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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Stonegate Stables - 45. Epilogue

There are many watershed moments in a person's life; this was one of mine.

- - - - - - 15 years after Vincent first told me he loved me - - - - - -

I awoke slowly, easing my eyes open to the pearly gray light of dawn drifting across my bedroom ceiling. After a second or two, I remembered last night and rolled my head carefully to the left. Tony was still asleep, on his side facing me, one hand tucked under his chin and the other spread flat on the sheet between us. His face was peaceful, his breathing even until I placed my hand over his and squeezed lightly.

His breath hitched and he blinked sleepily. Please let it be okay I thought as our eyes met. Please. He stared at me for a long moment, long enough for me to think shit, and then he smiled.

- - - - - - 13 1/2 years after Vincent first told me he loved me - - - - -

A few years after Matt moved in with Adam, they began working with an architect on plans for a house on the property along the creek. It took another year to build, but it was a marvelous place, made of large timbers and natural field stone, with wide plank floors and windows everywhere. They had a pool and hot tub in back, and an eight-stall barn down the hill.

Matt's studio was a six-day wonder when it was first built and got written up in Architectural Monthly. It sat on stilts straddling the creek down in the clearing, and was roofed entirely in glass. The big open space was split almost diagonally with a couple little bridges across the five foot gap. It was a magical place, filled with light and the tinkle of water over rocks and the smell of turpentine.

After Vincent's death, I went to stay with them. Matt had been with me at Vincent's bedside, and when it was over, he simply took me home with him and there I stayed for the next few months. The hustle and bustle of their household kept me from sinking into the darkness that always lurked at the edge of my soul since Dylan's death.

Matt became quite thoughtful some years ago when Del became Kelly's legal guardian, and a few years later, when he and Adam were in a position to do so, they applied to the foster care program in our county. At first, there was a fair amount of resistance to putting already fragile kids in the care of two gay men - even a well-off, committed couple like Matt and Adam - but they flooded the bureaucrats with enough character references to paper the inside of their house, and soon had two brothers – Josh, 7, and Tyler, 9 - staying with them. They were followed a year later by a severely withdrawn eight-year-old named Kevin, who spent most of the first year he was with them as silent as a tomb. Seven years and lots of therapy later, the boys were healthy and happy, and I envied Matt and Adam their close-knit family.

At first, the kids left me alone, no doubt warned off by Matt, but they were teenagers and over the years, they’d come to love me, as I had them. One afternoon when I'd been there about a month, I looked up to see the three of them peering in my bedroom door. Josh and Tyler were brown-haired and blue-eyed - great looking All-American kids - but Kevin was in a class of his own. His pale skin was the perfect foil for his black hair and green eyes, and at fifteen, he was a beautiful boy.

"Sean?" Tyler asked tentatively. "Can we come in?"

I nodded, and they sidled in to sit with me in front of the bay window. I was staying in the big bedroom at the back of the house that looked out over the nearby woods and the fields further off. They made polite conversation for a while, but pretty soon they were fidgeting with the pillow fringe and kicking each other, and I finally said I needed a nap, so that they could leave guilt-free.

Tyler and Josh dashed off, but Kevin stayed behind. He'd been badly abused as a young child, and although he'd been taken from that situation at age five, the damage was done. Matt had dedicated himself to reaching the boy, and went with him to therapy three times a week for almost a year before Kevin would speak directly to him. After that, he talked a little to Adam and the other boys, but it was another year until he'd chat with the rest of us. He eventually took quite a liking to Vincent, and spent time in the kitchen at Corleone's learning the secrets of Italian cooking and how to swear in several languages.

Kevin would always be a quiet boy, but his past had given him empathy beyond his years, and now he came and sat with me on the couch. I continued to gaze out the window, comfortable in our silence, until he slipped his hand into mine. I looked down at our joined hands for a long moment, his smaller fingers laced into my own, reflecting that no one had held my hand since Vincent had finally let go of it that last day in the hospital. When I brought my eyes up to Kevin’s, he wasn't smiling with that hearty cheerfulness that people tend to adopt around someone who's been through a tragedy. Instead, tears glistened on his lashes as he swallowed hard before speaking to me.

"Are you gonna be okay?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly. "I mean, you don't eat hardly at all, and you just stay in here by yourself." He sniffed and swiped at his nose with the back of his free hand. "I couldn't stand it if you……"

He couldn't quite say the word 'died' to me, and it was then that I felt the first stirring of anything like emotion since that dreadful mid-February day when the light of my life had been extinguished. But he was right - I'd lost 15lbs and rarely left my room except to wander the house in the still of night. I tightened my hand in his and had to clear my throat before I could answer him.

"I'll be okay, Kevin. It's just…. I still can't really believe that he's gone. It's like I'll wake up one of these mornings, and he'll be in the kitchen scrambling eggs and complaining that I slept too late."

That was the most I'd spoken since I'd moved in, and Kevin nodded encouragingly as he replied. "I know. Whenever I go to Corleone's now, Tony makes a fuss over me, but it's just not the same."

"No, it's not," I agreed sadly. Nothing was the same without Vincent's vibrant life weaving in and out of my own.

Kevin scooted closer and rested his head on my shoulder. We sat in companionable silence until Adam came up to tell us it was dinner time. Kevin kissed my cheek before he went off to clean up, and Adam took his place on the couch.

"Wanna join us?" he asked, as he had every night since I'd come to stay.

I swung my head to look at him, seeing compassion and love in his eyes. "Yeah, I think I will."

Pleasure spread across his face, and when I smiled in return, he hugged me tightly, then took my hand and led me down the stairs to the dining room. The boys were jostling each other as they sat down, throwing discreet elbows until Matt gave them a frown, which turned into a pleased smile as he saw me enter the room. He pulled out the chair next to Kevin and squeezed my shoulders as I sat down. Although Matt spent part of every day sitting with me, I hadn't joined in any family activities until tonight.

Maria's cousin Lucy had come to work for them shortly after the house was finished, and she'd become as essential to their family as Maria had been to Vincent and me. She was a placid woman who took life with three teenage boys in stride, keeping them fed and loving them through all their ups and downs.

I joined them for meals after that and spent the occasional evening in the den watching the boys play video games, or trying to beat them at poker. Despite the critics' predictions, Josh and Tyler were decidedly heterosexual, sneaking dirty magazines into their rooms and agonizing over which girls to ask to the school dances.

Kevin had so far shown no interest in either sex, leading me to wonder if he'd been permanently scarred by his childhood trauma. After that day, he spent a lot of time with me - coaxing me outside for a walk, asking me for help with his homework (which he knew perfectly well how to do without my assistance), begging me to go for a ride with him so he could practice driving.

Later that week, I was taking a pre-bedtime shower when the door slid open and Adam stepped in. I hadn't been intimate with him since the trip Vincent and Matt took to Paris a few years ago. They'd been gone three months, and I'd come to stay with Adam while they were away, to help with the boys. In response to my raised eyebrows, he said, "We figured maybe you were ready for some company, so we flipped a quarter and I won."

I wasn't sure I was ready for anything, but didn't protest when he took the soap from my hand and turned me by the shoulder so that he could wash my back. He kneaded my neck and shoulders, worked the muscles alongside my spine, and then dropped his hands to my butt and slowed down a bit.

As he drew his hands firmly up my thighs, he twisted his wrists so that his fingers met between my legs and slid up the crack of my ass. It was just non-sexual enough that I relaxed into it, enjoying the touch of his hands, without feeling that I had to respond. But then he gradually nudged my feet apart with his own, and concentrated his efforts in my groin.

I had my forehead resting against my crossed arms on the tile wall, gazing down with wonder at my filling cock. I'd had zero interest in sex up to now, and hadn't masturbated since Vincent's death, but apparently, I was 'ready for some company,' as he'd so delicately put it, because Adam's handiwork definitely had me thinking about my dick.

And my asshole, because his fingers were probing me gently, easing in and out just a bit as he continued his soapy massage. Now and then, he'd slide a hand up to tug on my balls or give my cock a stroke, and after my erection reached the horizontal, he turned me around into the water.

"Rinse off," he whispered into my neck, "and let's go to bed."

By then that sounded like a great idea, so I did as he asked, drying his back after he dried mine, and crawling under the covers that he held up for me. He rolled onto me, propping himself on his elbows so that he could look at me. As he held my head between his hands, he studied my face for a bit before leaning down and kissing me, softly at first, but then with growing passion when I responded to him.

When I pushed him off and slid down to suck his cock, he tried to stop me, and I realized that he'd planned to do all the work, but this was Adam, one of my oldest and dearest friends, and I wanted to. We played around for a bit, ending up with me on my side as he worked his cock into me from behind. He wrapped me in his arms as he began to thrust, holding me tight, and I gave myself over to it, stroking off when he got close.

My orgasm was long and intense, draining me both physically and emotionally, although I didn't begin to cry until we were cleaned up and dozing off to sleep. That was the last time I wept for Vincent, lying there in Adam's embrace, and I realized I was crying from guilt. I was beginning to recover from his death. A part of me wanted to mourn forever, to sit still in a dim room and think about him, about us, to wallow in my aloneness. Survivor's guilt. I felt disloyal and uncaring to be thinking about living again, but I knew he wouldn't want that for me.

After that night, Adam came to my room about once a week, always unannounced, always staying the night, and it became something I looked forward to with the intensity a child devotes to Christmas morning.

One night it was Matt who tapped at my door. I said 'come in,' assuming it was Adam, and when the door opened and Matt cleared his throat, I looked up in surprise. We stared at each other for a second, and then he said, "I finally figured out that sonofabitch had a trick quarter."

I had not been with Matt sexually since the day he left my house to live with Adam, thirteen years ago last month. We had remained as close as we'd always been, and saw each other every few days, but as far as I knew, Matt slept only with Adam. When I didn't return his smile, he sobered up and came to sit on the bed next to me.

I had to ask. "Adam's okay with this?"

"Yeah. His idea, actually. I wanted to before now, but…… I wasn't sure that…… I just wasn't sure," he finished.

I scooted over to make room for him in the bed. He lay on his side with his arms around me, and rested his head on my chest. His body felt achingly familiar to my hands even after all these years, and I closed my eyes with a sigh as I lowered my face to his hair.

"Oh, Matty……"

We stayed like that for a long time, just taking comfort in each other, but eventually, he lifted his face to me and when I kissed him, it was as though the past thirteen years had never happened. By the time I pushed my way into him, our eyes locked to one another, I knew that what I'd felt for him long ago was the real McCoy. I'd always been in love with Matt.

Our lovemaking was intense and passionate, and as I fucked him, he whispered my name over and over until he came in a rush of cum and moans. But he left my bed before morning, and after that night, it was Adam who visited me.

The 14th Annual Art Walk was in late April; Kevin and I went in the middle of the afternoon, nibbling bread sticks as we wandered the booths. Tony had almost canceled the Walk this year due to Vincent's death, but had decided to soldier on. He'd gotten married the summer after Dylan died, figuring that since he already had two kids with his girlfriend, he might as well marry her. We were all a little skeptical, but they'd been together almost fourteen years, so I guess it was doing okay. The kids were working today - Sonja had waved us through the ticket gate when we'd arrived, and Tony Jr had given us the breadsticks and glasses of Chablis.

Matt's international success as an artist hadn't stopped him from exhibiting here every year with David, and as we came to his booth, he was autographing one of the Art Walk posters featuring his drawing of a gnarled old grapevine growing up a weathered fence post. It was done in watercolors, soft and delicate and lovely, and Matt signed his name with a flourish, handing back the pen with a smile.

"There's my guys," he said when he spotted us. He pulled me into a one-armed hug as he ruffled Kevin's hair. "How're you doing?"

I smiled at him. "Good, actually. I'm good today."

"Then I have something for you," he said to me. "He….. he asked me to draw it, and told me to give it to you when I thought you were ready."

My body went still as my heart clenched, knowing he was referring to Vincent, and wondering why in the world he would give it to me now, in such a public place. Kevin took my hand as Matt offered me a small frame, face down as he always did. I held it like that for a moment, preparing myself, and then turned it over.

It was done in pencil - always my favorite medium - and in it, Vincent's beloved face grinned up at me. Scrawled across the bottom, in his hand, were the words, 'smile, goddamnit!'

I stared at it in shock for a second, and then snorted out a choked laugh before grinning back at him. If it had said something - anything - remotely sentimental, I'd have lost it big time, but it was so like him that I just burst into laughter. Kevin knew Vincent well enough to appreciate it, and he laughed along with Matt and me. Back in my room at Matt's house, I propped it on the dresser in my room, more somber now, and ran my finger slowly along the line of his cheek before going down to dinner.

After the Art Walk, the weather warmed up nicely, and I finally got the urge to go home. The boys were sorry to see me go, and I knew I'd miss being so involved in their daily lives, but I was ready - or so I thought. As we pulled around the drive to the front door, my mind flooded with the memories Vincent and I had made in this house.

That night he'd come over when I told him I loved him for the first time, beautiful in his white t-shirt and worn jeans.

The day he'd come home from catching Ray - his eye blackened, his head shaved - looking so good to me that I can still see him plain as day.

The evening Katie got married - spectacular in his tux, waltzing her around the ballroom at Corleone’s.

The morning he'd come home after his father's fatal heart attack, his face drawn with grief, his eyes filling as I took him in my arms, crying against my chest until I thought my heart would break for him.

I sat staring at the house until Matt climbed out of the car and came around to open my door. He rested his hand on my shoulder as I stood up next to him, keeping it there as we walked up the steps. At thirty-three, Matt was slender and graceful, his hair still the same soft brown as the skinny, frightened kid Jesse had brought over that day. The time he'd spent studying in Europe had given him an air of sophistication to rival Adam's.

Adam was on my other side with his hand in the small of my back, a reassuring touch that I badly needed. I took my keys from my pocket for the first time in months and sorted through them for the correct one, glad that my hand didn't shake too much as I unlocked the door.

When I stepped into the hallway, I could feel him all around me. I could almost hear him in the kitchen, puttering with a new gadget, eager for me to try whatever dish he'd made with it, his dark face lighting up when I pronounced it delicious, as I always did because it pleased me to please him. I closed my eyes for a moment to steady myself before walking down the hall. As I passed the door to the den, I knew I would never forget the sight of him sitting on the couch that evening, his dark eyes liquid with sorrow, waiting to tell me that he was gravely ill.

"You doin' okay?" Adam asked me gently as we stepped into the kitchen.

I nodded, getting a bottle of water from the fridge before I replied. "Yeah….. but I can feel him."

Matt smiled a little. "Me, too. I thought maybe it was just me being fanciful, but I feel him here, too."

We brought in my bags, and they came up to help me unpack. The sight of our bed stopped me for a second, so I turned to the closet where I hung shirts as Matt handed them to me. When we couldn't find anything else to do, they hugged me and left. I lingered on the porch after they drove off, watching their car disappear around the curve, knowing that going back in the house right away was out of the question. I walked around to the back, avoiding the cabana where we'd spent so many intimate times, and hiked up the hill to my little barn.

Calvin had been dead for a few years, and Zena was retired to pasture with some older Foundation horses, but their son, Prada (yes, I was carrying on Amada's tradition of naming horses for fashion designers), snorted at me from the corner stall, his dark bay coat gleaming in the afternoon sun that slanted in through the doors. Without stopping to think too much about it, I tacked him up and jumped on. As we left my property, I urged him up the long slope, standing slightly in the stirrups as he broke into a canter. We topped the hill that overlooks the development - the same hill I'd ridden Calvin up after Dylan had died - and I pulled him to a halt.

I stared off into the distance for a while, gazing at the steeple on Stonegate's big barn, wondering if I could settle back into my former life minus Vincent. He wouldn't be happy with the way I'd handled his death. I could almost hear him say, 'Sean, get a grip.' Easy to say, but I knew it would be a difficult next few months.

Nothing to do but try, I thought, urging Prada back down the hill. I rode to the stable, gave him a good bath, and went into my office where three months of paperwork was piled in my IN box. Teresa had taken care of the crucial stuff, so I slogged through the rest, pitching most of it in the trash, until my desk was presentable again.

That done, I headed out to the yard with a clipboard and did a walk-thru, making notes of things that had fallen behind while I was absent. Tommy and Alejandro had done a good job keeping the place going, but there's nothing like an owner's eye to catch the little stuff. An hour later, I had two pages of tasks that needed doing - everything from sweeping out the tack rooms to repainting the main sign out by the road.

Over the next few months, I worked from 6am to 8pm, exhausting myself and getting home in time to eat a bowl of cereal, take a shower and fall into bed. It worked for a while because the days got easier, but night became my enemy. In the darkness, my thoughts turned to Vincent time and again, and sleep eluded me. I wandered the house, his quilt draped around my shoulders, touching the arm of a chair where his hand had rested, seeing him everywhere.

My long hours kept the stables in tip-top shape, horses schooled to the top of their form, signs painted, donkeys trained, paperwork done daily, a new barn planned, but still, summer passed slowly that year. June seemed endless; July was hot and humid; August, more of the same. I had friends over for swim parties, they invited me for barbeques; I wasn't a hermit, but I was mostly just going through the motions, saying 'fine' when people asked how I was doing.

Late one Wednesday afternoon, when I couldn't find a single thing that needed doing at the barn, I went for a drive that eventually took me past the restaurant. The back stairs to the apartment were long-gone, taken down during the remodel three years ago, and the place hardly looked familiar. On impulse, I parked and went in, intending only to take a quick look around, but Tony's daughter Sonja spotted me. At seventeen, she was the best of the D'Ambruzzo family in female form, with those dark eyes that Vincent had seduced me with that very first night, and a lush, curvy figure.

"Uncle Sean." She came around the counter and hugged me. "It's good to see you. Does Dad know you're here?"

"No, no. I was just out in the car and ……" I waved my hand vaguely, unable to tell her that I was still looking for Vincent everywhere I'd ever been with him. Corleone's was just one more place that I didn't find him. She pulled out a chair for me and I sank into it, grateful for her understanding. I sat there by myself as she seated a couple for a late lunch.

"Sean?"

I glanced up into Tony's handsome face, so like Vincent's in many ways, but uniquely his own - the jaw not as heavy, the cheekbones a little higher, the mouth quicker to smile. I gazed at him as he squatted down to talk to me. "How are you doing? Really?"

"I miss him so much."

My eyes filled, something that hadn't happened in a while, and Tony knelt between my knees to wrap his arms around me.

"So do I," he whispered. "Every single day."

I lowered my face to his shoulder and sighed deeply, my breath hitching a little. After a few minutes, I sat up and wiped my eyes with the napkin he handed me. Tony took me by the hand and led me to one of the private alcoves. As we passed the kitchen, he rapped out some Italian, and food appeared on our table. I wasn't hungry, but he dished out lasagna without asking me, and it smelled wonderful, so I began to eat. He poured some wine, too - not much, just enough to enjoy with the pasta. As we ate, he chatted about family, filling the silence with stories that finally made me chuckle. During a pause, though, his face clouded and he looked through his wine glass for a moment.

"What is it?" I asked him.

He looked at me for a second, and then blew out a breath. "I'm getting divorced. I know, I know," he said, holding up a hand as I raised my eyebrows at him. "I didn't want to tell you while ……" he waved the hand in the air. "Anyway, it's been coming for a long time. We haven't been….. intimate in years and I'm moving out….. sometime."

"Where to?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I gotta get off my ass and find something. Too bad the old apartment's gone."

"Come stay with me." I spoke without thinking, the words coming easily. "I have tons of room, Maria cooks and cleans. Ten minutes from the restaurant. It's perfect."

He argued a little, but I could tell he liked the idea, and the first Saturday in September, several of us moved him into the guest room at the end of the hall, the one Danny had lived in with Ryan until they'd bought a house. Knowing Tony was coming had given me some purpose, and everyone stayed for a cookout. Ryan handled the grill while the rest of us milled around munching on Maria's appetizers and talking.

Danny came over and sat down next to me, draping an arm over my shoulder. "So, you think you'll like having someone else in the house?"

"Well, Tony's like family, so, yeah, I think it'll be good. Give me someone to talk to over dinner. I could use that, and I think he's lonely, too."

TJ and Del were late. One of the Foundation horses had been adopted that day, and they were always present when a horse left Stonegate, along with Kelly, who had become my assistant manager. Del ambled over and wrapped me up in one of his trademark hugs, picking me up off the ground for a moment. When he let go of me, I smiled at him, and as he grinned back, I remembered the night we'd met him in Amarillo, gorgeous in his trademark black Stetson as Vincent led him to our table. At forty, he was an extremely good looking man, fit and tan from his active life outdoors.

TJ smiled at us from across the patio. He'd become a skilled veterinarian since he'd gotten his degree and taken over vet duties for the Foundation. He and Sam had gone into partnership together, offering their combined vet/farrier skills to the public from an office we'd built for them out by the show grounds, and had been successful right from the start. He was still blond, still beautiful, and if there was a 'Gay Couples' pageant in our part of Texas, he and Del would have won it, hands down.

Wade's diagnosis of testicular cancer two years after Dylan's death had taken a toll on all of us. We sat with Cody during Wade's surgery, nursed Wade through the horrors of chemo, and celebrated with them when Wade was finally pronounced cancer-free. Vincent had found the lump one day while fondling Wade in the hot tub, causing all of us for weeks afterward to spend an excessive amount of time probing our scrotums for abnormalities.

The whole experience tested their relationship as Cody coped with the possibility of losing Wade by withdrawing right when he was needed most. One or another of us stayed with Cody while Wade was in the hospital, and one night when it was Vincent's turn, Cody finally cracked, talking it out in an all-nighter on the couch. Vincent came home the next afternoon in a pensive mood, shrugging when I questioned him, but later that night, he rolled me over to face him as we lay on the sofa.

He made the same request of me that he had just before Dylan’s funeral, only this time, there was desperation in his words. "You better not die on me," he whispered against my mouth, his voice tight with emotion. "I couldn't bear it, so just don't fucking do it."

I hugged him, and promised I wouldn't - a promise I kept, though not by choice.

Jesse and Ben had retired from their jobs in the city last year and moved into a cabin out in the woods near David and Levi. Neither of them knew anything about living in the country, although I'm sure Jesse could have survived on the moon. They got a dog and had a great time hiking their rolling ten acres, discovering nesting birds and deer trails.

The cookout was like so many other parties we'd had over the years that I half expected Vincent stroll out from the kitchen any minute, his white apron low around his hips, a vivid contrast to his brown skin, giving me a wink and a grin through the crowd. That didn't happen, of course, but I was able to smile at the mental image.

"Penny for your thoughts," Matt said as he settled into the lawn chair next to me.

"What else," I said with a shrug, but then I paused. "But in a good way," I said slowly, realizing that the knot that had been in the pit of my stomach since February was easing, that I was truly enjoying the day, despite the fact that Vincent wasn't there.

Matt turned his head slowly to look at me, nodding a little. "Good. I wondered when that would happen for you." He looked away for a moment, then down at the drink in his hands. "I remember the day I finally felt that you were really going to keep me, you and Vincent, that I wouldn't get turned back out on the streets."

I stared at him. He had never spoken to me of his early days with us. He had seemed to adjust fairly easily to a life of comparative luxury after his years on the streets, and although I shouldn't have been, I was amazed to hear that he had been insecure with us for a time. "How long was it, until you felt safe?"

He was silent for long enough that I thought he wouldn't answer me. Then, "That first Christmas, when you gave me the money. I remember thinking that if I had to leave, at least I wouldn't be so hungry this time."

"Oh, Matt……" I touched his cheek with the back of my finger, and he closed his eyes for a second as he leaned into it. Then he pulled back to look at me.

"I still have that original bank book, by the way. Actually, what really made me feel like you'd keep me around was when Vincent hung that first drawing I did of the two of you on the wall in the den."

"It's still there."

"I know." He smiled into my eyes.

“For me," I said thoughtfully, looking into the depths of my own glass. "I guess I knew you were a keeper that first day you spent with Ginger in the stable. You were with her.”

“I related to her neglect and abuse. I love that horse, and I love you, Sean. I'm glad it's getting better."

Tony proved to be a wonderful housemate. I had met him the night I'd met Vincent, so we had seventeen years of shared history, which made for comfortable silences during early breakfasts, easy conversation over late night brandies. We fell into a routine of waiting for each other to get home, then talking about the day as we made dinner or unwound in the den. I think he missed his wife, just as someone to talk to if nothing else, and I certainly missed that, too, so we both looked forward to those quiet evening hours that we spent in each other's company.

Christmas was very low-key. Tony's kids spent Christmas Eve with us, coming over after the restaurant closed at 6pm. We ate supper, and then adjourned to the den to open presents in front of the fire. Both kids had been driving assorted family vehicles since they'd gotten their licenses, and Tony had decided to splurge on new cars for them. I pitched in a bit more, so both kids opened small boxes that contained Lexus keys. When the hooting and hollering was over, we followed them to the garage where they climbed into their new rides and headed out. When they'd left, Tony and I poured a last glass of wine and went back to the couch. I was quiet, haunted by memories of holidays past, staring into the fire but seeing only the pictures in my mind.

When Tony laid a hand on my shoulder, I jumped and clapped a hand to my chest. He held still for a moment, and then pulled me with him as he lay back against the arm of the sofa, tucking me close to his chest as he put his arms around me. It was almost painfully comforting to be held by someone, and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut as Tony slowly stroked one hand up and down my back. We lay there as the fire burned down to embers, just holding each other. There was nothing sexual about it, no stir of guilty longings or memories of other evenings, just the warmth of the long-standing affection we shared. When the room began to chill, Tony tightened his arms momentarily and then pushed us upright.

"Merry Christmas, Sean."

I looked at the clock; it was indeed past midnight. I turned to him. "Merry Christmas," I told him, then glanced at the couch. "That was nice."

He smiled softly at me. "Yeah, it was."

He leaned forward and kissed me on the mouth, a typical Italian kiss that we'd shared dozens of times over the years, but afterward our eyes held for a long second before he got to his feet and pulled me up. "Come on….. bedtime."

He held my hand down the hall and up the stairs, letting me go only when he needed to turn left to his room. We went our separate ways, meeting up by chance at the same spot the next morning. He chuckled at me. "Déjà vu all over again."

I laughed, and we went down to the kitchen and made breakfast together. He was as good a cook as Vincent had been, although tending more toward American foods at home, claiming that he got enough Italian when he was at work. This morning he made French toast stuffed with cream cheese, pecans, and orange marmalade, accompanied by bacon and home fries. God only knows how many calories were in each bite, but it was Christmas morning, so we threw caution to the winds and dug in.

The day was cold and clear, so after we cleaned up the kitchen, we bundled up for a walk around the neighborhood. Things were quiet as we strolled along, enjoying the decorations, waving when someone we knew drove past. About halfway through our jaunt, Tony draped an arm over my shoulders and kept it there until we got home. The casual physical affection Vincent had shown me was one of the things I missed the most, and I think Tony must have known that because from then on he was very affectionate with me; usually with just a touch of our hands, a hug when he felt I needed it, sometimes pulling me back to rest against him when we shared the couch.

I made it through the dark days of winter by working hard and spending a lot of time with friends and family, but as the anniversary of Vincent's death approached, things became more difficult.

On a particularly bad night in early February, I just could not fall sleep. I lay in bed, listening to my heart thump heavily in my chest, wishing it would simply stop altogether and put an end to this suffering. My head began to throb, and by 2am, I couldn't take it any longer and rolled out of bed to get some aspirin. I fiddled with the lid for a while, but finally got the cuticle scissors out, intending to pry it off. Vincent's long-ago admonition that I'd poke a hole in myself came back to me in a rush, and I hurled the bottle and scissors against the far wall where the plastic grenaded, showering aspirin tablets all over the bathroom. I dropped my head into my hands and sank to the floor, too weary and heartsick to cope.

I don't know how long I sat there, my bare ass freezing on the chilly tiles, when I suddenly felt Tony's arms surround me. Without opening my eyes, I burrowed into the warmth of his body, so thankful for the comfort. After a few moments, he lifted me from the floor, wrapped me in a big towel, and sat me on the toilet seat lid.

"Did you get any aspirin?" he asked me quietly. When I shook my head, he picked a couple up from the floor, blew them off in his hand and gave them to me with a glass of water, which he held while I took a sip. When I was finished, he took me back to the bed, crawling in behind me and pulling me back against his warm, solid body. This time I fell asleep easily, waking alone in the morning to golden sunlight streaming in the window.

On the morning of Feb 16th, Tony eyed me over breakfast.

"What are you gonna do today?" he asked quietly as he buttered his toast.

I shook my head and shrugged. "I don't know," I replied. "I thought I'd feel worse, and just wanna stay home, but I'm okay."

"How 'bout a drive?"

I looked at him in surprise. "You don't need to be at the restaurant?" He worked a lot of hours since Vincent was no longer there to share the load.

"Not today," he said firmly. "Let's go."

I didn't ask what he had in mind as we left the house behind. I just lay my head back on the seat and gazed out the window as the miles streamed by. My mind was full of Vincent, and I was sad that he was gone, but the depression that I'd been prepared for today didn't come. Instead, when Tony put a hand on my knee, I turned to him with a smile.

"Doin' okay?" he asked me.

"Yeah. Where are we?"

"The Sabine," he said, naming a National Forest east of us. It's a beautiful place, and we drove slowly south, enjoying the scenery. Tony kept his hand on my knee, and after a bit, I lay mine over it and left it there until we stopped for lunch.

Spring and summer passed, and as autumn chilled the air, I began to truly enjoy life again. The terrible ache of losing Vincent had eased enough to be bearable, and although I thought of him often, it was more with a wistful longing than with pain. I could live with longing.

On a cold day in early December, I rode several horses, helped unload a hay truck, and supervised the repairs to the roof of the main barn. By the time I got home, I was frozen clear through. Tony was in the den, feet up to the fire blazing in the grate as I tottered in on feet so cold they hurt. I leaned against the mantel as I pulled off my boots, teeth chattering, and when he reached over to help, his hand grazed mine.

"Jesus Christ, your fingers are icy. Come here."

He stood up and stuffed my hands under his sweater, wincing at the cold on his bare skin. My palms lay on the triangle of hair on his chest, and as I spread my fingers through it, my left pinkie slid across his erect right nipple. He jerked slightly and sucked in a quick breath. I froze for a second, and then moved my right pinkie a half inch more until I touched the hard nub of his other nipple. Again he twitched involuntarily, and I made a small sound in the back of my throat.

"Sean?"

His voice was so soft that I wasn't sure I heard him, so I raised my eyes to his, seeing a tangle of emotions in his face - confusion and desire in equal measure. I stared at Tony, the old friend whose constant, steady presence had helped me come to grips with my loss. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath.

"Yes," I whispered to him, my own voice not quite steady, and I nodded as I flexed my fingers into the meat of his chest. "Yes."

His jaw muscles tensed and his heart began to hammer under my palm as his respiration kicked up. We were still looking at each other as I tilted my head slightly and leaned toward him. His eyes dropped shut, and he shuddered when our lips touched, but he returned my kiss.

We were tentative at first, but when I opened my mouth slightly, he followed suit and our tongues touched an instant later. When a groan escaped Tony's throat, a small lick of heat curled deep in my belly, working its way north to my heart and south to my cock.

As we kissed, I slid my arms around his waist in a loose hug, and I could feel his erection through our jeans when our crotches bumped. I hadn't even masturbated in months, but his excitement sparked my own, and I felt my cock come to glorious life. He felt it, too, and broke the kiss to breathe open-mouthed as I hardened against him.

"Oh, God, Sean……. God, I've waited so long for this."

I pulled back to stare at him in surprise, my pulsing erection momentarily forgotten. "For what?"

He looked away for a second, then came back to me. "For you. For a chance to be with you." He paused. "If you and Vincent hadn't been so obviously right for each other, I would have done something about it back when we first met." He snorted out a laugh. "You have no idea how many times I beat off over the years thinking about what the two of you were doing together."

"Really?!?" I'd never had even an inkling that Tony felt something for me. "But you got married,” I added stupidly.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I did. I didn't really think of myself as gay. It was only you I was attracted to, not guys in general." Another pause. "Once I moved in here, I fell for you all over again, but I wasn't sure you'd ever get to a place where I could….. tell you how I felt. Tonight, when you touched me and made that little sound…… Seemed like it was now or never." He shrugged again and fell silent for a moment. "Is it….. Do you think you could ever feel something for me? I mean, I know it couldn't be like what you had with Vincent, but….."

"Oh, Tony," I told him. "You've been one of my best friends forever, it seems. I had no idea you…. liked me. I thought you were as straight as they came." My turn to pause. I looked at him carefully, seeing the friend I'd loved for years, the person who'd become an important part of my days, the man who'd just kissed me and made my neglected dick hard.

"Yeah,” I assured him with a smile. “Yeah, I could feel something for you."

Relief spread across his face in a big grin and he rolled his eyes. "Thank Christ. I was scared to death to say anything to you." His smile faded slowly until he was gazing somberly at me. "Are you warmed up yet?" I nodded. "Good, I gotta sit down."

We settled onto the couch as we had so many times since he’d moved in, but tonight was different – tonight there was romance in the air. Tony sat back against the arm of the sofa and I crawled up next to him, lying on my side between him and the back of the couch with my arms around him.

After we’d gotten settled I asked him, “You’ve never been with a guy, then?”

“Well……..”

He was clearly uncomfortable with the question, and it suddenly hit me that he’d been with Vincent at some point in time, something I hadn’t known. I looked up at him.

“When?” He looked at me miserably, so I smiled at him. “It’s okay, Tony, I’m just curious when it was.”

With a sigh, he said, “I was sixteen, so he must have been nineteen or twenty. He’d been fooling around with boys for years by then, and one day I walked in when he was jerkin’ off up in the apartment.” He smiled and shook his head at the memory. “I was all flustered, but he just patted the couch next to him, so I went and sat down. Next thing I knew, my dick was in his hand, and a couple strokes later, it was over.” He laughed now. “I never came so quick in my life - before or since. Twenty seconds, max.”

I recalled my own total lack of control the first time I’d been with Vincent, and Danny’s quick shots in the hot tub. “He had that effect on people.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, we did that a couple more times, and one time he sucked me off, but that was it." He made a face. "Sorry.”

I squeezed him tighter for a second. “It’s okay. We used to play around with other guys, so it’s no big deal. I just didn’t know, is all.”

“You did?” His voice registered total surprise.

“Yeah. We discussed it when we got together. Actually, he’s the one who brought it up and said it was okay with him. Just with our friends, though, and always as a couple. Although, that was a little flexible,” I added, recalling Danny in the office and TJ in the tack room.

“Do you…. want us to do that?”

I pulled back and looked at him. “There’s an ‘us’?”

He flushed, but held my eyes. “Fuck, I sure as hell hope so. I’ve been sweatin' bullets working up to this.”

I studied his face for a minute as he gazed back at me. “Have you really thought about it?" I asked him. "You’re a business owner, a city councilman. It’s gonna be a big shock to a lot of people. It'll affect Corleone’s. And your kids. Do they have any idea?”

He heaved a sigh and pushed my head back down onto his chest. "No, they don't know, and, yes, I've thought about it a lot. I wanna be happy again, and being with you, us being….. a couple, would make me happier than anything I can think of." He stopped talking for a minute because I was kissing him; then he resumed. "What about you? You sure you're ready to do this again? I don't wanna push it, but….."

I stopped him with another kiss. "Yeah, I'm ready. I didn't know it till you put my hands on your chest. When you jumped, and I realized it was because I touched you, that kinda woke me up, I guess."

We stopped talking then because I'd settled my hand over the bulge in his jeans. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, moaning as he pushed up into my palm. I kneaded his balls gently, aware of surging emotions that I'd thought had been lost to me forever. Tony had one hand resting on his chest and the other on the back of my neck. He tightened his grip slightly when I whispered his name, then opened his eyes. When he was looking at me, I slid my hand up from his crotch to lay it over his hand.

"You and I've been friends for a long time, and you loved Vincent as much as I did," I told him softly. "If there was anyone I could do this with again, it'd be you."

He smiled at me a little uncertainly. "That sorta sounds like a 'thanks, but no thanks.’"

"Not at all, but you need to be sure. I know what it's like to have people look at me funny, or for a conversation to stop when I show up. You don't. People you thought were your friends will act like you don't exist, or worse. Not many maybe, but some - enough to hurt." I smiled at him to take the sting out of my words. "I just want you to be sure."

He stared at me for a long time, expressionless, and when he blinked and looked away across the room, the disappointment was crushing. I'd had no idea how much I wanted to be involved with someone again until I'd kissed him. I was more than ready. I started to push myself up off him, but he turned back to me and gripped my arms.

"No, stay here. I know what I'm doing. I want this, Sean. I want you, if you're ready."

We stared at each other for a minute, searching, before he pulled me slowly to him. This kiss was hotter, more demanding than our first one, and after a moment, I just let myself go. I dragged my filling cock up his thigh, groaning into his mouth as I hardened. When his hand slid down my back and hesitated just inside the waist of my jeans, I shifted enough to yank my pants open. I moved up him a little more, and when my jeans loosened, he grabbed a handful of my ass hard enough to make me wince.

That first intimate contact blew away whatever final inhibitions we both had about doing this, and we fought out of our clothes enough to get a hand on each other's dicks. Tony was a few inches shorter, a few pounds heavier, than Vincent had been, and I felt no similarities as I handled his body. His cock was smooth and bullet shaped, leaking into my hand when I freed it from his shorts. We ended up side by side on the couch, facing each other, thrusting into one another's trembling fists until we both exploded with grunts and growls.

The relief and exhilaration I felt in being with Tony was profound. I hadn't realized how much the lack of a physical relationship had been affecting my psyche, and after I got my breath back, I pushed myself up so I could look at him, not surprised to see that his grin matched my own.

"God damn, Sean," he said, still breathing hard. He looked down at the creamy smears of our combined cum on his stomach before dropping his head back with a lusty sigh. I settled back in next to him and we lazed there a while, but eventually he began to harden against my hip, and soon he gave me a gentle shake.

"Sean. Can we…… go upstairs?"

I caught his hesitation, but knew I'd have no problem taking Tony to the bed where I'd last slept with Vincent. We did up our pants enough to walk, and then I took his hand and led him out of the den, up the stairs, and down the hall where my big bed awaited us. We stopped when we reached its foot and looked at each other.

"It's okay," I assured him. "He wouldn't mind."

Tony studied my face for a moment before nodding. "Yeah, you're right."

He unbuttoned my shirt, then tugged my t-shirt over my head, and I pulled his sweater off. I'd seen his body many times over the years, but never with the intentions I now had for it. His skin was the same shade as Vincent's, with an inverted triangle of black hair on his chest. I licked a fingertip and touched it to his left nipple, tapping it lightly and smiling when his eyes went hot and his jaw clenched.

"Jesus…." he muttered, as his nipple tightened under my finger.

He held my eyes as his hands reached for my jeans, and soon we were both naked, our erections bobbing in the cool air of the room. Tony took half a step back and ran his eyes down my body, ending at my dick, which bounced for him. He looked back up at me, smiling, and then wrapped his hand around my cock. My breath left me in a whoosh, ending in a soft moan that wiped the smile from his face.

I tossed the covers back and pulled him down with me, sliding down his body until the tip of his cock bumped my chin. He was on his elbows watching me as I opened my mouth and dragged the flat of my wet tongue up his penis. When I closed my lips and slid back down, he dropped back onto the bed with a heartfelt, 'uhhhnnnnn.’

I gave him a first rate blow job, wanting more than anything for him to be glad about the choice he'd made, and after he'd emptied himself into my mouth and hand, I moved up to straddle his hips. I nestled my crotch down onto his and leaned forward on my hands so that we were face to face. He gazed up at me, calm and trusting, and as I looked at him, he gave me a smile so sweet, so loving, that I took the plunge without a moment's hesitation.

"I love you, Tony."

His eyes crinkled as his smile widened. "I love you, too. God, that sounded good - say it again."

I chuckled and kissed him. "I love you. I've loved you for a long time, just not like this," I said as I wiggled my ass on his semi-hard dick.

I don't know if it was because all his prior experience had been with women, or if I unconsciously maneuvered him, but it seemed natural for him to roll us so that I was on the bottom. As he lowered his weight onto me, I lifted my knees to cradle his hips, kissing him and rocking against him as he slowly hardened a third time.

Finally, I reached for his cock, pushing it down into the crevice of my ass and pulling my knees further back. He sank back onto his knees, breathing open-mouthed as I positioned him. His eyes came up to mine for a moment, then dropped back down, and he pushed gently against me, too gently, so I gripped his thighs and pulled him in, watching the wonderful range of expressions that crossed his face as he entered me for the first time.

It was a good thing he had two orgasms under his belt by then, because I worked him hard, bringing us both to a rolling sweat before letting myself go. It had been a long time since I'd been here, and by the time I climaxed, I was shaking and gasping for air. Tony had gathered me up in his arms toward the end, and held me tight until I began to come down.

I'm not sure what he thought fucking a man would be like, but I think it fulfilled whatever expectations he had, judging by the blissed out look on his face as he flopped down next to me. He ran a finger lightly through a puddle of cum on my belly, bringing it to his nose for a sniff, then touching it briefly to his tongue. I watched him, enjoying his curiosity, smiling when he met my eyes and flushed.

"Was that….. did I do it right?" he asked, his voice betraying his uncertainty even more than his words.

I almost laughed, but he looked so earnest, so worried that he hadn't pleased me despite the evidence splattered all over my stomach, that I smothered it with a noisy throat clearing.

"You did it perfectly," I assured him solemnly, meaning every word. "It was wonderful and I love you," I told him again, following it with a kiss. He smelled good to me, different than I remembered Vincent, and I rolled to my side, burying my face in his neck. We fell asleep like that, his arm draped over my ribs, my hand holding his loosely, our knees bumping.

In the morning I awoke slowly, easing my eyes open to the pearly gray light of dawn drifting across my bedroom ceiling. After a second or two, I remembered last night and rolled my head carefully to the left. Tony was still asleep, on his side facing me, one hand tucked under his chin and the other spread flat on the sheet between us. His face was peaceful, his breathing even until I placed my hand over his and squeezed lightly.

His breath hitched and he blinked sleepily. Please let it be okay I thought as our eyes met. Please. He stared at me for a long moment, long enough for me to think shit, and then he smiled.

- - - - - - - 20 years after Vincent first told me he loved me - - - - - -

Tony and I have made a good life together these past three years, and I intend to live out the rest of my days with him. He's not Vincent - that was a once in a lifetime love - but he's a strong, loving man who makes me smile and holds me close on dark nights. We enjoy one another, in bed and out, and I love him dearly.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a Vincent in their life.

I was. I know what it is to love someone heart and soul, and to be cherished in return.

May you be as fortunate.

… The End …

Copyright © 2011 Gabriel Morgan; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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I think this is the sixth or seventh time I've read Stonegate Stables, stem to stern. Delighted to do so again here at GA, discovering some new (to me) authors and writing. Gabe, I love your style, your honesty, your ease with which you create both the characters and the relationships. Most of all I appreciate your sense of normalcy that each of these relationships expresses, the richness of being true to one's nature and being engaged and contributing to community in the here and now. You're a model for the greatness of being within all of us in these stories, and I thank you!

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Hi!

 

I just finished reading the story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

 

I came to absolutely adore Sean, Vincent, and Matt. They were wonderful characters.

 

The story lines were always interesting, the supporting characters were great, I just loved it all.

 

:)

Cheers!

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This is an amazing story. The characters are fabulous - other than Sean, Vincent and Matt I don't know which others would be my favourite - they make a great team of guys.

 

The erotic scenes are some of the best I've read. Often I'll read through those parts fast because they can all seem to be the same. But not with Gabriel.

I was disappointed with the Epilogue, only with the fact of Vincent dying. But it was a good one other than that and worked out okay for Sean in the end. It was nice to see what happened to the characters over that period of time.

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Great story! Great characters and settings! Very well written! I am sorry to see it end. Any thoughts of doing a sequel perhaps centred on Matt his life and children with Sean and now Tony mixed in?

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Wow! I'm thrilled to have discovered this site and especially you, Gabriel Morgan, and your stories. Please, please, please finish Panhead! This was second best to Panhead though it is a f-ing good read, literally! And I loved the characters and the complexity of the relationships, but also their incredible flexibility with each other. Wow! Sean & Vincent's relationship was just amazing. I have never ever experienced such a wonder so it was a total gob-smacker to me is so many ways but you told the story so utterly convincingly. Love it. Thank you so much! A privilege to have been able to read it!

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I loved this story!!! Yes, I was in tears, and I fell in love with all of the characters. I want a love, like Sean and Vincent!!!

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Hi
Awesome tale and I loved 52 Panhead too
You have a real great way of depicting love and make us feel a part of it
Love the intimacy part, it is a real swell
Keep writing Gabriel!

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OMG! You bastard, making a grown man cry isn't fair. Your story was so...so...perfect in it's delivery of emotions.
your fingers and mind are truly a gift from God

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I have really enjoyed this story, I am sad to see that Vincent died.

thanks for an enjoyable reading experience 

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Really enjoyed rereading this story.  Love your writing and the depth of your characters.  Keep up the good work.  Hugs

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