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    Jdonley75
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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.

The Empty Spaces Between Us - 12. Chapter 12

The late July heat left Tyler sweating and feeling exhausted as he descended the ladder for the final time that day. It had been a decent Monday with a good team to get the work done. Andy had been doing well back in his supervisory role while Tyler, Sean, Neal and one of the older guys got the job done. Andy had stayed on the ground most of the time and was frequently on his phone or working with one of the other guys, measuring and cutting material.

For his part, Tyler didn’t mind the weather or the work or even the comments here and there on the job about who was fucking which girl that week. In truth, he was almost totally oblivious to everything going on around him. He managed to stay focused at least on his job but most of his thoughts were on Alex. The more Alex had come over to his house in the last two weeks since his birthday, the more excited Tyler seemed to get. And the more time they spent together Tyler felt this warmth inside him that he could only call love. The revelation itself had stunned him at first. He was in love with this person!

He hadn’t said the words to Alex yet, though. He wasn’t even sure if he should. The idea of being in love with Alex seemed frightening, surreal and exciting at the same time. He looked forward to the times they got to spend together. Alex wasn’t the kind of guy who was comfortable being out of the closet. As small of a town it was for Tyler to live in, he could only imagine how isolating a tiny farming community out in the middle of nowhere must seem for someone like him. He wanted to keep things going how they were for the moment, but Tyler had this urge to tell him how he felt. He wanted Alex there with him all the time, if he could have him.

They spent most of their time together at Tyler’s house. Whenever they were out in public, he always had this air about him that made him appear aloof and unapproachable. Alone at Tyler’s house, Alex was more outgoing. Easier to smile and always wanting to touch whenever they were sitting around watching a show or a baseball game. Alex didn’t seem all that interested in sports. He was more of a fan of horror movies and reality TV. He was confident that at some point, they would end up talking about moving their relationship to another level. For now, he was content to just enjoy their time together whenever or however he could get it.

Tyler grabbed his things and started to walk them over to his truck when Sean came up behind him. “Man, it’s hot out here.”

Tyler chuckled. “Just now figuring that out?”

Sean smiled. He’d gotten more and more comfortable at his job as the months had passed. “No, just making conversation. You were kinda quiet today.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He put his cooler in the bed of his truck and turned to survey the area. Even if it was Andy in charge again, he still felt a need to double check in case anyone missed anything. “Sorry. Had some stuff on my mind lately.”

“It’s no problem.” He paused for a moment following Tyler as he walked around the area and keeping one eye on Andy while the others were breaking up and heading back to the office. “Hey,” Sean said with a little less certainty in his voice. “I was thinking… There’s a Pirates game this weekend at home. Would you be interested in going?”

“That does sound like fun,” he admitted. “But, I can’t. I have something else going on this weekend.”

“Oh.” Tyler was leaning down, picking up some discarded nails, so he didn’t see the brief look of disappointment on Sean’s face. “Well, maybe some other time then.”

“Sure,” he replied casually. “Always plenty of time in a season.”

“Oh. Yeah. Good point.” Sean smirked a little and dropped the subject. “I better catch up with Andy. See you later.” Sean gave him one last wave before intercepting Andy and hitching a ride with him back to the office.

Tyler got in his truck and started on the half hour trip back to the office. One of the benefits of his job was getting to drive for long distances and get paid for it. Today was a rare day where he didn’t have anyone in the truck with him. As he drove, thoughts about Alex crept back into his head. He already knew Alex wasn’t going to be coming over tonight. They’d already spent the last two weekends together, so Alex said he needed to put in some time at his parents’ house. He promised to text later though.

The more he thought about it, the more he realized he wasn’t really satisfied with just a couple days a week. His place is big enough for both of them. It could save them some money if they lived together. Halving all the bills and Alex wouldn’t need to drive half an hour everyday to work. It was something to consider in the future, depending on how things go.

As he drove into town, he took the road past the old trailer park he and his mom used to live in. As he looked over the area when he passed by, he saw the entire lot was bare. All the old trailers, the dumpsters and all the trash that had been there was gone now leaving and empty open block of dirt. Even the old, decrepit signs had been removed. In an odd way it was a little offensive to him. As if someone had erased that entire part of his life. As much as he hated it, it had been a long part of his life and now it was just gone. A small sadness crept into him even as he knew it was silly to miss a place as run down and unsafe as the trailer park had been. And, even if the physical space was gone, the memories would stick with him his entire life.

 

****

 

Sean sat quietly in the passenger seat as the miles went by. He glanced over at Andy once in a while, gauging his mood. He was never sure where he stood with his boss. Sometimes, he could be outgoing and funny. Other times, he was quiet and not prone to say much of anything other than giving him directions on his job. Still, he wanted to at least try and be personable with him. After all, he really didn’t have much to lose.

“I’m glad I got this job,” he said as he leaned back in his seat. “Everyone seems friendly around here.”

Andy chuckled. “Glad you approve. You’ve improved a bit since you started. I’m sure with some more time you’ll know what you’re doing most of the time.”

“Thanks.” Sean thought about what was on his mind and tried to find a tactful way to say it. “Tyler always surprises me. He seems a lot more mature than his age.”

Andy glanced over at Sean before he replied, “yeah. He’s a good sort. I like having him around. Wish he could find himself a date once in awhile though. Would give him something to do besides work and work.” He kept his poker face in place, curious to see where this conversation will go.

“Haven’t you seen him with a girlfriend before,” Sean asked, sounding a little too innocently curious to Andy’s years of experience of listening to innuendo and veiled comments.

“Not that I can recall.” Andy was enjoying his stellar performance of looking casually interested while trying to find out why Sean keeps talking about Tyler. “I asked him about that once. Why he didn’t have a girlfriend.”

Sean looked over at him. “What did he say?”

Andy met his eyes briefly. It was enough to confirm his suspicions. “I can’t remember what he said exactly. Just something about not finding the right one, or something like that. You should hang out with him sometime. Maybe, if you spend a night out at the bars together, maybe you can both get laid.” He was so proud of himself for not laughing at the not so subtle hint he just gave Sean.

“Maybe,” Sean replied. “He always seems busy, though.”

“Never hurts to keep trying.” Andy figured he was going to be spending most of the night debating on whether to tell Tyler about this or not. Just as he was pulling into town, his phone alerted him to a text message. He glanced at the screen and felt like his world just dropped out from under him. “Oh, God.”

Sean looked over at him. The tone in his voice sounded like it was definitely bad news. “What’s wrong?”

“We gotta go.” Everything else was forgotten as Andy pressed down on the gas pedal and tried not to panic as he sped back to the office as fast as possible.

 

****

 

When Tyler got back to the office, he walked inside to finish up where he heard a raised voice that could only be Andy’s coming from somewhere down the hall. He looked around, finding only Sean and Neal still sitting there, exchanging worried looks between them. “What’s going on,” Tyler asked them.

Sean shrugged and replied, “something about a guy named David.”

Tyler frowned in concern and stepped into the hallway. He politely knocked on Troy’s office door before slowly opening it. “What…? Oh, Tyler. It’s you.” Tyler blinked in surprise. It was the closest he ever heard Troy sounding hostile. His gaze went from Tyler to Andy who was pacing with his phone against his ear.

Tyler looked at them both carefully before he spoke up. “Um… What’s going on?”

Troy sighed, looking older than he did this morning. “I just got a call from Liz a few minutes ago. David collapsed at home. Jacob’s on his way to the hospital with him now.”

Tyler’s shock was genuine. “Oh, my God! Is there… I mean, do you need anything?”

Andy put the phone down. “He’s still not answering.”

“He’s probably freaking out, Andy,” Troy said. “We need to get over there. But we need to figure out what to do with the kids first. And… we need to figure out what to do with Kyle.”

Andy’s voice was getting louder as his face started to redden. “So, one of us goes to the house and the other heads to the hospital? That’s some bullshit teamwork.”

“Well, it’s not like we can leave them by themselves!” Troy’s voice was straining with the stress of the unexpected situation. “Liz is at the house with the boys now.”

Tyler was looking back and forth between the two of them. The air in the room felt charged as if a fight was going to break out between them at any second. “I could go,” he offered.

Both men stopped and looked over at him. “It could be an all night job,” Troy said.

“They’re out at Jacob’s place, right?” When he got an affirmative nod, Tyler shrugged. “It’s no big deal. I can go babysit. I should probably shower first.”

Troy took the offer before Andy could say anything. “Can you get there in the next twenty minutes? Liz is going crazy.”

Tyler nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll get out of here and take a quick shower. Twenty to twenty-five minutes, tops.”

“Go then,” Troy motioned. “And thanks.”

Tyler left the office, closing the door behind him. Troy looked back at Andy and said in a calmer voice, “I’m calling Brian and telling him. After that, I’m going to start trying to get a hold of Kyle. I got the number for the DA’s office in Harrisburg. That’s a start.”

Andy frowned, unconvinced. “What if he doesn’t take the call?”

“I’ll figure something out,” he replied. “But, one way or another, I’m gonna get him back. All of this has gone on for too long now. You sure you don’t wanna call Bri yourself?”

Andy shook his head. “He probably wouldn’t answer if I did.”

Troy sighed. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what’s going on with the two of you that you can’t be in the same room together or speak to each other? Kyle and Jacob, I can understand, but neither of you has told me shit about what kind of beef you two have.”

Andy looked away from his friend. “I gotta go to the hospital. At least be there for Jacob. You know, like a friend should.” He stepped to the door and left before Troy could get another word out.

Troy sighed again, suddenly feeling older than he had any right to feel and started making phone calls he didn’t want to make.

 

****

 

Tyler was quick to clean up and change clothes at his place before getting over to the orchard. He only saw David’s SUV and a minivan parked next to the house. Even before he got out of the truck, he could sense a tension in the air here as well. He grabbed a bag of extra clothes he packed on his way out the door, just in case they were needed and headed up the ramp and into the kitchen.

When he walked in, a relieved Liz started grabbing her purse. “Oh, thank God.” She had a worried look in her eyes even as her voice sounded normal. She had the appearance of a mother showing no fear to keep her family calm.

“What happened,” Tyler asked as he stepped into the kitchen.

“I’m not sure but I think it was a mild heart attack,” she replied. “Jacob called and said he’d been acting strange, so I came over with the boys. Then, before I knew it, he couldn’t stay on his feet and was having trouble breathing. Before I could call 9-1-1, Jacob was hauling him out the door and into his truck.”

Tyler started to get worried for David and Jacob. Then he suddenly realized he was going to be stuck with a bunch of little children with little or no experience for most of the night. “Uh, anything I should know about the kids before you go?”

“Oh, hell,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Here, just get some pizzas and make sure they don’t drink too much. Keep it to just water and apple juice tonight so they’re not up the whole time. Chase will help out. Sort of. Just don’t let them eat you alive.” The last she said with a small smirk before handing him some money from her purse. “I’ll have Troy call you when we know when we’ll be done there.”

He felt a little out of his league, suddenly being responsible for four small kids. Elizabeth went quickly out the door and sped off to the hospital. Tyler headed into the living room to find four sets of eyes staring at him. That’s when he realized he was definitely out of his league.

He looked over to Tanner and said, “hey, bud. Where does David keep his movies for you guys?”

Tanner got off the couch and lead Tyler over to the cabinet near the Blu-Ray player. He opened it up and rummaged through it before pulling out a Disney movie. “Can we watch this one first?”

Tyler looked at the copy of “The Lion King” in the boy’s hands. “Sure. I’ll put that in and then order you guys some pizzas.” He expected a more animated response, but the kids seemed preoccupied with the events going on around them. He felt it was his job to take their minds off it for now. “I need to know what everyone wants on their pizza. Who likes pepperoni?”

“Me!” Blake thrust his arm up in the air and Carter soon followed suit. Tanner just shrugged indifferently. Tyler could tell he was going to be the kid to watch more carefully. He was always the quieter one for some reason. Maybe with Chase around, he figured Tanner might be a little louder. Tyler barely knew Chase other than his name and his face. He’d never spent time alone with him. Tanner was the oldest of the boys at just barely seven years old now. Chase, he knew, was going to be seven in a couple months.

Tyler ordered the pizzas, remembering at the last second to order breadsticks for Blake, then settled in to watch the movie with them while they waited for the delivery guy to show up. As they waited, Tyler sent a text message to Andy, asking him how things were going at the hospital. He could still see in his mind’s eye the look on Andy and Troy’s faces earlier. That they had that much emotion for a man who wasn’t even their real dad was a surprise to him. He knew Mr. Howard to be a good person, though there had been times when he seemed rather silent or glum when he spoke. But, even then, he still seemed to focus his attention on either Tyler’s friends or on their children.

The more he thought on it, the more thoughts of his own dad entered his mind. He wondered, if his dad had been closer to him, would he be feeling the same way as they were now? An irrational sense of jealousy came to him for a brief second. How unfair it had all been for him in his life that he never got the chance to have a real, meaningful relationship with his father the way they had with David, who wasn’t even their real dad. He’d give anything to feel that close to someone he felt he could look up too.

When the food arrived, he found some paper plates in the cabinets and made sure the boys had plenty of napkins to stay as clean as possible. He kept Blake and Carter closest to him and made them all sit on the floor while they ate just in case there were any accidents. The boys kept their attention divided between their food and the movie. Tanner was the slowest to eat and Chase was the fastest. Between the five of them, two pizzas disappeared rather fast. He hoped no one would be complaining about being hungry before falling asleep.

He took a little measure of pride that he managed to avoid any serious spills. Blake managed to get some pizza sauce on his shirt, but Tyler had already anticipated that and had a napkin ready almost as soon as it happened. There was a little red spot where the sauce had met the fabric, but it was otherwise clean. The others had only minor messes that were easy to fix. Before long, he had them cleaned up and back on the couches to watch the end of the movie. He checked his phone and found a reply from Andy informing him that the doctors were still trying to find what was wrong with David. Tyler took that as somewhat good news. If it had been a heart attack, he figured David would be in serious trouble by now and they wouldn’t need to wonder what was wrong with him.

He put another movie in for the boys and laid out on the center couch. He had turned most of the lights off once the sun had set, hoping that that would be enough to get the boys sleepy and start to nod off. Within moments of Tyler getting comfortable, Blake climbed up to join him, wearing an unusually somber look on his face. “Where’s my daddy,” he asked.

“He’s still at the hospital, buddy.”

Blake laid down against Tyler, still looking up at him. “Where’s grandpa?”

Tyler got an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. He thought the boys had been told what was going on. Now, with all of three hours of parenting experience in his belt, he was going to have to explain to a three-year-old one of the more difficult subjects for a child to understand. “Davi…er, your grandpa is… sick. And he’s at the hospital right now with your dad and Troy and Jacob. Once they know what’s going on, I’m sure they’ll tell me.”

“Grandpa’s sick?” Carter asked as he joined Blake on the couch with him. Tyler was amazed at how his voice sounded so cute. With the expression on his face, he looked almost like his dad.

“Yeah, he is,” Tyler said with a slight nod. “But, it’s gonna be okay. Nothing for you to worry about.” He hoped David didn’t make a liar out of him.

“Can we go see him,” Blake asked as if it was a perfectly reasonable assumption that if everyone else was at the hospital, he should be too.

“You’ll have to wait for your parents to come get you,” Tyler replied.

“When will they be here,” Carter asked with an expectant look in his eyes. If he answered all the other questions, he should be able to answer this one too. Tyler could start to detect a small whine in his voice.

“I’m not sure,” he answered the little boy. Before the inquisition would go any further, Tyler added, “I know it’s a little scary right now, but I promise, everything is going to be fine. I’m sure your dads will be here soon enough. Let’s just relax and watch the movie, okay?”

Carter and Blake seemed mostly satisfied with that answer. The two boys curled up together, laying back on Tyler’s chest, as if deciding that if Tyler couldn’t answer all their questions, the least he could do is be an effective pillow for them. Tyler decided that he’d rather put up with that than answer any other questions he wasn’t qualified to answer.

As he laid there with the two young boys, his thoughts returned to his father. Like an annoying fly that wouldn’t go away, the memory of their last conversation refused to be so easily dismissed. What if his dad deserved another chance with him? He wanted to believe that it was possible. Maybe it was time he let go of his anger and try to salvage what he could before there was nothing left? He wasn’t sure if he could. Or if he wanted to.

After nine o’clock, the boys were all in various stages of sleep. Tyler got up as carefully and quietly as possible to make his way to the bathroom to relieve the pressure on his bladder and then into the kitchen to grab a soda from the fridge. Just as he closed the refrigerator door, he heard a car coming up to the house. Glancing out the window all he could see was a set of headlights park near the house before the sound of the engine cut off and a door open and close. He stood there waiting, hoping to see Liz or Troy or Andy come into the house and was mildly surprised to see a stranger unlock the door and step inside.

The man looked only a little older than Tyler but was dressed in expensive looking clothes. His face was handsome in an almost boyish way with his short cut blonde hair styled to give him a young but mature look. The man halted his steps when he saw Tyler. He stood there staring at Tyler with bright blue eyes before he demanded, “who the hell are you?”

Tyler blinked and took a half-step back. “Um. I’m Tyler. I’m a friend of Jacob’s.”

“Where is he?”

“Jacob?”

The man nearly yelled in exasperation, “yes!”

“I think he’s still at the hospital with the others.” The stranger was looking around as if trying to form his next question.

“So, Dad isn’t…?” He sighed and put his hands on his hips as a frown marred his face.

Tyler suddenly had an idea of who this person was. “Are you… Kyle?”

“Oh, hell no!” The indignation in his voice made him sound almost insulted. “I’m Brian. I’m Jacob’s friend since high school.”

“Oh!” Tyler recognized the voice now. “Yeah, I remember you. You were on the phone with Jacob when we were heading back home from a job of his.”

“Oh, yeah,” Brian seemed to remember it as well. A small, impish grin appeared on his lips. “The boytoy.”

“We’re just friends,” Tyler said as politely as possible even while his face reddened slightly.

Brian rolled his eyes. “Wannabe boytoy, then.” He looked around, remembering why he was here as the frown returned. “I guess I’m off to the hospital then. What are you doing here if everyone else is at the hospital?”

“Babysitting the kids.” Tyler felt this was one of the most bizarre conversations he’s ever had in his life. “Troy and Andy’s that is.”

“Hm. They both need to be neutered, if you ask me. Breeding like rabbits.” Brian mumbled more to himself as he moved past Tyler to the fridge and grabbed a bottled water from inside it. “One more for the road.”

Tyler didn’t feel he was in any position to object, so he let him take the water. “Um. Okay.”

Brian turned and headed back to the door. “Was nice meeting you, Tyler.” Without waiting for a response, he was out the door and back in his car. Tyler waited long enough to watch the car depart before shaking his head and going back to the living room to check on the boys.

He found Tanner staring at the doorway to the living room, as if he was waiting for Tyler to return. “Who was that,” he asked quietly. Chase and the other two boys were fast asleep by that point but the sound of voices in the kitchen must have caught Tanner’s attention.

“Brian,” he replied.

“Who’s that,” the young boy asked with a small, suspicious frown.

“A friend of Jacob’s as far as I know,” he reasoned as he moved to sit on the one remaining couch in the room that had no children sleeping on it.

Tanner seemed unconvinced. “Dad’s never said anything about a Brian before.”

That made Tyler wonder why Andy had never mentioned Brian to his sons. He decided to send a text message to Andy letting him know Brian had just been at the house and was heading to the hospital now. It was after he sent that text message that he realized he hadn’t heard from Alex since he texted him earlier. He went ahead and sent him a message, giving him a short explanation of what was going on.

About twenty minutes later Tyler could hear the sound of a truck pulling into the driveway. Tanner sat up before he was on his feet, confirming to Tyler what he thought he heard. “Dad.” Tanner hurried out of the room with Tyler behind him. Tanner didn’t stop in the kitchen and opened the back door running down the ramp to meet his father in a warm hug. Tyler turned on the light over the patio and watched as Andy leaned down and embraced his son.

Tyler felt that small twinge of jealousy again but ignored it. Andy picked up his son and walked up the ramp. “Thanks for staying with the boys,” he said as he helped Tanner. “Were they good?”

Tyler smirked at the question. “Yeah. They were a little worried about everything, but we had a good time. I just played movies for them all night.”

Andy chuckled and looked over at Tanner’s face as his head rested on his dad’s shoulder. “Had yourself a movie night, huh?” Tanner nodded but said nothing in response. His small hands gripped Andy tighter in a sign of not wanting to be separated from him. “Liz will be here in a bit to pick up her kids and take them home. I’ll get Tanner n’ Blake going in a second.”

“How’s David,” Tyler asked.

Andy frowned. “We don’t know yet. He’s got the doctors guessing what he’s got. At first they thought it was a heart attack but now they’re thinking it’s pneumonia.” He stepped inside the house and slowly headed to the living room. “He’s pale and having trouble breathing and is complaining about being tired. But, he’s complaining, so that’s a good thing, I figure.”

“Well, that’s some good news I guess.” Tyler stopped when Andy did. He was standing in the doorway, Tanner still in his arms, staring into the room with what Tyler thought were tears in his eyes. They hadn’t been there a moment ago. He found it odd that just looking into a room full of sleeping boys would cause such a strong emotional response. “You okay?”

Andy wiped his eyes and took a breath. “Yeah. Just tired, I guess.” What Tyler couldn’t have guessed was how familiar the room had looked for a moment. A bunch of little boys sharing a night watching movies together at their friend’s house. The memories of better times that seemed like a lifetime ago were almost overwhelming. “I need to get the boys home and we all need some sleep. As soon as Liz get’s back, you should head home too.”

Tyler nodded. “I will.”

“Don’t bother waiting around for Jacob,” Andy said. “He’s probably not coming home tonight. If he does, he won’t be alone.”

Tyler wondered about that last part. Then it occurred to him that Andy didn’t know about Alex. He almost wanted to tell him but stopped himself. Alex still wasn’t comfortable about the idea of being out and he didn’t want to reveal too much and give himself away. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

Andy gave Tanner a kiss on his forehead before setting him down on his feet. He stepped over to the sleeping Carter and Blake and gently disentangled his son from his friend. He got a small whine of protest from Blake as he was lifted into his dad’s arms. Andy whispered into his ear to soothe him. “It’s okay, little man. Daddy’s here. We’re goin’ home now.”

Tyler stood off to the side as Andy held Blake in one arm and took Tanner’s hand in the other and lead them back out to his truck. Andy thanked Tyler again for his help and told him he’d see him in the morning before leaving. Tyler watched them leave before going back inside and waited. It wasn’t too long after that when Liz returned to get her children. With nothing else to do, Tyler went home and got ready for bed. It wasn’t until he was laying there in the dark that he remembered he never heard back from Alex.

 

****

 

Andy spent the next two weeks going back and forth between work and checking on David in the hospital. Liz took time off from work to care for the boys. Jacob was home most of the time, hard at work with the added duties of taking care of the orchard and his own work for his slowly growing clientele. Whenever he had a spare moment, he was at David’s side. Andy didn’t feel like intruding, but he couldn’t shake the guilt he felt the first night he was in the hospital and Tyler had sent him the text message of Brian’s impending arrival. He didn’t really understand his decision to avoid him, but he knew he had too. He felt too raw and exposed by his only remaining father figure in such dire straits that he wasn’t sure he would be able to control himself.

During the day, he worked. At night, he would sleep for a few hours before the nightmares would wake him up. Then he would wander around the house, replaying memories over and over in his head. He knew better than to take any sleeping pills. They typically wouldn’t take effect until he was at work and then he’d be fighting to keep his eyes open and his mind on his job. One night he woke up and had a sudden urge to run out of the house. He was nearly at the door when he heard the boys’ bedroom door open. That snapped him back to reality and then he had to try and dismiss Blake’s questions of what it was he had been doing.

Over time, the dreams got steadily stronger and more frequent. One evening he nearly scared the kids when he woke up from a nap and screamed. The worst feeling in the world came to him when he saw fear in Tanner’s eyes. He knew then he was failing as a parent when he saw his own son was afraid of him. He tried his best to recover but Tanner had already been affected negatively by one parent. Andy wasn’t sure he could get his trust back if he lost it or was even worthy of it.

The only solution he could come to was taking the boys over to spend the day with Jacob while he was working. Jacob may have had his concerns about David, and he might be distraught, but he was in a better position to put those aside and take care of Tanner and Blake. A few times, Andy considered just leaving them there. He knew that was a silly notion. His boys were the only thing keeping him going. If he lost them…

He had been up to see David Thursday afternoon before he went to pick up Tanner and Blake. Despite his efforts, he could tell David wasn’t convinced he was fine.

“When was the last time you had a full night’s sleep,” he had asked Andy as he lay in his hospital bed, looking thin and pale.

“Last night,” he lied with a smile. “Little fairy came and waved pixie dust all over me.”

David grunted softly. It killed him to lie to David, but the last thing David needed was one more thing to worry about. “I guess those bags under your eyes are from something else then?”

“Don’t you worry about me,” Andy said dismissively. “You need to focus on you.”

“Right back at you,” David said softly.

“I’m serious, David,” Andy said in a moment of candor. “We need you.”

David managed a weak laugh. “You’d be fine without me. You may have your dark moments. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. But you’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit. You just need to learn to trust someone.”

No! I need you! I can’t do this without you! “Have the doctor’s figured anything out besides the fact that you’re a stubborn old man,” Andy asked with his usual half-smirk.

“No,” he said with a frown. “They’ve ruled out any kind of viral or bacterial infection. They’re still convinced it’s my heart so they’re sending in a specialist from Philadelphia in a couple days.” He gave Andy a meaningful look. “He’s coming on a Saturday, so you know it’s pretty serious.”

“I’m sure they’ll have you patched up and back on the battlefield in no time,” Andy said with a playful grin.

David laughed. “I don’t think the orchard counts as a battlefield. Just a struggle.”

Andy chuckled and hid the fact he didn’t know he’d said battlefield. “Well, just the same, I’m sure they’ll have you feeling better soon.”

“Yeah.” David looked down at himself laying prone under a sheet. His right arm fitted with an IV drip and a pulse monitor on his finger. “Brian called last night to check up on me. Told me he was getting ready for the new semester. Was good hearing from him. But I told him I’d rather see him.” Andy felt a catch in his throat and just nodded. “Got me thinking. About stuff. I don’t suppose… you haven’t heard anything, have you?”

“No,” he shook his head. He knew David wasn’t asking about Brian. “But Troy’s been calling him. Now that we have a number, we can get ahold of him.” He leaned closer and put his hand over David’s. “And, if that doesn’t work, I promise, I will drive down there and drag him back here by his ears if I have too.”

David’s smile was pained as he shook his head slightly. “Don’t… don’t make him do something he doesn’t want to.”

Andy frowned. “I miss him just as much as you do. And I think… I think we both need him.”

David nodded. “He did look nice, though. Didn’t he?”

"Well, duh,” Andy said with a grin. “He looks just like you.”

That got a real smile out of David and lifted his spirit. Andy expertly diverted the subject away from Kyle and onto happier topics before he had to leave so David could rest. It was the very next day when Troy stopped Andy just before he left work and told him to meet him at the bar in two hours. “I need to talk to you and Brian. Alone,” he’d said.

“Why tonight? And what’s the big deal?”

Troy frowned and said quietly, “there’s something more I need to talk to you about. I need to do it with just the two of you without Jacob knowing.”

Andy frowned. “We’re keeping secrets from him now?!”

Troy waved his hands. “It’s not what you think. Look, do you trust me? Do you think I don’t have his best intentions at heart?” He waited to hear an objection from his friend. When all he got was a displeased look he pressed on. “It’s something I need to talk to you both about. It’s not something to be said over the phone or on text messages. I don’t want Liz hearing about it or anyone else. So, keep this private. Don’t tell Jacob and just wait until tonight.”

“And Brian’s gonna be there too?” He was definitely not comfortable with that. It set his stomach trembling.

“Yes,” he replied. “Which brings me to my next topic with you.” He took a step closer until their faces were nearly touching. His voice dropped to nearly a whisper but the steel in every word was unmistakable. “I know you don’t wanna tell me about what’s been your problem with Brian or Brian’s problem with you. Tonight, you fix it. You hear me? I am putting this team back together for good. You are one of my oldest and best friends. I need you to find it in yourself to talk to him tonight and settle this… whatever it is.”

Andy wondered for a moment if Kyle had been this scared of Troy years ago when they were in high school? He had mentioned how Troy got him to come out of the closet in the gym bathroom and this was eerily similar to the story Kyle told him. “I can’t make any promises,” he replied. “This isn’t high school. I can’t just say, ‘I’m sorry’ and it’s all better now.”

Troy put a hand on his shoulder and said in a softer voice, “doesn’t hurt to try.”

Andy sighed and finally nodded, giving in to Troy’s demand. On his way home, he called his neighbor and asked her if she could watch the boys tonight while he was meeting up with some friends. She already knew about David being in the hospital, so it didn’t take her much convincing to lend her aid for one night. He got the boys fed and let the babysitter know she’d have to handle bath time but assured her that Blake wouldn’t give her any trouble. He kissed his sons goodbye and told them he’d see them later before heading over to The Steel Door to meet up with Troy.

His nervousness was starting to rise the closer he got to his destination and he ended up stopping in a vacant lot. He pulled over and thought through what he was about to do. He knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his cool with Brian there. He needed to take the edge off, and beers weren’t gonna cut it. He took a quick look around and decided it was safe enough to pull out a joint he already rolled. He lit it up and started taking it in, praying it would be enough to calm him and keep him from doing something he’d later regret.

He sat there, taking his time and sucking in as much of the weed as possible. About halfway through, he could feel it start to take effect. It wasn’t instant but he could feel his mind and body finally start to relax. The demons in the back of his mind got quieter until he couldn’t hear them anymore. That brought a genuine smile to his face as he carefully finished the rest of the joint. He just hoped he wouldn’t smell too much and give it away. The last thing he needed was a sermon from Troy.

By the time he put the truck in gear and got back on the street, he was feeling like his normal self again. He felt his confidence return along with the calm inside him. So what if he hasn’t spoken to Brian face to face in six or seven years? Maybe it’s time he finally comes clean. He’s not attached to anyone now. He doesn’t have to hide it anymore if he doesn’t want too. With his life going to hell in a hurry, wouldn’t it be nice to finally step up and tell Brian what he’s probably been wanting to hear for years now?

Yes, he’s in love with Brian. Madly in love. Has been for what feels like his entire life. He doesn’t have anyone’s expectations to live up to anymore. The marriage thing has been done and now that’s over. And maybe Brian doesn’t feel that way anymore and maybe it’s all for nothing. But to just finally say it again. Say it to him. Do it the right way. The way he’s dreamed of for so long now. He could almost feel that familiar ache in his chest when he used to think about Brian when he first entered basic training. That moment when he laid in his bunk staring up at the ceiling at night, wishing they were together. Wishing he could tell his family about the lie he’d been living.

“I like girls.” What a stupid, simple lie that had been. How many times had he said it? So many times, he managed to convince himself it was true. And what did that lie cost? Years of lost time and chances. If Kyle had been here, maybe it could have been different. Oh, he’d believed the lie just like everyone else had. But he wasn’t stupid. And one look at his sham of a marriage would’ve been enough to get Kyle asking him the questions no one else would think to ask. How many times over the last nine years did he think about Kyle? Too often to count. He missed him and was so angry at him at the same time for leaving him. Troy couldn’t understand. He can’t talk to him about it. But he could’ve opened up to Kyle. But he had been MIA. And for awhile there, he started to wonder if his friend was even still alive.

But now, he knew where he was. And he meant to keep his promise to David. One way or another, he’d bring Kyle back if he had too.

He parked his truck in the bar’s parking lot and headed inside. When he walked up to the bar, he found Troy already standing there waiting. “Took you long enough,” Troy muttered.

“I had to do some last minute prep,” he replied with a smirk. “Wanted to make sure I looked all nice and fancy for you guys.”

Troy looked over and down at Andy’s green shorts and tank top and chuckled silently. “Wow. You do clean up pretty, don’t you?”

“Don’t be jealous,” he said before nodding to the bartender for his usual beer.

Troy grinned and lead the way to a table near the back, away from most of the crowd. “Bri should be along in a minute or two. You gonna do what I asked?”

“I’m gonna do what you told me,” Andy replied. “You didn’t make it sound like there were many options for me.” The last he said with a little smug half-smirk. Yeah, he could do this.

The two of them were only halfway through their first beers when a familiar voice said, “I hope you two aren’t scandalized being seen in public with me.

Andy couldn’t stop himself from smiling as he looked over at Brian. He looked perfect. Like Time hadn’t touched him. “Well, hey there, professor. Fancy meeting you here.” He groaned inwardly. He sounded like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it. His heart was beating in his chest and all he wanted to do was tackle Brian and kiss him.

He’d gotten distracted by his thoughts, he hadn’t been listening to Brian’s response of anything else until the words, “I finally heard from Kyle. He said he’ll be here tomorrow,” were said. He looked at Troy, inwardly amazed. Outwardly, the pot was doing a fine job keeping his face neutral.

From there, the conversation quickly devolved into bickering. Even the pot couldn’t keep his feelings fully in check. When Brian mentioned his past with Jacob, Andy couldn’t stop himself from making a snide comment which he knew wasn’t going to help him and probably make matters worse. He knew he should apologize but he wasn’t sure Bri would believe he meant it.

“…We’re still best friends,” Brian was saying to Troy. “We’ve just had a rough patch.”

Andy caught the look in Bri’s eyes as he said it. He was being cute and trying to say something else without Troy realizing it. “For about seven years,” he said with a chuckle, meeting Bri’s eyes. They were still best friends. But more than that. And Brian knew it. That’s when he knew tonight was the night. He’d have to say everything in his heart he’d been saving since he joined the marines. It was probably his last best chance. So, he’d have to make it memorable.

 

****

 

Tyler lay there in his bed, listening to the sound of Alex in the bathroom. He stretched a little under the single sheet draped over him and glanced over at the alarm clock near the bed. They’d gone longer than usual but Alex had said something about making up for lost time. The last few weeks had been busy with work and he hadn’t had a lot of time through the week to spend time with Alex. Also, the situation with David being in the hospital had made everything around Tyler seem tense. Andy hadn’t done much smiling or any joking. Sean had asked him what he knew but Tyler only told him that there was a guy who was sick, and it was bringing Andy and Troy down.

Alex didn’t seem to register what was going on, but Tyler couldn’t blame him much for that. He didn’t really live around here, and he obviously traveled in different circles than Tyler did. Thinking about it, so far, Tyler hadn’t met any of Alex’s friends. Of course, he could say the same thing, but Alex didn’t seem to actually want to meet Drake or Andy or the others. Maybe he should have a party of some sort soon?

The water turned off in the bathroom and Alex returned to bed. The lights in the room were off, but the moon was half-full, and the light hit the blinds and cast the room in a soft pale glow. Tyler watched Alex walk into the room, slide back into bed and pull Tyler into his arms. “That was fun,” he said in his deep, resonating voice.

“Fun and exhausting,” Tyler said with a smile.

“Wish we could do that every night.” Alex gave him another kiss on the cheek before releasing him and laying down on his back.

Tyler thought about his idea again. He’d been mulling it over for the past two weeks but still wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. “Well,” he paused, suddenly unsure if it’s the right idea. “Maybe… if you wanted, we could look into you moving in here?”

“That sounds… serious,” Alex replied.

“Yeah.” Tyler lost his smile and wondered if things were a little too serious. “I mean… It would help out a lot. You wouldn’t need to drive so far to work. I could get a little help with the bills. And, there’s the fringe benefit that we could fuck every night if we wanted too.”

There was a moment of silence before Alex answered. “Those are all good reasons. Would still be a big step.”

“Yeah.” Tyler laid there. He hadn’t been sure if it was what he wanted in the beginning. But now, with Alex seemingly uncertain, he wanted it to work out even more. “Maybe we can talk about it more later,” he suggested. He laid there, waiting for a response but it never came. When he finally turned over, he found Alex fast asleep.

 

****

 

A brief but violent shake woke Andy and nearly sent him into a half-dreaming panic. He sat up and took a moment to breathe and to get his bearings. The moonlight shone bright through his bedroom window, allowing him to scan the room for any potential dangers. Another breath and he remembered where he was and that he wasn’t in any danger. The silence of the house was enough to assuage him, and he felt his body relax again.

He felt something next to him in bed. A sense of relief drowned out the panic inside him as he looked down and saw Brian sleeping peacefully with his hair mussed up from some of the best sex he ever had a few hours ago. He’d meant to apologize, but he never got around to it. Other things happened, faster than he could have anticipated or dreamed could happen. He could remember how light his body felt the moment their lips touched in the parking lot. The remembered feelings and passion that they shared for such a tragically brief moment in their lives that suddenly reignited with just a tiny spark of hope and of love.

He’d made love to Brian in an almost frenzy of passion and a primal need to be with him again. They both took the time to explore each other again and again. As hot and fast as it started, they both had the sense of adults now to slow down and enjoy the tenderness. If there were tears in their eyes they were ignored. The emotions pouring out of them both made talking impossible beyond a few moaned words or half-finished sentences.

But even as he remembered it all as he sat there gazing down at the one person in his life who was both his best friend and his love, if it had felt so good hours ago, why did he feel this painful ache in his heart that sent tears down his face? What was it that made this night so good and so terrible all at once? Andy knew the answer was himself. He wasn’t the same man Brian fell in love with. The feelings were there inside him he knew. But years away, trapped in a war zone and remembering horrors and the blood on his hands of friends and enemies alike, made him question if he was really worthy of Brian’s love again.

Andy laid back down and curled up against Brian’s sleeping form. Fighting for this one perfect moment, he ignored his fears of what might happen or how things might end. He slid an arm around his friend, resting his hand on Brian’s stomach. Closing his eyes, he breathed in Brian’s scent. It reminded him of sage, raindrops, a hint of Spring and innocence. He wanted to drown in this moment. Burn it into his mind and hope that it would burn away all the nightmares he was holding inside.

He laid there, taking a few measured breaths and he felt normal again. This was going to be a longer fight than he expected. But maybe, it was a fight he could win this time? As long as no one gets hurt. Especially Brian. He’d already done enough to him for one lifetime. Brian shifted slightly, pressing back against Andy’s body. Andy smiled and kissed his neck softly before whispering, “I’m so sorry, Brian. I never meant to hurt you.” But there was no response from the sleeping lover in his arms. Andy closed his eyes and for the first time in months, fell into a restful sleep.

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

1 minute ago, FanLit said:

I get that this is isn't Kyle’s story but I’ve been waiting for this chapter for my boys at the orchard.

Fixed it for you. ;)

2 minutes ago, FanLit said:

It was interesting to see things from the rest of the team’s perspective when David collapsed.  I was touched to hear how much Andy missed Kyle and interested to hear how come hell or high water, Kyle was coming back home, whether he knew it or not.  Andy was really at crossroads in his life, to know what his mindset was when he met up with Brian again makes me fear what would have happened if he didn’t.

That was an interesting section to write.  For a second, I thought Troy and Andy might come to blows in his office.  It's the tension that they all have been feeling that David's sudden trip to the hospital revealed.  Like ripping off a scab and finding the wound is still bleeding.  The thing I loved most about the original Five is that while they are very close as a team, they all have different and unique relationships with each other.  Andy might be missing Brian but he's also missing Kyle for different reasons.  Troy misses Kyle just as much as Andy does, but for different reasons than Andy or Jacob does.  Andy's reunion with Brian might have been forced on him but his heart was desperate for that connection with him and helped him to make the right choice.  But with Brian "back" and Kyle's return the next day, the five of them will (mostly) heal.

15 minutes ago, FanLit said:

Alex sounds like he has no interest of coming out of the closet, I’m kind of ambivalent about him right now;  I like Sean, even tho I’m still team Drake.

 Looks like Tyler’s father may make more of an appearance in his life, I hope it is positive and healing for him.

It would seem that Alex is having cold feet.  But, what's up with Sean?

Tyler and his father aren't done settling things.

15 minutes ago, FanLit said:

Is the next chapter up yet? 😊

Don't get greedy. ;) 💗

 

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4 hours ago, Jdonley75 said:

Fixed it for you. ;)

Damnit, I knew I was going to turn a name around eventually, lol.  Sorry.

Quote

It would seem that Alex is having cold feet.  But, what's up with Sean?

Sean likes Tyler so much he doesn’t know what to do with himself, like a puppy chasing his tail.  I’m waiting to see the interesting backstory you have for him.

Quote

Don't get greedy. ;) 💗

 

I’m blaming you....😉

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4 hours ago, nix said:

I usually would only read a story here only if it’s marked as finished because I don’t like to wait too long to read the next chapter, or be disappointed if the writer goes MIA leaving us readers with an unfinished piece. However because I love The Acquittal so much this series is an exception to that rule and I just love it when a new chapter arrives.

So Tyler have lots of potential love interest as of the moment but I’m not rooting for anyone just yet. Drake I kind of never saw Tyler and him as an actual couple and I don’t think they ever will be, I don’t see the “spark” between them, to me they simply used to be really sexually attracted to each other. Alex I find him too shady it’s like his not exactly being a hundred percent honest and I’m just waiting for a bomb to drop or something, and Sean well, he’s basically a stranger not only to Tyler but also to us readers.

Okay David had his medical emergency, Brian has returned, this only means one thing right?? Right? My favorite character Kyle will soon make his appearance! I can’t wait for the next chapter!!

Oh...  yeah.... sure...  Kyle's gonna make an appearance here soon.

😬

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1 hour ago, Jdonley75 said:

I know a lot of people may be waiting with breathless anticipation about Kyle's imminent return to the story...

My advice would be to be patient.  This story isn't about him. ;)

 

Actually, I loved the perspective of Andy with Brian. Very heartfelt considering what he’s been through. Thank you!

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1 minute ago, mfa607 said:

Actually, I loved the perspective of Andy with Brian. Very heartfelt considering what he’s been through. Thank you!

That was kind of my favorite part to write in this chapter.  Really getting in deeper into who Andy is, warts and all.  He still has a long road ahead of him though.

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Another awesome chapter. I so enjoy seeing how parts of the Acquittal fit into, and overlap with, Tyler’s story. You, sir, have a big task ahead of you to weave it all together. But I have no doubt that you’ll tie it together, and still keep Tyler’s story his own, brilliantly. 

Last chapter, I was hopeful for Alex after a less than flattering introduction. This chapter, not so much. Tyler is a good guy, deserving of true love. 

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59 minutes ago, mikeinatl said:

Another awesome chapter. I so enjoy seeing how parts of the Acquittal fit into, and overlap with, Tyler’s story. You, sir, have a big task ahead of you to weave it all together. But I have no doubt that you’ll tie it together, and still keep Tyler’s story his own, brilliantly. 

Last chapter, I was hopeful for Alex after a less than flattering introduction. This chapter, not so much. Tyler is a good guy, deserving of true love. 

The hardest part of these new few chapters is how they had to be stitched just right to not make any inconsistencies to the first book.  That's why they took so long to write. :)

 

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The chapter was fine until the end. We go from Brian showing up at the bar to him in bed with Andy? After 7 years of avoiding each other? Not only does it sound unrealistic, but I feel cheated. What happened? One of those moments were showing would have been a lot better than telling. And I don't mean the sex.

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2 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

The chapter was fine until the end. We go from Brian showing up at the bar to him in bed with Andy? After 7 years of avoiding each other? Not only does it sound unrealistic, but I feel cheated. What happened? One of those moments were showing would have been a lot better than telling. And I don't mean the sex.

I'm sorry you didn't like it.  The reason why the middle part is missing is because that took place in the first book.  The first and last sections of Chapter 8 of "The Acquittal" in case you are curious.  My original intention in writing those parts is to fill in the spaces around both novels.  My conceit was that the reader had already read the first book and I should have taken into account that some might not have liked the first book or just ignored it all together.

I guess I still have some things to learn about entertaining the readers.

Edited by Jdonley75
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It's not you who needs to apologize; it's me. My bad. My really, really bad. I started reading without paying attention. I didn't know this was a continuation of a previous story.

Trust me, you've not done anything wrong. I've been accused of the same thing I complained about when someone read one of the books in a series of mine in isolation.

Once again, I apologize for making an ass out of myself. :)

 

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Like everyone else, I was glad to see this chapter! If I hadn’t read The Acquittal, I’d be worried about David and the Team. It was interesting to read how much Andy missed Kyle since he and Brian were kind of a separate unit within the Team.
;–)

As before, I still think that Alex is sketchy.

We don’t know much about Sean except that he’s tried to find out more about Tyler. If Sean were a homophobe, he might be asking the same sort of questions of Andy. I’m more wary of him than I was before.

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33 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

Like everyone else, I was glad to see this chapter! If I hadn’t read The Acquittal, I’d be worried about David and the Team. It was interesting to read how much Andy missed Kyle since he and Brian were kind of a separate unit within the Team.
;–)

As before, I still think that Alex is sketchy.

We don’t know much about Sean except that he’s tried to find out more about Tyler. If Sean were a homophobe, he might be asking the same sort of questions of Andy. I’m more wary of him than I was before.

This is where the two stories really start to merge.  I liked getting the chance to look at things from new perspectives and give new insights to kind of fill in some of the gaps.

Andy misses Kyle because they were more or less brothers growing up.  Brian was in an entirely different category.

So, like everyone else, you think Alex is sketchy, huh?  Well...  I guess it's unanimous then. 😁

Hm...  It's reasonable to believe Sean could be a homophobe, I guess.  I'd think twice about asking Andy anything that might end up me using some kind of epitaph and run the risk of my spine being pulled out of my ass.

Just sayin'.

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12 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

Hm...  It's reasonable to believe Sean could be a homophobe, I guess.  I'd think twice about asking Andy anything that might end up me using some kind of epitaph and run the risk of my spine being pulled out of my ass.

Just sayin'.

Yes, but Sean is young and doesn’t seem to be particularly bright. He doesn’t really know Andy (or Troy, for that matter). Homophobes often don’t think that there are many others who disagree with them.

We know a whole lot more about Andy than Sean does… (almost like we can see what he’s thinking!)
;–)

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7 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

Yes, but Sean is young and doesn’t seem to be particularly bright. He doesn’t really know Andy (or Troy, for that matter). Homophobes often don’t think that there are many others who disagree with them.

We know a whole lot more about Andy than Sean does… (almost like we can see what he’s thinking!)
;–)

Okay yeah, there is that.

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I cried as I read and reread the subtle dialogue between David and Andy at the hospital.
My heart starts beating faster at the thought that Kyle is coming to town to see his father.

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1 hour ago, Dante Lucas said:

I cried as I read and reread the subtle dialogue between David and Andy at the hospital.
My heart starts beating faster at the thought that Kyle is coming to town to see his father.

It's a little difficult trying to tell one story and having another that's already told drift into the background.  It's a slow methodical process of having to inject some of the old story into the narrative from a new perspective to keep it looking fresh, entertaining and possibly giving the readers a chance to look at a situation from a different angle.

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12 hours ago, Jdonley75 said:

It's a little difficult trying to tell one story and having another that's already told drift into the background.  It's a slow methodical process of having to inject some of the old story into the narrative from a new perspective to keep it looking fresh, entertaining and possibly giving the readers a chance to look at a situation from a different angle.

And you do it very well, JDonley. Genius!!!

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7 hours ago, Dante Lucas said:

And you do it very well, JDonley. Genius!!!

I'm not sure if the word "genius" applies.  But possibly gifted.  Definitely lucky. 😄

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