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    Parker Owens
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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.

Predator Prey - 34. Mated

No warnings for this, the final chapter. Thanks for reading.

The sun was high overhead toward the end of a near perfect morning. The seas were calm, the skies seemed at their deepest blue, and the scene on the water looked placid. Boats skimmed across the surface of Tampa Bay on a flawless spring day. He'd been on his own in the boat approaching three, perhaps closer to four hours, prowling the varied shores and inlets at a very sedate pace.

His keen eyesight was bound to pick up a straggler sooner or later.

In the earlier morning light, he had set off and crossed the Bay almost immediately, passing under the beautiful Sunshine Skyway bridge. Its supporting cables gleamed like twin sails in the morning sun.

He knew to watch out for the enormous cargo ships and cruise liners using the shipping channel at the center of the span; everyone with any sense gave them plenty of room – except the asses on vacation who occasionally tried to play chicken. But those fools wouldn't be on the water until later in the afternoon.

He peered in at the fishing pier, grinning a little that he had passed over that same body of water – on that splendid bridge – not an hour before.

Later, he'd motored up the eastern shore of St. Petersburg, trolling for pleasure craft in distress. He'd passed Pinellas Point, every palatial house with its own boat dock, past the condo complexes on Coquina Key, and onward to the north, past developments teeming with visitors.

Visitors and their boats. He knew that, sooner or later, he'd find one having difficulties.

In time, he did, discovering his first of the day. He'd noticed the older model Bayliner bobbing listlessly on the surface. The young couple at the stern stared into space; a dark, good looking man trying to talk into a cell phone, the woman watching the shore loom just a bit closer every moment. He ran his boat gently alongside.

"Hey, need any help?" he called out.

The woman, pale skinned and halter-topped, looked relieved to see him. Definitely vacationers.

"Gawd, yes. The motor here conked out." She might have been from New York, or maybe Philadelphia. He was getting better at figuring out where people were from. The man glared at him: a pity, because the expression marred his otherwise handsome face.

He smiled.

"I'm from Gulf Coast Marine Rescue and Salvage," he began with his standard spiel, as if the bold navy blue letters on the side of his vivid orange boat didn't spell it all out. "If you want, I can try to see what the problem is. If I can't fix it, I can give you a tow."

The man had put away his phone by this time, and looked at him with suspicion. "How much?"

"Depends on if I have to tow you or not. If I can do a quick fix, it'll cost you fifty bucks; a tow is one-fifty an hour."

"One-fifty an hour?" Dark eyes flashed from under curly hair.

He shrugged. "I'm sorry, but that's the going rate."

The woman looked exasperated. "Come on, Dom, let him try. We can handle it."

A swift nod, and he had his permission to tie up.

It took him all of five minutes looking in the engine compartment to figure out there was loose wiring which he could fix. He had the tools and tape in his bag, and he set right to work. He grinned to think what Javier would think of him now. It was less than half an hour before he turned to the curly headed guy.

"Okay, try it now."

The engine roared to life, as he knew it would. Still, he couldn't help feeling a bit of relief.

"You're a lifesaver," the woman spoke, raising her voice above the engine noise. "I knew we shouldn't have borrowed your uncle's boat," she added, glaring at the man.

"Thanks. No problem."

"No, she's right," the northerner put in. "You saved us. Thanks a million. You want a beer?"

"Thanks, but I can't." He couldn't believe how many people asked him this.

"Is cash okay?"

"Cash is good," he replied, accepting a crisp fifty and putting it in his pocket. "Stay safe, and have that checked out when you get back in, all right?"

He couldn't quite hear the reply as it was drowned out by the roar of a C-130 overhead, lifting off out of MacDill Air Force Base.

But he understood the friendly wave well enough, and they parted quickly, another happy rescue. His boss, Lewis Crowder, the owner of Gulf Coast Rescue, would be pleased.

Not long after, he'd helped a pair of men clear their fouled propeller. Their skills as fishermen clearly had plenty of room for improvement.

It had been an easy morning, so far.

He wasn't complaining. He and Graham had gotten off to a late start. He remembered why and shivered, smiling at the memory. Their lovemaking the night before had been wonderful. His muscles ached a little; they had been pretty athletic. He'd used every part of his body to pull Graham more deeply into himself, holding them on the brink until they finally, finally had to fall.

Unusually, Graham had insisted on driving him down to work that day.

"I've got an appointment with someone down in Sarasota," Graham had explained, "down at the Marine Lab there. Your work is pretty much on my way."

"But you never quite know when I get in at the end of the afternoon. I can take my own car and…"

"No problem. I don't mind waiting," he'd interrupted. It was clear his boyfriend wasn't going to change his mind.

"If you're sure about it, okay."

"Oh, I'm absolutely sure." Graham had encircled him from behind and kissed him then. When Graham kissed him, he felt all right.

He shook himself back to concentration; he had no wish for a mishap on the water. He'd never hear the end of it. He pulled out his binoculars and scanned the surface of the bay around him. He'd gotten skilled at spotting boaters in trouble in the past eighteen months.

His radio crackled to life at his right hand.

"Base to Hunter Two," a voice blared out.

"Hunter Two," he replied into the mic.

"Scott, you gotta to get back to base, now." The voice belonged to Janis Crowder, wife of Big Lew. She was the more human of the two owners.

"I'm just halfway through my route, Janis," he complained.

"Too bad, Scottie. Get back here now. And don't bring any business with you."

That last piece of company code spoke volumes. Whatever this was, it must be important. He was not to stop for anyone or bring a tow back. "I'm on my way – see you in forty." It would take that many minutes to get back to Gulf Coast's pier.

He swung his craft around and opened the throttle.

The bass rumble of the twin Mercury engines rose to a full-throated tenor, and the nose of the boat lifted several degrees. Soon, he was speeding along as fast as the vacationers with whom he shared the water. He loved the sensation of racing across the water, and the wind whipping his face and hair. He almost never got the chance to put on this much speed.

He whizzed under the Frankland and West Gandy bridges. Villas and condos and green shoreline hurried past. He cut the turn at Weedon Island as close to shore as he dared, before pointing his nose directly for the long run across the wide bay. He scanned the water for big ships but didn't see any to concern himself about; he tried to coax a little more out of the straining Mercs.

Don't bring any business with you. That meant hustle. What was up? Some kind of emergency?

He turned this over and over in his mind as he sped along the straightest course he could manage for the marina and salvage yard. Maybe someone had gotten hurt. He got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach thinking about it. But that idea seemed doubtful – Janis would have called in someone else to cover, probably. Maybe Big Lew had a big towing job and needed more manpower. That seemed more plausible. Lew Crowder was nothing if not ambitious. His boss had purchased, and mostly rehabbed, an older ocean-going tug. He hadn't thought it was ready yet, though.

The Whaler just about flew as he angled it under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. He was going so fast, he hesitated to steer too much. The time came to slow as he approached the far shore because his wake had to be much lower as he passed the various marshy shoreline nature reserves, thick with migrating birds. Besides, he was about to enter a crowded boating channel as he neared the Gulf Coast Rescue and Salvage yard.

He came around the point and spotted someone in the company's characteristic bright orange tee-shirt waving animatedly from the outer pier. Coming closer, he recognized the form as Corey, Janis Crowder's nephew. The boy had been abandoned by his warring parents five years previously, and the Crowders were more or less raising him. At seventeen, Corey was learning the business, fast.

He swung the boat around and pulled neatly alongside the pier.

The boy got hold of the boat with a practiced hand and held it steady.

"What's going on?" He asked worriedly, as soon as he got the engines to idle.

"You've got someone waiting for you in the office," Corey replied with an unreadable expression.

"Who is it?"

The boy shrugged. Corey was a quiet kind of kid. "C'mon, get out, I'm taking over."

"You? You've never soloed."

"First time for everything," the boy finally grinned, the sunshine finally coming out. That smile would probably break someone's heart one day. "Janis says I'm ready, and Lew's not around."

He hesitated. He had no idea who his visitor could be. His parole officer, perhaps. But they'd parted ways a couple of months ago. His complete cooperation with the police had gotten him a suspended sentence, tons of community service and parole for his various crimes and misdemeanors. Still, there could always be visits.

"Jeez, Scott, don't keep 'em waiting." The boy was anxious to go.

Galvanized into action, he sighed and scrambled out. The boy was probably more than ready. He knew almost as much about engines as Javier. "Fine, fine. Leave me all the shore work for the afternoon. You'll need to gas up someplace. Don't forget a receipt."

This last was nearly shouted, as Corey roared off the pier with a huge smile on his face in about two seconds' time.

He turned and walked up the pier to the office and shop building. Entering by the door marked Employees Only, he hastened down the hallway to the office. He emerged into the space behind the counter, where Janis leaned against the counter deep in conversation with someone who made him smile.

Graham.

"Surprise."

"What's the emergency?" He walked around the counter. He wasn't going to pass up a kiss at midday. No way.

"Graham called up, said you had to leave early," Janis explained, her voice grainy from years of smoking.

"What are you talking about?"

"Can't a guy take his boyfriend out for on beautiful afternoon in springtime?"

He looked from Graham's innocent, beatific face to Janis's open smirk. He smelled a conspiracy. "What about Lew?"

"I won't tell if you don't. He's not gonna get back until dinnertime, anyway. Go on, you haven't taken a sick day or day off in over a year. Get out of here."

He didn't need to be told twice. "Just let me get my stuff from the locker room, Gray, okay?"

"I'm right behind you. Thanks, Janis."

The locker room was like nearly everything else – a little rough, hand built by Lew Crowder, with an eye toward economy. There was a working shower, and benches, and an array of battered lockers acquired from a public school remodeling project.

"You want to shower with me?" he grinned wickedly, stripping out of his work shorts and tee.

"What, here?" Graham's eyes traveled lower.

"Anywhere you want, lover."

Graham snorted. "No, don't bother showering. We can do that later. Put on the board shorts you wore this morning."

"You're not going to tell me where we're off to, are you?"

"Hell, no," Graham grinned, enjoying watching his boyfriend dress, "hurry up, let's get going."

The view across Tampa Bay from the seat of Graham's old Suburban on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was far different to what he'd seen at water level. The view of the city skyline peeking above the water to the northeast never ceased to tantalize. But it was the expanse of water that still impressed the most.

"So where are you taking me?" he ventured as they passed the halfway mark on their way toward St. Petersburg.

"My secret. A place I should have taken you a long time ago."

"It's not the opera, is it?" Graham had made that mistake only once. They'd stuck to bluegrass festivals after that.

"You'll see."

He sat back, smiling. "Waterskiing?"

Graham made a face. They'd tried that, too – Graham had been lucky not to sprain a knee.

"It's not an anniversary or anything, is it?" He knew it wasn't – they'd both remembered all three anniversaries of their first kiss.

"How come I can't just take you out for the day because I love you?"

"Because we're both crazy busy. You had meetings, and I had two nights down at Haven Center last week."

"And you'd give those kids five nights a week if I didn't make you come home."

"You wouldn't believe what's happened to some of them." He shuddered to remember the stories he'd been told at the shelter for runaways where he volunteered. He'd completed his community service there, and had stayed on.

"I know, I know. But I thought it was a good day for some us time, too."

He grinned. "You don't hear me complaining, do you? How did you manage to sweet talk Janis into giving me the afternoon off?"

"My charming personality."

He almost shouted with laughter. "What, did you start explaining the chapter in your dissertation about Eocene forminifera?"

"Ha. That's all you know. I just asked nicely."

"And probably had to pay Janis off, too. What did it cost?"

"Nothing. Really." There was a pause. "You do know I love you, right?"

"Yeah. I do. Love you, too."

Graham smiled a broad, happy smile, and reached a hand over to his. He felt the strong, confident squeeze, and a smile of his own formed.

"Here's our exit." The big car slowed and veered right onto the ramp.

He alternated in watching the route Graham was taking and studying his boyfriend's face. Boyfriend seemed so inadequate a word for the man he shared his life with. Graham was a wonderful, unfolding mystery, layer upon layer of surprises.

Right now, the mystery was where they were going. He could tell they were headed south on a four lane boulevard someplace on the peninsula that held St. Petersburg. North was behind them, toward where their apartment stood, well beyond the city. Graham made a few turns and soon entered a narrow, two lane causeway. The low scrub was characteristic of sandy islands at the entrance to the Bay, but he did not see water.

"I can't believe we've lived here almost two years, and we haven't been to Fort DeSoto," Graham said. "There's a fantastic marine reserve out there, and I heard there might be a pair of nesting…" His heart sank a little, even as his boyfriend's voice trailed off for a moment. Then Graham glanced over with a sly grin, and he knew he'd been fooled. "And there's a fantastic beach."

Actually, if Graham wanted to take him to a nature reserve, he'd be fine with that. But he'd much rather spend an afternoon with his lover on the beach. "You think it’ll be crowded?"

"Doubt it. I figure the snowbirds will be going back to the mainland or to concessions for lunch, and the locals won't want to pay the park fee to get in."

"How much is it?"

"For us? Nothing. I got a research pass from the University, so it's a freebie."

Graham turned out to be prescient. They parked in an enormous lot containing a sprinkling of cars and RV's.

From the rear of the Suburban, Graham hauled out a giant blanket and a heavy looking backpack. "Need anything?"

He shook his head. "You seem to have it under control."

Graham seemed to know where he was going; in quiet, they walked out onto a broad stretch of sand opening to the Gulf. The breeze was pleasant, but not strong. Somewhere along the way, their hands had come together.

"In about a week, this beach will be packed. Spring break," Graham explained.

He nodded, gazing out onto the endless sea. Next week would be brutal with all the rescues. Graham's timing was indeed perfect.

"Let's go this way," Graham urged. They strolled along the beach, fingers intertwined, letting the calm sunny day soak into them. The sand narrowed to a neck, a lagoon to their right. They passed some scrubby growth, and suddenly, the parking lot, the city, their busy lives seemed far, far away.

"This looks like a good spot," Graham announced. "Lunch?"

"What have you been up to?"

The blanket was spread, and they sat.

"I stopped for something on my way to pick you up," Graham admitted, looking sheepish.

"What did you get?"

For an answer, his boyfriend drew a small thermal bag out of the pack and handed it over. "I hope they're still warm."

He unzipped the bag to find it full of Cuban style sandwiches – still warm. One of his favorites.

"Beer?" Graham handed over a bottle.

He accepted it with a smile. They sat and ate companionably, watching the sea and the horizon. A few walkers and joggers passed by.

He looked to his right. The wind played in Graham's hair. The warm sun and scent of the sea gave a sense of deep peace. "This is wonderful, Gray. Thank you for getting me out this afternoon."

"I've wanted to do this for a while. Today was the right day." There was a pause. "You remember those meetings I had last week?"

He nodded. "Yeah. What about them?"

"I was meeting that department chair from Florida International University in Miami. The one who emailed me last fall."

Suddenly his stomach had butterflies. He fixed Graham with a keen stare. This sounded serious.

"I, um…" Graham faltered, "Well, he offered me the job today. That's what I was doing in Sarasota. He was up for a conference or something, and he asked to see me."

He felt as if he'd been hit by a truck. "So…you're moving to Miami?" He couldn't imagine life without Graham, but he knew he had to understand if the man he loved needed to move on. He wouldn't hold him back.

Graham's face softened into a lopsided smile. "No. I'm not moving to Miami. If you agree, we are moving to Miami, idiot. Come with me?"

He sensed his face breaking out into a smile, despite the questions arising in his brain. "What are you asking me for? You have to take this job, Gray! Don't tell me you put the guy off."

"I'm not moving without you, Scott. Not happening. I told him I'd talk it over with you and get back to him."

"Tell him yes!"

"Does that mean you're moving with me?"

He'd been working for Lew and Janis for almost two years. He made good money and had excellent experience to back up his degree and newish licensures. A few more years, and he'd be ready to strike out on his own. It took him a millisecond to decide. "Hell, yes. Did you think I'd let you leave town without me?"

Graham beamed happily. "Just a second." The tall man turned and grabbed his phone out of the backpack. A moment later, he heard Graham speak again: "Dr. Abelló? He said 'yes.' I'll take the job…wonderful…yes, that's great…and thank you so much." The phone was replaced.

It was turning out to be an amazing day, a spectacular day.

"You know I'd follow you anywhere. Track you down, if I had to."

"Yeah. Thought I'd save you the epic hunt," Graham grinned.

"You want to swim?"

"What, don't we have to wait for an hour before we go in?"

"You see my mom anywhere?"

He saw Graham shudder. "Ugh. Don't ruin my lunch."

It had been Graham's idea to go visit his parents. You have to at least try, was the argument. He had gone through a plea agreement, escaped death twice, and come out very much a changed man. Surely, his parents would have a new attitude.

He voiced his doubts to Graham but had arranged lunch at a neutral restaurant anyway. They had gone with real hope. But nothing had altered them or their attitude.

His mother had greeted him with a frosty smile, the kind dictated by rules of politeness; his father barely wavered from a stony stare. There had been no hug, no embrace. His own attempts at trying to begin a dialogue were quickly rebuffed. It went downhill from there. His parents had a conversation with each other, and comments meant for his ears arrived indirectly. He remembered this sort of thing and knew things could turn sarcastic and ugly, but Graham worked hard to keep the tone cordial and friendly. His boyfriend had a go at making conversation, and tried his erudite best. But neither parent acknowledged Graham with more than a nod of the head, no matter how earnest the attempt. It could have been a scene from a bad play, until Graham finally lost his patience.

"I can see it was a mistake to come here," Graham said, rising and dropping his napkin on the table. "I didn't believe Scott when he told me about you. I should have."

His mother had the sense of decorum to look shocked. His father had only glared.

He spoke more directly to his parents. "Goodbye, Mother, Dad," he had added. "You never taught me much about love. Graham has taught me more about love in the last year than you did in twenty. You can find me and let me know if you ever learn about it yourselves."

With that, he had turned his back on his parents and on his past.

In the present moment, he stood, shed his shirt, and held out his hand to Graham. "Come on, let's get wet."

The water temperature was moderate and the sea pleasant. They swam for a while, played like kids in the surf, but inevitably, Graham wound up kneeling in the shallow water, studying something intently. He wasn't so patient. He came up from behind and tackled his man.

Graham issued a startled "Hey!" before being rolled over and kissed. But there were no further objections.

In a while, they retired to the blanket, where they laid out in the sun.

He had no idea how long he drowsed, drying in the warmth. Graham's voice penetrated his sleepy brain. "Don't look now, but we're being checked out."

Automatically, he opened his eyes and made to turn his head.

"No, don't look," a hand on his right arm arrested his movement.

"Who is it?"

"A couple of guys. High school kids, maybe," Graham spoke in a soft voice.

He closed his eyes again. "What, do we scare them?"

"Don't know. Maybe." He felt a finger trace delicately down his chest.

"So if I can't look, describe them to me."

"One's dark haired. Swimmer's build, like you. The other's blond, wiry. Keeps looking over at us. He must be the shy one." The finger traced lower, down to his navel. "He's nervous."

"You think they're together?"

"I'm not sure."

The finger arrived at his waistband. He shivered, and not with cold. "You keep that up, we'll give the kids quite a show."

Graham chuckled. The finger was joined by a couple of its mates on the way back up his torso. They brushed carelessly over a nipple.

"Hey. You starting something?"

"Maybe." He could hear the wicked grin in Graham's voice.

He opened his eyes and turned to kiss the face he loved. He didn't care who saw.

Their kiss was interrupted by the sound of laughter. Their beach companions were wrestling; locked in a tickle and tussle match. There was something wonderfully innocent in their play. He choked up a little to see it; it was something he'd missed as a kid, willfully ignored later on, and only rediscovered with Graham.

They watched, as sand flew, and sounds of youthful merriment spent themselves against the open air. The dark haired boy grabbed a fistful of blondie's shirt, and pulled it over the wiry boy's head. The victor raced away with his prize toward the water, the blond giving chase.

He felt inspired. A moment later, he'd flipped a very surprised Graham onto his back and sat across his hips, wrists pinned to the blanket over his head. "See what you started?"

"Geez, Scott, you could give lessons," panted Graham, craning his neck upward for another kiss.

"Thanks, professor," he grinned back.

"We should probably get going," Graham stated.

"So soon? I could spend all afternoon doing this." He kissed Graham again and ground down on something quite solid below his ass.

"We're going out to dinner," his boyfriend gasped.

"Since when?"

"We got invited."

"Who are we going with?" he asked, his curiosity piqued.

Graham grinned mysteriously. "Surprise."

"Tell me."

His boyfriend shook his head.

"Tell me, or I'm not letting you up."

"Really?"

"Really."

Suddenly, the tables turned, and he found himself flipped again, pinned underneath Graham, squirming in the sand.

"Hey, come on, you big…" his protests were silenced by another kiss.

He felt Graham rise, releasing him. "Come on, Scott, we'd better go." His lover was smiling down at him, hand extended.

He took hold and stood. Their belongings were quickly packed and readied. One final look around at the lovely sand and surf revealed the younger boys standing out in the waves, locked in an embrace.

"Guess those two are together, after all," he grinned.

"Yeah," Graham smiled, slipping a hand into his, "bet it feels good, doesn't it?"

Later, he wondered at Graham as he muscled the Suburban northward through city traffic toward their apartment.

"What's the rush, Gray?"

"We'll need to shower at home and change before we head out again." Graham must have had everything planned out.

"Geez, just don't get pulled over," he pleaded as Graham zipped through a late yellow light. "Where is it we're going again?"

"Ha. Very funny. Thought you'd get me to slip up, didn't you?"

Graham managed to speed them homeward, but it took a little over an hour to steer the car into their usual spot in the parking lot. And he still had no idea what Graham was planning.

But he had a plan of his own. "You go catch a shower, Gray. I'll get the mail from the box."

Unsuspecting, Graham nodded and opened the door to their unit.

The mail was the usual assortment of advertising and junk. They rarely got much worth inspecting, unless it was a note from the court system or the University. But this apartment was a huge improvement over the musty-smelling place where he and Graham had nearly died. He'd insisted they move as soon as Graham had cleared the hurdle for doing his doctoral work at South Florida.

He dropped the mail on the couch and padded stealthily toward the bedroom. He stripped out of his clothes, leaving them puddled on the floor. The sound of running water and shower noises told him his prey was occupied. Moving with as little noise as possible, he eased the bathroom door open and slipped in. A pleasurable tingle ran through him; just a flimsy vinyl screen separated him from Graham.

He timed his swift, fluid motion to the sound of Graham rinsing under the spray. Undetected, he entered the shower, slipping his arms around his lover and molding and slotting his body to Graham's.

"Jeez, Scott, you startled me," Graham said, relaxing an instant later.

"Surprised you, did I?"

"Mmm, wonderfully." Graham pressed back against the body firming up against him.

He held his man close, kissing his neck, shoulders and back. Hands stroked and teased; he felt Graham relax into his caress and love. The heat in the shower rose steadily.

"Love you, Scott," the hoarse whisper hard to hear over the noise of falling water.

He ground harder and reached for Graham's cock in answer.

"Ahhhh, feels so good."

"We have time before we have to go wherever you're taking me?" He stroked Graham gently, teasing.

"Please, Scott. Yes. We're making time."

He couldn't say no to such a request. And as he slid into his lover, he knew neither one of them would last very long.

But they were still running a bit late as they sped northwards in the early evening. Not that either one regretted it. Normally, he and Graham observed speed limits religiously; Graham believed in saving gas, and he wanted as little contact with the police as possible. But now, as the Suburban raced up the highway, he watched the speedometer climb to near eighty.

As the miles flew by, he began to get an inkling of where they were headed. It was confirmed for him as he recognized the end of the four lane expressway. He knew the left hand turn at the end of the ramp would send them toward Sand River.

Was there a function at the Marine Research Center? Graham had left there a while ago.

The landmarks came more quickly now. The Buick dealer, a favorite Publix. The road to a nature preserve with an excellent and secluded viewing blind. He smirked to himself.

He half suspected Graham would turn right just after the Dairy Queen, and he was confirmed in his suspicions a moment later.

"Javi and Oscar asked us for dinner?"

"Us, and a couple of friends."

It had been a month or two since they'd gotten together with Javi and Oscar. Maybe longer. Usually, they met them for dinner some place in Tampa or St. Pete. But it wasn't a big deal going out with them; in fact, they'd had fun dancing at a couple of places.

"So why the big secret?"

Graham just smiled. "Not a huge secret, just a pleasant surprise."

"Yeah, right. Not like I'm complaining, or anything. It's been a wonderful day."

And Graham just smiled.

But when the Suburban turned onto Javier and Oscar's street, it was clear something was up. The driveway was full of cars, and still others were parked to the side.

"You said 'a couple of friends.' Looks like more than a couple to me."

Graham shrugged. "Maybe it just got out of hand. You want to leave?"

Part of him actually thought that was a great idea. He just wanted Graham all to himself. But he wanted to see Javi and Oscar, too, and Graham must have been looking forward to this.

"Oh, come on, nerd-boy, let's go in," he grinned as he got out of the car.

They made their way up the driveway and let themselves into the house; there was a party underway. Entering the kitchen, he found himself engulfed in a giant hug from Oscar.

"Wally, it's been way too long," the big man exclaimed while just about crushing his ribs. "It's so good to see you." Oscar and Javier knew his real name, but never stopped calling him by the name he'd acquired on the Feigenbaum.

Fortunately, he was released so that the same abrazo could be administered to Graham. "Hey, Oscar, we've missed you, too."

"Everything's outside by the pool, go find Javi there," Oscar directed him with an outstretched arm. "You head on out. I just need to ask Graham something."

He was about to respond when he saw Javi gesture to him through the glass of the sliding door in the kitchen.

"About time you got here, Wally," Javi growled when he had exited the kitchen. Something cooking on the grill smelled fantastic. "I've been cooling this all day." His shorter friend handed him an ice cold Red Stripe with a growing smile. "So what happened? Bad traffic?"

"Um, yeah. Graham kind of got held up by something." He smiled to himself. He'd been the one holding up Graham in the shower. He took a deep pull on his beer. His boyfriend was driving, right? "Were we the last ones to get here?"

The yard and pool area were full of people. He blinked. He realized most of the guests were people he recognized. Some were acquaintances of his and Graham's from the Marine Research Center or the university lab in St. Pete. Others were from the Feigenbaum. There was an older couple in the corner. Was that…?

"Yeah, and now that you’re here, I can put on the shrimp." Javi interrupted his thoughts.

"Need help?"

"No, I've got it. You go mingle." Javi moved off in the direction of the grill.

Across the pool from him, he thought he spotted Michael. He waved. That boy had grown up into a beautiful man. Almost a man. He started in Michael's direction when he felt his right arm taken.

A short, dark haired woman, not much older than himself, with intense brown eyes greeted him. "Scott. Good to see you – been a couple of months hasn't it?"

"Two months, three weeks and five days, but who's counting, Margot?" He smiled. He actually liked and respected his parole officer. Ex-parole officer.

"Not me, Scott. Staying out of trouble?" It was her invariable greeting.

"Yes, ma'am. So far." That was his unchanging response.

"I'm supposed to tell you that Chief Lovett sends his regards."

He looked surprised. "Really?"

"You know he got promoted, right? He's in Tallahassee."

"No, I didn't know."

"After the exciting couple of years you gave him, he got kind of busy."

"I didn't do that. It was Kenny who started all that."

She smirked at him.

"Hey, it wasn't me who let it slip that one of Marquez's guys was the one who killed Ted. Vassily lost his cool on that," he held his hands up in surrender.

"And his head." The turf war had been quite gruesome, with casualties splashed all over the front pages. Kenny had been one of them. The police had used the ensuing chaos to break both organizations.

She finished her drink, some iced concoction.

"How goes the project? How many more left to go?" She was referring to his effort to locate and make amends to people he had hurt. It wasn't a requirement of the courts; it was something Graham had inspired and encouraged him to do.

"I'm down to less than ten, now."

"That's good. Last time it was a dozen."

"Yeah, well, they’re getting harder to track down now." And the bitter truth remained that there were some people he just could not remember.

"Call me if you need help. I might have a friend with some information. I'm going for a refill."

He nodded. She had been helpful that way before. He heard the sliding door open behind him.

Graham stepped out. "Hey. Everything okay?"

He slipped an arm around his boyfriend's waist. "Better now. Just got questioned by my parole officer."

"You charmed her."

He snorted. "She has a partner named Nicole. I don't think it's possible."

They moved toward a knot of people he recognized as colleagues of Graham's. How had they known Javi and Oscar? Perhaps they had all been on Feigenbaum at one time or another, though he couldn't recall any of them from one of his cruises.

Polite conversation was interrupted by a distinctive, brassy voice. "Graham! Wally! Yay!”

The blond amazon with a midwestern accent appeared at Graham's side, offering him a bear hug. "So good to see you!"

"Great to see you, too, Ellie," Graham smiled.

"And Scott! You look great!" Enthusiastic as ever, Ellie looked absolutely delighted. Beside her stood a rail thin young man with dark skin and even darker curly hair. "You need to meet Hagos. Hagos is from Ethiopia."

"Hagos Tadesse. Pleased to meet you," Ellie's latest protégé said in a clipped, not-quite-British accent. "You guys are from the Research Center?"

"Not anymore. Now I'm doing the last of my post-doctoral work in St. Pete," Graham explained. "But I used to work with Ellie."

"I see. And you?" The dark eyes were turned on him.

"I work in marine salvage," he laughed. "Nothing special."

"Scott helped them create the maritime studies major," Ellie pointed out, ignoring his sudden blush.

"So how do you know Ellie?" Graham turned the conversation back to the young African.

"She found me reading manga in the library one day. It was hard to stop talking. The library staff was going to throw us out."

Ellie roared with laughter, but it was probably completely true.

"She is taking me spear fishing next weekend. Perhaps you could join us?"

He gave an involuntary start. "Uhh, maybe not that weekend."

Ellie gave them a quizzical look. She may not have believed him.

"No, really, Ellie, we may be out of town," explained Graham.

"Wally! How are ya?" Cookie's Boston accent overpowered all conversation as the man drifted into their orbit.

"Cookie! What are you doing here?"

"Oh, Javier asked me and Lois over tonight, couldn't resist one of their blow outs. Javier's slow roasted pork is absolutely incredible."

He followed Cookie's head gesture, and recognized Cookie's wife, whom he'd met once before. But the couple she was talking to had their backs to him. They looked terribly familiar.

"Graham," he leaned over to whisper, "is that your mom and dad over there?" Sand River was a long way from the Blue Ridge mountains, where they lived. What was going on?

Graham's face brightened. "Oh, they came. Excuse me for a second?" His boyfriend moved to greet them, leaving him mystified.

"Great people, you met them?" Cookie went on.

"Yeah. We've been to visit a couple of times." He remembered the modest, lively house in North Carolina, so very different from his own. Love lived there.

"How's the work in salvage going?"

"Okay. The owners still don't want me doing any major accounting stuff, so I'm on the water or in the shop most of the time." He wasn't going to mention Graham's news. He'd need to think about getting another job.

"Don't worry, Wally. They'll come around. Hey, I'm getting another one," he said, gesturing with his bottle, "be right back."

He made his way over to where he saw Michael standing. Another guy stood with Michael, probably a boyfriend, given their body language.

"Hey, Michael."

Michael smiled a high-wattage smile, and gave him a thumping one armed hug. "Hey, Wally. Haven't seen you in a year."

"Well, whose fault is that? You got all brainy on us and went down to Miami for college." He knew his fathers were immensely proud of Michael's academic scholarship.

"Wally, I want you to meet Blaine. He's my…"

"We've met," Michael's boyfriend stated softly.

He froze. Jesus, no. He hadn't. He couldn't have, not someone that age. Could he? He felt his stomach dropping. "I'm…um…" he stammered. He just couldn't place the boy. The deep brown eyes and shy, captivating smile would have drawn him, once.

Blaine explained. "You probably don't remember me, but I remember you. I was here one afternoon a few years ago, and you were visiting. Everyone was in the pool. Well, everyone but me. I had a huge crush on Michael," he turned and smiled, "but I was too introverted and scared to say or do anything except hang out."

"You kept that secret too well," Michael told Blaine, "We had a bunch of classes together in high school and all kinds of stuff like that, and I never figured it out."

"I remember you now," he said, recollecting the painfully uncomfortable boy that afternoon at the pool three years earlier. Blaine had changed a great deal. "How did you two connect?" he asked them.

"At college," Michael laughed. "We both go to Miami. I had no idea Blaine was there. We were at the same party, and ran into each other. We were bored out of our skulls, and wound up taking a walk. Couldn't believe what I'd missed all along." The couple exchanged a glance. "We must have walked ten miles that night."

They really did look like a cute couple. Then again, he had Graham, and the thought made him smile.

At that moment, Oscar interrupted them. "Wally, I think your man needs you." His host gestured with his head to a spot where Graham stood, perhaps a bit nervously.

"Sorry guys. Catch up with you later? Nice meeting you, Blaine. Again."

He felt himself shepherded around to Graham. Darkness had fallen, but the yard area had been festooned with thousands of tiny white lights. He smiled, reflecting that Javier had probably worked this magic, with Oscar supervising. It seemed a space had cleared around the two of them. Now he felt a bit edgy.

In his peripheral vision, he thought he caught a glimpse of two faces – was that Marc? Lee?

Graham cleared his throat. "Thank you, everyone, for coming tonight, and thank you so much to Javier and Oscar for their incredible generosity."

Applause rippled through the yard. Graham had arranged this?

"I know we’re all hungry, but I have two things to say."

"Two things, Graham? We're starving!" Ellie called out.

"Yes, two things," Graham went on over the laughter with a smile. "The first thing is that today I was offered a job as Associate Professor in the Marine Sciences Department at Florida International University. I said yes."

There was a loud cheer. Ellie might have whistled.

He knew what was coming next. Their move to Miami would be announced, and there would be a collective groan. He would miss so many of these people.

Once quiet returned, Graham went on. "I'm sorry that means we have to move farther away from you all, down to Miami."

The muted groan came right on cue, though Michael and Blaine offered a cheer.

"But there is something else on my mind tonight, something more important."

He cast a startled look at Graham. What more could there be? What would be more important than landing his first real academic and research job?

Graham turned to him, and took his hands. "Scott, you've been my partner and best friend; my companion and my rock. My dissertation would still be on my desk if it wasn't for you. We've helped each other, discovered each other, loved each other. But I don't want to move to Miami with you as my roommate."

His eyes went wide.

"I want to move to Miami with you as my husband."

"Are you seriously asking me to marry you in front of all these people?" he hissed. His brain was a whirl of emotions

Graham smiled widely. "Yes. I really am. So. Scott, in front of all these people, will you marry me?"

The yard was still. There was no sound but the faint hiss from the grill.

"Yes." There was no other answer. He embraced Graham, the man who had saved him from the shipwreck of his own life. His lover and friend. "Yes, I'll marry you, Gray," he nearly had to shout over the explosive shout of approbation from their friends.

"Hey, hey!" Javier Cabrera's voice made itself heard over the din. "Everybody have a glass? A toast, then, amigos: to old friends. And new lives and lasting happiness together. To Graham and Scott."

The approving chorus sounded again, along with the clinking of glass.

"And now to the feast!" Oscar cried out. "We're hungry, and there's plenty. Buen provecho!"


 


 

Craftingmom was the editor for this story. I am deeply grateful to her for her kindness and help. tim, Spike, and Carlos beta-read this story; in turn, they offered encouragement, brilliant comments and motivation, and this story would not have happened without them.

Please leave a comment. Rant or rave, I will appreciate what you have to say.

Copyright © 2017 Parker Owens; 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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Chapter Comments



22 minutes ago, Carlos Hazday said:

Loved the story and I was honored Parker asked me to beta read for him. As soon as I get my crap together, I'll write a proper review. Great writing and storytelling my friend! And thanks for the shout out! :D

 

Thank you for making this a better story, Carlos. And thank you for reading it, and enjoying it!

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I’m so happy that TP/Wally/Scott finally made it through his dark past and achieved the love he so desperately needed and now deserves with Graham! But I’m sad that we won’t have these beautifully crafted characters to look forward to anymore. Judging from Parker’s extreme reluctance to revisiting Andy and Zander, I guess my fantasy of Zander taking Andy to Miami for a vacation, getting rescued by Scott, and being introduced to Graham, Michael, and Blaine won’t happen.  ;-)

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4 minutes ago, Okiegrad said:

Standing ovation!!!  Beautiful story!!!

Thanks so much for reading and responding so often. I am very grateful.

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I loved your story!  You have created some great characters and then allowed them to develop and change across the chapters.  Kudos for a job well done and wonderful, engrossing writing.  I will miss Graham but will looking forward to your next efforts.

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25 minutes ago, Defiance19 said:

Excellent Parker. I never imagined that I would be happy for  Scott. He went from no name, to TP, to Wally then Scott. Each time transforming himself and thus my opinion of him. There is much to be said about judging a person or not allowing them a chance to prove they are not or more than just who we see. You guided us perfectly through Scott's trials and now I can celebrate where he is and how far he's come.. 

 

Thank you and congrats for another great story... 

 

 

No, Def, thank you for reading what was a difficult story. Scott was such a fascinating and challenging character to write and conceive. But characters who really change over the course of a story are the most interesting, IMO. Graham in his simple, subtle way, helped with that change just as Scott was ready for it, as an alert reader noted at the time. I appreciate your patience in staying with the tale, and in your very kind comments.

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1 hour ago, donaldbirwin said:

I loved your story!  You have created some great characters and then allowed them to develop and change across the chapters.  Kudos for a job well done and wonderful, engrossing writing.  I will miss Graham but will looking forward to your next efforts.

 

Thank you for such generous and kind remarks. More importantly, I am grateful that you read the story and enjoyed it. Characters who change are often the most interesting ones, I think. I will miss Graham and Scott and all the rest of the characters, too. Thanks again. 

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2 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

You did a great job redeeming your Predator.  When I first read the story, I had no idea how you would make that happen, but you did so quite well.  I'm a sucker for a good redemption story and HEA and you delivered both. Thanks for sharing with us. :hug: 

 

Thank you very much for reading the story - for sticking with it through its dark chapters, and watching the slow transformation in Scott. I am also a sucker for redemption stories. And I think this will definitely qualify as HEA. Thanks for your support!

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6 hours ago, Mikiesboy said:

I remember talking to you about this story and reading the first few chapters. Told you to get your brave on and write it. And you did. Nicely done and a sweet ending. xo tim  

 

Thank you for your encouraging words that convinced me to finish this story. Thanks, too for reading the finished product, and for your supportive words. Xo P

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Well, Parker, you did it! You totally redeemed TP/Wally/Scott. I honestly didn't think it could be done, but you did it. :)

 

Scott has learned so much from being with Graham, but it was really Marc and Lee he needs to thank. They gave him a second chance by getting him that job on the Feigenbaum (did I screw up the spelling? Sorry!). He met Javier and Cookie, then later Oscar, Ellie, Graham, etc. He finally learned how to interact with people without preying on them and destroying them.

 

And I think a big majority of his earlier actions stemmed from the way he was brought up. He was raised in a house without love. His parents don't even love each other. They don't even love themselves, so how could they possibly love their child? They are despicable human beings who should never be referred to as parents, because they're not parents. They don't know the first thing about parenting.

 

I'm happy Scott had a chance to learn how to love and be loved by Graham. Graham's speech at the end had me crying happy tears. :)

 

This was a wonderful ending to a story I was SURE could never end happily. So thank you, Parker, for a job very well done! :)

 

I can't wait to read your next story!! :)

 

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An excellent story! The elements of transformation and ultimately redemption were written with insight and care, albeit with some heartstopping moments. Thank you for s fantastic read. 

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12 hours ago, Lisa said:

Well, Parker, you did it! You totally redeemed TP/Wally/Scott. I honestly didn't think it could be done, but you did it. :)

 

Scott has learned so much from being with Graham, but it was really Marc and Lee he needs to thank. They gave him a second chance by getting him that job on the Feigenbaum (did I screw up the spelling? Sorry!). He met Javier and Cookie, then later Oscar, Ellie, Graham, etc. He finally learned how to interact with people without preying on them and destroying them.

 

And I think a big majority of his earlier actions stemmed from the way he was brought up. He was raised in a house without love. His parents don't even love each other. They don't even love themselves, so how could they possibly love their child? They are despicable human beings who should never be referred to as parents, because they're not parents. They don't know the first thing about parenting.

 

I'm happy Scott had a chance to learn how to love and be loved by Graham. Graham's speech at the end had me crying happy tears. :)

 

This was a wonderful ending to a story I was SURE could never end happily. So thank you, Parker, for a job very well done! :)

 

I can't wait to read your next story!! :)

 

 

Lisa, thank you very much for your generous and kind comments. I am so glad you stayed with the story through Scott's ugliest chapters to watch him grow and change into someone new. Marc and Lee gave Scott the first thing he needed - a chance to turn a corner. Then Javier and Oscar showed him what he could have. And Graham fell for Scott, even as Scott fell for Graham. I hope you will enjoy my next project, but I am a slow writer, so it may be a little while...in the meantime, I will be encouraged to know there will be someone wanting to read it!  Thanks again.

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11 hours ago, deville said:

An excellent story! The elements of transformation and ultimately redemption were written with insight and care, albeit with some heartstopping moments. Thank you for s fantastic read. 

 

I am really glad you thought this was a worthwhile read, despite its dark beginning and cliffhangers. I thank you also for your encouraging comments.

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Many thanks for sticking with the story and for all your encouraging comments. Confession : I kinda choked up writing this chapter, myself. Thanks again.

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Well, I finally got here, and you delivered. This was a wonderful way to end TP/Wally/Scott's journey. I loved the pacing... the jump ahead worked so well, and you imparted the information we were missing with subtle ease. I will admit to tears, my friend... it was a nice buildup to the proposal, and maybe even better was seeing how many friends Scott has amassed. Better still is that he has redeemed himself, and forgiven himself. I wish them all the happiness in the world. Beautiful... thank you, Parker... cheers... Gary....

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