Griffin woke up and sleepily rolled over to get some good morning cuddles, but all he found was a cold, empty bed. “Wow. He’s up early,” he thought to himself as he got out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt. Griff padded out of the room looking for Nicholas. He got to the kitchen and saw Nicholas at the table. The two girls were on either side of Nicholas, each with an arm wrapped around him. Griffin was a little puzzled, so he walked over and wrapped his arms around Nicholas from behind. He rested his chin on his boyfriend’s shoulder. “Hey, Boo. What’s up? You’re awake early. What are you looking at? Are you making more travel plans?” Griff asked as he saw all the maps spread out on the table.
Nicholas looked up at Griff with tears blurring his normally crystal-clear blue eyes. “Hey, Peaches. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and started organizing some of the cupboards and drawers that we hadn’t gone through yet.”
Griffin nudged the girls out of the way and spun Nicholas’ chair sideways, so he could kneel in front of him. “Baby, what’s wrong?” He gently reached up and wiped the tears off of Nicholas’ cheeks.
“Nothing’s wrong. I’m not even sure if these are happy tears or sad tears. Look what I found.” Nicholas motioned toward the maps spread out on the table. “These are all my dad’s travel maps! He marked off routes and circled places that he wanted to take me. There are even notes in the margins in his handwriting about what he wanted me and him to do at some of the places. I thought mom cleaned everything out of here when she put the RV into storage. This… this is like a gift from my dad!”
Griff leaned forward and kissed the fresh teardrops from the corners of Nicholas’ eyes. “I’m so happy for you, Boo. This is amazing! We’ll add these in with the ones that you made, and we’ll know exactly where we want to go.”
Nicholas’ lips curled down into a frown. “Yeah. At least until I drop you off at college.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. There’s plenty of time before that happens. So much has changed for us in the last couple of weeks, who knows what will happen before we get to Ohio.”
“You’re right. Sorry for being so emotional. Go take your shower, and I’ll fix breakfast.”
Casey stepped forward and put a hand on Nicholas’ shoulder. “Organize your dad’s maps. Me and Jamie have breakfast covered today.”
“Yep. Chef Jamie and her fabulous assistant, Cookmeister Casey, at your service!” Jamie giggled.
Griff pulled Nicholas to his feet and wrapped him in a tight bear hug. “No apologies necessary. I know what your dad meant to you. He was an awesome dad.” Griff kissed Nicholas on the forehead. “Finding those maps was a sign that we are doing exactly what we should be doing right now, and we have your dad’s blessing.”
“You’re right. He loved you a lot, Griff. I know he’d be happy for us. Ok, let’s get this day started. Go get in the shower and I’ll finish up here. It smells like the ladies are already fixin’ us some breakfast!”
Nicholas’ hair whipped around his face, damp from the spray of the water. He let out a whoop and pressed down as hard as he could on the jet ski’s gas pedal. Only one more to pass and he’d be in the lead. The nose of his jet ski was now even with the tail end of Andy’s. Just as they reached the predetermined finish line, Nicholas pulled into the lead. He slowed the engine and glided to a stop at the dock. Nicholas danced and jumped his way down the pier and onto the beach where Griff waited, still taking photos.
“Did you see that? That was amazing!” Nicholas cheered.
“Not only did I see it, but I also recorded it! Your victory will be immortalized on our RV Instagram account, Boo!”
“I still can’t believe you have over a hundred followers in two days! Maybe we will go viral!” Nicholas laughed.
“Yeah, maybe we can be the next Alec in WILDerland!”
Andy strolled over and pointed up at the jet ski rental office. Ian is taking care of the paperwork. Are we ready to go get lunch?”
Jamie bounced over with her nearly perpetual grin, “Definitely! I’m starved.”
“I’m glad you chose this place,” Ian said. “It’s my favorite restaurant of all the ones that we’ve been to here in Chesapeake Beach.”
“As an added bonus,” Griffin chuckled, “the owner, Peggy, gives Nicholas a free piece of pie every time he comes in for saving that dude’s life earlier this week.”
“Wait… what? You have to tell us that story!” Jamie squealed.
So, as they ate, Griffin told the story of the Heimlich save. Nicholas retaliated by telling the story of Griffin saving Gustavo in the hang glider accident. Then, Griffin told the story of Nicholas’ tackling him in the mud to save him from the runaway RV.
Ian glanced at his watch. “Time to finish up here, guys and gals. Andy and I have to hit the road.”
As Andy stood from the table, Jamie nearly tackled him with a hug. “You have my number and all my socials, you better stay in touch, boy!”
Andy grinned and kissed her on the cheek. “Of course, I will. You’re my favorite girl.”
“Where are you heading next?” Jamie asked.
“Virginia Beach. Then on to my hometown of Savannah, Georgia.” Andy said.
“Post plenty of beach pics,” Jamie said with a wink.
Andy blushed. “For sure.”
Goodbyes were said all around, and then Ian and Andy left on their way south.
Griffin raised his kayak paddle in the air and whooped in victory. “Oh yeah, baby! That’s game, set, and match! We win four to two!”
Nicholas and Casey shook their heads. “Should we ask for best of nine instead of best of seven?” Casey asked.
“Nah. Look at those two already dancing on the beach like they won the Olympics. Let them enjoy it.”
“It’s three-thirty anyway. You said that we should leave by four.” Casey said as she got out of the kayak and helped Nicholas pull it onto the beach.
“Yeah, let’s get these things signed in and get back to the RV.” Nicholas and Griff pulled the kayaks back to the rental shed and rejoined the girls for the short walk back to the RV.
While Nicholas was double-checking all the RV hookups and gauges to make sure they were ready to leave, Griffin noticed both girls kept looking down the road and whispering together. He walked over and put an arm around each girl. “Ladies, what’s wrong? And don’t you dare say nothing.”
Jamie looked up at Griffin then at her sister and finally back up at Griffin. She sighed, “I can’t lie to you, even if I wanted to. I’m not sure that anything is wrong, but I think I saw Roger’s beat-up red pick up parked out by the exit to the park. As soon as I saw it, it drove away, but I’ve seen it drive by two times since then.”
“Roger is your stepfather, right? The one who abused you both?”
Casey frowned. “Yes,” she swore under her breath, “I knew we shouldn’t have gone to Sarah’s party last night. If it is him, that’s how he found us. Some blabbermouth told him we were there!”
Griff ran a hand through his hair. “You two are both over eighteen, right? Those weren’t fake ID’s? Why would he track you down?” Nicholas had joined the group and was listening intently.
“We are both of age. He just thinks that he owns us. Plus, he’s probably pissed that I knocked him out with the baseball bat. He tracked us down because he’s a psychopath.” Jamie said.
“Well, you’re not sure it’s him, but regardless, even it is him, the sooner we get on the road, the sooner we leave him behind,” Nicholas said as he herded everyone into the RV. Once they were all buckled in, Nicholas started up his road trip playlist, and they pulled out of the park to the sounds of Aerosmith.
I’m back in the saddle again
I’m back in the saddle again
Ridin’ into town alone by the light of the moon
I’m lookin’ for old Sukie Jones, she crazy horse saloon
Barkeep gimme a drink, that’s when she caught my eye
She turned to give me a wink, that’d make a grown man cry
I’m back in the saddle again
I’m back in the saddle again
Come easy, go easy, all right until the rising sun
I’m calling all the shots tonight, I’m like a loaded gun
Peelin’ off my boots and chaps, I’m saddle sore
Four bits gets you time in the racks, I scream for more
Fools’ gold out of their mines, the girls are soaking wet
No tongue’s drier than mine, I’ll come when I get back
They slowed down when they turned a corner and entered a different part of the carnival. Charlie spoke up. “Hey, do you want to grab something to eat?”
“Yum junky carnival food sounds great!” Leo chuckled. “Let’s go find some deep-fried chicken and onion rings, and when we’re done with that, some fried dough for dessert!”
Charlie rolled his eyes at the choices but followed as Leo led the way to the food booths.
After they ate what passed for dinner, the two boys walked through the carnival midway finishing their fried dough. Leo glanced over at Charlie and smirked. He stepped directly in front of Charlie and looked up at the taller boy, then he reached up and pulled Charlie’s face down to his own. As Leo leaned in close, his tongue darted out, and he slowly licked just to the side of Charlie’s mouth on both sides, then pulled back.
“What was that for?” Charlie beamed, his eyes burning with desire.
“Powdered sugar. I love it. I didn’t want to see it go to waste.” Leo shrugged and grinned and started walking again. They were passing through the carnival games when Leo suddenly stopped.
“I want to try and win something. This looks like a fun game. You won the panda for me. Now I want to win something for you.” Leo was hugging his giant panda as he spoke.
“Awe. I’m glad you like your panda, but you don’t have to win me anything. It’s sweet of you to want to, though.” Charlie replied.
“I know I don’t have to. I want to. Now hold onto Charlie, Jr.” Leo handed the panda to Charlie. The game had six big metal milk jugs, and the object was to toss a baseball into one of the pitchers—two dollars for three baseballs. Leo won four times and traded up to the prize he wanted. Sixteen dollars later, he handed a giant stuffed dolphin to Charlie.
“A dolphin to welcome you to our little fishing town.” Leo leaned in and kissed Charlie.
“Should I name him Leo?” Charlie smirked. “Nah. I won’t copy you. Pebbles for Pebble Cove.”
Charlie pulled Leo close and kissed him before pulling back and looking down into his eyes. “There are too many people around right here. Let’s walk somewhere else.”
Leo’s eyes lit up, and a devilish grin spread across his face. “Absolutely brilliant plan. Let’s go!”
The two boys headed towards the carnival exit, but then Leo pointed in between the fence and the Ferris wheel. “Back there. Behind the Ferris wheel. No one will ever go back there.” He pulled Charlie along by their linked hands until they were just outside the reach of the carnival lights. Now in near darkness, Leo turned and faced Charlie. He placed one hand flat against the older boy’s chest and firmly yet gently pushed him up against the fence. Leo freed his other hand from Charlie’s grasp and slowly ran both hands up Charlie’s body until his hands were at the collar of Charlie’s light blue button-down shirt. Leo pulled on the collar, and Charlie was forced to bend down slightly. Leo leaned in, and the two met in an open-mouthed kiss. Charlie was older. Charlie was taller. However, Leo was in charge this night. Leo broke away from Charlie’s mouth and started licking and kissing Charlie’s jawline and then up to his ear. After nibbling on Charlie’s ear, Leo began to kiss his way down the older boy’s neck.
Leo let go of Charlie’s collar, and his hands found their way to the top button of his shirt. He unbuttoned the top button and kissed the newly exposed skin. His fingers shaking just a bit with nerves, he undid the next button and then the next. He kissed and licked his way down with each button he released. Lower and lower. He was about halfway down Charlie’s chest when he felt the other boy run his fingers through his hair and grip the top of his head.
“Yeah. Oh my God, Leo, that’s amazing.” Charlie said as he gently applied pressure, urging Leo even lower. Leo was on his knees in front of Charlie now. More buttons unbuttoned—more kissing and licking. Leo finally released the bottom button on the shirt and spread the shirt open. Leo’s tongue darted out and into Charlie’s innie belly button. Charlie moaned and gripped Leo’s head even tighter. Leo rubbed up and down the front of Charlie’s khaki board shorts, feeling just how into this Charlie really was. Charlie moaned even louder. “Leo. Oh, God, Leo. Wait. Stop.” Charlie grabbed Leo’s shirt and pulled him back to a standing position. Charlie’s eyes were glazed over with lust, and he was breathing heavily. He took a deep breath and began to speak before Leo could cause him to change his mind. “We have to stop. I want you so bad, but not here. Not now.”
“Why? Did I do something wrong?” Leo had a worried look in his eyes.
“No. Oh, God, no. Absolutely not. It’s just that I,” Charlie hesitated and blushed before speaking again. “I’ve never done anything like this before. Hell, the kiss on the Ferris Wheel was my first ever kiss.” He put his hand up to stop Leo from interrupting. “I know we’ve just met, but I do think I want more of my firsts to be with you. Not here, though. Not in a muddy field behind the carnival where anyone could,” As if on queue a loud noise interrupted them.
Crash! Bang! “Hey! You two! What are you doing over there?! You don’t belong back here! The carnival is closed!” A voice yelled.
Both boys nearly jumped out of their skins. Leo spun and looked towards the yelling and saw a carnival worker. The man was emptying trash into a bin and had seen the boys. Leo grabbed Charlie’s hand, and they ran off into the darkness. They ran through the exit and out onto the beach. They never even slowed down until they were near to the path leading to Leo’s house, where they finally stopped.
They were both beet red and sweating. Leo and Reese looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Oh my God, Charlie, that was… I don’t even know. Exciting. Frightening. Embarrassing. But all in all, one of the best nights of my life.” Leo grabbed Charlie’s shirt, which was still hanging open, and pulled him close. He ran his hands up Charlie’s smooth, bare chest and wrapped his arms around his neck. Leo leaned in and gave Charlie another kiss. After a few minutes, Leo pulled back and leaned against the fence. “I wish I’d known that you hadn’t been kissed. I would have planned something more romantic.”
“God, Leo. On top of the Ferris Wheel with you. On a beautiful night like this. It was something I’ll never forget. And the rest. I’ll never forget that, either.” Charlie blushed a bright red.
Leo’s smile nearly split his face in two. “When you’re ready, we need to pick up where we left off. I’ll think up where we can go. Make some plans. How does that sound?”
“It sounds heavenly. I want to do that again, for sure. I’m sorry I got nervous, but we would have been interrupted anyway. We’ll talk about it. I don’t need candlelight and roses, just something better than a dirty, smelly field.”
“You deserve the best, especially for your first time. No more talking tonight, though. Unfortunately, it is very late, and I should have been home an hour ago. I have to go, but I fully expect to pick up this conversation again. I don’t have any plans after classes are out tomorrow, so I should be out here around three. What about you?”
“I have no idea what my mom has planned for us to do tomorrow. I’ll text you as soon as I know, and I’ll text you again when I’m here and waiting for you. We can definitely pick up this conversation again. I want to pick up where we left off. It was awesome. You are awesome.” He leaned down and kissed Leo. “Goodnight, Leo. See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, Charlie. I’ll look for your text tomorrow. See you then.” Leo turned, smiling a huge smile. He ran past the fence and continued toward home.
Leo was halfway between the edge of the beach and home when he heard a voice in the darkness. “So, we meet again. Is it destiny or just a small town?” Reese said.
Leo stopped and turned toward the voice. “Probably just a small town. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” He said with a smirk.
“I think there were more kids in my last school than people in this town.” Reese laughed.
“Where are you from? We haven’t managed to get past directions and cafeteria advice in our conversations so far.” Leo chuckled.
“Just outside D.C. Mom got tired of the big city. She works in hotel management, so it was easy for her to stay working in the same company and transfer here. Half your town is hotels.”
“Yep. Our town triples in population in the summer. Stupid tourists. Well, most tourists.” Leo blushed.
Reese motioned toward the beach. “Were you out running again? Didn’t you get enough at school today?”
“No, I was on a date.” Leo grinned.
“With the guy from last night?”
“Yep. His name is Charlie. I actually just met him yesterday morning.”
“That’s awesome. Does he go to our school?”
“He… he’s from out of town. That’s why I corrected myself and said most tourists.”
“How long is he in town for?”
“Just a few days. I really shouldn’t expect much out of this, but I really like him. I don’t know what will happen. I’m going to take this one day at a time and hope for the best.”
“Good luck, Leo. You seem cool. I hope it works out for you. Anyway, it’s late. I was just out for a stroll. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
“This is my house right here.” Leo pointed at his house. “I should get inside, too.” See you tomorrow, Reese.” Both boys turned and went their separate ways.
Leo reached over and turned the loud, buzzing alarm off. He rarely needed it to wake him up, but he stayed out late last night and then couldn’t get right to sleep. Thoughts of the night before, again, brought a smile to his face. Leo pushed those thoughts away and got out of bed. Time to run. He peeked into Kam’s room and saw that the bed was empty. Good. He was already up. Leo changed into his running gear, put on his sneakers, and went downstairs to look for Kam.
“Leo! I’m in here.” Kam yelled from the kitchen, in between gulps of orange juice. “You must have had fun last night. I’m never up before you.” Kam smirked at his brother.
“Not as much fun as I almost had.” Leo blushed. “I’ll tell you all about it on the run. Let’s get going. We’re already behind schedule.” Leo took a quick drink of orange juice and went out the door, quickly followed by his brother.
“I can’t wait to hear this story,” Kam said as the two boys crossed the street and jumped the fence onto the beach.
Leo looked out onto the beach, glanced in both directions, then looked back at Kam. Round trip to the carnival gate today. We’re running late.”
“Wow,” Kam said in mock astonishment. “Late sleeper and short run. What’s next? Skipping classes?” Kam laughed as they started their run.
Leo told his brother about the night before, leaving out only the most explicit parts. The brothers didn’t keep secrets from each other. They told each other all the secrets they’d never utter to another soul.
“Holy crap, Leo. I guess you did have a fun night! Behind the Ferris wheel? Really? You’re lucky they didn’t call the cops! Dad would have flipped out. His first kiss, though, that’s really special. Something he’ll always remember. Does he know that it wasn’t your first?” Kam laughed and clapped his brother on the shoulder. They had reached the carnival gate and now started on their return trip.
“I’m telling you out here, so there’s no chance of being overheard. I know how dad is. And yes, I’m almost certain he knows that it wasn’t my first, but we haven’t had that conversation yet. I’ll tell him my limited history when we discuss plans to continue what we started behind the carnival. I think I’m in love with him already, Kam. I think I fell for him the moment I saw him on the beach Sunday morning, after the fight with Matt.” Leo’s face was bright red, a combination of exertion and blushing.
“You’re an idiot, Leo, but I’m not surprised. You wouldn’t do what you said you did if you didn’t care about him. You’re not that kind of guy. Do you guys have plans for tonight?”
“He wasn’t sure what his mother had planned for them to do today, but yes, I do hope to see him tonight.” Leo jumped the fence and headed towards the house, looking back over his shoulder. “If you’re ready first, heat me up some oatmeal, please. We’re still a little behind schedule! We don’t want to miss the bus!”
Leo barely had time to get his Starbucks and still make it to the bus stop on time. He didn’t even stop in the cafeteria; he just ran straight to his first class, calculus. Leo saw Brandon on the other side of the room, but there were no empty seats nearby, and class was starting. He cursed his bad luck and opened his textbook.
After class, the two best friends met up in the hallway. “You have Bio next, right?” Leo asked.
“Yep. Aren’t you heading for Creative Writing?”
“Yes. Damn. Opposite directions. Make sure to get to the cafeteria on time today. I have a story to tell you!”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. That sounds promising! Just what did you do last night?”
“I’ll tell you at lunch!” Leo said as he turned and went to class.
Leo walked into the cafeteria and glanced around. He saw Brandon at their usual table, but Max was waving at him from the other side of the room. He got Brandon’s attention motioned for him to walk to Max’s table. “What’s up, Max?” Leo said with a smile when he got to the table.
Brandon walked up just behind Leo and whispered in his friend’s ear. “Why are we over here? What about your story?”
Leo rolled his eyes at Brandon. “Later!”
Max smiled. “I hope that I’m not interrupting anything important. I just wanted to invite you… and your friend to sit with us.”
“It’s nothing that can’t wait. We’d love to sit with you guys.” Leo said. Brandon grudgingly agreed, and they both sat down.
“You know everyone, don’t you? Oh wait, Becca, isn’t there a new guy on your squad?” Max turned to Leo. “Becca is the head cheerleader.”
Becca looked around. “Yeah, he was sitting right there.” She pointed at the empty seat. “I’m not sure where he went. He just moved here from somewhere down south, I think.”
“He’s from Washington, D.C., actually. I met him. He seems nice.”
One of the other cheerleaders spoke up. “I’m not surprised you’ve already met Reese.” She huffed out a laugh. “Why are all the hottest boys in school gay?” She said to no one in particular.
Max laughed. “Hey! I’m almost offended by that comment!”
“Oh, shut up, Max. You know you I’d jump your bones if you weren’t dating my best friend.” The girl retorted.
“You’d jump anything on two legs, Julie. Just stay away from my man.” Becca snickered.
“You girls are rough,” Leo said. “But, no, it’s not like that. I’ve barely met Reese, and I’m seeing someone anyway.”
“Someone from school? Who is he? Spill the tea!” Julie squealed.
“He’s not from around here,” Leo said softly.
“He’s falling for a tourist,” Brandon said, rolling his eyes. The entire table of teens started talking all at once. Some advised against dating a tourist, and others urged him to ‘get a little’ and move on. Leo scanned the cafeteria for an escape. Maybe he’d spot Reese and go talk to him.
Then Leo spotted Jasper. He decided it was time for the talk that he had been avoiding. Leo walked over and sat across from Jasper. Matt was sitting at Jasper’s right. Leo folded his hands and looked right at Jasper, ignoring Matt completely. “Jasper, I know our break-up was messy, but the physical and verbal harassment from your boy,” he motioned towards Matt, “has to stop. What happened between us was just that, between us. Rein him in.”
Matt interjected. “Screw you, Kennedy! You have a problem with me, deal with me. Not Jasper.”
Jasper put a hand on Matt’s arm. “Chill, babe.” Then he spoke to Leo. “Looks to me like Matt’s the one with the worse bruises. Maybe I should be telling you to leave him alone.” Jasper stood up and leaned in towards Leo. “Get over yourself, Leo. You couldn’t keep me, and you won’t keep whoever that other guy is. Matt will do whatever he wants. I don’t care. All you were was a willing mouth to me.”
Leo stood up, angry. The chair tipped over behind him. He was about to start yelling at Jasper, but suddenly, the whole cafeteria started to spin, and everything started going dark. Leo felt himself getting dizzy and begin to fall, then he felt arms around him and a sweet soft voice in his ear telling him to sit. It didn’t matter what the voice said though, the whole room went dark, and Leo felt himself being guided to the floor.
Leo heard voices around him, but everything was dark, and the voices sounded far away. The first voice, the sweet voice of Reese, yelled, “Brandon! I need some help over here!”
Brandon: “I’m here, Reese. What happened to Leo?”
Reese: “I don’t know, but I plan to find out. Hold on to him, please.”
Brandon: “Reese, don’t do anything stupid.”
Reese: “What the hell did you do to him?”
Jasper: “I didn’t touch him. He passed out.”
Reese: “That better be the truth, or you’ll be on the floor next.”
Matt: “I don’t know who you think you are, but you better shut your mouth.”
Reese: “I think you two better get lost while you still can.”
Jasper: “I didn’t do anything to him. Honest. Matt, let’s go and leave them alone.”
Reese: “Brandon, I’m back. Help me get him in a chair.”
Leo felt two strong arms lift him from the ground and sit him in a chair. Two warm, soft, yet strong hands gripped his own. He felt knees against his knees and a forehead pressed against his. Reese’s soft, sweet voice started talking to him, soothing him.
“Leo, it’s ok now. They’re gone. You’re safe. I know we’ve just met, and we’re only just started getting to know each other, but I’ll make sure you’ll always be safe with me around. Come back to us, Leo. I don’t know what happened or what’s wrong, but I’m here, and you’re safe. I’ll stay right here as long as you need me.”
Leo heard Brandon say, “Reese? Should I call 911? He’s had these spells before. There’s more going on than you know.”
Reese responded, “His breathing is relaxed now. I think it was an anxiety attack. Give him just a few more minutes before you call anyone.”
“You got there pretty quick. I didn’t even have a chance to get out of my chair.”
“I happened to be looking their way and saw it happening.”
Leo blinked his eyes, and things were still dim but not black. The attack was passing. This boy’s voice really calmed his nerves. That southern accent just melted his heart. Leo blinked again and made out his face. “Reese? I was just looking for you. Now here you are. Your voice brought me back. Thank you.”
“My pleasure. It was my turn to help you. You’ve helped me twice already. Maybe someday we’ll be able to just sit down and chat. You can fill me in on who those two jerks were, so I can make sure to stay far away from them.”
Leo sat back in his chair and then realized he was still holding Reese’s hands. He let go and blushed. “That is a brilliant idea. How about on the beach near where you saw me walking from last night? After school today, well after practice. Maybe at four o’clock?”
“It’s a date.” Reese blushed and corrected himself. “Well, not a date. You know what I mean. I’ll see you at four!” He turned and nearly ran out of the cafeteria.
Brandon smirked at his bestie. “I think you have two stories to tell me about last night. No wonder you were almost late this morning.”
“Do you need me to tell the coach that you’re not feeling well, Leo? I’m sure he’d let you out of practice.” Max said.
“I’m fine. I’m looking forward to practice. It was an anxiety attack. I’m ok.”
“I’ll be over there, finishing my lunch if you need anything,” Max said, looking at both Leo and Brandon.
Leo stood but was still a little shaky on his feet. He sighed and looked at Brandon. Brandon kept a hand on Leo’s lower back for support without needing to be asked and walked him over to a table. Leo was still a little dizzy but managed to finish his lunch. As the two boys walked out of the cafeteria, Brandon said, “That was more than an anxiety attack, wasn’t it?”
“To be honest, Bran, I’m not sure. It could have been an anxiety attack. You know I’ve had them that bad before, but it also could have been more than that. I promise that I’ll keep you informed.”
“You better,” Brandon said as they walked down the hall to their next class.
Leo got through the rest of the school day without feeling any more dizziness, so he convinced himself that it was an anxiety attack. He pushed through the locker room doors, jogged across the street to the athletic field, and joined the rest of the team. It was the first day of practice. Both the varsity and junior varsity squads were there.
Kam walked over and joined his brother in their pre-run stretches and warmups. “I heard about lunch. You ok, bro?”
“I’m fine. I still have to finish my conversation with Jazz, but other than that, I’m fine.”
“What about the dizzy spell?”
“Anxiety. It’s been an exciting couple of days.” Leo shrugged.
Kam looked thoughtful. “I’ll buy that for now.” He smirked at his brother. “I also heard that the hot new kid was there.”
Leo rolled his eyes. “Give it a rest, Kameron. I’m going to see Charlie again tonight. But, hey, since when do you refer to guys as hot?”
Kam blushed and looked away. “I said that for your benefit, not mine.”
Leo was about to say something else, but the banter between the brothers was cut short. The two coaches arrived and split the boys into their respective varsity and junior varsity teams. The first cross-country practice had officially begun.
After practice was over, Leo hung back. Kam stopped to see what his brother was doing. “What’s up?” Kam asked.
“Go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
Kam followed his brother’s gaze and smirked. “Ah! I understand now. You’re gonna check out the cheer practice. Didn’t you say that you were meeting Charlie tonight?” Kam snickered.
“Yes, I am. Reese watched our tryouts. I want to be just as supportive. Besides, we mentioned meeting up after school. I want to make sure we’re still on, so I know what time to tell Charlie that I’ll meet up with him.”
“Wow. All of a sudden, my big bro has a full social calendar. I’m impressed.”
“Shut up, Kam.” Leo grinned. “Go catch up to the team. I’ll see you at home.”
Leo waved to his brother and started walking across the field toward where the cheerleaders were practicing. He hadn’t gone far when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement from behind the bleachers. He turned, and there stood Jazz. Leo nervously looked all around. Jazz stepped closer and spoke. “Matt isn’t here if that’s who you’re looking for.”
“Matt is exactly who I was looking for. Your boyfriend is a bully with a mean streak, Jazz.”
“I’m sorry, Leo. I’m truly sorry. For everything.”
“Wait… what? You mean everything that Matt did, right?”
“No, Leo. You know what I mean. I’m sorry for everything. I screwed up bigtime. I hurt the person that I love the most in the whole world. When I saw you pass out today, it brought back so many memories and reminded me of all the promises I made. God, Leo, I realized that I still love you. Can you ever forgive me?”
Tears stung Leo’s eyes. He wasn’t sure if they were tears of sadness, hurt, or rage. He clenched his fists at his sides to restrain himself from striking out at Jasper. “No, Jazz. I do not forgive you. After all this time, after all you did, how can you even ask? I mean, hell, wasn’t cheating on me bad enough? But then you outed me to the whole school. That’s how my parents found out that I’m gay! From the school, not even from me! The entire last year of my life has been a living hell, and it is all because of you!”
“I… I’m so sorry, Leo. I lashed out. I didn’t want to take the blame. I…”
“Shut up, Jazz. I’m not done talking. You started this conversation. The creep you cheated on me with beat me up. Because you suddenly remember that we were madly in love and promised each other to always be there, you want forgiveness? You ripped my heart out, spit on it, and threw it in the trash. Now, you say that you still love me? Stay away from me, Jazz. Go back to Matt. I will never forgive you.”
Leo felt a presence behind him. He looked behind him and was greeted by the sparkling emerald eyes of Reese.
Jazz tried to keep talking. “Leo, come on, let me explain.”
Reese stepped in between the other two boys. “Dude, he asked you to go away.”
“Who even are you? This is between Leo and me.”
“This is the second time today that I’ve asked you to get away from him. He doesn’t want you here. Don’t make me ask you a third time.”
After devouring every morsel of Nicholas’ scrumptious fixin’s, Ian and Andy made convenient excuses and departed, leaving Casey, Jamie, and the boys to clean up. They determined to leave the beach area in the same shape as they found it, if not better. Griffin and Nicholas continued their flirtatious banter with the girls matching them with their teasing barbs. Finally, Nicholas surveyed their beach spot with his meticulous eyes and decided that it passed muster, so they all headed home.
While taking turns showering, Jamie claiming first dibs, they each became absorbed in their own quiet space. Casey had discovered the cache of books that Nicholas had brought along, his “Top 20 Novels” collection, as he referred to it. She squealed when she came across ‘Gone With the Wind’ and begged to borrow it. Nicholas graciously consented, always eager to share his literary treasures with an enthusiastic audience, and she settled onto the sofa to dive in.
Griffin sat at the kitchen table and began to browse the photos he’d taken during the day, mostly on the cruise around Chesapeake Bay, editing them a bit as he went along. It suddenly occurred to him that he should set up a separate Instagram page from his personal page to chronicle their RV excursions and adventures, like Nicholas’ travel journal. Maybe one day they could even combine the two into a book!
Nicholas, ironically, had stretched out on their bed to update his journal with the events of the past several days. He’d not had the time since before the unexpected arrival of their traveling companions. In fact, he’d not even taken the time to talk to his mom and tell her about Casey and Jamie. He and Griffin both needed to make sure they called home tomorrow morning before heading out. Both their moms were good about giving them space and not expecting daily updates, but after three days, texts and voicemail messages would commence at an alarming rate!
Jamie emerged from the bathroom, and Griffin told Casey to go ahead, as he was in the middle of setting up his ‘RV Chronicles’ Insta page. Grabbing the remote, Jamie began to browse Netflix and stumbled across ‘The River Thief,’ which starred her very most favoritest actor, Joel Courtney. Her stepmonster had killed their Netflix account after their mom died so this was a sorely-missed luxury for Jamie. Casey could have her books, but Jamie needed visual entertainment.
A couple of hours later, Casey and Jamie had crashed on their sofa bed while Nicholas and Griffin were finally enjoying some intimate togetherness in the comfort of their bedroom and testing the memory of their foam mattress. Both boys felt they were dangerously close to bursting, in more ways than one. Griffin came up for air long enough to turn on the bedside bluetooth speaker and scroll through his Spotify app to locate an appropriate playlist to fit the mood and provide some cover to the tunes emanating from the bed.
“Let me see that,” Nicholas demanded. He always knew just the right song for the moment, and this was no exception. Almost immediately, Exile began their sultry accompaniment, and Nicholas crooned right along with them …
“When you get home babe, gonna light your fire
All day I’ve been thinking about you babe you’re my one desire
Gonna wrap my arms around you and hold you next to me
Oh, baby wanna taste your lips I wanna be your fantasy
I don’t know what I’d do without you babe don’t know where I’d be
You’re not just another lover no you’re everything to me
Every time I’m with you baby can’t believe it’s true
When you’re laying in my arms, and you do the things you do
You can see it in my eyes I can feel it in your touch
You don’t have to say a thing just let me show how much
I wanna kiss you all over, and over again
I wanna kiss you all over
Till the night closes in.”
“Damn, Boo, do it!” Griffin moaned. “Kiss me all over! Take me now!”
Not having to be told twice, Nicholas did just that. Detaching his lips from Griffin’s, he began an excruciatingly slow tour down Griff’s body with the ultimate goal of kissing, tasting and savoring every square inch. With hands roaming wherever they could reach, both boys writhed, attempting to press as much flesh together as physically possible while also trying to keep their vocal responses at a volume level that would not attract the attention of their guests.
Nicholas caressed a hip with one hand, ran the other through Griff’s hair and licked, nibbled, and nipped at his nips causing Griffin to arch his back in ecstasy unlike any he’d ever experienced. Yes, the boys had enjoyed sex with each other in their past “friends with benefits” lives, but this was a whole different, and new, world. They were blissfully discovering the difference between sex and making love.
Griffin’s hands were not idle, either, with his left hand squeezing Nicholas’ buttcheek and his right roaming his Boo’s inner thighs, discovering much to explore there. When he finally grasped Nicholas’ rigid boyness, all Nicholas could do was growl, “YES!” Four firm stokes later and Nicholas, with an “Oh, Griff!” released too many days worth of pent up sexual frustration all over Griffin’s playground.
Pausing just long enough to catch his breath, Nicholas quickly navigated down Griffin’s quivering belly to return the favor. Nicholas had always had an oral fixation, and he was not about to rely on his hand to return the favor. Within seconds, Griffin’s eyes rolled back in his head, and Nicholas had to seal Griff’s mouth with his hand to squelch the stream beginning to emerge while another stream began to emerge into Nicholas.
The boys melted together while coming down from highs unlike any that either had ever experienced. But their “first night” was only beginning. They had quickly and easily succeeded in taking the edge off, but then the real love-making began … slowly, intimately, beautifully, perfectly. For the next two hours, they loved each other deeply, both more invested in providing the other with as much pleasure as was physically possible and expressing their love for the other in every way they could conceive.
Finally, exquisitely exhausted, Nicholas and Griffin managed to summon enough energy to tug the sheets off the bed and toss them in the corner. Dressing the mattress with a fresh fitted sheet, they fell back on the mattress and threw a cotton sheet across themselves and were asleep almost by the time their heads hit the pillows. The last thoughts they each had were pretty much the same. It was a night that neither would ever forget and both hoped to repeat many more times.
Griffin, as usual, woke first and bent towards Nicholas to wake him with a kiss, not the least bit concerned about morning breath. “Hmmm … good morning, Peaches,” Nicholas whispered. “I had the most beautiful dream.”
“We will be having that dream many more nights, Boo!” Griffin promised. “I wonder if the girls … uh … noticed anything.”
“I honestly don’t think I care. I was worried a bit about that before, but now, I’m just not. It was beautiful and perfect.”
After pulling on shorts and t-shirts and putting the bed and room back together, the boys went to see if Casey and Jamie were up. They were still out cold, so Griffin headed for the bathroom while Nicholas went to see what was available for breakfast. Discovering the rations in extremely short supply, he made an executive decision that they would be heading back to the diner they enjoyed their first day in Chesapeake Beach for breakfast.
While he was bopping around in the kitchen, both girls rose from their slumber and offered weak “good mornings.”
“Good morning,” Nicholas responded a bit warily. “Uh, how did you sleep?”
“I haven’t slept like that in months!” said Casey. “I didn’t even realize how tired I was.”
“I slept really well, too. How did you sleep, Nicholas?” Jamie asked, with a slight smirk. “Or did you sleep?”
Griffin chose that moment to stride out of the bathroom, hair reaching in every possible direction, in time to hear Jamie’s inquiry. “Oh, we slept. Believe me when I say … we were exhausted!”
“SO!” Nicholas quickly jumped in. “Who’s ready for some breakfast and a fun day at the Chesapeake Beach Water Park?”
“We made it just in time!” Nicholas said, nearly collapsing onto the picnic table underneath the sign that read: “Chesapeake Windsail Cruises.”
“Yeah, it definitely takes longer to get ready when you have to wait for two girls to get out of the shower!” Griffin rolled his eyes and grinned at Casey and Jamie.
“You totally took longer than I did!” Jamie gave a good-natured shove to Griff’s shoulder.
“I’ll set a stop-watch next time.” Griff laughed.
“Besides, you two overslept from all your partying last night!” Jamie retorted.
“Are those the guys that we’re meeting down by the boat?” Casey asked.
“Yes. That’s them. Let’s go. We’re supposed to leave in five minutes.” Nicholas got up from the picnic table and led the way down to the docks.
Andy waved to them as they approached. “Hey, guys. I’m so glad you invited us along! This looks cool. I wanted Ian to go on this, but the minimum number of passengers was four, so we weren’t gonna do it.”
“Well, we have six now,” Nicholas said. “Andy, this is Casey and Jamie. Girls, this here is Andy, and over there talking to the captain is his boyfriend, Ian.”
“Are ALL gay guys hot?” Jamie groaned.
“Behave, little sis.” Casey chided.
“Like you didn’t think the same thing.” Jamie retorted and stuck her tongue out at her sister.
“Well, I’ll take the compliment. But to be accurate, I’m bi, but I’m also taken.” Andy winked at Jamie.
“Good to know. If your status ever changes, snap me.” She grinned.
Ian ran over. “Hey, guys…err… and girls. The captain says we’re ready to go.” They all picked up their backpacks and got on the boat.
About an hour into the cruise, Griffin tuned everything else out and took photos of the beautiful scenery. He was so focused on what he was doing that he nearly lost his balance when the boat hit some choppy waves and bounced around a bit. He grabbed the rail and kept a tight grip on his camera. Griff was just about to refocus his camera when he heard a scream. He looked around for his companions and met Jamie’s eyes.
“It’s Andy! He fell overboard!” Jamie yelled to Griffin as she grabbed a life vest and jumped overboard.
Nicholas raced to the side of the boat, “Andy! Jamie!” He turned toward Griff. “Griff go get…” The rest of his words died in his throat as he witnessed Griffin also dive overboard, life vest in hand. “Crap!” He yelled and sprinted toward the captain.
In the water, Griff swam up beside Jamie and Andy. “Are you guys ok? Can you both swim? I brought an extra vest.”
Andy spit up more water. “I can swim but not very good. Jamie probably saved my life!” He said while he struggled to put on the life vest. “I should have been wearing a vest from the start, but I wanted to look cool for Ian.”
“Life vest or no, you look hot, not cool,” Jamie said.
“Do you ever stop, girl?” Griffin laughed.
“Sorry, not sorry.” She stuck her tongue out at Griff.
“You’re pretty hot yourself, Jamie. If I were single, I’d definitely snap you.” Andy grinned.
“Thank God they’re coming back for us. I wouldn’t want to puke on the two of you.” Griff rolled his eyes.
Ian and Casey were already at the captain’s side by the time Nicholas arrived. The captain slowed the boat and turned back toward the lost passengers. All three rushed to the side of the boat to yell directions back to the captain. “Stop! We’re right next to them!” Yelled Ian as he tossed a rope overboard.
Andy was the first one up the rope, and Ian grabbed him in an enormous bear hug and pulled him down into the yacht’s seating area and checked to make sure he was ok. He asked him numerous times if he needed to go back and go to the hospital. Andy reassured Ian that he was perfectly fine.
Jamie was the next one up the rope and was greeted by her sister. Andy ran over and hugged her. “Casey, your sister saved my life! She’s a hero!” He kissed Jamie’s cheek and ran back over to Ian.
Casey smirked. “Don’t you go getting a crush on him, little sis. He’s in a relationship.”
“I know. I know. He’s so freaking cute though!” Jamie gushed.
Griffin came up the rope last. Nicholas grabbed him around the waist. “You’re determined to save everyone on this trip, aren’t you?”
“Hey, I’m not the one who saved the guy from choking in the restaurant.” Griff laughed.
Nicholas ran his fingers through Griff’s wet, strawberry blonde hair. He laced his fingers together and pulled Griff’s head down, and their lips met. Griffin’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and his lips parted as he started to say something. Nicholas’ tongue darted into Griff’s open mouth and deepened the kiss. Griff’s hands slid down Nicholas’ body and rested on his slim hips. The sounds of whistles and cheers reminded the boys that they weren’t alone and they grudgingly parted. “Don’t keep scaring me, Griffin. Now that we’re together, I don’t ever want to lose you.”
“You won’t ever lose me, Nicholas. I’ve loved you since we were five. I’ve probably been in love with you since we were thirteen. You’re stuck with me forever.” Griff blushed and turned away to look for his camera.
The rest of the cruise was fun but uneventful. The six friends arrived back at the dock right at noon, and they walked to the Rod’n’Reel Restaurant where they had lunch reservations set up through Windsail Cruises. Lunch was spent in equal parts congratulating Jamie and Griffin on their quick thinking and teasing Griffin and Nicholas about their toe-curling kiss. “Next topic, please,” Nicholas said, as his cheeks burned a bright red.
“What’s our plan for the afternoon? Are we still hanging out?” Andy asked.
“We are spending the afternoon and evening at Breezy Point Beach. You and Ian are more than welcome to join us.” Nicholas answered.
Griffin got out of the water and sat on the sand, waiting for Jamie to catch up to him. She was a fast swimmer, but Griff was faster. He looked to his left and saw Casey, Ian, and Andy tossing a frisbee around. Then he looked off to his right and saw Nicholas at the barbecue grill. Griff’s stomach rumbled as the odors from the barbecue wafted close enough for him to smell.
Jamie plopped down on the sand next to Griffin. “Wow. I thought I was a good swimmer, but you killed me out there. You’re amazing!”
“You should see me on my board.” Griff winked. “You’re an excellent swimmer. I’m just out there as much as possible. I have been since I was like ten years old. I love swimming. I love surfing even more.”
“It shows. Whenever you guys settle down, it should totally be on the ocean. It would be such a shame for you to not be out there doing your thing. I could see you as a lifeguard on a California beach.” Jamie giggled. “Like that old show Baywatch. You totally have the bod for it too.”
“Thanks,” Griff laughed. “You ready for dinner?”
“OMG, yes! Whatever Nicholas is cooking over there smells heavenly!”
“He mixes a lot of spices into his burgers. Back home, they’d be fresh from his mom’s herb garden. Out here, we have to settle for store-bought dried herbs.”
“Whatever it is, it smells delicious. I’ll go get Casey and the other guys. I’ll see you back at the picnic table.”
Griffin sauntered over to the barbecue grill. “That smells delicious, Boo. Jamie said the same thing. Is it just about ready?”
“Yeah. Maybe five more minutes. Can you hand me those plates, please?”
Griff turned and grabbed the stack of plates and placed them on the table next to the grill. “Your plates, sir.”
Nicholas looked up at Griffin with a thoughtful expression. “Griff, you said earlier that you’ve been in love with me for five years, ever since we were thirteen!” His face got a look of intense concentration. “How come you didn’t say anything sooner?”
Griffin smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You weren’t ready. You are now. Now is our time. If I had told you back then, it might have ended our friendship. I took what you were willing to give. I would have waited forever for you, Nicky. I love you with all my heart.”
Nicholas nearly melted right where he stood. “I’ll let you get away with that ‘Nicky’ because, what you just said, that was beyond a perfect answer. I love you too, Peaches.” Nicholas leaned in and gave Griff a quick tender kiss.
“Aww! Look at them again! You two are the cutest couple ever!” Jamie squealed.
“Thank you, Miss Jamie. Now it’s time to sit down and eat those delicious burgers.”
Nicholas grabbed Griff’s arm and held him back while the others took their seats. “How’s the rash?”
Griff’s eyes widened, and then he blushed. “It’s gone, but now we have guests.”
“We’ll figure something out one of these nights. Soon.” Nicholas grinned.
“Definitely, lover boy, but for now let’s eat.” Griff took Nicholas’ hand and led him to the picnic table to join their friends for dinner.
Griffin awoke with a jerk and sat straight up. Not sure why he was suddenly on high alert, he listened carefully but heard nothing except Nicholas’ deep breathing beside him. He’d had to practically drag him to bed when he woke up in the living room with Nicholas’ head in his lap. Had he dreamed the noise or had it been … NO … there it was again, definitely real! It sounded like it was just on the other side of the wall behind the bed’s headboard, the back end of the RV. He not so gently nudged Nicholas. “Nicholas, wake up!”
“Huh? What is it?”
“Shhh … listen. Something’s happening outside on the other side of this wall.”
Practically holding their breaths, the boys listened and, again, a sound like metal on metal and then a thump and a mumbled curse.
“Someone’s out there! Our bikes!”
Nicholas was the first to spring into action, but Griffin was right behind him as they jerked their shorts on and quietly padded to the door. They both grabbed the flashlights kept in the storage compartment beside the door and then looked around for something to use to defend themselves, if necessary, but came up with nothing. Nicholas quietly unlocked the door and began to ease it open as Griffin quickly scooted over to the kitchen to grab the largest knife he could find.
The boys tiptoed along the side of the RV, Nicholas in the lead, with flashlights pointed at the ground. As they neared the rear of the RV, they could make out frantic whispers. Holding up a hand to stop Griffin, Nicholas motioned that they would jump out on “three”, then held up three fingers and began to lower them one at a time. As the last finger went down, Nicholas jumped out and screamed “FREEZE!” with Griffin stuck like glue to him. A duo of yelps erupted simultaneously, and the boys hit the source of the yelps with their flashlight beams.
“Please don’t hurt us! We’re sorry!” Standing frozen in their beams were two boys appearing to be roughly the same age as Nicholas and Griffin, with the shorter one cowering behind his buddy.
“What are you doing?” Griffin asked.
“Uh, well … we … uh, we’re trying to get to Pennsylvania and we saw your bikes this afternoon and we thought maybe you didn’t really need them since you have this nice RV and all and we don’t have anything and Pennsylvania is a long way to walk and we’re so sorry and we’ll just leave and we won’t bother you …”
“Whoa, just slow your roll, OK,” Nicholas said, raising his hands. “Who are you and why are you trying to walk to Pennsylvania?”
“My name is Casey and this is … uh … my little brother, Jamie. Our mom died last year and our stepdad is a monster so we left home and we’re trying to get to our mom’s sister in Pennsylvania. We mostly travel at night and we spent yesterday in those trees behind the campground. We saw your bikes and waited until we thought you’d be asleep to come get them. We wrote down your license number so we could find you and send you money for the bikes after we got to our aunt’s house, honest! See?” He held out his hand with the number written on it.
“Look, let’s go inside and talk before one of the other campers call the cops. Of course, that option is still on the table,” Nicholas said. “Drop your backpacks on the ground first.”
All four sat on the living room floor, drinking Snapple, as a much calmer Casey explained their situation. They had snuck out of their house four nights ago after their stepdad had come home drunk and wasted and, once again, became verbally abusive and then physically abusive. When he knocked Casey across the room, Jamie had managed to grab a baseball bat and hit him hard enough to knock him out. They had stuffed some clothes in their backpacks along with all the money they had and could get from their stepdad’s wallet and took off.
“Wow,” an empathetic Griffin said, “that’s awful. You hear about this kinda stuff but, honestly, I’ve never known anyone in that situation. I never realized until now how fortunate I’ve been.”
“Yeah,” agreed Nicholas, “me, too. How old are you guys?”
“I’m 18 and Casey just turned 20,” answered Jamie, speaking up for the first time.
“Well, it’s only 3:30 so why don’t you guys stay here and we’ll talk more in the morning and figure something out. You can sleep on the sofa bed. The bathroom is over there.”
“Thank you for being so nice after what we tried to do … stealing your bikes and all.”
“It’s alright. Desperate times, desperate measures and all that. I get it,” Nicholas nodded. “You will still be here in the morning, right?”
“Definitely!” they both stated emphatically.
Griffin and Nicholas laid in bed, discussing the situation. Both agreed that they couldn’t just put them out but neither was completely ready to totally trust them, either.
“Well, assuming they’re still here in the morning, we’ll talk more with them and decide then what to do,” Nicholas decided. “Let’s try to get some sleep.”
Griffin fell asleep almost as quickly as he’d awoken an hour ago. Nicholas struggled a bit to calm his mind but, eventually, he also drifted off.
As usual, Griffin was the first to wake and, less enthusiastically than was typical, he made his way to the bathroom. Fortunately, halfway across the bedroom, he remembered their guests and pulled his shorts on. Opening the bathroom door to the sound of a squeal, he froze in place.
“OH! I’m sorry … what the … !” Griffin just stared.
Grabbing a towel, Casey wrapped up but not before Griffin got a very clear and very unmistakable look at everything that made Casey undeniably … a girl … uh … a woman, actually!
He stumbled backward, pulling the door closed with him, and just stood there … processing.
“What now?” Nicholas thought as he quickly came out of the bedroom to see a shook and wide-eyed Griffin standing rigidly in front of the bathroom door, just as it opened.
Casey sheepishly emerged and Griffin whirled around. “Lucy, you got some ’splaining to do!!”
“What the hell is happening?” an only half-awake and quite confused Nicholas asked.
“He’s a she!”
“Please! I can explain,” Casey pleaded. “We thought it would be safer to travel if we pretended to be guys. That’s one of the reasons we travel at night. We’re both pretty tall and … ”
“Wait! We?” a now completely awake Nicholas stuttered. “Jamie is … ”
“My little sister, not my little brother.”
Nicholas and Griffin collected clean clothes and performed their morning ablutions, while Casey dressed in the living room and woke Jamie. She explained to Jamie that their subterfuge had been exposed … quite literally … and they both fretted that they would be booted out to fend for themselves again.
Over breakfast, they discussed the situation more. Nicholas and Griffin talked it over while making their bed and straightening up the bedroom as Casey and Jamie did the same with the sofa bed and living room and washed the breakfast dishes.
“So … we’ve talked about it and this is what we’ve come up with,” said Nicholas, coming back into the kitchen with Griffin trailing close behind. “First, do you have ID?”
“Why?” asked Jamie. “You don’t trust us?”
“Uh … a few hours ago we caught you trying to steal our bikes! Trust has to be earned,” Griffin declared.
“He’s right, Jamie,” a more pragmatic Casey responded. “Yes, we have our driver’s licenses.”
“Good. I’m not wanting to get arrested for kidnapping or transporting minors over state lines or anything like that,” Nicholas explained. “If you are, in fact, over 18 you may join us in our travels and we will get you to your aunt’s house in Pennsylvania. That is, if you want.”
“But, we are taking our time and it will probably be a week or two before we get there. We thought we might try to make Philadelphia by July 4th because … well, that would just be a cool place to celebrate Independence Day,” Griffin added.
“OH, WOW!! Yes!!” an elated Casey burst out. “That’s a lot sooner than we could’ve gotten there walking!”
“Or riding bikes,” quipped Griffin.
“There are conditions, though,” a serious Nicholas interjected. “First, you will stay with us wherever we go. We are not comfortable leaving you here in the RV while we’re out for the day … at least not yet. As Griffin said, trust has to be earned.”
“Absolutely! Agreed! Right, Jamie?”
“Definitely! You guys are angels, aren’t you?”
Nicholas and Griffin just looked at each other, blushing, and said in harmony … “He is!”
David let the hot water cascade over his body. He watched the shampoo and soap mix with the reddish-brown water as it all swirled down the drain. He wracked his brain trying to remember where he had been tonight. His last clear memory was of Sky. They’d had dinner and then they went to the park and then… what? Had he hurt Sky? He couldn’t remember. Texting Sky would be the first thing he did when he was out of the shower.
Three nights, three blackouts, and three times waking up covered in blood. Matt’s idea was ridiculous and impossible, but it was also the idea that ran through his own head. Skylar told him not to think that until all other possibilities were ruled out. It looked like that time was now. A werewolf. Was it too late to convince Matt that he was just trying to fit his own nightmares into David’s reality? How much did Matt know? He’d have to have a long talk with Matt when he got out of the shower. He just couldn’t have that conversation standing there naked and covered in blood.
David stepped out of the shower and toweled himself dry. He slipped on a pair of sweats and went back into his room to talk to his brother.
As soon as David closed the door, Matt leaped to his feet. “David, you have to listen to me. I never told Brad that the wolf in my dream had blue eyes and now he says he has seen a blue-eyed werewolf and has pictures of it! And I know that it was a wolf and not a dog that bit you in the backyard. Add that in connection with what’s been happening with you and how can it be anything else?”
“Matt, werewolves don’t exist outside of stories. I can’t explain my lost time, and yes, I am very concerned about waking up covered in blood. But a werewolf? Come on.” David sat on his bed while Matt paced back and forth in front of him.
Mat stopped directly in front of David and held up both hands clenched into fists. He raised one finger with each point he made. “Gramps’s stories. My dreams. The wolf biting you. Your lost memories. The blood. The animal attacks in the park. And Brad seeing the blue-eyed werewolf.” Matt shook seven fingers in front of his brother’s face. “What more proof do you need, David?”
“I…” David sighed. “Ok. I have considered it. I’ve even talked it over with Skylar. I didn’t want to worry you. There has to be another more rational explanation.”
David sighed and looked up at his brother. “Stay with me tomorrow night. Record me all night. Brad too. Even if I’m not a werewolf, I may be dangerous in my sleep. The blood worries me most of all. Especially with the deaths in the park. I don’t want to believe that I’m responsible, but I guess we have to be sure. Will you do that for me? You and Brad record me all night?”
“Of course, I will, David. It’s kind of scary. We should do it somewhere else though. Not here. Somewhere safe just in case I’m right. Don’t you agree?” Matt asked.
“Yeah. I’ll meet you guys at the abandoned warehouse down by the school at six. Okay?” David ran a hand through his still damp hair, concern evident on his face.
Matt’s brow furrowed while he considered the meeting place. “That’s as good a place as any I guess.” Matt glanced at the clock. “It’s almost morning. Thank God it’s Saturday or it would be almost time for school. I’m going back to bed. I’ll see you in a few hours, David. Try and get some sleep. You look exhausted.” Matt turned and left the room.
David flicked off his light and lay down on his bed. He stared at the ceiling and thought about everything his brother told him. He was anxious to see the photos that Brad took, even if they were super blurry. David did not want to even consider the possibility that he was a werewolf. Not only was it ridiculous, but if it was true, then that meant that he had killed two or, more probably, three people. That was just unthinkable. There had to be another explanation.
Considering the hour, he doubted that Sky would be awake, but he couldn’t fall asleep without sending his boyfriend a text. He was just too afraid that he possibly hurt Sky. He knew he would never be able to live with himself if that happened. He didn’t expect an immediate response, but he sent it anyway.
David: Hey. I need to hear from you as soon as you get this. I don’t care what time it is. I had another blackout. The same thing happened. I woke up the same way again. My brother found me this time. Please call. The last thing I remember is I was with you. I hope I didn’t do anything to you, Sky. I love you.
David set his phone on the nightstand and closed his eyes. He tossed and turned, trying to force himself to fall asleep. He nearly jumped out of bed when the text alert on his phone notified him of a new text message. He glanced at it. The message was from Sky.
Sky: I’m ok. I haven’t been able to sleep all night, though. I’m not hurt, but there is a lot that we have to talk about. I’ll be over your house in a few hours. Try and get some sleep. I’ll text you when I’m on my way. Good night, David. Or morning or whatever it is. Haha. See you soon. I love you, too.
David could tell that something had happened, but at least Sky was ok, and he was coming over to talk. David closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
After Matt left his brother’s room, he went to his own room to try and sleep. Before drifting off, he sent Elias a text.
Matt: I just found David outside in the bushes. He was covered in blood, dirt, and what looked like chicken feathers. We were right. He’s not ready to openly admit it, but even he knows that something is seriously wrong. I guess he’s already been talking to Skylar about it. He’s had blackouts and memory loss three nights in a row. I have to see Terrie first, but I’ll meet up with you later for sure. Things are starting to happen quickly. More and more people are figuring this out. Brad has pics, but I guess they are super blurry. I’ll see you soon. I miss your touch on my skin. (Blushing emoji) (Heart emoji)
Less than a minute later, Matt’s phone beeped with a text alert from Eli.
Eli: Wow. Things are happening quicker than even I expected. We can’t let word of this get out to the wrong people. We have to handle this ourselves. It’s almost morning. I’ll just get up now and get to the research. I miss you, too. See you soon. (Hug emoji)
Matt put his phone back on the nightstand, turned over, and tried to sleep.
Fresh out of the shower and still fiddling with his hair, Matt went downstairs and into the kitchen. David was already sitting at the table, eating a bowl of cold cereal.
“Where’s Aunt Nancy?” Matt asked.
“She’s in her home office. I think she’s going to go pick up Brad soon.”
“Did you get ahold of Sky last night?”
“Yeah. He was a little mysterious about it. I’m going to meet him in about an hour.”
“He was cryptic in his texts to me, also. He might have seen you transform. I know you’re not ready to admit what we both know you are yet, but too many pieces are falling into place. We have to decide what to do before the moon rises tonight.”
David sighed, his eyes downcast. “I know. I know. Let me talk to Sky, and then we will both meet up with you and discuss everything.”
“That sounds like a good plan. You talk to Sky, and I’ll find out exactly what Brad knows. I also have to meet up with Terrie and have a completely different kind of stressful conversation.”
“Everything ok, little brother? Trouble in paradise?”
“I…” Matt sighed, looked down, and blushed a deep scarlet. “I almost kissed Eli last night.”
“What?! I thought we always told each other everything. I didn’t know you were bi! What happened?”
Matt rolled his eyes. “You know I hate labels. I don’t think bisexual would fit me anyway. I’ve never been attracted to any other guy in that way. I mean I’m not afraid to admit that a guy is attractive, but I’ve never been interested in touching them or kissing them or whatever. There’s just something about Elias. The attraction is intense. He touched me and it felt like my whole body was on fire. I wanted him more than I’ve ever wanted anyone, more than I’ve ever wanted any girl, even more than I want Terrie. I guess, if you have to put a label on it, I’m pansexual more than bisexual. I want him because he is Elias, not because he is a guy.”
“And you’re going to tell Terrie?”
Matt shrugged. “I have to be honest with her. Hell, I don’t want to break up with her. I really like her a lot, but I really like Eli, too.”
“Good luck with that, little bro. I doubt that either one of them will let you date them both. I know I wouldn’t stay with Sky if he was dating someone else!”
“You’re probably right. I’m just going to talk with her, be honest, and tell her everything. I’ll see where things go from there. There’s other stuff that I need to tell you about Elias. He is deeply involved in all this werewolf and curse stuff. When I meet up with you and Sky later, I’ll tell you both at the same time. I might even bring him along.”
“It feels like we’re living in a movie. I can’t believe this is all real.”
“What movie are you boys living in now?” Aunt Nancy asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“Not sure what we’ll name it yet, but I’m ready to change the channel.” Matt quipped.
Nancy laughed. “Do either of you need to be dropped off anywhere? I’m heading over to the Hanson’s to pick up Bradley.”
Matt stood up. “I need to talk with Brad before I meet up with Terrie, so I’ll go with you.”
“I’ll just hang here and chill. I’m meeting Sky in an hour.” David said.
“How much trouble is Brad in?” Matt asked his aunt just as they pulled into the Hanson’s driveway.
Nancy’s expression grew thoughtful. “I’m not making a decision on that until I talk to the sheriff and see those alleged werewolf photos, but regardless, he’s in big trouble for running off and putting himself in danger without telling anyone.
“Such a crazy story.”
“People deal with tragedy in a lot of different ways.”
“I get that. So much has happened in the last six months. I can barely wrap my head around it.”
Nancy put a hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “If you ever need to talk, I’ll listen. You know that, right?”
“Of course. Thanks, Aunt Nancy. Anyway, we’re here. Let’s go get him.” Matt smirked.
Matt knew he’d get more information from Brad alone, so, while Aunt Nancy marched straight into the den to talk to Sheriff Hanson and Brad, Matt snuck off into the kitchen to find Terrie.
Terrie jumped up from the table as soon as she saw Matt enter the room. She rushed over and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Hey, you. I didn’t expect to see you for another couple of hours.”
“I came with Aunt Nancy to pick up Brad.” Matt rolled his eyes. “I didn’t even want to witness that reunion, though. I’m excited to hear about what he saw last night, but I’ll talk to him when we’re alone.”
Terrie huffed out a laugh. “You should have just waited for him at home then. Less chance of getting caught in the crossfire.”
“He texted me. He’s going to have her drop him off at the library. He plans to tell her it’s for a school assignment, but it’s for more werewolf research.”
“I still have a hard time believing that we’re seriously considering the possibility of werewolves. Did you find anything out from Elias last night?”
Matt couldn’t hold back from blushing. “I… yeah. A lot happened last night. We’ll talk at lunch. You’re still meeting me down by the lake at noon, right?”
She smiled up at him. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world! It’s our first real date.” She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled his face down to hers. Their lips met in a kiss that started tender and quickly turned passionate. The sound of someone clearing their throat from the kitchen doorway caused Matt and Terrie to separate and look guiltily toward the sound.
Brad stood there, grinning. “You ready to go, Matt, or do you need a condom and another twenty seconds?”
“Shut up, perv.” Matt rolled his eyes. “Ignore him, babe.” Matt said, turning back to Terrie. He leaned down for one more quick kiss and then left with his cousin.
“The library closes at three on Saturday. You better be home before three-thirty, Bradley.” Nancy said just before the boys got out of the car.
“Yes, mother. I’ll go straight home when I’m done with my research.”
The boys sat down on the front steps to the library, and they both sighed. Matt looked over at his cousin. “You didn’t just lie to your mom, did you?”
“Nope. I said I’d be home when I’m done with my research. I never mentioned the library or what type of research.”
“Clever. So, I have a lot of news to share, but I want to hear about your close encounter first. Do you have the photos with you, or did you leave them with the sheriff?”
“I gave my thumb drive to Sheriff Hanson, but you couldn’t see much anyway. Just a big brown blur with two little blue blurs for eyes. Let’s wait on the story until Nate and Devon get here, so I don’t have to tell the same story two or three times in a row.” Brad laughed.
“That’s fair.” Matt said with a grin. “I feel the same way about my news. We really need to get everyone together. So much is happening so fast.”
“It’s so crazy. I can’t believe it’s real.” Brad looked at his phone. “Nate and Devon should be here any minute.”
Just then, Devon walked around the corner and up onto the steps of the library. “Are you using my name in vain again, Holliday?” He smirked.
“Every chance I get. It’s about time you got here.”
“Looks like I beat your boyfriend here, so shut your face.” Devon’s smirk turned into a wide smile. “Hey, Matt, what’s up?”
Matt looked surprised. “Boyfriend?” His head swiveled from Devon to Brad and back again. “I thought I only missed updates on research. What’s this about a boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend. At least not yet.” Brad blushed.
“Who? Who isn’t your boyfriend yet? What did I miss?”
“Well, duh! He’s the only other person who isn’t here yet.” Brad rolled his eyes.
“You mentioned someone named Nate.” Matt shrugged. “Have I met him? Does he go to our school?”
“No. That’s true. You probably haven’t met him. So much has happened, it seems like you’ve been here forever, and not just a few days.”
“So? Who is he?”
“He’s the assistant librarian now. He’s older than us. He graduated last year.”
“Did you guys ever date? Were you friends? Two years older isn’t really that much.”
“I barely knew him. I mean, I knew who he was, but we weren’t close. Now shut up, here he comes!”
Nate walked up and smirked at the three boys waiting on the steps. “Gee, I’m not used to so many eager faces waiting to get into the library on a Saturday morning.” His gaze stopped on Matt. “You must be one of the Montana’s. Matt I’m guessing. I’m Nathan or Nate. I’ll answer to either.” He stuck out his hand toward Matt.
Matt shook the offered hand. “Nice to meet you. We were just talking about you. You are everything that I expected.” Matt winked.
Nate shot a look at Brad then grinned at Matt. “I hope you were only told good things.”
Brad piped in. “I barely had a chance to tell him your name before you showed up. He’s exaggerating as usual.”
Nate winked at Brad as he finished climbing the steps. “It’s good to know that I left enough of an impression to be talked about.” Then Nate unlocked and opened the library doors. The other boys followed Nate into the library, and they all settled in at the same table in the research room.
“I may need to be out front from time to time, but I should be able to help in here again, too. What books do you need me to find today?”
Brad spoke up. “Anything you have on werewolves. Specifically related to this area if there’s anything, but werewolves for sure. They exist. I saw it again last night. Possibly a different one, I’m not sure. I took pics, but they are super blurry. The sheriff might try and get them cleaned up for me.” Brad looked right at Matt. “Johnny Hanson was there. He saw it, too.”
“Sky came home from his date early last night, and he was acting weird. He went right to his room. Matt, how was David acting last night after he got home? Did they have a fight?” Devon asked.
Nate was practically jumping up and down. “You saw a werewolf again? Did it attack you? How did you get away?”
“Loud music and yelling. He ran off. I probably got lucky; I don’t know for sure. I think it was a different wolf than the other one that I saw, but I don’t want to believe that there’s one, much less two!”
Matt sighed. “There are two. The monster that bit my brother, and my brother himself.”
All eyes turned to Matt. Brad spoke first. “Do you know for a fact that David is a werewolf? Have you seen him change?”
“I haven’t seen him change, but I dreamt about it.”
“A dream? Come on, Matt, that isn’t proof!” Devon said.
“Elias helped guide my dream last night. It was very vivid. Then, later, I found David outside our house in the bushes. He was nearly naked and covered in blood and what looked like chicken feathers. I’d like to think that the blood was chicken blood, and that my brother isn’t eating people. We need to find out exactly what is going on, and we need to do it fast!”
“Elias was in your dreams?” Brad asked, one eyebrow arched.
Matt blushed. “You were right. I was blind. There’s… something more there. I hope that’s ok with you?” Matt said, looking pleadingly at Brad.
“Oh, wow. I figured that he liked you. I didn’t expect you’d like him back. Yeah, it’s fine with me. No big deal. Terrie might have a different take on it though.”
“I will be having that conversation with her today.” Matt said with a worried expression. “Anyway, I did find out a lot from Eli last night. The curse is real. Eli’s magic is real. That’s where you guys should focus your research, in my opinion. Try and find out as much as you can about the witches. Elias will do research at his house, but the town records and newspapers may say things about the witches that they wouldn’t say about themselves. Knowing both sides is always best.”
Devon looked totally confused. “You’re gay? And you like his ex?” Devon pointed at Brad when he said “his.”
“I am not gay, but I’m not straight. I’m dating Terrie Hanson, at least for now, but I do have strong feelings for Elias Carrier. Call me bi, call me pan, call me whatever you like. I hate labels. I like who I like. That’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for everyone.”
Nate stood and clapped. “Here, here! Great speech! Everyone should feel that way. I mean labels do sometimes make people comfortable, but if you don’t want a label, society shouldn’t force one on you.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Thanks, but right now the labels that matter are werewolf and witch. There’s a lot more that I need to share with you guys, but there’s also people missing that need to be told. It would be easier to tell everyone at once. For now, you guys research the witches. In particular the coven that lived here. If you happen to find anyone named MaryAnne Carrier, find everything that’s available. Eli’s ancestors were a big part of this. I’ll go have a talk with Terrie about everything. Obviously, I’ll have to talk to her about the Eli stuff, but also, the monster stuff. We need to find out if her father has found anything. I hope she’ll still help us after we talk. Hell, I hope she’ll still date me!”
Nate gave Matt a sympathetic look. “Figure out what you want,” he tapped Matt on the chest with one finger, “before you let other people’s decisions affect what you do.”
“I want them both, but I know that’s unrealistic.” Matt blushed.
“I wouldn’t agree to that, but hey, you never know!” Nate huffed out a laugh.
“I’ll cross all my fingers and toes.” Matt laughed. “Ok, I’m gonna take off. You guys get to the research, and I’ll try not to get murdered by my girlfriend.” He looked at Devon. “Sky was going to meet up with David. If you hear anything, let me know. I’ll do the same if I hear from David. Later we all have to meet up somewhere and share all of our various stories.”
“Definitely, dude. Call us if you wanna bring you girlfriend back here or your boyfriend or both or your brother or whatever!” Devon giggled hysterically.
“On that note, I’m outta here!” Matt said and turned and started toward the door.
“Bye, Matt!” Devon yelled.
Matt turned just before he was out the door. “Later, guys. Good luck with the research!”
David was nervous and pacing in the kitchen when he heard the soft knock on the door. He raced over and yanked the door open. “Sky! David wrapped his arms around Skylar. “I’m so happy to see you! What happened last night?”
Sky hugged David tight, and then he stepped back. He looked at David with a worried expression. “You don’t remember anything?”
“It’s just like the two nights before. I only remember up until a certain point and then nothing. The last thing that I remember, I was with you. That’s why I was so worried and texted you.”
“You were with me. I know what happened. I know why you are losing time. Our worst-case scenario is true, David, you’re a werewolf!”
David slumped into a chair and took a long drink of water. “I kinda knew. We both did. I guess there’s no denying it now.”
Sky huffed out a laugh. “No. You can’t deny it now. Not only did I witness the transformation, but you also bit me!”
“I bit you? I thought you said you were ok. Sky, I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. At first, I thought you were being a little too aggressive. You barely drew blood. We were kissing, and you bit my lip. I pushed you backward, and I was going to scold you for being too rough, but then I saw you transform. It was scary as hell!”
“I can never apologize enough. I don’t think Hallmark has a “I’m sorry I turned into a werewolf and bit my boyfriend” card. Now I guess I have to worry even more that I may have killed people.”
Sky sighed. “Even after seeing you change; I just don’t think that you would kill anyone no matter what form you were in. Have you checked out the news yet today? We know about the deaths from the other two nights, we should find out if there’s anything else today.”
The two boys walked into the family room and turned on the tv. They sat on the couch, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. They sat like that for a few minutes, not speaking, just watching the local news reports. David nervously drummed his fingers on his thigh and kept casting furtive glances at Skylar. Sky smiled and turned toward David then clasped David’s hand within his own. “It’s ok. I’m fine. We’re fine. I know you didn’t mean me any harm.”
“I could have hurt you, though. I could have killed you.”
“I honestly don’t think you would have. You said that your brother found you this time. Was there anything else different? Did Matt notice anything that you didn’t?”
He found me outside in the bushes underneath my bedroom window, so that was different. He also said that Brad took blurry photos of a blue-eyed werewolf. I guess people are starting to piece things together. I’m really scared, Sky. The only relatively positive thing that I’m holding onto right now is that this time, even though I was covered in blood again, there were lots of feathers around. Matt and I think they were chicken feathers. We hope that the blood was also from chickens.”
“See! It’s still possible that I’m right. Maybe all three nights all you did was raid farms and kill animals.”
“I guess so. We can hope. Hey, wait a minute. Let’s listen to this. The sheriff is on tv.”
The boys listened to Sheriff Hanson talk to the local news. He was standing in front of the park which was almost completely roped off with yellow crime scene tape now. The sheriff looked into the camera and began to speak. “Citizens of Roxbury Falls, it is with a heavy heart that I am speaking to you today. For the third night in a row there has been a vicious animal attack in the park. A third teenager is dead. For now, we are not releasing any names. We are giving the families time to grieve. I am extending the 8pm curfew indefinitely. We believe that there is a rogue bear coming into the park at night to hunt. We ask that you do not go and hunt this animal yourselves. We are searching for the bear, and we are confident that it will be found and destroyed very soon. If you spot a bear, or anything else suspicious, please report it to the sheriff’s office immediately. Thank you for your time.” The sheriff turned, ducked under the crime scene tape, and walked into the park.
“A third teenager is dead! There was an attack last night. What if it was me, Sky? What if it really was me?”
“You said that Matt has more information, and Brad has photographs, why don’t we chill here and try not to think about it until we hear from them. My brother is with Brad at the library, so I’m guessing that he’s in on the research. There’s more than just the two of us to figure this out, David. We’ll help you get through this.”
“Matt has been talking to some kid named Elias about this, too. I guess his family is also tied in with the story of the curse. A week ago, I would have laughed at the idea of a witch, but, hell, now I’m a werewolf. Witches probably exist, too.”
Sky pulled David in close and gave him a quick, tender kiss. “Let’s ‘Netflix and chill’ until they text us.”
David smiled for the first time since the new report. “That is a fantastic idea.” David slid his arm around Sky’s waist and snuggled in close to his boyfriend.
Sky leaned down and softly kissed the top of David’s head. “We will figure this out, babe. I promise.”
“Good morning, my sweet love.” Griffin snuggled close to Nicholas and tried to wake him up. Griffin kissed Nicholas on his neck and chest. “Rise and shine, Boo.” As much as Griffin wanted to just lie there and cuddle with Nicholas, he knew they needed to get going. Time for the morning routine and then head out on another adventure. Griff headed into the shower and left Nicholas lying there thinking.
Nicholas thought about how much he loved Griffin. He wanted time to slow down. He was not ready to leave Griffin at school. Nicholas heard the always spunky Griff singing loudly in the shower and probably shaking his booty. He laughed as he heard Griff yell out ‘I’m too sexy for my body, too sexy yeah, yeah, yeah’ which was Griff’s version of the song by Right Said Fred. Nicholas couldn’t help but peek in and yell, “You got that right! But need to work on that voice a bit, Griff!”
“I’m just about done anyway. It’s your turn, Nicky-poo.” Griff said, teasingly. “Hurry up. We have a lot to see at the Smithsonian Institution today.”
“Stop with Nicky crap. You know how much I hate that!” Nicholas quips.
As Nicholas is drying his hair with a towel, Griff smacks Nicholas hard on the butt. “Hehe. Look at that booty. You can dance for me anytime but get your booty in gear.” Griff said.
“Smack me on my booty again, and I’ll show you who the boss is. We will just stay here all day and skip the museum.” Nicholas said.
“Is that a threat or promise? I’d rather stay in with you anyway.” Griff said.
Nicholas leaned in for one last kiss, and the boys headed out to have a full day of fun at the Smithsonian.
Once at the Smithsonian, they headed for the Air and Space Museum first. “Look at that model of the Wright Brothers’ plane. Can you imagine what was going through their minds? Yet they accomplished so much!” Griff said.
Nicholas said, “Look at this exhibit on the different crafts used in space. It’s so awesome, but also sad to read about disasters like the Challenger and the Colombia.” The boys wander through looking at different material and things until they come to the Hope Diamond and rubies and all the other beautiful gems. “With any luck maybe someday you will have a diamond on that finger of yours,” Nicholas says jokingly.
Griff drifted into daydream land thinking about that possibility. “That would be a dream come true for me,” Griff said. He grabbed Nicholas and planted a kiss on him when nobody was looking.
They headed over to the American History Museum next to check out some TV, movie, and music history. As they looked around, both boys got very excited when they saw all the pop culture items. Nicholas kept a lookout for anything music-related, while Griffin was more interested in the television and movie history.
As they started walking around, they saw huge displays of some of the greatest music of all time. They saw display cases of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin. Nicholas got lost in the section about Woodstock. He read all the placards that told the history of the event and the musicians who attended.
Griffin went towards the television and movie history exhibits. The display cases he enjoyed the most were the ones about Howdy Doody and some of the other old shows. He saw Fonzie’s leather jacket from Happy Days, the Conner’s couch from Roseanne, and a display case with stuff from the A-Team. Griff read the history placards containing trivia about Leave it to Beaver, and I Love Lucy. Griff needed a quick bathroom break and motioned to Nicholas where he was heading. While he was using bathroom, Griff looked down and noticed a wad of cash on the floor. He picked it up and ran out to find Nicholas to tell him what he found. “Nicholas, look what I found in restroom! We need to find a security guard.”
“There was one just down the hall. Who knows, maybe they’ll let you keep it!” Nicholas said, and they took off to find the nearest security desk.
“Excuse me, sir. Good day to you. I wanted to turn this in to lost and found. I found it in the men’s bathroom by the tv exhibits.” Griffin said, setting the money on the security desk.
The security guard smiled. “Thanks for turning it in! Too many people think they can just take it, but if we catch them, we call the cops. The good news is,” the guard said while sliding a piece of paper across the desk to Griffin. “if you fill out this form and then no one comes for it, we can mail it to you thirty days from now.”
“That sounds fair. I won’t be at the address I’m writing down, but my mom can forward it to me when I know my address at school.” Griff finished up the paperwork, and they were on their way again.
“Ready to stop and get a bite before we head over to see wildlife and dinosaurs exhibit at the Natural History Museum?” Griff asked.
“Ok I am hungry, and we need to eat, I guess.”
The guys stopped and grabbed cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. “Omg, babe, I am having so much fun with you today I don’t want this to stop,” Griffin said. “It is so fun and special talking about all these amazing things that we are seeing. I love sharing this adventure with you.”
The boys got up and walked, hand in hand at times, other times with arms around each other’s waist. One time Nicholas slipped his hand right into the back pocket of Griff’s jeans and Griff quickly returned the favor, smirking at his boyfriend. They looked so happy as a couple, and everything just felt so right.
“Let’s look at this new exhibit on Planet Earth, Nicholas.”
“Sure thing, Peaches. It’s getting late though, so let’s hurry.” The information on the oceans being polluted by garbage was hard to read about. The video clips were disgusting. Now, there were current live reports of the fires in the Amazon Rainforest, and reports of some of the most massive icebergs melting. “This is so sad, Nicholas. Won’t there ever be a time when people wake up?” Griff said, almost crying. “We are killing Mother Earth more every day.”
“At least now, some politicians are listening to the younger generations, and we are educating people. So, I do see one day soon when a better life for our planet may happen, and climate change can begin to be dealt with.” Nicholas said, trying to put a positive spin on it.
“I hope you’re right, Boo,” Griff said as they shared a tender kiss and headed out of the Smithsonian.
Back in the RV, they picked out a movie on Netflix and cuddled together on the couch to chill out after their long but fun day. They spent more time laughing and giggling at the funny things that had happened that day, than actually paying attention to the movie. They were just enjoying some quiet quality time together.
“Man, I’ll be glad when your poison ivy is all cleared up,” Nicholas said with a grin.
“I will be too and not just to get rid of the itchiness, but to actually be able to do whatever we want without worrying about a nasty rash!” Griff leaned in for a kiss, and then they started to discuss their trip to the National Zoo the next day. They turned off the TV, stripped down and went to bed. Nicholas lay there thinking about leaving Griff at college. There wasn’t anything he could do about it, so he rolled over and pulled Griff close to him. He needed the closeness and comfort of his boyfriend right now. He lay with one arm draped across Griff’s chest and their legs entwined, and that’s how they both fell asleep.
Since they didn’t have to be out of their camping spot until 1 pm, the boys slept later than usual and then spent a leisurely morning lazing about. Slightly obsessive-compulsive Nicholas did do a bit of tidying up but, since both boys were pretty neat by nature, there wasn’t much to tidy up. Over lunch, they discussed the next leg of their journey.
Studying his RV Campground guide, Nicholas discovered a pretty basic and inexpensive RV park practically on the beach at Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. “This would be perfect, Griff. No bells and whistles but everything we really need. Plus it’s 35% less if we book it for a week. I think that’s a good idea, don’t you? We’re in no hurry, and there’s tons of stuff to do in the area. There’s even a bus that runs into DC so we can take at least a couple of day trips to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, and anything else we might decide we want to see.”
“Righteous! Gnarly! Kowabunga, dude! Yep, I will also most definitely have you on a surfboard before the week is up! Write that down in your little diary.”
“It’s a JOURNAL! A travel journal!” Nicholas clarified yet again. “Hate to disappoint you, though … Chesapeake Beach is actually on Chesapeake Bay, not the ocean. We’ll get to the ocean after that, I promise! Anyway, it looks like Hwy 301 will take us across the Potomac River and within about 10 miles of Chesapeake Beach. We can avoid all the I-95 traffic going into DC.”
“That’s great since it’s my turn to drive.”
Happy that it was Griff’s turn to pilot, Nicholas got comfortable on the sofa with his Kindle. Strapped into the captain’s chair, Griffin fiddled with the tunes until he found what he was looking for. Ever the playful jokester, he chuckled as he turned the volume wide open before punching play.
“On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
At the blast of the first notes, Nicholas rolled off the sofa and almost filled his shorts. “What the what!?!?”
“I know you love all those oldie goldie songs. Thought you’d appreciate my consideration, Boo!”
Shaking his head, Nicholas picked himself up slowly as Griffin turned the volume back to a reasonable level and began to croon along with Willie. Of course, Nicholas had to join in … how could he not?
“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
Here we go, on the road again
Like a band of Gypsies, we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way
And our way is on the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again, break free
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
“Maybe we can find a few gigs along the way covering ‘oldie goldie songs’ to cover the cost of Griff’s theme park bucket list,” mused Nicholas to himself.
It was after 7 by the time the boys had checked in, parked, and hooked up the RV. Famished, they asked the young lady in the office where they could find some good eats, preferably within walking distance. Soon they had located a quaint hole in the wall restaurant that they would surely have missed if Casey had not given them excellent directions.
While devouring the delicious array of appetizers they’d chosen, a strangled noise came from behind Griffin. A puzzled look crossed his face, but as Nicholas looked up, he realized immediately what was happening and sprung into action. He jumped around the table to the elderly man sitting behind Griff, grabbed him around his chest with both arms, and gave a quick, firm squeeze to the man’s abdomen. The culprit, a small popcorn shrimp, went airborne and landed three tables over in a half-full mug of beer.
Much to Nicholas’ embarrassment, everyone around began clapping and cheering. Checking to be sure the gentleman was OK, he sheepishly sat back down and tried to make himself as small as he could.
“Damn, Nicky! That was awesome!” Griffin gushed. “You did that almost before I even realized what was happening! How did you know what to do?”
“I had to take some classes a couple of years ago when I thought I might want to get on as a lifeguard at the pool … before I changed my mind. That’s the first time I’ve actually done that.”
“Well, note to self … be sure to have Nicholas close by if I ever decide to choke. Seriously, though, that was so awesome, and I’m so proud of you!”
After settling down to enjoy the best meal they’d had since they left home, the boys headed back toward the campground. They snatched a couple of brochures in the restaurant lobby to look through and plan out their week in Chesapeake Beach.
After getting caught up with the most recent episodes of ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Flash,’ the boys stripped and crawled into bed to go through the brochures. They were quite surprised to see how many fun activities were available in the area.
“OH! We have GOT to go to the Chesapeake Beach Water Park! It’s only about a mile up the beach. We can walk there,” said Nicholas, pointing at the brochure in his hand.
“I’m with you and look … here’s a Surf Art Gallery and Museum. Since we can’t surf here, seeing as how we’re actually on a bay, this will be fun.” Griffin had been a bit disappointed to discover that they weren’t on an ocean beach, but Nicholas promised him that their next stop would be Rehoboth Beach, which was very much on the ocean.
“Look … windsail cruises around the bay. You could get some awesome pics, Griff!”
“Here’s a place we can rent jet skis … almost as fun as surfing! They’re expensive, but we’re saving so much on this cheap RV park, we can splurge!” Griffin practically bounced in his excitement. They were like two six-year-olds the night before Christmas.
“This brochure has bus schedules. I think we should plan on at least two days in DC. One at The National Zoo and another at the Smithsonian. Let’s mix those in with the water days.”
“This is gonna be a great week, Boo!”
“Yep! Now shut up and kiss me like you mean it, Peaches!”
As usual, Griffin woke first but remained in bed, snuggling close to Nicholas. Soon, Nicholas slowly woke, too, enjoying the comforting feel of Griff’s arm around his chest.
“Good morning, Peaches,” Nicholas whispered. “I think I could stay just like this forever.”
“Nice thought but we’ve got places to see and things to do!”
“I’m glad you decided to give the park another try yesterday. You didn’t let the bullies ruin the day for us. I’m proud of you!”
“Yeah, I think I can deal with a lot if you’re walking beside me. We can’t let the demons win!” Griffin said emphatically. “I think we got our money’s worth and the fireworks were a great way to end the day!”
“We will definitely be looking for more theme parks as we travel. That was a great idea you had!” Nicholas agreed.
“Oh, I have a ‘Theme Park Bucket List’!”
“Well, of course you do!”
Griff walked out of the bathroom, drying his hair with the bath towel. “Did you decide which place we’re going to go to first?”
Nicholas glanced up at Griff, then his eyes darted down and back up again, “Looks like your rash is drying up a little. Uh, anyway, we…”
Griffin interrupted, “Thanks for noticing!” he said with a smirk.
Nicholas rolled his eyes. “You’re standing right in front of me in your birthday suit. Besides, I’ve always noticed everything about you, even if I never actually said anything.”
Griffin threw the wet towel in the hamper and looked at Nicholas. “That’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me.”
“I have my moments. Now put on your boxers, Dr. Rashenstein.”
“You’re so dorky sometimes,” Griff laughed as he put on his boxers and sat at the table. “There. I’m not naked anymore, and yes, the rash is improving, but it’s still itchy. Now, please continue. Where are we off to today?”
Nicholas leaned over, giving Griff a quick peck on the lips. “You do know that you are always irresistible, not just when you’re naked. You could be wrapped up like an Eskimo, and I’d still stop and stare.” He blushed and grinned. “Anyway, the plan of action that makes the most sense is to get breakfast in town and hit the Poe Museum as soon as it opens at ten o’clock. Then on to Belle Isle for a few hours, and last but not least, the “kidnapped” scenario of the escape room at Breakout Games. They have one starting at six. Hopefully it’ll be a good, fun day without any drama!”
Griffin had a huge grin on his face. “To be honest, you lost me at “irresistible,” but I trust your planning. And, yeah, drama-free would be excellent, but yesterday did have it’s good points, thanks to you. Now, let’s get started with today’s adventures!”
“Ok. You finish getting dressed, and don’t forget the Caladryl! I’ll go unhook the bikes.”
After a short bike ride, they arrived outside the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. They looked around, and Nicholas pointed across the street. “That looks like a good place for breakfast.” They locked up their bikes in front of the museum and jogged across the street.
Inside the diner, they sat at a table in the corner and placed their orders. “I love these local places. They are so much nicer than the big chain restaurants.” Nicholas said.
“The chains are usually cheaper, though.”
“Sometimes, you get what you pay for. I’d rather have good food than cheap food any day.”
“Good point,” Griff said, absently scrolling on his phone.
“Whatcha looking at?”
“Twitter, mostly. Did you remember to follow Lorenzo and Olivia? ’Zo sometimes even lets Gustavo post stuff on his account. That kid is hilarious!”
“Yeah, I followed. ’Zo is a great photographer, especially for his age.”
“Truth. He posted pics of Hershey Park this morning. It looks amazing! I have to add that to my bucket list. Hint hint.” Griff grinned at Nicholas.
“If you keep adding theme parks to the list, you’ll need to find a freaking job!”
“Very funny. I’m finished. You ready?” Griff said, pushing his plate to the center of the table.
“Yeah. Time to start today’s adventure!”
By the time they finished breakfast, it was ten o’clock and time to head to the museum. “This should be cool, but it looks small. I hope it’s worth it,” Griffin said.
“It’s supposed to take less than an hour to see everything, but it should be an interesting way to kill some time until we’re ready to head over to Belle Isle. Plus, I love Poe.”
“Just remember, ‘All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream,’ my dear Nicholas.”
“Yeah. Yeah. You love Poe, too.”
“Well, ‘I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity,’ as you well know.”
“You’re not going to speak in Poe quotes the whole while we’re in here, are you?” Nicholas laughed as they walked to the next exhibit.
“Just one more. You know what my favorite Poe quote is, right?”
“Yes. And you know that my opinion of religion and Poe’s are complete opposites but go ahead.” Nicholas motioned for Griff to continue.
“I fall somewhere in between the two of you on the subject, but it does perfectly describe the televangelists. ‘All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.’” Griff bowed theatrically. “I’m done now. Aww! Where did they come from?” Nicholas was kneeling on the garden path, petting two black cats.
“I read about them on the website. Their names are Edgar and Pluto. They live here.”
“That is so awesome and so fitting. The ‘Enchanted Garden’ is beautiful. I think we’ve seen everything now. You ready to go?”
Nicholas stood. “Yeah. Next stop: Belle Isle.”
The boys pedaled their way across the suspension bridge, enjoying the view of the James River below them. Nicholas yelled over to Griff to be heard above the sound of the raging river. “I see now why the website says the rapids are too dangerous for swimming.”
“That’s for sure. You wanna hike or hit the bike trails?”
“I signed us up for rock climbing lessons!”
“Yeah, really!” Nicholas grinned. “I think you’re turning me into an adrenaline junkie like you!”
“Don’t forget the surfing lessons! You promised me at Kitty Hawk and then plans changed.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I’ll do it. We’ll probably hit a beach again in Maryland.”
“I’m gonna hold you to that! So, do we have a scheduled time for this, or do we just show up?”
“Noon. So, hurry up! We have ten minutes to find it.” Nicholas laughed and pedaled faster.
“I can’t believe you went up so fast the second time. That was amazing, Nicky-poo!” Griff said as he collapsed onto the grass beside Nicholas.
“You’re lucky my arms are so tired, or I’d wallop you. I’ve told you to stop with the ‘Nicky’ crap.”
“You secretly love it almost as much as you love me.” Griff kicked Nicholas’ foot.
Nicholas kicked back. “Maybe.”
“I thought we’d hike, but it’s later than I thought it would be. Let’s get lunch then head back. By the time we shower, it’ll be just about time to go to Breakout Games.”
The boys walked out of Breakout Games nearly jumping for joy. “We did it!” Griff yelled. “Booyah!”
“That was awesome! We will have to do another one sometime. I’m sure we’ll find some more in plenty of the cities we’ll pass through.”
“Too bad there was a timer. Without it, I may have let you stay in those handcuffs a little while longer.” Griff winked.
“Maybe I’ll let you buy a pair.” Nicholas’ blue eyes twinkled in the fading sunlight.
“I think I like this new naughty Nicholas.”
“You’ll like me even better when this,” Nicholas lightly caressed the front of Griff’s jeans, “isn’t covered in spots and Caladryl.” He stared up at Griff, his eyes glazed over in lust.
Griff leaned down, and their lips met in a brief but passion-filled kiss. “You are such a tease. I love it!”
Nicholas’ eyes turned a little sad, “I am having the absolute best time of my life, Griff. I don’t want this trip to end.” His eyes glistened, but he refused to let a tear fall.
“Let’s not think about that yet. I don’t want it to end either. There’s a lot of fun to be had before New York, and a lot of thinking that I have to do.” Griff took Nicholas’ hand, and they strolled back to their bikes.
The following morning, after seeing that Martin was hooked up with a tow truck and in no further need of their assistance, the boys headed out with Griffin at the helm. After carefully examining the Google map over breakfast, they had decided to continue north a ways on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then hang a right onto Hwy 64 towards the Richmond area. Nicholas phoned the Americamps RV Resort in Ashland to make reservations, as it was close to King’s Dominion, the theme park they planned to take by storm tomorrow.
With Griffin’s tunes as a soundtrack, the morning passed peacefully with the boys enjoying the Appalachian scenery and lost in their individual thoughts. As they maneuvered onto the highway and picked up the pace, Lady Gaga let them know in no uncertain terms …
“I’m beautiful in my way
’Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way (Born this way!)
Oh there ain’t no other way
Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way!”
Checking the time on his phone, Nicholas suggested stopping in the Charlottesville area for lunch.
“Maybe find a hot spot near the UVA campus? Find a little eye candy to feast on?” Griffin teased.
“Ooo! I hadn’t thought of that but, of course, you went right there!” Nicholas said with a smirk.
Noticing Griffin’s not-so-subtle scratching of his nether regions, Nicholas inquired, “Diaper rash? Jock itch? Heebie jeebies?”
“I have no idea. It started itching about an hour ago and it keeps getting worse the more I scratch. I took a shower this morning and I didn’t notice anything then.”
“Well, maybe stop scratching … both hands on the wheel, Captain.”
As they continued on, with Griffin trying bravely to keep his hands off his treasures and Nicholas giggling at his frustration, desperation set in for Griff. When he spied the UVA/Charlottesville exit, Griffin almost bumper car-ed three other vehicles in his attempt to navigate to a suitable lunch establishment. At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to find some relief for whatever was going on in his boxers.
Griffin turned the ignition off and headed toward the back of the RV in one fluid motion. By the time he got to the bedroom, his shorts were at his ankles and he was squealing gibberish at the plight that his boys were in.
“Let me see,” Nicholas said. “OH, dude! That is just fifty shades of nasty!”
“What is it?” Griffin screeched.
“My best guess is that, my friend, is an epic case of poison ivy rash.”
“WHAT? … HOW? … WHY?”
“Well, let’s think about this. Yesterday, when you were preparing the picnic area, did you have to clear a spot for the blankets?”
“Yeah, of course. It was kinda overgrown.”
“And, at some point, did you find the need to … uh … drain your main vein?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so.”
“So, you, apparently, handled some poison ivy vines before you then handled yourself, so to speak, spreading the sap to your playground area.”
“Then why aren’t my hands covered in rash?”
“We went back to the RV to eat and you cleaned up, but you didn’t clean up down there. Also, that area is much more sensitive, I would think. You may still get some small rashes on your hands and arms, but not like that.”
“So, what do I do? Help me, Obi-Wan … you’re my only hope!”
“My mom is highly allergic to it and she uses a lotion called Caladryl. It’s a combination of calamine, which helps with itching and drying up the rash, and Benadryl, which eases the allergic reaction. I see a Walgreen’s in that strip center across the road. I’ll go get some. While I’m gone, you wash the whole area with a lot of soap to help dry out the rash.”
As Nicholas strolled across the parking lot heading for the pharmacy and still giggling, but in a sympathetic kind of way, he heard a yelp. Looking around, he spotted an elderly lady waving her hands about as the shopping cart she had apparently been pushing raced away from her and towards a line of parked vehicles.
Nicholas sprinted toward the cart, dodging an oncoming mini-van and leaping over a low hedge. He snagged the rogue cart just before it had the pleasure of making acquaintances with an exquisite Lexus LX. Stopping a moment to catch his breath, he turned the cart back toward home and the now visibly relieved customer.
“Oh, thank you so much, young man! I didn’t realize there was such a slope here and it just slipped right out of my hands. You reacted so quickly and I’m so very grateful!” She gushed while digging in her purse and pulling out a wad of bills. “Here, please take this! It’s the least I can do.”
“No, no … I can’t take your money, ma’am. Your ‘thank you’ is quite enough. It was no big deal. Just in the right place at the right time.” Nicholas helped the lady put her bags into her car as she continued to thank him and try to get him to take the money, which he politely refused. “You have a good day, ma’am … and drive carefully now.”
“Well, this day just keeps getting more fun,” Nicholas thought, “and I haven’t even had lunch yet!”
“It took you long enough!” Griffin snarled before Nicholas even had the RV door closed.
“Mind yourself, Mr. Grumpy No-pants … I still have the receipt! I had to rescue a damsel in distress, blackmail a store clerk into finding more of this stuff in the stockroom because the shelf was empty, and wait in line behind eight people at the only register open and it was being operated by a ‘Please be patient, I’m new’ employee.”
“Fine, thanks … so gimme, gimme!”
Griffin tore the seal off the bottle and practically poured the stuff all over himself.
“Easy there! That needs to last you at least until we stop tonight. Rub it in good and let it dry before getting dressed.”
“Dressed? I’m gonna lay right here just like this while you drive. Just go get us some lunch and bring it back.”
“OK. Wash it well with lots of soap every couple of hours and put more Caladryl on it. By tonight, it should be much more tolerable. Let me know if you need a hand!” Nicholas couldn’t resist the quip but also began to realize the disappointing implications as he left to scrounge up lunch.
Griffin would definitely not be interested in any amorous overtures for the next couple of nights, at least. It still amazed Nicholas how their beautiful friendship had morphed into … well, whatever this was now. They were the same people they were a few days ago … before. But nothing was the same now. That thought made Nicholas’ tummy flutter … a lot like that old lady’s hands!