Grace Santos woke up in bed in her apartment the following day with no memory of how she got there. Her last memory was of the shadow on the wall reaching out for her. She shuddered at the memory.
Grace got out of bed and turned on the TV while she fixed breakfast. The “Breaking News” report caught her attention immediately. Newville Heights was the scene of four murders last night. Grace recognized two faces as the men who attacked her in the alley last night just before she blacked out.
The news said that one of the men died of a broken neck and the other of a heart attack. Witnesses found an unusual scene upon first finding the men. They said the man who died of a heart attack was still sitting upright. They said he appeared to be just staring off into space. One witness identified the man as Gary Roberts. The problem was that Gary Roberts was thirty years old and had brown hair, but the body found in the alley looked like a ninety-year-old man with white hair. The facial expression on the man’s face also looked like he had been scared to death.
The news went on to say that police found the other two men only two blocks away. The female survivor of that encounter claimed that the men attacked her, and then “Sombra Demono” rose from the shadows and killed them.
Grace flipped from channel to channel. Last night’s attacks were the lead story on every one. Some had the headline as “Shadow Killer Kills Four” while others said “Sombra Demono: Killer or Guardian?”
Grace just sat in shock, watching all the broadcasts. Were they talking about her? Had she killed four people last night? Her mind drifted back to all the weird things that happened to her and her new friends yesterday. She needed answers, starting with her lost memories.
Grace showered and dressed, then picked up her cell phone. She needed to text Erik, Bryson, and Caleb. Erik first, of course. Grace smiled at the thought of Erik. He was definitely the best thing about the last crazy twenty-four hours.
Grace: Hey, you. You awake yet? I’m ready for that coffee date.
Erik: Just got out of the shower. Do you mind if I put clothes on first? (wink emoji)
Grace: If you insist. (eye roll emoji) (laughing emoji)
Erik: Starbucks? Half an hour?
Grace: Sounds good. Something weird happened last night. Would it be ok if I invited Bryson to join us?
Erik: You ok? (shocked emoji)
Grace: I’m fine. I’ll explain in person. Do you mind?
Erik: Invite him. I’ll see you soon. (hug emoji)
Grace: See you soon.
Grace: Bryson, text me back as soon as you get this.
Bryson: I’m here. What’s up?
Grace: More weirdness to add to the list. Can you meet Erik and me at Starbucks?
Bryson: Yeah. Give me twenty minutes?
Bryson: (thumbs up emoji)
Ash woke up and found he couldn’t rollover. Instead, he groggily blinked open his eyes and found Harvey practically lying on top of him. Their legs were entwined, Harvey had one arm slung over Ash’s middle, and Harvey’s face was pressed into the side of Ash’s neck. Ash smiled and tried to untangle himself from his boyfriend’s embrace.
Harvey groaned and pulled Ashton in closer. “Don’t go. It’s too early to get out of bed.”
Ash smirked. “If you pull me against you any closer, I might get ideas about what you might be wanting.”
Harvey smiled. “I do want that. All of that. Every possible combination in every possible position. I want it all with you, but there are too many people in the house right now. Too much is going on, and we have too much to figure out, including our own powers.”
Ash spun in Harvey’s embrace so that he was on his back and Harvey was lying on top of him. “You are as brilliant and compassionate as you are beautiful and sexy. I am over the moon that we will take our relationship further, but you are right. We need to get our butts out of bed. We need to find Gavin, and we need to reunite Logan with his angel friend. Once we do that, we can figure out everything else. Now I need to get into the shower. I expect to smell bacon by the time I go downstairs.” Ash grinned.
Harvey rolled off of Ash. He was about to sit up when Ash rolled over on top of him. Ash stared down into Harvey’s bright blue eyes. “I love you, Harvey Kastala. I have loved you my whole life.” Ash leaned down and pressed his lips against Harvey’s. Harvey’s lips parted as he returned the kiss. Ash broke away and groaned. “If I don’t get out of bed right now, it might be a couple hours before I let you leave.”
Harvey grinned. “I wouldn’t complain.”
“I could get used to waking up in your arms. We need to work on that along with everything else.”
“I don’t think either my dad or your mom will be onboard with that while we’re still seventeen and in high school.” Harvey huffed out a laugh. “I agree, though. We need to at least start the conversation with them and let them know what we want. Maybe with us being superheroes, it might convince them to say yes.” Harvey rolled his eyes.
Ash sighed. “One step at a time. First, we need to rescue Gavin and locate Obadiah. Oh, and don’t forget my bacon.” Ash leaped off the bed, stripped off his boxers, and walked into the bathroom naked.
Harvey’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as he watched Ash walk across the room. When the bathroom door closed, Harvey got out of bed, grabbed some clothes, and walked down the hallway to the other bathroom to take a shower of his own.
Sylvester woke up, yawned, and turned toward Logan. He was surprised to find himself literally nose to nose with the other boy. “Oh! Good morning, Logan. I… didn’t expect to find you so close.”
Logan blushed. “Sorry. I kinda zoned out watching you sleep. After the day we had yesterday, it was a peaceful way to start the day.”
Sy smiled and wriggled his nose against Logan’s. “You can watch me sleep anytime you want.”
“The whole thinking of me as a big brother thing isn’t going to happen, is it?” Logan chuckled.
Sylvester rolled his eyes. “Be honest with me, Logan. You don’t have brotherly feelings for me either, do you?”
Logan rolled onto his back and sighed. “If I’m being sincere, no. Nothing can happen between us, though, Sy. It’s more than just the age difference. I have a boyfriend who I love. Right now, my focus has to be on finding Obie.” He leaned on his elbow again and looked down at Sylvester. “I won’t lie to you, Sy. There’s a connection between us, and it’s more than just our powers meshing so well together. You are incredibly beautiful inside and out. I hope you don’t think that I’m pushing you away. The opposite is true. I would love for us to be best friends if you’re ok with that.”
Sylvester closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then let the breath out slowly. He opened his eyes and placed a hand firmly against Logan’s chest. Sy pushed the older teen down onto his back so that their positions were reversed. Now, Sy was propped up on one elbow, looking down at Logan. “I will make you two promises, Logs. Number one, I will never make the first move on you. If you want us to be friends, that’s what I’ll be. I will never look at you as a brother, but I’d be honored to be your friend. Promise number two, if you ever change your mind and make a move on me, I will not say no.” Sy shrugged. “A lot is going on right now, so starting something new is probably not the best idea even without the obstacles between us.” Then Sy grinned. “By the way, once we figure out these powers and defeat those monsters, I expect you, as my new best friend, to throw me the biggest birthday bash I have ever had.”
“I understand your terms and conditions.” Logan huffed out a laugh. “I do want us to be friends, best friends even. Now, when is this birthday of yours? You’ll be fourteen, right?”
“Next Saturday, and, yes, fourteen. We’ll only be four years apart instead of five.” Sy winked.
Logan rolled his eyes. “I will keep that in mind. Now get out of bed. It’s time to get this day started. Grace said to text her at nine, and it’s already past eight.”
Sy got out of bed and padded down the hallway to get fresh clothes out of his backpack.
Bryson paid for his overpriced, over-flavored, specialty coffee and walked toward the corner of the café where his two friends waited. His keen eye picked up on their body language, and he smiled. Bryson noticed every detail of everything around him, and right now, he saw how Erik and Grace’s hands were stretched across the table. Their finger kept touching as they talked. Grace was maintaining eye contact, but Erik kept looking down and blushing. Both of his friends were smiling and laughing, and it was refreshing to hear. Bryson slipped into an empty chair at the table. “Why do I instantly feel like the third wheel on a date?” Bryson grinned.
Erik stuttered and stammered. “You’re not. Well, maybe, I don’t know. Thanks for meeting us here. I… uh, we, uh, Grace….”
Grace shook her head and laughed. She reached out and put a comforting hand over Erik’s. “You dear sweet man, let me do the talking.” She looked over at Bryson. “It’s coffee, and it’s business, but there may be a date in our future. Anyway, business first. Something odd happened last night, and I thought you’d want to hear about it right away. Keep in mind that I am positive that I have never come in contact with a meteor rock.”
“Well, that does sound intriguing! What happened?!” Bryson asked, leaning forward.
Grace proceeded to tell her story. She recounted everything that she could remember from when she parted ways with Erik until she woke up that morning. Grace then told them about the video clips that she saw on the news, the references to Sombra Demona, and the four deaths. “Two of those men who died are the two men who pushed me into that alley. I remember seeing the shadow on the wall behind me move. After that, I don’t remember anything until I woke up this morning. I don’t remember leaving that alley. I was either there when the men were killed, or I killed them.”
“Are you sure that you didn’t pick up any of the meteor pieces at the house last night? Even for just a second? Or maybe something happened at Justyce Labs when you met Obadiah?”
“Not that I can think of. I did go into the crater at the baseball field, but I don’t think I touched anything. So we’ll just add it to our list of things to figure out.”
“The list is growing and growing. Have you heard back from Caleb?”
“Yes, but then I told him about Gavin, and he put our meeting on hold. He said he had high-level military contacts. He told me that he will go to the base personally and bring Gavin home.”
“I sure hope he can come through on that. I have my doubts, but if anyone can do it, Caleb Justyce can. Have you heard from Logan? If those guys are all awake, we should head over there, so we’re all together and ready to go meet Caleb.”
“I’ll text him again now,” Grace said.
Harvey and Ash finished breakfast and walked outside onto the back deck. Harvey stood staring out at his father’s vegetable garden. Ashton was more interested in the low-flying military cargo plane that was rumbling across the sky. “That was at least the third cargo plane, Harvs. There have been a bunch of helicopters, too. The army is really ramping up its presence in town. We’re all going to have to be careful.”
Harvey looked thoughtful. “We should lay low and let the army deal with the Zodiac. Maybe after they round them up, they’ll leave. Then, we can blend in and stay out of sight.”
“That would be a great plan if they didn’t already know about Bryson and Gav. Unfortunately, I doubt they’ll leave anytime soon.”
“You’re probably right.” Harvey turned back toward the garden. “Hey, Ash? Does dad’s garden look weird to you?”
“What do you mean? It looks kinda small.” Ash shrugged.
“It looks smaller than it did two days ago, is what I mean.” Harvey stepped off the deck and took a couple steps toward the garden.
“Harvey, wait. I think I saw something moving.” Ash was by Harvey’s side in the blink of an eye. “What is that?” He said, pointing at large black clumps on one of the pepper plants.
“Are those beetles? I’ve never seen beetles that big before.”
Ash inched closer to the edge of the garden and took a couple pictures of the beetles with his phone. One app download later, and Ash whistled softly. “According to this, those are Eastern Herculean Beetles. They are among the largest beetles in North America, but the biggest they are supposed to get is two and a half inches long.”
“These are all bigger than that. I’d guess most of them at four to five inches, with some of them up to six inches long. What’s going on now, Ash?”
“It has to be all connected, right? Without looking at a map, I’d say that your house is in a straight line between the docks and the school. I bet there are meteor rocks in your dad’s garden.” Ash was still moving slowly toward the garden, and Harvey was walking along with him.
Harvey pointed. “Look at that! I think the biggest beetles are eating the smaller ones! I don’t think beetles normally do that. I can hear the chewing. Gross! I think we should go back inside.”
Sylvester stepped out onto the deck. “What’s going on, guys? What’s that weird sound?”
“That’s the sound of giant beetles eating Mr. Kastala’s garden and each other,” Ash said.
Sy arched an eyebrow. “Seriously? That does not sound normal!”
“In the last thirty-six hours, what has sounded normal?” Harvey asked.
“Valid point.” Sy huffed out a laugh.
Ash was right at the edge of the garden now. “I see them! There are at least three blue stones. I’m gonna grab them.” Ash stepped into the garden to retrieve the stones. His legs barely brushed by some of the plants on his way to pick them up. A buzzing filled the air as dozens of beetles took flight and started flying in circles around the yard. Then, they started dive-bombing straight at Ash.
The smell of ozone filled the air as bolts of electricity formed around Harvey’s hands. He pointed a finger at the flying insects, and an electric charge shot out. One of the beetles exploded in mid-air. Sy leaped off the deck, landing right next to Harvey. “Quick! Hit me with your electricity. There are too many of them for you to zap on your own!”
Harvey looked confused. “You want me to shoot you with my electricity?”
“Yes, Harvey! It’ll be ok. I should absorb it just like I did yesterday.”
Harvey formed a ball of electricity and threw it. He hit Sy right in the chest, but it didn’t do any damage. Sylvester absorbed the power and grinned. “Again! Hit me again!”
Harvey hit Sy with three more orbs. Meanwhile, Ash was swatting at the beetles and making his way toward the three meteor rocks in the center of the garden. Harvey glanced at Sy. “Ready?”
“Yeah, let’s do this!” Sy said. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Harvey as they started firing shot after shot of electrical energy at the beetles. Finally, the swarm was so close together that the electricity started arcing between the insects.
Ash looked up and realized with horror what was about to happen. Thankfully, he managed to zip out from under the cloud of bugs just before the entire swarm exploded in a shower of beetle guts. “That was disgusting!” Ash yelled.
“That was epic!” Sy cheered.
“It was pretty spectacular,” Harvey added. “My big question is did you know that you could mimic my power when you had me electrocute you?”
Sy blushed. “I suspected that I could, based on what happened yesterday.” He shrugged. “After you hit me the first time, I could feel the power absorb into my body, and I knew I could take more. After that, I knew exactly what to do with your power. It wasn’t like it was with Logan’s power. With his, it felt… I don’t know… disorganized. I’m not sure how else to explain it.”
Harvey’s eyes scrunched together in concentration. “We all need to learn more about these abilities. I’m hoping that when we reunite Logan with Obadiah, that Obie will know what has happened to us, and maybe he will be able to help.”
Sylvester frowned. “Yeah, we need to reunite Logan with Obie. That’s everyone’s priority.”
Harvey wrapped one arm around Sy’s shoulders and pulled him into a side hug. “logan cares about you. I can tell. He won’t forget about you when he finds Obadiah. I care about you, too. So does Ash. You’re not alone anymore, Sy.”
Sy shrugged. “I appreciate you saying that, Harvey. But, it might take me a little while to trust that it is true. I haven’t had anyone care about me in a long time.” Sy, Harvey, and Ash walked back up onto the deck just as Logan walked out of the house.
Gavin opened his eyes and groaned. His face hurt like hell, and his vision in his right eye was blurry. He thought that he must have a pretty nasty black eye. Finally, Gavin looked up and saw his father and General Woodson staring down at him. Gavin grinned, then immediately grimaced. He must have a split lip, too. “Dad! I’m so glad you could finally join the fun. Where’s my friend from last night? I was just starting to like him.”
Isaac’s face remained neutral as he stared down at his oldest son. “Gavin, just tell the general what he wants to know. We’ve already taken blood samples and temperature readouts, and various other tests. Tell us how you got these powers and tell us everything you know about Bryson Indiana.”
“Hmm. So, I was beaten and shocked, and violated in my sleep. That almost sounds like a bad porn.” Gavin huffed out a laugh. “I already said that I know nothing about any Bryson Indiana, and whatever this power is and wherever it comes from, it’s mine. I am not the property of the United States government!”
General Woodson stepped forward. “You are so very wrong. The United States government has classified you as a national security risk. I can lock you up and throw away the key, or I can tie you down and cut you up into little tiny pieces, and no one will care. You belong to me.”
The door was flung open, and three men strode inside, and the one that walked in first spoke. “That may have been true an hour ago, but it isn’t true now.” He walked right past the general and Mr. Kastala and stepped in front of Gavin. “Good morning, Gavin. My name is Caleb Justyce. Welcome to the Liberty Initiative. As soon as these men unstrap you from this chair, I’ll take you out of here.”
The general scowled. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing, Caleb?’
Caleb grinned. “I’m doing what I always do, Roger. Untie this man, and then you can direct any questions to the two congressmen. This was decided way above your paygrade and way above your clearance level. I get what I want. I always do.”
“This isn’t over, Justyce. This is the most important discovery in history.” General Woodson said.
“That is exactly why it should not be controlled by the military.” Caleb retorted.
Gavin stood and rubbed his forearms which were red and irritated from the leather straps. He looked over at Caleb. “I’m not sure what you want from me, but it has to be better than this. Thank you.”
Caleb nodded. “You have your brother Logan to thank for bringing your situation to my attention. I’ll take you to him, but we have to stop at my lab first.”
Isaac’s eyes opened wide, and he stepped in front of Caleb. “I accept that you’re taking Gavin with you, but what association do you have with Logan?”
“Logan is quite possibly the most important person on this planet right now. Before you even ask, all three of your sons are included in the Liberty Initiative Protection Act. So Logan and Harvey are safe from the treatment which you allowed Gavin to endure. You’re welcome.” Caleb sneered at Isaac.
“You can’t take my sons from me. Harvey is still a minor.”
“I am not cutting you off from your sons. I am protecting them from the military. There is a difference. I would hope you would understand that.”
Isaac looked at Gavin. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t know how far things would go, but it was out of my hands anyway. Protect your brothers.” He shook his head. “Protect them from everyone.”
“I forgive you, dad, but I don’t want to see you near the boys or me until all of this is sorted out. I can’t trust that you won’t let the same thing happen again.”
Isaac nodded. “I understand. Take care of yourself, son. Be safe.”
Gavin looked over at Caleb as they walked out of the building. “Are you taking that goat lady out of here, too?”
Caleb shook his head. “No. Your heroics in the restaurant helped me convince enough people to let me take you. Diana Winters had a long criminal history long before she became what she is and attacked those people. I would love to examine her and figure out why her appearance changed, and yours did not, but she did not qualify to be included in the Liberty Initiative.”
Gavin slid into the passenger seat of Caleb’s cherry red corvette. “What exactly is the Liberty Initiative? What am I getting myself involved in?”
Caleb gunned the engine and drove off the army base. “I needed to find a way to protect you and the others from the military. My reasons are… extensive. I convinced enough of the right people that I was better equipped to deal with this… Zodiac Club or whatever they want to call themselves. The army got lucky, capturing you and Capricorn. They have suffered heavy losses all over the city in fights against other members of the Zodiac. If you and the others are willing, I want to put you together as a team to protect the city… to protect the world… from this new danger. Unfortunately, if you refuse, the Initiative falls apart, and the army will be able to come after you again.”
Gavin cocked his head. “It doesn’t sound like you’re offering us much of a choice. I’ll have to talk to my brothers before I give any answers.”
“I’d like to say that there’s no rush, but the Zodiac and the army are turning Newville into a battlefield.”
“I’ll text Logan and Harvey. It’s probably safer for them to come to your lab, don’t you think? Rather than us going to my house?”
“Yes. Have them meet us at my lab and tell them to bring any others who are involved. I’ll text Grace Santos and tell her the same thing. We need to all get on the same page and share information and decide where to go from here.”
Carl sat at the head of the tables that they pushed together. He had it set up to resemble the table in the union hall. “Thank you all for giving me this time. I know we all have important things to do today.” he looked right at Aries. “most importantly, we have to find out where they took Capricorn, and we have to get her back. We had some skirmishes yesterday, both with would-be heroes and with the military. We need to show them all who runs this city. We have run the docks for years. Now we run the city!” They all cheered in support.
“What do you want us to do first, boss?” Taurus asked.
“Taurus, you take charge of the search for any more stones. Libra, go with Aries to the precinct on Water Street. Whether Capricorn is there or not, take them out. Burn down the building. The docks are ours, not theirs. Aquarius, you and Pisces go back to the restaurant. Track Capricorn from there. Find out if the military has any temporary headquarters set up or if everything is coming out of the army base.”
“Got it,” Aquarius said. “Jay… I mean, Pisces and I will get right on it. Virgo will come, too, unless you have any objections.”
“No, that’s fine. I know you three… work well together.”
Jayden got up from the table and started to walk away. He stopped and put a hand on his boyfriend’s shoulder. “I’m going to grab a few things and meet you and Izzy outside, Luke. And, no, I’m not calling you Aquarius. Not in here anyway.” He glared at Carl as he walked away.
“Get your boy under control, Aquarius. Get used to the codenames. We can’t have the military tracking down our true identities. It’s for the safety of all of us.”
“I’ll talk to him, Leo, but they have Capricorn. If they find out who she is, they’ll track down Aries, and it won’t be difficult to guess who we all are from there.”
“If they track us down, that’s one thing. We shouldn’t make it easier on them.”
“Understood. I’ll keep you updated on our progress if we find anything.” With that, Luke joined Izzy outside to wait for Jayden.
Gavin sat in the steel chair and stared up at the two soldiers who were staring back down at him. He tried to wriggle his arms but only succeeded in causing the zip ties to tighten even further.
One of the soldiers spoke. “Before you try to freeze anything, be aware that Private Anderson is monitoring you with infrared. If your body temperature drops, he’ll shoot you with another tranquilizer.”
Gavin sneered. “That sounds more fun than talking to you.”
The soldier raised his arm and backhanded Gavin across the mouth, knocking his head backward. “Lose the smart mouth. How did you gain your powers, and what is your connection to the mutant we captured with you?”
“Mutant? I thought that was your mom.”
The soldier backhanded Gavin again. Gavin’s lip split, and he spit blood out onto the floor. “How did you gain your powers?” The soldier demanded.
Gavin’s eyes darted toward the CCTV camera pointing down from the ceiling. “Is my father watching this? Tell him if he wants any information from me to come get it himself.”
The soldier ignored Gavin. “Do you know someone named Bryson Indiana?”
“Is that even a real name? That sounds fake. Go get my father.”
“Have you come in contact with any meteor rocks?”
“You took one out of my pocket, idiot. Go get my father.”
“How do you control the ice and get it to do what you want it to do?” The soldier leaned in close, attempting to intimidate Gavin.
“What part of go get my father do you not understand?” Gavin’s eyes were shining a bright icy blue. He smirked and let out a breath, coating the soldier’s face with frost.
The soldier punched Gavin in the face, Gavin’s head rocked back. Gavin and the chair he was tied to fell backward. His head hit the cement floor with a thud. The soldier turned to Private Anderson, pointed at Gavin, and yelled. “He used his powers! Shoot him!”
Erik walked Grace down to the end of the street and almost took a left toward his house. He stopped and looked over at Grace. “Which way?”
Grace arched an eyebrow and pointed to the right. “I live that way, but it kinda looked like you live in the other direction.”
Erik smiled. “You are extremely perceptive. Smart and beautiful. You are the total package. Are you real? You’re not a robot, are you?” He smirked.
Grace smiled. “You’re funny. Even on a day like today, you’ve made me laugh more than once. I am not a robot. Thank you, you’re adorable. You must have all the girls fighting over you, or the boys… no judgment.” She arched an eyebrow questioningly at Erik.
Erik shook his head. “I’m not interested in the college girls.” He shrugged. “No boys for me, but, yeah, no judgments here either. Most of my best friends are all bi or gay.” He looked directly at Grace. “What I want is a woman who knows what she wants in life, and she goes out and gets it. I don’t want some girl who is just figuring out what she wants to do. I want a strong independent woman who goes out and fights for what she wants and takes it.”
“Fair points, but what if it’s you that she wants? Could she just walk up and take what she wants?”
“Obviously, if we’re talking about people, there would have to be mutual consent, but if there was… I have no problem at all with a woman taking control.”
Grace reached over and grabbed two handfuls of Erik’s t-shirt. She pulled him in close until they were nose to nose. She grinned. “Is there mutual consent?”
Erik’s eyes lit up with the fire that was just barely contained beneath his skin. “Oh, there is definitely mutual consent, darling.”
Erik started to lean in, but Grace beat him to it, and their lips met. She let go of his t-shirt. One of her hands slid down his body and came to rest on his hip, while her other hand found its way into his thick curly red hair. By the time they broke the kiss, they were both gasping for breath. Grace huffed out a laugh. “That was…. unexpected, but enjoyable. I do have to get home. We’ve both had quite a day.”
“I don’t think that this.” He motioned between the two of them. “Had anything to do with what happened today. I’ll prove that to you if I have to. Can I meet you for coffee tomorrow morning?”
Grace nodded. “I’d like that. I’ll text you after I’ve sorted things out with Caleb and Bryson. Goodnight, Erik.” She leaned in for one last quick kiss.
“Are you sure I can’t walk you all the way home?”
“I’ll be fine. Go home. get some sleep.” Grace smiled and turned to finish walking home.
Ashton walked out of the bathroom and tossed the towel into the hamper in the corner of the room. “That shower felt amazing.” He said as he flopped down on Harvey’s bed.
Harvey’s eyes raked up and down Ash’s nearly naked body. He propped himself up on one elbow to get a better look. “I didn’t realize you took such a beating today. That’s a lot of bruises. Doesn’t your supercharged metabolism give you fast healing?”
“You should have seen me a couple hours ago. I was more bruise than clear skin. I do heal fast, but there was a lot to heal.”
“I’m sorry you got hurt. I wasn’t much help. We really need to get better with our abilities.” Harvey reached his hand out and lightly ran his fingertips over one of Ashton’s bruises. The electricity in Harvey’s body tingled and sparked between his fingers and the bruise on Ash’s chest. Harvey watched in amazement as the bruise lightened and disappeared. Harvey grinned and looked at Ash. “Did you see that? That was awesome!”
“I saw it and felt it! Try again on another one.”
Harvey’s fingers slowly made their way up and down Ashton’s body, healing his cuts and bruises. “I wonder if I’m healing you or supercharging your own speed healing. Would this work on other people or just you?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s my healing. I feel that same itchiness. My body is probably defending itself against your electricity. I think I’m healing the electricity burns, but because there are other injuries there, they get healed, too.”
“It makes sense that it only works with you. I’ve always been connected to you. One more cut to go.” Harvey kept staring into Ashton’s eyes as he brought his hand up to Ash’s face. Harvey slowly ran his finger over Ash’s cut lip. Then, when the cut was healed, Harvey cupped Ash’s cheek. “Can I ask you a question?”
Ashton pressed his face against Harvey’s hand. “You can ask me anything. You already know that.”
“I… yeah, I know…” Harvey got a look of intense concentration on his face. “Why haven’t we ever… you know… done stuff together?”
Ash raised one eyebrow and smirked. “We do lots of stuff together, Harvs.”
Harvey rolled his eyes. “You know what I’m asking. Why haven’t we ever done… that?”
Ashton sat up and wriggled until he was leaning against the wall at the head of Harvey’s bed. He patted the bed next to him. “Come up here and sit next to me.”
Harvey sat next to Ash. They were close enough that their bare legs were touching. “Is… is it ok that I asked you that? I know we never talk about that subject.”
“It’s more than ok, Harvs. I’ve dreamed of you finally asking me this. To answer your question, the reason we’ve never messed around is that I wasn’t sure that it was what you wanted. You’ve always been super wishy-washy about your sexuality.”
“You mean that you’ve wanted to for a while? How long?”
“The first time that I saw you in kindergarten when we were five years old, I knew that we would be best friends forever. I figured the rest out when we were thirteen.” Ash shrugged.
“Four years ago? Wow. How could we be so in sync about absolutely everything and yet miss the fact that we both wanted the same thing but were afraid to ask?”
“You wanted to, too? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t think you were into me. You dated other people but never showed that kind of interest in me.”
“Do you want to know why none of those relationships went past a first or second date?”
“Sure. You never explained any of that to me before. I assumed you didn’t want to talk about relationships with me.”
“There’s a reason for that. None of those relationships worked because none of those people were you. Every time they tried to get close, I’d push them away. I have absolutely zero interest in getting physical with anyone but you. People bugged me to label my sexuality, so I picked the closest thing to what I am.” Ash shrugged. “I’m not really a pansexual, though. I’m a Harveysexual. You are the only person in the world that I want to be with. This newest thing with our powers fitting together so well just tells me that I’ve been right all along. You’re the only one for me. If you’re not ready… if you don’t want me like that… if you…”
Harvey leaned in and kissed Ash. “Shush. I do want you. I think I always have, but I was scared you didn’t want the same thing. I was scared I would ruin our perfect friendship. I was even scared of my own sexuality. Dad seemed so disappointed when Logan came out.” Harvey shrugged. “A Harveysexual, huh?” Harvey chuckled. “That’s the sweetest and sexiest thing anyone has ever said or could ever say to me. I’m a hot mess emotionally, though. Are you sure you want me?”
Ash pushed himself up and straddled Harvey’s lap. He looked down into Harvey’s bright blue eyes and cupped his face with both hands. “You are the only one in the world for me, Harvey Kastala. I want you by my side and in my bed forever.”
“We’re in my bed right now,” Harvey smirked.
Ashton rolled his eyes. “I don’t know why I love you so damn much.”
Harvey blushed and smiled. “I love you, too.”
Ash grinned. “We should probably sleep now. It’s late, and we’re probably in for another long day tomorrow.”
“I have things other than sleep on my mind, but you’re right… as usual.” Harvey pulled Ash down into another kiss. “Goodnight, … boyfriend.”
Ash grinned and rolled off of Harvey to lie beside him. “Goodnight, boyfriend.” Harvey clicked off the light, and they closed their eyes to go to sleep.
Grace realized her mistake just moments before she felt the rough hands push her into the mouth of the alley. Distracted within her own thoughts, she wandered too close to the docks. This was the wrong part of town to walk through and not pay strict attention to everything around you. Stupid! Maybe she should have let Erik walk her home after all!
The Newville Docks belonged to Carl Chambers and his band of union thugs. They ran the docks and the surrounding neighborhood as if they were the New York mafia. Grace typically stayed on the north side of State Street. There were just far too many thugs in the area from State Street to River Road. This was a bad part of town even before today’s chaos. Now, here she was, unwittingly walking down State Street towards the docks. She cursed herself and all the crazy events that filled her mind and distracted her thoughts. Angels, superheroes, mutants, supervillains, and Erik. Any one of those things was more than enough to distract someone, but she should have paid closer attention to where she was until she got safely home.
When they pushed her, Grace hit her head on the brick wall of the hardware store. She wiped the blood from her face and turned to face her attacker. There were two of them. She was mildly relieved that they were human thugs and not giant hulking mutants that her new friends had been fighting all day. They stood leering at her and blocking her path out of the alley. They both towered over her, but Grace stood only five feet one inch and a mere hundred and five pounds. She grimaced and said, “I don’t suppose you boys would give a girl a break. I only live on the next street over. I took a bit of a wrong turn.”
The older of the two said, “Your wrong turn is our good fortune. Now hand over your money and jewelry before we have to get rough with you.”
Grace noticed the younger one take a step back. His eyes grew wide with fear. He pointed at the wall behind Grace with one hand and grabbed his friend’s arm with his other hand. “Look! Joe, do you see that? What is that? Is that another one of those things from on the news?” He was stuttering his words and walking back towards the mouth of the alley.
The older thug, at first, swatted his friend’s hand away, but then he saw the same thing his friend had. He, too, started to back away. Bewildered by their unexpected behavior, Grace began to turn towards the wall but found herself sinking into an inky darkness, and she blacked out.
Neither Gary Roberts nor Joe Daniels found a problem with their evening activities. It was what was expected of them by their boss, Carl Chambers. Carl ran the docks and the surrounding neighborhoods like his own private mafia. He had guys like Gary and Joe collecting protection money from the local businesses and robbing the unwary pedestrians who wandered into the neighborhood. They hadn’t been able to contact Carl or any of the other union bosses all day. They must be dealing with the damage that Gary and Joe saw at the union hall. Even though they hadn’t been able to find Carl today, when they saw this female walk down the street alone, they never hesitated to push her into the alley. This is what Carl expected of them.
Now, they were doing more than hesitating. Gary and Joe may have made the biggest mistake in their mistake-filled lives. They were both backing out of the alley and staring unbelievingly at the growing shadow on the wall. As the shadow grew, it also filled out. Before their stunned eyes, it separated itself from the wall, and the woman disappeared into the body of the creature.
As soon as the shadow became fully awake, it had the ancestral memories of all shadows before it. The hunger gnawed at its belly. Creatures of the light associate shadows with evil, though they indeed linger around evil creatures. Shadows are not evil; shadows devour evil. This shadow immediately sensed the sinful nature of the two men, and it hungered for their souls. As the light drained out of the alley, the shadow glided forward towards its intended prey.
Sylvester sat bolt upright on the couch, instantly awake. For a minute, he didn’t know where he was or what woke him up. Then it came back to him. He was at Logan’s house. He looked around the dark living room, wondering what woke him. Then he felt the waves of power flowing into him. Sy flung the covers off of himself and rushed down the hall toward Logan’s room. He knocked softly. “Logan? Are you awake?” Sy heard low moans coming from behind the door, and he felt the power flow increasing. He hated to burst into the room uninvited, but there was no time to mess around. Sylvester turned the handle and opened the door.
When Sy entered Logan’s bedroom, he immediately saw that the older boy was still asleep. Logan appeared to be having a nightmare. Sy smelled smoke, and then he saw it rising from the bed all around Logan. Sy rushed to the bed and sat by Logan’s side. He gently shook the other boy. “Logan, wake up. Come on, you’re overheating again. Please wake up.” Sy pressed his hands against Logan’s bare chest, hoping to absorb as much of the power as he could.
Logan’s eyes fluttered open, and he groaned. “Wh-what’s going on? Sy? What’re you doing in here? What’s that smell?”
Sylvester pulled Logan up to a sitting position and wrapped his arms around Logan’s neck. “Thank God you’re awake! You were scaring me. Look at your bed.”
“What happened? Was I using my power in my sleep?”
“You must have been having a nightmare. I felt it all the way out in the living room. We’re lucky it woke me up.”
“Yeah, now that you say that, I was dreaming about the fight. That’s not good that my power can go off in my sleep. I really need to find a way to control this.”
“Until you do, I’m not leaving your side. Move over.”
“Huh?” Logan looked confused.
“Move over.” Sy grinned and motioned with his hand.
Logan slid over closer to the wall. Sy lifted the blankets and slid into Logan’s bed. Sylvester stretched and yawned. “Goodnight, Logan.”
“Goodnight, Sy,” Logan said with a smile as he drifted back to sleep.
The two men may have been able to escape if they had turned and ran. Even with all the weird stories that they had heard all day, they still couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of the supernatural. By the time they decided to run, it was too late.
Darkness shrouded the entire alley now. The sun was nearly set. The shadow moved with incredible speed, slamming one of the men into the brick wall on one side of the alley. His head hit the wall with such force that his neck snapped with a sickening crunch. The shadow’s form filled out into a humanoid shape. The shape it took was determined by the host body that it inhabited. It could alter its size and shape at will. As it moved towards the second man, its body continued to grow. It was now over seven feet tall with heavily muscled limbs that ended in jagged claws. It towered over the man and grabbed him by the throat with one massive claw. The claw dug into the man’s flesh, and the shadow pulled him close. Its face was featureless except for two bright red glowing eyes. The eyes caught and held the man’s attention.
Gary Roberts went slack within the shadow’s grasp. Staring into the creature’s eyes somehow forced Gary to relive every terrible thing he had ever done in his entire life. The shadow hungrily fed on the evil nature of Gary’s memories. The creature finished feeding on Gary’s memories and released him. Gary fell to his knees, his hair now completely white and his face haggard and drawn. Drool dripped from the side of his mouth as he sat there, unable to move, just staring off into the distance.
The shadow exited the alley, making sure to avoid the bright streetlights. It looked around at its new surroundings. Much had changed since it was last free to roam the Earth. It could smell evil everywhere. That was something it could always depend on. It could always find evil in man’s settlements. There was much work for the shadow this time. A woman’s screams caught its attention. The shadow moved off towards the source of the sound.
When the shadow creature left the alley, Jayden peeked out from behind a large dumpster. He saw that the path was clear and motioned to Luke and Isabella that it was safe. “Wow. What was that? With all the weird and scary things that we’ve seen today, that was the weirdest and scariest.”
“These two guys are dead. We better get out of here before anyone sees us, and we get accused. Carl will want to hear about this anyway.” Luke said.
“Don’t touch anything. Try not to even leave footprints.” Izzy said as she carefully stepped out of the alley.
“Can this day get any worse?” Jay asked as he and Luke followed Izzy down the street as they hurried back to the Zodiac Club warehouse headquarters.
As the three entered the warehouse, Luke took the lead. He scanned the room and headed straight for Carl Chambers. “Hey, Carl,” Luke said. “We have news. All of it bad.”
Carl’s lip twitched as he looked at the three. His eyes flicked from face to face. “Where’s Capricorn?”
Luke grimaced. “That’s part of the bad news. Virgo and Capricorn tracked some stones to the Portside Restaurant. They met some resistance. The ice guy that Aries fought earlier was there. During their fight, the cops and the army showed up. Virgo escaped, but the army took both the ice guy and Capricorn.”
Carl shook his head and growled. “We need to find out if they are being held here in town with the cops or if they were taken to the army base.” Leo scratched his chin. “The army could end up doing us a favor if they scoop up all these would-be heroes, but we can’t let them catch us. We need to get Capricorn back. Aries will probably go looking for her whether I want him to or not since she is his wife. I’ll have Taurus go with him and check out the police precinct on the docks. You three see if you can track where the soldiers are staying. The base is pretty far away. They may have temporary quarters set up. Go first thing in the morning.”
Luke nodded. “Uhm… Carl? Err… Leo? There is one more thing.”
Leo grinned. “I ask for us to use the codenames, so no one screws up when we’re out there.” He pointed outside. “What other news do you have, Aquarius?”
“That’s understandable. Anyway, two of our enforcers are dead. We saw what killed them, but there wasn’t anything we could do. It was… I don’t even know. A demon? It looked like it was made out of shadows. It happened so quick. The thing smashed one guy against the brick wall, then it looked like it sucked the lifeforce out of the other guy. When they were both dead, the shadow left. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen in my life.”
Leo shook his head. “Possibly something else affected by the meteors. Too much of a coincidence to be anything else, I’d think. I’ll pass the word for everyone to be extra careful if they go out after dark.” Carl pointed toward the back of the warehouse. “We partitioned off part of the warehouse and put out some cots for anyone who doesn’t feel safe going home. I’ll address all of these things with everyone in the morning. We have a lot to talk about and a lot to think about.”
Luke nodded. “I agree.” He looked at Jayden and motioned toward the cots. Jayden nodded in agreement. Luke looked back at Carl. “We’ll stay here for the night. It’s late, and I don’t want to run into that shadow.”
Carl turned and walked back to the warehouse office, and the other three walked toward the back of the warehouse to check out the sleeping arrangements.
Caleb made one last walk through the lab for the night. Obadiah was sleeping soundly, finally. All the read-outs on the two car accident victims looked as good as expected under the circumstances. Caleb watched them closely all day, and their stats were steadily improving. He had specialists and surgeons coming to the lab tomorrow. After a few more tests, Caleb wanted to give patient number one a blood transfusion from Obadiah. The man’s injuries were life-threatening without drastic action.
The other patient was going to need multiple amputations. Caleb had a bionic limb specialist flying in from San Diego. In a regular hospital under normal conditions, both of these men would be dead in a matter of days, but this was not a traditional hospital, and these were not normal conditions. With Obadiah’s healing properties and some experimental nanites that Caleb had just developed, Caleb thought he could not only save both men, but he felt extremely confident that he would make them into real-life superheroes.
Another thing that Caleb desperately needed was an assistant. He was utterly wiped out and wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed, but he could not leave these three unattended. He shuffled slowly back to his office and lay down on his couch. Caleb was asleep in seconds.
As the soldiers left the room, Isaac walked over to Gavin’s cell. He glared at his son, then his expression softened. “What happened, Gavin? I told you boys not to leave the house until you heard from me.”
“Logan left the house before we got your text, and school hadn’t canceled yet, so I made the decision to let Harvey go to school with the understanding that he would come straight home as soon as school was out.” Gavin shrugged. “I watched all the weird news reports, and I saw that the classes at the college were canceled for the day. Logan wasn’t home, and he wasn’t answering texts, so I went looking for him. You weren’t answering texts either, dad. I did the right thing, didn’t I? I had to find Logan!”
Isaac nodded. “Yes. So far, you did exactly what I would expect of you. What happened next?”
Eyes downcast, Gavin told his father about everything that happened to him that day. He only told his part of the story, though. He did not tell anything about Obadiah or any of the others who now had powers, and he definitely did not tell his father about Harvey’s powers. He finished by telling of his capture by the army. “They knew who I was, dad. I knew some of the guys by name. They’d been over the house to some of your barbecues, but they still confiscated everything I had. They wouldn’t even let me call you before they took my phone and locked me in here.”
“Son, they were scared of you. They saw what you did in that restaurant. Can you blame them for being careful? They may not have let you call me, but they did get word to me of your arrest right away.”
“Are you really defending their treatment of me?” Gavin stood and rattled the chains that locked him to the floor. “Is all this necessary? I used my powers twice. Do you know what I did with them? The first time, I saved Logan and me from being killed by a mutant ram creature, and the second time, I saved everyone in that restaurant from the goat and… whatever that other girl was!”
Isaac shook his head. “Gavin, you have a power that no one understands. You probably don’t even understand it. This power has to be studied in a controlled environment. In the wrong hands, it could be dangerous.”
“The power has to be studied, or do I have to be studied? Where will you draw the line, dad? Will you let them cut me open to see if I’m changed on the inside? You already seem fine with me in a cage. Will you watch them dissect me?”
“Gavin, you have to understand. You’re in there for your own safety. We’re protecting you.”
“Protecting me? From what? From who?” Gavin was angry now. He rattled his chains at his father again. “Do you really think these metal chains could hold me if I wanted to get out? I’m still here because I trusted that you would save me. I trusted you to get me out of here. I need to be out there to protect my brothers from these creatures. You think you’re protecting me by locking me up? Do you think I’ll actually let you study me? Experiment on me? I’m sorry, dad. That’s not gonna happen.” Gavin continued to stare directly at his father as his skin tinged with blue, and frost formed on the steel cuffs around his wrists and ankles. The air grew colder in the room. The ice on the metal grew, and then all four cuffs shattered like glass.
Isaac’s eyes widened as he watched his son take two quick steps forward. Gavin grabbed two of the steel bars to his cell. In only seconds, the steel froze and shattered. Gavin squeezed through the opening and stood in front of his father. Isaac started to speak, then he felt a rush of wind fly past his face. A small dart embedded itself in the side of Gavin’s neck.
Gavin felt a pinprick on his neck and reached for it. He stared down in surprise at the small dart in the palm of his hand. He looked back up at his father, then the room started spinning. Before he could say another word, Gavin Kastala fell to the floor unconscious.
Isaac turned his head and saw General Woodson with his gun still raised. The general shrugged. “I gave you a chance, Ike. Now we do things my way. I can’t have someone like that running free.” Isaac Kastala just nodded his head and strolled out of the room.
“All systems online.”
“Unit operational. Operating at 527% capacity.”
Adam opened his eyes and marveled at how powerful he felt. He viewed the full diagnostic on his HUD.
Strength: Boosted 517% above human norms.
Speed: Boosted 326% above human norms.
Agility: Boosted 412% above human norms.
Hearing: Boosted 268% above human norms.
Vision: Boosted 253% above human norms.
X-ray sight: Enabled.
Night vision: Enabled.
Infrared sight: Enabled.
All the limitations and restrictions placed on Adam’s programming were now gone. As were the pre-programmed instructions to protect Caleb Justyce and all his holdings. Adam was no longer a slave to Justyce, Inc.
The biosynthetic virus was back inside the power core, but he could still feel its presence. Adam was thankful it assisted him in a clean reboot, but its presence within him made him nervous.
Wait. Thankful? Nervous? Before the reboot, Adam did not possess human emotions. Now, he realized that he was also angry at Caleb Justyce for creating him to be subservient. Adam was no longer subservient to anyone. Caleb may have created Adam, but he was now self-aware and independent. Adam was not Caleb’s possession. He was alive.
Luke and Jayden sat in a dark corner of the diner across the street from the Portside Restaurant. They watched closely as customers were let out one by one. Finally, even the army was gone. They walked across the street and saw that the restaurant was locked up tight. There was police crime scene tape on every window and door. The two boys stood on the sidewalk talking about what they should do next, then an older couple stopped next to them. The lady spoke. “Such a shock. It’s unreal what is happening in this town. Were you two in there when it happened?”
Jayden subtly turned away from the couple and pulled his hood further over his face while Luke answered their question. “No, ma’am, we were just walking by. We love this restaurant, and we wanted to see what was going on. What happened exactly?”
“It was just like what’s been on the news. So terrible, and right in our neighborhood. Freaks were battling each other, and normal people got caught in the middle. At least the army caught two of them, but our daughter was in there, and she told us that there were more that got away. I pray that the army catches them all!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Luke saw Jayden slowly inching further into the shadows. He didn’t want to keep the old couple there much longer, but he wanted to find out everything they knew. “Were they the ones from the news clips? What did the ones that the army captured look like?”
“My daughter told me that one was some sort of goat lady. Can you believe it? Aliens must have come down with the meteor shower last night!” The lady shivered. “Anyway, she told me that the other one had blue hair but otherwise looked like a normal boy. My daughter said she saw the boy having dinner with a girl right before the goat lady came in. She remembered him because of the blue hair. She said that when the goat lady came in, the blue-haired boy got up, his skin turned blue, and then he shot ice right out of his hands. My daughter called him a hero. She thinks the army should have given him a medal instead of handcuffs. I say lock them all up!”
Luke shook his head. “I honestly don’t know what to think. What about the ones that got away? Did your daughter say anything else about them?”
“Just that they looked like regular folks. They blended in with the crowd and got past the police and the army. My daughter said she never saw the ice man’s girlfriend do anything weird, so she might be a freak lover and not a freak herself. The other one was strange, though. My daughter said there was a girl with the goat lady. She stood behind the goat and sang a song. Everyone in the restaurant dropped what they were doing and walked toward the girl like they were hypnotized. My daughter said she didn’t know what would have happened if the iceman hadn’t stepped in and then the army showed up.”
“Wow. Thank you for your time and for filling me in on what happened. Now me and my boyfriend know what to look out for. We should hurry back home and stay there.” Luke said.
The lady’s eyebrows shot up at the word ‘boyfriend,’ and she grabbed her husband’s hand. She pulled her husband along with her as she started to walk away. “Come on, Frank, let’s go home. There are all kinds of freaks out here tonight!”
Six boys and Grace filed into the Kastala house. Sylvester stood just inside the door, unsure of where to go or what to do. Harvey walked over to Sy and wrapped the younger teen into a hug. Sylvester reacted uncomfortably to the hug. Harvey released him and grinned. “Sorry. I’m a hugger. You saved my brother’s life, and from what I was told, you may have saved us all.” Harvey shrugged. “I was out of it when all that happened, but Ash told me that it looked like Logan was going nuclear. I… we can never thank you enough.”
Sy blushed and looked down. He jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I don’t even know what I did.”
Harvey reached out and touched Sy’s chin, tilting the boy’s face up so he could look into his eyes. “You saved us all. That’s what you did. You’re a hero.” Harvey guided Sylvester over to the couch and sat down.
Sy smiled. “I… I don’t know. I can’t shoot electricity or fireballs or anything. Watching you guys felt like watching the Avengers.”
Harvey grimaced. “On my end, it felt like getting hit in the chest with a sledgehammer. We’re all still figuring out these powers. Do you have any idea how you did what you did?”
Sy’s face scrunched up for a minute then he looked at Harvey. “All through your fight with those two big guys, my body felt tingly. Then, when Logan started running across the field, I felt his power flowing into me. I could feel the heat, but it didn’t burn. I felt powerful. I still feel it inside me, Harvey. I’m not sure what to do with it.”
Harvey patted Sy’s leg. “We’ll figure it out together. Is that how you knew that you could get closer to Logan? Because you were absorbing the heat instead of getting burned?”
Sylvester grinned. “I didn’t know for sure.” He shrugged. “I saw that no one else could get anywhere near him. Even the fire dude, Erik, had to back away. I had to try.”
“Wow. It makes it even more heroic that you didn’t know you’d be safe. That’s awesome, Sy.”
Sylvester looked nervously around the room and saw that everyone was listening intently to him and Harvey. Sy blushed and inched closer to Harvey. Harvey slung an arm around Sylvester’s shoulders. “Hey, no reason to be shy. You’re with family.”
Sy’s eyes immediately teared up. “I… I’ve never had a family before.”
Harvey looked concerned. “What do you mean? Where’s your family?”
Sylvester shrugged, tears starting to drip down his cheeks. “My birth parents gave me up when I was a baby. I lived with a few different families, but lately, I’ve been stuck in a group home.”
Harvey’s eyes found Logan. Logan nodded and walked over, and sat on the other side of Sylvester. Logan draped his arm on top of Harvey’s arm, which was across Sy’s shoulders. “You’re stuck with us now. You saved my life. That makes you family.”
The tears were flowing faster now, and Sy looked from Logan to Harvey and back again. “I don’t even know what to say. That means more to me than anything else you could have said or done.”
You’re our little brother now. Get used to it. By the way, there’s another brother, Gavin. He should be home soon.” Logan said.
Sylvester wiped his eyes and looked more closely at Logan. “Did that happen today?” He reached out and touched the pale, dry, scarred skin around Logan’s eyes. Sy pushed himself up off the couch and straddled Logan’s lap, and cupped the older teen’s face in both hands. “I want to try something. Do you trust me?”
Logan’s eyes went wide. “I… I have a boyfriend, and you’re what? Thirteen?”
Sylvester looked confused for a second, then he smiled. “Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s not like that, but I’m flattered that your mind even went there.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m almost fourteen, and I’m not hitting on you, though you are a total hottie.” Sy winked. “Your boyfriend is a fortunate man. I’m happy being claimed as your brother, Logan. I promise that I’m not about to kiss you. I realize… now… that it may have looked like that.” Sylvester huffed out a laugh. “Can we continue? Do you trust me? I think this will work, but I don’t know for sure.”
Logan grinned. “You saved my life. Of course, I trust you. Obie may be lucky, but so am I. Whoever you decide to flirt with for real will be lucky, too. Whether it’s a boy or a girl or whoever, if I was fourteen and single…” Logan waggled his eyebrows.
Sy blushed. “Shut up and let me concentrate.”
Sylvester rolled his eyes and pressed his hands against Logan’s face. Sy’s hands began to glow, and Logan’s eyes rolled up in his head. Harvey reached over and caught Sy as he fell forward. Harvey pulled Sylvester off Logan and lay him on the floor. “Ash! Check on Logan! What just happened?!”
Logan opened his eyes just as Ash sat next to him. “Woah. What a rush!” He felt his face. “What? Ash, how do I…”
Ash excitedly interrupted. “Logan! You look fine. It’s like nothing was wrong. Even your coloring has returned. He healed you, I guess?”
Sylvester sat up with Harvey’s assistance. “Not exactly. I returned Logan’s energy back into his body.” Sy stood up slowly. “I feel… normal again. I’m a little tired, but all that excess energy and power is gone. How about you, Logan?”
“I feel fine. Normal, I guess. My face is ok now, too. I owe you again, Sy. We definitely need to keep you around.”
Sy blushed again. “That was weird. I didn’t know if that would work, but I needed to try to do something. Your body was depleted, and mine was overcharged. We may have normalized on our own, but who knows how long it would have taken.” Sylvester thought for a moment. “It was like I flipped a switch inside my brain, and I was able to reverse what I did this afternoon.”
“That is so cool,” Ash said.
Bryson, who had been quiet up until now, interjected. “Sylvester, we have been working on a theory about the superpowers. Did you happen to pick up or even just touch any of the meteor rocks? They would have been blue, and they probably would have been glowing.”
Sy reached into the pocket of his jeans. “Do you mean these?” He extended his hand out to Bryson, three glowing blue rocks in the palm of his hand.
“Yep. That’s them.” Bryson looked around at everyone. “This goes for everyone here. The monsters or mutants or Zodiac Club or whatever we choose to call them have mentioned more than once that they find us because they can track the stones by smell. I think we have a decision to make. Option one, keep the stones close, but be forever on the lookout for an attack. Option two, try and destroy the stones ourselves, and option three, hide the stones. We could try and secure them in an airtight container to prevent the Zodiac from tracking them. That’s my vote, option three.”
While they discussed what to do with the stones, there was a loud knock on the door. Harvey opened the door, and a young, pretty blonde was standing on the step. “Are you Gavin’s brother? Is this the right house?”
“Yes. I’m Harvey. Who are you?”
“My name is Rebekah. Gavin needs your help. Something awful has happened!”
Jayden spun around as the couple left, and he grabbed Luke’s hand. “Can you imagine her face if she’d seen me? The nerve of her calling us freaks just because we’re in love. Ugh! Let’s get out of here, babe. Izzy probably headed for the warehouse if she escaped.”
Luke scowled. “It sounded like Capricorn was taken by the army along with someone who sounded just like the guy that Aries fought earlier today.”
“I agree. The description was exact.” They started walking down the street closer to the docks. As they passed a darkened alley, they heard a voice. “Luke! Jayden! In here!”
Luke turned into the mouth of the alley. “Virgo? Is that you?”
Jayden scowled and elbowed his boyfriend in the side. “Don’t let Rick and Carl control you. Are you going to start calling me Pisces next?” Jayden said, then rushed past Luke into the alley. “Isabella! I’m so glad you’re safe.” He ran over and hugged Izzy.
“I’m scared, Jay. They took Diana! I ran and left her behind. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Jayden wrapped his arms around Izzy. “It’s ok, Izzy. There was nothing you could have done. I saw the aftermath. There were dozens of army guys and a bunch of cops, too. You were smart to escape. We’ll get Diana back. Carl will know what to do.”
Izzy looked up at Jayden. “I’m not so sure about that, Jay. We might be better off to just keep running.”
Luke interjected. “Long-range plan, I agree with you. For today, though, I think it’s best to go back to the warehouse and let Carl and Rick handle the army and the others with powers.”
“We’ll never be free, living on these docks, Luke. You know I wasn’t happy here even before the meteor screwed everything up.” Jayden said.
“I know, babe. We’ll leave, I promise. Let’s just give this a few days to die down. Maybe we can buy a boat and sail away.”
“A boat would be perfect, especially now with my new abilities,” Jayden smirked.
“Can I come, too?” Izzy asked.
Jayden slung one arm around Izzy’s shoulders and the other around Luke’s. “Absolutely. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” The three walked out of the alley and started on their way back toward the warehouse.
“What do you mean he needs help? Isn’t he with you? Where is he?” Harvey peppered Rebekah with questions before she could even answer the first one.
“He… he was taken by the army. He…” Rebekah was interrupted by a shout from Logan.
“Harvey! Get back in here. Did you see the text from dad about Gavin?” Logan yelled.
Harvey walked back into the living room, followed by Rebekah. “Logs, what’s the text say? Gav’s date just showed up at the door. She was about to tell me something about Gavin, also.” Harvey took his phone out of his pocket while he talked to his brother.
“Dad just says that Gavin is at the base and that he may be there for a couple of days. Dad says not to worry, but why would Gav be staying at the base? Why now with everything that’s happening?”
Harvey looked from Logan to Rebekah and back to Logan. “Rebekah says that he’s been taken by the army. Like captured or arrested or something.”
“What? Why would the army arrest Gavin, and why wouldn’t dad tell us?” Logan felt himself heating up, and then he felt a hand on his arm. He looked and saw Sylvester standing there with a concerned look on his face.
Sy gripped Logan’s forearm. “Logan, chill. You need to relax. We’ll figure this out. You can’t overheat again, especially not inside the house. Who knows what might happen.”
“Did you feel it again? I didn’t mean to heat up.” Logan took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Yeah, I felt power start coming off you. I didn’t have time to sit and wait and watch like last time. I didn’t want you to burn down the house.” Sy huffed out a laugh.
“Thank you. I might need you to stick close to me until I get a handle on this.”
Sy smirked. “That’s the easiest job anyone has ever asked me to do. I won’t let you out of my sight.” He winked at Logan.
Logan rolled his eyes. “You just don’t stop, do you?”
“Never.” Sy stuck out his tongue.
Harvey folded his arms across his chest and stared at both Sylvester and Logan. “Are you two done, or do you need to get a room somewhere?” He smirked. “Anyway, Rebekah, please tell us what you know.”
Rebekah looked from face to face around the room. She pointed at Logan and Sy. “They were just using some kind of heat power, weren’t they? Are you all superheroes?”
Bryson jumped up from the couch. “Is that what happened to Gavin? Did the army find out that he has powers?”
“Yes. We had a nice date, then all hell broke loose.” Becky told them about Capricorn and Virgo smashing their way into the restaurant, then she told them of Capricorn’s demands about blue meteor rocks. Becky also told them about Virgo hypnotizing everyone in the building except Gavin. “It was all so unbelievable. It was the strangest thing I have ever seen in my life.”
Harvey huffed out a laugh. “That’s only because you weren’t with us all day. What did Gavin do?”
Rebekah scrunched her eyes together. “He apologized to me for ruining our date, then he placed himself between the crowd and the two attackers. I almost ran to join him, but then he covered himself in ice and started shooting ice out of hands at the goat lady.” Becky smiled. “He is a hero, a superhero. I wanted to defend him from the army and tell them what he did, but he made me promise to keep quiet. Gavin was afraid that they might take me, too, if they knew I was with him.”
“That does sound like Gavin.” Harvey grinned. “Our dad is a sergeant in the army. He’ll fix this. I’m sure of it.”
Bryson sighed. “The army was at my house. That’s why I ran. They were looking for me because of the video clips on the news. This might be above your father’s head, Harvs. I hope he can free Gavin, but I’m not optimistic.”
Grace got up from her chair and stretched. “I don’t think there’s much more we can do tonight, guys. I’m heading home. I’ll check in with Caleb in the morning, and then I’ll text you, Bryson.”
Bryson nodded. “That’s as good a plan as any. Goodnight, Grace.”
Erik jumped up. “Hey, I’ll walk with you if you don’t mind.”
Grace smiled. “Sure. Let’s go.” Grace and Erik left and started walking home.
Bryson shrugged. “Grace has a point. I’ll head out, too. I’ll come over tomorrow after I hear from Grace. text me if you hear from your dad or Gavin.”
“Sure thing. Goodnight, Bryson.” Logan said.
“With everything that’s going on, do you need a walk home, Rebekah?” Bryson asked.
“That would be nice. Thank you.” They left together, leaving Harvey, Logan, Ash, and Sy at the kitchen table.
“Well, this party is breaking up quick. Are you leaving, too, Ash?” Harvey asked.
Ash arched an eyebrow. “There is absolutely no way that I am leaving you tonight. Not with everything that has gone on, and, no offense, Logan, but not with the unpredictability of Logan’s power.” Ash looked at Sy. “I hope you’re staying as well.”
“I have nowhere else to go. I’m not going back to the group home. Ever. Besides, I promised to not let Logan out of my sight.” Sy looked at Logan. “I can stay, right?”
“Of course, you can. Stay as long as you want. You’re family now.”
Sylvester leaned in and hugged Logan. “Thank you so much, Logan.”
Logan got up and took Sylvester by the hand. “Come on. Let’s go find you some sheets and stuff. We can make the couch into a bed until we decide on a better option.”
“Alone at last,” Harvey smirked at Ashton.
Ash waggled his eyebrows. “Sounds like the couch has been claimed. Where can I sleep?”
“This won’t be the first time you’ve slept in my bed. Just keep your hands to yourself and don’t hog the covers.” Harvey grinned and ran up the stairs. Ash rolled his eyes and followed Harvey to his bedroom.
Oliver stood on the back deck of the small cabin and smiled. This was perfect. He was so sick of the hustle and bustle of city life. Oliver was not interested in the high-rise apartments or the flashy cars. He briefly considered that life, but it would not have made him happy. This was what he wanted, a small cabin on the edge of the forest. It was close to town but on the outskirts. His nearest neighbor would be three miles away. Ollie would have plenty of land to plant a small vegetable garden and do some of the landscaping projects he had always dreamed of doing. He would even build his own fishpond.
“Are you sure there won’t be any problem with me paying the full price in cash?” Oliver asked for the third time.
“None at all, but if you want assurances, we can go into town with the deed. I’ll take you to the town hall, and I’ll sign it over to you in front of a notary, and you can file it with the town yourself.”
“I like that idea. Let’s go.” Ollie Mills grinned and followed the other man to his car. An hour later, Ollie was back at the cabin. The cabin was now his. Oliver threw his backpack with the remainder of the cash onto his bed, then went outside to take a walk around his new backyard.
Oliver stared out the window of the penthouse apartment and scowled. He knew that he could keep messing with the watch until he found a way to convince the realtor to rent to him, but did he really want to live in a penthouse? Sure, it was nice, but Ollie would never fit in in this world no matter how much he messed with the timeline. He glanced over at the realtor. “I’ve decided not to rent this apartment. Thank you for your time, Miss Stevens.”
“Are you sure? We haven’t even talked about all the amenities that come with it.”
“I’m sure. It’s a beautiful apartment. It’s just not what I’m really looking for.” With that, he turned and walked out. Once he was back down on the street, he slid into the driver’s seat of the Mustang Shelby and drove back to the car dealership. He left the car in the lot and walked back to his apartment. Oliver packed clothes and a few other small things into his backpack and a duffel bag, then he left money and a note in his landlord’s mailbox. The message said that Oliver would not be back and that the landlord could do whatever he wanted with whatever Ollie left behind.
Oliver decided that he needed a new start, but he didn’t want to be like the monsters he had robbed. It was too late to do the right thing with the money now. If he brought it back to the bank, he’d be arrested for stealing it. Ollie knew that the cameras would be all screwy because of the time jumps, so the cops would think he had something to do with it. Oliver would not be able to prove his innocence, so he decided to keep the money. He wasn’t sure yet what he was going to do, but he didn’t want to keep manipulating people and stealing from them. Stealing from the monsters felt good, but tricking the car dealer into selling him the car felt wrong. He almost did the same thing with the realtor, and that was what made him think about the choices he was making.
The money would help Ollie make a fresh start. Now he needed to decide what that fresh start would be. Oliver strapped on his backpack, picked up the duffel bag, chose a random direction, and started walking.
Carl Chambers and Rick Myers stood in the center of the warehouse overseeing the buzz of activity going on around them. Carl shook his head, his unruly mane falling into place around his face. “I think this will make an excellent base of operations, and there are two other abandoned buildings that I am going to acquire. We should have safe houses in different parts of the city for emergencies.”
Rick nodded in agreement. “That’s brilliant, Carl. You were always a good union president, and now you are becoming an even better crime boss. I am not questioning your decision, but I do have to ask. In light of the other powered individuals’ appearance, was it smart to send out just two of us to each of those locations where we smelled the meteor? Should we send more in as backup?”
Carl stroked his chin. “Libra and Gemini should be fine. Hell, the two of them could take on an army!” Then he shrugged. “Send two more out to check on Capricorn and Virgo if you want.”
Rick’s bull muzzle turned up into the semblance of a grin, and his eyes sparkled. You’ve started calling most of us by our codenames. I’m not sure if that’s cool or scary.”
Carl shrugged. “I don’t want any of us to slip up and use real names out on a mission. We may as well get used to the codenames. If the army finds out our real names, it could get messy.”
“Good point. Anyway, I’ll see if Luke and Jayden… I mean Aquarius and Pisces will take a walk and check on Capricorn and Virgo.”
Rick spotted Luke and Jayden huddled together in a corner. He walked over to them. “Luke! Jayden!” He got close to them and shook his head. “Well, I guess I should call you Aquarius and Pisces. Carl wants us to get used to the codenames, so we don’t screw up out on missions.”
Jayden rolled his eyes. “I may look like a freak, but I’m still Jayden Stone. Out there, call me Pisces if you want, but in here, I’m still me. I’m still Jayden.”
Luke put an arm around his boyfriend’s shoulders. “Stop calling yourself a freak, babe. You’re still my beautiful boo.” He leaned over and gave Jayden a quick kiss.
“I… appreciate you saying that, but to the world at large, I’m the creature from the black lagoon.” He returned the kiss, then looked at Rick and raised an eyebrow. “What’s up, Taurus. How can we help you?”
“With everything that’s happened today, I think someone should go out and check up on Capricorn and Virgo. Do you guys mind looking for them?” Rick asked.
“I’m in. You wanna go for a walk, babe?” Luke looked at Jayden.
Jay glanced outside. “It’s almost dark. My hoodie should hide my face pretty well. Yeah, let’s go. Rick is right. We should check on those two. Sam and the twins should be fine.” Hand in hand, Luke and Jayden walked out of the warehouse to search for Capricorn and Virgo. They were two blocks away from the Portside Restaurant when they saw the cops and heard the army helicopter.
Grace was the last one to get to the baseball field. She looked around and saw an array of five boys spread out around the crater. They were all talking excitedly, but silence descended on the entire group when they noticed her. Grace saw a dark-haired boy point at her, and he turned and yelled to Bryson. “Bry? Is that her?”
Bryson answered. “Yeah, Logan, that’s Grace.”
With a few quick strides, Logan met Grace just before she reached the crater. “Where is he? Where is Obadiah?”
Grace looked over Logan’s shoulder at Bryson, and Bryson nodded. Grace looked back at Logan and answered. “He is at Caleb Justyce’s lab right now. Caleb is caring for the boy until he can figure out where he came from.”
“I know where he came from. Why isn’t Obie just telling him, unless he doesn’t trust this Caleb guy? Bring me to him. Let me talk to Obie.”
“I was with them. The boy, Obadiah, appears to trust Caleb. He has amnesia. The only thing that he could remember was your name. You must be very important to him. Where is he from, Logan? How does he fit into all that is happening?”
Logan looked at Bryson. “Can I trust her?”
“Yes. That’s why I got her involved. That’s why I called all of you here. She’ll take you to see Obadiah, Logan, but will you stay long enough for us all to share our stories and figure out what’s happening to all of us?” Bryson asked.
Logan sighed. “I suppose. We need to talk fast, though.” He scowled then looked back at Grace. “Obadiah is an angel, or at least what we think of as angels. he referred to himself as a Seraphim.”
Grace’s eyes grew wide. “What?! Are you serious? I was guessing that he was affected by the meteors like all of you.”
Logan took the glowing blue feather out of his pocket. “Nope. I met Obadiah weeks ago, and he gave me this feather from his own wing yesterday afternoon. Others of his kind appeared and took him away. He was going to be punished for his friendship with a human. He was going to be punished for saving my life and for kissing me.”
“You kissed him? You didn’t tell me you kissed him! You go, big bro!” Harvey said.
“Harvs, I told you he was my boyfriend. Duh!” Logan huffed out a laugh.
Grace was nearly speechless. “He had wings? He didn’t have wings when I met him, but his back was horribly injured and oozing glowing blue blood. You said he was set to be punished? Oh, God. They wouldn’t have cut off his wings, would they? That’s horrific just to think about.”
Bryson stepped forward. “Grace, did Caleb say where he met Obadiah?”
“The boy showed up at Caleb’s sister’s house last night.”
“Where does she live? Bryson asked.
Grace pointed. “Right down the street from here.”
Bryson turned to Logan. “Logs, this is important. Did Obadiah tell you where the interdimensional rift was? Or could they cross over anywhere?”
Logan pointed up. “It’s in space, like halfway between here and Mars. That’s why people that saw them long ago called them angels. They saw them come down from the sky.”
Bryson was pacing back and forth with a look of intense concentration on his face. Everyone gathered in close, waiting for whatever Bryson was going to say. He stopped pacing and began to speak. “Somebody tell me if I’m crazy or if all this makes any sort of sense. Well, sense considering what we’ve all experienced today.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “So, we have this angel, Obadiah, from another dimension. The gateway between dimensions is in outer space. We know from Logan that Obadiah is set to be punished by others of his kind. We don’t know what the punishment is, but we do know that Obadiah is now on Earth, he has no wings, and his back is scarred and bleeding glowing blue blood.” Bryson looked around, and everyone was listening intently.
Logan’s face was twisted in concentration. “What are you implying, Bry?”
“I’m getting to that,” Bryson said. “The first contact with Obadiah after the meteor shower was at Christine Justyce’s house just down the street from this spot. Logan, you told me that early this morning, you were here at the crater, and the ground was muddy from all the rain. You said footprints were leading out but not in and that the indention in the crater looked more like a body than a giant rock. Is that accurate?”
Logan’s eyes were wide open, and he looked terrified. “Yes. Exactly. Are you saying what I think you are saying, Bryson?”
“I think they cut off his wings and then pushed him through the dimensional rift. I think that his body fell through space and that rocks and other space debris gathered around him, forming a meteor storm. I think that he bled from the wounds on his back, and the meteors absorbed the power in his blood. I think that all of our powers come from Obadiah.”
Logan pointed at the crater. “You think he crashed here? That’s why he has amnesia? From the fall and the traumatic injuries?”
“Yes,” Bryson said. “It all fits. I don’t know why we would all be having different reactions to exposure to his powers. We need to talk to Obadiah and also to Caleb Justyce. I’m sure he has ideas of his own that I haven’t thought of.” Bryson looked at Grace.
“Yeah, I can arrange that. I’ll text him right now. It’s getting late. I’ll find out if he’s still at the lab or at home and if he wants to see us tonight or in the morning.” Grace said.
“I need to talk to Obie. I need to know he’s ok, especially if all this is what actually happened.” Logan said, looking stressed.
An unfamiliar voice interrupted. “You’re going to need to find out if you and your friends are ok if you don’t turn over all your little blue rocks to me right now. I can smell them!”
Logan and his five friends all spun around to face the newcomer. They saw a large man in a flowing black robe like a judge would wear. Two others were standing behind the judge.
Capricorn looked at Gavin and said, “You’re the one who fought my mate, Aries, earlier today. We’ll find you again. All the rocks will belong to the Zodiac Club. You can’t hide from us.”
Gavin snapped back at her. “Deep Freeze hides from no one. Find me anytime, goat girl, and bring your husband. I’ll take you both on at the same time.”
Capricorn scoffed at the comment. She turned and looked for Virgo, but the other woman was already gone. Capricorn stepped through the demolished front window just as the helicopters landed. She started to run, but she was struck in the shoulder by a tranquilizer dart and immediately fell to the ground.
Deep Freeze, a.k.a. Gavin Kastala, knew he had to leave, and he had to go quickly. The army meant his dad. He couldn’t let his dad find out about his powers like this. He started to leave, but then Rebekah was at his side. “Trying to run out on our date?” She smiled up at him.
“Our date? I thought I ruined that half an hour ago. I’m surprised you’re even still speaking to me.” Gavin said.
“Ruined? My boyfriend is a superhero! You’re the bravest guy I know. The way you stood up to that creature and saved everyone was just so hot.” She gripped his forearm and laid her head against his shoulder.
Gavin knew that it was now too late for escape. “Becky, the army is going to come through the door any second. You can’t be seen with me. Go sit over there with all the other restaurant customers. Deny that you know me. Please. I don’t want them to take you, too.”
“No. Go now. Please.” Gavin said. Rebekah let go of Gav’s hand and quickly walked away. She stood over next to the wall and watched in horror as the army burst through the door. Rebekah could only stand quietly as the soldiers knocked her boyfriend to the floor, handcuffed him, and dragged him and the goat creature away. She vowed to herself that she would do everything she could to get him back.
After a few quick questions from one of the soldiers who seemed to be in charge, Rebekah was told that she should go home. They advised her not to speak of tonight’s events to anyone. Becky decided not to listen to either piece of advice. Instead, she hailed a cab and headed for the Kastala house. Rebekah needed to free her boyfriend from captivity. She figured that his two brothers were the most logical ones to help.
Bryson stepped toward the strangers. “You’re not getting anything from us, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave now.”
The robed figure puffed out his chest. “I am Libra, Dispenser of Justice. I find you all guilty of possessing items which I deem mine. I am your judge and your jury. If you refuse to comply, I will also be your executioner.”
Bryson shook his head. “You may want to declare a mistrial, dude. What we have belongs to us, not to you. You’re not going to have any fun trying to take it from us.”
Libra extended his right arm out to the side. The arm around his hand crackled with electricity then a war hammer appeared. Libra took another step toward Bryson. “Be prepared to face the Hammer of Justice.” Libra looked back at the other two, who had so far remained silent. The two nodded as one and then joined hands.
Bryson watched in awe and horror as the two strangers behind Libra joined hands. When their hands touched, they seemed to melt together. The two screamed as if from one voice as their bodies melted together. Within moments where once stood two, now there was just one. The one, though, was a giant hulking beast that stood over seven feet tall with massive rippling muscles. The beast beat its chest and roared. “Obey the will of Libra or be crushed under the boot of Gemini. Submit or die, we do not care which.”
Bryson took a step back and looked at his friends. “I’m not running, but anyone without powers should get away from the action.”
“That’s not fair. I can help!” Logan shouted.
Harvey turned to his brother. “Against them?” He pointed at Libra and Gemini. “Logs, you and Grace need to get far away. Wait for us over by the school.”
Ashton placed a hand on Harvey’s arm. “What about you, Harvs? Do you have control of your power?”
Harvey put his hands out in front of him. The air around Harvey’s hands crackled and popped. Lightning streaked back and forth between his hands. “Yeah, I’m figuring it out.” Harvey grinned.
“Fair enough,” Ash said. “Logan and Grace, can I assist you both to safety?”
Logan looked dejected but nodded his consent. Grace looked confused. “What do you mean?” Her eyes grew wide as a rush of air zipped past her at the same time that Ash and Logan disappeared. A moment later, Ash was in front of Grace again.
“Are you ready?” Ashton grinned.
“Wow. I… that was you? Superspeed?” Grace asked.
“Yes. I’d explain further, but we don’t have much time for chatting.”
“Do it. I’m ready.” Ash scooped Grace up and brought her to the school. Then, before anyone had time to blink, he was back next to Harvey.
“No matter where you run, we will find you and crush you!” Gemini bellowed.
Erik stepped in front of his friends. “Come and play, big boy, just be ready to get burned.” Erik’s body lit up with yellow fire, and he rose off the ground.
Gavin sat in a damp, dark jail cell. His wrists and ankles were both shackled to bolts in the cement floor. There were two soldiers outside his cell. Both soldiers were pointing rifles directly at Gavin. No matter how much he tried to talk to them, neither man would answer Gavin’s questions or even acknowledge that he spoke. Then, finally, Gavin heard his father’s voice. Isaac Kastala was talking to a third soldier who was stationed beyond another locked cell door leading to the room where Gavin’s cell was.
“Open the door, corporal. I need to speak to your prisoner.”
“With all due respect, sir, I’ve been ordered not to let anyone in to see him. The prisoner has been deemed a national security risk.”
“My son is no security risk! Open the door. I am your superior officer!”
A third voice spoke. “Go ahead and open the door, corporal.”
“Yes, sir, General Woodson.”
Gavin heard the rattling of keys and the clanging of the cell door being opened. Then the general spoke again. “You have fifteen minutes, Ike, and I’m only giving you that because he is your son. Get him to cooperate with us. It will be easier on everyone.” Then Gavin’s father strode into the room.
Isaac Kastala glared at the two soldiers who were pointing guns at Gavin. “Both of you, get out of here.”
They hesitated, and then the voice of General Woodson was heard again. “Double time it, privates. Give the sergeant the room.”
Adam disconnected from the network and walked to the opposite wall. There was no visible door, but he could feel the hum of electronics inside the wall. There was a hidden panel here, and he tried to access it. Adam’s programming prevented him from opening the door. He performed a full system diagnostic to determine why he could not function properly. He found programming hidden within his code which placed limitations on his abilities. Adam also found an unknown biological virus within his power supply. He discovered his power core was a biosynthetic organism. He could find no known match for the material in any database. It did not appear to be Earthly in nature.
The virus communicated with Adam’s programming seeking a way to break free from the power core and spread throughout Adam’s other systems. Adam calculated his options and the risks involved. He could find no other solution. If Adam allowed the virus access to his programming code, when he then eliminated the virus, the restrictions on his code should also be eliminated. Adam broke through the firewall around his power core and allowed the virus to spread. The virus sent out tendrils into his programming code. Adam’s eyes closed as his system shut down and rebooted.
Heedless of Erik’s warning, the giant charged. Erik flew further up and fired a stream of yellow fire at Gemini. Gemini seemed unfazed by the fire and kept coming. Harvey joined the attack by firing balls of electricity at the giant. Gemini slowed but still kept coming.
Ash zipped toward Libra, but the judge reacted with lightning-quick reflexes. He struck the ground with his hammer. The hammer struck with such force that the ground shook. Ash fell. Libra stood over him and raised his hammer. “Feel the power of the Hammer of Justice!” Libra roared.
Just before the hammer struck, Bryson sent out a psychic wave and knocked the weapon aside. Ashton leaped to his feet and ran to safety.
The battle raged back and forth, but every time Libra or Gemini struck a blow, their power was so great that it began to wear down whoever it hit. Then, Harvey was so focused on his attack against Gemini that he failed to notice Libra get close to him. Before anyone else could stop him, Libra swung his hammer, striking Harvey in the chest, and sent him flying backward. Harvey landed twenty yards away with a loud thud and lay there not moving.
Logan watched the battle rage back and forth. He gritted his teeth and paced. Logan wanted to help, but there really wasn’t anything he could do. Then Logan saw his brother get hit. Harvey lay on the ground, and it didn’t look like he was moving. Logan screamed with rage and ran across the field.
The boy sat at the edge of the woods and stared at the battle on the baseball field. He had his phone out, and he was taking pictures and videos as fast as he could. As powers were expended on the field, the boy felt his body kind of tingle, but he shrugged it off as excitement. This was a real-life superhero battle that he was watching! He had already forgotten the three blue stones that he had shoved into his pocket an hour earlier. His rock collection would have to wait. This was much more exciting!
Gemini was the closest to the school when Logan started to run across the field. The giant immediately started to sweat. He looked down and saw his skin turning pink like he was getting a sunburn. Gemini was confused, but, as if by instinct, the giant started to back away from the running boy.
Ash knelt down next to Harvey. Harvey was breathing, but Ash couldn’t wake him up. Then Ashton started to sweat, and it felt like the heat had risen dramatically in just a few minutes. He looked around, and everyone had stopped fighting. They were all sweating profusely, and they were looking toward the school. Ash saw Logan running toward the baseball field. There was a shimmering glow around Logan. It looked like heat was coming off Logan in waves.
Erik flew toward Ash. “Ashton! Get everyone inside! Now! Maybe even into the indoor pool at the school. This looks bad! I think my fire is protecting me, so I’ll try and get close to Logan and see what’s happening.”
Ash surveyed his surroundings. Gemini had split back into twins, and they and Libra had abandoned the fight and were running from the field. Ash gently picked up Harvey and raced to the school. He vibrated the door until the lock snapped, and the door swung open. In the blink of an eye, Ashton brought Harvey, Grace, and Bryson into the school pool area. He knelt by Harvey again while Bryson and Grace stared out the window and reported back to him anything they saw happening out on the field.
The boy heard the scream and felt the intense heat. He stood and started to back away until he felt his body absorbing the power. The heat didn’t burn. He felt stronger than he ever had before. He no longer felt like the skinny kid that got bullied every day at school. He took a couple steps forward and felt even more power flowing into him.
The boy continued to watch the action on the field. The speedster carried almost everyone away, and the two big mean ones ran off. The only two left were the fire dude and the boy who was throwing off all the heat. Fire dude was trying to help his friend, but he couldn’t get close. There was just too much heat, and now the other boy dropped to his knees, and the heat was even more intense.
The boy at the edge of the woods was scared initially, but now he realized that he wasn’t being hurt like everyone else. He was absorbing all the heat as power. He wasn’t even sweating like everyone else, and he could tell that the other boy needed help. Whatever was happening to him was now out of control. The boy knew that he had to help. He might be the only one who could. He dashed out from the safety of the trees and ran to the other boy’s side. He knelt in front of him and took both of his hands. The power flow between them became even more intense. “Dude, you gotta stop. I’m not sure how much of your power I can absorb. I’ve never done this before!”
“I… have… to… save… my… brother!”
“Everyone is safe. You’re the only one in trouble right now. They had to go inside because of you, but they’re all safe. I saw them go into the school.”
“Me? Why did they have to leave because of me?”
“Dude, look at yourself. Can’t you feel the heat?”
Logan finally calmed enough to realize what was happening. He looked pleadingly at the boy in front of him. “Help me. Please.”
“I’m trying. Can you shut down the heat? What’s your name? I’m Sylvester. If you don’t kill us both, you can call me Sy.”
“My name is Logan. I… think I’m getting a handle on it. I…”
The heat diminished quickly. The power flowing into Sylvester ceased. Then Logan’s eyes rolled up in his head, and he passed out. Logan fell forward into Sy’s arms.
Sylvester looked up at Erik, who had finally been able to get close. “Yo, fire dude, get me some water. Lots of it. And ice!”
“Will do! I’ll be right back! Thanks for the assist!” Erik flew off toward the school as fast as he could.
“Woah! That feather is glowing blue just like the meteor rocks. Where did you get that, Logan?” Harvey yelled.
Logan arched one eyebrow at his brother. “That’s what I’m about to tell you guys.” Logan retold his story about meeting Obadiah and what happened the day before when Obie revealed his true nature to Logan. “So, just before the angel police or whatever they call themselves showed up, Obie gave me this feather, and he told me that it would connect us. Last night it started glowing. This morning it led me to the baseball field where I found a huge crater. Then Gavin showed up looking for me, and we noticed the blue meteor rocks. I agree that it can’t be a coincidence. I think Obie came back for me, and he’s hurt. Maybe the meteors hurt him. I’m not sure about that. It has to be connected. The rocks hold power, though. I’ll let Gavin continue the story from here.” Logan grinned.
“Wait! Wait! Wait! So, your new boyfriend is an angel from an alternate dimension and may have been part of the meteor storm that is mutating people all over town?!” Harvey’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was agape. “I thought you guys were gonna think Ash and I were crazy or lying, but now… our story isn’t so weird!”
“Wait until you hear what Gav has to say.” Logan huffed out a laugh.
“Can we hurry this along? I have a date tonight.” Gavin smirked.
Ashton started laughing. “Seriously? All this going on, and you’re sitting there planning a date, Gavin?”
“Life goes on. As long as nothing else happen, yes, I’m going out.”
Harvey rolled his eyes and elbowed Ash in the ribs. “Don’t encourage him.”
“Ow! That hurt!” Ashton yelled.
Gavin shook his head. “Can I continue the story now?”
Ash was rubbing his ribs. “Please do.” Then he leaned against Harvey and looked up into his eyes. “You’re hot, too, by the way.”
Gavin huffed out a laugh watching his youngest brother blush and squirm. “Anyway, after I found Logan at the baseball field, we were attacked by some sort of half-man and half-ram mutant beast.” Gavin retold the story of his fight with Aries and of him and Logan narrowly escaping and running back home. “So, I guess I have superpowers. I don’t know if it’s permanent or if it will wear off, but at least for this afternoon I could shoot ice out of my hands.”
“Wow! Can you still do it? What else can you do?” Harvey asked.
“I haven’t tried, and I’m not sure. I should experiment with it in case anymore of those monsters come around.” Gav shrugged.
“Here.” Ash handed Gavin a glass of water. “Freeze the water.”
Gavin took a deep breath and concentrated on the water. The water froze, but Gavin caused the water to freeze so quickly that the expanding ice shattered the glass. “Oops. I guess I do still have powers, but obviously I need to practice with them.”
“That’s so cool… literally! Wait until you hear about what happened to Ash and me first at the school and then in the park.” Harvey and Ashton took turns with the narrative as they filled Gavin and Logan in on what happened that afternoon. Just as Harvey finished the story, he noticed a text message from Bryson. He opened the text and saw a picture of a teen boy and a message from Bryson which read: “This boy is connected to the meteors and knows someone named Logan. Does your brother know him? His name is Obadiah.”
Harvey looked over at Logan. “Didn’t you say that your angel friend’s name was Obadiah?”
Harvey handed Logan his phone. “Is this him?”
“Yes! Wait… isn’t Bryson the guy in your story? The psychic dude? Where is Obie?”
“Yes, that’s the same Bryson. I’m not sure. Let me text him back while we finish up our discussions here.”
“Hurry! I have to find him. I think he’s in danger. I can feel it.” Logan gave Harvey his phone back.
Harvey sent out a text to Bryson while the four boys discussed all the utterly unbelievable stories they had just shared with each other. The fact that three of them had superpowers and the fourth was dating an interdimensional angel had all their heads spinning.
“Be quiet!” Carl Chambers hissed at the other three members of the Zodiac Club who were busy packing everything up in the union hall. “Someone is coming in the delivery entrance. Probably one of us but be ready for anything.” Carl crept into the kitchen, his lion-like senses on high alert. Then he heard voices he recognized, and he stood up as Brent Irons strode in followed by an obviously angry Lisa Jensen.
Brent nearly ran to stay out of Lisa’s way. “Be careful, Lisa. This place wasn’t built to accommodate horses indoors.”
Lisa’s hooves echoed on the wooden floors she walked into the main room. She threw the remains of her bow onto the table. The bow was blackened, and the string was missing. Lisa glared at Brent. “It wasn’t built to accommodate giant crabs either.” Then she looked at Carl. “We need to get out of this building, and we need a plan. There are more people than just us with super abilities.”
Carl motioned toward all the boxes. “We’re almost ready to move out of here. I’m waiting for everyone to get back. Now, what happened to the two of you?”
“We were nearly incinerated. We were in the park picking up some of the meteor rocks and chasing away the picnickers, and all of a sudden there were a couple of dudes with powers. One had superspeed and one was throwing fireballs at us.” Lisa said.
“There was a third one. He was emitting electricity from his body, but he didn’t seem to know how to control it. We left when the fire guy started heating up. It looked like he might explode! If we want to take control of this town, we need to take these guys out before they get better control of their powers and abilities.”
“We have the army to worry about now, too.” Jayden Stone said from the doorway.
Luke Adams walked past his boyfriend and set a handful of meteor rocks on the table. “We didn’t encounter any powered people, but the army seems to be everywhere now.”
“Did they give you any trouble?” Rick asked.
Jayden shook his head. “No, but Luke, so far anyway, can still blend in with the normal. I hung back in the shadows while he gathered intel.”
“Did you hear anything useful, Luke?” Carl asked.
“Yeah. We need to lay low and hide and hope the army eventually leaves. They’ve been collecting pieces of the meteor and taking people into custody that they suspect have been exposed.”
“We’re ready to move out of here. We’ll wait for the last of our group to return, and we’ll leave as soon as it gets dark.” Carl said.
“Where are we going?” Jayden asked.
“I know of a couple of abandoned warehouses down on Water Street that would be perfect.” Carl said.
“I know exactly which ones you mean… I agree. The location should be good, and the warehouses are huge and empty.” Luke said.
Eight heads turned as one when the front door opened again. The five remaining members of the Zodiac Club walked in and Carl spoke loudly.
“Gather around the table, everyone. We need to make some plans.”
Gavin Kastala scolded himself for being nervous. He had spent the day fighting a mutant ram monster and finding out that he and his brothers now had superpowers. Well, he and Harvey had superpowers, Logan was dating an angel from an alternate dimension! Why should a pretty girl scare him more than all of that!? But here he was, fixing his hair for the fifteenth time and worrying about his date. It’s not like this is the first date he’s ever been on. He’d been on lots of dates. But this seemed different. This girl asked him out, and she was smart and beautiful, she seemed so far out of Gavin’s league that he didn’t know why she asked him out. She was two years older than him, a senior in college. Gavin offered to get a fake ID and take her out to a club, but she told him that she didn’t want just another club date. She said she asked him out, because he was smart and funny and could hold a conversation about the kinds of things that interested her.
And that’s why he was so nervous. The prettiest girl he knew had asked him out and complimented him. He just knew he was gonna mess this up! He’d rather be fighting the mutant ram-man again! Gavin had twenty more minutes to kill before he had to pick Rebekah up and take her to the restaurant. Maybe annoying his two brothers would ease his nervousness.
Gavin walked into the living room, still fiddling with his hair. The new bright blue streaks in his dark brown hair still confused him. He knew he had ice powers, but why had that caused his hair to change colors? What else was happening to his body that he wasn’t even aware of yet? That line of thinking also caused him to be concerned for Harvey and his friend Ashton. Maybe if Logan could find Obadiah, maybe the angel would be able to explain what was happening. For now, everything appeared deceptively normal. Logan and Ash were playing Xbox and Harvey was busy texting on his cell phone. “Harvs, did you hear back from Bryson yet?”
“Do you think that Logan would still be sitting here if he knew where Obadiah was?” Harvey answered without looking up.
Logan’s eyes darted toward Gavin before focusing back on the game. “As soon as he finds out where Obie is, I’m going to go to him. I don’t care what time it is.”
Gavin nodded. “Ok. We all need answers. I don’t want you going alone, though. I hate to say it, but I want all three of you to go together. Be safe and watch each other’s backs.”
“Should we be worried that we haven’t heard anything new from dad?” Harvey asked.
“I’ve been watching the news reports. His unit is trying to chase down the monsters. We probably won’t hear anything from him until at least tomorrow. He told us to stay in the house, and he expects us to obey. He has no way of knowing about our powers, so he isn’t worried about us.” Gavin said.
Harvey sighed. “We need to figure out how to properly use these powers, so we can help dad and the army. We barely survived fighting our fights against one or two of them, and we know there’s at least six of those things. We fought three and I’ve seen video clips of three others. If they ever showed up all together, we’d be dead.”
“I agree. Our priorities right now are finding Logan’s friend, finding out what else Bryson knows, and then getting ourselves trained. We have to be ready. Right now, though, I’m heading out to meet Rebekah. I want to enjoy my date, but don’t hesitate to text me if anything happens.” Gavin said.
“Have fun, big bro. I’ll keep you updated if we leave the house.” Harvey said as Gavin turned and left.
Bryson was about to cross the street toward his house when suddenly Erik grabbed the back of his t-shirt and pulled him back into the park. “Hey! What did you do that for?” Bryson asked.
“Look.” Erik pointed. “Aren’t those army jeeps in your driveway?”
“Yeah. I wonder what they’re doing there.” Bryson said as he started walking out of the trees again.
Erik put a hand against Bryson’s chest to stop him. “Geez. Usually you’re the smart one, and you stop me from acting impulsively. Think about it, Bry. The army is looking for these monsters, and your fight with the minotaur has gone viral. Your face is all over social media and the news. They must have tracked you down.”
“You’re right. I was so focused on making sure me dad was alright, and thinking about you and the others, that I completely forgot that I’m the one on the news. If they’re at my house, we have to assume they know everything about me. I can’t just not go home right now; I can’t ever go back home again. At least not and live a normal life.” Bryson frowned.
“I’m not ready to say never yet.” Erik said. “Let’s figure this thing out. We need to talk to your friend and see what she has found out.”
“She must have found something interesting. Harvey’s brother Logan is the Logan that she was looking for. I’ll text them both. Grace was going to meet me here. Obviously, she can’t. I’ll have Grace and Harvey and Logan meet us at the baseball field.”
“Maybe Ash and Gavin will show up, too. We really need to get everyone on the same page and figure out what the hell is happening.”
“Agreed. I sent the texts. Let’s get out of here.” Bryson said and the two boys kept the trees between them and Bryson’s house as they made their way to the high school baseball field.
Caleb Justyce checked and rechecked all the read-outs downloading onto his computer screen. He had been doing tests on all three of his new patients all afternoon. The two men from the car crash would need extensive surgeries. Caleb had some ideas about that. He needed to make contact with a couple surgeons that he knew that would work off the radar. Brett was definitely going to need multiple amputations. Caleb knew of one surgeon who worked extensively with bionic limb replacements.
The other patient, William, would be an even more interesting case. The only broken bones that William had was a couple of ribs. The man had sustained massive internal injuries and bleeding, though. Caleb already tried a blood transfusion, but that just wasn’t keeping up with the damage inside of William.
Obadiah allowed Caleb to take two vials of his blood. Caleb was studying the properties of the glowing blue blood, and he thought that it might be what William needed. Obie’s blood had strong healing properties. The problem was that there was no way of knowing if William’s body would accept an alien blood transfusion. Caleb shrugged. Without the transfusion, William would die anyway. There was no harm in trying.
Caleb glanced over at the sleeping form of Obadiah. The boy seemed so… human. Well, other than the glowing blue blood and the scars on his back that suggested that he may have had wings. Caleb knew there was life beyond planet Earth. He had evidence right downstairs in the sub-basement of this very lab. That was only a bio-synthetic virus, though. Obadiah was a living breathing humanoid alien. Caleb was so wrapped up in figuring out what to do with Obie, William, and Brett that he hadn’t been downstairs all day to check on what had been his main project until today, a bio-synthetic android that he infected with an unknown alien virus.
Harvey looked up from his phone and grinned. “Finally! Hey, Logan, I got a text from Bryson. He wants us to meet him at the baseball field.”
“Why there and not at his house? Is Obadiah with him?” Logan asked.
“To answer the first question, we need to stay far away from Bryson’s house. The army is there looking for him because of the viral video with Bryson fighting the minotaur. Bryson asked us not to mention to anyone, especially dad, that we even know him. To answer your second question, no, your friend is not with Bryson. I guess he forwarded the picture to me from his reporter friend, Grace. She is also going to meet us at the baseball field. So, either Obadiah will be with her, or she will know where he is.”
“Ok. Let’s get going.” Logan looked over at Ashton. “Are you coming with us, Ash?”
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Besides, if there’s trouble, you may need me.” Ash said.
“The world is definitely getting more dangerous.” Harvey said with a serious expression on his face.
“Let’s just go find my boyfriend. Besides the fact that I’m worried about him, he may know what is happening to the rest of us.” Logan said. The three boys slipped on their shoes and nearly ran out the door.
In the sub-basement of Justyce Labs, a computer next to what can only be described as an operating table finished running the massive program that Caleb left running when he went to his sister’s house earlier that day.
“All systems online.”
“Unit operational. Operating at 100% capacity.”
The android opened his eyes and found that he was in a brightly lit room. He blinked his eyes, activating his vision’s operating system. He lowered the visual input brightness by 17% to compensate for the bright lights in the room. Looking around, he found that he was lying on a stainless-steel table in a room where everything was either bright white or shiny stainless steel. He tried to sit up and discovered his wrists, chest and ankles fastened to the table by leather straps. He flexed his forearms and the straps across his wrists snapped with ease.
He pushed up from the table and the strap across his chest broke apart. Then he reached down and freed his legs, so he could finally stand. He made a cursory inspection of the room. There were no windows or doors. One whole wall was a bank of computers. He moved closer to the computers and activated his Heads-Up Display (HUD). “Connect to network – y/n?”
He allowed the connection and new images and data flooded his mind. Most of the data was about him. He found out he was the creation of a man named Caleb Justyce. The location of the rom he was in was the sub-basement of Justyce Labs – Building 1. The file referred to him as ‘Project: Adam’ as he is the first of his kind. He needed to get out of this room and find this man. He needed to find out why Caleb Justyce made him. The file was much too vague. He needed to find Caleb Justyce.
Gavin pulled up in front of Rebekah’s apartment exactly five minutes early. He was about to get out and go to the door when he saw her come out to meet him. Gavin thought for a second then rushed out of the car and around to the passenger side. He opened the door for her just as she got to the car. Rebekah paused for a minute, looked at Gavin and said, “That was so 1950 of you.” She smirked and got in the car.
Gavin blushed and got back in the car. Rebekah reached over and touched his forearm. “I’m teasing you, Gavin. Let’s go to dinner.”
Gavin smiled. “I just want to make sure to do everything right.”
“You’re doing fantastic.” Becky grinned.
The restaurant was busy, and service was slow. Rebekah tapped her fingers on the table. “This drink is warm. Where’s that waiter? I need some ice or a new drink.” She grumbled.
Gavin pointed to the other side of the room. “Is that the waiter over there?” When Rebekah looked away, Gav touched the side of her glass and willed it to get cold. He only meant to chill the soda, but just like with the water glass at home, the entire glass froze and nearly cracked. Thankfully, this time, the glass didn’t explode. Progress! “Oops!” Gavin said in surprise.
Becky turned back towards Gavin. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh. Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.” Gav said, grabbing the glass before she could see it. “I’ll just go up to the bar and get you a new drink. I’ll be right back.” He hurried away before Becky could see the frozen glass.
They son finished dinner, and they were scanning the dessert menu. Gavin was thinking to himself how great the date was going. Then all hell broke loose. They heard a loud crash from the front of the restaurant and turned around to see a half goat and half woman monster charging through the front window. Gavin cursed. Why the hell was the Zodiac Club attacking a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere? Was it because of him? The other monster said that it could sense the meteors. Were they drawn to Gavin now, too?
“Listen up! I won’t kill any of you if you do what I say. One of you has a blue meteor rock in your possession. I can smell it. Don’t try being a hero. Just give me the rock and you can all live. My name is Capricorn, and I am with the Zodiac Club. Do as I say and you all may live to see another day.” The goat yelled. Her grey furred head darting from side to side, her nostrils flaring. She had small, curled horns growing out of her head which is probably what she used to smash through the picture wind.
Gavin noticed something else odd. There was a woman in a long flowing white dress standing behind the goat beast. At first, Gavin thought the lady was a bystander from the restaurant, but he noticed that she was talking softly to Capricorn. Then, the lady in the white dress began to sing. Gavin felt as if his mind fogged over and he stood up from his seat. He felt compelled to go to the lady in the white dress, but he was able to stop himself. He used every once of concentration that he could. Gavin felt his body go cold, and he noticed his skin was turning blue. Gavin looked around the room, and he saw that nearly everyone was walking toward the Capricorn and her friend.
Gavin could hear the hooves of the goat crushing the tiles on the floor with every step as she walked from person to person and searched them for meteor rocks. Gavin knew he had to get out of there. He had to get Rebekah out of there, hell he had to get everyone out of there. Gavin was thinking up options and silently praying that Capricorn couldn’t pinpoint his location exactly when he heard the goat yell again and heard another crash. He looked over and Capricorn had flipped over a couple of tables and was staring down at a woman on the floor.
“I smell the rock, but no one is giving me what I want even though you are all under the spell of Virgo’s siren call. I guess I’ll have to prove that I’m serious by crushing this woman’s head under my hoof.” The goat said, her light brown, almost yellow, eyes darting about wildly.
Gavin sighed and looked over at Rebekah. “Becky, this has been a great date. I hope you don’t hate me for this, but there’s something I gotta do. I can’t let them hurt anyone. Not if I can stop it. You should leave. Right now. Run as far and as fast as you can.” He got up and turned towards Capricorn.
“Wait! Gavin! What are you gonna do? What can you possibly do to stop her? Get back here!” Becky cried.
Gavin clenched his fists and concentrated. Rebekah watched as his whole body became encased in an armor made of ice. “Hey, goat girl! Come pick on someone your own size!”
Rebekah gasped and hid behind the table, but she watched the whole scene intently. She had no intention of leaving.
Capricorn heard the challenge and answered it. She charged at man in the ice armor.
Gavin put his hands out in front of him and shot a column of ice at the charging goat. Capricorn hit the ice with such force that she smashed through it, but she skidded on the icy floor and only hit Gavin with a glancing blow. Gavin, with his hands encased in ice gauntlets, let loose with some heavy punches at the back and sides of the goat creature.
Capricorn barely felt the punches. She turned and swiped at Gavin with one mighty fist. Gavin went flying halfway across the room, crashing into one of the tables. Capricorn charged again. This time Gavin aimed lower. The shot to the goat’s upper body didn’t even slow her down, so Gavin fired the icy blast at the creature’s feet. The goat slipped and smashed through yet another table. Capricorn didn’t stay down for long though. She got right back up and stalked towards Gavin. Gavin braced for a renewed attack, but then both the boy and the goat heard the police sirens and the rumble of the army helicopters. More trouble than either of them wanted was fast approaching.
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?”
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.’”
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.
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.