I looked at the people in their cars around me, many of whom were honking like idiots, and all of whom were frustrated.I just smiled and relaxed into the soft leather seats of my Maybach, confident that with the dark windows they couldn’t see me while I could still laugh at them.I had the privacy divider up between me and the driver to more fully enjoy my rolling cocoon, so it was no surprise that the intercom connecting us would buzz so he could explain why the traffic flow had completely stopped.“Mr. Schluter, there must have been an accident ahead.Traffic ain’t moving at all,” he said. I ignored his horrible grammar.
“That’s fine,” I said calmly, trying to graft that emotion onto him.“Thanks for keeping me posted.”I hung up the phone and grabbed a bottled water out of the fridge, watched the idiots that surrounded my car until they got boring, then pulled out my cell phone. I stared at it, knowing what I needed to do, but depressed that I had to do it.
The phone only rang twice before he answered.“Hey Jay!” Carullo said in his bouncy, ebullient manner.When Will was like that, it bugged the shit out of me, and when John had done that when he was living with me, it had annoyed me as well, but now I found it refreshing.
“Hey John,” I said.
“How’s your day goin’?” he asked.
“Stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge,” I grumbled, pretending that it bothered me.
“Should have taken the subway,” he quipped.
“Right,” I said, rolling my eyes at him.As if.Cooped up with all those smelly people pressing up against me was a horror show.
“So you calling me to try and cancel out on this weekend?” he asked.I sat there, stunned, because that’s exactly why I’d called him.He’d hit me with that first, and totally blown my strategy.I scrambled to think of something to say.
“There’s just a lot going on,” I lied, and I did it so badly, it was even obvious to me that I was lying.
“This is a long drive,” he said sympathetically, making me relax.He was already giving me a way out, and he wasn’t going to bust my balls about this.
“It is,” I agreed.
“Well, I really want to see you, so instead, I think I’ll come to town and hang out with you there,” he countered.I sat there, scrambling again, trying to figure out how to deal with him coming to visit, but there was absolutely no good reason why he couldn’t do that.
“Hang on just a second,” I said, trying to buy time.“Hey, can I call you right back?”If I could end this call, I could think this through and come up with a new strategy to keep us apart this weekend.
“Jay,” he said severely, in a scolding type of tone.“Why don’t you want to see me?”
“I do want to see you but…” I stammered, then stomped my foot on the carpeted floor, enraged at myself for uttering that last word.
“But?” he challenged.I was so screwed.I was cornered, and there was no way out of it.I’d have to haul my fat ass up to Bristol and watch him tell me I still looked great.Shit, he used to be able to pick me up and hold me there while he fucked me. Now if he did that, he’d probably get a hernia.“Oh shit, were you going out to Cali for that family thing this weekend?”
“How’d you hear about that?” I asked.
“I talked to Wade a couple of days ago,” he said.
“No, I’m not going out for that thing,” I said, as if it were the worst thing I could do.That was probably true, since if I were there, Stef, Aunt Claire, and Marie would all stare at me in horror, wondering how I’d become so obese.
“Then why don’t you want to see me?” he asked again, only this time he sounded a little sad.I realized that if I didn’t just go with it, I’d hurt his feelings and maybe ruin what relationship we had left.
“I’m sorry, I was just freaking out a bit,” I said.“It has nothing to do with you.I’m looking forward to seeing you,” I said fatalistically.
“Awesome,” he said.“But if your plans change, let me know, and I’ll come down there and see you.”
“I’ll make it, even if I’m half dead,” I promised, because the last thing I wanted was him coming to New York to spend the weekend with me.If he did that, he’d get bored hanging out with me, so he’d go hang out at the clubs and probably fuck a couple of guys, while I sat home and did sit ups to try and get rid of my pot belly.We worked out the details of our weekend, then ended the call.
October 10, 2003
Palo Alto, CA
I walked a few doors down to Ryan’s room, knocked on his door, and then went in.I was pretty shocked by what I saw.Ryan was laying on his back, while some chick was bouncing up and down on his dick, moaning pretty hard, or at least I thought she was, since I could only see her back.When the door opened, they both freaked out, and the girl collapsed forward onto Ryan.He wrapped his arms around her protectively, which was actually pretty sweet, as if trying to hide her from my view.“Sorry,” I mumbled, and then I locked the door and closed it as I backed out of his room.I still didn’t understand why people didn’t lock their doors in this house when they were fucking around.I didn’t get a good look at the girl, but the starfish tattoo on her ass told me it was Marie.They’d been hanging out more, but I didn’t know they were together.Maybe it was just a hookup; they were both totally hot, so that made sense.
Regardless, busting in on them was pretty funny, so I laughed as I strode down the hallway toward Grand’s office and found that little scene had only made my good mood better.Over the past few weeks, since I was almost murdered at Goodwell and since I’d had to deal with JJ’s bitchfest, I’d gotten my life back in order, pretty much.Not only was I was caught up in school, I was kicking ass.It looked like I’d be able to graduate in December like I planned, and I was already stoked about my plans for the semester after that.Most surprising of all was that I was talking to JJ about two or three times a week, and our conversations were usually pleasant.Sometimes it took some patience to deal with his high-strung and neurotic personality.The doors to Grand’s study were closed, so I knocked and waited to be invited in.When I heard Grand say “enter” in his formal but relatively loud voice, I went in and found Grand with Stef and my father.
“Good evening,” I said cheerfully.“I’m not interrupting you, am I?”
“Certainly not,” Grand said, which would have been his response anyway.I glanced at my dad who gave me a subtle nod to confirm it was OK.
I sat on the couch next to my father.“Have you guys talked to JJ lately?”It was hilarious to see them all look guilty, even though it hadn’t been my plan to bust their balls about it.
“No,” Dad said, answering for everyone.
“He’s going up to Connecticut this weekend to hang out with John Carullo,” I explained.
“Is their relationship back on?” Dad asked a bit nervously. I wondered if JJ would ever have a relationship that didn’t give my father anxiety attacks.
“JJ says he just wants to go up and hang out with him to make sure they’re cool, but I’m pretty sure this is a booty run,” I said.
“I suppose that’s worth the drive,” Stef said as he smirked.
“It would be for me,” I answered.“How about you?” I asked my father, since he’d slept with Carullo too.He gave me a truly evil look, while Stef and I started laughing.
“It would,” he said, trying to pretend that we hadn’t annoyed him.
“He was freaking out earlier this week,” I said, “enough that he almost didn’t go.”
“What happened?” Stef asked, concerned.
“He gained five pounds,” I said.Five pounds didn’t seem like a big deal to me, and Grand seemed pretty mellow about it too.My father probably wouldn’t have cared either, except he was about that far away from shedding the rest of his ‘Marc’ pounds, so it struck a nerve with him.
“That is too bad,” Stef said, as if it were a major tragedy.“What is he going to do about it?”
“He’s pretty sure it’s the medicine the doctor gave him,” I said, and explained how he’d gone down and camped out at the doctor’s office to get his meds changed.
“I’m impressed that he handled that so forcefully, and so well,” Grand mused.
“JJ’s not shy when it comes to getting what he wants,” I said.They looked at me like that was some massively heretical statement, then realized I was right.
“Mike and his family should get here shortly,” Dad said, looking at the clock on the wall.
“You are nervous about that?” Stef asked.
He was going to deny it, then shrugged.“I’ve started to develop a healthy relationship with Mike, and he really threw me a life preserver during this latest battle we had,” he said.“I think this visit will either bind us closer together, or destroy what we’ve already built.”
“Then why are you nervous?” I asked.“You think we can’t make a good impression?” He knew I was giving him shit, so he frowned at me.
“Yes, I am also interested to know why you think we are at risk of ruining this fraternal relationship?” Grand asked in his pompous way, piling on.
“Very funny,” Dad snapped.
“I think it will turn out just fine,” Stef said soothingly.
“Where’s Jake?” I asked, suddenly realizing he wasn’t around.
“Is this your day to try and piss me off?” Dad asked in a nasty tone.
“Wow,” I said, blinking at him.“It was just a simple question.”
“Never mind,” he grumbled, only now Grand and Stef stared at him, and he knew he couldn’t get away with just blowing this off.“He had to go out of town for work.”
“Why does that bother you?” I asked.“I thought you worked it out with him, and you knew this would happen?”
“I know that, I accept it, but I don’t like it,” he said, but it came out almost as a snarl.He was trying to intimidate me into leaving him alone, but with him, it was probably important to draw him out.
“When did he leave?” I asked.
“Wednesday,” he said tersely.That would explain his bad mood for the past few days.
“Have you talked to him recently?” I asked, trying to figure out if they’d broken up, or if there was a big rift between them.That really worried me, because Jake had been good for my father, at least so far.
He frowned at me yet again, then answered my question.“I talked to him last night,” he said.It was amazing how his frown was completely erased by a smile when he thought about their conversation.“He’s doing fine.”
“I don’t get it,” I said.He glared at me again.Stef and I shared a knowing glance over his extreme emotional fluctuations.“You talk like things are fine between you, but you are seriously pissed off at him.”
“I’m not seriously pissed off,” he said, which meant that he was.“I’m a little pissed off.”
“Perhaps you can explain the gradations in your pissed off scale to us,” Grand said, making us all chuckle at the way he’d phrased it.
“He knew this weekend was a big deal for me, he promised to be here, then he left,” Dad said.And then I understood the situation all too well, because that was something that would really bother me too.It was like the deal I’d had last summer with Zach, when he’d promised me he’d go to Europe with me and then opted to go to a football camp instead.It wasn’t about Jake’s job, it was about Jake making a commitment to my father that was important to him, and then breaking it.
“I think I’d be at least a little pissed off if I were you,” I said.
He looked at me, surprised, then smiled at me, probably because he was glad to have someone in his corner on this one.“Thanks.”
“I would find that not a little annoying as well,” Stef chimed in.We sat there for a minute, giving my dad some time to appreciate that we had validated him.I decided to throw him a bone by messing with Grand.
“Were you aware that Ryan is copulating in your house?” I asked Grand.
“Why should he be different than the rest of us?” Dad asked, making Stef giggle.
“I am not concerned about Ryan’s sex life,” Grand said vapidly.
“Even when he’s fucking your granddaughter?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.It was hilarious to watch his facial expressions as he struggled with the inherent gender biases he’d been raised with: that it was worse for girls to be sexually active than dudes.
“I didn’t need the details,” Grand snapped.
“Is it not alright for Marie to have sex?” Dad asked, jumping in just like I expected he would.Stef and I smiled at each other.
“As I said, I am not concerned about who Ryan has sex with, I just didn’t need to know the details,” Grand reasserted, which was so funny Stef and I laughed.
“Maybe your attitudes haven’t evolved on this as far as we would have hoped after you dealt with this with Claire?” Dad asked Grand, clearly baiting him.
“Perhaps,” Grand said, trying to blow the whole thing off.
“I didn’t really get a good look at the girl,” I said, pretending to be confused about it.
“Then how do you know it was Marie?” Stef asked.
“Indeed, perhaps it was someone else,” Grand said, all but accusing me of drawing conclusions without sufficient data.
“I guess that’s a possibility,” I mused.“I wonder what the chances are that some other girl has a starfish tattoo on her ass?”
Everyone laughed, even Grand.“I would suspect those chances are very low.”
“Maybe it was John,” Stef said, and we all laughed at that.
“No, because then I would have stuck around,” I said, raising an eyebrow suggestively.“I’ve got to go make a phone call.”I didn’t really have anything to do, but I figured I’d leave them alone.
The house phone rang, and Grand picked it up.He looked away from us, and had this uncanny ability to speak into the phone such that we couldn’t hear what he was saying.It was a pretty cool skill, one that I hadn’t mastered.He hung up the phone and turned to face us.“The car has just passed through the gates.”
“Then we should go greet them,” Dad said.He was so anxious; he had jumped up and was almost to the door before the rest of us stood up to follow him.
“Someone is a bit excited,” Stef whispered to me as we trailed after him, making us both chuckle.
“I’ll meet you up there shortly,” I said.My father gave me a shocked look, as if I was an idiot for not wanting to be there for their grand arrival, but I ignored that.It would be better to come in and meet them after the initial welcome had happened.
I was walking back to my room when I ran into Marie as she was sneaking out of Ryan’s room.I raised an accusatory eyebrow.“Asshole,” she said.I just started laughing.
“The visitors just got here,” I told her.“So you should either stick around or take the back way out.”
She pondered that, then smiled.“I think I’ll stick around,” she said, and went back into Ryan’s room.
I went into my room to spruce up my appearance and brush my teeth, then went up to the Great Hall to meet my relatives.I walked into the room to find a man and a woman flanked by Stef, JP, Grand, and my father.The man had to be Mike, my father’s half-brother.It was strange, because there was definitely a family resemblance between him and my father, but it wasn’t really obvious unless they were next to each other.The lady with him was a little plump by LA or Bay Area standards, maybe packing 10 pounds more than any of the trophy wives around here would tolerate, and had a relatively rigid demeanor.She dressed well and had really pretty blond hair that was cut in a cute, short style. She looked like the kind of person who wouldn’t take crap from anyone
I walked up to them and they all smiled at me.“This is my son, Will,” Dad said.
“Nice to meet you,” Mike said, stepping forward to shake my hand.“I’m Mike.”
“Nice to meet you as well,” I said, trying to adopt the right balance of charm and reserve.
“I’m Beverly,” the lady said.She’d looked a little surprised when she first saw me, but I didn’t quite know why I’d sparked that reaction.
“Welcome to California,” I said pleasantly, throwing out more charm to try and make her more comfortable, since I seemed to freak her out.That seemed to melt her demeanor.
“They tell me I’m your aunt,” she said, in a comical yet friendly way.“Nice to meet you.”
“So should I call you Aunt Beverly?” I joked.She laughed at that, and a shitload of charisma suddenly emerged from behind her tough façade.
“I can work with that,” she said.
I was distracted by footsteps and turned around to see a guy who looked an awful lot like me.That’s probably why Beverly was so freaked out.His eye color, his facial features, and pretty much everything about him was similar to me.Still, there were some stark differences.He was about three or four inches shorter than me and didn’t look like he had as good of muscle tone as I did.His face also seemed shorter: I was used to looking at my own reflection, which was pretty long and thin, while his was more scrunched up.It was like he and I had all the same basic parts - the same nose, eyes, ears, and mouth -but somehow, they were jumbled together to make us look different.He was dressed like one of my friends whose parents had forced him to put on nice clothes, and his hair was cut in a short conservative style.We just kind of froze and stared at each other, until Grand cleared his throat, his way of telling me not to be rude.
“Hi,” I said to him as I stepped forward and shook his hand.“I’m Will.”
“Chris,” he said in a clipped way that reminded me of Darius or Ryan.
“Dude, you are smoking hot,” I said.He looked at me oddly and then started cracking up.
“Yeah, I hear that a lot,” he said.
“Me too,” I said, winking at him.
“Colin won’t be here for another hour,” Beverly told us.
“He’s my brother,” Chris told me.“Don’t worry, he doesn’t look like us.”
“Poor guy,” I joked, making him chuckle.
“Let us show you to your rooms, and give you a tour,” Grand said officiously.
“I’ll show Chris around,” I said.Grand gave me an odd look.“I’ll bet we’re faster.”
“Being fast isn’t always a good thing,” Stef said.I ignored him.
“Come on,” I said, and dragged Chris off.He stopped to grab his bag, then we strode down the corridor where my room was.They’d put both Colin and Chris down here.I opened the door to his room and gestured for him to go in. “Your digs for the weekend.”
“Nice,” he said, and tossed his bag down.He didn’t seem to want to linger there and check it out, so I took him around the house, showing him the pool and the gym.
“Do you ride?” I asked him.
“Not really my thing,” he quipped.
“Well if you change your mind, we’ve got some good horses,” I said.We were walking back to his room when we ran into Ryan and Marie in the hallway.They both gave me annoyed looks for snickering at them.Before I could introduce them, Chris seemed to wake up and spring into action.
“Hey,” he said to Marie, in a smooth, almost sultry tone.“I’m Chris.”
“I’m Marie,” she said, smiling back at him, “and this is Ryan.”
“S’up?” Ryan asked casually, getting a nod in return from Chris.“Almost time for dinner.”
“We’ll meet you there,” I said. They walked off while Chris almost drooled after Marie.
“Who the fuck was that?” he asked.
“That’s my cousin, Marie,” I said.“She and Ryan are kind of together, but there’s supposed to be a party this weekend, so we’ll find you some better targets.”
“Cool,” he said, and seemed much happier about being here.“Kind of together?” he asked, wondering what their status was.
“They fuck,” I said casually, like it was an ongoing thing, which it may be, I just didn’t know yet.“Don’t know much more than that.”
“Maybe she likes some variety in her sex life?” he asked me with a leer, making me laugh.
“Dude, I doubt it, but you never know,” I said.“Ryan lives here with us, though, so you might want to figure that deal out first.”
“Because if he’s into her, and you fuck that up, then living here with him next semester is going to be tough,” I said, and not all that nicely.
“I see your point,” he said, although I’m not sure if he did.He reminded me of Darius but a lot more heartless; the kind of dude who tended to think of women as something to fuck, not someone you actually had a relationship with.
“Dinners here are at 7:00,” I said to him.
“Not at 7:05?” he asked playfully.
“Grand gets pissed if people are late,” I said seriously.“It’s one of those things that are important to him, so we all make sure we’re there by 7:00.”
“I’m used to rules that are a lot more intense than that,” he said.“My mom runs a pretty strict house.”
“Your mom?” I asked curiously.
He nodded. “I think it’s a Navy thing, or at least a naval officer’s spouse thing. My mom runs the household, she runs us, and she spends her spare time making herself popular with other officers’ wives and with helping out with families of people who my dad commands.”
“I didn’t know that’s how things worked,” I said, pondering that role.
“I grew up moving around, from base to base, so I got used to it.My friend’s moms mostly did the same thing,” he said.
“It’s pretty weird that we’re related, and that we both look so much alike, yet this is the first time I’m meeting you,” I said.
“Gram’s a bitch,” he said philosophically.“It’s her fault.”
“Alexandra Carmichael,” he said, with an evil grin.“She’s a royal bitch.”
“That doesn’t bother you?” I asked.
He shook his head.“She’s a tough woman, and I respect that.Plus she’s always been nice to me.”
“We’ve been in a fucking war with her for about three years now,” I said bitterly.
“Yeah, but it’s over now,” he said.
“Is it?” I asked him.
“I wouldn’t be planning to stay here if it wasn’t,” he said.
“Let’s go,” I said, and led him up to the dining room.I was a little concerned about this guy, and his link to Alexandra Carmichael made me even more nervous.
I walked through the Entry Hall with Chris and we both tensed up for the same reason: standing there looking pretty out of place was a tall god wearing a naval uniform of sorts.This guy could be a dead ringer for Chad Michael Murray, with his dirty blonde hair and greenish blue eyes, and his nose that was straight through the bridge but bulged in a sexy way at the end.His hair was cut short, but not buzzed off like I’d have expected in the navy.He was taller than Chris, and maybe an inch shorter than me.“Bro!” Chris said, and strode over to give him a man hug.It was interesting that the whole time he was hugging Chris, this dude’s eyes were locked on mine like a laser.“This is Will.”
“Will Schluter,” I said formally, then felt like an ass.I knew I was starting to turn red, and that really irritated me, but this guy jumped in and saved me from my own blunder.
“Colin Carmichael,” he said in a friendly way, smiling at me as he shook my hand.Just his touch sent shivers up my spine.“You look like my brother.”
“Don’t hold that against me,” I joked.“We’ve got a few minutes before dinner starts.You want me to show you to your room?”
“Sure,” he said, then turned to Chris.“I’ll catch up with you in a bit.”
Chris looked a little lost, but fortunately Ryan and Marie came walking through.“Hey Marie, will you show Chris where the dining room is?” I asked her.
“Yeah, and maybe I can sit next to you?” Chris asked in his flirtatious way.
“Unlikely,” Marie said with disdain, which just made him chuckle.He strode off with them, while Colin picked up his bag and I led him back down the hallway.
“Throw a woman in front of Chris, and his attention is totally focused,” Colin said, shaking his head.
“I noticed,” I agreed.“That’s my cousin Marie, and the guy she’s with is my friend Ryan.”
“Don’t worry,” he said.“If he’s with her, Chris will still flirt with her, but it won’t go any farther.” It was freaky the way he read my mind.
“Really?” I asked, surprised.“I figured him for a total wolf.”
“Yeah, but even wolves have to follow the laws of the pack,” Colin said.For some reason, he’d ended up with the room across from mine, while Chris was a little further down the hall.I opened the door and showed him in, while he continued talking.“He had some problems in school until the other guys explained that to him.”
“Got his ass kicked?” I asked, shaking my head.
“A couple of times,” Colin said.“Nice room.Looks comfortable.” He put down his bag and we walked out, and he closed the door behind him.
“That’s my room, so if you need anything, feel free to stop by,” I said, pointing at my door.
“Thanks,” he said.
“So did you have to fight those dudes too?”
He looked at me funny.“No, it was his deal.I just heard about it.”He looked at my confused expression.“Why?”
“It was just different with my brothers,” I said.“If someone messed with one of us, he messed with all of us.”
I felt bad when I saw that actually annoyed him.“Guess it works that way in some families, but with Chris, if he fucks up and doesn’t get some pain, he won’t learn.”
“My younger brother, JJ, wasn’t into making waves like it sounds Chris did,” I said, then chuckled.
“What?” he asked.
“He’s this bitchy dude, and he’s really short, so I guess I felt more inclined to stick up for him.He never appreciated that I did that, but I guess I felt it was my duty,” I said.
“With an attitude like that, you could probably join the navy,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, since he’d told me in a backhanded way that I was an honorable guy, “but they wouldn’t let me in.”
“Why?You got bone spurs or something?” he asked.
“No, I’m gay,” I said, expecting that to freak him out.
He shrugged.“You wouldn’t be the only one.Don’t ask, don’t tell.”With that, we walked into the dining room and he was mobbed by everyone, since they hadn’t met him yet.I stared at him, perplexed, wondering if he’d said that because he was gay, or if he was just reiterating Naval policy.