In Memory of Ed Wooton
For the Love - 30. Going Away
Waking up in Steve's arms was something of which I'd never tire. Feeling him stir, snuggling closer against my side, I heard footsteps from the kitchen. Steve opened his eyes, smiling at me as the scent of bacon wafted into the room, "Mmm, I smell food," he mumbled, still half asleep as he rolled over to climb out of bed.
Climbing out on my own side, I stretched, looking around the room for the gym bag, eager to throw on some shorts and head for breakfast, the smell of which was making my stomach growl. Turning to see Steve pulling on his racing suit, I asked, "Where's the bag?"
The corner of Steve's mouth twitched upwards in his familiar way, "Veronica hid it last night. She said that you're damn lucky she hasn't decided to shave your head and dye it purple – yet."
Sighing, I grabbed the swimsuit I'd worn the night before, pulling it on as I grumbled, "And you had nothing to do with it, huh? Yeah, right..."
Steve chuckled, "Dude, it's a pool party. Relax and enjoy."
Snagging a towel, I wrapped it around my waist as Steve snickered, following me as we padded out to the kitchen to find everyone already tearing into breakfast. Chad had found himself some boardies to wear and I made a mental note to ask him for some.
Veronica served us breakfast -pancakes, eggs, and bacon-, while Dex asked, "You guys sleep okay?"
We both nodded, as Dex smirked, "Good, because I didn't. Steve, you might want to check your shocks; your rear springs creaked so loud last night they woke me up."
My cheeks began to burn even before Veronica said, "Yeah, I saw the bow ties on the Charger's rear window ledge when I went for the paper this morning. Now how exactly did they end up there?"
Steve shrugged, "The mattress in the spare room is too noisy."
Veronica arched an eyebrow in Steve's direction, "Blondie, doing the deed in my front yard is not what I'd describe as a more discreet alternative."
I felt like crawling under a rock as Rob made it worse by saying, "You could have always snuck into the back yard, and used the pool. We wouldn't have minded at all."
After breakfast, I pulled Chad aside, "Dude, either Steve or Veronica hid the gym bag. How about loaning me a pair of boardies?"
Chad laughed, "I'll do ya one better. Veronica stashed the bag in the linen closet in the hallway."
I made a beeline for the closet, and moments later I pulled my boardies on, relieved that I wouldn't be stuck in just a racing suit all damned day. I returned to the kitchen, Steve chuckling at me, while Veronica gave Chad a playful slap.
Chad's presents were the next item on our agenda, so I retrieved the ones Steve and I were giving him from my Jeep.
Veronica gathered everyone in the living room, where Chad, acting like a little kid at Christmas, tore into his presents one by one. Dex had given him a new hard drive for his computer, while Rob and Joe had bought Chad a brand new carburetor for his car, which it sorely needed.
Opening Steve's, Chad was pleased to find a basketball backboard and hoop, plus an offer to help mount it over the garage. My own gift for Chad was a new muffler for his car, something else he badly needed.
Veronica had several presents for him; new clothes, a watch, and finally a set of jigsaw puzzles. Chad loved jigsaws, so he was thrilled to have some new ones. Veronica cleared the living room table, suggesting that we could all work on one of the puzzles. She had made a point of concealing the image on the box, so we would be working on it without any clues.
We all gathered round, pulling up chairs, Rob and Joe raiding the beer as well. Veronica gave me an odd look, before dumping out the puzzle pieces, shoving a pile towards each of us.
Looking at the ones in front of me, I realized that this was a difficult puzzle; many of the pieces were the same color, light blue. With all of us working at it, the outer border was soon done. The lower part of the puzzle began to take shape, some differentiation beginning to show as more pieces were added to the picture; before long, it was apparent that we were looking at the pocket of a pair of shorts, in that part of the picture at least.
A close look at one of the pieces perplexed me; the picture didn't seem to be all that sharp, unlike most puzzles I'd seen. Veronica caught my look and remarked offhand, "I had these custom-made. There's a place online where you can send them a photo and they make it into a jigsaw puzzle."
Rob furiously assembled several pieces, clicking them into place, as a wrist took shape, soon followed by part of a waistband on a pair of shorts, tan flesh above it. The wrist looked like a guy's, not a girl's, so I wondered why Veronica would be giving Chad a picture of a shirtless... No, she wouldn't... I tried to remember a certain picture, as Joe clicked in a few more pieces, completing the opposite wrist, a wrist bedecked with a watch; my watch...
A quick glance around the table allowed me to take note of twitching smiles on the faces of Chad and Veronica. They knew, but no one else seemed to have noticed yet. I cringed, thankful that it, unlike so many of the other pictures from the website, wasn't x-rated.
Steve happily completed part of an elbow, along with the torso edge, as his eyes flew wide in recognition. He looked up at me as I cast my eyes towards Veronica. She caught Steve's look, telling him with her eyes to be quiet. Stifling a laugh, Steve returned to the puzzle.
Veronica looked at me, smiling sweetly, aware now that I knew. Everyone in the room had seen the photo, so I knew it wouldn't be long before Rob, Joe, or Dex figured it out.
Dex, as I'd expected, spoke up first, "This is a shirtless guy! Why would you give Chad that?"
Rob eased back, taking in the partial image from a greater distance, causing his jaw to drop. His head snapped around to face me as he babbled, "I know this picture. It's from the main page of the website. It's the one of you from the top of the page, shirtless and in boardies.
I nodded, blushing, "Yeah, I just noticed that myself. Would somebody please tell me that the other puzzles aren't from that damn site?"
Veronica laughed, "This is the only one from the website. The others are from some photos Chad and I took while hiking in the desert, except for one," Veronica said, placing a box on the table, opening it to reveal the master picture; some burned out rubble, with a wrought-iron fence in the foreground.
I slapped my head, recognizing the fence, as Veronica laughed, "A friend of mine at work took the photo and e-mailed me a copy. It's what's left of the sheriff's house."
Everyone craned their necks for a look, me included; I'd seen the initial explosion but not the aftermath. Catching sight of some blackened metal, I had to wonder about the insurance; how would the sheriff explain his own cruiser being in his kitchen?
I smiled at the picture, earning me a slap from Veronica, "You aren't off the hook for this yet, not by a long shot."
It was obvious that these puzzles would be a part of future parties, so I was pretty sure I'd literally never hear the last of it.
Dex picked up the picture of the sheriff's house, studying it intently. He glanced up at me to say, "I think it's a safe bet that the Lonesome Valley Sheriff's Department hasn't seen this picture."
Shrugging, I replied, "Not that I know of, why?"
Scratching his head, still studying the picture, Dex answered, "Because if they had, they would likely see what I see. You can tell by the debris that the fire was intensely hot; glass and metal wouldn't melt to this extent in a regular gas explosion and fire. It also looks like the explosion was pretty damn big. That just doesn't fit. From the way you told it, it was about a minute, maybe a little more between the crash and the explosion, right?"
I nodded, as Dex, continued, "A gas line in a kitchen would normally be a half-inch line, regardless of whether it's propane or natural gas. Given the elapsed time, there shouldn't have been enough gas to start that big and hot a fire. It'd just make a big bang."
"Don't forget, the sheriff's car had about a quarter-tank of gas in it," I said.
Dex shook his head, "Still not enough. You said you smelled rotten eggs. Could it have been more like Ammonia, or cat piss?"
Nodding, I said, "Yeah, maybe, but some of it definitely smelled like gas. There were other smells though. Why, what're you thinking?"
Dex smiled, "Methamphetamine lab, or at least some of the chemicals involved. Some of them, like ether, are volatile as hell. Some smell like ammonia, cat piss, or rotten eggs. If the sheriff's car hit some main beams, it could have knocked over shelving attached to that beam, including in the basement, which might have wafted a smell up where you were pretty quick, as some of those vapors are lighter than air. If the car snapped off the gas line inside the floor, which would be likely with the entire stove or cabinet being shoved sideways, the gas explosion would have been in both the main floor and the basement. If there were flammable chemicals in the basement, especially if any had ruptured containers, they would have gone up. That would explain the damage."
"You think the sheriff had a meth lab in his house?" I gasped.
"I doubt it, because I don't think he's quite that stupid. However, I think he very well might have had chemicals for it there, because I remember a meth lab that was busted in Piedmont County a few months ago. Stands to reason the sheriff is stealing from the department evidence impound, given all the other crap he's into. Look at it this way; we know Eric dealt drugs, right? So would it surprise anyone if, somewhere in Piedmont County, the sheriff is party to running a meth lab?"
Dex turned to Veronica, "I'll need a digital copy of that picture, plus any others you have of the remains of the house."
Veronica nodded, "Sure, help yourself. They're in my photos folder, the newest ones in there, but just two of 'em. I'll ask my friend if she has any more."
Dex withdrew what looked like a credit card from his wallet, popping out a small cable as he walked to the computer. Noticing my inquisitive look he said, "Transportable Data storage device, much like that data stick."
After fiddling with the computer for a couple of minutes, Dex informed us, "Got 'em. I e-mailed them to our Sheriff's Department, and I'll play around with them myself. This may be critical; those chemicals would leave residues, so all they would need is a sample..."
Dex never finished, because every set of eyes in the room suddenly bored down on me, everyone saying, in perfect unison, "No."
Holding up my hands in surrender, I said, "I swear, I won't do it, no way, no how would I go there again."
Dex added, "Anything you gathered could be ruled inadmissible and a fire forensics on-site examination would be best anyway."
I took a lot of teasing as the puzzle neared completion, and I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the conversation on anything other than my trip to Piedmont, or the escapades in the back seat of the Charger.
At one point, Veronica commented that I was damn lucky to have made it as far as I did before running out of gas. Joe's eyes lit up and he grinned evilly, telling me, "You guys thought it was so funny when Rob and I had the busted alternator belt. I seem to remember a few cracks about not checking gauges, but you ran out of gas, twice. I think your new hair color suits you perfectly..."
Pointing out that I wasn't exactly in a position to make a leisurely stop for gas in Piedmont wouldn't have helped, so I was relieved when Chad clicked the last piece of the puzzle into place and Veronica moved us all out to the pool, thankfully changing the subject at last.
Steve suggested putting up Chad's basketball backboard so we could play a few games. We retrieved some tools and a stepladder from the garage before heading out to the driveway where Veronica met us with the backboard. After a quick glance at the instructions, Steve climbed the ladder, still in just his racing suit, as Veronica rolled her eyes, muttering, "He sure isn't shy..."
Steve chuckled when he heard that, but concentrated on mounting the backboard as Chad and I held it in place in the afternoon sun. With the help of a power screwdriver, Steve made fast work of mounting the backboard and hoop. Leaping down from the ladder with a cry of "All done," Steve turned toward the door of the house, telling me over his shoulder, "I'll grab your shoes..."
Chad retrieved a pair of shoes from his car as Veronica looked toward the door Steve had just vanished through, "I'll bet he comes back in shoes and his swimsuit, nothing else."
To our utter and complete non-astonishment, Steve returned, basketball in hand, having pulled on only a pair of shoes. He tossed me my own shoes as he laid up for a shot.
After a few games; Rob, Joe, and Dex joined in, all of us working up a sweat in the hot afternoon sun. The siren song of the pool soon became irresistible, and in unspoken mutual consent, we all returned to the backyard, our slow walk turning into a mad dash as we entered the backyard, making a beeline for the cool water.
Pausing only long enough to kick off our shoes, we were soon ensconced in the azure waters, Chad's basketball having made its way along with us. Tossing the ball around soon led to an improvised game of water polo, sans rules.
After our traditional round of Veronica's famous onion burgers, we adjourned inside for the evening for our normal party routine of pool and video games. After a few hours, Rob and Joe suggested a few rounds of Beer Pong. I'd never played before, so I agreed to play against Rob for the first round. I had no real idea of the rules, so I watched with interest as they cleared off the large living-room table, setting up the triangle of ten plastic Dixie cups at each end, each one a third full of beer. They then added a shot of Vodka to the center cup, proclaiming it the 'money cup'.
As they set up, they explained the rules, which were fairly simple; players, either individuals or in teams of two, stood at opposing ends of the table. The goal was to toss a ping-pong ball onto one of the opposing player's cups, forcing them to drink its contents and giving the scorer another turn. The opposing player could, if facing a bounce shot, try and swat at it to block the shot.
I won the coin toss that determined who would go first, and I scored on my first shot, a direct overhand right into the money cup. Rob chugged it down, setting that cup aside as I tried again. I scored, and Rob downed another cup, removing it from the table. I began to understand how the game worked; every time I scored, my target grew smaller.
Missing on the next shot, I tossed the ball to Rob for his turn. He tried a bounce shot, which I easily swatted aside. My next turn saw Rob drinking a third and fourth cup.
Rob scored on an overhand shot, forcing me to drink my first, and what turned out to be my last, beer of the game because Rob missed his shot every single time after that.
Giving me a few congratulatory slaps on the back, Steve and I were challenged by Rob and Joe to a game. We took them up on it, Joe choosing that time to mention, "We need to set a penalty for a shut-out. It's part of the game. If one team finishes with all their cups intact, the other team has a penalty. One penalty I've heard is that the team has to run around the block, naked."
Veronica stepped up to Joe, yelling as she jabbed him in the chest, "Like hell. I will not have any goings-on here that could cause trouble with the neighbors, got it?"
Joe deflated, backing away, nodding in agreement. Rob suggested, "How about something indoors? Nothing bad, just for fun. How about Chris loses the shorts for the rest of the night and they both have to put the bow ties back on and let us take a picture? And if they win, we'll fix the Charger for free, even our out-of-pocket costs?"
Veronica shrugged, and I turned to look at Steve. He nodded, so I agreed. Rob set up the table again, and took the first shot, right into the money cup. I took the first drink, nearly gagging on the vodka and beer mix, telling them both "This'll take me a minute, guys."
Joe laughed, "Take a few. No hurry."
Steve and I stepped away a few feet as I sipped the drink, Steve whispering to me, "You do know we've been sharked, right?"
I shot him a confused look, so he continued, "Rob sandbagged that first game. I've seen him play before, he's good. My bet is they shut us out this game, and they know they can do it. They wouldn't have bet money like that if they thought they'd lose, but they would lose it only if we shut them out."
Draining the last of the boilermaker, I coughed before asking Steve, "If you knew what they were up to, why did you want me to agree?"
I saw that old familiar upturn at the corner of his mouth, just before he replied, "It was a sucker's bet. If we lose, we don't actually lose anything. If by some chance we win, the Charger gets fixed for free. All losing means is we have to wear the bow ties and let 'em take a picture, no big deal."
Beginning to smell a rat, I said, "Sure, you're already in just your racing suit; you have been all day."
Steve shrugged, chuckling, "What can I say? I like you in less clothes."
Punching him lightly in the arm, I laughed, "I've noticed. I'd have agreed anyway though, just for the chance of winning a free repair of the Charger. But if not, the two-hundred Veronica has left from the bribe money should about cover it."
A serious look crossed his face as he replied, "No, half that is yours..."
Shaking my head, I interrupted, "Nope. We got that money from Eric anyway. Besides, if you don't agree, I won't play and we lose any chance to get Rob and Joe to do it for free." I said, grinning.
Steve laughed, throwing his hands up in surrender as we returned to the table, where sure enough, Rob and Joe proceeded to make shot after shot. Steve and I had one cup left on the table when Joe missed, giving Steve his first shot of the game.
Lining up with great care, Steve aimed, hesitated, then aimed again as Veronica strode over to the table to watch. Steve went for an overhand toss, and I watched it fly, straight into Veronica's cup. I turned to find my boyfriend smiling innocently, as Veronica bellowed, "Blondie!"
Rob took the final shot, scoring, gaining the shut-out that Steve had just handed him. Rob and Joe whooped it up as I advanced on Steve, looking for access to his ticklish ribs, "You just handed them the shut-out," I growled, knowing darn well why he'd done it.
Steve smiled as he pulled on a bow tie, tossing me mine as he said, "We'd only have won that bet if we shut them out, so I figured it would be more fun this way."
I was about to lunge for Steve's ribs when Joe hooted, "Lose the shorts, Chris, then say 'cheese' for the camera."
Pulling on my bow tie, I tugged at my boardies, as Joe began whistling a strip-tease melody. I was fairly drunk, so I grinned, walking to the center of the living room, and started to dance, badly.
Pushing himself off the wall where he had been standing, Steve's eyes twinkled as he sauntered across the room towards me, beginning to move to the rhythm of Joe's whistled tune. Swaying his hips as he got closer to me, clicking his fingers to the rhythm, Steve danced up to me, looking damn hot.
Moving slowly to the beat of the melody, I began to run my hands across my chest, twisting and gyrating to the tune as I stepped into Steve. Steve edged closer, matching the movement of his hips to mine as he hooked a thumb under my waistband, tugging down gently as I danced with him. The flash from Rob's camera distracted me for a moment, until Steve traced his fingers over my washboard abs, moving and swaying to the rhythm of the whistled tune, to which Veronica and Dex now clapped in time.
Oblivious, now, to the flashes from Rob's camera, I laced my hands together behind my head, as Steve ran his fingers through my hair, still in time with the beat. I danced backwards a few feet, tracing my hands down my torso, shoving my shorts off in one quick move, before dancing back to Steve in just my swimsuit as Rob flashed away.
Joe stopped whistling, taking away our tune, so Steve moved in and hugged me, laughing as I heard Chad mutter, "Just what I wanted at my birthday party, a male stripper..."
A little later, sitting on the couch next to Steve as we watched the others play another game of beer pong, I turned to him and said, "I didn't know you could dance. That was fun, and damn hot."
Chuckling, he replied, "I can't really dance, never tried before, but yeah, that was hot, dancing with you. How about you?"
"Nah, I tried once at a club down in Phoenix before I moved here, but that's it. Maybe we could go one of these days?" I asked.
Steve grinned, "Yeah, once we are eighteen we can get a motel room no problem, so we could stay overnight and hit a club or two."
As midnight neared, Rob and Joe were staggering a little, having lost a few games. Dex was also looking wasted, as Veronica and Chad disappeared to their room. Steve and I played a game of pool in the next room as Rob, Joe, and Dex crashed out in the living room. After I sank the eight ball, I asked Steve, "Want to play another game?"
He gave me a very meaningful smile, "Yeah, but that's not the game I had in mind. Rob, Joe, and Dex are asleep, and Chad and Veronica won't be coming out any time soon. Why don't we visit the pool?"
Remembering our fun in the water at the last pool party, I made a beeline for the patio, Steve right behind me, his warm hand finding mine as we approached the dark, inviting waters, the sound of crickets filling the moonless desert night.
Under a glittering dome of a million stars, we slipped into the cool water, our bodies soon entwined, melting into one under the spectacular desert sky.
* * *
Later, as we floated together on our backs looking up at those same stars, relaxing in the afterglow, I rolled over, glancing around the dark waters as I asked Steve, "Any idea where our swimsuits went?"
Moving towards me in the darkness, Steve whispered, "We pulled them off each other in the middle of the pool. I didn't think to toss 'em out. They're probably on the bottom somewhere."
We both dived, feeling along the bottom, navigating the blackness by touch alone. Two dives later, something brushed by my face, well off the bottom, I grabbed for it, seizing the silky material in my hand as I surfaced. Pulling the Speedo on as Steve surfaced next to me I whispered, "I found mine, but it was floating a few feet from the bottom, we need to search the whole pool."
We criss-crossed the pool, fumbling through the dark water on feel alone, bumping into one another more than once. After we had searched for a while, Steve swam over beside me, his voice low as he said, "We need light. We should just get up and look at dawn; we'll never find it in the dark."
Steve's teeth glittered in the starlight as he grinned, "How do you know the one you found is yours? It could be mine, and they are both my suits. You could give it to me so I can go find your boardies for you."
Not being born yesterday, I replied, "Yeah, you would just leave me out here, I know you would."
Steve chuckled softly, "That was the plan."
I hauled myself out of the pool, whispering over my shoulder, "I'll go get my shorts from the living room and bring 'em for you. Or I can try and get the gym bag out of the hall closet, if it's still in there."
Climbing out beside me, his wet, bare skin brushing mine, Steve said, "Don't bother. You'd be more likely to wake someone up that way. I'll just follow you to the room."
After standing a few minutes to dry in the desert air, sharing a kiss under the stars, we padded back to the house, inching our way through the darkness, reaching the room without a sound.
* * *
Veronica made breakfast again for us all, her pancakes, as usual, so good that Steve and I had three servings each. Rob and Joe looked a little worse for wear, having consumed large volumes of alcohol the previous night, Rob turning slightly green as he watched me rip through my third plate of hotcakes.
I glanced nervously at the patio door. Steve and I had overslept, missing our chance to retrieve the missing swimsuit from the pool. I'd grabbed my boardies from the living room right after waking up, giving Steve his preferred attire, the Speedo racing suit.
As we finished our meal, Veronica went into the garage, so I seized my chance, making my way as casually as possible to the patio door. I slipped through, noticing as I did that Steve was heading for the door to the garage, hopefully to keep Veronica occupied.
Padding over to the pool, I looked, ready to dive, but couldn't see any sign of the black swimsuit. The door to the garage opened suddenly, startling me. I spun around to look, only to see Steve heading in my direction, shrugging, "She's not in there, she must have come out here..."
"Are you guys looking for something?" Veronica's voice came from behind me, sounding silky sweet, making me jump, and nearly falling into the pool as I jerked my head around to see her standing behind the barbecue.
Glancing nervously at the water out of the corner of my eye, I turned towards her again, shrugging, noticing Steve doing the same.
Veronica smiled, strolling towards us, stopping a few feet away; her foot drumming on the round plastic cover to the pool skimmer. She still smiled sweetly, but her eyes were far from pleasant.
Steve began to speak, but Veronica cut him off with a firm, "Stow it, Blondie," as she bent down, removed the cover, and fished out something black.
Hefting it, Veronica told us both, "I was up early, so I thought I'd check the pool filter. Guess what I found? I wonder how this got there?" Veronica hurled the swimsuit at Steve, pegging him in the chest with a loud splat. Steve backpedaled towards the pool as Veronica stormed up to him, "First, you do the deed in my front yard, then in my pool. I hope you know what this means?"
Nodding, Steve mumbled, "I'm your pool boy today, huh?"
Veronica gave him a light push on the chest, sending him stumbling backwards into the pool with a resounding splash, before she turned to me and said, "You both are. Clean it good, boys, and maybe I'll forget about this and refrain from neutering you."
As Steve surfaced behind me, I watched Veronica enter the house via the patio door, catching sight of her big grin reflected in the glass. Steve grabbed hold of the pool edge as I told him, "We're both cleaning the pool today. I just hope she doesn't tell any of the others about this."
Laughing, Steve replied, "I guarantee she will."
We set to work cleaning the pool. I hosed out the filter and re-filled the chlorine dispenser while Steve used the pool brush to clean the sides and bottom. We had an audience; Veronica had led everyone outside to watch us. I wished I could join them; Steve looked great as he worked, and I'd have loved to have been able to spend more time watching. After we were done, Veronica told us to shock the pool. I sprinkled in the oxidizer while Steve mixed it in. Veronica inspected our work, giving us a grudging approval.
We joined out friends, sitting around the pool for one last drink –just milk, no alcohol–in the sun, two days of partying coming to a close, good friends and good fun, life didn't get much better than that, even if I did end up considerably blonder.
By late morning, everyone was heading home. Veronica gave us the two hundred dollars left over from the bribe money, and shooting Steve a glance that told him I'd brook no arguments, I handed it to Rob and Joe, hoping it would be enough to cover their costs. Steve pulled Joe aside to whisper something to him, as Rob assured me that the two hundred would indeed cover their costs for fixing the bumper, tuning up the engine, and re-painting the car. We left them the key to the Charger, so they could pick it up later that afternoon.
On our way home, we stopped by to see Reverend Mike and attend the Sunday Service. After the service, he took us aside, scolded me for my trip to Piedmont –thus proving that he was well and truly plugged into the Lonesome Valley grapevine– and told us to watch our backs as he'd heard Thaddeus was about to pull out all the stops. He wished us well, walking out into the sunshine with us, standing on the granite steps, glancing in the general direction of Thaddeus' church as he whispered, "Thaddeus is digging in for a fight. He'll stop at nothing."
With that bit of cheerful news, we headed home. After we had pulled into the driveway, I stopped him as we approached the front door, grimacing as I dropped the bombshell and told him about my planned stay in jail.
Steve stared at me for a moment, before saying softly, "Okay, I get why you didn't tell me sooner, but this is insane. Why the hell should you go to jail?"
"It's the only way to prove that we aren't having sex while I'm eighteen and you aren't. Those damn pictures prove we have an ongoing relationship, so this is the only way to beat what looks like Piedmont's game plan."
Steve kicked the gravel a few times before answering, "So why can't I be the one to go?"
Patting him on the shoulder, I shot down any chance of Steve going in my stead, "Because I'd rather it was me and I'm older than you. Secondly, they can't hold a minor in an adult jail, and besides, your Dad would never agree to you going to jail. Me, he can't stop."
Steve kicked more gravel, "Let's try and figure this out. We need to talk to Rick, maybe he knows another way."
I nodded in eager agreement, "I'm all for that. The last thing I want is to spend both our birthdays in the slammer. We'll go see him tomorrow. I'm open to any alternatives, for damn sure."
We entered the house, to find Mr. Williams in the kitchen. He offered us coffee, informing us that we all needed to talk. I sighed to myself, dreading yet another hammer blow after having just told Steve of the jail issue. We settled in at the dining table, Mr. Williams sliding a coffee mug towards me as he said, "I know all about your little chat with Sheriff Buchanan. He and I talked it over, then I phoned your lawyer for some advice. Turns out the sheriff had overlooked one small detail," Mr. Williams said gravely.
I didn't like the sound of that, not at all, so I asked, "You mean it won't work? How could they claim Steve and I did anything if I'm locked up in a state facility? It's the perfect alibi."
Mr. Williams shook his head, looking at the table, filling me with dread as he replied, "The part the sheriff overlooked was something your lawyer didn't. Sheriff Buchanan is used to thinking in terms of Arizona law, and any, uh, interactions between you two are illegal in Arizona while one of you is eighteen and the other seventeen. The key here is that it's illegal in Arizona."
I didn't know what he was getting at, but from the tone of his voice, I knew it was bad. I shared a glance with Steve, seeing the worry in his eyes, as Mr. Williams opened his briefcase, withdrawing an ominous-looking legal envelope, then placing it in front of me as he said, "I'm afraid that this would be the best option. I have no choice but to ask you, for the sake of both Steve and myself, to agree."
Nodding, I resigned myself to whatever it was, as Mr. Williams placed a similar envelope in front of Steve, telling him in a somber voice, "I'm afraid this applies to you too, son."
I picked it up, feeling the weight of the documents inside. Not many, but I dreaded them, whatever they were. I undid the metal clasp, noticing Steve doing the same out of the corner of my eye, and flicked open the flap, finding something printed on hard paper inside. I slid it out, noticing the computer printing and strange shape, trying to figure out what it could be.
Never having seen a warrant before, I had a hard time making sense of the thin rectangle of hard paper, printed lengthways, that I now held in my sweating hands. I scanned it quickly, growing more confused as I saw 'baggage' mentioned... Then right below it, Kahului, a word I'd never seen before. I glanced up at Mr. Williams to see a very familiar upturn at the corner of his mouth, then I looked at Steve in time to see his face light up, as he uttered a one-word question, "Maui?"
"But that's in Hawaii," I mumbled, trying to figure out what on earth this had to do with jail...
Mr. Williams laughed, "Yes, it is. You can thank your lawyer for the idea. He said that as Arizona law is the problem, removing one or both of you from the state would suffice, but if it were both of you, it would need to be a state that has an age of consent that's lower than eighteen. So, I could either send Steve to his Grandparent's for a week, or send the two of you out of state. We thought of Nevada, but their age of consent does not apply to same-sex couples. New Mexico was another option, especially as it's closer, but we got to brainstorming and decided that the best way to foil any claims by Piedmont was to send you two somewhere more distant, by air so that they couldn't claim you returned. He checked Hawaii's laws, and they fit, so I talked the travel agent into opening on a Saturday to get the tickets."
My jaw nearly hit the table... Hawaii?
Mr. Williams asked, "I think it's a slightly more pleasant option than tossing your ass in jail, don't you?"
I nodded, still in shock, as Steve hugged his father. I got up to join them, still not quite believing my ears.
"Okay, guys, I made it for eight days. Your birthdays are five days apart, so to cover both days that's seven and one extra so you don't have to travel on either of your birthdays. Your air travel required ID, so that should serve as proof that you two went out of state. Just in case, though, Rick suggests getting something notarized at a bank while you are there as added insurance. I didn't know what you would want to do there, so I booked you in for three nights at a beachfront resort, and I'll be giving you each a pre-paid credit card with a thousand dollars on it so you can do what you want."
My head began to shake from side to side of its own accord; I knew the Williams weren't rich and this would cost thousands, "Sir, I can't. This is wonderful of you, but its way too much money..."
Mr. Williams waved his hand to interrupt me, "Don't worry about that. I'm not paying for this. Eric is."
Steve and I both did a double-take on that bit of news. Mr. Williams gave us a wicked grin as he answered our unspoken questions, "It's his college fund. He sure won't be needing it and after what he's put you two through, you deserve it."
Eric's money... That made it sweeter yet, so I eagerly nodded my agreement. Hawaii, I still couldn't believe it. I looked again at the ticket in my hand, noticing the date; the day before my birthday, less than two weeks away. I'd be spending my birthday with Steve in Hawaii instead of alone in a jail cell.
Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to Conner for editing, support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions on this chapter.
Many thanks also to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions (and for thinking up a title!).
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading and advice, and for putting up with me.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.
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