’s not like that.” Oh. He was like that. Loe decided to prove it by closing the distance once again. A minute later Seamus was there, pulling him away. They stopped in the middle of the crowded dance floor and Seamus pressed his chest to Matt’s. It wasn’t club music, just everyday stuff from the radio, but it was perfect. When Seamus looked at him with those deep brown eyes, it didn’t matter that they were in some random bar filled to the brim with people they didn’t know. Matt shifted his hips. “What are you doing?” “Dancing,” he teased. Seamus reacted by tightening his arm so Matt felt every inch of him. Matt stared at Seamus. “You’re kind of hot tonight. The jersey. The hat. You got this varsity jock thing happening.” “Yeah?” Matt pressed his hips against Seamus. “Hell yeah.” Matt ordered a car from his phone and they left without looking back. The hotel wasn’t far but it was completely empty. Seamus was a few paces ahead of Matt and sporting a new swagger. When the door shut behind them, Seamus stalked Matt like a predator does prey; slow and knowingly. Being hunted was kind of fun. Seamus stalked him like a jock in his jersey and backwards cap. When he had Matt backed against the bed, he ran the back of his fingers across his jaw and over his lips—parting his mouth. Seamus leaned in like he was going to kiss him but continued to his ear instead. “You’re going to suck my dick, aren’t you?” Hell yes he was, it was all Matt could think about. He dropped to his knees. Seamus towered over him as he unbuttoned his pants. His cock was hard. “Open those pretty lips.” Licking his lips, Matt did as was asked and Seamus guided his cock across Matt’s tongue. Precum exploded against his taste buds and made him want so much more. He let Seamus tease for a while, then he took over. This was his feast. The only thing that mattered, that existed in that moment, was rocking Seamus’s world. Seamus was close. It was in his taut muscles and the way his dick twitched. He could feel the cum boiling, ready to explode. Matt pulled off because he wanted more than a blow job. He didn’t bottom often; he had a feeling tonight would be different. It was. Seamus hauled him up and tossed him on the bed. Matt got flipped on his stomach and his pants ripped from his body. Fuck, Matt’s heart was beating out of his chest. Seamus was on him, breathing against his ear, lubed fingers pressed between his ass; telling him exactly what was to happen. “Do you want this?” Matt gripped the sheets. “Fuck. Yes.” Seamus sucked on his ear and breached him. First with one finger, then two, then who knows. Matt wasn’t counting. “I’m going to fuck you so hard.” “Yesss,” Matt moaned. Seamus shoved his pants down enough to free himself, then mounted Matt. He couldn’t wait another second. He slowly pressed forward, then backed out, then forward again. He barely gave Matt time to adjust before he slid all the way in. Matt was close to ripping a hole in the sheets, he was so horny. Seamus was lighting his fire. He couldn’t get enough. “Harder,” he begged. “I want it.” “Like this?” Seamus fucked him so hard he pushed him across the bed but hit all the right spots. Fuck Seamus. How dare he be greedy? Matt wanted to feel like this more. Seamus leaned down. “You need to touch yourself, now.” Matt braced himself on one elbow and used the other hand to touch himself. A few tugs and he felt the pulling of his balls. “I’m close,” he told Seamus. “Keep going just like that. Yeah, fuck.” Matt arched his back and let the simulation drive him over the edge. It came in an intense flood that made him scream like a dying man. Seamus collapsed on the bed, pressing Matt into the mattress, his dick still lodged in Matt’s ass. “Holy shit,” Matt said. “Intense.” Once their breathing slowed, Matt shoved Seamus off him. Matt looked at Seamus, who was still fully dressed, and laughed. Seamus’s smile was lazy and sated. “I got my dick out. That’s all that matters.” He reached out and ran his fingers over the hat. “This is hot. I love that you fucked me with your hat on.” Seamus grabbed Matt’s hand. “I love you.” Warmth bloomed in Matt’s chest but before he could return the sentiment. Then he felt it and bounced off the bed and ran to the bathroom. He hadn’t planned on taking Seamus, so there had been no prep. Matt let his body do its thing, then cleaned up and went back to bed. Seamus was naked and barely awake. “Better?” he asked. “A heads up would’ve been helpful. I could’ve saved myself a mess.” “Couldn’t have known,” Seamus mumbled. Matt watched Seamus fall out of consciousness. He never met no one like him. He definitely never dated anyone like him. No one could convince Matt that Seamus wasn’t out of his league. No way. Facts were facts. The cards were on the table. But if Seamus couldn’t see it, then who was Matt to argue? Matt held the ace of spades. **** He woke to a pair of soft brown eyes and those eyes definitely deserved a kiss. “Fuck,” he moaned as he tried to move. His ass was sore as hell. “How do you do this all the time?” Seamus chuckled. “It’s not that bad. You’re being dramatic.” He wasn’t. He’d been railed last night and there was no walking to breakfast without the entire room knowing. “I’m paralyzed.” Seamus laughed louder and gripped Matt’s morning wood. “Does that mean there’s no round two this morning?” “You’re delusional if you think you’re getting anywhere near my ass this morning.” Seamus rolled on top of Matt and straddled his hips. “What about the other way around? Or are you too sore for that?” Matt did a practice thrust and could feel every movement in his ass. “Maybe if you do all the work.” That wouldn’t be a problem. **** Matt still walked into breakfast like a cowboy after a long ride. Besides Jay and Loe, who gave him knowing looks, no one else noticed. Straight guys never picked up on these tells. Plus, most of the guys drank too much the night before and were trying to regain some semblance of life before flying out that evening. There were no videos, no dancing, no Tik Tok videos. Just lounging, light laughing, and storytelling. After lunch, Matt and Seamus packed their bags and left with little fanfare. Now that he knew everyone, he was bummed he wasn’t flying on a private plane with everyone else. Mostly, he wanted to get to Aidan. **** Aidan was at the windowsill with both hands against the glass. His smile went as big as Texas when he spotted them. Even from a distance you could tell he was bursting with joyish energy. Aidan climbed down from the window and was stomping around in excitement when they came through the door. Seamus was there first to swoop him up, but Matt was quick to steal him away. Aidan had a lot to say as they loaded him into the car. Seamus looked across the console and smiled. It was a this-is-better-than-any-vacation smile and Matt couldn’t help but agree.
    124 points
  4. The rain beat brutally against the windows as it fell in sheets from the dark and dreary morning sky. As much as Matt wanted to go back to sleep, curled against his warm and toasty boyfriend, he needed to get up. Seamus always beat him out of bed and Matt was determined to even the playing field. Sliding out of bed like melted butter, Matt carefully grabbed the monitor and left the room. Since they didn’t get everything cleaned before bed last night, he finished tidying the house while the coffee brewed. Social media wasn’t the end all be all. Matt had the usual platforms but wasn’t active. He was more of a creeper, occasionally jumping on when he was bored. The last time he posted was when he graduated high school. Kase and Hilary had turned him on to a few interesting pages and now he found himself online more often. One of those pages was livingtheloelife. Loe was this insanely hot guy who was capable of everything. He worked on his van, cooked gourmet meals, traveled, worked out, rock climbed, renovated his house, and so much more. He even had a weekly segment called homebody baristo where he made drinks at home. It was so popular that Kase and Hilary had talked Denise into incorporating it as their weekly special. Loelife’s Drink of the Week was always a hit at the cafe. Turns out that a smoking hot guy in his mid-twenties who did everything had a cult following in the 18-22 college age range. Who knew? Matt was watching Loe when Brad padded down the hall and straight to the kitchen. When he finished preparing his coffee in silence, he sat next to Matt and peered over his shoulder. “What is that?” “Dr. Pepper, coconut creamer, and a splash of lime juice over ice.” “That can’t be good.” “He knows what he’s doing.” Brad looked at Matt unbelievingly. Surely, there was no way that drink was good. Matt simply shrugged. To each their own. They sat in silence, enjoying the dark morning and darker coffee. “What time are you heading home?” Matt asked. “I’ll stick around for lunch and then take off.” Matt frowned. “I have to work at eleven.” “Oh, well then, I can leave whenever.” Remembering last night's conversation, Matt decided that lunch didn’t have to be a bust. “You should see if Seamus and Aidan want to have lunch. Maybe Seamus can take you to Cavalier’s.” Brad thought about it as he sipped his coffee. “I think I’d enjoy that.” “Yes, definitely,” Matt said with a little too much excitement. “You should definitely ask Seamus to lunch.” Brad looked at his son from the corner of his eye. “Okay...” “Good, good.” He wanted to tell his dad everything, that way Brad could act accordingly. If Brad knew all about Seamus’s shitty parents, his dad would definitely step up. But more than anything, Matt wanted their relationship to be organic. The thought of his dad and his boyfriend bonding had him smiling so wide he couldn’t drink his coffee. The sudden good mood didn’t escape Brad. He brought the coffee to his lips and smiled. He didn’t need to press. His son was happy and that was all he cared about. It wasn’t long before they saw the monitor light up as Aidan rustled around. Brad set his cup down to go get his grandson, but Matt put his hand out. “Wait until he’s ready.” They listened as Aidan became more and more active and vocal. Then there was grunting. What was Aidan up to? Turns out he was up to no good. There was a weird noise coming from Aidan’s room. It took a second for them to realize it was the door knob jiggling… “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Matt jumped up and went straight for Aidan’s room. Knowing there was a chance Aidan was standing behind the door, Matt opened it slowly. Sure enough, there stood a little crazy haired, sleepy face boy with a larger-than-life smile. Matt picked Aidan up. “What did you do?!” Making Brad laugh from the sofa. “This isn’t funny,” Matt shouted. “It’s a little funny.” “He just escaped from his crib!” Brad laughed again and tried to high-five Aidan but Matt twirled the little guy out of reach. Aidan thought it was funny and started giggling. Matt glared at his dad. “Don’t encourage him.” “Oh, calm down. You weren’t even a year when you crawled out of your crib for the first time. It’s a rite of passage.” Matt changed Aidan’s soggy diaper and lectured him on all the reasons he shouldn’t be getting out of his crib. Aidan didn’t pay him any mind, which made Grandpa laugh even more. Then Seamus came out of the bedroom, looking like needed another thirty minutes. Too bad, this was Matt’s chance. He needed an ally. “Aidan crawled out of his crib this morning. Dad thinks it’s funny but it’s not. Right? Tell them it’s not funny.” Seamus gave Matt a sleepy smile then stole Aidan on his way to the kitchen. After giving him a couple morning kisses, he started quizzing the little guy. “Did you get out of your crib this morning? (baby babble) Yeah? Why didn’t you ask for help? (baby babble) No, for sure, I get it. You’re right, you are a big boy.” Grrr. Matt sat at the table and drilled holes in the back of Seamus’s head. Aidan continued to talk back like it was the most serious conversation. All the while, Brad hid his smile behind his mug. Once he and Aidan were situated at the table, Seamus continued. “I don’t think your dad is thrilled about it but I’ll talk to him.” He looked sympathetically at Matt. “Aidan said he’ll try and wait for us in the mornings, but he can’t make any promises. He’s eighteen months now and feels he’s entitled to a little independence.” Matt stood up and pointed his finger at three generations of traitors. “I will not stand for this.” He snatched Aidan from the table and marched him back to his room, where he plopped him back in the crib. “You will sit here and think about what you’ve done.” Aidan smiled brightly and his eyes twinkled as Matt tried to punish him. Matt made sure to leave the door cracked. A minute later Aidan came walking out of the bedroom with a smile on his face and his hands in the air. Ta da! Brad and Seamus cheered him on while Matt threw his hands in the air. “I don’t have time for this kind of treason.” Matt tickled Aidan’s belly to let him know there were no hard feelings. Of course Matt loved him to the moon and back. It was just hard to accept that yesterday Aidan was a tiny baby who didn’t have a personality and now he was walking, kind of talking, showing off, laughing, and seeking reactions from the group. He was full of life in a way that took Matt by surprise. He loved it. He loved Aidan. When Matt returned from getting dressed and ready for work, Seamus and Brad were smirking at him. “I’m not talking to either of you.” Matt said as he gave them the cold shoulder. He heard some whispering, little footfalls, then a tug on his pants. Aidan wanted uppy. Matt could do nothing but caved to those blue eyes. He hefted him up and kissed his cheek. “Why are you growing up so fast?” Aidan looked at him with big blue eyes. “I know, I just wish you could stay small.” Aidan smiled and gave Matt a big, sloppy open mouth kiss. “You could at least humor me so I’m not so sad.” Aidan gibbered away, then leaned his head on Matt’s shoulder, making him melt right there. Brad and Seamus melted, too. Matt squeezed his lil brother in a big bear hug, then joined the others at the table. With Aidan’s big boy grievances forgiven, they drank coffee and talked until Matt had to go to work. Matt tried to catch his dad’s eye. He wanted to remind him about lunch with Seamus. As it was, the two were too busy chatting to notice Matt. Hell, Seamus barely looked up when Matt kissed his head before leaving for work. If he was going to be ignored, this was the best reason why. **** Kase and Hilary were at the cafe when he got there. He waved as he headed to the back to drop off his stuff. When he came back, Matt was still trying his apron when Kase handed him an iced drink. “This week's special.” Matt eyed the drink, slowly swirling it. The coconut cream slowly sank into the soda, mixing itself together. He took a sip and let the flavor sit on his tongue. It was surprisingly delicious. “Wow, that’s good. I wasn’t sure when I saw it this morning, but yeah, I’d drink this.” Hilary closed her eyes and inhaled as she enjoyed every drop of hers. “The man can’t mess up. He’s literal perfection.” Kase stared at her with one brow raised. “He’s also gay.” “So?” “So? What? Your perfect man is gay?” “I didn’t say he was my perfect man. I said he was the perfect man. Even you have a crush on him.” “It’s not a crush,” Kase denied, sticking his tongue out and glaring at his coworker. “Haven’t you seen him rock climb? He’s a beast.” “I’ve seen him rock climb, clean his house, work on his truck, go shopping, cook full on adulting meals, make cocktails, go swimming, workout—” Hilary listed. “My point exactly.” They spent a good portion of the morning discussing livingtheloelife, his trailer renovation, and a few other notable projects he’d done in the past. When they finished discussing Mr. Perfect, Matt asked what they were planning on doing after graduation. Kase and Hilary were both business majors. Hilary wanted to be a CEO and Kase was using it as a fall back to his architecture degree. “It’s really sneaking up on us now, are you guys nervous?” Kase shook his head. “Nah. I’m going to work with my dad. The plan was always for me to join after college and he has a good thing going.” It was Hilary’s turn. “They offered me a paid internship with Georgia-Pacific. I’m nervous about moving to Atlanta, but I think it will be a good starting point.” “Atlanta?” Matt asked with a frown. “That’s far away.” She agreed. “I know. I’ve never been that far from home and I’d have no friends, but hey, you gotta grow up, you know? At least you’ll have a reason to visit.” “What about you?” Kase asked Matt. “What are you going to do?” He shrugged as if this wasn’t a big deal and he hadn’t been thinking about it lately. “Seamus mentioned he might have a job for me. We haven’t talked about it much, but I’m not uninterested.” It took a second but then Kase’s eyes widened as something under the surface connected. “That’s who that was!” He rushed to the dining room and searched the tables, flipping through newspaper after newspaper. When he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he ran to the back. A few minutes later he came back holding the coveted newspaper above his head. “The police log?” Hilary asked as she tracked him across the cafe. “Who looks at those anymore?” “Are you kidding? The police log is gold. You’d be surprised who you see in there.” Matt watched as Kase searched the listing until he found what he was looking for. “Mike Forte, arrested at 7:43am on charges of payroll fraud.” “Mike Forte?” Hilary tapped her temple. “Why is that familiar?” “He’s the guy we email for paycheck stuff and whatever. He’s the HR guy.” Kase and Hilary stood shoulder to shoulder and stood up at the same time as they looked to Matt for answers. Matt took a step back. “Whoa. No, no, no, no.” “What is happening? Did he really steal money? Are you taking his job?” Matt’s heart raced as his friends stared him down. He didn’t want to lie but he wasn’t sure what he should say. He didn’t think Seamus would care. It was in the police log, which was public record. It wasn’t like they needed the gory details. Hilary put her hands on her hips. “Is this why you were off work for two weeks? What the hell is going on?” “Okay, yeah,” he said, hushing them. “Seamus suspected Mike was skimming. He asked me to take a look, so I did. There was definitely some shady stuff. They for sure have him on the payroll fraud, probably more. Seamus has a professional going through everything right now but it could take some time.” “Is Mike in jail?” Matt shook his head. “He was but now he’s out on bail. If he serves more time, it won’t be until we go to court.” “When will that be?” “No clue, but it could take a while.” “Enough time for him to move all the money he stole? How much are we talking?” “I’m sure once they can prove he had stolen money, they’ll be able to track where it went. I don’t know. As far as how much, I only went back a year and he easily stole over one-hundred thousand. In one year! We don’t know how long he’s been stealing. Maybe the whole time Kelly’s been gone? My stomach hurts thinking of the damage he might’ve caused.” “This is crazy,” Kase said with a little thrill in his voice. “Do you think you’ll take the job?” “I don’t know. Like I said, it was brought up in passing and we haven’t touched on it again. He has someone filling in for now and I have school until the end of May. He might not want to wait that long.” Kase and Hilary scoffed back and forth. Before they could put in their two cents as to why Seamus would wait a million years for Matt, a group of students came in. Then a few more. Before they knew it, they had a full on lunch rush that went nonstop for hours. When the dust settled and they caught up on cleaning and dishes, the conversation was all but forgotten. Matt was in the back working up a sweat as he sprayed the last of dishes. It wasn’t his favorite job but he didn’t hate it like the others did. “Hey.” Matt turned to see Seamus standing by the door, the correct door, smiling. “Your dad is out front.” Seamus looked damn good in jeans and a black winter jacket. His auburn hair was damp from the drizzle and his cheeks were flushed from the cold. Matt licked his lips, making his boyfriend laugh at his adolescent behavior. Seamus was amused and flattered, but shook his head as if Matt was an idiot and slipped out, leaving Matt alone with his dirty thoughts. With a tote of clean dishes in hand, Matt went to the front. Kase was making his dad and Seamus the new special. Brad was still skeptical but patiently waited while Kase added a squirt of lime juice. He swished the drink the same way Matt had. Kase glanced at Matt and laughed. Some of the similarities between Matt and his dad were uncanny. Just like Matt, Brad's face morphed from apprehension to pleasant surprise. “That is surprisingly good.” Seamus agreed, though he’d drink just about anything without complaint. Kase and Hilary threw their hands. How could everyone doubt their boi, livingtheloelife? Brad pulled out his phone. “Who is this guy? I want to follow him.” Now it was Matt who rolled his eyes. His dad did not have social media. Holy crap, his dad had social media. And not just Facebook like every other old person. If that weren’t enough to knock Matt flat, Seamus pulled out his phone. His dad and boyfriend were friending each other. Matt stared at Seamus. “You have Instagram?” “Yeah, I started following you last year, right around your birthday. You never followed back. Then again, your last post was a pair of Nike shoes you wore to your high school graduation.” Matt pulled out his phone and searched the app. He didn’t have a lot of followers, nor was he following many, but he would not let his friends, boyfriend, and dad be friends on social without him. “Bradthedad? Seriously, Dad? That's terrible.” “Oh, and makessy is better?” “Hey, it was my nickname in high school.” “What? How?” “Ma, Matt. Kessy, Kessler. MaKessy” “How is that any different? Am I not Brad who happens to be a dad? AKA Brad the dad?” Matt wanted to argue, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Once everyone cemented their relationships by being FBO (facebook official), Kase took it upon himself to make sure they were all following livingtheloelife. Kase also told Matt he had one week to post something new on his feed on or he’d do it for him. Matt took a second to glance at Seamus’s page. The entire feed over the last year was exclusively Aidan plus one gym selfie. Which baffled Matt to no end. When did he have time for the gym?! He loved that Seamus was sharing so many pictures of Aidan. It wasn’t that he dubbed Seamus’s feelings, he truly didn’t, but it was just another confirmation and it made Matt feel really good. They hung out for a minute longer, then Brad said something to Seamus and suddenly they were both getting ready to leave. “Are you taking off now?” Brad leaned in for a hug. “Yeah, I need to head home. Thank you for having me. I had a great Christmas. Best I’ve had in years.” Seamus got Aidan ready to go then said bye to Matt. As they left, Brad held the door open, then guided Seamus out with a hand between his shoulder blade. Matt smiled. There was a clear bond forming between the two. He always had a good relationship with his dad, but it was better than ever before. He felt a stronger bond and a deeper connection. After losing his mom and taking on Aidan, he felt a new appreciation for his dad and all he did. **** Matt stepped into the loft. Dinner was on the stove and Aidan was playing with toys. He hadn’t even taken his jacket off when Seamus appeared out of nowhere and attacked him. “Hello to you, too. What’s got you so happy?” Seamus was smiley and giddy as Matt hung his jacket by the door. When he finished, Seamus grabbed his hands and pulled him further into the loft. “Your dad and I went to lunch, then took Aidan to the park. After Brad left, Aidan and I went to work for a bit, then came home,” he said. “It’s been a good day.” “Well, it smells good.” “Pot roast. It’s done if you’re hungry.” Seamus sat on the couch and pulled Matt until he was straddling him. It was a long day and Matt was happy to relax on Seamus’ lap. “Tell me more about your day.” “It wasn’t anything special. Your dad and I hung out after you left, then he invited me to lunch. It was nice. We talked about nothing and everything.” “Did you talk to him about the whole Mike thing?” He nodded and ran his hands under Matt’s shirt and up his side. “He gave me a whole new perspective. I feel less stressed about it. Actually, I feel kind of great.” “What’d he say?” “He told me that stressing over it wasn’t going to change anything. The most important part is that Mike is out of my life. From here on out, the worst thing that can happen is that I don’t recover a penny from him and none of the charges stick.” Matt frowned. “Yeah, but that’s a shitty outcome.” “I agree, but I have you and Aidan. Your dad said to let it go, to move forward, focus on the good, and expect nothing from Mike.” Seamus’s eyes sparkled in a way Matt hadn’t noticed before. They’d always been so gorgeously dark eyes he got lost in them, but they were different now. Carefree, joyful. “Doesn’t mean I won’t do everything in my power to pin his ass to the wall. Brad just said there’s bigger fish to fry, and he’s right. I have a business to run and I need to focus on moving forward and building a team I can be proud of. One I trust. I’ve done what I can do regarding Mike. When the investigators finish, we’ll go from there. I have to trust that my lawyer and the justice system will have my back. Until then, I can look ahead.” “I swear I’ve said some of this to you before.” “Yeah, but your dad presents it better.” “Ouch,” he laughed. Seamus smiled with those damn twinkle eyes. “No offense.” “Absolute offense taken.” Seamus leaned up and kissed the wicked burn away. “After your dad went home, Aidan and I stopped by the office and talked to Roberta. She recommended some changes. She mentioned that Mike had an insane workload and the whole minus the stealing he was doing a great job considering the workload, but recommended having more than one person moving forward.” “From what I saw, I definitely agree there should be a team.” Seamus moved his hands to Matt’s thighs. “I was serious when I said I had a job for you. After you graduate, I’d like the three of us—me, you, and Roberta—to sit down and figure out a plan of action. I want you to be a part of that.” “Sometimes I worry you think too highly of me. I have no degree. What would I contribute to that pow-wow?” “You don’t think enough of yourself. You’re really fucking smart. I think you’d have a lot to contribute, and if you don’t, you’ll be there to learn. Whatever the case, I want you there at the inception of whatever changes are to be made. Only if you’re interested.” “I’m interested,” Matt rushed. “Nervous—but definitely interested. I have six months of school left. You don’t think that will negatively affect anything?” “I wouldn’t let it. But how would you feel about working part-time until then?” “I’m already working part-time at the cafe—” Matt leaned away. “Oh.” There were only a few months before Kase and Hilary moved away. If he quit now, he’d miss that time with them. “You don’t have to. It was just a thought. Even one or two half days would make a world of difference for the transition. And honestly, I’d feel so much better knowing you had eyes on everything.” “Even if I have no clue what I’m looking at?” “You know exactly what you’re looking at.” Matt closed his eyes and thought on it for a moment. He could work a little at the office and at the cafe. It was only six months. It wasn’t like he’d be working more. He’d be spreading it out differently. And working for Seamus was long-term thinking. He would like to be involved from the start so he could learn from Roberta. That would give him a leg up. He would need to think more on logistics but… Yeah. “I’m game.” “Yeah?” Matt leaned down and kissed Seamus. “Yeah.” Seamus smiled and quickly pulled Matt down for a proper kiss which quickly turned into an improper kiss. Before things got too far, a piercing scream cracked through the room. Matt startled so hard he almost fell to the floor. Something was wrong. Aidan stood next to them, red faced and angry. He reached out and hit Matt’s leg. He then hoisted himself onto the couch like a sealion and shoved Matt away from Seamus. Realizing it was just a case of jealousy, Matt laughed and kissed Seamus again. Aidan covered Matt’s mouth with both hands and shook his head. “No.” Seamus and Matt looked at each other, then burst into laughter. “Excuse me lil man, this is my boyfriend and I can kiss him all I want.” To prove his point, Matt leaned down and kissed said boyfriend. That only stirred the pot. Angry Aidan hit Matt and cried out in frustration. Matt kissed Seamus again. Kiss. Smack. Sass. Kiss. Smack. Sass. Matt shouldn’t have found so much joy in provoking his brother, but he did. Aidan had favored Seamus but not to the point where Matt couldn’t even touch him. The sudden problem with the affection was hilarious. Matt spent the rest of the evening kissing Seamus just to upset Aidan. Was it mean? Maybe. Did Matt care? Not at all. He might be Aidan’s guardian, but he was still a big brother at heart. **** Kase invited Matt out for New Years, but he declined. He was over feeling the need to ‘be twenty-one’. He didn’t like alcohol. Plus, their birthdays were coming up and he’d rather save himself for that. Seeing Kase and Hilary come in completely hungover only solidified Matt’s decision. Matt had slept great and had all the energy in the world. He could not say the same for his friends. “Yonks’ not so terrible, now is he?” Matt asked as he watched his friends struggle with work and, well, doing life in general. Kase re-wiped the counter since it was one of a few tasks that didn’t make him queasy. “We never said he was terrible. He just has that weird eye thing.” “Weird eye thing or not, he covered your butts this morning.” Matt continued to give his friends a hard time, luckily for them, it wasn’t a busy day. Most people were still out of town for the holidays. Matt was about to let Kase go home early when the door chimed. “Holy. Shit.” Hilary and Kase stared at the door, stunned. Jay, Seamus’ friend—not Kase’s teammate—stood at the door looking every bit the rich professional athlete he was. Designer jeans and jacket molded to his body perfectly, his hair was on point, and his useless-because-it’s-winter sunglasses looked hella expensive as he pushed them on top of his head. Jay looked around the cafe until he spotted Matt and then he smiled. “Matt! Long time no see.” Matt was a few beats behind on the bro-shake, but Jay didn’t seem to care. When they finished, Matt studied Jay like he couldn’t quite place his face. “James? Jerry? Jim?” Matt snapped his fingers in recognition. “Jackson, with the big contract. How could I forget!” Jay looked downright offended. “You wound me. You really wound me.” Matt smiled proudly. “I heard you had a game the other day. You guys won?” Matt asked, then cringed because he really had no clue what he was talking about. Jay laughed. “C’mon, don’t be like that. You can be nice to me, I won’t tell Seamus.” “My alliance remains.” Matt shrugged. There was nothing he could do. “I had your back at the bar and this is how you repay me?” Matt realized his friends were standing to the side, completely star-struck. “Hey Jay, these are my friends Kase and Hilary.” Jay reached a hand out. “And this is Jay—eh.” Jay glared at his best friend’s shameless boyfriend. “You don’t know my last name?!” “Petermeyer,” Kase said as he came out of his stupor and finally shook the athlete’s hand. “Jay Petermeyer. Holy shit. Matt, you know Jay Petermeyer?” “He’s a friend of Seamus.” “Best friend,” Jay corrected. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” Hilary took Jay’s hand. “Hilary. Matt’s best friend. Nice to meet you.” Kase glared, not liking that intro one bit. “Nice to meet you, Hilary. A friend of Matt’s is a questionable character in my eye.” “Well, we’re not best friends,” she backtracked. “Just regular friends. More like co-workers really. Kase though, Kase and Matt are super tight. Can hardly separate those two.” Kase mouthed some choice words to his dearest coworker. How dare she throw him under the bus. Matt too was about to tell her where she could shove their friendship when Jay continued. “Good to know.” He gave a kind smile for his new friend, Hilary, then turned back to Matt and ever so slightly turned his nose up. “I actually came here to invite you and Seamus to the playoff game but I’m feeling very under appreciated.” “Oh, in that case, can I get you a drink?” Matt smiled brightly, as if the threat meant something to him. Which it didn’t. But he enjoyed the banter. Jay crossed his arms and pouted. “I don’t know. What’s good?” Matt pointed to the sign on the counter that had the weekly special. “This is a big hit.” “Loelife’s Drink of the Week: Dr. Pepper, coconut cream, and lime juice?” he read, then cringed. “Pass. What else is there?” Matt shook his head and started making the drink anyway. When he finished, he handed it over. “What part of ‘pass’ did you not understand?” “Just trust me.” “I have no reason to trust you. You do not have my best interest at heart.” “Fair enough.” Matt pointed at Kase. “If you can’t trust me, then trust him. He probably knows all your stats or whatever information will make you feel cared for.” Kase’s eyes widened. Jay Petermeyer was looking at him, waiting for confirmation that he could drink what Matt was pushing on him. “Yeah, it’s really good. Definitely. You should drink it.” Jay studied Kase. “How many sacks have I had this season?” “Seven, so far. Though you just celebrated a career one-hundred.” “Touchdowns?” “Two.” Jay nodded approvingly, then took a sip of the drink. “Not bad, Kase. Not bad.” Matt threw his hands in the air. It had been he who made the drink. But the look of delight on Kase’s face was everything. Matt was about to ask what he was doing in town when the door chimed once more. Seamus did a double take. Apparently he didn’t know Jay was in town, let alone at the cafe. Jay gave his friend a hug, then stole Aidan. “What is up my man?” He tried to give the little guy a high five, but Aidan went shy and clammed up in Jay’s arms. Jay was undeterred by the lack of warm welcome. “Eh, it’s fine. He’ll love me in no time.” The only reaction they got from Aidan was when Seamus gave Matt a kiss. Aidan didn't like that. "You tell em kiddo!" Jay laughed. He clearly loved that Aidan was hating on Matt. Him and Seamus were laughing and about to sit at a table when Matt interrupted. “You still need to pay for your drink. It’s three-fifty.” Yes, he was Seamus’s friend, but that didn’t mean he got special treatment. Jay looked at Seamus. Is this for real? Seamus shrugged. The player took his wallet out and grabbed a tenner. Matt looked at the ten then back at Jay. “It’s really nice that you were going to tip us each twenty big ones, you know, for introducing you to that bomb drink.” Jay burst out laughing. “Twenty bones each? I’m not sure it was that good—” he pulled the bills from his wallet and slid them across the counter. “Thanks for blowing my mind,” he deadpanned. Seamus shot Matt a thumbs up, making Matt smile. His friends on the other hand stared at Matt like he was crazy cakes for sharking Jay Petermeyer the way he did. “What?” he asked as he folded the twenty and stuffed it in his wallet. Hilary laughed. “I can’t believe you just did that.” Kase looked at his twenty in wonder. “I’m going to frame this.” Jay held a still bashful Aidan as he told Seamus all about how Matt had burned him good when he arrived. It was a mixture of pouting and smiling. As hard as Jay tried, he couldn’t deny he’d enjoyed their interaction. Seamus looked at Matt and grinned. Nothing better than hearing that your best friend and boyfriend were getting along. Fuck, after the month they’d had, Matt would do anything to see Seamus smile like that.
    124 points
  5. Friday night, after Aidan was safe and sound with Grandpa, Seamus dragged Matt out of the apartment and took him to Coffee|Bar. Despite having worked the day shift a while now, he’d never been there after hours. The live music was a woman and her acoustic guitar, singing cover songs that were better than the originals. Patrons sat around the tables laughing, enjoying the low-lit atmosphere while waiters and waitresses served beer and wine. Matt wasn’t even sure this was the same place he’d worked just a few short hours ago. It was so different. Matt picked a small table while Seamus went to the bar that was partitioned off during the day. Matt smiled as he watched Seamus and the bartender, who was clearly nervous to serve his boss. Commotion caught Matt’s eye. Not far from where Seamus was waiting in line was a table with five women. With the encouragement from her friends, one woman shoved away from the group and approached Seamus at the bar. Matt didn’t need to hear the conversation to know what was said. She was interested, he was not. What did Seamus look like when he was interested in someone? He didn’t exactly have a bubbly, inviting personality. Matt had never seen him so much as flirt with anyone. Even when Jay was chatting him up, Seamus didn’t look all that interested even though Jay was a beautiful man. The woman pouted to her friends when Seamus excused himself. Once his drink was safely slid across the small tabletop, Matt smirked. “How do you do that?” “Do what?” “Look completely closed off and unapproachable yet still manage to get hit on.” Why Seamus felt he had to hide his smile, Matt didn’t know. “I must not look that unapproachable.” Matt laughed. “Trust me, you do.” “Yet you’re here.” “Yes. Despite the fact I murdered you in my thoughts the first few times I saw you, I’m still here.” “Why would you think about murdering me?” “Because you went through the wrong door, twice. And almost killed me, twice!” Matt shouted in good humor. He could hardly believe Seamus had forgotten. Seamus made a big show of rolling his eyes and throwing his hands in the air. “We’re still talking about this? You’re a dog with a bone about this door situation. That was half a year ago.” “You almost killed me.” Matt was about to take a drink when he remembered, “You almost killed Aidan.” Seamus paused. “Yeah, I do feel bad about that.” “Just Aidan? What am I? Chopped liver?” Seamus smiled and finished his drink while Matt finished his. Of course Seamus was approached when he went for a refill. A different girl this time. The line was longer now so she had more time to try and stake a claim. Seamus was kind and held genuine interest in whatever they were talking about but as soon as he got his drinks, he bid her farewell. When he got back to the table, Seamus’s face was all, don’t-you-dare-say-it. Matt smiled in victory. Thirty minutes later Seamus was back in line. Another approach. This time it was a guy around Matt’s age. The bar was close to the University after all, everyone was Matt’s age. Matt looked away. He might’ve wondered what an interested Seamus looked like but that didn’t mean he wanted to find out. “Hey.” A pretty brunette sat in Seamus’s chair. Shocked that someone had approached him, Matt glanced at Seamus who was looking between Matt and the girl. At first, he looked puzzled, then he smiled. The kind of smile that was practically a laugh. Matt wanted to flip him off. Instead, he turned to the girl. “Hi.” She looked between Matt and Seamus. “I was just curious about you two. Are you guys—” You know… “What? Us? Noooo. I mean—we’re not. No,” he said. Finally. Words were so hard sometimes. She laughed and glanced at Seamus who was on his way back to the table. “That’s good.” She smiled, got up, and left. Seamus sat down, a little amused and a lot smug. “Looks like I’m not getting all the attention.” “Actually, she was inquiring about you.” Matt looked toward the bar where the guy was still standing, watching Seamus in defeat. “And she wasn’t the only one.” Seamus ignored Matt’s comments. They talked and laughed. Matt was starting to feel the alcohol. He was feeling happy and outgoing, leaning a little towards honest and blunt. He didn’t care as long as he was nowhere near emotional. They started playing some version of twenty-one questions. “What was your first job?” Seamus asked. “Depends on how technical you want to get. Technically I mowed lawns when I was twelve but my first tax paying job was at a movie theatre when I was sixteen.” “I bet that was cool. Watching all the movies for free.” “Sure, if I was working at the six-plex on the other side of town that played all the good blockbusters,” Matt laughed. “The movie theatre I worked at was this small independently owned place that only played critically acclaimed movies or ones slated for Oscar noms. Those weren’t exactly the movies sixteen-year-old Matt wanted to watch. What about you?” “Fourteen. I was a busser at a family run restaurant. I was fired three days later.” “What?” Matt laughed. “How’d that happen?” Seamus made a sour face that was cuter than it should’ve been. “It was a busy morning and there was a large group with several kids. There was one kid, probably four or five, and he was not having a good day. There was an older lady a few tables away, she was not happy about the noise. She summoned me over, yelled at me, told me how unprofessional it was to have such rowdy children running around. She demanded I do something. I was fourteen and had no clue how to respond. The mean lady was glaring at me so I walked over and asked the parents if they could quiet their kid down. That was the wrong thing to do. My boss explained that it was a family restaurant and if someone had a problem with families, they could leave. They were nice about it but I was let go. I still think about that day. The look on the parents face,” he cringed. “All these years later and I still feel terrible. Probably more so now that I have Aidan. Kids don’t know how to process their emotions and they need grace. If someone said to me what I said to those parents, I’d punch ‘em.” “You’d punch a poor fourteen-year-old boy who was being bullied by a Karen?” “No,” Seamus smiled. “I suppose I’d ask the kid who was complaining and then I’d punch Karen for being a bitch.” Matt laughed then tapped his chin as he thought of his next question. They’d talked about so much already. “How many boyfriends have you had?” “Three,” he said quickly, then he hesitated. “Four. Three.” Okay, maybe he did need to think about it. “Three bonafide boyfriends and one that was more than a friend but less than a boyfriend.” Matt motioned for him to explain. “There was Sean and Jeremy in high school, then Kelly, and last was Teddy.” “Teddy was the more than a friend but less than a boyfriend?” “Yes.” “Okay,” Matt nodded. “So, Teddy was like, friends with benefits?” Seamus picked at his shirt sleeve. “Yeah, I guess that’s exactly what he was.” “How’d that come about?” Seamus looked at Matt like why-do-you-want-to-know? “Asking for a friend.” Seamus laughed. “It was a few years after Kelly died. I wasn’t ready to date but I hated random hookups. Teddy worked at the dealership. I think he understood what I could and couldn’t give him and he was okay with that.” “How long were you guys not together?” “Oh,” Seamus thought. “A year? Maybe longer.” “Wow, that’s a long time. Neither of you saw other people?” “I had no reason to but I don’t know about him. I wasn’t concerned if he was or wasn’t. We weren’t dating.” “Did you guys ever go out together? Or was it just sex?” “It was just sex but we still did stuff occasionally. Dinner here and there.” “Why’d it end?” Seamus shrugged. “It just died out. We stopped reaching out until one day it just wasn’t a thing anymore. Anyway, what about you? How many boyfriends have you had?” “Oh,” Matt scrunched his face and counted in his head. “Seven? Eight? Ten?” Seamus’s eyes bugged and he pressed his palm down on the table in shock. “Yeah,” Matt laughed at Seamus’ reaction. “Every gay kid dated every other gay kid in the district at some point. I only had one or two I would consider serious boyfriends.” “Does that mean your other boyfriends were glorified hookups?” “I’d like to give them more credit than just being a hook up but yeah, that's pretty much what they were.” “Any end on bad terms? Broken hearted that you didn’t want more?” “Bad terms? Yes. Broken hearted that I didn’t want more? I don’t think so.” The sleeves on Seamus’s navy shirt were pushed up and he aimlessly ran his fingers up and down his forearm as he listened to Matt talk. “What was your worst break up?” He asked. Matt groaned and laid his head in his arms. “I have to pick just one?” Seamus laughed at him. Insisting he had to pick one, then poked Matt all over until he got so annoyed, he sat up. “Fine,” Matt swatted Seamus away. “My worst break up was with Kevin Wright. We were the same grade but different schools. One of his friends threw a big party. Now, you may not know this about me but I can get really emotional when I drink.” Seamus covered his mouth in an attempt to hide his smile. When Matt glared at him, he raised his hands. “Go on.” “Anyway. We were drinking. He was barely paying attention to me, too busy being drunk with his friends to notice me. I hated it. I didn’t know a single person. Everyone there were his friends and classmates and I felt totally ditched. I started getting emotional over it. I think he genuinely felt bad that I was crying but it also embarrassed him. We probably could’ve survived except Ashton showed up.” “Ooh, sounds juicy.” “Yes, well, Ashton was a new kid...and gay. Kevin got Ashton a drink.” “Oh no, not a drink,” Seamus egged Matt on. Matt flipped him off. “It was a big deal to drunk, emotional Matt. I stormed up and stole poor Ashton’s drink and dumped it on Kevin’s head. Kevin and I started screaming at each other in front of everyone. It was very dramatic. Kevin didn’t want to fight in front of his friends so he grabbed my arm to pull me somewhere private. I punched him. Boom. Broke his nose. Then I saw the blood and realized what I did and started crying more. Pretty sure I begged him to forgive me. He didn’t. I never was invited to another Becker High party.” Matt leaned back and crossed his arms. “There you have it, not only my worst break up but also my biggest character flaw. You can thank my mom; I got my alcohol tolerance from her.” “I feel like I learned so much about you. I have so many questions. But first, I want to get you drunk again.” Seamus grabbed Matt’s empty and was about to get up when Matt stopped him. “You’ve fetched all the drinks so far. My shout.” Matt grabbed the glasses from Seamus and headed to the bar. He half expected someone to come hit on him while he waited in line for drinks. It happened to Seamus all three times he’d gone. Alas, no nervous bartender, no flirty patrons. Matt was plum out of luck. He grabbed the two full beers and turned. Their table was full. Seamus had been joined by four girls and two guys. Three of the occupants had already taken a shot at Seamus. So that was cool. Matt wanted to hurry back to the table but then Seamus looked at him with help me eyes and suddenly he didn’t mind watching him suffer. Knowing he wasn’t a welcome participant made Matt feel better. By the time he made it back, his chair was long gone and Seamus was shooting him daggers. That was fine, standing felt good. He gripped the back of Seamus’ chair and rested his hip against Seamus’ shoulder. “I didn’t order enough drinks.” “Sorry to intrude,” one of the girls said though Matt didn’t think she was all that sorry. She was cute with a trendy pixie cut. “It looked like you guys were having the most fun so we thought we’d join. Hope that’s okay?” Matt doubted they would leave anyway. That was fine. He was lacking the typical college experiences; the drinking, the partying, the making a complete stranger your best friend for the night. “No, this is cool,” he said. “Are any of you students?” They all perked up. The guy closest to them, the one that hadn’t hit on Seamus, smiled. “Yeah. I’m Mick,” he held out his hand. Then he pointed around the table. “This is Winnie, Anne, Amneet, Lizeth, and Rob.” They were all seniors. Winnie, Anne, and Rob had hit on Seamus. Lizeth and Amneet had not. Matt decided they were all cool. He kept looking at Winnie though, she looked familiar. She must’ve thought the same because she was trying to place him. “Intermediate Accounting with Schlemer,” she said. “You sit in the front!” “I do,” he laughed. “And I probably have a better grade than you.” “You definitely do. You always answer the questions.” “That’s a lie. I never answer the questions.” Well, rarely. “Yeah, but when you get called on, you’re always right.” She had him there. They ended up talking for a while. They had a lot in common. Well, the same major but sometimes that’s all it took. While Matt and Winnie chatted it up, the other’s held Seamus hostage. They were completely enamored with him. “A round on me?” The captivator of everyone's attention asked. As if he needed a reason to garner more. The second Seamus stood up, Matt stole his seat, earning a playful glare and a promise of certain death when he got back. “Is he straight? I can’t get a read on him and it’s driving me nuts,” Anne asked, still watching Seamus walk away. “Please tell me he’s straight.” “Sorry,” Matt gave her an apologetic smile. Spoiler: He wasn’t sorry. Anne’s eyes widened and then she grimaced. “Oh Jesus, I’m sorry. You two are dating, aren't you? I’m so obtuse.” She looked truly remorseful which Matt respected. Most people didn’t care who they offended. “Nah.” He hoped for it to come off like ‘we’re not dating but we’re not NOT dating either. Kinda leave them thinking something might be there. Just enough to deter any potential advancements but not enough to make him look psycho when they found out there was nothing between him and Seamus. It didn’t work. They took him at face value, which was the cold hard truth after all. Matt had just confirmed Seamus’ sexuality and despite Rob already trying, and failing, the group decided he would be Seamus’ new boyfriend. “No way. I’ve already been shot down once. Not sure I’m interested in him having a second go,” Rob said when he noticed the way his friends were looking at him. Winnie and Anne looked at him like he was being ridiculous. He was a total keeper. “Are you sure you guys aren’t dating? Rob never gets turned down.” “You know Jay from the football team?” Everyone nodded. “Seamus turned him down also. So, I wouldn’t take it personally.” “Seems like such a waste. I mean, look at that ass. Someone should be getting that ass.” Everyone looked at Seamus’ ass and nodded. Even Matt. “It’s not even his best pair of jeans,” Matt said, watching Seamus’s ass as it shifted while he waited for the drinks. “He has this pair of faded blue jeans that—hmmmm,” he half moaned and half whined because life wasn’t fair when you looked that good. The table agreed. “He is seriously hot,” Winnie said. “I literally had heart palpitations when I walked in. Like, I saw him and my heart got so overwhelmed it passed out. Now he’s buying us drinks. I’m not sure he could get any hotter.” “Oh, he could be hotter,” Matt smirked. The group waited for him to explain, so he did. He told them all about Seamus and what makes him amazing. How he was his boss’s boss and also Matt’s nanny and how good he was with Aidan; always taking him to work, giving him his undivided attention, feeding him, and changing his diaper. How they went shopping and Seamus banned Matt from picking out Aidan’s clothes. He even told them how he upgraded his car because it was better for Aidan. Seamus was amazing and Matt was just drunk enough to brag about the riches of their friendship. There was a collective sigh of adoration and longing. There was even sadness because it sucked to be so close to greatness, yet so far away. No one at the table had a chance. Something Matt felt in his soul. Seamus nudged Matt’s arm, letting him know it was time to get out of his seat. “What are you guys talking about?” Matt stood up and grabbed his drink. It was a gamble at this point. Sure, he was happy-bold drunk now but that could change in a blink. Oh well, happy-bold-Matt was willing to take the risk even if it meant emotional-Matt would be angry about it later. “We were talking about your ass and how good it looked and how someone should be hitting it,” Matt said with a wink. “Well, Anne said that part but I think everyone agreed. I told them they weren’t even your best pants.” Anne looked mortified but Seamus looked amused. “You don’t like my pants?” “They’re fine, just not my favorite.” Seamus was about to say something when Winnie cut him off. “He also said you're the owner?” “And you’re his nanny?” Mick asked. He clearly couldn’t picture it. Seamus, a successful business owner who also nannies for a college kid? Crazy. “Yes and Yes. In fact—” Seamus scrolled through his phone and held it out for everyone to see. It was a picture of Seamus and Aidan. It was cute as hell if you asked Matt. When everyone was done swooning, Seamus looked at it and smiled. “Let me get this straight. You’re a business owner and you nanny for a college kid who also works for you?” “Technically, I’m his live-in nanny.” Seamus loved the reactions. He lived for them. “And you guys have never hooked up?” Matt and Seamus looked at one another. “No.” “You know you guys have the story all wrong. It’s supposed to be the hot business owner who hires a poor college kid to be his nanny. Then they end up fucking and falling in love.” “Is that so?” Seamus looked at Matt. “Should we go home and fuck? Then fall in love?” Drunk with no plans of standing all night, Matt sat on Seamus’ lap, wrapped his arm around his shoulder, and fluttered his eyes. “How can I say no to that. You practically Shakespeared me into your bed and into your heart.” Seamus dipped him back, real romantic like, and gazed into his eyes. “Oh, I’m gonna spear you alright.” The table filled with laughter. Matt could barely breathe; he was laughing so hard. When they finally composed, he realized Seamus still had an arm around his waist. Matt tried to not make a big deal out of it but he was very aware of their position. It was the drinks he told himself. They were just having fun. Matt stayed in Seamus’ lap all night. Their movements in sync as conversation shifted throughout the group. Seamus kept one arm on Matt while the other held his beer. Matt was sure his face gave him away. There was no possible way he could sit on Seamus’s lap all evening without looking like he’d won the lottery. The bar was closing when they finally said goodbyes. Matt told the group to come back in the morning for the best hangover drink. “And that’s how you solicit business,” Matt told Seamus as he drunk-strutted down the sidewalk. He opened the cab door and stumbled when he tried to get in. Matt looked back, realizing Seamus had seen his faux pas and blushed. Yeah, he was drunk. “They’re not the only ones who will need the green drink.” “Don’t be an ass.” “I thought you liked my ass,” Seamus teased. “Well, not in these jeans apparently” “I said the jeans were fine,” Matt groaned. “But don't take my word for it, ask all the people who fell over themselves to get a piece of you tonight.” Seamus leaned in close, bumping Matt’s shoulder. “You sound jealous.” It was playful and...flirty? Was Seamus Ryan being flirty? “Jealous?” Matt scoffed but the way Seamus was looking at him made his nerve ends tingle. It was just the alcohol. Matt shrugged. “They didn’t need to be discussing your ass all night. It’s disrespectful.” Seamus moved closer. Matt could smell his faded cologne; it was mixed with his natural scent and the remnants of a night out. It smelled good, so good. Matt wasn’t sure he’d ever liked the way someone smelled as much as he liked the way Seamus did. “You were discussing my ass.” Seamus said, his voice low and husky. “That’s different,” Matt swallowed. “I wasn’t objectifying you like they were. I was simply stating facts.” “Facts?” “Yeah, facts. Fact: you have a nice ass. Fact: those pants aren’t the best at showing it off.” The cab pulled up to their building. They were both a little wobbly. “And what about someone needing to hit it?” “Hit what?” Matt asked. “My ass. You said someone should be hitting it.” “Well, yeah.” Matt tried not to laugh. “Fact: someone should be hitting dat ass.” Seamus laughed and pushed Matt towards the building. They were close to the loft door when Matt turned to find Seamus staring at his ass. He raised his brow, questioning, and slowly unlocked the door, never taking his eyes off Seamus, letting his friend know he’d been caught. “Oh, so everyone can objectify me but I can’t return the favor?” “You can. It just seems like a waste. You could have stared at Rob; he had a nice ass. Even Mick’s wasn’t bad for a straight guy.” “How many asses did you check out tonight?” Seamus asked, almost offended. “What? No. They were just there. They had okay asses but yours is better. Not that I’m objectifying. Just stating facts. Like, fact: mine’s not that great. I was just saying—” “What are you saying?” Seamus teased. “Ugh, you’re so frustrating,” Matt growled. Drunk conversations weren’t his strong suit and Seamus was being weird and kinda sexy all at once. “You have a great ass. Rob and Mick’s are okay. Mine is not up to par. If you’re gonna return the favor, don’t waste it on me. And this conversation is embarrassing. I’m going to bed.” Matt shut himself in his room and rubbed his face. He was half embarrassed and half amused by what had just happened. He changed then went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and empty his bladder. Just before reaching his room for the night, Seamus caught his attention. “Just so you know.” Seamus was standing at the other end of the hall. “It wasn’t a waste.” It took Matt a second to realize Seamus was talking about his ass which made him laugh. God, Seamus was too fucking cute to handle. “Night Seamus.” “Night Matt,” he sang in return. **** Yonk called in sick. They were short-handed. Work was slammed. Matt felt better than he did after his birthday but the smell of the coffee still made his stomach roll and the screaming of the steamer made his head ache. Seamus was right, Matt needed that green hangover drink. Hilary and Kase snickered and took joy in his misery, making him prep terrible smelling pastries and toasting the breakfast sandwiches. “You guys are being mean. Why are you being so mean?” he whined. “First, you didn’t invite us. Second, you didn’t invite us.” “There was nothing to invite. The adoption was finalized and Dad took Aidan for the weekend. Seamus decided we should go out for a drink.” “Looks like you had more than one drink.” “Yes, well, a few people joined our table.” “Random strangers?” Kase asked. “They just joined you?” “Yes,” he nodded. “It's the Seamus side effect.” They both stopped what they were doing and looked at Matt like he was crazy. “Side effect?” “Yes. Side effect from being so damn perfect that we can’t go anywhere without people throwing themselves at him.” “Ahh,” Hilary smiled. “Sounds like the only one suffering is you.” “I hardly suffered. It was actually pretty fun.” Matt told them all about the previous night and the crew they spent it with. He also told them about checking out Seamus’ ass and then Seamus checking out his. For no other reason than it made him feel good about himself. “Going out with Seamus is fun but it’s not good for my self-esteem,” he told them. “The one time I got approached was so they could get the scoop on him. “ “Yeah, but then he complimented you on your butt.” “Do drunk compliments count?” he asked. “I’ll take it, but not to heart.” “You get Aidan tomorrow, right?” Matt nodded. “We should go out tonight. The three of us. We could go to Iron Works.” That got Matt’s attention. “You’d go to Iron Works?” Iron Works was a popular gay club. People drove from all over the state to party there. Matt hadn’t been there yet but was definitely curious. “Not for just anyone, but for you I’d go.” “What about you?” He asked Hilary. She looked at him like the village idiot, of course she’d go. There was no question. The more Matt thought about it, the more excited he got. Hilary and Kase went out with their friends all the time while Matt stayed behind with Aidan. He wanted to go out and be twenty-one, have fun, make memories, and meet new people. “Let’s do it.” Kase fist-bumped the air. He was the reason Matt couldn’t judge people without knowing them. He was an All-American football player, Homecoming King, who would one day be a phenomenal architect. On paper, there were a lot of reasons Matt and Kase wouldn’t roll in the same circles but they’d hit it off right away. Kase never made Matt feel inferior because he was a popular athlete with half the school at his beck and call. And now he was offering to hit the biggest gay club in the state in a show of support. Matt had to admit that he was feeling better. Maybe awesome friends could cure-all. Speaking of friends, his new ones from the previous night came rolling in around noon looking rough but not totally put out. Mick put his hands on the counter and leaned forward. “I heard this place has the best hangover cure. We’re here to put it to the test.” “I didn’t think you guys would actually stop by.” “And miss the chance at finding the key to keeping our livers alive?” “That and we made a bet and wanted to see who won,” Winnie added. Matt looked at them, confused. “What bet?” “That the college student bagged himself a hot nanny last night.” Mick shook his head. “I say, no way. That’s not how the story goes.” “I hope you guys didn’t bet much. I didn’t bag anyone last night, especially the hot nanny.” Mick turned and gloated his victory. His friends shoved him around, telling him to fuck off. Kase slid the green smoothie drinks onto the counter then Matt introduced everyone. After a few minutes, Kase invited them out. They didn’t seem keen but Rob kept muttering how they owed him for all the times he went to straight clubs. No promises were made but Matt would have fun either way. **** Seamus wasn’t home when Matt got to the loft. He decided to take a nap before Kase and Hilary showed up. When he woke, he could hear Seamus in the apartment. He took a shower and threw on his good jeans and a basic shirt. He still had a few hours before he needed to get ready. “Feeling better?” Seamus asked when Matt walked into the kitchen. Seamus was wearing a pair of grubby jeans with rips and tears and an old threadbare shirt with the sleeves cut off. The sides were cut low and wide, revealing his abs any time he bent over, which was nonstop since he was unloading the dishwasher. Matt loved Seamus on his days off: half-naked, backward ballcap, sexy arms, peek-a-boo tummy, cleaning. Choreplay. Other weekends included looking after Aidan which was a whole other level of hotness. Oh, happy Saturday. Matt went straight for the fridge. “Yeah. Work kind of sucked but the nap felt good.” “Cool. I stopped at the store and picked up some steaks and veggies. Figured we could fire up the grill since it’s not terribly cold outside. There are some new movies out, both in theatre and Netflix, depending on what you’re feeling up to. For dessert, I grabbed a few of those chocolate crunch ice cream bars you like. That we could enjoy those without Aidan screaming at us.” Matt laughed because it was true. They’d given him a small taste once and had been feigning for more ever since. “What can I say, he has good taste.” “That he does.” Seamus finished putting the last of the plates away and closed the cabinet. “Have you talked to your dad? How’s Aidan doing? If he started crawling—” Seamus shook his head. So help me god. Matt chuckled. He was always laughing with Seamus. “Dad said he’s good. I doubt he’s crawling. He’d never deny you the pleasure. And I’m sure he misses you, too. He’ll probably reach for you the second he sees us tomorrow.” “I doubt that,” he said with his customary I-can’t-take-a-compliment eye roll. “You said work sucked?” “Yes. We were down a guy and it was crazy busy all day.” “Plus, you had a hangover.” “Plus I had a hangover,” Matt confirmed. “But Rob and the others came in.” “For the green drink?” “Yeah, but I think they were mostly hoping you were there.” “Instead, they got you,” he winked. “Lucky bastards.” “Yeah, I don’t think so,” he laughed. “They actually said they came in because they made a bet and needed to see who won.” Seamus leaned forward, his elbows on the table, listening. “They wanted to know if the college kid bagged the hot nanny.” His eyebrows went up, clearly surprised. “And?” “And—I told them the nanny’s ass is still not being hit. They were understandably upset. It was very sad news.” “Did you tell them you caught me checking your ass out last night?” Matt hated how gorgeous he looked when he was playing around so casually, like the flirting was no big deal. Those dark eyes; so damn teasing and sexy it drove him nuts. Life was so not fair. “Nah, I didn’t think encouraging them was a good idea. Anyway,” he said. “Are you going to cook those steaks? I’m leaving in two hours and we still have to eat that ice cream.” “Where are you going?” “Iron Works. Kase suggested it. I think I hurt their feelings by not inviting them last night. Whatever. It’s not often Aidan’s gone. I might as well live it up.” “Iron Works huh? Have you ever been there?” “You know I haven’t. I’m barely twenty-one and never without a baby.” Seamus frowned. “It gets fucking crazy there. Real intense. Everyone lookin’ to get their dick wet.” Seamus had a serious look about him. The same dark eyes that had been teasing and sexy moments ago were now scary cold. “Okay, well, I can’t blame them. I’m in a bit of a dry spell myself,” he laughed, trying to break the tension. It did not work. The chair screeched when Seamus pushed away from the table. “Don’t bring them back here. That’s what the bathrooms are for.” Seamus yanked the fridge open and pulled the meat and veggies out then stalked to the patio. Matt followed. He leaned against the door frame and watched Seamus stomp about. The man was so angry he could’ve started the grill with sheer rage. “For the record, I never said I was going there to hook up. I said I couldn’t blame them for wanting to get their dick wet. It’s not the same thing.” “You do you.” “You do you,” Matt repeated, a bit bitterly if he was honest. Matt left Seamus on the balcony to angry cook his heart out. When dinner was done, they sat at the table and ate. It was awkward as hell. Seamus had said he didn’t like random hookups and was clearly pissed at Matt’s hypothetical life choice. Matt felt guilty. Then angry that he felt guilty. He hadn’t done anything and he hadn’t planned on doing anything. “You really going to be mad at me for going out and having a little fun? And by fun, I mean dancing, drinking, and maybe getting a little attention if I’m lucky. Kind of like the attention you got so much of last night. I’m not opposed to feeling like a regular twenty-one-year-old.” “Attention huh? What kind of attention are you looking for?” Seamus was doing a shit job of reeling in his frustration. “The kind any twenty-one-year-old wants. Something that makes me feel good about myself? Wanted? I don’t know.” “I checked out your ass last night.” “Yes,” Matt tried not to laugh, he really did, but Seamus said it like it was the solution to all his problems. “And my cup overfloweth.” Seamus stared at Matt like he wanted to say something but took a bite of food instead. The rest of dinner was quiet. Matt cleared the dishes and went to his room to get ready. An hour later Kase and Hilary knocked on the door. Hilary was wearing the same dress she wore to Purple Canary. Kase, well he looked good enough to eat. “Wow,” Matt whistled. “You look amazing. Guys will be all over you. I might as well invite Seamus along. You two can steal the show.” He didn’t mean it as a dig and didn’t think it came off that way. He had two very attractive friends, inside and out, and he was proud of that. Kase’s eyes softened. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me, but don’t worry, I got your back.” He quickly took his jacket off. Underneath he wore a skin-tight black shirt with white print. I’m straight but ask me about my friend “It’s so tight.” “I know,” Kase stood up straight and smiled so very proudly. “I figured the hotter I am the more action you’ll get.” “Yeah,” Matt sarcastically agreed. “They’ll be so very not disappointed when they see me.” Kase looked him over. Matt thought he looked fine but was suddenly second-guessing himself. A quick trip to his bedroom and Kase had him in a new shirt that ‘promised results’. His hair was on the shorter side and fairly low maintenance so it wasn’t like he had a need for product. Kase disagreed. “Seamus, do you have something I can use for his hair? Gel or mousse or something?” One look and Matt knew Seamus had no intention of helping. Kase noticed, too. “Don’t worry about it,” Matt said to Kase. “My hair is fine. Let’s go.” As soon as the door shut behind them Hilary let out a breath. “Well, that was awkward. What crawled up his ass?” “Honestly, I don’t know. He was talking about grilling some steaks and that he bought icecream for dessert. I told him that you guys were coming and we were going out. Then, when he said the club was full of guys that only wanted to get their dick wet, I made a joke about not blaming them and how I was going through a dry spell myself. Now he thinks I’m slutty or something. He told me not to bring them back to the loft. He said, and I quote, ‘that’s what the bathrooms are for’.” “Oh,” Hilary sighed in relief. “It’s just jealousy. He’s mad because he planned a cute little baby-less date night and you made plans to get laid.” “What? No. That’s not—I never said I planned on getting laid. And it wasn’t a date. He always plans dinner.” “Okay,” Kase said, totally unconvinced. “Then there’s nothing to worry about.” He and Hilary shared a look. Was Seamus jealous? Was it a date he planned? Matt wasn’t sure. Could he afford to get his hopes up? No. It took thirty minutes to get to the club. Campus was on the outskirts and the club was clear on the other side of town. It was cold and there was already a line so they waited their turn to push into the club. It was nothing like Purple Canary. The music was loud, the lights were low, and the bar was crowded. “I didn’t know clothing was optional,” Hilary giggled as she looked around. Almost everyone was half-naked or might as well have been. Kase zipped his jacket all the way up. “I might keep my jacket on for a little while.” Seamus was right, the place was intense. They went to the bar and waited for drinks. Hilary knew what she was doing. She pushed her way forward and had the bartender’s attention in no time. Matt promised himself he wasn’t going to drink much. One or two. He needed his wits and he had to get Aidan tomorrow. They spent twenty minutes acclimating themselves to the club. Hilary made Kase take his jacket off. The bar had an almost free-for-all feel about it. It was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Hell, he might need three drinks to get through the night. As they sipped their drinks, a handful of guys approached them. They were all aggressive with only had one thing on their mind. Kase put his jacket back on. “I’m not sure I want the attention anymore. I think advertising that I’m straight is more bait than repellant.” Matt laughed after sending the last guy packing. “This place is nuts.” Yes, he did want attention but maybe attention that wasn’t so crass and base. And Kase was right, his shirt was total bait, just the wrong kind. “This is what you both wanted,” Hilary smiled, not-so-innocently as she sipped her drink through a straw. “Kase, you just didn’t know that announcing how straight you are would trigger a challenge among the wolves.” Matt finally got asked to dance by a guy that seemed decent. Okay, half decent. Five minutes into the dancing and the stranger had slowly snaked his hand down the front of Matt’s pants. He was about to tell the guy to fuck off when Kase intervened. He was on a mission. If he saw the stranger’s hands down Matt’s pants, he didn’t let it show. He simply swatted him away and gestured for him to take a hike. The stranger looked irritated but the club was full of guys and Matt wasn’t worth the trouble. Kase looked at the people dancing around them then he zeroed in on one guy. He tapped the stranger’s shoulder. He snapped his finger and pointed at Matt. “Dance,” he demanded. The guy didn’t even argue, he shrugged like it was no biggie and saddled up in front of Matt. “What’s going on?” Matt hissed at his friend. “Just—” Kase looked around again. “Just don’t let this one stick his hand down your pants.” “It’s not his hand I’m worried about,” Matt pointed to the ass currently glued to his crotch. “But why do you even care?” “I don’t. But—” Kase froze like a mouse next to a wolf. “I’m out.” Kase was gone so fast Matt wasn’t sure what happened. Then the guy in front him was gone, too. There was Seamus. Standing in front of him there wearing the same clothes he’d been cleaning in earlier. He didn’t look angry but he wasn’t happy either. Resigned maybe? “What are you doing here?” Matt asked. Seamus’s dislike for the club, what happened there, and the close proximity of guys who partook in those activities was obvious. He took a deep breath and looked at Matt. “Probably overstepping—definitely overstepping,” he corrected. “You’re so frustrating, you know that? “I’m frustrating? What did I do?” “Yes, you’re frustrating,” he said. “I’ve been throwing myself at you.” “Throwing yourself at me?” “Yeah, dropping hints, flirting, that kind of stuff.” “Flirting?!” Matt racked his brain and couldn’t think of a single time Seamus had flirted before last night. “Yes, flirting. Almost every day for months. Months.” Matt ran his fingers through his hair then gripped it tightly to ground himself. “What are you saying?” “Seriously?” Seamus groaned and looked at the sky for help. Then, right there in the middle of a skeezy club, surrounded by half-naked men looking to get their dicks wet, Seamus gripped Matt’s shoulders and pulled him so close he had to listen to exactly what Seamus was about to say. “I like you,” he said slowly. “I don't like people hitting on me, I don’t like people hitting on you, and I don’t like you being here for attention. I don’t even like that you want attention from anyone who’s not me. Because I like you. I like you a lot. I’ve liked you since the first time I saw you and I’ve liked you every day since.” “Oh.” Matt stared at Seamus. The confession was completely unexpected. Seamus was still holding his shoulders, not letting him move one inch. His eyes looked vulnerable, nervous, and determined. “Was tonight a date? The dinner, movie, and ice cream. Was that a date?” “I wanted it to be,” he said. “I was hopeful.” Matt smiled so wide it hurt. “And you checking out my butt? That should’ve been all the attention I needed?” “If it’s not enough then I can give you more attention, all the attention, whatever attention you want.” Someone knocked into Matt, pushing him to the side. He grabbed for Seamus and Seamus wrapped his arms around Matt, keeping him safe. Seamus leaned forward. “Can we leave? I really hate this place.” Matt didn’t wait another moment. He grabbed Seamus’ hand and pulled him through the crowd. Kase and Hilary were nowhere to be seen, probably long gone when they saw Seamus was with Matt. There were people standing outside smoking and talking and cabs lined the curb, waiting. He looked around for Seamus’s car. It was in the parking lot two blocks down, hard to miss even in the dark. They walked hand in hand. Seamus’ grip was tight and unwavering. As they drew near, Seamus used the key fob to unlock the car but when he tried to let go of Matt’s hand, Matt yanked him closer, pulling the man to his chest. The kiss was soft and Seamus needed very little encouragement, he slid his hands down Matt’s back, stopping at the curve above his butt and pulled him flush. Matt melted. Everything about Seamus drew him in; his smells, the softness of his lips, the roughness of his trimmed beard. Everything. Matt ran his hands up Seamus’ chest, caressing the outline of his jaw, but ultimately his fingers found purchase in those thick, dark red locks he loved so much. It was slow, heated, and sexy as hell. Matt could barely breathe when they finally pulled apart. Neither man was willing to let go of the other, not after waiting so long. They kissed a few more times; light and chaste. Savoring. Matt ran his hand over his own chest. His heart was pounding heavily. He smiled. “We should probably head home.” Seamus agreed then pulled Matt in for one last, bruising kiss. Seamus turned the SUV onto the road then reached across the console and wove his fingers in Matt’s. “I’m glad I came after you.” “Me too.” “Good,” Seamus smiled at the road. “Now please shower when we get home. You stink like a hundred different types of Axes body spray and it’s bad for my mental health.” Matt laughed and brought Seamus’ hand to his lips then stared out the passenger window, watching the streetlights pass. Everything was damp from spring rain. He moved his fingers between Seamus’s, enjoying the feel of their hands mingled together. When it came to relationships, Matt didn’t have a solid track record. He was smart and had a solid head on his shoulders but he was an idiot when it came to guys. Every coupling had been driven by hormones and convenience. Neither of those were set ups for success. Seamus was the first guy that Matt had any sort of history with. They were friends, they knew each other’s habits, their likes and dislikes, and Seamus loved Aidan. It was also the first time Matt wanted something real. He wanted to do better this time. He would do better this time. He had something in front of him that was worth working for.
    122 points
  6. Seamus took a deep breath as Matt came to him. His closeness was welcoming but did little to calm the anxiousness coursing through his veins. Matt cupped his face, then ran his hands down until they were on his chest. The touch was infinitely better than the close proximity. Matt waited until Seamus looked at him before he spoke. “What’s not good?” “Mike is suing me.” “Suing you? What the fuck for?” Seamus pulled out a chair and dropped into it. “Honestly, I don’t fucking know. Defamations?” “Defamation? It’s not like you’ve plastered it on a billboard, you’ve only talked about it with a few people close to you.” Matt defended. “He stole from you.” “Well, that is to be determined, I guess.” Matt pulled out the chair next to Seamus. He positioned himself so Seamus was between his legs. The gesture was oddly comforting. “Any other update?” “They finished the investigation. We can move forward with charges.” Seamus looked as dejected as he felt, and his tone only highlighted that. “That’s the news we’ve been waiting for, so why don’t you seem thrilled about it?” “Because he’s smart. Is the fact he’s suing me first going to have a negative impact on the charges we want to file against him? I can’t help but worry that things are about to crash and burn.” “Things have already crashed and burned. Now we have to clean up. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but we have to try.” Seamus rubbed his face. He knew Matt was right, but Mike’s lawsuit had thrown him for a loop. There might not be substance to the lawsuit, but that didn’t soften the blow. “Thank you.” He leaned forward and kissed Matt. Sweet Matt. “I’m going to say goodnight to Aidan.” Aidan was sleeping peacefully on his back, with his arms out to the side. He had a handful of moose surrounding him, making Seamus smile. He fixed a few of the stuffies, then gently ran his fingers through Aidan’s hair. Seamus hadn’t lied when he told Matt that he would give everything up if it meant keeping Matt and Aidan. At the same time, he wanted to make sure that both of these men had everything they could ever want. He wanted to provide a future for them. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he whispered to the sweet sleeping boy. “But I will never let you down.” **** For weeks, the manilla envelope floated from the table to the counter. Seamus hadn’t opened it but he damn well knew what was in it. The findings from the investigation and the charges filed against him, courtesy of Mike. The lawyer had briefed him. It was in her hands, and he trusted her completely. She had it under control. It was driving Matt crazy. His boyfriend eyed it almost every day. The accountant in him wanted to lay the paperwork out and comb through it page by page. He also was desperate to compare their findings to his own. “Can we please go through it tonight? I know Sharon told you what’s happening, but don’t you want to know the details? Wouldn’t that make you feel better?” Matt was sitting on the couch with his back to Seamus. Seamus snaked his arm around Matt’s neck and pulled him in. Matt’s impatience was hilarious and Seamus couldn’t help but laugh. “I have no desire to read through that garbage. I know what I need to know. But I already told you, you’re welcome to it as long as I’m not around.” “I just don’t get why you’re so against reading it,” he pouted. “Because it could be months or a year before anything happens. In the end, it’s quite possible it won’t be in my favor. It’s going to play out if I know the details or not, so I’d rather not. It’s too depressing.” Matt looked over his shoulder at Seamus. He didn’t understand how Seamus was handling the situation. For some reason it disappointed and annoyed him. “You’re really just going to roll over?” “I’m not rolling over. I’m waiting it out. Like I said before, if you want to know what’s there, go for it. I just don’t feel a pressing need to know right now.” Matt pursed his lips while he figured out what he wanted to say. In the end, he turned around. Seamus leaned his cheek against Matt’s head and ran his thumb against Matt’s arm. No matter how annoyed Matt was, Seamus was going to focus on keeping things as normal as possible. Whatever was going on with Mike didn’t define his life. Matt and Aidan defined his life. So that’s what he was going to put his effort into. **** Seamus ripped open the package and laughed. It was so stupid and trivial, but it made him happy anyway. He held the toddler sweatshirt up and showed Aidan. “How do you feel about playing hooky today? Good. Because you definitely have to come to work now. You have to show everyone who the real boss is.” Aidan didn’t really care, but he prodded his way to Seamus and humored him by being Seamus’s dress up doll. It’s what they did. Seamus bought the clothes. Aidan wore the clothes. He stood diligently while Seamus pulled the sweatshirt over his head until he was all straightened out. When he was done, he smiled. It was a simple grey hoodie with the word BOSS across the front. It described Aidan so well. Dressed for the day, the two men ditched daycare and ran errands instead. Seamus didn’t need to stop by Dough Guppies, Cavaliers, the dealerships, or Coffee|Bar but he did. It was easy to make an excuse to show Aidan off and it never hurt to meet with the managers face-to-face. He wanted them to feel supported. He also wanted them to know he was paying attention. He couldn’t handle a repeat performance of what happened with Mike. Aidan got a lot of attention, which he and Seamus ate up. Boss Man and ‘Lil Boss Man. While at the cafe, Kase let Aidan help a customer. After ordering, the couple handed lil boss the cash. Oh, he’s so cute. Instead of putting it in the till, Aidan ran off with the twenty in his hand. Half the cafe was chasing after him like they were on a football field, which only made it more fun…for everyone. Seamus caught it on video and sent it to his friends. Jay was the first to reply. Yesss. That’s my lil man!! Kase made two loelife’s drink-of-the-week. It was a Gingerbread latte. Right up Matt’s alley. Seamus tried not to stop by the office too often. He didn’t want to distract Matt or make him feel pressured. When Seamus wasn’t there, Matt was confident and quick to make decisions, good decisions, smart decisions. When Seamus was there, Matt got flustered and second guessed himself. It was late afternoon. Matt was at the desk with his fingers in his hair. A sure sign he was overwhelmed. He had a month left of school and then the rest of the team was joining him. There was much to do between now and then. Matt looked up. Seamus’s breath caught. It always did. Earnest blue eyes. Always shocked that Seamus was there, yet undeniably happy to see him. Then Matt smirked. Trying and failing not to laugh. “Boss huh? You’re creating a monster.” “Whatever, he’s cute as hell and you know it.” “Sure,” Matt nodded jokingly. “Until he starts acting like he’s the boss.” Aidan was well past that point. They both knew it. The little guy wiggled out of Seamus’s arms and went to Matt. His boyfriend was not fooled. Aidan still very much favored Seamus. No, Aidan wanted something else. He crawled up on Matt’s lap and instantly started pounding away on the keyboard. Like father, like son Seamus thought with a slow smile. He watched as Matt panicked, quickly locking the keyboard so Potato Fingers couldn’t cause any damage. Watching Aidan was like watching a really tiny hacker at work. His hands were so fast and his focus was so intense. For about a minute. Then he crawled off Matt’s lap and went on his merry way. Seamus took a seat across from Matt. “How’s work today?” “Good, I’ve just been—” Matt chewed his lip as he messed with the computer, making sure Aidan hadn’t done anything too damaging. Then he exited out of the program and looked at Seamus. “I’ve been cleaning up accounts and getting things ready for the team to start.” “Are you excited?” “Yeah, it will definitely be a good change, but I’ll miss Roberta. She’s so smart and amazing at this. She can do the work of five people.” “But isn’t the point that one person isn’t doing the work of five people?” “Totally, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that she’s smart and efficient. I can’t hold a candle to that workhorse.” Seamus didn’t argue, not because he didn’t want to but because it was pointless. Matt could be a little self-depreciating at times. He had a hard time seeing how truly smart and amazing he was. Matt didn’t mean to do it. He wasn’t looking for compliments or anything. It was just a terrible habit. “I was thinking that after graduation you and I could go on a little break. Nothing crazy. Maybe fly to Seattle and stay on Orcas Island?” Matt melted into his chair. “God, a break would be amazing. I’d have to see if Dad would take off work to watch Aidan, but I’m down.” “Actually,” Seamus grinned nervously. He wasn’t sure how the next sentence would be received. If not well, then they’d definitely call Brad, but… “I talked to Jay. He was actually thinking maybe he could take Aidan for a week? He lives in Seattle, and it would be your first time away from Aidan for more than a weekend. It might be nice to have him close by.” Matt didn’t look totally appalled, but he didn’t look eager, either. “That seems like a long time to be with someone you’re not familiar with.” “Kids are resilient and, who knows, it might be good for Aidan. Lord knows he could stand to have his immediate circle stretched. If you 're uncomfortable, that’s fine, but you’ll have to break the news to Jay. He knows it’s not official or anything but he wants it to happen so bad.” “Are you kidding me! You want me to say no to that giant puppy dog? It was hard enough watching him pout around when Loren wasn’t paying attention to him. How do you expect me to tell him he can’t watch Aidan?” Matt flopped back dramatically, making Seamus laugh. “Fine. Jay can watch him. Aidan loves him anyway.” **** The next month went by quickly. There were no updates from his lawyer so Seamus continued like normal. He did what he could to help Matt while he finished his classes, got ready to graduate, and worked for Seamus. It wasn’t a hardship. Seamus loved watching Matt grow and flourish, and he really loved spending time with Aidan. Brad came down for graduation. Seamus forgot how long and boring those ceremonies were. When it was finally over, they found Matt. He was excited but exhausted. “Had I known what bullshit the ceremony would be, I would have skipped it completely. That took forever!” They took a hundred photos of Matt in his gown before heading off. They had a small party at Cavaliers. Matt’s friends back home couldn’t make it. Seamus saw the look of disappointment on Matt’s face and it broke his heart. However, the board members surprised them by showing up unannounced. This is why Seamus loved them. They might live in different areas, but they were always there for each other. Jay even brought a surprise guest. Loren Patrick. After the championship game where Matt and Loren had hung out a bit, Matt wasn’t quite as star-struck. That didn’t mean he wasn’t relishing the attention of bring Loe to the Coffee|Bar and showing him the drink of the week. Loren was impressed and flattered. “When I started doing drinks, I never thought this would be a thing,” he said as he ran his finger over the sign. “And the blueberry latte? That’s an impressive feat since you have to—” “Use fresh blueberries, boil them down, extract the flavor?” Hilary cut in. She was the one who had done several large batches in order to have enough blueberries to cover the orders. “It wasn’t easy.” Everyone stayed in town for two days before going their separate ways. Before leaving, Jay picked up Aidan and tickled him. “See you in two days!” Matt was standing next to Loren, who was watching Jay and Aidan with feared affection. “You have my permission to use Aidan as content.” Loren jerked his head at Matt. “Wha—” “I’m just saying,” Matt smirked. “You might not be able to help yourself. He’s pretty cute.” Even Seamus wasn’t sure who he was referring to; Jay or Aidan. Maybe both. Together they could be potent. **** The week away was great. Seamus rented a house that overlooked the ocean. The weather was what you’d expect for June on the Pacific NW. Windy and not super warm. No temptation to do anything but relax on the deck, eat, and have sex. All things they did in spades. They also toured the island and talked a lot about things they wanted to do. Including adding to the family. Which had Seamus in cold sweats. It was a topic he thought about all the time, one he’d brought up. Matt knew where he stood, but they still hadn’t had a proper conversation about it. They watched the waves crash. The water was choppy and dangerous looking. They definitely weren’t in an area that would be good for swimming. Seamus brought the beer to his lips and took a long pull. He was anxious, but he had to do it. “Aidan will be two in less than two weeks.” “Don’t remind me,” Matt groaned. “Now I get why Mom was always saying sappy stuff. As much as I want Aidan to be a little more independent, I’m sad to see him growing up.” Seamus picked at the label of his bottle casually. He was so casual. You could not get more casual. “I think it’s a good time to start the conversation of growing our family. Depending on the route we take, it could take a while. We don’t want Aidan to be too old.” He quickly…but super casually, took another drink. His mouth was dry from the insanely casual conversation. Which got worse when Matt didn’t answer. After an eternity of watching the ocean and trying not to freak out as he waited for Matt, Seamus finally looked up. Matt was smirking. “How bad are you sweating right now?” “Not at all,” he lied. He definitely had fresh anxiety inducing pit stains. “You’re totally freaking out right now, don’t lie.” Seamus shook his head but couldn’t look at Matt. “You want a baby,” Matt teased. Seamus rolled his eyes. “Of course I want a baby. You know this. But we haven’t talked about it.” Matt got up and walked to Seamus. As Matt set to straddle Seamus’s hips, Seamus stretched out to accommodate his sexy-as-hell boyfriend. Sitting comfortably, Matt patted Seamus’s chest and smiled deviously. “Seeing how you haven’t managed to knock me up yet, how do you want to do it? Adoption? Surrogacy? Ugh— alien pod clone incubators?” Matt paused, unsure if there were other ways. Seamus smiled, happy that Matt wasn’t running away from the idea. “I’m not opposed to adoption, but I’d like to pursue surrogacy first.” “A little Seamus baby?” “Or a little Matt baby,” he countered. Matt made a face, a very depreciating face. “We have Aidan. That’s kind of a little Matt. If we do surrogacy, I want a little Seamus. If we go another round later on down the road, I can do the dirty work.” Seamus breathed out. He really expected this conversation to be met with more resistance. “I can work with that.” “When are you thinking you want to start?” “Is this a trap?” Seamus asked with a laugh. “Because we can cut this vacation short and leave now. Seattle has a great reproductive clinic.” Matt laughed, then leaned forward and gently kissed Seamus. It was a I really love you kind of kiss. “I’m not in that big of a hurry. Isn’t it kind of expensive?” Seamus nodded. He’d done a lot of research and had a pretty good idea of how much it would cost. “It is, but we can afford it—” “You can afford it,” Matt corrected. “We. We can afford it. But it could take a while. We have to pick an egg donor, do contracts, wait for her to cycle, complete the egg retrieval, then create embryos. We also have to find the right surrogate, do more contracts, and then wait while she does IVF. There’s a good chance it won’t happen in the first round. It could be two years before we’re pregnant. Maybe more.” “Two years?!” Matt about fell off Seamus’s lap. “Why didn’t you tell me it could take so long? We should leave now!” Matt tried to get up, jokingly but Seamus was still quick to pull him back. His reaction made Seamus feel better. Calmer. There was no hesitation or fear. His reaction made Seamus feel like it was the natural next step. Besides marriage. Honestly, Seamus was a little more worried about that. But if they were going to move forward with a baby, then why wouldn’t they be married? “Are you going to love little Seamus more than Aidan? Because Aidan won’t like that.” Seamus cupped Matt’s face and made sure he was watching as Seamus shook his head. “Absolutely not.” **** Coming back, Aidan was a whole new kid, kind of. Spending eight days away from Matt and Seamus, even though he’d been spoiled rotten in ways that neither of them could fully comprehend, had given the little guy a whole new outlook on life. He learned to appreciate the finer things in life. AKA Matt. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that profound, but Aidan was marginally less clingy to Seamus afterward. And that alone was a pretty big deal. The new team started working. Seamus made it a point to stay away from the office so Matt could establish his role as finance manager. A title that disappointed Seamus, but he also understood that Matt wanted to earn a higher title the right way. Matt came home happy. That was all that mattered to Seamus. Then things changed. Mike added several more lawsuits. He claimed he was dehumanized, that he was forced to do more work than had been negotiated and without proper compensation, and that he was unable to take breaks or lunches as required by law. If that wasn’t enough, Gale and Robert Jacobson joined in. Years after the fact, they were contesting the will. They also had a lawsuit claiming they were entitled to the businesses because it was their money that funded the start up. It was all overwhelming. Even if the cases weren’t strong, Seamus had heard of cases winning with less. Seamus was on the brink of losing everything. Matt and Kase drove Hilary to Atlanta. They were gone for five days. When they got back, Matt started working late. He had an entire team now. There was no reason that he’d need to work late. In fact, he could get off early if he wanted. But there he was, working late. Some nights he didn’t get home until after Aidan was down for the night. It wasn’t a big deal. Except it made little sense. He never stayed late before when it was just him and Roberta. Now there are three additional full-time employees and Matt was pulling ten-hour days? Seamus wasn’t about to question him, but it was itching something fierce just under his skin. With all the craziness, he needed to trust Matt. **** “I think Matt’s cheating on me.” Seamus checked his phone. The line was silent but showed it was still connected. Then the laughing started. “Bro, you need to calm down. I know Kelly was a double douche bag but Matt is a different breed. He’s good.” The don't be an idiot was implied, but Jay was too nice to say it. “He’s been working late. When I ask him about it, he says he has a lot to do. But he’s weird about it. He’s definitely hiding something.” “Have you told him how you feel?” “No, because I don’t want to offend him.” “Then show up at work when he’s there late. Preface it by bringing him coffee or dinner. If he’s working, then you’ll know he’s been telling the truth. If he’s not…then—” “Okay,” he sighed. “Might as well rip the Band-Aid off.” He gave Matt another week before he finally decided to ‘swing by’. Seamus was desperate for things to be good, but he had to know the truth. It was Thursday. Matt texted he was working extra late. Seamus didn’t want to bring Aidan along in case the outcome was no good, so he found a sitter. The mom of a girl in Aidan’s daycare. He needed to socialize anyway; Seamus reasoned. He grabbed Sonic on the way. Then sat in the parking lot while the food got cold. Five minutes later, he started the SUV to go back home. The whole thing was ridiculous. But—he was already there, right? Why not pop in? Seamus snatched the bag from the passenger’s seat and got out of the car before he could change his mind again. His heart was racing as he marched to the office. Please be working, please be working, please be working; he pleaded. He had his key out and ready to go, though he was torn between opening the door slowly and giving Matt a heads up and unlocking it quickly so there was no chance to hide. The key slid in and turned the lock. Even if he wanted to go slow, it all happened so fast. Then it halted to a stop. Matt was at his desk with another man. A man who wasn’t an employee. They were sitting close. Really, really close. Matt looked up when Seamus shut the door, surprised written on his face. “What are you doing here?” Seamus held up the bag of food as he stared at the guy sitting next to Matt. Who was he and why was here so late? Seamus stood frozen. He couldn’t move. He was trying not to jump to conclusions, but he couldn’t think of a valid reason Matt would be at the office this late with someone who didn’t work for him. Finally, he found his voice. “I thought you might be hungry.” “Umm.” Matt scratched his face awkwardly. “Thank you.” It was so uncomfortable that Seamus couldn’t bring himself to take the food to Matt’s desk. He just stood on the other side of the room like an outsider as Matt spoke quickly and quietly to his invited guest. The guy nodded, said something in return, then shuffled some papers into an envelope, and stood up. He grabbed his jacket and passed Seamus with a nod before disappearing. “I wasn’t expecting you to stop by,” Matt said as he turned his focus to Seamus. “You should’ve called.” “I thought I’d surprise you. Surprise,” he deadpanned. It was hard to joke when he was living his worst nightmare. Seamus took a few steps towards Matt and tossed the food, watching as it landed and slid across the desk. Matt’s face pinched in confusion. “What’s going on? You’re upset.” “Who was that?” he pointed toward the door where the guy had just left. “Christopher.” “Who is he?” he asked slowly. There was a beat of silence before Matt slumped his shoulders and leaned back in the chair. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s not what you think.” “What do I think?” “That Chris and I—” Seamus crossed his arms. “And you’re not?” “Sit down, Seamus. We need to talk.” He waited for Seamus to sit down across from him, then leaned forward with his elbows on the desk. “Since I started working here, I’ve been digging through everything. I didn’t know what I could find that no one else had, but I couldn’t help myself. You were the one who said it was okay to go through the findings from the investigation. Well, I did, and something about it made me want to look deeper. The thing is, we were all looking in the past. I started looking at the present. Actually, I was working on accounts payable when I noticed it. There were several invoices from different companies, all going to the same post office box. I pulled all the records and noticed several things that rubbed me the wrong way. I went to the managers and inquired about the services. The car dealership doesn’t receive 300 boxes of car detailing kits every month from this brand, Dough Guppies own their cars outright courtesy of the dealership, so why are they making car payments? The answer: They’re not. Each business has one vendor that doesn’t make sense, and all those payments are going to the same place. I needed more info so I talked to one of my classmates. His brother works for the local post office and was able to check out the owner of the PO box. I didn’t recognize the name but I added it to the file. The guy from the post office gave me Ed’s name. He works at the courthouse and was able to investigate a little deeper into the businesses. There’s so much I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the vendors are siphoning money from you. And by vendors, I mean Kelly’s parents.” “Kelly’s parents?” Seamus asked, completely shocked. “How?” “Mike, I suppose.” “This just keeps getting worse.” “It does,” Matt agreed. “But honestly, I think this could be good. I don’t think they tried hard to cover their tracks because Mike was behind it. Ed gave me the name of Christopher, who was the guy here tonight. He’s FBI.” “FBI?” Seamus perked up. This was big. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t I know any of this?” “You didn’t even want to open the manilla envelope, Seamus. And honestly, until tonight I wasn’t sure where any of this would go.” “Until tonight? What does that mean? Where’s it going now?” “Christopher can’t tell me much but I’m pretty sure there’s already an open investigation into Kelly’s parents.” “What does this mean?” Seamus was too afraid to assume anything. Not with the way things were going. Not with the number of lawsuits against him. He couldn’t afford to be hopeful. Matt smiled. “It means the FBI is taking over.” Hope suddenly became a reality.
    118 points
  7. It was always busy in the mornings at Coffee|Bar but Matt felt more pressure than usual as he busied himself between taking orders and making orders. He'd only been working there a few months and was feeling bad about requesting the weekend off to go see his mom. The least he could do was prove to Denise that she hadn't made a mistake hiring him. Hilary elbowed him after he fumbled and then saved a stack of cups. “Dude, calm down. What’s got you wound so tight? This isn’t like you.” “I think Denise is irritated that I asked for the weekend off. What if she fires me?” He paused and blew out a deep breath. “Maybe Mom could find someone to babysit.” “You think Denise really gives a fuck?” she asked. “The deal with having a business that relies on college students to stay afloat is having a million time off requests at any given moment. Weekend requests are the easiest to fill because no one has classes. There’s a dozen people wanting those hours, Matt. You’re fine.” “I know,” he groaned. “I just don’t want to lose my shifts. I have good shifts, great shifts even.” He had managed to have a great schedule that gave him premium hours, a little time off, and no conflict with his classes. It was a college wet dream. “You have great shifts because you slay the job. Now finish your damn shift without wrecking the place and go watch your cute-as-a-button late-in-life...I mean, lil brother,” she winked. Matt rolled his eyes but laughed anyway. The acronym was damn funny because it was true. Where Matt had been the product of high school lust on steroids, his lil brother couldn’t say the same. Matt couldn’t say what Aidan was the product of. His mom was nearing forty and dating a guy ten years her junior. Matt had done the math and they’d only been “dating” a week before she got pregnant. That was a generous calculation by the way. He wasn’t entirely convinced they’d done anything that was classified as a date unless they’d bypassed the classic dating rules and jumped straight to the post third date activities. He guessed that meant Aidan was a product of post third date activities. Poor kid. Hilary’s assurance helped Matt finish his shift without the nagging guilt on his shoulders. Still, he handed Denise a thank you card with a gift card to the movie theatre. Yeah, it was lame but he was still a broke college student and she’d mentioned how annoyed she was with the price of movie tickets these days. He really thought she’d appreciate the gesture. He walked home, showered, and grabbed the backpack he’d packed the previous night. The bus ride was just under four hours. Going home was always bittersweet. He felt bad because there was no reason he should dread it. He didn’t have a terrible childhood by any means. His parents hadn’t made their lusty high school affair work in the long term. Shocking. They’d split custody the best way they knew how, which wasn’t easy since his dad lived an hour west. If he’d been going home to his dad’s, things might’ve been different. Having a kid so young had calmed him down and made him mature real quick. His dad was a rock and they got along great. But it was his mom who’d been a majority shareholder when it came to parenting time and being a teen mom hadn’t induced the same growth rate in her as it has in his dad. No doubt a contributing factor as to why he had a kid brother twenty years his junior whose father was only nine years Matt’s senior. When the bus arrived, his mom was waiting. She smiled and waved when he stepped off the bus, clearly happy to see her firstborn. Matt smiled, then saw Aidan and really smiled. At three months old Aidan was too small to give a fuck about his older brother but that didn’t stop Matt from raising his voice and saying stupid things that no respectable man would say to another man but were socially acceptable when it involved the cutest sack of potatoes you ever saw. He carefully plucked Aidan from his mother’s arms and cooed into the most uninterested blue eyes. The fact he hung lifelessly in Matt’s hands didn’t stop him from making a fool of himself. Just when it looked like Aidan was having enough of the assault, Matt cradled him on his shoulder and swayed him back and forth. “Hi Mom,” he said, leaning in and kissing her on the cheek while giving the kind of awkward half-hug that can only be achieved when you’re holding an infant. “Hey you,” she squeezed him then quickly let go. “Thank you for coming. Todd and I needed a night out and Aidan missed his brother.” Matt looked down and smiled. “I’m sure he did. I bet he’s been begging for days to see me. I’m the only friend he’s got in this world.” “Yeah, he doesn’t get out much. Kinda keeps to himself.” “The introvert to my extrovert,” Matt joked as he laid his brother in the car seat and buckled him in. When he got in the front seat he turned to his mom, “Where are you guys going tonight? Any place nice?” “Digly’s.” Matt whistled. “Wow, what’s the occasion?” His mom sat up straighter and got a proud look on her face. “Well, I got promoted to head nurse.” “H-B-I-C,” Matt said, impressed. His mom might make questionable decisions in her personal life but she was a great nurse. “H-B-what?” “H-B-I-C. Head bitch in charge.” His mom started laughing but was clearly pleased with the reference. “Can I get that on a plaque? It’s perfect. H-B-I-C,” she chuckled to herself. “That’s awesome.” “Seriously, Mom, congratulations. You deserve it.” “I do don’t I? I’ve worked hard for this. I’m excited. And Todd is getting a promotion, too.” “Look at you two getting shit done. Good thing I already filled out my FAFSA or your ballin’ status would really screw me over.” His mom swatted his knee but preened at the compliment. She’d always had a good job but she’d never been great at managing her means. Matt had a feeling she and Todd were already experiencing the lifestyle creep even though they hadn’t gotten paid yet. Matt knew the reality wouldn’t be as much as they were expecting but that was their bed, not his. They got to the house and Matt went to his childhood room and settled in. It was already late and his mom and Todd were quick to get going. He stood at the door and waved as they left to celebrate their big money status. When they pulled away Matt picked Aidan up from the vibrating saucer bed and took him to the couch. They watched a movie, ate, burped, and settled into PJ’s. Matt loved his brother. It made him excited to have a kid of his own some day. He’d always been good with kids and Aidan confirmed what a kick ass dad he’d be. Even at twenty, it was quite easy to spend time with the little nugget. He fell asleep on the couch with Aidan on his chest. Matt didn’t see a reason to put him down since they’d be up in a few hours to eat again. When he woke again it wasn’t because of Aidan, it was a knock on the door. He slowly got up, assuming it was just his mom and Todd wanting in. Probably too drunk to worry about their house keys. Aidan didn’t rouse even when Matt opened the front door, letting a breeze of frigid early morning air into the house. On the porch stood a police officer. This wasn’t Matt’s first rodeo. “How can I help you, officer?” He asked, pulling the blanket a little tighter to shield him from the cold. “Hi, I’m Officer Whistler. What’s your relation to Brenda Andrews?” “She’s my mother.” “And what’s your name?” “Matt, Matthew Kessler.” Officer Whistler jotted the notes in his book then looked Matt in the eyes. It was that moment Matt knew it was more than just a minor infraction or a DUI like his mom had had in the past. “Your mom and Todd Getler have been in an accident.” Matt wasn’t thinking of worst case scenarios, yet. “Were they drinking?” “That’s undetermined at this time.” “What happened?” “It looks like they were on their way home on Highway 72 when a boulder fell on the road.” Matt’s gut coiled. He’d always hated that road. The whole side of the mountain was held together with a metal blanket of chain link to keep rocks from falling. There were signs every mile or so letting drivers know of the pending danger. To his knowledge, no one had ever been killed. “Holy shit,” he breathed. His body began shaking so he started swaying Aidan, more for his benefit than his brother’s. “How bad is it? Are they— The officer shook his head. Oh shit. **** Matt was on autopilot after that, doing things he thought were fifty-plus years in his future. He had to process and sort out the vast misfortune that was his mother’s life all while caring for Aidan. If it hadn’t been for his naturally organized nature and future as an accountant or business equivalent, he would have drowned trying to navigate the mess she left. Todd’s only family was an aunt in poor health. Lucky for her because as far as Matt could tell, Todd had nothing to his name except whatever was in his bank, which he could only assume wasn’t much. It wasn’t as if his mom had a lot to liquidate. She’d never gotten to a place where she was able to buy a house but she did have retirement and a small life insurance policy through her job at the hospital. Matt had to go through her house and decide what to keep and what to sell. The sell pile was a lot bigger than the keep. He never got emotionally attached to things the way his mom did. He had no problem discarding most of her stuff which made him feel incredibly guilty. But he lived in an apartment. What was he supposed to do? Pay for storage until x amount of time passed and then toss it? Nah, he’d rather get it over with. It wasn’t until Aidan’s stuff was cluttering his one-bedroom apartment that the weight of it all hit him. He went from a college junior studying numbers to a single parent in the literal blink of an eye. He was hardly the first young, single parent getting a college degree but it was all so new to him. Regardless, he wasn’t gonna let it get him down. He was his father’s son, and if his dad could do it and cross the other side like a boss, then so could Matt. **** “I’m torn between being glad and feeling bad that you’re back to work already. Are you sure it’s not too soon?” Hilary asked as she and Matt quickly prepped the incoming drink orders. Matt pumped chocolate into the cup and shrugged. “Well, I’m torn between not wanting to work but knowing that money is the root of all evil and I must have it if I want to finish school and not kill a small helpless child.” “Well,” she laughed. “When you put it like that, welcome back. Where is Aidan anyway? When are you gonna bring him in? I want to hold a baby so bad.” Hilary and Matt moved around each other as they worked the line, her reaching in the minifridge below Matt and him grabbing the flavoring from her side of the bar. “He’s with a woman named Victoria who lives over on 117th. I found her on Craigslist and, before you judge me, know that I’m totally freaking out about it. But I didn’t think about getting him in daycare until it was too late and they don’t have drop-off services. I’m just trying to figure it out. On top of that, daycare is so damn expensive,” he stepped back so Hilary could cross him, when she moved back, he resumed crafting the perfect mocha breve. “Like seriously, how do people afford to raise kids?” Hilary looked at Matt with sympathy. “I don’t know but they do. I think the college offers some daycare assistance during classes and the state offers daycare assistance based on income.” Matt put the finished drinks on the counter then called out the names for pick up. “I know and, I’m not trying to sound finicky, but the state-assisted daycares are terrifying.” “I’m not sure I can do much but you have my number. If it works around my schedule, I’ll do what I can.” “I appreciate it. Even if it doesn’t work out, the offer means so much. It’s all the small things that are overwhelming me. There are so many things I’m not aware of, you know? I don’t know what I don’t know. I just wish I knew what to plan for. I feel like I’m in a stranger’s house, trying to find my way to the bathroom in the dark.” “You’ll find the light switch soon enough my friend.” Matt was thankful for Hilary, if for no other reason than being a compassionate sounding board. Just talking about it made him feel better. By the time he clocked out, he had more confidence than he’d woken up with. When he picked Aidan up from his first day of daycare and there hadn’t been any issues, he was relieved. He never thought he’d be so anxious about leaving a child but Aidan was tiny and helpless and was relying on Matt to keep him safe. It was enough pressure to make him second guess his every move. **** If Matt thought daycare was his biggest issue then he considered himself royally punked. The college had a daycare and was able to take Aidan during his class hours and Victoria was pretty flexible when it came to his shifts at Coffee|Bar. The bigger issue was trying to get anything done with a three-month-old. Laundry? No longer a quick trip to the laundry room. Now he had to figure out how to take Aidan plus his laundry and he couldn’t take separate trips as leaving a baby unattended was frowned upon. Grocery shopping was no longer a quick in/out situation. He either had to strap the kid to his chest or sacrifice the majority of the shopping cart to house him. And for such a small human, he made everyday chores almost impossible. Aidan was an easy baby but it seemed like Matt couldn’t get more than ten minutes into something before Aidan needed something. Feeding, diaper, attention. Matt wondered if there was any chance he could pass his classes without studying. Lord knew Aidan wasn’t going to give him the chance. Despite the hardships, things were moving forward. Two weeks with Aidan and it was starting to feel smoother. Just like every Thursday, Matt carried Aidan to campus, dropped him off at the daycare, went to class, picked Aidan up, took the bus to Victoria’s and dropped Aidan off again, then walked to work. He was dead on his feet when he entered the back door and put his stuff in his cubby before putting on his apron. He checked the schedule like he did every day, just in case something changed, then went to the front of the house. It was busy, of course. It was a popular and trendy coffee house close to campus. It was always teeming with people needing a caffeine fix or a place to take selfies just to prove they studied. Hilary wasn’t working but he hadn’t met a coworker he didn’t like. Example; Kase. He was on the football team and he and Matt got along pretty well. Kase saw him and raised his chin, his hand busy prepping food. “Matt,” Denise said as she came up from behind. “How are things settling? How’s that chunky monkey?” “Good, he’s doing real good. We’re both doing good.” And that was the truth. Denise had been a godsend from the beginning, letting Matt know she had his back and if he needed anything, all he had to do was ask. “I’m glad to hear it. Mind taking tubs today? Dishes are way backed up.” “Absolutely,” he responded. Most of the crew groaned about doing dishes but Matt was happy to contribute wherever he was needed. He grabbed a tub from the floor and headed toward the back. “Holy shit,” he muttered to himself. Denise wasn’t joking when she said dishes were backed up. The entire stainless-steel counter was stacked full. It was so full he wasn’t even sure where to start. He threw on the full length, thick plastic apron and got to work. Besides how hot and muggy it got from the commercial spray hose and giant sanitation machine, dishes weren’t that bad. As each load came out of the washer, he quickly put them away and started the next. Rinse and repeat. Literally. Matt had a stack of dishes and was heading to the front to put them away when someone came through the wrong door, running face-first into Matt and making him drop the dishes on the floor, shattering everything. “Holy shit,” Matt swore as the sound of ceramic shattering echoed in the kitchen. No doubt the entire place heard the damage. “I’m sorry,” the guy said. Matt could only assume he was a new hire. “I didn’t see you coming.” He bent over and started putting broken pieces in the tub. “For future reference, that door is marked exit only and the other one is to enter...to prevent this from happening.” Matt tried to keep his voice calm even though he was irritated to no end by such reckless behavior. The guy stilled and looked at Matt, then at the door, then at Matt again. He looked like he wanted to feel guilty but mostly found Matt annoying for pointing out his wrongdoing. “Fair enough.” Denise busted through the door—the correct door—and looked around the kitchen. “Whoa. What happened here?” Matt didn’t volunteer anything, opting to wait for the other guy to sing. “We got our wires crossed, no big deal.” He looked at Matt. “Go ahead to the front. I’ll clean this up.” Matt stared at him for a moment. He’d never seen this guy a day in his life and suddenly he was dismissing Matt? Matt wasn’t one who thought he was above anyone else and always respected authority but he couldn’t help wonder who the fool was. Instead of leaving, he looked to Denise for instructions. She nodded toward the front, confirming his dismissal, then bent down to help clean the mess up. Matt removed the washing apron and left without a word. “What the hell happened back there? Sounded like a sonic boom or something,” Kase asked as Matt jumped in to help on the line. “Some dumbass came barging in the wrong door as I was trying to bring a stack of plates to the front of the house.” “Some dumbass, huh?” Kase laughed. Matt gestured to the door with a pretty little sign. “The doors are clearly marked, so you tell me.” “Is said dumbass about yay-high,” Kase’s hand stopped just short of his own height, just under six foot or so. “A dark red headed Irishman, late twenties, possibly could choke you out with his mind power?” Matt rolled his eyes. “Yes on the height and hair, no clue on the ethnicity, probable theory on the telekinesis.” Kase thought the whole exchange was funny as shit because he was laughing pretty loudly as he put the two paninis in the press. “Dude, this is awesome. That dumbass is Seamus Ryan.” “And he’s, what? A friend of yours from the football team?” Kase clapped his hands and laughed. “No, more like the guy who signs our paychecks, man. As in, Seamus Ryan, the owner.” Fuck me Matt laughed to himself. What are the odds? “It changes nothing except my anxiety level. He still should’ve used the correct door, it’s not that hard. I’m not getting written up for his error.” “Fight the power, man,” Kase fisted the air. “Fight the power.” Denise and Seamus came up front together. Neither of them acknowledged Matt, who kept his head down and worked, prepping food for Kase on the line. When it looked like the dish bins were getting full, he excused himself and took the tub to the back to get caught up on the washing. Denise and Seamus came and went throughout the day. Spending a little while out front before disappearing to the back again. Matt didn’t really care what Seamus thought, but Denise, she’d been so kind and accommodating since his mom died. He wasn’t confident he could find another job with a boss like her and wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize it. Luckily, Seamus left before his shift was over and he was able to talk to Denise in private. “I just wanted to apologize for earlier. The guy startled me when he came the wrong way through the door and everything happened so fast. I’ll be more careful in the future.” Denise squeezed his shoulder and smiled. “Oh Matt, I hope you haven’t been gnawing on this all day. Seamus knew better. He’s always in a damn hurry.” “Okay,” he relaxed. “I just really appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I don’t want to be more of a headache than necessary.” “You’re hardly a headache. If anything, you make my life easier. You’re the only person who doesn’t complain when I ask them for something, like the dishes. You’re a big picture person. You see what needs to be done no matter how big or small and then you do it. I appreciate you and the least I can do is help where I can. You’re too valuable to lose. Never be afraid to ask for anything.” “Does that mean Aidan can hang out for fifteen minutes or so on Thursday?” he asked, hopeful. She winked and gave him a thumbs up. Matt tossed a silent thanks to the god above then changed out of his work stuff and left to pick up Aidan. **** “Okay Aido-Potato, what do you want for dinner? Similac sensitive or...Similac sensitive?” He watched as his brother wiggled on his back, cooing and smiling as Matt held a bottle in one hand and formula in the other. “Similac sensitive it is. You’re a tough negotiator lil brother.” Matt watched Aidan from the corner of his eye as he prepped the bottle then sat on the couch and fed him. It was weird, Matt looked just like his dad yet Aidan looked a lot like Matt. Having light brown hair and blue eyes wasn’t exactly a scientific anomaly. Heck, who knew, maybe they’d look nothing alike as Aidan got older. After a bath, where Matt tried not to gag as he cleaned the sour milk from Aidan’s fat rolls, the ones on his neck being the most pungent thanks to formula drip, Matt did homework. Like every night, it was slow going. Normally he could get so lost that hours would pass in the blink of an eye, now it seemed like he couldn’t get ten minutes in before Aidan distracted him. Matt rolled his eyes when Aidan squawked for the tenth time, demanding attention, and flopped back on the couch. He used his foot to jiggle the small human that was laying on the floor. “Are you sleepy yet? I could read you my textbook? Do you think tax law will put you to sleep? It does for most people.” He got Aidan ready for bed then turned down the lights and snuggled into the couch. It took fifteen minutes of reading before Aidan was passed out. Matt carefully carried him to the crib that sat beside his bed in the small room they shared. “Being a single parent at twenty wasn’t supposed to be in the cards. Not being a dad by accident is literally the one thing a gay man can count on,” he whispered in the darkened room as he leaned against the crib. “I miss Mom. Probably for the wrong reasons,” he laughed. “But I miss her. And I can’t even be mad at her. Sometimes I wish she’d been reckless so I could blame her for all this, but she wasn’t. Neither of them had much alcohol. Now it’s just you and me. I can’t say I’d pick this outcome if I had a choice but here I am, terrified. I have no clue what I’m doing. What if I can’t juggle it all? It’s not like I have Mom to help me out. I do have Dad, he’s awesome and knows exactly what I’m going through, but how weird would it be for him to help raise his dead ex-wife’s child that she had with another man. That’s some prime daytime television shit right there.” Matt rubbed Aidan’s belly and left the door cracked as he left. Matt stayed up and did homework until Aidan woke again, then they both went to sleep. Aidan was getting better at sleeping and that made the next day easier. A good thing because everything was taking longer. He couldn’t jump out of bed and rush to class anymore. Ten minutes for Matt to get ready and twenty-five minutes for Aidan. Victoria was a good sitter but he wished he could find something closer. There was a daycare that would be perfect but they had a waiting list and he wasn’t sure how many kids were before them. He had a feeling he wouldn’t get that call until next semester if he was lucky. It meant having Aidan at work more frequently than he wanted. It was only for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time but he still felt guilty. No one seemed to mind, they loved it even and took turns holding him. Today, however, wouldn't be fifteen minutes. Victoria was sick. He’d already taken Aidan to class earlier, which he slept through most of it. Matt knew he could call into work but decided to stop by anyway. If it was busy then he’d hang out for a few minutes. If it wasn’t, he’d take Aidan and go home. **** Two people had called out so, not only was it busy, they were short-handed. He found Denise in the back, grabbing supplies. “Hey, my sitter is sick. I was going to see about going home but I can totally stay, I just have a little issue—” Matt lifted the car seat and the obvious hiccup strapped inside. Denise drummed her long fingers on her lips as she figured a way to handle the situation. “You’re allowed to call out,” she finally said. The statement was out of obligation because even he could tell she needed the extra help. “If you don’t have a problem with him being here then I don’t have a problem staying, I swear.” “Are you sure? It’s just—I have an appointment in an hour that I already rescheduled twice. If I don’t show up they’ll drop me.” “It’s not a problem for me. I promise.” Denise looked relieved and thankful. Since Aidan was sleeping, Matt kept him in the car seat and put him in the corner where he could keep an eye on him while working. When he woke, everyone took turns making sure Aidan, and the customers, were taken care of. It was actually fun. Aidan put everyone in a good mood. Having a baby brought something different to the monotony of work. Not that Matt thought work was boring. “Dude, it’s my turn.” Kase held his hands out, greedily. Hilary rolled her eyes but relinquished the child. Kase smiled in victory before heading to the floor to wipe off tables. “This is a bad idea,” she said, though she was smiling as she watched her friend soak up attention from the female patrons. “A football player who's good with babies? He’ll have enough numbers to last him all year.” “I should be disgusted that he’d use my baby brother—” “Lil brother,” Hilary corrected. “Lil brother, but I’m just thankful to be working. Plus, he is dreamy looking with a baby. I’m tempted to give him my number,” he faux swooned. Matt wasn’t attracted to Kase but yeah, a cute guy with a baby was really sexy. Hilary laughed but the way she watched Kase said she didn’t disagree. “It’s really not so bad. I don’t think Denise cares. Plus, that is one cute, chubby baby. I just want to bite his legs all day long.” “They are meal worthy,” he agreed. Eventually, it was Matt’s turn again. He strapped Aidan to his chest in one of those harness things that was single-handedly making super brotherhood manageable and started putting dishes away. He was carrying his brother and a tub of cups to the front when someone came in as Matt was going out. Matt let go of the tub in order to protect Aidan, sending the dishes crashing to the ground, again. Aidan started screaming. Matt was upset that he’d once again dropped a tub of dishes, more upset his brother was crying, and downright pissed that Seamus hadn't learned his lesson the last time. “This door is going out of the kitchen. Out,” he said as he bent down. He used one hand to keep his brother's head from dangling and the other to fill the tub with broken shards of glass. “Sorry, I didn’t realize there was anyone back here.” “It’s impossible to tell if there’s someone back here, that’s why the doors are labeled. For everyone’s safety.” The other door opened and a few coworkers popped in. Aidan’s screaming hadn’t gone unnoticed by the front of the house. “Is he okay?” Hilary rushed in. She semi-relaxed when he realized Aidan was okay. “Want me to take him?” Matt shook his head, stood up and stepped away from the mess while the two other employees took over. He held Aidan tight and began to sway. Aidan still screamed. “Are you sure he’s okay?” Hilary asked again. “Yeah, he just got scared. Plus, he’s hungry and tired. I’m gonna take my fifteen and see if I can get him to sleep.” Matt had never seen Aidan so upset and the nonstop screaming was stressing him out. He couldn’t get the bottle ready fast enough. Like kids do, ten minutes later he was fast asleep in his arms. Matt carefully put him on his chest and patted his back then laid him in the car seat. “I can sit in here with him while he sleeps.” Matt craned his neck. Seamus was standing at the door looking a little guilty. “It’s fine. He can hang with me out front.” “I’ve got work to do on the computer anyway so it’s not a big deal.” “Denise said it was okay for him to be here.” Matt felt the need to clarify that bit of information. The last thing he wanted was for the owner, who never really came around, to get upset because he brought a baby to work. Knowing Denise had approved would probably lesson the fallout. “I don’t—I’m not worried about that. But I can watch him.” Matt thought about it for a minute then reached for the car seat. “Yeah, okay. I’ll just—” he tucked Aidan into the car seat. Seamus sat at the desk and Matt paused at the door, “Thanks. Just, eh, let me know if he wakes up.” Matt was a total ball of nerves for the next two hours. He had to stop himself from checking on Aidan because he didn’t want to inconvenience the owner or have him think less of him. He also worried that Seamus did care that he brought his brother to work and that he’d have a conversation with Denise about it later. He hoped Denise wouldn’t get in trouble too. Everyone else seemed to share Matt’s nervousness. Theirs had more to do with the owner being there than the Aidan situation but Matt felt better knowing he wasn’t alone. When Seamus came through the door with a wide-awake Aidan in his arms, Matt rushed them. “Here, I can take him.” Seamus pulled Aidan out of Matt’s reach. “It’s fine. He’s been awake for a while. I just came up to get a drink. Would you mind getting me a grande Americano with two sugars and a splash of cream?” Matt hesitated before fixing said drink. When he came back a minute later Seamus was smiling at a talkative Aidan. Matt nervously bit his lip. “I can take him.” Seamus shook his head. “Nah, we’re good. He’s been telling me all about his week. I apologized for scaring him earlier by changing the big deuce he dropped after he woke up.” “You don’t have to change him, I can do that,” he said, feeling terrible that his boss changed Aidan’s diaper, something that was hardly a pleasant experience for anyone but Aidan. “I’m sure you can but so can I. Anyway, we have to go back to work,” Seamus walked toward the back, then stopped. “How much does he usually eat? In case he gets hungry.” “Eh, six-ounces?” Seamus nodded then left. Matt looked at his coworkers like what the fuck? “That was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” Hilary dreamily watched the door as if she’d just fallen in love. “Excuses me, I didn’t see you gushing over me when I was holding the baby,” Kase pouted. “Yeah, well you’re not a rich, built Irishman who slightly terrifies me every time he pops up.” “Exactly how often does he pop up?” Matt asked, wondering if it was safe to bring Aidan back in or if he needed to change things up. “I don’t know. He used to be here all the time but I haven’t seen him much in the last year. He has a few other businesses. I think he spends his time there. It’s a shame if you ask me.” “God, keep it in your pants,” Kase rolled his eyes at Hilary’s lusty behavior. “I’m taller than him and a football player. He doesn’t even have an Irish accent. We don’t even know if he’s from Ireland!” You’d think Kase was interested in Hilary but really he just hated sharing the attention. “Seamus Ryan is a total Irish name and he’s got that gorgeous deep red hair. Even if he wasn’t born there, he’s got Irish blood, that much is obvious.” Matt left them to bicker themselves to death. He had two hours left on shift and he wanted them to pass quickly. Then he needed to go home and study. An hour later he was cleaning the flavored syrup bottles when he heard Aidan crying. He stood still and listened. “What is it?” Hilary asked as she watched his strange behavior. “Do you hear that?” He asked. Hilary focused on trying to hear whatever Matt was hearing but it was hard with all the normal cafe noise. “I think Aidan’s crying.” Hilary half-rolled her eyes. “Yeah, babies do that.” “Maybe I should see if he needs help.” “I think he can manage. He’s been doing a pretty good job today. If you want, I can go back and check.” Matt narrowed his eyes at her, on to her little game. “What?” she asked. “Sorry I find a man who’s good daddy material a turn on.” “What am I? Chopped liver.” “You’re gay, so yeah, kinda like chopped liver.” Matt let Aidan cry for a few more minutes. Just when he was about to go back, the crying stopped. Matt didn’t hear another peep until his shift was over. Seamus was sitting at the desk with Aidan in his lap, one arm securing the child to his broad chest while he worked on the computer. He looked at Matt. “We’re fine. You don’t have to check on us.” “I’m not. I’m off so—” he pointed to Aidan as he walked across the office. Seamus stood up and handed the baby over. Most people treated Aidan like breakable glass but Seamus handled him like someone who’d been around babies, gentle but not afraid to manhandle him a bit. “You have a kid?” Matt asked. “Nah, just nieces and nephews.” Matt nodded. Seamus put everything in the backpack while Matt secured Aidan in the car seat. Seamus handed him the backpack then sat down at the desk. “Thanks,” Matt said as he paused by the door. Seamus gave a slight nod then resumed working on the computer, so Matt left. He had no idea how to handle the situation. He was thankful for the help, yet riddled with anxiety over his boss’s boss watching Aidan. He tried to take it at face value and appreciate it for what it was; a helping hand. He needed to focus on making things more reliable so he could eliminate the unneeded stress.
    113 points
  8. It took longer than usual to navigate the door lock. Seamus could barely keep the key steady as he tried to get the damn door open. Looked like Matt wasn’t the only one sprinting on nerves and adrenaline. Was any of this a good idea? Matt had no clue. Was it a terrible idea? Hell no. Finally, Seamus pushed the door open. Matt smirked as he walked by. Took you long enough to which Seamus blushed. Seamus never blushed. But he composed himself quickly and took Matt’s hand, pulling him along, rather hastily. If Matt was a weaker man his shoulder might have been dislocated. “This is my apartment,” Seamus said. “Kitchen, living room, bathroom,” he pointed. “My roommates are there and there,” he pointed to Matt and Aidan’s rooms. Matt laughed as they continued through the apartment. When they got to Seamus’s room, he turned and pressed his back against his door, blocking them from going in. “And this is my room.” Matt tried to peek over his shoulder, playing along, secretly anxious to be on the other side. “It’s a real nice door. Goes well with the rest of the house.” He reached past Seamus and knocked on the wood. “Sturdy. Is that solid wood?” Seamus twisted to look behind him. “Yes, maple I think.” “Maple is a hardwood. That’s good. You got a solid door here made of hardwood.” “Yep. Maple is one of the hardest woods.” Neither one of them could hold a straight face. Hardwood. Matt pressed forward, pressing his hips against Seamus. “What other hardwoods are there?” “Oh. Cherry, walnut, hickory, oak—” he listed, though his voice was far less confident now that Matt was pressed against him. Seamus was always a bit stoic so it was fun to watch the man stumble a bit. It evened the playing field. Matt needed the leg up. Seamus was hotter, more successful, and overall a better person. No way he had enough clout to sit parallel to someone of Seamus’ caliber. So, yeah, watching Seamus behave like a normal person—tongue tied and awkward—was a boost to Matt’s self-esteem. With that extra confidence, he leaned in, initiating another kiss then he fumbled for the handle. They stumbled backward, managing to stay connected without ever breaking the kiss or their grip on each other. “You feel so fucking good,” Seamus said, pulling Matt’s shirt up so he could touch more skin. Matt moaned and tried to undress the hottie in front of him. His fingers were burning with anticipation. He unzipped Seamus’ pants and stuck his hand inside, straight for the gold. Seamus shuddered and stilled as Matt fumbled with his cock. He pushed his pants lower so Matt had full access. Seamus was solid. Matt could easily appreciate what he was packing. Having dated almost every gay person in a one-hour radius back home, Matt had a lot to compare against. They undressed down to their boxers. Quite the feat considering their unwillingness to stop groping or kissing. Seamus hit the bed first, pulling Matt on top of him. Matt took a second to admire all the perfection that was Seamus Ryan. Nice chest, toned tummy, chestnut chest hair trimmed short, nice legs—muscled, hairy, sexy as hell. Matt paused. “Do you still have your socks on?” he asked. “Please tell me you don’t have your socks on.” Seamus took his socks off, throwing them on the floor. “There,” he said, breathlessly. “No socks.” Matt bit his lip then swooped down and kissed Seamus because not kissing him wasn’t an option. He could feel Seamus melt under him and it only drove him crazier. Matt could already feel the pressure building in his belly. “Here.” Seamus shoved Matt’s boxers down until he was fully exposed. “Holy shit.” Seamus stared at Matt’s cock. “You’re huge.” He returned the favor and shoved Seamus’s boxers down then took them both in his hand. Matt was thicker but Seamus was a little longer. He moved his hand, making them both lose control. Breathing, panting, moaning. Everything became frantic as they thrust against each other, and with each other, until it became too much and they both came. Matt closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing. It had been a while for him. He almost forgot how physical it was. He moved off Seamus and laid like a dead fish on the bed. Seamus shifted next to him, groaning as he pushed his boxers all the way off. When he was done, he made a noise, a cute sleepy laugh. “I think that was better than the ice cream.” “What?” he laughed. “I think you’re delirious.” “After the inspection when I gave you the icecream bar?” Matt flushed. “I can’t believe you’re bringing that up. I embarrassed myself.” When he tried to bury his head in the pillow, Seamus pulled him close. “Notice how I’m always bringing you ice cream bars? Yeah, I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I’m just glad I could bring you to the same ecstasy as those little chocolate crunch bars.” Matt bit his lip. He was so happy. Happier than any ice cream bar ever made him. He snuggled in deeper. The moment was calming. The orgasm, the smell of Seamus everywhere, his soft breathing. If it wasn’t for the fact the lights were on and the door had possibly been left unlocked, he would have fallen asleep right there. “I’m gonna make sure everything’s locked up for the night,” Matt whispered. He slowly pulled away. Seamus made a weak attempt to keep him but he was half way to sleepy la la land. He made his rounds, locked the door, turned off the lights, and then decided to shower. Seamus was right, he stunk from the club. If he never went back it would be too soon. When he was done, he walked toward Seamus and paused. He was positive Seamus wanted him in his bed tonight. He was fairly certain. The man had been clear about what he wanted and what he wanted was Matt. But the more he thought about it the more he doubted himself. Matt rubbed his face in frustration and turned for his room. Better safe than sorry. How embarrassing would it be if they were on different wavelengths? Not that they were, but what if... **** The door squeaked. One of the hinges needed to be replaced really bad. No matter how carefully you closed it, it always squeaked at the very last moment. Matt didn’t think anything of it until the blanket moved and the bed shifted. It was technically morning but far too dark to be considered a reasonable time of day. Then Seamus nestled between Matt’s thighs and his whole body became woke. Strong hands tilted his face and then soft lips gently kissed the sensitive line of his neck and jaw. “Why did I wake up alone?” God his voice was everything. Deep and husky from sleep. “I wasn’t sure—” if I should go back in or not. “You weren’t sure?” Seamus asked, still kissing Matt’s neck and just generally driving him all sorts of crazy. “I hunted you down at that filthy club, told you I like you, that I wanted you, and brought you back home. Tell me what wasn’t clear?” Matt didn’t answer. How could he when Seamus was short circuiting his system with those kisses and, well, his body and his overall presence. Then Seamus pressed his erection against Matt’s thigh and suddenly everything was worse and better all at once. “Is this clear?” “Yeah,” Matt breathed. “That’s pretty clear.” Seamus sat back, fucking naked, and pulled Matt’s boxers off. It was kind of awkward as Matt’s legs flailed but Seamus was oddly proficient. Then he surprised Matt in the best possible way by bending over and taking as much as he could in one swallow. Matt’s eyes bulged and his back came off the bed. The sound he made was unnatural and could’ve terrified a lesser man but Seamus was on a mission and his mouth was the MVP. There was nothing gentle or teasing, it was all high intensity and demanding as fuck. Matt gripped the chestnut hair; not sure if he wanted to pull him off or push him down. He settled with watching him bounce up and down on his cock. “Feels so good.” Who knew a blow job could double in intensity but that’s exactly what happened. Seamus’s fingers dug into Matt’s hips as he sucked and slurped Matt into oblivion. His brains were being sucked out of his dick and he was losing control of his limbs. Every muscle seized as an orgasm racked through his body. The sucking slowed as he came while maintaining enough pressure to pull him through to the other side without becoming uncomfortable. Seamus kneeled over Matt and began working his own cock. Three strokes and Seamus added his cum to Matt’s. “Are you punishing me?” Matt asked. He was heaving, his chest thumping a mile an hour. “Trying to kill me over a misunderstanding?” Seamus hovered over Matt. His arms on either side of Matt’s head, his own head hanging limp in exhaustion, his dick dangling semi-softly as he tried to catch his own breath. “Just trying to prove my point.” “That you can blow a guy into another dimension? Point proven.” “That I can make you moan more than a chocolate crunch ice cream bar.” Seamus’s eyes crinkled. He lowered himself to his elbows and hovered his lips above Matt’s. They were both damp with perspiration. Despite looking completely wrecked, Seamus’s eyes were sad. “Why’d you sleep in here?” “I didn’t know what to do,” Matt explained. “I started going back to your room but then I froze. I don’t want to mess up.” Seamus pressed his body against Matt’s. He was warm, bordering hot. A little clammy. A lot sexy. “Always come back to my room.” Matt leaned up and kissed him which led to them making out, slower than the night before. No rushing, no end goal in mind. Just some good ol’ fashion lazy, finally-with-the-person-you’re-crazy-about kissing. And boy was Seamus a great kisser. They moved in sync. Neither of them more eager or aggressive than the other. Everything about them was perfect together. “What time do we need to head out?” Seamus asked after kissing for a half hour. “No rush,” Matt said, kinda missing Seamus’ lips. “In time for an early dinner.” Seamus ran his fingers along Matt’s jaw, down his neck, and over his collarbone. “We could go early and hang with your dad.” “AKA you miss Aidan.” “And you don’t?” “I do,” he said. “But I subtly suggested we stay in bed all day and you countered with leaving early and hanging out with my dad.” “I miss Aidan,” Seamus admitted with a laugh because he knew he was caught. “What if he started walking?” “He’s not even crawling yet.” “Some kids never crawl. They go straight to walking.” “He’s barely standing,” Matt laughed. It was still dark but dawn was filtering through and the early morning light only made Seamus look sexier. Seamus rolled off Matt, adjusted the blanket that had been pulled to the side and snuggled in close. Matt smiled. “We’ll leave late morning. This is the longest Aidan’s been away from us, we probably shouldn’t push our luck.” “Wouldn’t want to traumatize him,” Seamus yawned. “Yes, heaven forbid Aidan is traumatized by a little separation.” Seamus pinched Matt’s side in retaliation. “Ouch. That hurt.” “Oh, I hope I didn’t traumatize you.” Matt grumbled but pulled the blankets the rest of the way up and snuggled in. There was no more hanky panky when they slowly acclimated to the day. Once it reached a reasonable hour, Matt called his dad and then they were on the road by ten-thirty. Seamus reached over the console and threaded his fingers with Matt’s. Matt’s stomach whooped and he smiled at the road. There were things he needed to figure out. Seamus was technically his boss and nanny and they were roommates. Those were things that needed to be taken into consideration sooner than later. He wasn’t going to overthink it or anything but he knew all the cards needed to be on the table if this was going to work. They talked about plans for Aidan’s first birthday. Matt thought it would be nice to have his dad come over. They could have a small celebration at the loft. Pizza, cake, and a few unnecessary gifts. Seamus had other plans. Bigger plans. Pizza party at Dough Guppies with everyone they could think of. It was over the top but Matt couldn’t find it in himself to deny Seamus. Not after he’d done so much for Matt and Aidan. **** Brad lived in a nice, modest home in a comfortable neighborhood. Matt had nothing but fond memories growing up. Most of the neighbors had lived there for as long as he could remember. The Seegers always over paid him for mowing their yard. Matt had thought it was normal so when he mowed the Halversons, he’d been a bit disappointed. Turns out that even they had overpaid him. He always had friends to play with. A few times every summer they’d set up a lemonade stand. They made a killing. The tip jar always brought in more than the actual sales. Plus, with generous investors they had no overhead cost. As he drove through his neighborhood, he hoped Aidan would have those same experiences. Seamus was out of the SUV as soon as Matt put it in park and in the house before Matt could catch up. By the time he entered, Aidan was chattering excitedly in Seamus’ arms while his nanny peppered his chubby face with kisses. It was unclear who was more excited to be reunited. “Two peas in a pod,” Brad said from the kitchen doorway. He was watching his grandson with so much love despite having just spent an entire weekend with him. Matt smiled fondly and tried to hide the hearts in his eyes. “They have a special relationship.” Seamus lifted Aidan’s hand and waved. “Hi Maaa-tt,” Seamus sounded out the name so Aidan could learn it. Aidan’s face lit up when he saw Matt. He started bouncing in Seamus’s arms and leaning toward his brother. Matt quickly scooped him up and said hello. He smelled like baby shampoo and sleep. Something in him relaxed. It felt good to hold his brother, to see him smiling and chatting nonsense. Its possible Matt missed Aidan more than he realized. They sat in the living room for a while. Aidan couldn’t decide who he wanted so he kept going back and forth. He had no intentions of letting Matt or Seamus out of his sight. Seamus used the rest of the evening trying to get Aidan to say his name. “He’s half mastered yours,” he complained. “Shay-mus,” he said, over exaggerating the sound. Aidan smiled and made a noise. Seamus looked at Matt with wide eyes. “Did you hear that? He said my name.” He hadn’t, not really. It was a distant relative—a fourth cousin twice removed situation. But no one was going to rain on his parade. Anything to keep Boss Nanny happy. And what made him happy was hearing Aidan attempt his name. **** Matt was worried that Seamus might do something like hold his hand or really anything that might grab his dad’s attention. But Matt and Seamus acted the way Matt and Seamus always acted, save a few shared looks that were anything but subtle. How could they not? Things had changed. Feelings were shared. They’d gotten off together, twice. Sharing heated looks and sly smiles were par for course and exciting as hell. He should’ve been more concerned that he’d give them away. Matt could hardly look at Seamus without flushing all over. Seamus wasn’t the blushing noob he’d been the night before. Nope, he was far more composed. Still, Matt was able to coax one or two from him. Matt liked that. He liked both sides of Seamus, the one he could make stutter and blush and the one who seemed unfazed and unapproachable. If Brad noticed any of it, he didn’t let on. Or maybe he just didn’t care. He was cool like that. Never fancied himself to meddle in people’s business and always allowed Matt to find his own way. Matt wondered if he’d be concerned about the age difference? Eight years was a lot when you’re twenty-one. If that wasn’t a big deal to him, maybe it would be the relationship and how it might jeopardize the dynamic they shared. Matt had the most to lose if things went south. Job, housing, help with Aidan. That should make Dad skeptical. “I was thinking we could make this a regular thing,” Brad told Matt while Seamus was outside loading Aidan into the car. “I wouldn’t mind making this a monthly thing with Aidan. I remember how grateful I was when my parents took you for the weekends. It was good for me but also good for you and the relationship with grandparents.” Matt could hardly hold in his excitement. He loved Aidan but having the weekend to himself had been good for his mental health. Plus, he loved seeing the way his dad loved Aidan. “Please, yes.” His dad laughed. The age lines around his eyes and mouth accentuating just how good his life had been. “Good, good. We’ll connect and find another weekend that works. You still coming home for the summer?” “Yeah,” Matt smiled. He was ready to come home for the summer and spend some quality time with his dad. He was also excited to give Seamus a break. The poor guy was with Aidan all the time. “My last day with the Coffee|Bar is June first but I’m gonna stay in town until Aidan’s birthday party.” “Let me know if you need any help,” Brad offered as Matt walked toward the car. From the door, Brad made kissy faces at his grandson then waved at Seamus. “I like Brad,” Seamus said as they pulled out of the driveway. “He’s chill.” “Chill would be the perfect word to describe him. Though there were some pretty unchill moments growing up.” “I should hope so. I can’t imagine you were all that easy.” “Hey,” Matt complained, shooting Seamus an evil eye from behind the wheel. “I’ll have you know I was as close to perfect as it gets. I didn’t have any siblings to fight with and I hated getting in trouble.” Seamus hummed unbelieving then smiled. “You’re a lot like your dad. You share the same mannerisms. I felt like a creep for watching him but it was crazy. Kinda like looking into the future.” “Yeah, I get that all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I heard ‘oh, you must be Brad's kid’. They even called me BJ for short. Lucky for me that didn’t stick.” Seamus laughed and Matt told him not to get any ideas. “Did your parents split custody? I get the impression you spent more time with your dad.” “Technically. I spent more time with my mom until I was older, then I chose to be with Dad.” “Did it bother her? That you preferred your dad?” Matt thought about it. “I don’t know. I’m sure it did at times. Mostly I think she was content doing her own thing at her own convenience and that included being a mom.” Matt glanced over and saw Seamus frowning. “What’s that look?” “It’s crazy to me,” Seamus said. “How differently people take to having kids.” “What about your family?” Matt asked. “Must be a reason you don’t go home much and don’t tell me it’s work,” he warned. “It’s not,” he said honestly. He pulled out his phone and started scrolling through. When he found what he was looking for, he held his phone up. It was a photo of a dozen or so people, either a decent candid or a terribly posed photo taken in what looked like a rundown mobile home from the seventies. Faux wood paneling on the walls, smoke-stained ceiling and curtains, mismatched furniture, a recliner with hand towels draped over each arm to protect the fabric. An older man was wearing a stained white shirt with suspenders and a trucker hat, the woman was grossly thin with big hair and a leopard jacket. Everyone else looked like they’d come straight from the pages of White Trash Weekly. Matt wasn’t sure if it was a current photo or an old photo, either way, it was cringy. He could smell the stale air and cigarette smoke from the photo. “That’s my family.” Matt must’ve made a face because Seamus laughed and put his phone away. “I’d like to think I’m the black sheep. My family is the epitome of trailer trash; happy to live off the government. They think it’s owed to them. I was the only one who couldn’t wait to leave. I graduated early just to get out of dodge. They didn’t care. They hated that I thought there was something better out there and they were happy to see me leave. I didn’t hear from them until they heard I was dating someone with money. Then, after Kelly died, they tried to play nice.” “For the money?” “I had no illusions. Most young kids idolize their families when they’re little, no matter how fucked up they are. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t repulsed by mine. I saw through them at a young age.” “You still see them, though. I think I remember you saying?” “Eeh. I talk to them once a year, maybe…but I see them less. It’s been a few years at this point. Not long enough if you ask me. Denying them money only to be put back on their do-not-call list only solidified my feelings and my decision. I grew up with too much of their toxicity. I don’t want it anymore.” Seamus was incredible. How hard it must’ve been to grow up with that kind of family. It was a miracle that he was so unlike them. Matt didn’t particularly like his mom but his family failed in comparison. Matt grabbed Seamus’ hand and pulled it to his lips. “Love shouldn’t feel like that.” Seamus looked at Matt, all dark eyes and hero worship. Like Matt was something special and incredible. Once again Matt was taken aback by how responsive Seamus was when no one was around. They talked more, about life and their childhoods. Seamus told him about college and a little about Kelly. Matt wanted to know so much more, but asking about someone’s dead husband was something that needed to be done with tact and grace. They moved on to trivial things like pets. Matt had three dogs during his life and they were all named Mowgli. “From the Jungle Book?” “Best Disney movie ever.” “Three dogs eh?” Seamus asked, totally disbelieving. “You couldn’t have switched it up. Named one Bagheera or Baloo?” “Bagheera were my cats' names.” “Cats.” “Yes, both of them.” Seamus smiled then leaned across the console and kissed Matt’s cheek. “I don’t date,” Seamus blurted. He was still leaning against the console, watching Matt drive. “I have nothing against it, it’s just not something I’ve felt inclined to do. But I want to date you.?” Matt glanced at Seamus and smiled. “Okay?” “Is that something you want?” “Oh, I want.” Seamus let out a loud breath then pressed his fingers to Matt’s chin and tilted his head. He kissed the corner of his lips, his cheek, along his jaw, and down his neck. The kisses were soft and really fucking distracting. Seamus paused and looked toward Aidan making Matt instinctively glance in the mirror. He was zonked, head leaning to the side and slightly forward. A hand slipped into Matt’s lap and gripped his thigh. It was low enough to be disappointing but high enough to be distracting. He continued to tease Matt, kissing and nuzzling his neck from across the console. Matt had teased and been teased by a lot of guys. It was a fun game to play, an easy way to build things up. A power trip. One that Matt loved. Seamus wasn’t intentionally driving Matt crazy, he wasn’t sitting there, kissing Matt and touching his leg in an effort to make Matt beg or assert his dominance. He wasn’t trying to get Matt hard and hornier than shit. He was though. He totally, totally was. Matt adjusted himself because he was all of those things plus mildly uncomfortable in his tight jeans. “Laugh away,” Matt warned. “I’m gonna fuck you up later.” Drive him crazy, make him beg, bring Seamus to his knees. Seamus sucked in a breath and rebounded a second later. He was all over Matt, dangerously so. Good thing they were only a few blocks from home. He was kneading Matt’s crotch and sucking Matt’s neck. Matt covered Seamus' hand and held it firmly against his bulge. The second Matt put the truck in park he grabbed Seamus’ face and kissed him back. Fuck Seamus for driving Matt crazy. He reached between Seamus legs and grabbed a fist full of denim erection. Seamus leaned into Matt and moaned. They were practically crawling across the console. Then Aidan whined and the two sprung apart like bad mattress coils. He was half asleep but slowly coming-to. Seamus adjusted himself. “I’ll grab Aidan if you grab his stuff.” They emptied the SUV and made their way to the loft. As far as fire retardants went, Aidan was primo. He was clingy and needy after spending a weekend away from his two-favorite people. When bedtime came around, he refused. The kid was scared they might disappear. Matt tried to put him to bed a few but Aidan kept stirring. The last thing he wanted to do was wake the beast. It wasn’t until mid-night when he finally fell asleep on Matt’s chest. “Seamus,” Matt half yelled, making sure to keep his voice quieter than the TV. Heaven forbid Aidan wake. “Get me a blanket and I’ll sleep on the couch with the sleepy potato.” A minute later Seamus came out, holding a blanket open as he walked to the couch. Matt looked up when Seamus finished tucking the blanket around them. Matt realized Seamus was naked. Lean muscles and naked. White, firm tushy and naked. Curved shoulders, biceps, and naked. Tight waist with dimples above his butt and naked. Stroking his hardon and naked. “On second thought,” Matt held Aidan to his chest and rocked up. “I bet I can get Aidan to sleep in his own crib.” Seamus laughed as double checked the door lock while still stroking himself. “You do you. I’m going to bed. I guess I’ll see you when I see you.” With that, Seamus disappeared behind his very nice hardwood door. Aidan stirred, not much but enough to throw Matt into a quick counter bounce dance. Once he was settled again, Matt quickly tiptoed to Aidan’s room. He was determined. Fucking hell if Seamus was going to sleep alone tonight, not if Matt had anything to do with it. He quickly but very carefully swaddled Aidan, just enough to fool him into thinking he was being held. He held his breath as Aidan wiggled around but, in the end, he settled down. Matt left, slowly shutting the door behind him. Once the coast was clear, he ran to the bathroom, quickly brushed his teeth then hightailed it to the other end of the apartment, leaving his clothes like bread crumbs along the way. Seamus was kneeling with one knee on the bed as if he was just getting ready to crawl in for the night. His back was arched, his ass popping just so. He looked over his shoulder so fucking casually. Matt didn’t miss the fact Seamus was still touching himself and he was pretty sure the pose was no accident. Maybe Seamus enjoyed the games after all. “Aidan’s asleep?” He asked. Matt nodded. “You gonna fuck me up tonight?” He walked up to Seamus who was still bent over and presenting and pressed himself against his hot body. He nuzzled his cock between Seamus ass cheeks, making Seamus moan. He pushed back. “C’mon,” he begged. Matt dug his fingers into the soft flesh, feeling the meat of his lover’s thighs, ass, and the curve of his waist. Every inch was inviting. “What’s your preference?” Matt asked, nipping the back of Seamus’ neck and slowly pressing him into the mattress. Seamus kept his back arched, forcing Matt’s cock to press in just right. “As long as you follow through on your promise, you can have me however you want.” I’m gonna fuck you up. That’s what Matt had promised and obviously what Seamus wanted. Matt continued to kiss his shoulder then reached down and ran his finger along Seamus’ entrance. “Condom? Lube?” Seamus motioned toward the dresser. Everything they needed was laid on top, waiting. Matt grabbed the lube and started working Seamus open. He must’ve been relaxed and needy because he opened right up and never faltered as Matt stretched him out. When Matt put the condom on, Seamus looked back with smoldering brown eyes. “Do it in one push. I like it that way.” He wanted to argue, tell him it would hurt. By Seamus’ own confession it had been a while since he last had sex and Matt wasn’t small. He didn’t want to argue though. He didn’t want Seamus to change his mind. He rolled the condom on, applied more lube and, for safe measure, spent another minute prepping Seamus. When he was ready, he put one hand on Seamus’ lower back and used the other to aim his cock. “One push,” Seamus reminded him. Matt did as he was told. It felt good. So damn good. Seamus made noises, not all of them sounded like ecstasy but they weren’t the sounds of a pig at slaughter either. When Matt bottomed out, Seamus was gripping the sheets and breathing hard. There were beads of perspiration around his hairline and his head rested on his forearm. Matt ran his hands up Seamus’ back, exploring the sexy lines and tense muscles. He felt Seamus relax. The tight grip around his fat cock eased a little, enough for him to pull out a few inches, then back in. Seamus felt amazing. Better than anyone had ever felt. He found a steady pace, seesawing Seamus into a frenzy. Every time Matt flexed forward, going deeper, Seamus responded with a sound that was pure need. And when his fingers dug deep or he held Seamus down, the man got even wilder. Seamus really wanted Matt to fuck him up. Matt’s whole body was on fire. Watching Seamus claw the bed and shift relentlessly as he chased his own pleasure did something to Matt. He wouldn’t consider himself a jealous man or a controlling man, but he liked what was happening, he liked how Seamus needed him. It made Matt want to claim him. Seamus couldn’t get enough, egging him, encouraging him on until Matt couldn’t stop if he wanted to. He squeezed Seamus as he pounded him from behind. “You’re going to make me cum,” Matt husked. “Can you come with me?” Seamus had one hand braced against the headboard and the other hand under him. His whole body was flex tighter than a guitar string. Matt pressed him down with all his weight, grinding as deep as the orgasm swept through him. He felt Seamus’ ass flex around him. Heat flooded his body like a tidal wave and he cried out, spilling into the condom. He lost his head at the end. When he came to, Seamus was sprawled out under him, panting heavily. His hips, thighs, and shoulders were littered with red blotches where Matt had torn him apart. By some miracle, Matt was still half hard and nestled in Seamus ass. He hovered over the redhead like a blanket. He finally pulled out, pinching the condom off and tossing it aside. Seamus still hadn’t said anything, he hadn’t even moved—not even when Matt pulled out. He looked dead. His face was buried in the mattress and Matt wondered how well he was able to breathe. Matt propped himself on an elbow, one leg still over the back of Seamus’ thighs and ran his hand softly down his spine. “Hey,” he whispered. “Are you okay?” Seamus made a noise and moved, barely. Matt didn’t know what the grunt meant. Was he okay? No? Had he been too rough? Was he happy? He took a moment to soak in the man—his hairline, his freckles, how his ass was a perfect, squishable mound, the way his back tapered, and the muscled lines on his arms. When he was done studying that, he forced Seamus to roll over. His face pinched like a child being woken up. His chest hair was trimmed and there was cum drying on his belly. Matt pushed him over until he was flat on his back, then pulled the blanket over until they were cocooned with Matt on top. Seamus finally opened his eyes. He was scowling. “Hey,” Matt said, smiling. “Everything okay? Do I need to apologize?” Seamus gripped Matt’s ass, hauled him as close as he could and kissed him. “I really fucking like you.” Matt bit his lip. “I really fucking like you, too.” “It’s been a while for me.” “Yeah? Was it okay?” “No,” Seamus said, closing his eyes. “Okay doesn’t do you justice. Shit, Matt. You almost killed me.” “Sorry.” He wasn’t. Seamus squeezed him. “I feel very good and thoroughly fucked. When can we do it again?” “Probably not for a few days. I think you took a beating. I was a little rough.” “I’ll survive.” “Maybe, but I won’t chance it. You said it yourself, it’s been a while.” “I bet I can convince you otherwise.” “Sure,” Matt smiled. “Maybe in a few days.” **** Seamus convinced him otherwise. It didn’t take much. Matt was easily persuadable where a naked Seamus was involved. Matt got early so Seamus could sleep in. He spent the morning with Aidan, playing and eating. Seamus was still sleeping when Matt had to leave for class, so he laid a napping Aidan in bed with him on his way out. There was a bounce in his step as he made his way to school. Happiness had always come easy to Matt but he’d just reached a whole new level. What a weekend. Aidan was officially his and now, so was Seamus. He laughed as he crossed campus. He’d been so stupid. Blind and stupid. There were so many signs staring him in the face yet he thought he was going crazy. He was so sure there was no way Seamus wanted him, no way. Seamus was a generous person. He would’ve watched anyone’s kid. Ha. Matt needed to trust himself. If he would have sooner, he might have enjoyed these spoils a little earlier. But then again, the wait made it taste all that better.
    112 points
  9. “I know, I’m sad too,” Matt said as he carried Aidan to the apartment. The kid had been quiet on the ride home. He was usually pretty noisy, having something to say about everything. As Matt carried him, Aidan laid his head on his shoulder and stared into nothing. Matt recognized the pathetic look on Aidan’s face. It mirrored his own. “You have to remember that Moose was having a bad day. You weren’t there when Mike surprise attacked him at the office like a little bitch. I’ll spare you the details. But it didn’t end there. Then he got a call that you were being rushed to the ER,” Matt explained to his brother as he let them into the apartment and dumped the diaper bag by the door. He sat on the couch and snuggled his Pouty Potato. “Not everyone can be strong all the time. The least we can do is give him a day to breathe. If he doesn’t call us by the end of the weekend, we’ll go check on him. Okay?” Aidan watched Matt with the biggest, saddest blue eyes and quivering lip. There was even a lone tear that clung to his bottom lash. His still bruised eyes added to the utterly devastated look. Matt’s heart squeezed. Aidan might not have understood what was said, but he understood what was happening. “I know he said some hurtful things but we’re going to let that stuff go, okay? Love is about grace and forgiveness.” The rest of the day was kind of a bust. The brothers laid on the couch and watched a movie, ate food, and otherwise moped pathetically. Aidan kept looking at Matt, wondering if it was time to go get Moose. Nope, it wasn’t time yet. He wasn’t sure how long it would take Seamus to call but he hoped it would be soon. That evening, Matt gave Aidan a bath. He loved a fresh Aidan and smiled brightly as he combed that wild brown hair into a neat little geeky do. “Look,” Matt pointed to Aidan’s reflection in the mirror. “It’s a Geeky Potato.” Aidan smiled at himself. They finished getting ready for bed. Aidan didn’t want to sleep in his crib. As long as he had two black eyes, Matt couldn’t say no. Geeky Potato got one more dose of medicine before snuggling into Matt’s bed for the night. Matt silenced his phone but he kept it close by…just in case. **** “What are you doing?” Matt groaned. He turned his head to try and get away from the bothersome fingers. Aidan was poking Matt in the face. He put his arm around Aidan and pinned the toddler under him. Aidan started wiggling and whining, so Matt attacked the soft belly flesh until Aidan was laughing uncontrollably. He stopped the attack and smiled at his crazy haired brother. “Are you going to let me sleep now?” Aidan smirked. “Sweep.” The trap was clear. The kid couldn’t hide shit. But Matt closed his eyes and waited anyway. Sure enough, the mattress dipped and Aidan was on top of him, trying to tickle him. Matt thrashed like a dying fish, taking Aidan on the ride of his life. They wrestled around until Matt was exhausted. Aidan probably could’ve kept going but Matt slipped off the bed and ran away. Leaving a laughing Aidan to cheer in victory. It was a great morning, which actually hurt. Seamus should’ve been there. Aidan should’ve been attacking both of them, or maybe Seamus would’ve sided with Aidan and combined powers. However divided the teams, there should’ve been three of them. Aidan went to daycare, Matt went to class, his phone didn’t ring. Matt went to work, picked up Aidan from day care, his phone didn’t ring. They went home, cooked dinner, and, you guessed it, his phone didn’t ring. Okay, Matt had planned to wait Seamus out since Seamus was the one who’d lashed out, yet Matt was calling Seamus’s number before Aidan’s door clicked closed for the night. He’d given Seamus twenty-four hours to come to his senses. Matt wasn’t waiting any longer. Voicemail. Maybe Seamus was calling him at that exact moment? He looked at his phone and waited for an incoming call as he walked to the couch. Nothing. He tried calling again. Voicemail. He called more times than he wanted to admit. Two dozen? Three? Nothing but voicemail. Every call was just one more time. Voicemail. The next morning. Voicemail. Matt didn’t see him at the office nor at the café when he stopped by. It felt sucky but Matt wasn’t giving up yet. He pulled Aidan from the car seat and set him on his hip. “After what happened the other day, I think I’ll carry you.” He thought Aidan would protest because the kid still thought he was the fastest person in the world, but he let Matt carry him anyway. The doorman frowned sympathetically at Aidan’s battle wounds. “Oh boy, you took a beating.” He pulled a little Dum Dum from just jacket pocket and handed it over. Aidan took it, then hid his face bashfully in his brother’s neck. Matt smiled at the tiny peach sucker. “Thank you. This is just what the doctor ordered.” They continued to the loft. Matt let Aidan knock. When Seamus didn’t answer, Matt tried, a little louder. Though he knew that going into Seamus’s apartment while they were fighting was a gamble, it was one he was willing to take. The lights were off and it was utterly quiet. “Seamus?” he hollered. They checked the apartment. No Seamus. Matt called his phone again and, surprise, got his voicemail. Matt turned on the TV and they made themselves at home. By dinner time, there was still no sign of Seamus. Matt considered staying the night but decided against it. Matt continued to call Seamus’s phone on a regular basis. He stopped by the loft a few more times. No Seamus. Drove by the business. No Seamus. Hang out at the cafe. No Seamus. Matt was not only irritated that Seamus was avoiding him but worried that something was seriously wrong. It wasn’t until midweek that part of the mystery was solved. They were at the apartment. Aidan kept walking to the door asking for Moose. Matt sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you, he’s not answering and I don’t know where he is. I don’t know what’s going on.” Aidan cocked his head. “Fown?” “I tried. Moose isn’t answering his phone.” “Moose fown!” Aidan galloped to the door, smiled, grabbed the diaper bag, and dragged it awkwardly to Matt. “Do you need a new nappy?” Aidan shook his head and scowled. He didn’t need a new diaper. Instead, he squatted next to the bag and dug into it, tossing things out as he went. Finally, he reached into the deep dark depth of the bag and pulled out a cell phone. “Fown!” Sure enough, Aidan was holding Seamus’s phone. Matt took the dead phone and looked it over. “Did you hide Moose’s phone from him? Little brother took the phone back and held it to his cheek. “Ello Moose!” Aidan walked around the living room chatting and fake laughing into the phone. Matt smiled despite himself. At least he knew why Seamus wasn’t answering. But that didn’t answer the bigger question. Where was Seamus? If Aidan had accidently stowed the phone last time they were together, why hadn’t Seamus stopped by? It was like he literally dropped off the face of the earth. Matt spent the rest of the evening thinking about that night. He replayed everything that had happened starting with the joy he felt when Seamus stopped by the office after two weeks apart and ending the replay when the loft door closed behind him. Matt was at a dead end. He had called no less than a hundred times, stopped by the apartment six or seven times, swung by the office even when he wasn’t scheduled to work, and drove by the businesses, all in an effort to find Seamus. Now he had to wait. And he would wait as long as Seamus needed. **** Turns out waiting for Seamus was b-o-r-i-n-g. Time seemed to move at a snail's pace. I did give Matt more time to think. One of the things he thought about was the night Aidan face-planted it. More specifically, he thought about his conversation with the woman behind the counter at Dough Guppies. Since his mother’s death, Matt wasn’t sure he’d ever talked about her to Aidan. Not once. If he had, it wasn’t anything notable. And Aidan’s dad? Zilch. He didn’t even have a picture in his apartment to commemorate their existence. It was no secret that Matt wasn’t overly close with his mom but that didn’t mean that Matt didn’t love her or that Aidan should know her. Aidan needed someone in his life to preserve the memory of his parents and make sure their lives were known to him. **** “Aidan, c’mon. What are you doing? Stop. You can’t do that. Those are someone else’s flowers.” Matt groaned and swept his brother into his arms and away from the bouquet of flowers he was trying to steal from Nancy Stubaucher RIP 1916-2008. Go figure, his mom was buried on the far side of the cemetery. The distractions between point A and point B seemed endless. Matt couldn’t imagine doing this on a regular basis. Every flower, every gift, every headstone, every cross was all very exciting to Aidan. “Here,” he handed his brothers the flowers they’d picked up on the way. “I don’t think Mom will care if you destroy these.” Aidan grabbed the flower and took off in a trot, leaving petals floating in the soft breeze. Matt sighed. Why he thought this would be like a scene from those melodramatic movies where the small child understands the deep, emotional significance of what they were doing, he’d never know. Instead, Aidan was hyped up on freedom and the thrill of a brand-new place. Matt couldn’t judge Aidan for not playing the part, not when he didn’t feel much himself as he stood in front of his mother’s modest burial. He didn’t even know what to say. He was tempted to say the same shit he heard in the movies but why? What was the point? Could his mom even hear him? Would she see through his words, to the truth of the matter? Guilt simmered under the surface. He didn’t hate his mom. He loved her. She was a good woman. She cared for him. She loved him. He couldn’t help that he was closer with his dad. As he got older and grew into himself, he realized how different he and his mom were. Aidan picked up a small, fallen tree branch and started whacking it against the neighboring headstone. It was his dad’s, but still. Matt rolled his eyes and looked at his mom’s headstone. “Having a kid was not my plan. Now I find out I have a whole different set of rules because you and Todd died. Someone said I should have pictures so Aidan can know you. Well, all the photos were on your phone and that was locked. I didn’t try that hard to guess your password because it never occurred to me that I might need anything from the phone. Surprise, I was wrong…about a lot of stuff really. And I don’t even know Todd that much. What am I supposed to tell Aidan about him? He seemed like an alright guy? Sure, that will excite Aidan when he’s older.” Matt looked at the ground and kicked a rock. “I changed Aidan’s last name when we did the adoption. I thought he should be a Kessler since I would be raising him, but now I’m second guessing that too. What if he wants his dad’s last name? What if I stole that from him? It’s so much more complex than I thought it would be.” Matt stood for a few more minutes. He didn’t have a lot to say. As he wrangled Aidan in, he’d hoped his brother would put his hand on her headstone. Why? To say a prayer or something? As he thought it, he knew it was bullshit. He finally gave up. Trying for something that wasn’t going to happen was worse than doing nothing at all. Plus, Aidan was growing restless. Matt picked him up. As they exited the cemetery, Matt looked back at the gravestone, then at Aidan. The kid was pulling his hoodie string, making the hood bunch up around his face, which irritated him, so he pulled harder, which cinched it tighter, which irritated him more. Aidan had exactly zero fucks to give. The whole trip was for nothing. When they got back to the apartment, he decided to go through the photos he had on his phone. He had a whopping four pictures of his mom. Five if you counted the one of her arms and torso as she held Aidan the day he was born. Why couldn’t he have zoomed out? He tossed them down and walked away. He really needed to stop trying to live up to other people’s expectations. **** Between the wasted cemetery field trip, remembering he packed a box of pictures from his mom’s house, only to find out he had no clue where the storage key was—probably at Seamus’, he was emotionally exhausted. Put a fork in him. He was done. To escape, he laid in bed, scrolling through his phone. With everything that happened with Mike, Aidan’s fall, and Seamus’s freak out, Matt hadn’t been on social media for over a week. It was time to see what the rest of the world was up to. Jay Petermeyer had posted some pictures. Matt did a double take. Jay and his friends, including Seamus, were definitely in Mexico having a blast. Picture after picture of laughter, smiles, adventure, and fun. Seamus had said he was going during spring break, which wasn’t until next week. Except half the state was off this week and the other half, including Matt, was off next week. What the Hell? Seamus left without resolving things between them? Now he was gone for two whole weeks. That was irritating. As he swiped, he realized that wasn’t the worst of it. Matt squeezed his eyes closed. “Oh no…” When that didn’t help, he pressed his fingers against his eyeballs to try and override the building pain in his gut. He peeked at his phone with one eye. Yep, there it was. A group photo. Seamus and Will were wearing crowns, the kind you find on the Prom King. jaypetermeyer: Happy 30th birthday to these two kings! #dirtythirty #mexico Matt threw his phone down and rolled onto his stomach. Burying his face in the pillow, he screamed. Yes, Seamus told him they always went on vacation for his birthday but it never connected. He didn’t even know Seamus’s exact date of birth. He should have, they’d dated long enough, but Seamus never talked about it and he’d skipped last year because of the adoption. Out of sight, out of mind. Honestly, birthdays weren’t Matt’s thing. Except for his twenty-first, Matt rarely celebrated his own. He fell asleep with his head buried in his arms. There was literally nothing in this world he wanted more than to talk to Seamus. Except maybe being with him. He was tired of missing him. They were a pair, a duo, they should be doing this together. Seamus should’ve been with him at the cemetery and advising him as he tried to figure out how to incorporate his mom into Aidan’s life. He should’ve been in Mexico celebrating his boyfriend’s birthday. Those were just a few things they should’ve been doing together. How had things gone so wrong? **** Matt finished the last few days of school before spring break. Knowing he was about to see his friends after almost a year was the only thing making life bearable. Friday, he picked Aidan up from daycare. They swung by a DQ on the way home. Aidan was over-the-top excited to be around so much ice cream. Once they got their cones, they sat at a window booth that looked out on the main street. Aidan sat on his knees and dripped ice cream all over himself and the red table top. “I was thinking this could be a new tradition,” Matt said as he wiped ice-cream with a shitty little napkin. “It’s something Mom used to do when I was little. She’d pick me up from school on Friday’s and we’d get ice cream. They are some of my favorite memories with her. I don’t think we’ll be making regular trips to the cemetery, but we could do this. What do you think?” Aidan smiled and offered Matt a lick of his vanilla cone. Matt accepted, making Aidan a very happy potato. **** Matt: What time are we meeting up? Matt sat at the kitchen table and texted his friends. They’d made tentative plans but they hadn’t nailed anything down over the last couple of weeks. While he waited for a response, he watched Aidan and Grandpa Brad cook dinner. Well, Grandpa Brad cooked dinner and Aidan sat on the counter holding a wooden spoon that he waved around in delight. Spanks: Bro, Mat and I ended up going to Florida with friends. Spring break baaaaby! Matt: wtf?! Zak? Zak: Since Mat and Spanks were heading to FL, I decided to stay home. I didn’t see the point of all that travel if we weren’t all getting together Matt: So y’all changed the plans but didn’t tell me? Thanks for the heads up. I wouldn’t have turned down plans with Seamus in Mexico if I knew you dipshits were going to cancel. Fuck off. It might’ve been a little harsh but it had been a fucking terrible week that could’ve ended differently if he’d known his friends were planning to ditch out. Now he was at his dad’s instead of being where he wanted to be—with Seamus. He powered off his phone and tossed it on the counter. He didn’t want to read their bullshit excuses. **** Wanting to spend a little time with his grandkid, Brad took over the bedtime routine. When Aidan was safely tucked in bed, Brad came back. Texting with one hand, he shoved Matt’s knee with the other, forcing him to scoot over on the couch. Once he pressed send on his message, he looked at Matt. “Talk.” “The guys bailed on our plans. Like, they flat out went to Florida and never said anything to me until a few hours ago.” His dad cringed at the douchey move but otherwise stayed silent. He knew his son, he knew there was more. “And Seamus and I are fighting—I think. Or something. I don’t know,” he sighed and told his dad about Mike showing up at the office and everything he said, then Aidan’s ER visit, which his dad knew about but Matt detailed again because it was an important part of the saga, then he explained how Seamus had gone off on him. “He said some hurtful things but I know he was just upset. Mike had done a number on him and Seamus was just projecting his insecurities or whatever. That doesn’t mean I was going to sit there and let Aidan hear all that garbage, so I left. I figured Seamus would calm down and call me but he never did.” “Sometimes we have to put our pride aside, Matt. It sounds like Seamus was put through the wringer. He might need you to reach out to him. Let him know you’re still there for him. You have to remember that Kelly never was, so he probably assumes you don’t want anything to do with him.” Matt growled. “I know, Dad! I did call him, at least a million times. I stopped by his apartment almost every day and I tried to track him down all through town. If I wasn’t in school or at work, I was trying to find Seamus. I tried, Dad. I swear. I didn’t know why Seamus’s wasn’t answering his phone until Aidan brought it to me. He must’ve been playing with it when we were at the loft and put it in the diaper bag.” “Well, that explains it.” “No,” Matt shook his head. “It only explains why Seamus didn’t answer his phone. It doesn’t explain why he took off to Mexico without talking to me. He knows where I live, where I work, and where I go to school. He could’ve found me. He left me, Dad. He fucking left me.” Matt didn’t know what he expected his dad to do, maybe go to the garage and grab a pitch fork then march his happy ass to Mexico and ream Seamus well into the night until the red head came crawling back. How dare he hurt his only son’s heart! Okay, that might’ve been a little dramatic but Matt definitely expected something more than a look of sympathy that said Brad’s heart hurt, not only for his son, but for Seamus. Brad was on his phone again. It was the third or fourth time he’d grabbed it since they started talking. Matt made a point to facialize his disapproval. Who was he texting anyway? If he was finally dating, good for him, but could it not wait? His dad cringed, “Sorry, last time I promise,” and hurriedly put his phone away. “I agree, Seamus should’ve found you. For whatever reason, he didn’t. So, what happens now?” “There’s not much I can do until he gets back and I’m pretty sure he’s gone for another week.” “That’s a long time.” “I know! And I’m kind of mad about it.” Brad’s phone rang and Matt threw his hands in the air. He needed his dad’s full attention right now. Matt was feeling really ignored—by Seamus and now Brad. “Dad! Can you silence that please? I’m trying to have a conversation with you.” Brad pressed a button on his phone, making it quiet, then held the phone out to Matt. Before he let go, he held Matt’s eye and smiled. “This wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t turn your phone off earlier.” Then he was gone. Matt looked at the phone. It was a weird number. Not a local area code but not from another country, like say, Mexico. That was a little disappointing. “Hello?” “Hey.” The voice was familiar but a bit meek and hesitant. He stood up from the couch. “Seamus.” “I’m so sorry,” Seamus pleaded. When Matt didn’t reply right away, he continued. “I was so upset. By the time I got my shit together, it was too late. I went by your apartment and stopped by the office. I kept missing you. I shouldn’t have come. I should’ve stayed there. I should’ve camped outside your door. I’m so fucking sorry.” Matt closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wanted to yell at Seamus for the things he said and how he made Matt feel. He wanted to be mad and hang the phone up on him. “I’m not mad at you.” “You’re not? Then why’d you leave?” “Because you were being an asshole and I didn’t want Aidan to bear witness. But I wasn’t mad at you. I blame Mike…and Aidan.” Matt could see Seamus in his mind's eye, holding the phone with his eyes closed, a small smile playing on his lips. “It doesn’t justify what I said or how I treated you.” “I never said it did. But sometimes we don’t need justification, we need compassion, understanding, and a little sympathy. Lord knows you’ve given me those in spades.” Matt listened to the silence as Seamus took in his words. He could only imagine how hard it must’ve been for Seamus to be on the receiving end of any of those things. Between his family and Kelly, those had to be foreign concepts. No wonder Seamus had reacted the way he did. His reaction was purely a defensive strategy as he waited for Matt to disown him. Matt laid down on the couch with Seamus pressed to his ear. “After the whole Mike fiasco, Aidan and I picked up your favorite pizza. We wanted to surprise you. My plan was to come back, eat pizza, put Aidan to bed, and let you decompress everything that happened. We didn’t get a chance to do that and things really blew up. We could talk about it now?” “Matt,” Seamus said softly. “That’s not why I was upset. Was I shocked that Mike came by? Yes. I was fucking stunned. Did the things he said open old wounds? Definitely. But getting a call from you, hearing Aidan screaming so hard I thought he was dying, then arriving at the ER only to find out I couldn’t go back…Matt, that fucking killed me. It brought me to my knees. My blood ran cold. The terrible things that ran through my mind—” unthinkable things. “Mike could work with Kelly’s parents and take everything I own and it would hurt less than sitting in that god forsaken lobby scared that I might never see Aidan again. Of everything I have, it’s you and Aidan that hold any value. “I’m sure what transpired with Mike contributed to my escalation. He couldn’t have picked a better time to shine a light on my biggest insecurities. My biggest fear is losing you two. Even when we got back to the apartment, I was still afraid. We’d been separated for two weeks, I was getting ready to leave again, and I just wanted five minutes with Aidan. Honestly,” his voice caught. “The fear I felt hadn’t gone away. I just wanted to hold him and cry. I wanted to let it out but I couldn’t.” “Oh Seamus.” Matt wiped the tears from his eyes. “Why didn’t you say something to me?” “I couldn’t handle the rejection.” “I wouldn’t have—” “You could have, Matt. You could have and you did. You told me it was you who needed to stay with Aidan.” “That’s not how I meant it.” “I know, but it’s how it felt. What if I would have explained myself only to have you tell me no again?” “What if you explained yourself and allowed me to understand where you were coming from?” Matt countered. He had Seamus there and the older man knew it. When Seamus didn’t respond, Matt asked. “Can I see you, please?” A moment later it rang for video chat, then Seamus appeared. It was dark and he was in bed. The light from the screen was the only thing illuminating Seamus’s face. He didn’t look good. There were clear signs of exhaustion and emotional stress. “How’s your trip?” Matt asked. “Not great but the guys are doing their best to keep me sane. How are things with your friends?” Matt groaned. “I’m not talking about them. They all bailed and never told me. I’m so mad I could rip their balls off.” Seamus frowned. “So you could be here with me?” “Yeah, I’m mad about it too.” “You could still come for the last week.” “I don’t even want to know what those plane tickets would cost.” “Doesn’t matter,” Seamus said with all the seriousness in the world. Matt laughed. No doubt his boyfriend would move the sun and the moon to get him and Aidan there. “I bet it doesn’t. But Aidan and I don’t have passports anyway.” Seamus was propped up now and his voice was more confident than it had been. “You could make an appointment at the main office. They have exemptions for immediate travel and they’ll print the passport right there.” “I could and I would, but there’s a few things I need to do before you get back.” Seamus shook his head. “No. There’s nothing you need to do that could possibly be more important than you guys coming here. If you refuse to come here, then I’ll come home early.” Matt tilted his head and looked at him like a parent waiting for their kid to calm down. “Do you trust me?” “That’s low, Matt. I can’t answer that and get what I want.” “Actually, you can answer it and get what you want. Now, do you trust me?” The low growl made Matt smile. “Yes, I trust you.” “Good. Now go back to your vacation and I’ll pick you up from the airport.” “Wait!” Seamus shouted in an almost panic. When he spoke again, his voice was softer. “I’m not ready to end the call.” “Okay,” Matt smiled. He didn’t want to get off the phone either. It’s not like his dad needed his phone…wait. “Why’d you call Dad’s phone and not mine? Also, who’s phone is this?” “It’s Jay’s phone so don’t go sharing his number with the world.” “He must love you if he’s letting you call people from his phone.” “More like he was tired of me moping around. And I’m not calling people, I’m calling you.” They both blushed and stared at each other through the camera. So damn sappy. Matt cleared his throat. “How’d you get Dad’s number anyway? If you had his memorized and not mine, I’m going to freak out,” he warned. “I don’t know anyone’s phone numbers by heart. I was going to message you on Instagram but I couldn’t log in from another device without them wanting to verify my account since I’m trying to gain access from another country. In order to verify my account, they want to text me, but I don’t have my phone. Not having my phone has been a giant cluster fuck of epic proportions. Jay said he would DM you on Instagram but I worried that could come off wrong. So we messaged Brad instead and he gave us your number. With the way things have gone for me, I wasn’t surprised to call and find your phone was off.” “I told the guys to fuck off for ditching me, then turned off the phone so they couldn’t bother me with their stupid excuses,” he explained. “Were you texting Dad tonight?” “Yeah, I was trying to figure out what to do.” “God, I was so irritated with him. I was pouring my heart out to him and he kept grabbing his phone and texting. I was this close to throwing his damn phone across the room.” “I’m glad you didn’t.” “Me too.” “Besides being upset with me, what did you do this week?” “I’m not upset with you,” Matt reminded him. “I kind of had a shit week though. I got it in my head that there was a certain way I needed to keep Mom and Todd’s memory alive for Aidan. I ended up taking him to the cemetery, which was terrible. By the end of the whole thing, I’d spent too many hours trying to put together a ridiculous facade that didn’t fit us.” “You’re doing a great job, don’t let anyone tell you differently.” “I know. I need to stop worrying about how others might do this and focus on doing what’s right for us. I ended up taking Aidan to Dairy Queen on Friday. It’s something Mom used to do when I was in school. She also made chocolate chip and banana pancakes on Sundays. I was thinking we could do that with Aidan.” “I think that sounds perfect.” “I missed your birthday,” Matt continued. “I feel really terrible about that one.” Seamus sighed. “It’s whatever.” “It was super shitty of me. I’m sorry.” “Apology accepted, but you better come next year.” “I will,” he promised. “I should’ve come this year. It was a mistake not to. Besides asking us that one time, you never brought it up. I didn’t even know what dates you were gone. The lack of chatter made it seem unimportant.” “I know, that’s my fault. I wasn’t excited to go because I didn’t want the separation. So I didn’t talk about it.” Matt sighed. He just wanted to forget about everything and be with Seamus. “I love you.” Seamus closed his eyes and rubbed his chest. “I love you, too. So fucking much.” It was late. Matt stretched out on the couch and grabbed a throw to keep him warm. Seamus already looked better. His face wasn’t so sad and dull. He was still wearing his guilt but even that had softened with relief. They talked and talked. Seamus shared about the trip and Matt vented about his friends. He was pretty sure those friendships weren’t the ones he’d be fostering through adulthood. Not that he didn’t love them, but he accepted that some friendships change. “My phone’s going to die,” Matt finally said. “Charge it.” “It’s somewhere in Dad’s room. I’m not going to go dig around in there while he’s sleeping.” “Call me on Jay’s number from your phone.” “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Matt sat up and started toward the kitchen. “Isn’t Jay mad you’ve hijacked his phone?” Seamus’s laugh was a breath of fresh air. “I told him we’ll be sharing it the rest of the week.” “And he didn’t care?” “Oh, he cares,” he laughed again. “But he won’t do anything about it.” Matt pressed the power button on his phone and watched the icon flash as it booted up. “Guess who has texted Jay a half dozen times since we’ve been talking?” Matt looked at Seamus with hope in his eyes. “Loren?” Seamus smiled brightly and nodded. “Yep. It looks like things are going well. He’s been awfully attached to his phone, which is why he’s grumbling about sharing it. “Hey, my phone’s on, I’m going to—” call you back. “Fuck,” Matt cursed, as his dad’s phone died before he could get Jay’s number. Despite the abrupt ending, Matt’s heart was light for the first time in weeks. He felt good. It helped knowing he could call Seamus back in the morning. He needed to sleep anyway. Aidan didn’t care how much Matt slept, he would still demand his attention first thing. Talking had brought him peace, but also longing. Some things wouldn’t be completely resolved until they saw each other face to face. Until then, Matt had work to do. He needed to make some changes before Seamus got back. Which meant Matt needed to get to work.
    111 points
  10. The next two weeks were crazy with work, Aidan, and finals looming. Even though he was as busy as ever, he found himself spending more time with Seamus. It started when Aidan had a bad day. Matt offered Seamus his apartment key so Aidan could settle at home where he felt the most comfortable. When he got home, Seamus had dinner going. It kind of progressed from there. School, work, Aidan, finals, and Seamus. When school finished for winter break, Seamus filled the free time. The only time they didn’t see each other was a few days around Christmas. Matt even got to spend some time with his friends outside of work thanks to Seamus. Matt missed that the most, the freedom of doing what he wanted, when he wanted. Eating lunch with his two best friends at a restaurant where they didn’t work was as good as it was going to get for a while. “The big question is—what the fuck are we doing for our birthday weekend?” Kase asked. “There’s a million bars. We could do a bar crawl or something?” Hilary offered. Of the three, she was the least into it. She enjoyed parties but didn’t like planning her life around being hungover. “What about Purple Canary?” “Yeah,” Kase scoffed. “You buying?” Matt knew Purple Canary was a little on the high end but had underestimated just how much. The cover alone was insane. “It would be dope.” Hilary rested her chin on her fist and ate a fry. “I heard it’s legit. Not like those crazy clubs where everyone is standing on each other. This place is classy. Famous people go there when they’re in town.” “Yeah right,” Kase eyed her like she was insane. “They do. I’m not saying famous people are there all the time but I know for a fact Shae Bennett was there six month ago.” “We could just ask Seamus,” Matt said. “What does Mr. Ryan have to do with anything?” Kase questioned. “Because he owns it?” Matt was confused, he thought everyone knew Seamus owned the club. The only reason he hadn’t known was because he’d only just been in town for a few months. Kase and Hilary had been around for years. His friends straightened in their seats. “He owns Purple Canary? Holy shitballs. You have to get us in.” “What? Me?” “Yeah,” Kase nodded quickly. “You guys are like, married or whatever. He’ll say yes to you.” “What? We’re not married.” “Okay, co-parenting.” Hilary and Kase shared a look. A super secret inside joke at Matt’s expense. “You guys are being ridiculous. I’m not going to ask him.” “You literally just said ‘we could just ask Seamus’.” “Yes. We could ask Seamus. Together.” Neither Hilary or Kase pressed the issue until two days later they were all working… Seamus came out of the office with Aidan to get an afternoon drink. It wasn’t crazy busy so Matt took a second to see his brother. He was getting so big. It seemed like overnight he was trying to sit up on his own. Matt put his hands out and watched as Aidan brightened and leaned toward him. Seamus rolled his eyes but as soon got revenge when he held out his hands, coaxing Aidan back. “C’mere.” Matt glared. This was a new war, watching with humor as Aidan went back and forth between the two. The next time Matt had hold of Aidan, he walked away before Seamus had a chance to steal him back. He could hear Seamus grumble ‘cheater’. Matt turned to give him the stink eye but he was smiling a little too innocently before turning his attention to Hilary. “Would you mind making me a small ice breve?” “Absolutely.” Hilary glanced between Kase and Matt as she grabbed the cup. “Anyway,” she said as if she was picking up where she’d left off. “We need to figure out what we’re doing for our twenty-first birthdays. It’s a monumental event and I bought a new dress. I was thinking of someplace nice. I don’t want to hit the crappy bars on the east side. I want to go big, ya know,” she hummed oh so thoughtfully. “Any ideas?” Matt was glad his back was to Seamus so he could glare at Hilary for being totally and completely not smooth. Kase, however, was quick to jump on board. “I second somewhere nice. I want to drink an Old Fashion that’s lit on fire.” “I don’t know,” Matt smirked. “Isn’t getting drunk at dive bars on your first legal drink day a rite of passage?” Hilary glanced at Seamus, who wasn’t paying attention, then quickly glared at Matt. “Not the kind of passage I want,” she bit out. “I want to dress up and Kase wants his old tyme fire drink. Is that so much to ask?” Oblivious to Hilary and Kase, Seamus came over and waited for his drink. “I was going to take Aidan home so he could practice rolling over. Are you good or do you want me to pick you up after work?” “I’m fine. I’ll meet you there.” “We’re probably going to stay a few minutes late,” Hilary interrupted. “Our birthdays are in three weeks. The big two-one,” she gestured the age with her fingers. “We have to plan something epic.” “All three of you have the same birthday?” “Kase and I share the same birthday and Matt’s is the day before.” “Older and wiser,” Matt sang, earning himself playful digs from his friends. “Cool.” Seamus took a sip of his drink. “Take your time.” Hilary, not at all detoured by Seamus' lack of interest in their big birthday, pressed on. “Any recommendations? I want to dress up and Kase wants his drink something that’s on fire.” Seamus looked at Matt. “What do you want?” It was the perfect opportunity to ask Seamus about Purple Canary. He could slyly mention wanting to do something nice, then casually say “oh, hey, what about Purple Canary. Any chance you could hook us up?” but Matt thought the power was better used to annoy his friends. “I thought bar hopping at some dives would be fun.” Yep, if looks could kill— “Do you need someone to watch this little guy?” Seamus said more to Aidan than Matt. Matt leaned close to Aidan and took his little baby hand and started talking in a terribly emasculating baby voice that only Aidan thought was fun. “Nah, Grandpa has dibs so Matt can be as irresponsible as he wants.” As terrible as he was, Seamus smiled. “I’ll see you at home when you get off.” Matt could feel eye daggers slicing his back to shreds as he watched the two walk away. When he finally turned around, his friends looked sweet. Too sweet. It was the thing nightmares were made of. “You will fix this or we will fix you.” They simultaneously turned their backs to him then proceeded to ignore him for the rest of the shift. Even when he tried to say bye, they looked at him then dramatically turned away, making him laugh. **** “We need to talk,” Matt said as he walked through the front door. Seamus was laying on his back while Aidan practiced the baby yoga on stomach. He carefully put Aidan on the floor and sat up. “I messed up the other day. We were talking about options for our party and I mentioned that you owned Purple Canary.” “Is that why they were being weird today?” “Yes.” “And they want me to get you guys in?” “Well, yeah,” he frowned. “Is this what you want to do for your birthday?” “It could be fun.” Seamus thought about it for a moment then shrugged. “Okay, I’ll get you a table, drinks. Ten people, max. Dress code enforced.” “Just like that?” “All you had to do was ask.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” He sat down on the floor and rubbed Aidan’s back. “You want to stay for a movie?” “Sure.” It was peaceful, sitting on the floor watching Aidan be Aidan. It was a lot like watching a fire; boring but oddly satisfying and good for the soul. “Mind if I shower? I stink from work,” Matt asked. “Yeah. He’s about ready for another bottle. I’ll get it ready.” “I can do it when I get out of the shower. You’ve done enough.” Seamus gave him a thumbs up and went back to playing with Aidan. Matt excused himself and showered. He dressed down in a cotton shirt from high school and a pair of his favorite joggers. Matt looked at himself in the mirror. He was average size for his age; one hundred and sixty-two pounds though it had been a while since he stepped on a scale. He would never look like Seamus, who clearly had a gym membership. Matt didn’t have abs or muscle bulk but he wasn’t overly soft either. The joggers fit his thighs and butt and his shirt clung to his flat-ish stomach in a not completely unflattering way. Matt smoothed his shirt in the mirror. Average. He was completely average and totally okay with that. “Are you kidding me?” Matt groaned when he saw Seamus on the couch feeding Aidan. “I specifically said—" he cupped his ear and waited for the answer. “That you could feed Aidan, but so can I—so I did.” Aidan’s eyes were so heavy with sleep. A minute later he was out. Matt sat on the couch next to Seamus. His head so close to Seamus' shoulder as he played with Aidan’s foot. He noticed how Seamus smelled of day cologne. It had been a long time since he’d smelled another man. He missed it. It had a calming effect, no wonder Aidan drifted so quickly. Seamus looked at Matt. His voice was soft as to not startle Aidan. “What do you want to watch?” “I don’t care. We can watch a movie. I think there’s a few on Netflix.” “Or we could keep watching NCIS.” “Or we could keep watching NCIS,” he laughed. **** It was halfway through their shift and he had to give them props for their dedication to the shut out. “You guys can stop ignoring me now or I’ll have to tell Seamus to rescind his invitation for us and seven friends to drinks at Purple Canary.” They froze and slowly turned around. Matt laughed as soon as he saw their faces; unbridled happiness with a splash of crazy eyes. Mostly Hilary. Kase tried to play it casual. It didn’t work. They looked at each other and started singing and dancing. “We’re going to Purple Canary. We’re going to Purple Canary.” The tune was awkward as hell but he was happy to see them happy. Hilary shimmied. “People are gonna flip when they find out.” “That's why we need to figure out who’s invited. We all have to agree on the list and if someone can’t make it, we agree on the backups. When word gets out, we’re going to have a lot of best friends,” Kase reminded them. Matt didn’t have a lot of friends so he decided to let them do the inviting. His two best friends were already going. They were right about one thing. The second they started inviting the chosen few, everyone wanted in. Hilary and Kase thrived on that kind of attention. Matt didn’t. Thank God Seamus gave them a limit. Matt wasn’t sure how many fake conversations he could have before his head exploded. **** He did get some good news, though. News he’d been waiting for. News that didn’t taste as good as he thought it would. Still, he put on his best smile. “Founder’s Daycare called today. They have partial availability.” Seamus stilled. “I forgot you were waiting for them to call. Cool cool. When does he start?” “They have Monday and Tuesday open but they close at four-thirty and I work until seven.” Seamus looked up. “Oh, so it won’t work out?” “I think I can swing it but I was going to see if you could pick him up? I understand if it’s too much. You’ve been watching him nonstop for a while now.” “Sure. I’ll just bring him back here and we’ll wait for you to get off.” “Are you sure? You can tell me no.” “I’m sure.” Matt looked at Aidan, who was propped up on Matt’s stomach, using his thighs as a backrest. “How much do we love Seamus?” Matt stretched Aidan’s hands into the air. “We love Seamus this much.” Seamus chuckled then leaned over until he was pressed against Matt and gave Aidan a bunch of kisses. All the attention was too much. Aidan started laughing and kicking, accidentally pegging Matt in the face. Seamus grabbed the offending foot and nibbled his toes. Aidan laughed again, this time, he lost his balance and started to tip over. Matt quickly caught him and propped him back up. “I never imagined my nights would be spent on a couch watching an almost six-month-old doing whatever almost six-month-old’s do.” “Same,” Seamus said as he continued playing with Aidan’s toes. “Are you okay with this?” Matt asked. “I mean, you could be doing anything. I don’t want you to feel like you’re stuck hanging out with us.” “Definitely not stuck. Can’t help that I fell in love.” Seamus growled like a dog and attacked Aidan’s foot again, making both Aidan and Matt laugh. “How’d you get so good with kids? You mentioned nieces and nephews but you also said you’re not close with your family.” “I was around them a lot before I moved away. Kelly also had nieces and nephews.” “Do you still see them?” Seamus frowned. “Nah. Those relationships kind of died with Kelly.” He had more questions but Matt had tapped a sensitive subject. He didn’t want to press and jeopardize the good things they had going. So, he let it go. They played for a little while longer before getting Aidan ready for bed. As had become their routine, they turned on NCIS. “Unpopular opinion: Gibbs is a hypocritical asshole.” Seamus opened his mouth in shock and leaned away. “Come again? We’re talking about Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He’s the biggest badass on the show.” “Is he?” Matt challenged. “He yells at his team members if they aren’t one-hundred-percent forthcoming about something, lecturing them about what it means to be a team player. Then, in the next breath, he does the thing he just demeaned them for. He does whatever he wants, doesn’t respect the Director, and he’s incredibly disrespectful to his team members. I actually can’t stand him.” Seamus leaned back on the couch and watched the show, taking in what Matt had said. He wouldn’t be easily persuaded. “Are you coming this weekend to the party?” Matt asked. “I wanted you to know you’re invited.” “Oh? I’m invited to my own club? That’s incredibly generous of you.” Matt rolled his eyes. “Okay, ass. You know what I mean.” “I might be around the club.” “But not hanging with us?” Sheamus shrugged. “Is it weird for you because we work for you?” “Is it weird because they work for me? Yeah, a little.” “They know we hangout.” Seamus looked at Matt. “Was it a secret?” “No. I just feel like you’re weird about it,” Matt cringed. Saying it aloud made it weird. “Never mind.” “Yes Matt, I think it might be a little weird to hang out with three employees who are all a decade younger than me.” “We hangout. I’m your employee and I’m a decade younger than you.” “I’m also your nanny. Now stop talking and watch TV.” **** It was Matt’s birthday, the real one. School just started back up but he didn’t work Fridays so, yeah, it was a good day. Aidan woke up early. Matt made a bottle and brought him back to bed. It was his birthday; he could be lazy. Matt was scrolling on his phone and Aidan was playing with his empty bottle when there was a knock on the front door. It was barely eight-thirty. He was about to get up when he heard the door open. A few seconds later Seamus was standing at the bedroom door. “Happy birthday.” Aidan stopped playing with his bottle and started whining when he saw Seamus. Seamus smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. He reached across the bed and helped Aidan shimmy his way over. So patient and gentle with all the morning hugs and kisses. “I bet you’re sorry he loves you so much,” Matt teased though Seamus didn’t look so sorry. “You guys are the worst.” Seamus settled Aidan on his lap. “I was thinking we could do brunch for your birthday. Alero's has great Mimosas.” “Brunch? It’s not even nine.” “It starts at ten. I figured you’d need time to get ready.” He did. Seamus was wearing nice jeans and a sweater so Matt used that as a guide. And to make his birthday even better, Seamus had Aidan dressed and ready to go. Brunch was nice and lazy. The waitress didn’t even ask for his identification, so that was anticlimactic. When brunch was done, they walked around the nearby park. Walking turned into errands, which turned into ice cream and, before they knew it, it was four o’clock. Matt’s dad was on his way to watch Aidan for the weekend. “Join us for dinner?” Matt asked as he straightened his apartment while Seamus occupied Aidan in the bouncing chair. “Oh no, I don’t want to impose.” Matt waved him off. “I’m pretty sure Dad would like to meet you. Plus, it’s my birthday and I want you to come.” Seamus grinned. “Well, I can’t say no to the birthday boy.” Matt stopped what he was doing and looked at his friend with his brow raised. “Does that mean you’re going to hang out with us tomorrow night?” “Hilary and Kase don’t want their boss hanging out with them all night. They want to let loose and get drunk.” “First, Denise is their boss. You don’t do anything. Really, you’re just some terrifyingly intimidating guy who hangs out at the cafe holding a baby.” “Terrifyingly intimidating?” “Yes, and selfish. Don’t think I don’t see you still using the wrong door.” “It’s quicker,” Seamus groaned. “It’s irresponsible.” Seamus turned to Aidan. “I only do it when I know Matt’s not in the kitchen. Yet, he still complains. I just can’t win.” “Just for that, you’re letting me drive to dinner.” Seamus continued talking to Aidan. “He’s so demanding, how do you live with him?” But then he peaked around Aidan and winked. Matt flipped him off. It was a ballsy thing to do to your boss. But by Seamus’s own account he was also Matt’s nanny. So… **** Purple Canary’s dress code was ‘jacket required’. The rest was left to interpretation. Matt looked at all four of them in the mirror. “We look like the guys from Miami Vice.” “Adam looks like he’s from Miami Vice. The rest of us look fucking classy as shit,” Kase corrected. Adam, who wore chinos, a teal shirt, and a white blazer, smiled at himself in the mirror. He was totally Miami Vice. “Fucking classy as shit,” Matt laughed. “You can paint a turd but it still stinks.” Kase flipped him off then went back to fussing over his hair. They took a couple group selfies that bordered on douchey but they were having too much fun to care. Matt brushed and flossed but that was the extent of what he could do to get ready. His hair was crap. Kase insisted otherwise and took a minute to style him up. “You frat guys really know how to clean up,” Matt said as he looked the group over. “It’s what we do best.” Hilary and Lainey showed a while later dressed to the nines. Hilary was a low maintenance girl. She said she was too busy getting her MBA to worry about fashion. She was so naturally beautiful with flawless skin and curly brown hair that she hardly needed help. When she did try though, she knocked it out of the park. When Seamus arrived to chauffer them, Matt could hardly swallow. Now, Seamus was a good-looking guy but damn did he clean up. Navy slacks with a navy/white checkered shirt, covered with a maroon sweater vest and a tweed jacket tied together with a green tie. It was a look only he could pull off. Maybe because he was a ginger and they played by their own set of rules. Whatever it was, it worked. He looked hot, hot, hot. “How much trouble would I be in if I tried to seduce Mr. Ryan?” Hilary whispered as they walked arm in arm out of the house. Matt smirked. “I’m wondering the same thing.” “You had your chance,” Hilary elbowed his side. “He’s been ripe for your picking for months. Time to move out of the way.” Matt was going to offer her the front seat but she cut him off and took it before he could. He shook his head and crawled into the very back with Lainey so the football players could have more leg room. It was ten o’clock when they arrived. There was a line of people eager to be inside. A quick conversation with Seamus and the host was leading them back. Matt looked around. Just like he’d never been in a legitimately nice restaurant before Cavaliers, he had never been to a Whiskey cellar. It was amazing, exactly how he imagined; old money, track betting, cigars. It was also sleek and modern. They were seated at a circular leather couch that overlooked most of the bar. A waiter, a few years older than Matt, came over. He wore slacks, a button up shirt, fitted vest, and a sincere smile. “My name is Al and I’ll be your personal bartender this evening. Anything you want, I’ll make it happen—” “Six old fashions, on fire,” Kase said before poor Al could finish. “I’m sorry,” Matt apologized on behalf of his friend. “He was obsessed with the Hunger Games and about fainted when her dress caught on fire. He never did get over it.” “That’s not true.” Kase looked at Hilary and Lainey with wide eyes then reiterated how not true it was. They both giggled and Kase glared at Matt. Al smiled as he walked away but down right smirking when he came back. If Kase wanted a show with his drinks then that exactly what Al gave him. Matt had to admit, it was pretty cool. What really made it wasn’t the line of drinks on fire, it was that Al had pulled some strings so Alicia Keys - Girl on Fire was playing overhead while he did it. It was not only genius but validated why they could charge the cover they did. The VIP section was cool. Another thing Matt had never experienced. Watching the club goers, drinking, laughing, and having a good time while Al kept their drinks fresh. No pushing your way to the bar or waiting to be noticed. Matt saw Seamus here and there; talking to employees, sitting at the bar, shaking hands with other patrons. Other patrons. Not them. Not Matt. He tried not to get weird about it but he couldn’t help feeling irritated. It might’ve been Seamus’s club but they were friends. Good friends, kind of. If anything, Seamus watching Aidan should almost put him above a regular friend. If other people could have a drink with the owner, why couldn’t Matt? It was his birthday after all. Twenty-one was a monumental event. Instead, Matt might as well have been drinking alone. Matt tossed back the rest of his drink and held it up so Al could see he needed a refresher. Damn. He was well on his way to being drunk when Jay showed up late with the last few invitees. He sat down next to Matt and smiled. “We meet again.” “You missed Kase’s big girl on fire moment.” “Yes, well, I heard there's a video.” “Everyone knows the live performance is always better.” Jay laughed and motioned Al for two drinks which Al was quick retrieve. Either that or Matt was drunker than he thought and time was no longer a quantifiable unit. Jay handed Matt a new drink. “Happy birthday. Also, you look hot so let’s dance.” The football player quickly knocked his drink back and held his hand out. Matt looked down. He was holding two drinks since he hadn’t finished his other one. What was he supposed to do? “Drink them.” “But there’s two.” “Yeah? Merry twenty-first.” The thing about being drunk is that alcohol goes down easier with each one. He barely made a face as he tossed them back. Jay was a good dancer—very respectable. Matt thought Jay might try to dance dirty with him and was surprisingly disappointed when he didn’t. They were still dancing when Matt noticed Seamus was finally sitting with his friends in the VIP lounge. That was irritating. Now that Matt wasn’t there, Seamus decides to show up? Fuck that shit. Seamus must’ve sensed Matt was thinking about him because he looked over and gave him a chin nod. A chin nod. Whatever the fuck that meant. Matt gave him a tight nod back. Seamus frowned. Matt rolled his eyes. Those drinks were really hitting him. “He’s cute.” Jay was looking at Seamus. Others joined them on the dance floor. Who knows how long they had all been huddled in a cluster before Matt realized Jay had slipped out. He looked around. “Where’s Jay?” Kase raised a brow. “Let’s not bite the hand that feeds us.” Matt asked what he meant but Kase just shrugged. Matt frowned but kept dancing. He wasn’t good at it, not when he was well on his way to three-sheets. Kase was a good dresser and could do hair but couldn’t dance to save his life. Minus the glazed over look in Hilary’s eyes, she was holding her shit together quite well. Matt was watching her, trying to mimic her smooth moves when he saw it. “Noo,” Matt whispered, his words slow with alcohol. Seamus was standing near the bar with Jay. They each had a drink, talking. Kase and Hilary looked at Seamus, then at each other, then at Matt. “Why’s that ‘noo’?” “Seamus is my—” Hilary’s eyes went up. “Yeah?” she pressed. Matt pursed his lips. “Jay thinks he’s cute.” “That’s tame,” Hilary laughed. “Most people would say he’s smoking hot.” “Did you know Seamus is gay?” Hilary frowned. “Well, that’s depressing.” Kase patted her shoulder and laughed. “You never stood a chance. Do you like him, Matt?” Matt was too busy watching Seamus smile as Jay flirted shamelessly. “That’s not even his real smile,” he mumbled then left the dance floor and headed toward the bar. Jay was the first to spot Matt. “There’s the birthday boy,” he said, smiley as ever. “Let’s get you another drink.” Matt felt Seamus’s scrutiny. Yeah, okay, he couldn’t stand without swaying and his eyes were glossed over. No way could he hold a drink without spilling. “Are you sure you want another one?” Seamus asked when he was done casting his silent judgement. Matt wasn’t sure. He was drunk enough to not care but he also knew tomorrow would only get worse with every drink. Was it worth it? Not likely. The two he slammed earlier were still bulldozing him over. “Probably not.” “One more,” Jay pressed. He thought it made him look cool—impressing Seamus by buying Matt another drink even though Seamus was the one paying for it all. Seamus looked at Matt, silently asking what he wanted. Matt took the drink. Jay slung his arm around Matt’s shoulder. “Matt’s one of the birthday boys,” he explained, unaware that Matt and Seamus knew each other. Matt waited to see what Seamus would say but he only smiled and nodded like this was new information. A moment later Seamus tapped the bar with his knuckle. “Alright,” he said. “You two have a nice night.” Matt wasn’t sure what was going on or why he felt like Seamus was giving him the brush off, but it hurt his feelings. Alcohol always made him more sensitive, he knew it, which is why he excused himself. Even drunk, Matt knew he didn’t want to do or say anything he’d regret. Like cry. He always cried. He hated it. He stumbled all the way across the club and was about to sit down when someone pulled his elbow, detouring him away from the couch like a child. The sudden change caused him to lose his balance. When he righted himself, he was standing face to face with Seamus. “You’re mad,” Seamus stated. “Really drunk and really mad.” Matt threw his hands up. “It’s my twenty-first birthday. Sue me.” “Okay,” Seamus placed Matt onto a barstool. “Now I know why you’re drunk. Tell me why you're mad.” “I’m not mad,” he pouted. Then he looked at Seamus and scoffed. “Glare at me all you want. I’m not mad. I’m—” Shit, Matt could feel the emotions tingling up his chest and down his limbs like a tidal wave. “I asked if you would hangout tonight and you said no. Whatever. I get it. But then I see you hangin’ out at our table when I’m not there. You’re hangin’ out with everyone. You’re hangin’ out with Jay. But you’re not hanging out with me.” “Matt, this is all for you,” he gestured at the club, the VIP table, Al, and all their guests. “I just want you and your friends to have fun.” “This—” Matt gestured back at the club and the VIP table and the people. “Not my friends. I have three friends. Two are busy celebrating their birthday, and you. And you’re not hangin’ out with me.” Matt wiped his face. Yeah, he was starting to cry. Fucking alcohol. If there was a god, Matt wouldn’t remember this part in the morning. “Okay, let’s hangout.” Matt crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re just doing this because I’m crying.” Seamus laughed. “Well, yes, that is an incentive. You crying makes me very uncomfortable and I’ll do just about anything to make it stop. But I hang out with you every day, so obviously crying isn’t the only reason. Now, c’mon, let's go hangout.” Matt stood and Seamus put a hand on his lower back to steady him. Matt felt awkward when they got back to the table. He knew everyone could tell he’d been crying. Why else would they be looking at him the way they were. Then there was Seamus. Matt practically forced his hand with guilt. Regardless, Matt felt himself calming down. At one point he caught Hilary’s eye. Seamus had his arm slung over the couch behind Matt and their thighs were touching. Even though Matt was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, the position could be considered intimate. She pointedly looked between the two, as if reiterating the earlier question, the one that had been left unanswered. Did he like Seamus? He turned his head. Seamus was in a conversation with two of Kase’s teammates but looked at Matt and smiled. It wasn’t the fake one he gave Jay earlier. No, this smile was the reason he knew the other smile was fake. Whatever Hilary saw on his face satisfied her. She gave him a kind smile and went back to Lainey. Seamus humored Matt and stayed near him for the rest of the evening. Or what Matt could remember of it. It didn’t take long before the scales tipped against Matt’s favor. He couldn’t remember the details but he knew he cried some more. Over something trivial he was sure. Then Seamus drove him home. **** The thing that sucked about being made from the cloth of two people is that you don’t get to decide what fibers come from who. Matt’s mother was a very beautiful woman with dirty blonde hair and the softest brown eyes. Despite how his parents' relationship ended, his father always admitted to her beauty. She was also the life of the party. She had the kind of personality that attracted people from miles around. No matter who you asked, she was memorable. Any of those would’ve been great qualities to inherit. Matt was eighty percent his father. Brad was an attractive man with soft brown hair, blue eyes, and an average build. He was outgoing, likable, and far more practical and sensible than his mom. Just like Matt. One of the few things Matt inherited from his mother was her emotional intolerance to alcohol. Whoopie. No one knew who Matt would be when he drank. Would he be fun and outgoing? Honest and blunt to a fault? Or would he end up with the emotional stability of a teenager who ‘just doesn’t understand why life is sooo unfairrrrr’. It was a gamble, truly, which was why he rarely drank. The night of his birthday he’d drawn the ‘just-don’t-understand-why-life-is-sooo-unfairrrrrr’ card. At least his mom could dodge a hangover. Matt wasn’t so lucky. He spent the night next to Seamus’ toilet bowl. Neither his dad nor Aidan deserved to be subjected to such a grotesque scene. It was better to suffer in silence. No one to judge him when he wretched into the toilet or to laugh when he winced at the light. It wasn’t all bad. Matt got to see Seamus in boxer briefs as he helped Matt recover; a glass of water here, a piece of toast there. He should’ve been embarrassed but Seamus never once made him feel like the fool he was. It was almost dinner time when Matt peeled himself off the floor and got dressed so Seamus could drive him home. “You sure you got this?” Seamus asked as he pulled along the curb outside Matt’s apartment. “I can walk you in.” Matt took a deep breath to stop his stomach from rolling. “You’ve done enough. Thanks for everything.” Seamus was still idling when Matt shut the door behind him. Brad was on the couch with a sleeping Aidan. One look and his dad pointed him to his room. “Go sleep,” he chuckled. Matt needed no pressuring. The night had gone so wrong. Drinks that caught on fire should come with a warning sign. God, being twenty-one was shit.
    111 points
  11. When Matt was at work next, Denise asked how it went with Aidan but never made a comment or mention of Seamus. Matt didn’t want to test his good luck and did everything in his power to make sure there was no reason to bring Aidan to work, even for fifteen minutes. It worked for about a week before Victoria showed up at the end of shift one day. She had somewhere to be and Matt had thirty minutes left on the clock. Everyone welcomed the chubby potato with open arms. Luckily, Seamus wasn’t there. In fact, he hadn't been there since he’d spent the day watching Aidan. Which is why, as if on cue, Seamus walked through the front door. Matt quickly turned his back on the door and looked at Hilary and Kase with wide eyes. Aidan was still sleeping in his car seat, tucked in the corner. Matt shuffled over and moved the car seat deeper into the corner with his foot. It was still visible if you knew what you were looking for but not nearly as noticeable. His friends watched him. “I’m just—” he glanced over his shoulder. Seamus was talking to a customer. “He makes me nervous, okay? I’m having a hard enough time managing my life without being fired.” “We’re not judging,” Kase soothed. “We got your back.” And they did. Everytime Seamus got close to the corner where Aidan was tucked away, either Hilary or Kase would casually block him as best they could. The plan would’ve worked perfectly if Aidan hadn’t woken up. Ten minutes left. Ten stupid minutes. The three of them froze at the first baby noises. “Oh shit,” Hilary glanced around and, when she didn’t see Seamus she continued. “I’ll take my break real quick. When I’m don’t, you’ll be off.” Matt nodded and they quickly got Aidan and his stuff from the corner. Hillary left out the front door seconds before Seamus came through the back door. Seamus looked around the café then at Matt and Kase, who looked anything but innocent. Matt quickly got to work, anything to stop the overwhelming anxiety he was feeling. At the end of her break, Hilary carefully peaked inside but the coast wasn’t clear, Seamus hadn’t gone back to the office. “Alright, need anything else before I take off?” Matt asked Kase loud enough that Seamus knew he was leaving. “Nah, I got it. Grab Hillbilly on your way out. She’s probably on her phone and lost track of time.” Matt took off his apron and lipped thank you. He didn’t acknowledge Seamus on his way out nor did Seamus acknowledge him. Hilary was holding Aidan when he rounded the corner outside. He wasn’t crying but he didn’t exactly have his life together, either. “I think he’s hungry.” “He’s always hungry. You don’t get a body like his without eating twice the recommended servings.” “Lucky bastard,” she cooed in Aidan’s face before handing him off. “How’d everything go on the inside?” “Besides Seamus staying up front for the last ten minutes? Perfect. And thank you, seriously, thank you!” “It was kind of exciting, you know? Can’t wait to do it again!” “I can,” he laughed. “Better hurry. Kase covered for you, made it seem like you lost track of time because you were on your phone.” “Would you look at that,” she smiled. “He’s not a dumb jock after all.” Hilary kissed Aidan’s head then rushed back to work. Matt fed Aidan the rest of the bottle then walked home. Half way, Aidan decided he wanted to be held so Matt carried the car seat in one hand and Aidan in the other. He was positively dying by the time they got to the apartment. Because his new life didn’t involve a moment of rest, he went straight to making dinner, playing with Aidan, homework, bath time, feeding, and bedtime. When Aidan was fast asleep and the apartment was quiet, Matt took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair. He’d done community college for the first two years to save money. He was finally at a University. This wasn’t what college was supposed to be like for him. He was supposed to rush to class because he woke up late, make friends, go to parties, hook up with boys, go to class the next day wearing sunglasses and drinking the blended green drink from work that was secretly the best cure for hangovers, or so he heard. He allowed himself a minute to feel sorry for himself. He didn’t want the life he was currently living but it was the one he was given. He didn’t regret or resent any of it. He was just sad. It was okay to feel sad. Matt had been a champ since the night his mom died, handling things no one should have to do. He was allowed to be sad. He cleaned up the living room and got all the laundry ready to wash the next day. He was missing the days when he could pop on down to the laundry room on a whim. He studied for a while longer then he went to bed. Gone were the days when he didn’t have to sneak around in his own bedroom for fear of waking a baby. Despite it all, it was hard for him to look at Aidan and feel anything but love and hope and all the cliché emotions that kept one trucking forward. It would get better. It was getting better. **** “Okay...” Matt drawled and took a deep breath in. He didn’t know what to say. There wasn’t much he could say. Victoria had dropped a bomb, a big bomb. She wasn’t doing daycare anymore, effective immediately. No two-week notice, no heads up. Bam, out of childcare. He grabbed the car seat and left. “Thank you” was on the tip of his tongue, out of habit really, but he held it back. He wasn’t feeling very thankful as he walked toward the cafe. The bus wouldn’t be by for a while and sitting at the bus stop was the last thing he needed. Walking would help keep his mind busy. He needed a plan. He needed his dad. “Hey Matthew, I was just thinking about you. I was going reach out and see how things were going,” his dad said in a way of greeting. “Not great.” His dad sighed. “I never thought it would be, not for a while anyway. What’s going on?” “I went to drop Aidan off at the sitter and she told me she’s not doing it anymore.” “Okay, well...how long until she’s done? Two weeks? A month? You’ll be able to find a replacement by then.” “No Dad, she’s done. As in, I’m walking to work right now with Aidan in tow.” “Oh Matt—” his dad’s sympathy made Matt’s eyes water. He hadn’t cried in years, not even when his mom died. His dad must’ve heard his sniffling even though he was trying to hide it. “It’s okay to feel sad and overwhelmed. Even parents that spend years planning for parenthood have moments when they can’t keep it together.” “Did you ever have a breakdown when I was little?” “More than once. You were not an easy baby. You were colicky and cried all the time. I was positive we were doing something wrong and the lack of sleep didn’t help. Then you were two and kind of an asshole. It was so bad sometimes that I didn’t want to be around you and that made me cry. I felt so guilty because I didn’t like you very much. That lasted for two years. I cried once because I genuinely wished you hadn’t been born. You must have sensed it because ten minutes later you crawled on the couch with me and offered me your candy. Well, it was my candy that you stole from the not-so-secret stash I hid in an old shoebox. You were so proud of yourself for sharing your stolen loot. That was the last time I let you watch Robin Hood.” Matt wiped his cheek and smiled. “I don’t resent Aidan or wish he wasn’t born.” “I didn’t say you did. Those were my tears. You’ll have your own,” he said. “So, what are we going do? What’s the plan?” “I don’t know. I love my job and Denise has been great but I feel like I’ve been such a burden lately. I’m terrified of seeing her today. I think I need to take some time off and focus on Aidan. I’m just worried I won’t have a job to come back to and I’ll never find another job like the one I have that’s so flexible for school.” “I could take a week off work and come help out or I can send you money to help tide you over. Whatever you need, I’m here. I’m here for you like Grandma and Papa were there for me.” “Yeah, but Aidan’s not my son, he’s your ex-wife's kid. It’s not the same.” “Semantics,” he laughed. “How I see it, Aidan’s my grandson. It wasn’t how I saw it happening but the best things in life come from your blind spots.” Matt felt another wave of emotion roll over him. He couldn’t stop the tears if he’d wanted. “Thank you, Dad. I really appreciate you. I'll talk to Denise and see what she says, then I’ll call you back. I have the life insurance money mom left. I’m using it to pay for school and as an emergency fund for Aidan. If need be, I think this counts as an emergency.” “Sounds like a good starting point. Call me when you’re done. I’m here.” “Love you Dad.” “Love you too, Maytoe.” Maytoe Potato. It’s what his dad had called him growing up. Matt felt better after talking to his dad. He always did. He’d be a total wreck if his dad ever died. That made him feel even more guilty. Sure, he was sad his mom died but not as much as he should’ve been. Not as much as he would’ve been if it was his dad. **** Everyone looked relieved when he walked in the front door. Matt was twenty minutes late. Yes, he should’ve called. “I was about to call the hospitals,” Denise said with a smile as she wiped down the dirty surface. “Yeah, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was wondering if we could talk? Privately?” The last part was said in a hushed tone. He didn’t want more attention. Denise stared for a moment, concern written on her face, then blinked. “Yeah, c’mon.” She wiped her hands on the rag then tossed it to the side. Matt used the short walk to gather his courage and to remember the bullet points of conversation. It all went out the window when he saw Seamus sitting in the office. He’d only expected to talk to Denise, who looked concerned and not at all perturbed that her boss was there. He guessed it wasn’t weird for her, he was the owner after all. Whatever Matt had to say was technically Seamus’ business. Seamus looked up from the computer when they walked in, then looked down at Aidan, then at Denise, then back at Matt. Matt couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But when Denise asked Matt what he needed to talk about and Seamus got a whole lot more interested. He pushed away from the computer enough to show his attention was committed to them. That made Matt nervous. “I’m sorry, I um—” whatever confidence Matt had gained from his walk over, fell away. Suddenly he was on verge of tears. That was not where he wanted to be in front of his bosses. “Matt, is everything okay?” Denise squeezed his shoulder and gestured for him to take a seat. Matt followed her direction and set Aidan on the floor next to him. “Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s been a long morning,” he nervously wringed his fingers in his lap. “I think I need to be taken off the schedule—” “What? Why?” “At least for a couple of weeks,” he finished. “My sitter just quit this morning, no warning. I haven’t been able to find openings with anyone reputable. I’m on a few waiting lists. I don’t have a car so it really narrows down how far I can go. I’m stressed trying to figure it all out. The only option I have is to take a few weeks off until I can find someone reliable to watch Aidan.” Denise looked like she wanted to wrap Matt in a big hug and Matt was afraid she just might do it. He wasn’t sure he could handle that. “Whatever you need, Matt. You take as much time as you need. Call when you’re ready to be put on the schedule.” “Just bring Aidan.” Denise and Matt looked at Seamus, who, until that moment, had been quiet. When the silence dragged on because no one knew what to say, he continued. “It’s not that big of a deal.” “It kind of is,” Matt said. “He’s almost four months old and requires a lot of attention.” “Yeah, it’s one thing when it’s once in a while or for a few minutes, but every day?” Denise shook her head. “That’s a lot.” “Then I’ll watch him. Unless you have a problem with that?” Seamus looked at Denise, He wasn’t challenging. He was simply asking out of respect. “Not at all. How do you feel about it?” She asked Matt. Not great. He didn’t really know Seamus and what he did know made him nervous. “I can take a few weeks off, it’s not a big deal.” “You don’t trust me?” “I don’t know you.” “Did you know your last sitter? The one who just bailed? Did you know her before you dropped Aidan off for the first time?” Matt shook his head. “Unlike them, I’ll be right here the whole time.” Matt looked at Denise, who shrugged as if saying well, the man has a point. “Yeah, okay,” he resigned. “But if he becomes too much, let me know.” “Fair enough. If the four-month-old baby overpowers me and I can no longer defend myself, I will come get you.” Matt wanted to roll his eyes. It was hard enough letting this man watch Aidan, the last thing he needed was attitude. Denise on the other hand found the comment very funny. “Well,” Matt grabbed the diaper backpack and opened it. “The formula is in here and his diaper and wipes are—” “Matt,” Seamus cut him off with a raised brows. “The bag is small, I’m sure I can find my way around. If not, I know where to find you.” Matt was about to say something else but decided against it. Seamus quickly got Aidan out of the car seat and settled in his arms. Matt knew the man had it handled, he just felt guilty. Then again, Seamus didn’t seem like the type of man to offer something if he didn’t want to do it. Matt needed to put his faith in that. **** “I can’t handle this anymore,” Hilary groaned from behind the counter. Seamus was walking around the cafe with Aidan cradled in a semi sitting position so he could see what they were doing. “A week of watching your hunky Irish boss with a baby finally getting to you?” Kase teased. “Yes. My ovaries are ready to burst. C’mon Matt, you get it, right?” Matt was busy prepping coffee cups and usually stayed quiet while his two friends bantered back and forth. He paused and looked at the dining room where Seamus was greeting a man with one hand while holding Aidan with the other. Judging by the binder and a notebook on the table, they were getting ready for a meeting. “Yes,” Matt deadpanned. “My ovaries are practically bursting. If I’m not careful, my insides will be scrambled eggs by noon. Free brunch for everyone.” Kase almost fell to the floor laughing. It was so loud most of the café was looking at him strangely. Hilary elbowed Matt in the arm, making him smile. “You’re telling me that you don’t think he’s hot when he’s caring for your brother like that? He’s such a natural! Every day you come in and he just plucks Aidan from your arms like it’s no big deal. Like it’s just another day.” “It’s not a big deal and it is just another day.” “C’mon, tell me you don’t think he’s hot as hell.” Matt let out a loud, very inconvenienced sigh then made a big production of stopping his work to look at Seamus. “I don’t know what you want from me. Yes, by all rights he’s an attractive man. I’m not usually into facial hair. I find it gross when food gets stuck in it but he keeps it pretty short. He clearly works out so that’s a bonus, I guess,” he shrugged and turned back to the pending orders. “You’re the worst gay guy ever and I hope you never write a fantasy novel. Seamus is literally a walking daydream. The way he runs his fingers through those thick, auburn locks,” she moaned. “And that tight, black shirt pulled against all those muscles? I can’t help but feel safe in his arms.” “But you’re not in his arms,” Kase pointed out. “And he’s short.” “He’s not short. Not everyone is over six-foot. He’s perfectly tall, taller than Matt even.” “I’m five-ten by the way,’ Matt interjected. “Glad I’m considered perfectly tall. I feel so confirmed in my manhood.” “It wasn’t a dig,” Hilary whined. “Anyway, I would feel safe in his arms if he ever gave me a chance.” Hilary carried a couple of drinks to the counter, called their names. When she returned, she was still watching Seamus. “See the way he looks at Aidan? I wish he’d look at me that way.” “Like a chubby four-month-old who just shat himself?” “After throwing up all over himself?” Kase added. Matt smirked at Hilary. “Wow, your standards have lowered considerably.” “I hate you both. I don’t know why we’re friends.” “Because we work the same shifts and you find everyone else boring.” “And you’re hoping I invite you to a football party,” Kase added all smug like because it was true. Matt and Kase high fived each other when Hilary threw her hands up and walked away. Always happy to rile their friend up. “You know you’re gonna have to invite her one day.” “To a football party? Yeah, totally, but I can’t give in too soon or she’ll get more demanding than she already is. You know—” Kase’s voice inflected slightly and he wouldn’t make eye contact, “you’re invited too. There’s a guy on the team, erm, his name is Jay—” Matt laughed. “Are you trying to set me up?” “Whatever. I’m trying to be a friend here.” “Are you gonna babysit while we go out?” Matt asked then laughed at the terrified look on his friends face. Evidently carrying Aidan around the cafe was different than actually caring for him. “That’s what I thought.” Kase composed himself. “I would, you know. He could come hangout at the house.” “The frat house?” Seamus snorted from behind them. “Not likely.” Matt and Kase froze then slowly turned around. “I wouldn’t do it on a party night,” Kase defended. Seamus stared down Kase longer than considered nice before looking at Matt. “Do you mind if we run a few errands? We’ll be back before your shift is over.” Matt was so stunned that he couldn’t do anything but nod. Seamus looked between the two for a minute, shifted Aidan to his other arm, and walked away. “I wouldn’t have him over on a party night,” Kase reiterated, annoyed that Seamus thought so little of him. Matt consoled his friend with a pat on his shoulder and went back to work. Hilary returned from wiping down tables and the three went back to working side by side. There was no sign of Seamus or Aidan when his shift ended. He could’ve been nervous and/or upset but he knew Aidan was safe. He made himself a drink and sat at the table with his books. Matt must’ve sat there and studied for an hour with nothing but chatter, cups clinking, and the scream of milk steaming in the background. “Reading something interesting?” Matt looked up. Seamus was standing with a smiling Aidan in his arms. “Yeah, actually. I’m taking an auditing theory and practices class. It has a bit of forensic auditing in it and I find that very fascinating.” Seamus sat down. “Forensic accounting? Is that like—” “Accounting investigators. Mostly they search for fraud but they can do a lot of things.” “Is that what you want to do?” He asked. Matt shrugged. “It could be fun. I’m not sure I want to spend my whole career doing it but I think it would be fun to incorporate at some level.” When Seamus didn’t respond, Matt continued. “I’d like to work for a company doing whatever financials are needed; budgeting, tax preparation, etc. If it’s a smaller company, maybe payroll.” Seamus sat there holding Aidan and watching Matt but not saying anything. Matt internally rolled his eyes at the lack of conversation and put his work away. “Thanks again for watching Aidan. Are we on for Monday?” “I thought you worked Saturday?” “I do but Dad will watch him this weekend.” Seamus watched Matt for a moment then nodded and lifted Aidan across the table. “Well then, here you go. See you Monday.” And like the wind, Seamus was gone. No explanation for being an hour late, no excuses, just awkward small talk and a baby handoff. **** The weekend with his dad was long overdue. Brad took them to breakfast and then again to dinner. Admittedly, it had been a while for Matt. Matt worried things would be weird because of the dynamic but his dad was a rockstar with Aidan despite it being his ex-wife’s kid. He worked with Kase and Hilary on Saturday and, with the baby obligation out of the way, Seamus had no reason to show up, which meant Matt had a great day and a perfect weekend. The next week was smooth. Seamus was ready and waiting every day when Matt got there before leaving to do whatever it was that he and Aidan did. He took Aidan on errands almost every day. Matt was curious but not enough to fish. As reserved as he’d been about Seamus watching Aidan, it had turned out to be really helpful. Not going to and from Victoria’s house saved him time each day, especially when he worked the opening shift. Time was precious and sweet and oh so valuable. By the end of the week he felt like a new man. It was the best week he’d had since his mom died. The only thing that could’ve made it better was if one of the daycares would’ve called with good news. Matt wasn’t about to see if Seamus was willing to keep the arrangement for another week. The last thing he wanted was to be a burden or worse, take advantage of someone’s generosity. Which is how he ended up alone with Denise after shift while he waited for Seamus to come back. “What does Seamus say?” Matt looked at her like she was crazy. “We haven’t talked about it. We haven’t talked about anything.” Denise dropped her hands in frustration. “He’s not as intimidating as everyone makes him out to be. Underneath all the gruff and scruff he’s nice and—” she pointedly looked at Matt, “quite understanding.” Before Matt could respond the office door opened and the man of conversation came in holding the babe of conversation. Seamus paused when he realized he’d interrupted something important. He didn’t leave or give them privacy but silently moved around the perimeter of the office. Denise leaned back against the desk and side eyed Seamus as he changed Aidan’s diaper despite Matt being right there. “Matt hasn’t had any luck finding daycare. He’s still on a few waiting lists but nothing else has popped up. He’s re-requesting a leave of absence while he waits it out.” Seamus’ hands slowed as he replaced the diaper. “With finals coming up he could probably use the extra time to study,” she added for Matt’s benefit. Matt watched nervously. Seamus didn’t say anything as he redressed Aidan and tossed the dirty diaper in the wastebasket. Matt wasn’t sure what he expected or even what he hoped for. “I don’t think extra study time requires a leave of absence. Take Saturday or Sunday off and I’ll watch Aidan while you study. Everything else stays the same.” Seamus handed Aidan to Matt then left the office, never giving Matt a chance to agree or disagree. Matt and Denise stared at the door. Denise smirked. “What will it be? Saturday or Sunday?” “Saturday will be fine,” Matt grumbled as he got Aidan situated in the car seat. He double checked that everything was packed away then hooked the car seat under his arm and walked through the cafe. He didn’t make it two feet out the front door when the skies opened up and it started pouring down rain. As if he needed one more thing to figure out, now he’d have to find a way to get him and Aidan to and from work in the winter. It was just raining now but before long it would be worse. Seamus was parked out front in a dark grey coupe. The passenger window rolled down. “Need a ride?” Matt wanted to tell him he had it covered, but that was a lie. He covered the car seat with his jacket and jogged to the car. “Not exactly a car seat friendly car,” Matt said as he tried to shove Aidan into the back seat with the limited space given. “We’ve managed just fine for the last two weeks.” Between the both of them they managed to get Aidan settled. By the time Matt got in the front seat he was soaking wet from standing in the rain. “Thank you. I really appreciate this—and everything you’re doing for me.” Seamus nodded then turned his attention to the road. A few minutes later they were at the apartment. Matt wrangled the car seat out and waved good bye. Besides Matt giving out directions, nothing else had been said. It was strange to Matt that Seamus could watch Aidan almost every weekday with no issue but was incapable of a single conversation that didn’t involve making decisions on Matt’s behalf. Seemed legit. It could’ve been worse.
    111 points
  12. Matt laughed so hard on the way home he almost crashed, twice. If only he could be more like them when he drank; happy, funny, and everyone’s best friend. Seamus’s friends spent the entire drive hanging out the window, yelling at unsuspecting bystanders. ‘I LOVE YOU MAN!’ ‘YOU’RE AMAZING!’, ‘HOW MUCH FOR YOUR JACKET?!’. It was so different than drinking with his friends. Better. It was so much better. They were almost to the loft, and Matt was still smiling when Seamus reached across the console and squeezed his knee. “Did you have fun?” “Yes, it was awesome. I was nervous at first because they were a little intimidating—but actually, they were cool.” “I agree. I’m glad you had a good time.” Matt glanced over. “I’m sorry for going to the bar. I was feeling overwhelmed and needed a quick breather. I should’ve said something, but I honestly didn’t mean to be gone that long. We got to talking and I lost track of time.” “I was worried you weren’t having fun.” “I was nervous, for sure, but I didn’t mean to disappear. That was an honest mistake.” “Yeah?” Seamus slid his hand from Matt’s knee to his thigh. By the time they got to the loft, he had Matt half stripped and littered with tomorrow's hickies. Seamus had Matt pressed against the wall and was devouring his body. Matt tilted his head. Seamus dove in. “You turn me on.” “Yeah?” Matt fisted Seamus’ hair and moaned. Those lips felt so good. Seamus finished ripping off Matt’s shirt, then shoved his pants down and grabbed Matt’s hard dick. Seamus dropped to his knees and licked the crown. “You’re so big.” Matt tightened his grip. No blowjob compared to what Seamus was capable of. The way he used his tongue and the right amount of suction and enthusiasm brought Matt to the edge every time. “Close. Gonna come. Oh god, yes.” Seamus wasn’t about to be outdone. He slipped a finger between Matt’s cheeks, applying enough pressure to send Matt into a freefall until he came deep into Seamus’s throat. Seamus took it all, licking every last drop until Matt couldn’t take it and slumped against the wall with his legs spread. Recovering first, Seamus stood and held out his hand for Matt’s. “You’re not done yet.” He pulled him up, stripped naked, and walked to the bedroom. Matt threw his head back and groaned. Seamus was too perfect to resist, even if he did just cum hard enough to launch a rocket into space. There was no resisting the redhead with a tight ass and trim waist. If Seamus wanted more, Matt was going to give him whatever he wanted. Seamus crawled on the bed, tossed the essential items toward Matt, then looked over his shoulder and smiled. Matt could see it, the darkness in his eyes, not from lust but insecurity. He hid it well, but now that Matt knew what to look for, he couldn’t miss it. He nudged Seamus on his back, then slowly crawled over him. “There’s something we haven’t discussed and it’s bothering me.” Seamus swallowed hard but otherwise maintained his composure. “I assume because we’re dating, that we’re exclusive? I haven’t had healthy relationships before and I know I didn’t do things right, but I know what I want with you. I absolutely don’t want to see other people. Just you and me. Tell me we’re on the same page?” Seamus' eyes regained a bit of liveliness they’d been missing all evening. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page.” “Pretty sure?” Matt raised his brow. “Maybe you should show me what you can give me that no one else can.” Seamus wrapped his legs around Matt’s waist, making him laugh. He loved this about Seamus.. Matt ran his finger across his body and Seamus smiled slyly. “Is this all you got?” It wasn’t. Matt rolled on to his side, propping himself on his elbow, and continued to trace Seamus with his finger. He grazed the hair on his tummy, across his abs, around his belly button, then over the sexy v-lines. Seamus was hard. His cock hovered over his pelvis, waiting to be touched. “Excuse me for admiring you, for wanting to imprint every inch of your body in my head so when I go home, I can remember you just like this.” There was no arguing that. Seamus let Matt touch and feel his body. Let him explore every inch. Whatever Matt needed to do, Seamus let him do it. By the time Matt finished with his fingers and started exploring Seamus’ cock with his tongue, the man was a mess. And when Matt told him to roll over, Seamus almost fell off the bed doing so. Matt was going to miss being with Seamus every day. No one had ever made Matt feel the way he did. And Matt was slowly coming to terms with the fact that Seamus felt the same. Matt licked down his spine and didn’t stop until Seamus was cursing and moaning. He quickly entered Seamus, slow and steady until every inch of him was buried. He kissed and nipped his neck and shoulder. No man had ever tasted so good. Not being able to take anymore, Seamus slammed his fist into the mattress and pressed back. Matt pressed Seamus down as he moved in and out of him at his own pace. “I won’t be bullied.” “I want it harder.” “And I want to last. I want to put you into memory.” Seamus might’ve wanted Matt to fuck him hard, the way he loved it, but he also wanted what Matt was giving. He wanted Matt to remember every inch of his skin and the way he felt and tasted. He wanted Matt to remember only him. He didn’t want to give Matt a single reason to wander over the summer. Matt rode Seamus until he was sweating and screaming under him. When Seamus came, his whole body tensed and shuddered. “Sex is so fucking good with you,” Seamus said through labored breaths. “You probably say that to all your boyfriends,” Matt joked as he curled into Seamus's side, resting his head on Seamus’s broad shoulder, and snaking a hand over his toned stomach. Yeah, they should clean up, but sometimes living in the moment is sweeter. After a moment of basking in the afterglow, Matt squeezed Seamus’s waist. “You’re my favorite boyfriend.” “I’m sure you say that to all your boyfriends.” “I’m serious.” Matt raised on his elbow and looked down at Seamus. “I’ve had more boyfriends than I care to admit, but none of them hold a candle to you. They were elementary, juvenile at best. They were about having someone to get off with. The emotional connection was nothing more than a pretty face and a hard dick.” “Are you saying I don’t have a pretty face or a hard dick?” “Fuck you,” Matt cupped Seamus’s crotch, making him flinch. “You have the prettiest face and the hardest dick. You’re far and away the hottest guy who’s ever let me talk to him. You’re also the only boyfriend I’ve ever wanted to spend time with, that I enjoy watching TV with, and folding laundry for. I never pictured a future with anyone else. I’ve never respected someone the way I respect you.” It took a minute for Seamus to respond. When he did, it was a simple, “I wish you weren’t leaving.” And it tore Matt apart. “It will be two months, maybe less, and I won’t be that far. An hour’s drive? Three if I take the bus. Who knows, maybe it will be good for us? That’s what they say, right? Distance makes the heart grow fonder?” **** The rest of the week was all about Aidan’s upcoming birthday party and Matt preparing to move, both to his dad's for the summer and his own apartment after that. He found a great two-bedroom apartment that was only a ten-minute walk from Seamus’s loft. Aidan still wasn’t walking. He was standing more confidently but no steps. He was also talking more, kind of. Single syllables for the things he loved most. Baba and no were more and more common. Matt was working hard on his own name, but that damn t sound was difficult. Seamus’s name was even harder. Matt sat on the couch, coaching Aidan. “Mah-Tt.” He’d already been at it for a while and Aidan’s patience was wearing thin. When they both became frustrated, he moved on. “Okay, Shay-mus.” Aidan brightened. “Moos,” the almost one-year-old said, though it was mostly moo with a light 's' sound at the end. Still, it was more than Matt got. Seamus, who’d been sitting in the chair on his phone, moved like lightning to Matt’s side. If Aidan wasn’t going to walk before they moved, hearing his name for real was the next best thing. “Shay-mus,” Matt repeated, patting Seamus’ face for good measure, you know, just in case Aidan had no idea who watched him on most days. “Moos,” Aidan cooed, grabbing for Seamus and smiling. Seamus was beside himself. He stood Aidan on his lap so they were face to face. “Moose.” “Moos.” Seamus tossed Aidan in the air, making the tyke laugh. “You said my name. You said my name!” He shouted as he danced around with a laughing Aidan. Matt watched from the couch as Seamus and Aidan sashayed around the living room. “Okay Moose, calm down.” Seamus was on a high the rest of the night, making Aidan repeat his name until it wasn’t fun anymore and he started crying. When they were lying in bed that night, after mutual blowjobs, Seamus straddled Matt. “Why are you so set on Matt?” “Huh?” “Why do you want Aidan to call you Matt?” “Cause that’s who I am.” Seamus leaned down and kissed him. It was a you’re-a-fucking-idiot kind of kiss, Matt knew it, but he accepted it anyway. “You’re his dad.” “I’m his brother.” “Yes, you’re his brother, but you’ll be the only father he knows.” Matt cringed. “It’s just weird. I don’t feel very dad-ish. I don’t feel like I’ve earned the title.” “You took him in. You’re sacrificing for him, raising him, loving him, teaching him to be a compassionate and loving man. You’re going to provide a life and a future for him.” “That describes you more than me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you, maybe he should call you Dad.” “I’m Moose, the boss nanny. My role is to support you and Aidan.” “Well, you should get an award for it. Like, best supporting actor or whatever the boss nanny equivalent is.” Seamus kissed him again. “Best role I’ve never had.” He moved around, inadvertently lining Matt’s cock between his ass and riding Matt innocently. Matt gripped Seamus’s muscular thighs, forcing him to stop being dirty. “I know what you’re doing and it’s not working.” Seamus pressed on. “You said I should get an award. I want my trophy.” He reached under him and grabbed said trophy. It was corny but Matt laughed anyway. Giving up, Matt grabbed what he needed and presented Seamus with his award. The acceptance speech was long and mostly inaudible. **** Matt was exhausted. He slept in his own bed for the first time since Seamus confessed his feelings, except he wasn’t alone. Aidan was sprawled out next to him. In the last week he'd reverted back to his infantile sleep schedule. Thank god Matt didn’t have work or class anymore, he wasn’t sure he could manage that chaos again. With one eye on Aidan, Matt slowly rolled out of bed. He couldn’t afford to wake his brother and risk him being tired and cranky on his birthday. Once he was safely out of bed, he stumbled his tired ass to the kitchen. Seamus was standing at the coffeepot. One look at Matt and Seamus pulled another mug from the cupboard. Matt walked to Seamus, wrapping his arms around the man’s waist and hugging him from behind. He smelled good; day old and sleepy, just the way he liked it. Seamus turned in his arms and hugged him back. After a minute, Seamus shifted and Matt cocked his head. “Are you seriously getting hard right now?” “What?” Seamus smirked. “Not my fault. “So it’s my fault?” “Don’t be so fucking hot in the morning.” “I look like I didn’t get any sleep last night—because I didn’t.” Seamus pressed his hips forward. “No sleep looks good on you. We should go to my room and get more no sleep.” Matt laughed and pushed away. “Not this morning cowboy. We have a birthday party to pull off.” Seamus pulled Matt back for one more kiss than poured their coffees. Twenty minutes later Matt heard Aidan wake. Aidan cried because he woke up alone. Then cried more when Matt picked him up. It was going to be a long day. And it was. Aidan was in a terrible mood. No matter what Matt and Seamus did, Aidan wanted nothing to do with it. He did finally fall asleep, though...two minutes before they pulled into Dough Guppies for the party. Not even cake seemed to placate him. Brad laughed at Matt’s growing frustration. “Kids don’t care how much time, energy, or money you throw at them. By nature, they’re unappreciative little shits.” “Ah,” Matt said as he cleaned cake off the floor from the little tornado’s fit of fury. “Thank you for the encouragement. Whatever would I do without you?” Brad threw his head back and laughed, then walked around and picked up dirty plates and napkins. Thank god they had decided on a small party because Matt couldn’t wait to leave. Except leaving meant he was leaving. They loaded presents in the SUV and manhandled a very unhappy Aidan into his car seat. When they pulled away from the chaos that had been Aidan’s first birthday disaster, Seamus reached over and grabbed Matt’s hand. “I need a nap,” Matt sighed. “What a fucking day.” He usually watched his language, but honestly? Fuck Aidan. Plus, the one-year-old was almost asleep, anyway. Thank god. He couldn’t deal with anything else. “Aidan knows you're moving and he’s not happy about it.” Matt looked at Seamus and smirked. “Someone’s projecting.” “I’m advocating. Aidan’s too young. He needs someone to speak on his behalf.” “Oh yeah? What exactly does he want to say?” “That he doesn’t want to move,” Seamus explained. “The reason he hasn’t walked yet is out of protest. How have you not figured that out?” “I didn’t know you were bilingual. Since when did you become fluent in infant?” “Since I became the boss nanny.” “Do you give lessons?” “It just so happens I offer extensive private lessons and I come highly recommended. But I don’t travel, so you’ll have to stay local.” Matt snapped fingers. “Shoot, raincheck?” Seamus didn’t say anything, he just smiled though it didn’t reach. Matt sighed and leaned back. “Are you mad?” “Not at all.” “You’re pouting.” “Since when does pouting translate to being angry?” He knew the truth. Seamus was upset that Matt was leaving, angry that Matt hadn’t changed his mind, sad that their time living together had temporarily come to an end, and disappointed that Matt didn’t seem to care about their pending separation as much as Seamus did. “As excited as I am to go home and spend the summer sitting in the backyard with Aidan and cooking dinner with Dad, I’m dreading it just as much. I don’t want to be away from you, but I also don’t want to look back ten, twenty years from now and regret not spending this time with my dad, especially after losing my mom. I don’t mean this as a dig, but what if we don’t work out and I didn’t go home? I would never forgive myself. This is precious time. I want it with you but I want it with my dad, too” “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m over here being selfish, not considering how you might need your dad after the year you’ve had.” Matt squeezed Seamus’s hand. “I do need him, but I need you, too. I’m sorry we haven’t talked more about this sooner. I’m still learning how to be in a responsible ‘adult’ relationship.” “I’m learning, too.” Matt scoffed. “As if, you have all your shit together.” “Hardly.” “You kind of do, compared to me anyway. I feel like such a wreck all the time,” he admitted. “I don’t say it enough, but I’m thankful for you. You do so much and you never ask for anything in return. I would have failed and moved back home if it weren’t for you. Thank you.” Seamus lifted Matt’s hand to his lips. “I’m happy to do whatever.” Matt frowned as they passed the exit for home. “Where are we going?” “I have to stop by the dealership. Shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes.” Matt was kind of excited to check the dealership out. He’d never been to one before. He bought and sold his only car on Craigslist. Fifteen minutes later they were parked out front. Aidan was still sleeping, so Seamus carefully lifted him out of the car seat and draped him on his shoulder. The babe didn’t even rouse. His little mouth puckered open when his cheek rested on Seamus’s shoulder. The place was bustling. Everyone watched with interest as they walked through the lobby. Months of Seamus bringing Aidan to work had brought a lot of questions. Now Matt was there. Judging by the looks and whispers, the work gossip was about to be kicked up a notch. He didn’t talk about work much, other than passing mentions. Matt wondered what he told people when they asked Aidan. Did they ask? Was there unspoken curiosity? Regardless of what they knew, it was obvious everyone loved Aidan. There were nothing but fond looks his way. Seamus stopped at the front desk where a guy held an envelope. He looked at Aidan and pouted. “He’s sleeping?” “It was his first birthday party today,” Seamus smiled as he rubbed Aidan’s back. “He’s pooped.” “Oh, happy birthday!” the guy whisper shouted. As they left, he waved. “Have a good day, Mr. Ryan.” Matt followed Seamus out the side door and around back where the newer cars faded into pre-owned cars. They walked forever before finally stopping at a blue midsize SUV. Seamus pulled a key fob from the envelope and opened the door. He then gestured for Matt to take the front seat. Matt cocked his head in confusion. “Are you trading the Suburban for this?” It was nice but nowhere close to the suburban. Matt wasn’t going to pout, but he would miss the car he’d come to love. “No, this is yours. For the summer anyway.” “Come again?” Seamus smiled and readjusted Aidan on his shoulder. “You can’t go away without a vehicle. This has too few miles anyway. Two months will do it good. When you get back, I’ll put it back on the lot.” “Too few miles?” He never heard such a ridiculousness before. People wanted low mileage cars. “Yes. It has less than five-thousand miles. It will sell for the same price with five-thousand miles or twenty-thousand miles. I figured you can borrow it for two months, put some miles on it while visiting me. We’ll make the same profit, only you won’t be without a car for two months.” Matt looked at the SUV again. It was smaller than Seamus’s but bigger than those tiny compact things. It was surprisingly stylish with racks and a storage box. He sat in the front seat. The inside was even better. Totally loaded; leather, navigation, sunroof, etc. Matt closed the door and rolled down the window, draping his elbow over the side. “I feel like a soccer mom.” Seamus laughed. “I don’t know about a soccer mom, but you do look like a hot dad.” Matt still felt weird about being called a dad, but he took the compliment, anyway. He stayed in the car for another minute and allowed himself to get excited. It wasn’t his to keep but it was still his for a while. Once Matt got a feel for his new ride, he got out. “Are you sure about this? It seems insane.” “How do you plan on doing anything with Aidan?” “My dad’s truck.” “And when he’s working?” “I’ll take him to work or just stay home.” Seamus didn’t say much, just shook his head and tossed Matt the key. That was that. They didn’t even have to do any paperwork. All Matt could think about on the way home was how thoughtful and generous Seamus was and what the fuck had Matt done to deserve any of it. Seamus truly was in a league of his own. **** Aidan woke up just as ornery as he was before. It made packing Matt’s things into the SUV difficult. Aidan wouldn’t let Matt put him down, and Seamus wasn’t exactly hustling to see them drive away. Matt sat in the driver’s seat while Seamus buckled Aidan in the back. When Seamus was done, he leaned against Matt’s window, resting his elbows on the car. “You got everything?” “If I don’t, I know where to find it.” Seamus leaned in and kissed Matt. The grip on Matt’s hair was rough but the kiss was soft and Matt’s eyes fluttered even after Seamus pulled away. “You’ll call me when you get there?” “Yes,” Matt smiled. “I’ll probably even call you on the road.” “Using the Bluetooth—” “Using the Bluetooth,” Matt reiterated, rolling his eyes. Matt reversed out of the driveway and waved goodbye. He glanced in the rearview mirror a few times until Seamus was out of sight. Then he glanced at Aidan. He had to do a double take. He swore Aidan was glaring at him through that little mirror Seamus set up. Maybe Seamus was right, maybe Aidan did know they were leaving. “It’s just for two months,” he told himself more than he told Aidan.
    110 points
  13. Life as a twenty-one-year-old parent is weird. It’s a funky stage between childhood and adulthood where you’re both too young and too old. The complexities were a plethora of rabbit holes that were both too complicated and annoying to navigate. Matt listened to a podcast once that said the whole fake-it-till-you-make-it statement was an unhealthy cop-out. Something about not taking emotional responsibility or something. Matt couldn’t remember all the details, only that he could use that logic to be a kick-ass young adult, a stellar student, a doting dad figure, and a respectable boyfriend if it killed him. Since college was out for the summer and he wasn’t working until the fall, Matt had all the time to hone his dad skills. He wanted to be the parent Aidan needed and deserved. Since he wasn’t bogged down with school and work, Matt could focus on Aidan, build their relationship, and learn how to be the best parent he could be. He was also going to be the respectable boyfriend Seamus deserved. They had something good, and Matt would not let it get sabotaged. That’s exactly what he thought was happening. Seamus hardly texted or called the entire week after Matt visited. When they did talk, it was lacking. Matt worried he had royally fucked up. It’s what he did to relationships. Younger Matt stood by and watched as his relationships burned to the ground, all while making it the other person’s fault. He would not do that this time. It was time to use the big guns. He’d tried to talk to his dad a couple times, but it was a lot harder than he thought. Brad rarely asked Matt invasive questions like ‘are you dating?’ or ‘is there any boy trouble I can help with?’. There never seemed to be a good time to bring Seamus up. But if he didn’t pull up his pants now, he’d miss his chance. Matt had just put Aidan down. It was now or never. He took a deep breath and marched down the hall with purpose. Brad was sitting on the couch, reading. Matt thought about snatching the book out of his hands, but that seemed a little dramatic. Instead, he sat down on the edge of the recliner and nervously rubbed his thighs. Brad glanced at Matt’s strange behavior with a raised brow and slowly lowered his book. “What’s up?” he asked, barley containing his smirk. Matt was not good at being subtle. “Oh, nothing. What are you doing?” Brad glanced at his book then at Matt. “Nothing.” “Cool cool,” Matt nodded nervously. “So, are you seeing anyone?” Brad eyed him suspiciously. “Not currently.” “No dating?” “No, no dating.” “Have you seen anyone since Marcy?” “A date or two, no one steady,” he answered. “Why, do you have someone you want to set me up with?” “What? No! Gross. I was just asking. Trying to know what's going on in your life.” Brad nodded, then looked at Matt like he was on to him. “What about you?” Even though he wanted his dad to ask this exact question, his heart started pounding. “Well, there might be someone...” “How is Seamus?” Matt deflated. “How’d you know?” “The same way I knew you stole the rum from the liquor cabinet and that you drove my truck to the store before you had your license. You’re not subtle.” “Oh.” Brad discarded his book on the coffee table. “So, what’s going on between you two? Matt stared at his dad. How did he know something was wrong? “You’ve been touch-and-go all week,” Brad continued. Again with the mind reading. “Touch-and-go?” Matt asked. “Moody and broody.” He didn’t think he’d been that obvious. “Something happened when you and Aidan visited him?” “Oh my god, stop with the telepathy!” “I can’t help it, you’re a neon sign,” he laughed. “Out with it, tell me what happened.” “Long rated-R story cut short, Seamus might be but most definitely is in love with me and asked how I felt about not using protection.” There was a moment when Brad realized what this meant, that his only son was doing more than blowjobs. Not that Brad cared, but it’s one thing to know penetrative sex is a possibility and a whole other to have it confirmed. Once he came to terms with the rated-R part, Brad looked sympathetic. “Judging by the mooding and brooding all week, you don’t feel the same?” “I really like Seamus but I’m not there yet.” “And you explained that to him?” “Yeah. I told him I jumped the gun in previous relationships and I didn’t want to do that with him. I also explained that with everything that’s happened this year, I hadn’t thought that far in my head.” “Those are logical reasons. How does Seamus feel?” “Pissed. Offended. Angry.” Brad cringed. “Why do you think he felt like that?” “I don’t know.” Matt slumped back on the sofa. “I’m out of my league, Dad. I’m doing the best I can while trying to do right by everyone. I know Seamus does so much for me and Aidan but I’m feeling like there are strings attached.” “How so?” “He was so pissed that I didn’t feel the same. What? Am I obligated to love him because he makes life impossible to do without him? I’m not there, yet. We’ve only been dating for a few months and I have so much happening. Aidan changed everything for me. He’s my priority. I don’t know that I have the capacity to be in a relationship that is at that level. And of course he’s at a different level than me. He was married, Dad! Mar-ried. That is intimidating! I’m not thinking about marriage, but I know he is, why wouldn’t he be? He’s already rounded that base with Kelly. But don’t ask me questions about his marriage because never talks about it. Hell, I thought it was a good marriage until his friend suggested otherwise. I’m trying to piece it together while not prying. Lord knows he doesn’t really tell me anything. And not just about Kelly. I didn’t even know he had friends until I was meeting them! Why won’t he share his life with me? How am I supposed to be in love with him when there is so much I don’t know?!” “Oh Matt.” Brad leaned forward and pulled an emotional Matt onto the sofa and into his chest. “Can I tell you something?” Matt nodded, pleading his dad for anything. “First, dating is all about asking questions. It’s about communication and learning as much as possible about each other until you’re ready to take the next step or you realize it won’t work. Seamus is ready to take the next step, but you’re still at the starting line. I think a lot of what you two do revolves around you and Aidan, so it makes sense that Seamus feels like he knows a lot about you. It’s time to turn the focus on Seamus. Get to know him. Ask him questions. If he doesn’t want to share about Kelly or his friends, ask why. If he still doesn’t want to talk, then see it for what it is, a red flag. But don’t assume he doesn’t want to share. I think he’s busy trying to make sure everything is good for you Aido. And secondly, stop putting Seamus on a pedestal.” Matt frowned. “What are you talking about? I don’t do that.” “You do do that. You think because Seamus is older and successful that you’re not good enough. You need to get that garbage out of your head.” “I—” Matt stopped and thought about it. Yeah, he totally did that. His dad was right. Matt struggled with feeling like a child compared to Seamus. He was a child compared to Seamus. “Ohhh.” “Yeah. I think you don’t ask questions because you don’t think you should. Do you like Seamus?” “Yes, absolutely.” “Do you want a future with him?” “Of course I do.” “Then you need to go to him, talk, ask questions, and get to know Seamus.” “What if he’s fed up with me?” “What if he’s not?” his dad asked. “You need to see yourself the way others do. You’ve always worked hard to get where you wanted to go. You have a detailed game plan, but you’re also able and willing to flex when things change. College was your detailed game plan and Aidan is your curveball.” “What is Seamus?” “He’s the R-B-I.” “You know I don’t know sports,” Matt groaned. Brad laughed. “Seamus is the detail and the curveball.” Well, if that wasn’t a perfect statement, Matt didn’t know what was. It described Seamus to a t. Still, Matt felt nervous. Anything could happen. Brad and Matt spent the rest of the evening on the couch. They talked about everything. By the time they went to bed, Matt felt good about going after Seamus. **** “I really appreciate you doing this for me, Dad.” Matt stood at the sink and finished washing the bottles and sippy cups. His hands were red from the scalding water. A sign he hadn’t reached total dad status yet. “Is there a time you want me back on Sunday?” Bad sat at the dining table with a happy little blue-eyed brunette on his lap. “I don’t want to see you until you and Seamus have talked.” Matt finished putting the drink ware on the dry rack and quickly dried his hands. He tossed the rag on the counter, then jogged over to Aidan and got down on his level. “I’m going to visit Moose for the weekend. I’ll be sure to bring you back lots of kisses, okay?” Aidan’s eyes widened. “Moose.” Brad groaned. “You shouldn’t have done that.” That’s when it all fell apart. Aidan was very displeased that Matt would mention Seamus, then have the audacity to leave and not take Aidan along. By the time Matt was packed and ready to go, Aidan was wailing in Brad’s arms, screaming so hard his face was a deep shade of red-ish purple. Matt felt guilty for setting off the baby bomb. He gave his dad an anxious look. Brad shrugged it off. This wasn’t his first rodeo. Baby Matt had put Brad through the wringer. “Just go,” he insisted. “The longer you linger, the worse it will get.” Matt tried to kiss Aidan goodbye but Aidan was pissed. He took his anger out by grabbing Matt’s hair and screaming at a decibel so high that dogs across town started barking. It wasn’t easy to pry angry little fingers off his hair. Once he did, he slipped out the door with a frown. He would’ve taken Aidan but the whole point of this trip was to focus on Seamus. Aidan would be a distraction. Still, Matt felt guilty knowing Aidan was at home screaming. The look on Aidan’s face as he left would haunt him for days to come. Pure heartache, rejection, and disappointment. Fuck, being a parent was hard. **** Matt didn’t tell Seamus he was coming. He debated back and forth until it was too late and he was there. He nervously stood at Seamus’s door. He covered the peephole, then knocked. A douchey habit he’d picked up as a kid. He watched as the shadow approached, then paused. When the door opened, Seamus was frowning, irritated that he couldn’t see who was there. Matt laughed. “Good to see you, too.” Seamus’s smile was tight with no teeth, but he opened the door and let Matt in. There was an awkwardness; do they kiss? Do they not kiss? Are they fighting? Should they be over it by now? Is everything good between them? Probably not. Matt would not let the awkwardness win. He leaned in and pressed his lips to Seamus. Seamus released a deep breath. “I didn’t know you were coming.” Matt set his stuff down and walked to the living room. There was a half-eaten dinner plate on the coffee table and NCIS was paused in the background. Matt sat down on the sofa. “I thought we could talk.” Seamus was still standing by the front door, a little stunned that Matt had kissed him. He looked up and nodded, then nervously walked to the living room. As he neared, Matt continued. “I’ve been thinking a lot since I was here last.” Seamus had just sat down when he stood up again. “Well, there’s no need to draw this out.” Seamus picked up his plate and started to the kitchen. “You still have a few things here. You can grab them now or I can have them ready for you later. Aidan has a bunch of stuff, too. I assume you won’t want my help anymore so I can get his things packed as well.” Matt was off the couch in seconds and darted after Seamus. He slid between him and the sink, grabbed the plate from his hands, and slid it onto the counter. It took a second for Seamus to meet his eyes. When he did, the insecurity behind those brown eyes was alarming. “What just happened?” he asked in a very calm voice. Seamus tried to shake Matt off. “I respect you and I love Aidan. A break up doesn’t have to change that.” Matt’s heart was beating like crazy. Fear was making it hard to breathe. The week had been weird, but this was a whole new ballpark. “Breakup? What in the world?” Seamus watched him with dark, calculating eyes. So different from what Matt usually saw. Matt had never seen Seamus so blocked off. “I saw it coming after your last visit. I figured it was just a matter of time.” Matt closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He refused to overreact. He needed to get to the bottom of this. They stood in the same kitchen they had shared countless meals together, laughed together, watched Aidan with gleeful eyes together. This conversation would either add to those memories or take away from them. “Are you breaking up with me because of the condom thing?” Seamus flinched. His face flooded with confusion. “Aren’t you breaking up with me?” “No!” he exclaimed a little too loudly and with wild arms. “I came here because I didn’t want to screw things up with you.” It took Seamus a hot minute to process what Matt was saying. He rubbed his face then ran a hand through his hair. “I thought you came here to break up.” “Is that what you want?” Matt asked. Seamus shook his head. “No.” “Then what the fuck?!” Poor Seamus. He looked so beaten. Matt thought back to what Jay had said about Kelly. If Jay was right about Kelly treating Seamus poorly, that would explain so much. Matt cautiously wrapped his arms around Seamus. “I’ve royally sucked at relationships in the past. I’ve been dramatic, selfish, and pretty terrible. I don’t want to be that person with you. I came here because I want to figure out why things are weird between. I want to fix it and move forward. I absolutely don’t want to break up. That’s the opposite of what I came here for.” Seamus sighed and wrapped his arms around Matt. “I’ve been tearing things apart in my head.” “I see that. Can we please sit down and talk about it?” Seamus led Matt to the living room. He laid on the couch and pulled Matt into his side. There was a minute of silence while both of them tried to figure out how to press forward. When Matt was sure Seamus wasn’t going to talk first, he grabbed Seamus’ chin and made the other man look at him. “I want to start by saying that just because I’m not at the ‘love proclamation’ point shouldn’t and doesn’t diminish the feelings I have for you. I’ve been shitting myself thinking that you might not want to be with me because I wasn’t at that level. It’s not that I can’t get there, because I see it happening, but I have so much on my plate right now. I want things between us to be unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and everything I had before was plagued by emotions that weren’t real.” Seamus nervously ran his fingers up and down Matt’s side. “I made a big move without a lot of legwork, but I know how I feel about you and I’m not going to apologize for it. With that said, I respect where you’re at and I’m not mad about it.” “Then what happened?” Matt asked. “Because things went south pretty fast. I admit I had a baby freak out, but you totally shut down.” He desperately wanted Seamus to volunteer his life with Kelly. He was prepared to demand answers if needed. He was ready. All that bravado was unnecessary. “I loved Kelly. I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. But I was young and I let a lot of things slide. When you freaked out about not using condoms, it was like reliving my past.” “I want to know everything, please?” Seamus frowned. “There were two Kellys. The Kelly I fell in love with was incredible, easy to love, and easier to stay in love with. Then there was the Kelly who grew up never wanting for anything and never hearing the word no. His family had money, and with a gift from his parents, he made himself a small fortune for himself. As far as he was concerned, his money and status meant he could do whatever he wanted. “I was a poor college student from a small town a thousand miles away. Kelly showed me a life I never thought I could have. The security he dangled like a carrot made it easy to look the other way. I told myself that he might’ve been sleeping with guys on the side, but I was the one he was sharing his life with. He might have worked late all the time, but it was me he came home to. “I thought it would change after he proposed but it didn’t. Every time I got frustrated, he would throw it in my face. He would remind me how it hadn’t been a problem before, I needed to get over it, and he gave me everything I needed. We would fight, hard. After a week of silence, he’d apologize and I’d sweep it under the rug. The straw was finding him in our bed with the guy who cleaned cars at the dealership. That’s when I asked for a divorce. “When things were good between us, Kelly would tell me how secure I was and how my name was on everything. Still, I was prepared to walk away with nothing. I probably would have, but he died unexpectedly.” “How’d he die?” “Infidelity.” “What? How?” “Not sure exactly. He had no history of heart issues, but his ticker stopped while having sex with the carwash guy.” “It definitely fucks up your psyche when you’re put through the emotional wringer for years, you finally stand up for yourself, then he dies while cheating on you. I was too embarrassed to share that part so I had to pretend like it never happened. I had to play the part of a sad, grieving husband. The guilt was enormous.” “Why the fuck did you feel guilty?” Matt asked. “He cheated on you, a lot I’m assuming.” “Because I asked for a divorce and then he died. That’s hard to reconcile. I didn’t love him anymore, but I thought, maybe I should since he died. It felt like I needed to let go of my anger and be the husband everyone thought I was. I felt like a phony. Then I had to deal with his parents and that only made it worse.” Matt remembered Seamus saying something about them. It wasn’t good. “They challenged everything, right?” “Yes. True to his word, my name really was on his accounts and the businesses. Or should I say our accounts and our businesses? I’m sure he was in the process of cutting me off before he died. I was prepared for that. But fuck his parents for thinking they could do it.” Seamus adjusted his position on the sofa. He was a lot more relaxed, but there was something bothering him. Matt waited him out. Seamus sighed. “I tried to get Kelly to stop using condoms. It was my way of trying to force him into monogamy. He always refused.” God, everything made so much more sense. “For the sake of communication, I want to make this very, very clear. The condom/commitment thing is not a reflection of my any extracurricular activity. I don’t have a perfect past, and I’ve made mistakes, but I have never cheated on you. I say that with absolute—” Seamus covered Matt’s mouth. “I know. I just wanted you to know. You are nothing like Kelly, I don’t compare the two of you, and I never thought you cheated.” “Never?” Matt questioned. Seamus sat up so fast the room spun. “I haven’t. I swear.” Matt put a calming hand on Seamus’s chest and laughed. “I only said that because it was brought to my attention that when I was at the bar being asked twenty questions about Jay from that one guy, you weren’t handling it so well.” Seamus rolled his eyes. “There might’ve been a small part of me that didn’t like it—” “A small part?” “Okay, there was a big part of me that didn’t like it. But it wasn’t you. It was Kelly.” “Why didn’t you say something then? You could’ve come to the bar and inserted yourself.” “I trusted you.” “Maybe, but in that moment you were struggling and I didn’t know it. I hate that I didn’t know. I would’ve understood.” Seamus melted. “Kelly isn’t an easy subject. You talk about how terrible all your past relationships were, but you never married a narcissist. If you line us up side by side, your history is healthier than mine and that’s sad. All these years later, I’m still struggling.” Matt grabbed Seamus’s hands. “These are things I need to know. I’ve been struggling since October and you’ve been there for me without fail. You’ve protected me. Day in and day out, you’ve been by my side. In a lot of ways, I’ve been a shitty boyfriend. I haven’t done a good job at putting you first. It was hard for me because I felt like I didn’t deserve any of it. Why would someone who has their entire life together want to be with someone like me?” “I don’t have it all together.” “I know that now,” Matt said. “We’ve been together for how long and I’m just learning the truth about Kelly? That’s stuff I should know. What else don’t I know? I didn’t even know about your friends. You had mentioned them in passing, once. Do you see a future with me?” he asked. “You know I do.” “Then tell me everything. Tell me all the reasons you don’t have your shit together. Tell me things I do that make you freak out. I can’t fall in love with you if I don’t know you.” “What do you want to know?” “Everything.” So they spent the evening talking about everything. Kelly always punished Seamus emotionally by taking things away from him or leaving him for a day or a week. Which is why Matt moving away for the summer and then to his own apartment had been so hard. Backward change was hard for Seamus. Seamus shared more about college, his friends, how they vacationed together. Matt found out Seamus and his friends always vacationed for two weeks at the end of March. Which was also Seamus’s birthday. Matt had no clue. “I missed your birthday?!” Seamus put his hands up. “The adoption was more important. I wasn’t about to leave you for two weeks during that ordeal.” Matt pressed his fingers to his temples. “You should’ve said something.” “I know.” He looked guilty. “I’m sorry.” Seamus talked more about his childhood, grade school, and transitioning after Kelly died. By one in the morning, they were both exhausted. “How’s Aidan?” Having already shared more about Kelly than he had in ages, Seamus was ready to move on to greener pastures. “Can we video chat with him tomorrow?” Matt quickly shook his head. “That’s not a good idea.” Seamus frowned. “Why not?” “I made the mistake of telling him that I was coming to visit you and he freaked out. Dad was literally holding him back as he screamed bloody murder. If you call, it will start a war.” Seamus tried to look guilty, but his smirk was undeniable. “Gloat is not a good color on you,” Matt teased. “Whatever,” Seamus smiled. “At least someone missed me.” Matt shoved Seamus. Seamus shoved him back. “It’s true. You barely called or texted.” Matt sat there, mouth agape. Then Seamus smiled slyly. The fucker was riling him up on purpose. Oh, two could play this game. Matt pounced and a second later they were rolling off the couch and on to the floor. Not even the coffee table or the spilled water stopped them. It was war. Seamus was stronger, but Matt was scrappy when he needed to be. They laughed and tried to pin each other down while blaming each other for not calling or texting enough. Matt got pinned Seamus’s leg to his chest for a second before Seamus was able to free himself. They were both happy and breathing heavily when Matt stopped fighting. Happy Seamus leaned down and placed a chaste kiss on his lips. Matt watched Seamus. He was glowing in a way he never had before. “You can say it.” “I don’t want to freak you out or make you feel pressured.” “It won’t,” Matt said. “As long as you’re okay that I’m not ready to say it back, yet.” “It’s fine.” Seamus pursed his lips and wrinkled his nose. “Well, it sucks, but I understand.” “I will get there,” Matt promised. “I’ve just said it so many times and it never really meant anything. When I tell you I love you, I want it to mean something. Just like how I’m not Kelly, you’re not every short-lived, immature relationship I had in the past.” Seamus got up and helped Matt to his feet. Together they cleaned up the water mess and Seamus’s dirty dishes from dinner before relaxing back on the couch. Seamus asked how things were going back home, they talked more about Aidan, Seamus asked about Brad. Finally, Seamus broached plans for the fall. “So, you really have an apartment lined up?” They were sitting on opposite sides of the couch, rubbing each other's feet. Matt smiled at the way Seamus focused on his feet while asking a question that had clearly been eating at him. His boyfriend was both incredibly stoic and adorably innocent at the same time. “I made sure it’s just a few blocks down the road. The apartment is a little more than I wanted to pay, but it’s close to everything I need, including you.” Red crept up Seamus’s neck. “And when are you moving in?” “Mid-August. It opens August first. I plan to be fully moved by the fifteenth. So, not that long.” “And work?” “I talked to Denise and I’ll start back at the coffee shop once I’m settled in.” “And your hours are good?” Matt smiled. The change was driving Seamus crazy, but he cared. “I don’t have my class schedule, yet, so it’s hard to say. She said she’ll be flexible and to call her when I have my classes and daycare lined out.” Seamus pursed his lips. “What?” Matt asked. Seamus shook his head. “No,” Matt chastised. “Say it.” “I kind of want to strangle you right now.” “Oh, is that all?” Matt chuckled. Seamus threaded his hands behind his neck. “You’re putting Aidan in daycare?” “Yes?” “Okay.” Matt let go of Seamus’s feet and carefully crawled up the couch without falling off or digging his knee into his boyfriend’s leg. Seamus watched in confusion as Matt sat on his thighs and cupped his face. “I would not have survived this last year without your help, but I do not want to burden you or risk taking advantage of you. The plan was always to get Aidan into daycare, and I finally did.” Seamus looked Matt right in the eye. “At the risk of sounding like a fucking idiot, it makes me nervous that you’re moving out and not letting me watch Aidan anymore.” “I’m doing this so we can have a healthy relationship. I want you to enjoy spending time with Aidan. I don’t want it to be an obligation. I also want to get rid of the stress I feel because of you taking on so much. ” Seamus crossed his arms. “I enjoy watching Aidan.” Again, Matt smiled. How could he not? Seamus was so fucking hot when he pouted. Matt threw his hands up. He couldn’t argue. “Fine. I’ll do three days in daycare and you can do the rest.” “Two days in daycare.” “Aidan isn’t a little baby anymore. He doesn’t sleep the day away. He’s mobile and kind of an asshole.” “Two days,” Seamus demanded. “Okay,” Matt conceded. “But I’m paying for the third day and keeping it as an option.” **** Brad was waiting when Matt got home. He wanted to know everything. Matt smiled as he shared the weekend with his dad. It was good. Real good. With the waterways cleared, the rest of the summer passed quickly. Seamus visited Matt and Aidan just as much as they visited him. They even did things with Brad, like 4th of July, the zoo, a weekend at the lake, and a fun wax museum. It was an adventurous summer. In the blink of an eye, it was over, and moving time had commenced. Seamus helped get everything out of storage and into Matt’s new apartment. Seamus’s loft was bigger, something he regularly reminded him about, but Matt just smiled and gave Seamus a kiss on the cheek, making him growl. Seamus hadn’t told Matt he loved him, though it was written on his face whenever Matt did cute shit, like the time he picked his dirty towel up off the floor and tossed it in the hamper without Seamus asking him to. The last thing he wanted was for Seamus to feel like he had to hold back. He also understood the hesitation. It would be hard to proclaim something so big knowing the other person wasn’t there. Especially after everything he had been through with Kelly. It would happen when both were ready. **** It took a couple of weeks for Aidan to un-attach from Seamus’s side. The back and forth over the summer was hard on him. In fact, the first weeks of daycare were a complete disaster. The separation from anxiety was worse than either prepared for. Matt worried he might have legitimately messed up by moving away for the summer. Seamus was a champ about it. Probably because he secretly loved it. The first week, he stayed at the daycare with Aidan to help acclimate him. When Seamus left, Aidan was perched victoriously on his hip, clinging to his neck. The second week, Seamus left Aidan there, but only for a couple of hours. The third week he stayed away a little longer. By the end of September, Aidan was at daycare two full days a week. That third day was not happening anytime soon. Matt had a good rhythm going. Aidan was in daycare or with Seamus. When Matt wasn’t in class, he was working with Hilary and Kase, or studying. As much as he didn’t want to rely on Seamus, he also didn’t care as much anymore. Things had kind of reverted to the way they’d been before they moved in together. If Seamus wasn’t at Matt’s apartment, then Matt was at Seamus’s. Matt didn’t mind it so much. Things were definitely smoother this time around. They went to all the home football games together. The three of them even wore matching collegiate hoodies. Something Hillary swooned over even though she didn’t know they were officially together. As good as life was, and it was really fucking good, Seamus was stressed about something. Matt fished a few times, but Seamus waved him off. “Just work stuff.” Matt was giving Seamus space, but he would not let it go for long. They were in a relationship. Matt deserved to know what was bothering him. They were at the loft one night. Aidan was asleep and Matt was studying Advanced Forensic Accounting. Seamus paused the TV. “Theoretically, forensic accounting could find missing money, right?” Matt kept working. “Yeah. It’s basically auditing on steroids.” Seamus thought about it for a moment and then unpaused TV. The question wasn’t strange, but the timing and tone were off. Matt kept talking. “If someone is embezzling money, laundering money, or otherwise moving money where it shouldn’t be moved, there would technically be some kind of trail. The inconsistencies might not be obvious to most, but someone who knows what they're looking for, like a forensic accountant, should be able to find it in the numbers.” “If someone was to do an audit, could you do it with no one knowing that you’re doing it?” “I mean, yeah. The auditor would need access to the program and/or the numbers, so someone would have to know, but you could do an audit under the radar.” Seamus watched Matt for a moment then nodded, seemingly satisfied his answer. That was that. Except it wasn’t. Matt wanted to know. “Does this have to do with work?” “I don’t know. Maybe?” Seamus ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I have nothing to go on but a bad feeling.” “Okay,” Matt pressed. “What do you think is happening and why do you have a bad feeling?” “Mike does all the accounting. He was Kelly’s childhood friend and his most trusted confidant. After Kelly died, Mike stayed on. It seemed like the easy choice since he was already doing it. The last few years Mike has gotten more controlling where his job is concerned. I don’t know much about numbers, but when I ask about specifics, he finds a way to brush me off. I don’t feel like I’m getting the whole picture.” “Does he work alone?” “Yes.” “And there’s no one to keep him accountable? No checks and balances?” “I guess not.” “If he does all the finances and no one is checking his work, it would be easy for him skim. If I was you, I’d be inclined to investigate.” “I don’t know where to start.” “I can ask my professor if she could recommend someone.” “I was thinking you could put your schooling to the test and look around for me.” Matt was shocked. “I’m not a real accountant. I’m a baby accountant. Like, I’m not even eating solid foods yet.” Seamus held his hands up. “I was just thinking you could look. If you don’t see anything suspicious, I’ll drop it. If you see something concerning, I can hire a professional and go from there.” Matt’s heart raced. He strummed his fingers anxiously on the sofa cushion. “You really want me to go all forensic crazy on your business financials?” Seamus smiled at Matt’s ridiculousness. “Of course. I trust you more than anyone.” Matt grinned. He was excited that he might put his baby skills to actual practice. He could hardly contain himself. “When are we going to do this?” “Mike goes on vacation in two weeks. I was thinking we could do it then.” Two weeks wasn’t a lot of time to prepare, but he’d manage. No matter what, he’d be ready to help Seamus figure out the accounting debacle. It was the least he could do for everything Seamus had done for him. Matt knew one thing for sure, he was going to give this his best shot. “Ok. I’ll do it,” he promised. Now he had to make sure he didn't just make a huge mistake.
    109 points
  14. Matt spent every minute leading up to Mike's departure preparing for the greatest task he was ever given. Aidan excluded. When he wasn’t in class, at work, or catering to Aidan, Matt was re-reading and studying every published piece he could find on forensic accounting. He even spoke with his TA and reviewed tips for spotting trends and indicators. Even though Seamus would end up hiring a professional to do a more thorough job if something came from it, Matt still wanted to prove that he could do this. He wanted to prove himself. Matt looked at his watch. It was an activity watch that counts your steps, but it was all black and made him feel official. He didn’t know Mike's exact itinerary, but he would be boarding soon. Matt imagined Mike smirking as he headed for some tropical vacation courtesy of Seamus Ryan. His skin was buzzing with anticipation. He felt dangerous, like James Bond. Which reminded him he wanted to name this whole thing, but he couldn’t decide if it was a mission or an operation. Matt was in his room with Aidan, getting ready for day one of Operation Butter Biscuit? Okay, Matt really shouldn’t be creative while feeding his brother. He heard Seamus come through the front door. Matt looked at Aidan and clapped quietly but excitedly. Aidan was annoyed. He didn’t like being dressed up. He frowned at the door and tried to tear the stocking cap off his little head. “Leave the hat alone. It’s part of the operation.” Aidan protested and tried again. Seamus stood at the bedroom door, laughing. “What is going on here?” Matt stood up and looked at himself, then at Aidan. They were both dressed in black from head to toe. He even bought a couple black beanies from the corner market. If you could get past the faint smell of stale weed, they worked just fine. “We’re getting ready to go undercover.” Aidan slid off the bed and waddle ran to Seamus, who laughed at the little ninja baby before swooping him up. The second Aidan was safe in Seamus’s arms, he tore off the hat and flung it on the floor. His thin baby hair was all static and stuck straight out like crazy, making Matt and Seamus laugh. Seamus dangled his key chain. “We’re not breaking and entering. I have a key.” “Don’t ruin this for us.” Matt glared as he adjusted his own beanie. He grabbed Aidan’s from the floor and put it back on his head. He whined and looked to Seamus to save him from his evil brother. Seamus snatched the hat from Matt and stuffed it in his back pocket. “As cute as you two are, it’s time to go.” **** The office was on the other side of town, close to the dealership. It was in a small suite of offices, nestled behind the bigger businesses. Seamus unlocked the door and let Matt in. The office wasn’t anything fancy. Mike had an enormous oak desk with two monitors. There were several filing cabinets along the wall and a small kitchenette with a coffee machine and microwave. Matt ran his hand along the back of the leather chair. “Are you just going to stand there?” Seamus asked. “Give me a minute. I’m about to sit in another man’s chair.” Seamus took a nervous breath and set baby ninja down. Aidan had given up on the hat situation. He looked more like a hipster coffee drinker who was about to recite a poem than a stealth secret agent, and he was cuter because of it. Matt rubbed his hands together and finally sat down and booted up the system. “I’m assuming you have the passwords?” Seamus pulled something up on his phone. “These should get you access to everything you need.” It took a minute to navigate the computer, but the accounting system was easy to locate. When he successfully logged in, his heart rate skyrocketed. It was really happening. Even though he was with Seamus, it felt like he was doing something wrong. He looked around the office in case there were any hidden security cameras. Seamus stood behind Matt and watched as he familiarized himself with the accounts. The hardest part by far was how many businesses he had and the fact they were all moderately mixed together. Matt had to figure out how each was set up and then look for patterns. While the time passed quickly for Matt, Seamus and Aidan were bored out of their mind. By hour two, Aidan had run out of fun things to do and was becoming restless. It’s possible Seamus had underestimated how long it would take to do an audit. Yeah, he definitely assumed the fraud could be spotted immediately. “If you want to head back to the house with Aidan, I can call a car later.” Seamus thought about it but declined. As much as he wanted to take Aidan and leave, not abandoning Matt won out. Seamus tried hard to keep Aidan occupied but as the time went on, it became harder and harder. Matt was about to insist that Seamus leave, when Aidan fell asleep. While Aidan slept on the small loveseat, Seamus switched between thumbing through the filing cabinets and scrolling on his phone. It was after midnight when Matt’s brain started to burn as much as his eyes. “I think that’s it for tonight. We’ll come back tomorrow.” Matt left everything where it was so he didn’t lose his place. On the way home, Seamus asked if he found anything. “I’m just trying to familiarize myself with it right now. I wouldn’t know fraud if it bit me in the face.” Matt was concerned the expectation might be too high. “Two weeks isn’t a lot of time to go through accounts for five businesses. Some audits take months, years even. On top of this, I’m going to school and working full time.” Seamus reached over and squeezed Matt’s leg. “I appreciate that you’re doing this.” “I know,” Matt covered Seamus’s hand with his own. “I’m feeling pressure because I want to do a good job and I know there’s not much time.” “There’s no pressure from me. I know you liked the forensics class. I thought this was a way for me to see if my gut is right while you get to practice something you enjoy.” “It’s exciting if a bit more boring than I expected. I’m excited to do it, I just wish I had more time.” “I could talk to Denise and see if you could have a few days off. I know she’s pretty well staffed right now. I don’t think it would be a hardship. I could even pay you for doing this so you’re not out the money.” “God, please don’t talk to Denise,” Matt begged. “That would be so embarrassing.” “Why would it be embarrassing?” “Everyone would think I’m using my boyfriend for favors.” “Do they even know we’re dating?” Seamus asked. “I don’t think anyone knows.” “I’m sure they know. If not, they definitely suspect. We’re kind of obvious.” “I could tell her I was hiring you to do some accounting while Mike is away. She wouldn’t suspect anything and I wouldn’t be lying.” Matt watched the passing streetlights as he thought about Seamus’s offer. It wasn’t a terrible idea and he could really use the extra time to investigate. “As long as you can do it without making me look bad.” “You think I run all these businesses but I can’t get you out of a few shifts without being suspicious?” “I mean, your accountant might be embezzling money from you, so...” Seamus cupped his mouth. “Ohhhhh. That was low.” Matt leaned his head against the headrest and smiled. **** When Matt got home, Seamus dangled the key to Mike’s office. “Denise was excited that you’re filling in for Mike. You now have two weeks off.” Matt couldn’t leave the apartment fast enough. He kissed Seamus and Aidan, grabbed his hoodie, and headed out the door—in normal clothes this time. No more night ninja for Matt. As much as he hoped Mike wasn’t stealing from Seamus, he also wanted to be the one to find the smoking gun. He wanted to be the reason he got nailed to the wall. What a thrill. But yeah, he mostly hoped it was all in Seamus’s head. Seamus was a good person. The thought of someone taking advantage of him curdled Matt’s stomach. Matt spent the rest of the day at the office. Then the next. That’s how it went. Every day that Matt wasn’t in class, he spent hours in front of the computer screen. If Seamus was awake when he got home, Matt would read off a list of questions he had about employees, contractors, vendors, etc. Without having intimate knowledge of the day-to-day, Matt needed clarification to help move the investigation along. To Mike’s credit, he was really organized. Matt was able to find most information either on the computer or in the filing system. The week passed in a blur. Matt survived on caffeine and a prayer. It got to the point where Matt didn’t want to leave the office until he could give Seamus something concrete. The office was a wreck and there was no way he could put it back together without Mike noticing. He also didn’t want to let Seamus down. The more he dug, the more he agreed with Seamus. Something was off. He was close—so close he could taste it. Matt went back and forth, comparing everything that was logged in the computer with everything he could find in the filing system. **** Seamus watched Matt from the couch as he set his stuff by the front door. He was home early. There was only one reason Matt wouldn’t be at the office. Seamus off the couch. “What did you find?” Matt touched Seamus’s arm and motioned him back to the couch. “Maybe nothing, but there might be something. We’ll see.” “Matt, it’s fine. If there’s anything that might be sketchy, I’m hiring a professional. Just tell me what you think you found.” When they settled on the couch, Matt turned to Seamus. “First, Mike seems to have a very generous salary.” “Yes,” Seamus nodded. “He does a lot for the company. He has a base salary. Based on profits, he gets an annual raise of three percent. Every fifth year there’s a cost-of-living evaluation. At that point, we adjust if needed. I believe he gets about eighty a year.” “Yes, I saw that in the contract between you two. The thing is, according to payroll, he’s been getting an eight percent raise instead. He’s making damn near twenty grand every month.” “What?!” Seamus’s eyes bulged right out of his head as he did the math in his head. Matt nodded. “I thought it was crazy he’d make more than you.” Yes, Matt had seen what Seamus was taking home. He was actually impressed that Seamus was living so modestly. Judging by the profits, Seamus could’ve easily paid himself more. Substantially more. This was coming strictly from an accounting standpoint, of course. “We have a signed contract. It’s not eight percent.” “I know.” “I have it at my office,” Seamus reiterated. He was pissed. “I can show you.” “I know, I saw it.” “That’s stealing!” Wasn’t that the whole reason Matt was peaking around? “What else?” Seamus asked. Matt moved on. “All the businesses do daily deposits, which go straight to Mike, who then takes it to the bank. The thing is, there are almost always petty cash adjustments that equal the amounts of cash that should’ve been deposited. I wrote a list of amounts, dates, and what the petty cash was supposedly used for. You could easily talk to your managers and see if these are accurate, but I’ve worked at the Coffee|Bar for a year and we’ve never had group lunches, yet, according to petty cash, we do them all the time. So, either every manager is stealing, or Mike is pocketing the cash. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I doubt Denise is.” Seamus said nothing. Matt flipped to the next page in his notepad. “Company credit cards. I went through the charges. Manager purchases align with the businesses. There really wasn’t anything suspicious. Everyone is good at submitting receipts, except you,” Matt shot a look and then laughed when Seamus glared at him. Matt raised his hands. “As the boss, you get a pass here. Mike, on the other hand, I’m not sure what he would need a company card for but he makes more purchases than anyone and they are mostly personal.” “What kind of purchases?” “Everything. Fuel, groceries, meals, entertainment. As far as I can tell, he probably uses it for everything.” “Wow, okay. Anything else?” “There’s some questionable vendors. Might be nothing but I noted them anyway. Other than that, I didn’t see anything. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more. Given my lack of experience and the short amount of time I had to work, you should get a professional here asap. I would also make some big changes before he comes back. If he catches wind that you know or suspect what he’s up to, he could really fuck up your finances. He’s got his claws pretty deep.” “More than he already has?” Seamus bit out. Then he sighed. “I just don’t know what to do. He does everything for the company. How the hell do I find someone who can step in at a moment's notice? Who can do what Mike does? “You mean steal money from you?” Seamus growled. Okay, it wasn’t the time to joke. “He’s not just an accountant, he’s my HR department.” Matt shrugged. “I talked to my professor. She knows a lot of people and said she might have a lead. I can probably help a little though it should really be your last resort, for obvious reasons. Regardless, you should spend tomorrow morning taking Mike off your accounts, the credit cards, and whatever else he’s linked to. I don’t know if he has remote access to the computer but I downloaded everything onto a drive, changed the online passwords, and even disconnected it from the internet, just in case.” “I should change the locks also.” “And let the property manager know that Mike isn’t employed anymore,” Matt added. “If you are in fact terminating his employment.” “I’m definitely terminating that fucker.” Matt sat on the couch as Seamus came to terms with everything. Seamus was angry and frustrated. There was also relief. He’d been suspecting it for a long time and now he knew. “How are you feeling about everything?” Matt asked. “At twenty grand a month I’m feeling stupid that I didn’t ask for help a long time ago. I almost asked you when you first mentioned loving your forensic class but I didn’t want to bother you. I was still trying to impress you.” “You didn’t think that someone shysting you of twenty grand a month would impress me?” “No.” Seamus lip curled as he tried not to smile. “I didn’t think you’d find that to be a redeeming quality.” Matt laughed, grabbed Seamus’s legs, hauled them up to his lap, and started massaging his feet. As Matt dug in, Seamus melted into the sofa. “Do you think you would’ve let him get away with this if he wasn’t Kelly’s best friend?” “I know so. The only reason he had so much reign is because Kelly hired him. I think Mike used my inexperience as a power play after Kelly died.” “Do you and Mike meet often? Do you guys go over stuff?” “Not really. I have tried over the years but he always tells me he has things under control. He’s intimidating.” “Why?” “Probably because he took control and told me how things would be. He always said it like he was doing me a favor, but I’ve never felt like I’ve had authority when it came to him.” “That has to be hard. At least you won’t ever let anyone do this again.” “I’ll do everything in my power to avoid it,” Seamus confirmed. Seamus was laying on the sofa with his eyes closed as Matt worked his feet over. The lights were low and the room was quiet and relaxing. Matt was watching Seamus when Seamus smirked. “If only I had a super smart accountant boyfriend who knew his way around this stuff and could teach me what to look out for.” “Instead, you have a super smart baby accountant boyfriend who is hardly qualified to do anything.” Seamus opened his eyes and looked at Matt. “You don’t give yourself enough credit. You managed to find shit on Mike just fine.” Heat blossomed in Matt’s chest. “Just fine? I barely slept in over a week.” Seamus softened. He pulled his feet from Matt’s lap and sat up. “You were so badass.” He pulled Matt forward and kissed him. “I should let my super-smart badass accountant boyfriend catch up on his sleep.” Matt frowned and grabbed Seamus’s hand before he could walk away. “You’re leaving? I’ve barely seen you all week.” “I’ve been here every night,” Seamus laughed. “But I’ve been busy. We need to celebrate.” “Matt, the circles under your eyes tell me the only celebration you need is a good night sleep.” He was so tired. The adrenaline and excitement were wearing off and the cloud of exhaustion was slowly creeping in like an early morning fog bank. Still, Matt didn’t want to see Seamus go. He didn’t want to beg him to stay, either. So, he walked Seamus out then took a quick shower then brushed his teeth. It took a while to fall asleep. His brain was so focused on everything he’d compiled over the last two weeks. But what really kept him up was Seamus. Matt had spent over a week digging through every aspect of Seamus’s business financials. He knew exactly how much his businesses were bringing in; profits, expenses, payroll, etc. There was nothing he hadn’t seen. It was one thing to know your boyfriend was successful and another to see it on paper. Not only did he know exactly what Seamus made every month, he knew what Seamus could make every month—without even trying. No wonder Kelly’s family had fought him. No wonder Mike was skimming. Matt could see the parallels between Seamus and Kelly and Matt and Seamus. Even though the relationships weren’t the same, the similarities were crazy. Then Matt wondered if it was partially his fault that Mike had gotten away with it. Seamus had spent the last year watching Aidan almost nonstop. Matt could have reduced the number of credits he was taking or used more of the life insurance money so didn’t have to work as much. Letting Seamus take the brunt of the responsibility should not have been the answer. Even as Matt laid in bed worrying about it, he knew Seamus hadn’t been forced to do anything he didn't want to do. He didn’t have to volunteer in the first place. He’d proved that to Matt over and over. Even when Matt lined up daycare, Seamus all but demanded to keep Aidan. He fell asleep trying to figure out why. Why would Seamus take on such a big responsibility? Especially when he didn’t need to? He’ll, he could’ve easily hired someone on Matt’s behalf, he had the money. Instead, he toted Aidan around from store to store and dealership to dealership. Seamus took Aidan while Matt was in school, at work, or when he needed to study. There was never hesitation or an inkling of irritation from Seamus. He did what needed to be done. Even as Matt wondered why. He already knew. **** With no work and no class until one, Matt got to sleep in—as defined by a seventeen-month-old who never worked a day in his life and always woke up with the sun most mornings. Still, it was nice lounging on the couch with nowhere to be. Matt dropped Aidan off at daycare before his one and only class. He also got to pick Aidan up, which was a rarity. Aidan was abnormally irritated as the evening wound down. It wasn’t until he kept walking to the door that Matt realized Aidan was waiting for Seamus. Matt had barely talked to him all day. Seamus had been understandably busy with the Mike thing. Matt picked Aidan up and opened the front door. Aidan perked up and looked outside, half expecting Seamus to be there. “See, he’s not out here, buddy. He’s busy tonight.” “Moose,” Aidan whined as he waited for Seamus to pop around the corner. Matt carried his brother to the couch. Aidan sat on Matt’s lap and they called Seamus on video. Aidan perked up when he heard the familiar ring that always meant he was about to see Seamus or Grandpa Brad. “Aido Potato for brains!” Seamus greeted happily as the call connected. It was only ever Aidan that Facetimed him. “Why are you awake? Did you tell your dad you could stay up late again?” Aidan was all sorts of excited to see Seamus and started talking back in a language only he knew. Seamus smiled and nodded along. Aidan tried to slide off Matt’s lap with the phone but Matt stopped him. Not being able to go anywhere, Aidan laid against Matt’s chest, content to watch Seamus. “How’d it go today? What all did you get done?” Matt asked. Seamus adjusted the camera and smiled. He was at Mike’s office. He looked tired. Exhausted even. “I was on the phone most of the day. I talked to my lawyer this morning, called the banks, cards, and everything else I could think of. I even went to the police department.” “The police department?” Matt asked, kind of shocked. Kind of not. “I guess that makes sense.” “If what you found is true, then he’s stolen a lot of money and that’s a crime.” “I didn’t think that far ahead,” Matt admitted. “Have you decided how you’re going to confront him?” “With a police escort,” Seamus smiled though Matt didn’t think for a second that he was joking. “He deserves it for what he’s been doing. What are you still doing at the office? Is everything okay?” Seamus let out a breath and ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah. I just wanted to see for myself. And I figured it couldn’t hurt to see if there was an account or two I missed that needs to be called or alerted.” “Was there?” “Yeah, there were a few I forgot about. Out of sight, out of mind, you know?” Matt understood. “You’ll call them tomorrow?” “Yeah.” Seamus yawned and stretched out. “I’m pretty worthless anymore. How’d you do this for over a week straight? I’m toast.” “I’m young and have the energy to spare.” Seamus smiled and Matt melted into the couch. Aidan was limp against Matt’s chest as he watched him and Seamus talk. “Are you coming over tonight?” Matt asked. “Probably not tonight. I still have a few more things to go through.” Matt understood. He just missed Seamus. It had been a long month, first prepping for the audit then actually doing it. They hadn’t spent any quality time together. Now they’d, Seamus, would be dealing with the aftermath. “Maybe I can see if dad will take Aidan next weekend so we can do something?” Seamus groaned. “Yes, please.” Matt laughed and he squeezed Aidan against his chest. It’s all he could do to contain himself. Seamus said goodnight to Aidan and Matt before disconnecting the call. It took both of them a minute to come to terms with the fact Seamus wasn’t there. “Do you love Moose?” Matt asked his brother. “Because I think he loves you.” And me. Aidan held Matt’s phone in one hand and slid off his lap before Matt could protest. A minute later he came back and whacked Matt’s lap with a stuffed moose that Seamus had given him over the summer. Matt lifted Aidan and the stuffy on to his lap then grabbed a blanket from the back of the sofa until the three of them were snuggled in tight. Aidan nuzzled the furry animal and his eyes fluttered closed. “Moose.” Matt smiled then scratched the moose’s head with his fingers before smoothing Aidan’s hair. “I’ll take that as a yes.” **** The next morning was a total disaster. Aidan didn’t want breakfast and he didn’t want to get dressed. He didn’t want anything except to make Matt’s life a shitshow. Aidan screamed the whole way to daycare, screamed while being dropped off, and screamed as Matt left. Matt felt guilty but he had to leave or he’d be late for class. Seamus texted him to find out if he needed to pick up Aidan from daycare. You better believe that Matt wanted to have Seamus do it—he was over dealing with his devil brother, but Matt had to take some responsibility, so he told Seamus not to worry. And since Matt didn’t have work, he had no excuse not to get Aidan. It was fine. He had it all under control. **** It was a lie. Matt had no control. Aidan was in worse shape than he’d been that morning. Matt was overwhelmed and hoped Seamus would come over. He couldn't. He was busy with his lawyer. Matt’s professor had hooked him up with a professional criminal auditor. Seamus wanted everything lined up so when the audit came back, they could move forward with the charges. As bummed as he was, Matt understood. He wasn’t about to add to Seamus’s load by being needy. **** The rest of Matt’s time off work was all about Aidan and supporting Seamus as he tried to navigate the disaster Mike had created. His two weeks off work came to an end. It was time to go back to work. Seamus was going to meet them at the cafe and take Aidan from there. With the promise of seeing Seamus, Aidan wasn’t such a terror while getting ready. That didn’t mean the walk there wasn’t terrible. Aidan didn’t want to be carried—he wanted to walk. He was a big kid now. He had mastered life on two legs. He wanted to explore. Which meant Matt was sooo late to work. Kase and Hilary didn’t care, they were just happy to see him. The cafe was kind of quiet anyway. Matt still felt bad. He ran Aidan to the back where Seamus was then hustled back to work. “I had a feeling you were showing up today,” Hilary said with a secretive look on her face. “Well, the schedule is a dead giveaway.” Kase laughed and bumped knuckles with Matt. “So is the boss who only shows up when a certain employee is working.” Matt ignored her and did a quick check around the cafe to see what needed to be done. “I’m serious,” she said. “We barely saw him all summer. It wasn’t until you started working again that he miraculously started showing up again. Nothing for two weeks while you were off. Then poof, he showed up thirty minutes ago.” Hilary wiggled her fingers in the air, “Magic I tell you. It’s magic.” Matt glanced at Kase who shrugged. Kase hadn’t said anything to her. Whatever Hilary thought she knew, it had nothing to do with him. Just then Seamus came out from the back. He was smiling with a giggling Aidan on his shoulders. Matt was so frazzled about being late to work that he hadn’t given Seamus a kiss or said hello. He’d tossed Aidan’s stuff down and left. Now he regretted it. Seamus looked good and Matt was missing him hard. His tongue felt big in his mouth as he watched the pair move through the cafe towards him. “Can I get a medium Americano?” Seamus set Aidan’s sippy cup on the counter and smiled. “And a whole milk for my friend?” Matt licked his lips and got to work. “Here you go,” he said, sliding both drinks across the counter. Aidan took his sippy cup and his head back so quickly he lost his balance. Seamus reacted before Aidan fell off his shoulders. Once Aidan was recalibrated and the sippy cup was safe, Seamus looked at Matt with panicked eyes. “That was close.” “You had it under control.” Seamus was spooked and on edge but slowly recovering. “I think we’re going to run a few errands. What time are you off? I’ll drop him off then.” He’ll drop him off then. Matt wanted to scream. “Six but I might stay late and help with a deep clean if that’s alright.” “Sounds good. See you when you’re off.” Once Seamus and Aidan disappeared to the back, Hilary was on him like white on rice. Oh my god! She mouthed. “I was just teasing before but you can’t tell me nothing is happening between you two. You about tripped over yourself when he came out. And the way he looked at you,” Hilary fanned herself. “Whatever,” he blushed. “’Whatever’, he says. Oh damn, this is really happening,” Hilary said all vicariously and smug. “How long?” “A while.” “And you didn’t tell us?” She asked. Then she noticed that neither Matt or Kase were looking at her. “You sonsofbitches. You knew?!” “Of course I knew,” Kase smirked. “It was so obvious. Only the blind could miss it.” Hilary glared at Kase before asking Matt a million questions about him and Seamus. Mostly inappropriate ones. Matt resigned to giving her what she wanted. He’d held it from her for so long anyway. It felt good to share it. **** It was late by the time Matt was off. He was frustrated and missing his boyfriend. All Hilary’s questioning had reminded Matt that he and Seamus hadn’t done much more than fall asleep on the same mattress in almost a month. The apartment was quiet. The television was on in the background and the sound on low. The overhead lights were off. Just a few lamps remained. Seamus came out of the hall with his finger pressed to his lips. “He’s looking for a reason to fight sleep,” Seamus whispered. “Don’t give him one.” That was fine. Matt had other plans anyway. He walked straight up to his boyfriend, grabbed his shirt, and looked him right in the eyes. “I’m going to take a shower. When I get out, you better be in bed and you better be naked.” Matt let go and continued as if nothing had happened. He paused at the bathroom door and looked back at Seamus, who was still standing in the living room looking stunned. “Why are you still dressed?” Seamus quickly stripped off his pants as beelined it for the bedroom. Matt would’ve laughed but he was so fucking horny and desperate for his boyfriend that thought he might die. He took the world's shortest shower then went straight to Seamus’s room. Matt went right to the bed where Seamus was laid out and crawled on top of his boyfriend. The kiss was demanding and they melted into each other as they made out. “You’re not leaving tonight,” Matt said between kisses. “I need you.” Seamus responded by doubling down. Matt wasn’t the only one who wanted more. Seamus dug his fingers into Matt’s flesh to get it, making the younger man moan. Matt hiked Seamus’s legs up until they were wrapped around his waist and began to move against him. Being naked with his smoking hot boyfriend and feeling his hardness pressed against Matt’s hip was making his balls tingle. He didn’t want that so he slipped down Seamus’s body and buried his face in his crotch. Seamus grabbed Matt’s hair and looked him in the eyes. “Suck me.” Matt planned to. Happily. Still holding Matt’s head, Seamus fed him his cock. Matt almost forgot how good Seamus felt in his mouth. The way the girthy shaft and plump head stretched his mouth. He couldn’t stop himself, he slobbered up and down that hard, velvety pole. “Keep going,” Seamus panted with ragged breath. Then he used his grip to move Matt up and down. Matt was up to the challenge. When Seamus let go, Matt stuck out his tongue and ran it along the engorged rim of the head, then blew on the head. “Aargh, Matt,” Seamus cried. Matt licked him one more time then moved up his body. The kiss was a little slower but every bit as needy as earlier. “I got naked and waited in bed just like you asked,” Seamus said. “Now it’s my turn to make demands. Get a condom and fuck me right now. If you’re not inside me in three minutes—” Matt scurried to the nightstand and grabbed what he needed. He ripped the condom open, tossed the wrapper to land where it may, and rolled it down his shaft. While he did that, Seamus busied himself—working himself open. What a sight. “You have less than ninety seconds.” Matt fumbled with the lube bottle, slathering some on his cock. With a little extra on his fingers, he tried to finish opening Seamus. Seamus refused, pushing his hand away and moving until he had Matt where he wanted him. “Ten seconds,” he growled. “You’re cheating, that wasn’t eighty seconds.” “Eight seconds.” Matt laughed but was unable to deny him. He lifted Seamus’s ankles, lined himself up, and finished the count down. “Three, two, one—” It was over after that. Matt could hardly hold himself back as he watched Seamus. To him, Seamus was too sexy on a bad day. Seeing him in the throes of pleasure, touching himself while Matt fucked him—well shit. The tingles started in his toes and traveled to his balls. Seamus was close, too. Matt could tell by the way he was breathing, how his back arched, and how his legs did this twitchy restless thing when he couldn’t decide what to do because the need to cum was overwhelming. “Damnit, Matt!” Seamus cried out as he came. The pressure around Matt’s cock was all he needed. A few erratic thrusts and Matt quickly toppled down the hill. He hovered a moment, catching his breath before slowly pulling out. Matt grabbed the closest shirt and cleaned them up. It was a lame attempt but it would have to do. Before rolling off, he took a second to look at Seamus. He was completely debauched. They both were, but Seamus wore it so well. His dark auburn hair was a mess, his skin was flushed, and his chest was rising and falling as he tried to catch his breath. Matt kissed him because he could, because nothing in that moment was more important. He felt an overwhelming need to be with Seamus, like he couldn’t get enough. “I missed you.” “It’s been two days,” Seamus smiled, satisfied with Matt’s words. “I’m not talking about the last two days; I’m talking about the last month. I just feel like we’ve been so busy that I haven’t really got to be with you the way I want.” “We can always have more sex. I’m okay with that.” Matt growled and rolled off Seamus. “I’m not talking about sex either.” Seamus stopped Matt from retreating by rolling on top of him and pinning him down. “I was so thankful for what you were doing that I didn’t want to seem demanding by needing more from you, but I missed you, too. A lot.” Matt gripped Seamus tight and breathed him in. “I hope Dad will watch Aidan next weekend because I need to be with you. It’s like I can’t get enough and it feels like I can’t breathe.” Seamus smiled down at Matt. It was so radiant and consuming that it filled Matt’s soul. “I know the feeling,” Seamus said. Then he stretched out next to Matt and the two tangled into each other. Aidan was sleeping safely in the other room, Seamus was burrowed around him, his last year of school was going well, and he had just helped Seamus solve Operation Butter Biscuit. He didn’t feel totally deserving of the life he was living but he was grateful for it anyway.
    108 points
  15. The lobby was unusually quiet as Matt made his way to the loft, so was the elevator. Nervously, he paused outside the door. He didn’t know what he was walking into. Seamus was upset, Matt knew that much. He knew he had done nothing wrong but he could understand how Seamus might’ve felt a little blindsided. Matt had mentioned his summer plans more than once, but they hadn’t explicitly talked about Matt moving out. Surely Seamus knew they would not live together right off the bat? That would change if things went well. Matt could see them reevaluating their living arrangement in a more romantic capacity down the road. But not now. Matt slowly opened the door. The apartment was dim and the TV was on low. Seamus was sitting on the couch folding laundry. That was bad news. Matt set his bag down and pulled off his jacket. Cautiously, he walked to the couch, moved the laundry basket from its spot next to Seamus, and paused the TV. “Hey,” he whispered. Seamus tossed the sock he was working on into the basket. “Hey.” “I think we need to have a proper talk.” Seamus let out a loud breath and slouched against the couch. “No need,” he said. “I overreacted.” “Possibly,” he agreed. “But I thought about it after you left, and I get why you’re upset. I could’ve talked to you about this earlier.” “I never went home for the summer, it wasn’t something I did. That’s not to say you leaving wasn’t in my face. I knew it was coming, I just didn’t want it to. Summer is really long. When you finally come back, you’ll be in your own apartment. It just sucks.” “I moved in because Aidan needed his own room, right? I wouldn’t have moved in otherwise,” Matt reminded Seamus, albeit cautiously. “I was going to ask you, anyway.” “Okay, but both know we shouldn’t live together, right? When we were just friends? Sure, let’s be roommates. But boyfriends?” Matt shook his head. “That has ‘terrible idea’ written all over it.” “I enjoy having you here.” “And I enjoy being here.” “Then why not stay?” he asked. “We get along great, it makes shuffling Aidan around easier when we’re coming and going from the same place, and we both save money. We’re going to spend all our time together, anyway.” “For one, we just started dating and, I’ll be honest, I’m not ready for that. I just moved away from home less than a year ago. I want to be on my own. I want to have that experience. It’s already complicated since you watch Aidan all the time and you’re my boss. There is a difference between knowing I can rely on you and having to rely on you. Right now, I feel like I have to rely on you. Living with you, working for you, and having you watch Aidan, that’s a lot of relying.” There was also a difference between understanding and accepting. Seamus understood where Matt was coming from, but he was having a hard time accepting it. “I’m not really your boss. Denise is. You’re the one that said I did nothing except intimate people and hold a baby all day.” Matt leaned back and laughed. “Semantics. You’re my boss's boss. That makes you my boss. Kase calls you Boss Nanny and I think that paints a pretty clear picture.” “Boss Nanny?” he repeated, smiling proudly. The fucking weirdo liked the name. “Do you understand, though? You’re the boss nanny, my boss’s boss, my boyfriend, and my roommate for who’s roof I live under. That’s too much. I don’t want to feel like I’m on the wrong end of a teeter-totter. I need to hold my own.” “What do you think ‘holding your own’ looks like? From where I stand, going to school full time, working, and taking on your brother is a lot of weight. You’re doing an incredible job.” When it’s said the way Seamus said it, all star struck and impressed, then yeah, it seemed like Matt was doing a kick-ass job. Matt grinned. He liked the way Seamus made him feel. “I like you, a lot, and I have a good feeling about us.” Seamus pulled Matt closer. “I understand where you’re coming from. I really do. But I may need a minute to come to terms with the change.” Matt straddled Seamus’ lap. “We’re still gonna see each other all the time. Aidan and I will come over and you’ll come to our place. I’ll even have Kase watch Aidan so I can come over here, alone.” “No kid?” “Just us,” Matt confirmed. “What else?” Matt ran his hand along the side of Seamus’s head. “You won’t have to pick up my wet towels.” “Yes, I will.” He chuckled. “Okay, maybe you will.” “When do you think you could move back in?” Matt leaned away. “We’ve been together for like, one day.” Seamus raised a brow. He didn’t give a fuck if they’d been dating for one hour, he wanted to know when Matt was moving back in. “Could we talk about it after graduation?” Seamus sighed, then frowned. “You’re really going to move away for the summer?” “Yes. I have one year before I need to find a real job. I want to go home and spend the last bit of my childhood with dad before I grow up.” “Before you grow up?” Seamus smirk. “I’m twenty-one. Just a baby.” “Hardly.” Seamus ran his hands down Matt’s body, real suggestive like. He snaked his hand under Matt's shirt, caressing the soft skin. He kept teasing and tempting until Matt was a fidgeting mess. "C'mon," he begged. Seamus dropped his hands and smiled devilishly. "Sorry, you're just a baby." Matt growled and quickly proved he was no child. **** Seamus was being a distraction. All the neck kisses and ear tickles were driving Matt crazy. “You have to let me study or I’m going to fail, and if I fail, I’ll be in school an extra year.” That did the trick. The threat of living apart even longer was enough to send Seamus away with one last peck on the cheek. Life wasn’t that easy, and Matt was no dummy. Seamus never gave up that easily. He was in the bedroom, naked. Matt knew it. One week of school left; Matt told himself. He had to resist. As hard as it was, Matt stayed at the table and finished his work. He only glanced at the bedroom door twice. Okay, five times. It was hard not to imagine what Seamus was doing in there. When the last of his work was done, he pushed out from the table and went to the room. Sure enough, Seamus was exactly as Matt said—always with sex on the brain. “Do you ever tire?” Matt asked as he stripped his clothes off. Seamus was on his back with his legs spread, lazily touching himself. Matt could tell he’d already prepped himself. “Are you complaining?” “Not at all.” “Then get over here. I’m stocking the bank while I can.” Matt fell victim once again. He couldn’t say no. He grabbed a condom, rolled it on, then crawled up Seamus’s waiting body. Matt hooked one leg over his shoulder as he went and pressed into his horny boyfriend in one long movement, just the way Seamus loved. Matt took his time and Seamus let him. Seamus always got what Seamus wanted. It was a quick but crazy, intense session. They were both on their backs and slick with sweat and cum. “Your last day of work is the first?” “Mmhmm.” “And you’re moving back to your dads on the twenty-fifth?” The way Seamus asked questions he already had the answers to, made Matt take notice. Tired and sated as he was, he propped himself up. “What’s going on?” “I want to see you.” “You will. We’ve already talked about it.” “I know, but I have a plan.” “Seamus.” Matt eyed his boyfriend suspiciously. “No,” Seamus’s voice was firm and unwavering. “And you don’t get to be a dick about it. When you’re done living with your dad, you’ll be moving out of the loft. I get to have a plan and you don’t get to say anything about it.” Matt was shocked. It was so rare that Seamus ever talked like that. He couldn’t help but smile. “Wow, you’re so swoony. I never stood a chance against your charm.” “Damn straight.” Seamus flipped the light off, then pulled Matt against his chest and snuggled into the blankets. “Don’t forget to wake me up before you go go,” he half sang. Matt smiled. He loved it when Seamus was playful. He also knew the drill. There was only one excuse for not dicking Seamus first thing in the morning and that was Aidan—who was getting ready to turn one and still not walking. It wasn’t a big deal to Matt, but Seamus was stressing over it big time. What if they moved away and Seamus missed it all? For his sake alone, Matt prayed Aidan would take a few steps before they left. **** Matt ended the year on a high. He had his assignments turned in before the deadlines and snatched a phenomenal GPA in the progress. An accomplishment considering everything Matt had been up against since getting Aidan. To celebrate, Seamus took him and Aidan out to dinner at Cavaliers. Matt didn’t fight it this time. He sat with Seamus and Aidan and enjoyed every bite of food. The following Thursday was Matt’s last day of work. He planned on coming back in the fall, but who knew for sure. With his own place, a kid, and a full schedule for his final year, Matt was seriously considering using some of the money he got from his mom to help him through. He knew Seamus was there to do whatever was needed, but Matt was serious about not wanting to rely on him for everything. Wouldn’t Seamus enjoy his time with them that much more if it was all voluntary? Brad came down Friday evening, the first official day of Matt’s summer, and took Aidan for the weekend. Matt wondered if his dad would be this eager to watch Aidan during the summer, too. Most of Matt’s friends from high school would be in town, and he wasn’t opposed to one last summer hurrah before his final year of school and diving head first into adulthood. He was a super brother now. The opportunity to act twenty-one was dwindling by the minute. He didn’t choose the super brother life; the super brother life chose him. Just because he was forced to terms didn’t mean he was always cool with it. So many times he felt like a petulant child. He didn’t resent his life or his brother. He loved Aidan more than anything. There was a whole future he looked forward to, more than he thought possible. But he was twenty-one, trying to enjoy his first year of true independence, and living off campus at a big university. His toes were barely wet when everything changed. No parties, no tailgaters, no living selfishly. Most days he was nothing but elbow deep in formula blow-outs. Though he felt down, Matt wouldn’t change being Aidan’s next of kin for anything. The thought of Aidan being with distant family grated him more than every missed college party, missed football game, and missed one-night-stand. All of his friends leaving town for the summer didn’t help Matt’s grumpy attitude. He tossed his stuff down a little too hard and walked through the apartment a little too heavy-footed. He had a free weekend to finally let loose but no one was around. Kase left, Hilary left. Everyone else had either left for the summer or was working. Seamus observed Matt. “Not a good day?” “Nope.” Seamus wiped his hands on his pants and went to Matt, wrapping him up in a hug. “What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy that Chub Master Thighs is gone.” Matt smiled against Seamus’ shoulder at the nickname, then frowned. “I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. Everyone’s gone. They all went home.” Seamus rubbed Matt’s back. “We could go out with my friends. I’m sure they’d be down for a Friday night board meeting. It’s been a while.” “I forgot you had friends.” It wasn’t meant as a dig. Except for the one night Seamus got drunk and came home and passed out, he never did anything. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just insult me.” In an effort to gain favor, Matt pouted real cute like until Seamus smiled. Once he was safe, he asked. “You think they’d be free?” Seamus shrugged and pulled out his phone to find out. While he did that, Matt showered. When he came back, Seamus was dressed in nice jeans and a hoodie. “They’re down. Said they’d meet us in a bit for dinner and drinks. Nothing too crazy but they’re cool guys.” “You met them in college?” “Yeah, we were in a study group freshman year. Rest is history.” Matt was excited but nervous. Seamus hadn’t talked about them a ton but he knew they were his ride or die. Even after they parted ways after college, they continued to meet regularly. They even vacationed once a year. In fact, Seamus had missed it this year because it was during the adoption chaos. “Jay and Scott? Right?” “It will be everyone—Jay, Scott, Will, and Trevor.” “So, all of your friends?” “Besides you, of course.” “Nice save.” **** An hour later they parked outside Chubby’s. They were walking hand-in-hand when Seamus pointed at the far corner where two newer Audis sat. “That’s them.” Inside, the guys were sitting at a round table, laughing. Seamus squeezed Matt’s hand and led him across the restaurant. As they neared, the group stood and greeted them. “Sea-man!” A very attractive, tall blond with a well-built body shouted. “Glad you found time for us. I was about to send the dogs after you.” “The real surprise is that you having time for us,” Seamus shot back, pulling the blonde into an aggressive bro hug. Seamus kept his arm slung over his friend's shoulder and turned to Matt. “This is Jay Petermeyer.” There was this look, a moment, as they waited for Matt to react. So Matt held his hand out. “I’m Matt. Nice to meet you.” The group looked at Jay and laughed. Clearly there was some kind of joke happening. Seamus released his friend with a shove and pointed down the line. “This is Scott Schroeder, Trevor Torrance, and Will Walker.” Trevor, the smallest of the group, noticed Matt’s expression and smiled. “Don’t encourage Seamus. He’s convinced we’re low-key superheroes.” “Not true,” Seamus cut in. “Being a superhero would require you three to—at most, have a superpower and, at the very least, put others before yourselves.” “Fuck you,” Trevor laughed. “Always a do-gooder. Holding your righteousness over the rest of us peasants.” Matt sat silently as everyone settled. They joked in the easy way that good friends do. He liked them. More than that, he liked who Seamus was when he was around them. Seamus was a different person. He was outgoing, light-hearted, hilarious. They were alphas. Everything about them oozed confidence and power. Matt had only been around them for thirty minutes, but he knew they were the center of attention wherever they went. They were the guys that got what they wanted. Matt doubted they were ever told no. Judging by physical looks alone (and the cars parked outside) they were all successful. That much was obvious. None of them had rings, but that didn’t mean there weren’t beautiful girlfriends or fiancés back home. The best part was, they didn’t act like they knew they were that cool. They were nice and down to earth. Which made them even better, and worse. Because, how intimidating? Matt was in his own head, comparing himself to Seamus and his friends when a hand squeezed his thigh. Seamus was watching him with an easy smile. “I’m gonna grab a drink, what’s your poison?” “Oh, um, whatever you’re getting.” Seamus winked and scooted out of the booth along with the three others, leaving Matt and the giant, built blonde. After a beat of weird silence, Jay spoke. “You shouldn’t have any trouble here. We tend to get left alone.” Matt had no fucking clue what the guy was talking about but nodded anyways. Matt was usually outgoing, but he was so nervous about meeting Seamus’s friends that he was being awkward and quiet. Matt and Jay sat, semi awkwardly, as they waited for the others to return. It felt like forever before Seamus slid his drink across the table. Jay took a welcomed sip and smiled. “I was telling Matt that he should be fine. I don’t think anyone will give him trouble for drinking here.” Seamus stared at his friend like the village idiot. “No shit. He’s twenty-one, dipshit.” “Seamus told us all about Matt’s twenty-first party at the bird house. Did you not listen?” Will chastised. Jay’s genuine shock that Matt could drink legally did nothing to put Matt at ease. It only proved that the group of friends were way out of his league. On top of that, his beer was genuinely disgusting. It took everything in him not to make a face after every sip. Ugh, it was so bitter. Like drinking tree sap. The last thing he needed was for them to think he couldn’t hack it. Atleast he had no motivation to get drunk. Knowing they wouldn’t see him get stupid emotional made him feel a little better. “So,” Jay said, trying and failing to move things out of the awkward zone. “You into sports?” “I mean, sure, I play at the Rec occasionally and summer ball if they need a warm body.” “No professional sports?” Matt shrugged. “Super Bowl if there’s a big party.” Jay groaned, which caused the table to break out in laughter. “You can’t catch a damn break.” Scott clapped Jay on the shoulder sympathetically then looked at Matt. “Don’t worry about him, his oversized ego is a bit concussed.” Matt sipped his drink and listened as the friends bantered back and forth. He wasn’t having a terrible time, but he was in a weird mood. He felt funky. Actually, he felt jealous. Eventually, he excused himself and went to the bar. “Could I get a coke?” he asked the bartender. “Uh, could you make it look like a rum and coke?” The bartender smiled. “No problem. And if someone orders for you later?” “The same thing, if you would.” While he waited, Matt sat on the stool. There were easily a dozen TV’s playing, each viewing a different game. Matt watched a few of them, not really knowing what was happening. “Is anyone sitting here?” The bar wasn’t that full, just a few two-tops scattered throughout. Matt shook his head, letting the guy know he was free. Matt didn’t pay him mind, instead, continued to watch the TV’s. “Jackson is having a good season, amiright?” “Uhm, yeah?” “The contract he signed with the Texans is insane. Personally, I’m not sure he’s worth it, but I guess we’ll see.” All Matt could offer was a nod. He had no clue who Jackson was, or if there was merit to the money he was making. “You see Petermeyer?” the guy asked, looking back at the table where he’d just come from. “I knew he went to college here. I never thought I’d actually see him.” Matt looked at Seamus and his friends and frowned. “You mean Jay?” “Yeah, Jay Petermeyer,” the guy laughed. “Seahawks best defensive end. Crazy talent right there.” “Oh yeah, he seems nice.” The table caught Matt looking and waved a little too enthusiastically. Matt’s return wave was that of a kid placating their embarrassing parent. Small. “Wait-a-fucking-second,” the stranger back-handed Matt’s shoulder. “You know him! Holy shit.” “I wouldn’t say I know him. I literally just met him like an hour ago. I didn’t even know he was a professional athlete or whatever. Though, it makes sense now.” “You must be the only person in the world who doesn’t know who Jay Petermeyer is.” “I’ve never been interested in sports,” Matt explained. “I went to football games in school but never followed anything on a professional level.” “Sure, but Jay was the first and only open gay player drafted in any sport, let alone in the first round. That made non-sports headlines. Still does.” Now that the guy mentioned it, it sounded familiar. He was in high school and barely out himself. He wasn’t into sports, but he knew it was a big deal to draft an openly gay player. “He’s made a name for himself, that’s for sure. His humanitarian work is off the charts. He’s what more athletes should strive to be like. Gay hasn’t stopped my wife from being half in love with him.” There was something Matt was more than happy to sit and talk about, the importance of public figures being role models and setting the bar for others. Not only did they have excessive amounts of money, but they had social platforms that could truly promote positive causes to millions of people with little effort. Matt and the stranger talked for a while. He wasn’t sure how long, but eventually they were interrupted. “Hey, I’m Jay.” The guy eagerly stuck his hand out. “I’m Chance. Hi. Shit. You’re Jay Petermeyer.” Matt laughed at how fumbly his new friend was. All the confidence he had earlier with was gone; he’d been reduced to mush with one handshake. “Nice to meet you,” Jay said. “You must be pretty awesome if you were able to keep Matt here for forty-five minutes.” Chance looked at his watch. “Forty-five minutes? Shit, I’m late.” He threw some money on the bar and stood up. “Matt, it was really nice to meet you and Jay—” “Picture?” “Fuck yeah,” the guy smiled and handed Matt his phone. Jay went all out, hamming it up for the camera. When Chance left, Jay ordered another round. He sat next to Matt, slid a drink over, and spoke in a way that was overly secretive and borderline creepy. “Seamus is low-key freaking out right now. If I was you, I’d take him this drink, kiss him on the cheek, and make sure you’re touching him in some way or another for the rest of the night.” Matt furrowed his brows and looked over his shoulder. Seamus was at the table laughing. He looked great, happy, stunningly beautiful. Nothing looked amiss. Matt had no clue what Jay was talking about. “Don’t stare at him, you’ll make it obvious we’re talking.” “Obvious we’re talking about what? I don’t even know what we’re talking about. Seamus isn’t freaking out. What would he be freaking out about anyway?” “You sitting here with some strange guy for almost an hour instead of sitting with your boyfriend.” “Seamus doesn’t care about that.” “Seamus most definitely cares about that.” Matt chanced another look. Seamus was still laughing and happy with his friends. Matt was starting to think that Jay was causing drama to be an asshole. “You can stop looking, he’s never going to show his cards. That doesn’t mean he’s not bothered. After the hell Kelly put him through—” Jay shook his head, frustrated and disappointed about whatever had happened. “Seamus loved Kelly. He’s never said a bum word about him.” Jay rubbed his beard. “Well, I’m not surprised. Grief can make you feel and behave in ways that aren’t typical.” “What are you talking about?” “Kelly was an asshole. He spent their entire relationship cheating on Seamus. He wanted Seamus to be his husband because Seamus is a fucking good guy, but Kelly never had intentions of being monogamous. Too bad he roped Seamus into marriage before making that part clear. Seamus kept asking Kelly to stop, Kelly would placate him, even keep in on the low for a while. About a month before Kelly died, Seamus walked in on him having sex with another guy. Kelly got upset at Seamus for making a big deal about it. So, instead of taking Seamus on vacation like they had planned, he took the guy he was fucking. That was it for Seamus, he was talking divorce but—” Kelly never made it that far. Matt was reeling. Seamus never let on, never mentioned a word. Nothing. Zilch. Seamus almost never talked about Kelly, and now he knew why. Matt wasn’t upset, maybe a little disappointed, but he knew Seamus would tell him when he was ready. The thought that Seamus was keeping this bottled up more upsetting than anything. He shook off the shock and made his way back across the bar. “Sorry it took so long. That guy was pretty star-struck with Jay,” Matt explained. “He about shit himself when Jay came over and rescued me.” Matt pressed against Seamus and squeezed his thigh a few times for good measure. Maybe Seamus wasn’t so carefree after all. Now that Matt was there, he could feel tension rolling off the guy in waves. The rest of the table welcomed Matt back in a way that was clearly meant to create unity and to keep their friend grounded. Matt was thankful for that, thankful for them. “I found out something interesting about a certain professional football player while talking to Chance,” Matt said. Jay preened, happy that Matt finally knew who he was. “Jackson’s having an amazing season and scored a killer contract with the Texans. I guess we’ll see if he’s worth it. What do y'all think?” Matt still had no clue who Jackson was, but the look on Jay’s face, hell, the look on everyone’s faces, made the whole evening better. Jay flipped Matt off while the rest of the table had a friendly laugh at his expense. “Kick a man while he’s down, why don’t you,” Jay pouted. Scott turned to Matt and pointed his thumb to Jay McPouterson. “So, Jay here has been hung up on this guy for a while. Couldn’t get the dude to look twice at him. This isn’t a problem Jay usually has. Turns out the guy doesn’t know shit about football and doesn’t idolize this dumb bastard like most everyone else. Like we said, Jay’s ego is concussed at the moment. He was totally hoping you’d recognize him and fawn over him so he could feel better about himself and rub it in Seamus’ face. You did no such thing.” Scott seemed pretty smug about the whole thing, content in his friend’s misery. “How are things going with Loren, anyway? Any gains?” Will asked his buddy. “You know there’s not. You’re just trying to shame me in front of Seamus’ boyfriend. But it’s not working.” It was working. Trevor looked at Matt, happy to share all the details. “Most Tuesdays, Jay and a few of his 2.0 friends—” “They’re my teammates,” Jay corrected. “The Sack Pack.” “Anyway,” Trevor continued. “Jay and his wannabe friends—aka the 2.0 friends—go to this shitty ass bar on the eastside of Seattle. It’s a dump, but the beer is cheap and no one bothers them. It’s one of the few places the players can enjoy themselves without people interrupting or asking for autographs and pictures. Well, about a year ago a group of guys started showing up. Normal, you know, it’s a fucking bar after all. Lots of guys call this particular bar home. Until Loren showed up.” “Cute guy,” Will takes over. “Probably five-eight and built like a boxer. Scared the shit out of me—” “Everyone scares the shit out of you.” “They don’t scare me; I just don’t condone violence.” Will flips his friends off then returns his attention to Matt. “So, this guy struts into the bar like a badass—” “Wait,” Matt puts up his hand. “Were you guys there? At the bar in Seattle?” “Nah, but we got the details from multiple sources.” “We’re experts.” Matt nodded. “Okay, so, badass?” Will lifts his beer towards Matt and continues. “Yes, he walked in like a badass and sits down with his friends. Boom, Jays in-fucking-love. Full on hearts-in-eyes and shit. He spends all night staring like a cuckoo. 2.0 friends take notice of Jay taking notice. The night ends—nothing. Weeks pass, the friends show up, but no cutie. A month later, boom, he’s there again. All night Jay waits—nothing, not a single look. After a few months, they see a pattern. Lover boy only shows up on the last Tuesday of the month.” Trevor jumps in. “One of those Tuesdays was a jersey theme night. Jay and his 2.0 friends had bets going to see which of their jerseys would be most popular. Given Seattle is known for their fan base, it was likely the whole place would be full of their numbers.” “I won by the way.” “That’s debatable,” Scott scoffed. “Anyway, lover boy’s friends show up. They’re all wearing the most random fucking jerseys from players who never really played; third string backup to the backups and such.” Jay smiled at the memory. “We spent the first half of the night googling who the fuck they wearing.” Will smacked Jay. “Are you gonna let us tell the story?” Jay rolled his eyes but stayed quiet. “Anyway, his 2.0 friends invited lover-boy’s friends to join them. They jumped, of course, not often you’re invited to hang out with A-list Seahawk players. An hour later, guess who walks in?” “Badass boxer guy.” It was a rhetorical question, but Matt answered anyway. The story was getting good. “Bingo,” Trevor pointed at Matt. “Jay ‘bout had a heart attack when stocky blonde took off his jacket.” “He was wearing your jersey?” “Fuck yeah he was,” Jay said proudly. “Yeah, but it gets better, or worse, depending on how you look at it,” Trevor laughed. “The guy hesitantly sits down, not keen on joining a group of unknown giants. Well, Jay confused the nervousness for starstruckness. So, what does he do?” “Tries to strike up a conversation,” Scott jumps in, trying so hard not to laugh. “He says, ‘so, number 99 huh?’ The guy had no clue what Jay was talking about. But Jay, being the self-absorbed superstar he is, didn’t notice. Instead, he stuck his hand out and introduced himself. Loren was like, ‘uh, Jay, you said? I’m Loe. Nice to meet you?’.” “Jay couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had to make a total fool of himself and press on. ‘You a fan?’ He was smiling like a maniac, probably being creepy as fuck, freaking the poor guy out. Loe looked down at his jersey and then glared at his friends.” “‘You fuckers!’” Will mock yelled, then started laughing so hard he had to wait to continue. “Turns out, Loe’s friends had a history of giving him jerseys of players who’d been involved in big scandals, making him look like an idiot at every bar they went to. Loe yelled at his friends, demanding they tell him which washed up, has-been player he was wearing now. Or was it an animal abuser? Or the guy that leaked his own sex tape? A murder? He kept going, naming every ridiculous scandal he could think of.” “That’s when Jay realized Loren had been tricked into wearing his jersey. He had no clue who Jay was and no interest in learning.” “Yeah, because his fucking friends ruined it by making him wear my jersey.” “Why did they?” Matt asked. This time Seamus stepped in. “Because Jay’s the only out and proud NFL player, and their friend is gay. They thought it would be a great icebreaker.” “Except now he thinks I’m some crazy animal-abuser-turned-amateur-pornstar-murder-for-hire. Why else would his friends have picked my jersey?” “So, what happened?” Matt asked. “Nothing. Loe hates all things sports—” “No,” Trevor corrected. “He hates how much money players are paid while so many other professions barely make ends-meet. He also hates how the league downplays injuries, especially head injuries, despite the growing scientific evidence against concussions.” “Well, those are two big black marks against me. I’m the second highest paid defensive end in the league and my position has a high rate for injuries, including concussions.” “And he thinks you're an arrogant fuckwad.” “And he thinks I’m an arrogant fuckwad,” Jay agreed. Seamus and his friends reached over and laid hands on Jay. It would’ve been a nice gesture, but they could barely hide their smiles. Must’ve been amusing to watch their millionaire, professional athlete friend, who worked his ass off to get to the top, fail in love because of the very things he worked so hard to achieve. “Well, looks like Arrogant Fuckwad gets to buy the next round.” And Jay did. Then Scott, then Will, then Seamus. Seamus and his friends talked about everything and nothing. They laughed and teased. All the while Matt followed along, laughing and holding tight to Seamus. “Well,” Scott semi slammed his empty beer glass on the table. “I adjourned this meeting. Everyone in favor, say I.” “I,” the group said in unison. The server came to clear the table while everyone grabbed their coats. Seamus was pretty drunk, trying and failing not to stumble. “Matt,” Will gestured toward Seamus. “Take care of this guy, we kinda like him.” Scott agreed, “Yeah, it’s nice to see Seamus happy.” Trevor put his arm around Seamus’ shoulder. “I never did ask, where is the little cutie?” “Aidan?” “Yeah.” “He’s with grandpa this weekend.” “Ahh,” Scott smiled at Matt, then glared at Seamus. “As sweet as that is, don’t show your face at the next board meeting unless you have him in tow.” “Then I won’t see you for a while,” Seamus frowned. “Matt and Aidan are moving back home for the summer.” “Wow,” Matt laughed. “Way to throw me under the bus. Now I know how Jay feels. So much hate.” “See,” Jay shouted, wrapping his arm around Matt. “This guy understands me. He’s promoted to best friend. The rest of you douches are demoted. Friends 0.” Everyone moaned and groaned and gave Jay a hard time as they shuffled to the parking lot. Seamus tossed Matt the keys and everyone piled into the SUV. Maybe they hadn’t been fooled by the camo soda after all.
    108 points
  16. The only part of Matt’s birthday weekend that was worth remembering were the glimpses and broken memories of Seamus in his dark green undie as he brought water, toast, and wet towels while Matt died on the guest bathroom floor. Miles of skin and stomach and shapely arms. Those fleeting memories triggered a change in Matt. **** One hour left of this torture. Seamus already came back from running errands with Aidan and now the duo was walking around the cafe. Seamus was leaned over, holding Aidan upright while his seven-month chubby legs wobbled on the ground. One of them was excited and the other wasn’t even crawling yet. Aidan finally gave up, his face went red. There would be no more steps being taken. It was over. Seamus tossed him in the air with a twist, when Seamus caught him, they were face to face. There was cooing and laughter. Yeah, Aidan liked that a lot better than trying to walk. Matt smiled from behind the counter where he was steaming milk. Hilary was perched next to him on the counter. They both watched Seamus with the same too-fucking-perfect look in their eyes. “I don’t know how you do it.” “He’s my best friend,” Matt said. “No offense—” “Offense taken,” she pouted, then winked because she couldn’t blame Matt for being half in love with the most perfect man on earth. “There’s a reason the best friends-turned-lovers is such a popular trope.” “Well,” he said. “If my life was a book, it would be in the unrequited-love genre or if you were looking in the LGBT section, the I-fell-for-my-straight-best-friend section.” “He’s not even straight and whatever teenage angst-drama is going on between you two, unrequited isn’t the issue.” “I’m not even in love. It’s just a crush. He’s cute, successful, and good with Aidan. I’d be blind and dumb to deny an attraction. It doesn’t mean I actually want anything to happen. I just enjoy watching. He’s fun to daydream about.” Not believing a bit of his denial, Hilary squeezed Matt’s shoulder as she walked away. “You ready?” Seamus asked, starting Matt from wherever he was in his head. He had Aidan on his hip and the diaper backpack hanging off his shoulder. Matt looked at the clock and realized his shift ended five minutes ago. “Yeah, sorry. Let me grab my stuff.” Leaving work with Seamus started just before his birthday. Randomly at first, then semi regularly, then daily. Once they were in the SUV, Matt checked his email from his phone as they drove. “Barbara from DHS emailed me the outline for the home-study.” He didn’t know why he was so nervous. It was unlikely that the courts were going to contest the adoption. It’s just that there was just so much to the process. Adoption wasn’t something Matt hadn’t given much thought about. He stupidly thought it just magically happened over time, kind of like common law marriage or something. If you have a kid long enough, they just become legally yours. That was not the case. It was actually fairly complex. Getting Aidan’s birth certificate and social security card had been hard enough. If his mom had them before she died, who knows where they were. But with a little elbow grease, Matt got everything submitted and filed, the next step was the home-study. “What’s it say?” Matt opened the PDF file and zoomed in. There were different requirements based on the type of adoption. Since Matt was adopting his brother, it was a lot less invasive than say a private adoption. “Pretty much what we expected. They’ll come check out the apartment; make sure all safety precautions are in place. It looks like she included a list of what they’ll be looking for in the home. Safety latches, fire detectors, baby gates around fireplaces, blah blah blah,” he continued to scroll, then he paused. “Oh no.” Seamus glanced over. “What’s ‘oh no’?” “He has to have his own room.” Matt had kind of looked for a new apartment but people weren’t usually moving mid-term and there was a hefty fee if he broke the lease so he decided to wait until school was out. He didn’t think it would be a big deal. “She wants to come in two weeks. There’s no way I can find a two-bedroom apartment and be moved in by then.” “What will happen if you postpone?” “I don’t want to find out. What if she takes him away?” “I don’t think that’s how this works. I’m sure you’ll have time to rectify the situation. They’d rather you find a proper place to live than try and find a foster family for Aidan. It’s not like he’s being abused.” “They might think that a one-year-old shouldn’t be sharing a room with a twenty-one-year-old. They could see it as abuse. What if they think—” “Wow,” Seamus put his hand on Matt’s arm to stop the train wreck going on in his head. “That escalated quickly. I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. If you’re really worried about it—you and Potatoes-For-Legs can move in with me.” Matt looked at Seamus like he was fucking crazy. “Well, that escalated quickly.” “Has it?” Seamus asked with a is-this-really-that-unbelievable-of-an-idea? tone. “You already have a room there and so does Aidan. If you’re not at the loft, I’m at your apartment. It’s not that big of a leap.” “I don’t think you know what you’re signing up for. It doesn’t seem like a big deal because right now you can go home anytime you want, anytime you need a break. It’s your space to do as you please. If we moved in—” Seamus adjusted in his seat and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “It was just an offer. No one’s forcing you. You can say no.” “It’s not about saying yes or saying no, Seamus. You already do so much. Hell, you do more than me, but having a baby in your loft is a big deal.” “There’s a baby in my loft every day.” “It would be different if he lived there. And what about our friendship? What if we’re terrible roommates and it all goes to shit?” “You know we won’t be terrible roommates.” “I leave towels on the floor.” “I know, I pick them up.” “I know. If we lived together then you’d be picking them up all the time. It could drive you crazy.” “I do pick them up all the time and it does drive me crazy. Yet, we’re still friends. Imagine that.” Matt turned in his seat. There was a bite to Seamus’ words and he was practically white-knuckling the steering wheel. “You’re mad.” “No.” Seamus pulled into the parking spot, put the SUV in park, and got out before Matt could respond, which meant the conversation was over. Seamus grabbed a cart while Matt got Aidan out of the car. The walk across the parking lot was silent and awkward. They got everything they needed, plus a few extras like chips, salsa, and some candy they hid so Aidan wouldn’t see. Not that he cared. They went home, made dinner, and watched Aidan refuse to crawl in silence. What conversation they did have was so simple you hardly needed to grasp English to understand. Dinner? Sure. Water? Sure. After an hour of trying to get Aidan down for the night, they let him fall asleep on the couch while they watched TV. When Aidan was dead to the world, Seamus carried him to his crib. “He’s down so I’m gonna head out.” Matt grabbed Seamus’s wrist. “Sit down.” Seamus sat. “I’m worried you didn’t think it through or fully consider what you signed up for when you offered for us to move in.” “I didn’t ask you on a whim,” Seamus said. “And I know exactly what I’m ‘signing up for’.” Matt smiled at the sarcastic retort. “I’m still worried. If you ever, for even one second, felt like I was taking advantage of your generosity—well, I’d rather die.” “Then don’t make me sleep on this terrible couch one more night.” Seamus had a playful glint in his eyes, almost suggestive like. If he didn’t know better, he’d think that Seamus was coming on to him. Matt flushed. “Oh my god. I didn’t—” Seamus laughed. “I meant it like, ‘move into the loft so I don’t have to sleep on your couch’. I didn’t mean it as an invitation to your bed.” “I didn’t think that’s what you meant,” he lied. “Mmhmm,” Seamus hummed, sure you didn’t. “Well,” Matt said in an attempt to move away from his awkward thought process. As if Seamus would’ve ever meant it like that. “If you were serious about the offer, I’d be interested in the terms.” “What? Like you cook on Thursday/Friday and I cook Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday? I pick up towels and wash the laundry?” Matt laughed. “No, I mean how much is rent? When's it due? What's the security deposit? That kind of stuff.” “Why would I charge you any of that?” “Because I’m renting a room. And while I think it’s noble of you to consider doing it for free, I can’t do that to our friendship.” Seamus looked like he was going to argue but decided against it. “How much do you pay now?” “$850.00.” Seamus was appalled. “I’m not charging you $850.00.” “Why not?” Matt asked. “This place is way nicer, has a view of something other than the other apartments, and it has a garage—and a laundry in the unit,” he added. “$400,” Seamus offered. “That’s nothing.” “I own it free and clear. $400 is basically paying all the utilities and part of my HOA fees,” Seamus explained. “Honestly, I feel like I’m robbing you.” “And I feel like I’m robbing you.” He went to the small desk on the other side of the living room and rummaged around. He found his rarely used checkbook and filled it out. “Here’s a check for fourteen-hundred. First, last, and six-hundred for security deposit.” Seamus looked annoyed but put the check in his wallet anyway. With things settled between them, Seamus was free to stay. They watched a movie and fell asleep; Matt in his bed and Seamus on the couch. Not in Matt’s bed. Because, yeah, that had been a stupid, stupid thought. **** Matt woke to a subway band playing for tips in his kitchen. Nope. No band. Just Seamus. Matt stepped over the mess, made a bottle for Aidan, and went back to the bedroom. He didn’t have to ask what the fool was doing. When he came back out a half-hour later, Seamus had everything in two piles. He pointed at the small pile, “This is stuff for the loft.” Then he pointed at the much larger pile, “This needs to be packed for storage.” “We’re doing this now? It’s not even eight. I’m not even awake.” Aidan was reaching and whining for Seamus so Matt handed him over. Seamus said his good mornings then set Aidan on the floor next to him, handed him a wood spoon, and showed him how to bang the saucepan. Aidan’s coordination was lacking but, through sheer will and determination, he was able to make the spoon hit the pan. “I have neighbors you know.” “Quiet hours ended at seven,” Seamus looked at his watch. “It’s eight.” “Good thing I’m moving,” he mumbled as he poured himself a coffee. Aidan thought his new drum set was something special. Matt did not. The living room offered little reprieve from the noise but it was enough to spend a few minutes checking his phone while he woke up. “I was thinking Aidan and I might run to the cafe and grab some boxes, then come back and pack. Between college and work, you won’t have much time and the sooner we get everything moved, the better.” The offer was more than ridiculous. “I don’t have that much. I can pack between work and school. We have plenty of time. I haven’t even put my notice in.” “Yeah, but I could have this place packed in two days. Maybe less if Aidan’s not a total terror.” “Seamus,” Matt held up his hands. Stop. The guy needed to slow down. “I can’t have you pack while I’m gone. I need to go through my own stuff.” Seamus sat on the other end of the couch with a huff. He agreed but under duress it seemed. **** Matt closed the door slowly. Something was off. Matt sensed it the second he walked in. Besides the stack of empty boxes by the door, everything looked the same as when he left but— “What?” Seamus asked. He was staring at the TV a little too hard. His voice was a little too casual. Matt walked over and kissed Aidan. “Hey Aido-Potato. What were you and Seamus up to today?” He turned and narrowed his eyes at Seamus. He did not trust him. Aidan smiled brightly and reached for Matt, who happily picked him up. “I didn’t pack any of your stuff,” Seamus said. Matt ignored the lying liar on the couch and spoke to Aidan. “I won’t judge you for what Seamus did. I know you had no part. Just tell me the truth. I might even give you rice cereal for dinner if you do.” Matt walked into the kitchen. Things were as they had been. He glanced around. He couldn’t put his finger on what was different. Stopping at the bathroom, he realized what it was. The bedroom and confirmed it. “You weren’t lying,” Matt deadpanned. “You didn’t pack any of my stuff.” But all Aidan’s stuff was gone. Toiletries, clothes, diapers, toys, most of the bottles. The crib. Matt wanted to be annoyed but he wasn’t. It was cute and wildly clever. He set Aidan on the floor and grabbed a box from the pile. “I guess we might as well get started.” Seamus smirked at the TV like they had an inside joke about how well the plan had worked. The sly victory smile made Matt want to roll his eyes and laugh at the same time. They spent the rest of the afternoon packing. Seamus packed apartment stuff, deciding what they could use and what needed to go to storage while Matt packed his bedroom. A few hours later, Matt was dead. “Well, I’m tapped. I got the important stuff packed. Everything else can wait.” Seamus finished taping a box closed then sat back on the couch. “Dinner?” “Yeah. Your treat.” “Deal,” he reached his hand out and the two shook on it. Seamus loaded some boxes into the suburban while Matt grabbed Aidan and locked up the apartment. **** The next day, when Matt got back from class, there were more boxes in the loft and even less at Matt’s old apartment. “I took a bunch of stuff to storage. Just the stuff you agreed would go,” Seamus clarified. He pointed at what was left. “I think this stuff should also go into storage.” “I don’t have storage.” “You do now.” Seamus was quick to keep talking so Matt couldn’t scold him. “Everything but your bedroom is packed. It’s either at the loft or here waiting for you to decide its fate. I dropped your notice at the office, so that’s done and I have Rudy coming in two days to do a once over on the apartment.” “Rudy?” Matt asked. Everything was happening so fast. Usually, Matt was the one taking charge. “He’s my cleaning guy.” “Cleaning guy?” Seamus studied Matt. “Yeah, he cleans the dealerships and then does my apartment once a week. Are you okay?” “Yeah, it’s just—so fast. I feel like I’m playing catch up. Yesterday morning I was waking up in my own apartment with no intention of moving and now it’s practically empty,” Matt said, looking around the space. Seamus sure worked fast. “You put my notice in?” “Yeah, if you waited much longer, you’d have to pay an extra month of rent.” True. “I can at least clean the apartment.” “Sure,” Seamus placated. “But why? We’re both busy and you need to focus on school, studying, and the DHS lady coming in less than two weeks. The faster we get this apartment done and out of the way, the quicker we can focus on getting the adoption finalized.” Matt tried not to look at Seamus like he was roping the moon, which was near impossible because that’s exactly what he was doing. “Now I feel bad for making you buy dinner last night. I owe you a hundred dinners. One for every nice thing you’ve done for me.” “I’m just building up my case so when I ask a real big favor of you, you can’t say no.” “You don’t have to ‘build a case’ just to ask a favor. That’s not how friendship works.” “I know,” he said and then snapped his fingers in remembrance. “Oh, you need to call the DHS lady and let her know you moved.” “You didn’t do that for me?” “I can’t do everything.” “No, you can’t. You only take care of Aidan while running five businesses, sort, pack, and move my entire apartment in twenty-four hours, find me a storage unit, and give my apartment official notice that I’m moving. I suppose letting the State know my change of address would be asking too much.” “I also picked up your towel,” Seamus added. Matt laughed. “Are you still trying to build your case?” “Maybe a little,” Seamus held his fingers close together, indicating how very little of a case he was building. “What's the favor anyway?” Matt asked. He was curious. Matt wasn’t sure what he had to offer Seamus. “I’ll let you know.” Matt handed Seamus a box and let him know it was for storage. Getting moved quickly and letting Rudy clean the apartment had been the right call. Between class, homework, work, and Aidan there was just no way Matt had time to do much else. Getting his stuff settled into the loft and then getting the loft ready for the inspection was all he could handle. **** Now that Matt and Aidan were officially living with Seamus, Seamus got pulled into the adoption process. It wasn’t much, standard stuff like a background check. He also had to be there for the interview. Neither of which seemed to put him off. The day of the inspection Matt spent too much time getting ready. Everything he read online said it was a simple process. Still, he was nervous and wanted to make a good impression. Matt walked into a freakishly clean living room. Aidan was rocking back and forth on his hands and knees while Seamus coaxed him along. “How about this?” Matt asked. He was wearing dark blue jeans with a simple black sweater. He wanted to look nice without looking like he tried too hard, even though that's exactly what he was doing. Seamus glanced up. The scrutiny in his eyes made Matt anxious and he nervously smoothed his sweater down. Seamus nodded. “Good.” Matt glanced up. “It’s not too much?” “Nope. The pants are nice.” Matt looked down at his pants. They were his favorites. He thought they made his butt look nice without accentuating his more unflattering assets. Not that Barbara would be looking at those. “Maybe we should mess the room up a bit,” Matt said, picking up a few toys and carefully tossing them on the ground. “We just spent three days cleaning.” “I know but it should look like we actually live here. We have a kid after all.” Seamus didn’t react to Matt’s ‘we have a kid’. That was good. Matt hadn’t meant it as anything other than what it was. By the time the DHS lady arrived, the loft was clean but also lived in by two people who wouldn’t raise any red flags and could adequately raise a baby into a decent human. Barbara was in her forties and not overly excited or friendly looking. Desensitized from years of doing the same things. They walked around the apartment. Barbara took notes and asked questions here and there but mostly she worked in silence. At one point Matt looked at Seamus with wide I-don’t-know-what-to-do-here eyes. Seamus tried to offer a comforting look but he was just as lost. She’d been far more personable in her emails. When she was done with the inspection, she had the three of them sit in the living room for a chat. She was less rigid during the interview then she was during the walk-through, thank god. She asked them about their routine and what a typical day looked like. She asked Seamus what he did for a living and seemed amused when she found out that he took Aidan with him to work every day. Then she asked Seamus if he’d mind taking Aidan for a walk. And then there were two. “How are you doing with all this? These are big changes for someone your age,” Barbara asked. “I’m doing good,” he responded. “I could be doing a lot worse.” “Have you seen a therapist?” He tried to hide just how much the question threw him off. “No,” he said. He was careful with his answer. “Do you feel there’s a reason I should?” “Well, you lost your mom and your step-dad and now you’re a full-time care provider for your infant brother. That’s a lot.” Matt wanted to argue that Mike wasn’t his step-dad but it didn’t really matter and probably wouldn’t earn him any points. “I agree that it flipped my life around. I’m not denying that. But I don’t feel like I ever reached a point where I needed to see someone about it. Not that I wouldn’t benefit from it,” he quickly added. “One day I didn’t have a kid and the next day I did. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t hard either. It was—inconvenient, I guess, but I love my brother so it’s not a chore or anything.” “And how about losing your mom?” she asked. “That can’t be easy. Coping with her loss while raising your brother and going to college full time.” “We weren’t terribly close,” he said, honestly, boldly even, because who knew how she’d feel about that answer. “I was sad, still am, but I’m raising Aidan and his health is more important to me than being sad about something I can’t change. I don’t know if that’s the right answer but it’s the truth.” Barbara made a few notes. “Your honesty is appreciated.” They talked for another half hour. By the time they were done Matt felt like he needed to refresh his deodorant. It wasn’t a brutal interview or anything, just stressful. “Thank you for making time to meet with me,” Barbara said as she stood and grabbed her tote bag. “You should hear from someone in a few weeks.” Matt thanked her then let out the biggest breath of his life the second the door closed behind her. He just wanted this whole thing over with. It was hard not to feel extra scrutinized because he was a) a single male and b) twenty-one. He felt like both of those things made him look less than ideal in the eyes of the State. Seamus came through the door less than five minutes later. “How’d it go?” He asked. Seamus set Aidan on the floor then slid next to Matt on the couch. “We’ll find out in a few weeks.” “Well, Aidan and I got you something.” Seamus handed over a chocolate crunch ice cream bar. Matt’s favorite. “Thank you,” Matt smiled. He closed his eyes in ecstasy the moment the ice cool, smooth chocolate hit his tongue. “Mmmm.” When Matt opened his eyes, Seamus was looking a bit terrified. “Sorry,” Matt said. “It’s the closest thing to sex I’ve had in a long time.” **** Matt thought he’d have to stand in front of a judge before the whole thing was said and done. That wasn’t the case. He’d gone to the lawyers office at one point and signed some paperwork in front of a notary. A couple of months after Barbara’s visit, he received certified mail. Matt was officially Aidan’s parent or guardian or big brother with ultimate big brother powers. Whatever the term was, Matt was officially that person for the now nine-month-old Aidan. The mail had arrived while Matt was at work. By the time he got home, Seamus was pacing like a caged lion. He barely let Matt in the door before he had the large envelope pressed against his chest. “This is a big day for you.” Matt smiled and took the envelope. He looked at the white package then at Seamus who was waiting so very impatiently. It was almost as if Seamus was equally as invested in Aidan’s life as Matt was. Matt dropped his jacket on the chair and slowly pulled the cardboard tab. He removed the papers from the pouch, set the envelopes on the table, and began looking, sifting through the documents. “Are you kidding me?” Seamus groaned. He pushed past Matt and sat at the kitchen table. Matt smiled to himself then handed the paper over. “Well Seamus, it looks like you’re officially Aidan’s Guardian Nanny.” No sooner had Matt held out the official court documents, they were snatched from his hands. Seamus finished confirming the information with his own eyes, then started again from page one, slower this time. He was so serious. Matt loved that about him. He tore his eyes away, no use fawning. Matt took a moment while Seamus was busy to send a text to Kase and Hilary and then he called his dad. “Hey Dad,” he smiled at the phone. “Guess what.” There was a brief silence before his dad asked if it was done. Matt could hear him smiling through the phone. “Yep. Everything official.” “What a relief. This is great news,” he congratulated. “Are you going to go out and celebrate?” Matt hadn’t thought about it. “Yeah, maybe we’ll go get pizza tonight.” “I was thinking more along the lines of a night without Aidan. I was actually thinking I could come get him tomorrow and keep him all weekend. Maybe you could pick him up Sunday and stay for dinner.” “I hate taking him on the bus.” “I figured you’d bring Seamus,” he said. “He could drive.” Matt eyed at Seamus, who was too busy with the documents to listen in on the conversation. “You want to take Aidan for the weekend and have Seamus and I come get him from your house on Sunday and then stay for dinner?” Matt repeated for Seamus’ benefit. Seamus nodded then went back to the documents. “Sure, I guess we’ll celebrate Aidan’s adoption without him,” he said, making all three of them laugh. Matt and his dad talked a little longer before confirming plans and saying goodbyes. Seamus got up and followed Matt to the kitchen. “So, your dad wants to take Aidan all weekend?” “Yeah. A whole weekend.” Matt took a deep, relaxing breath. The breath of freedom. “I get to do nothing but sleep in, work, sleep some more, and eat without someone trying to steal every bite. It’s going to be a perfectly uneventful weekend.” What’s that saying? Oh yeah… Famous last words.
    108 points
  17. “Door’s open,” Matt shouted from the bedroom where he was getting Aidan dressed. It was the second Saturday that Matt was going to study uninterrupted. Courtesy of Seamus. He’d gotten a small taste of freedom the first Saturday now he was practically giddy in anticipation. The joy of a kid free study session outweighed any and all guilt he felt for not being at the café or that Seamus was watching Aidan on the weekend. Seamus leaned against the bedroom door with his hands in his pocket. He wore the same thing he always wore, really nice jeans and a plain t-shirt that hugged his body. Today it was plum purple with a gray, unzipped hoodie. He tilted his head toward the living room. “Looks like you’re ready to study.” “Yes,” Matt said with a little too much enthusiasm. “It’s so good. I can’t thank you enough for taking Aidan. Part of me wants to tell you that you don’t need to do this for me but mostly I want to sit in my living room, study my notes, and re-read my books. So, I’m not gonna ask you if you’re sure about this because if you leave that kid here, I’m going to cry.” “I promise I won’t leave the kid here,” Seamus chuckled. When Matt turned to grab the diaper bag, Seamus picked Aidan up off the bed. “Hey, Squishy Thighs,” Seamus cooed and squeezed said squishy thigh as he walked back to the living room. Matt smiled at the pair. “We call him Aido-potato because he’s chunky like a sack of tatas.” “Aido-potato,” Seamus repeated, trying the nickname on for size. “He ate about thirty minutes ago. Everything else is in the bag. Feel free to bring him back whenever.” “But not too soon.” Matt smiled. “Well, yes, not too soon.” Seamus strapped Aidan in the car seat then slung the backpack over his shoulder. He gave Matt a salute. “Have a good study session.” **** Maybe having a kid helped keep things in perspective because Matt enjoyed studying more than ever and he was savoring every moment. The smile wouldn’t leave his lips the entire time he spent reviewing tax law and math equations and business statistics. He couldn’t get enough. Even with hours of uninterrupted study time, it only felt like five minutes had passed when there was a rap on the door followed by Seamus announcing himself. “Wow, I thought you were studying, not having a rager,” Seamus deadpanned as he eyed the books and notes that were fanned over the living room, couch, and coffee table. “You know what they say, ain’t no party like an accounting degree party.” Seamus smiled as he closed the door. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard that before.” He set the backpack next to the sleeping baby who was still buckled into his car seat. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be hungry from all the studying but I ordered pizza. It should be here—” he paused for a beat, then pointed at the door. On cue, there was a knock. Seamus looked smug as he signed for the pizza. Matt watched Seamus dish a few pieces onto two different plates. “How’d you know he was there?” “I saw him pulling up when I came in.” Matt shook his head and smiled as they sat and ate. He should’ve felt weird that Seamus was staying for dinner but he didn’t. He wanted this. Matt wanted to know something about the man who was being so generous with his time. “What’d you guys do today?” “We spent half the day at the loft and then Aidan shadowed me at work. Pretty low-key day.” “Was the café busy?” “Oh no, not the café. I have other sources of revenue.” “Other source of revenue. Sounds ominous. Did he go to a drug swap with you or something?” Seamus stopped mid-bite and raised his brow. “Drug swap? Is that like a bake swap where everyone brings their drugs to the community center then trades their goods for someone else's? If you come with an eighth, you leave with an eighth?” Matt wiped his mouth and smiled. This was the kind of interaction he was hoping for. “I’m not down with the drug lingo.” Seamus raised his brow playfully. “Drug lingo?” “Did you bring pizza just so you could make fun of me? Because if that’s what this is about, then you can go home.” The babysitter continued to smile though it was obvious he was trying to hide it. “We didn’t go to a drug swap, though I’m tempted. I have a couple other businesses. We went and checked them out.” “How old are you?” Matt asked in surprise. “You can’t be over thirty and you have multiple businesses? That’s crazy.” “That’s most people’s reaction when they learn that I’m twenty-nine with five fairly successful businesses.” “Five? That’s incredible. How’d you get started?” “It’s not anything I did. I got married when I was nineteen. Kelly was older and owned two businesses. He died two years after. He came from a wealthy family and they did everything they could to make sure I walked away with nothing. It didn’t work. I think Kelly had enough foresight to know what they’d do if given the chance. Everything was airtight and in my favor. So, I turned two businesses into five as a giant F-U to them,” he flashed his middle finger and smiled. Matt was stunned. “You got married when you were nineteen?” “That’s what you got out of everything I just said?” “It stood out, yeah.” Matt leaned back in his chair and pushed his plate away. He’d eaten too much. “How much older was he?” “Thirty-five.” “Thirty-five years older than you!” Matt about fell out of his chair, waking Aidan with the commotion. Seamus laughed and moved like he was going to help the little guy but Matt beat him to the still sleepy-eyed babe. He sat down with Aidan in his arms and calmly rephrased his question with more composure. He didn’t want to offend Seamus just because he married someone who was—very old. “So, he was thirty-five years older than you?” Seamus was still smiling over Matt’s reaction. “No. God no.” He placed the wadded napkin on the plate in front of him. “He was thirty-five. Not thirty-five years older. Though I could name a few people who don’t see the difference.” “There’s a difference. I can’t imagine taking a fifty-four-year-old dick,” Matt’s eyes widened. “No offense.” Seamus laughed again. It was the most relaxed Matt had ever seen him and it was nice. “Why would I be offended? I’m not fifty-four nor have I ever taken a fifty-four-year-old dick.” “A thirty-five-year-old dick is still, eh,” Matt seesawed his hand good naturally. “Hey, that’s gonna be me in a few years.” Seamus tried to be serious but failed. When they stopped laughing Seamus was watching Aidan. “He’s probably hungry. I’ll make a bottle.” “Nah, I got it. You’ve had him all day.” Matt got up and juggled Aidan in one hand while making a bottle in the other, then sat back down and began feeding him. They both watched Aidan in silence. Matt was noticing how much better Aidan’s coordination was getting. Not only that but his personality was really coming to life. Aidan hadn’t been this expressive when he held him the day their mom died. He wasn’t just a baby anymore; he was becoming a person. It was mindboggling what a little miracle he was. When Aidan was done eating, they went into the living room and hung out while Aidan worked his little muscles on the floor. They talked for a while. Well, Matt talked while Seamus fed Aidan the next bottle. Then it was bath time and Seamus sat on the toilet seat while Matt did the work. “Are you planning on moving into a two-bedroom?” Seamus asked from the bedroom door as Matt laid Aidan down for the night. “And give up sharing this cramped room with an infant? Where I’m afraid to set an alarm in the morning in case he decides to sleep in and I can’t even reach the dresser without crawling over the bed?” Matt slowly shut the door behind him walked back to the living room. “To answer your question, yes, I dream of a bigger apartment. Not driving and also having a baby to carry around means I have to be picky about location. Close to work, close to school, and hopefully close to whatever daycare we end up in.” “Have you thought about a house instead of an apartment?” He asked. “Sure. But we don’t all own five business. My rent will already increase when I go from a one-bedroom to two and a house will easily add another three to five hundred.” Seamus nodded; he knew Matt was right. “Well,” Matt sat forward on the couch and rubbed his thighs. “I think I’m going to cram in a little more studying before bed. I’ll see you tomorrow?” Seamus seemed to realize he’d imposed on most of Matt’s evening and quickly got off the couch. “Yeah, of course. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Matt locked the door behind Seamus and smiled. Denise was right, not nearly as intimidating as he comes off to be. Seamus didn’t seem put out by any of it. It was a fact Matt had a hard time coming to terms with but he wasn’t going question his good luck. **** On Monday, Seamus grabbed Aidan and told Matt they were off to a drug swap which earned him a solid glare. They did come back until an hour after Matt’s shift ended. He was starting to think Seamus was doing it on purpose so Matt had time to study. Seamus’ far-reaching generosity was confusing but appreciated. Regardless, Matt was happy. Now that he wasn’t commuting to Victoria’s house every day, he had a few minutes to spend on campus. That little time was going a long ways in nurturing his campus social life. People he hadn’t had time to get to know before were now saving him spots and waving him over between classes. He was even invited into a study group. “You have to come to the football games if you want to go to football parties,” Kase told Hilary. “It’s a package deal. That goes for you too, Matt.” “How’d I get dragged into this?” “Because you want to meet Jay.” “No,” Matt corrected. “You want me to meet Jay.” “You just don’t know you want to meet Jay.” Matt didn’t bother responding. You couldn’t reason with the man when he was like this. It was flattering but unlikely anything would come of them meeting. “Well,” Hilary brought the attention back to herself. “The only thing I like about football is the players. The games are long and boring. Buuuuuuut—” she drew the word out. “If Matt goes with me—” she stuck her lip out and tried to look sad. Matt wondered if it ever actually worked. “I can’t guarantee how long I can stay. That will depend on Aidan,” he said, not because of Hilary and her puppy dog eyes. Matt was ready to get out there and experience a little bit of college. “There’s a party after, you guys should come.” “I’m in,” Hilary said with a pep in her step. “Sorry. The football game is one thing but an after-party at a frat house with a baby? No way.” Now both of his friends were pouting. “Tell me about it,” Matt mumbled. **** Saturday night was the big game. It wasn’t actually a big game but it was his first college game and that was a big deal. He spent more money on collegiate merchandise from the campus store than he did on tuition for the entire year. But seeing Aidan in his little hoody was totally worth it. Matt and Hilary followed the crowd blindly as they cheered and booed. Aidan was awake most of the time and happy to get passed around. The little chuck was definitely boosting Matt’s popularity. Kase tried to rope Hilary into getting Matt on the field after the game so he could introduce him to Jay. The field was too chaotic and the meet and greet didn’t work. Kase was upset, Matt was not. “What did you think of your first big game?” Matt asked Aidan, who was laying on the bed. “Something you might want to do again?” Aidan shook the toy too hard and accidentally dropped it. Matt quickly handed it back. “Well, we’re going back because that tiny little hoodie you wore was the same price as mine. Don’t they know that college students are poor?” Aidan smiled at his super big brother then kicked his legs and wailed his arms excitedly at the attention. “You’re hyped up. I wish I had your energy.” Matt took a minute to tickle his brother’s belly and pinch his thick thighs. Aidan was so cute with his giant dimples and button nose. His light brown hair was getting kind of long but not enough to cut it. What was the protocol for that? Did you pay a professional? Take a buzzer to it? Do it himself? These were the questions Matt struggled with. “Next week is Thanksgiving break. I still work but we’re gonna go to Grandpa’s for a few days. How does that sound?” Aidan squeaked and tried, unsuccessfully, to rollover. “Whoa there. I said we’re going to go. We still have a few days left yet.” **** Seamus brought dinner again on Saturday. He was a lot more personable when they weren’t at work. Matt understood it. Seamus was the owner. Outside of work, Seamus was—his babysitter? Nanny? Friend? Matt didn’t know or care enough to label it. If he had to pick something, a friend was mildly accurate. There was no class the next week, Thanksgiving, and Matt had an early shift on Wednesday. Neither he nor his dad were excited about Aidan taking a long bus ride so his dad picked them up. Three hours on a bus or one hour in the car. It was a no brainer. They spent the holiday with his grandparents, his uncle, and his uncle’s family. Everyone loved Aidan and no one mentioned, or cared, that Aidan was his mom’s son. They took it in stride. Matt was positive his mom’s family would not have reacted the same. Another reason Matt had a hard time grieving the way he was expected to. His dad took Matt and Aidan back home in time for Matt to work his shift on Saturday. It had been a while since Seamus and Aidan hung around the cafe. Matt kind of liked it. The cafe was pretty quiet since most people were still gone for the break. “Did you have a good Thanksgiving?” Matt asked Seamus during a particularly dead period. “It was alright. I didn’t do much. My family lives in Wisconsin.” “Do you see them much?” “Not really. They expect me to do all the traveling. They think because I have money that it’s my obligation. I also have several businesses. I can’t just up and leave.” “Yeah you can,” Matt called him out. “If you have time to watch Aidan five days a week then you have time to visit your family.” “Wow, okay, no need to shame me,” he smiled. “Yes, I could make it out there more if I wanted to but—I don’t know.” “I get it. I feel that way about my mom or felt that way about her. I love her but I didn’t love spending time with her. It didn’t matter what she did, she drove me crazy,” he rubbed his face. “I know I shouldn’t say that about her but, god, she was hard for me.” “I’m a pot and you’re a kettle. You’ll hear no judgment from me.” Matt handed Aidan to Seamus. “And that’s why you’re the best,” he hollered over his shoulder as he made his way to the front register to help the incoming customer. “Welcome to the Coffee|Bar, what can I get you?” Matt tried not to stare. The guy was tall. The six-and-a-half feet tall kind of tall. And built. Holy crap the guy was built. All muscle. Everywhere. That wasn’t normally Matt’s type but it could be. Matt could make an exception. People made exceptions all the time. “Matt?” Matt eyed the man he’d never seen before. “Yeah?” The tall, handsome man stuck out his hand. “I’m Jay.” Matt reached out and shook his hand. “Kase’s friend! Yeah, hi. Kase mentioned you a few times.” Jay laughed. “Yeah, I bet he has. I thought I’d pop in, get something to drink, and meet you. Two birds, one stone.” “Kase didn’t mention how romantic you were.” “Yes, well I did take a Sexual Dimorphism and Mating class during sophomore year so I’m kind of an expert.” “Oh my god,” Matt burst out laughing. “That’s awesome. What can I get you?” He wasn’t sure what he expected or what he wanted but they talked a few minutes more before Jay left. They didn’t make any plans but Matt was pretty sure he’d see him again soon. “You’re smiling,” Seamus said an hour later. Yeah, Matt hadn’t stopped smiling since Jay left. “I’m always smiling.” “Sure, but you’re really smiling. Wouldn’t have anything to do with that roadblock that came in earlier?” Matt continued cleaning while Seamus stood in the way. “Roadblock, huh?” he laughed and Seamus stepped to the side. “You mean Jay?” “If you say so.” “Kase has been trying to introduce us. I think Jay came to size me up or see if he was interested.” “Are you?” Matt thought about it. “I don’t know. I guess it depends on what he’s looking for. He’s hot and funny. I bet he’d be fun to, you know, hook up with or whatever. But as far as dating goes, I don’t think I’m in any position for that. I can’t imagine some popular football player is looking to date someone with a baby.” “Where’s Aidan gonna be while you’re hooking up with random guy?” Matt stopped cleaning. “I don’t know. With a sitter? It’s not like I’d take him with me.” “I won’t watch him so you can go hook up with guys.” Matt took a calming breath and faced him. “Did I ask you to? No. I didn’t even say I was going to. I was just talking. Let’s face it, this is just another thing I don’t get to do because my mom died and left me a baby. I know this is my new reality. It doesn’t mean I can’t dream.” Matt looked at the clock. Close enough. He went to the back and changed then grabbed Aidan’s stuff from the office. He tried not to storm around but he was pissed...and hurt. “Thanks for watching Aidan. I’ll see you Monday.” “Not tomorrow?” Seamus was supposed to watch Aidan so Matt could study. “Nah,” Matt tried not to sound like an ass even though he wanted to. “I got it.” **** They barely spoke Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. If Matt could’ve found someone else to watch his brother he would have. Instead, he kept his interactions with Seamus to a minimum. Seamus had overstepped. It was ballsy of him to assume that Matt would ask him to babysit so he could go hook up with someone. It had never even crossed his mind. Hell, he barely wanted Seamus to watch Aidan as it was, let alone for personal reason. Mostly he was pissed that Seamus tried to make him feel guilty about wanting to be a normal person. That was a low blow. Fuck him. He was off Thursday and Friday which was a nice relief because ignoring the person who was watching Aidan out of the goodness of their heart was really hard. How do you balance trying to appreciate someone’s generosity and kindness while not tolerating their disrespect? Matt didn’t have that answer. By Friday afternoon he knew he had to let it go. He wasn’t even that mad anymore. Even if Seamus was being an asshole on purpose, which he didn’t think was the case, Matt made his own choices. If the opportunity arose where he could have a fun night while Aidan was tucked away safely somewhere, then he’d take it and not feel guilty. **** “Good morning,” Matt said as he walked in the cafe. Aidan had spent all morning in a bad mood. He wanted nothing to do with his car seat which made the walk to work a long one. His damn arm was dead. Seamus was waiting, his eyes tracking Matt cautiously. Matt knew his cheery demeanor wasn’t going unnoticed. He walked up to Seamus and handed Aidan over like a peace offering. “He’s been in a mood all morning. He won’t let me put him down. I think he’s teething so I packed one of those frozen chew toys. No clue if it will work. His stool has been soft. I read that it’s probably from the teeth.” Seamus watched Matt for a beat then turned his attention to Aidan, who was on the verge of crying. “Hey potato brains. You got some chompers coming in?” He ran his finger along Aidan’s lower gums and then his upper gums. Aidan grabbed his hand and started chewing, uncaring that it was Seamus’s finger. “Yeah, I’d say you’re growing some chompers.” Seamus smiled at Aidan then looked at Matt. “Since he’s not feeling well, I think we’ll stick around here. Did he sleep much last night?” “If by not much you mean, was he awake more than he was asleep? Yes.” Seamus looked like he wanted to say something, it was right there, Matt could see it in the way Seamus looked at him, but it never came. Instead, Seamus kissed Aidan’s cheek and walked to the back but not before Matt heard Seamus tell Aidan how much he missed him. “I’m officially jealous,” Hilary declared. “I’m the one who appreciates how amazingly stunning he is yet you're the one that gets to play house with him. Oh, our baby is not feeling well and has diarrhea, blah blah blah,” she mocked. “Diarrhea is pertinent information. He needs to know what he’s up against.” Hilary hummed, clearly not believing him. “Where’s Kase? Is he not working today?” Matt looked around the cafe just as Kase came out from the back carrying a load of clean dishes. Kase was relieved when Matt helped him put everything away. “How are you guys feeling about finals? Less than two weeks left and I’m nervous as shit.” Hilary made a big show of crying because she too was not looking forward it them. Matt shrugged. “I think I’ll do okay.” “You better. You ditched out on Saturdays,” Kase complained. “That was our day. Now I work with Yonk and he does that weird eye thing.” Both Matt and Hilary laughed. It wasn’t so much a weird eye thing as a terribly uncomfortable habit of staring. Matt didn’t think it was anything the guy did on purpose but it could clear a room. He definitely wasn’t a favorite to work with. “If you need a break from the frat house you can come study.” “Is study code for gaming?” When Matt shook his head, Kase laughed, “Nah, I’ll pass.” When the end of shift rolled around, Matt changed and headed to the office to grab Aidan, only no one was there. They probably left on errands. Denise snuck up on Matt as he turned to leave the office. “Are you looking for Seamus?” “Yeah, I think they left. I’ll just hang out front and wait.” “Actually, I think they’re in the other office, at the end of the hall on the right,” she pointed. Matt slowly opened the door and smiled. Seamus was sitting awkwardly on the couch with Aidan on his chest. They were both passed out. Matt looked around. What surprised him the most was the portable crib in the corner and the small shelf that had diapers and a few changes of clothes. “Isn’t that the cutest?” Denise whispered over his shoulder. “Should I wake them?” Denise shook her head. “Aidan sounded fussy. I think they’re both tired.” “You don’t think he’ll be mad? He spent all day with a fussy kid. I imagine he wants to get the hell out of here.” “I think he’ll be fine. If I’m wrong then I’ll tell him I told you not to wake him.” Denise pushed Matt out of the room and closed the door. “Go study.” An hour later Seamus and Aidan came out. They both wore the same sleepy expression and ruffled hair. Aidan had sleep lines on his face and his brown hair was sticking straight up. It was adorable. Judging by Hilary’s lusty stare, Seamus’ nap hair looked sexy, too. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure if I should wake you up or not.” Aidan looked half asleep when Seamus handed him over. “It’s fine. He needed the sleep.” “It looks like you did, too.” “I guess I did. I was out.” Seamus couldn’t finish the sentence without yawning. When he finished, he glanced around. They were alone-ish. Seamus kind of motioned for them to move away from the counter. Matt followed his lead. “Hey, I want to apologize. I, um, I was rude the other day. I’m sorry.” “You were rude.” “I know.” “I never said I was going to go hook up with him—or anyone else.” “I know.” “But I could if I wanted and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it.” “I know,” Seamus repeated again. “Okay then.” “Okay?” “You buy Aidan and I dinner and I forgive you for being an overstepping asshole.” “That’s it? I buy dinner and all my transgressions are forgiven?” It had been a long shift and Matt was hungry. “Just this one transgression.” “Deal.” Matt was thinking somewhere along the lines of McDonalds or Subway. Panera if Seamus was feeling fancy. Not Cavalier. That place was way out of Matt’s league. He was still wearing his work clothes for Christ’s sake. Cavalier had white linen tables and seven-dollar sodas. He couldn’t afford to look at the restaurant let alone eat there. Seamus ignored Matt’s grumbling. “Fine, then you can get Aidan.” It wasn’t much of a punishment but getting the damn car seat out of the backseat of the coupe wasn’t an easy task. “I don’t think this is a family friendly restaurant anyway. They probably don’t even have a high chair.” “Aidan doesn’t use highchairs.” “They’re going to turn us away.” Again, Seamus ignored him and held open the front door. The restaurant was classic-contemporary and very expensive looking. Matt made sure to note the lack of high chairs by the front door. Seamus again reminded him that Aidan was too small to use them anyway. A beautifully put together woman with a bun and flawless makeup greeted them. “Hello Mr. Ryan. Just the three?” Seamus nodded and they followed her through the restaurant until they were seated. A waiter came, greeting Seamus as Mr. Ryan then read them the specials, most of which went right over Matt’s head. “So, Mr. Ryan—” Matt mocked as soon as the waiter left. “Don’t. Don’t do that. It’s not cute.” “But Mr. Ryan,” Matt teased. He quite enjoyed irritating Seamus. “Is this one of your other sources of income?” Seamus nodded. “Does this mean I can order whatever I want without guilt?” “I wouldn’t take you somewhere and then get mad cause you got the lobster.” “Oh, they have lobster?!” “The best lobster. I recommend the Kholdaar Machli Biryani.” “Kolndal what?” Matt grabbed the menu and found whatever the hell it was that Seamus was talking about. “I don’t know what any of this is.” “Well,” Seamus leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “That makes two of us. Don’t ask me what the Kholdaar Machli Biryani is, I just know it tastes good.” “You’re telling me that you own this place and you don’t know shit about it?” “First—watch your language in front of the baby. Secondly, I know everything about this place that matters.” “You’re saying the food doesn’t matter?” Seamus thought about it for a second then smiled. “Yeah, I don’t know that much. But I hire people that do.” They had a great dinner, which Aidan knew nothing about because he slept through the meat of it. Matt didn’t get the lobster, too many weird ingredients for his young and inexperienced taste buds. The menu was out of his comfort zone so Seamus told the waiter for a sampler. It sounded simple but it was actually a multi-course meal which was a treat in and of itself. It was delicious. Hands down the best food Matt had ever had. The most surprising part of the evening was Seamus. He was actually a good conversationalist. So much so that it was almost strange that he was ever uncomfortable around him or worried about him watching Aidan. Now he couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. Seamus was such a natural. Even at the end of dinner, with Matt there, Seamus prepped and fed Aidan when he woke up. He even carried him out to the car. “Now I’m curious, what are your other sources of income? And does Coffee|Bar count as one or two businesses? I mean, it’s a coffee shop by day but it’s a pretentious lounge at night.” Seamus drove with one hand on the wheel, one on the gear shift, and a sly smile on his lips. “It’s one, unless I’m trying to annoy Kelly’s family, then it’s two. There’s Cavalier, Dough Guppies—” “What?! I love their pizza.” “Holden’s Chevrolets,” he continued, ignoring Matt’s shock. “You own car dealerships? As in, more than one?” “And Purple Canary.” “Purple Canary! Holy shit. I need to sit down.” “You are sitting down,” Seamus laughed. “You’re right. I need to lay down.” Matt tried to recline the seat but immediately hit Aidan’s car seat. He turned and glared at the small backseat. “You couldn’t spring for something bigger? I mean, you own multiple dealerships.” Matt annoyingly adjusted his to emphasize how ridiculous the coupe was. “God, this is crazy. Those are all landmark businesses. Tell me more about them. Which two were Kelly’s and which three did you start?” “Holden’s Chevrolet and Cavalier were Kelly’s. We were working on Purple Canary before he died. Coffee|Bar was the first one I did from the ground up. I bought Dough Guppies recently. It was a failing business but we’re turning it around.” “That’s impressive for anyone, let alone someone under thirty. It’s almost unbelievable.” “I wish I could take more credit but it’s all Kelly.” “You kept them going. That’s a big deal.” “I’m hardly the driving force behind their success. But I do stop by frequently, ask Aidan. My staff is what keeps them going.” Matt wasn’t going to argue. He respected that he put the success of the businesses on his employees. It was actually incredible. He had to hand it to Seamus, he wasn’t nearly as cocky as he imagined a few months ago. When they got to the apartment, Matt made sure to glare at Seamus as he tried to get the damn car seat out of the car. “Multiple dealerships, dude. Multiple dealerships.” **** They were once again hanging out at Matt’s apartment. Seamus showed up a little early on Saturday. Was Matt curious why he was slowly spending more time there? Absolutely! Did he care? Not at all. He was starting to enjoy the company. His schoolmates were busy and Seamus genuinely enjoyed Aidan. Matt needed someone in his life that he could spend time with who accepted that his brother would always be there. “Are you busy this afternoon?” Seamus eyed Matt suspiciously as he slowly picked Aidan up off the floor. “I’m not going to murder you, calm down,” Matt laughed. “If you weren’t busy, I was going to see if you might take Aidan and I to the mall. Aidan’s clothes are about to rip at the seams and the mall is on the other side of town.” “Yeah, I could do that.” “I’ll buy you dinner. Anywhere you want as long as it’s cheap.” Seamus shook his head and smiled at Matt’s teasing. “What time?” Matt looked at his watch. It was nine in the morning. Finals were creeping up and he needed to study. “Five? Six? The mall closes at ten.” Seamus nodded. “Okay.” Then packed Aidan into his car seat and took off so Matt could do his thing. The day passed quick. It always did when his nose was in a book. He found forensic accounting interesting which made it easy to get lost in his assignment. By the time Seamus came back, he was almost completely finished. It only took him fifteen minutes and then he was grabbing his jacket off the back of the chair; ready to head out. “Would you look at this,” Matt whistled at the giant dark maroon SUV with dealer plates sitting outside his apartment. “Aidan picked it out.” “I’m sure he did,” Matt laughed as he walked around the Suburban, checking it out. “He couldn’t have picked anything smaller?” “First my car is too small, now it’s too big. Will you always be this difficult to please?” “Probably,” Matt laughed. “Can I drive?” “I thought you didn't drive?” “I have my license but I don’t have a car.” Apprehension rolled off Seamus in waves as he looked at the keys. He resigned to his fate and tossed the keys to Matt. “Seriously?” Matt stood, mouth agape. He never expected him to say yes, not with a brand-new SUV. Seamus rolled his eyes and nodded for Matt to get his ass in the front seat. He didn’t need to be told twice, he handed Seamus the car seat and practically slid across the hood as he rushed to the driver’s side. “My low income upbringing is about to shine real bright because holy shit this is nice.” Matt ran his hand over the mahogany brown leather seats. The inside of the SUV was as luxurious as it came. “Aidan has good taste. His throw-up is gonna look real nice against this leather.” Seamus smiled as he locked the car-seat in the back. “Well, that was one of the deciding factors.” Matt spent most of his life in dumpy cars. His mom was not great with money and was never able to save up enough to get a decent car and car payments weren’t an option. She was constantly jumping from one piece of crap to the next. His dad drove a decent truck, nothing like the one he was currently driving but it was nice. Matt had no clue that driving something so nice could make him feel so good but as he drove to the mall, he felt like a million bucks. He parked pretty far from the entrance because he had never driven something so big and he was afraid of hitting another car. Seamus was smirking at Matt as they walked across the parking lot. Matt knew he’d been caught staring at the sweet ride a few too many times. “Sorry. It’s so nice. I’m green with envy right now,” he blushed as he ducked into the shopping center. Matt had never shopped for a baby before. Aidan came with a bunch of stuff that had worked just fine. It didn’t seem like Aidan was growing but his clothes were sure getting smaller and smaller. They walked from store to store while Seamus dutifully carried Aidan. Matt thumbed through the racks, trying to figure out what was important and what was a waste of money. He was hardly a trendy person but some of the baby clothes were hideous. Seamus recommended a multipack of plain colored onesies. “Why? So he can dress like you?” Because they both knew that while Seamus was well dressed, his style was simple. “Less is more. In thirty, fifty, or eighty years he won’t look back on his baby pictures and think what the hell did they dress me in.” Seamus didn’t wait for Matt, he grabbed a couple packs and tossed them in the cart along with plain stretch pants and socks. “What about jeans?” Seamus looked at Matt like he was crazy. “He can’t move in those. He's a baby.” “He’s a baby, he can’t move period. Besides, jeans are classic.” “He can wear jeans when he starts walking.” “What about jeggings?” “What are jeggings?” “Leggings that look like jeans.” Matt pulled a pair off the rack so Seamus could see. “No, those are terrible. You’re terrible. I’m firing you. You don’t get to shop anymore.” Seamus handed Aidan to Matt then walked around the store, throwing various outfits of different sizes into the cart. When he was done, he came back and gestured for Matt to take a look. “I probably went overboard. If it’s too much, I’ll pitch in. Consider it an early Christmas present for Aidan.” Matt lazily shifted through the clothes. Seamus definitely went overboard but he’d done a good job. No way Matt was letting Seamus pay. Not after watching Aidan free of charge. There was money from his mom’s life insurance so Matt made sure not to cringe when he saw the total. The money was there for this. Aidan needed clothes. Feeling good from the shopping trip and the new SUV, Matt drove them to a local restaurant instead of the food court at the mall. Seamus side eyed him but didn’t say anything as they entered the restaurant. It was more than he expected and didn’t fall in the category of ‘I’ll buy you dinner anywhere you want as long as it’s cheap’. Aidan was awake this time, which was fun. They ate, talked, and played keep away from Mr. Grabbyhands. Spending time with Seamus was becoming normal—comfortable even. He no longer felt like a burden. In fact, it kind of felt like a partnership.
    108 points
  18. “The guy’s here to pick up the couch,” Kase yelled across the apartment as he shifted Aidan from one hip to the other. He wasn’t really into the whole packing Matt’s apartment thing but he was nailing the keeping Aidan occupied and out of Matt’s way. Each had their own value. Hilary rushed to the door and met the guy who’d responded first to the ad. Matt was just going to donate everything but Hilary told him in no uncertain terms that he would do no such thing. She then proceeded to take pictures and post everything on various neighborhood apps. She brought the guy in and showed him the sofa, collected the money, and helped him and his friends navigate it out of the apartment. Once they were gone, she waved the money in the air. “That makes twelve-hundred. I can’t believe you were going to give all this stuff away.” Like the sofa that he’d just gotten three-hundo for, Matt had gotten most of his stuff for free, so re-gifting it wouldn’t have been a loss, but twelve-hundred was a nice profit. Kase swayed Aidan back and forth. “I have to take Laura to work. Want me to take him with me?” The apartment still had a long way to go before it was finished. Hilary was the type of person you wanted on your packing team. She had the whole place organized and had organized time slots for people to show up and take the rest of Matt’s stuff. Aidan and Kase, on the other hand, were in the way more than anything. “Sure, could you grab a pizza on the way back?” Hilary gave Aidan sixty dollars from the day's sales and made him promise to get garlic knots. Matt tossed Kase the car keys and watched as Aidan waved the money gleefully in the air as they left. When the door closed, Hilary was strategically tossing empty boxes around the apartment. “Finally, now we can actually get some work done.” They spent the next ninety minutes going through Matt’s bedroom, boxing stuff up, setting other things to the side to sell, and letting strangers in so they could pick stuff up. By the time Kase and Aidan got back with pizza, they were up another five-hundred and most of the apartment was emptied or boxed up. “What are you going to do if Seamus doesn’t want you to move in?” Kase asked as they stood at the counter and ate over the pizza boxes. Hilary punched his arm, making the athlete grimace. “I was just joking. Obviously he wants Matt to move in. Geez.” Matt took a bite of pizza and watched his friends with much affection. Kase was still holding his little buddy and Hilary was…well, Hilary was… “What?” she said as she swallowed her food whole. “I worked hard today.” Kase and Matt looked at each other and laughed. Hilary wiped pizza from her face and pointed at her friends. “You know you both owe me. Don’t forget I’m moving to Atlanta in August. Be prepared. And they were. They already planned to take time off to help her move. Matt was looking forward to the road trip. A last college hurrah with his friends. They knew Hilary was far more nervous than she let on and they planned to make the transition as smooth as possible. When the pizza was gone, they got back to work. Hilary and Matt finished stacking boxes in the living room and deep cleaning the empty spaces while Kase entertained Aidan. The two brunettes had really bonded in the last year. Kase was always the one who scooped Aidan up anytime they swung by the café. “Well, that’s that.” Hilary wiped the sweat from her forehead as she took in the room. The friends stood in the living room of a mostly empty apartment. This was it. They all knew this was the first domino to drop in the long line to come. Things were changing. Such was life. Next was graduation, Hilary moving, Kase moving, etc. Kase put his arm around his friends and sighed. “I guess we better get used to this feeling.” **** “Okay, I got my gift for Moose. Now it’s your turn. What do you think he’d like?” Matt lifted Aidan out of the cart and set him on the ground. The first surprise after picking Seamus’s up from the airport was going to be a little birthday celebration. Matt wanted to make Seamus feel special so he took Aidan shopping. Why he thought Aidan would be any good at it when he couldn’t even behave at a cemetery, Matt would never know. But he followed the toddler around the store and watched with great fondness as he ping ponged between one fascinating thing and another before excitedly handing the newest and best thing to Matt before ponging off again. “This isn’t a shopping spree. You actually have to think ‘what would Moose want?’ And then you get that thing.” Aidan stopped, grabbed a container of peanuts with both hands. It was heavy but he held it like he found the most perfect gift in the whole wide world. He proudly handed it over to Matt then pinged off again. With Aidan good and occupied, Matt returned the peanuts to the self like he’d done with all the other items. Aidan finally found something that kept his attention for more than two second. Maybe he had noticed Matt taking things out of the cart after all because he wouldn’t let Matt near the thing he finally picked out for Seamus. Two things, actually. When they got home, Matt started wrapping the gifts. Aidan wasn’t very excited about that. “This is how birthday’s work. You have to wrap the presents so the birthday boy can unwrap them. It’s more fun this way,” he explained as Aidan stood on his tippy toes and reached for the gifts on the kitchen table. When Aidan’s fingers got a little too close, Matt scooted them away and continued wrapping. “And you can’t open it for him. This is Moose’s gift.” Aidan grunted and went to the other side of the table and tried again to reach the gifts. **** Matt absolutely wanted to take Aidan to the airport so they could all have a perfect little reunion. But in a more real sense, he absolutely didn’t want to take Aidan to the airport. He wanted Seamus all to himself. No distraction. So, mum was the word. As long as Aidan didn’t know where Matt was going, he was happy to run into his grandpa’s arms. Matt was about to vibrate out of his skin when he finally saw Seamus among the horde of people. Seamus tossed his bag down and hugged Matt with four weeks of pent-up emotion. Matt hugged back with equal fervor. “I’m so happy to see you,” Seamus murmured into Matt’s neck as he breathed him in. Once he was satisfied with his scent, Seamus grabbed Matt’s face and kissed him over and over. “I’m so sorry.” Matt pulled back and shook his head. “We agreed not to go there.” “You agreed not to go there. I needed to say it to your face, so I did. Don’t censor me.” Matt chuckled and lightly kissed Seamus’s lips. “Okay, you said it, now it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.” Matt grabbed Seamus’s bag and tossed it over his shoulder. “Let’s go.” They held hands as they walked. Matt took a moment to appreciate his boyfriend. He looked good, so good. His skin was perfectly sun-kissed and healthy looking. He wore a new Seahawks sweatshirt and his hat backwards. But the best thing he had on, the thing that made him so fucking sexy Matt could die, was the ear to ear smile he wore for Matt. “Thirty looks damn good on you.” Seamus leaned over and kissed Matt as they exited the building. “Thirty feels good.” **** They ate calzones and cupcakes before opening presents. Brad gave Seamus this gorgeous whiskey decanter that came with four glasses. Seamus was shocked. It was beautiful. A generational gift. The type of gift that had obviously been handed down. Brad grinned, pleased with Seamus’s reaction. “It was my father’s. There used to be eight glasses but you know, the years aren’t always kind.” Seamus looked at Matt, half expecting him to be upset that his father had given him such a sentimental gift. Wasn’t that something that belonged to Matt? He leaned over and kissed Seamus. Matt didn’t care. It was a gift that Seamus would appreciate it more than Matt ever could. Matt got Seamus a canvas print set for the loft. Huge black and white pictures of Aidan and Seamus at various points over the last eighteen months. One was of Seamus sitting at a table in the cafe working with pre-walking Aidan balancing against his leg, another of Aidan in a bumbo chair on the counter while Seamus did the dishes, and one of Seamus and Aidan holding hands as they walked down the street. They weren’t super great pictures, just ones Matt had taken with his phone in secret, but they told a story of a man who loved a boy. And of a boy who loved a man. Seamus stared at them, then at Matt. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t thank Matt or gush over the photos. He simply leaned them against the chair and moved on. But Matt was no fool. He saw Seamus barely hold back the emotion. If Seamus said even one word— Seamus cleared his throat and reached for the next gift. It was big but not too heavy. He shook it. “Who’s this from? Is this mine?” Aidan shook his head and pointed at his own chest. “Me!” Seamus frowned. “But it’s my birthday.” Again, Aidan shook his head, quite aggressively. “No, me!” Matt laughed and pulled Aidan to his lap. “You picked it for Moose? Remember?” Seamus ripped the paper off and gasped. “This is the best present ever!” He held up the big plastic dump truck with Bob the Builder and his friends. Brad started laughing and Aidan quickly slid off Matt’s lap and reached for the gift he’d so thoughtfully bought for Seamus. It was almost too big for the little guy to carry but he managed to get it from Seamus. He even made it a few feet before he dropped it and then tripped over it. “He picked it out all by himself.” Seamus watched Aidan with so much love. “I bet he did.” “Along with half the store.” Everyone at the table smiled as they watched Aidan. Then Seamus grabbed the other gift. It was smaller and wrapped poorly. Seamus glanced at Matt and smiled. “You know he can’t help himself. It’s a problem.” Seamus quickly shed the stuffed moose of its paper wrapping and smiled. Aidan was obsessed. Every time they went somewhere and there was a toy moose, Aidan wanted it. He always gave it to Seamus. His Moose. After Seamus had a few minutes to enjoy the gesture, Aidan was back with his little grabby hands. Every time. Aidan looked up and saw what Seamus was holding. He scrambled off the floor and ran to Seamus. He pointed to the stuffed animal. “Moose,” he said. Everyone nodded. Then he pointed at Seamus, “Moose.” Then Aidan hugged the stuffed animal. “My moose.” Then he hugged Seamus’ legs. Before anyone could awww, Aidan took the moose and ran off, officially taking all the gifts with him. Seamus fidgeted with the whiskey decanter and looked at Matt and Brad. “Thank you so much. This was by far the best birthday I’ve ever had.” Father and son shared a knowing and conspiring look. Brad nodded for Matt to go, so he did. He held his hand out. "I have another gift for you but you have to come with me." Seamus watched with suspicion. He hadn’t expected anything and had already received so much. But he silently followed Matt’s lead while Brad distracted Aidan. Not that he didn’t want Aidan to come but…yeah, he didn’t want Aidan to come. “Where are we going?” Seamus asked as he slid into the passenger seat of the suburban. “Oh,” Matt laughed as he started the SUV. “We’re not going anywhere special, just to my apartment.” Seamus seemed fine with that. Not at all disappointed or suspicious. It wasn’t until Matt paused outside the apartment door with his hand on the knob that Seamus looked at him funny. Matt twisted the door and slowly opened it, revealing an apartment completely void of life except a stack of boxes in the middle of the living room. Seamus entered slowly, almost skeptically, and looked around. When he finally looked at Matt, it was hard to tell how Seamus felt. Was he upset? “You’re moving?” “Yes.” Seamus shoved his hands in his pocket. “Don’t tell me you’re moving back to your dads.” “2511 Ellingston St NE #11.” Seamus rushed him, wrapping him in his arms. “You’re moving in with me?” “Yes.” “You and Aidan?” “We are a packaged deal.” Seamus ran his fingers through Matt’s hair and pulled him in until they were kissing. This was exactly how Matt hoped he’d react and he smiled despite Seamus kissing the life out of him. Seamus ran his hands over every inch of Matt. He was frenzied, like he hadn’t seen or touched Matt in a month. Like Matt was finally moving in with him. Matt opened Seamus’s fly with one hand and fisted his shirt with the other. Seamus moaned and returned the favor. There wouldn’t be full blown sex, there was literally nothing in the apartment, but it had been a month and they were desperate. Matt dropped to his knees first, beating Seamus by mere seconds. He ripped Seamus’s pants down, damaging the zipper in the process but freeing Seamus’s cock at the same time. He kind of wanted to take his time and drive Seamus crazy but he had more plans for Seamus. Anyway, judging by hands messing his hair up, Seamus was already half crazy. What the hell, he thought. No reason to hold back. He went full porn star, taking Seamus all the way down and doing crazy things with his tongue. Matt was surprising himself. Can you have a double jointed tongue? Was that a thing? Probably not, but Matt was pretty sure he was discovering new ways to blow a dick. He didn’t have time to discover all that much before Seamus came so hard his knees buckled and he fell backwards on the boxes. Everything crashed down, including Seamus. He laid awkwardly on a box, panting, his legs spread, one leg bent and his pants tight around his thighs. Seamus was fucking wrecked. Matt loved it. Seamus stared at Matt with wild eyes. “Holy fucking shit.” He grabbed Matt and returned the favor. He pulled Matt forward so hard he almost toppled over the pile himself. As it was, he barely had himself propped up on a box before Seamus swallowed him. His pants were barely below his hips, so he had no leverage as he leaned over his boyfriend. Didn't matter. He was so keyed up he was close to edge within minutes. His arms shook as Seamus sucked an orgasm out of his damn toes. Once he’d given him everything he had, he joined the heap that was his boyfriend and his belongings. Seamus grabbed Matt’s chin and brought him in for a kiss. “You’re finally moving in with me?” “Finally.” “This is the best birthday ever.” “What if I told you it wasn’t over? I still have a trick up my sleeve.” The redhead gazed at Matt like there was no way in hell. Nothing could be better than a blowjob in the soon to be former apartment of the boyfriend who was finally moving in with him. “I’d say you can’t top this so you should probably save whatever else you planned for next year.” “Or—” Matt stood up, pulled up his pants, and pulled Seamus to his feet. He then straightened Seamus up and kissed him, long and slow. “I will give you the gift tonight. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it back and give it to you next year. No harm, no foul.” Seamus chuckled, confident that nothing could outdo what he’d just been given. But sure, Matt, go ahead and try. **** It wasn’t even eight when they got back to the loft, but Aidan was passed out on the floor next to his—Seamus’—new dump truck and stuffy. Brad shrugged, kind of laughing at how cute his grandson was. “What do you guys have there?” Brad knew why they were each holding a box but asked anyway, if only to humor Seamus. “Matt and Aidan are moving in,” Seamus beamed. Oh yeah, he was happy alright. Brad got up and gave Seamus a hug and whispered something in his ear that Matt couldn’t hear. Whatever it was, it meant a lot to Seamus. They set the boxes off to the side and helped Brad clean up. Then Brad excused himself and left the two to put Aidan away. At first, Seamus stood to the side, not wanting to overstep. They'd had a weird month and a lot of it revolved around Matt being Aidan's dad. Matt motioned for him to go ahead. Instead of picking him up, Seamus kneeled down and hovered over the sleeping child, gently cradling the tiny limp body in his arms. Seamus softly kissed his cheek, grazed Aidan’s face with his knuckles, and brushed the hair behind his ear, all while speaking softly to the sleeping potato. It was…private. An intimate moment between a father and son. While Seamus was busy with Aidan, Brad hugged Matt. “In my wildest dreams, I never could’ve wanted more than you have right now. Seamus is, well, he’s a gift. A precious gift. The same way that you’re a gift and Aidan’s a gift. You’ve made me a rich man beyond my wildest dreams. I love you. I love all three of you.” Emotion bloomed in Matt’s chest. His eyes swelled. “I love you, too, Dad. I couldn’t have done this without you.” “You could’ve, but I’m glad I got to be a part of it. And for you and Aidan alone, I’m glad I loved your mom. Without her, I’d have none of this.” Brad kissed Matt’s cheek and left the room. Seamus carefully got his arms under Aidan and hefted him up, draping him over his chest and shoulder. Aidan was getting so big. The chubby baby was gone and in his place was a slender and lanky toddler. Sassy and independent. Utterly frustrating but adorably precious. He followed the pair and watched as Seamus gently set him in the crib, carefully stripping him of his clothes and changing his diaper, all without waking him. His dad skills were impeccable. Matt had an elaborate plan for the final gift. It was a big deal gift, and he wanted to give it to him in a big deal kind of way. But then Seamus had to go and be… He had to go and prove exactly why Matt made the right decision. At that moment, it didn’t matter what Matt had planned because it wasn’t about the presentation. He slipped out of the room and grabbed the manilla envelope, then slipped back in. Seamus covered Aidan with a blanket and watched him with great fondness. He looked at Matt and smiled. His cheeks flushed. He went to Matt. “I missed him,” he explained. Matt pressed the envelope to Seamus’s chest and held it there until Seamus took it. He was confused. “What’s this?” “Originally? It was your final birthday gift. But honestly, it’s not a birthday gift. It’s just—it’s the way it should be.” Seamus pulled out two sheets of paper. “Samaritan West Providence Hospital…” he read aloud, then scanned through the rest of the document. Then the second sheet. Then the first. His eyes darted back and forth then shot to Matt. “I want to do something more permanent but it’s a complicated process and a week wasn’t really enough time to get it laid out. I figured once things settle, we can work on guardianship through a lawyer. Until then, I never want you stuck in the lobby of that godforsaken hospital, not where Aidan or I are concerned.” “You and Aidan?” Matt plucked the papers from Seamus and held one in each hand. He wiggled the left and then the right. “This one’s mine and this one’s Aidan’s. Should anything happen, you’ll have, I don’t what it’s called, power of attorney or whatever. It’s only good at Samaritan West Providence but it’s a start.” Seamus put his hands behind his head and turned away so Matt couldn’t see him crying. When he dropped to his knees and hunched over. Matt was next to him, rubbing his back. This wasn’t just big. To Seamus, it was everything. Seamus steadied his breathing. One breath, two breaths. He took the third breath in deep, gathering himself. He sat up and looked at Matt with wet eyes. “Is this real? Are you sure? Because if you take this away—” Matt gripped the back of his boyfriend’s head and brought him in for a soft kiss. “It’s real and I won’t ever take this away from you.” That was all Seamus needed to hear. In the next breath, Seamus had Matt by the hand and was dragging him across the apartment and into their room. “Best. Birthday. Ever,” he praised between kisses and they rushed to shed their clothes. They were haven’t-been-intimate-in-a-month kind of quick to undress, thought-I-lost-you-forever quick to crawl on the bed, and I’m-sorry-for-being-stupid-fucktard quick to cum. With the first round over embarrassingly fast, the second round could start. It was this-is-my-favorite-forever kind of lovemaking. This time Matt got between Seamus’s legs and entered him. They kissed and moved in rhythm. Seamus flipped them over and rode Matt. By the time they finished, they were damp and exhausted. And completely and utterly in love. **** “Good morning,” Seamus purred as he rolled on top of Matt. The morning light was only beginning to peek through the blinds. How Seamus was awake was beyond Matt. They’d only just gone to bed. How he was hard was another mystery. Seamus didn’t care that Matt could barely open his eyes, he was kissing him and moving around his body with determination. A finger found its way between Matt’s cheeks, carefully prodding for entrance. “Nghh,” Matt moaned. One finger. Two fingers. Seamus tilted Matt’s hips up and began to press into him. He only got a few tentative thrusts in before the bedroom door opened. “Oh god!” Matt cried. Seamus scurried off Matt and plastered himself against the headboard with the sheet tightened around his waist. They sat frozen on the bed. Panicked. Aidan stood at the door smiling with his hands in the air. Ta da! He’d just mastered opening the door’s all by himself. Such a big accomplishment. He ran over and threw as much of himself on the bed as he could. Then he lifted his arms, waiting for someone to pull him the rest of the way. Seamus was the first to get over the shock. He lifted Aidan by the armpits. “Good morning Sneaky Potato.” Then he looked at Matt and whispered. “You don’t think he knows what we were doing?” Matt shook his head. At least he hoped Aidan had no clue. He was only two and completely and wonderfully innocent. Matt reached for a spare diaper and quickly relieved him of his soggy morning diaper. Aidan wobbled-walked around the mattress, chatting incessantly about things that were so very important to two-year-olds while Matt and Seamus kept him from falling over. After a few minutes he grew bored, slid off the bed, and wandered out of the room as if he hadn’t just walked in on Matt getting his ass fucked. “What the hell just happened?” Matt asked. “We just entered the lock-your-door phase of parenthood.” **** In the midst of all the breaking and entering that Aidan was doing, they managed to make an appointment with a family lawyer. Matt wasn’t sure what guardianship would look like, but it wasn’t as complicated as he expected. They filed paperwork, submitted it to the court, boom, Seamus had rights. Seamus watched Matt carefully as they went through the process, looking for any signs of regret. Honestly, Matt expected to feel a little more anxious about it. What he ended up feeling was secure. He trusted Seamus explicitly. Ok, there was the time Seamus let Aidan climb on the moving boxes. “It’s fine if he falls, I can legally make decisions for him at the hospital.” Despite that one ‘joke’, Matt knew no one had Aidan’s best interest at heart more than Seamus. Making it legal only made Matt feel more confident as a parent. The rest of the school year flew by. Not that there was much of it left. He was excited to graduate but was melancholy about growing up. He spent more time with Kase and Hilary since their days were numbered. They went out to the Bar every other week or so for a drink, Kase watched Aidan once a week while Matt and Seamus worked, and Matt stopped by the café almost every time Kase and Hilary shared a shift. Graduation day was nothing like high school. Instead of sharing the stage with two-hundred kids, he shared it with two-thousand. It was a long ass day. Some might say it was worth it to stand on that stage for two seconds and get your degree but Matt would much rather stay home than sit through that crap again. Graduation also meant Matt was officially working full time for Seamus. Well, working for Seamus was a weird statement. He didn’t see Seamus as much as he expected. When he first started, Seamus was there all the time. Now it was a lot less frequent. He came in for scheduled meetings and updates, but that was it. He hired Matt for a reason, and in exchange for giving Seamus guardianship over Aidan, Seamus gave Matt guardianship over the business in the form of a job title. CFO: Matt Kessler It wasn’t something Matt took seriously. He was Seamus’s barely graduated live-in boyfriend. CFO was too much. But that didn’t change the fact that the office was now his domain, or would soon be anyway. Rebecca was at the end of her contract. The new team was getting ready to start and they’d be under his watch. They had a detailed plan in place. It was no longer a one-man band stand. The checks and balances would assure no one the opportunity to do what Mike had done. That guy was never far from their minds. They might not speak his name but what he did, both taking what wasn’t his and then breaking the restraining order, had made it hard to go a day without thinking about him. He served a little jail time for showing up at the office but not as much as he deserved. The justice system was total insanity. Not knowing how the investigation was going or how much longer they’d have to wait only made it worse. Then one day. Matt got a call at the office, which was weird. The lawyer usually called Seamus directly. Matt was quick to pass the message along. “I’m heading there now. Do you want to meet me or wait for me to get home?” “Kase is at the lake with Laura this week. I’ll stay home with Aidan. But hurry back.” The lawyer hadn’t said much to Matt, just that he needed to meet with Seamus. Was the investigation done? Were official charges being handed down? Matt needed to know. It was late when Seamus finally came through the door. Aidan was already asleep but only barely. Seamus held a thick manilla envelope, which he set on the table with a thud. He leaned against the table and dug his fist into the envelope. He looked discouraged. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. Then he looked at Matt and shook his head. “It’s not good.” Matt’s heart stopped. No way, no fucking way. How could they get away with this?
    107 points
  19. Matt was on a roll—absolutely killing his classes. There was one month left and he was almost finished with everything he could be done with and his end of year projects were as far as they could be at this point. He met with a small group between classes. He loved it. They each created a business plan and then someone in the group would audit another. It was challenging and involved so many different aspects of what he’d been learning. It felt like a real-life trial. Matt was more excited than ever to graduate. One more year. When he finished up with class he went to work. Monday was a slightly shorter shift but he worked with Kase and Matt loved that. Seamus and Aidan were at a table. Seamus was meeting with two men. The three of them seemed to be having a good time as they laughed and talked animatedly. Aidan was standing against Seamus’ leg. Seamus held him there with his hand to keep him from falling over while the chubby legged toddler happily fisted a set of toy keys like it was his last meal. Given the circumstances, Matt thought he’d taken well to having his kid brother but Seamus was the real MVP. Where Matt was sometimes overwhelmed, Seamus took it all in stride. He had Aidan almost every day, took him to work and on errands, whatever Seamus did, Aidan was there. And never, not once, did Seamus look flustered or annoyed. He was solid as a rock. “Seamus is getting old.” Matt looked at Kase like he was an idiot. “Okay? Where’d that come from?” “The guy has been stiff as a board, limping around most of the day like he fucked up his lower back or something. I mean, Aidan’s chubby and all but he’s not like that heavy. I carry him around just fine.” Matt barked. If only Kase knew. “Maybe he slept wrong.” Or got fucked just right, Matt thought. Kase thought about it and shrugged. “Still old if you ask me. I sleep weird all the time but don’t wake up like a decrepit old man.” “Why do you care?” “Care?” Kase scoffed. “I don’t care.” “Oh, you soo care. But why?” “I don’t,” his voice was firm. “I just don’t get why everyone fawns over him.” “Because he’s gorgeous, successful, and kind?” “Kind? What are you talking about? He is always pissed about something.” Matt looked at Kase and Kase threw his hands up. “Okay, sure, he’s great with Aidan. I’m great with Aidan, too.” “Do you like Hilary?” It’s literally the only reason Matt can think of why Kase would suddenly be acting like a fool. “What the hell makes you say that? God no. No. Gross.” Kase’s face squeezed like he ate something foul. “And if you know what’s good for you, she’ll never find out you said that.” Unfazed by his friend's blowback, Matt asked, “Then what’s got you so sour towards Seamus? You know he’s not some jackass. You know what he’s done for me, so what’s up?” “Ugh,” he groaned and semi-violently put the mugs away. “Laura keeps coming in. At first, I thought it was because of me, but then she started asking about him.” Ah. “You’re jealous.” Kase glared at Matt, not even denying it. “You know he’s gay.” “She doesn’t.” “When does she usually come in?” “Monday, Tuesday, and Thursdays. Usually between classes. Why?” “Because. I’m your friend and I got your back.” Kase smiled. “You gonna wingman me?” “Yeah Kase, I’m gonna wingman you.” **** Kase was in better spirits as the shift went on. Something about Matt having his back like a good friend. He even admitted that Seamus wasn’t a total twart. Kase was still jealous. It was funny when you saw it for what it was; a popular college athlete like Kase could only hope to play on the same field as Seamus one day. If only Kase knew that he and Seamus were together. He wanted to tell him but wasn’t quite ready. Honestly, no one even knew they lived together. Seamus was his boss after all. Just like at his dad’s house, Matt was a little nervous that Seamus might be obvious. He shouldn’t have been. Seamus was so fucking good at that shit. He acknowledged Matt like he normally did, brought Aidan over to say hi, but other than that, it was business as usual. When he arrived home around six-thirty, Aidan was standing at the base of his high chair, holding on as he wobbled around while Seamus got his dinner ready. Matt said hello to Aidan, then to Seamus, the latter getting a little more bang for the buck. “I heard you were walking like a decrepit old man today.” Seamus smiled as he opened the jar of baby food. “Well, I wasn’t walking like a spring chicken.” Man ran his fingers over Seamus’ ass. “How bad is it?” “Nothing bad about it. Though I wouldn’t mind a lower back rub tonight, you know, for all my trouble.” Matt wasn’t sure giving Seamus a rub down was a good idea. He definitely didn’t think it would end up helping. More than likely it would make it worse. Seamus handed Matt the baby food. “You wanna feed Aidan? I’m getting ready to head out for a bit.” That was a surprise. Not to make Seamus sound like a loser but he wasn’t exactly social. “Where are you going?” “My best friend Jay is in town. A few of us are going out. I won’t be late.” Matt about lost his stomach. “Not Kase’s friend Jay, right?” “No,” Seamus laughed. “Not him.” Matt set the food down and lifted Aidan into the chair. He pulled another chair beside it and started feeding the little guy. “Is that who was at the coffee shop today?” “Yeah, that Jay and Scott.” “Is Scott in town also?” “Nah, Scott lives here. He’s one of the guys I have lunch with on Wednesdays.” “I thought you had board meetings on Wednesdays?” Seamus chuckled. “Yeah, that’s just what we call it so no one questions it. We’re all busy and if anyone knew it was just ‘lunch with the guys’, it would be overtaken with more important things.” That made more sense. Matt thought Seamus was the sole owner and it didn’t make sense that there would be a board but he never questioned it because it wasn’t his business. “That’s genius. I say stay out as late as you want. You deserve a night out with your friends. I have a bunch of homework to do and a few apartment applications to fill out anyway.” Seamus leaned down so his mouth hovered by Matt’s ear. “Sleep naked.” The kiss he gave Matt was enough that he'd have troubles peeing for a while. Matt fed Aidan then retired to the living room where Aidan played while Matt did school work. Aidan was fussy and tired and ended up going to bed earlier than normal. Matt stayed up a little longer doing school work but still ended up in bed before nine. He hesitated before removing his boxers. He almost never slept naked. It felt weird, especially since he was alone. Seamus came home late and drunk. Besides a little fondling, Seamus didn’t achieve much more before falling asleep. Fine by Matt, he was dead ass tired and even the promise of sex couldn’t get him to open his eyes. It was a different story the next morning. Matt woke first. There was no sign of Aidan stirring from the monitor so he moved across the bed. Seamus was on his back. His dick was soft and hanging to the right. A few cursory strokes and then Matt was shimmying down and taking Seamus in his mouth. He loved the feel of a man getting hard against his tongue. He was hard at work for almost ten minutes before Seamus finally stirred. “Oh yeah. Fuck. That’s good.” Seamus arched his back as he woke. “I’m close. Fuck, you’re gonna make me cum.” Seamus was gripping the side of Matt’s head and holding on for dear life. “Slow down, I want you to come inside me.” Matt wasn’t a party pooper but there was no way Matt was fucking Seamus again so soon. Instead, he pushed Seamus’ legs up and ran his tongue across his ass. “Touch yourself.” Seamus started jerking himself while Matt lapped his ass gently, enough to push Seamus over the edge. Seamus flipped them over and quickly brought Matt off in his mouth. Not a moment too soon, either. They hadn’t even caught their breath when the monitor lit up. Even stale and hungover, Seamus smelled good. Matt hovered over Seamus and kissed his neck and shoulder. “Did you have fun last night?” “A little too much, yeah.” “I tried staying up.” “Well, I was pretty drunk anyway. This morning was good though.” Seamus hiked his legs up, inviting Matt in. Then rolled his hips, trying to get Matt lined up. It was a nice gesture and temping as shit, but he didn’t take the bait. “You’re relentless,” Matt laughed. “And you’re bad for my ego. Always telling me no.” “When have I told you no?” Seamus moved again, trying to get Matt lined up. “Right now. I'm all but throwing myself at you.” “I’m not even hard,” he laughed. “You just sucked my brains out through my nuts thirty seconds ago.” “What if I get you hard again,” he challenged, reaching down and fondling Matt. Aidan chose that moment to call for his people. Seamus frowned. “You planned that.” Matt laughed. “Yes, I signaled for my eleven-month-old to cockblock me you horny bastard.” Seamus pulled Matt down and kissed him. “I might not seek out sex with randos, but when I’m with someone, I want it all the time.” By the time Seamus finally let him go, Matt was hard again. He would’ve been up for another round but Aidan was so upset that no one had rushed to his aid that he was now on the verge of hyperventilating. Matt made Seamus deal with Aidan since it was his fault in the first place. The shenanigans had put him behind and now he had to rush through his shower and across campus. Another minute and he would’ve been late. **** After class he headed to work. Today was the day. It was wingman time. “What time does she usually come in?” “I don’t know, between class?” Matt looked at Kase like he was a big fat liar. “Fine,” Kase glanced at the clock, “she’ll be here in less than five minutes.” Matt went to the back and told Seamus to stay put while he borrowed a freshly fed and freshly changed Aidan. “Here.” Matt handed Kase the baby and then helped secure him with the wrap thingy so Aidan was plastered to Kase’s chest. Kase looked nervously at Aidan. “Is he safe? Will he fall?” “He’s fine. I promise. Let go and see.” Kase tentatively let go then smiled excitedly when Aidan didn’t go anywhere. Kase even moved a little, just to see what would happen, to see if Aidan was truly secured. Potato Legs thought it was funny so Kase did it again. Turns out Aidan loved it. He was belly laughing so hard that everyone around him was joining in. It was contagious. Kase kept dancing like a fool and Aiden kept laughing. Matt took out his phone and started filming. Memories like these had to be captured. Kase grabbed Aidan’s hands and spun around, doing something that resembled jazz hands, then froze. Laura stood there, all beach wave blonde hair and university hoodie, smiling at Kase and Aidan. “Hi.” She smiled then reached out and grabbed Aidan’s hand. “Hey you, looks like you’re having a good time. You got some serious moves there.” Kase lifted Aidan’s hand. “Thanks.” And then he said nothing. Kase was being so awkward that Matt almost walked away, almost, except he wouldn’t miss it for the world. “Where’s his dad?” Matt winced on Kase’s behalf then raised his hand. “That would be me.” Laura looked confused. “I thought—” “Did you think the red head was his dad?” She nodded. Matt scoffed. “He wishes. That’s my boyfriend.” It took her a second to realize what that meant, that she had no chance Seamus. Matt continued. “Him though—” he gestured toward Kase, “he’s the real MVP. Kase slays the uncle game.” “Yeah?” She smiled at Kase, seemingly interested in the uncle of the year. “Oh yeah,” Matt continued. “He’s always helping out. In fact, he volunteered to babysit Friday night so I can go on a date. I didn’t even have to ask. He was like ‘give me my damn nephew!’.” Kase looked at Matt, amused for a well laid plan. Laura, however, practically swooned. “That is so sweet. Seriously, it’s refreshing to see guys support each other like this.” It wasn’t a total lie. Kase had babysat twice and he did love Aidan. He was usually the first to volunteer to hold him when they weren’t busy at work. Despite society having a way of making guys feel ill equipped when it came to kids or making them feel borderline pedophilia, Kase thrived. “We gotta ban together,” Kase said, swaying Aidan back and forward. “It takes a village.” Matt made her drink while Kase sputtered along. For a big, popular jock, he was shit with the ladies. “Are you taking him for a walk or what?” Matt asked. Kase barely composed himself. “Yeah, we’ll be back,” he turned to leave and hip-checked the counter. Matt looked at Laura. “Are you busy or do you think you could keep them company?” Laura laughed but happily left the cafe with Kase and Aidan. Of course, the second Kase left, the cafe got busy. Then slowed to halt minutes before Kase returned...an hour later. “I’m so babysitting for you on Friday.” “Oh, I know,” Matt said as he put all the dishes away that had stacked up while Kase was out. “No, seriously,” he gushed. “I have a babysitting date with Laura. So, yeah, you need to find something to do. Also, nice save with the boyfriend thing, genius way to let her know he’s off limits.” Matt didn’t say anything, just continued to put dishes away. “Wait a fucking second,” Kase whispered. Matt could feel his friend looking between him and the back where Seamus was. “You and Boss Nanny?” No one was around but Matt still shushed him. “Be quiet about it, yeah? It’s not something I want to announce. Bad for publicity.” “Well, I’m not all that surprised. I mean, yeah, I’m fucking shocked. But really, it’s actually obvious, I just had my own head up my ass.” “Which is it?” Matt asked. “Shocking or obvious?” “Be real,” Kase laughed. “You think Boss Nanny got us into Purple Canary out of the kindness of his heart?” “He’s actually really nice, dipshit.” “Yeah, because he’s got a boner for you. How many college kids work here? You think he makes a habit of getting them into his trendy club? Plus, he hung out all night. Plus—” he continued. “He’s all I’ll watch Aidan all the fucking time even though I’m busy as shit. I’ve worked here for two years and he’s never hung out here this much. Now he’s always here, always in meetings while juggling Chubby Legs. So yeah, it’s pretty obvious.” “Do you think Hilary knows?” Kase shook his head. “Does she know that you two have boners for each other? Hell yeah. Does she know you’re using your boners with each other? No. She thinks you’re both too dumb to do anything about it.” “Okay, good,” he deadpanned at the dig. I love Hilary but I really don’t want her knowing, or anyone else for that matter. Just you.” Kase seemed happy about that. A little secret between friends. Seamus came out, looking worried because Matt had taken Aidan an hour ago and never came back. “Shit,” Kase cursed softly. “Boss Nanny’s coming. He doesn’t look happy that I’m wearing what’s his. How do I take this shit off?” He panicked as he tried to figure out the crazy strap system. “This is some real bondage stuff.” Matt laughed and helped get Aidan out. Kase was right, Seamus wasn’t looking too keen. Matt smiled because that was just how Seamus was in public. “I’m watching Thunder Thighs on Friday night so you two—” Kase paused, realizing that maybe Matt should be the one to tell Seamus that Kase knew about them. “Ugh, so Matt can go out or whatever.” Kase looked at Matt, his eyes panicked. “I gotta do dishes, bye.” Matt turned to Seamus and smiled. “You’ll have to come out more, Kase never volunteers to wash dishes.” “He’s babysitting? So we can—?” Seamus asked, not missing a beat. “He’s babysitting so he can finally go on a date with the girl he likes.” Seamus didn't believe Matt for one second. “Yeah, okay,” Matt caved. “He knows about us. Don’t worry, he won’t say anything.” “I don’t care, Matt. The only thing keeping me from kissing you right here is knowing you don’t want people to give you a hard time because I’m the boss. But me? I’d stand on the counter right here and announce it to the whole goddamn café.” “No need for that,” Matt said, blushing. “Maybe when summer is done and I come back from Dad’s? I’ll be in my own apartment and I’ll be a senior. Seems like a good segue to dating the boss.” Aidan started whining because he was tired of being held so Matt set him on the floor. Aidan gripped Matt’s pant leg for a second before plopping himself on the floor. Matt glanced at Seamus, aware that things suddenly felt tense. To the untrained eye Seamus looked relatively casual but Matt could see more. His boyfriend was upset. “Back from your dads after the summer's finished? To your own apartment?” “Yes?” Matt wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say. His plan had always been to go home for the summer. It’s what most people his age did. And living with Seamus was never a permanent thing, just to get through the adoption inspection. Now that they were dating it was more important than ever to make sure Matt got his own place. “I had always planned on going home for the summer and living in the loft was only temporary, remember? I’ve been filling out apartment applications all week. The night you went out I literally said ‘I have some apartment applications I need to fill out’.” “Of course.” Seamus tried to hide how completely and utterly blindsided he felt. “Well, I think Aidan and I are taking off. See you after work.” Seamus swooped Aidan up and headed toward the back. Matt stood there, stunned. He turned to find Kase, who stood there with an apologetic face. “What just happened?” Kase shook his head. “Men. They are un-understandable.” As true as those words were, Matt wasn't going to let a little misunderstanding turn a ripple into a wave. He took a deep breath. The thought of confronting an issue head on was terrifying. He'd never done it before, not with any of his boyfriends. This was new territory. Hopefully it was a sign of growth and maturity because Matt was serious when he said he wanted things to work out with Seamus. And if this is what he had to do, then he was going to do it.
    107 points
  20. “Fuck you.” Matt pouted at Kase’s faux aggressive words. There were no hard feelings, just a little jealousy that Matt got to spend the weekend with professional athletes and Loren Patrick. With his arms open for a hug, Matt walked toward Kase but Kase turned sideways, earning himself a super awkward half side hug. “Don’t touch me,” Kase growled, not even trying to shake Matt off. “I haven’t forgiven you.” “You’re the one who told me to have him make a drink for me.” “I didn’t expect you to do it. Or to end up in so many of his videos. Not fair dude, not fair.” “What if I told you I brought you back something?” Kase looked over his shoulder with a half glare, half curiosity. “Like what?” Pulling his phone from his back pocket, Matt queued up a video he’d been eager to show his best friend. He held the phone in front of Kase so he could watch as he worked. Loren was on the screen, smiling. “Hey Kase! Matt talked about you so much I feel like I know you. Next week I’m starting a new segment. Instead of coffees, I’m going to create some awesome adult beverages. Since Matt made you sound like a real peach, I decided the first drink is for you. It’s a peachnada. Like a mangonada with a twist. I was thinking you could join me virtually and help assist? Let Matt know if you’re interested. I hope to meet you soon!” Kase stopped making food and tackled Matt. “I get to be part of his debut segment?! Ohmygod! You’re the best friend ever!” Kase peppered his face with kisses, making Matt laugh hysterically as he squirmed on the ground. “What’s going on here?” It didn’t matter that Kase had been around Seamus outside of work or that they were friends on social media, he was still terrified of him. Laying on top of Matt and peppering his face with kisses was probably not earning him any points. Kase scrambled off Matt so fast he lost his balance and stumbled into the counter, knocking over the whiteboard display. Still on the floor, Matt couldn’t help but laugh at his floundering friend. Even Seamus, who was watching the whole thing with Aidan on his hip, found it amusing. Kase righted himself and straightened his apron. “Loe made a video and a drink special asked me to virtually,” he stuttered incoherently. He couldn’t even manage a real sentence; he was so flustered. Finally, he gave up and grabbed the tub of dirties. “I’m going to wash the dishes.” Kase hightailed it out of there with his pride between his legs while Matt got up off the floor and kissed Seamus. “Hello.” Seamus blushed. He was about to respond with something cute when Aidan ruined the moment. It was Matt’s fault really. He shouldn’t have kissed Seamus when Aidan was so close, he knew what the outcome would be. “Ow ow ow ow ow,” Matt cried as he tried to pry the tiny fingers of death from his cheek. It hurt so bad his eyes started watering. Luckily, Seamus made quick work of unlatching Aidan and reprimanding him for his actions. What was kind of cute when it started was becoming a serious nuisance. After explaining to Aidan what he’d done wrong (for the tenth time), Seamus set him on the ground and went to Matt’s aid. Of course, Aidan didn’t like that. He picked him up off the floor and followed Seamus, clinging to his leg as Seamus looked at Matt’s face. “Oh man.” Seamus tilted Matt’s face. His cheek was red and there were obvious nail marks. “Aidan got you good. Poor baby,” he said, then gingerly kissed Matt’s cheek. All the while, Aidan was crying at Seamus’s feet, both for being abandoned and for giving attention to Matt. Seamus ignored him. Aidan screamed. Kase popped his head out from the back to see what the commotion was. It was a disaster. All because Matt and Seamus kissed. **** “C’mon.” Matt stood in the hall and waited for Aidan to follow. The defiant toddler stood next to the couch, looking at Matt, but otherwise remained unmoving. “Aidan…” Ignoring Matt, Aidan threw himself on Seamus’s lap. Almost as if throwing it in Matt’s face. Seamus wouldn’t have it and quickly set Aidan back on the floor before joining Matt in the hall. Even with Seamus on his side, it hurt Matt’s super big brother feelings that Aidan seemed to despise him. It felt like he couldn’t win. Seamus leaned close and whispered. “Do you want me to put him down real quick?” “No, I can do it.” Matt appreciated the offer, but he needed to do this. “It’s time for bed, Aidan.” Aidan shook his head and ran in the opposite direction. Matt gave chase. Aidan was slow and quick at the same time. The hardest part was not accidentally tackling the kid out of anger. He finally caught the tyke and scooped him up. Aidan screamed and tried to throw himself at Seamus as they passed. Somehow he grabbed Seamus’s shirt and white knuckled the damn thing until it practically ripped off Seamus's body. Getting Aidan to bed was a doomed effort. Aidan had nothing better to do than scream from his crib. Matt was fine letting him do it even though it was hard to listen to. He and Seamus sat in the hall hugging each other as Aidan’s screams pierced the late hour air. It had been an hour. Aidan was tired. Matt was tired. Seamus was tired. Matt gave in. He couldn’t take it anymore. He thought that since Aidan had been crying for so long, he’d be happy no matter who came in to grab him. That was not the case. When Matt reached for him, Aidan screamed for his Moose then threw himself toward the other end of the crib, away from Matt, crashing into the rails. Matt bit back his emotions and left the room. None of this was worth Aidan hurting himself over it. Seamus was standing in the hall with a pained yet sympathetic face. It was hard to watch the two people you love fighting like that. The second Matt looked at him, Seamus raced into the room and lifted Aidan from the crib. And just like that, Aidan was quiet. Seamus to the rescue. Matt stood in the hall for a moment with his head in his hands. The posture of a total failure, or so it felt. The soft, consoling whispers and absence of screaming confirmed what Matt knew— he was in over his head. No matter what he did, he couldn’t do right by Aidan. Even in their room, he couldn’t escape the proof. Baby sniffles and Seamus’s soft whispers sounded from the monitor. Words that Matt could only dream of whispering. Matt shut the monitor off and went to bed. **** Unsurprisingly, Aidan wanted nothing to do with Matt the next morning. That’s just how things were. Matt fought him during breakfast, fought him getting dressed, and fought him all the way to daycare. Did it hurt? Abso-fucking-lutely. Something had to give. **** The cafe might’ve been slammed, but he was working with Kase and Hilary. They were the dream team and slayed through the shift like butter. When it slowed, Matt took dishes to the back and used the solitude to clear his head. It had been a rough week with Aidan, and it was wearing on him. Nothing like taking a power hose to really get those emotions out. When he was done cleaning and putting everything away, Kase and Hilary cornered him. The once bustling cafe was now empty. Not a single customer in sight. No one to stop his friends from meddling in his business. He looked between them. “What?” “You’re quiet today.” “Are things still rough with Aidan? The apartment?” Kase asked. Matt nodded. No use in lying. “It’s not great. I knew he’d go through hard phases, but was not prepared for this. I’m failing him.” Hilary frowned sympathetically. “You’re not failing him.” Matt scoffed. “Feels like it.” “Whoa there,” Kase put his hands on Matt’s shoulder. “Aidan has everything he could want and more. He’s loved and cared for. He has more clothes than I do, and the Cadillac gaming chairs.” “It’s a car seat.” Kase waved him off. “That’s beside the point. What I’m saying is, Aidan has everything and that’s because of you.” “Because of Seamus.” The friends rolled their eyes at the same time. “I’m serious. I haven’t done anything. Seamus watches him all the time. Even when Aidan’s in daycare, it’s Seamus who mostly drops him off and picks him up. It’s no wonder Aidan doesn’t want me. He doesn’t even know me. I might as well be a stranger.” Hilary frowned. “You make it seem like Seamus is doing something wrong. Is everything okay between you two?” “We’re fine. Seamus is perfect. He’s the literal perfect person to raise a kid with. It’s me who’s not okay. I’m trying not to be irritated, but the more Aidan hates me the more I resent Seamus. I know that sounds bad, because it’s not Seamus, I know it’s not, and I know he does everything he can to assist me, but it sucks to be left in the dust. I just feel like I’m not doing enough. It’s hard to balance everything.” “If you’re feeling like you’re not doing enough with Aidan, why are you still working here? You don’t need two jobs. You don’t need the cafe.” “I wouldn’t see you guys.” Kase smiled, and Hilary melted. “Of course you will. We’d always be here for you.” “We might have more fun if we weren’t always here together,” Kase added. “Maybe,” Matt agreed. “But I like this place.” “But you love Aidan.” They had a point. As much as Matt wanted to be able to do it all, working two jobs wasn’t more important than Aidan. Dropping the cafe would give him more time with his brother. Adjusting his schedule was something Matt needed to seriously consider before things with Aidan escalated even more. Before he left work, Matt swung into Denise’s office. Maybe it was on his face, he wasn’t sure, but she clearly knew what was coming. “Don’t be so nervous,” she laughed. “I don’t want to leave you in a lurch.” Denise waved him off. “Don’t you worry about that. We have a great crew. Are you working for Seamus full time now?” “Eventually, but right now I need to spend more time with Aidan.” “That’s noble, Matt. I’m proud of you. You stepped up when he needed you and you’ve persevered. It’s been a pleasure to watch you and Aidan grow.” Matt felt a little emotional. He really loved working at the cafe and Denise was one of the best bosses he ever had. How many managers would let you bring your infant brother to work? Not many, he was sure of that, but Denise did. She was accommodating and encouraging. It was going to be hard to say goodbye. “Ahh,” she frowned. “Don’t get emotional. It’s just a job. You’re off to bigger and better things.” “I know, but you’ve been a great boss. I really appreciate you. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without you.” “It takes a village and I am but one villager.” Matt smiled. “Villager of the year.” Denise bowed and then gave Matt a hug. “Don’t be a stranger,” she said. “Make sure you come in regularly and bring Aidan with you.” “I’ll see you for the next two weeks, right?” Denise shrugged. “I’m not going to tell you not to come in, but we’re fully staffed, and there’s no need to waste another minute away from your brother. I’ll tell you what,” he grinned. “You come in twice a week, with Aidan, and I’ll take you off the schedule today.” There was minor panic and anxiety as he thought about this moment being his last. But then again, the thought of having free time tomorrow for Aidan was very inviting. Matt stuck his hand out. “Deal. It felt like the end of an era. This was his first job away from home. It’s the job he had when he brought Aidan home. It was where he met Kase, Hilary, and Seamus. He would miss working there, but he was ready to focus on moving forward. To focus on Aidan. **** Seamus was carrying a basket of dirty laundry through the apartment, but detoured to give Matt a kiss. “Do you have anything that needs to be washed?” “I think I’m good.” “How was your day?” “Busy but good.” Satisfied that Matt had a good day, Seamus smiled and went about his merry laundry way. Aidan was sitting on the floor with a few toys. Even though Matt knew Aidan would freak out, he went to his brother and picked him up. It went okay, Aidan smiled, talked to him, and showed him his toys...until Seamus walked back by. Aidan didn’t care that Seamus was busy getting ready to fold laundry or that Matt wasn’t trying to kidnap him, he wanted Seamus and would rather die than be held by Matt if Seamus was in the same room. Matt took a calming breath and walked to the kitchen with Aidan on his hip. Maybe pretending like Aidan was freaking the fuck out would somehow disable him. He read somewhere that kids are always looking for a reaction, so take the reaction away. That plan didn’t work. Aidan cried and cried. Matt fought a good fight, but in the end, he set the toddler down by Seamus and watched as Aidan hurried to Seamus. You'd think the guy had chocolate crunch ice-cream bars in his pocket. Matt decided to let Seamus handle bedtime. He was tired of fighting and Seamus wouldn’t get the same resistance Matt did. And he didn’t. It was the earliest Aidan had gone to bed in weeks and they celebrated by cuddling on the couch, watching NCIS. “Today was my last day at the cafe,” Matt said as Gibbs reprimanded his team for doing something he’d done before, but, you know, double standards... Seamus shifted behind him. “I thought you were staying there until school was out?” “I was. But then everything went downhill with Aidan. I need to free up some time for him. As much as I want to finish out the last few months with Hilary and Kase, Aidan is more important.” “I’m confused. You gave Denise notice, right? Why didn’t you say something to me?” “I was going to give her notice today, but she told me she was fully staffed and there was no need for me to stay and finish out the month if I had other things to do. Instead of questioning her motives, I took her up on the offer.” “What are you going to do?” Matt sat up so he could have a proper conversation with Seamus. “I don’t have it all figured out, but it’s obvious I need to spend more time with Aidan. With the new schedule, I should be able to take him to and from daycare every day.” “That will be good,” Seamus encouraged. “I know you’re starting to resent me so let me know what I can do to help.” “I don’t—” Seamus grabbed Matt’s hand. “You do. I get it, I do. But I know there’s a fine line before that resentment grows into a beast of its own.” He was right, Matt knew it. He leaned against Seamus and sighed. They should’ve talked about this weeks ago. “I don’t like feeling that way. I know it’s not your fault. It’s me and my insecurity.” “I know,” Seamus laughed and rubbed Matt’s back. “I’ve actually been thinking about something. I didn’t think it was realistic, but if you’re not working at the cafe, it might work.” Matt sat up and looked at Seamus. “What might work?” “Maybe you and Aidan should stay at your apartment for two weeks or so.” “Just me and Aidan?” Matt asked, confused. Why would Seamus want to get rid of them? “Trust me, it’s not something I want, but it will be good and, at the end of the day, I want you to be happy. Figuring things out with Aidan will make you happy,” he explained. “Or, like it’s done in the past, it will make things worse.” Even though Matt had a valid point, Seamus wasn’t convinced. “As much as it pains me, I think he needs to detox from me. The first few days might be hard, but I don’t think it will take long for him to change his attitude. We’ll reintroduce me after two weeks, see how he reacts, and go from there.” Matt stared at Seamus. There was no way Seamus was actually considering this. He’d been upset when Matt went back home for the summer because he thought Matt was leaving him or something crazy. Plus, his life revolved around Aidan. Now he was sitting there, saying they should live apart and basically not be part of their life for two whole weeks. “What’s going through your brain right now?” Seamus asked. “You’re freaking out.” “You never want to be apart.” “You know what I want more than being with you and Aidan every day?” he asked. “Not seeing you doubt yourself every day. You are the most amazing person I know. I’m so honored to be with you, but I don’t want Aidan to be a problem between us. I want to solve this issue right now. If I thought there was another way, I would suggest it. Who knows, maybe this won’t work, but it’s all I got right now.” Matt nodded and leaned against Seamus so they could resume the show. He was sad that Seamus wanted to live apart, but if he thought about it, under all that fear, was a hope that he was onto something. **** Matt officially agreed to move back to his apartment. It was fine, he probably needed to go there anyway. He hadn’t been there since before Christmas and that was months ago. Matt was pretty sure there was a load of laundry in the washer. There was no salvaging it, if that was the case. They decided there was no reason to wait. Matt and Aidan would start their new, temporary life on Monday. The weekend was all about Seamus and Aidan. Seamus stopped letting Matt take the lead on things. If Seamus wasn’t going to see Aidan for a while, then he was going to feed him all the meals, put him down for all the naps, read him all the bedtime stories, and give him all the baths. They ate, they snuggled, they played. They even slept together. The thought of a three topping bed burrito sounded cute, but in actuality, no one slept but Aidan. It was fine because the time was precious. Through it all, Matt couldn’t help but feel like this was goodbye. How could he not when he was packing so much stuff? They were literally moving out and Seamus didn’t seem upset. He buckled a crying Aidan into the back of the SUV Seamus had loaned Matt for the summer, almost a year ago. “Dad is taking him next weekend so we could spend some time together.” “You know I’ll see you at work, right?” Seamus laughed. “Yeah, but that’s at work. But by all means, if you don’t want to see me, then I’ll tell Dad not to worry.” Seamus reached in the window and pulled Matt in for a kiss. “Of course I want to spend all the time with you. But the whole point of this is for you to spend time with Aidan. I can wait two weeks.” “I can’t,” he pouted. “I love you, too.” “Whatever.” Seamus laughed and gave pouting Matt one last kiss. “I kind of like that you can’t be away from me. Maybe when these two weeks are up, you’ll realize you want to live with me—officially.” Matt rolled his eyes, but the idea was more and more appealing. Being with Seamus for the last few months was natural. They fit. The thought of giving up his apartment, and his independence, no longer terrified him. He wanted that with Seamus. **** Matt was right. There was a load of clothes in the washer. And the dishes really should’ve been run back in December. Hell, Matt should’ve spent a little time at the apartment before bringing Aidan back. Oh well. It didn’t matter because Aidan was having none of the new arrangement, anyway. The kid was clearly angry at Matt for leaving Seamus behind and dragging them to this unfamiliar hell hole. In retaliation, Aidan refused to sleep. Matt tried everything; letting him cry it out, snuggling him on the couch, even taking him to Matt’s bed. Everything. It wasn’t until midnight, and after mutual tears shed, that Aidan succumbed to sleep. Matt shot Seamus a quick text, tonight was terrible, then fell back on his mattress, exhausted. It had only been a few hours, but Matt already knew it was going to suck doing this alone. “This will work out,” Matt told himself. “This will work out.”
    106 points
  21. The second time Spencer awoke he was alone. Much earlier that morning, he had sensed Marshall trying to slip quietly out of bed, but the man could not resist leaning over and kissing a bleary, half-awake Spencer. After which, they'd made out until Marshall pushed his body gently away, and insisted he go back to sleep and wake refreshed for his interview. At first, Spencer had complained about wanting to spend the precious few morning moments in the shower with Marshall—until being reminded that they would be together again later that evening. Right now, everything in Marshall's huge bed felt soft and comfortable and excessive, so unlike his own flat. He pulled one of the fine cotton pillows from the other side of the bed and pressed his face into the softness, the scent of Marshall still lingering in the fabric. Certain parts of his body ached, but not in an unpleasant way. If Marshall had remained in bed with him, he would have happily instigated another round of lovemaking. Pushing the pillow away, he stretched his arms out across the mattress and grinned at the ceiling before pulling his knees up to his chest. Rather than lying naked, overthinking things, he swung his legs to the side of the mattress and sat up. After pushing his hands through his hair, he noticed the blurry outline of a blue Post-It note stuck to the bedside clock. He snatched up his glasses and read the words. Morning, Sleepyhead. Follow the Post-It trail. Next stop, kitchen. Spencer laughed softly to himself. Even though the clock read seven-thirty, and he felt sure no house staff would enter the apartment without knocking, he pulled on a pair of track pants and a white tee, before jumping onto the carpeted floor. In the kitchen, he spied a yellow note affixed to an impressive stainless steel coffee machine. Beneath the spout, sat an empty white mug with a red news television channel logo, waiting for him. Press the caffè latte button and wait. Next stop, living room. After doing as instructed and waiting as the machine churned to life, he peered around Marshall's kitchen. Brand new appliances filled a space more extensive than the size of Spencer's living room. With a shake of his head, he wondered how many of the devices ever got used. When the machine began to slow, and the smell of coffee reached his nose, he let out an involuntary carnal moan and grabbed the mug. With the vessel beneath his nose, he headed into the living room. There on the coffee table, a plastic covering sat over a dinner plate, with another Post-It, this time in pink, stuck to the top. Eat me. Next stop bathroom. Beneath the plastic covering, Spencer found one of the chocolate croissants and some freshly cut fruit; watermelon, honeydew melon, orange, mango, and pineapple slices. Not unexpectedly, a pile of the day's newspapers sat on the sofa, already scanned by the looks of the ruffled front pages. Spencer plonked himself down, grinning to himself at witnessing these little windows into Marshall's life, into his daily routine. While enjoying the light breakfast, he flicked through the papers, noticing Marshall pretty much ordered all of the dailies. With pleasure, he dug out the National Herald so he could swot up on the main stories before his meeting. After reading from cover to cover, and then checking messages on his phone—none from Marshall—he yawned into the morning and headed for the bathroom. There, hanging from the door of a bathroom wardrobe, he found his freshly pressed suit and shirt. Marshall had even brought his socks, underwear and newly shined shoes into the room and placed them all on a wicker bench. Two green Post-Its were pinned to the jacket pocket. Suit, shirt and shoes ready. Rock the interview. Enjoy the shower and use anything you want. Fresh towel left out for you. Next stop second bedroom. By the time he had finished his shower and dressed, checking himself in the mirror to assess his suitability, and decided he looked as good as he ever would, he returned to the kitchen to refill his coffee cup. While the coffee brewed, he headed to the spare bedroom which appeared made up but empty. This time an orange note sat on the duvet cover. Unless mother stays, this room rarely gets used. But I'm giving you the virtual tour anyway. Now go and be fabulous like I know you can be. Checking himself one last time in the hall mirror, and feeling happy at what he saw, he made sure he had everything before closing the door to Marshall's apartment. Downstairs, as the lift door opened, a new, younger concierge smiled a welcome and then went back to working on his computer. On his way to the door, Spencer plucked out his phone and used the map app to find his way to the nearest Tube station. Leaving at eight-thirty, he knew he could be at the newspaper offices at just after nine, find a nearby coffee shop and then hang out until around nine-forty. That way, when he turned up at the reception ten minutes early, he wouldn't seem too desperate but, more importantly, would not be late. Had he followed Bev's lead, he would have left everything to the last minute, pinned his hopes on chance and hope there would be no delays or obstructions, and—not in Bev's case, of course—he would have turned up not only a sweaty wreck but a massive bag of jangling nerves. In his book, the extra time and caution was simply an insurance policy against things going wrong. As he marched along the road towards Herald Towers, his phone began to ring. "Squirrel," said Bev, her cheerful voice instantly putting a smile on his face. "Good luck today, baby. Tried to call you yesterday night but I got your voicemail, so I guess you were at home. How are you feeling?" "Terrified." "Do you want me to courier you a Valium?" Spencer laughed aloud. "Do people actually do that kind of thing?" "All the time." "Thanks anyway, but I'll manage. And I'll let you know how it goes later." "Are you coming in afterwards?" "No, I have the day off today—" Right then, his phone buzzed with another call. Marshall. "Bev, can I call you back? Marshall's on the other—" "Speak to you later. Break a leg." Spencer thumbed the button for the new call. "Marsh. How's it going?" "This manual work thing is entirely overrated. We've haven't stopped packing boxes and loading them into vans all morning and we're only just stopping for a cuppa." "Poor you. But I'm proud of you, too." Spencer could tell from Marshall's tone that he appreciated the compliment. "More importantly, how are you doing?" he asked. "Nervous. But I'm about to hit the coffee shop." "You didn't get coffee this morning?" "During my guided Post-It tour of your apartment, you mean? Yes, I did get coffee. But I'm very early and it'll give me time to settle down and calm my nerves. Thanks for ironing my suit and shirt, by the way." "All part of the service. You can make it up to me later. Hey, I'm phoning to ask what you fancy for dinner tonight. Any thoughts?" "Many. But I'm out walking in public and most them are pretty indecent, so best not to say them out loud. But, just so you know, one of them involves that easy chair you have in the corner of your bedroom—" "Uh, Spence," came Marshall's lowered voice. "I'm sitting here with a group of volunteers, people I don't know. And I have to stand up and carry on working in five minutes, so could you maybe save the lurid descriptions—" Spencer burst out laughing. "Sorry. I'm really sorry, Marsh," said Spencer, still chuckling. "I should have realised. As for tonight. Your choice of take-out. Although not South Asian, please." "Take-out? Who said anything about take-out? I'm cooking at home for you tonight. See you at six. Are you heading home first?" "I'd planned to. Why?" "Pick up another change of clothing. I'm driving tomorrow, so I'll drop you into work." Spencer had visited Herald Towers a couple of times over the years. The first three floors constituted a vast shopping mall with a large theatre and a cinema complex on the third floor, and shops and restaurants scattered around the other two. Being in the tier two restriction zone, the area was considered high alert for the coronavirus, and he expected most of them to be closed for the day. Luckily enough, he found a generic coffee shop inside the ground floor, probably catering to office staff. Although he could not sit on the premises, he still purchased a takeaway coffee, and then went outside the building to find a small concrete garden area with wooden seating. After checking messages, he brought up a browser and reminded himself about the newspaper group and employed around three to four thousand people globally. By comparison, Muriel's Blackmore Group had at most seventy to eighty staff. Estimated daily circulation figures for The National Herald came in at just under one and a half million, which did not include online subscriptions. Blackmore Group, a wholly different beast with primarily monthly publications, had a circulation of under two hundred thousand. Not that you could compare like for like. After what seemed like an eternity, he finished his coffee, waited in the newspaper reception area, and stared at the neat row of clocks above the familiar newspaper logo, announcing the time in five different time zones. Through a glass dividing wall, Spencer observed Ed Coleman finishing up on his computer. He could not even hazard a guess as to the man's age. Sporting a grey ginger comb-over, combined with being overweight, Ed appeared younger than that of someone in his forties, but then Spencer had never been good at guessing people's ages. On the surface, the man's whole face appeared to be a perpetual frown as he glared at his monitor, from the troughs across his forehead, the fixed furrowed brow, the deep parentheses around his mouth and to the stubbornly neutral mouth giving nothing away. And he typed brutally with only the forefingers of each hand as though he were trying to kill some annoying insect running across his keyboard. When Spencer was eventually ushered in, Ed relaxed and looked up, his face transforming into a smile. The East London accent matched the man's countenance perfectly. "Mr Wyrrell. Thanks for coming in at such short notice." Spencer liked him from the first words out of his mouth, an unapologetic cockney, and despite his lofty position, no attempt to correct the 'th' in 'thanks' which had become an 'f', while dropping the' t' and adding a glottal stop in the middle of the word 'notice'. "My pleasure. And you can call me Spencer, if that's easier." "Sounds good. So why don't you begin by telling me a little about the work you do at Blackmore." Spencer had been prepared for that and talked up his role, making sure he explained about recently stepping into his boss' shoes after her departure. After answering a few questions as briefly as possible, and asking a few of his own, Ed seemed satisfied and changed tack. "I suppose the first question I should have asked was whether you actually read The Herald?” "From cover to cover. And I'm not just saying that because I'm sitting here. If you check your records you'll find I've had four letters published in your reader's section over the years. Without sounding too sycophantic, I'd say The Herald is my daily paper of choice." "Favourite parts?" "The editorials. I'm Jonathan Mycroft's number one fan." Spencer went on to dissect the daily version, which he knew by heart. He knew enough about the industry to understand how different newspapers appealed to their readers, what kind of front pages demanded attention. But he also knew Ed would need to have a handle on each of the sections and how they attempted to provide something for everyone. "And I love The Sunday Herald the best, mostly because I get a quiet day to read from cover to cover, but also because there's the arts and literature section—" "You read the arts and literature reviews?" "Are you serious? Avidly." "Good to know someone does." "It's the first thing I turn to in the Sunday supplement, for the book, film, and theatre reviews. Especially theatre, which I love. People often think the reviews are simply a reviewer's personal opinion about a production, which, in fairness, is what they generally are. But a true theatre review is created to guide somebody who is considering seeing a play, to give them background; an outline of the plot, about the historical setting, cultural significance, and relevance, and about some of the characters. Criticism should form only a small part of the review and, in my opinion, be wholly substantiated. I read a review at the weekend in another newspaper—yes, I read other papers, too—of the stage version of The Right Side of the Family. Have you read the book?" "Why don't you tell me about it?" Spencer couldn't tell if Ed was humouring him, but he didn't mind because he loved the particular novel, had read the story more than three times. "Well, I was excited to read the review and find out how the story was being staged. The Right Side of the Family is set in the eighties, long before I was born, a fictional story about a highly respected Conservative MP in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, whose son dies in a boating accident during his last year at King's College, Cambridge. While the MP pulls a few strings with the local police and eventually resorts to using a private investigator to find out more, he discovers that his son had been in an openly gay relationship with a Pakistani national, a freshman in the same college. This happens during the era when AIDS really came to the fore in the UK. The discovery rocks the family and, at the funeral, where immediate family members have been ordered to bury the truth, the secret pretty much tears them apart. It's a cutting insight into British middle class attitudes of the time and the hypocrisy surrounding family, race, and sexuality." "Sounds like a laugh a minute." "So the reviewer in this other daily dove straight in and made a big deal about the performances of the actors—he didn't seem to like them at all—but made no reference to the plot, the background, or the main characters from the original work. If I'd been reading, I'd have been left wondering what the play was actually about. To be perfectly honest, reading the piece felt more like listening to the rants of the reviewer, essentially warning potential theatre-goers away from the performance, rather than trying to enlighten them. And I don't know about you, but when someone tells me to do something or not do something without any reason or justification, I'm more likely to do exactly the opposite." Spencer explained that when he read something similar, he guessed the critic's only consideration was self-interest, in getting readers to admire his or her writing. He was often left wondering if the person had been slighted at some point in time, by one of the cast members or someone in the production team. Moreover, he questioned whether anyone critiqued the critic and his or her body of work, to see if there was any method or rationale behind their body of reviews, or if they regularly panned public works because in doing so they knew the uninitiated public would be more likely to read them. As a writer himself, he wanted people to connect with what he wrote, knowing he had truly researched the topic and could trust his viewpoint and integrity as a writer. Maybe, he said, that might seem a little naive because he understood that the newspaper's main concern was selling news. Ed sat listening the whole time, without comment, smiling at Spencer's explanation. When Spencer finished speaking, Ed sat nodding for a moment before speaking. "If I were to take off me editor-in-chief hat for a mo’, I'd tell you honestly the arts and literature section don't exactly float my boat. I'm more a current affairs and sports bloke. Not that I don't appreciate what they do, but I leave all the artsy stuff to my executive editor. I'm a believer in playing to your strengths and mine are national and international news, and sports." "You sound like my dad." "Yeah, how about your folks? What papers do they read?" "My parents?" asked Spencer, wondering what was behind the question. "I only ask 'cause in most surveys we find kids tend to continue to read the same papers as their parents into adulthood. Did your parents influence your reading habits?" Spencer laughed at the question. "Mum and dad are at opposite poles of the political spectrum, and both love their newspapers. Our house was always filled with every daily imaginable. Dad spent his whole life in the police force and his affiliation has always been with the Conservative Party. Even today he speaks with reverence about Maggie Thatcher. So you can probably guess which papers he reads. Mum, for most of her working life, worked for the NHS, and is a labour girl through and through. She idolised Tony Benn, loved listening to him speaking, but I know she also admired Cherie Booth, Tony Blaire's wife, when New Labour led the country. My parents have a healthy respect for each other's political opinions, always listening to each other, even if they don't agree. I heard recently that my mother consented to joining the local Conservative Club in Bournemouth just to keep my dad happy. Although, if I know her, she probably agreed to do so just to cause mayhem from within." Ed surprised Spencer by tilting back his head and guffawing into the air. Funny how those small revelations, idiosyncrasies about his parents he rarely explored with anyone, about just how well they worked together, made him love them even more. After a moment, Ed thumped the palms of both hands on his desk. "Okay, look," he said, once he'd settled back. "Let's not beat around the bush. I like you and I like what I've read of yours. I've no idea why you've been wasting your time in the fluff market but it's good you've kept your editing skills tuned. More importantly, you come highly recommended by some people I hold in high regard, and let me tell you, there ain't many in the world. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and offer you a starting position as an assistant reporter. We have a vacancy open right now. You'd be helping our senior team to begin with but I'm sure you'll soon step into your own. I don't know what they're paying you at Blackmore, but I'm sure we can better anything they're offering. And you'll get all the perks, too. Does any of that sound of interest?" "Very much so." "Marion at reception will get you to fill out a form with your details and we'll email the offer to you. What's your notice period?" "One month." "Brilliant. So if we can get something out to you by the end of next week—our recruitment team is a little hard pushed right now what with people being out—and, as long as everything adds up, we can get you on board mid-January, that would work perfectly for us. One question, though. Are you okay to let Muriel Moresby know, once you've accepted the formal offer, or would you prefer me to phone her? I'm happy to do that as a matter of professional courtesy, even though me and Moresby are not otherwise on polite speaking terms—" "No! No, I want to tell her myself. I definitely want that pleasure." "Oh, I see," said Ed, smirking. "Not a fan either? I'm guessing you're not one of those in her famous little clique of favourites?" "If her clique is the sun, then I think of me as Pluto." Once again, Ed pushed his chair back and laughed at the ceiling. "Right. Enough. Get out! I've got work to do. Marion will sort you out. Reckon you're going to fit in perfectly around here, Spencer. Now go and have a great Christmas." "You too, Ed. And thanks for the opportunity. I reckon we’ve both made a good choice here." After completing the personal details form, Spencer walked out of the office with a spring in his step. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he didn't need any Star Ship transporter engineer to beam him anywhere.
    102 points
  22. Spencer had an inkling they would be spending more time sitting around and talking, so he stocked up on tea bags, instant coffee, bread, milk, butter, and a pack of assorted biscuits—including custard creams, bourbons, chocolate digestives, and jammy dodgers—as well as buying a selection of canned soups he could heat up to go with the baked goods. When he got upstairs, Marshall had already made himself at home on the sofa, Tiger once again curled up on his lap, with Marshall's socked feet stretched out in front and crossed at the ankle. One of the white socks had almost come off and hung limply over the right foot, while the left leg of his track bottoms rode up and showed a hairy shin. With his gaze focused in concentration, his head rested back against the sofa with his hair—freshly released from the hat he had been wearing—taking on an adorable life of its own, clumps sticking up at random. Apart from scratching the top of Tiger's head with one hand, he waved the remote at the television with the other, changing stations until he reached a news channel. Spencer realised the rare moment he was observing, an utterly relaxed version of Marshall Highlander that few people got to see, and the realisation filled him with an oddly potent mix of affection and desire. "Making yourself at home?" "I have to say, Spence, it's a very comfortable flat. A bit chilly right now, but comfy." "Convenient for work, too," said Spencer, putting things away into the fridge. "I always get a seat on the train into town what with Morden being the last stop at the end of the Northern Line. And the landlord is okay. Apart from redecorating the place before I moved in, he fitted out the bathroom and kitchen, and put in a new bed. So a lot of the appliances are new. Shame he wants the place back in February." "Oh dear," said Marshall. "It's fine. Not sure I'll be able to get anywhere for the same price, but at least he's given me plenty of notice. And the reason it's so cold right now is because the ovens downstairs aren’t switched on until just before lunchtime. I've cranked up the central heating but I might drag in the cover from the bed." And that's how they spent their morning, sitting together beneath the bed quilt on the sofa, watching daytime television, avoiding any news channels, and occasionally making hot drinks. At lunchtime, when Spencer went to use the bathroom, he came back into the room to find Marshall going through his bookshelf. Somehow, he had found Spencer's journalism portfolio tucked away in the corner of the bookcase. "These are really good, Spencer," he said, without looking up. "Thank you. Finally got a friend to help me create a website in my name, and put them up online along with my CV—although not much has happened since. My mother thinks I need someone to kick my backside to get me moving. Some of them are from university, but others are pieces I sent off to various publications and managed to get published. I'm rather proud of my letter to the Guardian about the implications of leaving the European Union and about the misinformation going around at the time. They published that around three weeks before the Brexit vote. Fat of lot of good it did." "Doesn't matter, Spence. You stated your case. I'm sure there were plenty of others who took an educated, factual, but opposing view who also got published. And I take my hat off to them, too. The important thing is that you made your voice heard. The downfall of any democracy will be the day when apathy outweighs the power of people needing their voices to be heard, when a tyrant gains power due to majority abstention." "Did you write that?" "I don't think so. But I'm sure I heard it somewhere." "In which case, I might steal it." They continued chatting while Spencer set about getting lunch for them. They decided upon piping hot chicken soup, a small slice of quiche each, and a mini chicken and leek pie to share, followed off by half a croissant each with marmalade and whipped cream—the filling courtesy of Marshall. "What's in these croissants? I don't usually do sweet, but these are yummy." "Marmalade, of course. But the Bean Sanctuary bakes their own chocolate croissants. I have a seriously sweet tooth and I've never had better." "They're amazing. And I'm usually a savoury person." "Come on! What about ice cream?" "Yes, I like some ice cream." "Favourite flavour?" "Honestly, when I'm on the road, I'm usually grateful to get vanilla." "Sacrilege. If we have to live in this capitalist purgatory at least we ought to make the most of the perks, such as the huge range of flavours of ice cream." "Go on then. What's your favourite?" "There are lots of runners-up. Salted caramel with cookie dough, Rocky Road, Cookie and Cream. But my all time favourite?" "Go on. I'm on the edge of my seat here." "Strawberry cheesecake ice cream. I could happily sit here and eat a tub to myself." "Heavens. That sounds a little sickly for my taste." "Don't knock what you haven't tried. I bet you'd have turned your nose up at chocolate croissants before today, wouldn't you?" "Point taken. They are damned good." In the afternoon, back on the sofa, the apartment became noticeably warmer and, still beneath the quilt, Spencer fell asleep with his head on Marshall's shoulder. Sometime later, he woke to find Marshall gazing fondly down at him, his arm around Spencer's shoulders. Up so close, he could see his irises were not merely a deep dark brown, as he had assumed, but predominately cocoa coloured, darkly rimmed around the outside edge, and with flecks of caramel and gold. Beautiful. "Hey, little fella. You nodded off there." "In your arms. Not sure if I ever want to wake up." Marshall drew his hand to the back of Spencer's neck. "Maybe I can persuade you?" Before Spencer realised what was happening, Marshall had leaned in further. With a soft gasp at what was about to happen, Spencer closed his eyes and waited as their lips touched gently together, a light pressure from Marshall's wonderfully soft lips. During those first few tentative moments, Spencer wasn't sure whether to respond, whether to sit still and allow Marshall to control the kiss. But then something inside him kicked in, molten lava rising from the depths, taking over his body's responses and silencing all thought. He pushed into the kiss, deepening the embrace, tilting his head to one side to get a better taste and connection. Marshall's body responded in kind, and he pushed back, his hands cradling Spencer's face. Their kissing became more frantic, more erratic and heated, hands travelling over bodies until Spencer switched positions and straddled Marshall's lap. Only then did Spencer's irritating common sense kick in and he pulled them apart. "No, Marshall. This is not fair on you." "You don't want to—?" came Marshall's breathless response. "Of course I want to," said Spencer, pushing his hardened groin into Marshall's. "I just don't think, giving everything that's happened to you recently, that this is a good idea right now. I'm just being honest with you." Marshall dark gaze became unfocused as he stared past Spencer's shoulder. After a few moments, he let out a deep, defeated sigh and nodded. "Yes, you're right. Of course you are. However much I want this." Spencer climbed out of his lap, adjusting himself and sitting back down next to him. "Me, too," said Spencer. "And if you feel the same way when everything's blown over, I'm still here." Marshall chuckled fondly and nudged Spencer's shoulder. "I will. I just hope you will, too." Spencer had no doubt in his mind and smiled happily. As he watched the television, he noticed Marshall turn and observe him for a few moments, before speaking up. "You remember I told you I'd been in Afghanistan to interview the cricket team?" "A human interest story? Yes, of course I remember." "Well, that wasn't the whole story. The reason we flew there rather than arrange a telephone interview was because—and I can't give you specific details here—one of the officials who had been opposed to any peace deal, had requested an interview to announce a change of heart. But in order to do so, this official insisted that the interview be in person, at a secret location in the Helmand Province, and that they would only speak to me. In order for our team to go, we needed agreements from our government, the UN and, of course, assurances from the Afghan security services." Spencer shuddered to think of the kind of dangerous situation Marshall had to face in his line of work. "And everything went okay?" "We were in and out in four days. And everything was fine. More than fine." "Apart from almost getting killed in an attack at a checkpoint?" "Well, yes. But we weren't the target." "I'm glad you got what you wanted. And even more happy that you're here and in one piece." Spencer had begun to feel more than a simple friendship with Marshall, but this new piece of information niggled at him and brought home to him the often dangerous nature of Marshall's position. Once again, though, he kept the concern to himself in. At just after six-thirty, there came an urgent buzzing on Spencer's intercom. Both Spencer and Marshall looked quizzically at each other before Spencer jumped up to check the video panel. "Is Darcy usually early?" "Sometimes," said Marshall, going to bedroom to collect his things. "But not often." Meanwhile, Spencer picked up the phone and checked the display. "Oh. My. God!" He didn't mean to sound dramatic, but the sight had him all kinds of excited. On hearing his tone, Marshall hurried in from the bedroom. "Is it the press?" "No, Marshall. It's my colleague Bev. And she's holding a bottle of champagne up to the camera. Not sure what's happened, but this must be worth hearing." "Are you going to let her in?" "She knows I met you, Marshall. But she has no idea that you're here right now. How could she? But she's not going to be a problem, trust me. Shall I let her in?" "Go ahead. You know I trust you, otherwise I wouldn't be here." When Spencer answered the front door, he barely managed to get out a hello, before Beverley pushed past, thumping him with the large bag she clutched under her arm, and headed for the stairs. "You are not going to believe my day," she muttered, as she stomped out each syllable on the stairs. When he looked up, he realised Marshall stood in the upstairs doorway to his flat, holding the door open. Bev must have been looking down at the steps because she suddenly clunked to a stop. "Fudge me. Marshall Highlander. What the heck are you doing…oooh?" "It's not what you're thinking," said Spencer, coming up the stairs behind her. "You don't know what I'm thinking." "Maybe not, but I can hazard a guess." "He's wearing your clothes. What am I supposed to think?" "That he's keeping a low profile in my flat." "With your clothes on." "In comfort." "And he's the reason you pulled a sickie?" "He—he needed somewhere to stay for the night—" "For the night? He slept here? In your bed?" "Yes, but we didn't—it wasn't—" By now, Marshall standing with Tiger between his legs had begun to chuckle at the back-and-forth between them both. "You two are like an old married couple," he said, eventually. "He wished," said Bev, a quip he had heard many times before as she stopped at the entrance and held out her free hand. "Beverley Salvatore. An honour to meet you, Mr Highlander." "Marshall, please. Nice to meet you, too, Beverley. Spencer has told me all about you." "Don't believe a word. He's got a very creative mind. I'm guessing you're not going to say no to a glass of bubbly? Bearing in mind the media shit-storm you've been dodging?" Spencer followed Bev into the flat, and a bemused Marshall shut the door behind them. She had already thrown down her bag and coat onto the table, and went over to Spencer's cupboards, opening one after the other, obviously looking for glasses. He only had tumblers, but she already knew that. "Top shelf, above the sink. So what are we celebrating?" Once she had the glasses lined up on a countertop, she turned her full attention to Spencer. "Hell in a handbag, Spence, everything went the dogs today. No coffee for the Monday morning meeting, and lots of frayed tempers. I wasn't there at the beginning, but apparently Muriel blamed the fact that you didn't have a contingency plan in place for when you might be sick. Apparently she said something like 'we have a plan in place for Covid, why don't we have one for morning coffee?' I didn't get there until almost nine-thirty and by then they'd sent someone out to get drinks. Also, Prince wasn't there at the beginning of the meeting—he said he sent you a text message at eight, but you didn't respond—so they had to figure out the laptop setup themselves. And Muriel announced during the meeting that Evelyn, the events manager, is on longterm sick leave and won't be returning to the office this side of Christmas, so the whole client party is hanging by a thread. She wants me to take over, as if I haven't got enough to do already. Of all people she must realise that getting something decent put on with such a short deadline is virtually impossible—" "Or virtually possible," said Marshall cryptically, which tripped Bev up for a second before ignored him and she carried on. "On the plus side, Killian finally sent through his December article—hot off the press—which is apparently awesome. But he adamantly refuses to let anyone but you touch it, because, according to him and much to Muriel's annoyance, you're the only one who understands the subtleties of his prose and his blend of humour—" "You get to proofread Killian's work?" asked Marshall. "That's pretty impressive." "Do you know him?" asked Spencer. "We've met at a couple of benefits. He's very particular." "Excuse me, I'm holding the talking stick!" said Bev, asserting herself, apparently wholly over the fact that the Marshall Highlander stood next to her. "You two have had all day to talk and I am pretty much bursting at the seams. So, final thing, Spence, just so you know, Clarissa missed three important deadlines today and blamed you. Told Muriel she'd asked you to finish them up on Friday before you left for your parents'—" "That's a barefaced lie!" "Yes, but nobody but Clarissa knows the real deal. I backed you up, told Muriel you wouldn't sit on something that important, but I've no idea if she believed me or not. If only you'd been there to defend yourself." "If I'd been there, none of that would have happened. I'd have ended up doing Clarissa's work over lunch and no deadlines would have been missed. For fuck's sake, I take one day off. One." "Spence, I'm so sorry—" began Marshall, who appeared crestfallen. "No, Marshall. You have nothing to apologise for. This has nothing to do with you. I told you, I'm tired of being treated like the office whipping boy. Its time I took my mother's advice and started looking around for another job. It's well past time." "Which is exactly what I thought you might say, Spence," said Bev. "But I came because I wanted you to be forewarned. Are you coming back tomorrow?" "I am. And I appreciate the head's up. At least I won't be blindsided." "And a glass of bubbly can't do any harm, can it?" Spencer mugged at her and was about to reply when his front door buzzer went off again. "Bloody hell. It's like Paddington Station in here. Did you invite someone else to the party?" asked Bev as Spencer headed for the intercom. When he stared at the video, he only saw a pair of beautifully painted Asian eyes poking out from beneath a fur-lined hood, the rest of the face covered by a black scarf like a Ninja assassin. She peered around herself as though she expected to be attacked at any moment. "Hello?" "Good evening. This is Darcy Fraser-Chong. Not sure if I have the right address, but is Marshall Highlander there, by any chance?" came the clipped, flawless British middle-class voice that oozed expensive elocution lessons. "Marshall," said Spencer, wanting to make sure. "Can you check for me, before I let her in?" Marshall came over, peered at the intercom display, and nodded. "Hang on a moment, Darcy," said Spencer. "I'll need to come down and let you in." "Hurry up, then. I'm freezing my fucking tits off out here. I swear, my nipples have frostbite." "Yes," said Marshall, grinning at Bev's shocked face. "That's definitely Darcy." Standing assessing his flat, Darcy Fraser-Chong looked like one of the fashionable side characters in the movie Crazy Rich Asians. Tall, slim, immaculately turned out, and with her Eurasian features, she could have been mistaken for a seasoned supermodel. Until she opened her mouth. "Well, isn't this cosy? Very cloak and fucking dagger, Marshall darling," said Darcy, starting at the device in her hand. "And why the fuck, may I ask, is my phone not working?" "We're in a big black hole here," said Spencer. "No WiFi, no satellite coverage—" "And no champagne flutes, I see," she asked, staring at the bottle and the waiting tumblers. "This reminds me of my bastard father recalling his life in the eighties. So what's the score? Are there no facilities here by design?" "I'm sorry?" "I mean, is this some kind of halfway house for those who wish to stay off the grid? Criminals, spies, terrorists. Edward fucking Snowden?" "This is Spencer's home, Darcy. He lives here." Eventually, Darcy's full attention came to rest on Spencer. "Ah, yes. And here he is at last, Marshall's illusive protector—" "Darce, be nice," said Marshall. "Spencer's been absolutely incredible." "If you say so, dear," she said, and then brought her attention back to the kitchenette. "Is anyone going to open that Perrier fucking Jouet? And, if so, what are we celebrating?" Bev, who had been staring open-mouthed at Darcy, suddenly sprang to life. She dashed over to the counter and put her considerable skills to use popping open the bottle, pouring glasses of bubbly and handing them to Spencer. "We're celebrating the fact that I'm probably going to get the sack tomorrow—" began Spencer, handing the first tumbler to Darcy. "For having a day off sick?" asked Darcy after taking an appreciative sip. "Spencer," said Marshall, placing a warm hand on Spencer's shoulder. "If you want me to call Muriel and explain to her why you weren't in—" "Don't you dare!" said Spencer, handing the next drink to him. "No fucking way," said Darcy, at the same time. Both of them chuckled at their similar responses, while Marshall rolled his eyes. "I guess that's decided, then," he said. For the next hour, they sat chatting like old friends. When pushed, Darcy spoke sparingly about what developments had happened over the weekend. Spencer felt sure she had heavily edited the truth, but she gave them a pretty harrowing picture of the pandemonium the story had caused in the lives of people who were close to Marshall. Marshall also inspired Bev by explaining his earlier comment—virtually possible—about holding the client event virtually, not with people in a room, but with people dialling in online. At first, he felt sure Bev felt the same way, that online meetings could not generate the same interest of fun. But Marshall explained how he had been impressed by a virtual client event he attended in September which had been arranged by a company catering to virtual parties and had a link to a screen interface made to look like a circus. Each tent in the circus represented different talks or training sessions going on, all events happening simultaneously. Bev listened without speaking or interrupting—which Spencer had rarely seen—and guessed she had been inspired. To help, Marshall sent her the contact details, and Spencer could see by her face that the wheels had already begun turning. Eventually, Darcy checked the time and announced they had to leave. Beverley offered to wash glasses, while Marshall expressed his need to use the bathroom before they departed. Darcy asked Spencer to show him around the rest of the flat, not difficult bearing in mind the single bedroom affair, but once in the bedroom, her reasoning became clear. "Okay, Spencer K Wyrrell," she said, in a lowered voice. "I want the truth. Are you playing him? Do you have an angle here?" "An angle?" "Don't play fucking dumb, dear. Are you playing Marshall? Are you snuggling up because you want an exclusive for one of Moresby's magazines? Because if that's the reason you've taken him in and why you're being so nice, you had better come well armed. Capiche? I play a mean fucking game, and I take no prisoners." "No, I—I just like him. There's no ulterior motive, no angle, I promise. I don't want an interview or a story. I'm just a junior copy editor at the magazine, nobody important." "So what's this he just whispered to me about interviewing Muriel Moresby? At her magazine's client event." Spencer's mouth dropped open. "That was his idea, not mine. Honestly, if you'd rather he didn't, that's fine by me. As long as he's okay." She studied him for a long moment, before visibly relaxing while still scrutinising him. Without taking her eyes from him, she unclasped her bag and put a slender hand inside. "I'm sorry for being a bitch, but he's been let down recently. You're the one on the roof, aren't you?" she said, handing over her business card. "The one who talked sense into him that night?" "I'm not sure you'd call it sense, but I did make him laugh." "Whatever you did, he's a little smitten. Be careful with him. He has a fragile heart." "Something we have in common." Darcy appeared to be warming to him. She didn't apologise again for her harsh words attack, but her tone softened. He didn't blame her. Somebody needs to be firmly in Marshall's corner. "He needs his friends around him right now, Spencer." "I know, and I'm glad he has you. I'm also here, Darcy. Whenever he needs me. No angles, I promise." "Yes, I think I believe you. And, trust me, that does not happen often. There are a lot of ruthless bastards out there. So that's my personal number on the card. If you need to call me, for any reason, do so." "Thank you." "Not from inside this cave, of course." "Of course," said Spencer grinning. When they returned to the main room, Beverley was putting on her coat just as Marshall returned from the bathroom and picked up his rucksack. "Okay, Beverley," said Darcy. "Where do you live?" "Mornington Crescent. But you can drop me at the Tube station. I'll take the train." "Not in this fucking weather, you're not. We'll drop you home. I told my driver to pick me up at seven-thirty from outside here. We'll drop you off first, and then I'm bringing Marshall back to my place. Don't worry, Marshall, we can avoid the bastards by going in through the underground car park." Each of them went down the stairs to the front door, with Spencer bringing up the rear. Since they had arrived, the weather had become noticeably colder, signs of frost already on the pavement, and while Darcy and Beverley waved a quick farewell, before running to get into the waiting car, Marshall held back. "Good luck tomorrow morning, Spence. Don't let Muriel give you any shit. You're worth far more than they're giving you credit for, I can tell that from your portfolio, and the fact that Killian trusts you. And don't forget about my offer to do the client party interview for Muriel. Darcy is completely on board. Use those things as leverage if you have to, and, if push comes to shove, just call me and I will talk to Muriel—" "You don't have to do that, Marshall. I can look after myself." "I'm sure you can, but the offer's still there. And is it okay if I ask you to keep Friday free?" asked Marshall. "I hope things might have improved by then and I would love to see you again, to say thank you. But I'll send you details via a text message, if that's okay?" "I would love that." Spencer felt sure he would turn away then to avoid being seen outside. But instead, he pulled down his mask, leaned forward and kissed Spencer full on the lips, before grinning and turning away, heading towards the waiting Tesla. Spencer remained there in the doorway, grinning despite the freezing air, the kiss fresh on his lips, feeling weatherproofed against any coming storms.
    100 points
  23. 20 November (Friday evening) Bill parted the curtains, watching as Avery trudged up the sidewalk. Fridays typically found Avery rushing from school to Camp Refuge where he'd spend the weekend. But not anymore. Letting the curtain fall back into place, Bill looked over his shoulder. "He's here." Anna smiled nervously. "Oh, I hope he likes this." "Yeah, me too." Avery's key slid into the lock, and he opened the door. He stopped to stare at the assortment of gear, coolers, and fishing poles piled in the living room. "Good, you're home." Bill patted his back. "We've already packed a few changes of clothes for you, but go get anything else you might want out of your room. Oh, make sure to take your raincoat; it's November, and it'll probably rain on us at some point." "What?" Avery closed the door. He took in the mound of supplies and then looked in confusion at Bill. "Where are we going?" "We've rented Mccarthy Point Lookout, in Lassen National Forest. It's a haul to get there, but we've got time." Bill grinned at a secret well kept. "You've got all week off for Thanksgiving, and we both took time off too. We'll be there till next Sunday." "We know it's not the campground," Anna began, "but there's hiking, fishing, and great views. We've seen pictures; it's beautiful." Avery blinked. "But, Thanksgiving … we were going to Carol's?" "Aunt Carol understands, and we'll see her at Christmas." Anna rubbed his back. Bill watched Avery. The young man looked over the room once more, then smiled. "I'll get my coat." He bounded down the hall to rummage in the coat closet. Anna reached for Bill's hand. They shared a smile, then the family packed up the truck and set off. ⟽⟾ 03 December (Thursday morning) A little over two weeks had passed since Lee had returned to the campground. Now, early on a chilly, foggy Thursday, he walked carefully on his healing leg. The disapproval on Greg's face was apparent; Lee snickered as he neared the patio table. "You should still be using crutches, damn it." Greg drummed his fingers on the glass tabletop. "I hate them." Lee slowly sat in a camp chair, making certain his leg didn't brush anything. "Hmm." Greg sipped his coffee. "Well, how's it feel?" "Itchy." Lee flexed his fingers, giving the impression he wanted to scratch the skin off the limb. "I know it means it's healing, but I wake up scratching it." “That’s what the cotton sock is for.” Greg narrowed his eyes. “You’re wearing it to bed, right?” “Yes.” Lee poured coffee from a thermos. He took a drink and sighed. “Good.” Lee leaned back and looked up the trunks of the great redwoods. Their tops disappeared in the mist flowing through the campground. There was almost no wind, but what little blew in from the West pushed gently on the giant trees, causing them to sway to and fro. "It's so peaceful here." He watched the slow dance of the trees. "So calm." Greg sighed contentedly. "Yes." He too looked up. "I love this place." Lee nodded in understanding. A few silent minutes passed, then a cabin door opened. Joseph said something indiscernible to Orson. Lee smiled. He sat up, then pushed to his feet. Turning toward the kitchen, he began the slow walk there. Once behind the counter, he put on his apron. Tying it in place, he considered his options. He knew his stock without having to look and settled on lemon blueberry pancakes with sausage and eggs. Lee pulled out his big mixing bowl and got to work. ⟽⟾ 24 December (Thursday, Christmas Eve Morning) Something needled at the back of Lee's mind, and it had while he had healed over the last three weeks. Lifting the apron from its spot, he looked at the embroidered letters, lost for a moment in thought. "How's it goin'?" Lee started as Harlan swung a leg over the stool at the kitchen counter. He laughed at his own reaction and tied on his apron. "It's okay." Lee frowned. "I won't be starting breakfast for a while; it's really early. I just came out here to clean and think." "That's fine," Harlan said. Lee idly wiped the counter. He didn't know much about Harlan, but there were moments when the fellow reminded Lee of a cat—quiet, careful, and precise. "Well, why are you up so early?" "To think." The green in Harlan's eyes caught the light from the kitchen. He smiled, then looked at the campground exit near the Airstream. Lee followed his gaze. That needling intensified, and he wet his lips. "Do you ever wonder what's out there?" Considering a moment, Harlan nodded. "Yes. There's always more to see and do." He shrugged. "I've been many places, seen and done a lot of things. I've met so many people." He turned back to Lee. "But my telling you about them, anybody telling you isn't the same as being there." Harlan leaned back. "Hrmph. Actually, I was about your age when I left home." Swallowing the lump in his throat, Lee tore his eyes from the exit and continued wiping the counter. "I have a good life here. People are nice, and it's safe." "You do. They are. And it is." Harlan's fingers drummed lightly on the counter. But. Lee shook his head at the thought. He glanced at Harlan who stared at him. "What?" "Nothing." Harlan smiled. "As long as you're content, then this place will always be enough. And that is something of a gift—finding contentment." He shrugged. "It took a long time and a lot of wandering for me to figure out what I needed out of life. That's all." Looking down at the rag, Lee sighed. "I'd be afraid. To leave." "Why would you want to? Leave, that is." "I … I don't." "Oh. Good." Lee clutched the rag. "I'd be crazy to want to." "Yep," Harlan agreed easily. "Crazy." Putting the rag on the counter, Lee rubbed his right hand with his left. He glanced at Harlan, then looked again at the exit. "I just wonder if … if I could do it on my own." For the first time, Harlan's eyes softened. "Well, that doesn't sound crazy to me." "Greg wouldn't like it." Lee inhaled suddenly, terrified of what he was thinking. "I can't. I can't." Harlan laughed, though there was no malice in the sound. "You could." He leaned forward, conspiratorial and serious. "In fact, I happen to know there's a Christmas Eve bus running in Crescent City, late tonight." "Tonight?" Lee ran his hands over his apron, feeling the raised letters under his fingers. "Where … where's it going?" Harlan grinned. "Does it matter?" ⟽⟾ 25 December (Friday, Christmas Morning) Greg opened his front door, then looked down, confused. "Oh." He bent and picked up a badly wrapped box he'd knocked with the door. The rectangular gift had a bow taped on and a little paper tag. Greg read it. To Greg from Lee Greg smiled. "Why'd he leave it …" His smile slipped. Greg re-entered the house, the present in hand. He sat next to their twinkling tree and slowly tore away the paper to reveal a plain cardboard box. He slid the lid off the box. The apron lay folded inside. Greg reached, drawing it out with shaking hands. He'd known that something had been going on with Lee, but he'd not expected this. A slip of paper fell from the apron, and Greg bent to retrieve it. Lee's scrawl covered most of the page, and Greg began to read. I hope you're not mad. I don't want that. You and the others have all been so good to me and I don't want you to be mad. I have to see if I can live on my own. I need to try. I've always had someone taking care of me and now I have to try. I have your phone number and I'll get myself a phone. If I need to call I will. I promise. And I'll be back. Once I prove I can do this I'll be back. So keep my apron safe till I come home. Merry Christmas. Love, Lee Greg read the note again, then he lay back on the couch. Fear, loss, pride, and hope all twisted in him. Hugging the apron against his chest, he laughed and shed tears at the same time, unable to separate the emotions. "Merry Christmas, Lee." Greg squeezed his eyes tight. “Love you too.” ⟽⟾ 26 December (Saturday Afternoon) Straining to clear eyes that felt like sandpaper, Lee shook his head. After a day and a half of busses, with only a few hours of sleep, he struggled to think clearly, but he couldn't rest yet. After dropping his things in the motel room, he walked outside and checked the address again on his prepaid phone. "Okay. It's a few blocks." Colorado Springs was not warm, but luckily it was sunny. Lee bundled up as best as he could in clothes not quite suited to the colder environment and set off, careful to avoid slipping on the ice. ⟽⟾ "Stump! What'd I tell you about smoking that shit?" "It's legal now, Mamma!" Stump whined, his bloodshot eyes telling the story behind his giggles earlier. With his good arm, he carried a bin intended for dirty glasses and dishes on his way out of the kitchen. He entered the dining room, the door swinging back and forth behind him. "I don't care. Don't smoke weed while you're workin'!" Greta called after him and shook her head. "Duller'n a baseball bat." "I heard that!" "Good!" Grumbling, she pushed through the door. "Mamma G, don't let 'im get you riled." At the main bar in the restaurant, Tiny cleaned glasses as he removed them from the dishwasher racks. Tiny was particular, and anything left on the glasses by the machine was soon removed by his attention. "I got your special here when you're ready." Greta smiled. "Oh, if you're trying to get in my good graces, bribery may help." She swung by, snagging her gin and tonic with muddled blueberries and mint. "I know what you like." "You'd better!" Greta moved through her place, sipping her drink, checking in with patrons. People came to Mamma's House for good food and strong drinks, but lately only one of those had been consistent. Their cook tonight was a friend of hers who, frankly, stretched the definition of the word "cook". Ralph was working as a favor, and he tried, but he was not cut out for the quality her patrons had come to expect. Business had begun to suffer, and Greta wondered if she would ever find a replacement for her main chef. Greta, or Mamma G, as most knew her, caught sight of Sweetie. The petite blonde nodded her way from her place by the door. A thin, young guy stood next to her, his eyes shifting around as if he were a mouse in a room full of cats. "Mamma G," Sweetie motioned at the kid, "this is Lee." Sweetie cocked her head. "Says Harlan sent 'im." "Oh, did he?" Greta felt warm, and it wasn't from the gin. "Well, why don't you just come with me, then?" "Oh, uh, okay." Lee trailed along behind the stout woman. "Stump! Come'ere." The one-handed man put down his half-filled bin and followed. Once in the back, Greta turned to Lee. "What does Harlan want, then?" Stump whitened. "H—Harlan?" Greta nodded at Lee. "This one says he sent 'im." Even with the noise of the fryer and grill in the kitchen, Stump's fearful groan was audible. Lee frowned. "I … he told me to come and ask for a job?" "Did he?" Greta took a long drink from her glass. She made a face as she lowered it. "Mmm. Okay. A job." She shrugged. "I'm not sure about that. This one, he's scared shitless of that green-eyed bastard." "I—I'm not afraid of him." Stump frowned. "I can feel all the courage from here." She took another drink, put down the glass, then focused on Lee. "So, Lee, friend of Harlan, and searcher of a job." She crossed her arms. "What can you do?" Lee looked into the kitchen at the griddle top and stove. He drew himself up straight. "That. I'm a cook." "Mamma, we have to." Stump pleaded. "No, we don't." Greta grimaced. "I don't know why everybody bends over a barrel for that man," she stabbed her chest with her thumb, "but not me." Greta pointed at Lee. "You want a job?" Lee frowned and nodded. "All right. You gotta prove you can do the work." She motioned at the griddle. "Go ahead! Wow me." Lee blinked, then looked at the cooktop. He smiled slightly. "What kind of omelet do you want?" Six minutes later, Lee slid a cheddar, mushroom, scallion omelet in front of Greta. Her glass had been refilled by an attentive Tiny, and Stump kept making excuses to hover near the bar where she had her plate. Lee nodded at the plate. "Go ahead." Greta cut and speared the bite on her fork, then popped it into her mouth. She chewed, expressionless as she stared at the young man. Swallowing, she daintily wiped at her mouth. She stood. "Stump, show this one where the lockers are. Then have Sweetie get him set up with a nametag." She made a chopping motion with her hand. "You start tonight. You get paid every two weeks and have a share of the tips." "Y—yes, okay." Lee tried to catch up. "'Lee' isn't going to do. You need a nickname." Greta pondered as she looked at him. She cocked her head. "You're gay." Lee opened his mouth, shut it, then nodded. "Yes, ma'am." "None of that 'ma'am' crap." She put a hand on her ample bosom. "I am Mamma G." She pointed. "And you … you are …" "Truckerbait." Stump snickered. "Oh, that's awful!" Mamma G smacked Stump. “Ow!” Mamma G ignored Stump’s pained cry. "I love it. Truckerbait it is!" Tiny shook his head, chuckling to himself. "Welcome aboard the crazy train, kid." "What's crazy is my drink is empty again." Mamma G sighed ruefully. "I don't know how that keeps happening." "I have an idea," Tiny offered helpfully. "Shut up." "Yes, Mamma." "All right!" She rubbed her hands together. "Get my new cook set up." She turned to Lee. "Truckerbait, after Stump and Sweetie finish with you, get Ralph to show you the basics in the kitchen, and how the tickets from the tables work. You watch and help him for a bit, then see what you can do on your own." She smirked. "If you've not run off after tonight, then I'll bother putting you into our computer system." "Okay." Greta watched Stump lead Lee into the back where the lockers were. She nodded to herself. "All right. Let's see how long you last." ⟽⟾ 26 December (Saturday Evening) Hours later and miles away, Harlan smiled at the number on the phone. "There she is." Steeling himself, he picked up. She started immediately. "You think just because you're some mobster bigshot, you can dictate who works in my place? My place?!" Harlan began to reply, but Greta wasn't done. "That kid just sayin' your name about caused Stump to pass out!" Apparently she was just getting warmed up. "We have an arrangement, you and me; I keep Stump outta trouble, an' he gets to keep on breathing." "Ms. Oldfather, always a pleasure." Harlan lay on his bed. "Though I'm not sure what you're talking about. 'Stump?' 'Mob?' Hmm. Have you been drinking?" "We both know the answer to that! And don't play coy with me. He's one of mine, Harlan. I don't care who or what you are—I will see you put in the ground if anything happens to that one-handed idiot." Harlan grinned. "You've no reason to worry. Nobody in Jacob's … ah, Stump's old life knows he's still upright." He frowned. "And I think you misunderstand. If Lee doesn't deserve work, then you're not obligated to give it to him. He wanted to see if he could make it on his own, and that's all I want—for him to get a chance." He shook his head. "I won't hold Stump's safety as a bargaining chip to force you to hire Lee." "Oh, I already hired him." She sounded annoyed. "Kid makes a mean omelet. Right now he's slinging steak and fries and loving every second of it." Harlan smiled. "You got a good one, Mamma G." "Only my friends call me that. I'm Greta to you, you bastard." Chuckling, Harlan nodded. "All right then, Greta. I'll be around." "I'm sure you will. Call next time or I might shoot you." Without further conversation, she hung up. Harlan laughed, then shook his head. "Oh, you missed your calling." Sitting up, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. "You'd have made a hell of a Don." ⟽⟾ 14 May (Friday Afternoon) Spring had come to Camp Refuge. With it, the rainy weather had let up some, and that Friday promised to be bright with sun. It was a good day for a wedding. The nervous anticipation on Orson's face and the way Joseph shifted on his feet made Greg smile. He watched from beside Jeremy and Mason where they sat in the small group gathered on the fragrant grass. Both men had dressed in suits, both dapper and sophisticated, each with a silver vest over a white shirt with a light suit jacket over that. Black slacks and sky blue ties set off their look and worked perfectly in tandem with the rest of their outfits. "What an honor." Clay grinned from his place before the grooms to be. "I am so honored to get to do this for you both." Officer Anderson stood at Joseph's elbow, a smile on his face as he enjoyed the position of his partner's best man. Most of the rest of the small police department was there too, in the group behind Greg. Some were in uniform, as they were officially on duty, and their patrols today took them conveniently out of the way to the campground. As Clay began, an old car pulled in. Greg glanced with some annoyance at it, as no one manned the front at the moment. They'll just have to wait. He refocused on the couple. The sound of the car door made Greg look again. Lee. Leaning against the vehicle, Lee crossed his arms. Greg stared. "... take Joseph to be your husband?" Greg blinked. He tried to concentrate on the couple. Orson grinned, tears of happiness on his face. "I do." Unable to help himself, Greg looked back at Lee. The young man smiled, waiting patiently, giving the men their time. "I now pronounce you married." Clay laughed. "Kiss him like you mean it!" The crowd cheered when Joseph grabbed Orson and dipped him in a classic movie-star kiss. Greg clapped along with them and congratulated the new husbands. Then, as soon as he could, he hurried across the campground to a man he could never have imagined that he could love. ⟽⟾ "Lee." Greg crushed him in a massive hug. Lee squeezed back, just as hard. "Hi." The men held on, and Lee felt wetness on Greg's face. He pushed back and smiled. "You miss me?" Greg laughed. "Yeah. A little." He wet his lips. "We, ah, we rented your cabin." Lee nodded. "Good." "If … if you wanted, I could reserve one for you." "Just for the weekend." Lee smiled. "I, ah. I have to get back. Poor Ralph is covering for me, and I don't wanna be away too long." Emotion made Greg frown, and more tears came. He nodded silently. Lee hugged him again. "It's okay. I'm okay, thanks to you." Greg buried his face against Lee's neck. Lee held him. "I hope you have my apron because I'm taking it with me." Greg nodded. "Yeah. I've got it." "Okay." Lee pushed back a bit to look at him. "Well, let's go get it." He turned to the kitchen where most of the wedding party milled about. "Maybe I'll take omelet orders while I'm here." Greg laughed deeply. "It's about time you paid your way." Lee only smiled. Everything he wanted to say was in the way his eyes locked with Greg's. "Lee!" Clay approached, a huge grin on his face. "Holy crap, you look good!" Lee turned to meet Clay, and that moment with Greg was over. Though, as he endured an embrace from the massive man, Lee knew there would be more. ⟽⟾ 28 September (Wednesday Morning) Time marched on. At and around the campground, connections grew, strengthened and bloomed into true gems, cherished by those nurturing them. But further afield, for one young man a full year and some months later, he pulled up in front of a well-known diner in the city of Colorado Springs. The young trucker stopped in the parking lot of Mamma's House. He'd heard a lot of good things about the place, and one particular recommendation stuck out in his mind. He'd been on a long haul, his third such trip from San Francisco to Denver. It'd turned out to be a profitable run, and he was happy with the work. He'd tried to make himself come to the restaurant the two times before, but he'd been unable to take the leap. He'd used the short distance he'd have to go out of his way as a deterrent, but he knew that was simple cowardice. Finally, he took I-25 on a quick trip south from Denver. His GPS directed him straight to the restaurant where he sat in his truck, staring at the door. Never know unless I try. He forced himself to open the vehicle and jumped out, his sturdy boots grinding on the asphalt in the parking lot. He checked his parking job. Fresh out of his training program, he'd only been driving rigs for a couple of months, so he still had a lot to learn. Though Mamma G catered to truckers and others passing through town, so spots for big rigs had been set aside. Pulling down his cap, he walked to the door and entered. "Hello, welcome to Mamma's House." A short man waved from the bar on the other side of the room. "Have a seat, Sweetie will be by to take your order." The trucker nodded and walked to the bar. "It okay if I sit here?" "Sure." The little man eyed him and slipped a menu across the counter. "You look a bit young to be drinking." "I just want coffee." "That works." Voices from the back drifted out, and a laugh made the trucker smile. Coffee appeared, steaming and inviting in a heavy ceramic mug. "Thanks." "Yep." The bartender shrugged. "I don't know where that damn girl is. You know what you want?" "Yeah. Cheddar cheese omelet with sundried tomato, sausage, pancakes on the side." "Comin' up." He scribbled on a pad, then pushed through the swinging door leading to the kitchen. He returned in short order. "It'll just be a bit." "I'm not in a hurry. Thanks." Nursing his coffee, he looked at the walls. 'Best Breakfast in Colorado Springs' hung in a gaudy, gold-colored frame. It had been placed right beside the kitchen entrance—not designed for the eyes of patrons, but rather for the staff. He smiled. "Oh, Truckerbait is movin' quick today." The bartender put the plate in front of him, and the trucker laughed. "Truckerbait?" "Haha. Yes. Our cook." A subtle smile played on the trucker's lips, but he resisted further comments. Instead, he cut into his breakfast. Ten minutes later, he pushed back from his empty plate. "How was it?" Tiny picked up his dirty dishes. "Great." The man in the cap wiped his mouth. "Say, can I meet the cook? I'd like to tell him what a great job he did." "Yeah, he'll love that. Hang on." Tiny took his dishes into the back. He wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead, then pulled the cap back down again. Lee walked out, wiping his hands on a rag. He sported a tan apron, and though it had been well over a year since he’d seen it, the trucker recognized it. Lee smiled at the man. "Hey, good morning." The trucker nodded, "Howdy." He looked up, letting Lee see his face. "You still make a great omelet, Lee." Lee froze. "A—Avery?" Avery grinned. "Hi." "What—" Lee gaped. "What are you doing here?" "Eating." He leaned forward, elbows on the bar. "But really, I'm wondering if you'd like to see a movie later." Lee laughed in delighted disbelief. "I … it depends. Is it going to be scary?" "Absolutely. Terrifying." Grinning, Lee came around and Avery stood to meet him. The two hugged. "Only if you hold my hand," Lee whispered. "Deal." ⟽ The End ⟾
    98 points
  24. Darcy's driver pulled the Mercedes up outside a stylish Victorian terraced block of flats down a road between Kensington Park and South Kensington Underground Station. Spencer yanked the black hoodie over his head and climbed out into the freezing night. As he made his way up the three stone stairs to the double doors of brass and glass, his overnight carryall and suit holder over his shoulder, his anxiousness grew. But before he had a chance to key in the door code, the door buzzed loudly. When he looked around, a grinning Darcy waved at him from the back seat of the car, her phone clamped to her ear, before turning and giving the driver instructions to drive on. Spencer pushed the heavy door and entered the overly bright foyer. Ornate antique sofas upholstered in gold and brown stripes sat stiffly opposite a mirrored wall, while all around white pedestals housed slender black onyx vases filled with arrangements of white lilies. The concierge met Spencer along the hallway and led him over to the waist-high reception desk. "Sir, I'll need to check your bag before activating the lift. Would you mind?" Although a little puzzled, Spencer did as asked and allowed the older man to rummage through his clothes. He wondered absently if the concierge had acted as a buffer between what must have been the recent spate of press members trying to gain access, or whether other residents insisted on this kind of security. In less than a minute, the man had finished. "Fifth floor, sir," he said, activating a button from his seat hidden behind the reception desk. "Lift's at the end on your left. When you come out on the fifth, turn right and go to the end." "Does he know I'm here?" "Not unless someone called him," said the man with a knowing grin. "I had my instructions from her ladyship not to breathe a word." Spencer grinned at the 'ladyship' reference, of Darcy being somebody who needed to be obeyed. That much he was beginning to understand. But she was also somebody good to have on your side. Stepping out into the corridor on the fifth floor—the top floor—the opulent theme continued. At the end of the hall stood only one door. Spencer dropped his bag, taking a deep breath before ringing the doorbell. While he waited for an answer, he bent down to unzip his bag's side pocket and pull out the brown paper bag. Just as he was zipping the gear back up, a voice came from behind the door. "Who is it?" Marshall's voice sounded strained and guarded. Of course, he might still be cautious about opening the door to uninvited guests, especially if he thought the paparazzi might confront him. "Hi Marshall. Sorry, I should have called ahead. It's me, Spence—" The door flew open, and Spencer, still kneeling, was confronted with a pair of black trousers and beautiful bare feet. As he straightened, Marshall's eyes opened wide, and his mouth fell open. He looked as though he had not long arrived home, still in a crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and collar undone, black trousers and a black belt. Spencer had never seen him lost for words but enjoyed the moment. "Delivery for Mr Highlander," said Spencer, grinning broadly and holding out a brown paper bag. "Chocolate croissants. Apparently his new favourite. Consider these a peace—" Before Spencer had a chance to finish, Marshall had scooped him up into his arms and pulled him close, his arms tightening around him, his head thrust against Spencer's neck. "Spencer," he murmured in his ear. "I thought I'd blown it, thought I'd lost you." Spencer put his arms around Marshall and tightened the embrace, inhaling the man. Both hung on like that for a long moment, Spencer's feet almost off the ground. After a second, Spencer felt one of Marshall's hands caress down his back and land on his backside, squeezing gently. Combined with Marshall's now-familiar scent and body crushed against his own, Spencer's heart rate began to speed up, blood flowing to his cock. "Marshall," whispered Spencer, barely able to breathe. "Hate to spoil the moment, but you're crushing my croissants." Marshall began to chuckle and loosened his grip, allowing Spencer to regain his feet. "What's with the holdall? Are you moving in?" "That's my work suit and clothes," said Spencer, peering hopefully at Marshall. "Is that going to be okay?" "As if you need to ask," said Marshall, reaching down and taking the bag. "Follow me." Along a short, Oriental blue carpeted corridor, Marshall's apartment opened into a spacious lounge. Three matching sofas in soft shades of light and dark blue surrounded a predominantly white marble fireplace with gold flecks. Above, and currently showing a news channel, a large flatscreen television was fixed to the wall. All the walls, curtains, cushions and vases followed a blue and white theme. Everything sat perfectly in place. Even the large paintings of ships and seascapes complemented the colour scheme, and Spencer felt as though he had just walked into an interior design photo shoot. "Do you rent this place?" "I do," said Marshall, reaching for the remote on the gold-topped coffee table and silencing the programme. Only the pink mug on the table and the various newspapers strewn across one settee announced someone in residence. "Furnished?" asked Spencer. "Yes," said Marshall, with a chuckle, dropping Spencer's holdall and suit holder onto one sofa. "Why do you ask?" "Because, if you don't mind me saying—and even though the place is classy and toasty warm—the decor is a little cold. Doesn't match what I know about you. I would have expected at the very least antique wooden bookcases filled with all manner of books. And maybe photos and souvenirs scattered around from your travels. Although, in all honesty, I don't really know you that well—" "You do, actually," said Marshall, laughing, sitting down and patting the seat next to him. "You've just described the living room in my house outside Cheltenham, which is crammed with books and mementos. But I usually spend evenings in this apartment after work, and, as you say, the place is rented, so I don't really bother to personalise the space. And, yes, you're right. It is a little cold. But now you're here maybe you could help warm the place up for me." Spencer didn't hesitate. After dropping the brown bag onto the coffee table, he unzipped and removed his hoodie before hurrying across the room to stand over a seated Marshall. Lowering himself down so that his knees went either side of Marshall's waist, Spencer squeezed his arms along the back of the sofa behind Marshall's neck and brought their foreheads together. Warm hands clamped and caressed Spencer's backside. "I've missed you," said Spencer, staring into fathomless brown eyes. "I'm so sorry, Spencer, I—" "No," said Spencer, placing a forefinger over Marshall's lips. "No apologies. Not in words, anyway. If you've missed me, too, you can show me how much." They had only kissed once before, tentatively, but the memory had been scorched into Spencer's memory. This time neither of them held back. Hunger met hunger, lips pressing together, mouths opening and tongues dancing to an urgent rhythm. Deep inside Marshall, a groan erupted, and his arms tightened around Spencer's waist, pulling him closer. Their bodies crushed together, Spencer's knees hitting the back of the couch, not that he noticed because his solid hard-on collided with Marshall's equally stiff and substantial cock. Spencer removed one of his hands from around Marshall's neck and reached between them, rubbing his palm the length of Marshall's erection and receiving a deep growl in reply. "Spencer, I need you," Marshall whispered hoarsely. "That's kind of why I'm here." "Tell me what you want." "I want you inside me." Marshall breathed out a hot, relieved sigh into Spencer's neckline. "Thank God. Hang onto my neck." Spencer did as asked and Marshall rose from the sofa carrying him. Spencer couldn't help letting out a small yelp of delight as they crossed the room and entered through a doorway. Just inside, Marshall leaned forward and lowered Spencer gently onto a huge mattress. When Spencer turned his head, he saw a mound of plush pillows and throw cushions aligned perfectly at the headboard. But his attention came straight back when hands began expertly pulling down his sweatpants and underwear. Cool air invaded his midsection—but not for long. Marshall had lowered himself down between Spencer's legs and now eyed his erection with feral hunger. "God, Spencer. Every single thing about you is beautiful." Spencer pulled his top off completely, before dragging a pillow over and placing the soft fabric under his head, so he could watch Marshall take him apart. Every action, every moment of concentration—when Marshall maintained eye contact while caressing him—had Spencer's heart racing with desire and other parts of his body catching up to respond. Hot kisses and breath on Spencer's genitals had his cock straining with anticipation, gooseflesh springing up on his arms and legs, but the subsequent tongue smoothing wetly up the underside of his shaft brought him very close to orgasm. "No," he heard himself say. Marshall stopped and appeared adorably startled. "I'm stark naked," said Spencer, stating the obvious. "And you're dressed like you're ready for a game of poker. Can you lose some of the clothes, maybe?" With a humoured shake of the head, Marshall rose carefully from the carpet and stood over Spencer. Already the pronounced bulge in his trousers had Spencer's mouth watering. And, just like that, far better than any erotic dream Spencer could ever have imagined, Marshall began to undress. First, he removed his belt, slowly, purposefully, dropping the item onto the floor, the celebrated news correspondent far sexier than a professional stripper. Then began the unclasping of his shirt, button by delicious button, revealing his well-defined, hairy chest. With the shirttails lifted out, Spencer's eyes were drawn to the treasure trail of hair leading down from Marshall's chest, disappearing beneath the waistline, pointing the way to future promise. Once Marshall had dropped the shirt to the floor, he moved his hands to the trouser button, before unzipping the fly and slowly, very slowly, easing down the clothes. Spencer held his breath watching, as he smoothed the fabric down, inch by inch, revealing the beginnings of a mound of dark pubic hair. Still with his hungry gaze on Spencer, who could have sworn he had stopped breathing, Marshall slid his trousers and underpants down until his thick uncut cock sprang into view, bobbing a couple of times. Even when Marshall had stepped out of the trousers, revealing his thick muscular thighs, and gravity had stopped the bouncing, Marshall's cock repeatedly twitched probably in anticipation of having Spencer laid out before him. Without a word, he dropped back between Spencer's legs, this time eliciting a groan from Spencer when his large hands landed at the top of either thigh, massaging gently, and his warm, moist mouth swallowed Spencer's cock. Spencer squeezed his eyes shut, lost in sensory overload, and his heart almost stopped when he felt the fingers of one of Marshall's hands smooth into his crack. Instantly, the groan became a whimper, when one fingertip probed inside. And then, both mouth and fingers withdrew, leaving Spencer empty, and he was about to open his eyes when he heard a drawer open and shut. After a sharp snapping sound, Marshall's mouth returned to work on his erection with a vengeance, and a lube covered finger returned to loosen him up. A couple of times, he squirmed in spasms on the bed, one hand grabbing a mound of the duvet cover, the other tugging on Marshall's hair as the expert mouth continued dismantling him and the probing finger finally reaching the pot of gold inside causing him to arch his back. Soon after that, his barely held together restraint dissolved, a disembodied groan of ecstasy issuing from him, his body surrendering to the powerful orgasm that ripped through him. Electricity lit up every nerve-ending, his body shuddering at the intensity, as Marshall swallowed everything he had, turning his bones to liquid. As he lay back panting, black spots floating across his eyes, a shadow moved over him, hot mouth clamping hungrily onto his own, as the mattress continued to shake. Until warm liquid landed on his stomach and chest, the kiss becoming a deep guttural moan, sexy as hell. After which, the body landed heavily next to his. Both lay panting for a few moments, Spencer enjoying the way his body gradually came down from a high he had rarely experienced. Once he heard Marshall's breath calm beside him, he turned to speak. "Wow." "Good?" asked an amused Marshall. "Incredible. How about you?" "Better than anything I'd imagined," said Marshall, turning his head in Spencer's direction. "And I have a pretty good imagination when it comes to you." Spencer warmed inside at hearing that Marshall had dreamt about them being together. "But I thought we were going to—" began Spencer. "You're not going anywhere tonight, are you? We've got all evening, Spence. But I thought maybe we could have a breather first of all." "In which case, I might need a multivitamin. If later is going to be anywhere near as good." "Later is going to be much better," said Marshall, grinning and nuzzling Spencer's ear. "Much, much better." "In which case you might need to make that a defibrillator." Marshall laughed aloud before rolling over and kissing Spencer. After that, he leaned over and plucked some conveniently placed tissues from the bedside cabinet and cleaned Spencer up as best he could. When he rolled back, they both just laid there lost in thought, staring up at the ceiling. "Darcy dropped me here tonight," said Spencer eventually. "I'd guessed as much. She's the only one I talked to about the two of us." "She really cares about you." "I know. I put too much on her. But she knows how much I like you." "She played me the message you left on her phone." "Oh no, she didn't. I'm so sorry—" "Don't you dare apologise. It was the kick up the bum I needed to get up the guts to come over here. As soon as I heard what you said, everything suddenly made sense." Marshall turned to him and smiled, pushed his arm beneath Spencer's neck before leaning forward to kiss him. Spencer loved the intimacy, the proximity and warmth of Marshall's body. He noticed Marshall thinking as he rested his head back on the pillow and stared into the air above them. "Joe was playing me at the restaurant. On the way to his parent's place in the Uber, he suddenly announced he felt fine and could we ask the driver to come here instead. I was so furious for wrecking what was otherwise turning out to be a perfect evening. I'm so sorry, Spencer. I feel as though I'm constantly weighing you down with my baggage. And I fell for his bullshit again. But honestly, it wouldn't have been the first time I'd rushed him to emergency or to rehab for an intervention." Spencer had already guessed as much but felt validated to have his suspicions confirmed. Marshall's ex was a piece of work, and Spencer would be more cautious if ever he ran into him again. "So what did you do in the end?" "I made the driver take us to his parents’ place in Chelmsford. He became crazy, of course. He's used to getting his own way. But I was just as furious by then. Fortunately it wasn't late and his parents were up. We had a long chat together, all of us, well into the early hours. I got Joey to admit the lies written in the paper about us both. His parents are decent folk. Oddly enough, it was his father who talked about me taking out a restraining order on Joe, after I'd explained him barging into the restaurant. Joe couldn't believe what he was hearing from his own father's mouth, but he meant every word. I didn't take one out, in case you're asking, and despite Darcy calling me a soft-hearted fool." "Why didn't you call me?" Marshall looked away then, clearly pained. "I should have. But I had a moment of doubt, wondering if I was putting too much on you. Thought I'd give you a few days or a week of calm without all my bullshit. I genuinely was busy, but I still should have called. And then I saw that freebie newspaper with you kissing another man at Blake's party, and I told myself I was being a fool, that you'd moved on. Told myself I should let you live your life." "Well, just so you know. That guy is called Nile. He's the cousin of someone I work with and although he's a friend, there's nothing between us. And the kiss was an experiment he wanted to try out, to see if there could be anything between us. Which there was absolutely not, may I hasten to add. I never told Nile this, but it was getting kissed by my grandmother. Besides, as you could tell from my appearance tonight, I still have unresolved feelings for a sexy news correspondent I met recently." "You do?" "I do. Although that was good start." "Wait here," said Marshall, jumping from the bed, his tight backside heading for the bedroom door. A few moments later, he returned unashamedly naked with a tub of ice-cream and a spoon. When he neared the bed, he turned the label to face Spencer. "Strawberry cheesecake," said Spencer, sitting cross-legged as Marshall joined him and did the same. "So you were expecting me?" "Let's just say, I hoped you might be here one day. And after your enthusiastic recommendation, I thought I'd give the flavour a go. But with you being here now, it seems only proper that I feed you a couple of spoonfuls." "You're really making it up to me, aren't you?" Marshall removed the lid, and then ripped the plastic top from the inside. Whenever Spencer bought the ice cream, the top would be off within minutes of him bringing the carton home, and probably half the tub would have been devoured by now. As promised, Marshall fed him first, a small taste, and Spencer let out a suitably wanton moan of pleasure. Marshall simply stared at him. "Would you have preferred this to a blowjob?" Spencer stared back horrified, ice cream still on his tongue. "Are you serious? No way. Although this makes for a nice carnal dessert course." Marshall poked his tongue at the ice cream still on the spoon but pulled a face. "Mmm. Bit too sweet for me. Honestly, if pushed I'd skip the dessert buffet and go straight to the savoury stuff, like the cold cuts and selection of cheeses." Spence remembered Marshall had said the same thing before but wasn't about to let him off the hook. "Sacrilege!" Marshall laughed aloud and handed the spoon and tub to Spencer, leaning in to kiss him and dip his tongue in Spencer's mouth. When he pulled his head away, he was still grinning as he nodded, and reached across to wipe something from the side of Spencer's mouth with his thumb. "Although, I must say, the ice cream tastes much better from inside your mouth. Maybe it's a taste that takes time to acquire." The kiss fuelled something inside Spencer, and, placing the carton down onto the bedside cabinet, he leant forward and brought their mouths together again. Instead of pulling back, he deepened the kiss, allowing their tongues to dance and warm each other, while his icy hands cradled Marshall's face. Moments later, Marshall's fingers traced the bare contours of Spencer's chest, making him shiver, especially when the thumbs brushed over his collar bone and down across his nipples. On feeling the tremor, Marshall pulled his hot mouth away. "Sorry, my hands are cold—" Spencer put the cool forefinger and middle finger of Marshall's right hand into his mouth, letting his tongue snake around them, warming them. Marshall's eyes opened wide, before dropping to Spencer's lips. Spencer noticed Marshall's breath deepening and his generous cock taking notice, already beginning to rise from its slumber. After letting Spencer have his way for a few moments, he withdrew his fingers and pushed Spencer down onto the bedclothes. Once again their mouths crushed together, Marshall instigating a hungry embrace, his hand taking time to smooth into the creases of Spencer's body. This time around, Spencer had been so immersed in the sensation, in the writhe of bodies, the back of his hand grazing Marshall's hot shaft, that he gasped aloud when a new coat of cooling lube pressed into his entrance. Marshall's intention became clear, switching to a couple of fingers to loosen him up, gently but firmly twisting and probing, before adding another, all the while maintaining the eager kissing until Spencer felt ready to come unglued. "Now, Marshall," he said, pulling his mouth away. "Please." Marshall needed no more encouragement. Kneeling over Spencer, his eyes dark with lust, his cock straining erect, he slicked some lube onto his shaft before rolling on a condom and adding more. Without losing eye contact, he grabbed a pillow, lifted Spencer's legs and placed the soft cushion beneath his lower back. With that, he fell forward until his face hovered over Spencer's. Without asking for permission, Marshall crushed their mouths together at the same moment the tip of his cock touched Spencer's hole. Pushing firmly but still in control, Marshall began to enter him, to stretch him, a little painfully at first, but expertly taking his time, listening to Spencer's body. "That's all of me. Now tell me what you want?" Spencer stared quizzically up at Marshall, could feel the sheen of sweat on his brow. "I think you can probably work that one out." "Right now, if you could have anything in the world from me, Spence, tell me what that would—" Spencer's patience gave out. "I want you. I just want you. Please. Now." With a grunt, Marshall began the slow writhing dance of bodies. Spencer found the pain and pressure subsiding, replaced by a slow build of pleasure. Marshall moved purposely slowly, too carefully, until Spencer wrapped his legs around his lower back, and began to push back, encouraging him and wanting more. Inevitably—and far too soon—his body began the delicious but irreversible headlong rush towards orgasm. Marshall drove into him, exactly where he needed him, wanted him, until he grabbed for his own cock and pulled a couple of times, oblivious to the wanton moan leaving his lips as his muscles clenched tightly, his legs wrapping firmly around Marshall as he spurted warm liquid onto his chest and stomach. And as the muscled strength in his legs subsided along with his twice spent body, he felt Marshall ramming erratically and shuddering on top of him, felt sure he sensed the condom inside him filling with warmth. Until they were two consumed bodies lying next to each other, letting the rise and fall of their contrasting chests normalise at different speeds, allowing their bodies to come back to themselves. Spencer felt blissed out and sublime. So much so that he barely noticed Marshall rise from the bed and disappear for a moment, before returning with a warm damp cloth and dry towel. He gently cleaned Spencer and then laid back down again, their heads touching on the bedclothes. Eventually, Spencer felt his power of speech return and reached down to knit his fingers with Marshall's. "Hey, I've got an interview tomorrow with Ed Coleman, Editor-In-Chief of The Daily Tribute. Did you happen to have anything to do with that?" "I'm not going to lie. We met up last week about some other things and I might have mentioned you. But just so you know, someone else already put him onto you. And he likes your work, Spence, and he's been meaning to contact you, but I think I might have given him the nudge he needed." Someone else had recommended him? Spencer wondered who else knew about his work and also knew Ed. "Well, anyway, thank you for that. I'm seeing him at ten tomorrow. What's he like?" Marshall admired Ed, who he described as a no-nonsense, hard-working journalist, someone who had made his way to the top in an undeniably tough and cutthroat industry. Marshall talked about hotspots around the world they had visited together, adding anecdotes of their time in the field. "By the way, I need to leave very early tomorrow morning for a prior commitment. Hope you understand?" "Of course," said Spencer, staring up at the ceiling. He had been hoping they might have breakfast together before he headed for his interview. "That's fine." "Oh, heavens, Spencer," said Marshall, pulling Spencer into his arms. "You think I wouldn't rather be here with you? Of course I would. But I'm helping pack and deliver food parcels and Christmas presents for the homeless, something we do every Christmas. It's a UK based charitable organisation I've supported for many years. But we're having to do it in shifts this year and I happen to have picked the early morning shift. Originally, they said they only needed my face as an ambassador, but I prefer to get stuck in and help with the heavy lifting, so to speak. What they're doing is vital, especially this year with the virus taking away a lot of people's livelihoods. We're not the only country in the world where the number of homeless has risen at a time of year when people should be preparing to celebrate the festive season with their families and loved ones. So I want to help where I can. What I'm doing is a drop in the ocean, but I like to think that every tiny bit helps." "Now I feel dreadful. If I didn't have an interview to stress out over, I'd come and join you." "Tell you what," said Marshall. "Come back here tomorrow night and I'll cook you dinner. I'd like to hear all about your interview. And I want to pamper you for a change. Deal?" "Definitely. I'll head home after the interview, feed her ladyship, and pack a bag. What time shall I come back?" "Six too early?" Spencer leaned in and kissed Marshall. "Six is perfect."
    98 points
  25. Day Two Matt walked into the living room to find Aidan naked from the waist down, something he hadn’t been just five minutes ago. His diaper was on the other side of the room with a giant turd in it. Matt rushed to Aidan, barely slowing down as he hooked the kid under the armpits and whisked him off to the bathroom. The mess wasn’t too bad. It had mostly stayed in the diaper, but he got a bath anyway. This was the third time he’d ripped his diaper off and Matt was already tired of it. Matt: Help. Aidan keeps taking off his diaper! What do I do?????? Seamus: Make sure he’s wearing pants Matt: OMG! Pants! Doh. It’s like a chastity belt for poop Seamus: I do believe that’s Huggies official slogan but I could be wrong **** Day Three Matt: Gah, Aidan screamed the whole way home from daycare. I bet everyone thinks I abuse him Seamus: Or they think he’s going through the terrible twos. Matt: There’s a name for this bullshit? Seamus: lol, yes. Terrible twos, google it Twenty minutes later. Matt: IT CAN LAST FOR YEARS. Did you know this??!! Seamus: It ends and teen years begin Matt: Ay caramba **** Day Four Matt: I miss you : ( Seamus: I miss you too Matt: I love you Seamus: lol I love you too Matt. Tell Aidan to get his act together so you guys can come home Matt: How about I tell him to keep acting out? He does the opposite of what I ask anyway. Seems like our best bet Seamus: He will be an angel in no time Seamus: BTW, I know that usually the annual trip is just us board members, but the guys were wondering if you and Aidan wanted to come. You down? I know it’s last minute but it will be fun. I’d love for you two to come. Let me know. I need to purchase tickets soon... Matt: When is it? Seamus: Spring break Matt: Shit, I made plans with the guys back home. I would cancel but I probably won’t see them this summer Seamus: Ok Matt: I think it’s obvious that I’d rather go with you… Seamus: Mhmm Matt: I’m serious. **** Day Five Matt: Things went smooth this morning. No fighting. Maybe there is a method to your madness Seamus: You doubted me? Matt: Well…. Seamus: Ouch Matt: I love you! Matt: Answer your damn phone Seamus: Sorry, Seamus isn’t home right now. Please try again later Matt: Really? Grrr Seamus: Leave a message after the beep. BEEP. Matt smiled as he pocketed his phone. He knew Seamus would answer if he called again but letting him sweat it out was more fun. **** Matt: JK. He’s still a terror. He won’t eat dinner. Matt: What if he starves? Seamus: What did you make? And don’t worry, he won’t starve Matt: Spaghetti Seamus: What kind? Matt: The Italian kind? Seamus: He only likes it when it’s made with tomato soup and cream of mushroom soup. He doesn’t like regular marinara sauce Matt: How am I supposed to know that? And since when is spaghetti made with cream of mushroom soup? Seamus: Since forever? That’s the only spaghetti we’ve eaten since we’ve been together… Matt: Uh. This is so hard and now I have to make special meals? Matt: I’m out of fucks. He gets a peanut butter sandwich for dinner Matt: Now he doesn’t like peanut butter sandwiches??????? Seamus: I’ve never had that problem… Matt: He threw it on the floor now there’s raspberry jam everywhere Seamus: Oh, he doesn’t like jam. I use honey and a light sprinkle of cinnamon. You can add smashed banana also Matt: *middle finger emoji***laughing emoji* Seamus: *kiss emoji* **** Day Six Matt: No class or work today. I spent the entire day with Aidan. I’m soooooooo tired. It’s hard to get anything done **** Day Seven It had been a decent day. There were definite improvements in Aidan’s behavior. Not perfect, but better. Matt figured a trip to the supermarket was in order. Turns out, Aidan had very particular taste buds. It surprised Matt how little he knew. When they arrived, Matt tried to get Aidan into the cart but Aidan kept kicking his legs and bending his body in weird angles. It took some serious WWF moves before Matt had his brother strapped into the damn cart. Aidan grumbled for a minute, but calmed down. They roamed the aisles as Matt shopped. It was all fine until they got to the cereals. Aidan said something that Matt didn’t understand, Matt tried pointing at boxes but that only frustrated Aidan more. Matt: At the store. What cereal does Aidan want? He’s freaking out and I don’t know what to grab. Seamus: He wants any of the boxes with bright colors but he only gets regular cheerio. Nothing with added sugar or anything he can choke on Matt grabbed the cheerios and set them in the cart. “He who should not be named said you only get cheerios, sorry buddy.” Aidan was fine with that as long as he got to hold the box. They continued on and Matt slowly filled the cart. The cracker aisle was another story. Matt: Has Aidan ever had Chicken in a Biscuit? He’s acting like he has, but I don’t remember ever buying them? Seamus: Yeah, that’s my fault. I bought them once and he’s been obsessed sense. Sorry : ( Aidan threw the Cheerio box on the floor and screamed. Fed up with all the tantrum throwing, Matt grabbed a box from the shelf and threw it on the floor, too. Then he stomped his feet and started crying dramatically, waving his hands in the air and making ugly faces. He’d gotten the idea from his mom. She told him a story once of a time Matt was being crazy so she decided to be crazy back. She said Matt instantly stopped. And it worked. He might’ve looked like a fool to anyone passing by but shocked Aidan into silence. The toddler sat there, a giant tear hanging from his lash as he watched his big brother with wide, confused eyes. “Ohmygod, it worked…” Matt whispered, then tossed the cheerios back in the cart and put the box he’d thrown on the floor back on the shelf. Aidan didn’t act out for the rest of the trip. He sat in the cart and chatted away like things were A-OK between them. Yeah, Matt had done that. He’d put Aidan in his place. And to celebrate, he walked the rest of the aisles with a little pep in his step. Matt 1. Aidan 0. Okay, that wasn’t completely accurate. Aidan held the leaderboard, but Matt had a feeling he’d be catching up in no time. **** Day Eight The shopping trip had given Matt the courage to keep going. He spent the next day making sure Aidan followed the rules, made him share his food, had him help clean, and encouraged his positive behaviors. Matt: Guess what?! Seamus: What? Matt: We had a great day. Aidan’s been so good. Things are starting to feel normal. Do you think we can come back now? Seamus: I think we should wait a few more days and make sure this is the new normal. I don’t want to ruin the progress. Matt: I know you’re right but I’m soooo tired. I just want to come back to the loft and take a long nap. Seamus: I see how it is. You just want me to watch Aidan so you can sleep Matt: I also want to suck your 8======D Matt: You didn’t tell me I’d barely see you for two weeks Seamus: WTF is that? It looks like the excited face we used when text was a new thing back in the early 2000’s Seamus: Is your dad going to watch Aidan when the two weeks is up? Seamus: I thought the distance was kind of implied? Matt: I will force Dad to watch him and that’s code for your dick *eye roll* Matt: I knew there would be some distance but you haven’t even come to work Seamus: I never really go to the office, but I will stop by this week just for you. Matt: Ahh, you’re so sweet **** Day Nine Matt: I can’t understand anything this kid says. He talks so much but it’s all gibberish!! Seamus: You’ll learn Matt: I hate that you know what he says Seamus: It’s mostly educated guesses Matt: Still… Matt: Anyway, when are you coming to work? Seamus: When I decide to come Matt: Bring me coffee? Pleeeeeease? Seamus: Maybe, how are my profits? Matt: Considering no one is skimming anymore, pretty good! Matt: Now will you bring me a coffee? Seamus: Loelife’s drink of the week? Matt: Yaasssssssss **** Day Ten Aidan came running when he saw Matt in the pickup line. It almost felt normal at this point. The affection sent a rush of warmth through his body. This is what he’d been yearning for. He swung his brother up on his hip and then let Aidan gibber all the way to the café. The duo was back baby! **** Kase and Hilary stopped what they were doing when Matt walked through the door. It wasn’t the first time they’d seen him since he stopped working. Matt had stopped by every day they worked and their reaction never failed. Kase grabbed Aidan from Matt and smiled. “Someone looks happy.” Matt beamed proudly that things were going so well. “Not to brag but Aidan ran to me when I picked him up today.” “That’s awesome,” Hilary clapped. “How many days left before the big reunion?” “Four days and counting. Can’t wait. This is seriously hard work.” “Have you been on IG lately?” Kase changed the subject then moved his head left to right, trying to dodge Aidan’s grabby hands. No way was Aidan getting his hands on his favorite hat. Not today. Matt grinned. “I did. When are we getting together and making your peachnadas?” “I think we convinced Bar to start serving the adult versions of Loren’s drinks. Maybe we could swing by here one night to celebrate?” Hilary and Matt were down. “What about next week? I want to spend a few days with Seamus once this whole thing is over and then we can go get drinks. I could use a good night out. I miss you guys.” “We should make it a weekly thing,” Hilary suggested. “We could go to the Bar or we could chill at one of our places? Whatever works.” Matt was glad they were making plans. The hardest part about leaving the café was the fear his relationship with Hilary and Kase would suffer. The friendships he had back home had definitely faltered with separation. They hardly texted anymore and, worse, Matt wasn’t sure he cared. They had plans to meet up over spring break. It was the first time they would be seeing each other since last summer. Matt was anxious to see how it would go. He wasn’t really drinking anymore, and that was all his friends wanted to do. That alone could be a problem. One of the many signs they were drifting. Matt wondered if it might be the last time they got together before officially going their separate ways. What he had with Kase and Hilary was next level friendship. Not to sound cocky, but Matt thought it rivaled what Seamus had with the board members. **** Day Twelve Matt was dying. Literally dying. He missed Seamus so much it hurt. When they decided to do the Potato Detox, he didn’t realize he wouldn’t see Seamus. He absolutely thought Seamus would pop into work every single day to see him. Seamus had always gone out of his way like that. That was not the case. Matt hadn’t seen him, not even once. Matt almost broke his neck every time he worked in the office. Every shadow and every conversation outside had him staring at the door, hoping. When the door actually opened, Matt couldn’t get to his boyfriend fast enough. He cupped Seamus’s face and held it as he peppered his face with kisses until Seamus was laughing. “Hello to you, too.” Seamus wrapped his arms around Matt and pulled him in for a proper kiss. Good thing Rebecca was off. What they were doing was not strictly professional. “I can’t believe you’re here. I’ve missed you so much,” Matt said between kisses. He couldn’t stop touching Seamus. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but Seamus looked better than normal. He was smiling and everything about him glowed. He looked extra hot in jeans and a blazer. Matt could’ve ripped them off him right there. Oh boy did he want to. “I hope Aidan’s ready to come back because I’ve been miserable without you two.” Matt tried to nod but was too busy kissing and nibbling Seamus’s neck. He worked his hands under Seamus’s shirt up and slipped his fingers under until he was touching bare skin. Seamus grabbed his hand. “What are you doing? We’re at the office.” Seamus’s words glowed as much as his face. It was obvious he loved getting attacked by Matt, but Seamus was right, they were at the office. Nope. He couldn’t stop. “I just need a little more. I’m starving for you.” They made out for a while longer. It would’ve passed the point of no return but Seamus had more willpower than Matt. He forced Matt to sit at the desk and then he sat on the other side. “It’s been twelve days and you’re sitting on the other side of the desk?!” Matt couldn’t even play footies with him because the solid oak desk had a full barrier. Again, Seamus laughed. Apparently, he found desperate Matt was amusing. “If I would’ve known some mild separation that you didn’t instigate would make you like this, I would’ve done this a year ago.” “If you didn’t come here to see me, then why’d you come?” he pouted. “Because it’s my place of business?” “Psff.” Seamus smiled so bright at Matt’s antics that Matt couldn’t even pretend to be upset. He had this crazy light about him, this radiating happiness. Matt smiled back. Eventually, they got to work. They really did have stuff to go over. Matt reviewed a few reports and then they talked about the two additional people that would be joining the team. As much as they kind of needed people to start sooner than later, even Rebecca agreed that it would be good if Matt graduated and was working full time first. He would be their boss after all. It might make a smoother transition if Matt wasn’t still in college. They were in the middle of a recap when the door opened. The office was private and didn't deal with the public, so no one ever came in. There was no reason for it. Matt didn’t notice the man at first, but it only took a glance at Seamus for the pieces to fall into place. It was Mike Forte. He was older than Matt expected. Heavier and balder, too. “What the fuck are you doing here?” Seamus asked, his voice dangerously hostile. Mike was as unwelcome as they came. The nerve of him for showing up. Mike’s smile was full of hate and amusement. It was clear to Matt that Mike’s only intention was to piss Seamus off. He just hoped Seamus could see it for what it was and not play into whatever was about to happen. High road, Seamus. Take the high road. But also fucking knock that sonofabitch out! Nervous about what was brewing, Matt carefully lifted the phone and propped it just enough to not look suspicious while allowing him to slowly dial 9-1-1. He knew if he didn’t say anything, they would either call back or dispatch someone to check it out. “I came to see how things were going,” Mike stood with his hands in his pocket and looked around the room. “I’m surprised you haven’t ruined everything Kelly built.” “I’m surprised you didn’t ruin everything Kelly started and I built. You fucking thief.” “I didn’t steal shit. I took what was owed to me. I supported Kelly during his start up, I’m the reason he got off the ground. This should’ve been mine when he died.” “Then why was my name on everything? If you were owed it, if Kelly planned on giving you anything, why didn’t he?” “Because you’d fuck him and I wouldn’t. Don’t convince yourself that you were special, Seamus. You were one in a line of many. You couldn’t even keep him happy. The only thing that set you apart was that you turned a blind eye to what Kelly did. He liked that you let him do whatever he wanted and he was willing to dangle whatever carrot you wanted in order to keep things going. Kelly didn’t marry you because he loved you, he married you because it benefited him. His biggest mistake was lashing out at his parents and not correcting that mistake before he died. You never should’ve been on any of the paperwork.” Seamus remained calm but Matt could see his jaw clenching. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true, Kelly was a real asshole, but the reality is this, I’m the one who was left with everything. Not you. Kelly might’ve fucked around on me, but you were the one who got fucked. Whatever you think you and Kelly agreed on, you got nothing.” “I got plenty. You know why? Because you don’t know shit about what you’re sitting on right now. You’re a fucking dumbass gold digger who was content collecting money while I did all the real work and collected the real money.” Mike looked at Matt and laughed. “That proves my point. You hire your college boytoy and give him a fancy job title? You think he knows shit about this? Are you begging for this place to go under? It’s a fucking shame, but I gotta be honest, I look forward to watching you fail.” “Maybe I fail, maybe I don’t, but at least I won’t end up in jail with felony on my record.” “Keep dreaming. Mom and Dad Jacobson are backing me. They hated your white trash ass from the moment Kelly brought you home and they’re very much looking forward to getting their hands on this place. Don’t underestimate what money can do. You won’t stand a chance.” The police barged in a moment later. It wasn’t like you see on TV. Yes, they had their guns drawn but it wasn’t some grand entrance. Then they had to figure out what was going on. Seamus’s saving grace was that his lawyer had advised him to file a restraining order. Neither Matt or Seamus had thought it would be necessary, but that wasn’t the case. If he hadn't filed one, then Mike technically could’ve walked away. They cuffed him and were about ready to lead him out when he looked back at Matt. “Keep my seat warm for me.” It was the creepiest thing Matt ever experienced. The look in Mike’s eyes set Matt’s skin on edge. It was terrible. He heard something on the phone and quickly held it to his ear. “Hello.” “This is Tab with dispatch, I just want to make sure the police arrived and everything is okay?” “Oh, yeah. They got him. Thank you for sending them.” She had a few more questions and then disconnected the call. Matt watched as Seamus spoke to two police officers. Then it was Matt’s turn. It felt like they were there forever. By the time they left, it was almost time for Matt to pick up Aidan. There could not be worse time to leave Seamus. He was visibly shaken and clearly affected by Mike’s stunt. “I know you said we should wait a few more days, but I can’t leave you after what just happened. Why don’t I pick up Aidan and meet you at the loft? We can use it as a trial run and see how it goes.” Seamus rested his face on Matt’s shoulder. He nodded and mumbled into Matt’s neck. “Yeah, I’d like that. I could use some Aido Potato and Mayto Potato snuggles tonight.” Matt lifted Seamus’s face until they were eye-to-eye. “Don’t listen to anything that asshole said. He’s a liar who came here to break you down.” “I know.” He had a hard time leaving. Seamus didn’t look okay but he couldn’t just abandon Aidan and there was no one else on the emergency pick up list except his dad, and he lived way too far away for a last-minute pick up. Matt reluctantly peeled himself away. **** Matt grabbed a super happy and chatty Aidan up from daycare. He was talking more and more, even if Matt couldn’t figure out what he was saying. It was cute. Now that Aidan wasn’t ripping his face off with jealousy, Matt could claim this as his favorite phase so far. He loved all the chatter. Aidan didn’t know it, but they stopped at Dough Guppies to surprise Seamus with dinner. It was truly his favorite pizza and he rarely indulged. The crew perked up when they arrived. Aidan was kind of famous. He’d gone to work with Seamus almost every day for over a year. Every single employee knew him and loved him. The brunette behind the counter could hardly contain her excitement. “Hey Aidan, long time no see.” “Yeah, he’s been in daycare more.” “Well, he’s been missed.” She reached out and bopped Aidan on the nose. He wiggled and giggled in Matt’s arms at the attention. “What can I get you guys?” “A large Guppy combo to go?” “Of course.” She put the order in the computer then yelled behind the counter to get it started. Matt wasn’t as well-known as Aidan. He was prepared to pay. He definitely didn’t expect special treatment so he was surprised when he wasn’t charged. The woman came back and leaned against the counter. She looked at him with a knowing sympathy. “How are you doing? Seamus told me how you came to have Aidan. Don’t worry, it’s not something he goes around sharing, but I lost my mother when I was young.” “We’re doing good. It’s hard but we’re both adjusting as well as we can.” “I get it. My dad was out of the picture before I was born. When I lost my mom, I went to live with my uncle. He was amazing, a lot like you. He always did a good job at keeping my mom’s memory alive. He talked about her all the time, even when I was as young as Aidan. We went to her memorial spot all the time to celebrate her life and he had pictures hung around the house. Even though I don’t have a single memory of her, I always felt like I knew her.” Matt held Aidan a little tighter. He didn’t know what to say. He was still trying to figure this whole thing out for himself and for Aidan. Going to his mom’s gravesite was the last thing on his mind. But he wasn’t going to tell her that. “Absolutely, it’s important, you know, for the kid.” She continued to share more of her life and what it was like to grow up without her mom. On one hand, it was really informative. On the other, it was overwhelming. Another day, he would’ve participated in the conversation but all he wanted to do was go to Seamus. His boyfriend had been confronted by Mike and Matt needed to be there for him. Matt took his pizza and left with a sincere goodbye. Aidan perked up when they pulled into Seamus’s attached parking garage. He knew exactly where they were and was overly excited about it. When they got to the lobby, Aidan was squirming so much Matt had to set him down or risk dropping him and the pizza. Aidan looked at Matt and grinned brightly. It was of pure and unbridled joy. A thank you for bringing him here. A promise of good behavior. Well, not so much the last one though Matt could wish. With his new freedom, Aidan decided to enable his new warp speed power. Aidan thought he was super fast. The fastest of all twenty-month-olds in the whole world. Contrary to his personal belief, Aidan most definitely had not mastered the art of running. It was only a few yards into the lobby, he tripped. It happened so fast that Matt couldn’t react yet so slow that it would forever be a scar in his memory. Aidan was running, so happy to see his Moose, his toe caught and suddenly he went down like a rock. Matt watched in slow motion as he fell forward. Aidan’s poor face collided with the tile. His head hit so hard it bounced. There was a second of silence before all hell broke loose. The screams that pierced the air were nightmare inducing. Matt threw the pizza to the side and rushed to his brother’s side. He was hesitant. He hit so hard, what if there was damage? Should he pick him up? Then Matt saw the blood and he couldn’t not do anything. He picked his brother up and did a once over as he screamed bloody murder. His forehead had a gash and his nose was bleeding. The doorman was right there, rubbing Aidan’s back and checking him over. “Head wounds bleed,” he said as he tried to calm a panicky Matt. “It will look worse than it is.” Matt wasn’t so sure, it looked pretty terrible. He didn’t know what to do. Was a head gash and a bloody nose worth an ambulance ride? Was it worth an ER visit? What if his nose was broken? Concussion? Self-doubt tried to take purchase but Matt wouldn’t let it. He was taking his brother to the hospital. That was final. With the pizza forgotten, a screaming toddler in his arms, and blood everywhere, Matt left the lobby and headed straight for the local hospital. He could hardly compose himself as he drove. Aidan’s poor screams ripped at the deepest threads of his soul. He fumbled for his phone and called Seamus. “What is going on? What’s wrong?” Seamus hurried as Aidan’s cries filled the phone. “Aidan tripped in your lobby. I think he broke his nose. We’re heading to the hospital now. I’m totally freaking out, Seamus. I don’t know what to do!” “It will be fine. I’m on my way, okay? I’ll meet you there.” “Okay, hurry please,” he pleaded. **** Matt didn’t remember parking, just grabbing Aidan from the car seat and rushing to the ER entrance. A team swooped in, stripped him down, checked him out, and cleaned him up. The whole while Matt was right there by his side. Aidan had stopped crying, however, he was teetering dangerously close to meltdown mode and remained on edge even while the staff did their best to distract him with cheerful smiles and a teddy bear of his very own. The initial findings were good. No broken nose. Concussion unlikely but he would require close observation at home just to be sure. Aidan was on his lap; sniffling and clinging to Matt in his little baby hospital gown. He looked so pitiful. His hair was a mess from the sweat of stress and there was a little smeared blood on his face. They’d tried putting some cotton in his nose but he wanted nothing to do with that. The nurse peaked through the curtain. “There’s a Seamus Ryan in the waiting room? He said he’s with you?” “Yes, of course.” She smiled. “Perfect, I’ll bring him back.” A moment later Seamus peeled back the curtain. “Hey,” he said softly as his eyes went straight to Aidan and his shoulders dropped as relief flooded him. Aidan startled and started crying when he saw Seamus. He scooped up the little man and held him against his chest, gently bouncing him the way he had done when Aidan was little. “I heard you had a fall and I came right over.” Seamus kissed Aidan’s head and looked at Matt. “How are you holding up?” Matt let out a breath. He had all this pent-up emotion and adrenaline that he hadn’t had a chance to deal with. He put his head in his hands. “Not good. I can’t get it out of my head. It was terrible.” “What did the doctor say? Is he okay? I was in the lobby forever trying to get in but they wouldn’t let me since I’m not a parent.” A nurse came in before Matt could respond. She held a little bag and some papers. “Well, everything looks good. He’s going to have a whopper of a headache for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Feel free to rotate through Tylenol and Motrin as needed. He’ll probably be a bit clingy from the trauma. I’d plan on staying home this weekend if you can help it. It’s unlikely he has a concussion but keep an eye out and call us if he seems nauseous, dizzy, or if he throws up. I won’t tell you to wake him up every few hours which is good, he’ll be grumpy enough as it is. If you have any questions, make sure you call his general doctor and schedule a follow up for next week.” She went over a few more things then gave Matt the bag with the instructions and told them they were free to leave. Aidan was passed out on Seamus’s chest so Matt grabbed his clothes and shoved them in the bag then used his jacket as a blanket to keep him warm. Seamus carried the sleeping beauty through the hospital, toward the parking lot. Seamus left his car there and drove Matt and Aidan back to the loft. Aidan’s sleep was restless which was understandable and Seamus had no problem snuggling him. Matt collapsed on the couch. He tried to keep it together but every time he heard his brother fussing, he could feel the emotion rising. Eventually, Seamus got Matt to bed. “I want to sleep with Aidan tonight,” Seamus said as he continued to hold Aidan to his chest. God, the kid was starting to weigh a lot. “I can do it on the couch or the spare room so you can rest.” “If you think I’m leaving Aidan after what happened tonight, you’re crazy. We can all sleep together.” Aidan barely slept. He tossed and turned and woke in a panic, making sure Matt and Seamus were there. Sleep didn’t come much for the older men. Matt must’ve dozed at some point because he woke to Aidan snuggling Seamus. Both of them had their mouths open and Aidan’s leg was draped over Seamus’s stomach. God that was a sight he missed. They had a lazy day. Aidan didn’t seem to want to do much besides watching movies on the sofa. They kept a regular cycle of medication to help with his discomfort. The worst part was his poor face. There was bruising forming under both eyes. It made it hard to pretend like he was fine. Every time they looked at him, even when he was smiling, they were reminded that he’d been beat up by the lobby floor. “What do you want for dinner Aido-Potato?” Aidan brightened up and started chattering away at his brother. Matt cringed; he had no clue what the kid was saying. “Nuggets?” No. “Mac and cheese?’ No. “Cheerios?” Aidan was growing frustrated that Matt was tracking him. The blue-eyed boy started to get snappy and whiny. Matt looked at Seamus for help. “He wants pizza.” “There’s no way that’s what he was saying!” Except Aidan started clapping and dancing, letting Matt know how right Seamus was. Aidan wanted the pizza he never got the night before. Not being able to say no to Rocky ‘Potato’ Balboa, Seamus ordered pizza. “Do you want to pick it up?” Seamus asked. “They don’t do delivery.” “Or you could pick it up.” “I want to stay with Aidan.” Aidan had been pretty clingy to Seamus since the hospital, which was fine. Matt understood that Seamus and Aidan had missed each other. But he didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay and snuggle his brother so he could regain a little of what they’d built over the last two weeks. “I also want to stay with Aidan.” Seamus was annoyed that Matt had no intentions of letting Seamus have this moment with Aidan and conveyed as much with a deadpan stare. Matt stared back. “I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that, you’re the one that suggested the separation.” “I’m not upset about the separation. I’m just confused why you won’t let me have twenty minutes.” “Not only have you had him nonstop since last night but you’ve forgotten what the whole separation thing we just did was for. Aidan and I made so much progress. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to want to be the one who stays with him given what happened last night.” Seamus’s brows shot up and he looked at Matt. “You think I’ve forgotten that he’s your kid?” “No, I didn't say that, but I think you’re used to being top dog in charge when it comes to him and that should be my role.” “Fine.” Seamus stood up and grabbed Matt’s keys. “I’ll get the pizza then.” The door closed a little too hard and Aidan started crying. The kid had been on an emotional teeter since the accident. Matt didn’t know if it was from the door slamming or Seamus leaving. Matt picked Aidan up and sat on the couch. He thought Aidan would push Matt away like he did before but that wasn’t the case. He did look at the door and whined that Seamus was gone, but he stayed in Matt’s arms and laid his head on Matt’s chest as he stared at the door. Seamus came in quietly and went straight to the kitchen. He pulled down plates for everyone, dished himself, and sat in front of the television, leaving Matt to fend for him and Aidan. Matt went to the kitchen to get their food ready. Seamus had gotten Aidan his own little pizza. It was perfectly cooked and cut into little pieces. Perfect for a two-year-old. While he prepared the plates, Aidan crawled into Seamus’s lap and tried to eat his pizza. Matt watched as Seamus smiled and broke a little piece off for the crazy-haired beggar. “Aidan,” Matt held the plate of toddler pizza. “I have your pizza.” His brother watched Matt for a moment then turned back to Seamus, opened his mouth, and waited for Seamus to feed him another piece. Seamus chuckled and fed him one more piece before picking him up and walking him to the table. He started to put him in the highchair but paused, then handed him to Matt. Matt rolled his eyes and fed his brother dinner. It wasn’t long after dinner that Aidan’s eyes got heavy. The last twenty-four hours had been long and it was catching up with him. By eight, he was out cold. “Where should I put him? Do you think he’s good to sleep in his crib or do you think he should sleep with us again?” Seamus shrugged. “Whatever you want to do.” Matt watched Seamus for a minute. This wasn’t how he thought their first weekend together would go and it wasn’t how he wanted it to end. He decided to put Aidan in the crib so he could spend a few hours with Seamus, just the two of them. When he came out from laying his brother down, Seamus got up and handed Matt the remote. “I’m tired. I’ll see you in the morning.” Not ‘I’m tired, come to bed with me?’. Not ‘I miss you, let’s go to bed’. Just a straight good night, see you on the other side. Matt stayed up for a little longer. He let the TV run in the background but his thoughts were on Seamus. He knew his boyfriend was stressed so he wasn’t going to force anything tonight. Tomorrow would be a different story. They were going to talk. **** Matt didn’t mean to but he slept in. When he woke, it was light out and Seamus was gone. He could hear them in the living room so he got up and joined them. Half-eaten breakfast plates were on the counter and Aidan was at Seamus’s feet in the kitchen as he cleaned. Seamus glanced at Matt. “Sorry.” “For what?” “You were sleeping so I made Aidan breakfast. I didn’t mean to step on your toes.” Matt stopped and stared at Seamus. He felt like he’d been doing a lot of that. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you being passive aggressive?” “You made it clear that Aidan is your kid. I know my role. I’m staying in my lane.” Matt frowned, his brain slowly digesting what Seamus was saying. “Aidan is my kid. He’s also my brother and I’m still trying to figure out that fine line between parent and sibling. I wasn’t saying you couldn’t do anything. I’m just trying to define my role.” “Consider it defined.” Seamus pursed his lips. To prove his point, he picked Aidan up and set him by Matt. Like a rubber band he was, Aidan went right back to Seamus. The redhead set Aidan back at Matt’s feet only for him to come right back again. Aidan smiled at the game. Matt did not. “You’re only proving my point, Seamus. Two weeks we spent apart so I could improve how Aidan sees me. Two seconds back in his life and you’re the center of his world, just like that,” he snapped his fingers. “Honestly, I didn’t care that much but now you’re being an asshole and it’s starting to piss me off. It sucks to sit here and watch you have what I want. You make it look so easy. It’s not fair.” “You think I’ve had it easy?” “I don’t know what to think anymore. Aidan always wants you. You know everything about him, you know what he’s trying to say, what he wants, what he’s going to do. You’ve been in Aidan’s good graces since day one. I can’t even fucking figure out if he wants pizza or chicken nuggets! I can’t stand knowing that he hates me.” Seamus’s arms shot out. “Are you kidding me, Matt? What the fuck? Do you think I don’t know what it’s like to have my family hate me? Do you listen to anything I say or are you stuck in your own world? And easy? What has been easy? Do you know how hard it was to juggle feedings and naptime while trying to run my businesses? Do you think it was easy for me to tote him everywhere? And before you get snappy, I’m not saying I didn’t love my time with him, but it wasn’t easy. If you think it sucks to feel like Aidan hates you, then imagine what it was like to be on the other side. How do you think it feels to be the reason you felt that way? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows having a needy kid who won’t let you take a piss without screaming outside the door or attaching himself to your leg like an octopus! It’s exhausting, Matt! Exhausting!” Matt took a deep breath. Seamus had never given any indication that caring for Aidan was so exhausting. He should have said something, but didn’t. How was Matt supposed to fix something when he had no idea it was broken? He was irritated with Seamus for never saying anything. “Well then, why didn’t you say something? You were the one who came to me. You volunteered. Every time I tried to do something that would shift some of the responsibility back to me, you shut it down and acted all butthurt. I tried to put him in daycare more often, I tried to quit the Coffee Bar, I tried to give you a break last summer and learn how to do things on my own. Now you’re mad at me because you were doing too much? That’s not fair Seamus.” “I’m mad that you don’t seem to understand or appreciate what I’ve done. And you’re right, it’s not fair. It’s not fair that you’re fine with me doing whatever I can with Aidan until you get insecure, then you yank him away. I know you’re Aidan’s parent. I know this. For fuck’s sake I couldn’t even get past the front desk at the hospital because I’m not his parent or guardian!!! But I’m important too. I deserve to be included every step of the way but that’s not how it goes. What happens if things move forward with us? Will I ever be treated as an equal? Or will I always have it thrown in my face that you’re Aidan’s parent and I’m the nanny? Will I always have to stress and worry when Aidan does something to hurt your feelings, like favoring me? News flash. It’s not my fault.” Matt knew that this conversation was deteriorating quickly and if he didn’t leave it would probably escalate into something they might not be able to recover from. So he did the only thing that he was ever good at. He scooped up a startled Aidan, the little boy had never heard his people argue before, and turned back to Seamus, “I’m sorry that caring for Aidan has been such an exhausting burden for you. I never realized how hard it was being perfect and having everyone, especially Aidan, fawn all over you. Congratulations, you get a break and won’t have to worry about it anymore. C’mon Aidan.” Matt was seething and knew he probably should’ve kept his mouth shut, but just couldn’t help it. “Typical Matt. Run away when you feel insecure. Heaven forbid anyone else might have shit going on in their life or dealing with struggles of their own. Nope, you have to be the king of that. Your life has to be worse than everyone else. Poor Matt.” Seamus called out after them, the snark in his voice loud and clear. Matt clenched his jaw and glared at Seamus. Fuck him. He wanted to keep going, he had more things he wanted to say, instead, he turned on his heels and left the apartment with Aidan on his hip. If having Aidan was such a fucking burden, then Seamus could consider himself relieved. He no longer needed to concern himself with the almost two-year-old.
    97 points
  26. Matt whined and shoved his head further under the pillow. When the monitor squawked again, Matt groaned. Didn’t Aidan know he wasn’t feeling well? The answer was no. Not that he cared if Matt spent another night with his friends. The first six months of his twenty-first year were mild if you didn’t count Aidan, but now that he was back home and reunited with his old friends, he was making up for it, hard. As hard as one could go when you still had to feed your kid dinner and get him to sleep. Brad was generous, but Matt still had to do the legwork. Dinner, bath, putting Aidan down for bed. Those were Brad’s rules. Matt also had to worry about the mornings. The Excedrin sat on the nightstand, so close, yet it felt so far away as he peaked out from under the pillow. He painfully reached for them. He just needed a few minutes for it to kick in before Aidan’s patience wore out completely. No dice. Matt cried as he rolled out of bed and slowly made his way to Aidan like a troll emerging from the shadows of his bridge. There he was, standing in his crib, trying to break the railing like a baby Hulk. The poor kid had one giant tear hanging from his bottom lash. It was adorable, but not as adorable as the way he perked up when Matt walked in. “Mah!” Aidan called out. His little hands went into the air, waiting for Matt to pick him the fuck up. “You only love me because you can’t do anything yourself.” Aidan didn’t argue, just kicked his legs and gibbered away. Aidan’s diaper had soaked through his jammies. It was horrendous. Matt didn’t think urine had ever smelled so strong. He took a few practiced breaths, not using his nose as he changed his brother. After a quick bath and new clothes, they went to the kitchen for breakfast. Even Aidan’s formula smelled worse than normal. Being hungover with a kid was no joke. Matt wasn’t sure it was worth it. It wasn’t like he enjoyed the taste anyway. He only wanted to be twenty-one and make memories with his friends. Him and Aidan usually fought over TV, but Matt would let his brother watch anything if it meant they could lie on the couch in silence. Aidan was content with his show and his bottle. He was a little squirmy for Matt’s current condition, but not enough to complain about it. He sent Seamus a text, just a little something to say ‘hi’ and ‘give me a call when you’re not busy with work’, which had been the case lately. Matt had been home for three weeks and they’d seen each other. It just hadn’t worked out. They talked every day, though. As much as Matt enjoyed his free time and enjoyed his friends, he really missed Seamus. He was homesick for his boyfriend in a bad way. He knew he could go see him any time he wanted, but Seamus had been busy and Matt didn’t want to bother him. Which was stupid, of course. He knew Seamus would welcome him any time. It wasn’t until later that day that the decision was made for him. Matt was showered and feeling better. He’d skipped breakfast but managed a late lunch. Aidan was over the whole lying low thing and was pulling himself up on every piece of furniture he could find. House was playing in the background. Matt was half watching the how and half watching Aidan as he stood by the ottoman, smashing toys together. It was cute. Matt liked listening to Aidan talk gibberish to himself. What the kid was thinking? Typical boy stuff he guessed. Aidan kept looking back at Matt, making sure he had his big brother's undivided attention. Then he smiled that two-tooth smile that lit up the room and made his blue eyes sparkle. Sometimes, he held up a toy as if explaining to Matt what he was doing. Matt would talk back to him, ‘oh really? That’s so cool!’ Aidan would get all excited. One time he got so worked up he lost his balance and fell over. At least Matt didn’t have to rush over. Aidan could finally pull himself back up. Aidan kept holding out his toy for Matt to see. Matt waved him over. “Bring it to me?” he challenged. Aidan smiled. That seemed to placate him and he returned to what he was doing. When Matt looked at his brother again, the little guy was facing Matt, smiling, and holding two toys. One in each hand. He wasn’t holding anything. He wasn’t leaning against the ottoman for support. He was standing on his own. Aidan smiled brightly, took a step, and wobbled. Matt jumped off the couch and snatched Aidan off the floor. Oh no. No no no no no, Matt thought. This can’t be happening. With Aidan safely on his hip and not on the floor walking, he swiped his cellphone off the arm of the couch and called Seamus. “Hey, sorry, I’ve been swamped all day with work,” Seamus said in a way of greeting. “No worries. Aidan and I have been lying low today. Being lazy. Watching tv and sleeping.” “You went out again last night, huh?” Matt laughed. He couldn’t hide shit, except Aidan walking. Hopefully he could hide that. “Yeah, we went out. I don’t regret it.” “I didn’t think you did. What are you two up to? Are you going out again tonight?” “Actually, I was going to see if you were busy? Maybe you’d like some company? Aidan and I were thinking of going for a drive.” “You’d come visit me?” Seamus asked with definite hope in his voice. “Aidan’s being persistent about it.” “Just Aidan?” “I called you, didn’t I?” Seamus laughed. “When can you be here?” “When do you want us?” “Three weeks ago.” Matt smiled. Aidan was watching like he knew who Matt was talking to, so Matt put it on speaker. “Tell Seamus what you’ve been talking about all day.” Aidan said nothing, just looked at Matt like he was an idiot. “You gonna come see me, Super Thighs?” Seamus said. “You miss me?” Aidan’s eyes widened. He stared at the phone in wonder. “I miss you,” Seamus continued through the speaker. “I bet you’re so big now. You better not be walking. Are you walking?” “Nope,” Matt interjected. “Not walking. Not even one step. Isn’t that right, Aido?” Matt looked at his brother, who now had a death grip on the phone. Matt laughed. “Keep talking, Seamus.” “We could go out for dinner. What do you think about that? You feel like eating at a restaurant? Getting all the attention from the wait-staff? Or would you rather eat in? We could get pizza for your me and your dad and I’ll make you sweet tadas you like so much. Not that jarred crap your big brother feeds you. We can watch a movie and then you can go to bed early.” Matt laughed. “Don’t be gross in front of the kid.” Aidan grabbed the phone with both hands. He held the phone in front of his face and watched it with wide eyes. “When can you guys be here?” “We could head up in a bit. Be there before dinner.” “Okay, text me when you’re leaving and I’ll meet you at the loft. Is Aidan still there?” “Oh yeah, he’s waiting for you to manifest out of thin air.” “Oh, poor guy. You come see me, okay? Tell your brother to step on it. I miss you bunches.” They said their goodbyes and Seamus disconnected the call. Aidan wouldn’t let Matt pry the phone from his fingers. He was waiting for Seamus to come back. When Aidan realized that wasn’t going to happen, he started breathing hard. His blue eyes swelled and his bottom lip quivered, but he never looked away from the phone. Matt picked him up and hugged him. “Hey Chubs. We’re gonna go see Moose right now, okay? I know you must miss him so much.” He managed to send quick text to Seamus and then Matt was packing their stuff. No need to wait. Matt was desperate to see Seamus. The drive took no time and Aidan perked up as they made their way through the lobby. He knew where they were. The closer they got to the door, the more excited he got. Aidan kept looking around, waiting for Seamus to be there, waiting for him. “Are you excited to see Moose?” Aidan started fidgeting in Matt’s arms, anxiously kicking his legs. Matt laughed and unlocked the door. The second Aidan saw Seamus walk into the living room, he started crying. Matt couldn’t pass him off fast enough for Aidan’s liking. With Seamus there, Matt meant nothing. Aidan’s entire focus was on his nanny. While Seamus wrapped Aidan in a big hug and swung him back and forth, Matt stood there, stunned. He didn’t realize how much he missed Seamus until he saw him. Watching him reconnect with Aidan, smiling and talking happily, made his chest tight and his stomach tingly. The feeling was foreign and overwhelming. It was a first and he had no idea how to react, so Matt grabbed their bags and put them in the room. An hour passed. Matt still hadn’t gotten the proper hello he was eager for. His fingers itched to touch him but Aidan still wouldn’t let Seamus go. At this rate. Matt didn’t think he’d be able to get Aidan back in the car seat when it was time to go home. His brother was a smart cookie. He had let Matt drive off once. It probably wouldn’t happen again. “Looks like I might have to extend our stay,” Matt joked. “That’s okay with me.” Seamus leaned back on the couch with a tired Aidan on his chest. “I miss having you guys around.” “Yeah, but I bet you’re getting a ton of work done without us to look after.” “It’s not worth the tradeoff. I’d rather tote this guy around all day and then come home to you.” Matt blushed. He’d never been with someone like Seamus. Months later and it was strange, but he quite liked it. Matt leaned over and kissed Aidan’s head, then Seamus’s cheek. His life had changed so much in one year. Matt laid his head next to Seamus. “I’ve missed you.” Lips pressed against the top of his head. “I’ve missed you, too.” They hung out for the rest of the evening. Seamus ordered pizza like he promised and Aidan got those yummy yams he loved so much. Matt tried to get Aidan to walk, but Aidan didn’t trust that Seamus wouldn’t disappear if he let go of him. So, they watched TV while Aidan filled his Seamus tank. When it came time for bed, Aidan refused. Seamus pouted like it was such a hardship that Aidan wouldn’t let go of him. Matt wasn’t fooled. It didn’t upset Seamus one bit. The pout turned to a smirk as he carried Aidan like a trophy to the master bedroom. Matt’s chest swelled as he watched the two snuggle into bed. They took turns looking at Matt to see if he was watching them. Aidan looked proud that he had his Seamus again, and Seamus was content to have his Aidan back. But Matt was the real winner. Seamus reached over and pulled Matt in, making Aidan the meat of their love sandwich. Aidan smiled, his eyes were heavy with sleep. Even still, the little guy refused to let go. His little fist clung to Seamus’s shirt for dear life. Things were far calmer the next morning. Aidan was less anxious after waking up between Seamus and Matt. After breakfast, Matt encouraged Aidan to walk. Seamus sat cross-legged and held out his hands. “Come give me hugs!” That was all the motivation Thunder Thighs needed. Aidan only took five or six steps before Seamus lost his shit and swooped Aidan into his arms. He squeezed him then tossed the tyke in the air. They spent the rest of the morning celebrating. Being home with his dad was awesome. They were always going places and doing things. Hell, they did more now than they ever did before. But being at the loft with Seamus was...good. So very good. He’d been waiting for Seamus’s attention to shift away from the clingy one-year old all day. He was a patient man, but it had been three weeks. Seamus hadn’t so much as looked at Matt with bedroom eyes since they arrived. It wasn’t that big of a deal, not really. But the time was up. Seamus was on the couch watching a movie. Aidan had fallen asleep on his chest a while ago. “You should put him in his crib.” Seamus looked down and smiled. “He might wake up.” It was the same thing he had said an hour ago. It was late, Matt was getting tired. He also wanted his boyfriend. Matt grumbled as he stripped his clothes off in the bedroom. Two could play. Once he was naked, Matt casually walked across the living room. Hmm, there had to be one good DVD here. He shifted, putting a hand on his naked hip as he looked through all the titles. He had his boyfriend’s attention now. “Do you have a preference?” Matt asked as he pulled a movie out of the stack and pretended to read it before putting it back. Boring. “What are you doing?” “Finding a movie to watch.” When Seamus didn’t respond, Matt peeked over his shoulder and smiled when he found Seamus’ eyes glued to his ass. Maybe he needed a movie from the bottom row. Seamus was off the couch in an instant and carrying Aidan to his bedroom. With how quickly Seamus returned, Matt wondered if he hadn’t carelessly tossed Aidan into the crib. Seamus pressed his chest against Matt’s back. “You’re naked.” “And you’re not.” “You look better naked than I do.” Matt laughed. That was the most ludicrous thing he’d ever heard. “I think all the people who approach you on the daily would argue otherwise.” “They haven’t seen me naked.” “No, but they’d like to.” Seamus turned Matt around and slid his hands over Matt’s hips until they rested on his ass. He gave it a squeeze and smiled. “I love this ass.” Matt groaned. “It feels like pudding. I need to do some squats.” Seamus chuckled then walked backwards toward the bedroom, pulling Matt with him. “What do you think about this?” he asked, sliding his finger down Matt’s ass. Seamus pressed his middle finger against his hole, making him shutter. “I think I’d like that.” They hadn’t properly kissed since he’d come back. It was slow and welcoming with just enough tongue to make both of them hard. Seamus pushed Matt onto the mattress then slowly stripped naked. Matt like that. Seamus was gorgeous. They’d lived together for a few months and Matt had never heard Seamus mention the gym, let alone seen him go to one. But that couldn’t be the case. There was no way you had a body like that without some effort. He wasn’t shredded, but he had traces of abs and the soft outline of a v-line. Unlike Matt, Seamus had definite muscle definition from head to toe. Seamus crawled on top of Matt and they continued to make out until both were rutting against each other. Then Seamus moved down and slowly took Matt in his mouth. He worked Matt over, bringing him close to the edge before backing off. Then he used his fingers. “Are you ready to take my cock?” he asked as he kissed Matt’s neck and pressed himself against Matt’s ass. “Because I want you.” Matt moaned and shifted his hips, trying to catch Seamus’s cock. “Give it to me.” Seamus grabbed a condom, roll it on himself, and spread lube around without breaking eye contact. He pressed the head of his cock between Matt’s cheeks but paused before fully penetrating. Matt couldn’t catch his breath. It had been a while and the anticipation was killing him. “I wish I was sliding into you bare,” Seamus said as he pressed harder, making Matt feel all of him. “Fucking you raw. You fucking me raw. Feeling every inch of you.” Matt moaned. It was sexy as fuck to think about bare backing. The sexy talk was working. He was rock hard despite the burn that held tight as Seamus pushed him to his limit without actually being inside of him. “God, I wish you were,” Matt groaned. “I want to feel you inside me.” Seamus grunted and pushed through. It was as if he couldn’t stop himself. Matt’s breath hitched as he tried to catch his breath. They held still for a moment, both breathing heavy, then Seamus started moving. “You feel so good. So tight.” “Only cause you’re so big,” Matt replied in gasps. “You fill me up so good.” Seamus bent Matt in half a little more, then thrusted harder, making Matt cry out. He hadn’t had a cock in his ass in two years. Good thing Seamus knew what he was doing, and that he did it well. Better than anyone Matt had been with before. He was rubbing the right spots and Matt felt his balls tightening. “I’m getting close. I want you to cum in me,” he said, keeping the heat going. “Wish you’d give me everything you got. Every drop.” The words hit their target because Seamus started fucking Matt harder. Matt was riding the edge, his body on fire as he tried to hold himself back. “I’m close. Are you going to cum in me?” Seamus nodded and bucked his hips. He had Matt pinned and helpless as he did what he wanted. The domination drove Matt crazy. He loved this side of Seamus. It was a glimpse of the intimidating guy he met all those months ago, and it was totally sexy. He could feel the moment Seamus came inside him. The friction of Seamus's body on his weeping dick was all he needed to be pushed over the edge with a cry. Seamus pressed himself deep, making sure he didn’t come out, then collapsed on top of Matt. Eventually, settled next to Matt and Matt turned and burrowed into his chest. He really, really missed Seamus. There was nothing more important than breathing him in and committing his smell and feel to memory. The feel of Seamus’s fingers skimming his back made his eyelids heavy. They probably laid there for thirty minutes without a word said. It was lovely. “What do you think about that?” It took a lot of effort to crack one eye open. Matt was almost asleep. He found Seamus watching him intently. “I’m definitely going to feel it tomorrow, but it was great. Though, just laying here with you is pretty damn amazing. I’ve missed this.” Seamus smiled, his chest vibrated with a deep, but mostly silent laugh. “That’s not what I meant, but thank you. Laying here with you is pretty great, too.” “Oh? What did you mean?” “What do you think about forgoing the condoms?” Matt paused. Woah. “Like, for real?” “Yes, for real.” “Oh,” shit. “I haven’t really thought about it.” “Let’s talk about it. What’s your initial thought about moving in that direction?” “I don’t know. That seems like a big step.” “It is,” he agreed in a very patient, even voice. “That’s like—a serious commitment.” Now it was Seamus’s turn to tense. “Are we not exclusive?” “We are,” Matt hurried. “We definitely are. I’m just saying that this is big. It’s hot to talk about not using condoms, but we’re not even at the ‘I love you stage’.” The look on Seamus’s face was all Matt needed to know. Seamus was there. Matt was not. “Oh God.” Matt wasn’t stupid. He knew Seamus was there. He should’ve seen this coming. Seamus rolled until he was on his back. “If you’re not ready, then you’re not ready.” The words were sincere, but so was the disappointment that laced the delivery. “My mind hasn’t gone there. It’s been a little preoccupied with life.” “Too preoccupied to consider your feelings for me? That’s awesome.” Seamus pulled his arm away. “I’m starting to worry that your moving out is a bigger deal than you made it out to be. Maybe I should be worried.” Matt leaned back so he could study Seamus. Yeah, Seamus was pissed. Legitimately pissed. “Woah. Hey. You sprung not using condoms on me and now you’re pissed because I wasn’t like, ‘throw those fuckers out’ and because I’m not ready to say the L word? This doesn’t seem totally fair.” “We’ve been raising Aidan together and living together and you’re telling me that your mind hasn’t considered if you love me or not? That doesn’t seem totally fair.” Matt and Seamus stared at one another, neither willing to back down. When Matt added nothing, Seamus shook his head, turned off the light, and laid with his back to Matt. Being an emotional drunk wasn’t the only thing Matt got from his mom. They were both real fucking idiots when it came to relationships. Matt’s entire history was one cringe worthy moment after another. Several of those cringy moments revolved around not using condoms. He had also told several that he loved them and, at the time, he thought he did. The thing all his relationships had in common was how they crashed and burned in the end. The other thing they had in common was that Matt couldn’t be trusted to know what was real and what was some alternate dimension in his own mind. He finally had a good, solid thing going with Seamus. But then again, he thought that with every guy. This is why he didn’t want to rush into this kind of thing. **** Matt didn’t sleep. His mind went nonstop all night. He must’ve fallen asleep at some point because Seamus wasn’t there when he did wake. When he made his way to the living room, Seamus and Aidan were watching cartoons. As much as he loved watching those two together, it now had anxiety. He took a deep breath and walked to the couch where he gave them both a kiss on the head. Seamus barely reacted, so Matt went to the kitchen. He liked Seamus. A lot. He wasn’t denying that. And Seamus was right, they did everything together. Matt knew he was reliant on Seamus, he’d even admitted as much. Now Seamus wouldn’t look at him and the fear of that reliance was blinding. What if Seamus got tired and left Matt? He would be screwed. All his relationships had ended tragically and Matt hadn’t lived with them, co-parented, or otherwise depended on them for every major thing in life; like work and daycare. Because of that dependence, Matt was afraid of saying anything that might capsize the boat that was suddenly rocking. He’d been honest last night and that hadn’t gone well. “We’re heading back this morning,” Matt said as he stood in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal and watching TV at a safe distance. “I have a bunch of stuff I need to do around the house before the guys come over this evening.” Seamus nodded to the TV, then said something to Aidan. A few minutes later he had Aidan taking a few steps around the living room before picking him up and taking him to the room. Fifteen minutes later Aidan was ready to go. He even packed Aidan’s bag and sat it by the door. Seamus was never this eager to see them leave, and that was concerning. Seamus carried Aidan to the car while Matt carried the bags. When everything and everyone was loaded with almost no words exchanged, Seamus kissed Matt. It was pathetic and terrifyingly cold. When Seamus pulled away, Matt grabbed his sweater. He couldn’t let whatever was happening happen. “I think we should talk about last night.” Aidan realized what was happening and started screaming. Seamus glanced at the backseat then gave Matt a tight smile. “Don’t stress on it. It’s not a big deal. You were right. It’s a big step that neither of us are ready to take. I was just caught up in the moment.” Seamus gave him another light kiss, then stood back and waited for Matt to pull out. Matt stared at Seamus, desperate to call him on his bullshit but too scared at the same time. There was no way Seamus hadn't meant what he said last night. Matt saw it in his eyes. Maybe With a rock in his gut, Matt pulled away. Maybe Seamus needed a day or two to reflect. Maybe Matt did, too. Lord knows these conversations were new to him. Aidan screaming bloody murder in the backseat helped nothing. **** Mat, Zak, and Spanks came over around seven. They’d been friends forever. After high school they went their separate ways. Matt expected the separation to be harder than it was, but he made new friends and hardly missed them at all. That didn't mean he wasn't excited to see them again. They'd been making up for lost time. They sat around the kitchen table with a few beers and ate gooey, hot pie while Aidan sat in the high chair and begged for scraps. “Ooohh, look what I have—” Zak taunted Aidan with a piece of pepperoni. Matt threw a paper towel at his head to make him stop. Aidan was still pissed they'd left Seamus behind and didn't need to be teased with food. “Does teasing a one-year-old make you feel like a man?” Zak popped the pepperoni in his mouth and looked annoyed that Matt for calling him out. “How is the dad life?” Spanks asked. “How’s the husband?” “Aidan’s good.” “And the husband?” “He’s not my husband.” The group laughed. Zak patted Matt on the shoulder. “Yeah right. You guys are more married than my own parents.” When Matt didn’t respond, the room quieted. “What’s going on?” Spanks asked. “You’re usually excited to talk about your boyfriend.” “I don’t know. We had a weird visit. Seamus wanted to talk about—” Matt wasn’t sure this was something they wanted to talk about. They knew he was gay and asked questions about gay sex but he didn’t usually over share. “About what?” Zak pushed. “Well,” Matt glanced around. “He wanted to talk about not using a condom.” His friends started cackling. Matt shook his head and smiled. They were so immature. “And you’re trying to convince us you’re not married?” “I didn’t agree to it. I know it’s a big step.” “How?” Matt asked. “I mean, you guys live together and you’re raising Aidan. Those are pretty big things. Bigger than tossing the condom.” “I’m not saying Mat is wrong, but I think it’s worth thinking it through. I’ve told you before that you are way too reliant on Seamus.” “He helps, but I’m not reliant,” Matt lied. “I’ll have my own apartment when I move back, and we don’t raise Aidan together, he’s our nanny,” Matt lied again. “Whatever. He does everything for you. Do you really think if it wasn’t for Aidan that you would even be dating him?” Matt looked at this plate. “I don’t know.” It was something he wondered but had never heard voiced out loud. “And according to you, you didn’t even like Seamus when you first met him. I think it’s only because he was good with Aidan that you fell for him. He stepped in like a knight and you couldn’t help yourself.” Matt slouched down in his chair and played with his pizza crust. It wasn’t true, but...what if they weren’t wrong? He didn’t like Seamus at first, and how he was with Aidan was a big draw. It was hard not to fall for him when he was so good to his brother. Matt felt like he needed to justify himself. “This is exactly why I said no to the condom thing and why I’m not living with him when I come back after the summer. I know how I can be and I don’t want to do that with him.” Spanks took Matt’s beer away. Matt grabbed it back. Spanks frowned. “You’re getting emotional.” “Sue me,” Matt shot back. Yes, he was getting emotional. It felt like things were not going well. “This conversation is making me feel shitty.” “I’m not trying to make you feel shitty. You and Seamus are like one hundred steps into the future right now. I’m just nervous for you. You’re only twenty-one.” “Seamus was nineteen when he married Kelly.” “That isn’t helping your case,” Zak laughed. “What happens if you guys break up?” Spanks asked. “What are you going to do to Aidan?” “There’s daycare.” “I thought they had waitlists?” “They do.” Aidan had been called up at one place. Seamus was happy watching him so they had turned it down. Now Matt was back at square one. “I would figure something out.” “I know you would. You always do.” Spank’s expression was sympathetic and caring. “I just worry that Seamus was there at a time when you were extra vulnerable. It would be enough to confuse anyone. Especially you.” “Especially me?” Matt scoffed. Every person there knew Matt was the emotional one. They’d been there every time Matt had fallen in love and again when said love burned to the ground. They might have been hormone driven flings, but Matt was always quick to fall. They joked Matt would be the first to get married and the first to divorce. They might have joked about it, but none wanted to see it happen. They wanted their friend to be smart and make good choices. That would be harder with Aidan—a kid would make Matt more prone to emotional attachments. Matt knew it as well. Later that night and a few beers later, Matt was still pouting. “I really like him.” They sat crowded on the couch while an action flick no one was watching played in the background. Matt slumped in the middle like a petulant child. Zak took his beer and set it off to the side. “We’ve never actually met him you know.” “Probably for the best. If you met him, then he’d be meeting all my friends and I’d get even more attached to him and you’d make me feel worse.” Zak flopped his hand over his heart. “We love you. You can’t afford to be broken-hearted this time. You have that cutie to look after.” “Aidan loves Seamus so much.” “I know,” Zak nodded sympathetically. “That’s why you have to be super careful.” Matt looked away from his friends. He really liked Seamus. So much. He really thought that what they had was different. But Seamus had barely looked at him when he left. What if his friends were right? The more he let Seamus be a staple in his life, the more he was setting him and Aidan up for failure if it didn’t work. Even drunk, Matt knew his friends were no Dr. Phil and he shouldn’t take their words to heart. None of them had been in serious relationships. What did they know? What did Matt know? He knew he absolutely didn’t want things to end between him and Seamus. But he had a feeling Seamus wouldn’t be okay with the in between. He needed to not dwell on this while drunk, and he needed his dad. Brad would know what Matt should do.
    97 points
  27. 15 October (Thursday) Eddie hung up the phone and turned to the thin man as he hovered nearby. "That was James. He wants to see you in an hour." Eddie stepped close to Lee. "I swear, if you don't come home with cash this time then don't bother coming back." His dark eyes glittered in the light of the naked bulb overhead. "I know James likes to pay with OX, but we don't need that shit; we need money." Nodding, Lee kept his gaze down as Eddie carried on. "I got it." Lee crossed his arms over his narrow chest. Their heat had been cut off, and that October had not been a warm one. Lee's sweatshirt was worn, stained, with ragged gaping holes at the elbows, so it did little to help with the chill. Eddie frowned at him. "Take that filthy thing off. Put on your black t-shirt; it's the cleanest." He wrinkled his nose as Lee removed the sweatshirt, sighing when he saw Lee's prominent ribs. "We're lucky James likes skinny faggots." The young fellow nodded mutely, careful to avoid saying anything that might upset Eddie. He had just healed from the last set of bruises Eddie had put on his body and had no desire to rile the man. Lee dug through the pile of clothes on the floor beside the doorway to the kitchen. Finding his black t-shirt, he pulled it on. He shivered in the coolness of the apartment, chill bumps standing out on his arms. Eddie walked around him with a critical eye, while Lee held still so he could be checked for suitability. Here and there, Eddie removed bits of lint and other debris stuck to his clothes. Finally, he nodded. "Okay. Isn't James the freak who likes to rim you?" "Yeah." Eddie shivered. "Ugh. Don't know why anybody'd want to stick a tongue in that used hole." He waved at their squalid bathroom. "Go clean yourself. Put some deodorant on. At least smell good when you walk in the door." They were behind on the water bill too, but that hadn't been cut off yet. Lee did as he was told and cleaned himself well. He dried, then dressed again in his tattered jeans and his best t-shirt. Eddie looked him over one more time and seemed happy with what he saw. "All right." He pulled Lee to himself. "Don't forget who you belong to." Eddie gripped Lee's balls through his jeans. Lee grimaced as he squeezed. "You hear me?" "Yeah. I know." Eddie nodded. "Good." He let go of Lee's nuts and kissed the younger man. There was no affection or love in it; it was only a way to mark him, to remind Lee of his place. Eddie pushed back from him and smacked his ass. "Go on. And don't come back without my money." ⟽⟾ Entering the brick building, Lee sighed, thankful to be out of the cold. While clear and sunny, the outside temperature was in the high forties - not exactly t-shirt weather. He walked quickly down the hall past pairs of doors that led into apartments on the lowest floor. The structure was old but well-maintained, and the gas heater blew warm air on full blast. Stopping at the end of the hall, Lee knocked on the door of 7A. "Come in!" Lee did. The apartment was dimly lit with candles strewn about and blackout curtains over the windows. James appeared from the hallway. Dressed only in a pair of track pants, he grinned as Lee shut the door. "There he is." James approached and slid an arm around him. There was a hunger in James's blue eyes as his hand meandered down Lee's back. "Mmmm. I can't wait to taste you." Lee tried to smile. "You can. But we need to talk payment before we get started." Lee repeated what Eddie had already said to James on the phone. "Eighty for the hour, and you can do whatever you want." "Oh." James nuzzled his neck and his hand slipped beneath the loose waistline of Lee's jeans. "Are you sure that's what you want?" He whispered as he teased Lee's hole with one insistent finger. "I was thinking we'd take some oxy together, and I'd put my tongue in you until you come on my chest." Lee wet his lips. "N-no." Eddie's warning rang in his mind. "No, not this time. It's eighty or it's not happening." James sighed. "All right, fine." He laid his best smile on Lee. "How about a freebie then? I know you love getting off while you're flying, hrmm?" Free OX? Fuck yes. Lee nodded. "Okay." James grinned, then motioned at Lee. "Strip. I'll go get your money and the candy." Lee knew the drill by now. James only liked certain things, and Lee was his regular boy. He took off his clothes and draped them on the back of the couch. Luckily, James's place was clean and warm, and Lee was comfortable. James returned with a glass of water and his other hand closed around their pills and some cash. He too had undressed and already had an erection. As clients went, James didn't have the worst body. He was in his mid-thirties, a lanky guy with a small beer belly and pale skin from lack of sunshine. "Here ya go." James gave Lee that familiar little tablet. His mouth watered as he held it. Both of the men took their drugs, and James handed Lee a glass of water. Lee washed the treasure down and smiled, knowing what was coming. "Thanks." "Sure." James took the half-filled glass and put it on the coffee table along with the money. "Now then," he licked his lips and lay on his back on the couch, "come over here and sit on my face." ⟽⟾ Officer Joseph Wells watched as Lee Sloas, one of his regular troublemakers, staggered and blinked in the fall sunshine. It was early afternoon in Crescent City, and Joseph had been having a good day until he laid eyes on the young street hustler. "Unit six here. Possible 10-52 at the corner of E and fourth." Joseph spoke into his radio. "Will report back in five." "Understood, unit six. Unit two is four blocks from your position if needed." "10-4." Joseph got out of his patrol car as Lee leaned hard against the corner of the building he had just exited. The officer approached Lee. "Mister Sloas." Lee jumped and spun to face Joseph. He had his back to the brick building and squinted at the tall lawman. Lee wasn't dressed for the weather, and he had lost even more weight. His brown hair was lifeless and greasy on his head, while his green eyes were bloodshot. A pang of empathy for the young man shot through Officer Wells. "What?" Lee frowned. "I ain't doing nothing." He slid a little against the building, struggling to stay upright. "Lee," Joseph stepped close, "what'd your client pay with? Booze? Drugs? What did you take?" "Nothing!" Lee shook his head. "I quit hustling, just like I was told to." His eerie, dilated pupils told the story to Joseph. "I was just seeing a friend." Joseph crossed his arms over his chest. "Really." Lee nodded. The movement upset what little balance he had and he slid sideways down the wall to tumble relatively gently on the grass beside the apartment complex. He blinked up at Joseph, his expression registering only confusion at his new position. Joseph sighed. "Okay. Come on." He leaned over to lift Lee to his feet. "No!" Lee flailed his arms as Joseph bent. It was pure chance that his knuckles cracked into Joseph's cheekbone. Joseph grunted and carried on with his task. He pulled Lee up and leaned the addled fellow against the wall. Lee stared at him, tracking something as it ran down Joseph's face. The officer felt and wiped a drop of blood away from the cut Lee had opened up on his cheekbone. Joseph kept a firm grip on Lee, his blue-eyed glare spearing the man. "You hit me." His incredulous laugh made Lee cringe. "You assaulted an officer." "Officer Wells, I didn't mean ..." The radio on Joseph's chest crackled. "Unit six, what is your situation?" Lee gulped. "Please." He shook his head. "I didn't mean to." They both knew assaulting an officer was an offense that would land Lee in jail for a very long time. Joseph's eyes never left the emaciated man's face as he reached for his radio. "Six here, Dispatch. Stand by." ⟽⟾ Joseph stepped away from his patrol car and waited for the phone to pick up. "Hello?" "Hey, Greg." Joseph watched Lee as the man sat dejectedly in the backseat of his cruiser. "So, I have a situation, and I wondered if you could help me out." He sighed. "Feel free to say no, but I have to at least try." ⟽⟾ "You have to take me back," Lee whined in the back of the patrol car. "He'll kick me out! You have to take me back, please." Joseph shook his head as he drove east out of the city. "Nope." He looked in the rearview mirror. "It's either you stay at the campground with Greg, or you go to jail for assaulting an officer. You're lucky Greg agreed to take you in. This is your shot, and if you mess it up then you know where you'll end up." "Throw me in jail, then! At least Eddie won't think I skipped out on him that way!" Officer Wells made a disgusted sound. "The less you have to do with Eddie, the better.” Eddie was all that he had - the only security Lee had known for three years. Without Eddie, Lee would have been on the street. Lee knew how much he owed Eddie, and there wasn't anything anyone could say to make him think otherwise. Lee’s head swam from the effects of both the three shots of vodka and the oxycodone he had taken while having wild sex with his client. James always got his hour’s worth, and Lee's ass stung a bit from his treatment. “I hate camping,” he whinged. “Have you ever even been camping?” Joseph turned into the Hiouchi market parking lot. “No, ’cause I know I’d hate it.” Lee shook his head. "Why anybody'd want to sleep outside makes no sense to me." Officer Wells snorted with a laugh. He parked and opened his door. “I’ll be back. Be good." Lee made a face at Joseph as he left the car. They both knew he wasn’t going anywhere locked in the back of the cruiser. A faint vibration from the trunk made Lee groan. Everything in Lee's pockets, including his phone was back there in a ziplock bag. "Fuck." He was overdue, and Eddie was looking for him, no doubt. A few minutes later, Officer Wells exited the market with a couple of bags. He popped the trunk, and the items went in on top of the other supplies he had already purchased. Lee tried again when Joseph got into the car. “Officer Wells, come on. Please.” Lee really laid it on. “I’m gonna lose my home if you keep me away from Eddie. Please!” “You’ll lose your place in Eddie’s apartment.” Joseph put the car in gear and pulled back onto the highway. “But I’ve been there, and that hellhole is not a home.” Failing to sway the lawman, Lee made a disgusted noise and flopped back in his seat. He spent the next twenty minutes glaring at the back of Joseph’s head, until they turned into a little blacktop loop off of the highway. ⟽⟾ The patrol car entered the campground and Greg walked over as it came to a stop. “Hello, Officer Wells.” He kept things formal while Joseph was on duty and glanced at the fellow in the backseat. “Is this our newest camper?” Joseph got out. “Yup. Greg, this is Lee. He’s here so long as he behaves. The second he doesn’t, let me know.” Lee clenched his jaw but held his tongue. Greg noticed the cleaned cut and Bandaid on Joseph's cheekbone, but he avoided calling it out. "No problem. I'm sure things will be just fine." Joseph stepped next to the car and opened the door for Lee. "Come on." Lee got out and crossed his arms over his chest. "If I'm not getting arrested then I want my stuff." "That's fine." Joseph popped the trunk and handed Lee the plastic bag that held his meager belongings. Lee immediately took out his cell phone. There was a series of texts, a missed call and a voicemail from Eddie. He glared at Joseph and stepped away from him and Greg. Greg watched Lee as the young man dialed. "You know he's going to try to run, right?" Joseph nodded. "Yeah." He turned from the items in the trunk to look over his shoulder at Lee as he finally got through to Eddie. "I'm betting he won't have a place to run to once Eddie hears where he is." They watched and listened as Joseph's theory was put to the test. "Eddie! Just come get me! No, I'm not under arrest, I'm at that campground. Yeah, the new one." Lee frowned and shot a nasty look at Joseph. "I didn't have a choice." His face fell as he listened. "But … I didn't know it's full of cops." Now the expression on Lee's face changed to fearful. "No! You can't leave me here! Please, come …" He straightened his arm and looked incredulously at the phone, then put it back to his ear. "Eddie? Eddie!" Lee barely held himself together as he tried to dial him again. "This is going to be interesting," Greg whispered as Lee made a frustrated noise a few feet away. "If it gets to be too much, then I'll take him back to town. There's a homeless shelter there that will probably take him." Joseph had the trunk emptied beside the back wheel of his cruiser. A tent, sleeping bag, pillow, and various other supplies lay on the asphalt. "Here." Joseph handed over a hundred dollar bill. "For his stay and a few of his meals." Before Greg could say anything the policeman shook his head. "Don't try to say you won't take it. He's going to be some work." Greg made a face as he agreed. "Okay. Fine." He put the money in a pocket. "I think he's going to need a job - something to occupy his time." Lee had apparently given up on Eddie. He threw his phone on the pavement and it blasted into a dozen parts. He stood panting, glaring down at the pieces. "Hey!" Joseph's voice made Lee jerk. "You're picking all that up." Joseph pointed a single finger on target at Lee's feet. "Now." Defiant for a moment, Lee slumped. Now quiet, he stooped to gather up the sad remnants of his ruined phone. Lee's little fit hadn't gone unnoticed, drawing the attention of a number of other campers. Luckily, they only had the regular crowd, in addition to Avery from The Raven Project. The blonde teenager looked with curiosity at the men and Lee. As Lee straightened with the pieces, Avery walked directly to him. "Hi!" He grinned. "I'm Avery." Lee grimaced and nearly growled at him. "I don't care." "Lee." Joseph crossed his arms over his chest. "Do you really want to go to jail? Because if you aren't decent to the other campers, and if you don't do everything Greg tells you to do, then that's where you'll end up." "Oh, jail!" Avery bounced on his toes. "Really?" His eyes widened as he took Lee in. "What'd you do? Is it because you broke that phone?" "Avery, go on. Let Lee get settled in." Greg put a hand on the excitable boy's shoulder. "You can chat later." "Oh, okay." Avery smiled again at Lee, almost totally unaffected by his attempt to rebuff him. "Talk to you later!" Glowering, Lee watched him go. "Come on, Lee. Let's put that stuff in a bag. I'll have to take it in for e-waste on the next trip into town." Greg motioned at him to follow. "Then we'll pick out a site for your tent." Lee shuffled behind Greg, bitterly unhappy. "I don't know how to set up a tent," he grumbled. Greg led him to Mason and Jeremy's Airstream. He looked over his shoulder with a slightly evil grin. "I can get Avery to help you." As Greg disappeared inside the trailer, Lee sighed. ⟽⟾ "No, like this. Here." Avery took the rubber mallet from Lee. "Put it through the loop first, then hammer it into the ground." Lee watched while Avery secured one corner of his newly erected tent to the ground with a little metal stake. "See?" The blonde straightened and smiled at him. "Easy, right?" "Sure, yeah." Lee took the offered mallet from Avery. He felt nervous as Avery stood over him, watching. Regardless, they picked another corner and he put the stake in the loop. Lee raised the mallet. "Wait." Avery knelt down next to him and stretched the corner of the tent so that it would be taut. "There. Go ahead and hammer it in while I hold it." Lee hesitated. You'll just fuck this up. You always fuck shit up. "It's okay. Go ahead." Avery's voice had a patient tone and he continued to hold the tent corner. "Even if you slip and hit my fingers it won't really hurt. It's just rubber." "All right, I'm doing it." Lee grumbled. He tapped the stake and it flopped to the side on the grass. Frowning, Lee grabbed it and tried again. "Fuck." It tumbled away as he clipped it with the mallet. "Just push it in a little first, so it's sticking in the ground already." Lee wanted to scream. It was such a simple thing. Why can't I do it? "Fine." He finally followed Avery's directions. Lee pushed the stake into the dirt as far as he could with his hand, then he swatted it with the mallet. It sank a half-inch deeper in the earth. "Good! Yeah, keep hitting it." Avery encouraged him. A tiny surge of accomplishment made Lee's spine straighten. "Okay." Although it took him twice as long as it did Avery, he tapped the stake with the mallet until it was flush with the ground and securely pinned the corner of the tent. "Awesome." Avery straightened and grinned at Lee. "Now there are just two more to go." Greg watched as Avery coached Lee through setting up his tent. Greg hadn't known how long Avery, who was usually easily distracted, would be able to remain focused on the task. So far, it looked as if he was going to stick with Lee until the tent was up. By now it neared time to think about getting dinner prepared. In order to keep Lee occupied, Greg planned to make the fellow his kitchen assistant. As Avery and Lee straightened to look over their handiwork in setting up Lee's tent, Greg walked up to the site. "Nice job, guys." Avery grinned as Greg stopped. "Thanks. Lee did most of it." Lee and Greg both knew that wasn't true, and Lee frowned at Avery. Shrugging, Lee put his sleeping bag and pillow in the tent. "Yeah. Thanks." He then hesitated as he held his wallet. "Is there a place I can lock up some money?" "Nobody will steal your money if you put it in your tent." Greg motioned toward the Airstream. "But if it worries you then we can put it in Mason and Jeremy's trailer." "It's not my money. I owe it to someone, and it's really important that he gets it." Lee gripped the wallet in his hand. "I wanna lock it up." "Okay, come on." Greg smiled at Avery. "Thanks for helping." "Yeah, it was fun!" Avery grinned. "I'm gonna go to my cabin. See you later, Lee!" Lee watched Avery duck into a cabin, then he turned back to Greg. "What's wrong with him?" Greg chuckled. "He's just a little excited to meet someone new." Lee didn't quite buy that, but he didn't argue. He followed Greg to the Airstream. There at the patio table, a tall guy named Mason looked through a Forestry book. Lee had been introduced to him earlier, and he remembered his name because they were very close to the same age. "Hello again, Lee." Mason smiled and leaned back. He stretched in his chair, and several bones in his shoulders and arms popped as he did. "Hey." "Mason," Greg began, "we're going to put Lee's wallet away. I'm gonna lock it up in the upper cabinet, the one above the desk, and then give Lee the key. That okay?" "Sure. That's fine. Jeremy and I don't have anything in there right now." "Okay, thanks." Soon, Lee's wallet with the eighty dollars he owed Eddie was safely locked away. Lee pocketed the key to the cabinet and felt a tiny bit better knowing nobody could get to his ticket back to Eddie. While he had the cash there was a chance - he just had to get back to Crescent City. They left Mason and the Airstream and headed to the camp kitchen. A big, broad man chopping onions smiled as Greg approached. "Hey, husband." "Howdy, husband." Greg leaned over the counter and kissed him. Lee had already met the handsome brute with the knife but didn't remember his name. The man nodded at him. "Hey, Lee. Get your tent set up?" "Yeah." Lee looked at the pot on the stove and the pile of diced onion. "What are you doin'?" "Clay has done some of our work for us." Greg smirked as Lee made a face. "Yep, that's right. You and I are making dinner for the campground." "I've not started the water for the pasta yet." Clay took off the apron. "I wanted to get the sauce further along first." "That's fine. We've got it from here, Clay. Thanks." Clay gave Greg another kiss, then he left them in the kitchen. Lee shifted from one foot to another as Greg put on the apron. "Lee, what would you like to do? Do you want to fry up the onions and the ground beef, or do you want to boil the water for the spaghetti?" Lee’s nervousness had returned. "I … I don't know how to cook." He frowned at the onions on the cutting board. "I only know how to do one thing, and unless you want to stick your cock down my throat, then I'm not much use to you here." Greg cocked his head at Lee. "Is that why you think you're here? So that we can squeeze some use out of you?" Greg watched Lee carefully. "Be honest. Is that why you think you're here?" If not for some benefit to Greg, then Lee was genuinely mystified as to why he would have agreed to allow Joseph to drop him off. He glanced at Greg. "I … well, yeah. There has to be a reason you want me here." He suddenly thought he understood. "Do you and your husband want a boy to sleep with?" "No." Greg sighed. "No, Lee." He motioned. "Come here, around the counter." Lee walked around and stood next to Greg behind the kitchen counter. Greg motioned at the countertop. "Right now, the only thing I want you to worry about is which you want to learn to do first. Do you want to learn how to make the pasta, or do you want to learn to fry up some ground beef and onions? If you help me make dinner, then you'll get your meal for free, and I'll give you any extra tips in the donation jar - anything not needed to resupply the kitchen." Wild suspicion ran rampant in Lee's mind as he searched for some trick. He strained to figure out Greg's angle. "Uh. You … you'll pay me to help cook?" "Yes." I have no idea what I'm doing. Why would he pay me? Lee stared at Greg. "What if I don't want to cook?" "That's fine. You can go hang out at the firepit or at your tent." Greg shrugged. "I just figured you'd be bored, and could maybe use a little money." Lee's mind whirled as he attempted to figure out what Greg got out of the deal. Finally, he blinked. "Okay." He turned back and looked at the onions. I can use money, for sure. Eddie would love it if I brought even more than eighty home. "I … I want to try frying the onions and beef." Greg smiled. "All right." He reached under the counter and pulled out a dutch oven. "We'll cook that stuff in here. We'll have quite a few campers who pay into the dinner, so we'll need a lot of sauce." "Okay." It wasn't long before Lee looked down at browning ground beef and onions in the dutch oven on the stove. "You want to keep stirring so that it doesn't stick." Greg gently reminded him. "I was." Defensiveness leaked into Lee's tone, and he resumed stirring. "Oh. Okay." Greg smiled slightly as Lee redoubled his efforts. "You're doing fine." Greg dumped his pasta into the hot pot of water on the stove. "After we drain that ground beef, we'll add some tomato paste, diced tomatoes, fresh herbs, a little of the starchy water from this pot, and some pasta sauce. It'll be some good stuff." Lee continued to help Greg with the night's dinner. A bit after five-thirty, everything was done, and a number of campers had gathered at the picnic table near the kitchen in anticipation of the evening's meal. Lee helped serve up the food and watched as bills and change slid from fingers into the donation jar. After serving their last camper, Greg patted Lee's back. "Take a break. Here." Greg handed him a bowl piled with noodles and covered in the rich, meaty sauce that Lee had made with Greg's help. Lee couldn't remember the last time he had been given so much food. "Why don't you go sit at the picnic table with the other campers?" "Th-thanks. And here is fine." Lee walked around and took a seat at the kitchen counter. Lee's mouth watered as he stuck a fork into the noodles and sauce. He brought the steaming, savory-smelling bite to his mouth, barely suppressing a groan as he chewed. Fuck. This is good. I made this, and it's good! With a bemused smile, he licked his lips and went back in for another forkful.
    96 points
  28. Spencer sat stiffly next to the entrance on the very last polished bench of the Chapel of Rest. Coming from where, he could not tell, but a distinctive almost cloying scent of lilies filled the air, outmatching the various expensively perfumed bodies seated around him. Numb inside, he stared unseeing at the backs of vaguely famous people either perched in front or moving slowly down the aisle towards the front. Life would go on. Christmas with his family would still go ahead. Once again, he would turn up alone. Garret would be on crutches, and the women would be fussing over him, to make sure he was happy and comfortable. Nothing had really changed. Except everything had. Joey slouched on the first pew next to an older man and woman, and a slightly older version of himself—probably Alex and their parents. Even seeing Blake seated next to Joey, laughing together at a shared joke, had not sparked even a flicker of emotion in him. He almost wished it had. Darcy sat upright and poised on the adjacent bench, next to a woman crying into a black handkerchief, her long red hair spilling down from beneath a black veil. Unable to see her face, he assumed her to be Marshall's mother. Darcy had insisted Spencer sit with them, but he told her he would have felt conspicuous, in the spotlight, and preferred to mourn privately from the back without being stared at or singled out. Even having Muriel and her husband in attendance had irked but not fazed him. On entering the chapel, she had looked over but purposely avoided his stern gaze. People needed others beside them during this challenging rite of passage, but Spencer wanted to get through alone. The important thing was to give friends and family some form of closure. And with that thought, he had to admit to feeling a little mystified and—if he was going to be honest—disappointed, not to see Bev and Prince somewhere in the crowd. On an easel set atop a raised dais near the coffin, stood an enormous portrait of Marshall. Spencer recognised the beautiful photograph from a men's fashion magazine cover, his face so familiar, so full of life and love and possibilities. Soft strains of George Michaels' Waiting For That Day played from the speakers, the irony of the lyrics almost undoing his barely held together composure. And a thought kept coming back to him, that he should have told Marshall not to go, should have insisted he stay home and be with Spencer, even though he knew Marshall would never have agreed. Despite sunlight spilling in through the frosted windows, and the chapel doors standing wide open, he found he could barely breathe. How could he have come so close to perfect happiness only to have everything ripped away from him? When the gentle hum of subdued chatter subsided, replaced by nervous giggles and a few soft gasps of astonishment, he looked up to see a lone bird, a chaffinch, had flown into the hall and performed a couple of circuitous routes before flying back out the main doors. Once again, murmured conversations started up, and Spencer squeezed his eyes shut. From somewhere outside, somebody oblivious to the sacred ceremony going on in the chapel, drilled and then hammered on wood—bzzzz, thump, thump, thump, bzzz, bzzz, thump thump. At first, although stoking his irritation, Spencer had tried to ignore the intrusion, had tried to calm his mind. Eventually, his temper rose, and he readied himself to slip outside and give the workmen a piece of his mind. Except he found he could not move, his body pinned to the pew, his head and shoulders weighed down by an invisible force. Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz. Through a sheer effort of will, he managed to wrench his eyes open and found himself gazing up at the ceiling of a darkened room. His bedroom. He gasped aloud. Fully clothed still, he lay on the top of his bed. This time he could have sworn the buzzing sound came from nearby, from somewhere in the room. Finally, he managed to raise his head, slip on his glasses, and squint at the clock next to the bed. Five past four in the morning. Gasping for breath, he sat up as his senses kicked in. Had someone been ringing his intercom, because the persistence seemed reminiscent of something Darcy would do? Clambering out of bed, he rushed to the intercom and pressed the button, but on the video display, the space directly outside his front door was empty. Had he missed the person? Or had the buzzing and banging been in his head or his dream? Either way, he needed to know. Quickly shrugging on his padded coat and carpet slippers, he clambered down the stairs and yanked open the front door. Turning a full one-eighty, he scanned the road. Empty and deserted. Four in the morning and not a creature stirred. He had been about to turn around and head back indoors when a sound caught his attention. "Spencer! Spence!" Was he dreaming still? Because the voice calling out sounded a lot like Marshall's. And then there he was, that familiar figure, tall and impossibly composed, unfolding beneath the streetlight from the driver's seat of a parked car that Spencer hadn't noticed. Wrapped warmly against the frosty morning, he strode towards Spencer while yanking off the black woollen hat and mask he wore. No crutches, both arms and legs working, no visible bandaging—all the terrible things Spencer had imagined, the worst being losing him forever—had not happened. Marshall was alive and well and whole and unharmed. Halfway there, the concerned expression on Marshall's face morphed into a broad smile. And by that one simple act, smiling that beautiful smile, Spencer came unglued. Stood inside the entrance, his legs gave way from under him, and he collapsed to his knees, his eyes flooding. He wanted to pray to any and every god that would hear him, to thank them for being there, for listening and answering. Only peripherally, through blurred vision, did he notice the figure begin hurrying towards him, to scoop him up and pull him into a fierce embrace he never wanted to end. Without conscious thought, he clung on for dear life, arms and legs wrapping around his lover, a death grip that nothing could ever shake. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry," came the warm voice. "My phone got wrecked and then it got too late—" From deep inside of Spencer, a sobbing started up, his body shaking uncontrollably. In response, Marshall tightened his grip around him. "I thought—thought I'd lost you. I had a nightmare—that I'd never see you again." "Hey, hey. I'm here now, baby." Spencer was crying unashamedly now, all the pent up emotions of the past day finding release. "And I never got the chance to tell you I love you. I love you so much, Marshall." Marshall chuckled at that and nuzzled his nose into Spencer's ear. "I know you do, Spence. I love you, too. Come on, let's get you upstairs. I think we both need a hot drink. And I have some explaining to do." Unsurprisingly, Tiger sat regally in the doorway at the top of the stairs, blocking the way. Marshall stepped carefully over her and carried Spencer into the flat. Once he had ushered Tiger in and used Spencer's back to close the door behind them, he kissed Spencer deeply, a long lingering kiss that finally soothed away the undercurrent of terror filling Spencer this whole time. On finding his feet, he led Marshall over to the couch and made him remove his jacket and sit, before heading to his kitchenette. Keeping himself busy felt necessary, and he started by filling and switching on the kettle. "Have you slept at all?" When he looked around, Tiger had already burrowed herself into Marshall's lap, pushing her head into his hand, purring loudly, demanding to be petted. Spencer could hardly blame her. Everyone missed him. "A little. On the plane. Someone laid on a private jet to fly us home." Spencer pulled out two mugs and measured out teaspoons of instant coffee. No fancy coffee machines in his flat, but Marshall knew that. "You must be exhausted." "Funnily enough I was, but not now. After I gave up ringing your buzzer, I was about to sleep in the car and wait until later when you might be awake. Darcy told me you were home. We really need to do something about this offline status of yours, Spence." "I know, I know. Totally agree. I'm so sorry—" "I'm only kidding. Being offline has its advantages. It wasn't that long ago your flat felt like the safest place on the planet. Just you and me and nobody to touch us." "With me being the perfect gentleman." "Exactly. Although you no longer need be a perfect gentleman around me. I hope you know that?" Marshall's voice had lowered, and Spencer felt the words reverberate in his groin. For a second, he almost abandoned the drinks, but then restrained himself, knowing he had Marshall back in his life now. "Tell me what happened." Marshall sighed, but then, in the flawless, effortless way he had of talking, relayed the story of them landing in Kryszytonia and his exclusive interview with Chairman Tobias Karimov the afternoon before his inauguration. He clarified how they were there to shoot a documentary about the event, not to provide a live feed of the day, which is why other news channels had broadcast the incident and not his own. If anything, his crew had viewed the day of the inauguration as routine—they knew they could always get archive footage for the official ceremony from other media outlets. Marshall noted on the day that many countries hadn't bothered sending anyone to cover the event, citing the coronavirus as the cause. Marshall suspected the real reason was that another former Soviet republic changing heads of state was not particularly newsworthy. Sadly, he mused, it took a suicide bomber's assassination attempt on the president's life to prove them wrong, and grab the world's attention. Finally, the kettle boiled and Spencer brought over mugs of steaming coffee. After watching Marshall make a big deal of sniffing the steaming drink and then sipping with a frankly filthy moan, Spencer asked about his crew, especially about his cameraman. "No, no. Colm is alive and well. In the chaos, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. But a Polish cameraman, the same build as Colm, died in the explosion. I've been in wars zones, Spence, seen some horrific things, but the carnage will stay with me forever." "Darcy called me and I watched the news coverage, heard the report. Honestly, Marsh, although I didn't want to believe it, I didn't see how you couldn't have been affected. They showed the press people all lined up at the front of the stage, apparently where this person detonated the device." "Okay, so that's another story altogether. Come and join me." Marshall settled back and waited for Spencer to sit, an arm clamping around his shoulders, before beginning to tell Spencer about the day of the inauguration. "In the morning, we were offered a choice of setting up at the front of the square with everyone else, or next to the national network, on a gantry above the back of the stand. Kerry-Anne and I chose to set up at the back. As I said, we were there to film a documentary, and we knew we'd get better shots of the whole crowd and not have identical coverage to others. When the president made his speech, we left Colm filming. Kerry-Anne and I took a camera with the aim of perhaps getting some live, candid footage from the front, but also to see if we could speak to any dignitaries or other notable persons. I'm not even sure what made me look, but as we were passing behind the right stand on our way to the front, there was this row of kiosks and wooden stands selling fast food, drinks, and souvenirs. I only slowed to look for a second then carried on walking, but something caught my eye. Did you know Tobias Karimov's presidential mascot is a squirrel wearing a national flag waistcoat and bowtie? On this one particular stall, they sold these two-foot-tall stuffed mascot toys. I had to stop and laugh, and told an impatient and frankly unamused Kerry-Anne that if I didn't buy one, I would never be forgiven and probably never get laid again. And then, as I was paying, the bomb went off. I was thrown against the stall which came crashing down. Me and the stall owner were knocked off our feet, with a few scratches and bruises, but otherwise unharmed." "Thank goodness. Saved by the squirrel. And what happened to my souvenir?" "Still there, I'm afraid. All hell broke loose after that, Spence. Kerry-Anne had been less lucky, knocked against a concrete post and was out cold, so I stayed with her until I could find a medic. She'd come around by then, and seemed okay, but they insisted on taking her away to a medical unit, to get her checked over. I remained behind to help out the medical staff as best I could. Honestly, those guys deserve medals, the way they worked tirelessly to help the injured. A couple of times I wondered if I was just in the way, but they seemed to appreciate my help. After treatment and being let go, Kerry-Anne was able to find her way back to Colm and our guys—they were all safely out of range—and then they all came searching for me. In the meantime, not only had I lost my phone, but I'd offered to ride in an ambulance to hospital with two young French kids whose mother had been hurt and who lay unconscious. The ambulance men understood some English but not French, and although my spoken French isn't brilliant, at least I managed to translate for them and get them settled at the hospital, even finding a French speaking carer. By the time we got news that their mother was fine, night had fallen. I tried to return to the team, but by then, of course, the city was in lockdown, with roads cordoned off anywhere near the square. Eventually, I got the taxi to drop me at a police station, and after a couple of hours wait, they reunited me with the team who had been picked up by the president's security people. Kerry-Anne gave me an update on casualties. She also told me about some of the British teams being flown home." "We saw the breaking news. I so wanted you to be on that plane." "Almost as much as me. But by the time Kerry-Anne told us, those people would have landed and were probably already home. It was well after midnight in Kryszytonia. They never told us why, but the security team confiscated all of our phones and computers, so we couldn't let people know we were fine. And then we spent two to three hours being questioned by one officer or another, as well as going through the small amount of footage we'd shot. I'm guessing my friendship with Tobias paid off because they treated us well enough. They were the ones who informed us that he'd survived the blast with minor injuries, thank the heavens. And then, before we knew it, we were being bundled off to the airport, to a waiting jet. I still have no idea who laid that on for us. This would have been almost six in the morning local time, midnight here. After checking our documents, we were taken to a private lounge in the airport, given back our luggage and told to freshen up before the flight. None of us had changed our clothes since the morning. Both Kerry-Anne and I were filthy, still covered in dust and debris and blood, so the shower and new clothes felt wonderful. As soon as we joined the others in the lounge, we were being ushered off to the waiting plane, taking off as a new day was dawning over Kryszytonia." "And you came straight here?" "We landed just before three this morning. Zipped through immigration in absolutely no time—the wonders of private air travel. I called Darcy first of all, because I figured you'd either be there or at home. She suggested I come straight here, said you'd been worried sick and probably hadn't slept a wink. Somewhat cryptically, she also told me I owed her a home-cooked dinner." "Ah. I might have mentioned to her that you cooked for me." "Did you now? And what else did the pair of you say about me?" "How much we both love you," said Spencer, pecking Marshall on the lips. "Me more, naturally." Marshall took Spencer's almost empty mug and placed it with his own on the table, before gathering Spencer into his arms. Spencer melted into the kiss, savouring Marshall's unique smell and warmth. When Marshall pulled his head away to yawn, Spencer let out a soft chuckle. "I hope you don't mind, Spence, but I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Don't think I don't want you—you're all I could think about this past week—but if I don't get some shut eye soon, I'll be good for nothing." "Of course, you poor thing. Go on into the bedroom." "Um, I was thinking you'd join me. Keep me company." "It would be my honour." Spencer helped Marshall out of his clothes, undressing him as a parent would undress a child. Marshall simply stood there grinning, not moving unless Spencer guided him to do so. Eventually, wearing only his briefs, Spencer pulled back the covers and directed Marshall beneath. "I could get used to this," said Marshall, getting comfortable, as Spencer climbed in beside him, lining their bodies up, facing each other. "That's my masterplan," said Spencer. He closed the small gap and kissed Marshall, a long, measured kiss. He could afford long kisses now that his man was back safely. Something moved at the bottom of the bed, and Spencer saw Tiger making herself comfortable at their feet. Marshall's eyes had closed, and he appeared to be drifting off, but suddenly opened them. "Hey, before I forget. Something else happened while I was away," he said. "There's more?" said Spencer horrified. "Don't worry, this is something good. At least, I hope so. My mother sent me an email. She has this apartment overlooking the Thames—got the place in the divorce settlement—with a large terrace on the first floor, above the river footpath. It's in Rotherhithe and she usually rent it out to overseas professionals. But the last tenants were European and moved back home in June because of all the upheaval right now. So she had the place refurbished and it's been sitting empty since. Anyway, she wrote and asked if I would like to take the place over. Seems silly for me to be paying rent on a South Ken apartment when my mother's offering me one for nothing. And then I got to thinking that Rotherhithe is barely twenty minutes by train into London Bridge, where you'll be working next year. So I guess, what I'm trying to say is—" "Yes!" said Spencer, rolling on top of Marshall, kissing him playfully. "If you're asking if I want to come and live with you, then the answer is, yes. Of course, yes." Marshall's laughter rumbled through his chest. "Do you think her royal highness will be okay with just a terrace?" "Just a terrace? Are you kidding me? She's a house cat right now. But the number of times I've observed her sitting by the window, staring through the glass, pining to be outside. If you think she likes you now, wait until we move in together. She'll never leave you alone." Marshall's sigh came out deep and contented, and he shifted Spencer around to spoon him, an arm wrapped around his waist. "Can I ask you one question?" asked Spencer. "And then I promise to let you sleep." "Anything." "What colour is your mother's hair?" "Interesting question. White. Pure white. Naturally, too. It's always been her trademark. Even in her seventies now, her hair is amazing. She says it's her best feature, although I think she underestimates her many other qualities. I got dad's gene there. My hair is the same colour as father's." "I see. So her hair's never been red?" "Good lord, no. She'd never dream of dying her hair, and besides, she's never been a fan of redheads," said Marshall, and gently elbowed Spencer. "Where is all this coming from?" "Nothing. But I'd really like to meet her one day." Marshall kissed Spencer beneath the ear, then settled back into the pillow. "I would love nothing more than to introduce you. And the weird thing is, I already know she'll warm to you. I bet you two become the best of friends." "In the meantime, you'll need to survive my mother's cooking on Christmas Day." Marshall chuckled, his body vibrating along Spencer's spine. "Okay, Spence. Enough dramas for one day. Now go to sleep." "Good night, Marshall." "Good morning, Spence."
    95 points
  29. On Monday morning, when Spencer stepped out of the furthest of four lifts, the first thing that hit him was the appearance over the weekend of a giant Christmas tree twinkling with snowy white lights, baubles and tinsel, and green garlands decorating the reception desk. He stopped in his tracks and drank in the sight, already feeling better about his day. As he stepped forward unnoticed, he spotted Bev standing behind the reception desk, looming over Kim, talking loudly and clearly. On the way back home from the party, they had sat together in the back of the car and talked about her and Prince being a couple, while Nile navigated his way home, with Prince chipping in occasionally. They had spoken again more privately on Sunday over the phone when he went for a coffee at the local cafe. Listening to her talk happily about her situation with Prince made him feel better, too. And, for once, he had almost enjoyed his weekend. Today, she appeared to be dishing out instructions to Kim, but as soon as she looked up and saw him, her face transformed with a mischievous excitement he knew only too well. "Squirrel," she said, her voice a high pitched squeal. "Did you hear what happened? After we left?" "Happened where?" asked Kim, looking up from her screen. "Oh, nothing," said Bev. "Spencer and I went to a party on Saturday." "Blake's engagement party?" said Kim, rolling her eyes. "World's worst kept secret. I had calls from his friends about it all day Friday. And if you're talking about the newspaper article, then I imagine the whole office knows about the party by now." "Newspaper article?" asked Spencer, before wondering how many ‘worst kept secrets’ the office was actually keeping hidden. "Come with me," said Bev, leading him into the office, to her desk, where she had a copy of a free newspaper open to the centre pages. One side read Lord Moresby's Son Flaunts Lockdown Rules. Four photographs in full colour sat around the story. One that jumped out at him was of people crowding the dance floor, which, if you knew what you were looking for, had himself and Nile dancing and kissing. Who the hell had taken that? "After we left on Saturday, the barn got raided. There were only around thirty-five people left. Blake and Ambika had asked close friends and family to stay behind and party on. At around eight o'clock, the police and the press turned up and, after they eventually found him, Blake got charged. Under the current lockdown regulations, any illegal gathering of over thirty people and the police can issue a fine of ten thousand pounds." "Shit!" "I know, right? He should never have held the party. Thank goodness we left early, otherwise we'd have been complicit. No idea how your picture got in there. Prince thinks someone must have snuck their phone into the party. Probably the same person who was the whistleblower." "Blake must be so pissed off." "Yes, but not about the fine, which no doubt mummy and daddy will take care of," said Bev, grinning, then tapping her forefinger lower down the page. "Read the second to last paragraph. Out loud, please." "'Clearly eschewing social distancing rules but keeping things in the family, the husband-to-be, Blake Moresby II, was found outside the venue among the bushes by police officers—'" "'—having fellatio performed on him by the bride-to-be's youngest brother,'" finished Bev with a flourish, trying hard to stifle a laugh. “Yes, darling. Your ex royally fucked up." "Poor Ambika," said Spencer quietly, and really meant it. She didn't deserve this kind of embarrassment, having been the innocent one in the whole mess. Then again, maybe finding out now was better than when they were married. "What has Muriel had to say? Is she in the office." "No, she's off all this week. Supposedly preparing for the client party interview. Not sure if that's even going to happen now after having the family name splashed all over the paper. Do you think Marshall will walk away?" Funny, Spencer hadn't thought about Marshall all weekend. After he had not returned Spencer's calls, he had decided to back off, to let him make the next move. "Actually, no. I think Marshall's interview would be the perfect antidote. Let's face it, he's had a fair amount of public shit to deal with recently. I reckon he might make a good ally." "Are you going to talk to him, to Marshall?" "I've tried, Bev. He's still not returning my calls." "Oh, babe. I'm so sorry.” Just then, Bev's phone rang. "Oh shoot. I need to answer this and it's going to be a long one. Can you take the paper? There's something on page two you might interested in." Back at his desk, he switched on his computer and took off his coat readying for the day ahead. The story on page two centred around Hollingbroke who had walked away from yet another upcoming reality television show due to 'artist differences' with the director and producer. The article went on to analyse Hollingbroke's recent outing of ex-lover, Marshall Highlander, his spats with television executives, his fading career, and his rapidly declining popularity among viewers. Rightly or wrongly, Spencer thought there might be mention of him being checked into rehab, after what he had seen at the restaurant. But the article mentioned nothing. Once again, Spencer lost himself in his work and only came up for air at around eleven, when his phone rang with an external call. "Hello, can I speak to Spencer Wyrrell." Spencer thought he recognised the voice, female and professional. But the name escaped him. "Speaking." "This Madeleine Morrison from Peerpoint Consultancy. Do you have a moment?" Spencer knew about Peerpoint. They specialised in recruiting journalists and other professional editorial staff. Blackmore Magazine group rarely used them, their specialism aimed more at, what they referred to as 'serious minded journalism'. Not surprisingly, Muriel despised them. But sometimes senior members of staff at the Blackmore were called upon to provide references for juniors going on to better things, something Clarissa would have dealt with in the past. Spencer would need to become familiar with this side of the role if he was going to fight for the promotion. "I have a few minutes. Please go head." "Can I call you Spencer?" "Yes, of course," said Spencer, chuckling and continuing to work on the article on his screen. "Can I ask, Spencer. Have you heard of Ed Coleman?" Ed Coleman headed up the National Herald. Spencer only knew him by reputation, a hard-nosed, hard-working journalist and someone who had fought his way up through the ranks of the national newspaper industry to become the editor-in-chief at one of the most respected British newspapers in the country. Whoever had snagged a job with them, in no matter what capacity, was one lucky so-and-so. "Of course. But by reputation only, not personally. So what's this about, Madeleine?" "Ed looked over your online portfolio of work, and he was impressed—which, let me tell you, happens very rarely. He wants to meet with you. But with the current chaos and Christmas deadlines looming, he would rather do so sooner rather than later. How's your schedule fixed tomorrow? Would you be able to meet him for a chat? Maybe for an hour?" Spencer had not been paying full attention, and the words sank in slowly. "Wait. What? Ed Coleman wants to talk to me?" This time Madeleine chuckled politely. "Yes. Like I said, he was impressed with your work. Would you be able to find your way to their offices? They're in London Bridge. I can send you the location details. You're in Mornington Crescent, aren't you?" "I—uh—yes, I am." "Okay. It shouldn't be more than forty-five minutes by Tube. And then it's a five minute walk from London Bridge Station. Or you could get a taxi, if you're feeling flush. Can you make ten o'clock tomorrow morning?" "Yes, I can—I'm sure I can. What do I need to bring?" "Just yourself, Spencer." "But—uh—surely he doesn't want to see me just for a chat?" "Well, put it this way. I work for a recruitment agent that specialises in placements in the media sector. He's a legend in the newspaper business who is always on the lookout for fresh young talent. He'd rather go through the professional channels than approach you directly, so that's why I'm calling you and doing him this favour. After that? Well, I think you're smart enough to join the dots, don't you?" "I'll be there. Ten tomorrow. In fact, I'll get there fifteen minutes before. Can you send the details to my personal email account? Do I need to wear a suit? Does he—?" "Spencer, relax," said Madeleine, chuckling again. "You've already done the hard part by getting his attention. Just relax tomorrow and be yourself. Okay?” "Yes, yes. Okay. That you so much, Madeleine. You've absolutely made my day." "I'm glad. Now give me your mobile phone number and I'll text all the details." Spencer rattled off his number, and they both waited until the information pinged onto his phone. "All the best for tomorrow, Spencer. And just a small piece of advice. Ed is not a fan of Muriel Moresby, not a fan at all. I don't know exactly what happened, but I think they came to blows a while ago. I don't know how you feel about her, but I would steer clear of singing her praises. Are you okay with that?" "Oh, heavens. More than fine. You really don't have to worry about that." Madeleine laughed aloud this time. "Okay, then. You've got my personal number now. So will you give me a call and let me know how it went?" "I will. And thank you again." When Spencer ended the call, he threw himself back in his chair and sat staring at his phone for a full five minutes. Already nerves had begun to wriggle around in his stomach. And then the questions came. How had Ed found his way to Spencer's portfolio? Had somebody told him to take a look? Someone like Marshall? More than anything, he wanted to call Marshall and hear his voice, even if he hadn't been the one. But then who else? And did Madeleine mean that Ed was already preparing to offer Spencer a job? A real job, at the National goddamn Herald? After tilting his head to the ceiling and taking a deep, steadying breath, he looked around the almost empty office. Of the few staff at their desks, none of them realised the world had just shifted on its axis. Spencer wanted to run into Bev's office and tell her the news, but knowing she was busy, decided to send her a message and promise to get in touch with her after the interview. He also phoned Kim to let her know he would be working from home the next day. *** That evening, he tried in vain to calm himself. Three times, he considered calling Marshall's number but then relented. What if Marshall hadn't been the one who had talked to Ed? Although if not, then who? And what if he had decided to get back with Hollingbroke? He didn't want any bad news to cloud his upbeat mood. Eventually, he settled for a long hot bath and tried to relax, his mind still unable to concentrate on anything but Marshall. Finally, he let the inevitable happen, and used the fingers of one hand to play with himself while using the other to jerk himself to a shuddering climax. The release and diversion seemed to do the trick, and he managed to calm down afterwards. Once dressed in sweats, he pulled a frozen meal of Thai chicken curry with rice from his freezer and, while waiting for the microwave to do its job, tried watching television. When his front doorbell sounded at eight, he put down his plate and leapt off the sofa, only to see a bunch of young kids dressed in scarves and bobble hats—with two grown-ups behind—standing ready and holding out hymn sheets. Rolling his eyes, he realised the Christmas season had already begun. Scooping up three one-pound coins and some leftover candies from Halloween, he bounced down the stairs. He tried to smile through a cute but painful rendition of 'Ding Dong Merrily on High', where the chorus of Gloria sounded a little like a kindle of kittens on a runaway rollercoaster. Racing back upstairs to the warmth of his flat, he settled into the detective drama on the television and had just finished his meal when the doorbell sounded again. Another group of carollers stood outside. This time, he heaved out a sigh and considered ignoring them. Except he did not want to jinx his run of luck. Once again, he scooped up coins and sweets. When he opened the front door, this group of singers were adults, and their version of 'O Holy Night' was well-rehearsed with beautiful harmonies. People stopped on the street and came out of shops to listen. Luckily, Spencer had his wallet in his pocket and, at the end of the performance, handed over a crisp ten-pound note. Other people gave money, too. Coming back to his apartment, he went to his bedroom and scanned the clothes in his wardrobe, wondering what to wear for his interview. Would his usual combination of shirt and bowtie come across as too flamboyant? But then he remembered that Madeleine had told him to be himself, so he pulled out his cobalt blue suit, white shirt, and electric blue bowtie, and hung everything on the back of the wardrobe door, ready for the morning. Just after he had brought out his matching brown shoes and belt, the doorbell sounded again. "What the fuck." Three sets of carol singers in one night? Too much. This time, he ignored the caller. Very carefully, he placed the accessories onto his bedside cabinet and sat on the side of the bed, just as the doorbell sounded again. Beep. Beep. Bip-bip-bip. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeep. Somebody urgently needed to get his attention or was trying to contact him by morse code. He jumped up from the bed to check the video display, still unsure whether he wanted people to know he was at home. However, this time, the person whose nose almost pressed into the camera was instantly familiar. "Hi, Darcy." "Are you going to open this fucking door, or not?" "Coming." As soon as Spencer opened the front door, Darcy rushed past him without a word and began to hurry up the staircase. "You'd better have something to fucking drink," she said, as she thumped up the stairs as though wearing heavy Dr Martens. "My ears are so cold they might be about to drop off." "Lovely to see you, too, Darcy." "Fuck off." Inside the flat, Spencer went straight to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of white wine. Gino's wife had left the wine when she thought she would be cat-sitting for Spencer, the night of the aborted Bangladeshi meal. Before handing one of the tumblers to Darcy, he had a quick taste of his own to make sure he wasn't poisoning her, not that he could have told the difference. Darcy grabbed the glass tumbler and swallowed a mouthful, and didn't seem to mind. When she thumped the glass down on the countertop, Spencer jumped. "Something you probably don't know, Spencer. Joseph 'Joey' Hollingbroke was a client of mine. I was the one who succeeded in getting him the audition and negotiating the original gig on Waterloo Lane. Ungrateful little shit. Typical of some of these soap stars, as soon as they gain popularity, they want bigger and better. Eventually, Joey got bored with the show and wanted to break into Hollywood, and I didn't have the connections. So he fired me. What a lot of them don't realise is that films are a whole different ball game. Some make the transition. More become casualties along the way. Joey never really made the grade. All he picked up was a coke habit. So now he's pretty much doing anything that comes his way, just to stay in the public eye. I am ashamed to say that I encouraged his relationship with Marshall. Not because of any publicity, you understand, but because I thought Marshall would be a calming influence. Fucked that one up big time, didn't I? All I succeeded in doing was making Marshall miserable. And then you come along." "Darcy, I'm—" "No. You don't get to speak yet. I need you to hear me out, Spencer. Marshall has no idea I'm here. So consider this an intervention. Because I get the impression you're both waiting for the other one to call—" "I did call him, Darcy. A number of times but—" "I know, I know. I know what happened at the curry house. And then radio silence while Joey was playing him again, playing on his sympathies. Every time Marshall seems to get back on an even keel, there's Joey, entering stage left to fuck with him." "Joey looked terrible. Looked as though he was on something—" "Two years ago, maybe. But he's been clean since then. He's just really good at playing the victim, playing the role of the desperate junkie. And poor Marshall still buys it, every fucking time." The smile. Spencer remembered Hollingbroke smiling at him at the restaurant. Had everything else that evening been an act? Apparently so. "Anyway, I need you to sit down for me. Now," she said and waited until he had plopped down on the sofa before pulling out her phone. "Yes, I know you're in a cave here. But I recorded this onto my phone yesterday, a message from my answering machine. Seems like he's okay to say these things to me, when he should really be saying them to you. So shut up and listen." Darcy pressed play and placed the phone on the surface of his coffee table. "…the thing is, I really like him, Darce," came Marshall's deep baritone, a vulnerability in his voice that made Spencer's heart squeeze. "And I'm in trouble right now, because I don't know how to tell him. I've already let him down a couple of times, and I'm not sure I deserve another chance. But he's different. Every time he walks into the room, I feel lighter. I feel as though there's somebody in this world who sees the real me, someone who's on my side. And I honestly don't believe I've ever had that before, not with anyone. You know me, I give all or nothing, and I fear my heart has already decided—but that I've already lost him. I know things are difficult because I’m constantly in the public eye, and have to spend time away often in dangerous places, and even when I’m back, I’m buried in work for weeks on end in the studio. I know that if we do spend time in public together, I’m going to get recognised and he will, by association, become recognised, too. And I’m not sure it’s even fair to ask him to suffer the kind of invasion of privacy that comes with celebrity. I know I never asked for it for myself. But in the whole grand scheme of things, Darce, I hope Spencer realises that I’m just an ordinary man first. And famous last." Famous last. Spencer's eyes burned. Nobody had even talked about him that way before. And in that moment, he knew he had never given up on Marshall, knew he owed him a second chance. "Is he at home?" asked Spencer quietly. "Are you going to call him?" "No. I want to go and see him." "Now?" asked Darcy, her eyes wide. "Yes, right now." "Fuck my sexy sling backs. He's so right about you. Come on, I'll give you a lift. And on the way there, I'll let you have his address and the front door code. After that, you're on your own. But I'll alert the doorman that you're coming. That'll get you all the way up to his front door. How does that sound?" "Perfect." "The rest is in your hands." "Let's go." "Hang on. Before we go, do you need to bring anything? You know, just in case—?" Spencer remembered his interview. Did he dare bring his suit with him? Or would that be presumptuous? But then again, he was owed a sleepover. Maybe he needed to take a chance. He jotted something down on a notepad sitting on the coffee table. "Can you do me a favour?" "I thought I already was. What do you need?" "I'm going to pack a bag with work clothes. But can you nip to the coffee shop along the way. There's something I need you to get for me." Darcy snatched the piece of paper from his hand and let out a huff. "Honestly, the things I do. I'll see you downstairs at the car in five." "You're a star." "Yeah. And don't you fucking forget it."
    93 points
  30. “What do you think?” Ritch kept his eyes on the road, waiting for Bender to pass judgement. They had left Will’s old pickup at the Academy, agreeing Heinrich was a better ride, and were on their way to Wyoming to celebrate Thanksgiving with the Bender family again. Ritch was more concerned with the speech he was to deliver Friday morning. “It’s good, bro.” Will stashed the phone in a cup holder; he had been reading the remarks Ritch had prepared for the ceremony. “Short and sweet and very well written. I’m impressed.” “Ha! That was my dads’ doing with an assist from my brother. The initial draft I sent them came back with more corrections and suggestions than one of my school essays.” Melissa Griffon, Ritch’s aunt, engineered the return to Glenrock, insisting he represent the family. She had organized a ribbon cutting ceremony for the rehabbed and renamed clinic at the Bar Nunn Animal Rescue Center. During construction, Melissa had sent regular progress updates and included pictures of the structure, as the old barn’s insides were gutted and rebuilt. Her most recent message included a shot of the sign he was to unveil. It read: Davenport Family Animal Health and Nutrition Center. “Just out of curiosity, how much did you guys contribute? Melissa’s making a huge deal out of this.” Will had been verbally slapped a few times when he had brought up his friend’s wealth. He sounded apologetic for revisiting the matter. “The dads gave her a hundred grand.” Ritch had asked for the family foundation to make a yearly contribution to the animal shelter but had been surprised at the amount. “And they committed to doing the same for a few more years.” Will’s whistle was loud in the Porsche’s confines. “Damn! No wonder she’s making a big to do out of this. Remember to send me the speech once you finish tinkering. I have to include it with whatever pictures I take.” Ritch groaned. As pressured as he felt about properly representing the family when speaking on their behalf, the expected aftermath bothered him even more. When Melissa approached him about her plans, Ritch demurred, claiming he needed Academy permission before participating. He first spoke with Kai Palakiko, his squadron’s commander. The Cadet Lieutenant Colonel grinned like a fool when Ritch explained what his aunt wanted. “This is great, Peterson. The brass’ gonna eat this shit up!” Ritch had groaned then too. The reaction was not what he expected. He had hoped he would be refused permission to appear at the event. “What do you mean?” “This is an opportunity for the Academy to look good in public. Bro, they’re gonna fucking kiss your ass in the middle of The Terrazzo.” They did. When he explained he would spend Thanksgiving at Bender’s home, Will was called into the Public Affairs office too. He was tasked with attending the ceremony and documenting the event. Both were ordered to wear their service dress uniform to it. “Forgive my lack of eloquence. I’m only comfortable speaking in public when I’m berating lower-ranked cadets.” The chuckles from the small group in attendance gratified Ritch. His brother had suggested he start with humor to get the audience on his side. “Two years ago, after I turned eighteen, I became a member of my family’s charitable foundation’s board of directors. At my first meeting, I requested a donation for the Bar Nunn Animal Rescue Center. My parents suggested a larger gift than I asked for. Last year at Christmas, we presented my aunt, Melissa Griffon, with a check for a modest amount. “She extended an invitation my parents accepted to visit the Center. Upon their return, they asked me and the other members of the board to make a long-term commitment. Unanimously, their suggestion was approved. I’d like to announce The Davenport Family Foundation has pledged a total of half-a-million dollars to be disbursed over five years. We hope our contributions will help maintain the high level of care Bar Nunn has previously displayed.” A couple of politicians, a few donors, and the Center’s staff greeted his announcement with applause. The reporter sent by the Casper Star-Tribune snapped pictures of Ritch and the attendees. At the end of his remarks, Ritch agreed to answer questions about the foundation and its commitment. “Bro, this is sick. You made Air Force Times!” Joel Boxworth, Ritch’s roommate, rose halfway out of his chair and offered him a fist bump. Will and Ritch had left Wyoming late in the afternoon on Friday, spent Saturday skiing and chasing women in Vail, and Saturday night with a pair of sisters from Arizona. They returned to Colorado Springs on Sunday. Monday had been busy with classes, squadron business, and a short conversation with Miranda Kerr about the ski club. Ritch sat at his desk trying to prioritize his responsibilities for the coming week. “We did?” “Here, take a look.” Joel handed his tablet over. “You look a little like your aunt.” The picture showed Ritch and Melissa flanking the sign he had just unveiled. “Yeah… same dark hair and blue eyes. At least I don’t have any gray like she does. Yet. I swear, Joel, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the end of the semester. The group project for Leadership, Teamwork, and Organizational Management’s kicking my ass.” “You’ll make it, Peterson. All you have to do is ask for help, and The Wing will fly to the rescue.” Joel grinned and pointed at the tablet. “Did you notice the article’s byline? They included Bender and credited the photograph to him.” Ritch glanced at the screen and grinned. “That’s cool! Maybe instead of joining JAG, he’ll work in public relations.” The Judge Advocate General's Corps, also known as the JAG Corps or JAG, was the legal arm of the United States Air Force. “Yeah, right. That boy wants to be a lawyer as much as you want to be a pilot.” Joel appeared lost in thought for a moment. “You know something? This shit’s entirely unfair. You’re a hunk. Your brother and his husband are too, and your dads are DILFs. As if that wasn’t enough, you guys have big money and big hearts. Don’t you have a hidden brother I could marry?” It felt good to laugh. Joel was a great roommate. “Sorry, Boxworth. No more of us, and I’m definitely not interested.” Because CJ and Owen were expecting, and the birth was to happen around the end of the year, the family convened in Washington for Christmas. Both homes were full of visitors, and the mounds of presents under the trees rivaled each other. The period between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester had been stressful for Ritch. He felt overextended and questioned his ability to juggle all his responsibilities. It may have been sibling rivalry or his competitive spirit, but after hearing what his brother’s schedule was like, Ritch felt reenergized and ready to tackle whatever came his way once he returned to base. Following the stay in Key West in late spring, Owen resumed work at the Nature Conservancy. CJ went back to school for another degree, started working part time as a consultant, created a new not-for-profit, and somehow found time to write another book. Diplomat Dad: Un Año en Mexico would be published in January and excerpts had already been released to the media. The clamoring for interviews and appearances was immediate, but CJ refused to schedule any before the end of the year except for one. “Why are you dragging me to this thing when I could be home catching up on six months of no sleep?” Ritch was in the back of his brother’s Tesla next to his niece. “Mate, it’s Boxing Day!” Owen glanced at his brother-in-law in the rearview mirror. “I know it’s not celebrated in the U.S., but in the Commonwealth, it’s when we give presents to those in need. At least that’s one of the reasons for the holiday.” “And because José Andrés asked me to speak to the troops.” CJ chuckled. “Get it? Troops?” “Ha, ha. Why does everyone in the family insist on using bad military puns?” Ritch had been bombarded with them from the moment he entered the Academy. “That’s the famous chef who dissed Trump, right?” “Yep.” When announcing his run for the White House, the xenophobic presidential candidate had denigrated immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, calling them murderers and rapists. José Andrés’ reaction had been swift; he canceled plans to open a restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. “He’s on the board of DC Central Kitchen. We met him a few years ago at their annual Capital Food Fight fundraiser, and we’ve kept in touch.” “The organization prepares meals for schools, shelters, and nonprofits, Ritch. While training people for the food industry.” Owen took turns around Stanton Park faster than he should have, and Liebe squealed each time she was jostled from side to side. “She likes this, so we try to do it a couple of times whenever we take her out.” “Anyway, bro. Although I said no to every other request, I couldn’t turn José down when he asked me to come speak. He called it a treat for paid staff and volunteers.” “For some reason, he thinks your brother’s inspiring. Beats the hell out of me why.” “Asshole.” CJ mumbled the word in deference to their daughter being in the vehicle. Ritch once again marveled how his brother and brother-in-law complemented each other, even when telling a story. They almost finished each other’s sentences. He hoped to one day have a similar relationship. “So, CJ, really, why did you agree to do this? You were adamant about not risking being busy around birth time.” CJ chortled. “Birth time? When we came back from Mexico, we went to Heroes Haven for a visit. To make a long story short, we met a guy who had been a cook before he became homeless. José gave him a job when I asked. The man’s employed, has his own apartment, and last I heard was dating a volunteer at World Kitchen.” “That’s cool.” As usual, Ritch was impressed by how CJ pulled people together. “And it reminds me of something I’d forgotten to tell you guys. There’s a group in Colorado Springs starting a small house community for homeless vets!” “Really? You been there? How does it compare?” CJ had turned to look at his brother. “Nope. I read something about it and sent them a hundred bucks as a contribution. I think they plan on breaking ground on the first houses in spring.” Owen suggested what had already crossed Ritch’s mind. “You should go volunteer. And take them a copy of A Home for Warriors.” “We have a bunch of discs at home. Remind us to give you a couple to take back.” CJ, as usual, pushed his brother to get involved in the community. “Hell, you should organize a bunch of cadets to do it with you. I’m sure the Academy would approve it. Win win for them. They help veterans, and they get positive PR.” “And based on Thanksgiving, we know they love that shit.” Ritch had been the center of attention in his squadron after the article was published. “This might just get you another promotion, bro.” Ritch flew to Colorado on January 2, 2023. On the fourth, he became an uncle twice over. That night, he video-called Washington, and got to virtually meet his nephews. The next day, everyone he ran into was forced to look at pictures of Jefferson and Roosevelt Abelló. It was impossible to tell them apart. Miranda, beer in hand, walked into Ritch’s room and dropped herself on the bed. “We need to talk.” Ritch groaned. “What did I do now?” Following their ice cream outing, Miranda had gradually relaxed around him. By the time they were on the bus to Vail, for the Ski Club’s now annual MLK trip to Falcons Lair, they were back to joking and laughing together. “Why, Peterson, is there something I should know about?” Her expression was pure evil. “Let’s just say when you walk in my room while I’m getting undressed to shower, I wonder what you’re looking for.” “In your dreams, Romeo. I wanted to talk about spring break without the crowd hearing. Where we going this year?” Ritch was surprised. Although their relationship had regained normalcy, he could not believe she wanted to travel with The Wing again. “Really? You want to go somewhere with us? I thought—” “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” Miranda sounded dismissive. “Just because you know I’m a lesbian, I’m not gonna crawl under a rock and hide. Been there, done that, and it didn’t work.” She drained the remainder of her beer and placed the empty bottle on the nightstand. “You helped me realize I really don’t have a lot to be scared of, Peterson. I’ve done a lot of thinking since our little chat. I’m not going to blab about it on social media, but I’m ready to step out of the closet before graduation. I’ll start with whoever travels with us.” “Fuck! You have horrible timing. But I’m proud of you. Anyone gives you shit, you let me know. I’ll back you up.” “Oh, like you stood up for Boxworth? Are you gonna run into a fist for me too?” Miranda joined a long line of friends who had given him crap about getting decked the previous semester. “Fuck you! Anyway, we’re not going anywhere, unless one of you organizes it. I’m gonna be in Washington, meeting my new nephews.” Liebe hung over the back of the sofa, her little arms squeezed around Ritch’s neck, while Taisha tried to take a picture. He held two nephews in one arm, and the third in the other. “Loosen up, Liebe. You’re gonna strangle me.” The previous year, looking for a larger home to start a family in, cousin Rod and his wife purchased the house across the alley from CJ and Owen. A month after Jefferson and Roosevelt were born, Taisha gave birth to Raishod Abelló. “Take the picture already. We don’t want him to drop any of them.” CJ had been home when Ritch stopped by. So had Taisha. Owen and Rod were out together running errands. Something about low diaper stock and having to increase the frequency of Amazon deliveries. “They look so cute dressed the same.” Taisha at last took the picture and immediately snagged her son from his perilous position. Ritch had brought home three identical Air Force onesies for the newborns. Prior to sitting on the couch and posing, he had helped dress them. “Ugh! Somebody crapped their diaper, and I’m not sure which one it is.” One at a time, he raised his nephews, so he could smell better. “This one,” he said while jiggling his right arm. “That’s Roo. I’ll change him.” CJ lifted the culprit and started unsnapping his outfit. “Roo? He’s got a nickname already?” “Blame her!” Taisha nodded in Liebe’s direction. “She complained the names were too long, so she christened them Jeffer, Roo, and Raish. Although she calls her cousin Rash right now, I have a feeling those nicknames are gonna stick. They’re kinda cute.” With only one kid left in his arms, Liebe ran around the couch and jumped on Ritch’s lap. “I like my shirt, Uncle Ritch.” “A little large on you, kiddo. It’ll fit better when you get bigger.” During football season, the Air Force Academy Falcons had worn a jersey honoring the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The smallest kid size was too big for the girl, but she had insisted on wearing it as soon as Ritch gave her the package. “There’s a good seamstress at the corner dry cleaners we use.” CJ had returned and had Ritch hold both boys again. “Time to feed the monsters. Hang on to them while I get the bottles ready.” He took the few steps to the kitchen and rummaged through a cabinet. “Anyway, about that seamstress. I’ll take the shirt over and have her take it in a bit. At a minimum, we need to shorten it, so Liebe doesn’t trip over the hem.” Ritch had made sure Roo was on his left and Jeffer on the right. He had no idea how CJ could tell them apart, or if anyone else could. He sure as hell had not discovered any differences in the boys. “And we have a full house.” CJ tapped the screen on the kitchen’s tablet. “Rod and Ozzie just pulled into the garage, and Harley and Kim are at the front door.” He looked at Ritch, tilted his head a tad and grinned. “Hope you’re ready for this, bro, Lucy’s with them. Everhope, unlock front door.” Ritch wanted to stand but was trapped on the couch. Until someone relieved him of at least one kid, he did not dare move for fear of dropping either. He and Lucy had briefly seen each other since breaking up during their senior year in high school and traded generic holiday greetings via texts. Otherwise, they had no contact. His jaw dropped when she followed her brother and his girlfriend into the kitchen. With her long, dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, and wearing almost no makeup, she looked better than most women did, without even trying. Their eyes met, she smiled, and his heart fluttered. Harley preempted anyone saying a word, when he immediately bumped fists with CJ and opened his mouth. “Bruh, we’re on our way to the airport to drop off my sister, but she wanted to meet the boys before heading back to school. Kim drove so I wouldn’t have to, and that means we can sample a new weed a guy whose motorcycle I work on all the time gave me. Never heard about it before, but Wedding Crasher’s dope. I smoked a joint last night, and that was enough. It—” Instead of verbally stopping the monologue, CJ hip-butted his friend, and nodded in the family room’s direction. Looking over, Harley realized they weren’t alone. “Oh, hey, Ritch. When did you get in?” “This morning. Hi, Kim. Haven’t seen you in a while.” Ritch smiled at Harley’s girlfriend, but his eyes never left Lucy. “You look great, Lucy. Headed back to Boston?” She was a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Yep. I guess you’re starting your break?” She pecked CJ’s cheek and walked towards the couch. “Can I hold one of them?” “Yeah, I decided to come home this year to meet the munchkins.” He looked down at his nephews and grinned. “Pick a baby. Any baby you want, since I can’t move real well with both of them.” Lucy lifted one of the boys from Ritch’s arms and cradled him in her own. “Oh, look at him smile!” Ritch ended up sandwiched between her and Taisha, each of them holding an infant. “Photo op! Don’t anyone move.” Owen stood in front of them and snapped a couple of shots. “Rod went next door, Taisha.” “On that note, I’m joining him. Time to feed Raish. My boobs are so full they hurt.” “How old is he now?” Kim had approached the group and perched herself on the sofa’s arm. “A month?” “Almost six weeks.” Taisha looked tired. Ritch assumed she was not getting a lot of uninterrupted sleep, if she was breast-feeding the boy. “You should take a nap, T. You look exhausted.” “Kim, wanna hold him for a minute so I can get up?” Baby-free, Taisha struggled to rise. “I use the pump, so Rod can do some of the night feeds, but it’s still a pain. As much as I love him, I’m not sure I want to do this again. He may well be an only child.” “It gets better.” Owen reached for the boy in Ritch’s arms. “With Liebe, we always complained about the middle-of-the-night feedings. Now, with two, both of us get up, get it done, and fall back to sleep as soon as we hit the bed.” Owen grabbed his son from Ritch’s arms. “Come on, Jeffer. Uncle Ritch can hold you again later.” Two steps on his way to the kitchen, Owen turned around. “Actually, Kim, wanna feed Roo? That way Harley and CJ can go outside, and Lucy and Ritch can catch up about school.” “Yes! I’d love to.” The Vietnamese-American woman took the other infant from Lucy and followed Owen. Alone with his ex-girlfriend, Ritch wiped sweaty hands on his jeans. “Wanna go see the nursery? They redecorated it when Liebe moved to her own room and the boys took it over. I’ve only seen pictures myself.” “I’d like that.” Lucy stood and offered Ritch a hand. “Come on, I don’t have a lot of time before I have to be at the airport. I saw the picture they posted. The dolphins mobile looked really cute.” “You follow my brothers on social media?” Ritch was surprised. “Don’t be silly, Ritch. How long have I known CJ? Of course I follow him and Owen.” She looked down before raising her head and locking eyes with Ritch. “I follow you too, you know? You seem to be doing well and enjoying the snow.” “Really? You follow me?” Ritch was beyond thrilled; something inside felt warm. Although they had agreed to break up after she terminated an unexpected pregnancy, he had never stopped having feelings for her. All the getting laid was fun, but Lucy was often in his thoughts. Climbing the stairs behind him, Lucy chuckled. “Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I? I loved the pictures you posted of you and your friends in front of the Vail house. It looks better than what my brother described.” Harley had been part of the group celebrating CJ’s eighteenth birthday skiing. “You should come out for a visit. I’ll have plenty of passes next year.” The multiple promotions would provide additional ones again. “And since I have Heinrich at the Academy, I can drive to Denver and pick you up. Maybe over a long weekend?” “Tempting… We’ll see.” “Tio Ritch, quiero un taco.” Liebe, sitting next to him, pointed at the container of moo shu pork and the thin pancakes resembling Mexican tortillas. He had spent the entire day at Everhope, joining CJ and Owen, when they took the kids to Lincoln Park two blocks away. “They’re not really tacos, Liebe. This is Chinese food.” “You take a tortilla”—she pointed at the unfurled aluminum the restaurant had wrapped them in—“and then you put that stuff in it.” This time she signaled the pork dish. Owen pushed the container a little closer. “Forget it, Ritch. To her it’s a taco no matter what you say. She got hooked on the things while we were in Mexico City.” From across the table, Brett pointed an eggroll at Ritch. “You staying here tonight, or you coming back to Georgetown with us?” The fathers had stopped by the restaurant to collect the previously ordered food and joined their sons for Sunday dinner. Ritch was conflicted. As much as he wanted to spend the night and wake up the next day with Liebe, Roo, and Jeffer, the Georgetown townhouse was still legally his home. “I’ll go home tonight, but I’ll spend a couple of nights here later in the week. If that’s okay with you and Dad.” “Fuck! Now César and I won’t be able to walk around naked. And we’ll have to keep the noise down.” “You said a grown up word, Grandpa Cap. You’re not allowed to do that in front of me.” “Grandpa Cap? When did that start?” Ritch grinned at his niece. “Cap’s been a bad boy, Liebe. We’ll have to punish him. Should we spank his behind?” The girl giggled while nodding. “I’ll put him in time out later.” César winked at Ritch. “You do realize when you spend the night here you may be put to work in the middle of the night, right? Those kids don’t feed themselves.” “Whatever… That don’t scare me. The smelly diapers do.” A week later, he did not want to leave. He had changed his share of diapers, fed his niece and nephews more than once, and decided he wanted a couple of rugrats too. When the time was right. Ritch found himself in a quandary as the end of spring semester approached. Earlier in the year, he had invited Wendy Jones to be his date, but his encounter with Lucy Wilkinson had left him confused. Their conversation had been short due to the impending departure of her flight at the time. Still, they had made plans to see each other again. His philandering over the past couple of years had been fun, but it never dimmed the torch he carried for Lucy. Seeing her in Washington, he realized he was still infatuated with the woman. Maybe the time away from each other had been for the best. After all, having been together since they were kids, the separation allowed him time to mature and determine the depth of his feelings. “Thanks, bro.” Joel stood in front of the mirror and adjusted his bowtie. “How’d you learn to do one of these so well?” Ritch finished tying his own. “My brother. I’ve been going to formal events since I was a kid. He used to tie them for me before I learned how to. Hell, I’ve outgrown three tuxedos so far. Let’s see how long this one lasts.” It was not a tuxedo per se he wore, but the Air Force equivalent. He thought he and Joel looked resplendent in their mess dress uniforms, and he liked the fact it was a distinctive blue instead of black. When his phone buzzed, Ritch smiled before he even picked it up. “See you at dinner, bud. That was Wendy. She’s on her way, so I’ll go wait for her outside.” Joel smirked. “Someone’s getting lucky tonight.” “Asshole!” The American college tradition of class rings began with the class of 1835 at West Point. From there, it spread to Annapolis. The Air Force Academy continued the custom, beginning at its inception. It was the only service academy to have had them for every class. Ritch had ordered his ring in January, and along with the rest of the Class of 2024, would take possession of the prized jewelry that evening. The Ring Dinner Dance took place at the beginning of Graduation Week festivities for the class ahead of the ring recipients. He smiled when Wendy waved at him from inside the Uber he had sent for her. Later that night, after the event ended, he would drive her to The Lodge at Flying Horse, where he had reserved a room. “Oh my god! You look gorgeous.” Ritch extended a hand to help her out of the car. As she planted a high heel on the ground, the side slit on her full-length black skirt opened, revealing a shapely leg. Ritch swallowed. “Why, thank you, Colonel Peterson.” He had mentioned his upcoming promotion to her over the phone. “You look very handsome yourself.” “Thanks, Wendy. And thank you for agreeing to be my date.” “My pleasure. I’m actually looking forward to it. The Academy’s so different from regular schools. I’m curious to see what happens tonight.” While most C2Cs were of legal drinking age, Ritch would not turn twenty-one until July. “You know, this really sucks.” He looked around the table and shook his head. “You all get to have champagne, while I’m stuck drinking ginger ale.” “Suck it up, Romeo. I’m sure you’ll make up for it as soon as you get a chance.” Edrice had invited the daughter of his sponsor family’s neighbors. The girl he had drooled over the past couple of years was now eighteen and a senior in high school. “Shut up, Bond.” Ritch had started the nickname as a nod to Cadet King’s interest in intelligence work. “Anyway, time to do the deed.” He smiled at Wendy. “Ready?” She had been clued in on the tradition and called it silly fun. Her nod was the signal Ritch was waiting for. With him in the lead, every cadet raised their flute; their class rings were at the bottom. Following a toast, they downed the contents and ended up with the rings between their teeth. The smiles were augmented by giggles from a couple of dates. “Pucker up, Romeo.” Wendy grabbed the back of Ritch’s head and pulled in her direction. Although not sloppy, the kiss was far from chaste. She ended up with the ring in her mouth. “Are they all white gold?” she asked while wiping it dry with her napkin. “Yeah… The other academies use yellow gold, so ours are distinctive.” Ritch held out his hand, and she slipped the ring on. Weeks before the Ring Dinner, after returning from spring break in Washington, Ritch had a chat with Wendy. He explained he had encountered his ex while on vacation. They had talked and made plans to see each other again. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen, Wendy, but I don’t want to lead either one of you on. I’ll understand if you don’t want to go to the Ring Dance with me.” “You know something Mr. Peterson? You’re an honorable man. Unless you tell me you don’t want me there, I’d still love to go.” “I do. I think it’ll be fun. Even if we’re going as just friends.” “That’s all we’ve ever been, Ritch. Friends. I’ve had fun with you, but I never thought it was more than that. And of course I want to go with you. It’ll be a blast and an experience.” Once the ring bash was over, Ritch drove Wendy to the hotel, said goodbye outside, and promised to let her know what happened with Lucy. “Peterson, it’s been a pleasure.” Kai Palakiko gave Ritch a bro hug and took a step back. “You tear it up this coming year, and we’ll hopefully end up training together.” Kai was on his way to pilot school, although unlike Ritch, he was not interested in fighter jets. His goal was to one day be in command of Air Force One. “Man, I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me. I’ll try to live up to your example. Let me know if you get leave and want to go skiing. The family place in Vail ain’t going nowhere.” Miranda Kerr’s goodbye embrace was in contrast longer and more effusive. Not interested in flying, she wanted to put her degree in Political Science to use at the Pentagon. Her initial posting was at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. “I won’t report for thirty days, so I’ll miss you when you go back home.” “Yeah, but I’ll be home regularly, so we’ll connect.” Ritch had grown to appreciate her quirky sense of humor and respect her professionalism. He hoped she would sometime soon feel comfortable enough in her sexuality and throw open the closet doors, never to close them again. “Remember my brother’s expecting you to call him. CJ, Owen, and the dads will, at a minimum, offer you a home-cooked meal now and then. And my brother’s going places.” Ritch smirked and tapped fists with her. “Feel free to hitch your wagon to him.”
    92 points
  31. Sunday morning, Spencer stood outside the Bermondsey apartment in a plain white towelling robe over his tee and pyjama bottoms. Overlooking the Thames, someone had adorned the apartment’s concrete terrace with lush evergreen plants and bushes in China blue and white pots, and terracotta plant holders, not unlike Muriel Moresby’s penthouse apartment. Spencer cradled a mug of steaming coffee against his chest, watching a barge inch down the Thames. Tiger sat stock still beside him, watching vigilantly as birds chirped excitedly in the naked branches of a tree across the way. Behind him, a door slid open and shut. “Bit fresh to be out, isn’t it?” said Marshall, coming to stand beside him and putting a warm and comforting arm around his shoulders. Spencer noticed he had a matching towelling robe on, with a folded newspaper stuffed into one pocket. “Aren’t you cold?” “Her royal highness wanted to come out and do her business. And then forgot all about it when she spotted the party going on in the tree over there.” Built on a lower floor, the apartment looked directly onto treetops lining the river walkway. Marshall had told him they were cherry trees and would blossom spectacularly in spring. Something else on his long list of things to look forward to in the new year. “She does love the terrace, doesn’t she?” “Of course, she does. We both do. Her, because she’s finally got some open space.” “And you?” “Because it’s not too far from the ground. In case you ever feel the urge to step over the railing.” “Arse,” said Marshall, pushing his nose into Spencer’s ear and nipping the lobe. The moment he had walked over the threshold, Spencer had fallen in love with the flat, which felt far more like a home than Marshall’s South Kensington space. All of the furnishings had been chosen for comfort not style, the cosy tan sectional settee with a place for two to lie next to each other while watching the television, giant cream cushions that could be used on the shag pile carpet, to sit upon. Once the authorities had lifted restrictions, he couldn’t wait to get friends over for dinner and drinks. In the days leading up to the New Year, when Marshall wasn’t rushing into the studio to put the finishing touches to their Kryszytonia documentary, they had moved in together, with Spencer informing his landlord that he could have the flat back early to begin refurbishing. “When you’re finished, your ladyship,” said Marshall, tilting his head down at Tiger. “I have some new gourmet canned food for you to try out.” Almost on cue, Tiger blinked up at Marshall, and Spencer could almost believe she smiled at him before she moved over and sat between her new master’s slippers. “You’re spoiling her.” Marshall crouched down and scratched her head, a manoeuvre he knew she would love. The two of them had bonded well, Tiger loving having the run of the apartment and, of course, the terrace. “It’s a New Year’s treat. Anyway, I have to make sure she’s on my side, if I want to keep her owner happy.” “You really don’t need to worry, you know. Both of us couldn’t be happier. I absolutely love this place. Apart from the sex-on-demand, it’s much bigger than my old gaff, has amazing views, modern kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, and, to top it all, is incredibly convenient. I can’t believe we did the journey to my new office in less than thirty minutes yesterday.” “Over the weekend, too,” added Marshall. “When the service is probably limited. How are you feeling about tomorrow? Nervous at all?” Having sorted the apartment out during the week—Spencer had brought mainly clothes and Tiger’s things—they had Saturday free, so Marshall suggested they do a trial run using public transport ready for Monday, Spencer’s first day on the new job. On their way back, they had shopped in a supermarket together, a simple domestic chore that had Spencer’s heart bursting with pride. They were officially a couple. “Not so much nervous, more excited.” “You’re going to be just fine. And, by the way, I’ve got an online meeting with the publisher tomorrow. Are you going to need to clear your involvement with Ed?” “I’ll talk to him tomorrow. But I can’t see it being an issue.” Rather than ghostwrite Marshall’s autobiography, Spencer had suggested they write the book together, as co-authors. Marshall had taken some persuading, citing his busy work schedule, but Spencer had convinced him with the image of them both holding the finished hardback in their hands with both named as authors. In the end, Marshall agreed that this did indeed feel like the right solution. “Have you thought any more about the elements you want in the book? Key events that shaped your life and career? It’s important to focus on exceptional things and anecdotes that are going to grab the attention of the reader, but in your line of work I’d expect there to be lots.” “What sort of things did you have in mind?” “Oh, you know? Special moments. Like having a drug lord put out a hit on you because they didn’t like the interview you’d done with them.” Peripherally, Spencer noticed Marshall turn to him. “You know about that?” “Is it true, then? Joey said something that day I bumped into him at the bar, but I wrote the comment off as his usual brand of bullshit.” “No. I interviewed Roberto Fiorelli back in 2018 and backed him into a corner. Not the smartest man on the planet, and not the first person I ever pissed off on screen. He did indeed threaten to end me himself. We had a roomful of witnesses, but I took it all as bluster.” “You weren’t worried?” “Not unduly. Wouldn’t be the first time somebody got pissed off at me because I made them out to be some kind of pond dweller. Besides, six months after the interview aired, they had a family disagreement. Fiorelli’s brother-in-law decided he could run the outfit better, went into a restaurant in downtown Boston with his gang of three for a confrontation. Only the restaurant staff walked out alive.” “That is definitely going into the book.” Marshall chuckled, and they fell into a comfortable silence for a few moments. “By the way, have you read the paper this morning?” asked Marshall. “Only the front cover. But we’ve got all day.” Even in the coldness of the morning, just saying the words aloud filled Spencer with warmth. After a leisurely breakfast, he planned on taking Marshall back to bed. Maybe later, he would finish the Sunday newspapers, or perhaps he could persuade Marshall to read aloud to him, a new and surprisingly effective form of foreplay. “Thought you might be interested to see this.” Marshall pulled the newspaper out of his pocket and handed Spencer what looked to be a full-page advert. “I don’t have my glasses—” “Here they are.” Marshall pulled them out of the same pocket and placed them on Spencer’s nose. When he focused on the top of the page, he screwed up his nose. “Positions Vacant? Why would I be interested in— Oh, I see.” The full-page advertisement was for the award-winning Blackmore Magazine Group and contained no fewer than eight positions vacant. Spencer skimmed them briefly, seeing his and Bev’s former roles advertised, before noting the contact person listed at the bottom of the page. Madeleine Morrison from The Peerpoint Consultancy. “I meant to tell you,” said Spencer, handing the paper back. “Blake sent me an email overnight. Probably from his hospital bed. Asked if I would consider coming back to Blackmore, to officially take over Clarissa’s role, if the pay and incentives were right. I declined immediately. I want nothing more to do with their family.” “I would have been unhappy if you’d even considered the idea. You’ve made a good career move, Spence.” “Yes, I know. But I kind of feel sorry for Blake. I think he can see the writing on the wall, and he’s getting desperate. I’d bet you money he contacted Bev and Prince, too.” “Who would also have said no, if they have any sense. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for bad management, Spence. From everything you’ve told me, Muriel Moresby knew exactly what she was doing but has the emotional quotient of a grinch. I’ve seen the same thing time and time again, bad business owners treating good staff appallingly, and then blaming everyone but themselves when things go belly up.” “Wow. Harsh, Marsh.” “That’s because I know what you’ve been through, Spence. I love what you told her about burning bridges. But now is not the time for looking back. My mother has a mantra for whenever she’s been brave enough to get herself out of something bad. Accept. Expel. Move on. Accept what has happened. Expel any negative emotions the memory still evokes. And finally, move on with your life.” “Accept. Expel. Move on.” “Exactly.” Spencer ran the words over and over in his head. After a while, he turned to Marshall. “You know, I’m surprised Blake didn’t get Muriel to phone you, get you to try and sway me. Now she knows you and I are an item. And after you agreed to the client event interview.” “That’s never going to happen, I’m afraid.” “You’ve spoken to her?” “I don’t need to. But once you see the final cut of my interview with her and Lord Moresby, you’ll understand why. A number of my additional questions made her extremely uncomfortable—although his lordship was a good sport. Anyway, I know for a fact she contacted my producer to demand that some of them not be used. Fortunately, she signed a waiver, meaning we can air whatever we want. And we’re using everything. So, no, she won’t be calling me anytime soon.” Spencer slipped his arm around Marshall’s waist. “Remind me never to get on your bad side.” Marshall draped his arm back across Spencer’s shoulders and kissed his temple. “Never going to happen.” “You know, I do have Muriel to thank for something,” said Spencer, after a few moments. “Whatever could that be?” “You. Unknowingly, she brought us together. At that charity event in her penthouse flat back in October. If it hadn’t been for that, we might never have met.” “Was it only October?” “I know, right?” Right then, Spencer’s tummy rumbled, and they both laughed. “Come on, let’s get you some breakfast. And then we need to shower and I need to have a conference call with Darcy. I know it’s Sunday, but she’s insisting. So I’d like you to join, if that’s okay? If you’re there, she might keep it short and snappy.” “Of course. What’s it about?” “It’s Darcy, Spence. Who the hell knows?” Marshall and Spencer had already talked about divvying up chores around the place, with Spencer opting for the general household tasks of vacuuming, cleaning and making the bed. At the same time, Marshall confined himself to the run of the kitchen. The arrangement suited Spencer completely, and he only baulked a little at Marshall’s insistence at continuing to have a cleaning person to come in one day a week. While they were both at work, somebody reliable his mother had used for more than six years would go in, someone who was also a cat lover. They had only just finished their breakfast of hot oatmeal, fresh fruit and honey—with the obligatory mugs of fresh coffee—when Darcy’s call came through. Marshall had already rigged up the large flatscreen on the kitchen wall so they could take the meeting without getting up from the kitchen island. The moment Marshall accepted the call, a fullscreen version of Darcy appeared, her hair pinned up hastily on her head, no makeup, and wearing what appeared to be a Chinese silk dressing gown in scarlet with small golden dragons around the mandarin collar. “Good morning, lovebirds,” she said grinning and then sipping from a mug. “Morning Darcy,” they spoke in unison. “Is this going to take long? We’ve got some urgent things needing taken care of this morning.” asked Marshall, as Spencer felt a warm hand land on his upper thigh beneath the table. “Don’t worry, I won’t keep you long. Got some interesting updates for you.” First, Darcy talked about the book, their online meeting with the publisher and what to expect. He loved the way she worked, telling Marshall she would kick off proceedings, and instructing him to steer away from any hint of money topics; advances or percentage royalties. She would take care of all that. Eventually, she got onto the Kryszytonia documentary and the post-production progress. Spencer knew President Karimov had called Marshall the week before mainly as a social call. But Marshall had used the opportunity to ask him some follow-up questions about what had happened since the assassination attempt, his presidency plans, and get permission from his advisors to use his answers in his documentary. “They’ve come up with the working title. Kryszytonia: Rise of the Squirrel and the Phoenix. The squirrel relates to President Tobias Karimov and the phoenix represents the country, rising from the ashes of the past. As I say, it’s a working title, so if you have any other suggestions, let Kerry-Anne, know.” They went on to talk about the difficulty of getting everything into the forty-minute time slot. Colm had shot a wealth of extra material when he searched the rubble for Marshall, and while this was unique footage, they needed to provide a balance to add weight to the documentary. “Now the big news. Although the producers still want a couple of tweaks made next week, the documentary will have a special screening at the end of January. There’s a lot of excited buzz in the industry, Marshall, because your team was the only one there to record the historic event as a documentary. Please don’t get your hopes up yet, but it’s likely your little gem will be picked up for a number of best documentary award nominations, including the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary and the Academy Award Best Documentary Feature. We’re not sure what format each of the ceremonies will take, but they’ll expect us all to be available. Hope you’ve got a tuxedo, Spence. I want you looking your scrubbed-up best that night. And if Marshall wins anything, I expect no less than you planting a full on kiss on his lips. Are we all on the same page?” “We are, Darcy,” said Spencer, laughing along with Marshall. “And you don’t have to worry. If he wins anything, I’ll be all over him like a lap dancer.” “Okay, I’ll love you and leave you,” said Darcy. “I’m sure you’ve got better things to do. It’s going to be a good year, boys. I can feel it in my blood.” Darcy ended the call, and Spencer sighed before turning to Marshall. “It already is a good year,” he said, moving Marshall’s hand further up his thigh. “Oh yeah?” said Marshall, his voice becoming deep and gruff. “Oh yeah. Want me to show you how good?” “Lead the way.” >>>>>> THE END ~ OF THE BEGINNING <<<<<<
    92 points
  32. Having lived together since Marshall’s return, creating their own support bubble, Spencer’s mother made a few phone calls and confirmed that Spencer and the friend he now lived with—together with Tiger who was now installed in South Kensington—could join them for Christmas. Once again, Spencer was grateful that his mother had been an NHS nurse, someone who knew the right people to contact to clarify the complex and ever-changing rules. On Christmas Eve, they drove to Bournemouth, relieved to be out of the confines of the London flat, speeding south down the almost empty motorway. Marshall appeared in his element driving, and Spencer didn’t even offer to share the burden, because he knew Marshall would refuse. Spencer used the GPS on his phone in the passenger seat to guide Marshall to his parents’ road. “You cannot be serious?” said Marshall, leaning forward, mouth dropping open. Marshall slowed his BMW to a crawl as they approached the spectacle. Next to him, Spencer had been pointing out his parent’s bungalow. Not that he needed to bother. “In all fairness, my brother did warn me,” said Spencer. “I just didn’t imagine…” Who could have? Garrett—bored to tears at home—had phoned him the day before about their father, usually the more conservative of his parents where the festive season was concerned, going all-out this year to brighten up the interior and especially the exterior of their pink-fronted bungalow. In a fit of seasonal madness, according to Garrett, their father had decided to ‘put a bit more effort in this year’ as a trial run before the arrival of his grandchild. Nobody could have expected the result. Giant red and white striped candy canes decorating the pink facade, fake snow covering the whole front roof. In the front garden, a full-sized smiling snowman and laughing Father Christmas stood side-by-side next to a sledge and a fifteen-plus foot decorated Christmas tree, with huge colourful foil-wrapped presents beneath. Every surface and window frame had been illuminated in various arrangements of Christmas lights, banishing any hope of a good night’s sleep. And those were only the big-ticket items. Little touches here and there came to life as they approached. Snow White on the roof, directing the seven dwarfs, all in colourful outfits with sacks on their backs climbing the drainpipes. A row of miniature reindeers standing next to the chimney stack, one with its nose replaced by an illuminated red bulb. Mickey and Minnie sitting together on the guttering, arms around each other. Too much, Spencer thought, when he initially saw the display. Except the end effect did not come across as tacky at all but perfectly befitted the fairytale aura of the bungalow facade. Context, thought Spencer, everything in context. Even as they parked up outside, a young family of four had stopped by the front gate, pointing with delight, as they spotted one detail after another. “That’s one way to get the neighbours’ attention,” chuckled Marshall, and Spencer stilled. Maybe Marshall had been joking, but this kind of stunt was bound to get people nearby talking and, at some point in time, coming over to meet the neighbours they had previously snubbed. Was that his father’s intent? Spencer wouldn’t put it past him, probably with the idea of vetting potential babysitters. He got out first and collected his luggage and the cat carrier from the back seat, before waiting by the front gate for Marshall to lock up, manage his carryall and the large bag of gifts. They wound their way up the garden path where a giant Christmas wreath the size of a ship’s wheel hung on the front door. Spencer had keys, but he wanted to surprise his mother, so pushed the doorbell a couple of times, and stood to one side. Except his mother wasn’t the one to answer. “Fuck me!” said Garrett, on crutches, gaping like a guppy at seeing Marshall on his doorstep. “From what Spencer tells me, I’m not sure I’m your type,” said Marshall, smirking and going to hold out his hand but stopping. “And I would shake your hand, if you didn’t already have them full. You must be Garrett.” Garrett leaned a shoulder against the door frame to steady his balance and took Marshall’s hand while looking over Marshall’s shoulder and pulling a face at Spencer. “You sneaky little bastard. You could have said something.” “And spoil the fun? Don’t worry, I’ve warned him about mum’s cooking.” “Then he’s going to be disappointed. Peony’s giving mum a hand this year. And by a hand, I mean she’s taken over cooking, using mum as her sous-chef. You should see the two of them. I didn’t tell you this, but Peony trained as a chef straight from school. So she knows her way around a kitchen.” “Bang goes another Wyrrell family tradition. Sorry Marsh, looks like we’re not going to need that wholesale family bumper pack of Tums after all.” “Mum,” Garrett shouted out at the top of his voice, and for a moment, Spencer thought his brother was going to snitch on him. “Your presence is required. For the arrival of your second favourite son. With his plus one.” “Don’t shout, Garrett, dear,” said Spencer’s mother, already entering the hallway, wiping her hands on a tea towel. Before noticing anyone else, she pulled Spencer into a customary hug. “Hello, love. My soon-to-be-famous reporter for the Daily Herald. Oh, and you brought the cat for Garrett. Good boy. Glad you could make it. And who else did you bring us? Oh, hello, dear— My goodness. Has anyone ever told you, you are the absolute spitting image of— “Tom Holland?” said Marshall, making Spencer burst into laughter. “Yes, I get that all the time.” “Who’s Tom Holland?” said his mother, puzzled. “I was going to say—” “Mum, this is Marshall. Marshall Highlander. My boyfriend.” “He’s Marshall? The Marshall? Marshall Highlander?” said his poor mother, completely confused. And then to Marshall. “And you’re dating my son?” “As long as I have your approval, Mrs Wyrrell.” “Please. Call me Coleen. And believe me, if you knew anything about my sons, you’d know neither of them ever seek my approval to do anything. Welcome to the family home. Come and meet the rest of inmates.” Spencer felt a distinct sense of pleasure watching the surprised looks on the faces of his father and Peony, but even more at how quickly everything returned to normal. His mother had already let Tiger out. She had gone straight to Marshall, brushed herself up against his leg, before heading over and swiping a paw at the bottom of one of Garret’s crutches. While his mother went to prepare hot drinks for everyone, his father dragged out a newspaper and was asking Marshall about the bombing in Kryszytonia. Spencer took the opportunity to catch up with Peony. Only as he walked around the counter to hug her, did he notice her very noticeable bump. Instead of the usual heavy-duty Wyrrell hug, he kissed her politely and gently on each cheek—until she pulled him into a fierce hug that squeezed the breath out of him. “See?” she whispered into his ear. “I told you one day you’d surprise the lot of us. Just didn’t realise it would be so soon. He is an absolute dreamboat.” “He is,” said Spencer, looking around and grinning at Marshall talking seriously to Garrett and his father. “I really lucked out there.” “I bet he says the same thing about you.” He turned back and smiled happily at her before his gaze dropped to her belly again. “Enough about me. How are you doing? Tell me all about the joys of pregnancy.” “Don’t. Twenty-three weeks and I look like a sumo, with huge boobs to match and swollen ankles, and I’m tired all the time. Insult to injury, I’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with Marmite and sugar sandwiches. Usually I hate the stuff, but for some reason it’s become my go-to craving. On the plus side, your mother has been an absolute saint. She seems to know how I’m feeling almost before I do.” “Do we know the gender yet? Or are you going to be modern and opt for a non-gender-specific baby?” While he was talking, the oven beeped. She opened to door and was about to bring out a tray of what looked like biscuits, but Spencer stepped in to help, placing them on the counter next to another two trays. “Very funny. We had the ultrasound a couple of weeks ago, but Garrett wanted to tell you all tonight. So I’ll save the news for the proud dad-to-be.” “And can I assume his motorcycling days are over?” “You know, Spence, I am not going to tell him what to do. But I get a sense the accident woke him up a bit, especially with the little one on the way. Maybe he’ll start up again in a few years, who knows? But did you notice your dad’s bike is no longer there? He sold it to a friend for cash a few days after the accident. She won’t tell you directly, but your mum’s beyond relieved.” “And can I say for the record, I’m a little relieved myself to hear you’re helping with the cooking this year.” Peony rolled her eyes. “Let me guess? Garrett told you I was a trained chef?” “Aren’t you?” “I worked in a gastro pub straight from college while I pondered what I wanted to do with my life. They sent me on a couple of cooking courses where I learnt the basics. The way he tells it, I was the top chef at the Ritz. And you men are totally unfair about your mum’s cooking.” “Well, the way I see it, with the two of you on the case, things will be brilliant. What’s with all the biscuits?” “Cookies. Better ask your mum.” At that moment, Spencer’s mum brought him a cup of coffee and a mug of something smelling of mint for Peony. Once she checked everyone had a drink, she clapped her hands together, to get their attention. “Right everyone. Peony and I have been making Christmas cookies all afternoon, so you’re going to be helping decorate them before we sit down for dinner. You too, Marshall.” “Christmas cookies? Is this some kind of cultural exchange programme you’re involved in that I know nothing about? Since when did we become American?” asked Spencer. “Since Dad constructed a mini replica of Christmas Disneyland in our front garden,” said Garrett. “What did you think, son?” asked his father, looking over at Spencer. “He thinks you have too much time on your hands,” said Garrett. “Let your brother speak, Garrett,” said their father. Spencer laughed and shook his head at Marshall, who was also laughing. “I think it looks amazing.” “Anyway, eyes back to me. There are tubes of icing in lots of different colours, sugar sprinkles, and hundreds and thousands—even little slices of dried fruit. A few of the neighbours are coming over on Boxing Day, only to the front gate. I already have the schedule. I’m going to give them a gift bag of cookies and hot chocolate.” “Recruiting babysitters, Mum?” asked Spencer after raising his eyebrows to Marshall. “I don’t know what you mean. We’re just being neighbourly. And as we can’t attend midnight mass because of all the restrictions, I though this might be a nice diversion.” By the time they had finished decorating—a pretty good job, if Spencer did say so himself—Peony and his mother had laid the table for a simple dinner of fish pie with a crunchy mash topping and steamed veggies. His mother had even set aside a small bowl for Tiger, who had made a new friend in Peony. While they served up the food, Spencer’s father opened a couple of bottles of wine he had been saving up, discussing grapes and different types of wine with Marshall. Spencer had no idea whether Marshall knew about wine, but whenever he looked over, his man seemed to be doing just fine. “Are you sure you won’t have a glass, Peony?” asked Spencer’s mother. “Just one can’t do any harm. I had red wine every now and then when I was carrying Spencer.” “That explains a lot,” said Garrett, which made Marshall laugh. “I’m fine, Mum,” said Peony. “Thanks, anyway.” “Mum?” Spencer mouthed to his mother. “Yes, dear. I asked Peony to call me Mum. She’s the daughter I was never blessed with. But if you do decide to marry my son, Marshall, I’d prefer you to keep calling me Coleen. Are you going to be here on Boxing Day?” Either Marshall didn’t hear or recovered quickly from the marriage remark, Spencer couldn’t tell. “We’ll be here,” said Marshall. “But we’ll need to leave the day after. I have a couple of conference calls I need to take from home. But we’ll be here all day Boxing Day, if that’s okay?” “Excellent. The neighbours are coming over after lunch. I’ll need you front and centre, Marshall. Can’t wait to see their faces when they realise we have a celebrity in the family, when they see what they’ve been missing all this time.” “If Peony’s calling our mother, Mum,” asked Spencer to Garrett, in an attempt to save Marshall any more embarrassment. “Does that mean you two are getting hitched? To make the endearment official?” “That’s always been the plan. But with the way things are at the moment, it might be a simple affair,” said Garrett. “Before our daughter arrives.” “Quite right, too—” began Spencer’s mum, before her gaze swung to Garrett. “Wait. What?” “You’re going to have a granddaughter, Mum and Dad,” said Garrett beaming. “You’re having a little girl?” said Spencer’s mother, to Peony, her eyes starting to well up. “I was sworn to secrecy,” said Peony, smiling fondly at Spencer’s mum while stroking her tummy. “Garrett wanted to be the one to tell you when we were all together.” The rest of the evening was spent chatting and drinking, with the television left switched off. Even after Spencer loaded their presents beneath the Christmas tree, and after Tiger had a good rummage around, they agreed to stick to the British tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning. Well before midnight, Spencer and Marshall snuggled together in the double bed in his bedroom. Both were a little drunk and, because of the restricted space in the bed and the noisy old bed frame, had decided against fooling around. “Nice place. Although the walls are a bit thin. I think I can hear your father snoring.” “That’s Mum.” Marshall’s rumbled laughter vibrated along Spencer’s spine. “Your family’s lovely.” “We’re all mad. The lot of us. You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.” “Whatever it is, I’m more than happy to be here.” Spencer melted inside to hear Marshall’s words. Turning his head, he kissed Marshall gently on the lips. “And I’m happy to have you here,” he said softly. “They absolutely love you, Marsh. And I’m not just saying that. Dad gave me a hug across the shoulders earlier when we were picking out wine, which he never does unless he’s really impressed with me about something.” “My father used to throw money at me so he didn’t have to hug me or verbalise his approval. I’m not sure we even shared a joke. Christmas wasn’t a fun time in our house, so it’s not a tradition I ever looked forward to.” “Well, you have a new family now, and a new tradition.” Marshall sighed deeply and squeezed his arms around Spencer. “I know it’s been a dreadful year for a lot of people, but I consider myself one of the lucky ones—” “If you’re about to say you’re lucky because you met me, then you need to change that to ‘we’. We’re the lucky ones, because we found each other. And I know we’re not out of the woods yet, Marsh, but I can’t help this amazing feeling of optimism as we head to the new year.” “No wonder. New job, new apartment. New members joining the family—” “Oh, you heard that, did you? About us getting married. I do apologise. Sometimes my mother jumps the gun and speaks before she thinks—” “Actually, I was talking about Peony and your little niece who’s about to arrive. Although, yes, I did catch your mother’s mention of us marrying. And just so you know, Spence, I would love nothing more. But how about we live together first, and then see how things go? I would hate to disappoint you.” “Marsh, you could never disappoint me. I love you, remember?” “I—yes, I remember. God, now I feel like an ungrateful prick and a complete moron.” “Hey, don’t call my boyfriend a moron. He’s a pragmatist.” “Pragmatist? Yes, I suppose I am. Not particularly romantic, though, is it?” Spencer turned over and faced Marshall. “Marsh. I’m absolutely fine waiting. You’re in my life now, and I’m in yours. We’re going to be living together next year, which is an enormous step by anyone’s standards. My parents paint a really rosey picture of marriage, but I know things weren’t so wonderful for yours. So let’s take our time. I’m in no hurry, because I know I’ll win you over in the end. After all, I’ve got Darcy on my side.” “I see. In which case, I might as well surrender now.” *** Throughout Christmas Day, Spencer kept checking to see if Marshall needed saving from any of his family, but he seemed to wallow in the attention. As the men—except Garrett, who sat with his leg up, directing from the sofa—laid the table for lunch, Spencer noticed how Marshall had started to adopt his clever questioning. Layer by layer, he found out more about Garrett’s company and his future plans, while inquiring about his father’s lengthy experience in the force, and what he thought about recent developments. Neither of them cottoned on, but Peony and his mother caught Spencer’s eye a couple of time and both of them smiled. One of his mother’s many generalisations was about men and their love of talking about themselves. Understandable, in her case, because Garrett and her husband appeared to prove the rule. As he stood back from the table, waiting for his mother to give her final approval, Spencer’s phone rang. They had already done a round of calls in the morning over breakfast, straight after opening presents, but this particular person—never an early riser—hadn’t answered. Immediately, he put Bev on speaker. “Merry Christmas, Squirrel. To you, Colin, Coleen and Garrett. Oh, and Tiger,” she said, and the family all echoed her greeting. “Prince and his family are here with me. Sorry we missed your call this morning, but we had a bit of a late night. Is Marshall there?” “He is,” said Marshall. “And are you behaving yourself?” “So far.” “And what did you buy my bestie?” “I owed him a two-foot-tall soft toy Squirrel,” said Marshall. “So I managed to get one sent over in time. It’s back in London.” Marshall had surprised him with the present before they had set off, rather than lugging the toy all the way to Bournemouth. Christmas morning, because the family had no idea who he was bringing, they had arranged plain, generic presents for Marshall of men’s toiletries and festive socks. The simple gesture had genuinely moved Marshall. Spencer had bought him a fitness watch—because they had both vowed to get fit in the New Year—and a card with a voucher that had the words ‘good for one autobiography ghostwriter, should the recipient ever need one.’ The latter had been a joke, until Marshall looked up shocked and asked how Spencer knew a publisher had only just approached him. “And he also bought me a new phone,” added Spencer. “Because just after the New Year, we’re moving into his Bermondsey pad which is supposed to have twenty-four-seven WiFi.” “You’re doing what?” asked his mother, frozen over a pot of something steaming. “Uh—something I’ve yet to tell my parents,” said Spencer, causing Prince’s family to laugh out loud. “What with starting the new job,” said Marshall. “And having to hand back his flat, and noting his not-so-healthy eating habits, I thought it might be for the best.” Marshall spoke aloud but made sure he meant the words for Spencer’s mother, who smiled and nodded. “Well,” said Bev. “I’m looking forward to my invite to the house warming. In the meantime, I suppose you’ve heard about Blake?” Spencer looked to Marshall, who shrugged. “No. What’s happened now?” “He tested positive for COVID-19 this Christmas. Apparently, they admitted him to the Royal London Hospital on Christmas Eve. From what I hear, though, his symptoms are mild, but they have to be cautious and monitor him for at least a fortnight. Muriel’s furious. Blake was supposed to be stepping in to look after the office over the Christmas holidays, while she took a few days to recover. She’s been running around the office like a headless chicken since the recent spate of resignations.” “Who else has resigned?” “Apart from you, me, and Prince, you mean?” “You’ve both resigned?” “The virtual events company offered us a job. Appears they were really impressed with how we managed our end of the Blackmore event, and asked if we’d consider coming on board. Sweet deal, too, and we’re going to be working with a great bunch of young people.” “Muriel must be pulling her hair out.” “Alice said when she heard, she threatened to throw herself out of her office window.” “I wouldn’t worry, Bev,” said Spencer, winking at Marshall. “As usual with Muriel, it’s an empty threat. Yes, Blackmore is on the eighteenth floor, but not only are the windows of her office made from reinforced glass, none of them open.” This time the laughter came from both ends of the call. “Anyway, Wyrrells and guests. We just wanted to phone and wish you all a wonderful Christmas.” “Same to you all. And a very Happy New Year.”
    92 points
  33. “Crap, I hate this stuff.” Ritch slammed the book closed and stood. He needed a break before frustration got the better of him. Unable to pace very far in the dorm room and trying to give his mind a rest, he dropped to the floor ready to crank out as many pushups as he could. His roommate, Will Bender, glanced away from his laptop and shook his head. “You’re nuts, Peterson. What are you doing? Aren’t you sore?” Both had joined an intramural basketball team and the game earlier in the day had been grueling. First year cadets like he and Will were often on the receiving end of upperclassmen’s aggressive play. Who cared if a C4C was banged up a little? It was all meant to build character and resiliency. Ritch stopped, rolled over, cradled his head in his hands, and stared at the ceiling. “I hate Econ.” He glanced at his watch and groaned. “Too late to call the East Coast now, but I’m asking Dad for help tomorrow. He’s the family’s financial wiz.” Economics 101 was one of the required core courses, and Ritch was struggling with the international aspects of the class. Pursuing its goal of molding leaders, the Academy strived to provide a broad-based education. Its academic program balanced Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—STEM—with the arts and humanities. Ritch had yet to figure out what economics had to do with flying planes and leading. “Speaking of calling home, I got a text from Mom earlier. She’s all excited about meeting you.” Will had invited Ritch home for Thanksgiving after finding out he had decided not to travel to Washington during the upcoming break. “She said they’ll pay half the rental.” “No way, man. You better tell her I won’t take her money.” Ritch had begged off from flying home due to the break’s shortness. He feared getting stuck if a storm blew in and closed down airports. Spending the weekend in Vail at the family’s lodge could have been an option, but the place was rented out for the week, to the same family group that had used it the past couple of years. Alternatively, he considered heading up to Denver and checking into a hotel, until Will extended an invitation to travel to Wyoming. “Did you mention I can afford it on my own?” “What? Tell my parents my roommate’s a millionaire?” After experiencing the lavish spending César and Brett did during Parents’ Weekend, Will had pushed Ritch sufficiently—he was eventually sworn to secrecy—to find out how wealthy his roommate was. “I gave you my word, Peterson. You asked me to keep it quiet, and I have. But I’m sure my parents will figure it out this weekend. Some of the others here at the Academy will too in time. Don’t be surprised when gossip flies.” “The longer it takes the better.” Ritch had been reticent to explain when dorm mates saw the new snowboard and equipment his fathers had bought him over Labor Day Weekend, brushing it off as a belated eighteenth birthday present, which it was. He did not want to be known as the rich cadet. Bad enough people had stared at him for a while after his friendship with the Obamas and his acquaintance with a few celebrities became fodder for squadron chatter. He would rather be known for other things. Ritch remained behind the wheel as they neared the trip’s halfway point. Paying for the rental was a way of thanking his roommate and his parents for hosting him over the holiday. It also meant easy mobility in Wyoming, since Will did not own a vehicle. “Have you ever ridden a bull?” “Nope. Mom would have never allowed it. When I got hurt falling off while practicing barrel racing, she forced me to give up the idea of competing entirely.” Although they lived together and shared a couple of classes, Will and Ritch were still learning details about each other. There was not a lot of free time to sit around drinking beer and bullshitting, as students at most colleges and universities did. “Dad quit the circuit when I was born because of her too. He got tossed, broke a leg, and she threatened to divorce him if he didn’t stop. At least that’s what they