Running Toward Love (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6

Leo walked into the cafeteria and looked around. He saw that Reese wasn’t at the table where the track team and cheerleaders usually sat. Leo breathed a sigh of relief and turned to go, heading in the opposite direction. Maybe he could find a quiet table to eat quickly and escape unseen. He knew he had to have a conversation with Reese, but he wasn’t ready.

Leo hadn’t taken two steps before hearing Reese’s voice behind him. “Did I do something wrong, Leo?”

Leo spun around. “What?! No! Of course not. Why would you think that?”

“You’ve been avoiding me all day. First on the bus,” Reese shrugged. “I thought you might have been busy, but then there were a few more times in the hallway that I waved to you, and you nearly ran the other way.” Reese looked sad.

Leo sighed. “You did nothing wrong, Reese. Come with me, and I’ll explain.” Leo led Reese out of the cafeteria and into an empty classroom. “Sit. Please.”

Reese looked worried, but he sat. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”

Leo huffed out a nervous laugh. “I never said that nothing was wrong. I said you didn’t do anything wrong. Me? I’m a hot mess right now.”

“I know we’re still getting to know each other, but you can tell me anything, Leo. What’s wrong?”

“I hope you still feel that way after hearing what I have to tell you.”

Reese arched an eyebrow. “I guess I won’t know until I hear it.”

“I had sex with Charlie last night. Well, oral sex, but, yes, I had sex with him.”

Reese looked down and blushed. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because when I woke up this morning, I didn’t wake up thinking about him. I woke up thinking about you. I’m not sure what’s happening between us, but I hope I didn’t screw it up. I don’t even know if you’re interested in me like that. Maybe I’m telling you all this, and you don’t even care.” Leo huffed out a laugh.

Reese’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was hanging open. “Wow. I’m in shock right now.” Reese ran both his hands through his hair and took a deep breath. “I’ve been crushing on you hard ever since the first night I met you on the beach.” Leo started to say something, but Reese put a finger up. “Please let me get this all out.” Leo nodded, and Reese continued. “When you told me that you were dating a tourist, I assumed, which is never a good idea, that you were a typical player who was only looking for short-term satisfaction. I asked around about you at school, and what I heard didn’t mesh with you being a player, so I was a little confused. I still hadn’t decided if I should pursue my crush, and then you passed out in the cafeteria. The more I learned about your history with that Jasper dude, the more I believed you were a good and kind person, not a player.” Reese grinned. “And the story of how you met Charlie, I can see why you fell for him. It must have been like a scene out of a movie.” Then Reese’s expression grew serious again. “If Matt ever tries anything like that again, I’ll pummel him worse than Charlie did.”

“Can I talk now?” Leo grinned.

Reese shrugged. “I guess.” Then he smirked.

“You’re right. I did fall for Charlie that day on the beach. I had been lonely and depressed for so long, and then he saved me. It didn’t hurt that he’s so cute. My head told me I was stupid, but I followed my heart and pursued things with him. Then you showed up. I immediately felt drawn to you. Even if Charlie wasn’t a tourist, I’d still choose you, Reese. The way you were able to calm my anxiety attack, the way you stood up for me to Jazz, the connection I felt on the beach yesterday, your beautiful brown eyes, all of it. If I haven’t screwed it up and made you hate me, I’d like to ask you out on a date.”

A million thoughts and feelings were buzzing through Reese. He tried to calm his mind and heart to clearly express himself to the boy he was falling madly in love with. “I felt the connection on the beach yesterday, too. I trusted you completely, or I would never have gone into the water with you. When Charlie showed up, I didn’t want you to go. I should have tried to stop you, but I didn’t. I should have told you that I wanted you to be going on a date with me, but I didn’t. Whatever happened last night, we weren’t together. You were on a date with a gorgeous guy. Whatever happened, happened.” Reese stood and pulled Leo to his feet. Reese took both of Leo’s hands in his own and stared deep into his eyes. “But,” Reese raised his eyebrows and smirked. “Now that you’ve asked me out, you’ll get a completely different reaction from me if anything else happens.”

“So, is that a yes then? Do you wanna go out with me?”

“Yes, but don’t you already have a date tonight?” Reese arched an eyebrow.

Leo sighed. “Yeah, and I need to talk to him and explain everything. I don’t want to leave him hanging. I want to be as honest with him as I was with you.”

“I understand. Keep your date with Charlie tonight but tell him everything and no funny business!” Reese grinned.

“Yessir! What about our afterschool swimming lesson? Are we still on for that?”

“Absolutely. I need to tell you the rest of my conditions for your date tonight and the conditions for dating me.” Reese smirked.

“I’m sure I’ll agree to everything you say,” Leo said as he leaned toward Reese to kiss him.

Reese covered Leo’s mouth with his hand. “No way. Not until you’ve broken up with Charlie.” Leo tried to speak, but Reese still had his hand pressed up against Leo’s mouth. Reese grinned and removed his hand. The boys heard the school bell ring signaling the end of lunch.

Leo sighed. “I’ll break up with him tonight, and we can go on a date tomorrow. Maybe then you’ll kiss me.”

“Maybe. We’ll see. It’ll have to be a proper date, though.” Reese winked. “Right now, we have to get to class. I’ll see you on the beach after school.” The two boys bumped fists, walked out into the hallway, and went to their next class.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo fist-bumped Reese as he walked toward the back of the school bus, then leaned down and put his lips right next to the other boy’s ear. “I’ll see you in about twenty minutes. Be ready to get wet.” Reese blushed as he watched Leo stroll down the aisle to sit next to Brandon.

Brandon smirked. “You look happier than you were this morning. Did you get laid during lunch?”

Leo rolled his eyes. “You’re such a pig.”

“It’s a legitimate question!” Bran laughed. “Well, what happened? I saw the two of you sneak off, and you were gone the whole lunch period.”

Kameron sat down in the seat in front of Brandon and Leo. “So? Did you talk to him then? Tell us!”

“If you two will shut up, maybe I can tell you!”

“Ok! Ok!” Brandon and Kam said in unison.

“We had the talk that I told you both that we needed to have.” Leo shrugged. “Reese was ok with what happened. He said he expected it, but Reese also said that he has a crush on me and regretted not trying to stop me from going on a date with Charlie.”

“I knew it! That’s awesome!” Kam said.

So, what happens now? Are you dating Reese?” Bran asked.

“Let me finish,” Leo said. “Anyway, Reese and I agreed that I need to keep my date with Charlie tonight, but only talk to him and tell him that I want to be with Reese. Reese told me that, though what I did last night was fine with him, I can forget about dating him if I do anything with Charlie tonight.”

“That’s fair. I agree one hundred percent.” Brandon said.

“Is Reese your boyfriend now?” Kam asked.

Leo sighed. “Not officially. After I break it off with Charlie, we will revisit that conversation, but I am meeting Reese on the beach for his swimming lesson.”

“So, two dates, two nights in a row. What a player.” Kam smirked.

“I’m not even that bad.” Bran chimed in.

“You both know better than that!” Leo blushed.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Come on, bro. This is our stop.” Kam said, and the two brothers got off the bus. Leo hurried into the house to get ready for the swimming lesson and pack a change of clothes in his backpack for his date with Charlie.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo jumped the fence, his bare feet landing softly in the sand on the other side. He scanned the beach and spotted Reese sitting in the same spot he was yesterday. Reese wore only a pair of navy-blue swimming trunks. His pale skin glistened with sweat in the afternoon heat. Leo could tell that Reese was nervous because he was sitting with his knees pulled up against his chest. Leo walked over and sat next to him. “You look ready to go in the water, but you don’t exactly look like you’re excited to get out there.”

Reese nodded his head but wrapped his arms tighter around his knees. “I’m not excited, but I wanna do this. I have to do this. With you, I know I can do it.” He looked at Leo and smiled.

“Then let’s get started.” Leo got up. He stood right in front of Reese, and he slowly pulled his t-shirt up and over his head before tossing it onto the sand. Leo smirked, extended his hands to Reese, and pulled the other boy to his feet.

Reese blushed and arched an eyebrow at Leo. “You did that on purpose.”

Leo pretended to be shocked. “Whatever do you mean?”

Reese huffed out a laugh. “The way you pulled your shirt off like a stripper. You have the body for it. You’d make a lot of money.” Reese winked.

Leo grinned. “Flattery will get you everywhere. Now let’s get you wet.”

“In the ocean, or….” Reese waggled his eyebrows.

“Wow. Now you are making me blush. Let’s start with the ocean and see where that leads us.” Leo led Reese down to the water’s edge and stopped. “Are you ready?”

Reese took a deep breath and stepped into the water. He kept a tight grip on Leo’s hand, allowing himself to be led deeper and deeper into the ocean. Reese stopped when the water was chest high. “I think this is far enough for today, Leo. It’s… it’s further than yesterday.”

Leo smiled. “You’re doing awesome. Do you wanna try floating?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can.”

“I’ll be right here. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Ok. What do I do?”

“Let go of my hand so that I can get behind you. Then lean back. As soon as you feel my arms supporting your back, lift your legs straight out.”

Reese did what Leo was telling him. “I don’t think it’s working. You’re holding me up, but I don’t think I’m floating.”

Leo leaned down with his lips nearly touching Reese’s ear. “Close your eyes and relax. Listen to my voice and let your mind drift. Imagine yourself weightless and floating in space naked.” Leo lowered his arms, and Reese continued floating on top of the water. “You’re doing it, babe. You’re floating through space. Too bad you’re not naked.”

Reese’s eyes popped open. “I’m really doing it?!” He lifted his head, and he lost his concentration. Reese’s body started to sink, and he began to flail his arms and legs.

Leo reached out and wrapped his arms around Reese. “Hey. Hey. We’re still right where we were. Push your feet down and stand up. It’s ok. I got you. I’m right here.”

Reese stood up, but he leaned heavily against Leo. “Can we go back now?”

“Sure. You did great, Reese. You floated.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Reese grinned. “Maybe I’ll do even better tomorrow.”

“Of course, you will. You got this.” Leo led Reese back onto the beach and to where he left his backpack. “It’s nearly time for Charlie to be meeting me here. I need to run to the changing room, dry off, and get dressed. I guess I’ll see you at the bus stop in the morning?”

Reese sighed. “I hate that I’m standing here letting you get ready to go out with another guy, but I know you have to.” Reese’s eyes narrowed. “Make sure you do everything just like we talked about, Leo. I trust you. Don’t screw it up.”

“I won’t screw it up. I’ll tell Charlie everything. I’ll end it with him tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Leo put his hand out to fist bump, but Reese pulled him in for a hug. Reese put his lips right next to Leo’s ear. “Behave yourself tonight.” Then he turned and ran off into the parking lot. Leo rolled his eyes and walked toward the beach changing room.

————————————————————————————————————

When Leo returned to the beach, he saw Charlie waiting for him. Charlie stood near the water’s edge, staring out over the ocean. Leo walked up next to him and bumped Charlie’s shoulder with his own. “Hey, cutie, you come here often?”

Charlie smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I got here early, but I saw you were busy, so I stayed back and waited.”

“Charlie, I…”

“Before you say anything else, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“Ok. Go ahead. I’m listening.”

“My dad called my mum. I hoped we’d stay longer, but we’re flying home tomorrow morning.” Charlie turned so he was staring straight into Leo’s eyes. “My biggest wish is that you don’t regret what happened with us no matter what happens between you and Reese. Last night was the best night of my life. I hope you don’t remember it as a mistake. You’ll always be special to me, Leo.” Charlie had tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

Leo reached out and took both of Charlie’s hands. “Maybe it might seem like it to some people since I’m dating a tourist,” Leo blushed and smirked. “But I don’t do things like last night on a whim. Last night was awesome, and I will never forget you, Charlie. I honestly don’t know what’s happening between Reese and me, but whatever it is, It’s only possible because of you.”

“What do you mean?” Charlie looked confused.

“I’ve been in a dark place since the breakup with Jazz. The beating I took from Matt very well could have sent me into an even darker spiral, but then there you were. My guardian angel. That’s what I called you. You saved me from Matt, but you also saved me from myself. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be in a place to accept love from anyone, not from you, not from Reese, not even from myself.”

Charlie pulled Leo in for a hug. “That makes me happier than you can ever know. I’m glad I was there on the beach that day.” Charlie released the hug. “I won’t try to kiss you. I don’t want to mess up whatever you got going on with Reese. He adores you, Leo. I won’t ask if you two have talked about that, but I saw it in his eyes yesterday.”

Leo blushed. “Yep. There will be no kissing tonight. As I said, I don’t know what Reese and I have, but he wouldn’t even let me ask him out until I talked to you. I do like him, and I know he likes me. I’m just gonna take it one day at a time.”

Charlie grinned. “I like that he’s making you wait. It proves that he likes you and wants to do things right. I’m happy for you, Leo.”

“Thanks, Charlie. I’m glad you’re being so cool about this.” Leo shrugged. “Are you ready to head to the aquarium now?”

Charlie arched an eyebrow. “Are we still going on our date?”

Leo pulled two tickets out of his pocket and grinned. “I have two tickets to the aquarium, and I also have dinner reservations at the Pebble Cove Steak Loft. It’s not a date anymore, but I’d like to take my friend from Australia out to have a good time on his last night in the USA.”

Charlie smiled. “That sounds fun. Let’s go.”

————————————————————————————————————

Leo and Charlie walked out of the aquarium, both boys laughing. “That was fun,” Charlie said. “I’m happy we went even though it wasn’t a date.”

Leo winked. “Friends can hang out, too.”

“You know it’s not as simple as that.”

Leo blushed. “I know. I wanted you to have a fun last day of your vacation. You deserve it. You’re a great guy, Charlie.”

“You are, too. Now, who’s ready for steak?” Charlie said, licking his lips.

“I’m always ready for steak and fries.” Leo laughed as they walked across the street toward the restaurant. “What was your favorite part of the aquarium?”

“The penguins. Definitely the penguins. I loved that we were there at feeding time. It was so cool! What about you? What’s your favorite part of the aquarium?”

“The penguins are cute, and the manta ray is super cool, but I love the two-story tropical fish tank in the main room. I could stare at that for hours. I go there a lot. It’s like my Zen spot. I look at all the brightly colored fish and zone out. I have a fish tank in my bedroom. It’s so relaxing.”

“One of my uncles took me scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. You would love that! Someday you can be a tourist in my town. You can even bring Reese if you want.” Charlie grinned.

“Australia is bucket list material for sure.” Leo looked around. “Here comes the waiter with our food. Perfect timing!”

————————————————————————————————————

After they finished eating, Leo started scanning the dessert menu. “Are you up for dessert? I might just get a fudge brownie.”

“I couldn’t eat another bite, but I will get two slices of the double chocolate mousse cake to-go. It’ll be a nice treat for my mom and me after we’ve finished packing tonight.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet of you! So, let’s grab these desserts to-go and then get out of here.”

“Yeah, and I should head home. I do have to pack.” Charlie shrugged.

“Ok. My turn to walk you home then.” Leo said as they walked out the door and headed toward the lighthouse.

They got to the driveway leading to the lighthouse cabin, and Charlie stopped and turned toward Leo. “This is far enough. Thank you, Leo. Thank you for an unforgettable three and a half days. I’ll never forget you.”

Leo pulled Charlie into a hug. “I’ll never forget you either. Remember that you promised to be my tour guide when I visit Australia.”

Charlie grinned. “I can’t wait! Take care of yourself, Leo, and take care of that boy of yours. Make sure he learns to swim before you two visit the land down under. We have lots of impressive beaches!”

“I will do that. Have a safe flight.” With one last hug, a bump of their fists, and tears in their eyes, the boys said their final goodbyes. Leo headed back onto the beach, and Charlie went into the lighthouse cabin to pack for his flight home.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo walked along the beach, heading home. He was happy with the way things went with Charlie. Leo wouldn’t change one minute of his time with the Aussie. He knew that Charlie wasn’t staying long, but it was fun while it lasted. The relationship helped Leo on the road to getting past Jazz. He was finally happy again. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Leo became aware of movement. He couldn’t see far in the growing darkness, but Leo realized he was in the exact area of the beach where Matt ambushed him a few days ago. Leo quickened his pace, but he heard a familiar voice call out. “Leo! Wait up!” It was Reese. Leo grinned from ear to ear and turned to wait for Reese to catch up.

“It looked like you sped up. I hope I didn’t scare you yelling like that out of the dark.” Reese said once he caught up to Leo.

Leo shrugged. “Maybe just a little. This spot is where I had the encounter with Matt.”

“Oh, Leo, I’m sorry. I… I should have waited until tomorrow morning to talk to you anyway.” Reese said with downcast eyes.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. What were you doing out here so late anyway? Stalking me?” Leo smirked.

“No! Well, mostly no,” Reese said sheepishly. “Me and my little brother were out walking our dogs, and I saw you and Charlie heading toward the lighthouse. After Ryan and the dogs went home, I decided to wait for you to come back.” He shrugged. “I was curious how things went when you talked to him.”

Leo’s eyes knitted together in concentration. “I didn’t know you had a brother or had dogs. We’re just at the beginning of the ‘getting to know you’ stage, aren’t we?”

Reese nodded. “For sure. I have met your brother, and I know he runs cross country with you, but you’re right. We have a lot to learn about each other. I’m looking forward to it.” Reese smiled shyly.

“I am, too. To answer your earlier question, my date went as well as expected. As it turns out, Charlie is flying back to Australia tomorrow morning. If I hadn’t broken up with him, he was leaving anyway.”

“Did you tell him about us?”

“Yes. Charlie understood. He said that he thought something was between us when he saw the looks we were giving each other on the beach yesterday. I’m not sure what he meant by that.” Leo blushed.

Reese rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure about you, but I know I was giving you some looks.” Reese grinned. “I wanted to ask you out yesterday, but then he was there, and you were gone before I could get the courage. You’re all mine now, though.” Reese winked.

Leo cocked his head to the side. “I like the sound of that.” He smirked.

“You better.” Reese’s grin broadened. “I have to say that I trust that you’d never cheat on me or anyone, but I’m not disappointed that he will be ten thousand miles away after tomorrow.”

“After what happened with Jazz, I wouldn’t cheat ever. You wouldn’t have to worry even if he lived next door.”

“I believe you. I’m sorry I even said that.”

“It’s ok. I understand. I would feel the same way if I were in your place.”

Reese glanced at his phone. “It’s getting late. I should get back home. I’ll see you at the bus stop in the morning. Goodnight, Leo.” The boys bumped fists and went their separate ways.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo slumped onto the couch next to his sister. “What’re you watching, Alli?”

“Nancy Drew. It’s rather weird, but I like it. You would, too.”

Leo shrugged. “I’ll check it out. You know my tv tastes. I’m sure I’ll like it.”

Dad interrupted. “You’ve been going out right after school every night this week. Have you been keeping up with your homework? You need to keep your grades up if you’re playing school sports.”

“Yes, dad, I’m keeping up with my homework, and we haven’t had any tests or quizzes yet. We’ve only been back three days.”

His father arched an eyebrow. “I’m just checking, Leo. That’s my job. I’m proud of you for getting your brother involved.”

“Cross country and track was Kam’s idea. I got him into running, but he wanted to join the team. I will always support my brother.” He smiled over at Allison. “And my sister, too.”

Alli giggled. “You better.”

Leo’s dad heaved a heavy sigh. “You remind me a lot of my brother.”

“You don’t mention Uncle kai very often. I’m proud to be like him.”

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes with both of you. I was bitter with kai for leaving me in that house alone with your grandmother. Eventually, her way of thinking became mine without him as a buffer. That’s no excuse for how I’ve treated you the last few months, though, son. I can only say that I will try to do better. You know I love you, right?”

Leo had tears in his eyes. “Yeah, dad, I know. I love you, too.” He got up from the couch. “I need a snack. Alli, do you need anything?”

Allison got up as well. “I’ll help you pick something out.”

Running Toward Love (Chapter 5)

Chapter 5

“You know what? I tried, Leo. I tried. I’m out of here.” Jazz turned and left the athletic field.

“Smart choice!” Reese yelled after him and then turned to face Leo.

Leo nearly collapsed into Reese’s arms and sobbed uncontrollably onto the taller boy’s shoulder. Reese hesitated at first but wrapped his arms around Leo and held him close. Finally, Leo regained control of his emotions and stepped back. Reese begrudgingly released Leo from the hug.

Leo wiped his eyes and looked at Reese. “I’m sorry. I tried to show up and watch you practice, but then….” He trailed off.

“I saw you heading this way. Then I saw that other dude, and the conversation looked pretty tense. Practice was almost over anyway, so Becca didn’t even care that I took off.”

“Did you hear any of that?”

“I heard enough to know that you were right not to forgive him. He’s toxic, Leo. Especially after what happened at lunch and now what happened here, you’re right to stay as far away from him as possible.”

Leo sighed. “Thank you again. You saved me twice today. Are we still on for later?”

“Of course. Just let me grab my backpack out of the locker room, and I’ll walk you home.” Reese blushed, and they crossed the street and went into the locker room.

“You don’t have to do that. I’ll meet you on the beach in like half an hour.” Leo said as they grabbed their backpacks and walked back to the street.

“It’s no problem, Leo. I go right past your house to get to mine. Come on.” Reese extended his hand to Leo without even realizing what he was doing. Leo took it, and their fingers entwined. Hand in hand, the two boys walked off school property and headed home.

———————————————————————————————————-

Leo was nearly bouncing through the house as he rushed to get ready to go out. The only thing was that Leo wasn’t sure if he was more excited to meet up with Reese on the beach or for his date with Charlie later that evening. Combine that with the emotional confrontation with Jazz, and Leo was a big bundle of dizzying emotions. After a quick shower, Leo hurriedly dressed in tan board shorts and a sky-blue tank top. He was slipping into a pair of sneakers when his brother walked into the room.

“Hey, bro. What took you so long to get home? Gettin’ busy with the cheerleader behind the bleachers?” Kam waggled his eyebrows.

Leo rolled his eyes. “No. It’s not like that.” Leo sighed. “I had another confrontation with Jazz.”

“What?!” Kam nearly yelled. “Are you ok? Was it physical?”

“Calm down, Kameron. I’m fine. No, it wasn’t physical. He was looking for forgiveness like that’s ever gonna happen. It was verbal, but it did get a little heated. Then, for the second time today, Reese was there and scared Jazz away.” Leo grinned.

“I’m starting to like this guy. Why don’t you cancel on that tourist and make your hang-out time with Reese into an actual date?”

Leo sighed. “Why don’t you worry about your own love life or lack thereof, and I’ll worry about mine. I like Charlie. I know he’s a tourist, but I like him.”

“I’m just tryin’ to look out for you, big bro. You headin’ out now?”

“I’d already be out the door if you hadn’t stopped me.” Leo winked.

“Fine. Fine. Go. Just remember what I said. You should be dating Reese.”

Leo rolled his eyes and nearly ran out the door.

———————————————————————————————————-

Leo hopped the fence and stepped out onto the sand. He stopped and looked around and immediately spotted Reese off to his left. Reese was sitting cross-legged on the grass between the parking lot and the beach. As soon as Reese spotted Leo walking toward him, he got up, stretched, and sat on a park bench. Leo sat down and smiled. “Fancy meeting you here. Do you come here often?”

“To be honest, I wouldn’t be here except this adorable, charming guy asked me to meet him here.” Reese shook his head and laughed. Leo’s heart skipped a beat as he watched the light brown curls fall perfectly back into place around a face that was even more handsome when Reese smiled. Reese noticed the intense look that Leo was giving him, and he blushed.

“Aw, come on. This is a beautiful spot to stare out at the ocean and think. I come here a lot, and this is the beach where my brother and I run almost every morning.”

“This will not be my place of Zen. I won’t be here at all unless I am here with you. I’m not a fan of the water.”

“Don’t you swim? You’re from D.C., right? Even if you don’t go to the beach, what about pools? I love the water. I swim almost as much as I run.”

Reese frowned. “This isn’t usually my ‘get to know me’ conversation starter, but I almost drowned when I was six years old. I haven’t been in the water since. I sometimes even have a little anxiety in the shower. I guess that’s why I knew how to help you calm down earlier. I’ve been there.”

Leo reached out and put a comforting hand on Reese’s shoulder. “Maybe we have a lot more in common than either of us realize.”

Reese looked questioningly at Leo, but he remained quiet.

Leo shrugged. “It’s a story for another day.” Then Leo smiled, his eyes twinkling. “Do you trust me, Reese?”

Reese cocked his head to the side. “I barely know you, but, yes, I think I do trust you.” Then he raised one eyebrow. “Why do you ask?”

Leo stood and turned to face Reese. “Take off your shoes and socks.” His eyes raked up and down Reese’s body. “And your shirt.”

Reese smirked. “Can I keep my shorts and undies on?”

Leo huffed out a laugh as he took his shoes and socks off. “What kind of undies are we talking about?”

Reese let out a loud laugh. “Boxer briefs if you must know.”

Leo stripped off his shirt and piled it on top of his shoes. “In that case, it should be safe to take off your shorts if you want.”

“I think I’ll keep them on… for now. What are we doing?”

“Going into the water.”

“What?! I just told you….”

Leo reached out and took Reese’s hand. “I will be right there the whole time. I will not let go. We don’t have to go in too far. And just like you told me this morning, you will always be safe with me around.”

Reese blushed. “You heard that?”

“I heard everything. I couldn’t answer at the time, but I heard everything.”

Reese sighed. “Ok. I’ll go.” He turned to look directly into Leo’s eyes. “Promise me that you won’t let go.”

Leo held tighter to Reese’s hand. “I promise that I will not let go.” Hand in hand, the two boys walked toward the water’s edge.

Reese felt the cold, wet sand squishing between his toes and felt the waves splashing against his legs. He looked down and saw that he was up to his knees in the ocean. He looked nervously over at Leo, his eyes pleading. “Can we go back now?”

Leo smiled. “Yeah. You went in further than I thought you would. Maybe next time, you’ll go even further!”

Reese’s eyes widened. “Next time?! I’m not sure about that!” He turned and started to walk out of the ocean, but his foot slipped, and he fell, dragging Leo down on top of him. Both boys tumbled and rolled around in the wet sand and shallow water. Reese let out a rather high-pitched scream, and Leo scrambled to his feet and pulled the other boy beyond the reach of the splashing waves.

Leo plopped back down on the sand and looked over at Reese. “Are you ok? I should have had a tighter hold on you. The wet sand can be slippery, especially if you’re not used to it.”

“Not your fault. I’m not usually that klutzy. I’m just glad that I didn’t hurt my ankle. That would have screwed up my chances at the cheer squad!”

“Maybe we better test out your ankle.” Leo got up and extended a hand to help Reese to his feet. He pulled Reese up and slipped an arm around the other boy’s waist to support him while he tested his ankle. With an arm still wrapped around the waist of the wet and shirtless Reese, Leo turned his head and found himself staring into Charlie’s dark brown eyes.

“Oh! Hey! Hi! Oh my, God, what time is it?” Leo sputtered.

Charlie’s face was expressionless. “Nearly six. I am a little early. Am I interrupting? Do you want to cancel our,” He glanced from Reese back to Leo. “date… or whatever it is. Should I leave?”

“No!” Leo nearly yelled. “I’m so sorry. You’re not so much early as I am late. This isn’t,” He motioned at Reese and himself. “what it looks like it is. Reese is a friend. I’m going to be teaching him how to swim. Today was the first lesson, and time got away from me. Please don’t leave.”

Reese raised his eyebrows. “Swimming lessons? You’d do that for me?”

Leo grinned. “Of course. I’ll see you back here tomorrow. Do you have cheer practice? I can be here at three instead of four tomorrow. No practice for me.”

“Three works for me, too. I’ll see you at school tomorrow anyway.” Reese turned his gaze onto Charlie. “It was nice to meet you. Have fun tonight.” Then Reese walked off the beach, through the parking lot, and out of sight.

Leo focused his attention entirely on Charlie. “I am sorry about that. Let me throw my shirt and shoes on, and we can start our date.”

“Do you need to get changed or anything?”

“I hadn’t planned on getting my hair wet, but it’ll dry in no time.” Leo waved at the cloudless sunny sky.

“Where are we off to then? Another carnival?” Charlie waggled his eyebrows.

Leo blushed. “I thought we could walk around the Village. It’s a bunch of shops and restaurants and decorations but set up to look like a colonial village. Then, later, maybe a moonlit walk along the beach. We’ll see what happens from there.” Leo was still blushing as he gave Charlie a shy smile.

“I am on board with that plan.” Charlie grinned and sat next to Leo while Leo put his shoes, socks, and shirt back on. Then they left the beach and walked toward Pebble Beach Village.

———————————————————————————————————-

Leo and Charlie walked through the Village eating ice cream cones. “This is cool. It’s like an outdoor mall but themed to colonial America.” Charlie said.

“I’ve been here so often that I barely notice that anymore, but I suppose it’s cool if you’re an Aussie tourist,” Leo smirked.

Charlie grinned. “Exactly! I’m sure that I’d feel the same way showing you some of the places back home in Australia.”

Leo finished his ice cream cone, threw his napkin away, and took Charlie’s hand. He arched one eyebrow. “Are you ready for that moonlit stroll on the beach?”

“Absolutely.” Charlie grinned.

They got to the beach, and Leo asked. “Which way do you want to go? I can show you cool places and secluded areas in either direction.”

“Can we head to the lighthouse first so that I can get rid of these shopping bags?”

“Good idea. Let’s go.”

———————————————————————————————————-

After Charlie dropped his bags off at the lighthouse, the two boys walked back up the beach toward Leo’s house. Leo took Charlie’s hand and pulled him toward a hidden trail halfway there. The steep path wound its way through a small grove of trees and ended at a cliff overlooking the ocean.

“Oh wow, this is beautiful, Leo. Is this where you bring all the boys?” Charlie winked.

Leo rolled his eyes and grinned. “There’s only ever been one other boy, and we did come up here, so, technically, the answer to your question is yes.”

“How can someone as beautiful as you not have dozens of guys fighting to be your boyfriend?”

“I’m picky.” Leo shrugged.

“What about…”

Leo leaned in and kissed Charlie. Charlie was still trying to talk, so Leo cupped the back of his neck and pulled him in closer. Leo traced the edges of Charlie’s lips with his tongue and then dove in, their tongues battling for dominance. Leo broke the kiss only long enough to pull Charlie’s shirt over his head.

Charlie still hesitated. “Are you sure you wanna do this? What about that guy….”

Leo pulled his shirt off and tossed it on the ground. “I am sure that I want to do this. I am single, and I like you, Charlie. I like you a lot. I know you won’t be here for long, and I accept that. I don’t know what will happen after you leave. Will we try to make it work? Will things between Reese and me change? I don’t know.” Leo shrugged. “But right now, I want to rock your world if you want me to.” Leo winked and started unbuttoning his jeans.

“That’s good enough for me,” Charlie said with a grin as he stripped out of the rest of his clothes.

———————————————————————————————————-

Leo and Charlie sat naked, wrapped in each other’s arms, looking out at the ocean. Leo blushed and looked over at Charlie. “Are you disappointed that we didn’t do…. that?”

“What?! Disappointed?! No way! What we did was beyond amazing. I know that you know that that was the first time I ever even went that far, right? I told you that behind the carnival.”

Leo smiled. “Eighteen and never had a blowjob. I’m honored to be your first. You did awesome for a first-timer, by the way. You’ll make some Aussie boy incredibly happy someday.” Leo huffed out a laugh.

Charlie blushed and grinned. “I hope I made you happy today.”

“Oh, you did. You definitely did. I haven’t been with anyone other than myself in months. I really enjoyed that, especially since it was you.” Leo sighed. “Why can’t you just move here permanently!”

Charlie leaned in and kissed Leo softly. “I can’t. I told you all that. I have obligations back home.”

Leo snaked his fingers through Charlie’s hair and kissed him back. The kiss continued until both boys had to break apart, breathless.

Charlie’s face was flushed, and he was breathing heavily. “If you keep kissing me like that, I might need to go for round two.”

Leo smirked. “Oh, I fully intended for a round two.” He placed a hand flat against Charlie’s smooth, firm chest and pushed him down onto the grass.

———————————————————————————————————-

The two boys walked off the trail and onto the beach, still buttoning buttons and tucking in shirts. They took a turn and headed toward Leo’s house. “Gonna be cutting it close to curfew, but I should make it. Tonight was a lot of fun, Charlie.” Leo grinned.

“A night that I will never forget,” Charlie said with a dreamy smile plastered on his face.

“Are you free tomorrow night? I don’t want to intrude on any plans you have with your mom.”

“I’ll work something out and text you the details.” Charlie motioned toward the fence bordering the beach. “I believe this is your stop, sir.” He grinned.

Leo walked up to the fence, then turned and leaned against it. He grabbed the front of Charlie’s shirt and pulled him in close. Leo looked up into the taller boy’s eyes. “What were we thinking? What have we done to ourselves?”

“Do you regret it?”

“No, I don’t regret it. I’d do it again, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt.”

“I know. Let’s just keep taking this one day at a time. Tonight was amazing. You are beyond amazing.”

“So are you.” Leo kissed Charlie then pulled back. “All I’m trying to say is that I hope we don’t get our hearts broken by this. You’re leaving any day now, and you’re not moving a couple of towns away. You are going ten thousand miles away to the other side of the world. You’re going back home, and you have no intention of coming back anytime soon.”

“We both knew that going into this. Maybe this was a mistake, but I regret nothing. The entire purpose of this trip to America was to experience new things. To see and do things that I’ve never seen or done. I thought New York and Boston would be the highlights of my American adventure. I expected Pebble Cove to be just a blip on the map. Tall ships and sea museums sounded fun, but they didn’t sound life-altering. Then I met a boy on the beach who turned my time here into the best couple of days of my life.” Charlie leaned down for a kiss. “And we still have tomorrow to add to that. For now, let’s not think past tomorrow, ok?”

“I can do that. Nothing exists past tomorrow, but I have to get in the house in less than five minutes for us to get to tomorrow. Stupid curfew!” Leo laughed.

Charlie cupped the back of Leo’s neck and kissed him. He sucked on Leo’s bottom lip and gently bit it, then he pulled back and grinned. “Every bit of you tastes sweet enough to eat.”

Leo grinned. “Right back at ya, babe.” Then he turned, jumped the fence, and sprinted toward his house.

———————————————————————————————————-

The sun barely peeked over the horizon as Kam turned his head to look at his brother. “Late nights are becoming a habit for you, big bro. I was awake before you again.”

“We got out here at the usual time, didn’t we?” Leo chuckled as they ran toward the lighthouse.

“Barely.” Kam laughed. “How was your date? And your pre-date date?”

“Don’t start with me, Kameron. Ugh! Six months… six months! I was miserably single and heartbroken. There were days when I even briefly… briefly I said… considered going back to Jazz. Now I find someone, yes he is a tourist, but still… I find someone I like, and then the perfect boy shows up in town!”

“Perfect boy? It kind of sounds like you’ve made your decision. I will agree that the tourist is a hottie, but so is Reese. And Reese lives here. No-brainer in my book.”

“Should we talk about the fact that that is the third time you’ve called a guy hot in the last couple of days? Do you have any news of your own to share, little brother?”

“I’m fourteen. I’m allowed to be curious, right?” Kam laughed. “But, lately, I’ve been admiring both guys and girls. Don’t even ask which I like better. I don’t even know. Both, I guess.” Kam shrugged as they continued running up the beach. “Back to you, bro. What’re you going to do with your two boys? I really can’t picture you juggling them both. You’re not the type.”

“You don’t even know how right you are. There’s no way I could ever juggle two relationships. I don’t even want to try. I took things to another level with Charlie last night, but now all I can think about is Reese. I have to figure out what I want before Charlie goes home, and I ruin my chances with Reese, and I end up alone again.”

“Wait. Hold up. Did you have sex with the tourist last night?”

“You know his name is Charlie, Kam. You can stop saying tourist, and yes, I guess? Oral sex, to be exact. Twice.”

Kam shook his head. “I think that was a mistake, but since you and Reese aren’t a thing yet, you didn’t cheat. I know you must like Charlie a lot to do that, but get your head out of your ass, bro. He’s flying halfway around the world in another day or two, and you’ll never see him again. A long-distance relationship from here to Boston wouldn’t work, never mind one from here to Australia.”

“You’re right. I just need to make sure that I’m not settling for Reese. I need to make sure that I’m choosing him because it’s him that I want.”

“Let me throw your own words back at you. You referred to Reese as ‘the perfect boy,’ and you can’t get him out of your head even though you just had sex with someone else. I think, subconsciously, you’ve already made your choice. You have to be completely honest with both of them before all three of you get hurt. Tell Reese what happened with Charlie and tell Charlie how you feel about Reese and see what happens.”

“That’s a pretty mature analysis. Are you sure that you’re not the older brother?”

“Haha! I’m sure. I’ve never even had a boyfriend or a girlfriend or any serious romantic relationship, for that matter, but I do watch a lot of tv.” Kam shrugged and laughed.

“I still have to get Brandon caught up on all my drama. I’m sure he’ll have some opinions to share, too.”

“Oh, I’m sure his advice will be way more colorful than mine,” Kam said as the two boys jumped the fence and crossed the street. As they ran into the house to get ready for school, Kam yelled out. “I’ll jump in the shower first. You fix breakfast for us.” Then he ran up the stairs.

———————————————————————————————————-

Leo saw Reese waiting at the bus stop. With all the last day and a half’s events bouncing around inside of his head, he needed time before he faced Reese. So, he slowed down and hung back and waited until the other boy was on the bus before he got on. Reese waved to Leo. “Wanna sit here?” Reese motioned toward the empty seat next to him.

“Hey. Good morning. Sorry. Brandon is already saving me a seat in the back.” Leo said as he gave Reese a small smile and kept walking. He reached the back of the bus and sat next to Brandon, who looked at him suspiciously.

“That looked awkward,” Brandon said with one eyebrow raised.

Leo rolled his eyes. “It was. I have so much to tell you!”

“Who are you, and what have you done with my boring bestie?” Bran laughed. “You need to start talking, mister. You’ve had Jazz drama and encounters with not one but two boys. The texts have all been cryptically vague. Spill the tea and spill it now!”

“Ok! Chill!” Leo huffed out a laugh. “I told you about meeting Charlie on Sunday and how he saved me from Matt. Then I also told you that I was going out with him Monday night after school. That was the story I intended to tell you yesterday before all that drama in the cafeteria. Anyway, Monday night, I took Charlie to the carnival.” Leo continued to tell his story to Brandon. He told him about the carnival. He told him about after the carnival. He told him about everything that had happened the last two days. He finished just as the bus pulled into the school parking lot.

“Wow! You did that with the tourist? And now you can’t stop thinking about him?” As Brandon said ‘him,’ he pointed ahead of them at Reese.

“Pretty much, yeah. I mean, I don’t regret what I did. I like Charlie, but I think I could build something special with Reese. I have to tell them both today. I hope Reese understands.”

“He should. You guys did hang out, but he knew you were going on a date with Charlie. You didn’t do anything wrong, Leo.” Bran thought for a minute. “Let me be clear, though. Yesterday you didn’t do anything wrong. If you’re sure now that it’s Reese that you want to be with, you need to tell them both today. I know you well enough to know that you’d hate yourself if you did anything to hurt them. On the other hand, I might try to talk them both into a three-way before the Aussie goes home!” Brandon snickered.

Leo rolled his eyes. “Of course, you would.” Then he laughed. “You told me exactly what I needed to hear, Bran. I already feel nervous preparing to tell Reese about last night. That’s enough to tell me that it’s him that I want to be with. It wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t care about him.”

“Exactly. The bell is about to ring. Let’s go before we’re late for class. Good luck today, bestie.” Brandon said, and they hurried into the school building.

———————————————————————————————————-

The Cursed Wolf (Chapter 14)

Chapter 14

When Terrie got to the library, Brad, Nate, Devon, David, and Sky were all sitting on the front steps waiting. “I’m sorry it took so long. Are you guys leaving? What’s our plan?”

Brad stood up. “Nate had to lock up. The library just closed. Why don’t we move this strategy session to Will’s Diner? I’m hungry.”

Terrie rolled her eyes. “You are always hungry, Bradley. I pity anyone who tries to date you!”

Nate broke out laughing. “Is it too late to change my mind? Maybe an abort mission button?”

Terrie’s eyes widened. “Wait… what? Are you guys dating? Since when? Why didn’t I know?”

“Chill, bestie. We haven’t gone out on a date yet. We talked while I was here last night, and, well, once we’re not all in mortal danger, we’re going to go out.” Brad said.

Nate walked up behind Brad. He slipped his arms around Brad’s waist, and he rested his chin on Brad’s shoulder. “Don’t listen to him. It’s official. We’re dating. This gorgeous stud muffin is all mine.” He kissed the side of Brad’s neck.

Brad blushed and melted back into Nate’s embrace. “Ok. What he said. We’re a couple.”

“Cutest couple ever!” Terrie squealed.

“Now we need to find a girl willing to date my toad of a little brother, but they will have to ignore his grotesque appearance and lack of social skills.” Sky laughed.

“Whatever, bro, whatever,” Devon said with a grin.

“Terrie, did Matt say when he would be joining us? He’s not answering texts.” David looked worried.

Terrie’s expression clouded. “He might be with Elias for a couple of hours. They are… it’s a long story. Let’s get to the diner, and I’ll explain what I know over lunch. Matt asked me to fill you guys in on what I know, so we could have time to discuss everything while we waited for him and Eli to do… whatever it is that they think they can accomplish.”

David scowled. “I don’t think I like the sound of that. Let’s get going, so you can explain further.”

————————————————————————————————————

Matt stood in the corner of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, waiting for Eli to fill the tub. Elias dumped most of the herbs into the steaming hot water and stirred it around. He glanced over at Matt and raised one eyebrow. “You know you’re going to have to drop that towel eventually, right?”

Matt blushed. “I… sorry… I know, and I know we’ve been messing around a bit. And I know we both want to mess around a bit more. When it comes right down to being naked, I guess I’m a little nervous. I’ve taken showers in school and at the beach, but I’ve never actually been naked with someone…. one on one.”

“Wow. No one? I guess I assumed that you’d been with girls before, even if you’d never been with a guy.”

“Nope. No girls, no guys. Nothing but kissing for me so far. The furthest I’ve ever been with anyone was when you slipped your hand down the front of my pants last night.” Matt blushed.

“I hope that didn’t freak you out. If I’d known… we can take things as slow or as fast as you want, Matt. I am perfectly fine with letting you control the pace of whatever we do or don’t do.”

“It’s not like I’m saving myself or anything. I just haven’t found the right person, at least not until now, and now I’ve found two.”

Eli smirked. “Can we continue that conversation later? Right now, I need you naked and in this tub. This isn’t sexual, Matt. I won’t do anything inappropriate. When that happens, you’ll know, and it will only happen with your consent and full participation.” Eli winked.

Matt dropped the towel and stepped into the tub. He sat down and slid under the water up to his neck. Matt looked nervously at Elias. “What now?”

“Now we see if I’m any good at being a witch.” Eli huffed out a laugh. “Let’s begin.” Elias stood over Matt and started reciting the spell. Eli was speaking in Latin and sprinkling more herbs into the tub. The water began to bubble and swirl.

Matt’s eyes were wide as he watched the water swirl around his body. “Is this what’s supposed to happen?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like this before, but we know that if something happened, it would probably mean we were doing it right.” Elias said. Then, Matt’s body went rigid, and he cried out. Eli held onto Matt’s shoulders. “I got you, Matt, I got you.” Eli saw the pain on Matt’s face, but he also noticed an inky blackness starting to cloud the formerly crystal-clear water in the tub. Eli looked into Matt’s eyes. “Do you trust me?”

Matt couldn’t speak, but he nodded. Yes, he trusted Elias. He trusted him with his life.

Eli placed one hand on top of Matt’s head, and with his other hand, he grabbed another handful of the cut herbs from the nearly empty pouch on his belt. “Take a deep breath and hold it, Matt.” Matt complied, and Elias pushed his head under the water. Eli sprinkled more herbs into the water and recited the spell a third time. There was a brilliant flash of light, and then the darkness was gone. The water was crystal clear again. Elias released Matt. Matt’s head broke the surface of the water, and he took a breath.

Elias wrapped his arms around Matt’s chest. “Are you ok, Matt? Talk to me! Please!”

Matt leaned back against Elias and looked up at him. “I’m ok. That was intense, and for a short time, it was painful, but I think whatever happened is over.”

Elias looked thoughtful. “After that flash of light, the water cleared. I’ll make some herbal tea while you dry off and get dressed. Then I’ll cast the aura spell, and we’ll see if we were successful.”

Matt had taken a quick shower to rinse all the herbs off his body before he dried off and got dressed. He was now sitting across the kitchen table from a grinning Eli. “What? Did you do it? What did you see? Why are you grinning like a crazy person?”

“I am grinning mostly because of what I don’t see. I can’t see the darkness of the curse. Your aura is beautiful, Matt! So vibrant and full of colors. Before it was… I don’t know, diminished. The first time I saw your aura, it was shrouded in darkness. Now it’s the most colorful aura I have ever seen. You will do great things in your life. Being a witch is just the first step in a long line of amazing things you will do.”

Matt nearly jumped for joy. “Complete success? Can we try the other one now? This is awesome!”

“I want to bond with you, but we need to test you first. If dark magic still taints you, the bond would infect me, and that would ruin our chance at, well, everything, including cleansing David.”

“Ok. What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to cast a spell while I can still see your aura. If you use magic, I’d see the darkness infect your aura. A simple fire spell should be easiest for you to perform.”

Matt looked excited. “I’m ready. What do I do?”

Elias smirked. “How good are you at learning languages?”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Will there be homework?” He huffed out a laugh. “I’m in my third year of Spanish. Straight A’s. I mean, it’s not easy, but I can read, write, and speak quite a bit now.”

“Spells are spoken in Latin. I’m not sure if anyone has tried to create any in other languages, but for now, we’ll stick with established spells.”

“That makes sense. People probably created spells thousands of years ago. It would be so cool to make new ones, though!”

“One step at a time.” Eli smiled. “Ok. Extend one hand out in front of you, palm side up. Cup your hand like you are holding something.”

Matt followed the instructions and looked expectantly at Elias. “Done. Now what?”

“I’m going to have you create fire, then increase the size, and finally make it disappear. Are you ready?”

“Ready.”

“First say ‘ignis flammae.’”

Matt repeated the phrase, and a tiny spark ignited in the air over his hand. “Wow! I did it!” He was grinning ear to ear.

“Now say ‘invalesco’ and if the fire grows successfully, say ‘recedo,’ and it should go out.”

Matt followed the instructions, and both spells worked perfectly. “That was awesome! Did… did you see what you needed to see? Am I cleansed of the curse?”

“Yes, you are free of the curse, and you are free to join with me in forming a coven if you still want to.”

Matt stepped in closer to Elias. “Of course, I want to join with you in every possible way. Magical, physical, emotional, everything.” He lightly kissed Eli’s lips. “If what we were doing wasn’t so vitally important, I’d join with you right here and now.”

“Well, that’s the plan.” Eli grinned. “But, magically, not sexually.” He laughed, then turned and retrieved an extended length of red ribbon and an elaborately carved dagger from the table.

Matt cocked his head. “Do I want to know what we need to do with those?”

Eli smirked. “Nothing kinky… yet. I need to make small cuts on the palms of our right hands. Just enough to draw blood. Then we will clasp hands, and I will wrap the ribbon around our hands, wrists, and forearms to symbolically join us together, then we repeat the spell.” Eli pointed to the book on the table. He had the book propped open, and a passage highlighted.

Matt read the passage then looked at Elias. “What is the translation?”

“It says ‘Join together in spirit. Join together in magic. Our bond is unbreakable. Stronger together than apart. Our coven grows.’”

“Cool. I like it. Let’s do this.” Matt extended his right hand out toward Eli.

Elias took Matt’s hand. He made the incisions on their hands, and they clasped hands. Then Eli joined them together with the ribbon. “It’s time.”

Both boys repeated the spell. “Simul iungere spiritu. Simul iungere magica. Nostris foedere indissolubili sociavit. Sine solito fortiores. Coven crescat nostrae.”

Matt felt his whole body start to tingle, starting with his right hand and waves of energy flowing all through him. Then he felt his hand go ice cold, and he felt another hand on top of his and Eli’s. He saw his confusion mirrored in Eli’s eyes, but just at that moment, the figure of a woman materialized with her right hand joined with theirs forming a circle of three.

Eli’s jaw dropped, and then his eyes narrowed. “Mother, I have been trying to summon you for days. What made you decide to show up now?”

“You didn’t think you could cast such powerful magic without notice, did you?” Marie Carrier said. She glanced at Matt. “I sense the Montana bloodline. How dare you enter this sacred place.” She turned her ghostly gaze onto her son. “How dare you bond one such as he to our coven!”

“If you had appeared to me any of the six times I summoned you, I would have spoken to you about this. I needed your help, but now I have found my answers. You abandoned me as a baby, and you ignored me even now when you’re a spirit. As the last living member of this coven, I decided to remove the Montana curse as a first step toward undoing the evil that our ancestors caused this town. Besides, Matthew is my soulmate. You will accept him as part of my coven, or I will banish you from this house and my life.”

“You have grown stronger in your magic and your attitude. That is why I did not show up at your every whim. I can not be with you. Therefore you needed to learn to figure things out on your own.”

Elias glared at his mother. “With Matt by my side, I will never be alone again.”

Matt felt Marie’s hand grow warmer as she focused her gaze upon him. “You love my son.” Her eyes narrowed. “But you love another as well.”

“I do. I love both very deeply. I’m trying to figure out what that means.”

Marie’s lips curled up in a smile. “Coven witches have had polyamorous relationships for centuries. Make sure everyone plays by the same rules, and no one gets hurt. I sense only goodness in you, Matthew Montana. I approve of my son’s decisions.”

“I don’t need your approval!” Elias snarled as he unwrapped the red ribbon. “I cleansed and bonded with Matt, and we are going to remove the curse from David whether you approve or not.”

“You are still my son, and this is still my coven, Elias. You have my approval, if not my help, but watch your tone.”

“This is my coven. We did not bond with a ghost.” Elias said.

“Nothing is ever as it first appears. The two of you have the power to cleanse the elder Montana boy but beware. Darker forces are gathering beyond what you now know. Be careful, my son. Danger is everywhere.” With that, Marie Carrier disappeared.

“I didn’t expect to meet your mom today. That was interesting.” Matt said.

“I tried to summon her to ask her questions about all this, but she only shows up when she feels like it. I guess I can’t expect someone who dumped me off as a baby to be reliable even in death.”

“She did say that we are strong enough to cure David. That’s encouraging.” Matt looked at the time on his phone. “We should meet up with everyone and decide what to do next. Are you ready?”

Elias couldn’t help but smile. “After what we just did… with you as my coven mate… and whatever else we are or become… I am ready for anything.”

“Whatever else I am to anyone else, I am yours forever, Elias. If we add anyone else to our coven or our lives in any way, I never want to lose you. You know that, right?” Matt held both of Eli’s hands and stared deep into his eyes.

Eli leaned in, and their lips met in a brief kiss. “Yes, I know. I am yours forever, and I know that you are mine. I love you.”

Matt blushed. “I love you, too. Now let’s go find our friends.”

————————————————————————————————————

When the six friends reached Will’s Diner, they pushed two tables together, and then they placed their order. Terrie waited for everyone to settle in, and then she pulled two photographs out of her purse. She slid them across the table to Brad. “Dad got these back already. His friend thought dad was pranking him.”

Brad smiled. “I knew I took good photos! I mean, now we know more than we did last night, and these aren’t the important puzzle pieces that I thought they might be, but it’s still nice to see the hard evidence right here in my hands.” Brad looked over at David and slid him the photos. “That’s you, cuz.”

David’s hands were shaking as he picked up the pictures. He leaned against Sky. “So, this is what you saw last night. I don’t even know what to say other than I hope Matt and Elias can fix me.”

“You do not need fixing, babe. We’ll figure this out. You had the opportunity to attack me and Brad and Terrie’s little brother. You chose to run away instead. Even as a wolf, you made the right choice.” Sky said.

Brad nodded in agreement. “David, you were scary as hell. You roared and growled, and you were right there in front of both me and Johnny. You didn’t touch either of us. I agree one hundred percent with Skylar. The night before, the wolf that attacked Kevin, that wolf never hesitated. That wolf went straight for the kill.”

The conversation drifted from story to story, with everyone getting caught up on everything that had been happening. David ran his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair and let out a low whistle. “This is almost overwhelming, especially since my little brother and I are the two central figures in all of this. I guess the next step is to decide how best to lock me up without attracting attention while we figure out how to stop the change from happening, right?”

“We also need to make a plan to capture or kill the other wolf. That wolf is a killer. That wolf killed my best friend.” Brad said.

“And my best friend,” Terrie added. “There is one more important thing I need to share. My dad’s deputy, Lilly Monroe, revealed to us that she is part of a secret organization of witch hunters.”

Terrie was startled when a voice from behind her spoke. “Did you just say witch hunters? Where? Here in town? Who is it?” She turned and saw Matt and Elias standing behind her.

Matt blushed. “Sorry. We were just about to say hi when we heard you say witch hunters.”

Terrie pointed to the two empty chairs. “We saved your seats. Sit down, and I’ll tell you what I know. I just got everyone else caught up on the other stuff you told me.”

“We have more to share as well, but let’s hear about these witch hunters first. I’ve read a lot about them in the journals of past coven members.” Elias said.

“The who is Lilly Monroe. She’s my dad’s newest deputy. The timing didn’t mean anything to him back then, but as it turns out, she moved to town right after you started visiting the witch house, Elias.”

Eli’s brow furrowed. “They must have a way of sensing magic use. What Matt and I did today, well, we will have to be careful moving forward, but there are things we still have to do that will require powerful magic.”

“Did you… were you successful today?” Terrie asked.

“Yes. Success times two.” Elias couldn’t help but grin.

David leaned forward. “What did you two do?”

Matt grinned. “He removed the curse from me, and we formed a coven. I’m a witch! Now we can concentrate all our efforts on you. The curse’s power over you will be harder to remove. He wouldn’t have had the power to remove it by himself, but a coven combines the powers of the joined witches. Now we should be able to do it.”

“Can we try today? Now? Before the moon rises? I bit Sky. I’m not sure if anyone caught you two up on everything that’s happened yet. Is he cursed now? Will he turn into a werewolf tonight?”

“We need to move this to my house,” Elias said. “I have to consult some books. If we can’t cure you before nightfall, we may have to contain you and possibly Skylar.”

“Ok. Let’s go. We need to hurry.” David said, and the group of eight friends left the diner and headed for witch house.

————————————————————————————————————

Elias paced back and forth between the kitchen and the living room of what most people still called the witch house. Eli was beginning to think of it as home, and he never had so many people at his house before. Hell, the only one besides himself that had been in here in the last twenty years was Matt. Brad had refused to come, and that had played into the breakup. Eli’s mind raced as he paced. Everyone was looking at him for answers, even Brad. Now that they accepted that he was a witch, now that they believed in the supernatural, they were all looking at him to save the day. Elias felt his anxiety ratcheting up, and he paced even faster.

Matt leaned against the wall and watched Elias pace. He could tell that Eli was trying to work things out in his head, but Matt could feel the anxiety growing inside Elias. Ever since they bonded, Matt felt an empathic link to Eli. He couldn’t read the other boy’s thoughts, but he sensed Elias’s emotions. Right now, Matt could tell Eli was spiraling toward an anxiety attack. Matt knew he had to do something and do it now.

Eli’s eyes were darting from face to face while he decided what to say to the seven, wait, six? Where was Matt? Then Eli felt the strong arms wrap around him, and he heard Matt’s soft voice in his ear. “Stop pacing. Take a breath. You can do this. Hell, you can do anything. I believe in you. We all do.” Then Matt kissed the side of Eli’s neck.

Elias melted back into Matt’s embrace. “Thank you.” He smiled and stood up straight. Eli took a step forward and looked right at Skylar. “Aurae apparaistis!” Eli stood back and cocked his head, studying the aura. He looked several times from David to Sky and back again with a furrowed brow.

“What? What do you see?” David and Sky asked almost in unison.

Elias sighed. “There are overlaps and similarities in colors and patterns, but it’s difficult to compare because,” He said, looking at David. “a darkness shrouds your aura that is not apparent on Sky’s.”

“Does that mean I’m not going to be a werewolf?” Sky asked.

“Not necessarily. It only means you are not cursed.” Eli turned to the bookshelves and began taking books off the shelf and setting them on the table while he talked. “While I researched how to remove the curse, I learned a lot about werewolves. Lycanthropy is a blood-borne disease that fundamentally changes your DNA. It’s not a curse, and a parent can pass it to a child, similar to any other DNA marker.”

“What does all that mean for me? Can you cure me? Is there another way to tell if Sky is a wolf?” David asked.

Elias sat down across from David and Sky. “I have more research that I need to do. Comparing your aura,” He said to David. “To both Sky’s and Matt’s, I think I will have to use a different spell than I used on Matt. The darkness hovered around Matt, but it did not touch him. The dark magic entwines throughout your aura. It will take greater power and a more intense spell to extract the darkness of the curse from you. It will not happen before moonrise tonight, for that I am sorry.”

“Speaking of Matt,” David glanced at his brother before focusing back on Elias. “You’re sure that he’s free from the curse, and you and he are… what exactly?”

Elias gripped Matt’s hand, their fingers entwining. “Yes, he is free of the curse. We tested it to be sure. Matt was born a witch. I believe you were, too, David, but the werewolf bite forever corrupted your magic. The dark magic of the curse blocked Matt’s magic. When we removed that, he became his true self, a witch. As for him and me….” Eli looked at Matt, and Matt smiled.

Matt interrupted Eli. “As for what Eli and I are… mostly we’re still figuring that out, but the part that directly affects you guys is that we’ve bonded our magic and formed a coven.”

“What exactly does that mean? What benefit or advantage does that give you as opposed to just working together?” Nate asked.

“As a coven, our magic is bonded. Coven witches can draw on each other’s power. We are stronger together than each of us separately. I do not think that I alone could remove the curse from David, but I think that Matt and I can do it together.”

Devon spoke up. “So, you don’t know if my brother is a wolf, just that he isn’t cursed, is that correct?”

“Yes, that is correct. I’ve read that lycanthropy is transmitted through a bite or a scratch, but I don’t know if it’s a one hundred percent transmission rate. I’d lean toward caution and have Sky with us when we lock up David.”

“There’s no way that I won’t be there, wolf or not.” Sky said.

Now Brad joined the conversation, but before he spoke, he walked over and knelt in front of Elias. Brad’s eyes glistened with tears. “Eli, I can’t express how deeply sorry I am that I abandoned you last year. The way I treated you, I don’t even know why you decided to help my family. I wouldn’t even defend you from Derrick and his goons, and here you are doing all of this. I acted like an idiot when Matt started hanging out with you. I regret that, too. I hope both of you can forgive me, and we can start fresh moving forward.”

“There’s nothing to forgive as far as I’m concerned. We’re good, cuz.” Matt said.

Elias reached out and took Brad’s face in both of his hands. He used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. “Bradley, I do not regret loving you, and I hope you don’t regret loving me. You were my first love, my first heartbreak, and many other firsts. You will forever hold a special place in my heart. A month ago, I may not have been able to say this, but now I can say and mean that I forgive you.” Eli let go of Brad’s face. “With the intense looks we’re getting from Nate and Matt, I’d say we’ve both moved on. Clean slate, Brad, no looking back. We were friends before we were lovers, and maybe we can be again.”

“I’d like that,” Brad said. “But now we have a much more important topic to discuss.”

Elias nodded. “You mean the late hour, and out one… maybe two werewolf friends, right?”

“Yeah. Any thoughts?”

Matt leaned forward. “I found an abandoned warehouse that has a chain link fenced off section where their shipping and receiving department must have been. We should head there soon and clear out the boxes and maybe buy a padlock on our way there.”

“What about this other wolf?” Terrie asked. “The one that we think is the one who is murdering our friends. How do we stop him? Or capture him? I know helping Matt and David, and now Sky has been our priority, but this monster has murdered three of our friends. Isn’t stopping him just as important?”

“Of course, it is. I’ve been so focused on learning the healing magic that I….” Elias trailed off.

Brad spoke up. “We got you, Eli. Nate, Devon, and I did a ton of reading on werewolves. After my close encounter, I focused my research on killing the monsters. I was scared that I was possibly researching how to kill my cousin, but after Kevin’s murder, I was going to take the thing out no matter what.”

David huffed out a laugh. “That’s understandable, Brad. Did you find anything good?”

“Pure silver, wolfsbane, and beheading,” Brad smirked. “I printed up a map of the area showing where wolfsbane is growing.” Brad looked outside. “It’s starting to get dark. Collecting wolfsbane needs to be the top priority tomorrow, and getting David and Sky to that warehouse needs to be the top priority right now.”

Elias looked thoughtful. “While you collect wolfsbane, I’ll research charm spells. Maybe we can lure the beast into a trap.”

“That’s brilliant,” Brad said.

“So, who’s going to the warehouse?” Matt asked.

“I am for sure,” Devon said. The group talked and decided that Brad, Nate, and Terrie would go home. David and Sky had to go to the warehouse, and Matt and Devon wouldn’t leave their brothers. Elias also went to the warehouse. For him, it was a combination of supporting Matt, and also, he thought he might be able to fortify the cage with magic. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky, so the eight friends left Eli’s house and went their separate ways.

The Cursed Wolf (Chapter 13)

Chapter 13

The stack of books and newspapers tumbled out of Nate’s arms as he sat at the study table. He sighed and looked over at Devon and Brad. “That’s the last of what I think will be worth looking at. We should be done in a couple hours. The library closes at noon today anyway.”

Devon tossed the book he was reading onto the table and reached for another one. “There are a lot more stories about witches than werewolves and almost nothing about the two of them together. Didn’t you say you had some local stories?” He scanned the material spread out on the table.

Brad pushed a stack of newspapers closer to Devon. “These are old and local papers.” He said without even looking up from the paper he was reading. “There’s not much here, myths and legends and family trees. I found that every person who was suspected to be a witch has no living relatives in Roxbury Falls, except Elias, and Eli just moved back here a couple of years ago with a foster family. He didn’t even know anything about his family history until last year.”

“That in itself is weird, isn’t it? That many old families moving away?” Nate asked.

“They didn’t all move away. There were a lot of deaths… all deemed accidents.” Brad said.

“We need to move on to the next stage of our plan,” Devon said. “I’m gonna text Sky and tell him to come to the library and to bring David with him. Matt said he’d text after he talked to Terrie, right?”

“Yeah, and I’ll let him be the one to text Elias, too.” Brad rolled his eyes. “Nate? Let’s put all this away. We need to switch to searching the internet. It’s time to dig deep into the crazy conspiracy blogs.”

Devon grinned. “Now that sounds fun!” Devon shot off a quick text to his brother, which read, ‘Come to the library. Bring David.’

————————————————————————————————————

Matt sat cross-legged in the middle of the blanket. He took the food that he brought for the picnic out of the basket while he waited for Terrie. A shadow crossed over the blanket, causing Matt to look up and smile. “Hey, beautiful. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. How are you?”

“Silly boy. You were just at my house. This looks wonderful.” Terrie said as she sat down.

“But I miss you every minute that we’re apart, and that makes it seem so much longer.” Matt grinned and then sighed. “I wish… I wish we could be just another young teen couple out on a first date in the park, but we’re not. A lot has happened, Terrie. There’s so much we need to talk about. You know some of it from talking to Brad last night and this morning, but there’s a lot more. I found out so much at Eli’s house, and I had another weird dream and woke up to find David outside in the bushes.”

Terrie reached over and took Matt’s hands in her own. “Tell me. Tell me everything.”

Matt started with the easy stuff. He told her about his dreams of the blue-eyed werewolf, and he told her about the new details that he learned with Eli’s help. Matt told Terrie that he was now almost positive that two werewolves were stalking the town, and because of that, he had hopes that his brother had not yet killed. He skipped, for now, details about Elias. Instead, he told Terrie about finding David in the bushes. He told her as much about the curse as he had learned. Then, after he finished telling her about werewolves and curses, he had no choice but to tackle the more complex topics, Elias and witchcraft. Terrie was still holding Matt’s hands. He pulled her to him and kissed her forehead, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “So, that’s what I know about werewolves and the curse that is on my family. But, there’s more that I need to tell you.”

Terrie’s eyes opened wide. “Wow. What else could you possibly have left to tell me? That’s a lot already. It’s all so hard to believe, but with you and Brad and even my little brother Johnny having seen stuff, I one hundred percent believe you guys.”

Matt frowned. “Most of the rest is about Eli and how he ties into all of this. Eli is a witch, and on top of that, he has proven to me that I am a witch, too.”

“What do you mean? Did he show you real magic? Can you do stuff?”

“He did show me his magic. He also explained his family history to me. There are many old books in the house that everyone calls the witch house, and he has learned from them. One of his ancestors was part of the coven that cursed my family.”

Terrie’s brow furrowed. “Then is he helping you, or is he the enemy that we should be wary of?”

“He’s helping. Ever since that first day that he saw me at Will’s Diner, he has wanted to help me. He dreamed about me before he ever met me, and I know he wasn’t lying. Elias described to me exactly what I was doing on my last night in California. Even David didn’t know what I did that night.”

“I can’t say that I like Elias dreaming about you, but that’s pretty cool that it was accurate.”

Matt blushed. “There’s a lot more that I have to tell you about Eli, and there’s more that you won’t like.”

Terrie looked concerned, and she held tighter to Matt’s hands. “You can tell me anything. But, especially now in these scary and unbelievable times, we have to be honest with each other and lean on each other.”

Matt sighed. “I agree. I just hope you still feel that way after I tell you everything. So, after Eli told me about his dream, I told him about the dream I’d been having about David. Eli got the idea to try to use his magic to enter my dream and help me see things about it that I hadn’t been able to see before. His idea worked perfectly. With Eli’s support, I stayed in the dream past when I would normally scare myself awake. It was near the end of the dream, the new part that I hadn’t seen, that I knew for certain that there were two wolves, and they match up exactly with the descriptions that Brad gave.”

“This is all scary as hell, but it seems encouraging. Like maybe your brother hasn’t killed, even though he’s a werewolf. So why would you say that I wouldn’t like what you had to say?”

Matt pulled his hands away from Terrie’s. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. Matt rested his forehead against his knees and spoke softly. “I’m getting to that part.”

Terrie reached out and put a hand on Matt’s shoulder. Hey, I’ll say again that you can tell me anything. I have a feeling that I know where this is going, and it’s ok.”

Matt looked up with tears starting to form at the corners of his eyes. “I didn’t even know where this was heading until it was happening. How could you?” He took a deep breath and let it out. “When I saw the new ending of my dream, and I saw the danger that David was in, the danger that we were all in, I jumped and nearly fell out of the chair that I was sitting in. Elias caught me, but my momentum crashed us up against the wall. I was scared out of my mind, but he held onto me until I felt safe. First in the dream, and then there in his arms up against the wall, he made me feel safer than I’ve felt in months. He held me until I stopped shaking, and then he promised me that he would save my brother.”

“There’s still more to this story, isn’t there?” Terrie said. Her expression was sad.

“Yes.” Matt sighed. “I mean… I won’t make you listen to details. Not much physical happened, but I wanted it to. I stopped myself, and I stopped him until I could figure out exactly what I want. I needed to talk to you before I did anything I would regret. I didn’t… I wouldn’t cheat on you, Terrie. I’ve never been sexually attracted to a guy before. I’ve never been as attracted to anyone as I was to him last night, yet, sitting here, I know I’m falling in love with you. I’m so confused. I don’t want to hurt either of you, but I don’t want to abandon either of you. Saying that out loud makes me sound selfish, but I want both of you!”

Terrie’s eyes were wet with tears. “Is it possible that the dream caused your connection in real life? Maybe the magic?”

“We talked about that very possibility. According to Elias, the magic that binds us to each other could enhance feelings, but it couldn’t create feelings out of nothing. Terrie, there’s still more that I need to tell you.”

“What else could there possibly be?” Terrie raised her hands, exasperated. “Did you kiss him? Did he kiss you? More than that? What else?”

“I didn’t kiss him. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Full disclosure,” Matt pulled his shirt collar down, exposing the hickey on his collarbone. “That happened, but that’s not what I need to tell you. The physical stuff didn’t go further than him briefly kissing my neck. Terrie, you need to understand something about witches. Their powers grow when multiple witches are bonded in a coven. Eli doesn’t think that he’s strong enough to break a werewolf curse by himself, but he does think that he could break the curse’s power over me. If he can do that, I could bond with him, forming our own coven. It might be the only way to save my brother, but I think it is something I would want to do even if David wasn’t cursed.”

“I’m not really sure what the right thing is for me to say to all that, Matt. I think I’m falling in love with you, too, but you’ve said so much more than that. I can’t tell you not to bond with him if that’s even possible. Saving your brother and protecting the entire town has to be the top priority. You have to keep hanging out with Elias to do that. Besides, I care enough about you that I want you to be happy even if it isn’t with me. Go figure yourself out. I won’t abandon you. I won’t even break up with you right now, but I can’t say that I will be ok with whatever you decide. I’m your friend no matter what, Matt. We need to stick together through all the craziness and then, as long as we all survive,” Terrie huffed out a laugh. “We’ll figure out where to go from there.”

Matt nodded his head. “I suppose that’s the best possible reaction that I could expect from everything I told you. I appreciate what you said, Terrie. As soon as I know what the hell is going on with me, you’ll be the next one to know. I’m so sorry that I screwed up our picnic with my drama.”

Terrie shocked Matt with what she did next. She moved over closer to him and then straddled his lap. Terrie cupped Matt’s face in both her hands. “Babe, the fact that you tried to have a picnic with me while this is going on tells me how much you care.” She leaned in and gently kissed his lips. “You are an amazing man, Matthew Montana. I will stand by you while you figure all this stuff out. The supernatural stuff, and the romance stuff. I’m not ready to let you go.” She leaned in again, and he leaned in to meet her this time. Their lips crashed together, and their tongues entwined. They didn’t part until they were both breathless.

Matt was nearly panting. “That. Was. Amazing! Unfortunately, we have to meet up with everyone else now. David and Sky were going to meet up with Brad, Devon, and Nate at the library. I… I gotta go to Eli’s house before I go to the library. Do you want to meet up with everyone else before I get there, or should I swing by your house on my way there?”

Terrie’s brow furrowed. “I’ll go home first and try and find out if my dad found out anything about Brad’s photos. Then I’ll go to the library on my own. You do whatever you need to do with Eli and meet us as soon as you can. It seems as if Elias is a central figure in all this almost as much as David is. I’ll see you at the library, babe.” With a final kiss, Terrie got up and left the park. His head still spinning from the entire conversation with his… girlfriend? Ex-girlfriend? Friend? … whatever she was now… Matt sent off a text to Elias to let him know that he was on his way.

————————————————————————————————————

Brad followed Nate deeper into the library as they put all of their research materials away. As Nate set the last book back on the shelf, he turned and grabbed two handfuls of Brad’s t-shirt and pulled him in close. “I hate having debts hanging over my head. Do you mind if I pay you what I owe you now?” His green eyes sparkled, and his full lips curled up in a smile.

“I’ve added interest onto the debt, so now you owe,” The rest of Brad’s sentence was cut off when Nate pressed him up against the bookshelf and kissed him. Brad wrapped his arms around Nate’s neck, and Nate’s hands slid down Brad’s back and came to rest on his hips.

Nate broke the kiss, nearly breathless. “Oh, God, you’re an amazing kisser, and you taste just as sweet as you look. I have wanted to kiss you for two years, and I am not the least bit disappointed in the result!”

“I sure hope you don’t wait two more years to do it again!” Brad said with a giggle.

“Definitely not.” Nate leaned in for another kiss, but they were interrupted by the sound of Devon clearing his throat.

“I hate to interrupt the nerdy library sex, but Sky answered my text. He and David are on their way here. So you two might want to keep your clothes on a little while longer.”

Brad laughed. “Has it been that long for you that you confuse kissing with sex, Dev?”

Devon rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, dude.” Devon huffed out a laugh. “I like being a single pringle. Anyway, I’ll start organizing all our notes, so we’re ready for my brother and his werewolf boyfriend. Have you heard from Matt or Terrie yet?”

“Nothing yet. I hope he made out ok. That conversation could have gone bad. If he doesn’t text me soon, I’ll text him.” Brad said as the three boys walked back to the research table.

————————————————————————————————————

Terrie walked into the house and looked around for her father. Her search took her to his home office, where she finally found him. Terrie’s alert eyes noticed that her dad minimized whatever he was looking at when she walked into the room. “Hi, dad. I’m home. What’re you working on?”

“You’re home early. I didn’t expect to see you until curfew. Is everything alright?”

“No, dad. Nothing is alright.” Terrie’s brow furrowed. “Did you get anything back on Brad’s photos yet?”

“Why do you ask? Let me handle that. You don’t need to be concerned with it.”

“You’re wrong. I do need to be concerned. Brad was telling the truth. I’m sure of that now. The photos will prove it.”

The sheriff sighed. “What else has happened? Why do you say that you’re sure of it now?”

“You know something. You got the photos back, didn’t you, dad? I’ll tell you everything I know if you do the same.”

“Ok. It sounds like you’re involved already.” The sheriff opened the photos that he had been looking at when Terrie got home. “My forensic photographer friend emailed me these, and he asked me why I was trying to prank him with pics of a werewolf.”

“You know it’s not a prank, right?” Terrie asked.

“I’m getting there. It’s taking me a while, but I’m getting there. What do you know? What else has happened?”

Terrie stared at the photos of the blue-eyed werewolf, and then she looked over at her father. She pointed at the pictures. “That is most likely David Montana.”

The sheriff’s jaw dropped. “Tell me everything.” Terrie sighed and began telling her father everything that Matt had told her earlier and everything she had talked with Brad about the night before.

Ronnie shook his head in wonder. “So, there are two werewolves, and all the stories about the Carrier witch house are true. This… is unreal. And Matt is a witch? What about Nancy and Brad?”

“Not as far as anyone knows. Nancy and Brad aren’t in the direct bloodline, so they should be safe from the curse. Matt isn’t sure where the witch blood comes from yet. Who knows? This is all crazy, dad.”

The sheriff scratched his chin. “It is crazy, but if all this is true, then maybe all the stories are true. Do you know my deputy? Lilly Monroe?”

“Yeah. Lilly is nice. What about her?”

“Right after I hired her, she started asking a million questions about the town history. Now that I think about it, she moved to town and applied for the job right after the rumors started about the Carrier kid visiting the witch house. She tried to convince me to burn down the house. Let’s take a ride to the station. I think we should have a more in-depth talk with Lilly.”

“Do you think it’s best to get someone else involved?”
Ronnie shrugged. “If my hunch is right, she’s already involved. So we should know as much as possible.”

“Ok. I’m in. Let’s go.” Terrie said as father and daughter walked out of the house.

————————————————————————————————————

David and Skylar walked into the library, and Sky looked right at his little brother. “I can’t believe that I’m seeing you, of all people, in a library.”

Devon rolled his eyes. “We have a lot to talk about, big brother, but I’m sure that you know that already.” Devon’s eyes darted toward David.

David took Sky’s hand in his own. “Where is Matt? We may as well tell all these stories all at once. There’s no sense repeating everything multiple times.”

“I hoped Matt and Terrie would be here by now. Elias as well, I guess. This is all so unbelievable, David. I know we want to wait for everyone to get here, but I have to ask, do you know for sure? Are you a werewolf?” Brad asked.

“Yes. I do know for sure. I am a werewolf, and… I accidentally bit Sky. We’re not sure what that means yet, though.” Everyone started talking at once. Waiting for the rest of their friends went out the window as the five boys became lost in telling everything they knew and everything they had researched. It wasn’t for another hour that Brad’s phone alerted him to a text. Terrie was on her way to the library, but she was alone. Matt was at the witch house with Elias.

————————————————————————————————————

Matt knocked on the door, and it was answered by Eli’s foster mom. “Hello, can I… oh… you’re Eli’s friend, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m Matt. Is Eli home?”

“Yes. Let me get him.” Before she could even turn around, Elias ran up behind her.

“Hey. Matt! Come on in.” Elias said with a grin.

Eli’s foster mom stepped aside, and Matt followed Elias up the stairs and into his bedroom. Eli spoke softly. “I just need to grab a couple of books to bring back to the other house. I think I found all the spells and ingredients that I will need to accomplish both things that we need to do.”

“Do you mean…” Matt’s eyes were wide and hopeful.

Elias grinned. “Yes. I don’t know if I’m capable of succeeding in either task, but I’m pretty sure I figured out how to remove the curse from you and bond you into my coven.”

Matt closed the bedroom door and then stepped in close to Elias. Matt’s blue eyes burned with desire as he stared deeply into Eli’s eyes. There’s a third experiment that we need to do today. One that I want to try before you cast any of your magic spells on me.” Matt smirked as he maneuvered Elias closer to the bed.

“What about… did you talk to… can I….” Elias stuttered out half sentences as he stared into Matt’s eyes.

“If your lips can’t form whole sentences, maybe I should find a better use for them.” Matt leaned in, and the two boys shared their first kiss. As the kiss deepened, Eli tried to take another step back but stumbled because his legs were already against his bed. As he fell, he clutched onto Matt’s shirt, pulling Matt down on top of him. Elias moaned into Matt’s mouth as he wrapped his legs around the other boy’s hips.

Matt pulled back and smiled down at Eli. “I hereby declare this experiment a complete success. Admittedly, I don’t have a ton of experience to compare it to, but that was easily the most amazing kiss of my life.”

Elias blushed. “It’s like you lit my whole body on fire. I hope this means that you want to be with me?”

“There’s a lot we have to talk about, but there’s one thing for sure, I never want to be without you ever again. I crave your touch like it’s a drug.”

Eli pulled Matt into another fiery kiss then pulled away. “I could lay here and kiss you forever… and do so much more, but we have things that we need to do before dark. With any luck, we can help your brother before the change hits him tonight.”

Matt rolled off of Elias. “It is getting late. It’s good that one of us was thinking with their big head.” Matt huffed out a laugh.

Elias giggled and sat up on the edge of the bed. “Being near you makes all this scary stuff a little easier to deal with.”

“I feel the exact same way.”

Eli grabbed his backpack and led Matt out of the room. At the bottom of the stairs, he poked his head into the living room. “Hey, Judy. Matt and I are going for a walk. I probably won’t be home until late.”

“Just make sure you get in before curfew, Elias,” Judy said.

“I will. Thanks. Bye!” The two boys left the house and walked toward the witch house.

————————————————————————————————————

 Terrie stood in the corner of her father’s office and listened intently as her dad talked to Deputy Lilly Monroe. “So, you haven’t found any hard evidence about the Carrier boy, have you, Lilly?”

“You sound like you are a lot closer to believing me, Ronnie. What do you know?” Lilly’s eyes darted to Terrie and then back to Ronnie.

“Let’s just say that my mind is open to possibilities now.”

“You know that there are no bears in the middle of town, right, Ronnie?”

“Witchcraft didn’t kill those kids either. What do you think did it if not bears?”

“You know the stories, and I can see that you know something of what’s happening now. First, the boy reopened the Carrier house, then the Montana family bloodline returned to town. It was after those events that people started dying, Sheriff. Dark supernatural forces are at work in Roxbury Falls. If the sheriff’s department can’t stop it, I know people who can.”

“Lilly, give me time to wrap my head around all this. Then, bring me your evidence, and we’ll work together. Don’t bring in outsiders.”

“If there are any more deaths, others will come. That is unavoidable. I will try my best to work with you to regain control of your town.” Lilly looked at Terrie. “I have seen you with the younger Montana boy. If you find things getting weird or out of control, come to me. I will help you.” Lilly nodded to both Ronnie and Terrie and then left the office.

Terrie and her dad both looked at each other after Lilly left the office. Terrie spoke first. “Thank you for not giving her any details of what I told you. I don’t think she would care if they are killers or not. Her opinion appears to be that all supernatural beings are evil.”

Ronnie nodded. “If David is a killer, you realize that I won’t be able to protect him. I won’t want to protect him, and I won’t be able to arrest him. We would have to involve Lilly and her friends.”

Terrie frowned. I’m meeting all the guys at the library this afternoon. I promise I’ll keep you in the loop. Please don’t involve Lilly until I talk to you again.”

“I expect you to keep that promise, and I will promise in return that I won’t get Lilly involved. Of course, if there’s another death tonight, she may get involved whether we want her to or not.”

Terrie shot off a text to Brad and then spoke to her father again. “I might be out late, dad, but I will be in before curfew. I promise.”

“Be careful, Terrie,” Ronnie yelled as his daughter nearly ran out of the police station.

————————————————————————————————————

Matt sat at the kitchen table in the house that he thought of as Eli’s house instead of the witch house. He watched Eli’s lithe form dart back and forth across the kitchen. The rich earthy aroma of herbs filled Matt’s nostrils as he inhaled deeply. “Are you cooking me dinner or casting a spell? The kitchen smells amazing!”

“Both,” Elias smirked. “The spell first, though.”

“Can I eat it? I’m starved!”

Eli rolled his eyes. “I’ll make sure you get fed. I have no idea how your body will react to the spell, and I don’t want you to puke on me.” Eli laughed.

“Gee, thanks! Are we ready?”

“I think so,” Elias said. “Huge disclaimer. I’ve read about these big spells that include herbs and potions, but I’ve never actually cast any. The biggest things I’ve done are all the protection spells around the house. So you’re going to be my guinea pig.” Eli huffed out a laugh.

Matt arched an eyebrow. “What’s the worst-case scenario if this goes wrong?”

Eli got a serious look on his face. “From my research, I am relatively certain that if I do this wrong, nothing at all will happen. If something does happen, I’ve done it right. I don’t know. What I think will happen is that the dark magic will be expelled from your body. What does that mean? Again, I’m not sure.” Eli shrugged. “Do you still want to go through with this?”

“Absolutely one hundred percent yes. WE know what’s happening with my brother. I’m willing to take my chances with the unknown to help him. But, doing nothing is not an option.”

Elias pushed Matt’s chair away from the table and straddled his lap. Eli ran his fingers through Matt’s thick dark hair as he stared down into his eyes. “You have the most beautiful blue eyes that I have ever seen. I would die before I ever did anything to hurt you. I will be careful. I will do everything exactly right. I made you a promise last night that you would not lose your brother. I mean to keep that promise, and the first step is cleansing you of dark magic.”

“What do you need me to do?”

Eli’s fingertips slid across Matt’s face and down his neck, finally coming to rest on his shoulders. Elias smirked. “The first thing you need to do is follow me into the bathroom and take off all your clothes.”

Matt’s eyebrows shot up. “What kind of spell is this?!”

Elias laughed. “I knew you would immediately think naughty thoughts. These herbs,” He motioned toward the kitchen counters. “Will go into a cleansing bath. The magic should draw the darkness out of you and into the water.”

“Oh! Ok! That makes sense.” Matt blushed. “It will be weird to be naked in front of you and not have it be naughty, though,” Matt smirked.

“We might get naughty later. Who knows?” Eli waggled his eyebrows, then turned away from Matt and collected all his bottles and bowls of herbs. Eli led Matt down the hall and into the bathroom.

Home at Last

Chapter 1

The sun was just coming over the horizon as Noah Blake turned off the highway.  He reached up into the visor to get his sunglasses as he continued to drive east.  Noah leaned back and pressed down harder on the gas pedal.  Noah had been happy with his life in California, and he was dreading going home.

 Home. Did he even have one now? Noah doubted that he’d ever return to California. He needed to be near his mother now with everything that she was going through. New Jersey sure wasn’t home anymore. His father made that clear five years ago. Noah shrugged. Maybe someday he’d find a home of his own. A home he chose, not a home he ran to in order to escape a home where he was no longer wanted. Noah hated returning to New Jersey. However, circumstances made it necessary.

He tried to banish all the thoughts of his family drama, and, instead, Noah’s mind drifted to all the Facebook messages from Holly Simmons. Out of some quirk of fate, his five-year high school reunion was happening tonight, his first night back in town. Noah wasn’t sure if he’d actually show up. Would Tyler be there? What about Xander? If they were there, would either of them even talk to him? Noah sighed. He’d have to face them eventually.

In a town as small as Green Haven, there would be no avoiding them. Screw it. He may as well go to the reunion and deal with his former friends all at the same time. With that decision made, Noah pulled into the parking lot of the motel, which would be his temporary home. He’d decide how to proceed with his family drama later. Noah got out of his car and walked into the motel office.

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler cursed. Why did he attend this class reunion? The last person that Ty wanted to see was the first person that caught his eye. What the hell was Noah Blake doing back in town? Tyler cursed himself and wiped away the tears that came unbidden to his eyes. He thought he was over Noah. Shouldn’t five years be long enough to heal a broken heart? Tyler wiped his eyes and turned back toward the door. He was about to make his escape when he heard someone yell his name.

“Tyler? Tyler Higgins, is that you? Get over here right now! I can’t believe you actually came!” Tyler knew who that voice belonged to before he turned around. There was no escaping now. He’d been spotted by Holly Simmons, Homecoming Queen, Head Cheerleader, Gossip Monger Extraordinaire. Tyler hung his head, sighed, and walked over to the tables reserved for the class reunion.

“Hey, Holly. Of course, I’m here. I live right down the street. You probably would have sent the football team to my house if I hadn’t shown up.” Tyler laughed.

“Oh, you! I’ve missed your sense of humor! We should hang out more.” Now go ahead and have a seat. I set up seating arrangements. You sit right over there.”

Tyler looked where she was pointing and groaned. Of course, she put him right next to Noah. “This seat is empty. Why don’t I just sit here next to you, Holly?”

“Tyler Higgins! Don’t you go messing up my seating chart already! Once dinner is over, everyone will be moving around. For now, go sit in your seat!”

Tyler raised his hands in mock surrender. “Ok. Ok. I’m going.” He smiled and hugged Holly, but he walked past his assigned chair and on up to the bar instead. Ty leaned against the bar and waved the bartender over. “Give me a double of the strongest thing you have.”

The bartender smirked. “You with the class reunion?” She asked.

“How’d you guess?” Tyler chuckled.

She nodded toward the drink she was pouring for him. “Too many ex-girlfriends in one room?”

Ty rolled his eyes. “Nope. Just one ex-boyfriend.”

“Oh, now I’m interested. The first drink is on the house. Tell me more.”

Tyler heard a voice from behind him. “Ty? Can we talk?”

With a heavy sigh, Ty said to the bartender, “As if on cue, that’s him.” He turned and, for the first time in over five years, looked up into Noah’s chocolatey brown eyes. “No. We most certainly cannot talk, Noah. If I’d known you’d be here, I wouldn’t have even shown up.”

“Fine. Go sit with your friends. I’ll leave.”

Tyler laughed despite himself. “That’s perfect, Noah. Leave. Run. That’s what you’re best at anyway, isn’t it?”

“Ty, I had to get out of that house. I had to get out of this town. I was suffocating here. It was better for everyone.”

“And you had to leave me, too, right? Why are you even here if you hate it so bad? You should have just stayed in California.”

“I… leaving you was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, and it’s my biggest regret. You know how my dad was, Ty. He would never have accepted me, and it would have been a hundred times worse if he knew about us.”

“So, you just left? No warning? One night we were on a normal date planning for our future, and the next morning I get a goodbye text?”

“I wanted to tell you, but I just couldn’t. It’s…. It’s a long story, Ty. You deserve to know the whole thing, but not here. Maybe we can find the time, and I can tell you.”

“Screw you, Noah. You were a coward. You didn’t just break my heart: you shattered it into a billion pieces. I ran all the way to your house that morning, only to have your mom tell me that you were already gone. Why didn’t you wait for me, Noah? Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?’

“Ty, I had to get out. I had to. I couldn’t stay one minute longer.”

Tears glistening in his eyes again, Tyler said, “You could have asked me to go with you.”

Noah’s eyes grew wide. “But… your whole family accepted you. Your life was here. You had it all planned out. You would never have left all that.”

“I would have gone with you. You should have known that.” Tyler didn’t wait for a response. He turned and walked back toward the reserved tables.

Noah started to follow after him, but a hand grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Give him a few minutes, Noah.”

Noah turned to see Xander Morris. Xan was both Noah’s and Tyler’s best friend all through school. “Hey, Xan. I should have known you’d be here if Ty was. How have you been?”

“I’ve been good. How about you? How’re things out on the west coast?”

“Eh, I’ve been better. I just moved back to town. I’m not even settled in anywhere yet. Everything is all screwed up, Xan. I didn’t even realize how bad I screwed up with him until just now.”

Xan nodded. “You made a mess of it for sure. You should have talked to him, hell you should have talked to me, too, before you just up and moved three thousand miles away and changed your phone number.”

“My dad cut my phone off as soon as I left. He cut me off from my bank accounts and everything. As soon as he found out that I’m gay, he disowned me.”

“That really sucks, Noah. I’m sorry that happened to you, but it’s actually another reason you should have stayed here. You wouldn’t have been alone. You had us.”

“I know. I’m back now, and I’m going to try and make things right with a lot of people if it’s not already too late.”

“You’re in town for more than just the reunion?”

“Yes. I’m back for good. Let’s go eat. More people than you will want to hear the answer to that question, so I may as well get it over with all at once.”

Noah took his seat next to Tyler, sitting down just as his dinner arrived. Ty barely looked at Noah all throughout the meal. Noah glanced at Tyler several times and wracked his brain, trying to think of a way to get him talking again. Quiet conversations were going on during dinner, but the conversations increased in both number and volume as people finished their meals. Leave it to Holly Simmons to turn the spotlight onto Noah.

“Noah Blake, how did we get so lucky to get you to show up? I didn’t think we’d ever see you again.” Holly said.

“It was fate, I guess. If you’d had the reunion in the summer as most other classes do, I wouldn’t have been here. I’m back in town now, so I saw no reason not to come.”

“We tried to have it in the summer. If we continued to leave it up to Jason, we wouldn’t have had it yet. Rachel and I took over and finally got it scheduled. Anyway, how long are you in town for?” Holly asked.

“Forever. I’m not settled in yet. I got back to town today, and I’m here to stay.”

That caught Tyler’s attention. He was now listening intently.

“Your parents must be overjoyed to have you back just in time for the holidays.” A girl named Alice interjected.

Noah’s expression changed from a smile to a frown in the blink of an eye. Tyler noticed Noah’s fingers nearly drumming holes into the table, a telltale sign of his anxiety. Tyler knew that his ex-boyfriend, his ex-best friend, was doing his best to stave off an anxiety attack. Tyler almost reached out a comforting hand in a reflex action, but he gritted his teeth and held back. He did continue to closely watch Noah’s body language.

“I…” Noah started to talk, then stopped. he sighed and started back up again. “I’m here for my mom. She’s in the hospital again. She might be there for a while.”

Xander and Tyler, from each side of Noah, spoke almost as one. “Is the cancer back? I thought she beat it?”

Noah kinda half smiled as he looked back and forth between his two oldest friends. “Yes, it’s back, and the doctors say it’s worse than before. It doesn’t look good.” Tyler saw Noah’s fingers drumming even faster and literally sat on his own hands to stop himself from comforting the boy who shattered his heart.

Holly spoke again. “That’s so sad, Noah. It must be a comfort to her that you’re here. Also, for your dad to have you to lean on during such a difficult time.”

“I’m not staying with my father,” Noah said, his expression dark.

“Why not?” Holly asked.

Noah looked around the table at all the people listening, all his former friends and classmates. He looked down, then he looked back up again. “My father disowned me five years ago when he found out that I’m gay. I can’t even visit my mom in the hospital if he’s there.”

Tyler sucked in a breath. He knew that it was a massive step for Noah to say that out loud and say it to so many people. And his dad found out! Tyler was extremely curious to hear that story!

Holly nearly jumped out of her seat. “I knew it!” She pointed from Noah to Tyler and back again. “The two of you were a couple back in high school, weren’t you?! I knew it!”

Noah smiled, but Ty could see that his eyes still looked sad. “Yeah, we were, but then I screwed it up.”

Holly looked like she wanted to ask more about that, but she looked at Tyler and changed her mind. She looked back at Noah and asked, “So if you’re not staying at your parent’s house, where are you living?”

“For now, I’m at the motel down on Seaside Drive.”

Tyler couldn’t stop himself this time. He put a comforting hand on Noah’s shoulder. “No. You’re not going to be living by yourself in that dump through Thanksgiving. While your mom is in the hospital, you’re coming home with me.”

Noah turned toward Tyler, his eyes glistening with tears. “Are… are you sure?”

“It doesn’t mean that you’re forgiven. Don’t read anything into it other than the fact that no one deserves to be alone on Thanksgiving, not even you.” Tyler got a wicked glint in his eye and smiled when he said those last three words.

“I can accept that. I don’t have a car yet. I returned the rental that I drove here earlier this afternoon. I took an Uber here. I was gonna go looking for cheap used cars in a day or so. Can you take me back to the motel before we go to your house?”

“Yeah.” Tyler glanced around the table. “Most people have already left. Let’s get outta here and get you settled in.” The two boys said their goodbyes to their classmates that were still there and then made their way out to Ty’s car.

Xander followed the other two out to the car and pulled Tyler aside. “Are you sure that this is a good idea, Ty?”

“No. Not at all, but I’m not letting him spend the holidays alone. Especially not with his mom in the hospital with her cancer back. We both know what he went through last time, Xan. This sounds worse, plus he doesn’t have his dad anymore either. Did you know about that?”

“No. I didn’t know about the thing with his dad or about his mom. I would have told you.”

Tyler glanced into the car and then back at Xander. “I can’t let him go through this alone. I still love him, Xan, even after what he did. I shouldn’t, but I do.”

“Be careful, Ty. I don’t want to see you get hurt even worse than you already have been.” Xander pulled Ty into a hug.

“I’ll call you tomorrow. Even if I don’t need backup or a buffer between Noah and me, maybe we can all hang out. I miss those days. The three of us had a lot of fun.”

“I won’t hold you to it, but I should be available if you call. I don’t have any plans for tomorrow. I love you, Ty. Be careful.”

“I love you, too, Xan. I’ll call you tomorrow. Good night.” Tyler got into his car and looked over at Noah. “Do you need to stop anywhere besides the motel?”

Noah raised one eyebrow and looked out of the window at the receding form of Xander. “Nope. Just the motel.”

————————————————————————————————————

It didn’t take long for Noah to pack everything he owned into a duffel bag and his backpack. “I need to stop at the front desk and make sure they save my room, and I’ll have to pay for next week’s rent,” Noah said as he locked the door.

“No. Turn in your key. You’re not coming back here. You can stay with me until you find something permanent.” Tyler said.

“Are you sure, Ty? I don’t want to impose, and you haven’t even asked your mom yet.”

“Oh, please. My mom always loved you more than she loved my brother or me.” Ty laughed.

“She did not!” Noah laughed. “Is Tommy still living there? He’s eighteen now, right?”

“Yep. Still there and almost nineteen. He’s a freshman in college now. Still, my bratty little brother, though.”

“Cool. If he doesn’t hate me, it’ll be nice to see the little squirt again.”

“I’m the only one who has a right to hate you.” Ty arched an eyebrow. “I’ll make sure everyone else behaves.”

“Can we make one more stop before we go to your house?”

“Sure. Where?”

“The grocery store. I don’t want to show up empty-handed.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “My mom is used to you eating her out of house and home. She fed you more often than your own mom did for thirteen years. I don’t think she’ll care about a couple of weeks.”

“Things are different now, though. Let me do this.”

“One condition. I know mom wouldn’t want you to bring too much, but we’ll make it a junk food and soda run.”

“Deal. Let’s go.”

————————————————————————————————————

The two boys struggled, both with their arms full of grocery bags, as Tyler unlocked the kitchen door. He nudged the door open with his foot and flicked the light switch on. They tried to be quiet in the darkened house. Still, between the plastic grocery bags and opening and closing cupboard doors, soon enough, the boys were startled by a voice from behind them.

“As I live and breathe, that cannot be Noah Blake standing in my kitchen. I never thought his shadow would darken my doorway ever again.”

The boys spun around and saw Tyler’s mom standing in the kitchen doorway, wearing a bathrobe and slippers. She stood with her hands on her hips and an unreadable expression on her face.

“Mrs. H! It’s been a long time!”

“That it has, Noah. That it has.” Debbie Higgins’ gaze shifted from Noah over to her eldest son, but she didn’t say a word. She just arched one eyebrow.

Tyler gave his mom a shy smile, nearly blushing. “He needs a place to stay, mom. I’ll explain everything to you in the morning. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not. It’s getting late. You finish up in here. Noah, darling, I’m sure you remember where the hall closet is?” She said with a gleam in her eye.

Now it was Noah’s turn to blush. Many memories were attached to that closet, including the first time Mrs. Higgins caught him and Tyler kissing. “Yes, ma’am. I remember.”

“I thought you might. Go get me a set of sheets and a blanket. I’ll pull out the couch. You can sleep there tonight.”

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door banging open and his younger brother jumping on his bed. “Tommy, what the hell. What time is it?”

“It’s quarter past eight, but that’s not the question that needs answering. Why is Noah sleeping on our couch?! I didn’t even know he was back in town, and I’d never dream you’d invite him over!”

“Ugh. Tommy, it’s complicated. I… I gotta explain some stuff to mom and dad. I’ll just tell you all at the same time, so I don’t have to say it three times.”

“Are you guys getting back together? He’s not in here with you, so maybe not?” Tommy was shaking his brother so he didn’t fall back to sleep.

“Get off me. Geez. Go to the kitchen. I’ll be out in a few minutes, but, no, we’re not back together.”

“I want answers, bro,” Tommy smirked. “If there are details that you don’t want to tell mom and dad, just make sure you tell me later.” Tommy laughed and left the room.

Tyler rolled his eyes at the receding form of his brother, then he got out of bed and headed to the shower.

————————————————————————————————————

As Tyler walked to the kitchen, he mentally kicked himself for taking so long to get himself ready for the day. He wasn’t going on a date. Ty had zero reasons to make himself look extra good for Noah, but that’s just what he did. Tyler picked out the perfect outfit. He paid extra attention to getting his hair just the way he wanted it. What was wrong with him? Ty spent the last five years hating Noah, and now that he had him here, and he could tell him exactly how he felt, Tyler realized that he only hated Noah so much because he was still head over heels in love with him.

Tyler walked into the kitchen and heard the conversation that he planned on having already taking place. It was just as well. The story was Noah’s to tell anyway. Tyler busied himself getting breakfast while Noah finished telling his story. Ty felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see his father standing beside him.

“I’m proud of you, son. Not many people would have done what you’ve done, inviting him over here. I have to go to work for a few hours, but I’ll be home early. If you boys go to the hospital and run into any trouble, give me a call.” Ty’s dad gave him a wink. “I’ve never liked Paul Blake, and now that I know how he’s treated his son, I like him even less.”

Ty smiled. “We’ll be ok, dad. Thanks. I love you.”

“I love you, too. See you tonight.”

Tyler grabbed a couple more slices of bacon and sat at the table. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Tyler let the three voices at the table wash over him but tuned out the conversation. He let the voices of his mom, younger brother, and Noah take him back in time to much happier memories. Ty smiled as his mind drifted back, but that didn’t last long. Whenever he tried to remember the good times with Noah, the memory of the day Noah left pushed its way to the front of his mind. Tyler relived the feeling of waking up to the goodbye text and then running as fast as he could to Noah’s house. He felt his heart break anew at the memory of Noah’s mom telling him that Noah was already gone. Tyler remembered Noah’s dad just standing in the doorway, glaring at him. He felt his eyes sting as the tears formed. Then Tyler felt someone’s hand grip his own.

Ty opened his eyes and saw his mom leaning toward him. She reached over and wiped a tear off his cheek. “You did the right thing bringing him here, son.” She looked over at Noah. “I realize that the two of you have a lot of baggage,” she looked back at Tyler. “But you made the right choice. I know it can’t be easy.”

“Thank you, mom. That means a lot.” Ty turned his head and saw Noah staring at him. “No matter how I feel about you, there’s no way that I could let you stay at that fleabag motel by yourself while your mom is in the hospital.”

“How do you feel about me, Ty? Is there any way I can ever make you understand why I left? Can I ever be forgiven?”

Tyler wiped his eyes. “I honestly don’t know how I feel about you right now, Noah. I’ve spent five years trying to hate you, but I don’t hate you. I don’t know if I am ready to forgive you either. Can we please just go to the hospital and see if we can get you in to see your mom? I’d actually like to see her, too. My dad said to call him if we have any problems getting in.”

Noah sighed. “Yeah, let’s go. I… want to talk to you about everything that happened, Ty. I want to explain, but only when you are ready to listen.”

“We’ll talk, Noah. I promise. Just not right now. Are you ready to go?” Noah nodded, and the two boys grabbed their coats and left the house.

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler led Noah through the hospital up to the third floor Nurse’s Station. Mrs. Blake was in room 327, according to the receptionist in the lobby. Noah was about to walk right to the room, but Tyler stopped him and pulled him over to the desk to talk to the nurses. Ty flashed his most charming smile at the young red-headed nurse at the desk. “Isabella! How is my most favorite nurse in the entire hospital doing today?”

Isabella rolled her eyes and laughed. “I bet you say that to all the nurses, especially the boys. Speaking of which, have you called my brother yet? I told him that I gave you his number!”

Noah suddenly became interested in the conversation as his eyes darted back and forth between Tyler and Isabella.

“You know you’re my favorite, Izzy, and no, I have not called Ozzy yet. I was busy with school, and now I have a few other things going on. I haven’t forgotten. Tell him that I’ll call while I’m home for the holidays as long as other things,” Ty’s eyes darted over to Noah before refocusing on Izzy. “don’t keep me busier than I expect.”

“You won’t be calling if I have anything to say about it,” Noah grumbled louder than he meant to.

“You don’t have anything to say about it. You gave up that right five years ago.” Tyler frowned at Noah and then turned back to Isabella. “Izzy, this is Noah. We are here to visit his mom.”

“Wait, not the Noah you told me about. I thought he moved to California.” Izzy said.

“Yep! The very same Noah. He’s back in town.”

Isabella’s eyes darted back and forth between the two boys. And you’re here together?”

Noah frowned but didn’t say anything. Ty smirked. “Yeah, we’re here together. His mom is in 327. Can you tell me if she has any visitors right now?”

Izzy pointed at Ty. “You have some explaining to do when I get you alone, mister.” She looked down at her computer screen and hit a few buttons. “There aren’t any visitor restrictions, Ty. Even if someone is in there, you guys can go in.”

Ty leaned forward and spoke in a lower tone of voice. “There’s a history of family drama. We’d rather make sure that no one else is visiting.”

“Understood.” Izzy walked down the hall and then returned. “All clear, Ty. Go right in.”

Chapter 2

Noah walked into his mom’s room, followed closely by Tyler. Cindy Blake looked up from the magazine that she had been reading, and her eyes opened wide in surprise. “Noah! I didn’t expect to see you! I didn’t even know that you knew I was in the hospital. Who’s that with you?” She peered around her son and smiled, though her face still looked sad. “Tyler Higgins. I shouldn’t be surprised. I rarely saw my own son without you at his side.”

“Not for the last five years,” Tyler said. “But, anyway, I’m so sorry to hear about the cancer, Mrs. Blake. How are you doing?”

Noah and Tyler sat on opposite sides of Cindy Blake, each holding one of her hands. “I’m doing ok. We’ve been down this road before, Tyler. I know what to expect.”

Noah kept glancing at the door. “Mom? How often does dad come to visit?”

“It depends on his work schedule. At least once or twice a day, though. Why do you ask?”

“I told him that I was coming. He said not to bother. He told me that I wasn’t welcome at the house or here at the hospital.”

Tyler spoke up. “He won’t kick you out of your mom’s room while I’m here.” Then Ty frowned and looked down. “Unless you decide to just run away again.”

“Tyler, I…”

Cindy Blake looked from one boy to the other several times then interrupted her son. “Noah, can you go see if the nurse can get me a fresh pitcher of ice water and maybe some crackers?”

“Sure thing, mom. I’ll be right back.” Noah said as he got up and walked toward the door.

“Take your time, son.”

Tyler started to follow Noah, but Cindy did not let go of his hand. She pulled him back toward the bed. “Sit down, Tyler. We need to talk.”

“What’s up, Mrs. Blake?” Ty asked as he sat back down on the bed.

“Tyler, you have to stop blaming him for leaving. If you want someone to blame, blame me.”

Ty took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “With all due respect, Mrs. Blake, he left. You didn’t. He didn’t have to leave, at least not all the way to California.”

“I don’t know how much he has told you of what happened back then, but it was bad.”

“I know his dad kicked him out, but he could have come to me. My family would have helped him. Hell, he even could have gone to Xander, but he didn’t. He went to California.”

“There was more to it than just his father kicking him out, but I will let Noah tell you about that. It’s not my place, but what I want to tell you is that after Noah and his dad had their… disagreement, he came to me asking for help. I could have stood up for my son, but I didn’t. Instead, I told him to leave. I told him that it was in everybody’s best interest if he moved as far away as possible and never looked back.”

Tyler scowled. “He still could have come to me.”

“Tyler, my husband is a highly respected police officer in a small town. I convinced my son that his leaving was also in your best interests. I’m sorry. I should have stood up to my husband. I should have protected my son.”

Tyler heard loud voices in the hall, and he listened intently. “Mrs. Blake, do you hear those voices? That’s your husband preventing your son from coming back in here to visit you. If you are truly sorry for what you did five years ago, prove it now. Fight this cancer. Stand up to your husband. Noah needs you in his life, and he needs you healthy. I’ll go out there and take him home for today, but we are coming back tomorrow. Make sure he can come in.”

Cindy Blake cocked her head to the side and stared at Tyler for a moment before she spoke. “You still love my boy, don’t you? I like you, Tyler Higgins. I always have.”

“I never stopped loving him. I don’t think I ever will. I just need to be able to trust him again.” And with that, Ty left the room.

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler stepped out into the hallway and paused a moment to take in the scene in front of him. He had been told about Noah and his father’s tension, but he still didn’t know how bad it was, and this was the first time he was witnessing it with his own eyes. Mr. Blake was standing in the middle of the hall, literally using his body to block Noah from going into the room to see his mother. Paul Blake was pointing and yelling at Noah while Noah practically cowered against the far wall. Ty steeled his nerves and strode across the hall and stood between father and son.

Paul Blake stopped in mid-sentence and sneered at Tyler. “What are you doing here? Get out of my way. I’m having a private conversation with my son.”

“It stopped being a private conversation when you started screaming in the middle of a public place.”

“It’s none of your business, boy. Now run along and take him with you. He’s not getting into that room.”

“I used to have a lot of respect for you, Mr. Blake. Both as a person and as a police officer. I never realized that you were just another mean bully. And by the way, it’s up to your wife who visits her and who doesn’t.”

Paul narrowed his eyes. “Don’t test me. If I don’t want him in there, he won’t get in there.”

“Maybe you should go talk to your wife. For now, I’ll take Noah home, but we will be coming back.”

“That embarrassment of a son has no home.”

“He may not have a home with you, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a home. Noah is no embarrassment. He is amazing. Noah is kind, and he is compassionate, loving, and so many more things. It’s your loss that you don’t want him in your home. He has a home with me. Now and forever.” Tyler turned his back on Paul Blake, grabbed Noah’s hand, and led him down the hallway and out of the hospital.

As the boys reached Tyler’s car, Ty went to let go of Noah’s hand, but, instead, Noah pulled Ty in for a hug. “Thank you so much, Ty.”

“Anytime, Noah. No one deserves to be treated like that.”

“Did you mean what you said?”

“Every. Single. Word.” Ty grinned.

“I want to kiss you so bad right now, Ty, but I don’t want to mess up anything that we might be rebuilding.” Noah huffed out a laugh.

Tyler’s grin grew wider. “Hold onto that thought. That door isn’t open yet, but it’s not closed and locked either. Now get your cute ass in the car. We have some errands to run for my mom before we go home.”

“You think I have a cute ass?” Noah smirked.

“I’ve always thought that. To be honest, I’d say the last five years have been good to you.” Ty waggled his eyebrows and got into the car.

Noah couldn’t help but smile as he ran around the car and got into the passenger’s seat.

————————————————————————————————————

Noah and Tyler stumbled through the kitchen door, arms laden with shopping bags. Both boys were laughing as they regained their balance and set the bags down on the kitchen countertop. Debbie Higgins arched one eyebrow. “Are you boys ok? I take it that your trip went well?”

The laughter died down, and Tyler shrugged. “It could have gone better, but I think that I made an impression on Mrs. Blake.” Ty winked at his mom.

Noah threw up his hands. “Yeah, and he won’t tell me what they talked about, but, Mrs. H., you should have heard what Ty said to my dad! He was incredible!”

Tyler blushed. “I only spoke the truth.”

“Woah! What’s that smell? Pizza!” Noah yelled. “I almost forgot that you guys always have pizza the night before Thanksgiving!”

“Pizza and movies,” Tyler said. “And if we have a guest, they get to pick the movies. You should remember.” Ty smirked.

“Yes! The best two non-Christmas Christmas movies of all-time! ‘Diehard’ and ‘Gremlins’!”

Tommy walked into the kitchen. “Finally! We haven’t watched those two movies since… well, since the last time you were here, I think.”

“Why not?” Noah asked. “They should be part of the tradition by now.”

“Because you weren’t here to pick them. The movies weren’t part of the tradition. You were.” Tyler said with a frown.

Noah reached over and took Ty’s hand. “I’m here now. Let’s watch the movies.”

Tyler shrugged, but a small smile crept onto his face. “Ok. I suppose we can.”

“Great! Just like the old days.” Tommy cheered and ran into the living room to get the movies started.

As the credits began to roll on ‘Diehard,’ Tyler started to get up off the couch. He felt a weight against his left side and noticed, for the first time, that Noah was pressed right up against him. The night had been so calm and relaxing that Ty hadn’t even realized it happened, even though his own arm was wrapped around his ex-boyfriend’s shoulder. Ty smiled down at the other boy. “Hey. How long ago did this happen?”

Noah grinned. “A while ago… I don’t know how long… it… seemed right. Do you want me to move?”

Ty’s smile faded. “I…”

“You do want me to move. I can see it. Do you want me to leave?” Noah sat up and slid to the other end of the couch.

“Noah, no… I…” Tyler sighed. “I don’t know what I want, but I do know that I don’t want you to leave. I didn’t notice that you were next to me, because you’re right. It felt natural. It felt like that’s where you belong.”

“So… do you… uh… can I…” Noah started to tentatively scoot closer to Tyler.

Tyler extended his hand, and Noah took it, their fingers entwining. “Come with me. I think it’s time for that talk that I’ve been avoiding all day.”

Ty’s mom spoke up. “Do you want us to leave you boys alone in here, Tyler?”

“No, mom. We’ll go to the dining room. You guys stay and enjoy the next movie.”

“We’re not starting ‘Gremlins’ without you guys. That was always Noah’s favorite!” Tommy interjected.

“Thanks, Tommy. You’re the best.” Noah grinned.

“You guys take your time. We’ll be ok in here.” Tyler’s dad said.

“I don’t even know why we’re going into the dining room. It’s not like I’m not going to tell you guys everything anyway.” Tyler said.

Debbie Higgins gave her son ‘the look,’ “Go talk in private. I’m sure we don’t need to hear all the details. You can give us the highlights later, but only if you both want to.” She glanced at Tommy for a second. “We will all respect your privacy if there’s stuff you don’t want to share.”

“I understand, mom.” Ty nodded toward the dining room. “You ready for this, Noah?”

Noah took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah. I think I’ll feel a lot better after I tell you everything, and maybe then we can figure out if there can be an us in the future.”

————————————————————————————————————

The boys sat on opposite sides of the dining room table, and Tyler focused his gaze on his ex-boyfriend. “Here’s your one and only chance, Noah. Make me understand why you ripped my heart out without an explanation other than that half-assed goodbye text.”

Noah took another deep breath and began. “You know that I always felt suffocated in this town. Neither of us was truly allowed to be ourselves. Yes, your family knew about us, and Xan knew and like two others at school, but mostly we had to pretend to be best friends. I was proud to have you as a boyfriend. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.”

“That’s more of a reason to stay, Noah, not a reason to run away.”

“I know. I know. I’m getting to that part. I… I’ve never said all of this out loud. I’ve done my best to bury my feelings for the last five years, Ty.”

“You and me both.” Tyler nearly snarled.

Noah got a sad look on his face and continued. “The night of the graduation party, after I dropped you off at home, I wasn’t ready to go home. I made the stupid decision to go back to the party. By the time I finally went home, I was pretty drunk. Yeah, I know, you would have been pissed at me for drinking and driving, so I didn’t tell you that part either.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “You’re exactly right, but I don’t think that’s what you wanted to tell me about.”

“Well, I guess I thought I’d go ahead and unload everything while I’m at it.” Noah huffed out a laugh. “But you’re right. That wasn’t the worst thing to happen that night. I walked into my house, and my dad was still up watching tv. He got up when he heard me come into the house. I tried to get to the stairs and go right to bed, but he stopped me. He started yelling at me. He said he could smell the booze, and he said I was lucky I didn’t kill myself or anyone else. Then he gave me a dirty look and said that he hoped that I didn’t get any girls pregnant in my drunken stupor. Before I even realized what I was saying, I told him that I’d never get any girls pregnant because I was gay and in love with the most beautiful boy in the world.”

Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “You actually said that to your dad?” Then Ty blushed and cocked his head to the side. “Did you mean it? Do you really think I’m beautiful?”

“I said it. I meant it then, and I still mean it now. You are still the most beautiful boy… man… in the world.”

“So, what did he do then? I can’t imagine him taking that well.”

Noah looked down and sighed. He stared at the table and drummed his fingers faster and faster. “This is where the story gets difficult.”

Ty reached over and placed his hand over Noah’s. “You are safe here. You can tell me anything. I… I need to hear this, I think. I’ve been angry at you for so long. I need to know what happened. I need to know why you left.”

“He hit me, Ty. After I said what I said, the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor looking up at my dad as he started kicking the crap out of me. I wasn’t sure if he was going to stop. I thought my dad was going to kill me right then and there.”

Tyler gasped in shock. “The black eye and the bruises. I remember that. You said you got in a fight with a kid from school, but you wouldn’t tell me who because you didn’t want me to go after him. Why didn’t you tell me that it was your dad?”

“He threatened to do it again if I told anyone. He said he’d hurt you, too. Ty, we couldn’t even go to the police. Hell, he is the police! They wouldn’t have believed me over him. So, I decided that I had to leave for my own safety and for yours.”

“Maybe I could have helped.” Tyler motioned toward the living room. “Maybe we could have helped. Worst case scenario, I would have gone with you. Didn’t you know that? I would have gone anywhere to be with you.” Tears started forming at the corners of Tyler’s eyes.

Noah got a pained look on his face. “I didn’t want to mess up your life. You had everything planned out. Never mind a five-year plan. You had a fifty-year plan! How could I ask you to throw that all away?”

Ty leaned in closer to Noah. Tears began to drip out of his eyes and roll down his cheeks. “You idiot! I had a fifty-year plan because of you. Living a life with you was my plan. I could have easily adapted the plan to California or anywhere else. When you left, everything fell apart. My life fell apart. I failed all my classes the first semester at college because I couldn’t concentrate on anything except wondering why you left. I dropped out of school completely and took two years off. I’m only in the middle of my sophomore year now. I loved you more than anything. I fell apart without you.” The tears were flowing faster now, and Tyler started to sob uncontrollably.

Noah leaped to his feet, rushed around the table, and pulled Ty up out of his chair. Noah wrapped his arms around Tyler and pulled him close. “Ty, I am so sorry. I… I thought I was doing the mature thing. I thought I was doing what was best for you. I thought you’d be better off without me.” Noah held Ty’s head tight against his shoulder while his other hand gently caressed the other boy’s back.

Ty melted into the hug and allowed himself to cry for the first time in five years. He lifted his head off Noah’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “I’ve been angry with you for so long. I didn’t let myself cry over you except for that first day. It was easier to be mad. I’m still mad, but I think I understand now. You should have talked to me. We should have made that decision together just like we made all of our decisions together.”

Noah cupped Ty’s face with both hands and used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. “I am truly sorry, Ty. I know I can never apologize enough, but I want you to know that leaving you was the biggest mistake of my life and my biggest regret.”

“You have to give me time to process everything, Noah. Now that I know what happened and why you did what you did, now I can begin to understand and maybe forgive you.” Tyler’s hands had unconsciously settled on Noah’s hips as he still clung to the other boy. His eyes flicked down at Noah’s full sensuous lips before looking back up into his eyes. “You know that I always have to overthink everything.”

Noah smirked down at Ty. “Do you remember how I used to get you out of your head so you could let your heart take control?”

Ty’s eyes sparkled, and his mouth opened to speak, but before he could utter a word, Noah’s lips met his in what started as a sweet, simple kiss. Ty pulled back for a second, and their eyes met, then Ty’s hands were in Noah’s thick curly hair pulling the taller boy down into a much more passionate kiss. Ty’s lips parted, and their tongues began battling back and forth into each other’s mouths fighting for dominance. Without realizing it, Ty was sitting on the tabletop with his legs wrapped around Noah’s hips in a full-blown make-out session. Then he remembered where they were and jumped up. The two boys separated, and Ty spun around, making sure they were still alone. No one else was in the dining room. Tyler blurted out, “I… I didn’t mean for that to happen!”

Noah looked hurt. “Are you sorry that we kissed? Do you want me to leave?”

“No! Don’t be an idiot! And stop asking if I want you to leave. We still have things to figure out.” Ty wrapped his arms around Noah’s neck. “I’m not sorry that we kissed. I don’t want you to leave. Not now, not ever. Do you understand me? Don’t you dare ever leave me ever again.”

“I don’t deserve you. Not even a little bit.”

“You’re wrong. Don’t be an idiot. You deserve better than me. I should have made you feel comfortable enough to tell me anything. I should have found you after you left. I should never have given up on you… on us.”

“You had no way of knowing any of what I just told you or where I went. None of what happened is your fault. It’s all on me. And, hey, no one has called me an idiot in five years, and now you’ve done it like five times in ten minutes. I’m gonna start to believe it soon.”

“You should believe it. You’re an idiot, but I love you.” Tyler let out a big sigh. “Yeah, that feels right. I love you, Noah. I don’t think that I ever stopped loving you. That’s why I tried so hard to hate you.”

“I never stopped loving you either, Ty.” Noah leaned in, and their lips met in another fierce kiss. They broke apart and turned toward the living room when they heard the sound of someone clearing their throat.

“Get a room, you two!” It was Xander. He was standing there in the doorway, grinning like a fool. “I’ve been waiting all day to hear something. Finally, I decided not to wait for you to text me, Ty. I wanted to make sure you two weren’t murdering each other, so I texted Tommy to see if it was ok to come over. I showed up just in time to see the tongue wrestling show. I guess you’ve made up?”

Tyler blushed. “I… we’re working on it. There’s so much that we didn’t know, Xan.”

Ty’s parents and brother followed Xander into the dining room. Ty’s mom smirked at her eldest son. “Is it safe for us to come in here?”

Tyler blushed a darker shade of red. “Yeah. It’s safe. Sorry about that. Did you guys hear any of his story?”

“Bits and pieces. I always knew that Paul Blake was an arrogant jerk, but I never suspected he was abusive to his own family. You boys be safe when you go to the hospital tomorrow. Maybe all three of you should go together.”

Xander’s eyes grew wide. “Abusive?” He walked over and put a hand on Noah’s shoulder. “Can you please tell me what happened? The two of you have always been brothers to me. I want to understand. I want to help.”

“Have a seat, and I’ll tell you everything. I’m so sorry, Xan. I should have talked to you and Ty about all of this instead of running away, but just know that I’m back to stay. I want to try my best to earn forgiveness from both of you.”

While Noah began retelling his story for Xander, Tyler stepped away and walked over to his mother. “I saw the look, mom. I… I’ll be careful.”

“I know you will, son. I trust you,” She looked right into her oldest son’s eyes. “My opinion, if you want it, is that you are making the right choice. He made a mistake. He was young, and he was going through a lot. Should he have made better choices? Yes. Should he have confided in you and Xander? Yes. But he was eighteen years old and dealing with more than any teenager should have to deal with. He thought he was protecting you. I forgive him, do you?”

Tyler’s eyes were glistening with tears again. He looked from his mother to Noah and back again. “Yes. I think I do. I forgive him. I still love him, mom. I don’t think I ever stopped.” Tyler wiped his eyes and turned to see Noah and Xander standing there staring at him.

“You ok, Ty?” They said almost in unison.

“Yeah. Let’s get back to the tv. We have another movie to watch.”

“Tommy said there’s more pizza, too! I can stay, right?” Xander asked.

Mrs. Higgins shook her head. “Of course, you can stay, Xander. You are always welcome in this house.”

“Well, I’d hope so with my best friend and my,” Xan unconsciously looked at Tommy.

Tommy smirked. “And your what?”

“I… my…” Xander glanced around the room nervously.

Tyler’s eyes darted back and forth between his little brother and his best friend. “Oh! My! God! Please tell me that you two finally got together! It’s about damn time!”

Tommy stared at his brother, mouth agape. “What do you mean by finally? It just happened a couple days ago, and it was only a kiss.”

“Oh, come on! The two of you have been lusting over each other for years.” Ty laughed.

Tommy looked over at Xander and quirked one eyebrow. “Is that true?”

Xander blushed a deep scarlet. “Well… yeah… of course it is. I mean, look at you. You’re gorgeous.”

Now it was Tommy’s turn to blush. “I’m not half as hot as you. If you liked me, why didn’t you say something sooner? I’ve known you my whole life.”

“That was actually part of the problem. I mean, you’re my best friend’s little brother, but that alone wasn’t the entire issue. At first, it was your age. When I first realized that I was attracted to you, you were thirteen, and I was seventeen. The four years felt like a huge deal. Then you were dating Reed, and I was dating Kevin. Then I was in college, and you were in high school, and that didn’t feel right either.” Xander shrugged. “Now, the age difference doesn’t matter, and we’re both single. When you looked at me the way you did the other night, I knew the timing was finally right.” Xander’s smile nearly split his face in two.

“That is the absolute sweetest story I have ever heard. You two are like a Hallmark movie. Well, once you add a little spice in there.” Noah said.

“Are we sure it’s gonna be a Hallmark movie, or is it gonna be a porno?” Tyler laughed.

“Tyler Joseph Higgins, you behave yourself!” Debbie Higgins shouted.

Ty put his hands up defensively. “Go ahead and defend your baby boy. Just remember he’s eighteen, not eight!”

Tommy blushed, but he also huffed out a laugh as he took Xander’s hand and led him into the living room. “I think it’s time to start ‘Gremlins’ if anyone wants to join us!”

“Movie Night at the Higgins house never was dull!” Noah laughed as everyone followed Tommy and Xan into the other room to watch the movie.

After the movie was over, Mr. and Mrs. Higgins went to bed, and Tommy walked Xander out to his car, leaving Ty and Noah alone on the couch. Noah was, again, curled up against Tyler’s side. Noah cocked his head and looked up at Ty. “Mm. I could just stay here all night. I’m too comfy to move.” Noah yawned and laid his head back onto Tyler’s chest.

Ty smirked. “Are you sure there’s nothing I could say to get you to move?”

Noah’s eyes popped open wide. “Well, maybe there’s one or two things that could wake me up. What are you suggesting?”

Tyler sighed, but he smiled. “Nothing. Not tonight. I still need to process everything that’s happened and everything that I’ve found out.” Ty cupped Noah’s face with one hand. “There is one thing that I’m sure of. I love you, Noah Blake. I never stopped loving you. I will love you forever.” Ty leaned in, and their lips met. Noah laid back on the couch and pulled Ty down on top of him as the kiss deepened. Noah wrapped his legs around Ty’s hips and moaned. They started thrusting against each other. They heard the front door close, and they untangled from each other and sat up just as Tommy came into the room.

Tommy gave the other two boys a quizzical look. “Uhm, you guys look a little flushed. I think I’ll just go to my room. Have fun, guys!” Tommy giggled and disappeared up the stairs.

Ty shook his head and smiled at Noah. “I think that’s my cue to go to bed, too.”

Noah got a pouty look on his face. “Does that mean that I have to stay out here?”

“For tonight, yes. If you slept in my bed, we’d end up doing what we almost just did.” Ty huffed out a laugh.

“That’s the perfect reason for me to sleep in your bed, not a reason not to!”

“Give me tonight to wrap my head around all this, Noah. I’m not saying no, I’m just saying not tonight.” Ty got up and helped Noah turn the couch into a bed and then, after one last kiss, went off to his own room to sleep.

Chapter 3

Tyler woke to the sound of his bedroom door opening for the second morning in a row. He covered his face with a pillow and groaned. “Tommy, why are you waking me up again? Ugh!” When he didn’t hear his brother answer him, he uncovered his face and blinked open his eyes. His heart nearly skipped a beat or two when he saw that it wasn’t his brother. Noah stood just inside the bedroom. He was shirtless and wearing only a pair of baggy pajama pants.

“Your mom said that breakfast is almost ready. She sent me in to wake you up.” Noah said.

It only took Ty two seconds to make a decision on what he wanted. He held open his blankets and smirked. “I’m already up. Come join me.”

Noah’s mouth fell open. He gaped at Tyler’s naked body and sprang into action. He pulled the drawstring on his pajama pants and let them fall to the floor. He left the clothing behind and slid into the bed next to Tyler. “You sure about this, Ty?”

Tyler rolled over on top of Noah and looked down into his eyes. “I’m surer of this than I have been of anything in a long time.” He said and leaned in for a kiss. Noah wrapped his legs around Ty’s hips as they thrust their bodies together. Lips, tongues, and hands tried to be everywhere at once. Necks were kissed, ears were nibbled, shoulders were bitten. Noah moaned into Ty’s ear as his hands slid down Tyler’s back, finally cupping his lover’s backside, urging their bodies together. All too soon, their mutual lust erupted in twin explosions that splattered all over Noah’s body from his groin clear up to his chin. Ty collapsed onto Noah and then rolled over to lie next to him.

“That was intense and amazing,” Ty said, nearly out of breath.

That was beyond amazing. Also, it was quite surprising. I thought you needed more time to process things.”

“I was awake most of the night. I processed. When I saw you in the doorway, I decided what I wanted. I’m glad you agreed.”

“Ty, from the minute I saw you at the reunion, I knew I still felt the same way that I always have. I love you more than words could ever express.”

Ty leaned up on one elbow and bent down to kiss Noah again. “I love you, too. I know now that I never stopped.”

Noah smirked. “I want more than sex. I want it all. All the little things. All the big things. But,” Noah huffed out a laugh. “While I’m lying here completely covered in our combined love juice, I have to say that sex with you is better than anyone and everyone else combined. One thing though, next time, we need condoms and lube. I want… no I need… to have you inside me.”

Ty grinned. “I was just about to tell you the exact same thing, so I guess we will need lots of condoms and lube.”

“That works for me!” The boys quickly pulled the sheet up to cover themselves when they heard the sound of the bedroom door opening. They caught a glimpse of Tommy before he backed out of the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Tommy reopened the door, but just slightly.

“Sorry, guys! But I’m so happy for you!” Tommy laughed, then in a louder voice, they heard Tommy yell out. “I told them, mom! They said they’ll be down for breakfast in like ten minutes!”

Ty and Noah heard Ty’s mom yell from downstairs. “Tell them it’s not my fault if breakfast is cold!”

Tommy whispered into the partly open door. “You two better hurry up before mom comes up here herself.” Then the door closed, and Tommy ran back downstairs.

Noah huffed out a laugh. “Super quick shower? Obviously, I need one even if you don’t.”

“Quicker if we shower together,” Ty smirked.

“Not necessarily.” Noah grinned.

“We do need to hurry, so we best both behave.” Ty laughed.

————————————————————————————————————

When Noah and Tyler finally walked into the dining room, thankfully, everyone else was still there and still eating. Debbie raised one eyebrow as she looked at them both. “That ten minutes was closer to twenty.” She focused her gaze on Noah. “And I sent you up there to bring him down twenty minutes before that. I won’t even ask what you two were up to up there!” Then her expression softened. “Just know that I’m happy for both of you. I know from the time you were both five years old that you were meant to be friends forever. I didn’t know yet that it would be more than friends, but friendship is the bedrock of the best marriages anyway.” While she said this, she had reached over and grasped her own husband’s hand without even realizing it.

Ty’s dad interlocked his fingers with his wife’s and held up their hands for the boys to see. “What she said is true. My wife is my best friend, and that is just how it should be.”

Ty smiled broadly. “I hope we can say the same someday when we are old like you guys.” Noah tried to stifle a laugh from behind Tyler.

Debbie rolled her eyes. “Shut up and eat some breakfast.”

————————————————————————————————————

After Mr. and Mrs. Higgins left the breakfast table, Tommy brought his own dishes into the kitchen and then sat back down at the dining room table. He looked over at his brother and Noah and smirked. “You two sure are eating a lot. You guys work up an appetite this morning?”

Both boys blushed, and then Ty said. “We did at that. Why do you ask? Do you need pointers on what to do with your new boyfriend?”

Tommy grinned. “I know what I want to do with and to Xander. I don’t know if we’ve labeled ourselves boyfriends yet, though. I’ll have to pin that down.”

“You know I love you both to pieces, and I support whatever relationship that you have, but It’s also gonna be a little weird for me at first.”

“We’ll figure it out. Nothing should really change for you. He’s over here all the time anyway!” Tommy laughed.

“True. And I have my own stuff to worry about.” Ty said.

“I hope that I am not considered a worry,” Noah said.

Ty blushed and smiled. “You know what I mean. Everything is changing. Changing for the better, but changing all the same. You know it takes me a bit to adjust.”

Noah leaned over and gave Ty a soft, sweet kiss. “Take all the time you need, babe. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

Tommy rolled his eyes and chuckled. “If you two keep up like that, I might need a barf bag!”

Tyler shook his head. “Whatever, little bro! Anyway, are we ready to head out to the hospital? Who’s going? Just me and Noah?”

“Xander mentioned wanting to go, and I’m ready anytime,” Noah said.

“If Xan is going, I’ll go, too,” Tommy said.

“We should leave soon to make sure we get back before mom is ready to serve dinner. It is Thanksgiving Day, after all. She’ll kill all of us if we’re late.” Ty said.

Tommy looked up from his phone. “Xan will be here in less than five minutes, and he said that he’ll drive.”

————————————————————————————————————

Xander, Tommy, Noah, and Tyler all walked off the third-floor elevator. Nurse Isabella noticed them and motioned for Ty to come over to the desk. She smiled at him as he approached. “First, I see that you’re still with your ex, and you look happier than I’ve seen you in a long time. Should I tell Ozzy not to expect a call?”

Ty blushed. “I am happy, and I’m not single anymore.” Tyler shrugged. “If Ozzy wanted to hang out sometime, that would still be cool, but it wouldn’t be a date.” Tyler looked thoughtful. “There are some single gay guys that I’m friends with in college. Maybe I’ll throw a New Year’s Eve party and invite them and invite you and Ozzy.”

“Can I bring my plus one?”

“Of course. The more, the merrier!”

Izzy’s expression turned serious. “The more important reason that I waved you guys over here is to tell you that Noah’s dad is in visiting his wife. I know that was a problem yesterday.”

“Thanks, Izzy. We’ll deal with it, and I promise we won’t cause too much of a scene.”

“You better not, or I’ll call your dad before I call security.”

Ty winked at Izzy, and then he turned to Noah. “Did you hear that?”

Noah sighed. “Yeah. Let’s go see what happens.”

Noah turned the corner and stepped into his mother’s room. His father looked up and glared. What are you doing here?”

Noah’s mom reached over and put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Paul, I told you that I want to see him. My son is here to visit me, not you. If you want to give up on your son, that’s your decision, not mine.”

Paul Blake looked furious. He glared down at his wife and then nearly stomped his way toward the door. Noah stepped aside, but his dad stopped right in front of him. “She may want to let you in here, but you are never setting foot in my house ever again. You left some of your trash behind when you ran off to California. It will be in the front yard tomorrow. If you don’t pick it up before Monday, the garbagemen will take it to the dump.”

Noah began to nod his head and was about to speak, but Xander stepped in front of him and looked Mr. Blake right in the eyes. “I used to defend you when the other kids in school complained about mean ole Officer Blake. I told them that you were a super cool guy and a fair cop. I spent a lot of time at your house over the years, and I’m ashamed that I never saw the truth about you. You’re nothing but a mean bully.”

Paul looked at the four boys and sneered. You’re all worthless scum. Get out of my way.” He bumped Xander with his shoulder, and he stormed down the hallway and out of sight.

After they visited with Mrs. Blake, Xander dropped the other three boys off at the Higgins house. Tommy was bummed that Xander couldn’t stay, but their relationship was brand new, and it was Thanksgiving Day. Xan already had dinner plans with his extended family. Head hanging down, Tommy followed his brother and Noah into the house.

————————————————————————————————————

Noah pushed back from the table and rubbed his stomach. “That was fantastic, Mrs. H! I’d forgotten how good a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings could be! Even the cranberry sauce was mouth-watering.”

“Why, thank you, Noah. It’s refreshing to have someone who appreciates the time I put into cooking. I always did like you.” She winked at him. “Just for that, you get the first choice of desserts before these other animals devour it all. That is if you’re still hungry?”

“Dessert? Of course, I’m still hungry!” Noah cheered.

Pies were brought in, along with a plate of cookies, most of which were gone in the blink of an eye. Tommy helped his mom clear the table of dishes. Noah sighed and looked over at Tyler. “I guess the next thing to worry about is getting my stuff off of my parent’s front lawn.”

“How much stuff did you still have there?”

“Not a lot. If you know someone with a pickup, it would definitely be just one truck full.”

“What are you boys talking about?” Mr. Higgins asked. “Why is your stuff on the front lawn?”

“When my mom made my dad let me visit the hospital, he retaliated by saying that I could never again set foot inside his house. I didn’t leave much behind when I left five years ago, but whatever was still there is now out on the lawn. If I don’t pick it up before Monday, the trash man will.”

Mr. Higgins grumbled under his breath, cursing Paul Blake. “Noah, I can get a truck. We’ll go get your stuff tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mr. H! You guys are the best. The only thing now is I don’t know where I’ll put it. I… have nowhere to live right now. I guess I’ll rent a storage unit.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Noah Blake.” Debbie Higgins turned to look at her husband, and unspoken words passed between them. “Bring everything here.” She said.

“Wait… what? Why?” Noah asked, confused.

“You’re going to live here as long as that’s something you want. I haven’t even talked this over with Tyler yet, so it’s really up to you boys, but I am extending the invitation. Move in here with us. The guest bedroom has loads of closet space, and we can find room for anything else that you want to bring.”

Noah was speechless, but Tyler wasn’t. He let out a whoop and leaped to his feet to hug his mom. “I have always known that I have the best mom ever, but you’ve topped everything else just now. Thank you for this, mom. I love you.” Ty turned to look at Noah.

Noah’s lips were trembling, and his eyes were wet with tears. “Ty? Do you really want me to live here? Like not a temporary thing, but actually live here? Is it really ok?”

Tyler slowly walked over to Noah and pulled him to his feet. Ty cupped Noah’s face with both hands. “Noah Samuel Blake, yes, I want you to live here. Everything my mom just said, I mean all that times infinity. If anyone told me last week that I would say this to you today, I would have called them crazy. The last couple of days have shown me why every relationship I’ve ever tried to have has failed over the last five years. You own my whole heart. You always have.”

Noah leaned forward and gently kissed Tyler. “Mm. If we weren’t in the middle of the dining room in front of your parents and brother…” He let the sentence go unfinished.

Ty returned the kiss then pulled back. “Well, now you’ve made it too obvious for us to disappear into my bedroom. We’ll have to revisit this discussion later.”

Mrs. Higgins cleared her throat. “Good idea, boys.” Then she chuckled. “And, yes, we know you are both grown adults and not teenagers anymore. We don’t care if you sleep in your own rooms or together, just for Pete’s sake, don’t be as loud as you were this morning!”

Both boys blushed deep scarlet and said almost in unison. “Sorry! We promise to be quieter!” Then Tyler added, “Unless we are home alone.” Ty’s mom rolled her eyes and laughed.

————————————————————————————————————

After the third episode of ‘Lost in Space – Season 1,’ Noah stretched and yawned. “I think it’s time for me to call it a night. Good night, everyone!” He put a hand on Tyler’s knee and squeezed gently as he stood up, then he strolled up the stairs.

“I’m pretty tired, too,” Ty said. “Good night, guys!”

Tommy laughed. “What a coincidence. Have fun, big brother!”

Ty grinned and ran up the stairs. As Ty rounded the corner, he saw Noah leaning against the wall, his red and black flannel shirt already mostly unbuttoned. Noah waggled his eyebrows. “Your place or mine?”

Tyler closed the remaining distance and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt with both hands pulling him in. Ty pressed his body close to Noah and claimed his mouth in a hot passionate kiss. Ty pushed Noah against the wall. His lips and hands were everywhere at once. Ty kissed along Noah’s jawline and lightly nibbled on his earlobe. At the same time, his hands were busy unbuttoning and unzipping anything that needed unbuttoning or unzipping. Ty’s hands slipped beneath the waistband of Noah’s tight boxer briefs, and Noah moaned into Tyler’s ear. “Oh, God, Ty, we better move this into one of the bedrooms before we end up having sex right here in the hall.”

“My room. It’s closer.” Ty said. They were both stripping off clothes as they stumbled into Ty’s bedroom. By the time Ty closed and locked the door, Noah was naked and pulling Ty down on top of him on the bed. 

Ty stared down at Noah, his eyes filled with that rare combination of love and lust. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us. I’ve missed this.”

Noah reached over to the bedside table and then handed the bottle of lube and a condom to Tyler. “So, have I. I hope you don’t plan on getting much sleep tonight.” Noah smirked.

Ty grinned. “We have five years to make up for. Who needs sleep?”

————————————————————————————————————

The next morning was filled with another visit to the hospital, thankfully uneventful, and the boys ran errands for Mrs. Higgins. After a quick lunch, they borrowed a pickup from one of Mr. Higgins’ friends and picked up all of Noah’s belongings from his parent’s front yard. It was mid-afternoon by the time that they collapsed onto the living room couch with their tasks for the day finally complete.

“I still can’t believe that he threw all your stuff all over the yard like that. It wasn’t even stacked.”

Noah shrugged. “I’m not surprised. That chapter of my life is over now. If I have my way, I will never see him or go near that house ever again.”

“What about when your mom gets out of the hospital?”

“We can meet at a restaurant, or she can come here. I’m not taking the chance of dealing with him in that house with no witnesses.”

“I understand completely.” Then Ty looked around and smiled. “Not to change the subject, but we are home alone right now. NO need to be quiet.”

Noah arched one eyebrow. “How long are we alone for?”

Tyler shrugged. “A couple hours. Tommy is at Xander’s house. Dad went in to work, and mom is at the mall for Black Friday sales.”

“Let’s go!” Noah said, and he began pulling off his shirt even as he ran up the stairs. Both boys were already naked within seconds after they reached Tyler’s bedroom. Ty tackled Noah down onto the bed, and they rolled around wrestling for a few minutes. Noah ended up on top of Tyler and had Ty’s hands pinned down over his head. Ty wrapped his legs around Noah’s hips and leaned up and kissed him. Noah’s lips parted, deepening the kiss as he pressed his entire body down on Tyler. Ty was thrusting his hips up and moaning into Noah’s mouth. Noah broke the kiss and looked down at Ty, and smirked. “After last night, I guess it’s my turn.” He waggled his eyebrows and thrust his hips, grinding their groins together.

“Oh hell, yes!” Ty leaned over to the nightstand, grabbed the lube and a condom, and handed them over to Noah.

“I know you always used to prefer our roles reversed… are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes. I mean, I’m sure more often than not, it will be the other way, but yeah, I want this right now. I need you inside me, Noah. I need that closeness. The bond. Let’s do this.”

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door slamming open and his brother jumping on his bed. “Ty! Wake up! It’s Christmas Eve morning!”

“Ugh! I’m awake! How many times have I told you not to come in here without knocking, Tommy? What if Noah and I had been doing stuff that you wouldn’t want to see us doing?” Ty tried to sound mad, but he huffed out a laugh.

“Noah is in the kitchen making breakfast. I knew you two weren’t in here having sex. Geez. Give me a little credit, big bro.”

“Why did you wake me up?”

Tommy sighed. “I need some advice.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “I think the ship has sailed on giving you the talk. I’m sure Xander has stolen your innocence by now!”

“Oh, please. I lost my v-card to Reed Simmons. It’s not about sex, you perv. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before. I mean… Reed and I were together for over a year, but it wasn’t serious, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I get it. So, what’s your question, little bro? How can I help?”

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s our one-month anniversary. What should I do?”

“If I know my bestie like I think I know my bestie, he’ll already have something planned. Let me talk to him and find out on the down-low. It would be silly if you both planned something different for the same night.” Ty thought for a second. “Flowers would be good, though.”

“Thanks, Ty! You’re the best big brother a guy could ask for.” Tommy jumped off the bed and headed toward the door.

“Oh, one thing, Tommy,” Ty said.

“Yeah, what is it?”

“Make sure you put out tonight. That’s the best anniversary gift ever!” Tyler snickered. Tommy rolled his eyes and ran out the door laughing.

————————————————————————————————————

The day of Christmas Eve went by relatively quietly for Tyler. Tommy was out with Xander, but Ty and Noah decided to spend a quiet day at home with Tyler’s parents. They’d been binging Christmas movies and snacking on fresh baked cookies and hot buttered popcorn all day long. Now, after dinner, they sat back in front of the tv and put on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Noah leaned into Ty’s side and looked up at him. “It really is a wonderful life. Well, now it is anyway.”

Ty smiled. “It’s been quite a month.”

“I know, right? I was lost and alone when I moved back here from California. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or where I would stay or really anything. I’m not even sure why I went to that class reunion. Boredom, I guess. I just needed to get out of that dirty motel room.” Noah huffed out a laugh.

“You never went back, except to pick up your things,” Ty smirked.

“I thought you hated me. You wouldn’t even let me talk to you at first. I was in shock when you brought me here that night.”

“The best decision I ever made. Plus, even if I did hate you, which I never did, I could not let you stay in that motel. When you came out to the entire class and then told everyone about your mom. I reacted on impulse.”

“Now, my mom is out of the hospital, and she left my dad. Her life is getting better right along with mine.”

“Mine is, too.” Ty leaned over and gave Noah a kiss. “And with that in mind, we have a tradition in this house. We each get to open one present on Christmas Eve.” Ty looked over at his mom. “Do I have to wait for Tommy to get home?”

“No. He said that he’ll be home late. You go on ahead.”

Ty grinned and walked over to the tree. He reached into the branches and pulled out a small package wrapped in red, white, and gold paper. Ty motioned for Noah to join him by the tree. Noah walked over and extended his hand to receive the gift.

Tyler reached out with his free hand and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt. He pulled the other boy in and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. When he broke the kiss, Noah smiled. “What was that for?”

Ty grinned. “Do I need a reason to kiss the man I love?”

“Well, no, but…”

Tyler cut him short and pointed up. “Ah,” Noah said. “Mistletoe. That wasn’t there earlier. When did you put that up?”

“While you were in the kitchen helping mom with the last batch of popcorn.”

“Sneaky devil.” Noah grinned. “Can I have my present now?” Ty handed the gift over to Noah, who gleefully ripped the wrapping paper off of it. He opened the box and held up a single key. Noah looked puzzled. “What’s this go to?” He asked.

“Do you remember what we were doing last weekend?”

Noah thought for a second. “You don’t mean the condos on the beach, do you?”

“The very same. The one that you said you liked the best is ours as long as you still want to move in with me. I have until the twenty-ninth to change my mind, or I can make one phone call, and it’s officially ours. What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think that you’re freaking awesome! Yes! Of course, yes. There’s nothing I want more than to live with you.”

“You’ve been living with me for a month.” Ty huffed out a laugh.

Noah smirked. “No offense to your parents and Tommy, but this will be different, and you know it. This will be a place that is just ours.”

“That’s the plan. It’s also rent to own. If we like it well enough, it can be ours forever. It won’t just be an apartment. We can make it into our home.”

Noah took one of Ty’s hands and placed it over his heart, then he put his own hand over Tyler’s heart. “I love that you want to build a home for us, but I want you to know something. Ever since the first day I saw you way back when we were five years old, somehow even back then, I knew. My parent’s house was no longer my home. California was never my home. You are my home, Tyler. Wherever you are is where I want to be. Here. An apartment. Our new place. As long as we’re there together, it is home.”

Tears were flowing down both boys’ cheeks. Ty leaned in and gave Noah another kiss. “I love you with all my heart, Noah. I always have and I always will.”

Noah blushed and smiled. “Can I give you my gift now?”

Ty grinned and wiped the tears off his face. “You better!”

“Well, I was super nervous about this, but with the condo and the proclamations of love, it kinda boosts my confidence in your response.”

“Aw. Babe, what is it? Why would you be nervous?”

Noah smiled and pulled a small box out of his pocket, then he dropped to one knee. He opened the box and held it out toward Tyler. “Tyler Joseph Higgins, I have loved you nearly my entire life, and I will love you forever. I can’t imagine a life without you. I nearly lost you once. I never want to take that chance again. Will you marry me?”

Ty’s tears were flowing freely now, and he heard his mom squealing with glee in the background. Ty pulled Noah to his feet and kissed him. Ty’s hands ran through Noah’s hair as the kiss became passionate. Then Ty broke the kiss. He looked behind him at his parents. “Ooops. Sorry! I got carried away.” Then he looked back at Noah. “Yes! If you couldn’t figure it out, a billion times yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!”

Noah scooped Tyler up into his arms. He looked over at Ty’s parents. “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. H!” Then he carried his fiancé up the stairs and into his bedroom. He set Tyler down on the bed, and as he turned to close the door, he said, “Just think, a month ago I was almost homeless, and now I am finally home at last.”

The RV Chronicles (Chapter 37)

Chapter 37

Written by: (DanielJPhoenix2021)

After introductions were made and it was determined that the only damage incurred as a result of Nicholas’ unplanned detour to avoid hitting Oliver was the demolition of the decorative wishing well, Nicholas told Billy that he was confident that, with assistance, he could quickly build another well for his sister’s flower garden. They could simply buy a new one, but for a little more than half the cost of buying one, he could build one in a few hours that would be much sturdier. He pulled several styles up on his phone, and Billy chose the one he felt that his sister would be most pleased with. Billy’s sister was a nurse and wouldn’t be home until the next morning. Wouldn’t she be surprised!?!

Fortunately, Billy drove a Dodge Ram truck and, after securing Oliver in the fenced area of the yard, left with Nicholas to retrieve the necessary materials from the local home improvement store. Mason wanted to go, as well, for entirely different reasons. Still, he was aware that Nicholas was the only one that actually knew what was needed. It would be more considerate to stay behind and help Griffin clean up the remains of the recently and quite unexpectedly dearly departed wishing well … not to mention a few unfortunate shrubs, hostas, Black-eyed Susans, and Shasta Daisies.

————————————————————————————————————

As they headed towards the store, Billy asked Nicholas what tools he would need. “I have some basic power tools, but if you need something I don’t have, you can rent it at the home improvement store.”

“Actually, I brought some of my basic tools with me, along with a couple of fold-up sawhorses. Not sure why, but it felt weird leaving them behind, and they don’t take up much space. This is the first time I’ve had a need for them!” Nicholas chuckled. “I think I’m just gonna need my miter saw, circular saw, orbital sander, and electric screwdriver/drill, so we’re set.”

Less than an hour later, they were heading back to Billy’s house with a quarter-sheet of 3/4″ plywood, several 8′ pieces of 2″x2″, one piece each of 1″x2″ and 1″x3″, a 2-foot length of dowel, tar paper, shingles, sandpaper, and exterior wood screws. Billy had also chosen a gallon of exterior wood stain that closely matched the previous well.

As they pulled into the driveway, it was obvious that Griffin and Mason had wasted no time as all the debris had been cleared from the flower bed and deposited in the spot behind the house that Billy had shown them, while retrieving the wheelbarrow and rake, before leaving for the store. Billy went into the house to gather refreshments while Griffin and Mason unloaded the materials. Nicholas dug into the underneath storage area of the RV to locate the sawhorses, tools, and extension cords that he needed.

————————————————————————————————————

Nicholas canceled their reservations at Seaport RV Resort when Billy insisted that they stay overnight at his house. Since it was late afternoon and it was obvious that they would not be finishing the well that day, the boys were very agreeable, especially Mason!

Nicholas wisely chose to cut all the materials while he had the sunlight, and then they were able to begin construction as the sun went down. The illumination from the streetlights was adequate for the assembly, and the well was completed by 9 pm. They would stain it in the morning after breakfast and after the sun had dried the dew off.

Both Griff and Nicholas had quickly picked up on the not-so-subtle vibes and flirtations that Billy and Mason were radiating towards each other as they worked, so Nicholas casually mentioned that he’d rather sleep in the RV, in the bed he was used to, if Billy wouldn’t think him rude. He slyly winked at Griff as he made this comment.

“OH! Yeah, I agree,” Griffin immediately concurred. “Of course, I need to be sleeping next to my boo, you know!”

“Well, that’s fine,” Billy responded. “I totally understand … not rude at all. Since my sister is at work, that leaves the whole house to us, Mason!” Mason sputtered in an attempt to put words to the thoughts flying through his head but then just nodded as he also blushed several shades of red.

“Since it’s so late, how ’bout I order pizza. Is that okay with everyone?”

“When is pizza ever not okay?” quipped Griffin. “I like anything except the little fishies.”

“How about a couple of ‘Meat Lovers,’ then?”

Nicholas chuckled, “Oh, that’s perfect! I love me some meat!”

Billy snorted, “I’ll order two big ones, then. One for you guys and one for Mason and me. Plenty for everyone!”

————————————————————————————————————

After retrieving a few overnight necessities from the RV, Mason followed Billy into the house, feeling like a 12-year-old heading into the closet for their first round of ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven.’ He wasn’t sure what he thought was going to happen … or what he hoped would happen … but his insides were threatening to come outside.

Billy showed Mason where to deposit his things and quickly phoned in their pizza order. He then showed Mason around the house, ending in the kitchen where he popped open a can of Pillsbury breadsticks and slid them into the oven to bake while they waited for the pizzas to arrive.

Out in the RV, an exhausted Griffin plopped down on the sofa. “I’m hitting the shower before I even sit down. I won’t have the energy to get back up later,” Nicholas said. He did, however, manage to bend over to give Griff a token of his love before heading towards the bathroom.

“If I’m asleep when you come out, wake me,” Griffin answered as he returned Nicholas’ token with one of his own.

“Why don’t you come and join me?” Nicholas said in his best Mae West impersonation, which was pretty bad, and an even worse twerk attempt. This sent Griff into a fit of giggles.

“How can I resist that invitation? Help me up, Boo!”

While the boys performed their ablutions, Billy and Mason had settled in the living room to await their dinner. Mason flipped on the TV and found a Cardinals/Braves baseball game but turned the volume down to whisper level. He could feel the tension radiating off of Mason and hoped this would help create a more comfortable atmosphere for him. Billy wasn’t new to this, but he could not remember a time when he felt such sexual tension … and this revelation startled him. Why was he feeling like this? He only knew that he liked Mason … a LOT … and he didn’t want to mess this up. He had no idea how to proceed.

“So … tell me how you guys came to be in my flower bed.”

————————————————————————————————————

Thirty minutes later, Mason took one of the pizzas and several breadsticks out to the boys in the RV. They were still damp from their shower and seemed to be in an even sillier mood than usual. “Where’s the beef?” Griffin deadpanned as he accepted the pizza offering and breadsticks. “Ooo … those breadsticks smell awesome! Thanks!”

“I need meat!” shouted Nicholas from the living room.

Griff and Mason strolled in with the food, and Nicholas scampered to the fridge to grab a couple of bottles of water, snatching a few napkins on his way out of the kitchen.

“So you and Billy getting to know each other better, Mase?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Mason stammered. “I told him basically how you guys ended up on this trip and how I became a surprise participant.”

“You were meant to be here with us,” Nicholas said. “We wouldn’t have it any other way, Mason. I hope you and Billy have a fun night.”

“And we’ll wait to hear from you guys in the morning,” Griff winked and chuckled.

“Don’t text me … I’ll text you,” Mason threw back as he left the boys to their meat.

————————————————————————————————————

Mason walked back into the living room and made a decision. He didn’t sit on the far end of the couch where he had been sitting before he went out to the RV. Mason sat down right next to Billy, so the two men were shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. The baseball game was just ending, a 4-3 win for the Cardinals. Mason looked over at Billy. “How does someone living in Connecticut end up as a St. Louis Cardinals fan? Are you from Missouri?”

“Nope. I’ve lived in Connecticut my whole life. It’s a funny story. My oldest brother, who is twelve years older than me, made me pick sports teams when I was five years old. I’m sure that I picked the Cardinals because of the bird. Still, as I fell in love with baseball, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina made it easy to love the Cardinals.”

“That has got to be the sweetest story about picking a favorite baseball team that I’ve ever heard.” Mason smiled.

Billy turned off the tv and set the remote on the coffee table, then turned toward Mason. Billy reached up and cupped the younger man’s face with one hand. “And you have the sweetest smile that I’ve ever seen.”

Mason blushed and pushed his face against the warmth of Billy’s touch. “I bet you say that to all the guys.”

“No.” Billy stared deep into Mason’s emerald green eyes. “Mase, I’m twenty-nine years old. I’ve had boyfriends, I’ve had hookups, hell, I’ve even had a threesome once. What I’ve never had with anyone is that butterflies in my stomach feeling that I got the moment you stepped out of that RV.”

Mason blushed an even deeper red. “I… I feel that, too.”

Billy’s eyes flicked down to Mason’s full lips before returning to his eyes. “I don’t know how long you guys are in town for. I haven’t even taken you out on a proper date yet. I’m not looking for a one-time thing here. Mase, I…”

Mason closed the remaining gap between the two men and kissed Billy. Billy’s eyes opened wide, and his lips parted as he was still trying to talk. Mason took advantage of Billy’s parted lips to slip his tongue inside the other man’s mouth and deepen the kiss. Mason’s hands were not idle. He pulled Billy’s shirt out of the waistband of his jeans and slid his hand under the t-shirt. Mason’s other hand gripped the back of Billy’s neck, trying to pull him in even closer as their tongues fought for dominance.

Finally needing to come up for air, they broke the kiss. Billy’s eyes were glazed over with lust, but his brain was still in overdrive. “Mason, I’m almost nine years older than you. We haven’t talked about that yet. And, also, I…”

“Billy! I know how old you are. I’m almost twenty-one. You’re not taking advantage of some kid. Stop overthinking this and get naked.”

“But I…”

Mason straddled Billy’s lap and looked down into his eyes. He put a hand over Billy’s mouth. “Stop talking.” Mason took his hand away and kissed Billy again.

Billy pulled back and grinned. “You’re right. I overthink. Let’s enjoy tonight and deal with whatever comes next tomorrow. Grab onto my neck and hold on tight.” After Mason wrapped his arms around Billy’s neck, Billy stood and carried Mason down the hallway and into his bedroom, kicking the door shut behind them.

————————————————————————————————————

Mason opened his eyes and was surprised at how bright it was already. He must have slept late. His thoughts drifted back to the night before. He didn’t have sex with Billy, but they did just about everything else. Mason chuckled as he tried to remember when the last time he had three orgasms in one night was, not counting nights spent with just his right hand for company. Probably high school with Danny Mitchell, but even that didn’t compare to last night with Billy! What a night!

Billy rolled over. “I guess it wasn’t just a dream then. Good morning, beautiful.”

Mason blushed. “That would have been the best dream ever. Even better because it happened.”

“It did happen, and I’d love for it to happen again.”

“Definitely! Again and again and again!”

Billy grinned. “What are your plans for the day? Did you guys have a schedule set up of where you wanted to go?”

“I guess we’ll finish up your sister’s wishing well first. I’ll have to check in with Griff on what they wanted to do next. I’m just along for the ride. This is their trip. Uhm… any idea where my clothes are? I need my phone to text Griff.” Mason chuckled.

Billy huffed out a laugh. “I’m pretty sure you still had your jeans on when we got to the bedroom. Yup! There they are, over by the door. I’ll go shower while you text Griffin.”

About forty minutes later, Billy and Mason left the house and walked over to Nicholas and Griff as they were just finishing up the first coat of stain on the brand-new wishing well. “Hey guys, what’s next on our agenda.” Billy and Mason said almost in unison.

The RV Chronicles (Chapter 36)

Chapter 36

Written by: (KenW9270)

After four amazing days in New York City, which included meeting a new friend and travel companion, the boys were back on the road. With ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf blaring from the speakers, they sped along I-95 North and into New England. Nicholas glanced over at his co-pilot and boyfriend, Griffin. “Every day with you is a magic carpet ride.” He waggled his eyebrows and nodded toward the stereo.

“Aw, you’re so sweet, Boo,” Griffin smiled.

“Hey, look! ‘Welcome to Connecticut,’ we are officially in New England. You know what, Peaches, I always dreamed of traveling the entire country with you, but I’m not sure that I ever truly believed we would get this far. This trip is a dream come true, and everything that has happened is beyond amazing.”

“You must be talking about me. Thanks, Nicholas!” Mason quipped.

Griff laughed. “Mason, you’re such an idiot! Why did we bring you with us?”

“Hmm. My charm and good looks? Or was it my cooking skills that won you over? I’m not sure which.”

“Or maybe I just have a thing for strays,” Nicholas said.

“Yeah, that’s probably it,” Mason said. “Anyway, where in Connecticut are we going to stay? I was sitting here looking at all the maps that you have out on the table.”

“We’re going to be staying at the Seaport RV Resort in a town called Mystic. There’s a lot of stuff to do in the Mystic and New London area, plus, I thought we might use it as a home base to also hit a couple places in Rhode Island since it’s so close.”

“This is why he is always in charge of trip planning,” Griff chuckled. “I suggest places to go or things to do, but Nicholas plans all our routes and picks out the RV parks.”

“Well, am I allowed to throw a curveball at you? I found something on the map that you don’t have circled, but it looks really cool. It’s not too far off of our route. Do we have to be at the RV park at a certain time?”

“No set time to be there, but I would like to be there and set up before dinner. Then, after dinner, we can chill out and watch movies or something. I want to be well-rested to start our New England adventures tomorrow morning.” Nicholas said.

“What did you have in mind, Mase?” Griffin asked.

“I’ll text you the link.”

“Oh! This does look cool. Nicholas, do you wanna see a castle and do a little hiking?”

“A castle in Connecticut?”

“Yeah. It looks cool, and the hiking trails look awesome.”

“Put it in the GPS. What kind of schedule are we looking at?” Nicholas asked.

“We’ll get to the park around eleven. Looks like an hour to an hour and a half inside the castle, then we can have lunch and hike for a couple hours. If we leave the park by three, we’ll hit Mystic around four.” Griff said.

“Let’s do this!” Nicholas exclaimed.

“Alright! Thanks, guys. This looks fun.” Mason said with a grin.

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The three boys stepped outside of the Gillette Castle and found themselves on a terrace overlooking the Connecticut River. With the cloudless blue sky and the dozens of sailboats on the river, the view was breathtaking.

“Mason, you have to take our picture here!” Griff nearly squealed.

Mason took out his phone to take a picture, but Griffin stopped him. “No, no! Here. With this.” Griff handed Mason his camera.

“A real camera? Wow. Are you a photographer, Griff?” Mason asked.

“Just amateur stuff. Maybe someday I’ll do more. I do enjoy it.”

“I’ve been checking out your Instagram page, but I assumed they were cell phone pics. The page is amazing.”

“Thanks.” Griff smiled and stepped closer to Mason to show him what settings to use on the camera.

Mason took a few photos of the boys in front of the river. Then a few more in front of the castle. He also took a couple pics of Nicholas and Griffin with his phone for his own memories of a fun day with his new friends.

“Now, we need you in some pictures with us,” Nicholas said. He looked around and found a teenage girl willing to be their photographer. After their mini photoshoot, Nicholas turned to the other two, “You guys ready to go hiking?”

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The boys got back to the RV just before 3 PM. Nicholas and Griffin nearly collapsed onto the couch, and Mason plopped down on the beanbag chair. “That was fun. Some of those hills were steep, though! I sure didn’t get this kind of workout walking the sidewalks in New York City.” Mason said.

“Stick with us, and you won’t need to join a gym.” Griff laughed.

“Yeah, we’ve been rock climbing and zip-lining and hang gliding, and all kinds of different exciting stuff already on this trip!” Nicholas added.

“I can’t thank you enough for letting me come with you.”

“Just keep cooking breakfast, and we’re good.” Griff winked.

“Fair enough!” Mason laughed.

“Back to the road, fellow travelers,” Nicholas said and returned to the captain’s chair.

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An hour later, Nicholas pulled the RV off the highway and started navigating Mystic, Connecticut’s suburban streets. Out of nowhere, a small dog darted out into the road. Nicholas knew he couldn’t stop in time, but he could not bear the thought of hitting a dog. He spun the steering wheel as hard as he could and prayed for the best. Crunch!

After his heart rate slowed a bit, Nicholas looked at his two passengers. “Is everyone ok?”

“Did we hit that dog? We hit something! What did we hit?” Griffin said while yanking his door open.

The three boys piled out of the RV to look for the dog, find out what they hit, and look for any damage to the RV.

Nicholas and Griffin walked around to the front of the RV to have a look around. “Little dog, are you ok, little dog? Where are you?” Griffin called out as they walked. They discovered that they were parked in the middle of someone’s flower garden. The RV front was on top of the shattered remains of what looked like a wooden replica wishing well. The dog was nowhere in sight.

When Mason stepped out of the RV’s back door, the little dog sat there looking up at him. It was an adorable basset hound. Mason dropped to his knees and hugged the dog. “Oh, thank goodness you’re ok, little guy!” The dog wagged its tail and started happily licking Mason’s face. Mason heard someone approach, and he looked up and nearly fainted. The guy standing over him was the hottest guy that Mason had ever seen. The curly black hair and dark brown eyes melted Mason’s heart in an instant.

Mason leaped to his feet. “Is this your dog? Is this your house? I’m so sorry, sir, I don’t know what happened! It was totally an accident!”

“Sir?” The guy chuckled. “I don’t look that old, do I? I’m only twenty-nine! But, yes, that’s my dog. My baby, Oliver. It’s my sister’s house, though.” He stuck out his hand. “My name is Billy. I’m glad that you’re ok. That sounded like a hell of a crash. We should check on your friends… and my sister’s wishing well.”

Mason took Billy’s offered hand and shook it. “Hi, Billy. I’m Mason. I am so relieved that we didn’t hit your dog! I hope we didn’t cause too much damage!”

“The main thing is that all three of you are ok, and Oliver is ok. Ollie seems very taken with you. He’s not always that friendly with strangers. In this case, I don’t blame him one bit. I’m actually a little jealous of the attention he’s getting.” Billy smirked.

Mason blushed and surprised himself by responding. “You’re not going to start wagging your tail and licking my face next, are you?”

“Not unless you ask me nicely.” Billy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Now, let’s go check on your friends.” Billy turned and walked toward the front of the RV.

The RV Chronicles (Chapter 35)

Chapter 35

Written by: (Flash2002)

Nicholas and Griffin and Mason decided to have a wonderful last day in New York City. They planned to spend the day in Manhattan. “Hey babe, how about we visit the King Kong building this morning and then hit up a few museums and the 9/11 tribute monument to pay our respects. Later, we can go to Times Square and see the wild and crazy nightlife with all the bright lights, and we can end our night with a concert outside of the MTV studio. Imagine Dragons will be there!” Said Griffin.

Mason chimed in and said, “Wow! That sounds like an amazing day!”

Nicholas retorted, “Ok, but we have to be back earlier than usual because we have some traveling ahead of us tomorrow.” The guys ate breakfast, showered, and got ready to set out on their day’s adventure. While Nicholas was in the shower, Mason approached Griffin because he noticed tears in Griff’s eyes. “Griff, are you ok? I mean, you look so sad. What’s up? It seems like you guys have a rather good thing going here.”

Griff looked up and said softly. “I don’t want to leave Nicholas to go to school. I’m really loving our time together, and if I leave now, he might find somebody else. He’ll forget me and move on, Mason.”

“Do you really think that? There’s no way in hell that I could see him doing that to you. You guys love each other so much. I can see that in just the short amount of time that I’ve known you!” Mason said while hugging Griff.

“I know you’re probably right. Thanks, but I can’t help feeling sad. Just don’t let Nicholas know, please. I want him happy all the time for as long as possible.”

Mason glanced up and said, “My lips are sealed.”

About that time, Nicholas walked in. He looked hot and smelled delicious, Griff thought. Nicholas was singing “Radioactive” and leaned in and kissed Griff. “Let’s go, y’all. Full steam ahead.” Nicholas said.

The guys hopped on the subway headed towards Manhattan. First stop, what Griff referred to as the King Kong building, the Empire State Building. They had gotten tickets ahead of time, so they took the elevator up as high as they were allowed to and gazed out at the New York skyline. It was an exhilarating feeling, seeing everything so huge look so small. It took their collective breath away.

Next up, the guys stopped at a building that has always had Nicholas in awe of how it was built. It was called the Vessel. It was a marvel to behold and had a fantastic view from the top.

Next on the agenda was a quick stop at J.P. Morgan’s massive library. They browsed the library and read about how J.P. Morgan had built it and allowed people to visit and use the library for free until his death. After an hour, the three boys decided to move on to the next item on their list for the day.

The guys stopped and took a quick snack break. They ate the sandwiches they had packed in their backpacks and washed them down with some bottles of water. “I want to thank you both for taking me along on your adventure today. I’m having so much fun with you guys!” said Mason.

“You are more than welcome. We are enjoying your company, too.” Nicholas said enthusiastically.

“Ok, next up a quick stop to look around Grand Central Station, and then on to the 9/11 monument!” Griff said. “Let’s get a move on it. We have a schedule to keep!”

“The utter majesty of this place is unbelievable, and it is so freaking busy! I can’t see how they keep everything running so smoothly!” Mason said.

“Great observation, but we can’t stay long. We need to get to the 9/11 monument.” Griff said, touching his watch.

“Well, we are on hallowed ground, and you know it brings back so vividly how, even though we live in America, we are safe, but anything can happen in the blink of an eye! Life as we know it can change instantly!” Nicholas said to the other two boys.

“That is such a deep thought, babe,” Griffin said with tears running down his cheeks. “Too many beautiful people died needlessly that day, and we, as a nation, will never forget it.”

Then Mason said, “Let’s pause for a moment of silence for us to honor the dead and the many still affected by this awful tragedy.”

The guys then stopped at Central Park. It is such an iconic park. Crowded with people and their pets, as well as joggers, bikers, and skateboarders. So many great sites to see! Trees, lakes, and flowers lined bridges and walkways. So much to take in such a short amount of time! The guys stopped to rest for a few minutes. Mason sat quietly while Nicholas took notes in his journal, and Griff took photos for their RV Chronicles page on Instagram.

“Kiss me, babe, so I can say we kissed in Central Park,” Nicholas said, grinning slyly at Griff.

“Gladly,” Griffin said with a smirk as he moved in. The kiss was long, deep, and passionate.

Mason chimed in, “You guys are so lucky. I hope one day soon, I can have that with somebody. You are so good for each other, and you can just see the love in your eyes. Wow!”

Blushing, Griff said, “I think that you are a great guy, Mase. You’ll find someone special one day.”

“Thanks, Mason. I do love him very, very deeply.” Nicholas said.

They walked to Times Square next. It was dark out now, but the whole area was lit up like it was the middle of the day. “Can you imagine being here at Christmastime? Or New Year’s Eve?” Griffin said excitedly.

“Yeah!” Nicholas yelled. “Even now, look at all the big screen TV’s and people dressed up as different cartoon characters!”

“It’s hard to stay focused on any one thing! There’s so much going on. I bet that because of the free outdoor concert tonight, it is even more packed than usual!” Mason added.

The hustle and bustle of bright city lights were overwhelming the guys. “We are right up by the stage. Awesome! We got here early enough to get great spots! You can see the ABC News studio right over there, and look at MTV! Wow, it’s even more packed over there.”

“Right after Imagine Dragons performs, we will head back to the RV, so we can get some sleep before we head out tomorrow.” Nicholas reminded the other two.

The guys bought drinks and food and then the show started. The whole crowd yelled and screamed the entire time. It was a fantastic show. As the guys headed back home, Griffin lagged behind. Now that the hustle and bustle of day was over, he was filled with sadness again, just thinking about leaving the love of his life to start college. “I really want to go to school, but at what cost? Do I really want to abandon this awesome adventure with the one person who I love the most in all the world?” These thoughts and many others crossed Griff’s mind as he shoved his hands into his pockets and hurried to catch back up to Nicholas and Mason.

The RV Chronicles (Chapter 34)

Chapter 34

Written by: (DanielJPhoenix2021)

While devouring a scrumpdeliliciomous (“It’s a word … look it up!” insisted Griffin) breakfast prepared by Mason, the boys filled him in on their plans for their third day in New York City.

“We’re going to stroll around Greenwich Village this morning and then visit Alphabet City after lunch. You don’t have to come with us, but you’re certainly welcome to,” Nicholas offered. “We realize you’ve probably seen all of these places already. If you’d rather just Netflix and chill here, that’s fine.”

“If you’re serious and really don’t mind a third wheel, I’d love to tag along,” Mason smiled enthusiastically. “I went to school in Upper Manhattan, Columbia University, and never made it down as far south as Greenwich and Alphabet City. I always meant to but just never got around to it. It seems like you always think you have plenty of time to do things like that … then you don’t.”

“Well, alright, then. You hit the showers while Griff and I clean up breakfast and we’ll head for the subway.”

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“Which way?” Griffin inquired of Nicholas, as he was the most qualified navigator amongst the threesome. They had emerged from the subway into a bright, cloudless day. Nicholas had his cellphone GPS while Griffin had his camera at the ready.

“You two are quite the pair,” chuckled Mason. “Two halves of a whole if I’ve ever seen it!”

“Oh, we work well in tandem on so many levels!” Griffin agreed.

“Okay, let’s head that way. Just up the street a couple of blocks is the Stonewall Inn,” Nicholas directed. “As I’m sure you both know, that’s pretty much where the Gay Civil Rights Movement started.” He pulled up a website and began to give some background history as they walked.

“The Stonewall Inn was a bar known for serving gay and lesbian patrons. In 1969, serving alcohol to gay men and women was illegal in 49 of the 50 states, including New York.”

“Unbelievable,” mumbled Griffin.

“The Stonewall didn’t care about the law because it was run by the Mafia,” Nicholas continued. “The gay community around Greenwich Village was growing tired of their oppression. The local police were increasing the number of raids on bars who served gay patrons. On the night of June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn. As the patrons left the bar, they didn’t disperse as ordered by the police. They stayed outside, and a commotion began. Patrons from other bars and residents from the neighborhood gathered to see what was happening. Tensions built, and at one point, people, gay and straight, who were gathered around the Stonewall, began throwing pennies at the police because pennies are made of copper and “copper” was a derogatory term for the police. NYPD Riot Police arrived and confronted the crowd and arrested protesters. The next night, people showed up to see what was going to happen and emotions flared again into another night of rioting, as well as the next night. The riots got a lot of attention in the news. Leaders of the gay and lesbian community were finally able to find widespread support for organizing the fight for their civil rights. A year later, on June 28, 1970, the first gay civil rights parades were held in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.”

“Obviously, that’s why June is now Pride Month,” Mason added, “with Pride Parades all over the world.”

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Following their visit to The Stonewall Inn, the boys strolled up Bedford Street to view the building used for the exterior apartment shot of Nicholas’ favorite sitcom, “Friends.” Of course, there is no actual ‘Central Perk’ on the ground level, but there is a restaurant called ‘The Little Owl.’ Several pics were taken to post on their Insta page.

Approaching an intersection as they continued their stroll, Griffin suddenly shouted, “Bleecker Street!”

“What the what?” a startled Mason stuttered.

“Care to explain yourself, Peaches?”

“I just remembered that AJR live in Chelsea, which I think is just north of Greenwich and got their start performing in Washington Square Park which is right around here somewhere,” Griffin attempted to explain while looking around as if he could see the park from where they were standing. “One of my favorite songs is ‘Growing Old on Bleecker Street,’ and I’ve read there’s a lot of history on this street.”

“Who and/or what is an AJR?” a perplexed Mason inquired.

“AJR is Griffin’s favorite band. They’re three brothers, Adam, Jack and Ryan, and they have really fun, perky songs. They’re awesome,” Nicholas filled in. “We’ll listen to some tonight when we get back home.”

Griffin had Mason take his pic while standing under the street sign as Nicholas pulled up the Wikipedia page for Bleecker Street to see if there was anything of interest to see. Of course, Griffin insisted that they walk at least a few blocks up the street.

“This says Robert DeNiro grew up on Bleecker and Herman Melville lived here as a boy, too. John Belushi and Alicia Keys have also lived here,” Nicholas said. “Washington Square Park is just a couple of blocks that way, Griff. Let’s head in that direction.”

So the guys spent the remainder of the morning sightseeing and people watching, especially the many street performers in the park until Griffin’s belly rudely informed everyone that it was time to locate sustenance. They chose to head east from the park towards Alphabet City, where they planned to spend the afternoon and found themselves at the campus of New York University.

They decided to lunch at Phebe’s, and while waiting for their orders, Nicholas continued his ongoing research and background history narration. “So we’ll spend the rest of the day in Alphabet City which, of course, is called that because Avenues A, B, C, and D run through it. It’s part of the larger East Village.”

“That’s where the Broadway musical ‘Rent’ takes place, right?” asked Mason.

“Yeah, Nicholas and I have always wanted to see that live, but when the touring show came through North Carolina, the tickets went on sale the week Boo’s dad died and sold out in a couple of days,” Griffin solemnly explained. “We do have the DVD of the movie version, though, and we both know every word of every song.”

“That’s really my primary reason for wanting to walk around Alphabet City,” Nicholas continued. “The plot and many of the characters in ‘Rent’ are based directly on characters from Puccini’s opera, ‘La Boheme,’ but it’s a rock opera set in the East Village and Alphabet City in the late 1980s during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It’s basically about young artists and performers struggling to survive and pay their rent to keep from becoming homeless.”

The discussion continued as the boys’ food arrived, and they scarfed down every morsel. Nicholas took care of the bill and they headed out into the bright midday sunshine continuing their eastward trek across Lower Manhattan.

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During his research, Nicholas came across The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space located on Avenue C, which he thought would be interesting to investigate. The threesome casually strolled around Tompkins Square Park, the site of another famous riot in 1988 when police attempted to remove the many homeless people that had begun squatting there. The park was quite crowded due to the beautiful summer weather, and Griffin was able to take many nice pictures to add to their Instagram travel journal.

“So what exactly does a Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space have that people would want to see,” inquired Mason.

“Well, what I get from their website is it educates about the history of the area. Apparently, during the recession in the 70s, most of the buildings were abandoned by their owners even though many people were still living in them and had businesses in them. Many of the artists, musicians, and activists, like are depicted in ‘Rent,’ refused to leave and, instead, reclaimed the spaces. They repaired the buildings the best they could and continued living in them. They made community centers for the artists and performers, too. Their site says it was created ‘to preserve the history of New York City’s Lower East Side and promote the local communities that came together in order to make the neighborhood a cultural icon.’”

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They spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around East Village, including a stop at the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop and perused the many eclectic shops. As they strolled up East 7th Street, Griffin noticed a shop called East Village Hats and instantly got such a brilliant idea he nearly peed his pants! However, he needed to ditch Nicholas first.

Fate was smiling on him as Nicholas said, “Let’s pop in here. They’ve got some really cool stuff in the windows.” He was referring to what looked like a punk rock apparel shop called Trash and Vaudeville.

“Uh, yeah … you guys go ahead. I was just thinking I need to find something for my mom’s birthday next week so I can get it in the mail. I’m going to check out this place across the street, AuH2O, and see what they have. Text me when you’re done, and I’ll meet you back here.” Griff started across the street towards AuH2O, glancing behind to watch Nicholas and Mason head into Trash and Vaudeville. When he was confident they were out of eyesight, he veered towards East Village Hats.

He was quickly able to complete his mission and had not heard from Nicholas, so he discretely scooted next door into AuH2O and browsed for something for his mom, as her birthday really was next week. He found a beautiful bracelet, and the clerk said they would be glad to wrap it and ship it to his mom for a small fee. This thrilled Griffin but he inquired if he would be able to get one of their shopping bags to conceal his East Village Hats bag in. After explaining, the clerk agreed to his unusual request.

Griffin emerged from the shop, carrying his AuH2O bag, as Nicholas and Mason were crossing the street towards him. “I just thought we’d meet you over here rather than texting you. I figured you were still shopping since you hadn’t texted us,” Nicholas shrugged and nodded towards Griffin’s bag. “I see you found something for your mom.”

“Yeah, she’s gonna love it,” Griffin said. “I’ll show you later.”

The boys began to make their way towards the subway terminal that would lead them home. They grabbed Polish sausages from a food truck to tide them over until they got home. Mason had promised to whip them up a great dinner in exchange for their including him in their day’s activities and buying his lunch.

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That evening, after an amazing dinner prepared by Mason, all three boys relaxed in the living room with Nicholas and Griffin, of course, wrapped together on the sofa. Soon, however, Mason fell asleep in the bean bag chair, so Griffin suggested they move to their bedroom and get more comfortable. “I’ll show you my package,” he winked and giggled.

As Nicholas flopped on the bed, Griff pulled out a perfectly wrapped box from his shopping bag and handed it to him.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Open it and see,” Griffin replied.

“It’s your mom’s birthday gift. Why would I open it? Just tell me what it is.”

“That’s not her gift. The shop is wrapping and shipping her gift directly to her.”

“Then what is this?” Nicholas asked again, though he had a suspicion that Griffin was on the same train he was.

“It’s your anniversary gift, Boo. Happy One Month Anniversary!” he answered before planting a huge kiss on Nicholas’ grinning lips.

“You remembered!” Nicholas exclaimed as he tore into the gift and pulled out an exquisite black fedora with a dark purple ribbon band. He jumped straight up in the air, almost hitting his head on the ceiling. “Jiminy Christmas! It’s perfect! I love it, Peaches!”

“I know you’ve been wanting one ever since you became obsessed with James Bay and his iconic hat. When I saw the shop today, the idea hit me. I really did need to get my mom a gift, so I used that as a cover when I saw the hat shop.”

“I love it more than you will ever know!” Nicholas gushed. “Now, you sit down right here. I’ve got a little somethin’-somethin’ for you, too.”

A surprised Griffin sat and accepted the wrapped box that Nicholas pulled out of his bag. When he opened it, his eyes showed his delight.

“Happy Monthiversary, Sweet Peach,” Nicholas whispered as he softly kissed Griffin on his delicious lips. Griffin slowly pulled out a leather belt with a sterling silver infinity love symbol buckle, a matching leather bracelet with the same symbol, and a sterling silver infinity ring.

“They’re beautiful and perfect. My love for you is for infinity and beyond,” Griffin glanced up at Nicholas with tears in his eyes. “One month down and infinity to go! Now close that door, so we can get naked and end this month and start infinity with a bang!”

“If we do this right, we should be able to manage several bangs!” Nicholas cracked.

The RV Chronicles (Chapter 33)

Chapter 33

Written by: (KenW9270)

Nicholas jumped out of the Uber and raced around to Griffin’s side of the car. He put his hand out to help Griff out of the vehicle. Griff took his hand but rolled his eyes. “My leg is feeling fine so far this morning, babe. Thanks, though. You’re the sweetest boyfriend ever!”

“Did you take your pain pill?”

“Yes. I’m good to go. Stop worrying. The wound is healing just about like the doc said it would,” Griffin’s phone rang. He looked at it and smiled but shook his head. “It’s my mom. Again. I better answer.” Griff sat on a nearby bench and answered his phone.

“Hey, mom. We’re still in New York. Yes, I’m taking it easy. No, we’re not just hanging out in the RV. Of course. If anything, he’s more overprotective than you are. We’re always careful, mom. Yes, I’ll take plenty of rest stops. I love you, too. Bye, mom.” Griffin slipped his phone back into his pocket and got up. “Are we ready to attack the day, captain?”

“Yeah. I was just reviewing our plans for the day. First stop, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Nicholas took his boyfriend’s hand, and they walked up the steps into the museum.

After they paid their admission, Nicholas grabbed a map of the museum. “Looks like our first stop will be the ‘Art of Native America’ exhibit.” Hand in hand with Griff, Nicholas led the way into the exhibit.

“It’s sad how mean and downright brutal humans can be to each other,” Griffin said as he stared at a depiction of a battle scene.

“Yeah. It was bad enough that the native tribes were sometimes at war with each other, then the Europeans came over and nearly wiped out all of them,” Nicholas said.

“These paintings are so beautiful. Mankind has lost a lot of culture for stupid reasons, and what makes it worse is that it’s still happening.”

“I agree. Our generation needs to step up and do better than those before us. We need to stop all the senseless war.”

“It’s not just the wars. Kids younger than us die in their classrooms and at the mall, and those that survive all of that will probably be underwater in thirty years if we don’t get a handle on the climate crisis!”

“Are you sure you want to be a youth counselor? You’re starting to sound like a politician. Did you switch your major to poli-sci?” Nicholas grinned.

“No. My passion is helping kids and teens who are in trouble or at risk, but we all, as a society, need to be more involved in the political process to make sure we don’t elect the wrong people. I don’t want someone in charge of our country who I wouldn’t trust to be in charge of a dumpster!”

“You’re right, Peaches. This is one of the many reasons that I love you so much. You are passionate about everything. You never do anything halfway. You throw your whole heart and soul into everything you do.” Nicholas leaned in and gave Griff a quick kiss on the cheek as they walked into the next exhibit area.

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“Those baseball cards were super cool, Boo, don’t you think so?” Griff nearly gushed.

“The uniforms back then left a lot to be desired. I can’t imagine young players today wearing stuff like that,” Nicholas laughed.

“Fashion, even in sports, has come a long way! Where to next, oh mighty captain of my heart?”

“Our next stop should be a good one and it’ll be our last stop in the museum. It’s called ‘The Last Knight.’ I can’t wait to see all the armor and swords!”

“Oh! I see the entrance right over there.” Griff pulled Nicholas by their near constantly joined hands and led him into the exhibit.

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“This armor is impressive! I love the time of the knights. The time of chivalry and romance,” Nicholas said with a dreamy look in his eyes.

“Take a break from the travel journal and write a story about Sir Griff the Brave saving the handsome Prince Boobaloo from the evil giants and their pet dragon,” Griff said with a smirk.

“Don’t laugh. I just might do that,” Nicholas said, looking thoughtful. “Anyway, are you ready to go?”

“Yep. What’s next?”

“St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It shouldn’t take long to see, and I figured you could get some amazing pics of the stained-glass windows for our Instagram. The fans need new content,” Nicholas winked.

“I can’t believe over two thousand people are interested in our travels.”

“And that number grows every day.”

“I’m shocked. I thought we’d be lucky to get a hundred followers when I started it.”

“I think we got half of them from your shirtless surfing pics,” Nicholas grinned.

“Nah. It’s all you, babe,” Nicholas said as they exited the museum. “Let me sit for just a few minutes before we go to St. Pat’s.”

“We’ll take as many breaks as you need, Peaches.” Nicholas reached into his backpack. “Do you want a granola bar?”

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The two boys exited St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Griffin scrolling through the many photos that he had taken. “Some of these came out awesome if I do say so myself!”

“Let me see.”

“Here. Look. The light coming through the stained-glass was perfect. We came at just the right time of day, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky today.”

“The statues were beautiful, too. I can’t even imagine attending a mass here. It must be like a once in a lifetime experience every single time.”

“Definitely,” Griff said, putting his camera back in its case and the case back into his backpack. “What’s next?”

“Rockefeller Center. The food court first. I’m starved.”

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After chowing down on burgers and cheesy fries, the two boys were ready for more exploring. Their first stop was the Channel Gardens. They wanted to be able to stroll the gardens before they got bogged down with any purchases that they may make in the shopping mall.

“This place is gorgeous. All the flowers and the statues and the fountains, it’s breathtaking. This is exactly the kind of set-up I want for our wedding,” Griff said as he pulled Nicholas in close.

“Wedding?” Nicholas said with a raised eyebrow. “I think we have about five years to plan out the details, my love. I can’t imagine my life without you in it, and I do want to marry you, but we have lots of other boxes to check off first.”

“I didn’t mean tomorrow, Boo, but yeah, I do want to get married, maybe even adopt a kid or two.”

“I do, too. I’m glad we’re on the same page with that. Let’s get you graduated from college first and get my future woodworking business up and running. Then we find ourselves a nice permanent home, though we’ll always keep the RV. Then we can talk about marriage and kids!”

“Perfect plan from my perfect planner. I love you so much, Boo. To the moon and back a billion times over.” Griff leaned down and gave Nicholas a tender kiss.

“I love you, too. More than I ever thought I could love anyone.” Nicholas returned the kiss. “Now, let’s move on before we get kicked out.”

“Yeah, if my career is going to be working with minors, I definitely don’t want to be arrested for public sex!” Griff laughed. They left the Gardens and headed for the elevator. Next stop: Top of the Rock on the seventieth floor.

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Nicholas and Griffin walked out of Rockefeller Center with only a couple shopping bags of stuff between them. There was, after all, only a limited amount of storage in the RV, and they planned on making many more stops on their journey. “That was an amazing view, but are you sure you don’t want to also hit up the Empire State Building? Isn’t it supposed to be the best?”

“It is taller, but from everything I read, Top of the Rock has a better view. I mean, you saw it, right? You could see all of Central Park and basically the whole city. It was amazing! The new World Trade Center is taller than Empire State anyway. The World Trade Center and Ground Zero Memorial are definitely higher on my New York bucket list than Empire State.”

“Good point and I wholeheartedly agree. We’re off to the library now, right?”

“Yep. Last stop for the day, other than dinner, and I was thinking of just grabbing a quick dinner from a food cart in Central Park.”

“Sounds perfect to me, Boobear.” It was only a ten-minute walk to the New York Public Library, but Griff did stop once along the way to sit down for a few minutes and get a bottle of water out of his backpack.

“We’ll take a bicycle-taxi back to the park. I don’t want to overtax your leg, babe.”

“I’m fine, Boo. Let’s go inside. I’m excited to see this library! First, I need selfies with the Lions!” Griff laughed and raced over to one of the stone lion statues at the entrance to the library. “This is going on our Instagram for sure!”

————————————————————————————–

After an hour or so, browsing the enormous library, both boys were ready to leave. Nicholas called the cab company, and a bicycle-taxi was waiting for them at the curb. In the blink of an eye, they were dropped off at the edge of Central Park, and they went in search of food.

“The library was so cool, don’t you think so, babe?” Griff asked.

“I could have spent the entire day in there just looking around! I’m glad we went!”

“For sure. Hey, that cart over there has pizza. It smells delicious, and I’m hungry. You wanna just grab some pizza for tonight?”

“Sounds good to me,” Nicholas said, and they got in line at the cart. There was only one person ahead of them, a young guy who looked about their age, maybe a couple years older. The guy sounded like he was pleading with the cart owner.

“Come on, Dave. You know I’m good for it. Just a slice or two. I haven’t eaten since yesterday!”

“How do I know that you’re good for it. You still owe me for the last two times that I was a nice guy. Get outta here, Mason. I have actual paying customers behind you.”

“Please! Hire me to work for you again. I know you need the help, and you know I do a good job.”

“Mase, I’m sorry. I wish I could, but I’m barely making enough to scrape by on my own. I can’t afford to hire an employee right now.”

“Come on, Dave! I swear I’ll pay you back!”

“Mason, I don’t want to, but if you don’t leave, I’ll call the cops.”

Nicholas looked at Griffin and nodded towards the guy in front of them. Griff knew, just by the look in his boyfriend’s eyes, what he was thinking, and he nodded his head to give Nicholas the go-ahead. Nicholas stepped up to the order counter. The other guy, Mason, started to back away. Nicholas lightly grabbed Mason’s forearm. “No. Stay.” Nicholas’ head swung toward the cart owner. “Good afternoon, sir. I would like six slices of the pepperoni pizza, three of those hot pretzels, three large lemonades, and add on to my bill whatever my good friend Mason owes you.”

Mason pulled his arm out of Nicholas’ grasp. “I don’t know what you expect from me in payment, but you don’t have to do that. I… I’ll be ok.”

“I don’t expect payment at all. It sounded like you needed help. I’m helping.” Nicholas shrugged.

“No one does something for nothing,” Mason said with a wary look on his face.

“Nicholas does,” Griffin said, stepping forward. “Hi. I’m Griffin… or just Griff… and yes, this wonderful man would give you the shirt off his back even if it meant that he would freeze. It’s one of the many things that I love about him.”

Nicholas turned around with his arms full of food. “Well, are you two gonna help me carry all this stuff, or will I just have to eat it all by myself?”

Mason still looked wary, but he picked up the tray of drinks and followed the other two boys to a picnic table.

“You didn’t have to do this, but thank you. I… I can’t pay you,” Mason said, looking across the table at Nicholas.

Griffin held on to Nicholas’ hand and replied to Mason. “I already told you. He… we don’t care about being paid back. We just wanted to do something nice. Pay it forward someday.”

“You told him that you hadn’t eaten since yesterday? Do you have a place to sleep?” Nicholas asked.

Mason shrugged. “Sometimes, I stay in one of the shelters. If they’re full, I do the best that I can.”

“How long have you been on your own? What happened?” Griff asked.

“I …” Mason started to say.

Nicholas interrupted. “If we’re too nosy, just tell us. You don’t have to answer anything that you’re not comfortable with.”

“No, it’s ok. I’ve been in between addresses ever since the last semester at college ended about a month ago. I was staying in the dorms, but when my dad cut off payments to the school, the school kicked me out of the dorm.”

“Why did he cut you off? Can’t you go home?” Nicholas asked.

“No. I can’t go home. I’m not welcome there anymore. My dad made a surprise visit to the dorm for my birthday back in April. I was celebrating with my boyfriend. Dad knocked, and my Harry answered, wearing just his boxer briefs. I wrapped myself in a sheet, but dad could tell that I was wearing less than Harry was. He left without saying a word. I found out from the school that he canceled all his checks. I didn’t have enough of my own money to cover what I owed the school, so they kicked me out of the dorm. I have nowhere else to go. My whole family disowned me,” Mason said through tears.

Griff had tears running down his own cheeks. “What about your boyfriend? Couldn’t he help? Maybe not with money, but a place to stay?”

“As soon as he found out that I was kicked out of school, he broke up with me. I guess I wasn’t worth the trouble.”

Nicholas was also wiping away tears. “You’re not sleeping on the streets tonight. Come back to our RV. It’s not much, but it’s home.”

“I just met you guys. You seem awful nice, but how do I know I can trust going back to your place with you?”

“Shouldn’t it be us that’s nervous inviting a stranger into our home?” Griff chuckled.

“True. Ok. I’ll go. Lead the way,” Mason said. Nicholas ordered their Uber, and soon they were on their way back to the RV.

——————————————————————————————

The next morning, Nicholas woke up early. He tossed and turned all night, worrying about their decision to take yet another stray into their home. Then he smiled and nudged Griff awake.

“Uh. What’s wrong? What happened?” Griff started to get up, and Nicholas laid a hand on his chest to stop him.

“Nothing is wrong. Take a whiff.” Nicholas grinned.

“Huh? Ohhh… is that coffee and bacon I smell?” Griff asked.

“It sure smells like it to me. Maybe we made the right choice, after all. Let’s go see what else our new guest has prepared for us!” The two boys slipped on shorts and t-shirts and walked out of the bedroom to see what Mason was up to in the kitchen.