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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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Stronger Than Lions - 7. Galaxies

As it turned out, that little voice was going to get its wish at least partly fulfilled.

Chris said yes instantly. Rob would only be able to come up a day later, as he was going with his family to Arniston to visit his grandparents. Bella, in turn, decided the weekend would be the perfect opportunity to nurture her “tragically repressed inner poet”. As she’d already invited herself along to Arniston with Rob, she would tag along with him to the mountain cottage on the way back.

‘Two days on the beach and two days in the mountains would be a perfect juxtaposition,’ said Bella as we walked out of classes just over a week before the holiday.

‘I swear, Carmichael, you just spoke that entire sentence just so you could say “juxtaposition”,’ snorted Rob. ‘But of course you’re welcome. My grandparents love you.’

‘Yeah, and they’re still hoping we’ll end up marrying and raising personality-disordered children,’ said Bella. ‘I mean, my emo and your geek? Poor kids would never have a chance.’

We were walking past the rugby fields where Chris was training with some of his teammates. He caught sight of us, waved, and sprinted towards us.

‘Hey guys,’ he said as he reached us, panting. He was smeared with mud and was sporting a fresh bruise next to his left eye.

I had an urge to wipe his face and ask him if he was all right. Steady on, Cal, I thought. You’re going to have him all to yourself soon.

I nearly lost my balance as all the pennies dropped: All to myself for two whole days.

Chris winked at me as he walked up. He was ruddy, sweaty, and smiling at us. I felt my heart thud in my chest.

‘Hey Chris,’ said Rob. ‘You’ve just rescued me from a conversation involving a horrible alternate universe married to Miss Carmichael here. ‘Eventful practice?’

‘Yeah. Rough tackle,’ Chris said, patting his eye proudly.

‘All this violence,’ sighed Bella. Well, gentlemen, I'm all keen for this long weekend Cal's uncle has so graciously effected. But I'll have to check if my parents are okay with me coming to the mountains too.’

‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘We’ve been away for weekends on our own before.’

‘But not with Captain Fantastic here,’ she said, patting Chris on his taut belly, ‘who, as you know is a big man who can drink alcohol and drive a car.’ Chris teetered backwards in surprise. She looked at him with a truculent little smile. ‘My father thinks you’re going to hit me over the head with a club and drag me by the hair into an underground lair.’

Chris blushed. ‘I’d hope you’d know me better than that.’

‘Of course I do, but I’m allowed to call you a caveman when you’re walking around like that in your filthy rugby gear. Why do boys always have to play in the dirt?’

Chris bent down and took some of the mud from his shorts and wiped it on his face. ‘Because I big man,’ he said in a Cro-Magnon voice. He wielded an imaginary club behind Bella’s head and scratched his chest with his other hand. Her eyes saucered.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ she asked.

‘You tell father me drag you to nice cave,’ he grunted. ‘Me have big club for woman me likey.’

He’d silenced her: a rare thing.

‘Okay, Hathaway, I concede,’ she said after we'd finished laughing. ‘I’d love to come, but my parents need to be okay with it. I am after all their youngest baby whom they think is never going to grow up.’

Fortunately, my dad ended up calling the Carmichaels to vouch for Chris’s inner boy scout.

 

* * *

 

School finished early on the Wednesday. After lunch Chris and I changed into civvies, loaded my stuff in The Thing and stopped at a supermarket to buy groceries. Chris was like a kid at Christmas in the sweets aisle, arming himself with enough chocolate slabs and boiled sweets to preserve himself in sugar for a couple of geological epochs.

’Don’t look at me like that, when you’re still smoking behind everybody’s back,’ he retorted when I stared at him stuffing the umpteenth strawberry sparkle into his mouth as we set off.

‘I don’t smoke that much,’ I protested.

He was pouting. ‘Really. You and my mother. Wish you’d stop. I don’t like my loved ones smelling like ashtrays.’

Loved ones. A little warm glow seized the base of my spine.

In a few minutes we had turned onto the N2 and The Thing reluctantly shuddered into top gear. Soon we were speeding past the outskirts of the city towards the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, glowing purple in the early autumn afternoon. If you continued on this highway, the country’s longest, you’d pass through three provinces, each with some of the most gorgeous landscapes on the planet, eventually sneaking past Durban up the Dolphin Coast towards Mozambique. There the highway swung ninety degrees inland, passing through Boer War battlefields until it joined the N4 in Mpumalanga Province. You could then drive west to the Washington-upon-Boredom that is the nation’s capital, Pretoria, or go east, touching the base of the Kruger Park, eventually stopping at the boiling blue bay of Maputo.

As we climbed Sir Lowry’s Pass the arc of False Bay lazed behind us, flanked by craggy peaks on either side. Table Mountain herself became smaller and smaller as the cold Atlantic behind her sparkled in cerulean and indigo. On cue, Chris popped in a mix CD he had burned. The first track was U2’s Beautiful Day.

‘I can't tell you how amped I am for this weekend, bru,’ he said as we reached the top of the pass. ‘Just one rule, ok?’

‘What?’

No rules. We do what we want. Sleep, read, walk, swim, zone out, whatever.’

‘I like the way you think.’

We hit the top of the pass and started weaving gently down again. Music pulsed within, sunlight pulsed without. I noticed both our left hands were tapping out the rhythm of the song independently. Without warning, Chris turned down the volume.

‘Cal?’ he asked, eyes fixed on the winding road.

‘Ja?’

‘Thanks.’ He had narrowed his beautiful eyes. ‘This means a lot to me. It’s like the first proper time out I’ve had since my folks split up.’

‘It’s only a pleasure, man.’

‘I just want you to know if you ever want to talk about your mom, I’m here. I’m not sure I’d know what to say but I’m a good listener.’

I took a deep breath. ‘Um, thanks,’ I managed. The thought of talking about Mom to anyone besides the therapist hadn’t even occurred to me.

‘Any time, dude,’ he said, patting my shoulder. ‘Whoa, we’re getting too serious, aren’t we? Let’s up the mood.’

He skipped to the next track, which was The Zephyr Song by the Chilli Peppers.

Just after Grabouw we turned off on to the road to Theewaterskloof, stopping at a roadside café to have a cup of coffee and buy some firewood. We drove on and were soon in a landscape out of Tolkien. The massive dam sprawled lazily beneath the peaks that glowed like molten electrum in the afternoon sun.

After crossing the bridge across the dam we found the dirt road that led to the farm where Uncle Joe’s cottage was. He’d bought the house and a hectares of land from Mr Gerber, a rich fruit farmer. Joe had arranged for us to fetch the keys from him.

Mr Gerber was a short man with a grey Texan moustache and a ruddy complexion. He waved as we turned into the driveway of his rambling colonial farmhouse.

‘Hello boys,’ he said cheerfully. ‘You must be Joe’s nephew,’ he added, shaking hands with me and nodding hello to Chris. ‘Glad to see you came in a 4x4. The drive up to the cottage is a bit of a rough one.’ He pointed up to a small plateau a third of the way up one of the looming peaks. Through a glade one could just make out the cottage, its windows glinting in the afternoon sun.

We were soon on the track. Here, The Thing came into its own, clawing and growling at the earth like a big cat as we snaked through the bends surrounded by thick forest. Startled birds swooped through the trees, and we nearly ran over a mongoose scurrying across the path.

The track levelled out and the forest cleared as we finally turned into the driveway.

‘Shit,’ said Chris, and my jaw dropped. ‘This is something.’

Huge, ancient yellowwood trees stood guard over the cottage. It was built from wooden slats and painted white in a New England style. It had evidently been Mr Gerber’s pet project before he sold it to my uncle. It was a double-storey with a wide porch. In front of it, the valley yawned before us like a golden green ocean, falling away from the overgrown front garden as if it were a continental shelf.

Inside, Uncle Joe had furnished it in a minimalist, modest manner. There was a huge couch in front of the fireplace and to my delight there were several bookshelves filled with what I recognized were books from Oupa Stefanus’s house.

Chris raced up the stairs as soon as I unlocked the front door. I heard his feet thudding above on the wooden floors. ‘Cal!’ he yelled, ‘you gotta come see this!’

I found Chris on the balcony of the main bedroom with his arms outstretched, turning around in a circle. ‘Check it out! And look,’ —he pointed— ‘there’s a lake!’

About two hundred metres behind the house was a small lake whose far end disappeared into the forest.

‘I’m going to jump in right now!’ said Chris like an excited toddler. He kicked off his shoes and socks. ‘C’mon, I’ll race you there.’

He thundered down the stairs.

‘Chris!’ I yelled, as we darted through the trail behind the house. He was a good twenty metres in front of me. ‘What about towels? Swimming trunks?’

‘Who needs trunks!’ he cried, stripping off his clothes as he ran. I laughed nervously to myself, coming up to the jetty just to see him sound the depth of the water with his leg and then jump into the lake nude.

He splashed about with glee. ‘It’s great. Jump in!’

‘But…’

‘C’mon Cal. No one can see us here. Get your ass in, bru, it’s lovely!’

‘Okay.’ I took off my clothes nervously and jumped in. I winced as the icy shock spread through my body. ‘Lovely?' I splashed him in the face. 'Bullshit!’

‘All the better to wake you.’ He dived down to do a somersault. ‘Yeah!’ he cried as he surfaced, looking as happy as if he had just scored a winning try.

‘I guess it isn’t that bad,’ I said, treading water. I was getting used to the temperature and had to admit it was pretty amazing being in the lake watching the sun set behind the mountains.

We swam about for a couple of minutes, and then made our way back to the jetty. It was still deep here, and we both leaned with our arms on the wooden planks, facing each other.

‘So what do you think of your first skinny dip, bud?’

‘How do you know this is my first time?’

He ran his fingers through his wet hair. ‘Oh please. I know how shy you are.'

‘Is it that obvious?’

'It's that obvious,' he said with a snigger.

‘You got me. For the record, I don’t think I could have done this with anybody else.’

His eyes went all soft. Aw, buddy, that’s very sweet of you to say.’

A few odd seconds passed as he looked up and stared at the sky. ‘We should get out before we freeze.’

He made his way to the shore while I did a last circuit around the jetty. As he got out he stretched himself and turned around slowly.

Then I saw him, as if for the first time. The dying sun had caught him in silhouette, and his damp mop of hair was lit up, glowing in the amber rays. He looked like a young lion with a mane of gold, and the contours of his torso segued into the pink light like so many dunes in a vast desert. The heat from his body formed tiny circles around him, like dust storms traversing a great planet.

I was hard and dizzy and breathless.

‘I’ll go get you a towel,’ he said, and ran off to the house, still wet.

I said a quiet prayer of thanks to whatever deity might have been out there that he couldn’t see my arousal.

I was shivering, but not from the cold.

 

* * *

 

‘Which room do you want?’ I asked as I lugged my bag up the stairs. ‘There are three bedrooms.’

‘I don’t mind,’ he said, following me. ‘You take the master. Where are Bella and Rob going to sleep? They’ll probably each need their own own room. I can take the couch.’

‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ I said. ‘Please, you take the master. You drove all the way and did most of the heavy lugging about.’

‘Well, we could share,’ he said matter-of-factly as we walked into the master. ‘This bed is huge, and I don’t bite.’

Chris and me in a bed together? I was giddy all over again and had to ball my fists hard to stop myself from shaking.

‘Am I making you uncomfortable?’

‘No… I…’

‘I just meant, I’ve bunked with my brothers and cousins in the same bed many times before. It’s no sweat bru, I’ll sleep on the couch.’

I gathered up some boldness. ‘No, it’s fine. Plus we can watch DVDs till late.’ I pointed at the TV and cabinet full of movies.

‘Sweet,’ said Chris, sweeping his hair back. ‘What side of the bed do you want, dear?’ he said, making a pouty face.

I stuck out my tongue.

 

* * * 

 

We made a fire and set to supper, heating up ready meals we’d bought from the supermarket in the microwave.

We sat down at the kitchen table. ‘Is it okay if I have a beer?’ I’m not officially going to give you any, but you can help yourself.’

‘You’re such a boy scout. And yes, maybe I will have a beer too.’

He put down two bottles in front of us. ‘Take it at your own risk. I’m not going to be accused of corrupting the youth.’

‘The youth in question is just over a month away from being legal.’

'Suit yourself.'

I was silly, and tried matching Chris bottle for bottle. Being about ten kilos lighter than him and not used to alcohol, I was quite sloshed after two bottles.

‘Easy tiger,’ he said, as I tripped getting up. I chuckled stupidly. ‘No more for you,’ he added. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I feel a bit woozy.’ The floor had become jelly.

‘Let’s get you some fresh air, bru.’

He took my hand and led me outside onto the porch. He sat me down on the front steps. The night air was cool, and I felt better quickly.

‘Want a Coke or something?’

‘Wait, dude—look!’

‘What?’

‘Up!’ I cried, pointing at the sky.

It was the stars. There were thousands of them. The cold, moonless autumn night made it seem as if we had a direct view from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I couldn’t remember when I had last seen so many of them.

'Holy shit,' said Chris, his voice low with wonder. 'It's like the whole fucking universe came to visit.'

'Fuck. You're right. That's like the perfect description.'

He whistled. ‘Hey, I have an idea!’ he said, and ran back into the house.

‘What are you doing?’

'Just wait!' I heard him go up the staircase and then come down again. Then the lights went out, and he appeared next to me. He was holding a blanket and two pillows.

‘Let’s lie on the grass and you can teach me the constellations some more.’

We chose a spot at the bottom of the garden where there was the least amount of forest in our peripheral vision. We lay down on the blanket and looked up. The great spiral arm of the Milky Way was pulsing slowly into view. The Magellanic Clouds glowed softly like radioactive steel wool. So many constellations you couldn’t see from a city sky were flagrantly exhibiting themselves. You could even see Mons Mensa, the constellation named after Table Mountain—the only group of stars named after a feature on Earth.

The beer had made me very talkative. I traced out the ecliptic for Chris and found Scorpio rising in the east, which meant that Orion must have been setting. I told him of the story how the gods put the great scorpion and the heroic hunter at opposite ends of the sky so they would never bother each other. I spoke of Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, and of the two pointers to the Southern Cross, and how it would take one four and a half years to get to Proxima Centauri if you travelled at the speed of light.

‘You’re like my own private Wikipedia,’ he said, plopping an arm lazily on my chest. I went rigid, not knowing what to do. I didn't want to move in case he’d take his hand away. Emboldened. I inched myself closer to him until our legs were just touching. I was getting aroused again. Startled by this, I got up too quickly.

The stars rolled around me as I stumbled.

‘Whoops,’ he said, getting up just in time to catch me. ‘Seems like the beer hasn’t quite left MacLeod yet.’

‘Sorry,’ I mumbled as he helped steady me. His grip was strong and the warmth of his fingers splayed across my neck and shoulder made me shiver.

‘Oh look,’ I said, and pointed at the sky. ‘There’s Leo.’

‘The Lion?'

I nodded.

'Well at least he's free up there.’

I steadied myself. “What do you mean?” He let go of my hand and trailed his hand down to his side.

‘Remember the lion that escaped last year from the zoo in CT?. My mom was so sad when he was caught. Poor guy’s back in a cage.' He took a deep breath and stared up at the sky again, finding the constellation. 'You know, bru, that doesn’t look much like a lion.”

‘That’s because it’s upside-down in the Southern Hemisphere, dufus,” I said, snorting. “But I guess it doesn’t matter, cause lions are like all cats and they’re lazy fuckers who like lying on their backs and pawing at the air. Saw it in a documentary. So maybe Leo is chilling on his back when he comes Southside.’

Chris let out a chuckle. ‘You’re funny when you’re tipsy.’

If he only knew that I was not just drunk from beer.

I realised I was still pointing at the sky. ‘Maybe I should get to bed.’

‘Looks like you could use some rest, for sure.’

What was I thinking? In love with a jock and expecting some fairy tale to magically play out? The crush had gone too far. It was going ruin our friendship. But my heart wanted my brain to shut up. I scrunched up my eyes and focused on psychedelic patterns throbbing behind my lids.

I must have spaced out for a while for the next thing I knew, Chris had sat me down on the bed.

‘What’s happening?’ I asked, confused.

‘Relax, buddy. Why don’t you go brush your teeth?’

‘Okay,’ I said, and yawned. I undressed, and pulled on my pyjama bottoms and a T-shirt. I fumbled for my toiletries and waddled to the en-suite. It felt like I was brushing my teeth forever, trying to get the taste of beer out of my mouth. I wanted a cigarette but knew it would make me puke.

I noticed Chris next to me, wearing only boxers, rinsing his toothbrush. He smiled and wiped his face.

‘Dude. I think your mouth’s pretty clean now after five minutes.’

I blinked.

‘Drink this,’ he said, handing me a glass of water. ‘You’ll feel like shit if you’re dehydrated in the morning.’

I lost a bit of time again, because now he was holding up the blanket for me on my side of the bed. ‘There you go.’

He walked over to his side and plugged in his cell phone in to charge.

‘You okay, Cal?’ he asked, settling himself in.

‘Mmh,’ was all I could say. Lead pushed down on my eyelids.

‘I’m going to read a bit,’ he said. ‘Night, buddy. And thank you for an awesome astronomy lesson.’

I don’t even know if I replied before I fell asleep.

I surfaced at dawn with a jolt. For a moment I didn’t know where I was as I took in the vast expanse of the bed and the rosy light bleeding out of the edges of the curtains. The bedclothes were rising and falling gently and I felt warmth around my entire body.

He was snuggled up right against me, an arm around my waist and another on my shoulder. My shirt had ridden up at the back and I felt his bare torso wedged against me. I felt something else: he had morning wood, a lot of it, and it was pressed against me. I turned my head as much as I could and then saw his beautiful face, fast asleep.

There was nothing I could do but lie still. I didn’t want to wake him. As if on cue, he shifted in his sleep and wrapped his legs around mine.

Abandoning all efforts to get up, I closed my eyes and lost myself in the warmth.

 

2013, 2023 Sean J Halford
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Thank you for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts and comments and greatly appreciate honest feedback from readers.

If you are enjoying this story, feel free to recommend it and/or post a review. 

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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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Chapter Comments

23 minutes ago, JeffreyL said:

I really enjoy the way you describe the interactions between Cal and Chris! Everything feels real! It is easy to see Cal is falling in love. I don't know what to think about Chris. He definitely is enjoying this new friendship,  but I keep thinking he is sending mixed messages. Cal seems to think so too. More good story, and once again I'm anxious for more! Thanks. 

I'm glad I'm ratcheting up the tension for you. As Alfred Hitchchock said, "torture the audience as much as possible" ;) Guess you'll just have to wait until the next chapter!

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@Sean J Halford if I was asked to say one word about this tale I would choose‘ ‘spectacular’. Multiple trips to the dictionary too so thanks for that. Completely tickled that I stumbled upon your tenth anniversary, bru. I could go on and I likely will. This is just plain great. Thank you.

Oh! Love Chris’ taste in music. 

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You ain't the only one....

Then I saw him, as if for the first time. The dying sun had caught him in silhouette, and his damp mop of hair was lit up, glowing in the amber rays. He looked like a young lion with a mane of gold, and the contours of his torso segued into the pink light like so many dunes in a vast desert. The heat from his body formed tiny circles around him, like dust storms traversing a great planet.

I was hard and dizzy and breathless.

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20 hours ago, Dan South said:

@Sean J Halford if I was asked to say one word about this tale I would choose‘ ‘spectacular’. Multiple trips to the dictionary too so thanks for that. Completely tickled that I stumbled upon your tenth anniversary, bru. I could go on and I likely will. This is just plain great. Thank you.

Oh! Love Chris’ taste in music. 

I think I need you to compile a list of these dictionary outings since I was an English tutor way back as an undergrad and this makes me so happy to hear. Though I wonder if I'm being a little too purple with my prose sometimes. 

Glad you like Chris's music; maybe I should make a Spotify playlist at the end... 

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1 hour ago, drsawzall said:

You ain't the only one....

Then I saw him, as if for the first time. The dying sun had caught him in silhouette, and his damp mop of hair was lit up, glowing in the amber rays. He looked like a young lion with a mane of gold, and the contours of his torso segued into the pink light like so many dunes in a vast desert. The heat from his body formed tiny circles around him, like dust storms traversing a great planet.

I was hard and dizzy and breathless.

I'm pretty proud of that one. It just came to me in a flash; I think I typed that paragraph on my phone with one hand at work.

I usually squirm when reading through my earlier stuff, worrying that it's too on the nose. So hearing from readers that there are bits that still work means a lot to me.

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On 6/9/2023 at 9:40 PM, drsawzall said:

You ain't the only one....

Then I saw him, as if for the first time. The dying sun had caught him in silhouette, and his damp mop of hair was lit up, glowing in the amber rays. He looked like a young lion with a mane of gold, and the contours of his torso segued into the pink light like so many dunes in a vast desert. The heat from his body formed tiny circles around him, like dust storms traversing a great planet.

I was hard and dizzy and breathless.

That was hawt ❤️🌈

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I really don’t want Bella and Rob to show up at the cabin 

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11 minutes ago, Gary L said:

The prose is perfect 👍 

You're too kind, sir. Pleased you are enjoying.

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On 6/18/2023 at 10:35 PM, Bft said:

I really don’t want Bella and Rob to show up at the cabin 

Neither did I, neither did I 🤣 I felt genuinely bad for my make-believe lads when I wrote this XD

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I’m v pleased both with the story and the memories it has provoked.  And now to sleep. So tempted to continue but classes tomorrow 👿👿👿.  

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